By Rev. James Petigru Boyce
IT is natural that the origin of the universe should have been one of the most prominent subjects of inquiry among men. Various theories have been presented, not only by those who have been guided by reason only, but even by others to whom revelation has been known but not accepted as authoritative. All theories, however, may be generally reduced to four.
It is the duty of Theology to examine each of these theories, and to set forth the reasons for believing that matter is neither self-existent and independently eternal, nor an emanation from God, nor mere material used by him, but has been created out of nothing.
1. Matter is not the one eternal, self-existent substance from which all else proceeds.
(1.) If it is, then mind is the product of matter, and not matter that of mind.
The universe presents to us both mind and matter. Each of these must exist independently of the other, or the one must have been the production of the other. Which then has been the producing cause? Have the mental powers, which are exhibited by man, been the development of forces inherent in matter, which through various processes have finally attained to self-consciousness, and thought, and purpose, such as we find in man? or is there some infinite mind which has originated all things, both mind and matter?
The greater reasonableness of the supposition that mind has originated matter is ably set forth by Dr. Hovey, in his Manual of Theology, pp. 28-39. He contends that it is more reasonable to suppose, (1.) that there is one original and self-existent force or being than more than one; (2.) that matter is a product of mind, rather than mind of matter; (3.) that the order of the universe is due to a supreme mind, rather than to forces co-operating together without purpose; (4.) that the vegetable world is a product of mind organizing matter, rather than of matter organizing itself; (5.) that the animal world is a product of mind, imparting a higher organizing principle to vegetable elements, rather than of vegetable forces acting alone; (6.) that man, as a rational being, is a product of mind, giving a higher principle of life to animal being, rather than of mere vital forces acting without reason; (7.) that man, as a moral being, is a product of the supreme mind, itself moral, rather than of vital forces that have no moral insight; (8.) that man, as a religious being, is a product of the supreme mind, rather than of mere vital forces.
The above are simply condensed statements of the mere propositions laid down by Dr. Hovey. His full argument shows conclusively how utterly unreasonable is the idea that mind should have proceeded from matter, and not produced it. But, if so, it is equally unreasonable that matter should be the one originating cause of the universe.
(2.) The same fact appears from the existence of the laws which control matter. Matter has fixed limitations, within which alone it can act. Its movements, its changes of form, its developments, and indeed all things connected with it are governed by fixed, and, so far as we can see, unchangeable laws. These laws can be examined and known, and made the basis of the action of men. Now these laws can be accounted for only in one of three ways. Either they belong to matter as a necessity of its nature, or matter has the power to give to itself laws, or these laws have been imposed upon it by a superior intelligence. But if the first be true, then that necessity of nature would not only make these laws unchangeable, (for whatever exists of necessity, exists without possibility of change,) but would likewise make it impossible for men to conceive of any reasonable change in them in any respect. But the fact that there is such great diversity among the scientific theories which attempt to develop the laws controlling nature in many of its aspects, and that there seems no absurdity nor natural impossibility that the law should accord with any one of these theories, or be different from it,--evinces that there is no absurdity nor unreasonableness in supposing that the material universe might have been placed under very different laws from those which exist.
But the second of these suppositions cannot he true, because matter must then, in some aspect, have had intelligence to understand, and establish law before the existence of mind in any form; for science teaches that created mind, (which, upon the supposition, is the only kind of existent mind,) comes forth in connection with the higher organisms of existence, and long after apparent operation of the laws which regulate matter.
It is certain, therefore, that the laws of matter have been imposed by a superior intelligence, and, consequently, that matter cannot be the eternal, self-existent substance, from which all else proceeds.
(3.) The incapacity of matter to create anything shows that it is not self-existent, and eternal. All that is claimed for matter is the power to develop one form into another. It is even denied that there has been any increase in its original materials since it first began to be. But it is evident that whatever cannot be the cause of existence to others, cannot be the cause of its own existence, or be self-existent. The latter is a far higher power than the former.
(4.) That matter is not eternally self-existent is also manifest from the fact that it exists in time. The laws of time require succession of moments and limits of duration. Matter could not he eternal in any other way than through the existence of an infinite series of finite periods, which is absurd.
2. Matter is not an emanation from God.
That which goes forth from God must either be from his nature, or from his mere will and power. But the latter would be a mere creation out of nothing, since it would not be something produced out of himself. An emanation from God must, therefore, proceed from his nature. But it cannot be of this character.
(a) Because, if from his nature, it must possess the attributes of that nature, and must exist in the same mode of existence with it. But matter has none of the attributes which belong to God. Nor is the mode of its existence like his. It has neither self-existence, nor eternity of existence, nor even infinity of space or time, since it is composed of finite parts, and exists in successive moments which are finite and measurable. It has not intelligence, nor purposing power, nor can it have wisdom or goodness, neither can it exercise justice, nor experience love.
(b) An emanation from the nature of God would be opposed to the doctrine of the unity of God. That which thus proceeds would be as truly God as that from which it comes forth. We should, therefore, have two Gods. Indeed, as matter itself is capable of indefinite division, there would be an indefinite number of Gods. The doctrine of the Trinity gives no support to such an emanation as matter would necessarily be. It does not teach an emanation from the nature of God, for the divine nature remains one only, and is not divided among the three persons, but is the common substance in which they subsist. In order that matter should subsist in God in like manner, it must itself have a conscious personal existence, and have all the attributes of God, and have the same mode of existence.
3. Neither is matter a substance upon which God has simply acted in the production of the Universe.
(a) The evidence that it is not eternal shows that it was not thus present of itself with God furnishing material for his workmanship. If it existed at any time as purely inorganic, it must either have been first created in that condition, or permitted to lapse into it from its original form.
(b) The power and right thus to act upon matter must either have been conferred upon God, as it is on us, or it must have arisen from his having created it. But as there was no one to confer this power upon God, the Universe must have been created by him.
4. The theory of a creation out of nothing, by the mere will and power of God, is then the only reasonable supposition upon which to account for the existence of the Universe. It is not an objection to this reasonableness, that it was first made known by Revelation. Being thus revealed, it appears to reason, not only to be fully accordant with all the facts and phenomena of matter, but to be the only theory which can account for them. That this theory has been suggested by the language of God's word makes it no less reasonable than if suggested by some mere man. It is at once seen not to be an impossibility. It is not a creation out of nothing, in the sense that it has had no cause, or has been produced without the existence of forces adequate to the end. The cause and the forces are in God; in his will, and wisdom, and power, and goodness. It cannot be said to come from nothing, for it comes from God. The mind readily rests in such a theory. It fully answers all the demands of the problem to be solved. It is accompanied with none of the difficulties which press against the theories based upon the eternity of matter. The manner in which God works is indeed unknown to us; but that he may so work is highly accordant with reason.
The creation of the world out of nothing is the plain teaching of Scripture. It is true, that the phrase to "create from nothing" is not found, except in one of the apocryphal books of the Old Testament (2 Maccabees 7:28). But the fact itself is taught expressly in Heb. 11:3. "By faith we understand that the worlds have been framed by the word of God, so that what is seen hath not been made out of things which do appear." The account of the general creation in Genesis conveys the same idea, and a like impression is produced by the Scriptures generally. It has been argued from the verbs, used to declare the creation, both in Genesis and elsewhere; but the argument is doubtful, as these words are also applied to acts of creation out of pre-existent matter.
This creation out of nothing seems essential to the power of God over matter. If he did not create it, it exists independently of him; but if it is his creation, then he has absolute control, not only over the forms into which he has shaped it, and over the laws he has given it, but over matter itself in every respect, even over its longer existence for a moment of time.
A distinction is made between immediate or primary creation, which is that act by which God acts directly without the use of pre-existent materials, and mediate and secondary creations, which are those acts by which out of pre-existent materials he produces his creatures. The universe of matter was an immediate creation. The body of Adam was a mediate one, and so, also, are those of all his posterity.
Several objections have been presented against the full inspiration of the account of the Creation given in the first chapters of Genesis.
(1.) It is claimed that the general account which concludes with the third verse of the second chapter cannot be an inspired writing, because it was evidently taken from some other source, and incorporated in this book.
In reply It may be said:
(a) That this has not been, and cannot be established.
(b) That if it were, it would not affect its inspiration.
It is much more probable that the genealogies of Christ, given by Matthew and Luke, were from the records of the family of David. The inspiration of Matthew, and Luke, and Moses does not depend upon these having been made as direct revelations to him; but upon the fact that they were moved by the Holy Ghost to insert them in the books they were writing, such moving of the Spirit being, however, an evidence of the truthfulness of the records. If; therefore, it could be proved that the account of creation existed long before the days of Moses, this proof would, in no respect, militate against its inspiration.
(2.) Another objection is that Genesis represents the Creation as occurring in six literal days of twenty-four hours each, and that geological science has proved that the world was created in periods of time much longer.
But the account does not necessarily teach that this work was done in six such days.
(a) Because the word "day" is sometimes an indefinite term, the true meaning of which must be ascertained by the context. It is applied to each of these periods in the first chapter, and also to all of them unitedly in Gen. 2:4. The Scriptures frequently use it very indefinitely, as the "day of trouble," "of wrath," "of temptation," "of vengeance," etc. It even embraces the whole period of a captivity as "the day of Jerusalem," Ps, 137:7; and "the day of Egypt," Ezek. 30:9. These, and many other applications, show that frequently it means merely a period, and the length of that period must be accertained otherwise.
(b) Because the Hebrew words translated "evening," and "morning," while almost always used for those portions of the day, do not necessarily indicate a day of twenty-four hours' duration, but may denote only the changes which occur periodically in any cyclical period. The root ideas of these words are "the mingling" (evening) and "the bursting forth" (morning). They are thus beautifully descriptive of a time of intermingling of the elements, leading to a period of darkness, and that again followed by the bursting forth of the appearance of a new creation, the whole forming one cyclical period. The length of the period is not necessarily indicated by them. The use, also, of these words before the appearance of the Sun and Moon on the fourth day, very decidedly confirms the idea that the periods need not be those of an ordinary day.
(c) While it is admitted that the resting of God upon the seventh day, in connection with the language of the commandment respecting the observance of the Sabbath, favours the idea of days of twenty-four hours, even this does not make necessary such days. We know not what is exactly meant by God's resting on the seventh day. There is certainly something figurative, or anthropomorphic about it. The "rest" of this first chapter may represent the ceasing from creative work in this world, and the seventh day of rest, which man is commanded to observe, may he commemorative and typical of the former; this being brief and inferior, in comparison with that, as man is but an atom in the creation of the great God of this greater Sabbath.
From these facts it is manifest that we are not compelled to maintain that the creation was limited to six ordinary days. This is all that is necessary. If science can show the impossibility of such a six-day creation, we can reply that the Scriptures do not necessarily teach it. And the fact of this possibility of concurrence with possible scientific discoveries, heretofore so generally unlooked for, becomes strong evidence of the inspiration of this account of Creation.
(3.) Another objection is, that, according to any scripture chronology which we have, man has been on the earth only six or eight thousand years, and yet that fossil remains of men have been found who must have existed fifty thousand years ago, or more.
(a) But satisfactory proof of this has not yet been afforded. Scientific men themselves are not agreed about it.
(b) But if true, the Scriptures are not necessarily wrong, nor uninspired. The chronology of the different forms in which the Old Testament has come down to us is known to vary. This is attributable to mistakes in copying, which can more easily occur in the representations of numbers, than of any other ideas. It may be that Adam was created more than eight thousand years ago, and that the original chronology of the Scriptures so taught. It may be that, in connection with that greater antiquity, if all were known about it, would appear explanations of the great age to which many of the patriarchs are said to have arrived. Nor is it impossible that other races of men existed before Adam, either endowed as he was, with both spiritual and animal life, or they with animal life only, and he with the specially added endowment of a spiritual nature. While it is granted that such has not probably been the fact, yet is it not impossible that it may have been.
While these various objections thus seem not to render impossible the absolute verity of this Genesis account of Creation, there are other facts which ought to be remembered which support the narrative.
1. That it is natural that the Scripture should use phenomenal language only as to scientific matters. We do this every time we speak of the sun rising and setting, and no one misunderstands, or is deceived. This is the only method in which a book for all ages could refer to scientific matters. Had the Bible used language exactly suited to the science of to-day, embracing all its best established theories, in less than fifty years it would have to be admitted that it could not be from God, because of its lack of truth. Had it been written in the language of true science originally, age after age would have rejected it as false. It could only treat science phenomenally.
2. But, while thus written, it often gives underlying evidence that God its author knew truths of science, that could not have been known to the science of that day. This is particularly shown in this account of Creation. Light here appears before the Sun and the Moon. The order of the creations accords generally with that taught by Geology from an examination of the stratifications of the rocks. Man is made after all other creations, and his body is made of the dust of the earth. Even the universe was not made as it now appears, for, while the first verse of the first chapter states the creation of both heavens and earth, the second teaches that, before the formative process began, the earth was in a chaotic condition. The truth is, that, so generally, and yet so accurately, are the statements made, that, even if it could be proved that the Universe is the production of original concurrent atoms, or of a universal fire mist, or the development of molecules, there is nothing in this Genesis account to commit it to the contrary. Even the creation of animal life, including that of man, is from the earth, which is directed to bring forth. The soul of man is the only living thing which is declared to have been a direct creation of God.
Several theories have been presented for the full reconciliation of Genesis and Geology. It is not necessary to state them here. It is enough that there are possible means of such reconciliation, and that any one, or more of them, may be true. The veracity of the Scriptures is otherwise abundantly proved. Here it is charged that they speak falsely. Were a man of well-known probity and honour thus assailed, and facts, however strong, or cumulative, presented against him, it would suffice to support his denial by showing that there are possible circumstances which may explain all seeming falsehood. So with the Scriptures. They are charged with error. It is enough to show one possible explanation. But, in this case, we can show several. This would suffice. But we are justified in challenging those who deny inspiration to account for the many coincidences with the scientific teaching found in this narrative.