THE END OF THE BEGINNING
Professor Aviezer interprets the Book of Genesis
By Mark Perakh
First posted on June 14, 1999. Updated in November 2001.
In this article I will discuss Nathan Aviezer’s book “In the Beginning”  as well as his paper titled “The Anthropic Principle” . The book in question was reprinted several times and translated into several languages. It is considered by Aviezer’s co-believers as a very convincing and well substantiated interpretation of those parts of the biblical story which contradict the data of science but which, according to Aviezer, are actually in full harmony with science if only they are properly interpreted.
Professor of physics Dr. Nathan Aviezer is a prominent member of a group of scientists, who, while constituting only a relatively small fraction of the scientific community, are quite active in a persistent effort to reconcile scientific data with the biblical story. Aviezer’s writings are rather typical of the literature in question. While he avoids the most egregious misstatements and crude errors we see in some other publications (for example in books by Gerald L. Schroeder – see http://www.talkreason.org/perakm/schroeder.htm ) Aviezer’s books and papers contain imprecise assertions, illogical conclusions and even direct errors (as in his treatment of probabilities).
PROBABILITIES ACCORDING TO AVIEZER
In his paper “The Anthropic Principle”  Aviezer asserted that the probability for the conditions necessary for the intelligent life to emerge by chance was so negligible that the role of a guiding supernatural mind must be accepted as the only possible explanation for our existence. In this regard, Aviezer discussed the question of probability calculations. Aviezer argued against the criticism suggested by Professor R. Falk of the Hebrew University of Jerusalem. According to the reference in Aviezer’s paper, Professor Falk’s critique has been published in a Hebrew-language journal “Alpai’im.” . I could not obtain that journal and therefore, in my discussion of the dispute between Falk and Aviezer, I must rely on the quotations in Aviezer’s paper.
Falk’s argument is as follows. As quoted by Aviezer, Falk wrote: “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.”
Aviezer then proceeded to allegedly demolish Falk’s argument. While some readers may find that Falk’s example was not the best possible, Aviezer’s response is fatally inconsistent. Aviezer does not notice that, in trying to disprove Falk’s argument, he actually repeats exactly the same argument, this time considering it to be valid and allegedly confirming his own views. Let us see how Aviezer refutes Falk’s notions.
Aviezer discusses an example given by G. N. Schlesinger . In that example, a dollar bill is pulled from a wallet and is found to have the number G65538608D. If one calculates the probability that an arbitrarily chosen bill has exactly the quoted number, it turns out to be less than 1 in ten billion. Hence, says Schlesinger, the extremely improbable event took place, but we find nothing surprising in that. Aviezer proceeds to analyze faults in Schlesinger’s statement. Referring to the famous physicist Feynman, he asserts that the actual probability for the bill to have the quoted number must be accepted as 100%. Let us quote from Aviezer (italics added by myself): “Following Feynman’s advice, we shall clearly define the event described above, which immediately leads to the conclusion that there is a probability of 100% that the dollar bill pulled from the wallet has G65538608D for its serial number. Why? Because this number was chosen by looking at serial number on the $1 note. In other words, one was simply asking ‘What is the probability that the serial number on the note is the serial number on the note?’ And the answer to this question, clearly, is 100%. Since the event was not improbable at all - but certain, there is no reason whatever to be surprised by its occurrence.”
Very good, Professor Aviezer! Your explanation meets no objection. There is, though, one point you seem to have not noticed. Your argument is exactly what Falk said, just in different words.
To illustrate my point, let us replace the words I put in italics in the above quotation from Aviezer. The event we will discuss now is not the serial number on a note, but the existence of the universe as we see it, including the existence of intelligent life. For example, the words “$1 note” will now be replaced with the words “universe as we know it” etc. We get now the following discourse, completely preserving Aviezer’s logic:
“Following Feynman’s advice, we shall clearly define the event described above which immediately leads to the conclusion that there is a probability of 100% that the universe which we see is such as we see it. Why? Because this universe was chosen by looking at that universe. In other words, one was simply asking: ‘What is the probability that the universe we see is the universe we see?’ And the answer to this question is clearly 100%. Since the event was not improbable at all – but certain, there is no reason whatever to be surprised.”
There is no logical difference between the examples with the dollar bill (or with Falk’s writing his comments with a yellow pencil) and with the universe.
In the described discourse, Aviezer, while intending to refute Falk, has asserted, actually in full agreement with Falk, that after an event has occurred any discussion of its probability is meaningless, as its occurrence becomes a certainty.
From another angle, Falk’s statement is correct in a different sense, contrary to Aviezer’s interpretation of those statements. For example, in the case of a dollar bill, the question can be legitimately asked as follows: what is the probability that a dollar bill which is still in the wallet and whose number we do not know, will turn out to have the quoted number? The correct answer to that question is not 100%, but less than one in ten billion. Does this very small probability mean that the actual serial number of the bill in question cannot turn out to be the quoted number? Not at all. Each bill has some number on it, and to find any particular number on the actual bill is as probable as any other of those existing numbers. Why then can’t it happen to be exactly the quoted number?
Likewise, the existence of the universe as we see it can have a very low probability if we calculate the latter without any knowledge of the actually existing universe. However, if Aviezer suggests that we calculate the probability of the dollar bill’s number by first looking at it, which makes the probability in question 100%, then he has to allow us to do the same with the universe.
To summarize the above, let us briefly repeat the following:
In their examples, Falk and Schlesinger do exactly what Aviezer does, namely estimate the probability of an event assuming it has not yet happened. In Falk’s case the event is his writing his comments with a yellow pencil, etc. In Schlesinger’s case it is determining a serial number on a dollar bill, whose probability turns out to be less than one in ten billion. In Aviezer’s case it is the spontaneous development of the universe with the intelligent life, whose calculated probability is extremely small. Then, without any reason, Aviezer suggests that we treat Falk’s and Schlesinger’s cases differently from his own case. In his own case he calculates the probability of the spontaneous emergence of life based on the assumptions that we do not know whether or not life would come into existence, and the result is a very small probability. However, in Falk’s and Schlesinger’s cases he suggests a different approach, accounting for the actual occurrence of an event, so its probability must be accepted as 100%. To be consistent, Aviezer must consider all three cases in the same way. Namely, if we assume the absence of the preliminary knowledge about the outcome of a test, in all three cases the calculated probability would be exceedingly small. If, though, we assume that the event in question has actually taken place (the dollar bill has already been pulled from the wallet, Falk has actually written his comments, the universe as we know it has actually come into existence) then the probability of all three events must be accepted as 100%.
In light of the above, Aviezer’s discourse in regard to the exceedingly small probability of the spontaneous development of the universe with intelligent life is not in the least convincing.
THE CASE OF MULTIPLE WINS IN A LOTTERY
Let us turn now to one more part of Aviezer’s paper dealing with probabilities. Here Aviezer discusses an example of multiple wins in a lottery. First he considers a case where some Chaim Cohen of Afula wins the jackpot. Let us quote Aviezer’s statement: “Although the chances were only one in a million that the winner would be Chaim Cohen from Afula, there exist one million ‘equivalent’ Chaim Cohens. Therefore the substance of what I heard is that someone won the Lotto this week. And the chances for that event to happen – someone winning – are 100%. Hence I have no reason to be surprised.” This statement is correct. (Except for the number – 100%. If we account for the possibility that more than one payer chooses the same losing set of numbers, the actual probability of someone winning is about 37% - see the pertinent calculation in the appendix to the article at http://www.talkreason.org/perakm/probabilities.htm or www.talkreason.org/articles/probabilities.cfm . It is essential for our further discussion to make note of that statement, and to add that the number Aviezer used – one million of tickets – has no special meaning. The above statement would be equally correct if instead of one million tickets available in that lottery there were only one hundred thousand of them, or one million millions of them.
Aviezer proceeds then to discuss a case of multiple wins. If Chaim Cohen won a second time in a row, says Aviezer, it would be amazing. If Chaim Cohen won a third time in a row, it would indicate, says Aviezer, that there was something fishy about that lottery, most probably its outcome was rigged in favor of Chaim Cohen. Let us again quote Aviezer: “The chances that this same person will win the Lotto once again are easily shown to be only one in a million millions. Such events are so rare that they simply do not occur.” (Italics is mine, MP)
The last statement, however appealing it seems to common sense, is actually flawed in several respects as is analyzed in detail in the article on probabilities referred to above. We are indeed amazed if a particular player wins more than once in consecutive games. But we are amazed not because of the very small probability of such an event, as Aviezer thinks. The reason for our intuitive view of the multiple wins as a plausible indication of fraud is explained in the article on probabilities, the section on multiple wins. This analysis shows the misunderstanding by Aviezer of his own example.
From the analysis in the article on probabilities, we can conclude that when a particular player wins more than once in consecutive games, we are amazed not because the probability of winning for that particular player is very low, but because the probability of anybody (whoever he/she happens to be) winning consecutively in more than one game is much less than the probability of someone winning only once in an even much larger lottery. We intuitively estimate the difference between the two situations. However, the important point is that what impresses us is not the sheer small probability of someone winning against enormous odds. This probability may be equally small or even smaller in the case of winning only once in a big lottery, but in that case we are not amazed.
Of course, Aviezer is right when he says that a triple win by Chaim Cohen would make anyone pause before buying a ticket in such a lottery. This attitude is, though, based not on the very small probability of Cohen’s winning, as Aviezer assumed, but on the difference between the probabilities of someone (whoever he may happen to be) winning more than once and someone winning in only one game, even if the probability of winning several times in a row in consecutive games of a small lottery is actually larger than of winning only once in a large lottery.
Furthermore, remember that when, for example, in the probability theory the probability of either heads or tails in the test with a coin is discussed, the assumption of an “honest coin” is always implied. In the example of a triple win, though, Aviezer introduces an element that is alien to the mathematical calculation of probabilities, namely the possibility of cheating. The important point is as follows: we know (or, at least, suspect) that there is a distinctive possibility of cheating on the part of the lottery organizers, therefore our evaluation of the triple win by Chaim Cohen is based not just on the mathematical probability of his triple win, but also on the interfering uncalculated probability of cheating. In fact, we subconsciously compare two competing probabilities, one that Chaim Cohen honestly won twice (or three times) in a row and the other that the lottery was rigged. If Chaim Cohen won three times in a row, our intuitive estimate is that the probability of the triple win for anybody (not just for Cohen) is so small that it becomes lower than the probability of cheating. If, though, we were 100% confident that no cheating could take place, our attitude would be quite different, namely it would be safely based only on the mathematically calculated probability.
The analogy between the lottery and the spontaneous emergence of life is good up to a certain point. However, as any analogy, it is not perfect and ceases to be legitimate if we account for the possibility of cheating.
In the case of estimating the probability of spontaneous emergence of life there is no element of a possible cheating present. Therefore the example with multiple wins in a lottery is irrelevant when we discuss the emergence of life, where we have to rely only on the mathematically correct calculated probabilities.
There are also other substantial differences between the probabilities in a lottery and in the possible processes of the spontaneous emergence of life. One such difference is in that all possible events in a lottery are supposed to be equally probable. However, the postulate of equiprobability does not hold for the universe’s and/or life’s spontaneous development. There is little doubt that certain paths in the universe’s and/or life’s development could be much more probable than some other possible paths. This difference dictates caution in discussing the universe and life in terms of a lottery, but Aviezer did not seem to account for that difference.
The most important point is, though, that the value of probability in itself, however small it may be, has no cognitive value. Aviezer’s assertion, “Such events are so rare that they simply do not occur” is contrary to facts. If it were correct, it would mean no event would occur. Indeed, each one of that million millions of possible events has the same (very small) probability to occur, hence Aviezer’s statement is equally applicable to all of them. However, some particular event (for example, some ticket, sold or unsold, winning) whose individual probability is very small must necessarily take place, even though we don’t know in advance which one.
In fact, events of extremely small probability occur constantly. For example, in the article at http://www.talkreason.org/perakm/dembski.htm (mirrored at www.talkreason.org/articles/dembski.cfm ) there is an example of an event from my personal experience whose roughly estimated probability was about ten to the power of minus fifty, but which nevertheless actually occurred.
When we discuss the probability of the spontaneous emergence of life or
of the universe, the values of that probability, however small, are irrelevant
and do not in any way contradict the hypothesis of the spontaneous emergence of
SUN AND THE MOON
example of imprecision Aviezer allows himself in order to support his beliefs,
let us look at how he tries to justify the biblical story in regard to the sun
and the moon being a “large light” and a “smaller light.” Here is the quotation from page 47 of Aviezer’s book:
“The apparent size of the sun and of the moon are exactly the same. Each
of these astronomical bodies has an apparent size of 0.530.”
This statement by Aviezer is not exactly correct. First, the visible
(apparent) sizes of the moon and of the sun
are not constant. They change as the moon orbits the earth and the earth
orbits the sun, their orbits not being exactly circular. The average
angular diameter of the sun (if it were watched from the center of the earth) is
about 31’59’’ which is close to 0.5330 . The average angular diameter of the moon is slightly less, 31’5’’.
However, the sun’s apparent size varies from the mean by some 1.7%, while that
of the moon, by some 7%. The maximum
apparent angular size of the moon is about 33’16’’, which is larger than
even the largest apparent size of the sun. Moreover, the maxima and minima of
apparent sizes of the sun and moon occur at different times. Hence the
difference between the apparent diameters of the two celestial bodies in
question varies between two extreme situation, in
one of them the sun appearing larger by some 10% and in the other,
smaller by some 8%. Furthermore,
the distance between the earth and the moon is slowly increasing, thus the
apparent diameter of the moon is gradually decreasing.
While in the distant past the apparent diameter of the moon was
noticeably larger than that of the sun, in some distant future it will become
small enough to make the full solar eclipse impossible. Anyway, even if the
near-coincidence mentioned by Aviezer were exactly true, how such
near-coincidence can make the moon a source of light rather than just a
reflector, remains Aviezer’s secret.
AVIEZER’S PAPER ON THE ANTHROPIC PRINCIPLE
In his paper  Aviezer discusses the so-called anthropic principle. There are several versions of the anthropic principle suggested by various authors. Among those versions are the so-called Weak Anthropic Principle (WAP), Strong Anthropic Principle (SAP), Participatory Anthropic Principle (PAP), Final Anthropic Principle (FAP), each of them defined slightly differently in various sources. A more detailed discussion of the anthropic principle is given at http://www.talkreason.org/perakm/anthropic.htm (mirrored at www.talkreason.org/articles/anthropic.cfm ).
Aviezer mentions neither the distinction between those variations of the anthropic principle nor their definitions. Moreover, he does not offer any own definition of that principle at all. However, from Aviezer’s paper one can infer what he actually means by the term Anthropic Principle. From Aviezer’s paper transpires that his interpretation of that principle is very close to that by another propagandist of the Bible’s inerrancy, Hugh Ross (whose literary output is discussed at http://www.talkreason.org/perakm/ross.htm or www.talkreason.org/articles/ross.cfm ), the difference being in that Ross approaches it from a Christian standpoint.
The interpretation of the anthropic principle by both Ross and Aviezer seems to boil down to the assertion that the universe is extremely “fine-tuned” for the existence of life, and this allegedly points to its supernatural origin.
In the article on the anthropic principle referred to above, all versions of the anthropic principle are divided in two general classes. Those versions which interpret the “fine-tuning” of the physical constants for the existence of life as an indication of a supernatural origin of life are denoted by the term Supernatural Anthropic principle (SNAP). Those versions which look for the explanation of the above “fine-tuning” only in natural causes, are denoted Natural Anthropic principle (NAP). A probabilistic analysis of NAP and SNAP in the article in question has shown that NAP is logically consistent while SNAP is based on an arbitrary assumption and is an example of circular reasoning.
Aviezer adheres to the SNAP (without using that term). One example of Aviezer’s adherence to a rather extreme form of SNAP is his contention that all the stars in the universe were created for the benefit of mankind. The contemporary scientific view maintains that atoms of the elements constituting human bodies have been created within the stars. The early universe contained no elements other than hydrogen and helium. Stars are the giant ovens where nuclear reactions result in the creation of all other elements, including carbon, oxygen, etc, which are necessary for life. Therefore, concludes Aviezer, stars were created specifically in order to make possible the existence of men.
There are a few questions, though, which Aviezer preferred not to discuss. One is as follows: why there are in the universe hundreds of billions of galaxies, each containing billions of stars? One billionth of one percent of that number of stars would suffice to supply all the elements necessary for mankind, billions of times over. Why then do so many stars exist whose behavior and very existence have no effect whatsoever on humankind?
Furthermore, besides the elements, which are constituents of human bodies, the stars cook also other elements, which are not only unnecessary for the creation of human bodies, but, on the contrary, are detrimental and even mortally dangerous for those bodies. Besides radioactive nuclei, which are “cooked” in abundance in the stars, such elements as, for example, arsenics, tallium, and even such common metals as cadmium and nickel as well as a multitude of their compounds are poisonous for humans.
Aviezer’s version of the anthropic principle was not derived from the
observation and experiment, but rather the artificial interpretation, aimed at
meeting a certain preconceived agenda, was the basis for suggesting that
AVIEZER’S DISCUSSION OF THE BIG BANG
On page 14 of his book, Aviezer wrote: “Today, scientists carry out research in cosmology only within the framework of the big-bang theory.” This is not exactly true. While most of the research in cosmology is indeed going on in relation to the hot big bang theory (BBT), there are scientific groups in several countries, which work in different directions, and which doubt the BBT. For example, the so-called “steady-state” cosmological theory, suggested in 1948 by Hermann Bondi, Thomas Gold and Fred Hoyle, which denies the big bang, still has some (although not many) adherents among cosmologists. Other cosmological theories, suggested as alternatives to the hot BBT, are the cold big bang theory, the symmetric matter-antimatter theory, the variable G theory, the tired light theory, the shrinking atoms theory, the theory of eternally oscillating universe, and others.
There is, for example, a group of scientists in the Russian Academy of Sciences, who work on developing a cosmology of eternal universe, denying the BBT. Some of those Russian cosmologists try reviving the ideas of Evgenii Lifshits and Isaac Khalatnikov, who suggested (in 1963) that the galaxies move not strictly away from each other but have also lateral velocities and therefore they never were at the same location at the same time. Some others Russian scientists develop alternative theories denying the big bang.
The above examples do not cover all of the alternatives to the BBT, which are being discussed. The BBT itself, which seems to be at this time the most successful in explaining many of the observed data, still leaves a number of topics elusive, speculative, and often not understood at all. One of the weak points of the big bang theory is that, while it is compatible with the general theory of relativity (GTR), it seems to be incompatible with quantum theory (QT). It is unclear at this time how to modify the existing theories to fit together the GTR and QT (although attempts have been made to rectify the situation, so far with insufficient success).
Lest I be misunderstood, I would like to emphasize that I am not discussing here the validity of either the BBT, which is supported by most cosmologists, or the alternative theories, such as those listed above, which are shared at this time by a relatively small minority of scientists. I am only showing the imprecision of Aviezer’s statement.
Regarding the possibility that science will some day abandon the big bang theory, however unlikely it may seem, we may recall that when George Gamow first suggested, in the forties, the idea of the big bang, it was not taken seriously by scientists (although the data in regard to the universe ongoing expansion were already available). The discovery (in the sixties) of cosmic background radiation by Arno Penzias and Robert Wilson changed the situation. Is there any guarantee that no new discovery will one day shed a new unforeseen light on Penzias-Wilson radiation?
To conclude this section, let us look at the following quotation from the man who made very important contribution to the big bang theory, the famous Stephen Hawking. On page 53 of his book “A Brief History of Time”  he wrote: “...in the end our work became generally accepted and nowadays nearly everyone assumes that the universe started with a big bang singularity. It is perhaps ironic that, having changed my mind, I am now trying to convince other physicists that there was in fact no singularity at the beginning of the universe – as we shall see later, it can disappear once quantum effects are taken into account.”
The above quotation does not necessarily mean that Hawking indeed rejects the big bang theory, but it shows that, as a genuine scientist, he himself points to the theory’s weak points and hence implies it can be disproved in the course of the subsequent development of science.
What if one day some unknown young man, say, working as a minor clerk in a patent office, suggests a new theory, which will change the perception of the universe in a revolutionary way?
Unlike in religions, which claim monopoly on the ultimate truth, in science nothing has been established as the end of the road. Every scientific theory is open to rebuttal, reconsideration or amendment. It is especially true for cosmological theories. Indeed, one has to distinguish between laws of physics, which have been postulated based on experimental evidence, and cosmological theories which usually cannot be subjected to a direct experimental test, and hence necessarily require some speculative assumptions to interpret the observations.
Here lies one of the weak points of Aviezer’s position. He endeavored to juxtapose the biblical story with scientific theories. Such juxtaposition is hardly legitimate. The biblical story is not supposed to ever change. Scientific theories are always in the process of verification and improvement. A theory which is prevalent today can well be changed and even rejected tomorrow, thus rendering invalid whatever proofs of its compatibility with the Bible Aviezer or anybody else has offered, regardless of how clever those proofs could be.
DISCUSSION OF ICE AGES
An example illustrating how scientific views have changed since the time Aviezer’s book was printed relates to the ice ages. There are reasons to believe that several times in its history, the Earth surface was largely covered by a thick layer of ice, each time lasting for several thousand years,.
Aviezer discussed the ice ages in the chapter devoted to the fourth day of creation. He referred to the theory suggested about fifty years ago by Milutin Milankovitch which attributed the changes in the earth climate to the subtle effects of the gravitational pull of the moon. In 1976, Milankovitch’s theory received support from geophysical data, suggested by Hays, Imbrie, and Shackleton .
In the section titled “The ice age and the Holocene period” (pages 44-46) Aviezer wrote: “Only 18,000 years ago, our planet was caught in the grip of a savage ice age.” A few lines further, Aviezer continued: “About 10,000 years ago, the severity of the ice age began to subside. … In the course of this deglaciation, a milder climate gradually spread over most of the globe.” Note the number “10,000” and the word “gradually” in the last sentence.
Aviezers’s explanation corresponded to the scientific view common in 1990, when his book was published. In line with all other topics that Aviezer discussed in his book, each time comparing the scientific data with the word of the Bible, and asserting the complete compatibility of both sources, Aviezer proceeded to interpret the text of the Book of Genesis as revealing exactly the same information as that established by contemporary science.
Aviezer did not say directly that the number “10,000” and the assertion about the “gradual” change of climate literally follow from the text of the Bible. However, if we trace the general approach to each of the topics in his book, we have to conclude that the mentioned number of 10,000 and the word “gradually” are, in Aviezer’s view, in full agreement with the word of the Bible .
Recently, the above described view of ice ages underwent a reconsideration based on data obtained by improved experimental technique. Using this more precise technique for analyzing the isotopic composition of argon and nitrogen, trapped in Greenland ice, a group of scientists from the Scripps Institute of Oceanography in La Jolla, California, headed by J. Severinghouse, concluded that, first, the last ice age ended not 10,000 but rather about 15,000 years ago and that the change of climate was not gradual but rather abrupt. The results of that group’s study  provide a rather strong evidence that the average temperature of Earth atmosphere grew by about 16 degrees in the course of only a couple of decades, some 15,000 years ago, causing a rapid deglaciation, which took much less time than the several thousand years believed hitherto.
These new data cast a shadow on some aspects of Milankovitch’s theory as well. If, as Aviezer asserted, Milankovitch’s theory was fully compatible with the word of the Bible, then the biblical story may contradict the new scientific data.
I don’t think though that the described new theory, if proven correct, will in any way affect Aviezer’s main thesis. Whatever changes in scientific views occur, Aviezer’s approach will allow him to smoothly move from the assertion that the biblical story was fully compatible with the abandoned scientific view to the assertion that it is fully compatible with the amended or even completely changed view.
skeptic’s viewpoint, though, a text that can be equally well interpreted in
many different ways, to match every possible theory, hardly can be interpreted
meaningfully at all.
SIX DAYS OR SIX EPOCHS?
Another example of the Aviezer’s approach (which had actually been used many times before Aviezer) is his assertion that the word “day” in the beginning verses of the Book of Genesis, which describe the creation of the universe in six days, actually meant to denote “epoch.” Such a proposition may be fine in a theological discourse. It is, however, an arbitrary hypothesis not based on any factual evidence or logic when the text of the Bible is viewed from a rational standpoint.
Indeed, the Hebrew language has such words as shniya (second), daka (minute), yom (day), shavua (week), khodesh (month), shana (year), mea (century), tkufa, (“epoch”), and many other words denoting various time intervals. If, as Aviezer wants us to believe, the author of the Book of Genesis meant that the universe’s creation took six epochs, why would that author choose of all words at his disposal the word “yom,” and not, “tkufa”or, say, “sfira” or "idan," which can also be sometimes used for epoch in certain phrasal constructions. Moreover, while mentioning each of the six alleged “epochs,” the author of the Book of Genesis repeats each time the phrase “and there was evening and there was morning, the third day” (or second, or fourth, etc). Hence, it seems rather obvious that the author of Genesis, who might not be familiar with our contemporary prevailing scientific view of the age of the universe (about 15 billion years), really meant to say that the universe was created literally in six days.
What is the reason for assuming that the word “day” in Genesis really meant an “epoch?” It would be in vain to search the text of the Bible for any indication that the Hebrew word “yom” was meant to denote anything but “day.” There are no such direct indications anywhere in the Bible. (Sometimes the word “yamim” which is the plural for “yom” is used in the Bible metaphorically, in the sense of “times.”) This means the reasons for the interpretation in question must be looked for outside the Bible. There is little doubt however, what the actual reason for the interpretation in question is.
The only reason for that interpretation is the fact that the contemporary, widely held scientific view maintains that the universe came into existence roughly 15 billion years ago. The assumption that word “yom” whose literal meaning is “day” actually was meant to denote an “epoch,” is based only on Aviezer’s agenda, which is to prove compatibility of the Bible with science.
It is worthwhile
recalling that not very long time ago the scientific estimate of the age of the
universe was not billions but only millions of years. If that view, largely abandoned now by science, were still
accepted, all calculations designed to prove the harmony between the Bible and
science, would need to be altered. Isn’t
it somehow ironic, that the adherents of the view that the Bible is in full
harmony with science have to modify their interpretation of the text of the
Bible each time a scientific theory is changed?
Since Aviezer and other writers of the genre in question claim to be
genuine believers, they are supposed to believe that the Bible supplies the
eternal truth, whereas science by definition provides only temporal truth.
Nevertheless, ironically, they routinely manipulate at will their
interpretation of the Bible in order to fit the prevailing view of contemporary
science. If the prevalent
scientific view happened to be that, say, the universe was created in six
seconds, Aviezer would have no problem with an assertion that word “yom”
in the Genesis actually meant “schniya” i.e. “second”, rather than “epoch.”
This is so because interpreting a word, which literally means “day,”
as actually implying “epoch,” is completely arbitrary and not based on any
factual evidence. Naturally, such an interpretation can be changed in whatever
way at any time, adjusting it to any twist in the prevailing scientific view.
Therefore the interpretation of “day”
as an “epoch” has no explanatory value and cannot be viewed as a real
illustration of the harmony between the word of the Bible and science.
PARADOX OF THE ORIGIN OF LIFE
Let us now discuss the section of Aviezer’s book where he considers the so-called “paradox of the origin of life” (pages 68-70).
It has been established in biology that the production of proteins in living organisms occurs with participation of nucleic acids. Nucleic acids, in turn, are produced with participation of proteins. It looks like a vicious circle, and is reminiscent of the question of what existed first, the egg or a chicken. In Aviezer’s view, since nucleic acids are not produced without proteins and proteins are not produced without nucleic acids, the cycle “…nucleic acids-protein-nucleic acid…” could not have started spontaneously. Hence, says Aviezer, such a cycle only could be started through the interference of a supernatural “guiding hand.” Here is a quotation from Aviezer’s book (page 68): “…the life could not develop from inanimate matter because inanimate matter contains neither proteins nor nucleic acids.” An oak’s root contains neither acorns nor leaves. Does this lead to the conclusion that an oak could not grow from its root?
The only conclusion that follows from the observations of the protein-nucleic acids cycle is that we do not know how that cycle started. Aviezer, though, claims to somehow know the answer and provides it in a categorical way.
The only assertion which follows from the experimental data is that somehow, either spontaneously or through a deliberate action of a “guiding hand,” the first protein appeared in the absence of a nucleic acid, or the first nucleic acid appeared in the absence of a protein. Then the cycle “protein-nucleic acid-protein….” etc, started and continues ever since. Obviously at some moment this cycle had to be started in a way different from its presently observed regular cyclic process. It is true for both views, one that assumes a spontaneous beginning of that cycle and the other that assumes the interference of a supernatural “guiding hand.” There is no information available to make a choice between the two alternatives. However, the opinion that the start of the cycle in question could not occur spontaneously has no basis in any factual evidence.
There is nothing unusual in starting a cyclic process via some non-cyclic event. For example, possibly the non-cyclic event producing a protein (or a nucleic acid) required negotiating a very high potential barrier by interacting molecules. Hence, it would require a very high activation energy and therefore such a non-cyclic interaction would be very rare. However, rare does not mean impossible. Under certain conditions, which could occur in the primeval atmosphere, even if very rarely, the interacting molecules could have acquired the activation energy sufficient to overcome the potential barrier. For example, this could be a result of the presence of short-living powerful electromagnetic fields (in particular as a result of an intensive illumination by high-energy photons). Thus the first protein (or the first nucleic acid) could emerge. It could have started the cycle, wherein the necessary activation energy happened to be much lower, hence making the cycle the preferred path of the reaction. Another effect with the same consequences could be a decrease of the potential barrier. The decrease of potential barriers of various interactions, for example by a shower of photons, has been observed experimentally many times. (One such situation is the photoadsorption of semiconductors from colloid sols on dielectric surfaces, which normally does not occur in dark, but is enabled by illumination, if the photon energy exceeds a certain threshold). One more possibility is that the decrease of the potential barrier was due to the accidental presence of a strong catalyst, which could be rare. Then, as the first protein (or nucleic acid) was produced, the cyclic process could become the preferred path because the necessary catalytic conditions for it are much more common.
There is no evidence that the above non-cyclic generation of a protein or of a nucleic acid could not happen naturally. Biological sciences (including biophysics and biochemistry) have not yet identified such a non-cyclic process. That does not mean science will not eventually identify, or even reproduce such a process in a laboratory, as science develops further. Aviezer’s argument in this cased is rather typical of the “God-in-the Gap” approach, which has lately been losing its attractiveness even in the eyes of the new crop of adherents of creationism
Consider an example. Let us imagine a competition in long distance running. If the distance is, say, 10,000 meters, the runners have to circle the stadium 25 times. A spectator who came to the bleachers after the competition had already started, observes the group of runners circling the stadium time and time again. This spectator would conclude, though, that there was a starting point somewhere, where the runners happened to be initially. He has no direct knowledge of how the runners happened to arrive at that starting point. Maybe they descended from the bleachers, or perhaps they walked in through some gate, etc. The spectator in point does not know exactly how the run started, even though he realizes that it happened in a way different from what he now observes, where the runners instantly pass the starting point in each round, approaching it, say, from east, and continuing their run westwards. The spectator has no reason, though, to assume that the run started because there was an action of a supernatural “guiding hand.”
WHAT AVIEZER DID NOT TALK ABOUT
It is interesting to note that in some instances Aviezer chose to keep silent in regard to some rather obvious contradictions between the Bible and science. One such example is his discussion of the early history of mankind. The pertinent section in Aviezer’s book is titled “After the six days. The Early History of Man.” In this section Aviezer discusses the agricultural revolution, as well as the beginning of animal husbandry, which, according to archeology, occurred some 10,000 years ago. In Aviezer’s view, the biblical story accurately describes these milestones in the mankind’s history. Indeed, Aviezer tells us, Adam’s family engaged in both agriculture and animal husbandry. He quotes from the Bible as follows: “And Abel was a shepherd, and Cain was a tiller of the ground.” In a strange way, Aviezer seems not to notice the considerable chronological discrepancy between the archeological data and the biblical account. According to the Bible, Cain and Abel were the first and the second sons of Adam, who himself was created by God les than 6,000 years ago. Therefore, as per the Biblical account, the first shepherd and the first tiller of the ground lived later than about 6,000 years ago. On the other hand, the archeological data, referred to by Aviezer, indicate that the agricultural revolution and animals husbandry started several thousand years earlier than 6,000 years ago.
This is just one example of Aviezer’s selective approach to the controversy between the Bible and science. He chose for his discourse only those topics where he thought he had some plausible explanations of the controversy, but omitted some other points of controversy, where he apparently could not come up with any reasonable arguments.
There are other
inconsistencies in Aviezer’s book. For example, he matches the creation of
plants on the Third day with the appearance of green plants in the Permian
Period 250 million years ago, whereas later in the Fifth day he matches the
creation of the "big crocodiles" with the appearance of the Ediacra
fauna in the Precambrian Period - 570 million years ago. Many other examples of
chronological inconsistencies in Aviezer's book could be indicated.
Of course, a skeptic would not fail to notice either
the illogical statements, or the flaws in the interpretation of probabilities,
or the described convenient selective method of discussion, utilized by Aviezer.
The publication of Aviezer’s book in no way changes the fact that the
realms of faith and of science do not intersect but rather exist independently
of each other. The mental
acrobatics used in publications such as those by Aviezer, have no useful role.
Science is a product of the human mind and human endeavors, and does not
look for confirmation of its theories in the Bible or in any other religious
source. Equally, faith is not based on scientific proofs of what is believed to
be the divine revelation. No
efforts like those by Aviezer can change this situation.
 Nathan Aviezer, In the Beginning, Biblical Creation and Science, KTAV Publishing House, Hoboken, NJ, 1990
 Nathan Aviezer, The Anthropic Principle, Jewish Action, Spring 1999.
 R. Falk, Alpai’im, v.9, Spring 1994, pp. 133-142.
 G.N. Schlesinger, Tradition, v.23, Spring 1988, pp. 1-8.
 Stephen Hawking, A Brief History of Time, Bantam Books, 1988
 J. D. Hays, J. Imbrie, and N.J. Shackleton, Science, v.194, December 1976,
 J. Severinghouse et al, Nature, October 1999.
Mark Perakh's home page http://www.talkreason.org/marperak/