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Beit Midrash Jewish Laws and Thoughts Foundations of Faith

14. Contradictions between Science and Torah

Many ask: How does the Torah account for scientific proofs which demonstrate that the universe has existed for billions of years? How can this be resolved with Jewish tradition which claims that the universe was created no more than 6000 years ago?
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Asher Ben Hana
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Many people pose the question: How does the Torah account for scientific proofs which demonstrate that the universe has existed for billions of years? How can this be resolved with Jewish tradition which claims that the universe was created no more than 6000 years ago?
Foundations of Faith (50)
Rabbi Zalman Baruch Melamed
-25 - 19. Divine Providence and Prophetic Revelation
-24 - 14. Contradictions between Science and Torah
-23 - 15. Perceiving God
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Our esteemed mentor, Rabbi Abraham Isaac Kook, zt"l, addresses this discrepancy in one of his many correspondences. He writes that the Midrash, in a number of places, mentions the fact that before this world was created, the Almighty was "creating worlds and destroyed them." In other words, there were early stages of creation which eventually led to the creation of our present world. Science possesses no proof that there was never a planetary cataclysm and a new creation.

But actually we do not need this idea, says Rabbi Kook, since even if it were proven that the order of creation was through the evolution of the species, this would not contradict the Torah, for the Torah's account of creation "conceals more than it reveals," and the entire episode is one of the secrets of the Torah which is not to be understood literally.

The intention of the Torah is to inform us that the entire world was created by the Almighty according to a profound Divine plan. The Torah does not wish to reveal the order of creation from a scientific point of view. This is not the Torah's goal. The Torah does not concern itself with history and science. It teaches us to know God and His commandments, and here it limits itself to the fundamental point that the Almighty created the world through His command, without going into a detailed exposition of how this was played out, an enumeration of the various means and ways involved, or the various myriads upon myriads of stages and levels.

Scientific calculations of the universe's age do not weaken our faith. To the contrary, they strengthen it. The awesomeness of God's creation grows more and more, leading to a recognition that, "Your creations are so numerous, God" (Psalms 104:24) and "How great are Your deeds" (ibid. 92:6). "Lift your eyes up to the Heavens and see who created all of these" (Isaiah 40:26). Faith is becoming more refined, more abstract than we could have ever fathomed. This is true regarding every stratum of society.

Thus, there is no contradiction between the Torah tradition which functions on one level and science which functions on another. With Adam, creation was renewed and a new world order began - a Divine manifestation of creation, intervention, and providence as described by the Torah.

All the same, despite everything that we have said here, it is entirely possible that today's scientific viewpoint will at some point in time change, and new studies will reveal that there was indeed a renewal of creation at the time indicated by the Torah. This would not be the first time that science confirms that which is written in the Torah after having held the opposite. Indeed, recent archaeological research actually confirms the text of the Torah and shows that earlier scientific assumptions were mistaken.

In summary, the sages of the Midrash teach us that there were stages of creation which predate the biblical date. It is quite possible that science will confirm the Torah tradition regarding the renewal of creation. Yet, even if it turns out that scientific conclusions do not concur with the Torah position, no threat will posed to the validity of the Torah; the Torah functions in the realm of religious faith, and as far as this realm is concerned there was indeed an intensification in Divine Providence and Revelation in the world at that time. This is what the Torah describes as the creation of our world and the first human being.

Rabbi Zalman Baruch Melamed
Rosh Yeshiva of the Bet El Yeshiva, was the head of the Yesha rabbis board and rabbi of Bet-El, founder and head of Arutz 7.
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