5770 and 13,000,000,000 is a big difference!

I am looking for a good explanation to the difference opinion of the age of the universe. Please help me out!

As an observant astrophysicist (pun intended; I'm actually a theorist), I get this question a lot. Personally, most answers I have heard seem rather contrived and do little justice to either the science or the Torah. The study of physics and the study of Torah are both wonderful pursuits of a "higher truth," but they consist of very different methods and really speak different languages. I am highly skeptical of any that claim proof of a theory in one field based on evidence from the other.

But to answer your question more directly, I view the issue as a classic example of the Torah "speaking in the language of man," a concept found throughout Rabbinic literature. We know the Torah was given to a rag-tag collection of ignorant slaves less than two months after fleeing for their lives, and having only the simplest knowledge of their own history, much less "science." How should the Torah begin? "In the beginning, 13.7 billion years ago, the scalar inflation field expanded by 47 orders of magnitude, then began cooling adiabatically into a quark-gluon plasma"?? Even to the most secular scholar, the Torah is a brilliant study in human nature and emotion. To understand it, we must read it in its own language, not ours. As many medieval commentators point out, the purpose of Genesis is to teach us moral lessons, and at most, political history, not science.

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    Only an astrophysicist would have even thought of "observant" being a pun in this context. :) – Isaac Moses Apr 13 '10 at 17:31
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    Rabbi Dr. David Shatz has an article in Tradition Journal about a year ago about this question; Jeremy's answer is discussed there. He quotes Rav Kook that had the Torah spelled out that the Earth is a ball orbiting the Sun, the people would have been scared of falling off of it! – Shalom Apr 13 '10 at 17:53
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    Physicists represent! – Eli Lansey Apr 10 '12 at 13:36
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    They weren't a rag-tag collection of ignorant slaves. Yes, they were rag-tag, and yes they were former slaves. "Collection"? Odd word choice. "Ignorant"? No! They weren't more ignorant than their contemporaries at that time and place, I don't think. – Ellie Kesselman Jan 19 '14 at 15:05
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    edit: "scalar inflation field" -> "scalar-tensor inflation field" in light of the recent BICEP2 results – Jeremy Jun 9 '14 at 17:04

When science says "the world is 13,000,000,000 years old", they are not saying "I was there. I have a video. I KNOW". They say "based on the evidence that I have, and based on the laws of nature that I observe, the world could have been created like this.

Or maybe not. Maybe there are other scientific laws involved that we just don't know about. We don't know everything yet, and it's possible all of our theories wouldn't work under different conditions. Remember, in the Rambam's time, everyone was convinced that the science of his day was absolutely true, to the extent that we had to "show" how we agree to science.

Or one can add, even if you say that from the Big Bang on everything was natural, the original yesh mi-ayin, the something from nothing, must have been supernatural. If creation is supernatural, there is no reason to stop the supernatural involment by the Big Bang, why not extend it to the end of creation. It says that when Hashem created the world, it was created fully formed. Meaning, Adam was an adult. If he would come to a doctor and ask "how old am I?" the doctor would say "middle aged". Was he or not?

In other words, it's not a scientific question, as it deals with "did Hashem perform this miracle or that miracle".

Many would answer: "Ahh... But it's a much smaller miracle for Hashem to create a "Big Bang" than create a world. Why make miracles bigger than they are?"

The answer to that this is not a scientific argument. Why Hashem makes a bigger miracle instead of a smaller isn't a scientific question. Maybe philosophical, but not scientific.

So in the end, there is no scientific evidence of the age of the universe. Philosophically one may find it hard to believe why Hashem would create the world looking old, but there are no questions based on science.


Theories of Evolution

How Old is the Universe According to Judaism?

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    When studies in a whole bunch of different disciplines say, based on entirely different types of evidence, that the world is orders of magnitude older than 6000 years (never mind the exact number), it's as if there was video evidence. You can ignore the evidence only if you believe that a) in fact, God didn't create the world with a natural order, or b) that God seeded the world with all kinds of false evidence of earlier times, the equivalent of Adam being created with a piece of bubble gum stuck in his stomach. – Isaac Moses Sep 2 '11 at 6:51
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    @Isaac all of those studies and disciplines, though, are predicated on the assumption that the foundational concepts of science are sound. Is there a halachic obligation to accept that? Maybe the scientific method doesn't really work in the first place. – yoel Sep 2 '11 at 17:19
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    @yoel First of all, we're not discussing halacha. The various observations of science are based on what we see in front of our face, just like every other question of what goes on in nature, of which there are many in the Talmud. Either we accept that there's such a thing as a consistent natural order (in general), in which case all such questions have meaning, or we don't. Besides the facts that the Talmud does, in fact, concern itself with such questions, and that life would be insane if we couldn't depend on the natural order to persist, there's Tehilim 148:6 in support of this idea. – Isaac Moses Sep 2 '11 at 18:04
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    ... "And He set them up to eternity, yea forever, He issued a decree, which will not change." Given that, I think you have to accept that the observed evidence points in one direction. Still, you're entitled to get around all of the observed evidence by suggesting that God planted it there as a false natural history (again, the evidence is of lots of specific stuff happening, not some amorphous sense of "age") for some reason. Just don't say that there's no such thing as scientific evidence unless you're prepared to say the same in general. – Isaac Moses Sep 2 '11 at 18:09
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    ...I don't see any need to say in the first place that God planted a false natural history. I am satisfied to say that I know that Chazal are correct and that it is unclear how, if at all, science accords with this. As for the excellent citation in Tehillim, I wonder how we can reconcile that with God stopping the sun for Yehoshua? – yoel Sep 2 '11 at 18:11

The Seder Olam Rabbah added up all of the generations in the Torah and those in the rest of Biblical history to determine how many years had passed since the Creation of Adam. By that reckoning, 5770 years have now elapsed since that Creation. Genesis 1 describes Six Days between the initial Creation of "the Heavens and the Earth" and the Creation of Adam. If you add six days to 5770 years, you get an elapsed time from the Creation of the Universe to now of 5770 years.

Many different and unrelated scientific inquiries have produced evidence consistent with the Earth and the Universe being orders of magnitude older than 5770 years. In The Challenge of Creation, Chapter Nine: "Evidence for an Ancient Universe," R' Natan Slifkin accessibly summarizes some of the these methods, including analysis of fossils, tree rings, and geological features.

To your point, he describes the evidence for a Universe age on the order of 10 billion years that comes from telescope observations of galaxies that are 10 billion light-years away. The presence of light from a source that far away implies that the light had been travelling for 10 billion years before it reached us, which implies that the galaxy it came from and the Universe containing it are at least that old.

A great deal of ink has been spilled trying to deal with this apparent disagreement between Scriptural and scientific evidence. The following few chapters of The Challenge of Creation describe a number of approaches to this issue as well as the author's approach.

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    I heard he was put in pseudo "cherem" by the gedolim (including R' Elyashiv). – Hacham Gabriel Jan 27 '12 at 2:59
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    @HachamGabriel Some of R' Slifkin's books, including an earlier version of the one I refer to, were banned by some gedolim (many of whom, incidentally, never read the books in question or spoke to their author about them). R' Slifkin was not personally put into cherem. He has a section on his website with a great deal of information about this controversy. – Isaac Moses Feb 24 '12 at 20:23

There are a number of answers to this question:

  • The traditional haredi approach is that the universe was created to look old, but is really only 5770 years old in reality. There are many issues with this, but its also unclear how it could actually be defined as being that young when every measurement says its old.
  • Gerald Schroeder tries to use the relativity of time and an exponential scale to show how each period of creation was 24 hours at a certain point in the universe. (I read it some time ago, so I'm not exact an the details).
  • The standard non-haredi answer is that each day represents a large period of time, perhaps billions of years. This just runs into issues of explaining how the order works out.
  • Some also say that the entire description in Bereishis is not meant to describe physical reality, but to teach theological lessons. So no scientific questions can be raised on the account. This may go against the more traditional understanding of seeing multiple levels (including peshat) in the Torah, since it claims that its no longer meant to be read on any physical level.
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    The "traditional haredi approach" (which some might just call the Torah approach) is not so unclear if you don't start with the assumption that science must certainly be correct. – yoel Sep 2 '11 at 5:28
  • There is also a more extreme approach which I left out that says the science is completely wrong. While science is not certainly correct, at a certain point it becomes quite difficult to argue with certain conclusions. For example, there are not that many people who still think the earth is flat or at the center of the solar system. I think the age of the Earth and universe is a similar issue. – Ariel K Sep 2 '11 at 20:23
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    Yoel, the traditional Haredi approach, is beyond a doubt NOT the 'Torah Approach'. – avi Sep 4 '11 at 16:19
  • see my answer as to how to reconcile the measurements. – ray Jun 20 '14 at 8:49
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    regarding your comment, the earth being not flat is observable. but nobody can observe how long the universe existed. – ray Mar 19 '16 at 22:02

Rabbi Aryeh Kaplan has shown that the tradition of the age of the world is not a simple subject.

Let's stick to Jewish sources only and ignore any other source.

We have two dating systems.

  1. One is based on the Seder Halam, that which gives us the current calendar year. According to this view, Adam Harishon was kicked out of the garden of eden 5771 years ago.

  2. We have the world dating system, based on the Gemora and the Kabblah. This system gives us many different possible answers for the age of the world, which I will get into later

Now, according to the gemorah, option 1 will not tell us the age of the world. It will only tell how long humanity as descendand from Adam has been around. The gemorah tells us that we can not know or study what came before, what is above, what is below, and what will come in the future. As far back as we can know, is how long we as people knowing Gd have been around, and that is all we are allowed to know.

However, the gemorah says that some people, teacher to student can teach each other otherwise, and we have many cryptic statements in the Gemorah regarding the age of the world. One such statement is that the world was created 974 generation before the giving of the Torah. (Or 947 generations before Adam was created) Depending on if you use a generation as defined between Adam and Noach, or between Noach's son's and Avraham, or between Avraham and Moshe, you will get a different calculation on how many years the world existed before Adam. (anywhere from 18,940 years to 177,089 years)

According to another view of the Kabbalists and Ramban:

Ramban Shmos 21:2 Also discussing shmita, and the significance of seven cycles, he says: And the seventh was chosen for days, for years, and for shmita but it all relates to another matter and this is the secret of the age of the universe (sod y'mos ha'olam)

Rabbi Aryeh Kaplan expounds this further based on the writings of Rabbi Isaac of Acco.

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.

The concept of the world being some 6,000 years old comes from Christianity, and Priests. These sentiments, for some reason unknown by anybody, have been adopted by modern day Charedim as the 'Torah True' view... despite the fact that nobody has ever suggested that the world is only 6,000 years old until some Christian priest decided to make that claim despite the scientific findings of Darwin and early Paelontology. The Tiferes Yisroel wrote:

In the year 1807... they found in Siberia... a great elephant... whose skelteon now stands in the Zoological Museum in Petersburg... We already know of a giant creature found in... the city of Baltimore... bones of this creature have been found in Europe, too. This creature had been named mammoth... they have found... iguanodon... whose height was 15 feet, and whose length was as much as 90 feet...there is yet another creature called megalosaurus... from all this it is clear... [citing kabbbalists, Gemarahs, RAbaynu B'chaya, the Ramban, and Ibn Ezra's] that the world has been destroyed and renewed over and over again as many as four times --- Drush Ohr Hachayim, Tiferes Yisroel (Rav Yisroel Lipschutz)

In 1857 Philip Henry Gosse (A Non Jew who had no Jewish sources) was the first person to ever suggest that the world was close to 6,000 years old! He made this suggestion in his book Omphalos: an Attempt to Untie the Geological Knot. And now, that Christian book, is somehow touted as 'Torah!' You'd have to ignore at least 6 Gemoras, half the rishonim, a few achronim and your own eyes to say the world is less than 10,000 years old!

To summarize: A debate exists regarding the age of the world, because it is something which we can not know, and are instructed that it is not worth knowing. Despite this, we have many different Agadatas which give us a large variety of options for the age of the world. On top of that, we have a strong influence from Christian scholars convincing certain sects of Judaism, that a literal reading of both Seder Olam and the chumash is the only true answer to the question (despite the Torah Sh'baal peh which tells us otherwise!)

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    how about the Gemara in Avodah Zarah 9a-b, which explains that the world is destined to last 6000 years, and goes on to calculate some dates (including that of the Destruction) on that basis? – Alex Sep 4 '11 at 18:11
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    Are we looking at the same Gemara, @avi? It doesn't say anything about it being "neither accurate nor correct"; on the contrary, it uses it to demonstrate Avraham's age (52) when he began making converts. Further on, it contrasts two statements about the redemption of the Jewish people, one predicting it 400 years after the Destruction, the other in the year 4231 since creation, and states that these are three years apart. Again, nothing about accuracy or correctness. And the expression there is לבריאת עולם, to the creation of the world - not to the creation of Adam. – Alex Sep 4 '11 at 20:22
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    It says the Torah was given in 2448. It also says that Avraham began to make converts (thus initiating the "Era of Torah") in 2000. The latter statement is in keeping with Tana Devei Eliyahu's statement about how long the world will endure; I'm not seeing where you get that the Gemara rejects this answer. At any rate, certainly no one there is arguing that the world is (much) older than TDBE makes it. As for 4231 - I'm well aware that Moshiach didn't come then, but the point is that this figure is said to be לבריאת עולם and to be 403 years after the Destruction, whose date is known. – Alex Sep 4 '11 at 20:53
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    And I could cite other examples too. For example, the midrash (quoted in Rashi to Gen. 11:1) that the builders of the Tower of Bavel claimed that "once every 1656 years [the length of time from Creation to the Flood] the firmament collapses; let us make supports for it." Now they'd have no reason to date this from the creation of Adam; presumably they would be counting from the second day of creation, when the firmament was created. We thus see that according to this midrash the seven days of creation are just that, not seven eons or whatever. – Alex Sep 4 '11 at 20:58
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    (And yes, I'm aware that not all midrashim are meant to be taken literally. My point is simply that you can't just dismiss the idea that the world is literally 5771 years old as just being based on some goy's idea from less than a century and a half ago! It does have deep roots in Jewish tradition.) – Alex Sep 4 '11 at 20:59

The lubovitcher rebbe would answer people when they would ask this question 1) science is constantly changing and what they say now may be disproven in 5 years from now so don't be so sure. But more importantly 2) Hashem created an "old world" trees fully formed, fossils already fossilized, Adam as an adult. So Hashem created the world as if it was billions of years old

  • So for all intents and purposes, we can act as if the world is actually 15 billion years old. After all, what's the difference between an object from 100 years ago and an exact replica made yesterday? Nothing. – Double AA Mar 20 '16 at 19:47
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    @DoubleAA he said 1. dont be so sure it's 15 billion years old. 2. even if it looks like it, doesnt mean it is – ray Mar 20 '16 at 21:57
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    @ray why are you telling me that again? – Double AA Mar 20 '16 at 23:31
  • If creating a world that is mature necessitates including an old history, are you not admitting that all the evidence before us is that of a naturally developed old earth? In which case, on what evidence and reasoning would you say that it is not old in reality? This answer smacks of Last Thursdayism and failed to include a rational to justify a distinction. – A L Aug 8 '16 at 2:18
  • @DoubleAA Yes all of the evidence does point to an old world. As for why G-d would do this, I have no idea. – mroll Aug 12 '16 at 2:38

God told us in the torah He would send us false prophets performing signs and wonders telling us to leave the torah.

In Deut.13:

If there will arise among you a prophet, or a dreamer of a dream, and he gives you a sign or a wonder. and the sign or the wonder of which he spoke to you happens, [and he] says, "Let us go after other gods which you have not known, and let us worship them" you shall not heed the words of that prophet, or that dreamer of a dream; for the Lord, your God, is testing you, to know whether you really love the Lord, your God, with all your heart and with all your soul.

So one could say perhaps the scientific evidence pointing to the torah's account as being false is simply a test. God already told us in the torah He would test us and He certainly has the ability to make the universe look older than it is. One who knows and believes the torah is true, will give its account more weight than the conclusions of scientists which is based on circumstancial evidence and naturalistic assumptions.

hence maybe the torah's account is literal and the universe is <6000 years old looking much older or maybe it is not literal and the universe is billions of years old. teyku.

  • care to explain the downvote? – ray Mar 19 '16 at 21:55
  • I will explain mine. We generally hold that science is G-d's general providence, as He made the laws by which the Universe is working. And those laws are consistent. Why do we call the sea splitting a miracle? because G-d's laws says it could not naturally happen. This question of the age of the Universe addresses G-d's two different approaches - one natural and one miraculous. So we want to know if the creation was a miracle (the Torah does not say that, unlike the splitting for example) or it was natural (by G-d's physical laws). It has nothing to do with observing Torah or testing us. – Al Berko Nov 23 '17 at 14:00

It is interesting that two unrelated discussions crop up wrt this question, the age of the universe and evolution.

Dating the age of the universe is scientifically sound and well supported, evolution is neither.

So from a scientific viewpoint we are faced with a Big Bang universe in which life magically appears on planet Earth.

Which leads to a suspicion that whichever magician created life may have prepared the setting for life previously.

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