Prof Nathan Aviezer / I recently became aware of an essay by Mark Perakh, devoted solely to the theme that my book, In the Beginning, is total nonsense. Perakh’s essay, bearing the sarcastic title “The End of the Beginning,” is riddled with errors. Indeed, every page of his essay contains blatant errors, false claims, and illogical conclusions, as will now be shown. Before beginning my detailed critique of Perakh’s essay, there is a very important point to be made. In my books, I never bring any scientific facts or scientific arguments or scientific conclusions of my own. I always quote the leading scientific authorities. Therefore, when Perakh claims that my scientific discussion is all wrong, he is really asserting that the world-famous scientists whom I quote do not know what they are talking about. The reader should have no difficulty in choosing between accepting Perakh’s claims or accepting the scientific statements of Nobel Prize winners and scientists at the world’s most distinguished universities.

Fossils and Faith

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Fossils and Faith: A Reply to Mark Perakh

Guest post by Prof. Nathan Aviezer

Dr. Nathan Aviezer is Professor Emeritus of Physics and former Chairman of the Physics Department at Bar Ilan University. His books include In the Beginning: Biblical Creation and Science and Fossils and Faith: Understanding Torah and Science.

I recently became aware of an essay by Mark Perakh, devoted solely to the theme that my book, In the Beginning, is total nonsense. Perakh’s essay, bearing the sarcastic title “The End of the Beginning,” is riddled with errors. Indeed, every page of his essay contains blatant errors, false claims, and illogical conclusions, as will now be shown.

Introductory Comment

Before beginning my detailed critique of Perakh’s essay, there is a very important point to be made. In my books, I never bring any scientific facts or scientific arguments or scientific conclusions of my own. I always quote the leading scientific authorities. Therefore, when Perakh claims that my scientific discussion is all wrong, he is really asserting that the world-famous scientists whom I quote do not know what they are talking about. The reader should have no difficulty in choosing between accepting Perakh’s claims or accepting the scientific statements of Nobel Prize winners and scientists at the world’s most distinguished universities.

First Example – The Big Bang Theory

In the first chapter of my book, In the Beginning, I show that the big bang theory of cosmology agrees in every respect with the Bereshit text of the First Day of Creation. This presents a problem for Perakh. He cannot claim that the big bang theory does not agree with the Bereshit statement that the universe began through an act of creation since even secular cosmologists assert that this theory does assert the creation of the universe. For example, Professor Joseph Silk, distinguished cosmologist at the University of California, wrote a book about the big bang, entitled The Big Bang. The very first sentence of Professor Silk’s book is: “The Big Bang is the modern scientific version of creation.”

Perakh proceeds by trying to discredit the big bang theory itself, describing it as unreliable, not well accepted by the scientific community, and probably on the way out (his p. 7): “There are scientific groups in several countries which doubt the big bang theory…the ‘steady-state theory,’ which denies the big bang theory, still has adherents… Alternatives to the big bang theory include symmetric matter-anti-matter theory, variable G theory, tired light theory, shrinking atoms theory, oscillating universe, and other theories… These examples do not cover all alternatives to the big bang theory…a group of scientists in the Russian Academy of Science deny the big bang theory.”

According to Perakh, the big bang theory is just one of many possible theories of cosmology, and a controversial and not very reliable theory at that.

Perakh’s description of the current status of the big bang theory is a misrepresentation of outrageous proportions! The big bang theory is accepted by virtually every cosmologist; it is taught in every university; it is known as “the standard theory of cosmology”; the discoverers of the big bang lightball were awarded the Nobel Prize in Physics.

In his book, The Big Bang, Professor Silk presents the overwhelming scientific evidence supporting the big bang theory. Moreover, Silk devoted an entire chapter (Chapter 18) to pointing out the defects of the alternative theories of cosmology that have been proposed in the course of time, and since rejected, the very theories that Perakh mentioned.

Scientific American is the most prestigious journal in the world for reporting advances in science to the educated layman audience. In the July 1992 issue, Scientific American reported the measurements carried out by the COBE satellite, which was launched for the express purpose of determining whether the detailed radiation measurements conform to the predictions of the big bang theory. The unequivocal results were emblazoned on the cover of Scientific American: MORE PROOFS FOR THE BIG BANG.

The article elaborates (p. 9): “One of COBE’s top goals was to test the big bang theory by measuring the spectrum of the microwave radiation. The big bang theory predicts that this radiation will describe a smooth spectrum, known as a blackbody spectrum. In January 1990, Mather presented COBE’s measured spectrum at a meeting of the American Astronomical Society. The data on the screen looked so much like a perfect blackbody spectrum that the astronomers in attendance broke out in spontaneous applause.”

In February 2004, more than a decade after Perakh posted his essay on the internet, Scientific American discussion of recent advances in cosmology concluded (p. 30): “The big bang theory works better than ever.”

To this very day, every discussion of cosmology in the scientific literature is based on the big bang. For example, on 27 December 2011, Science Daily reported the following: “According to current science, space, time, and matter originated in a tremendous explosion called the Big Bang… The latest observations of the Spitzer Space Telescope suggest that the detected infrared radiation comes from clusters of bright objects that appeared shortly after the Big Bang.”

In a final, feeble attempt to undermine my analysis, Perakh writes that even though accepted today, big bang theory may be overturned tomorrow by new scientific findings (p. 8): “Here lies one of the weak points in Aviezer’s position. A theory which is prevalent today can well be rejected tomorrow, thus rendering invalid its compatibility with the Bible.”

The facts are quite otherwise. Nobel laureate Steven Weinberg has addressed precisely this question (Dreams of a Final Theory, p. 102), writing: “One can imagine experiments that refute well-accepted theories that have become part of the standard consensus of physics. Under this category, there are no examples whatever in the past hundred years” (emphasis in original). If not a single widely-accepted theory of physics has been refuted in the past century, one may dismiss Perakh’s pessimistic prognosis.

Second Example – The Origin Of Life

My second example concerns the chicken-and-egg paradox relating to the origin of life. I explained (p. 68, In the Beginning) that all living cells contain both nucleic acids and proteins and that life is quite impossible without both. The paradox lies in the fact that proteins are produced only by nucleic acids and that nucleic acids can exist only in the presence of proteins. Since neither molecule can exist without the other, there is a paradox: how did nucleic acids and proteins come into existence? This paradox is often compared to the famous “chicken-and-egg paradox.” Since chicken eggs come only from chickens and chickens come only from chicken eggs, how did chickens and chicken eggs come into existence?

This seems pretty straightforward, but Perakh thinks that this paradox is absurd. Before discussing the error in Perakh’s argument, I wish to state that in my book (pp. 68-69), I quoted leading scientists who presented this paradox, including Professor David Smith, editor-in-chief of The Cambridge Encyclopedia of Earth Sciences, Professor Frank Shu of the University of California, and Professor Jean Audouze, General Editor of The Cambridge Atlas of Astronomy. Thus, Perakh is not calling my discussion “absurd”; he is calling “absurd” the discussion of respected men of science.

Perakh dismisses the paradox with the following example (his p. 10): “An oak tree’s root contains neither acorns nor leaves. Does this lead to the conclusion than an oak tree could not grow from its root?”

The absurdity of his example is easy to explain. Living cells contain both nucleic acids and proteins, and similarly, oak trees contain both leaves and acorns, but that is not the point of the paradox. The paradox lies in the fact that proteins cannot exist without nucleic acids to produce them and nucleic acids cannot exist without proteins to keep them from disintegrating.

An oak tree is completely different. In the oak tree, the root can and does exist without leaves and leaves can and do exist without acorns. An oak tree develops by first producing a root, which then produces leaves, which then produce acorns. Therefore, Perakh’s comparison of an oak tree to nucleic acids and proteins is completely false.

To support his claim that the protein-nucleic acid-protein process could have “happened naturally,” Perakh presents the following analogy (his p. 10): “Imagine a long-distance running competition in which runners have to circle the stadium 25 times. A spectator who came after the competition had started would observe the runners circling the stadium time and time again. This spectator would conclude that there was a starting point even though he has no direct knowledge of how the runners arrived at that starting point.”

Perakh’s analogy is that although each runner is circling the same track many times (cyclic process), surely each runner started the race somewhere (non-cyclic beginning). Therefore, there is no paradox in the protein-nucleic acid-protein process because every cyclic process has a non-cyclic beginning.

Perakh’s analogy of the runners completely misses the point. The protein-nucleic acid-protein process is not a paradox because it is a cyclic process. It is a paradox because of its cause-and effect nature. Each step in the cycle requires the previous step. Nucleic acids require proteins; proteins require nucleic acids. In complete contrast to this situation, a runner circling the track did not require a previous circling of the track to continue running.

Perakh also tells us that there is really no difficulty in explaining how the first protein could have emerged without requiring nucleic acids, and he presents a proposal. Perakh thus claims to have solved the riddle of the origin of life – a riddle that has confounded outstanding scientists for decades! Nobel laureate Francis Crick and Professor Harold Klein of the National Academy of Sciences, both leading authorities, refer to the origin of life, respectively, as “almost a miracle” and “It is almost impossible to imagine how it began” (p. 27, Fossils and Faith). But Petakh writes that he does know how to explain the origin of life!

If Perach’s explanation for the origin of life had any scientific validity, he would surely have been awarded the Nobel Prize! The fact that Perach has not been awarded any prize at all speaks for itself regarding his “explanation.”

Third Example – The Anthropic Principle

In discussing the Anthropic Principle (pp. 21-38, Fossils and Faith), I wrote that the probability of human life appearing spontaneously is extremely small, which is in fact the essence of the Anthropic Principle. In response, Perakh writes (his p. 3): “In the light of the above (discussion of probabilities), Aviezer’s discourse in regard to the exceedingly small probability for the spontaneous development of intelligent life is not in the least convincing.”

The multitude of scientific facts that support the anthropic principle is presented in Chapter 3 of my book, Fossils and Faith. Here, I will simply point out that it is not Aviezer who proposed the anthropic principle, but rather the many world-famous scientists, all atheists, who have emphasized the extreme improbability of life in general and human life in particular. Let me bring just one of the many quotes from my book (p. 30):

Professor Stephen Jay Gould, leading evolutionary biologist from Harvard University, writes:

“We (human beings) are a fragile and improbable entity…the result of a staggeringly improbable series of events, utterly unpredictable and quite unrepeatable” (emphasis added).

Professor Gould certainly thinks that there was an “exceedingly small probability” for intelligent life to appear. Gould also writes: “It fills us with amazement, because of its improbability, that human beings exist at all.”

Unlike Gould and the other famous scientists whom I quote, Perakh finds the arguments “not in the least convincing.” I will let the reader decide whose opinion to accept.

Fourth Example – Calculating Probabilities

Perakh is not the only one who devoted an entire essay to discrediting my book. Professor Raphael Falk, geneticist from the Hebrew University and a militant secularist, published a 10-page article against my book in the Israeli journal Alpai’im (vol. 9, Spring 1994, pp. 133-42). The editor invited me to respond, and in the article following Falk’s (pp. 143-47), I pointed out his many errors.

Falk rejected my discussion of probabilities as follows (p. 136): “Aviezer places particular emphasis on the ‘remarkable coincidences’ that characterize the universe. The point of his claim is that such remarkable events could not have occurred through chance, but rather are the result of a guiding hand. Superficially, this claim appears convincing, but a little thought shows that it is without foundation. According to Aviezer’s logic, the probability that I am writing these lines with a dull yellow pencil, using my left hand, sitting at my kitchen table, on the third floor of a specific Jerusalem address – this probability is completely negligible. Nevertheless, all these events happened and they clearly mean nothing.”

The error in Falk’s claim – “this probability is completely negligible” – had previously been pointed out by Nobel laureate Richard Feynman, one of the most brilliant physicists of the twentieth century. In his discussion of probabilities (QED, p. 81), Professor Feynman emphasizes that: “In order to calculate correctly the probability of an event, one must be very careful to define the event clearly” (emphasis in original).

Feynman ridicules Falk’s claim in an amusing way. He begins his lecture about probabilities as follows: “A most remarkable and surprising thing happened to me on my way to this lecture. I noticed that the car parked next to mine had the following license plate number, FY56298. In the United States, there are about 100 million cars and only one car has license number FY56298, and I happened to park next to that car! The chances of that happening are 100 million to one – and it happened! Isn’t that remarkable!”

Feynman then explains what is wrong with this argument. There is nothing special about the number FY56298. Therefore, all that happened was that Feynman noticed that the car next to his had some license plate number. But every car has some license plate number. Therefore, the chances are 100% that the car next to Feynman will have a license plate number.

Feynman’s ridicule applies equally well to Falk’s claim, because every article is written under some set of conditions – at a certain time, at a certain address, using certain writing implements, etc. Therefore, the chances are 100%, and not “completely negligible,” as Falk had claimed, that he would write his article under some set of conditions.

All this appeared in my book. I now turn to Perakh’s essay. Regarding this topic, Perakh wrote (his p. 2): “Very good, Professor Aviezer! Your explanation meets no objection.” However, Perakh then accuses me of making the very same mistake in my discussion of the origin of life (“His [Aviezer’s] argument is exactly what Falk wrote, just in different words”). Perakh asserts that since we know that life exists, the chances of life coming into existence are 100%, writing (his p. 2): “There is no logical difference between the examples of Falk’s writing and [the origin of] life.”

Perakh has completely missed the point. What is crucial to Feynman’s example is that every car has some license plate number, and the observed number FY56298 is not unusual in any way. Similarly, what is crucial to refute Falk’s claim is that every article is written under some set of conditions, and Falk’s conditions were not unusual in any way.

Now we turn to the origin of life. Perakh has ignored the fact that in complete contrast to the license plate on the car and the writing of Falk’s article, life did not have to come into being at all. Moreover, life requires a highly unusual arrangement of molecules in the cell, so unusual that Nobel laureate Francis Crick referred to the origin of life as “almost a miracle.” Similarly, Professor Harold Klein, chairman of the U.S. National Academy of Sciences committee that reviewed origin-of-life research, wrote (p. 27, Fossils and Faith): “The simplest bacterium is so damn complicated that it is almost impossible to imagine how it happened” (emphasis added).

Fifth Example – Six Days Or Six Epochs

Perakh criticizes my approach regarding the time scale, in which I wrote that the Six Days of Creation do not refer to six periods of 24 hours each, but rather to six epochs in the development of the universe. He calls my approach (his p. 9): “an arbitrary hypothesis not based on logic when the text of the Bible is viewed from a rational standpoint.”

Perakh’s view is strikingly different from the view of Rambam. In his Guide for the Perplexed 2:25, arguably the most important words ever written regarding comparing science and Torah, Rambam wrote that whenever the text of the Torah contradicts well-established scientific knowledge, the Torah text should be interpreted figuratively, rather than literally. Thus, Rambam does not consider interpreting the Bereshit Creation Days figuratively, as epochs, to be “arbitrary…not based on logic”.

Perakh writes: “It would be in vain to search the Bible for an indication that the Hebrew word ‘yom’ was meant to denote anything but a ‘day’.”

Rashi does not agree. The Book of Hosea discusses (6:2) “the two days” (yomaim) and “the third day” (yom ha-shelishi). Rashi comments that each of these three “days” refers to a different “period” in Jewish history.

Also in English, one may use the word “day” to refer to a period, rather than referring to 24 hours. Merriam-Webster’s Collegiate Dictionary, 11th edition, lists “a specified period” as one of the definitions of the word “day,” giving the following example: “in grandfather’s day”.

Perakh also raises the following question: “If the author of the Book of Genesis meant that the creation of the universe took place over six epochs, why did that author choose the word yom, and not choose, say, tekufa?”

I already answered this question on pp. 26-27 of Fossils and Faith, where I wrote the following:

“The question still remains: Why is the term ‘day’ (yom) used in the Genesis creation narrative if a 24-hour period of time is not intended? The answer is given in Genesis 2:1-3, which discusses the seventh day – the Sabbath.

“The Torah states that G-d designated the seventh day as holy because it marked the completion of the creation of the universe. This connection between the Sabbath and the Creation is reinforced in the Ten Commandments (Exodus 20:8-11), where we read that G-d sanctified the Sabbath to have this day serve as a weekly reminder that He had created the universe. However, since the Sabbath is an actual 24-hour day, the six phases of creation are also referred to as days to strengthen the connection between the Sabbath and the creation of the universe.”

Sixth Example – False Quotes

Perakh repeatedly quotes me on assertions that I never wrote. Examples follow:

1. On p. 2, Perakh wrote: “Aviezer asserted that the role of a guiding mind must be accepted as the only possible explanation for our existence.”
No such assertion appears anywhere in my books.

2. On p. 6, Perakh wrote: “Therefore, concludes Aviezer, stars were created specifically in order to make possible the existence of men.”
No such conclusion appears anywhere in my books.

3. On p. 10, Perakh wrote: “Aviezer claims to somehow know the answer [of how life began] and provides the answer in a categorical way.”
No such claim appears anywhere in my books.

Summary

I could go on and write many more pages, pointing out additional blatant errors and false conclusions in Perakh’s essay, including those appearing in sections that I did not discuss here, entitled “The Sun and the Moon” and “Aviezer’s Discussion of Ice Ages” and “What Aviezer Did Not Talk About”. However, I will not try the patience of the reader, or my own patience for that matter, with such an exercise. The six examples discussed above should be sufficient to convince the reader of the lack of any validity of Perakh’s essay.


Acknowledgment

I wish to thank Rabbi Yaakov Weiner of SAR High School in the Bronx for calling my attention to this essay. Rabbi Weiner pointed out to me that it is important that I reply to Perakh, lest readers of his essay think that there is substance to his criticisms and thus my influence in the cause of Torah will be diminished. I recognized the wisdom of Rabbi Weiner’s suggestion, and here is my reply to Perakh’s essay.

About Nathan Aviezer

42 comments

  1. Over the years, scientists have theories that are eventually proven wrong, why cant some of the current theories, that are contrary to our traditional understanding of bereishit, be viewed with such skeptisism?

  2. Without reading the original article, Aviezer lost me with the wording of his first “rebuttal”: The reader should have no difficulty in choosing between accepting Perakh’s claims or accepting the scientific statements of Nobel Prize winners and scientists at the world’s most distinguished universities.

    OK, no sense in even debating the issue. It’s Perakh against Nobel Prize winners. Why even go on??

    What a condescending statement.

  3. proteins cannot exist without nucleic acids to produce them and nucleic acids cannot exist without proteins to keep them from disintegrating

    As a chemist, I find this statement confusing. Oligopeptides and small proteins can and have been prepared de novo by purely chemical techniques, without nucleic acids. Similarly, DNA is fairly stable on its own, even in solution.

  4. Indeed, the word “day” can sometimes refer to an era. However, 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 single rotations of 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, after the dusk of the era, not at the beginning.

    I have a number of further objections to Professor Aviezer’s approach at the end of chapter 13 of my book “The Challenge Of Creation.” Perhaps he could respond to those, too.

  5. You argue that because you cite scientific authorities, anyone who argues with you is asserting that “world-famous scientists … do not know what they are talking about.”

    1. This kind of appeal to authority–a tactic you return to repeatedly, citing the prestige of this or that individual, publication or institution–is a fundamental misrepresentation of what science is and how it works.
    Science is not based on authority. It’s based on proof. If a scientist is right, it is because the evidence supports what he says, not because he is famous or prestigious, or even because she won the Nobel prize.
    Scientists are wrong all the time. Other scientists say so all the time. They prove it, too. That’s how science works.

    2. Your logic is off.
    It is entirely possible to argue with you without impeaching the credibility of your sources. For example, one might argue that you quoted them out of context, misinterpreted their conclusions, or jumbled together contradictory arguments to support a premise.*

    1 + 2 = 3:
    If we are to believe whatever prestigious scientists say, that does not bode well for the credibility of creationism. In the final analysis, the scientists you quote disagree with your conclusions. Stephen Jay Gould, for example, was an agnostic, an evolutionist and an ardent opponent of creationism.

    * 1st Amendment to the Constitution of the United States of America. What? It says you can say whatever you want. Famous authors, very prestigious, studied in all the best law schools, cited in thousands of cases (by both sides) …

  6. It should also be pointed out that Prof. Aviezer is equally claiming that all Bible scholars, of all religious permutations, have no idea what they are talking about. After all, none of them would consider it remotely plausible to explain that the “upper waters” are ice on remote comets and planets, that the creation of planet earth is nowhere mentioned in Genesis, that the creation of “kohl ohf kanaf” on day five does not refer to birds, etc., etc. So if he wants to appeal to authority in such an extreme way, he will be in trouble.

  7. I have much appreciation and gratitude to Professor Aviezer for being the first to introduce to me the idea that science and Torah can be reconciled. But I’m afraid his attempts to fit the words of the Torah into science (which happens to be the science of today [or perhaps 1993]) is, I’m afraid, a fool’s errand.

  8. Moshe Shoshan

    I cannot comment on Prof. Aviezer’s presentation of the science. I can say that hsi reading of the begining of Bereishis cannot be considered pshat in any sense of the word. Neither does it fit into chazal’s interpretation of the verses (which all things considered is pretty close to pshat. To the best of my limited knowledge it has nothing to do with kabbalistic understandings of the text either. IF we are to admit that his interpretations have any place in our messorah, it must be as fanciful modern drush. Not that there’s any thing wrong with that, but it has no place in a serious discussion of science and Torah.

    Furthermore the real question isn’t Genesis and the Big Bang, it Noah and the Big Dig. Lets face it, the Torah states that abut 4000 years ago all life on earth was wiped out and it reemerged about a year later from a box high up in the Ararat mountains. This radically diverges from the narrative that emerges from the fossil record and the archaeological record that we have before us.

    Lets start with a simple question, hos did the kangaroo’s get back to Australia?

  9. Mention should also be made of Rabbi Dr. David Shatz’s article, “Is there Science in the Bible? An Assessment of Biblical Concordism,” Tradition, 41:2, Summer 2008, pp. 198-244.

  10. In Prof. Aviezer’s analysis of the “Anthropic Principle” [sic], he suggests that “the probability of human life appearing spontaneously is extremely small” and then backs that up (that needs to be backed up!?) by reference to a quote from Stephen Jay Gould, whose conclusions could not have been more radically different to the conclusions of this author.

    If I flip a coin a hundred times, the odds of only getting heads are absurdly low. If I were to flip a coin ten thousand times, the odds of only getting heads are, in human terms, completely impossible. But the more people doing this experiment, the better the odds are that one of them will succeed! If there are one hundred billion people, all of them flipping coins ten thousand times in a row, the odds of one of them only getting heads is significantly improved. In fact, as the number of people participating approaches infinity, the chances that one of them gets a hundred thousand heads approaches mathematical certainty.

    Prof. Aviezer certainly knows this, because as Professor Emeritus of physics at Bar Ilan University, he most probably finished school. So why doesn’t he mention the fact that there are billions upon billions of planets out there, none of which supports life? Is that irrelevant to his argument? In fact, the actual Anthropic Principle (to which he makes no reference in this article at all) merely deals with how it is that we are the living organisms who witness this universe, but not with the fact that there are living organisms within it. While at first I thought that he was merely simplifying an argument that he secretly understood, I note that he testifies to his own ignorance in this article too.

    I want to agree with Prof. Perakh (who should have been honoured with that title, given Aviezer’s flaunting of his own credentials): this sort of psuedo-scientific garbage belongs at Aish haTorah, where grown-ups don’t have to see it. The only problem is, I hardly want to suggest that “world-famous scientists… do not know what they are talking about”. Now that Prof. Aviezer has equated himself with people who’ve received Nobel prizes, I’m almost scared to criticise him.

  11. Dr. Aviezer’s claims about the origins of life is a textbook example of an ‘argument from personal incredulity’. Surely we should have learnt by now that basing our emunah on the claim ‘scientists have no current explanation for this, therefore it was a miracle’ is a bad idea.

  12. @ksil,

    Unlike “our traditional understanding of bereishit,” there is evidence (subject to cold hard logic) that supports the current scientific theories. Until they are disproven we have to accept them as fact. If anything should be subject to skepticism, it’s our understanding of Bereishit.

  13. I agree with Moshe above: while there may be some precedent for understanding “days” as “epochs”, doing so divests the text of its halakhic ramifications. If they are not to be understood as literal days, then what is Shabbat?

    I also think that the author’s hiding behind the names of other scholars comes across as cowardly and insincere. I’m not able to comment on the actual science involved, but definitely don’t appreciate its polemical style. I didn’t think that Perakh’s paper was so deserving of such inflammatory rhetoric.

  14. “I agree with Moshe above: while there may be some precedent for understanding “days” as “epochs”, doing so divests the text of its halakhic ramifications. If they are not to be understood as literal days, then what is Shabbat?”
    “It is difficult to imagine how this phrase could be interpreted if this does not refer to single rotations of planet Earth.”

    Both these readings are wrong.

    The Torah can not be talking about a single rotation of the earth, because the sun was not “placed” until day 4.

    So it can not be a literal meaning of days. However, it also can’t be a literal meaning of epochs either. Because clearly, the Torah wants us to equate 7 days of creation with Shabbat.

    However, it should be noted, that when the Torah commands us to keep Shabbat, creation is not mentioned, just work and Yetziat Mitzraim.

    To me, the whole “objection” to reading Drash and Remez and Sod into the creation story as meaning that “previous Torah scholars didn’t know what they were talking about”, is obsolute nonsense and completely misleading.

    There is not only 1 way to read the Torah, but rather Chazal tells us there are 70. There is never any indication that one of the 70 ways can not contradict one of the other 70 ways.

  15. ” So why doesn’t he mention the fact that there are billions upon billions of planets out there, none of which supports life? ”

    Plenty of planets support life.. what are you talking about?

  16. Which planets exactly? As far as anyone is aware, life exists only on earth.

  17. avi – Oh, I see. One article in an extremely obscure journal that was immediately dismissed by all scientists working in the field (see the linked post at the end of that article refuting it). Must be true.

  18. I thought that R. Gil knows enough of Bayesian probability theory to at least include a disclaimer regarding Prof. Aviezer’s claims.

    To give one lay illustration of why the anthropic principle is problematic one merely has to apply it to recent events. Only taking into account the past 100 years of history, the antecedent probability of me (someone with my specific genetic makeup born to my parents) existing is incredibly small, yet that does not make my existence dependent on the intervention of a non-natural cause. Why? because retrospectively all of the steps leading to my existence are well within the bounds of normally occurring events. Further, because many of the key events leading to my existence were singular and cannot occur more than once, one cannot even meaningfully speak of assigning a degree of probability to them except by reference to other possible worlds, and even then actually calculating the probability would be impossible.

    We are in a similar situation regarding the existence of human life on earth. Yes, it is incredibly improbable in one sense, but in another sense that kind of improbability is meaningless.

  19. “We are in a similar situation regarding the existence of human life on earth. Yes, it is incredibly improbable in one sense, but in another sense that kind of improbability is meaningless.”

    The situation isn’t similar at all. There are 6 billion other examples of people being born. Perhaps you would like to use the example of a person being born with two heads. That might be a better analogy.

    There are at most 3 other examples of microbial life existing beneath the surface of other planets. And that’s just talking about life, that most human beings could care less about. Currently the odds of their being life with a face on a planet in the universe is 1 in (number of planets in the universe)

  20. I dunno. I prefer Rabbi Slifkin’s approach:

    http://www.yutorah.org/lectures/lecture.cfm/772116/Rabbi_Nosson_Slifkin/Dinosaurs_and_the_Development_of_the_Universe

    As for the issue of evolution, life &c, R. Dr. Michael Avraham came out with a very good book in Hebrew on the subject called “God Plays Dice”:

    http://www.e-vrit.co.il/%D7%90%D7%9C%D7%95%D7%94%D7%99%D7%9D_%D7%9E%D7%A9%D7%97%D7%A7_%D7%91%D7%A7%D7%95%D7%91%D7%99%D7%95%D7%AA-details.aspx

    PS Does anyone know an English-language publisher that would be interested?

  21. The situation isn’t similar at all. There are 6 billion other examples of people being born. Perhaps you would like to use the example of a person being born with two heads. That might be a better analogy.

    You don’t seem to have understood my point which is about the impossibility of assessing the probabilistic significance of singular events leading to a current anthropic perspective.

    There are at most 3 other examples of microbial life existing beneath the surface of other planets. And that’s just talking about life, that most human beings could care less about. Currently the odds of their being life with a face on a planet in the universe is 1 in (number of planets in the universe)

    Like Prof. Aviezer you don’t seem to understand the nature of probability. The odds of there “being life with a face on a planet in the universe” is 1 – meaning 100% – you live on it. The odds of there being another such planet is incredibly small, but that tells us nothing about the need to posit a supernatural intervention to explain life on this planet.

  22. This response has many ironies. Its interesting that in this case he seems to be calling so much on the “authority” of science. There may be times when one does not want to rely on their authority so much, and one also must see what the full views of the scientists are beyond the part quoted. Its not like the scientific consensus is normally on the side of accepting Genesis.

    A particular ironic part is the quote from (the atheist) Steven Weinberg from 1994 that ” there are no examples whatever in the past hundred years” of refuted “well-accepted theories”. So physics today agrees with every theory of 1894? They viewed the universe as being deterministic, eternally-existing, and that mass could never be created or destroyed. Quantum mechanics? The Big Bang itself? Relativity? While its true that say Newtonian physcis still works fine overall, there are very big philosophical differences between classical physics and the threories that replaced it. These differences become relevant when expalining Bereishis based on science, so Weinberg’s quote does not really help.

    One can still make a strong case for the big bang as being a theory that will never be completely overturned. One can also bring evidence to argue with the scientific consensus and say that Random Darwinian Evolution cannot explain how life came about on its own. However, it is more difficult to say that Genesis is describing the actual science that devloped in creation, becauses it does not seem to fit. It seems reasonable to say that it is describing it on some level, but Prof. Aviezer’s explanations sometimes seem farfetched.

    (see my post from 5 years ago: http://www.torahjournal.com/blog/2007/05/slifkin-science/ )

  23. “Like Prof. Aviezer you don’t seem to understand the nature of probability. The odds of there “being life with a face on a planet in the universe” is 1”

    And you seem to not understand the question either. The question is not, what is the probability of life on this planet, the question is , what is the probability of life on any planet.

    People win the super lottery, but a person can still feel a sense of a personal miracle if they win it themselves.

  24. And you seem to not understand the question either. The question is not, what is the probability of life on this planet, the question is , what is the probability of life on any planet.

    No I understand the question perfectly. The answer is that 1) you cannot actually assign a probability to a singular event because you have no information by which to calculate the prior probability of said event. And that 2) even if we know intuitively that the likelihood is in fact infinitesimally small, retrospectively once the event has occurred the infinitesimally small probability gives us no reason to think that any non-natural cause was involved.

    People win the super lottery, but a person can still feel a sense of a personal miracle if they win it themselves.

    So therefore we should feel a sense of personal miracle and gratitude for existing? I agree, that’s what religion is for – not science.

  25. “I dunno. I prefer Rabbi Slifkin’s approach:”

    Just had time to finish listening to this, and I have a big problem with his approach.

    While he wants to argue that reading modern science means that the Torah doesn’t teach anything to us, reading the Torah as talking to ancient pagans who had to think about sun gods, means that the Torah doesn’t say anything to the modern Jew other than the history of theology. In which case, the Torah is pointless to anyone living today.

    Also, I completely disagree that the Torah doesn’t teach us anything when reading modern science into it. It still teaches that all humanity came from one person, that creation preceded man (i.e. the importance of things in a hierarchy), and that the world did not really become the world until man came and prayed for it.

  26. “No I understand the question perfectly.”

    No, I don’t think you understand the question. You seem to completely not understand it. Arguing that the odds of an event that happened in the past is 100%, proves that you have no idea what the question is about. This is a fact that every person knows, and nobody really cares about in this discussion.

  27. Avi,

    “While he wants to argue that reading modern science means that the Torah doesn’t teach anything to us, reading the Torah as talking to ancient pagans who had to think about sun gods, means that the Torah doesn’t say anything to the modern Jew other than the history of theology. In which case, the Torah is pointless to anyone living today.”

    That’s at the peshat level. It does NOT mean that we cannot uncover additional messages through drash.

  28. No, I don’t think you understand the question. You seem to completely not understand it. Arguing that the odds of an event that happened in the past is 100%, proves that you have no idea what the question is about

    I never said anything of the sort. Please take a little time to acquaint yourself with the central idea of Bayesian statistics so that you can understand why we don’t have adequate information to know the prior probability of life evolving in order to use the fact that it did it occur as evidence for a non natural cause. There’s a reason why I always include Bayes thereon in intro to logic courses. There is a huge number of cases where intuitive “coin flip” ways of thinking about probability lead to wildly incorrect assessments of what we can infer based on current evidence.

  29. “That’s at the peshat level. It does NOT mean that we cannot uncover additional messages through drash.”

    We have a false dichotomy of two ways of reading the torah, both on a pshat level.

    A. The Torah is talking to ancient pagans that no longer exist.
    B. The Torah is talking to the current generation, using the current science.

    Option A. leaves me with a pointless pshat text, that I have no need for other than some historical curiosity.

    Option B. leaves me with learning nothing new about history and the creation of the earth pshat level, but does teach plenty of lessons on a pshat level about Adam praying for rain, the order and heirachy of creation, and all of humanity coming from one person.

    Option A, basically tells me that the book is useless and if I want it to apply to my life, I have to create meanings that don’t exist in the text already. Well, I can add drash to episodes of Lost or Glee if I really need to do that.

  30. “So therefore we should feel a sense of personal miracle and gratitude for existing? I agree, that’s what religion is for – not science.”

    That makes religion sound like a purely psychological invention…

  31. “I never said anything of the sort. Please take a little time to acquaint yourself with the central idea of Bayesian statistics so that you can understand why we don’t have adequate information to know the prior probability of life evolving in order to use the fact that it did it occur as evidence for a non natural cause.”

    But you did. You wrote: “The odds of there “being life with a face on a planet in the universe” is 1 – meaning 100% – you live on it.”

    I know all about Bayesian statistics, and it’s relevance to the question being asked is minimal.

  32. Let me spell this out: you had written “Currently the odds of their being life with a face on a planet in the universe is 1 in (number of planets in the universe).”

    I offered ““The odds of there “being life with a face on a planet in the universe” is 1 – meaning 100% – you live on it” merely to point out that what you wrote makes no sense as it implies that the current probability of there being “life with a face” (whatever that is supposed to mean) actually goes up as the number of planets in the universe other than Earth decreases. In which case if there was only one planet in the universe, Earth then by your logic the probability would be 100%.

    Based on what you have written you have betrayed no understanding of statistics -Bayesian or otherwise.

  33. “reading the Torah as talking to ancient pagans who had to think about sun gods, means that the Torah doesn’t say anything to the modern Jew other than the history of theology. In which case, the Torah is pointless to anyone living today.”

    I don’t recall exactly what I said at that lecture, but in general, and certainly in my book, I make it clear that the messages of Bereishis regarding the unity and purposeful nature of creation are still extremely relevant.

  34. Like other commentators, I was disappointed with Prof. Aviezer’s polemic and use of authority to buttress his position. As if he defers to the large majority of leading contemporary scientists when it comes to accepting the idea of a Creator. Mark Perakh has some cogent arguments (and some not so cogent) that will not be squelched by such counter-arguments. Among them is the idea that the putative calculation (actually mere hand-waving) of the low probability of life originating here (or elsewhere) as evidence for divine intervention. While I certainly accept that the universe came into being at the will of a Creator of vast intelligence, I don’t accept the argument from probability considerations. After all, this is just one of those cases where we are conjecturing about probabilities after the fact. Who cares how improbable our origins are. Once we are here to ask the question, the issue of probability is inapplicable or irrelevant. In fact, we don’t know enough about the possible origins of life to venture a probability calculation. Nor is the conundrum involving DNA and proteins that is cited by Prof. Aviezer unsolvable except by introducing the concept of purposeful creation. Amino acids, the constituents of proteins, have been formed by the application of energy in the form of sparks or UV radiation to basic gases that are believed to have existed on the early earth. Indeed, some are present in some meteorites, i.e., produced in outer space. One can envisage processes that do not require enzymes to synthesize proteins from such amino acids. The key question is how a prototype early gene such as an RNA molecule capable of both self-replication and biologically relevant protein synthesis, first came into existence. It is far too premature to venture a guess as to the probability of its origin.

    Another argument of Dr. Perakh (one that Prof. Aviezer doesn’t address) is the inconsistency in Prof. Aviezer’s exposition of what he believes happened in ‘day’ 3 and ‘day’ 5. He identifies the epoch of ‘day’ 3 with the Permian period, while ‘day’ 5 starts in the Pre-Cambrian era. Unfortunately, the latter was several hundred million years prior to the former.

    I don’t wish to downgrade the attempts to interpret the torah verses in the creation narrative in a manner consistent with established scientific findings, and there is much of interest in Prof. Aviezer’s book, “In the Beginning”. I have my own, much different, interpretation of the events that the torah addresses. It is important, however, for such efforts to be both consistent with scientific findings and the text (even if some serious reinterpretation is involved). Nor must too much be claimed. None of these approaches constitutes anything resembling a convincing demonstration of the ‘real’ meaning of the text. After all, the evident meaning of the text is that creation occurred in 6 days each having a dusk and dawn period. Our shabbat is intended to convey the idea that creative activities ceased on the seventh literal day that we are to emulate each week of our life. The most that can be offered is a consistent way of reading that creation narrative that is consistent with science and doesn’t negate the importance of shabbat.

  35. Y. Aharon – With regard to the events of day 5 coming before those of day 3, he does address this, in “Fossils and Faith.” Unfortunately, his explanation is sorely deficient. He claims that days 1,2,3,4 are in chronological sequence, and then days 5 and 6 are in chronological sequence with each other but not with days 1-4! His claimed basis for this is that the word “create” appears on day 5. The obvious question is that if the numbers 4,5 do not
    indicate a sequence, why should 1,2,3,4 indicate one?

  36. Why is the question “What is the probability of life on any planet” if each planet has its own properties?

    That sounds like saying “What is the probability of elephants on a penny” is the wrong question, since it must take into account the probability of elephants on a planet.

  37. Mark, indeed, someone used the word “face” to define life. Life could be some amorphous gas on another planet for all we know.

  38. “Natan Slifkin on February 29, 2012 at 11:43 pm

    Indeed, the word “day” can sometimes refer to an era. However, 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 single rotations of 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, after the dusk of the era, not at the beginning.”

    Well you say that despite this the Torah is not actually saying there were six days of Creation either. You are saying it is telling a story to teach us something.

  39. Having read the article above I looked at the Mark Perakh article that is being responded to. Professor Aviezer’s tactic appears to be to misrepresent a proposition form the original article and then respond to his own proposition rather than the original article. For the original article by Professor Mark Perakh see

    http://www.talkreason.org/articles/aviezer.cfm

    For a further response from Mark Perakh see

    http://www.talkreason.org/articles/SHAME.cfm

  40. I augmented Mark’s critique related to Alviezer’s misunderstanding of origin of life research, and posted it to Stones and Bones.
    http://stonesnbones.blogspot.com/2012/07/creationist-physicist-nathan-aviezer.html

    (I’d also like to say that I have greatly enjoyed reading Rabbi Natan Slifkin’s books; “The Challenge of Creation: Judaism’s Encounter with Science, Cosmology and Evolution” and “Sacred Monsters: Mysterious and Mythical Creatures of Scripture, Talmud and Midrash”).

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