Sunday, June 24, 2012

Can Judaism be Reconciled With Science? Part 1: Creation, Until Life

If we look at the tanach, do we assume that this is the word of a god? Should we assume that it is absolutely true, as the rambam lists in the ani maamins:
6. I believe with perfect faith that all the words of the prophets are true.
7. I believe with perfect faith that the prophecy of Moses is absolutely true. He was the chief of all prophets, both before and after Him.
8. I believe with perfect faith that the entire Torah that we now have is that which was given to Moses.
Should we assume that it knows better than everything we know? What about our holy books (mishna, gemora, midrash, rishonim, achronim…) to we assume any of these to be absolutely true? Do we assume as some many do that all seforim (up until and including rashi) were written with ruach hakodesh. Should we believe tzadikim when they say that their writings had been revealed to them by angels or eliyahu hanavi? Would we assume that all of them are correct, eilu veilu divrei elohim chayim?

Or rather should we assume that these are books written by fallible semi-evolved apes trying to make sense of this experience we call life. Consequentially, they sometimes get it right and sometimes, dead wrong. Does it contain “facts” that we know to be impossible? Do they reflect in a way a worldview and morality that made more sense a few thousand years ago? Have we grown past it? Should we grow past it?

I am going to try to present to you the case that it makes more sense to assume that the torah was written by people, and based on the morality and worldview that could be expected a few thousand years ago in a desert tribe, not the infallible word and wisdom of god for all the ages.

Before I present it, however I would like to tell you a story about a man named Ptolemy and his epicycles. Way back, when people believed that the earth was the center of the universe, there was a person named Aristotle who postulated that everything on earth was imperfect, and everything in the heavens were perfect, and since the sphere is ultimate perfect shape, everything in heave must be in perfect circles or spheres. This became accepted as truth for thousands of years. There was a small problem with this it is called reality. Aristotle never checked to see if this were actually true as this was not his way of going about things, he just thought about things without checking reality. Now although it makes some sort of sense to say that the sun and the moon are attached to large spheres floating around the earth, you run into a serious problem with the planets. You see, sometimes it seems (at least from earth) that the planets sort of go backwards for a little bit, and zig zag across the sky, this makes no sense if you are assuming that they are attached to great glass perfect spheres revolving around the earth.

So, in the second century a.d. our friend Ptolemy came up with a solution, “epicycles”. These epicycles are what would save Aristotle’s theory from instant destruction. An epicycle is, if you could imagine a small sphere attached to a large sphere and both are spinning. Therefore, he explained, the zig zagging and backwards movements are only due to the epicycles. Let us not forget no one had seen these glass spheres, no one knew them to exist, and however no one questioned it either. As time went on more and more observations came into conflict with the idea that the earth is the center of the universe and that these spheres existed. As observations became more accurate and contradicted the sphere/epicycle idea, rather than look for a new theory they just kept on adding epicycles even as it lost the beauty and simplicity that originally compelled Aristotle to present his theory, this however, made no difference. However eventually observations won out and most of us (except for a few nutjobs) agree that the earth goes around the sun and that there are no great spheres.

Why am I telling you this?

Because as I will present my case, there will be those who will defend the torah, defend the jewish worldview. At some point, without them even realizing it they have started to change the torah past anything its writers could have ever intended by any stretch of the imagination, just so that they can say that reality does not contradict their torah. When they start doing this, I will simply respond “epicycles”. If you should one day find yourself trying to explain to someone why belief in the torah as literal truth is absurd, and his only response is to change the torah so drastically that it is no longer the “torah”, just look them in the eye and say “epicycles”.

In a similar way, I have noticed a trend, and you may notice it too; as time goes on and we learn more about our world (through science) more and more of the torah starts becoming viewed as a “metaphor” and not to be taken literal. Conversely as we go further back in time more and more of the torah becomes viewed as literal, and claiming it is just a metaphor is seen as heresy (apikorsus). I applaud this trend and patiently wait until the entire torah, and god as well, ALL become viewed as metaphor and free us from this horrid superstition.

This will be part one; dealing only with the creation of the world until the first life, I will continue this in another post.

“In the beginning the lord created the heaven and the earth. And the earth was bewilderment and void with a darkness over the surface of the deep, and the spirit (breath) of god hovered over the surface of the waters.  And god said ‘let there be light’ and there was light. And god saw that the light was good, and god separated between the light and the darkness. And god called to the light day and to the darkness night. And there was evening and and there was morning, day one”

This is a very familiar verse namely Genesis 1:1-5, and the mistakes begin right there. Firstly, it assumes (arrogantly) that the first thing must have been the heavens and earth, because as Rashi explains right there that this verse teaches us that the world was created for the Jews. The next thing mentioned is water, finally god creates light, separates it from the darkness and gives both of them names, day and night.  Now let us check reality and see what the beginning of our universe looks like.

In reality, the first thing in our universe (immediately after the big bang) was energy, pure, roiling energy. The first change occurred at 10−43seconds after the big bang. That is a 1 preceded by 43 zeros preceded by a decimal (0.00000000000000000000000000000000000000000001). The first thing to happen as the universe cooled down to a chilled 1027 degrees Kelvin (a 1 followed by 27 zeros) was that gravity became a separate force while our other three forces (electromagnetism, the weak nuclear force, the strong nuclear force) remained “unified”. No sign of a heaven, earth, or water anywhere.

Following this, at either 10−36 or 10−32 after the big bang the strong nuclear force also became a separate force. Also in this even cooler universe around 1020 degrees Kelvin, the first subatomic particles were formed from what was previously just energy and what we had is called a quark-gluon plasma. Quarks are what make up the protons and neutrons, which make up the nucleus of an atom, they are held together by the strong force using gluons. At this point though, it was all a “soup”, or a mishmash, for which the technical term is, plasma. In addition to this, the electromagnetic force and the weak nuclear force were still acting as one force, also not really getting anything done, and just part of this plasma. Still no earth, still no heaven, still no water, and dare I say, still no god.

Afterwards at around 10−12 seconds our final two forces separated, leaving us with the four fundamental forces that we have today, gravity, electromagnetism, the weak nuclear force, and the strong nuclear force. At around 10−6 seconds after the big bang it had cooled down to a mere 1013 degrees Kelvin hadrons began to form. Hadrons are particles made up of quarks, there are two kinds, baryons, and mesons (baryons are made of three quarks, mesons are made up of two quarks). All of our atomic nuclei are made up of baryons, those are protons and neutrons. This is the first real matter, although there were no electrons, so no real atoms but at least we have the first atomic nuclei.

At approximately 1 second after the big bang leptons dominated the universe, leptons are the lightest of the subatomic particles the most common of which is the electron. Although the energy was too high for the nuclei and electrons to bond together, at least we had all the pieces of the atoms. Still no heaven, no earth, no water, no god.

LET THERE BE LIGHT! At approximately 10 seconds after the big bang, the energy of the universe was predominantly in the form of photons (the smallest quanta of light). This is the universe for the next 377,000 or 380,000 years until the universe cool enough for the first atoms to form.

As the first atoms stabilize, they also begin to attract each other because of their gravity. Under intense gravitational pressure the first atoms are squeezed together and when they stick together they form bigger atoms, this releases large amounts of energy (this process is known as fusion), these are the first stars. These first stars are formed during the first 150 million to 1 billion years after the big bang. Still no heavens still no earth still no water, but we do have light.

Let us not forget our cute children’s fable aka the torah. Where did we leave off? Yes, we just finished “day” one. Lets go on to day number two. Genesis 1:6-8

“And god said let there be a firmament between the waters, and let it separate between water and water. And god made the firmament, and he separated between the waters which were beneath the firmament and the waters which were above the firmament, and it was so. And god called the firmament ‘heavens’, and there was evening and there was morning, a second day.”

Does anyone have a clue what this is talking about? What waters? Has anyone ever seen a lot of water on top of the heavens? Are the heavens really stopping any water from coming through? So I googled it and was promptly sent to Wikipedia

this is what I got:

The firmament is the sky, conceived as a vast dome.[1] According to Genesis, God created the firmament to separate the "waters above" (the source of rain) from those below (in the underworld). The word is anglicised from Latin firmamentum, which appears in the Vulgate.
The word "firmament" is used to translate raqia, or raqiya` ( רקיע), a word used in Biblical Hebrew. The connotation of firmness conveyed by the Vulgate's firmamentum is consistent that ofstereoma, the Greek word used in the Septuagint, an earlier translation. The notion of solidity is advanced explicitly in several biblical passages.[4]
The original word raqia is derived from the root raqa ( רקע), meaning "to beat or spread out", e.g., the process of making a dish by hammering thin a lump of metal.[3][5] Raqa adopted the meaning "to make firm or solid" in Syriac, a major dialect of Aramaic (the vernacular of Jesus) and close cognate of Hebrew.[3]

Hey, guess what else they said about it,

The word is used in the Genesis creation narrative:The modern bible, and non-canonical related texts, present a cosmology that is incompatible with modern scientific knowledge.[8] The firmament was a great tent-like[9] ceiling made of solid crystalline-like material,[10] which, according to the pseudepedigraphic 2nd or 3rd century book of 3 Baruch, might be pierced by tower and gimlet.[11] It had many windows, some of which opened and closed for the sun and moon to travel through[12] or to let water, which was held above, fall through as rain.[13] On top there were also warehouses of snow and hail.[14] Stars were small objects that were attached tenuosly to its surface.[15]
The Jewish Encyclopedia describes the firmament as follows:
The Hebrews regarded the earth as a plain or a hill figured like a hemisphere, swimming on water. Over this is arched the solid vault of heaven. To this vault are fastened the lights, the stars. So slight is this elevation that birds may rise to it and fly along its expanse.[16]

How does anyone actually believe this?

Anyways, back to reality…
As more and more of these stars formed they themselves were drawn to each other, they began to draw closer together to form clusters of stars what we refer to now as galaxies. The oldest galaxy that we can see is 12.91 billion light years away, which means that the light we are seeing now 12.91 billion years to reach us, we are in a sense looking back in time 12.91 billion years. There is also a galaxy that seems to be 13.2 billion light years away, but there seems to be a dispute about exactly how far it really is. In any case, it seems that galaxies formed at least as early as the first billion years of our universe.

Now, stars die because they already compressed their light atoms into heavy atoms and they begin to collapse in on themselves. When they do this, they squeeze the already heavy atoms together forming even bigger atoms, and releasing more energy, so the star re-ignites and burns a little longer. This process can repeat a few times until eventually that star just blows up, but by this time, it has formed a whole plethora of heavy atoms. This is how, even though originally the universe only produced the lightest of atoms; we have today an entire periodic table of elements.

Around 9 billion years after the big bang, a cloud of mostly hydrogen (the lightest of all atoms) and some other trace elements, began to collapse in on itself. As the pressure grew, it eventually started the fusion process. Yes, this is our sun. Around the main star swirls of dust and dirt remained some of these also began to collapse due to gravity and the planets formed. You may wonder why they did not ignite and start fusion as well thereby becoming stars. The answer is because they were not big enough that the gravitational pressure would cause atoms to fuse together.

I will continue this in my next post but before I go, I must ask. Do these two accounts even resemble each other? If the torah was written by god wouldn’t he know what happened? How many “metaphors” and “epicycles” must you add to make this readable? Do you, as a sane human being accept this is literal truth? If you do, please comment and we will discuss it. If you do not view this as literal truth, why then do you think that the rest of it is literally true? And who decides what is literally true and what is metaphor? Is your literally true god hiding only in the corners where science hasent arrived yet?

For more info on the big bang process check out


  1. I've reconciled Genesis 1 with science.

    רָקִיעַ means "sky". The waters above the sky are waters which exist somewhere beyond the observable universe.

    Incidentally, no where in the Hebrew Bible is it made clear that the earth is a plate while the sky is a bowl turned over on it, although that is what everyone believed until Aristotle.

  2. firstly, do you have any evidence to support the claim that there is water outside the universe?

    secondly, if you are correct that there is water outside the universe, then we do not need a "rakia" to keep it separate from us, it will never reach us since it is out of earths gravitational reach, god simply could have put it anywhere in universe outside of the immediate vicinity of earth.

    finally, you have successfully sent a part of the creation of our universe outside the universe, need i point out the absurdity?

  3. Mutterings of a Dysfunctional Yeshiva Bochur.

    1. As usual, your eloquently phrased pearls of philosophical wisdom are much appreciated and will always be cherished. I am honored to have been enlightened by your genius, your presence is much valued, I cant thank you enough.

  4. This comment has been removed by the author.

  5. A fascinating read! I appreciate the way you summarized the creation of the universe. I do, however, have one question. Are you certain about the facts you state? For instance, how do we KNOW that a particular something happened at 10-43 second? (sorry, don't know how to do superscripts here.)

  6. what we know for sure is the temperature, however the fact that the three forces (all but gravity) act as one, is agreed on by most theoretical physicists. however, as we cannot create energies anywhere near that level it has not been proven yet. it was only a few hours ago that the final peice of evidence for electroweak unification (the idea that electromagnetism and the weak nuclear force are really one) has been shown (with the announcment of the discovery of the higgs boson). however if you want more information on this check out

  7. also