Re: Age of the Earth

Micha Berger (micha@aishdas.org)
Tue, 29 Jul 1997 08:43:40 -0400 (EDT)

In v3n52, Eliezer C Abrahamson <abrahamson@juno.com> writes:
<<The way I view it, there is no need to deal with these claims. Obviously
we don't believe HaShem created the world as if it had never existed, many
things were created well along in their development. Adam himself was an
adult at creation.>>

Actually, there are two opinions in the mishnah, whether Adam was created as
a baby, or at an apparent age of 20.

Either way, Eliezer's position has much support, in particular it was the
opinion of the Lubavitcher Rebbe zt"l.

I'm not comfortable with it, for two reasons.

1- I could make the same argument that the world is 5 minutes old, with
everything created in full bloom -- including our memories, light at the
appropriate points between stars and the earth, etc...

2- It creates, IMHO, a very malicious view of G-d. Why plant dinosaur bones
and fake evidence of age? It's one thing to want a level playing field in
the decision between good and evil, it's another to plant "evidence" that
makes it look like He had no hand in our being here!

The other extreme position is to reinterpret the words of the Torah to fit
current scientific theory. For example, since the sun didn't exist until
"day" 4, and the earth on "day" 2, what exactly does it mean by "day"
anyway? This position is made stronger as there are old traditions, dating
back to the Zohar and earlier, that the universe is older than 6,000 years
-- or that it's part of a sequence of "worlds" that goes further back.

A century ago, the Tiferes Yisroel interposed those "worlds" between us and
the fossil record. So, this position too has a strong support among Rabanim
who understand the Torah far better than I.

I have a problem with this idea, if you pin it down to a given theory.
Theories come and go. I wouldn't want to teach that today's theory is What
The Torah Means. Perhaps one should limit to the weaker statement, showing
that it is possible, in principle, to understand the Torah in light of any
such theory.

My second problem is that you really have to stretch the meaning of the text
to explain how the astronomical objects could come after the earth, the
oceans, and even early evolution -- plants were created before the sun!

I therefor prefer the Maharal's position, as explained in his introduction
to Gevuros Hashem. Some things are beyond prophecy. Prophecy is the
reception of a vision from Hashem (eg "Chazon Yishayahu...." Isa 1:1). In
order to prophecy about something, therefore, it must be similar enough to
something within human experience to be explainable my a metaphoric vision.

"Wisdom is better than prophecy." To the Maharal, this Talmudic quote is
about the fact that more things can be understood by wisdom than recieved
prophetically. This is because, he explains, we have the power to
extrapolate beyond the familiar.

However, some things are beyond wisdom as well. Some things are just totally
incomprehensible to human beings.

The Maharal puts Creation into this catagory (based on the famous mishnah
"ein dorshin", which teaches that "the act of creation" may only be taught
in front of two students). He therefore states that Genesis 1 (and maybe 2
as well) can not be understood literally.

Therefore, I would presume to say the Maharal's answer would be: they're
both wrong! You can't understand what happened either by reading the Torah,
nor can you use scientific method to understand it. It's just not
comprehendable.

Perhaps that is what Rachamim Pauli meant when he wrote in a recent post on
the same issue: " The late Yacov Glicksman ... told me, 'Such stupidity and
nonsense - none of us were around then....'...The great German philosopher
Emmanuel Kant also came to the same conclusion - 'That the human mind is
incapable of understanding anything further'."

Micha Berger (973) 916-0287
s