The Missing Link in the Debate
The debate between evolutionists and creationists has once again been brought to the forefront of public attention with several recent court cases in Dover, Pennsylvania and Kansas City, Kansas. As at other times, this debate has "evolved" into the scientific understanding of evolution versus the beliefs held by Christian creationists.
Creationists contend that their "literal interpretation" of the creation account as told in the book of Genesis is the correct one. Many evolutionists and a sizable segment of the public have accepted the creationists interpretation as being the correct way to understand Genesis. 1
Therefore, evolutionists reject the creation account in the book of Genesis as being fundamentally flawed, and the segment of the public, who lean towards the creationists views, has difficulty accepting the precepts of evolution.
What is often overlooked, or remains unknown, is that there are other views of how the creation account, as presented in the Bible, is to be understood. The traditional Jewish interpretation the Biblical creation account differs from that of Christian creationism.
The more science learns and discovers, the more there is a convergence of science and the Jewish interpretation of Genesis, rather than a divergence. There are many ideas taught by the Jewish sages regarding the interpretation and understanding of the creation account, some going back thousands of years, which modern science has shown to be factual.
One example is found in the apparent conflict that exists between science and the bible regarding the age of the universe. A study of the genealogies presented in the bible would seem to indicate that creation is about six thousand years old (Kaplan 186). Science contends that the universe is approximately fifteen billion years old, basing its understanding on evidence from astrological and geographic data (Lederman 385).
There is an obvious conflict, the two positions seem incompatible. Just how long ago did the "beginning" occur? Judaism has historically believed that the universe has a beginning. From the very first verse of the book of Genesis: "Bereshit bara Elohim et hashamayim veet haeretz, in the beginning God created the heavens and the earth," a beginning is implied.
The idea that the universe has a beginning is actually a relatively new development to science and western thought. According to the Greek understanding there was no beginning, teachers such as Aristotle and Plato taught that the universe is eternal and unchanging (Schroeder).
This was the view that science held, as late as the 1960s. In a survey of leading scientists from 1959 the question was asked, What is your concept of the age of the universe? The response to that survey was recently republished in the Scientific American the most widely read science journal in the world. Two-thirds of the scientists gave the answer: Beginning? There was no beginning" (Schroeder)
In fact, for fifteen years, Albert Einstein refused to accept Edwin Hubbles "incontrovertible proof of the expanding universe" and its implications that the universe had a beginning. Only when he met Dr. Hubble and had the opportunity to examine the evidence for himself, did Einstein concede his point (Ringler). His reluctance in accepting the implications of a universe with a beginning were evidenced in a remark to a colleague insisting that, "I still have not fallen into the hands of priests" (Jastrow 21)
With the discovery of the expanding universe by Edwin Hubble, and the evidence of the "big bang" found in 1965 by scientists Arno Penzias and Robert Wilson "the world paradigm changed from a universe that was eternal to a universe that had a beginning" (Calder 119) (Schroeder).
The question still remains; when did this beginning take place? According to Jewish tradition there are "two beginnings". In the book of Genesis there is the beginning of the universe, which is contained in the six "days" of creation, and the creation of Adam, which begins with the formation of the soul of the first man.
In the Jewish Midrash, an expansion of the Talmud that clarifies historical and moral teachings, the Sages teach that the creation of the soul of Adam, and the six days of Genesis are separate events (Schroeder).
Still, how do six days of creation equal fifteen billion years? According to the calculations of the 13th century Kabbalist, Rabbi Isaac of Acco, the universe is precisely 15,340,500,000 years old.
The calculation proceeds as follows:
According to the Babylonian Talmud, Sanhedrin 97a, " R. Kattina said: Six thousand years shall the world exist, and one [thousand, the seventh], it shall be desolate ". Ancient and medieval Kabbalists such as Nehunya ben HaKanah, in Sefer HaTemunah (written about 100 AD) and Rabbi Isaac of Acco understood these seven thousand years a running parallel to the Jewish Sabbatical cycle. In this cycle the fields are planted and harvested for six years and left unplanted in the seventh year.2
Rabbi Aryeh Kaplan, who apart from being a rabbi, also held a masters degree in physics, cites the calculations of Rabbi Isaac of Acco in his commentaries on the book Sefer Yehzirah: The Book of Creation. This book has an oral tradition going back to Abraham, but was first committed to writing about 1500 years ago. In his commentary on this book Rabbi Kaplan writes:
"According to the master Kabbalist, Rabbi Isaac of Acco, when counting the years of these cycles, one must not use an ordinary physical year, but rather, a divine year. The Midrash says that each divine day is a thousand years, basing this on the verse, "A thousand years in Your sight are but as yesterday" (Psalm 90:4). Since each year contains 364 ¼ days, a divine year would be 365,250 years long.
According to this, each cycle of seven thousand divine years would consist of 2,556,750,000 earthly years. This figure of two-and-a-half billion years is very close to the scientific estimate as to the length of time that life has existed on earth.
If we assume that the seventh cycle began with the Biblical account of creation, then this would have occurred when the universe was 15,340,500,000 years old. This is very close to the scientific estimate that the expansion of the universe began some fifteen billion years ago" (Kaplan 186).
That a thirteenth century rabbi could have so accurately calculated the age of the universe, using only the Scriptures and Jewish traditions, is astounding. It would take science nearly seven hundred more years to arrive at this same figure.
While these calculations may explain how the universe could be dated to over fifteen billion years old, it does not explain why the Jewish calendar only accounts for 5,766 years of that existence.
As stated previously, there are two beginnings according to Jewish understanding. The first chapter of Genesis is understood traditionally to be speaking of the "initial creation of the universe, while the second chapter speaks of the creation of Adam. (Kaplan 186).
The creation of Adam, as told in the second chapter of Genesis is understood not to be the creation of Adams body, but the creation of his neshama, the of the soul of human life, and its placement within Adam. This idea is best reflected in the Targums, which are the Aramaic translations of the Hebrew Scriptures.
In Targum Onkelos, dating from the second century AD, Onkelos translates the creation of Adam in chapter two of Genesis as follows, "And the Lord God created Adam dust from the earth, and He blew into his nostrils the breath of life, and it became within Adam a speaking spirit." It is with this phenomenon that the Jewish calendar begins, and counting all the genealogies from Adam forward shows that 5,766 years have elapsed since this event (Schroeder).
Judaism consistently interprets the Genesis account as being a parable, not to be taken literally, but as allegory. Yet, creationists insist that the texts must be taken literally that; "The Bible, of course, teaches that the work of creation was all accomplished in the six days of the creation week, as outlined in Genesis 1 " (Morris 36). When creationist are confronted with the idea of a universe and an earth that are billions of years old, not thousands as they claim, they refuse to view their interpretation of Scripture as being flawed, but instead tend to discredit the science that would call their beliefs into question.
A prime example is how creationists deal with the vast amount of geological evidence that indicates that the earth is billions of years old. Paleontologist Kurt Wise, an impassioned creationist, who is well-respected in creationist circles, has an answer to this problem.
His answer for the presence of geological formations, which according to traditional science take millions of years to form, is found in the account of the flood as described in the book of Genesis.
He explains, "There was an enormous earthquake which cracked the surface of the earth and propagated across the earths surface. In this model the flood results not from rain but from an upheaval of the ocean floor. Driven by gravitational energy, the ocean crust may have sunk, being denser and cooler than the mantle below, and this in turn pushed molten earth up into the ocean this is what spreads ocean floors and makes continental plates move." This is Professor Wises explanation on how plate tectonics could occur in days, not millions of years (Witham 106)
His explanation sounds as though it could be reasonable, but even Wise concedes that there are problems for his young earth approach (Witham 106) "Questions about the rate of plate movement and the age of rocks" are challenges to his theories (Witham 106). Rather than examine his approach to Scripture, Kurt Wise instead forges unorthodox pathways through established science.
As mentioned earlier, the six days of creation are not counted as part of the Jewish calendar. These six days are unique and counted separately. Nachmanidies, a Jewish commentator from the thirteenth century, states that, "before the universe, there was nothing but then suddenly the entire creation appeared as a miniscule speck" (Schroeder).
During the proceeding six "days" of creation the world was forming and taking shape. Jewish tradition understands that God did not create the world but instead, God brought into existence all the ingredients that would allow the universe to form. "God allowed the universe to develop by itself all the laws of nature and properties of matter had been fixed for all time" (Kaplan 186-187)
These six days of creation were understood to be six cycles, as mentioned above in the explanation of Rabbi Isaac of Accos calculations of the age of the universe. "Each of the six cycles of creation brought something new into the world. The fifth cycle was the one that brought forth life, and this took place around two and a half billion years ago. Around 974 generations before Adam, or some 25,000 years ago, man developed all the physical and mental capabilities that we possess today" (Kaplan 187). The difference between Adam, and his human ancestors, was that Adam was given a "divine soul."
Because Judaism has traditionally taught the existence of humans predating Adam, the discovery of other hominids did not "rattle" the Jewish understanding of Scripture, as it did with creationists. The traditional Jewish understanding and interpretation of Scripture has been able to absorb and process many of modern sciences discoveries without having to violate its own beliefs, or to distance itself from science.
The perfect example is the Jewish understanding that modern humans developed about 25,000 years ago. This is very close to the current anthropological dating of when Homo sapiens became the only surviving hominids, which is calculated to have occurred approximately 28,000 years ago (Wong 57).
The "creation" of Adam, which occurred 5,766 years ago, coincides with a explosion of activity that transpired approximately 6000 years ago. "Seemingly overnight there is a record of a remarkable change in this stable Stone Age pattern of human remains in one particular area of the planet, Mesopotamia. Overnight, in terms of historic time, we have the development of sophisticated architecture, advanced pottery, organized agriculture, the rise of population centers akin to cities, the appearance of metallic weapons and ornaments, the development of writing and records, the appearance of sophisticated political structures and empires, traces of complex religions and the ceremonies associated with them Thus the great leap forward was restricted to a single location and came out of nowhere" (Weisz).
The archeological record seems to support the way in which the creation of Adam is viewed by traditional Jewish understanding. Again, in keeping in line with the idea that the creation account is an allegory, the understanding of the creation of Adam differs greatly from the views of creationist. "In other words, the Biblical description of the creation of man really tells the story of the creation of civilized, post Stone Age man, who we now call Homo sapiens. Moreover, it clearly indicates that this creation was not an act of altering mans physiology, but rather, consisted of adding a spiritual dimension to the physical creature who already existed" (Weisz)
Though these are only a few examples that have been presented, there are many more that could be explored. Unfortunately the scope of the subject is to great for a short paper such as this.
Undoubtedly the evolutionist versus creationist debate will continue for many years to come. Maybe, both sides could explore how they interpret the Genesis account and see, that where there has been conflict and contradiction, there is, in fact, harmony between science and the Bible.
Notes1. Numerous polls have been conducted over the last fourteen years and surprisingly, the numbers have remained consistent. As Scott Keeter, director of survey research at the Pew Research Center in Washington found, "Even though it used different wording, a Gallup Poll last year found virtually the same split (as the Pew opinion poll): 45 percent agreed that "God created human beings pretty much in the present form at one time within the last 10,000 years or so," while 51 percent thought that "humans developed over millions of years from less advanced forms of life." Gallup first asked that question in 1982, and found 44 percent choosing the creationist option and 47 percent endorsing evolution" (Keeter B03) 2. The origins of the sabbatical cycle can be found in the book of Leviticus25:2-13, "Speak to the people of Israel, and say to them, When you come into the land which I give you, then shall the land keep a sabbath to the Lord. Six years you shall sow your field, and six years you shall prune your vineyard, and gather in its fruit; But in the seventh year shall be a sabbath of rest to the land, a sabbath for the Lord; you shall not sow your field, nor prune your vineyard. That which grows of its own accord of your harvest you shall not reap, nor gather the grapes of your vine undressed; for it is a year of rest to the land. And the sabbath produce of the land shall be food for you; for you, and for your servant, and for your maid, and for your hired servant, and for the stranger who sojourns with you, and for your cattle, and for the beast that are in your land, shall all its produce be food. And you shall count seven sabbaths of years to you, seven times seven years; and the space of the seven sabbaths of years shall be to you forty and nine years.Then shall you cause the shofar to sound on the tenth day of the seventh month, in the Day of Atonement shall you sound the shofar throughout all your land. And you shall hallow the fiftieth year, and proclaim liberty throughout all the land to all the inhabitants of it; it shall be a jubilee to you; and you shall return every man to his possession, and you shall return every man to his family. A jubilee shall that fiftieth year be to you; you shall not sow, nor reap that which grows of itself in it, nor gather the grapes in it of your vine undressed. For it is the jubilee; it shall be holy to you; you shall eat the produce of it out of the field. In the year of this jubilee you shall return every man to his possession".
Calder, Nigel. Einsteins Universe.
Jastrow, Robert. God and the Astronomers
Kaplan, Aryeh. Sefer Yetzirah: The Book of Creation.
Keeter, Scott. "Whats Not Evolving Is Public Opinion."
Lederman, Leon and Dick Teresi. The God Particle.
Morris, Henry M. Science and the Bible.
Ringler , Sara Yocheved. "Confessions of a Creationist."
Schroeder , Dr. Gerald. "The Age of the Universe."
The Ariel Chumash: Targum Onkelos.
"The Babylonian Talmud". Judaic Classics Library. CD-ROM. Chicago, IL: Davka Corporation, 1999.
Weisz, Rabbi Noson. "Will the Real Homo Sapiens Please Stand Up."
Witham, Larry A. Where Darwin Meets the Bible.
Wong, Kate. "The Littlest Human". Scientific