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Dr. Gerald Schroeder published an article in Aish.com about the age of the Universe and the Jewish bible:

So the only data I use as far as Biblical commentary goes is ancient commentary. That means the text of the Bible itself (3300 years ago), the translation of the Torah into Aramaic by Onkelos (100 CE), the Talmud (redacted about the year 500 CE), and the three major Torah commentators. There are many, many commentators, but at the top of the mountain there are three, accepted by all: Rashi (11th century France), who brings the straight understanding of the text, Maimonides (12th century Egypt), who handles the philosophical concepts, and then Nachmanides (13th century Spain), the earliest of the Kabbalists.

Then he make this claim:

The calculations come out to be as follows:

• The first of the Biblical days lasted 24 hours, viewed from the "beginning of time perspective." But the duration from our perspective was 8 billion years.

• The second day, from the Bible's perspective lasted 24 hours. From our perspective it lasted half of the previous day, 4 billion years.

• The third 24 hour day also included half of the previous day, 2 billion years.

• The fourth 24 hour day ― one billion years.

• The fifth 24 hour day ― one-half billion years.

• The sixth 24 hour day ― one-quarter billion years.

When you add up the Six Days, you get the age of the universe at 15 and 3/4 billion years. The same as modern cosmology. Is it by chance?

But there's more. The Bible goes out on a limb and tells you what happened on each of those days. Now you can take cosmology, paleontology, archaeology, and look at the history of the world, and see whether or not they match up day-by-day. And I'll give you a hint. They match up close enough to send chills up your spine.

Many Jewish websites make similar claims - that their scholars made biblical predictions in advance of modern science long ago. Is this true?

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Finally un upvote. Looks like I got the right question. How should I improve this question? Are there any record that jews actually predict that the world is billions of years old before science does? –  Jim Thio Nov 12 '11 at 6:38
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In addition to @Oddthinking's excellent answer (which I upvoted) that knocks the argument down quickly with a ~2 billion year discrepancy, I suspect that the editors of the Bibles (which sort of reminds me of Wikipedia editors for reasons I'd rather not get into) may just be updating the story to be more consistent with science to make it easier for its better-educated readers to swallow. (P.S.: I upvoted your question because I think it's well written with really good detail.) –  Randolf Richardson Nov 12 '11 at 8:18
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@Randolf -to the best of my (admittedly limited) knowledge, NONE of the sources listed in the question changed at all since hundreds of years ago. So "updating the story to be more consistent with science to make it easier for its better-educated readers to swallow" would - even in the negligible chance that such an assertion is true - update it to pre-Copernican cosmology. Which of course wasn't quite settled on the 10+bln years give or take a few at that point. –  DVK Nov 12 '11 at 11:05
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Where does the rule to start with 8 billion years come from? It comes from the post hoc attempt to make the bible story fit. Where does the rule to half the time for each day come from? Dito. So what does it show, except, that you can do some mapping (which still doesn't fit, as shown by @Oddthinking)? –  user unknown Nov 14 '11 at 9:01
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For most of history nobody bothered to try to do these calculations as they didn't assume their holy books told literal narrative history. In the modern era (19th century on) the idea emerged that we should seek literal, naive facts from holy books. Ever since some have tired to reconcile their forced literal interpretation with whatever science is currently saying. But the mistake is to impose a modern, naive interpretation on the texts in the first place. –  matt_black Jan 25 '13 at 18:45
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2 Answers

up vote 32 down vote accepted

No.

To knock the argument down quickly: the generally accepted age of the universe, according to modern cosmology (using the ΛCDM model) is 13.75 +/- 0.11 billion years. This doesn't match the 15.75 billion years claimed. (Not sure what happened to the 7th day? Presumably that is another 125 million years that has been forgotten about?)

For further reading: The ordering of the events described in Genesis do not match the ordering of events described by science - certainly not enough to send chills down my spine.

The Genesis 1 creation account conflicts with the order of events that are known to science. In Genesis, the earth is created before light and stars, birds and whales before reptiles and insects, and flowering plants before any animals. The order of events known from science is just the opposite

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The issue here isn't "could God make a plant that doesn't need light?" He has supernatural powers. The issue here is "Does Genesis describe a process compatible with the process modern scientists describe?" No, the length and order are different. –  Oddthinking Nov 12 '11 at 7:25
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@Flimzy I seriously doubt that a book written in 1979 can account for our current scientific understanding of the cosmos. E.g. cosmological inflation was born in 1980 at best. And besides that, the Genesis isn't even sure if man was "created" before or after the other animals... –  Sklivvz Nov 12 '11 at 10:18
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This isn't a question about atheism. Does a supernatural God exist? Off-topic. Does the literal sequence of events in Genesis match modern science? No. (Skeptics Annotated Bible) What if we interpret Day 1 as 8 billion years, halving each "day"? Still no (My answer). What if we interpret the Earth as not being in orbit yet? Still no. What if we change the interpretation of all the words including the order, so it isn't as given? [Shrug] Take it to Hermeneutics.SE. –  Oddthinking Nov 12 '11 at 13:07
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@Flimzy They are invalid by any means. –  Sklivvz Nov 12 '11 at 20:43
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@Flimzy - If you want to address the claims brought up in that pamphlet, they'd make a good dozen or so (easily refutable) questions either here (for claims about reality) or on Christianity.SE (for claims about the content of Genesis). Some highlights: earth-moon system requires a miracle (bad science), order of appearance of animals in the Bible is accurately portrayed (bad scripture), water is exquisitely difficult to keep (bad science), trees bearing fruit doesn't actually mean trees bearing fruit (bad scripture), etc.. –  Rex Kerr Nov 13 '11 at 15:54
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The argument is ad hoc.

The core of the argument seems to be along the lines that the "speed" of time has changed. Dr. Schroeder claims that after the Big Bang, time went about a trillion times faster.

What's exciting about the last few years in cosmology is we now have quantified the data to know the relationship of the "view of time" from the beginning, relative to the "view of time" today. It's not science fiction any longer. Any one of a dozen physics text books all bring the same number. The general relationship between time near the beginning when stable matter formed from the light (the energy, the electromagnetic radiation) of the creation) and time today is a million million, that is a trillion fold extension.
Schroeder, G. Age of the Universe.

To clarify, this is how I understand the argument:

  1. Time is relative, and hasn't always "felt" the same speed.
  2. For a time unit t, we know that it felt like a trillion times longer just after Big Bang than it does now. So, 1 tbig bang = x tcurrent and we have an approximation that x ≈ 1012.
  3. In Genesis 1, the length of time is 6 dbig bang ≈ 6 * 1012 dcurrent which is about 16.4 billion (current) years.

I don't really understand how the author jumps from 16.4 billion to 15.75 billion years. I don't have any idea what these "dozen physics text books" are either. The article cites no sources. Altogether, the argument seems ad hoc.

But the right way to knock the argument down isn't to note that it's off by 20%. Not unless we are certain the ratio tbig bang / tcurrent isn't also off by the same amount.

The real reason why the argument is invalid is that there does not exist any scientific consensus around the concept "how the 'speed'" of time has changed"arxiv, so it is up to the author to explain this. Despite that we are not given a description of how the "speed" of time has changed. Further, in general the argument is just ad hoc.

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I suspect we are agreed that, if you say real_time = k.f(biblical_time), where f is an arbitrary function that has no basis in science, and k is a constant determined, post hoc, to match modern science's estimates, it is foolish to express surprise that it matches modern science's estimates. It is also unfalsifiable and makes no predictions - hence not of much interest on a Skeptics site. –  Oddthinking Nov 13 '11 at 0:10
    
@Sklivvz this is mostly a summary of the original article, which I also linked to. Except for the absence of scientific knowledge about how the "observed speed" of time has changed—it's difficult to provide a source for that, but very easy to prove me wrong. I'm basically underlining the assumption the author makes without citing references. –  dancek Nov 13 '11 at 18:39
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@Oddthinking that's pretty much what I was trying to say. –  dancek Nov 13 '11 at 18:45
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I agree with @Oddthinking, except for the conclusion. Of interest for a skeptics site is, how the trick works, to fool you. k and f origin from thin air, from the necessity, to match what they need to match. –  user unknown Nov 14 '11 at 9:06
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@Sklivvz ok, I'm really gonna need help with both that and proving that Tooth Fairy doesn't exist. –  dancek Nov 16 '11 at 9:57
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