In the beginning……..

The Beginning…

‘In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth….’ So starts the Judeo/Christian narrative describing the creation of existence.

The complex processes which govern the physics of universal existence have been around since the foundation of the universe; they are the physical laws of this universe and definitely pre-date the earth! The earth is about four and a half billion years old and Homo sapiens [1] (that’s us), well we are a recent addition to the evolutionary scene. We have been around for only the last 12 000 years or so, as is evidenced by the appellation attached to our species – ‘of the Holocene Epoch’ [2] The evolution of human ‘thought and cognisance’ has taken this long to reach its current sophisticated level of insight, in addition we also know that time and the evolutionary process (amongst many other factors) were prime movers behind our present state of existence – this is science fact.

Taking a literal view of Genesis has, up until fairly recently in human history (Judeo/Christian history in particular), been the cornerstone of Western understanding; with the evolution of enlightened thought do we hold our heads in our hands and proclaim the end of human spiritual reality as we know it or do we re-look at the meaning to be taken from these ancient narratives and contextualise the thought processes of the past, bringing contemporary meaning to them? I certainly think so!

The Christian idea of the world is that it originated in a very complicated process of evolution but that it nevertheless still comes in its depths from the Logos. It thus bears reason in itself.

Joseph Ratzinger – Pope Benedict XVI [3]

There are certainly those who would discard such contextualisation out of hand, in ‘their’ certain knowledge that there is nothing else – nothing but pointless, nihilistic existence, a sea of unanswered questions! One can say with certainty that the provision of empirically proven answers to the metaphysical questions – who are we, what are we and why are we here, which would satisfy theistic detractors, is unlikely? Where do we ultimately come from and to where and what are we finally destined are heady questions indeed. However if, as some would have us believe, we are just the by-products of chance and star matter, what unique by-products we are! All logical thought determines that we shouldn’t be here, but here we are nevertheless!

Probabilities Chance!

How does one calculate the odds or rather the probability of this universe coming into existence? Well you do need a foundation in the known to relate to, which in the case of the universe we don’t have – we can only hypothesize based on current theoretical knowledge. It is said that probability is the measure of how likely an event is to occur out of the number of possible outcomes.[4] Well logic and intellect say that the number of possible outcomes for our universe must have been infinite; thus the probability of this specific universe coming into existence must, for all practical purposes, be zero. Yet it did!

Cardinal Schönborn clarifies chance well when he quotes Professor Walter Thirring[5]:

It is so far “beyond human capacity to conceive” the degree of precision in this event,[6] which occurred in microscopic fractions of the very first seconds, so Professor Thirring says, that he exclaims, “And that is supposed to have happened by chance – what an absurd notion!”

Schönborn was discussing the exacting conditions required for the universe to come into existence.[7]

Analogous to this is the question – ‘what are the odds of YOU coming into existence – not just your physical substance but your metaphysical being as well; that which makes you, you’.

Author Ali Binazir sums it up succinctly:[8]

The probability of your existing at all is 1 in 102,685,000

To put some perspective on this, the number of atoms in the body of an average male (80kg, 175lb) is 1027. The number of known atoms making up the earth is about 1050. The number of atoms in the known universe is estimated at 1080!

So what’s the probability of your existing? It’s the probability of 2 million people getting together – about the population of San Diego (USA) – each to play a game of dice with trillion-sided dice. They each roll the dice, and they all come up the exact same number – say, 550,343,279,001.

Absolutely improbable…you say and I would agree – the chances that you would be here are basically non-existent – yet you are here, you must be because you’re reading this! With such odds against your chanced existence, why would you not believe in a creative power such as that described in the Book of Genesis? This is not a punt for the cause of literal creationism as posited by fundamentalist factions of Christianity, nor must it be construed as support for the antithesis, but rather a voice seeking reason and understanding; a voice seeking contemporary meaning behind the reading of the Book of Genesis’ creation story.

Genesis – A society making sense of the unknown

The authors of Genesis did not possess the knowledge and understanding of present-day society; in fact I would risk stating the obvious by saying that their worldview was very different from ours given that a worldview is based in part on perspective or how you as an individual see the world around you – Nor did they care, says Boadt [9] I concur with his proposition that the benchmark opening timestamp for Israelite history (and consequently the Christian story) is the Exodus and that all preceding events were an attempt by the writers of Genesis to show God’s purpose with the Israelite people by a gathering together of tribal traditions on ancient ancestors stemming from pre-history.[10] Boadt suggests that as a people, the Israelites needed to understand “how they came to be a people and a nation”[11]

It has been put forward that, while the Old Testament (the Hebrew Bible) in its final form stems from a period later than that of the ‘United Kingdom’[12], ‘…it preserves the literature that had its origin in the United Kingdom’[13]. Indeed, Boshoff, Scheffler, & Spangenberg indicate that the bible actually developed around that literature.[14] This would infer that early traditions were mainly verbalised, passed down from generation to generation. At the same time this would exclude Moses from being the physical author of the Pentateuch, though he may very well have been instrumental in the initiation of the tradition of the exodus etc.; this would concur with Boadt’s assertion that Israelite history started with the Exodus.

In the later exilic period when the Israelites were held bondage in Babylon, Babylonian literature contained various accounts which seem to parallel Genesis accounts: [15]

1. The Enuma elish (Akkadian) – A Babylonian creation epic.

2. Enki and Nihursag – A Sumerian paradise myth

3. The Ziusudra flood – a Sumerian myth

4. The Gilgamesh epic – An Akkadian flood myth.

5. The Atrahasis epic – An Akkadian flood myth.

It is not entirely beyond reason that enculturation of the Israelites while in Babylonian exile would have enriched their traditional knowledge base and that they consequently incorporated aspects of these into their own traditions.

Matthews and Moyer put forward that the Israelites wanted to show God’s sovereign role in their creation as a people[16]; while Boadt postulates that Genesis can be seen as a pre-cursor, a preface to the beginning of the Israelite peoples.[17] They describe Genesis as an etiology of the founding of the Israelite nation and the human race in general, a search for an understanding of their origins.[18] Understandably, these writings are based on a worldview of the authors within their own time frame – the coalescence of this worldview with contemporary knowledge will invariably produce strange and confusing inconsistencies and consequently the contemporary fundamentalist clash!

This does not mean that valuable truths cannot be had from these very early writings; indeed, as I was reminded recently – all scripture is divinely inspired. As such is it a stretch to believe that Genesis illustrates the ancients need to describe the transcendence and all powerful nature of their God; it initiates the covenantal relationship which became prevalent in Israelite and subsequently Christian belief. It describes most clearly to me what they and indirectly Christianity are as a people.

Bibliography

1. Binazir, A. (2011, November 9). What are the odds? Retrieved November 17, 2014, from visual ly: http://visual.ly/what-are-odds

2. Boshoff, W., Scheffler, E., & Spangenberg, I. (2011). Ancient Israelite Literature in Context (Third ed.). Pretoria, Gauteng, South Africa: Protea Book House.

3. Christoph Cardinal Schonborn. (2007). Chance or Purpose – Creation, Evolution & A Rational Faith (English ed.). (H. P. Weber, Ed., & H. Taylor, Trans.) San Francisco, California, USA: Igantius Press. Retrieved November 18, 2014

4. Collins Online English Dictionary. (2014). Holocene. Retrieved December 03, 2014, from Collins Online Dictionary: http://www.collinsdictionary.com/dictionary/english/holocene?showCookiePolicy=true

5. Fr. James V. Schall, SJ. (2007). The Order of Things (First ed.). San Francisco, California, USA: Ignatius Press. Retrieved November 19, 2014

6. Fr. Lawrence Boadt, CSP. (2012). Reading the Old Testament: An Introduction (Second ed.). (Fr. Richard Clifford, SJ, & Fr. Daniel Harrington, SJ, Eds.) Mahwah, N.J., New York, USA: Paulist Press. Retrieved November 28, 2014

7. Horn, S. O., & Wiedenhofer, S. (2008). Creation and Evolution – A Conference with Pope Benedict XVI in Castel Gandolfo (First ed.). (M. J. Miller, Trans.) San Francisco, California, USA: Ignatius Press. Retrieved November 19, 2014

8. Matthews, V. H., & Moyer, J. C. (2012). The Old Testament: Text & Context (Third ed.). Grand Rapids, MI, USA: Baker Academic. Retrieved November 28, 2014

9. Prof. Pheme Perkins, Ph.D. (2012). Reading the New Testament – An Introduction (Third ed.). Mahwah, N.J., New York, USA: Paulist Press. Retrieved November 28, 2014

10. Walter Thirring. (2014, October 29). Retrieved November 30, 2014, from Wikipedia, The Free Encyclopedia: http://en.wikipedia.org/w/index.php?title=Walter_Thirring&oldid=631679337

11. wikiHow. (2014, October 28). How to Calculate Probability. Retrieved November 17, 2014, from wikiHow: http://www.wikihow.com/Calculate-Probability


[1] Homo sapiens (Latin: “wise man”) is the binomial nomenclature (also known as the scientific name) for the human species: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Homo_sapiens

[2]Recent Period” – Collins Online English Dictionary. (2014). Holocene. Retrieved December 03, 2014, from Collins Online Dictionary: http://www.collinsdictionary.com/dictionary/english/holocene?showCookiePolicy=true

[3] (Christoph Cardinal Schonborn, 2007, p. Opening Page)

[4] (wikiHow, 2014)

[5] Austrian Physicist (Walter Thirring, 2014)

[6] The Big Bang theory

[7] (Christoph Cardinal Schonborn, 2007, pp. 39-41)

[8] (Binazir, 2011)

[9] (Fr. Lawrence Boadt, CSP, 2012, p. Pos. 1973 (Kindle))

[10] (Fr. Lawrence Boadt, CSP, 2012, p. Pos. 1980 (Kindle))

[11] (Fr. Lawrence Boadt, CSP, 2012, p. Pos. 1967 (Kindle))

[12] United Kingdom of the Israelites – c.1050 B.C. – c.930 B.C., the reigns of David and Solomon.

[13] (Boshoff, Scheffler, & Spangenberg, 2011, pp. 95-96)

[14] Ibid.

[15] (Boshoff, Scheffler, & Spangenberg, 2011, p. 53)

[16] (Matthews & Moyer, 2012, p. Pos. 1251 (Kindle))

[17] (Fr. Lawrence Boadt, CSP, 2012, p. pos 1967 (Kindle))

[18] (Matthews & Moyer, 2012, p. Pos. 1940 (Kindle))

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About Anthony

I am a married Catholic who is interested in Theology, History, Philosophy and the search for truth. I also have a penchant for photography.
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