Age of the Universe: One Approach
Is the universe 13.8 billion years old or 5,779 years old?
Is the universe 13.8 billion years old as scientists say, or 6,000 years old, as many interpreters of Genesis say?
Scientists look at the cosmos; they measure something that they assume came about naturally and try to determine its age. Let’s take an example. We look at the sun, and we can measure with satellites exactly how much hydrogen and helium are in the sun today. We also know – assuming that everything came about naturally – how much hydrogen and helium were present at the very beginning of the universe. Finally, we understand the nuclear reaction that converts hydrogen into helium, which is what the sun is doing, so we can tell how long it takes for a certain amount of hydrogen to change into helium. Therefore, if we know how much hydrogen there was at the beginning, how much hydrogen there is now, and how long it takes to convert that much hydrogen into helium, we can calculate that to have today’s ratios of hydrogen and helium, the sun had to burn for 4.5 billion years.1
Other methods are used in other areas of science, but they are all similar: you assume everything happens naturally, you measure something, and you calculate to see how long it would take for that change to have happened.
Now in Torah, it’s a very different story. In Torah, the timeline is clear: we have the six days of Creation, followed by 5,779 years as of 2019 – because Rosh Hashanah, Adam’s birthday, was Day 6, and from Day 6 to today, we count using the Jewish calendar.
But the Torah assumption is not that things started from the beginning. The Torah says very clearly that things are made ready to use – in their final form. That’s what “and it was good” in Genesis means – it was ready for us to use.
For example, Adam was not made as a little fetus. He was made as a 20-year-old, as the Midrash2 tells us, and it is clear from Genesis that he was a grown person, that he could make decisions and sin and so on.
The trees in the Garden of Eden were made such that if Adam had cut one down, he could have counted the rings and found, say, 100 rings that made the tree look like it was 100 years old. But it wasn’t, because it had just been made, ready to use.
In a similar manner, when the sun was made on Day 4, it was ready to use, meaning it had the current composition of hydrogen and helium Everything was made ready to use and just appears to be old because it was created to look that way.3
So what we have here is science assuming that everything happened naturally from some beginning and measuring not the age, but some parameter that would take that long to appear – like the amount of hydrogen and helium in the sun. And if you make that assumption, the result is correct; the parameter would take that long to appear. But Torah is saying no, everything was made ready to use. This means the scientific measurement is right, the Torah description is right, and the universe is 6,000 years old,4 it’s just that we’re measuring things that would lead you to believe it is billions of years old.
This article is part of a new series of short articles on Torah and science, two ways to study God’s creation. For an in-depth view, read the author’s book The Genesis One Code.
2. Midrash Rabbah Genesis 14:7
3. The Age of the Universe By the Grace of G-d 18th of Teveth, 5722 [December 25, 1961] Brooklyn, NY
4. “Dialogue: The Rebbe and the Professor. Contradictions Between Torah and Science”