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Denying the Dinosaur Eras
Two days ago, I began a critique of Rabbi Moshe Meiselman's article in Dialogue regarding the age of the universe. In part one, 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 on a fundamental of faith. In part two, I showed how his approach to this topic, in which science cannot possibly measure the age of the universe since the laws of nature as know them did not exist during creation, results in the concept of "six days" being utterly meaningless. Today, I will begin a two-pronged explanation of why Meiselman's theory does not even work from a scientific perspective. (Please note that I am departing from my usual practice and instead adopting Meiselman's protocol of referring to older rabbis by their last name alone.)
Before doing so, however, there is one point that I am forced to address. I have heard a popular and entertaining rabbi claim in a public lecture that I am unqualified to dispute Meiselman's science, since he has a PhD in physics from MIT whereas I lack any formal scientific qualifications beyond high school. And Meiselman himself told a mentor of mine that, unlike himself, I lack the scientific competence necessary to discuss these matters.
Now, aside from the fact that scientific theories are evaluated by their content rather than by the qualifications of those presenting them, it simply isn't true that Meiselman has qualifications in this area. Contrary to that which is claimed about him, his doctorate is in mathematics, not physics. Mathematics is not part of the natural sciences. In fact, my father, of blessed memory, who had not only a PhD in physics but also a DSc (higher doctorate, awarded for work resulting in international distinction), and who was described by Prof. Cyril Domb as possessing exceptional breadth in different scientific disciples, and who necessarily mastered mathematics to a very high level, used to tell me that devotion to pure mathematics can actually be a deficiency in a person making a statement about the natural sciences. The reason for this is that mathematics accustoms one to thinking in abstract, imaginary frameworks that are divorced from the real world. (Perhaps this is similar to Brisker lomdus not being helpful in paskening halachah?) As we shall see today and tomorrow, Meiselman's theory is very much divorced from reality. And it goes without saying that the global community of scientists would dismiss his approach as sheer nonsense. In fact, I heard about a former colleague of Meiselman's from MIT, who is every bit as charedi as him but whose doctorate was in physics, who was furious at the incompetence of Meiselman's article.
Of course, I don't have any qualifications in the natural sciences either. But I have studied them in my spare time for many years. More significantly, what I say on this topic is agreed upon by the global community of paleontologists, geologists, physicists, and everyone else in these fields. You won't find them dismissing what I write as nonsense. Furthermore, my arguments can be evaluated on their own merits. If you're not qualified to do so, I suggest that you consult with someone who is qualified.
Let us quote Meiselman's theory once more:
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.
This paragraph gives the impression that the scientific assessment of the universe being billions of years old are all based on the oscillations of the cesium atom. And most people are not very familiar with cesium atoms, which we can't even see, so he can get away with saying that cesium atoms used to act differently.
But what about the dinosaurs? And the therapsids? And the woolly mammoths?
Forget abstract talk about events taking place on a molecular level. Think about something tangible and familiar, such as animal life. The fossil evidence clearly shows that there were dinosaurs and all kinds of other creatures which lived before people (since no fossils of contemporary creatures are found in the same strata). These animals lived and died and fought and ate and bred - we even find dinosaur nesting sites. Did all that happen in the space of twelve hours? Did it happen in a universe in which the laws of gravity, the speed of light, and everything else - the very fabric of natural law - was drastically different from what we see today?
And it's not as though there was only one period of prehistoric creatures. The fossil record shows beyond doubt that there were numerous distinct periods. The therapsids lived before the dinosaurs; the dinosaurs lived before the mammoths. And even amongst dinosaurs, different layers of rock reveal distinct eras. Stegosaurus, Brachiosaurus and Allosaurus are never found in the same layers of rock as Tyrannosaurus rex, Triceratops, and Velociraptor. The conclusion is that each existed in a different period; the former lived in a period which has been termed the Jurassic, while the latter lived in the Cretaceous period. This is not part of some evil conspiracy by scientists, nor the result of mistakes on their part. Any paleontologist could win instant fame by finding a Tyrannosaur Rex fossil in Jurassic rocks - but nobody has ever done so, which shows that T-Rex lived much later, in the Cretaceous.
So there are countless generations of all kinds of animals, living in distinct periods, leading ordinary animal lives. This is clearly a process that takes many thousands, even millions of years. To describe it as all occurring in one day is simply ridiculous, unless one is taking the word "day" to mean something other than "day."
I was going to be dan le'kaf zechus (after a fashion) and assume that Meiselman simply never even gave any thought to any of this. After all, he's a mathematician, not a scientist. But then I noticed that he does seem to address it. This is in the context of his explaining that aside from it being impossible to use science to date creation, when there were no laws of nature as we know them, the Mabul also prevents any historical analysis from taking place:
...Although it is possible that prior to the Mabul the world was subject to the same system of natural laws as afterwards, the details of the world may have been very different. We view a world reconstructed from chaos. The laws of physics and chemistry may be the same, but features such as weather patterns and the natural characteristics of the flora and fauna may be radically different from what they once were.
In a footnote, he adds the following:
Note also the change in animal behavior indicated by Bereyshis 9:5; cf. the Ramban’s discussion thereon.
BereIshis 9:5, which speaks about God holding animals accountable for killing humans, doesn't really indicate anything remotely definitive, but Ramban suggests that it might mean that before the Mabul, animals were all herbivores. That might have been a reasonable suggestion in Ramban's time, but it's simply laughable to propose it seriously today. Is Meiselman claiming that Tyrannosaurus rex, veloceraptor, and saber-toothed cats all ate grass and leaves?! Aside from the fact that their physiology clearly shows that they were carnivores, we actually have fossilized remnants of their stomach contents and excrement, which show that they were carnivores - as well as a famous fossil of two dinosaurs that died locked in combat.
Contrary to Meiselman's claim, we know that the natural characteristics of the flora and fauna of prehistory were not radically different from today. We know a tremendous amount about them. We know what they ate and how they reproduced. We even have whole mammoths, frozen in ice, from which DNA has been extracted and sequenced - and it shows (unsurprisingly) that they are not too different from elephants. Their basic bodily processes functioned in the same way as that of modern animals. They lived in a world that was fundamentally the same as ours - not some bizarre scenario in which the very laws of nature were different, and in which complete lifecycles occurred in a nanosecond.
There are no indications that animal and plant life used to be fundamentally different. There is, however, an overwhelming mass of evidence that animal and plant life used to be fundamentally the same. And that there were countless generations of it. To denounce the claim of the world's antiquity as being mere "conjecture" predicated upon baseless assumptions, is arrogant nonsense.