Six days and 14 billion years: measuring reality from two perspectives

First, it is essential to note that the idea of an ancient universe is actually ancient.

THE AGE of dinosaur bones: Not a scientific delusion. (photo credit: PIXABAY)
THE AGE of dinosaur bones: Not a scientific delusion.
(photo credit: PIXABAY)
It is time to put to rest the claims that 100-million-year-old dinosaur bones and a universe that stretches back 14 billion years into history are the delusions of a misguided scientific community.
There is a basic difference between ignorance and stupidity. Ignorance in a certain field of knowledge is understandable. I doubt if any person can know all the information sequestered in the libraries of the world or the Internet.
Stupidity is when a person is ignorant in a certain field of knowledge, but nonetheless condemns that knowledge as false. Scientists who can only read the Bible in (mis)-translation and yet are willing to push it off as simplistic are stupid.
Equally stupid are theologians who have not a clue as to how time is perceived in an expanding universe and yet are vocally willing to give their opinion of exactly that topic.
Let’s get beyond the stupidity and discover that both the six 24-hour days of Genesis Chapter 1, known as the creation chapter, and the 14 billion years of cosmology are two literally true views of one reality, but views that measure that reality from two vastly different perspectives.
First, it is essential to note that the idea of an ancient universe is actually ancient. Most notable, Isaac of Acre, a key student of Nahmanides (ca. 1250), brings biblical data that indicate our universe being 15 billion years old. Clearly this was not Isaac’s attempt to bend the Bible to match science, since his work predates by centuries the dating of fossils.
At the other extreme, it is the same Nahmanides, along with the famed commentator Rashi (ca. 1050), who tell us that the word “day” as used in Genesis’s first chapter always means a period of 24 hours. In their commentaries, there is no wiggle room for the simplistic answer that the days were long periods of time. But then Nahmanides tells us that those same 24-hour days contain all the ages of the world.
Sounds confusing, until he resolves the seeming contradiction with the “causal” observation that as the six days of Genesis progress, the form of their numbering changes from absolute (cardinal) numbers to comparative (ordinal) numbers. The Bible says Day 1 then changes to the second day, the third day to the fourth day, and so on. And then Nahmanides, our ancient sage, tells us why there was a change: The Torah could not write a first day on the first day because there had not yet been a second day.
Nahmanides knows that by the time the Torah was revealed to Moses on Sinai, there had been approximately 400,000 “second” days. If the view of time for the six days of Genesis was from Sinai looking back into history, the Torah would have written “a first day.” In the First World War, aside from the pessimists, no one called that war the First World War. It was the Great War. Came along the next war, and suddenly it became the First World War.
I fought in the First Lebanon War. None of us called it the First Lebanon War, until sadly there was a second. The Torah records “Day 1” because for the six days of Genesis, the Torah sees time from a unique perspective, from the beginning looking forward into the future. That’s the moment scientists call the Big Bang.
And in accord with that unique biblical perspective of time, the description of the passage of time in Genesis is also unique. Nowhere else in the entire Hebrew Bible do we read the phrase “there was evening and there was morning” and then a day being stated. The six-day calendar stands apart, separate from our earth-based calculations of time. For that reason, the 5779 years that we marked this past Rosh Hashanah do not start with the Big Bang creation of the universe. They start with the creation of the human soul that is instilled in Adam and Eve (Genesis 1:27). With Adam and Eve, the biblical view of time takes an earthbased perspective of time. We know this because the Bible records the years of their children’s births, which obviously took place on earth.
WHEN WE use our modern telescopes, we capture light that reaches us from deep space. In that ancient light, we are actually looking back in time. We measure how much the wavelengths of that light have been stretched due to the stretching and the expansion of the universe, as they traveled to us from those distant galaxies, and with those data calculate the age of our magnificent universe to be approximately 14 billion years old.
But how would those 14 billion years look, not in our view looking back into history, but from the Bible’s view, looking forward from the Big Bang beginning into a future that reaches us today? For that we take those same stretched light waves and “un-stretch” them, taking us back to the beginning, not to a place in space, but to a moment in time: the first moment.
The result is that as we progress mathematically back in time toward the Bible’s perspective at the beginning, the universe becomes both younger and smaller at an equal rate. The mathematical equation that calculates this compression in magnitude has no biblical data in it. On my website it is described in detail. It uses only data taken from astronomy, and it “tells” us that if we view time from the beginning looking forward, the 14 billion years that we measure would be compressed by 900 billion. Our 14 billion years “compressed” by (divided by) the factor of 900 billion would be perceived as 0.015 years or in days, 5.5 days. It is intriguing that the Talmud states that Adam and Eve received the human soul halfway through the sixth day, that is, at five-and-a-half days after the Big Bang. Nahmanides hinted at it, his student calculated it based on Bible data, and we for the first time in human history have the scientific data to confirm it. As my late colleague Prof. Arnie Novak observed, we live in a special time. One hundred years ago we did not have the instruments to make the needed measurements. And if many more billions of years had passed until there was a solar system with an earth and humans, the universe would be so stretched that we would not be able to see any other galaxies. We would assume that the Milky Way is all there is in the universe, with no way of measuring the rates of expansion and so no way to calculate the age of time. We’d find dinosaur bones, measure their ages, and then wonder how that could make sense with the Bible’s six days.
When we build our sukkot, we cover the roofs with branches. The branches can be piled so thickly that not even rain can get in, but that’s not ideal. We aim for a roof that provides shade but is thin enough so that at night you can see past the leaves to the heavens above, to see the world through the biblical roof. Maimonides writes in the opening to his The Guide for the Perplexed (ca. 1190), the only way that we can know the God of the Bible, what he calls, the Science of God (mada elokut), is to know the Science of Nature (mada teva). Knowing both avoids stupidity when we talk of either.
The writer is author of Genesis and the Big Bang and God According to God. He teaches the confluence of ancient Torah with modern medicine at Aish HaTorah, the College of Jewish Studies, Jerusalem.