Son: Dad, you got a minute?
Father: Sure, kiddo, what’s up?
Son: I’ve been reading Genesis, and …
Father: Whoa, hold on. You’ve been reading Genesis?
Son: Well, yeah, and …
Father: [sotto voce] Thanks be to God.
Son: … I’m worried about it.
Father: OK, no problem [girding his loins]; what are you worried about?
Son: Well, it just didn’t happen the way it says in the Bible.
Father: And you know that because …
Son: Well, my teachers told me how it happened.
Father: [grinning sardonically] And they know better than the Bible because …
Son: Yeah, yeah, I know. It’s one just so story versus another. I get that. And my teachers are … well, they are less – I’m not sure how, but lots less – than the Bible. But seriously, how can we reconcile the account in Genesis with anything we now know – or, sure, OK, anything we now *think* we know – about the early history of the universe?
Father: [chuckling] OK, I grant you, it’s not an easy problem, unless you want to do a gross injustice to either perspective – the modern, or the Biblical. Neither camp is going to be quite content with that sort of settlement. What do you think happened?
Son: The current scientific story looks awfully tight to me. Or something like it, adjusted here or there as our knowledge grows.
Father: Sure. OK. I’m not going to say that the current scientific model of the history of the cosmos – of its cosmogony – is any less accurate than honest scientists would suggest that it is. Just bear in mind that most honest scientists would also suggest that our current model of cosmogony is probably quite wrong in many ways, and subject to change. Perhaps those changes will be quite important. But, never mind that.
Son: Why not?
Father: Well, because it just doesn’t matter what our current model of cosmogony is. No cosmogony we might come up with would matter.
Father: Well; hm. It’s a long story. OK: first, remember that there are two Creation stories in Genesis. The first is about the establishment of the cosmos [Genesis 1:1-2:3] and the second is about the story of the Fall, in Eden [Genesis 2:4-25]. Here’s the thing: the second story presupposes the first. The story of the Fall happens *within* time. When it begins, the Earth has already been formed. But the first Creation story in Genesis is about *the creation of time itself.* If the events recounted in the first story had never happened, the second could not have made any sense, because there would not have been a world in which they might have happened.
Son: I never noticed that.
Father: Almost no one does. Probably because the first story is told in terms of days. People naturally interpret those days in Genesis as representing ages within the cosmos. So the literature is rife with attempts to map the first Creation story onto this or that series of cosmogonic epochs – the First Day in Genesis is a phase in the first instant after the Big Bang, in which light first appeared, and so forth. Brilliant minds have been coming up with such maps for thousands of years, according to the best science of their own days. And many of them are quite ingenious. They may even be right!
Indeed, some such mapping must be right, whether or not we’ve yet figured it out. If that first Creation story in Genesis is true, then on its own terms, it must map properly to everything, after all. So, perhaps all those mappings are correct, each in its own partial way. The mappings can’t be right on their own temporal terms, of course. They can be right only on the terms of eternity … for, time cannot but echo formally the eternity upon which it supervenes … [silence falls … continues …]
Father: Sorry, sorry. Got distracted there.
OK, where was I? Oh yeah: nevertheless, the first Creation story is about how there got to be such things as cosmic epochs in the first place. It is about the creation of a world that evolves through its own internal time, that has epochs, and moments, and instants, and events; such as this talk we are having right now, or the scent of this whiskey we both now smell. Outside this world, the time of this world simply has no relevance. Time is a measure that can make sense only within this world, and relative to one thing or another within it. So we can’t measure events in eternity by time. It has to go the other way.
So, it is not quite right to try to map the first Creation story in Genesis to our cosmic epochs as we now understand them, in order to make it credible to such people as we are: modern, sophisticated, scientifically educated people, who (through no very great fault of their own) know nothing about the necessity that time be first created in order then to transpire. In fact, that effort is wrongheaded, even when it succeeds. The first Creation story in Genesis is about the creation of time itself, and of everything that was needed for time: causation, light, space, division of one thing from another, and so forth. The second Creation story in Genesis, and everything that comes afterward, are about events within the time that is created in the first Creation story.
Son: So, the second Creation story in Genesis is happening within time, but the first Creation story is happening in eternity.
Father: Yes. Exactly. So, it is a mistake to interpret it in the terms of the natural law that holds within our cosmos. It is the story of the establishment of that natural law, and so it cannot be explained within the terms of that law.
Son: What about the animals?
Father: What do you mean?
Son: On the Sixth Day of the first story, God created the animals. So the animals came about within time, but the Sixth Day is eternal.
Father: Oh, sure, yeah, right. But that’s no problem. Remember, the first story is setting the stage for the second, in which man – and all the other animals – are introduced to a world that already exists. In order for the second story even to begin, everything that happened in the first story had to have been under way already. The account of Adam’s creation in the first story is repeated in the first stage of the second story.
Also, remember that from the perspective of eternity, events within time are all happening at once. So, from the perspective of eternity, the creation of the animals is not before the creation of Adam in time, but only in logic.
Hm. “Only” in logic. As if … [silence falls … continues …]
Father: Hmph! Sorry what? Oh, OK. Animals, right. Think of it this way: on the Sixth Day, God created the animals and man. Is the creation of the animals and man done with?
Son: What do you mean?
Father: Have man and the other animals stopped changing yet? Have they all died?
Son: No, of course not. OK, I see what you are getting at. Man and the other animals are still a work in progress. So they are still being created.
Father: You got it. Creation won’t be over until the cosmos is over. So, right now we are still in the Sixth Day. And we will be in the Sixth Day until the history of the cosmos is entirely written. So when God creates the animals and Adam in the second Creation story, it happens in the Sixth Day in the first Creation story. God is creating you, right this instant.
Son: So God is not resting yet?
Father: Not as we measure things in time. But as he measures things, yes, he’s always in the Seventh Day; and he’s also in the First Day, and all the Days in between. They are all now to him. So far as we can understand such things, anyway.
Son: I get that. Well, no, I don’t, but you’ve been explaining that to me since I was little.
Father: Yeah, I don’t really understand it either. It’s one of those things that we can see must be true in its own proper logical domain, but that we can’t comprehend. Like imaginary numbers, or 5 dimensional spaces. We can do the math, but we can’t quite know what it actually means.
Son: OK, I think I’m with you so far, but I have one question about the first Creation story.
Son: Well, I get that in the very beginning, before God got to work, the Earth was formless and void. There was no Earth there at all, or any other solids. But there was the Deep, and the Spirit of God moved over the surface of it; so there must have been space, right, containing the Deep, with up and down and everything? What was the Deep?
Father: Oh, good question. The word translated as “Deep” or “Abyss” is tehom, which means those things and also “sea.” The word seems to have come from the name of an ancient Near Eastern chaos monster, the gigantic sea serpent Tiamat, whom the Creator in various ancient creation stories vanquished in battle, thus securing the order of the cosmos. Tiamat is chaos personified. In some of those stories, Tiamat is tied up at the bottom of the ocean, and threatens always to break free. This is why the ocean – and water in general – is so often associated with disorder and dissolution in ancient thought. I mean, apart from the storms and stuff, and the obvious effects of erosion, and the fact that we can’t see to the bottom of it – it is murky, unlike the sky.
So anyway, you can think of the Deep in Genesis as just Chaos: the complete absence of any order.
OK, bear with me now, because this will take a minute to explain. Does a thing without any order at all have a definite form?
Father: So is it a definite thing?
Son: No. It is nothing definite. It is formless. So, I guess that means it is void, too, right?
Father: Yes. So what is it?
Son: It is nothing.
Father: Correct. It is nothing at all. So, does it have a certain shape?
Son: No. It doesn’t have anything at all.
Father: So it is not contained in anything the way that water might be contained in a pitcher or a balloon.
Father: So is it in a space?
Son: No. It isn’t in anything. It isn’t anything.
Father: So far so good; excellent. All right then: before God creates anything, what is there?
Son: There is nothing but God.
Father: Yes. Just so. What was the Spirit moving over, then?
Son: Nothing. Is this where we get the idea that God created the world out of nothing?
Son: So, no space, no water. Nothing other than God. But then what did God use to create the world?
Father: Well, I suppose it follows that he used nothing other than God.
Son: I guess so. But what is the world made of, then?
Father: I think you are confusing the making of things within the world, and the making of the world itself. When you make things within a world, you must make them from other things of that world. That’s because within a world, each thing must be connected to every other thing, so that the whole shebang hangs together and is an orderly world in the first place.
But a world as a whole is different. It is not made of anything other than itself. If it was made of something other than itself, why then that other thing would also be a part of that same world; the raw material of the world and the finished product would both be aspects of the single world system.
Think of the single particle that was the seed of the Big Bang. It was not somehow outside our world. Together with the laws of physics that ordered it and its subsequent career – that enormous explosion we are now in the middle of – it was our world. The same goes for anything that might have been the precursor to that seed: all part of our world system.
So it is a mistake to look for the raw material of a world outside of that world. The world is made of nothing but itself. Nevertheless it is made, for sure.
Son: OK. Wow. I think I get it. Well, no, I don’t. I’m going to have to think about this for a while.
Father: Take your time. I’ve been thinking about it for decades. Shall we talk about the second Creation story now?
Son: Not yet, thanks, Dad. I want to think about the first one for a while.
Father: OK, kiddo. I’m proud of the way you grapple with this stuff. It isn’t easy.
Son: Thanks, Dad!