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Science and Judaism: The Strange Claim of Dr. Schroeder (Part III)
In two prior posts, we have reviewed Dr. Gerald Schroeder’s strange claim in The Science of God (“TSOG”) (Rev. Ed. 2009) that billions of years of cosmic evolution and six biblical days of creation actually occurred simultaneously. With his self-imposed standard of not bending the Bible to science or science to the Bible in mind, we have analyzed how objective Schroeder actually was with respect to the Bible and science. In both instances, we have found Schroeder’s work sorely lacking. He has failed to meet his own standard and other more objective ones as well.
One final question remains, though. Despite all of his methodological flaws, his over-statements and misleading references, his curious selectivity of data and his omissions, do Schroeder’s results nevertheless demonstrate a convergence of science and the Bible?
The atheist physicist Victor Stenger would doubt it. After an exceedingly brief and stilted review of the origin of the universe, Stenger “see(s) little resemblance in Genesis to the picture drawn by contemporary science. All these facts can lead to only one conclusion: the biblical version of creation is dead wrong.” (Stenger, God: The Failed Hypothesis, at 175 (Prometheus 2008).)
Schroeder, of course, sees a harmony between the Bible and science. In TSOG, he invites us to “compare day by day the fidelity by which the events of Genesis map onto the corresponding discoveries of science.” (TSOG, at 61.) In this post, we will do just that.
So let’s look at Schroeder’s comparison as contained in TSOG (at 70-74), adjusted for his revised timeline discussed at http://www.geraldschroeder.com/AgeUniverse.aspx. At 5/5.
DAY ONE: The biblical understanding of the nature of the universe as the story of B’reishit (Genesis) begins is subject to considerable debate. That debate involves issues of translation and grammatical construction. Depending on how one resolves those issues, B’reishit can be read as description of either God’s creation of the universe as of the first moment of that creation or God’s activities during the creation process, prior to which the Earth was in a shapeless, formless fluid condition. Regardless of how one resolves that issue, the text is clear that during the first biblical day, God created light and separated light from darkness. (Genesis 1: 1-5.)
According to Schroeder’s latest calculations, the first biblical day lasted from 14 billion years ago to 6.97 billion years ago. From the standpoint of science, from the moment of the Big Bang, and for the next 380,000-400,000 years or so, while the early universe exuded a great deal of very hot radiation, it was opaque. (See Tyson and Goldsmith, Origins: Fourteen Billion Years of Cosmic Evolution, at 60 (2004); Carroll, From Eternity to Here, at 52 (2010).) Only after that time period had passed, and the universe had cooled to about 3,000 K did the universe become transparent, with the result that light could be seen. (See Tyson and Goldsmith, above, at 54; Carroll, above, at 60.)
At this point, B’reishit and science are consistent. Early on there was light, as well as what we now deduce as dark matter, an as yet indescribable phenomenon that does not emit electromagnetic radiation, but appears to exert gravity and to constitute about 23-24% of the universe. (See Tyson and Goldsmith, above, at 61, 69, 301; see also, Carroll, above, at 388-89 n. 47.) There was also dark energy, a kind of energy that is neither visible nor directly detectable, but one which seems to constitute 73-74% of the universe and is thought to be responsible for the expansion of space. (See Tyson and Goldsmith, above, at 61, 96, 301; Carroll, above, at 58, 388-89 n. 47.)
But there are at least two problems right at the start, as it were. First, the seven billion year time span Schroeder assigns to Day One is long enough to encompass the coalescing of stars and galaxies. According to astronomer David Weintraub, 13.4 billion years ago, there were globular clusters in our own galaxy, the Milky Way. (Weintraub, How Old is the Universe, at 5 (2011).) So galaxies and stars generally, although not our Sun, were already forming. Stars are not mentioned in the Bible’s description of the events of the first day, but are first discussed on the fourth day. The biblical description of events for Day One is therefore incomplete and the Schroeder length of Day One is at least partially inconsistent with what the Bible describes to have occurred on Day Four.
Conversely, the Bible states that during this initial phase, when the Earth was shapeless and formless, the spirit or presence of God hovered over the surface of “hamayim,” the waters. (Gen. 1:2.) Schroeder translates hamayim as “the universe,” but he refers to no basis in or outside of the text for so doing. (TSOG, at 71.) As neither the Sun nor the Earth was formed in the first seven billion years of the life of the universe, the then nonexistent Earth (or its surface) was not, and could not have been, a shapeless, formless mass of water.
The physical presence of stars and the absence of a watery Earth are inconsistent with the text for the first biblical day.
DAY TWO: Schroeder claims that the second biblical day ran from 6.97 billion years ago to 3.87 billion years ago, a period of over three billion years. He summarizes the biblical events of the day as the forming of the “heavenly firmament.” (TSOG, at 70-71.) But it was more complex than that.
On the second day, according to B’reishit (Gen. 1: 6-8), God erected or fashioned a “rakia,” a division like a shell or dome, in the midst of the watery chaos mentioned in Genesis 1:2 in order to separate the waters above that space from the waters below it. (Gen. 1: 6-7.) The resulting space was called sky or heaven. (Gen. 1:8.) This description reflects an understanding of a multi-storied universe, filled with water that needed to be separated. For examples of pictorial representations of this structure, see, e.g., Friedman, A Commentary on the Torah, at 8 (2001); see also, Samuelson, Judaism and the Doctrine of Creation, at 161-62 (1994); “A Common Cosmology of the Ancient World,” http://aarweb.org/syllabus/syllabi/g/gier/306/commoncosmos.htm.
With a good deal of evidence, science teaches that the Earth was formed about 4.5 billion years ago, as relatively small objects, planetesimals, coalesced into a fuller scale planet. (See Weinberg, above, at 26.) The science of the origin of water on Earth, however, is less precise. A variety of processes, including but not limited to outgassing in a cooling environment and asteroid bombardment, appear to have contributed to the creation and retention of liquid water.
Moreover, according to studies published in “Nature” in 2001, oceans may even have existed on Earth 4.4 billion years ago, i.e., within a relatively short time after the planet itself was formed. The studies report that mineral grains or crystals called zircons (zirconium silicate), found in granite rock formations in Western Australia, have been dated to 4.4 to 4.3 billion years old. The existence of granite implies that continents existed at that time, and the presence of zircons implies that sufficient water was available to allow for the incorporation of the crystals into rocks then being formed. See http://science.nasa.gov/science-news/science-at-nasa/2001/ast17jan_1/.
While there is evidence, then, of water on Earth during Schroeder’s assigned time period for Day Two, there is no scientific evidence for the multistoried universe described in the relevant passages, no instance of a watery chaotic mass into which a space was inserted, protected by a dome, to separate levels or areas of water. Certainly, Schroeder does not cite to any such evidence. And neither oceans of water which may well have existed, nor the alternative land masses, are mentioned in the Bible until Day Three.
In short, we had sky and probably sea, but we also had the Sun.
DAY THREE: In Schroeder’s scheme, the third biblical day extended for about 2.3 billion years between 3.87 billion years ago and 1.57 billion years ago. On the third day, according to B’reishit (Gen. 1: 9-13), the waters under the sky were gathered together to form seas, and the land that then appeared was called earth. Schroeder notes that “plant life” followed, but the Bible is way more precise, stating that seed bearing plants and fruit trees emerged. (Gen. 1: 11-12.)
There would, of course, have been no seed bearing plants and fruit bearing trees before the photosynthesis powered by the Sun, an event the Bible places on Day Four. Putting that major problem aside, anaerobic cells, resembling bacteria and photosynthetic blue green algae, developed early in the Pre-Cambrian era, 3.8-3.5 billion years ago (3,800-3,500 million years ago (MYA)). (See Whitfield, From So Simple A Beginning, at 45-46 (1993); Coyne, Why Evolution Is True, at 26-27 (Penguin Books 2010).) But vascular plants that released spores (not seeds) did not evolve until 410-360 MYA. (See Whitfield, above, at 38.) Terrestrial seed bearing plants did not emerge until the Devonian period, about 410-365 MYA. (See Id. at 34, 38; see also, Coyne, above, at 28.) Flowering plants did not develop until 140-65 MYA during the Cretaceous period. (See Whitfield, above, at 19, 38.) The latter event falls within Schroeder Day Six.
In sum, as indicated above, we now have evidence that the Earth and its oceans were formed prior to the time period designated by Schroeder for biblical Day Three. Schroeder Day Three, therefore, is too late for the emergence of oceans and land, but too early for land based seed and fruit producing plants.
DAY FOUR: The fourth biblical day spanned a period between 1, 570 to 680 MYA, according to Schroeder. On the fourth day, according to B’reishit (Gen. 1: 14-18), in order to separate the day and night and serve as signs for festivals and days and years, God created lights to be placed in the sky under the dome created on Day Two. These lights included the Sun, Moon and stars. As previously mentioned, science currently teaches that stars and galaxies had already started to appear ten billion years before this time period, and the Sun and Moon were already about 3 billion years old. (See Weinberg, above, at 39.) Science and biblical Day Four are not in harmony.
DAY FIVE: Schroeder asserts that the fifth biblical day spanned 450 million years, from 680 to 230 MYA. On the fifth day, according to B’reishit, God created swarming creatures in the water and birds that fly across the sky. (Gen. 1:20.) These marine and avian forms included giant sea creatures, creeping things and all winged fowl. (Gen. 1:21.)
Jellyfish, sponges, worms and other sea creatures arose in the Cambrian explosion around 600 MYA. (See Whitfield, above, at 30-33; Coyne, above, at 28.) Jawed fish appeared about 440-410 MYA. (See Whitfield, above, at 18; Coyne, above at 27.) Crawling insects arose early in the Devonian period and flying insects later in the Carboniferous period between 365-290 MYA. (See Whitfield, above, at 34-35.) Amphibians that could walk on land first appeared about 375-350 MYA, and reptiles about 50 million years later. (See Id. at 35-36; see also, Coyne, above, at 27-28.) All of these facts are consistent with Schroeder Day Five. The first birds with feathers, however, did not show up until the Jurassic period about 210-145 MYA. (See Whitfield, above, at 40-41; see also, Coyne, above, at 27.)
DAY SIX: Schroeder places the sixth biblical day at a period between 230 million to almost 6,000 years ago, when, he says, God implanted a soul in Adam. (See TSOG, at 17, 72, 131, 143-46.) On the sixth and final creative day of that first biblical week, according to B’reishit, God caused the earth to bring forth animals and creeping things. (Gen. 1:24, see also, Gen. 2:19.) Then God created humans, male and female, in God’s image. (Gen. 1:27, but see, Gen. 2:7, 21-22.)
As noted earlier, wingless insects were present as far back as the Devonian period, and amphibians and reptiles were around 70 to 120 million years before Schroeder’s assigned times for Day Six. Dinosaurs originated in the early Triassic period 245-210 million years ago. Mammals are almost as old as the dinosaurs, having evolved about 190 MYA, but they really emerged with the death of the dinosaurs around 60 MYA. (See Whitfield, above, at 40-41.)
The human branch on the evolutionary tree split from other primates about 7 MYA. (See Coyne, above, at 28.) Fossil records of Homo habilis, a true tool using human, have been dated back 2.5 MYA. Migrations of H. erectus from Africa to the Middle East, China, and Europe occurred between 1.8 MYA and 300,000 years ago. (Id., at 205.) Modern H. sapiens, the species to which we belong, arose in Africa around 300,000 years ago. (Id. at 206.)
For the purpose of this analysis, the creations identified in B’reishit are generally consistent with the Schroeder time line for Day Six. That is, Schroeder Day Six is both sufficiently long and sufficiently current to include mammals and people.
But Schroeder’s argument about God placing a soul in Adam underscores the non-scientific approach he brings to his argument. Schroeder accepts, as historic fact, that there was an Adam, even though he refers to no independent scientific proof for the existence of that person. And he insists that God placed a neshama, which he defines as a sole, in Adam, even while acknowledging that “(a)rcheologists can never discover the fossil remains of neshama.” (TSOG, at 151.) The problem is not Schroeder’s faith, to which he is obviously entitled, but his pretense.
Schroeder knows full well that there were Homo sapiens before the time of Adam, which was less than 6,000 years ago. But Schroeder calls them “human-looking creatures,” that is, “animals with human shapes but lacking the neshama.” (TSOG, at 123.) He never provides a clear definition of what this neshama is, though. He alludes, for instance, to a connection to free will, to a spiritual link, to the “spirit of the Eternal” (TSOG, at 17, 143, 179), but he never supplies the nature or elements of the neshama in a way that we could use to determine whether all or any of the pre-Adam humans had one. Even to say this intangible neshama makes “us moral beings rather amoral animals” does not help. (TSOG, at 143.) Schroeder suggests that the invention of writing and the transition from village to large city is evidence of the effects of the neshama. (TSOG, at 149-50.) But why? We congregate in larger urban masses today and have more forms of social communication, but does anyone seriously contend that we are more moral today because of those circumstances? And, more importantly, where is the evidence that pre-Adam humans, who were sensitive enough to bury their dead, artistic enough to draw pictures and form pottery, smart enough to invent agriculture and weave baskets, and social enough to live in those villages that Schroeder disdains lacked a spiritual component or were not moral?
* * *
Here we come to the end of our present consideration of Dr. Schroeder’s strange claim concerning the purported convergence of the Bible and modern science, specifically that the billions of years of cosmic evolution and the six days of biblical creation occurred simultaneously. In TSOG, Schroeder also discusses evolution at length, but that discussion is beyond the scope of this analysis.
As we have seen, Schroeder’s uses of both the Bible and science are more than questionable. He promises “pure, peer-reviewed physics and traditional Genesis” (TSOG, at 54), but what we get includes statements about science for which there were no references and, worse, no basis other than a theological bias. So, for instance, Schroeder claims that the “second law of thermodynamics tell us that all nonmanaged or random, systems always pass to a state of greater disorder.” (TSOG, at 101.) And, “(t)his move toward order from chaos” in the universe, from hot energy to simple life and then humanity “is not impossible provided the system had direction.” (TSOG, at 101-02. Emphasis in original.) The fatal science flaw in this kind of argument, as physicist Sean Carroll points out, is that the Second Law does not say what Schroeder says it does. Rather, it “says that entropy always increases (or stays constant) in a closed system . . . .” (Carroll, above, at 191. Emphasis supplied.) Living organisms on our planet, indeed the biosphere itself, are functioning in an open system. (Id.; see also, Dawkins, The Greatest Show On Earth, at 413-16 (2009).
And Schroeder’s “traditional” biblical analysis is largely dependent on a medieval rabbi who, in addition to believing the universe was once a speck, also thought that it consisted initially of four elements—air, water, earth and fire. (See Samuelson, above, at 137.) That was not an unusual view for the time, but it indicates no consistently insightful mind either.
Indeed, having brandished his academic and employment credentials, Schroeder’s approach is replete with and seemingly dependant on misleading statements, overstatements, incomplete statements, unsupported statements, omissions, and fuzzy mathematics, among other problems. Ultimately, all of these errors of omission and commission undercut and then accumulate and finally overwhelm the claim that he is trying to prove. And, so, Schroeder has failed to meet the tests he himself established. Instead, he has bent the Bible to meet science and science to meet the Bible. After all, the manipulation of time dilation and day aging can go only so far.
Somewhat surprisingly, when we reach the conclusion of and presumed proof for his thesis, the actual comparison of scientific fact to biblical text, Schroeder’s commentary is surprisingly sparse. Here, too, he invites a test (TSOG, at 61.) And here, too, he fails. There are, to be sure, some consistencies between events science reports and the periods Schroeder has designated for biblical days, but we did not find, as Schroeder promises, a “match too good to be relegated solely to fortuity.” (Id.) Schroeder may claim that the “match” is “phenomenal” (TSOG, at 73), but, objectively, there are just too many inconsistencies and anachronisms. And the whole cosmic time allocation process, if it could be called a form of science at all, is nothing more than junk science or pseudoscience. It certainly does not pass the Greenberg Hurdle. (See Post, 7/08/11.)
Does that mean that Genesis is “dead wrong,” as professor Stenger would have it, bearing “little resemblance” to what science teaches? Not quite. The story presented is one of developing order and differentiation, if not detailed Darwinian evolution. And that is sufficient for the purpose for which the story is offered, as the setting of the stage for the greater story to come.
Stenger may not care for that greater story either, but in his literalness, he is forgetting the nature of literature. Moreover, he is avoiding the real uniqueness, even genius of the biblical creation story. Instead of sun gods and sea gods and serpent gods, as we find in other Near Eastern creation stories, here we have essentially demythologized nature, without magic or rituals. We find nature dependant on a single powerful force. Some might even call it a unified field theory of creation. As cosmology, as evolution, as science, it fails. But as a perspective, a point of view, an orientation regarding that which surrounds us, it seems quite valuable, even if not fully prescient about contemporary discoveries, for it reflects an intuitive understanding of the development of existence from universal and grand to earthy and particular, from water to life, stationary objects to ones in motion, simpler forms to those more complex, plants then lower animals then humanity itself. Not bad at all for about three thousand years ago.
When Schroeder takes this epic story and tries to make more of it than there is, to imbue it with a modern scientific foundation that does not exist, he does a true disservice to the story itself. Centuries past, Maimonides cautioned against both biblical literalism and unquestioned acceptance of the teachings of the sages in all circumstances. To do so not only violated reason, but was dangerously counter-productive because it would, in the end, make the text or the sages look foolish and lead to a broad rejection of what was being taught. (See Angel, Maimonides, Spinoza and Us (2009)(at 8-10).) Dr. Schroeder would have been wise to heed Rambam’s warning.