Creation

Every civilization has asked: Why do we exist? Where do we come from, and why? No civilization has ever confessed its ignorance. Someone in the tribe always produced answers and transmitted them from generation to generation.

 

Many ancient creation stories contain variations on the theme of a great God/Spirit bringing the universe out of nothing or from a primal abyss. Eg Zuni people in New Mexico ‘In the beginning of things Awonawilona was alone. There was nothing beside him in the whole space of time. Everywhere was black darkness and void.’ Many of the South American creation stories are so similar in content and form to the Biblical Genesis account that the Spanish priests who recorded them are suspected of taking creative liberties. See the Popol-vuh of the Maya.

 

The Scandinavian Eddic story relates how, ‘Of old was the age when Ymir lived; Neither sea nor cool waves nor sand there were: earth had not been, not heaven above. Nothing but a yawning gap, and grass nowhere.’ The Phoenician creation story, which influenced Babylonian and Mesopotamian religion, began, ‘The beginning of all things was a dark and condensed windy air, and a chaos, turbid and black as Erebus; and these were unbounded, and for a long series of ages destitute of form.’  Ancient India shared a variation on this theme of divine creation. ‘Before time began there was no heaven, no earth and no space between. A vast dark ocean washed upon the shores of nothingness and licked the edges of night. A giant cobra floated on the waters. Asleep within its endless coils lay the Lord Vishnu. He was watched over by the mighty serpent. Everything was so peaceful and silent that Vishnu slept undisturbed by dreams or motion. Vishnu spoke to his servant: 'It is time to begin.' Brahma bowed. Vishnu commanded: 'Create the world.'’ Vishnu, like the God of the Hebrews, speaks the universe into creation. Hinduism adds the idea that the universe is engaged in an eternal cycle of creation (expansion to immeasurable dimensions) and destruction (contraction back to nothing).

 

Ancient Greeks also had creation stories but as their religion aged, philosophers began to believe that ‘creation out of nothing’ (ex nihilo) was a primitive myth. A new, more scientific idea was introduced in the 5th century BC when Parmenides postulated that the universe is ‘timeless, uniform, necessary and unchanging’.  Parmenides encapsulated his theory in the phrase ‘ex nihilo nihil fit’ (nothing can be created out of nothing).  He was at the forefront of a conception of the universe that dominated scientific thought for 2,500 years and is still contained in the general laws of physics. As recently as the 1920s, scientists filed the Biblical creation story alongside myths of ravens, turtles and cobras.  

 

Albert Einstein’s theory of mass-energy equivalence (e=mc2) states that nothing is either created or destroyed; it merely changes form from matter to energy, and vice versa. Based on Einstein's theorem, it should be impossible for creation of matter to take place ex nihilo from pure energy. In 1922, Alexander Friedman, a Russian cosmologist  and mathemtician, used Albert Einstein's equations of general relativity to derive his own equations which suggested that the Universe was expanding.  This idea was antithetical to the traditional Static Universe model. Einstein preferred the steady state theory because a singularity of ‘creation’ would break down his general theory of relativity. However, evidence for an expanding universe quickly accumulated, bringing into question the steady state theory.

 

In 1924,Edwin Hubble's measurement of the great distance to the nearest spiral nebulae showed that these systems were indeed other galaxies. In 1927, Georges Lemaître proposed that the inferred recession of the nebulae was due to the expansion of the universe.  

 

During the 1920s and 30s almost every major cosmologist preferred an eternal steady state universe, and several physicists complained that any theory implying ‘the beginning of time’ imported religious concepts into physics. This perception was enhanced by the fact that the originator of the Big Bang theory, Monsignor Georges Lemaître , was a Roman Catholic priest as well as a physicist. Pope Pius XII declared, at the November 22, 1951 opening meeting of the Pontifical Academy of Sciences, that the Big Bang theory accorded with the Catholic concept of creation.

 

Eventually, the observational evidence, most notably from radio source counts, favoured the Big Bang theory over Steady State. The discovery and confirmation of cosmic microwave background radiation in 1964 secured the Big Bang as the best theory of the origin and evolution of the cosmos.  By 2008 Conservative Protestant denomination had accepted the Big Bang theory as supporting a historical interpretation of the doctrine of creation.

 

For 2500 years, science insisted that the universe could not have been created out of nothing, while many religions insisted that God had created the universe simply by speaking it into existence. No serious scientist today still argues that the universe exists in an eternal steady state. Because of the Big Bang theory, Science and religion are no longer diametrically opposed in their views on creation; both agree that universe exploded into being at a precise moment in time and space. Has this reduced the long-standing antagonism between science and religion? 

 

Fundamentalist Christians hurled victory into the jaws of defeat by dating creation of the universe to the week of October 16-22, 4004 BC.  As discussed elsewhere, the only reason for insisting upon this precise and recent date is to defend Original Sin and the Gospel of Wrath. This ‘young earth’ theory has not delivered a fatal blow to science but has painfully divided Christians.

 

The Big Bang poses some big question:  Why?  How?   Science cannot provide answers.  Religion suggests that a supremely powerful and intelligent creator ignited the big bang.  As science digs deeper into the complexity of form and function in the natural world, Ockham’s razor suggests that God is a considerably better explanation than ‘blind, random’ processes.

Why would God create the universe out of nothing?  Science declines to speculate. Natural theology does not peer into the mind of the Creator. Revealed theology provides glimpses in the ancient and enigmatic book of Genesis.  

 

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