Two Jewish scholars offered some thoughts on the age of the Earth as they approached Jewish New Year:
In our lives, and in our teaching, we reject that divide. As the Jewish New Year approaches and we welcome in the Hebrew year 5780, we don’t feel at all confused about when the world was created: It was formed around 5 billion years ago, and it is also 5,780 years old. Why, we ask, must we choose?
But how can one believe two contradictory things at once? If the world is really 5,780 years old, then evolution must be false. And if the universe is governed by laws that make humanity a mere accident of physics and chemistry, what can biblical stories of Hebrew patriarchs and matriarchs possibly teach us?
F. Scott Fitzgerald put it beautifully: “The test of a first-rate intelligence is the ability to hold two opposed ideas in mind at the same time and still retain the ability to function.” And John Keats praised what he called “negative capability,” the capacity to entertain mysteries and contradictions without any “irritable reaching” for some system to impose on the world’s complexity. We take these messages to heart in an undergraduate class we co-teach, where we try to impress on our students that the greatest questions tend to have the most elusive and incongruous answers.Gary Saul Morson and Morton Schapiro, “Religion and science don’t contradict — they just answer different questions” at Jewish Telegraphic Agency
Not sure this works. Is there no risk of a split worldview?
That said, suppose one goes back behind the question and asks, why must I believe something anyway? Age of Earth is a useful question for that purpose because the question cannot be answered by the evidence of one’s senses or by what somehow seems reasonable.
And that can go both ways. You might think that the landscape around you dates back millions of years but maybe it is actually post-glacial from the last Ice Age, maybe 20,000 years ago, according to geologists. It would “look old” to you and me either way! Specialized knowledge is needed to construct a fact-based history of the region.
Most people who believe that the Bible is divinely inspired don’t feel that they must, therefore, accept a four-figure age of Earth, as a result of interpretations of the wording of the text. If a person does believe that religious scriptures require them to accept a certain four-figure sum for the age of Earth, then they must hold that belief in tension with what geologists say.
Many of us simply avoid getting involved except to try to blunt the persecution of unpopular views. For one thing, it isn’t self-evident that geologists are always right either. I regret the fact that scientists were once ridiculed for believing that the Earth has tectonic plates.
Most beliefs about the nature of the physical world are best held provisionally.
The people who end up worst off are not those who struggle with some precepts of their faith but those who attribute some sort of divine/absolute truth-telling to science. Scientism is a tricky religion. – (O’Leary for News)
See also: Why I am not a young-Earth creationist.
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