Volume 15 Number 85
                       Produced: Wed Oct 19  0:22:46 1994

Subjects Discussed In This Issue: 

Creation and Science
         [Joe Abeles]
Solar system age and C-14
         [Bobby Fogel]


From: Joe Abeles <joe_abeles@...>
Date: 17 Oct 1994 11:07:21 U
Subject: Creation and Science

I was sufficiently provoked by recent postings  on "Creation and Science" 
to respond both in general and specifically regarding the very unproven 
hypothesis advanced regarding the variability of carbon-14 decay rates 
depending on hydrostatic pressure of approximately 500 atmospheres.

In addition, I wanted to respond in a useful way (I hope) to the earlier
request of  Moshe E. Rappoport <mer@...> for some
way to resolve science and creationism.  As the reader will see,
I would take exception to the approach suggested by Yechezkel Schatz 
<lpschatz@...> in his answer to that request.

And finally, I think it is useful to point out that the importance of
understanding science as a body of knowledge which substantially
influences the day-to-day functioning of the world both in production
and consumption as well as in the understanding of nature has changed so
greatly since the time of the Rambam.  The Rambam is one of our main
decisors of halacha but for his part was also a master of the rather
primitive science of his day which he nonetheless considered (as it was
pointed out in another recent posting) very significant in understanding
the world and undoubtedly influenced his thinking deeply.  At least, any
halachic decision taken by him would be taken in full knowledge of any
applicable science known to him at the time.

Unfortunately, and here I am digressing a bit, it is a condition of
society at large (not just Jewish society) that it prefers to ignore
scientific knowledge.  Journalists often report about events while
displaying an astonishing lack of understanding of natural events which
they behold.  Of course, in our democratic society it is politically
correct to ascribe equal ability to everyone so far as it is possible
(not that I disagree that everyone be treated humanely and fairly, but
that is not the issue).  Those who are mathematically and logically
challenged, and therefore not too well equipped to understand science,
may be otherwise pleasant or even charismatic personalities.  They are
sometimes and unfortunately placed in the positions of being
unenlightened leaders.

With this preamble I would like to discuss the "conflict" between
science and halacha:

First of all, to my mind people frequently miss a basic point when
trying to resolve science and halacha.  A problem arises once one begins
investing both the Torah and science, which are basically each two
bodies of knowledge as experienced by most human beings (excepting
prophets, etc.), into human beings.

I.e., when one calls someone a "scientist" or a "talmid chacham," there
seems to be an inherent assumption that everything which that person
experiences or expresses is done so only in the context of the
corresponding body of knowledge.  This is the source of a fallacy which
leads many Toms, Dicks, and Harrys to question the contradiction between
Torah and science.  Their real question is, "How can 'Shlomie' be both a
talmid chacham and a scientist?  If he is a talmid chacham then doesn't
he have to reject science?  Alternatively, if he is a scientist, doesn't
he have to reject Torah?"  The basic point here is that the interest in
"Shlomie" on the part of such questioners is to try to tear him apart
logically.  This is some kind of yetzer-harah sport for such people, I

In reality, both Torah and Madah (science) are bodies of knowledge which
serve a purpose for people and any apparent contradictions are simply a
result of the incompleteness of our understanding of them.

One must admit that such incompleteness could also comprise certain
errors, and that is another problem because talmidei chachamim don't
wish to admit any possibility of error in Torah.  This however isn't as
much a problem for science because any adherents (if such a word can
properly be used) to the scientific body of knowledge are not obligated
to claim its infallibility under all circumstances, merely that it seem
to permit us to explain, predict, and control physical systems.  (I
exclude from this discussion the gratuitous use of "scientific" as an
adjective applied to social science methodologies as well as offensive
advertisements and fast-talking hot-shots of all ilks.)

So it really isn't science which needs to defend itself against religion
but the opposite.  And in fact, such appears to be the case.  Books like
that of Y. Shatz' father and others are examples of talmidei chachamim
attempting to claim the infallibility of Torah.

However, I would claim that such defense of Torah is also unnecessary.

Any "errors" in Torah need not be defended.  They are placed there by
HKB'H in his "omni-science", presumably, to help us or for other reasons
known best to Himself.  In addition, as we well know from the Talmudic
story, halacha is made by those living in this world, and therefore any
changes in halacha are not errors but are items which are by definition
valid.  Presumably, the g'dolei ha-dor will take notice of science when
pronouncing their halachot to the extent they deem necessary.

It seems to me that rather than reacting positively to the presence of
science as an apparently valid body of knowledge, however, the reaction
of most of our co-religionists is that science is a tool of the haskalah
which represents the assimilation of Jews.  I believe I have written or
alluded to this point in the past in m.j.

With respect to creationism, it appears that this issue is mostly
symbolic of the struggle of Orthodox Jewry to defend itself against the
arguments of Reform and other Jews who claim that the Torah is some kind
of dead letter (chas v'shalom).  It seems to me here again that it would
be far better to directly take on this issue than to skirt it by arguing
obscurely about facts (i.e. creation) which are long past and
overwhelmingly inaccessible to resolution by anyone living today
(assuming the absence of n'vuah as seems to be the case).

Thus, I would strongly advocate discussing not the issue of creation vs
evolution (which seems almost a silly discussion to me since it can get
people excited but cannot be resolved -- albeit any individual can
delude himself or herself that it has been resolved in his own mind).
Rather, I would advocate promoting the Torah as a fountain of life and
knowledge which benefits people living today.

One last comment on creationism vs evolution is that I cannot conceive
of any adequate response, though I am open to hearing one, as to why
Hashem would create the world in a way in which it would appear to us
living in the 20th century that it is in reality not 5000 or so years
old but rather one million times older than that.  If you look at data
on nuclides which are naturally occurring here on Earth, it is
immediately and highly striking that the bulk of naturally occurring
radioactivity originating here on Earth (i.e. not from cosmic rays
striking Earth) comes from three nuclides having lifetimes of several
billion years.  Considering that there are maybe a thousand nuclides
having various lifetimes (some immeasurably long, some immeasurably
short and many in between), it is certainly represents to me that we are
living in a world that Hashem created to look as if it is billions of
years old.

As far as the claim that carbon-14 could decay at a different rate when
subjected to supposedly immense pressures of several thousand meters of
water is concerned, I say the following: The pressure one is talking
about is only 500 atmospheres, which is relatively speaking no pressure
at all when we are talking about the nucleus of any atom.  Recall that
radioactive decay is a nuclear process, not an electronic one.
Incidently, even experiments commonly enough performed in the laboratory
to investigate electronic structure of, e.g., semiconductors (something
of technological importance) requires greater pressures.  Typical
pressures are many thousands of atmospheres there.

For those not familiar with the lingo: In the sense of energy levels,
electronic and chemical processes are similar, but are highly distinct
from nuclear processes.

The carbon-14 claim in question is equally if not more ludicrous, based
on existing understanding, than a similar scandalous claim originating
several years ago of which I am sure most have heard.  I am referring,
of course, to cold fusion.

In the case of cold fusion, as well, the claim was that
chemical/electronic processes could substantially affect nuclear ones.
If so, it would have been the first such example of such a phenomenon,
and for good reason: The energies available from electronic processes
are typically a few electron volts whereas nuclear reactions typically
run on energies of millions of electron volts.

In any case, however, it isn't up to science to deny that it is possible
in some way that YS's father's scientifically-doubtful hypothesis could
be right.  It is simply the case that it has no evidence to back it up
which correspond to known and accepted science.  This doesn't mean it is
wrong, but most theories which have been promulgated by those who have
the conclusion in mind prior to performing the trial (whether
experimental or calculational in nature) are later proven wrong.

--Joe Abeles


From: <bobby@...> (Bobby Fogel)
Date: Mon, 17 Oct 1994 15:19:34 +0000
Subject: Solar system age and C-14

>In his book "Amitoot Chronologiat HaTanach" (Credibility of the Biblical
>Chronology), Hotzaat Aleph, my father, Elihu Schatz, brings his theories
>on the topic.
> Many apparent contradictions can be explained by the mabool
>(deluge). For instance: when testing for C-14 levels, the most credible
>of all geological tests,with the least amount of assumptions underlying
>it, we are still assuming that the rate for C-14 break-down was always
>the same.  And yet, a pressure of about 5000 meters of water covering
>the earth's surface could have an affect on these rates.  What I am, in
>effect saying, is that C-14 tests are very accurate for any date after
>the deluge, but not at all for any before the Mabool!  Many other
>problems can be explained by the mabool.

It is not my intention to undercut this book (since I have never read it),
however, if the comment accurately reflects the books contents I must
point out some errors (I am a Geochemist)

First:  although it is not stated, the assumption here is that scientists
get their information about the age of the earth from C-14.  This is
incorrect.   The age of the earth comes from other radiogenic clocks.
These are primarily
     1) Uranium-Lead (U-Pb)
     2) Rubidium-Strontium (Rb-Sr)
     3) Potasium-Argon (K-Ar).
In fact, C-14 CANNOT be used to determine ages much older than
100,000 years.  (There are some newer methods, using linear
accelerators, that allow C-14 dates to be pushed back to about
150,000.  But thats it.  The reason for this is simple.
Since the half life (the time it takes for
half of a substance to decay) of C-14 is only 5735 years.  Assume
a substance is comprised of 1% C-14 (most substance when they
are alive (the stuff dated by C-14) start out with much less then
this).  After 1 half life 0.5% is left and so on.  After 10 half lifes
or for C-14 this represents 57,350 years there is approximately
0.001% left (this quantity is much harder to measure than 1%!
After 20 half lives there are 0.000001 % left (almost impossible)
to measure by conventional means.  This represents about
115,000 years.  Of course we can compensate by using more
sample for the experiment, but there comes a point where it is no
longer practicle, and old artifacts, like the dead sea scrolls, cannot
afford large amounts of sample to bedestroyed for C-14 testing.

Second:  C-14 is NOT the most accurate geological clocks.  In fact,
it is one of the worst (in comparison with the other clocks).
The assumption is that the C-14 content of the air that living
organisms breath is constant or at least known.  In fact, we
know that the C-14 content of the air fluctuates over time.  Much
of this fluctation, in modern C-14 dating, can be compensated for
by knowing the C14 fluctiation over time.  But for very old samples
this fluctutaion over time is less well known (but becomes less
important since an error of 5000 years on a 10,000 year old
date is much grater than an error of 5000 years on a 100,000 date.

Third: the mabul could have effected dates in as much as we can
conjecture that C14 was preferentially leached out of all living things
by the water.  However, i do not think this practicle since water
has a definite C-14 signiture as well. so, the total selective
fractionation from dead organsism would not occur. Also, since
this is NOT the method by which the age of the solar system
is determined, it is a moot point.

Science have determined the age of the Solar System to be
4.55 billion years old.  (As Opposed to the Universe which is
much less well known to be 15-30 billion years old)
This comes from dating, using the above
mentioned radiogenic clocks, meteorites and the oldest rocks on
the moon.  These rocks CONSISTANTLY give 4.55 billion years
and are corroborated by ALL the above radiogenic systems.
Most meteorites are the remnants of the condensation of the
solar nebula (the gasious material that comprised the solar
system before it condensed).  One of the ways we know that
these meteorites are remnants from this time is that, minus
the sun's gaseous component, metoerites contents of the
elements from the ENTIRE PERIODIC CHART match those of the
sun (when normatlized to any one of the periodic charts
elements).  Meteorites that date younger than 4.55, show
that they have been reworked (melted or heated above
600-800 celcius (no, 100 degrees faranheit
during the modbul won't do it)

The oldest rocks on earth are 3.9 billion years, although zircons
in some slightly younger sedimentary rocks (rocks comprised of
particles from the breakdown of earlier rocks) give an age of
4.25 billion years.  One of the reasons why 4.55 billion year old
rocks do not exist (or have not been found) on the earth since
the earth is a vary active place geologically and plate tectonics
has destroyed (to our knowledge) all of the earliest formed rocks
by the recycling of the earths crust back into the mantle
at subduction zones (such as off the eastern coast of Japan.)

I present all this information in a hope to clarify much of the
misunderstandings I constantly read in m.j about this topic.
(and have heard from the frum and lay community over the
years.)  It is always bewildering to me that most people in this
world would never dream of diagnosing a person with a disease
if he/she were not a competantly trained doctor.  Yet on the
subject of the age of the earth/solar system, as well as many
other scientific topics layman feels they are competant
to pronounce complicated scientific explanations.
(perhaps the reason for this is that life is not on the line in
deciding the age of the earth.) The irony here is that many
physical and chemical phenomenon (that undrly the dating
of the solar system for instance are actually understood much
better than most diseases and human ailmants are.
I don't understand why science is criticised so, by many
individuals when it becomes clear, by the lack of scientific
sophistication an knowledge that they have not
before read creadible SCIENTIFIC articles
or books from accomplished scientists in their own field.

I personally feels it is a diservice to both Torah and science
to come up with fanciful explanations for serious Torah
and science problems.  I believe that Torah is much deeper
than this and that G-d gave us minds to reason and yes, come
up with dates for the solar system of 4.55 billion years.
I am believe that this is consistent with the Torah if viewed
through the proper framework.  More work on understanding
the Torah, and science, better will one day (I am sure) clarify



End of Volume 15 Issue 85