Tuesday, March 17, 2009

Book Review I: The First Six Days

[I've been doing a lot of book reviews lately and have decided to turn this into a regular feature that is cross-posted on a blog devoted to this topic: JewishBookNews.net. Note that authors and publishers can pay to have their books reviewed on Hirhurim and JewishBookNews.net. More information about that here: link. Please contact me if you would like to guarantee that your book will be reviewed. Note that you cannot determine the content of the review and I reserve the right to refuse your request if I think the review will be overly negative.]

sixdays1The First Six Days: Torah & Scientific Theory by Dr. Nathan Robertson is an attempt to reconcile contemporary science and the biblical account of Genesis. Yes, he isn't the first to try. However, he adds an interesting perspective to what I've seen before.

I don't claim to have an expertise in this subject. I certainly haven't read all of the many attempts at reconciliation -- whether Jewish or Christian. But I have read R. Natan Slifkin's critique of those attempts in his The Challenge of Creation and I read Dr. Robertson's book with those criticisms in mind.

Click here to read moreDr. Robertson takes the general approach that the six days of Creation reflect six eras of cosmological development and evolution. R. Slifkin critiques this "Day-Age Approach" on pages 186-189 of his book. He lists a few objections that can be raised against this approach:

  1. What is the firmament described in the first day of Creation?

  2. The earth and water appear on the first and second days, before the creation of the sun and stars on the fourth day.

  3. The sun, moon and stars were created on the fourth day, after the vegetation that was creation on the third day. Science tells us that the sun came before the vegetation.

  4. The birds were created on the fifth day, before the land animals that were created on the sixth day. According to the fossil record, land animals came first.
Let's see how Dr. Robertson addresses these issues. On pages 46-49, he explains that the water of the second day refers to "the initial rudimentary amorphous fluid which condensed or congealed into galaxies and stars, the hydrogen gas." The firmament, he claims, is the stretching out of the universe that contained this amorphous hydrogen gas. The distinction between the "water" above and below refers to the collapse under gravity of hydrogen and helium, forming galaxies and stars.

As should be clear, Dr. Robertson does not see the land and water of the first and second days of Creation as the land and water of the planet earth. Rather, he considers them to be references to the universe in its initial formation.

The creation of the sun, moon and stars on the fourth day are not their actual creation, suggests Dr. Robertson. Rather, it means the newfound visibility to the earth as the atmosphere became transparent.

The birds on the fifth day were not birds but winged insects. But how can that be when the verse clearly refers to all winged creatures, which certainly include birds? Dr. Robertson argues that Gen. 2:19 implies that birds were created on the sixth day. Therefore, only winged insects could have been created on the fifth and birds were created after the land animals.

Dr. Robertson has offered a number of suggestions on how to interpret the biblical text in light of the findings of science. Mainly, he tends to take the biblical terms non-literally while preserving the general outline of the narrative. It is not clear to me that his suggestions are ultimately viable from a textual perspective but I suspect that many will find his thoughts interesting.

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