Wednesday, May 25, 2011

Nothing Gained, Everything Lost

Yesterday, I began a critique of Rabbi Moshe Meiselman's article in Dialogue, in which I pointed out that he blurred the distinction between the age of the universe and its creation - thereby enabling him to claim that those who accept the antiquity of the universe are acting unacceptably in departing from the mesorah. Today, I will begin to address the explanation of Bereishis that he proposes. Rabbi Meiselman argues that science simply cannot measure the duration of creation:
One of the main points of this article will be that all current tools for measuring the passage of time presume stability in the relationships between natural processes, similar to what we observe today. In fact, our entire outlook on time reflects this presumption... The presumption of stability in the oscillations of the cesium atom underlies all notions of time measurement today, as well as their projection into other epochs... The assumptions made by contemporary science in this area were never provable in the first place and they remain matters of conjecture. Our Mesorah has always rejected them and there is no justification for changing that stance now.

I will devote several posts to explaining why Rabbi Meiselman's approach fails in three ways. In reverse order: The third post will explain why his approach can be scientifically disproved very simply, and rests upon a fundamentally mistaken premise about the development of science. The second post will explain why his approach is incoherent when one contemplates how prehistoric life fits in to it. Today's post will explain why his approach has no theological advantage over other approaches, and suffers all their disadvantages.
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Before discussing his approach, it is helpful to discuss a similar approach, put forth by Rav Shimon Schwab, which I analyzed in The Challenge Of Creation. He posited that billions of years during the era of creation were equal to six regular days today. His explanation for this is that all the events of those fourteen billion years were sped up such that they took place in only six days. An instant difficulty with this, and its resolution, is discussed by Rabbi Schwab:
...It is obvious that if all motion were uniformly multiplied all radiation, for instance, would become lethal. The accelerated speed would turn every particle into a deadly missile. Also a multiplication of the rapidity of all motion would upset the balance of mechanical forces which function differently at different speeds. Therefore, we should rather think of a uniform nexus of changes in the entire system of the natural order which is observable today, a uniform variation in all functions within the framework of natural law in conformity with the new universal velocity, not upsetting the intricate balance of all physical phenomena and the orderly cooperation of all parts within the whole.

Although this solves the technical difficulties, it now raises another type of difficulty—if the entire system has sped up, in what way is it significant to say that any of it has sped up? Again, Rabbi Schwab raises the question, and proposes an answer:
In fact, without having at least one exception somewhere in the universe, the simultaneous uniform acceleration of all motion is in itself a meaningless concept. The fixed reference point which might give meaning to this whole concept is the Creation Light.
However, the Creation Light, even with Rabbi Schwab’s understanding that it had a physical manifestation, is an insignificant point of reference in comparison to the revolutions of the earth, the movement of the planets and suchlike. If the earth is rotating on its axis billions of times, the sun rising and setting billions of times, and countless millions of generations of animals are living their lives, then how is it meaningful to speak of this taking only six days? Imagine if last week was sped up by God so that it only took five minutes on the Cosmic clock—would this be detectable or even meaningful in any way? If fourteen billion years equal six Creation days, then it is fourteen billion years as we understand it, and the six days are being understood differently from the simple understanding. If virtually everything is being sped up, then effectively nothing is being sped up.

Now, Rabbi Meiselman appears to be at least somewhat sensitive to this problem. He writes as follows:

When we extrapolate backwards in time we are tacitly assuming that throughout the period of the extrapolation all natural processes maintained the same relationships. If, for example, they were all to speed up by a factor of ten we would have no way of measuring or perhaps even detecting the phenomenon.

In fact, it is not just that we could not measure or detect the phenomenon; it is that there would not be a phenomenon. But let us see his continuation:

On the other hand, if one process remained constant we would then have to decide whether the others sped up or that one slowed down.

That is correct. And it would be a fairly easy judgement to make if only one or two processes were different, and all others remained the same. But Rabbi Meiselman proposes that everything was different during creation - that there was simply no such thing as the laws of nature as we know them:

...During the six days of Creation the world was governed by a system of laws that was totally different from the one operative today... Once one accepts the Torah’s version of history—that during certain epochs current natural law was not operative—there is no contradiction at all between the Torah’s chronology and science... The assumptions made by contemporary science in this area were never provable in the first place and they remain matters of conjecture. Our Mesorah has always rejected them and there is no justification for changing that stance now.

In Rabbi Meiselman's approach, since the laws of nature were completely different during Creation, there is simply no way that science can use its ordinary tools to measure its duration. Yet even if what Rabbi Meiselman writes were to be true - and over the next few days, we will prove that it is not true - all that it would mean is that the age of the universe cannot be precisely measured as being exactly 13.8 billion years, as modern science argues. Now, it's clear that it is appealing for him to discredit the modern scientific enterprise. But what is he proposing in its place? In what sense is it remotely meaningful to describe the formation of the universe as taking six days? If the laws of nature and physical processes were completely different, then in what meaningful sense can one say that it lasted six days? It is no more six days than it is six eras or six levels of a hierarchy.

Now, one might counter that the earth turned on its axis six times ("And there was evening, and there was morning"), by which it can be described as six days. But is that really significant? It's six rotations; not six days in any meaningful sense. Furthermore, if sunrise and sunset is all that matters, then you might as well say that the world is billions of years old, and you can accept everything that modern science has to say, with the exception of saying that the rotation of the earth on its axis was drastically slower for all those billions of years.

The particularly strange thing is that in an earlier part of the article, Rabbi Meiselman appears to recognize that some standard of measurement is required, and argues that it exists, but completely fails to explain what it is:

[There are] two distinct conceptions of time measurement — one paralleling our own for use when current relationships are operative and another completely different conception to be used when they are not — both expressed in the same terms. In order for them to work complementarily, however, the existence of a unifying conception applicable in all epochs must be posited. It is this that serves as the true measure of time. Whenever the world is operating in accordance with ordinary natural law the true measure coincides with human convention, making it possible for us to employ the latter and ignore the former. But during those epochs when natural law is not in effect, the true measure ceases to bear any resemblance to our own and it alone has meaning.

But what is this "unifying conception"? What is this "true measure"?! Rabbi Meiselman does not elaborate. Because there is none! And it cannot be posited that God has some Cosmic clock outside of the universe, for two reasons. First of all, it would still be completely meaningless in our terms. Second, elsewhere in the article, Rabbi Meiselman himself endorses Rambam's view that the concept of time presupposes motion, which in turn presupposes a physical world. And so Rabbi Meiselman has not only failed to explain how the universe can be proposed to have developed in six days; he has even made it meaningless to speak about such a timespan.

Furthermore, many of the theological objections that have been raised against those who accept the antiquity of the universe would equally apply to Rabbi Meiselman's approach. In his approach, the flow of time during creation, and also during the deluge (when he claims that the laws of nature were likewise completely different), were completely different from the flow of time at other times. In his words: "...there is an extra-cosmic concept of time which is operative independently of scientific time... this operates at times when scientific time is not applicable." But it has been objected that this undermines the Jewish calendar, as well as legal documents that are based upon it. And others, such as Rav Schwab and the late Lubavitcher Rebbe, argued that any explanation in which the six days were not six ordinary days as we have them would completely undermine the concept of Shabbos:

…The attempt to “reinterpret” the text of the first section of Bereishis to the effect that it speaks of periods or eons, rather than ordinary days… is not only uncalled for, but it means tampering with the Mitzvah of Shabbos itself, which “balances” all the Torah. For, if one takes the words, “one day” out of their context and plain meaning, one ipso facto abrogates the whole idea of Shabbos as the “Seventh day” stated in the same context. The whole idea of Shabbos observance is based on the clear and unequivocal statement in the Torah: “For in six days God made heaven and earth, and on the seventh day He ceased from work and rested”—days, not periods. (Rabbi Menachem Scheerson, Mind Over Matter, p. 110)

Now, I certainly think that such objections can be countered; I did so in my book. But once one is taking such an approach, what has been gained? If you're going to have others condemn you as an apikorus, then you might as well at least be offering a proposal which makes some sort of sense. According to Rabbi Meiselman's approach - the approach that he deems the sole theologically and scientifically legitimate approach - the creation of the universe did not take six days in any remotely meaningful sense of the term, and the universe was not created 5771 years ago in any remotely meaningful sense of the term.

38 comments:

  1. I think your summary statement at the end is correct and really means - we "know" (through Chazal etc.) the age of the world and it doesn't cohere with current scientific thought, you can't really "prove" that the world wasn't created yesterday and we all have implanted memories, so as long as I can come up with somethinhg that explains why current scientific extrapolations are "wrong"(i.e. not consistent with chazal) by denying their assumptions (or perhaps I should say axioms because you can't really "prove" them to my satisfaction), I'm happy.
    KT
    Joel Rich

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  2. Meiselman claims "it is only when one denies the Torah's version of events that the contradictions arise".
    Of course, he says this after claiming that the chronology of the Torah is the same as science's (note: I guess because he makes-believe that it does). Time after time he makes believe about science. In fact Meiselman is the opposite of a believing Jew. He is a make-believing Jew.

    No, it is not science to just make believe that evidence has suddenly changed because your name is Meiselman.

    Gary Goldwater

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  3. I admit that this is not my expertise by any means -- but I do want to try to understand what you are saying.

    Once we accept the Torah's account isn't it clear that nature didn't run as we know it?

    1) The Torah explicitely says that the seasons didn't occur during the flood.

    2) The Torah tells of a world without a sun and without a moon and without grass and without plants etc. for various amount of "days."

    So if we accept the Torah's account -- isn't the Torah clearly telling us that nature didn't always run as we know it?

    How that fits with modern Science I have no idea. But saying something to the effect of "I don't know how Torah can fit with Modern Science. But I do know that the two are talking different languages. Torah says nature didn't always run as it does and science says it does."

    Is there anything wrong with that understanding?

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  4. "...During the six days of Creation the world was governed by a system of laws that was totally different from the one operative today.."

    That is scientific nihilism -- that you can't prove anything in the past because you weren't there. And there is no evidence that the basic laws of nature have in fact changed. Objects that we observe that are billions of light years away in fact do seem to follow current laws of physics.

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  5. > Meiselman proposes that everything was different during creation - that there was simply no such thing as the laws of nature as we know them

    That’s partly true, no? Before the Big Bang, many of the laws of our universe, like the universe itself, didn’t exist.

    > During the six days of Creation the world was governed by a system of laws that was totally different from the one operative today

    The problem with his approach is that there is absolutely no reason to say that time ran faster and simulated billions of years other than to reconcile it with the traditional chronology. He’s trying to shift the burden of proof to the scientific community and asking them to prove him wrong. But the burden of proof always rests on the positive claim. The claim that time ran differently is a positive claim, while the claim that didn’t run differently is not. While it’s true that we can’t know for sure if time has been constant relative to some Cosmic Clock, not being able to know for sure is not an excuse to just make stuff up.

    > it cannot be posited that God has some Cosmic clock outside of the universe

    There is no reason to think that there is time outside out universe. Anyway, time is relative. A clock sitting still in empty space would run very slow when compared to a clock on Earth which is affected by the gravity of objects in the solar system and the speed with which we’re traveling through the galactic supercluster. I’ve seen it argued that the six days are 24 hours on the clock in empty space, during which time billions of years passed on Earth. But as you say, that is not a meaningful description, and in that context “evening and morning” have no meaning.

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  6. I haven't read the article. But, perhaps R. Meiselman is saying that during the six-day creation period the earth turned on its axis six times at the speed of 24 hours per revolution, and during those six 24-hour periods the phenomena on earth were created in a sped-up manner.

    Further, the evidence which we see today that is contrary to the above hypothesis is irrelevant, because the laws of nature were different then than they are now, thus rendering all evidence-based conclusions invalid.

    Theologically speaking, I don't see a problem with that. Can you clarify why this theory is as theologically unacceptable as the theory that the six-day creation period did not occur at all in any literal sense?

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  7. Yitzi, Dr. Hall - These comments are really more to do with the scientific viability of R. Meiselman's proposal, which is the subject of tomorrow's post and that of the day after. I'd rather keep that discussion until tomorrow, so I ask that people withhold such comments until then. Meanwhile, Yitzi: The Torah makes statements that have been subject to a variety of interpretations. As we shall see, the plain sense in which you interpret them can be disproven by science. Hence a different understanding is required.

    Again, please keep comments to the subject of this post, which is that Rabbi Meiselman's approach does not even result in Creation taking six days, in any meaningful sense.

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  8. That’s partly true, no? Before the Big Bang, many of the laws of our universe, like the universe itself, didn’t exist.

    He's talking about after the Big Bang, not before!

    The problem with his approach is that there is absolutely no reason to say that time ran faster and simulated billions of years other than to reconcile it with the traditional chronology.

    He has a reason - the Torah, according to his understanding. Except that as I show here, it doesn't even help.

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  9. But, perhaps R. Meiselman is saying that during the six-day creation period the earth turned on its axis six times at the speed of 24 hours per revolution, and during those six 24-hour periods the phenomena on earth were created in a sped-up manner.

    A. He's not saying that.
    B. If he were saying that, in what sense would it be 24 hours? It would be much more meaningful to describe it as billions of years!

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  10. It would be much simpler for R. Meiselman to simply say that this is all a question of epistemic priority. You prioritize science vis a vis the natural world so you in a sense explain away the literal reading of Genesis. I prioritize a literal reading of Genesis and explain away science.

    Well, we already knew this and whatever not so clever explaining away of science he comes up with is pretty much irrelevant. Does it even matter if it is incoherent? He can always tell you that it is only incoherent from our perspective.

    What is relevant, and a far more interesting question, is why he not only rejects every approach that allows other interpretations of Genesis, but condemns them as heretical. Who appointed him the Torquemada of anglophone hareidism?

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  11. If he were saying that, in what sense would it be 24 hours? It would be much more meaningful to describe it as billions of years!

    It would be 24 hours in the sense that it's literaly 24 hours, i.e. one revolution of the earth at its current speed. That's how we measure days, no?

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  12. Meiselman does not refer to you as "Rabbi" Slifkin. In his article, and this is pretty unbelievable, he even refers to the late Rabbi Aryeh Kaplan, a man who inspired tens of thousands of Jews to observance, as "Kaplan." It's not right, and even appears weak, for you to keep giving him titles while he does not do the same. Dont say you dont want to stoop to his level - if youre already engaging him, you must do so the same terms as he does.

    A. Schreiber

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  13. Nachum, "24 hours" is a meaningless term. An hour is just 1/24th of the earth's rotation. The only way it is meaningful is to measure it against something else, such as a clock. But according to Rabbi Meiselman, no clocks would work in the way that they normally do, since everything, from the force of gravity to the vibrations of molecules, was different.

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  14. A. Schreiber - Actually he refers to him as Rabbi Kaplan when first mentioning him, but then only as "Kaplan." So I guess I should do the same!

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  15. R. Meiselman may, or may not, be a technically incompetent fool – I’ve never met him but this article would seem to provide a prima facie case for the former - but the significance of the quoted sentence “The assumptions made by contemporary science in this area were never provable in the first place and they remain matters of conjecture..” is worthy of emphasis. In short what we have here is a machloqes of epistemology, which is concealed by R. Meiselman’s adoption of a syntax used by people living on a completely different epistemological planet than his own. In the planet I toil upon, “provable” has certain referents related to observation, experimentation, and inference. On R Meisleman’s planet, none of that matters very much so utilizing such methodologies will never yield a “proof” sufficient to convince him when recourse to his own epistemology – which I will not hazard an attempt to describe - indicates otherwise. This is however blurred by R. Meiselman’s very use of the same words – “proof”, “conjecture”, etc – used by the rest of us as though infused by the same meaning.

    I’ve also never met R. Shlomo Miller who is, I gather, a Talmid Chokhom from Canada. But I have read his essay on the internet regarding torah and science with some dismay. It is not that his incompetence in such matters is either surprising or even regrettable - we do not after all expect that most talmidei chakhomim will have negotiated the long and intellectually arduous path to achieve such proficiency. But then most talmidei chakhomim do not proceed to blithely publicize their ignorance in a widely distributed essay as though his presumed competence to expound his way through a tos’fos , in a mysterious transference of authority, renders him an expert on matters he apparently gleaned through popular expositions. All this does is tend to lower respect in the knowledgeable reader for supposed “torah leadership” and oy lonu mi’elbonoh shel torah.

    Happily, and hopefully not just out of my ignorance, I’ve not yet heard that the third of the rabbinical directors of this enterprise, R. Feldman, has also shared his own scientific insights with the public. Hopefully, he doesn’t have the yohara to think he has any.

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  16. Nachum, "24 hours" is a meaningless term. An hour is just 1/24th of the earth's rotation.

    Agreed. Now, if the Torah is to be taken literally, then you have two choices:

    (a) the earth rotated at its current speed, and the creation of all phenomena occurred very quickly within those 6 (regular) days, or (b) the earth rotated really slowly, and everything developed at the speed we would expect it to during those six very slow rotations.

    Choice (a) is the peshuta shel mikra, and I fail to see how it doesn't make sense or can be theologically problematic.

    Now, if you say that you simply don't believe it because you simply don't believe it, that's fine, and I'm with you on that. But I do not understand why this would be theologically problematic l'sheetaso, or logically problematic (putting aside the sciene, which you will be adressing in future posts).

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  17. Nachum, choice (A) is incoherent. By what barometer did the earth rotate at its current speed?

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  18. Note that there's a serious problem with the idea of the Earth's rotation being slower. If that were the case, then one side of the Earth would be cold and dark and the other side would be much too hot for a very long time. Yet we see no evidence that that was the case.

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  19. I'm starting to understand. But I'm a little slow (using you as a barometer). Let's keep going though, because I'm not completely hopeless, and I want to understand.

    I imagine that according to R. Meiselman, since all the laws of nature were in flux, there would have been many different barometers during the six creation days. God decided that during that barometerless period, a "day" is one full rotation of the earth.

    So, time is not measurable during that time, or rather, the concept is meaningless.

    Nevertheless, our present seventh day (rotation) is Shabbos to commemorate the first seventh day (rotation).

    Do you believe that THAT is logically or theologically problematic according to the literalist crew?

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  20. Nachum, as I wrote in the post, if sunrise and sunset is all that matters, then you might as well say that the world is billions of years old, and you can accept everything that modern science has to say, with the exception of saying that the rotation of the earth on its axis was drastically slower for all those billions of years. Furthermore, as I shall demonstrate tomorrow, there is every reason to say that billions of years of stuff happened.

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  21. if sunrise and sunset is all that matters, then you might as well say that the world is billions of years old

    In what meaningful sense is it billions of years old? Because lots of stuff happenned, that would now take billions of years? Years are measured by the number of times the earth orbits the sun. We have no indication that during the six days of creation the earth orbitted the sun at all, or, if it did, at what "speed".

    In other words, all this talk of "time," whether in terms of 6 days or 13 billion years, has been rendered meaningless.

    Which I guess is the point of your point, which I now understand.

    Shkoyaych!

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  22. You're getting there! But if the vast majority of processes are those that ordinarily take billions of years, then that is the most meaningful way to describe it.

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  23. >>The problem with his approach is that there is absolutely no reason to say that time ran faster and simulated billions of years other than to reconcile it with the traditional chronology.

    >He has a reason - the Torah, according to his understanding.

    Isn’t that what I said? His only reason for proposing a different timeflow is to reconcile it with the traditional chronology / “the Torah, according to his understanding.” It’s not supported by any sort of scientific evidence, it’s just something he made up to so that he could ignore the evidence for an old Earth.

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  24. I'm with Nachum, I feel somewhat unqualified to comment, but I would like to understand, so here goes.

    First, I find all this discussion regarding "slow earth rotation" very silly. No one is actually proposing that, are they? And Rav Schwab's zt''l speeding up of time strikes me as amateurish pseudoscience.

    I also don't understand what RMM is doing by positing about creation that "the world was governed by a system of laws that was totally different...." It seems clear from this and another of his comments that RMM is saying that there was an _alternate_ set of laws operating. Why not just say that there weren't laws at all? Because of the problem of literally reading "6 days"?

    R' Slifkin asks, "If the laws of nature and physical processes were completely different, then in what meaningful sense can one say that it lasted six days? It is no more six days than it is six eras or six levels of a hierarchy."

    Even supposing that Bereishis is talking about 24 hour days as we understand them -- in other words, the amount of time that would have passed as if there were an Earth rotating then as there is now -- you could ask the same question: In what meaningful sense is 6 literal days to be understood? L'mai nafka mina if 6 days = 6 days or = billions of years? Just to de-legitimize science RMM and his cohort would invent alternate laws of nature or slowly rotating planets?

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  25. I'm wondering if the time hasn't come to leave these folks behind. I think it's Seforno who warns against making Judaism look foolish in the eyes of of the world. Doing so is a Chillul Hashem. These people are embarrassing God, his Torah, and us.

    Rabbi Slifkin, you are far too talented to be wasting so much time tilting at these windmills. I know you feel you have to defend yourself and your ideas, and you have every right too. But, in fact, the integrity of your writing itself does that for you.

    Maybe it's time we left simple-minded people to live in their two-dimensional world.

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  26. Menachem, it's not that I feel that I have to defend myself. It's that when such an approach is presented as The One True Approach, its flaws have to be exposed. And, as can be seen on this thread, even intelligent people who disagree with Meiselman don't necessarily fully understand why he is wrong.

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  27. Let me preface my remarks by noting that Rav Meiselman is a recognized talmid chacham who is, ipso facto, entitled to a modicum of respect. While I recognize the deep hurt that he has caused R' Natan, that personal failing is not unknown in his family, and should not necessitate cavalier dismissal.

    As to substance, the citations from the article are unimpressive. Of course, we can't prove that the laws of nature were always as they are today; it is a most reasonable assumption, however, and it enables us to understand very ancient phenomena. For that matter, we can't proved that the regularities that we observe today will hold true tomorrow - as the philosopher, David Hume, observed centuries ago. Nonetheless, that assumption has worked perfectly well in the past.

    More specifically, one of the main sources of evidence for a truly ancient universe is based on the assumption of vast distances traversed before the light from such sources reach us. The distances, in turn, depend on the constancy in the speed of light over the billions of years of presumed travel. Now, that constancy is the fundamental law of physics. In fact, it is the unit that connects time and space. Space can be defined in terms of the time of light travel to various objects, while time can be defined as the interval for light travel to those objects. If light speed in space was not a constant then the concepts of space and time would be correspondingly distorted.

    The point is that the basic assumptions in science have worked amazingly well and have been the basis of the great technological advances that their putative critics utilize daily. It seems rather foolish to merely produce hand-waving conjecture without any support - other than a literal reading of the torah. The claim that everything (except the earth's rotation), including light, proceeded 1,000,000,000,000 times as fast as has been observed in recent millenia (in order to reconcile 14 billion years with 6 days of creation) is extraordinary, and requires an extraordinary demonstation of validity. In the absence of such a demonstration, the claim can be dismissed as apologetics.

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  28. There is an interesting point cropping up here that I think is not being taken seriously enough.
    The Torah/halachah defines a day as the precieved sunrise and sunset which we now know is due to rotation of the Earth.
    A "year" is defined as a sequence of seasons (or most likely the moons path through the mazalos) which we now know is due to the orbit of the Earth arond the sun.

    Now, according to the Torah's definition, there CANNOT be a "day" before "day" 4 because the sun was not visible in the sky until day 4. And if the sun actually wasn't even there yet, then there would not have been seasons either, so there were no "years".
    Therefore, the word "day" at least for days 1-4 must mean something else because nowhere (I think) do we see time being mentioned independent of the natural occurances that define it until the Gemara's time when we use an equinox day's hours for discussion. (i.e. in biblical times they did not have independent "clocks").

    We also know that true time is not universal and flows differently depending on relative speed and gravitational field strength.

    Therefore one needs to ask a scientist how "long" the formation of the Universe and Earth took according to the Torah's definintion of time. When the Earth was a bunch of clumped rocks, did it have seasons? Was it rotating? We cannot use the term "6 days" to mean 24 hours times 6.

    BTW here is a cute factoid: Ignoring general relativtity, current studies show that a nutrino travels so close to the speed of light as to make 13 billion years like a few days due to special relativity (I did the calculations myself), and that such nutrinos were emmited during the big bang. So for some frame of reference (nutrinos) the Schroder idea is literally true, i.e. that 13.8 billion years is a few days.

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  29. "...there is an extra-cosmic concept of time which is operative independently of scientific time... this operates at times when scientific time is not applicable."

    I took this to Rav Elyashiv who responded that this was pure apikorsus. The universe was created in six days kipshuto, he said. He also said that learning in Toras Moshe is like learning in the beis medrash of Acher and it would be better to work for a living, chas vesholom.

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  30. "Happily, and hopefully not just out of my ignorance, I’ve not yet heard that the third of the rabbinical directors of this enterprise, R. Feldman, has also shared his own scientific insights with the public. Hopefully, he doesn’t have the yohara to think he has any. "

    Then there's a wonderful surprise in store for you http://zootorah.com/controversy/controversy.html

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  31. Of course, we can't prove that the laws of nature were always as they are today;

    Yes, we can. Not from the moment of the Big Bang, perhaps, but we can prove that they have held for way more than 5771 years. I'll be doing that in the next posts.

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  32. IMHO, it seems that the article is tainted by its demand that six days must be related to what we call days in a valid "modern scientific" manner. To me , it seems one would be better off maintaining that the whole creation was an out-and-out above Nature miracle. I could even see an argument that tevah was not created until Friday evening.
    But to dress up the 6 days to fit in with "modern science"? Why? What is the point?
    Though I suppose an apikoras like me, who doesn't have a problem with seeing the Creation as allegorical (as the Teferes Yisroel did btw) just wouldn't understand.

    As an aside, those of you say that the "rules haven't changed" - are you talking just physics or Nature too?

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  33. Avi, How does anyone know that what you are saying is true?

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  34. 1) The first word in the Torah is "In the Beginning." The Torah then says "one day" (the day that God was alone.) This "day of One" and "In the Beginning" could be referring to two different times periods that may have consisted of many years.

    2) Nonetheless, The Torah dose not say precisely that the "day of One" (i.e. "One day") is the very first day of creation. Making it possible to say that they were days prior to it.

    3) Furthermore A day is measured from sunset to sunset. The sun was created on the fourth day. So then we may ask, how was a day measured before then? Maybe it was by multiple rotations.

    4) The Torah dose teach that creation followed the laws of nature. e.g. Even when God said let the earth sprout forth the grass, and the trees etc. on the third day, it could not do so until there was rain on the sixth day.

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  35. Of course, we can't prove that the laws of nature were always as they are today - Y. Aharon

    Yes, we can. Not from the moment of the Big Bang, perhaps, but we can prove that they have held for way more than 5771 years. I'll be doing that in the next posts. - NS

    You misunderstand me. I was referring to a proof akin to what one encounters in mathematics or logic. Science does not attempt such proofs, nor can it hope to obtain them - it only offers models that attempt to quantitatively account for the available data and, hopefully, make verifiable predictions. In other words, science is aimed at the providing a realistic understanding of the universe, rather than fulfilling some impossible dream.

    In a subsequent post you illustrate the unreasonableness of the "young-earthers" who presume that ancient extinct creatures such as dinosaurs were also created in the first 'week'(presumably in the 5th or 6th day - but before Adam). As you pointed out, the existence of living things at a time when nature as we know it was presumed (by them) not to exist, is problematic. We also know of different stages of the evolution of creatures such as dinosaurs whose fossilized skeletal remains occur in different strata. All of which, according to the 'young-earthers' must have occurred in one day or less. Such conjecture does not meet the reasonableness criterion by invoking an unknowable divine power. However, this and other lines of evidence show the unreasonableness of the young-earth conjecture - it doesn't and can't constitute a disproof.

    There are those who accept the fact of a very ancient world and universe but do not treat the creation narrative as a pure allegory. The Tiferes Yisroel must be counted among them. His model is that the torah doesn't deal with the earlier existences on earth at all - other than the very brief, majestic, and general introductory statement of verse 1. Verse 2 is then a very brief and poetic description of the destruction of an earlier existence which he considers as the effect of a gigantic impact that produced global desolation and darkness. The days of creation that follow detail the recovery of the earth from that blow and the development of the new, familiar world - including Adam and Eve.

    In this he was following the catastrophist model invoked by Cuvier earlier in the 19th century to account for breaks in the geological strata. This model was superceded among geologists by the uniformitarian ideology until insurmountable evidence for exactly such a catastrophic impact was produced by 1990. This evolution of our understanding of the earth's history and geology is an illustration of how science changes and grows closer to the truth of things. It also illustrates how authoritarian thinking (uniformitarianism became an ideology in geologic circles) is a hindrance to the furtherance of knowledge.

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  36. I posethe question, is this rabbi in question in this post the same one who quoted half a Rambam without completing the sentence (thereby distorting the Rambam) as a way to combat Rabbi Slifkin? Or was that a different rabbi?

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  37. He didn't just quote half a Rambam, he actually rearranged the words to change the meaning. But that was a different rabbi - Reuven Schmeltzer.

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  38. Ok, thanks for the clarification. I was going to say whoever that was, certainly does not deserve any "modicum of respect" as one commenter in this thread termed it. But I suppose shmeltzer is in a different ballpark from rabbi meiselman so I have to give r meiselman a hezkat kashrus even if I think his opinion on scientific matters is laughable.

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