Reading Modern Science into Genesis

Contemporary approaches to reconciling discrepancies.

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One such writer is Nathan Aviezer, Professor of Physics at Israel's modern-Orthodox Bar Ilan University. The thesis of Aviezer's book, In the Beginning… Biblical Creation and Science, is that contrary to common misconceptions, cutting edge scientific developments have actually brought physics into closer harmony with Genesis than ever before.

Aviezer analyzes the biblical days of creation one at a time, matching up the events described with elements of the scientific theory of the universe's origins. But first he makes one proviso upon which the rest of his hypothesis depends: the "days" referred to in Genesis should not be understood as 24 hour periods but as important stages in the development of the world. This interpretation is drawn from many traditional Bible commentaries, based on the fact that before the creation of the sun on the fourth day, the terms day and night could not possibly have carried their commonplace meanings.

Filling the Gaps

Aviezer's premise is that the Big Bang theory confirms the first verse of the Bible, but that in contrast to modern physics, which by its own admission is unable to discern what happened before the Big Bang, Genesis clearly describes the cause: "In the beginning, God created the heavens and the earth." God's command "let there be light" refers to the appearance of the primeval fireball, containing all the matter and energy of the present-day universe, and the chaos--tohu va-vohu--described in the Bible matches the random and chaotic condition of the universe in its initial state. Finally, "God separated the light from the darkness" refers to the formation of atoms, the consequent freeing of photons and the flooding of the universe with electromagnetic radiation.

Aviezer analyzes the subsequent days of creation along the same lines, generally interpreting the Bible in line with scientific knowledge, sometimes having to depart from the plain meaning of the text in order to deal with problems such as the fact that according to Genesis, the sun was created on day four, after the emergence of plant life on earth.

The argument of In the Beginning is less straightforwardly scientific than it seems. Aviezer is at pains to emphasize the statistical improbability of those details of the universe's development which laid the groundwork for the appearance of life and the ultimate evolution of human beings, arguing that these processes could not have taken place in the absence of purposeful (divine) intervention. But this is, of course, a theological argument, not a scientific one.

Although many physicists agree that scientific knowledge cannot explain everything, being limited to the period beginning a split second after the Big Bang, evolutionary biology is affected by no such sense of modesty. In his book The Blind Watchmaker, for example, well known atheist biologist Richard Dawkins robustly dispenses with Aviezer's claims as to the improbability of life and advances the argument that the theory of evolution can explain the origin of life with no need for recourse to supernatural interference.

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Matt Plen

Matt Plen is the Chief Executive of Masorti Judaism in the UK. He has taught and trained educators in diverse institutions in Israel, the UK and the USA and is currently researching his doctorate on Critical Pedagogy and Jewish Ideologies of Social Justice.