What kind of World?

When thinking about the feasibility of life in/on a ‘New Heaven & Earth’ it is necessary to consider, a little, the purpose of what we may call, the original model. It isn’t so much a question of the time taken to get where ‘we’ are today. According to the latest scientific data, thoughthe answer to the question is ‘approximately’ 15 billion years from the original spark, and some 6.5 billion years since all the biochemistry, bacteria etc. began shaping the world’s biological diversity. Obviously, from a theological perspective, we would not be suggesting that everything that has ever existed (‘from Bacteria to Bach’) has been the product of ‘chance & Necessity’, i.e. a little bit of luck every ‘so often’ over these billions of years, but rather that there is, indeed, a mind with a view to design or—if you prefer—in some mysterious way—to craft (no excuses for the use of anthropomorphic language) past and present lifeforms.

Is it possible that the creation of the biosphere—what we shall term as ‘a state of affairs’—from its beginnings up until the arrival of humankind—could have, however speedily in terms of actual space-time, turned into what Alfred Lord Tennyson described as, ‘Nature, Red in Tooth and Claw’ (‘In Memoriam’, Canto 56). That Nature is ‘Red in Tooth and Claw’ is not in question—the questions lie elsewhere.

Should the God of the Bible desire to create a world, it would, contain: beauty, diversity—as well as a complexity of creatures—for, we believe, it is in the nature of the God of the Bible to bring about such an outcome—and  that is exactly how the first chapter of Genesis describes the (if we may) ‘process’ observed  in the Biblical text. We shall define God’s creative actions as ‘Divine Fiats’, decrees, acts of God:

“’Let the water teem with living creatures, let birds fly above the earth across the expanse of the heavens’. God created the great creatures of the sea and every living thing with which the water teems and that moves about in it (according to their kinds) and every winged bird (according to its kind). And God saw that it was good. God blessed them and said, ‘Be fruitful and increase in number and fill the water in the seas, and let the birds increase on the earth.’And there was evening, and there was morning—the fifth day. And God said, ’Let the land produce living creatures according to their kinds: the livestock, the creatures that move along the ground, and the wild animals, each according to its kind.’ And it was so. God made the wild animals according to their kinds, the livestock according to their kinds, and all the creatures that move along the ground according to their kinds. And God saw that it was good.’”

(Genesis 1:20-25)

NB.It is important to realise that the Genesis text is referring to a state of affairs that, according to the author, was ‘good’ rather than a state of perfection—i.e. a state of affairs that may have been ruined by circumstances beyond God’s control—that God has allowed[1].

Eons before the shadow of man’s presence on earth there existed a creation that would have, in spite of it being ‘Very Good’ have, in retrospect, been described as being ‘red in tooth and claw’. Whether considered to be: the result of an intentionally created system—’patterned’ by the mind of God, or of a ‘naturally selected’ process of evolution—without mindfulness or intentionality—sans ‘blue-print’, sans anything of ultimate meaning or purpose—or the result of interference from extra-terrestrial dissenters—Creation, as the author of Genesis (1:31) announces, was and is very good.

In his comments on Genesis 1:31 Umberto Cassuto states that:

…we have here, at the conclusion of the story of creation, a more elaborate and imposing statement that points to the general harmony prevailing in the world of the Almighty. On the previous days the words that it was good were applied to a specific detail; now God saw everything that He had made, the creation in its totality, and He perceived that not only were the details, taken separately, good, very good, but that each one harmonized with the rest; hence the whole was not just good, but very good. (Cassuto, 1998)

It would seem, prima facie, most incongruous if the state of affairs Cassuto describes could be that of the ‘genesis’ of the evolutionary process but that would be to miss the point—for the Genesis narrative (1:31) states that, on the sixth day, “God saw everything he had made, and behold, it was very good.” The question is: Would it have really been a time for rejoicing for an Omnipotent & Omniscient creator with any semblance of morality in his character?

Making reference to the laws of physics, in particular the Second Law of Thermodynamics, Physicist Alan Hayward (1985) comments that The Laws of Physics—particularly The Second Law—does not denote a universe where things have gone wrong but that, “It characterises a universe where energy transfers can occur, and consequently where things can happen—in other words, a ‘very good’ universe.”  A world where the Second law did not operate would be, in Hayward’s opinion, stagnant. Christopher Southgate (2008) refers to the beautiful rhythms of the first chapter of the Hebrew Bible that culminate in the assertion that what God had made was ‘very good’. Southgate however points out that humans have always known that the creation contained ‘violence and pain’ and accepts that there is a real problem in affirming with Genesis 1:31 that this creation is “very good” . He nevertheless holds that creation is good: “—in its propensity to give rise to great values of beauty, diversity, complexity, and ingenuity of evolutionary strategy.” Southgate makes clear nevertheless that these kinds of values do not of themselves act as justification for creation by means of evolution. We agree with Southgate i.e. that creation’s propensity to give rise to ‘great values’ is a ‘good’. The view in this book though is that God’s ‘very good’ refers not to the beginnings of the creation [process], but to the whole of God’s planned intentions for the creation—the ‘alpha and omega’. In other words, God sees—in his mind’s eye—or otherwise, the whole picture and it is this that is ‘very good’. For God, surely, sees the beginning from the end and rejoices in the fact that ‘Creation’ is, de facto, very good. And this de facto good is not because ‘the ends justify the means’ but rather that ‘the means’ (the process) is the only possible way for God to bring about an end that not only justifies the creator but that brings, at the eschaton, the best of possible outcome for all creatures.

Then God said, ‘Let us make mankind in our image, in our likeness, so that they may rule over the fish in the sea and the birds in the sky, over the livestock and all the wild animals,and over all the creatures that move along the ground.’(Genesis 1:26)

1246W


[1] NB the Hebrew word used here is ‘tovand in Genesis 1:31 ‘tov me’od—meaning good and very good rather than perfect—the implication being that ‘it was as God had intended rather than a ‘perfect state of affairs’ that had been ruined by the disobedience of the pair in The Garden

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