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Dr. Gerald Schroeder published an article in 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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Have you considered asking if this interpretation of the Torah is 'kosha'? –  Benjol Jul 1 at 11:50

3 Answers 3

up vote 43 down vote accepted


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
@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
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
@Flimzy They are invalid by any means. –  Sklivvz Nov 12 '11 at 20:43
@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

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
@Oddthinking that's pretty much what I was trying to say. –  dancek Nov 13 '11 at 18:45
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
@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

I like the other answers, but I like the question so I wanted to give a more complete and thorough answer. I'd have to say, though I much prefer religious folk contorting their holy books to match science rather than trying to contort science to match their holy books.

So firstly, as Oddthinking points out in his answer, the age of the universe is not some 15 3/4 billion years old. Rather about (13.798±0.037)×10^9 years (as calculated with data measured in 2013 by Planck (space observatory). As I understand it there is a high degree of concordance on this and this number is not likely to be off by much. Now this would actually be impressive if it wasn't so obviously post hoc. Which makes it kind of funny that's it's as far off as it is, even with such a contrived explanation, they couldn't have gotten closer?

But my spine needs some chilling so let's take a closer look...

Day 1 (note this is RSV)

3 And God said, “Let there be light”; and there was light. 4 And God saw that the light was good; and God separated the light from the darkness. 5 God called the light Day, and the darkness he called Night. And there was evening and there was morning, one day.

The first obvious problem is there is the earth. So actually light did exist before the stars. It seems the first photons formed after about 1 micro second. God's a fast talker. But that pesky earth... But there is what's called the photon epoch which lasts from about 10 seconds after the big bang until about 380,000 years. Matter like hydrogen, helium and some lithium was created in this time but no stars yet.

universe formation graphic

Day 4 (I know 2 comes next, God doesn't)

14 And God said, “Let there be lights in the firmament of the heavens to separate the day from the night; and let them be for signs and for seasons and for days and years, 15 and let them be lights in the firmament of the heavens to give light upon the earth.” And it was so. 16 And God made the two great lights, the greater light to rule the day, and the lesser light to rule the night; he made the stars also. 17 And God set them in the firmament of the heavens to give light upon the earth, 18 to rule over the day and over the night, and to separate the light from the darkness. And God saw that it was good. 19 And there was evening and there was morning, a fourth day.

So on the fourth day God made two great lights (a single star and a.. moon?) and a lesser light (~10^29 "greater light"s). We are firmly still in the first 8 billion years here. Note that stars are still being born and dying but the first stars will be in the first billion years. Star formation is actually quite beautiful, even if there are some artificial colors in there. Note that some elements like gold, can only be produced in the death of a star. So stars were born and died before our planet ever formed. So there is that pesky earth...

stellar nebula

Day ? (I have no idea what day to call this, it's all over the place.)

So the next thing that happens is the formation of our star(day 4). This would have happened about 9 billions years after the big bang or about 4.6 billion years ago. A protoplanetary disk would have formed around the new sun which much of would collapse into planets (planets like Venus would probably be day 4, considered stars). The earth would have formed from this (day 1). There is various hypotheses about the origin of the moon but I believe the most accepted hypothesis right now states that a planet, Theia smashed into the proto-earth. The collision ejected the earth's crust into orbit, some of which consolidated into the moon(day 4).

protoplanetary disk

Day 2

6 And God said, “Let there be a firmament in the midst of the waters, and let it separate the waters from the waters.” 7 And God made the firmament and separated the waters which were under the firmament from the waters which were above the firmament. And it was so. 8 And God called the firmament Heaven. And there was evening and there was morning, a second day.

There would have been some Hydrogen and Helium in the earth from the start, this doesn't tend to stick around. But, as the earth cooled our atmosphere would have formed (day 2) then clouds would have formed and rained down on the earth forming the oceans(day 1). This seems to have been about 4.4 billion years ago(pdf).

early earth

Day 5 Sorry day 3, you have to wait until later.

20 And God said, “Let the waters bring forth swarms of living creatures, and let birds fly above the earth across the firmament of the heavens.” 21 So God created the great sea monsters and every living creature that moves, with which the waters swarm, according to their kinds, and every winged bird according to its kind. And God saw that it was good. 22 And God blessed them, saying, “Be fruitful and multiply and fill the waters in the seas, and let birds multiply on the earth.” 23 And there was evening and there was morning, a fifth day.

Ok the Bible isn't interested in the origin of life, that stuff's boring. So skipping forward a few billion years of microscopic life and ignoring the birds for now, we'll come back to them, we find those watery swarms. Animal life seems to have arose around 575 million years ago(pdf) and indeed it was in the ocean. But things really got kickin' about 30 million years later in the Cambrian radiation (a period of about 20 million years where rapid diversification of animal life took place).

early cambrian life

Day 3

9 And God said, “Let the waters under the heavens be gathered together into one place, and let the dry land appear.” And it was so. 10 God called the dry land Earth, and the waters that were gathered together he called Seas. And God saw that it was good. 11 And God said, “Let the earth put forth vegetation, plants yielding seed, and fruit trees bearing fruit in which is their seed, each according to its kind, upon the earth.” And it was so. 12 The earth brought forth vegetation, plants yielding seed according to their own kinds, and trees bearing fruit in which is their seed, each according to its kind. And God saw that it was good. 13 And there was evening and there was morning, a third day.

Skipping over the dry land bit as it was covered in the formation of oceans. We're interested in the plants. But we need to ignore the talk of seeds, fruit and trees. Following a series of extinction events we are brought to the Ordovician era where we see the first plants. Plants will continue diversifying and evolving until flowers emerge after even mammals.

first land plants

Day 6

24 And God said, “Let the earth bring forth living creatures according to their kinds: cattle and creeping things and beasts of the earth according to their kinds.” And it was so. 25 And God made the beasts of the earth according to their kinds and the cattle according to their kinds, and everything that creeps upon the ground according to its kind. And God saw that it was good.

26 Then God said, “Let us make man in our image, after our likeness; and let them have dominion over the fish of the sea, and over the birds of the air, and over the cattle, and over all the earth, and over every creeping thing that creeps upon the earth.” 27 So God created man in his own image, in the image of God he created him; male and female he created them. 28 And God blessed them, and God said to them, “Be fruitful and multiply, and fill the earth and subdue it; and have dominion over the fish of the sea and over the birds of the air and over every living thing that moves upon the earth.” 29 And God said, “Behold, I have given you every plant yielding seed which is upon the face of all the earth, and every tree with seed in its fruit; you shall have them for food. 30 And to every beast of the earth, and to every bird of the air, and to everything that creeps on the earth, everything that has the breath of life, I have given every green plant for food.” And it was so. 31 And God saw everything that he had made, and behold, it was very good. And there was evening and there was morning, a sixth day.

[note that the following is a brief simplification and overview of life since the Cambrian radiation to give you a feel for it. It's not as well cited just linked up to Wikipedia. It's uncontroversial so I hope there's no problem]. Some more extinction events bring us to the Silurian. In the Silurian we get diversification of jawed and bony fish and the first terrestrial animals, some arthropods. And then the Devonian where we get land plants and further diversified fish. Another extinction event, then the Carboniferous brings us amphibians. Then after an extinction event we get the Permian where we have the mammals and reptiles, this is capped off with the earth's largest extinction event finally killing off the trilobites. Then we find ourselves in the Triassic where we see the first seeds, corals, and a lot of different (what we might recognize as) dinosaurs. Another extinction event and we are in the well known Jurassic where you get the (true) dinosaurs. In a lovely turn of events no major extinction event happens and we are brought into the Cretaceous, finally it starts looking a bit more like home with the first flowering plants, recognizable insects like butterflies. Then we have probably the most well known extinction event and it brings us to the Paleogene where mammals and birds diversify and we see the first grass. Again, not characterized by a major extinction event we find our selves in the Neogene, birds and mammals continue to diversify and we see the first hominids. This is followed by the Quaternary period which takes us through the last 2.6 million years of the earth's history and of course the development of humans and the domestication of cattle.

Day 6

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Slightly off-topic: No, the Bible is not literal in any way, but people probably wouldn't've understood evolution, so instead of complicating it with the cambrian explosion, he just gave them a vague explanation. Yep, people were dumb back then. –  James Lu Jul 1 at 23:05
Actually from what I've read, brain mass has decreased since the agricultural revolution. They were possibly sporting more cognitive power than us. But without proper education systems or an understanding of the scientific method, they really had no hope of testing or really even recognizing wacky claims. Your view seems to be pretty new though, perhaps trying to reconcile science with faith? This wouldn't have been a problem before science! Anyway, I'm glad we can both agree people shouldn't try to use the Bible as a science textbook. –  Adam Phelps Jul 2 at 2:31
@JamesLu I don't know why I always forget to tag. –  Adam Phelps Jul 2 at 5:50
@AdamPhelps The descrease in brain mass is more of the "fight or flight" in our amygdala. –  Ruut Jul 5 at 7:36
@AdamPhelps I just think people didn't have enough science back then. –  James Lu Jul 6 at 15:11

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