Latest update: July 1st, 2013
The owner of the bookstore took one look at the book I was purchasing and said, “Rabbi Slifkin has made quite the splash in our city.”
He then asked, “What do you say about the dinosaurs?” – referring to Rabbi Slifkin’s Challenge of Creation (2006), which has a stunning photo of a dinosaur skeleton on the front cover of the book.
“Well,” I said, “my question is, were dinosaurs were created on day five, or day six?”
“You believe they existed?”
“Sure,” I said. “They may have been created with the mammals on day six, or perhaps with birds and fish on day five.” I explained that according to the Malbim, most species of birds and fish reproduce by laying eggs – the characteristic feature of day-five creatures – and dinosaurs lay eggs.
“Oh, you mean the ‘great creatures’ (tanninim hagedolim) of day five are dinosaurs?”
“Well, perhaps. Most commentaries understand that expression to refer to huge sea creatures, but Chazal indicate that it may refer to massive sea and land creatures as in the book of Job.”
I did not mention to my interlocutor some other surprising things about dinosaurs.
How old are dinosaurs? Everybody “knows” the answer to this question. As Rabbi Slifkin writes: “A live Tyrannosaurus Rex might be scary, but 65-million-year-old fossils need not be. The entire discussion concerning the age of the universe need not frighten the religious person. After all, God wrote the book of nature, so whatever it tells us about its origins must surely be His words.”
O.K. The universe can be as old as God wants. But what Rabbi Slifkin does not reveal to his readers is that under the right conditions, an animal the size of a dinosaur can become a fossil in a mere three weeks!
He also does not tell his readers that when Mary Schweitzer, of Montana State University’s Museum of the Rockies, was examining a thin section of Tyrannosaurus Rex bone under her light microscope, she noticed a series of peculiar structures. Round and tiny and nucleated, they were threaded through the bone like red blood cells in blood vessels. But blood cells in a dinosaur bone should have disappeared eons ago.
“I got goose bumps,” recalls Schweitzer. “It was exactly like looking at a slice of modern bone. But, of course, I couldn’t believe it. I said to the lab technician: ‘The bones, after all, are 65 million years old. How could blood cells survive that long?’”
A “good kashya,” but it drives Schweitzer crazy when creationists suggest that this may be evidence for a recent creation. This is because she believes that geologists have established that the Hell Creek Formation, where the dinosaur bones were found, is 68 million years old, and that therefore so are the bones buried in it.
But the discovery of soft elastic tissue and the appearance of fresh blood cells in dinosaurs is something else altogether, for such unusual preservation relies on “yet undetermined geochemical and environmental factors.”
As for all those dating methods, what about “anomalous” uranium-lead radiometric measurements showing that Jurassic and Triassic formations in the Colorado Plateau are several thousands of years old – rather short of the 60 to 200-million year age required by the evolutionary time scale? You will not see the many little (and not so little) anomalies mentioned, let alone discussed, in any of Rabbi Slifkin’s books.
Rabbi Slifkin and I have been debating such issues for many years. Rabbi Slifkin, who is undoubtedly well intentioned, considers the scientific evidence for naturalistic evolution to be incontrovertible fact. His belief is that Torah must be reconciled to the scientific consensus no matter what, and he has consistently refused to discuss the validity of the scientific evidence.
There is a reason that Rabbi Slifkin’s book, mentioned earlier, has no approbation from any rosh yeshiva or posek. It concerns a central issue that logically precedes any conflict about gaps in the fossil record or dinosaur bones. This issue is not about the duration of time during the six-day creation week, or whether it is permissible to allegorize a verse in the Torah, or Chazal’s knowledge of science. These are interesting topics, but they do not address the central issue in question, which frames a fundamental dispute about diametrically opposing worldviews.Jonathan Ostroff
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