Age of the Universe

One issue has bothered me over the years and I’m hoping you could help. This is the issue of reconciling the age of the universe according to modern science, versus the age indicated in the Torah.

I recently heard an Aish lecture by Harold Gans addressing this issue. One of the approaches he suggested is that the six days of creation were actually periods of time spanning billions of years. I prefer this approach because it doesn't require the rejection of modern science's measurement of the age of the universe. What do you say?

The Aish Rabbi Replies:

This approach suggests that the story of creation is not to be taken literally (i.e., a day is 24 hours long) because the Talmud explains that the creation account is an esoteric area of the Torah, and thus should not necessarily be understood according to its plain meaning.

This approach is based on the built-in illogic of how could the world be created in six days?

The first chapter of Genesis recounts, day by day, the key events of the six days of creation. But the sun does not appear until day number four. All the Sages say that the term "day" refers to a duration of time, and that duration was 24 hours, regardless of whether or not there was a sun.

Those first six days, the Sages say, "were no longer than the six days of our work week, but they contained all the ages and all the secrets of the universe."

Days containing "ages" sounds strange. Nevertheless, that is what we twice read in Genesis: "These are the generation of the heavens and the earth, when they were created, in the day that God made heaven and earth" (Genesis 2:4). And again "This is the book of the generations of Adam, in the day that God created Adam" (Genesis 5:1).

It took an Einstein to discover how "ages" could be squeezed into a day. The laws of relativity taught the world that the passage of time and the perception of time's flow varies from place to place in our most amazing universe. One minute on the sun passes more slowly. The duration -- between the ticks of a clock, the beats of a heart, the time to ripen oranges -- stretches and shrinks.

Wherever you are, time seems normal, because your body is in tune with your local environment. Only when looking across boundaries from one location relative to another very different location can we observe the relativity of time.

If you cannot understand how this can be, do not despair. Most of the 6 billion inhabitants of planet Earth are in a similar quandary.

We look back in time, studying the history of the universe. From our vantage we find, correctly, that billions of years have passed. But the Sages told us that the Bible sees the six days of Genesis looking forward from the beginning.

Viewing the six days from that beginning holds the answer to how our generations fit into those days. Rabbi Shimshon Rafael Hirsch explains that each Biblical "day" represents a mingling of raw materials (erev), followed by bursts of dramatic new development (boker). The six days are simply six epochs, stages of the process.

The universe we live in is not static. It is expanding. The space of the universe is actually stretching. If we took a mental trip back in time, sending our information back to the moment from which Genesis views time, the effect of our mental trip would be to pass to a time when the universe was vastly smaller, in fact a million-million times smaller than it is today. Space would have shrunk a million-millionfold.

This huge compression of space would equally compress the perception of time for any series of events. That's because as the string of information that described those events traveled back in time, the space through which it was passing was shrinking, squeezing the data ever closer together.

To calculate the effect of that million-million compression, divide the 15 billion years we observe looking back in time by the million-million.

You get six days. Which of course is just what the first chapter of Genesis has been claiming for the past 3,300 years. Genesis and science tell the same account, but seen from vastly different perspectives.

For more info, refer to Dr. Gerald Schroeder’s books, "Genesis and the Big Bang" (Bantam Doubleday), "The Science of God" (Free Press), and "The Hidden Face of God" (Free Press).

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