Fossils and Faith

Fossils and Faith

by Nathan Aviezer


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Product Details

ISBN-13: 9780881256079
Publisher: KTAV Publishing House, Inc.
Publication date: 01/01/2002
Pages: 270
Product dimensions: 6.50(w) x 1.50(h) x 9.50(d)

About the Author

Date of Birth:

January 29, 1862

Date of Death:

June 10, 1934

Read an Excerpt

Chapter One

Faith and the Era of Science


The word "faith" is defined as "belief in religious doctrines for which there is no proof." Although religious belief is based on faith rather than on proof, our faith has recently been buttressed by important plausibility arguments. Today, there is widespread harmony between the Genesis account of creation and the findings of science. In other words, there is consistency between recent scientific discoveries and the worldview of a person of faith. This is what is meant by plausibility arguments for religious belief and faith.

    Before describing some of these plausibility arguments for faith, it should be emphasized that not only religion, but also science, relics heavily on plausibility arguments. The naive picture of the white-coated scientist in his laboratory, watching the pointer move across a scale to the predicted reading and thereby establishing a scientific theory beyond doubt, bears little relation to reality. Indeed, the empirical nature of science precludes the absolute proof of any theory. Science advances by postulating concepts and making assumptions, and then investigating to see whether these assumptions and concepts are successful in explaining phenomena observed in nature or in the laboratory. As successful explanations multiply, it becomes more and more plausible that the assumed concepts and ideas are basically correct, although experience shows that some alterations and adjustments inthe original concepts will be almost inevitable.

    An instructive example is provided by quarks, the tiny particles that constitute the basic building blocks of the universe. The quark is not an exotic particle unrelated to the everyday world. Quite the contrary. Quarks form 99.9% of all the materials with which we are familiar, including stars, planets, rocks, water, air, the book you are reading, and the tissues of your body. (The remaining 0.1% are electrons.)

    Despite the fact that quarks have never been seen, scientists are convinced of their existence. As Professor David Bailin of the University of Sussex explains: "Even though no particle detector has ever 'seen' a quark, everyone agrees that they actually do exist." Moreover, quarks will never be seen, because according to the standard theory of elementary particles, they are forever "locked up" in the protons and neutrons (each of which consists of a triplet of quarks). Professor David Callaway of CERN (European Center for Nuclear Research) explains, "The fundamental particles of matter—the quarks—are permanently confined inside protons and neutrons."

    If no one has ever seen a quark, why are scientists absolutely convinced not only that quarks exist, but that they rank among the most important building blocks of the entire universe? The answer is that if one assumes that quarks exist, then a great many observed features of the universe can be explained. "Theorists developed the quark model as a neat, compact description of the myriad of new particles detected in the 1950s and 1960s, as well as the familiar proton and neutron. The properties and interactions of all these particles fell into patterns that could be completely explained if all these particles are made up of three species of quarks."

    The findings described above, as well as many others discovered subsequently, have led scientists to believe that the existence of quarks is extremely plausible, even though they have never been detected. This is an example of a plausibility argument in science.

    One should be aware that the use of plausibility arguments constitutes an important similarity between the methods of science and of religion, for both disciplines rely on them. In both religion and science, as plausibility arguments accumulate, faith in fundamental tenets becomes increasingly reasonable. Let us examine some of the important plausibility arguments for religious belief.


Where did the universe come from? A person of faith would probably answer that the universe was created out of nothing, as stated in the first verse of Genesis. Such an answer was long considered a scientific impossibility, because it contradicted the law of the conservation of matter and energy. According to this law of science, which was established in the middle of the nineteenth century, matter and energy can be changed from one form to another, but something cannot come out of nothing. Therefore, scientists viewed the universe as eternal, thus neatly avoiding questions regarding its origin. The Genesis assertion that the universe was created, presumably from nothing, became an area of conflict between science and the Bible. That is how matters stood for many years.

    But the situation has now changed. The twentieth century witnessed an unprecedented explosion of scientific knowledge, which is nowhere more dramatic than in cosmology, the discipline that deals with the origin and development of the universe. Astronomers had been studying the heavenly bodies for thousands of years, but their studies dealt almost exclusively with charting the paths of the stars, planets, and comets, and determining their composition, spectra, and other properties. The origin of the heavenly bodies remained a complete mystery. As one Nobel laureate put it, "in the 1950s, the study of the early universe was widely regarded as a subject to which a respectable scientist would not devote his time ... there simply did not exist an adequate observational and theoretical foundation on which to build a history of the universe."

    Important advances in cosmology during the past few decades have, for the first time, permitted scientists to construct a coherent history of the origin of the universe. Today, an overwhelming body of scientific evidence supports the "big bang" theory of cosmology. There are four major pieces of evidence: (1) the discovery in 1965 of the remnant of the initial ball of light, (2) the hydrogen-to-helium ratio in the universe, (3) the Hubble expansion of the galaxies, and (4) the perfect black-body spectrum of the microwave background radiation measured by the COBE space satellite in 1990. Only the big bang theory can account for all these observations, and therefore it is now accepted by all mainstream cosmologists.

    The most surprising assertion of the big bang theory is that the universe was literally created from nothing. It is instructive to quote the world's leading authorities.

    Professor Paul Dirac, Nobel laureate at the University of Cambridge, writes:

    "It seems certain that there was a definite time of creation."

    Professor Alan Guth, of the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, writes:

    "The instant of creation remains unexplained."

    Professor Stephen Hawking, of the University of Cambridge, writes:

    "The creation lies outside the scope of the presently known laws of physics."

    Professor Joseph Silk, of the University of California, begins his book on modern cosmology with the words:

    "The big bang is the modern version of creation."

    Today, it is hardly possible to carry on a meaningful discussion of cosmology without the creation of the universe assuming a central role. Professor Brian Greene, a theoretical physicist at Columbia University, wrote in 1999: "The modern theory of cosmic origins [asserts] that the universe erupted from an enormously energetic event, which spewed forth all space and all matter.... The currently accepted scientific theory of creation is referred to as the standard modal of cosmology."

    When cosmologists use the term "creation," to what are they referring? Precisely what object was created? Scientists have discovered that the universe began with the sudden appearance from nothing of an enormous ball of light, commonly called the "primeval light ball." This "explosion of light" was dubbed the "big bang" by the British astrophysicist Fred Hoyle. The remnant of the initial ball of light was detected in 1965 by two American physicists, Arno Penzias and Robert Wilson, who were awarded the Nobel Prize for their important discovery.

    People sometimes ask what existed before the big bang, the event that marked the creation oldie universe. Professor John Wheeler of Princeton University explains that the very concept of time did not exist before the creation. "There was no 'before' prior to the Big Bang. The laws of nature came into existence together with the Big Bang, as surely as did space and time." Wheeler emphasizes that scientists view space and time as the "stage" upon which the events of the physical world take place. If there is no physical world—if the universe does not exist—then neither time nor space can exist. "Time" and "space" are not independent entities; these concepts have meaning only after the creation of the physical universe.

    This property of time and space can be illustrated by analogy to the concept of color. "Red" and "black" are not freestanding characteristics, independent of any physical object. Only if macroscopic objects exist, such as grass, rocks, or houses, can one speak of objects as being red or black. If nothing but atoms and molecules existed, then there would be no meaning to "red" or "black," or to the very concept of color. There is no such thing as a red molecule. In the same way, there were no such concepts as time and space before the universe came into being.


In addition to confirming the creation of the universe, the discovery of the initial primeval light by Penzias and Wilson also answers another long-standing puzzle about the Genesis account of creation. On the first day of creation, Genesis explicitly asserts: And there was light (1:3). But at that time, there existed neither stars, nor sun, nor moon, nor people, nor any other known source of light. Therefore, how are we to understand the "light" mentioned in Genesis?

    Scientists have now discovered that there was light at the very beginning of time: the primeval light-ball whose appearance heralded the origin of the universe. The creation of light did not occur within the existing universe. Rather, the creation of light was the creation of the universe. Therefore, Genesis does not record two separate creations on the first day—the creation of the universe and the creation of the light—but only one.

    We now turn to the question of the time scale. How much time was required for the cosmological events that took place at the creation of the universe? How many millions of years had to elapse before the universe was complete and assumed its present form? The remarkable answer is that all the cosmological events involved in the creation of the universe occurred within a very few minutes. This fact is emphasized by the dramatic title that Nobel laureate Steven Weinberg chose for his famous book on modern cosmology: The First Three Minutes.

    Nowadays, cosmological events—events that alter the structure of the universe—require many millions of years to occur. How could such events have taken place within just a few moments? The answer is that during the period of creation, the temperature of the universe was extremely high. Just as food cooks much more rapidly in a pressure cooker than over a low flame, in the same way, events occurred with amazing rapidity in the blazing universe at the origins of time. Professor Greene explains: "The newborn universe evolved with phenomenal haste. Tiny fractions of a second formed cosmic epochs during which long lasting features of the universe were first imprinted. ... During the first three minutes after the big bang, as the simmering universe cooled, the predominant nuclei emerged."

    Thus, the formation of the first atomic nuclei—the basic building blocks of every material—was completed within three minutes after the instant of creation.


It should be emphasized that the comprehensive agreement between science and Genesis described above does not prove that the Book of Genesis is of divine origin, and it certainly does not prove that God exists. These matters remain articles of faith. However, as we begin the twenty-first century, the person of faith is not forced to choose between accepting the latest scientific discoveries or accepting the Genesis account of creation. All leading cosmologists now discuss the creation of the universe, while the text of Genesis discusses the Creator of the universe. It is, therefore, not unreasonable to assume that science and the Bible are both referring to one and the same subject. It is a pleasure for a person of faith to be living in this day and age!

    It is important to realize that the current confluence between science and faith was not always the case. Only a few decades ago, the outstanding Torah scholar Rabbi Joseph B. Soloveitchik expressed the dichotomy that then existed between science and faith in a classic essay entitled "The Lonely Man of Faith." Using the word "lonely" to describe the feelings of the man of faith who lives in a scientific world, Rabbi Soloveitchik wrote: "Being people of faith in our contemporary world is a lonely experience. We are loyal to visionary expectations which find little support in present-day reality.... Religious faith is condescendingly regarded as a subjective palliative, but is given little credence as a repository of truth."

    Now, barely half a century later, in one scientific discipline after another, the words of the scientist can hardly be distinguished from the words of the "man of faith." Professor Stephen Gould of Harvard University tells us that "human intelligence is the result of a staggeringly improbable series of events, utterly unpredictable and quite unrepeatable." The term "luck" is now commonly used by evolutionary biologists like Professor David Raup, past president of the American Paleontological Union, to "explain" the existence of human beings. Archaeologists express their amazement at the "radical and sudden changes" that mark the appearance of civilization, and they speak of a sudden "quantum leap in mental abilities" that appears in the archaeological record of human cultural behavior. Scientists in a wide variety of disciplines discuss the "anthropic principle," which states that the universe looks as if it were specifically designed to permit the existence and promote the welfare of human beings. And finally, The Cambridge Encyclopedia of Astronomy expresses this idea in the following poetic words: "In truth, we are the children of the Universe."

    The scientific discoveries and statements listed above—and many more—are exactly what one would expect if the Genesis account of the origin and development of the universe were, in fact, correct. Therefore, the existence of such harmony between science and Genesis constitutes an important plausibility argument for our religious belief. Science is no longer the antagonist of the believing person. Indeed, modern science has become a significant element in the strengthening of ancient faith.

Excerpted from Fossils and Faith by Nathan Aviezer. Copyright © 2001 by Nathan Aviezer. Excerpted by permission. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.

Table of Contents

Chapter 1Faith and the Era of Science1
Chapter 2The Age of the Universe11
Chapter 3The Anthropic Principle21
Chapter 4The Creation of Man39
Chapter 5Proofs for the Existence of God53
Chapter 6Evolution: Is There a Problem Here?69
Chapter 7God, Science, and Free Will87
Chapter 8Miracles: Natural and Supernatural105
Chapter 9Prayer and Divine Providence115
On Science and the Bible
Chapter 10Chaos, Rain, and the Bible127
Chapter 11The Extreme Longevity of the Early Generations in Genesis143
Chapter 12"May You Live to 120!"157
Chapter 13The Spread of Languages and the Tower of Babel165
Chapter 14Misreading the Fossils179
Chapter 15The Scientific Quest for the Origins of Man197
Chapter 16Darwin's Theory of Evolution207
Chapter 17Non-Darwinian Theories of Evolution221
Chapter 18Darwinian Fundamentalism239
Chapter 19Life on Mars?257
Biblical Commentators263
Index of Scientists265
Subject Index267

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