Volume 9 Number 66
                       Produced: Sat Oct 23 21:16:08 1993

Subjects Discussed In This Issue: 

Age of the Universe
         [Joe Abeles]
Evolution (2)
         [Andy Goldfinger, Frank Silbermann]


From: Joe Abeles <joe_abeles@...>
Date: Thu, 21 Oct 93 19:53:02 -0400
Subject: Age of the Universe

What's all this stuff?  Is anybody trying to deny that there is an
inconsistency between what we are taught by the great men of past
generations and our observations?  We have been told here and elsewhere
that "six days" means six of our own days, i.e., 144 hours, 8,640
minutes, or 0.5184 million seconds.  That's how long it took to create
the world.  Huh?  (I am mailing this posting 10-21-93 at 2:00 PM EDT;
could the world have been created 3,345 times since Nov 10, 1938?)

There is an inconsistency between this figure and our observations:
Science is no more than our own observations based on our ability as
human beings to observe and reflect on what we have seen.  Certainly,
the Rambam has recognized and elaborated upon, in his "Eight Chapters",
a volume to which I was exposed by Dr. Avi Feldblum, the observational
and reasoning powers of man.

For example, the question may be posed: "How old is the Earth?"  Well,
our observations say it's billions of years old.  When I say "our"
observations, I must include everyone, including those Torah-believing
individuals who seem to be protesting that the world is only 5000 to
6000 years old.  It is their observation too.  Why?  Because the
observation of billions of years is the only observation which anyone
has made.  There is no method of determining the age of the world, from
observations, that indicates anything other than billions of years.
There is no competing observation.  Hence, the best observation made by
any man or woman, i.e., the observation of mankind, is that the world is
billions of years old.  It is the observation of mankind, under which
umbrella all men and women stand.

It may, as some say, be that we are living in a world that has been
manipulated so that it appears to be billions of years old but is really
only 5000 to 6000 years old.

In that case, however, one must admit that there is a contradiction
between what we are taught and what we observe.  If there is any
individual who claims to have made an observation that the world is 5000
to 6000 years old, one which is unbiased, that individual is
prevaricating or has made the observation very recently.  That is
because such an individual's observation would be of such importance (if
it actually were an observation), that it would be accorded great
attention by men and women all over the world who (even those who are
not Jewish) are equally interested in the question of how old the world
is.  There is no lack of interest in this question.  Therefore, unless
someone has just recently made such an observation and I have not yet
heard of it, there simply isn't any such individual anywhere in the

However, and more fundamentally, suppose that HaShem has structured the
world in such a way so that it appears to be billions of years old,
according to the observations of those individuals whom He has created
(namely, us), but in reality it is only 5000 to 6000 years old.  Such a
supposition begs a question:
 What is the difference between a world which according to all observations is
billions of years old and one which is, in "fact" (note the quotations marks),
billions of years old?

I argue that there is no difference at all.

If, according to all observations, the world appears to be billions of
years old then in my vocabulary and the vocabulary of the entire human
race perhaps with the exception of those who are antagonistic to this
reasoning from the start, the world truly is billions of years old.

Now, it may be that we have not yet made all the observations of which
we are capable which bear on the age of the universe.  In this case (a
likely scenario) it is certainly possible that we will subsequently
discover new information regarding weighty issues including the age of
the universe (the subject of the present discourse).

However, if this is the case then one would anticipate that, in the
future, new observations will be made which will reveal that the world
is actually 5000 to 6000 years old (assuming those observations are made
before too long -- otherwise the world might be a thousand years older
by then X {;-}|) X).

If that should become the case, then at that time in the future new
observations will have been made and there will no longer be any
 Such is not the case today.

But, logically, note that there are two possibilities: Either (1) The
world is for all intents an purposes billions of years old and our
observations are in contradiction with the tradition or (2) observations
will someday resolve those inconsistency.

Either way, I point out, the observations of men and women are the not
without their significance.  I point this out because of a viewpoint
which I have seen prevail in some quarters, to the effect that our
observations are really irrelevant and truly people are better off and
at a higher spiritual level if they ignore their observations.

It may be true that people are better off ignoring their observations,
but then again there are people who seem that they would have been
better off if they had never been born.  But who can say whether a
person, even one who suffers, would be better off never having been born
(even in the absence of any future afterlife).  It certainly is
difficult, isn't it, to judge such a matter as whether someone is better

Our observations exist.  The observation of a billions-of-years-old
world exists.  It exists independently of whether future discoveries
will modify that observation.  In any case, even should it be modified,
it will remain that the world appears legitimately to be billions of
years old as observed by 20th century men.  In the 15th century people
thought the world was flat and they were, technically, incorrect.
However for all intents and purposes, their observation that the world
was flat was valid locally; it had validity if not extrapolated beyond
observational capability of the times.

The inconsistency remains: Why would Hashem have told us that the world
was created 5000 to 6000 years ago if indeed it would later emerge that
we observe the world to be billions of years old?  This is a very key
question which has not received any satisfactory response (IMHO) to

For those who are betting that in some sense, indeed, the world is
5000-6000 years old whilst it is also (simultaneously) billions of years
old (as verified by our observations), the question arises: In what
sense?  Is it like Christopher Columbus who found the world was round?
If we could go back billions of years, would we find ourselves cycling
round and round the clock so that we pass "midnight" over and over
again?  If so, it could take billions of years to create the world but
it would really only be 5000 to 6000 years ago (but on another
Riemannian "fold" of the "complex" plane).

Or do you go back to the old concept that the dinosaurs never did exist
and they were just placed there 5000 or so years ago (in such a way as
to appear millions of years old) to confuse those with insufficient
faith?  Is it just a big game that Hashem is playing, trying to confuse
little men with their powers of observation?

Do the things we see not really exist at all?

Are we really deaf, dumb, and blind, but Hashem conjures up for us (like
magic) the hallucination of other people's existence, of every passing
day, of the existence of electronic mail through which you are reading
this posting?  Perhaps an explanation is that I, the author of this
posting, don't really exist either, and that this is all just another
test which Hashem has placed in you way to see if, "lifnei iver" style,
you stumble, or whether you properly respond to this new assault on your
faith and thereby ascend one more mini-level in your quest for

Something to ponder?



From: Andy Goldfinger <andy_goldfinger@...>
Date: 22 Oct 1993 15:32:02 U
Subject: Evolution

There is a story told about R. Kamenetski:

R. Kamenetski was traveling to Israel in an airplane.  For some reason,
his grandson (son?) who was traveling with him was sitting in a seat
some distance away, and R. Kamenetski was seated next to a college
professor.  As they talked, it became clear that the college professor
had a secular orientation.  As the flight continued, R. Kamenetski's
grandson continually visited his grandfather and asked if he could do
something for him: get him his slippers, get him a drink, a pillow, etc.
The college professor was amazed and asked R. Kamenetski: "Why is it
that your grandchild treats you so well.  My children and grandchildren
look upon me as an old fashioned and give me no respect?"
 R. Kamenetski answered: "My children and grandchildren believe that the
Torah was given at Sinai, and therefore they seen each preceeding
generation as closer and closer to the source of all knowledge.
Therefore, the treat me with respect.  Your children believe in
evolution, and therefore the see you and each preceeding generation as
one step closer to a monkey!"

Now, I don't know if this story is true, but in any case it displays a
belief that is endemic in our society, namely that since evolution has
occurred, each generation is an improvement on the previous one.  The
history of humankind is thus "progress."  This is embodied in
Christianity (the idea that a "New" testament replaced an "old" one) and
in secular Western society.

The point that I wish to make is that such an attitude is a **misuse**
of a scientific theory such as that of evolution.  Science can never
teach us about moral or spiritual values; it can never talk about
"better" or "worse."  It can only describe the world as it **is**, never
as it **ought** to be.  In fact, even within the theory of evolution
itself, there is no basis for saying that succeeding generations are
superior to earlier ones.  Who is to say that a college professor is
better in any way than an ape?  The college professor is merely adapted
to a different environment.

I think that there is much fear of evolutionary theory in the Torah
community because many have seen that there is a tendency for people to
draw improper conclusions from evolution, such as the superiority of
later generations or the non-existence of a Creator.  In truth, the
theory of evolution is silent on these matters, as is all scientific

I, myself, have no idea whether evolution is a "true" theory or not
(meaning two things: 1. that it is consistent with all presently
observable evidence, and 2. that it actually occurred in the past).
Evolution is an interesting theory.  It is simple and beautiful, and,
like all scientific theories, it seems to explain a lot.  But -- when it
comes to drawing moral or ethical conclusions, it is of no value.  It is
only Torah that can provide insights.

IMHO, if we bear this in mind we will see that evolution (or any other
scientific theory) can not in any way be a threat to Torah life or

From: Frank Silbermann <fs@...>
Date: Fri, 22 Oct 93 17:29:32 -0400
Subject: Re: Evolution

In vol 9 #64 Kibi Hofmann writes:

> I do not reject or denigrate the views of those who believe in a
> G-d guided evolution.  I do however, take offence at those who
> insist on looking at people who believe in creation as brainless,
> unscientific sheep.

This is a very important point.  Even the most brilliant scientists have
at times considered ideas which later seemed ridiculous.  How much more
true is this of us ordinary folk.  Therefore, even if someone holds a
view that I consider naive, I must never use that as an excuse to
disparage his intellect.  Only G-d knows how many other dimensions of
intellectual life exist in which my own ideas are naive and simple
minded as compared to his.  (This aside from imperatives of humility,
which indicate that I should never be _too_ certain of my own beliefs).

The last thing I want is a debate to determine the last word on
evolution.  In such a debate there can be no winners.  Should the idea
of evolution be deemed posul and forbidden, many will conclude that the
Torah cannot be taken seriously.  On the other hand, should we be
forbidden to teach Halachos using the metaphors of Berashis, many would
no longer be motivated to observe them.

I believe (i.e. strive to live under the assumption that) G-d created an
entire universe of matter ex nihilo and controls it, because I am told
it is a mitsvah to trust in this, and I realize that our system of
Halacha cannot endure without this assumption.  However, I recognize
that the Creation is one of the deepest mysteries, bound to be
misunderstood by even some of the most learned Chochamim, and therefore
I needn't be too concerned if some of the accounts of Creation in the
Torah don't make sense to me.

> Since evolution can't predict anything it serves no scientific purpose

I'm not so sure of that.  It provides quite a bit of intuition about
biological processes -- intuition which has led to some miraculous
medical discoveries.

> the gemara says the scripture can always be explained in a literal
> sense (ain hamikra yotze mip'shuto, or something like that).

I wonder how this passuk is meant to be interpreted.

Taken literally it might be used to refute the Rambam, when he taught
that phrases like "yad Hashem" do not actually indicate that G-d has
body parts.

The concept of "day" (as I understand it) is only relative to familiar
natural processes.  Outside of the scope of these processes, the word
can retain only the barest metaphorical connotations.  Because of the
need to respect our Sages of the past (an important duty as Pinchas
Edelson pointed out), I would like to believe that they too realized

> The problem is that lots of "fans" of evolution do not acknowledge
> the hand of G-d at any point

This is also a problem with those who teach computer science.  Virtually
every text I've seen relates data processing to natural electrical
processes, without ever admitting that it is G-d's hand which is
controlling these electrons.  But what can you expect?

> and use the theory to "prove" the non-existence (or non-involvement) of G-d.

These arguments can only affect the kind of people who assume that
acceptance of the theory of evolution is inconsistent with religious

Frank Silbermann	<fs@...>
Tulane University	New Orleans, Louisiana  USA


End of Volume 9 Issue 66