Occasionally, when learning Torah, we come face to face with historical facts which may be at odds with the scientific perception or agenda of the day. Parshas Bereishis contains perhaps a thousand of those possibilities, in the first Aliya alone. Today, where evolution and the Big Bang are no longer advanced as theories, but rather taught as scientific facts, we must be very deliberate in how we explain these apparent inconsistencies to our children.
Several very dedicated and talented Mechanchim that my children have had, have dealt with this issue with different approaches and styles. One approach has simply been to say “science is wrong”. Indeed, history is full of many examples of scientific impossibilities becoming reality. Whether it was the impossibility of flight, breaking the sound barrier, running a four minute mile or breaking molecules down below the atomic level, the one thing we can be absolutely certain of is that scientific understanding is truly the only thing constantly evolving and changing.
Others have tried to offer superficially appealing explanations to apparent contradictions. Fossils which are carbon dated to be millions of years old are said to have been skewed due to the Mabul (Great Flood) in Noach’s time. Some scholars have even written great scientific works expounding on the expansion of the universe and how the billions of years that science estimates the world to be is actually very close to Five Thousand Seven Hundred years when one accounts for the different rate at which time passes with the continuous expansion of the galaxy.
Nevertheless I believe these approaches, while working for many people, may not be the best way of dealing with these apparent conflicts, particularly when the questions are being posed by children. The age of the world may seem to cry out for reconciliation but do we really have to touch our elbow to our nose to reconcile secular science with our Torah? We have no way of knowing how long the first six “days” of creation were. Who was there to keep track? Moreover, before the fourth day, there was not a sun or a moon, so how precisely was the passage of a day measured? In fact the first day is singled out as day “one”, as opposed to the “first” day like all days which followed, strongly implying the different reality of day one to all subsequent days of creation. Similarly, Adam seems to have been created as an adult as were the animals and trees. So to, the world could easily have been created as an “adult” world along with a history and fossils. Were the first mammals created with umbilical cords? I don’t know but it is certainly plausible.
Clearly there is an appeal to encouraging pure Emunah (faith) at the earliest of ages. But we must be very careful that we don’t force intelligent children to question their faith at those same tender years. Science can be very persuasive, particularly when it is banged into us at every turn. Obviously, we must reinforce the concept that some things being advanced as scientific “facts” are only theories. Allowing our children to deal with these perceived contradictions in a palatable way can only pay dividends as their Torah and secular knowledge increase. They then can develop their own sense of comfort with what science is pontificating as the particular flavor of the decade, while remaining firm in their Emunah.