Be very, very careful if you want to use science to prove something about religion

The tireless Dan Phelps (I shall soon run out of adjectives) sent this article [In the endless fight over creation versus science, what if both sides were right?] (, by Paul Prather, a columnist for the Lexington Herald-Leader and a pastor at a church in Mount Sterling, Kentucky, about 50 km outside Lexington. The article is in stark and refreshing contrast to the kind of nonsense that comes out of another Kentucky entity, answers in Genesis.

Indeed, it was gratifying to see that Rev. Prather allows that science is completely compatible with his religion. The headline of the article is, however, misleading: Rev. Prather seems to know better than to think that creationism and, in particular, young-earth creationism are compatible with science. Nevertheless, he argues that you can believe in modern science, in particular, the Big Bang, and still hold a religious belief. I consider that to be an experimental fact, since I have personally observed top-notch scientists who were also religious.

Unfortunately, Rev. Prather bases at least some of his understanding on the book, Genesis and the Big Bang: The Discovery of Harmony between Modern Science and the Bible, by Gerald Schroeder. Rev. Prather claims to have lost his copy of the book and admits that he understood only about half of it. That is perhaps fair enough, since he is not a physicist.

I have had the misfortune to have read two books by Gerald Schroeder: the aforementioned Genesis and the Big Bang, and a later book, The Science of God: The Convergence of Scientific and Biblical Wisdom, and I also cannot find my copies. I understood them in detail.

Let me make two observations: First, Dr. Schroeder is not “a renowned Israeli physicist.” A search of Google Scholar shows a measurable number of papers, largely concerning aquaculture, and (I think) nothing more recent than 1989. Earlier papers, from the 60’s, have to do with radon, radiation, and neutron-activation analysis, and are possibly related to his thesis work at MIT. His citation index is fairly high, presumably because of his popular books. I did not look exhaustively, but none of the publications I discovered had a byline at the Weizmann Institute of Science. When he wrote his aquaculture papers, he worked at places with names like Fish and Aquaculture Research Station. I have a clear memory of someone, years ago, trying to find out whether Dr. Schroeder had ever been on the faculty at Weizmann and coming up empty-handed. He is, however, an Orthodox Jew.

Second, his books will convince no one who does not already want to believe them. Rev. Prather writes,

But basically Schroeder explained that scientists already know time isn’t linear as once assumed. It stretches, bends, speeds up, slows down. It exists across—or perhaps exists across, but I’m not sure—multiple dimensions.

Given what’s known about time, he said, the very same event could take six days and also take billions of years, depending on which point you happen to be looking at it from. It’s not a matter of which is literally true—they could both be literally true. Look at it from over here, it’s six days. Look at it from over there, it’s billions of years.

Schroeder said the fight between Genesis and the Big Bang is unnecessary. In theory, both accounts could be speaking accurately of the very same beginning.

That is sort of accurate, but it is not exactly at the heart of Schroeder’s thesis. Here is something I wrote (p. 121 ff.) concerning The Science of God in 2001:

Gerald Schroeder, whom we met in connection with the Bible codes, descends from a different stream of Jewish literalism than the Lubavitcher rebbe. In The Science of God [1997], he states at the outset that he will examine modern scientific texts and ancient religious texts and try to bring them into agreement. If that sounds sensible to you, try turning it around: What if he were going to limit his study to modern theological texts and ancient scientific texts and try to bring them into agreement? You would very possibly recommend that he extend his study to include modern scientific texts. But Schroeder evinces no interest in religious studies later than those of Nachmanides (1194-1270). …

Schroeder believes that the first chapter of Genesis accurately describes the creation as viewed from the proper relativistic frame of reference. He calls time as seen from this frame of reference cosmic time. Cosmic time is not entirely arbitrary but is based on a philosophical argument by the theoretical physicist Jean-Marc Lévy-Leblond [Lévy-Leblond, Jean-Marc, 1990, “Did the Big Bang Begin?” American Journal of Physics, vol. 58, pp. 156-159]. Lévy-Leblond argues that the finite age of the universe puzzles not only laypersons but also scientists and philosophers. To eliminate the conceptual ambiguity that arises when we claim that time had a beginning, Lévy-Leblond defines what he calls linear time. Linear time is set up precisely so that the age of the universe is infinite. If you measure time in linear time, the question, “What came before the beginning of time?” is meaningless.

Schroeder renames linear time cosmic time. According to Schroeder, Chapter 1 of Genesis was written from the point of view of a being living in cosmic time. Only at the end of Chapter 1 is the clock turned over to earthly beings [who measure earth time, not cosmic time]. Specifically, Schroeder argues that the first day of Genesis corresponds to the first 8 billion years of earth time, the second day to 4 billion years, and so on.

The correlation between cosmological and paleontological fact and the six days of creation is fairly good, but there are problems. In the Book of Genesis, there is water above the sky; dry land and plants are created before the sun; and fowl appear before reptiles. Schroeder notes that flowering plants would not have appeared on the third day but on the fifth, but solves his dilemma with an ad hoc argument taken from Nachmanides: the plants developed during the next days. What did they develop from? Single-celled plants. Sounds a good bit like evolution.

Similarly, there is no geological evidence for a Noachian flood, so Schroeder applies a textual argument to suggest that the flood was only local. In brief, he notes a change in terminology from eretz to adamah. These words, in context, are synonyms, but to Schroeder they signify that God changed his mind about a worldwide flood. Finally, at the beginning of the sixth day, there should have been a major mass extinction, but it is not mentioned in Genesis, and Schroeder all but ignores it.

Dr. Schroeder goes on to perform a simple but wrong mathematical calculation to show that speciation is impossible. He brings up the old saw about the lack of transitional forms, but he fixates on a particular transitional form, Archaeopteryx, which he associates with a Hebrew word, tinshemet, that appears twice in Leviticus and is translated respectively by the Jewish Publication Society as horned owl and chameleon. JPS, however, notes that many of the words in this portion of Leviticus have been lost and their meanings are uncertain.

In his conclusion, Rev. Prather argues,

Schroeder said the fight between Genesis and the Big Bang is unnecessary. In theory, both accounts could be speaking accurately of the very same beginning.

Well, maybe. But if you want to use science to demonstrate something about religion, I suggest you find a better source than Gerald Schroeder.