Oct 15, 2023
“Genesis is no longer something that explains; it has become something that has to be explained away.”
Before apes discovered Darwin, Christian children’s knowledge of the Old Testament was spotty at best – a pinch of Able, a dollop of Noah, a morsel of Moses, a whiff of David. But every student knew, almost by heart, the first 34 verses of Genesis.
Today, almost no one would introduce Judeo-Christian theology this way. Genesis is no longer something that explains; it has become something that has to be explained away. Teachers, myself included, are now inclined to begin with the heroics of the Exodus, the politics of Joshua and the Judges, the poetry of the Psalmist, the wisdom of Solomon and Job, the eschatology of Daniel and Ezekiel, or the social commentary of Isaiah and Jeremiah. No doubt, much is gained by this approach, but something is lost as well.
The first verses of the Book of Genesis describe the state of Universe at the moment of Creation: “In the beginning, when God created the heavens and the earth, and the earth was without form or shape, with darkness over the abyss and a mighty wind sweeping over the waters…”
Note that the authors and translators of Genesis carefully avoid using the term ‘before’ in discussing the state of Universe at Creation. Of course, there was no ‘before’; time itself began at Creation. Plus, Judeo-Christian theology makes it clear that God created the Universe ex nihilo: he did not just rearrange deck chairs.
So, how could earth, abyss, wind, and waters exist at the moment of Creation? To understand the complex cosmology of Genesis, it is necessary to define what we understand by the term, Event. An event occurs whenever order is injected into disorder.
Creation, “Fiat Lux!”, Big Bang, is an event like every other event. It infuses chaos with order. But it is also an uber-event: it is the locus for virtually every other event in Universe.
From the perspective of any emerging event, the pre-existent Universe is disordered. It does not matter whether that Universe is ‘perfectly disordered’ (whatever that means)…or whether the emerging event is ‘perfectly ordered’ (whatever that might mean). What matters is that Universe is relatively disordered from the perspective of the event, and that the event is relatively ordered from the perspective of Universe.
In any case, an event is the injection of relative order into relative chaos, and that’s all that matters. We know that Universe is becoming progressively disordered; it’s called entropy (2nd Law of Thermodynamics). Events are islands of order in a torrent of chaos…but sea levels are rising…and not only because of climate change! Therefore, the emergence of a novel event is not only counter cultural, it’s ‘counter cosmological’.
So then, why are there novel events? Why isn’t Universe content to wind down gracefully, to die with dignity? Here Nietzsche and I agree; there is only one possible answer: Value, a concept that has acquired a bad name in our hyper-secularized culture. You see, values can be construed as imperatives and, like two-year-olds everywhere, we hate imperatives. We would rather wallow in ignorance than admit that there were compelling, objective norms beyond our prized, subjective tastes.
Contemporary culture encourages us to say that we want to leave the world ‘a better place’ than we found it. But ‘better’ how? More beautiful, more truth-filled, more just? And so we’re “singing songs…and carrying signs” (Buffalo Springfield); but later on, in private conversations with friends, we affirm that “Beauty is in the eye of the beholder,” and we echo the immortal words of that great savant, Pontius Pilate: “What is truth?”
There’s a clinical term for this constellation of symptoms. It’s what your doctor was referring to when she pronounced, “You’re all messed up!”
Events are motivated by Values that are transcendent and eternal: e.g., Beauty, Truth, and Justice. Events begin as an evaluation of what is from the perspective of what might be: “I dream of things that never were and ask why not?” (Robert Kennedy)
Values are a perpetual lure to Being, to Creation, to Eventuality. Universe is disorder with respect to the ideal order defined by Values. Today, we find it convenient to imagine the pre-history of Universe as vacuum or void. But if Creation is an event (it is) and if an event is the infusion of order into disorder (it is), then we are mixing our metaphors. Void is not the antonym of order, chaos is, though the two are functionally identical.
Gregory Bateson defined ‘Mind’ as ‘a difference that makes a difference’. I would propose that we apply that definition to ‘Being’ itself and treat Mind as a subset of Being. According to 20th century British philosopher, Alfred North Whitehead, Universe consists exclusively of events. In fact, Universe (aka Creation) is an event, an uber-event that both pre-conditions and embodies all other events.
God exists; therefore, God is an event like every other event. The eternal Values are available to all events only because they are aspects of the primal event that we call ‘God’. Therefore, every event originates with God – not via some serpentine historical route, but immediately, as access to Values. To be is therefore to be created de nuovo by God!
Every novel entity begins with an evaluation of the World and a resolution to improve it. That evaluation and that intention reflect and are guided by eternal, transcendent Values that, according to the Book of Job, precede even God (ontologically, not historically).
All of which brings us back to those first 34 verses. All told, there are 31,102 verses in the King James version of the Judeo-Christian Bible. Arguably, 30,068 can be read as commentary on the first 34. Those 34 verses by themselves present a 'complete cosmology’ but they in turn can be further broken down into three asymmetrical subsections:
“In the beginning, when God created the heavens and the earth, and the earth was without form or shape, with darkness over the abyss and a mighty wind sweeping over the waters…” This is the primal disorder into which God injected order: “Then God said, ‘Let there be light’.” (Genesis 1: 1 – 3)
“Ya da, ya da, ya da.” (Genesis 1: 4 – 31)
“Thus the heavens and the earth and all their array were completed. On the seventh day, God completed the work he had been doing; he rested on the seventh day from all the work he had undertaken. God blessed the seventh day and made it holy because on it, he rested from all the work he had done in creation.” (Genesis 2: 1 – 3)
We are living in the 7th Day of Creation. Every event is a unique expression of the entirety. Past events contribute legacy, but not causality, to subsequent events. Of course, most such contributions are negligible; but ‘relevance’ is not hardwired. Each novel event determines into own gradations of relevance.
Conversely, every novel event becomes an element in the World of every subsequent event; that’s what defines it as ‘subsequent’.
Bumper Sticker #1: Everything influences everything, but nothing causes anything!
Bumper Sticker #2: Everyone is responsible, but no one is to blame!
But this is not how we see the world, is it? It may be the way the world works, but we don’t see it that way. According to our conventional view, freedom and responsibility are largely illusory. I am overwhelmingly the product of my DNA (nature).
Beyond my genes, I am the passive outcome of my upbringing (nurture). Beyond even that, I bear the scars of life’s vicissitudes – all the things that have happened to me in the course of everyday living. Finally, I am the product of chance, fate, destiny, physics, or the will of God – take your pick…or mix and match.
This conventional view can be quite comforting: I AM NEVER TO BLAME FOR ANYTHING! The ‘Devil made me do it’, quite literally. On the other hand, while I have little or no control over my own actions, I have amazing, almost magical power to control things in the external world.
I can turn my child into a ‘mini-me’; I can reverse climate change and save the planet; I can make sure that my favorite NFL team performs up to its potential on Sunday afternoon.
Imagine going through life like this! Well, imagine being us! We have turned the Serenity Prayer on its head. We are totally responsible for things entirely out of our control, but we bear no responsibility for the things we can influence. It worked for Merlin, perhaps it will work for me too!
David Cowles is the founder and editor-in-chief of Aletheia Today Magazine. He lives with his family in Massachusetts where he studies and writes about philosophy, science, theology, and scripture. He can be reached at email@example.com.