Prior to my break, there was some discussion, in the comments to this post, about the Day-Age Theory. This refers to the idea that the “Days” in the first chapter of Genesis actually refer to very long periods of time. This is a desperation move made by Biblical literalists who are uneasy rejecting the considerable evidence in support of an ancient Earth.
During my break I started reading The Challenge of Creation: Judaism’s Encounter With Science, Cosmology, and Evolution, by Rabbi Natan Slifkin. I’m currently about half way through it, and I expect to have a great deal to say about it in the weeks to come. He includes a chapter refuting the Day-Age theory. On this issue, he speaks for me. I’ve transcribed a lengthy excerpt from this chapter below the fold.
But a substantial difficulty with any explanation that the six days are not six ordinary days is that the Torah does not only say that there were six days. Rather, the Torah also states that with each day “there was evening, and there was morning.” It is difficult to imagine how this phrase could be interpreted if this does not refer to 24-hour periods on planet Earth. One could perhaps argue that it refers to the “dusk” and “dawn” of eras. Yet the Torah describes the dawn of the era as occurring at the end of the day, not at the beginning.
A more devastating problem with these approaches is that they simply do not solve the contradictions with science. While many people are satisfied with the approach of each of the six days lasting billions of years, whether with or without an explanation of how a day can still literally be a twenty-four hour period, careful scrutiny reveals this approach to involve overwhelming problems. This is because although this approach reconciles the difference between a time span of six days and a time span of fourteen billion years, the events of those six days cannot be correlated with the scientific account of what took place during the fourteen billion years.
This problem involves two aspects. One is that some of the creations described in Genesis do not easily correlate with any known phenomena. This is the case with the description of the creations of the second day:
And God made the firmament, and He divided between the waters that were below the firmament and the waters that were above the firmament, and it was so. And God called the firmament Heaven.
It is difficult to correlate the description of the “firmament” with any known aspects of our world. It was traditionally understood to refer to a firm covering encompassing the world, but as Malbim points out, we now know that no such covering exists. Malbim claims instead that the firmament refers to the atmosphere, and others explain it to refer to outer space. But Rabbi Samson Raphael Hirsch points out that etymologically, the word for firmament, rakia, refers to firm matter that has been flattened out into a layer. The description of the “waters above the firmament” is likewise difficult to interpret.
The second aspect of this problem is that the sequence of events described in Genesis does not correlate with the sequence discovered by science. For example, in Genesis, the earth and water are already present on the first and second days, before the creation of the luminaries, whereas the scientific picture is that they did not appear until long after the creation of the universe, and after the formation of the sun and stars. In Genesis, the sun, moon and stars are described as being created a day after plant life, whereas the scientific evidence shows that they existed billions of years before the terrestrial animals. The following chart illustrates the disparities in the sequence:
The Order of Genesis Chapter One
Day One: Heavens, earth (including water), light.
Day Two: Firmament separating waters.
Day Three: Dry land appears vegetation, fruit trees (Talmud: Plant life remained under soil until the arrival of man.)
Day Four: Creation of sun, moon and stars (Talmud: Created on the first day and set in place on the fourth.)
Day Five: Fish and aquatic life; birds, flying insects.
Day Six: Terrestrial mammals, terrestrial insects and reptiles.
The Order Given by Science
14 billion years ago: Universe begins.
4.5 billion years ago: Formation of the earth (Day One) and of the moon and sun (Day Four)
500 million years ago: First fish (Day Five)
438 m.y.a.: First land plants (Day Three)
434 m.y.a.: First terrestrial insects (Day Six)
400 m.y.a.: First flying insects (Day Five)
360 m.y.a.: First trees. (Day Three)
300 m.y.a.: First terrestrial reptiles (Day Six)
200 m.y.a.: First terrestrial mammals (Day Six)
150 m.y.a.: First Birds (Day Five)
There have been very ingenious attempts to make the content and sequence of Genesis concord with that of science, an approach known as “concordism.” Such efforts are, however, beset with serious difficulties, and do not maintain a viable interpretation of the text from an etymological, contextual and philological standpoint.
A mor egeneral objection to the current efforts at concordism, which involve the insights of twentieth-century science, is that they render the true meaning of Genesis as something only comprehensible to modern man. And yet we see that, although the Torah is binding for all generations, God presented it in a form that would be meaningful to the generation that received it. The laws of damages refer to donkeys falling in pits, not trucks ramming into cars. It is unreasonable to believe that God gave an account of Creation that mankind was completely incapable of understanding for thousands of years.
If Genesis can only be reconciled with science via obscure theories, reference to irrelevant phenomena, drastic and very difficult textual reinterpretation, and ingenious intellectual gymnastics, then it is not a very impressive scientific account. The most reasonable conclusion is that Genesis was never intended to be a scientific text to begin with, but rather something more profound instead. In the following chapters, we shall explore what that might be.
Well said, except for that last line. The most reasonable conclusion is that Genesis is nothing more than the purely human product of a pre-scientific age. But we’ll save that for a different post.