Discover more from Rationalist Judaism
Presumptions or Conclusions?
This post continues my critique of Rabbi Moshe Meiselman's article in Dialogue regarding the age of the universe. Yesterday, I began a two-pronged explanation of why Meiselman's theory does not even work from a scientific perspective, by showing how the countless generations of animal life must surely have lived in a vast stretch of time. Today, I will give a precise explanation of why Meiselman's theory is utterly wrong from its very conception.
To be honest, this whole exercise is bizarre, since Meiselman's theory was already neatly been refuted in my book The Challenge Of Creation several years ago. Now, Meiselman might well disagree with my refutations. But surely he should at least address them! Anyway, I will present them here again, at more length. Let us first quote Meiselman's theory:
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... The assumptions made by contemporary science in this area were never provable in the first place and they remain matters of conjecture.
No, no, no! Meiselman has it exactly backwards! The notion of stability in the relationships between natural processes is not a presumption of modern science by which it deduces the antiquity of the universe. It's a conclusion.
This relates to the topic of the very first post that I ever wrote on this website. Prior to the eighteenth century, geology did not exist as a historical science. The world was universally agreed to have been created several thousand earlier by God, using a dramatic process that could not be fathomed by mortal man - just as in Meiselman's theory. Additionally, just as in Meiselman's approach, it was assumed that the Deluge had wreaked havoc upon the world subsequent to creation.
But in 1793, a canal digger by the name of William Smith made a startling discovery, as described in the superb book The Map That Changed The World. He found that the same strata of rock are always found in the same order of superposition, and they always contain the same fossils. The significance of this cannot be overstated. Certain types of rock contained certain types of fossils that were unique to those beds. The layers of rock always appeared in the same order. This pattern held true everywhere that Smith checked.
And thus the Meiselman theory was abandoned, and the modern science of geology was born. Geology is an extremely useful science; it's not an ivory-tower philosophy. All kinds of industries and activities, as well as those investigating natural disasters, employ geologists. Because geology works. The patterns that are found in the rocks, the processes that are inferred from them and are still seen happening today, can all be relied upon to be applicable universally - throughout the planet, and throughout history. Billion-dollar industries prove it so! The constancy of nature over long periods was not an assumption - it was a discovery.
The flip side of the coin is also the case: Meiselman's model can be positively disproved. Meiselman's model predicts that the historical sciences will break down beyond 5771 years - in fact, beyond the Mabul, 4000 years ago. He alleges that because the natural order was entirely different before creation, as well as during the catastrophe of the Mabul, it simply isn't possible to use the tools of science from our own era for those periods, where everything was different.
But it wasn't different. We see that it wasn't different. The very same ice layers that are laid down each year in Greenland continue uninterrupted for tens of thousands of years into the past. The very same sedimentary layers that are laid down each year in lakes continue uninterrupted for tens of thousands of years into the past. The very same layers of bark that trees grow every year, which can by synchronized between living and dead trees to produce longer chains, continue to produce chains stretching 12,000 years into the past. And all these processes, as well as many more, synchronize with each other. Fossil pollen and volcanic ash gets trapped in ice layers and provides ways of cross-checking with radioactive dating. Ice layers record past climate changes which correlate with discoveries in astronomy. In short, geologists don't find that the physical history of the world changes dramatically past 4000 years ago - they find precisely the opposite. The same processes that occur in the last 4000 years are seen to continue in the same way as we look further back in history.
No pseudo-scientific theory by a religious figure is complete without a quote from a scientist that is completely distorted. To support his theory, Meiselman alleges that there is support for it from great scientists:
The assumption of the constancy of natural processes throughout the ages has been disputed by some of the greatest names in science.
Meiselman's usage here of the terms "natural processes" and "throughout the ages" is very slippery; he is either being deliberately disingenuous, or entirely misunderstanding the topic. Let's see who he invokes for this claim:
In 1939 the English physicist and Nobel Prize laureate Paul Dirac wrote, “At the beginning of time the laws of Nature were probably very different from what they are now. Thus, we should consider the laws of nature as continually changing within the epoch, instead of holding uniformly throughout space-time.”
That is indeed what Dirac said, and it is something that has had somewhat of a resurrection in recent times. But what does it mean? It does not mean that a few thousand years ago, there was a completely different natural order! Rather, it means that there was an extremely minor change in some extremely subtle aspects of the natural order over an extremely long period (and more of a change during the first moments of the formation of the universe, billions of years ago). The very same methodology and techniques used to show this, also show that there is overwhelming stability for the vast majority of the natural order for most of history!
This article from Scientific American, by John Barrow, gives a good overview. The scientists report that they found an average increase in the fine-structure constant,
, of close to six parts in a million over the period from six to twelve billion years ago (in the lat six billion years, there was no significant change). Others found no increase at all. None of this has anything to do with the billions of years on planet earth in which there were countless generations of prehistoric life. As John Webb notes in this article, "the geological results do not conflict with the quasar results or the atomic clock experiments because they probe very different epochs in the history of the universe." For Meiselman to claim great scientists in support of his approach is rather like someone claiming that Redak's view of kri/ksiv (that they were not both given at Sinai) means that he held that there is no textual integrity to the Torah and provides support for the Documentary Hypothesis.
It is astonishing - and a great chillul Hashem - that a Rosh Yeshivah can publish a view on the age of the universe which is presented as the definitive view, and claimed to be consistent with true knowledge of the scientific enterprise, and yet which reveals such utter ignorance of the natural sciences.