Age ofthe Universe
Age of the World
Simcha Tzvi Koretz
[The article reflects the author's opinions, based on his research.]
One of the age-old questions of the world concerns its age, and is a matter that involves great social controversy. Some theologians, often lacking a background in the physical and biological sciences, take literally the Biblical text and state that the creation of the universe took place in a six 24-hour time period, bringing the total amount of years from creation to date, 5760. Scientists, on the other hand, rejecting Biblical texts, date the Earth at 4.6 billion years and the surrounding universe at approximately 15 billion years. Some religious scientists, trying to resolve apparent contradictions, state the reinterpretation of the Biblical day as phases or epochs. Midrashic and Kabalistic sources also hint at an older universe in terms of "Divine years", whether they be in physical or spiritual terms (1). Seemingly paradoxical Biblical and scientific positions like these are not contradictions, but rather, on the contrary, are reconcilable through modern science.
From a philosophical standpoint one might have considered the creation of the universe as having taken neither 15 billion years, nor six 24-hour time periods. An all powerful and all omniscient creator should not have to be locked into any frame of period of time at all. G-d spoke it, and the universe came into being, instantaneously, without any elapse of time intervention involved. This cannot be, for Chazal makes mention many times in the Gemorah, that "The Torah speaks in the language of man." And the universe is described in the Torah explicitly as having taken place in the time span of 6 creation days (2). Alternatively, the notion of the "Eternity of the universe", mentioned many times in Moreh Nevuchim, and known as the primary opinion of most early Greek philosophers, states that the universe always has been in existence without any point of creation. This again is as easily rejected when we consider the first word of the Torah which is written "In the beginning", which states clearly a starting point of creation.
Before answering this question concerning the age of the universe, let us first examine a related aspect of this topic. We will then begin to see the importance of correlating two or more reference frames that seem to oppose one another completely, but are actually all equally true, only viewed from different standpoints. Which of the following two opinions is truer to say? According to a perspective based on modern observable astronomy, is the earth revolving around the sun, with the sun having a fixed, unmoving position in relation to the earth, or according to the Rambam who discusses at length in the Mishnah Torah (3), a more Aristotelian approach to the makeup of the universe, that the earth is in a fixed unmoving position at the center of the universe, with the sun and other celestial bodies circling in orbit around us?
The answer is not surprising, in fact it will be perfectly understood, when we will recognize the proven aspects of the General and Special theories of relativity that concern us with the notion that there is no such thing as absolute rest in the universe. Everything in the universe is in motion including the fabric of space/ time itself. Science proves this. How? Almost all of what we see in the sky, including the galaxies, and even the quasi- stellar light formations at the most distant reaches of our observable universe, display a red or Doppler shift that suggests that they are in motion away from us, or we from them, or both (4). The Lubavitcher Rebbe, in one of his letters (5), explains clearly that the answer to this question, concerning the sun and the earth, is that they are both equally true statements one with the other. Indeed, the Lubavitcher Rebbe gives a third equally true opinion, that they are both circling each other. With no stationary reference point for observation, it is impossible for an observer in a third inertial reference frame to make any absolute conclusion based solely on his own observation point. The Rambam was not in error when he explains the geocentricity of the universe with the earth at its very center. We will explain shortly, another way to harmonize two seemingly contradictory viewpoints.
Let us now return to our first question concerning the age of the universe. However, it is imperative to understand first a few basic foundation points that will be the basis for our answer. Harav Yitzchak Ginsburgh writes in a letter of his: "One must understand the generalization of Chazal that there is true science from the viewpoint of "gavra", which is how the issue appears to man on earth, as well as true science from the viewpoint of "cheftza", which is how the issue appears from without." In other words, there is subjective science (as seen from the observer standing within a reference frame looking out), and objective science (as seen from the observer standing outside of a reference frame looking in). Professor Cyril Domb of Bar Ilan University (6) quotes Rabbi Shimshon Raphael Hirsch, of blessed memory, as saying: "The bible does not describe things in terms of objective truths known only to G-d, but in terms of human understanding… The Bible uses human language when it speaks of the "rising and setting of the sun" and not of the rotation of the earth, just as Copernicus, Kepler, and other such scientists, in their words and writings, spoke of the rising and setting of the sun without thereby contradicting truths they had derived from there own scientific conclusions. Loshon benei adam, "human language", which is also the language of the Bible, describes the processes and phenomena of nature in terms of the impression they make on the human senses, without thereby meaning to prejudice, in any manner, the findings of scientific research." (7) Professor Gerald Schroeder illustrates in his book "Genesis and the Big Bang" a model of the creation of the universe to describe how the two positions, of six 24- hours and 15 billion years, are unified. (8)
Let us imagine ourselves standing outside the four- dimensional universe at the point of creation. We speak of a four- dimensional universe, three being of space and one being of time, because they are an integral and interwoven continuum one with the other, as much as transparency is to silicon. No one would consider taking a glass and separating the clearness to one side and the silicon to the other. Silicon in its natural state is clear; that is its molecular and physical make up and structure. So to, time cannot be excluded or discussed separately when dealing with the integral interwoven fabric of space/ time, as mentioned before. According to the Midrash and the Rambam (9), time was a separately created entity on the first day, along with the space of the physical universe encompassing it. Even though one could distinguish between time and space, science considers them as a unified entity.
So if indeed, we were outside of the universe during the moment of creation, where again time is not in existence and not a relevant concept, from our "objective" frame of reference, the development of the creation of the universe would have appeared to us as having taken six 24- hour time periods, in literal accordance with the text of our Torah. And if you prefer, a "subjective" observational reference frame, as viewed from man from within, where time is a relevant factor and now an influence on our perception, then the universe may have appeared to develop over a period of time consistent with the estimations of modern observable sciences. There is no differentiating between two or more space/ time reference frames. Time dilation, which is the refraction or bending of time, is a scientifically accepted part of the physics that govern our observable universe (10). Thus it is equally true to say that the universe is 6 days or 15 billion years. What is the age of the universe? It depends on where you stand and is all relative.
Many contradictions in Torah, like the variance between Beit Shammai and Beit Hillel on the "heavens and the earth", are unified when we discover the words of Chazal when they state" Aylu V`aylu Divrei Elokim Chaim"- These and these are the words of the living G-d. It is the emphasis and main objective, in reconciling the two ages of the universe, to recognize a principle in Torah, that whenever we have two or more seemingly contradictory matters opposing one another, in many cases, they may be brought together using the means and technique stated above.
(1) "… According to the master Kabbalist, Rabbi Isaac of Acco, when counting the years of these cycles, one must not use an ordinary physical year, but rather, a divine year (Otzar Chaim 86b). The Midrash says that each divine day is a thousand years, basing this on the verse, "A thousand years in Your sight are as but yesterday", Psalm 90:4 (Bereshit Rabbah 8:2, Zohar 2: 145b, Sanhedrin 97a). Since each year contains 365.25 days, a divine year would be 365,250 years long. According to this, each cycle of seven thousand divine years would consist of 2,556,750,000 earthly years. This figure of 2.5 billion years is very close to the scientific estimate as to the length of time that life has existed on earth. If we assume that the seventh cycle began with the Biblical account of creation, then this would have occurred when the universe was 15,340,500,000 years old. This is very close to the scientific estimate that the expansion of the universe began some 15 billion years ago." - Taken from Sefer Yetzirah, commentary by Rabbi Aryeh Kaplan, published by Weiser- 1997, page 186.
(2) The Ramban, in his commentary on Beraishis 1:3, quotes the verse "To you G-d is the Greatness and the Might… etc." See commentaries on the possuk: I Chronicles 29:11.
(3) See Mishnah Torah, Hilchot Yesodei Hatorah, chapter 3, Halacha 4.
(4) Note: A red/ Doppler shift is when a light frequency is stretched from one point in the electromagnetic spectrum to another, because of its motion away from the observer.
(5) Emuna U'mada; Iyar 25, 5719 (1959); page 103; chapter 40 entitled - The certainty movement of the sun. Also see Igrot Kodesh, volume 18, page 393.
(6) In the publication: B'or Hatorah, #11 - 1999, page 174.
(7) S.R. Hirsch. Collected Writing, volume 7 (New York: Feldheim, 1992), page 57.
(8) Read "Genesis and the Big Bang" - Professor Gerald Schroeder, chapter 2 entitled "Stretching Time". See "Time Dilation" there.
(9) Beraishis Rabbah 3:7. See Moreh Nevuchim, section 2, chapter 13. Gemorah Chagigah 12a - and Maharsha there. Also see Rav Ovadia Soforno, Beraishis 1: 1. Likutai Moharan, section 2: 61. The Ramban 1:5.
(10) Note: There are many examples of instances, especially in the times of the Gemorah and antiquity, where individuals had the ability to transpose the boundaries of time. - See Midrash Rabbah; parsha 3, section 9. Simcha Tzvi Koretz 415/1 Ibikur, Zefat Israel 972-4-6923261