When a Paradox is not a Disproof
The central theme of religion is whether the values, ritual, and system of thought work. The issues of genesis, the flood, or the tower of Babel are tangential, and out the outskirts of the Torah as a “theory” of meaning and purpose in life.
It’s like studying modern physics. We currently have two systems: quantum mechanics (QM) which was born in the head of Max Planck and developed by numerous other people. Including Einstein. There is also relativity (which has two parts: special and general), which was pretty much entirely Einstein’s.
QM works well in the domain of the very small, relativity works well with the very large. (In between, Newton’s old system is a good enough approximation and people don’t bother with such things.) But they are based on contradictory assumptions. For example, relativity is Background Independent. This means it isn’t about things that happen within space and time, but the nature of space and time is itself part of the theory. This is not true of QM. Figuring out quantum gravity — a theory of gravity that fits both QM and relativity, is a challenge. Filling this challenge are things like string and membrane theories, the Higgs Boson (the subject of the book “The God Particle”), and others.
Because each works so well so often in ways it was not designed to, that the typical physicist is sure some resolution of the two that will preserve nearly all of both theories is out there, waiting discovery. For that matter, we have chips of semiconductors designed using QM in our GPS systems carrying out computations that include compensating for the relativistic effects of the satellite being in motion relative to earth. So, even though the two theories are built on contradictory assumptions, scientists place trust (bitachon) in them. They have faith (emunah) that each will have to be tweaked only minorly to get them to fit, not a major overhaul.
For similar reasons, these science vs Bereishis questions don’t really bother me. Neither is really about what happened in the past; scientific theories makes claims about the past to explain what we observe astronomically and archeologically, the Torah tells us about our past to help us work toward our future. These areas of conflict really are side-topics in each discipline.
It might even be that the reason our generation finds these topics so pressing is a flaw in today’s zeitgeist. Science and technology have brought us so much since the Industrial Revolution that we perhaps forget that it’s not the only venue. As Rabbi Soloveitchik would put it, Cognitive Man is so successful “fill[ing] the earth and subdu[ing] it”, as per Hashem’s blessing of Adam in Bereishis 1, that we forget the Lonely Man of Faith. We feel a pressure to get our religion to play ball on science’s court, when in reality we are looking at the fringes of what religion is for. Truth must be consistent, but the problem isn’t a pressing one.
Each “theory” works so well so consistently in their own domains, I presume that some resolution will someday be found — much like a quantum mechanical understanding of gravity, an understanding of the small-scale workings of a phenomenon only significant in the large scale. One cannot ignore science in the pursuit of the Divine, but neither can one ignore the Torah; nothing is gained by wallpapering over one source of truth in favor of the other. I can live until then with the open questions.