In a private group communication, I had expressed my rejection of R' Avigdor Miller on the basis of having read a few pages of his book "Rejoice O Youth," at the recommendation of a Chasidic friend. R' Miller sets out to explain the young-earth anti-Darwin perspective as being the proper position for a Jew to hold. To do that, he says that you have to start from ground zero, assuming that scientists are insincere and lying.
Being related to many scientists, whose good-faith I take for granted regardless of their theology, and having some (minimal) science training, I was ready to throw the book across the room. But I just put it down (it not being mine), and decided I wasn't going to try R' Miller any more.
Someone responded that, to be fair, I should try to understand such positions, given that various major Talmidei Chachamim held them, such as R' Miller or the last Lubavitcher Rebbe.
I disagree. If Talmidei Chachomim held such positions, I have to believe it was based on one form or another of ignorance. Knowledge of Torah does not automatically confer expertise in non-Torah areas, nor does it confer the ability to judge among extra-Torah ideas. It does, however, confer a bias in favor of opinions expressed by other Torah scholars that may disagree with scholars in other fields, even where those opinions and fields may be orthogonal to Torah.
But a lot of these positions are absurd. They are logically inconsistent, and theologically difficult. We Jews don't say, Credo quia absurdum est, but we do say, the seal of God is Truth, which idea is derived from the final letters of bara Elokim et, the beginning of Creation. What God communicates to us, through Torah or the physical world, is Truth. And, as the Meiri and Rashi and other Rishonim say, if it's clear that the text cannot be literally true, there's still an allegorical Truth to it. Textual interpretation is malleable (up to a point); physical reality is real truth.
Young earth, the idea that the Universe is no more than 5770 (+162) years old, requires one to posit that not only are all scientists anti-religious liars, but that all science is wrong - even that which produces the life-saving medicine that cures your cellulitis infection, or strep infection, or metal poisoning, or which allows surgeons to stop your heart for some hours while they repair it, etc. It requires one to believe that God is lying to us through physical reality - that the Universe, that behaves as if it were older than 5800 years in factor after factor after factor, from radioisotopes to erosion to fossilization to species diversity, is a all a sham.
Now, for people who believe that the entire universe is just a figment of God's imagination, I can see that. One such system is the Lubavitch "upper unity", where all physical reality is just as much "God-stuff" as the soul or the Infinite Nothingness, but is masked (by itself) from being perceived by us (who are itself). But that way leads to logical absurdities too, in terms of "how do I know the universe wasn't created 5 minutes ago?" Answer: there's no way to tell, therefore, there's no evidence the Torah was ever given to us, and therefore Judaism is false from page one.
So I guess, to be charitable, we can attribute the Lubavitcher Rebbe's young-earthism to
1) a lack of scientific training (his engineering trade school, ESTP, today requires only one semester of physics, even less than I got and a lot less theologically problematic, at the undergrad level, than say biology or geology). I don't imagine he had even the equivalent of high-school biology in preparing himself for secular university studies.
2) a belief that the universe does not have real existence
3) faith in certain earlier sages, who knew even less about science than he did, but who adopted, unfortunately, an obscurantist approach to the new biology and geology of the 19th century. As opposed to, say, the Tiferes Yisroel, who managed to incorporate physical reality into his worldview.
Similarly, I had an encounter with R' Dr. J. Immanuel Schochet once, when he came to speak as a scholar-in-residence at my old synagogue in Park Slope. At the time, I was still trying to convince myself of the plausibility of a Divinely-originated (rather than human-originated) Oral Torah; I felt it was the last hurdle keeping me from calling myself "Orthodox."
I had been bothered by the argument that "the Oral Torah supports the authenticity of the Written Torah; the Written Torah supports the authenticity of the Oral Torah," and found an excuse to find out if he held that position. He did, and he and I argued fruitlessly for a while, my trying to get him to see that it was a circular argument, and in fact, he was just basing his belief on, well, belief. He could not see past his religious biases; his philosophic training (and philosophy almost always begins with Logic, be it from Aristotle or Quine) fell by the wayside in the face of a challenge to dogmatic Truth.
I'm not trying to davka pick on Lubavitch here, it's just that they put themselves and their beliefs up for public view and argumentation, in English, more than other groups.
So, like it or not, my most charitable, caf-zchus explanation for major Rabbinic figures believing things that seem absurd to me, is that they just don't know any better, and their priority being Torah, aren't actually all that interested, nor do they really have the time, to learn enough to know better.
R' Dr. Alan Brill, in one of his YU course tapes, notes that until the mid-19th century, when it became an issue for young-earth Christians, Torah scholars did not insist on a literal interpretation of Genesis 1-2. In fact, he gave a whole catalogue of allegorical explanations, by various Rishonim and Acharonim, and noted that (following Rashi) NOBODY took it literally until then. So in effect, it seems to me, insistence on a young Earth might be chukos hagoyim, and inconsistent with our Mesorah. Similarly, R' Hershel Billet has no problem with the various modern reconciliations of physical reality and Genesis on the age of the Universe.
Now, science is not without its dogmas, its paradigms, its blind spots either, as Thomas Kuhn explained so well in The Structure of Scientific Revolutions. But as evidence builds up for new theories, it is not totally inflexible. Given sufficient evidence, scientists will change their minds to fit the better perception of reality. And scientists do have their biases for or against religion, which will affect the way they think.
An evolutionary biologist of long acquaintance, who is inclined towards atheism, while admitting that current theories of evolution do not adequately explain the diversity of species, is willing to wait for a naturalistic answer to be found, while I might take a God-of-the-gaps position, and say that God is directing evolution to produce Man and sufficient biota to support him, at this particular moment in geologic time.
For me, the Grand Canyon is evidence of God's hand in an old Earth - that the Canyon, and humanity, each exist in an eyeblink of geologic time; but He placed both of us on the Earth at the same time, giving us the sense of beauty and awe to appreciate His handiwork on the large scale.