Beginning of the Universe

The first verse of the Bible declares without apology that the universe had a beginning: “In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth” (Genesis 1:1). The Hebrew word for “create” is used in the Old Testament only to describe God’s creative activity. In and by itself the word does not mean that God made the universe out of nothing. But the context of this verse implies that He did. For if God created the material universe “in the beginning (of the universe),” there was no preexisting matter before its creation. The New Testament book of Hebrews, which is an exposition of the Old Testament, makes explicit what is implicit in this verse: “By faith we understand that the universe was formed at God’s command, so that what is seen was not made out of what was visible” (Hebrews 11:3).

In its original context Genesis 1:1 served as a polemic against the dominant belief system of the time: polytheism. Polytheism affirms the existence of many gods. According to this belief system matter had always existed. Even the gods were generated from uncreated matter, and the present universe was created by the gods out of preexisting matter. Since the gods are generated by an impersonal force, it implies that this force, better known as Fate, and not any of the gods, is in control of the universe. In contrast, Genesis 1:1 teaches that an uncreated personal God created, and hence owns and governs, this universe.

Today, Genesis 1:1 serves as a polemic against the dominant belief systems of our time: materialism and pantheism. Both these systems deny that God created the universe. Both affirm that the universe has always existed and hence had no beginning. Materialism, also known as naturalism, affirms that only the material exists; the spiritual does not exist. This rules out the existence of God and the human soul. Hence materialism implies atheism. Materialism is similar to polytheism in that both affirm that life (in the case of polytheism, divine life) is generated from uncreated matter. Materialism undergirds the theory of evolution.

Pantheism on the other hand affirms that only the spiritual exists; what we consider material is only an illusion. Everything in the universe, including human beings, is just different manifestations of one spiritual reality, one impersonal “God.” Hence everything is one, and everything is “God.” If our experience of reality seems to be otherwise it is because we have not learned to see reality as it really is. Pantheism is similar to polytheism in that both affirm that an impersonal force is the ultimate reality in the universe. Pantheism undergirds New Age phenomena.

The belief system introduced in Genesis 1:1 is known as theism. It affirms the existence of a God who is beyond and distinct from the universe (He created it) as well as present and active in the universe (He sustains and governs it). Theism, like both pantheism and materialism, is a dogmatic presupposition. The dogmatic statement of Genesis 1:1 undergirds everything else taught in the Bible. We have the freedom to reject this presupposition as sheer myth. And we have the freedom whether to read the Bible or not. But if we choose to read the Bible we need to recognize that what the Bible teaches can only be understood in light of this presupposition. So unless we read the Bible with Genesis 1:1 in mind, we will likely misunderstand what the Bible teaches, and thus abuse it.

Mortimer Adler (1972: 292), who was chairman of the editorial board of the Encyclopaedia Britannica, warned about two mistakes often made when reading a book built on dogmatic assumptions:

The first mistake is to refuse to accept, even temporarily, the articles of faith that are the first principles of the author. As a result, the reader continues to struggle with these first principles, never really paying attention to the book itself. The second mistake is to assume that, because the first principles are dogmatic, the arguments based on them, the reasoning they support, and the conclusions to which they lead are all dogmatic in the same way.

In other words, to understand what the Bible teaches we need to accept, at least temporarily, what Genesis 1:1 affirms. Having thus understood what the Bible teaches we can still reject it. We may do so because we do not accept the presupposition upon which the arguments and conclusions are based. Or, even accepting the presupposition as true, we may find the arguments not valid and hence the conclusions not acceptable. In this way we know what it is that we are really rejecting, and why we are doing so.

As a result of the pervasive influence of the theory of evolution, and hence the materialist presupposition that undergirds it, many people reading the Bible today have intellectual problems with the supernatural elements in the Bible. For to those with a materialist mindset the supernatural is simply impossible. It is ruled out even before hearing it out. So when they read the Bible they get so distracted by what their presupposition rejects that they fail to understand the Biblical message. They are actually struggling with the Biblical presupposition and not the Biblical teaching, for they never really pay attention to what the Bible is really saying.

If they would accept what is presupposed in Genesis 1:1, at least temporarily, the supernatural elements in the Bible pose no intellectual problem at all. For as Ronald Nash (1998: 16) argues, “A God powerful enough to create the universe and the laws by which it operates can hardly have problems controlling the universe in ways that make possible such extraordinary events as miracles, prophecy, and providence [and answers to prayers].” Let us be reminded by Adler’s warning that though Nash’s argument is based on a dogmatic presupposition (Genesis 1:1), the conclusions he makes about extraordinary events are not themselves dogmatic presuppositions but logical deductions.

However, a person with a materialist mindset would think that accepting the dogmatic presupposition of Genesis 1:1, even temporarily, would be committing intellectual suicide. There is really no need to feel this way, especially in light of the Big Bang theory, currently the standard scientific theory on the origin of the universe. The following confession of astronomer Robert Jastrow (1991: 106-107), a self-professed agnostic, is self-explanatory:

Science has proven that the Universe exploded into being at a certain moment [the Big Bang theory]. It asks, What cause produced this effect? Who or what put the matter and energy into the Universe? ... And science cannot answer these questions. ... The scientist's pursuit of the past ends in the moment of creation.

This is an exceedingly strange development, unexpected by all but the theologians. They have always accepted the word of the Bible: In the beginning God created heaven and earth. ... For the scientist who has lived by his faith in the power of reason, the story ends like a bad dream. He has scaled the mountain of ignorance; he is about to conquer the highest peak; as he pulls himself over the final rock, he is greeted by a band of theologians who have been sitting there for centuries.

Materialist scientists may not accept Jastrow’s straightforward interpretation of the Big Bang theory in terms of “the moment of creation.” They may prefer alternative interpretations that are consistent with their dogmatic presupposition that the universe had no beginning. Others who do, may come up with theories to explain how the universe could somehow be “created” without God. But even then they cannot now claim that accepting Genesis 1:1 as a working presupposition is intellectual suicide. For as supposed by Jastrow, Genesis 1:1 is logically the most sensible explanation for the Big Bang theory, even from the scientific point of view.

Furthermore theism is also intellectually defensible, and it has experienced a remarkable resurrection in academic philosophy. In an academic book on the history, defense and implications of atheism, theist William Lane Craig was given the space of a short chapter to present the theist case against atheism. In that chapter Craig (2006: 84) reports,

In 1980 Time marveled, "In a quiet revolution in thought and argument that hardly anybody could have foreseen only two decades ago, God is making a comeback. Most intriguingly, this is happening not among theologians or ordinary believers, but in the crisp intellectual circles of academic philosophers, where the consensus had long banished the Almighty from fruitful discourse" ("Modernizing the Case for God," Time April 7, 1980, 65-66). The article cites the late Roderick Chisholm to the effect that the reason atheism was so influential a generation ago is that the brightest philosophers were atheists; but today, in his opinion, many of the brightest philosophers are theists, using a tough-minded intellectualism in defense of their belief.

Quentin Smith is one of the philosophers who argue for atheism in this book. In a 2001 journal article he said, "God is not 'dead' in academia; he returned to life in the late 1960s and is now alive and well in his last academic stronghold, philosophy departments" (Smith 2001: 197; cited in Craig 2006: 70).

What then would it be like if we read the Bible consistently in the light of the dogmatic presupposition of Genesis 1:1? This in fact is what we plan to do in the exposition that follows. We will focus on the Old Testament, making occasional references to the New Testament when this enhances our understanding of the Old Testament.


8 Comments:

Anonymous said...

Here's a good example for you, Tien Fock. Scientists at the University of Michigan and the Stanford Linear Accelerator Center say you can create matter from a vacuum ("under the right conditions")(http://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2010/12/101208130038.htm).

The first step, apparently, is to understand that a vacuum; rather than being an empty void is a balanced combination of matter and antimatter, or particles and antiparticles. The next step should be even more perplexing for those who reject God as creator; i.e., you need an ultra-high-intensity laser and a particle accelerator. Those who reject the notion of God must presume the laser and particle accelerator existed before the creation of the rest of the universe.

tfleong said...

Thank you for link and the summary of the interesting article. I suppose those who reject the notion of God will all the more argue that there was no beginning to begin with.

Actually Genesis 1:1 refers to something much more difficult than what the scientists discovered.

According to "theologian of science" T. F. Torrance, "The creation of the universe out of nothing does not mean the creation of the universe out of something that is nothing, but out of nothing at all." This means the universe was not even created out of what we call a "vacuum," which was also created by God. For before the creation of the universe, "nothing," not even "vacuum" existed.

Mik said...

Wrong .
The very genesis 1:1 is pure politeism , you deliberately ignore that God himself mentions other gods right in the Bible ,
and that the hebrew word "elohim" is plural .
Furthermore the word "bara" does not mean to "create" but it means to "divide and expand".

I am dealing with thoussands of false scholars and translators , I think we are dealing with Satan translating the Bible in fact .

See the link :

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=yUg_Q8zS2Fs

tfleong said...

I do not wish to enter into a debate here. Just want to state some facts and provide some links so that others may hear a response from me.

Most Old Testament scholars, whether they believe in God or not, would strongly deny that "Genesis 1:1 is pure polytheism." They are certainly aware that "elohim is plural" and that "gods" are mentioned by God in the Bible.

Perhaps you have read explanations why these two facts do not mean Genesis 1:1 expresses polytheism, and have rejected all of them. It is your right to do so. But calling scholars who accept the majority view "false scholars and translators" just because you disagree with them is another matter. If you had mentioned names, I would have deleted your comment. Since only my name is implied here, I will leave your comment intact.

For readers interested in why elohim in Genesis 1:1 does not mean "gods" but God see here:
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Elohim

And for why the mention of "gods" in the OT does not mean the OT acknowledges their existence see here: http://thriceholy.net/othergods.html

As for the view that bara means divide, it is held by very few OT scholars. Certainly it does not warrant calling the majority view wrong, at least not yet. For a discussion on this see here: http://www.jhsonline.org/Articles/article_131.pdf

Since I have not tried to show here that your views are wrong, please do not enter a debate here. Thank you.

Carl Frederick II said...

Did God Create Our Universe from Nothing? No

https://bibleopia.wordpress.com/2015/05/28/did-god-create-our-universe-from-nothing-no/

tfleong said...

Did God create the universe out of nothing? Yes.

This is not the place to enter into a comprehensive discussion on the issue. So I will only make two pertinent comments.

1) Hebrews 11:3 cannot be read to deny that God created the universe “out of nothing.” For the sake of argument, even if we read the verse to mean God used “something” invisible to create the universe, this has to mean that God used His (invisible) word to create the universe (which He actually did). Even then, God still did not create the universe using any pre-existing matter (whether visible or invisible), which is really what Genesis 1:1 is saying, in contrast to the polytheist view of creation in the ancient world. In other words, even this reading of Hebrews 11:3 still means God created the universe (using His invisible word) “out of nothing,” that is, He did not speak to some pre-existing matter and it turned into the universe. There was “nothing” out “there” for Him to speak to, and in fact there was no “there” for Him to speak into. So to still insist that if God created the universe using His word it is not a creation “out of nothing” is simply refusing to understand the meaning of “God created the universe out of nothing” as intended, and is thus being uncooperative in communication. For a discussion on why Hebrews 11:3 should be read as a statement on creation out of nothing, see Creation Out of Nothing: A Biblical, Philosophical, and Scientific Exploration by Paul Copan and William Lane Craig, pages 78-83, available here: https://books.google.com.my/books?id=LxFQA_Rn7X8C&source=gbs_book_other_versions.

2) We do not accept speculations that God’s word in and of itself could not have created the universe, especially one that argues that God’s word required a pre-existing platform in order to create the universe. Firstly it is sheer speculation, and one that requires us to believe that an uncreated platform co-exists with the eternal God. If we then say that this platform is also created by God, it has to be created by God out of nothing as a preliminary creation. In the end God still created the universe out of nothing; we have just added an additional step to the process of creation. Why then make this speculation to deny that God created the universe out of nothing? Secondly this speculation is unwarranted as it requires us to believe that the difference between the creative ability of the all-powerful, all-present and all-knowing God and that of human beings is only in degree and not in kind. Human beings can make a computer and write a software to create “virtual reality”; this “reality” is different all-together in kind and not just in degree from the (real) reality that God has created. Thirdly the speculation is unnecessary. For even if we need a scientific explanation how God’s word (which can be considered a form of energy) in and by itself can create the universe, we have E=MC2, which means God’s word can be converted into matter, both visible and invisible, that forms the universe.

Carl Frederick II said...

We can agree to disagree on the best terms to describe God's creation at this juncture, though hope over time you'd see the benefit to this perspective. Definitely scripture points to a beginning to Our Universe, which many scientists now recognize based upon reasoning & evidence. As you point out, others had originally dismissed the Bible prematurely. Our Universe did not exist, and then God created it. The higher point is it is more speculation to assert God created Our Universe out of nothing, especially when scriptures clearly state Our Universe was made from the unseen. It is better to look at scientific models that exhibit how worlds are created for a deeper understanding, than to retain the current deadlocked state of affairs where all the different camps have been divided for millennia. We being created in God's image naturally are creative, and so can learn from the creative gifts God has given to both believers and non-believers, and enabled in Our Universe. The insistence of using words like "nothing" actually creates a hindrance to understanding more readily God's power in Our Universe. The beauty of the Universe tools paradigm is it explains so much of God's capabilities ... From knowing our thoughts, to hairs on our head, to helping our Queen Ester & the Jews, to miracles, to taking Enoch to be with God, to Elijah on horses of fire, to healings, to resurrections (including Jesus's own resurrection & him being in heaven the same night crucified too), to the visions God gave Paul & the Apostles, and so much more. Currently the usage of words like nothing creates a roadblock to the technologically & scientifically minded, whereas this paradigm creates a bridge. So why many theologians are fairly comfortable without such a bridge, that bridge is very useful, and hope you and others will come to that understanding.

uchitrakar said...

Some scientists love to say that God is not needed for creating the universe, because it can spontaneously come from nothing without any divine intervention. If their theory is correct, then not only the total matter and energy, but the total space-time as well of this universe have come from nothing. As space, time, matter and energy-all the four of them have come from nothing, so the totality of each and every one of them must always remain zero. Scientists have so far shown as to how the total matter and energy of the universe always remain zero. But have they any idea as to how the total space-time of the present universe also always remains zero? If they do not give any suitable explanation for this, then they cannot claim that their naturalistic world-view is sufficient.

For further discussion of this point one can see the below-listed links:
1. https://sekharpal.wordpress.com/2015/10/23/a-fundamental-flaw-in-the-thesis-a-universe-from-nothing-part-I/
2. https://sekharpal.wordpress.com/2015/10/23/a-fundamental-flaw-in-the-thesis-a-universe-from-nothing-part-II/
3. https://sekharpal.wordpress.com/2015/11/21/something-from-nothing-part-I/
4. https://sekharpal.wordpress.com/2015/11/21/something-from-nothing-part-II/
5. https://sekharpal.wordpress.com/2015/11/18/a-critique-of-the-void/