The First Day of Creation
Recent scientific discoveries are in striking agreement with the Genesis record.
Excerpted with permission from Tradition: A Journal of Orthodox Thought.
Our Sages constantly remind us that the Torah can be understood on many different levels (shivim panim la-Torah). Indeed, the Talmud and the midrashim (commentaries) constitute a rich store of profound allegorical interpretation of biblical passages. However, in spite of the significance of these midrashim, Rashi and other commentators repeatedly stress the importance of the literal meaning of the biblical text. Thus, the traditional Jewish viewpoint is that there is no contradiction between conflicting interpretations of a biblical passage: each interpretation has validity on its own level.
When analyzing the first chapter of the Book of Genesis, there has always been a certain reluctance to treat the text in its literal sense. Such reluctance is not surprising. Everyone with an awareness of science recognizes that there seem to be a large number of contradictions between the "facts" as represented by scientific knowledge and the "facts" as implied by a literal rendering of the first chapter of the Book of Genesis.
Taking the Text Literally
The question that is addressed in this essay is whether it is possible to understand the opening verses of the Book of Genesis in their literal sense. To answer this question, a detailed comparison is made between the biblical text and current scientific evidence. This analysis shows that, despite the widespread notion to the contrary, there is in fact remarkable agreement between many passages of the Torah and recently discovered scientific knowledge.
As is well known, in all areas of science, important and often dramatic progress has taken place in recent years. However, it is rarely appreciated to what extent this new-found knowledge can have a profound influence on our understanding of the first chapter of the Book of Genesis.
Indeed, it is the thesis of this essay that modern science has provided us with a unique opportunity to discover new and deeper insights into numerous biblical passages that otherwise seem enigmatic. Far from being the antagonist of the Torah, science has become an important tool for its understanding.
There is a tendency these days to disparage science by emphasizing the transitory nature of scientific theory. However, every competent scientist can distinguish between the more speculative theories and those that are firmly established. It is the former that are short-lived and whose demise is regularly reported in the popular press, whereas the latter have an excellent record for longevity.
For example, the theory of relativity and the quantum theory have had unqualified success since their inception in explaining hundreds of different phenomena. Such well-established theories are constantly being refined and extended, but they do not undergo fundamental revision. Of course, the empirical nature of science precludes the possibility of the absolute proof of any theory. However, the chance that a well-established theory will eventually be overthrown is extremely slight.
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