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Asking the clergy: Was the universe really created in a week?

Rabbi Ben Herman of the Jericho Jewish Center

Rabbi Ben Herman of the Jericho Jewish Center Credit: Ellen Dubin

God created the heavens and the earth in six days, according to the Book of Genesis. “On the seventh day,” the Bible story continues, “He rested.” The seven-day creation story, however, seems to contradict scientific research that estimates the universe is about 13 billion years old, and that the earth has been around for about 4.5 billion years. This week’s clergy discuss ways of reconciling these strongly held religious beliefs with the best current scientific evidence.

Rabbi Benjamin Herman

Jericho Jewish Center

My grandmother always said to me that, regarding creation, God could have taken an evolutionary approach, and I have used this to try to reconcile the Torah and science. First let us acknowledge that the world existed before God took His masterful hand towards shaping the world. The world was described as tohu vavohu (null and void) with hoshech (darkness). So clearly the universe was not created in seven days. What was created was all of the beauty in the world: the great luminaries, plants, animals, humans and so much more. God set this all in motion like a masterful artist before a canvas. How then to reconcile this with evolution, the idea that creations formed over thousands, if not millions, of years? Simply by believing that God set the foundations for the world as we know it within seven days. According to evolutionary thinking, there is a “Big Bang,” which set the world into motion. Similarly, the seven days of creation functioned as a “Big Bang,” propelling forward all of the beauty of creation. That’s not to say everything happened in seven days (six, actually, for on the seventh God ceases working) but rather that these days served as the trigger for all of the earthly creations that we have grown to love and cherish. Let us also not forget that a day for God might be the equivalent of thousands of years for humanity.

Dr. Yousuf U. Syed

Trustee, Islamic Association of Long Island and The Selden Mosque

If Allah can instantly create anything, no matter how big or small, then why did He require six days to create the universe? Allah says in The Holy Quran, Surah 3:59: [A. Yusuf Ali translation], “Allah created Adam and Jesus, peace be upon them, from dust, and said ‘Be and it is.’ ” So for Allah it is so simple. For example Allah says you will be born in nine months, and therefore, you will be born in nine months. The sun will rise in the east, and it will, as per God’s command and will, and so on. Yes, the Holy Quran says His Creation was established in six days (Surah A’raf 7:54), but in Arabic, day has different meanings. It could also mean six very long periods or stages. Modern science confirms that our universe evolved over long periods of time. However, time and days, as we understand them, are different in the cosmic sense. In cosmic terms our one minute could be a very long period of time in human understanding. Therefore, The Quranic six days are long periods or stages of our time. The usual concept of six days, as we understand, comes from taking the word, “day,” in the literal sense. Scripture is not always to be taken literally. It is sometimes metaphorical, allegorical, philosophical or even beyond human understanding. Thus, we must be mindful of these different ways of understanding scripture, and we must refrain from playing intellectual gymnastics with the words of God.

The Very Rev. Christopher D. Hofer

Rector, The Church of St. Jude, Wantagh

When I was a child, one of the first Bible stories I learned was the creation. “In the beginning when God created the heavens and the earth . . . ” (Genesis 1:1a) Six days of creating and one day of rest, Adam and Eve, the Garden of Eden, the tree of knowledge of good and evil, the serpent, the fall, and the expulsion are embedded in my mind. As a young child, I didn’t question the tale and simply believed the universe was created in a week. However, years of studying Scripture, combined with reason, have changed my understanding of creation. A careful reading will introduce the reader to two stories of creation: Genesis 1:1-2:3 and Genesis 2:4-3:24. Many people conflate the stories, which were written at different times for different theological and historical purposes. For instance, the second story of creation is actually the oldest and explains why humans sin, whereas the first story directly contradicts Babylonian “science” and creation stories the Israelites learned during the Babylonian captivity. In ancient Babylon, the universe was created out of chaos and war. However, the authors of Genesis 1 show creation being orderly with purpose. Through research, we know that the universe was created much longer than in a week and more likely millennia as evolutionary science confirms. For me, much more important than the timing of creation is the knowledge that God created out of love, is still creating, and entrusts us to care for creation — something humanity has failed miserably at.

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