Previously, we looked at some possible ways that the universe could have been brought into being (if, indeed, it needed to be brought into being–but that’s for another post). Here I want to look at the two ways that are commonest in Western religious thought, that is, creation and emanation.
As I said last time, we humans never actually “create” anything–we take already existing material and shape it into other things. For example, I might use wood to build a picnic table, or silver to fashion a ring, or stone to build a building. ”Creation”, in the strict theological and philosophical sense, always means making something ex nihilo (“out of nothingness”). In short, when God is said to create the world, He literally conjures it up from nothing. As the Qur’an puts it, “When [God] decrees a thing, He need only say, “Be,” and it is.” (2:116, Dawood translation). Or, as in Genesis, He merely says, “Let there be…” and light, the sky, and so forth instantly are. The term that philosopher Mortimer Adler, in his book How to Think About God, uses for this is a word of his coinage (but a very felicitous one, at that), exnihilation. According to him, this is formed on the analogy of “annihilation”, which literally means to put into (ad-) nothingness (nihil). Of course, nothing is truly annihilated–even if I drop an atomic bomb on something, it is merely blown into its constituent atoms, not into nothingness. However, exnihilation–taking something out of (ex-) nothingness is, indeed, exactly what God does in His act of creation. As Adler also points out, this can be conceived of whether or not the universe is thought of as being temporally infinite (i.e. in terms of infinite linear time) or not.
It is important at this juncture to point out that something created–exnihilated–by God is separate from Him. That is, the thing or being created by God literally comes into being out of nothingness. It is not formed from, fashioned from, or derived from anything else. It is called into existence by God, but it is not part of Him. It is ontologically distinct. There are some nuances in this that we’ll return to later, but for now we’ll leave it at that and move on.
Emanation is the other mode which has been postulated as the means by which God brought the cosmos into being. ”Emanate” comes from Latin roots meaning “to flow out from”, and this is a good description of the theological concept of emanation. Just as water flows out of the mountains into a river, or light “flows out” of a fire, the cosmos is thought of as “flowing out” of God. That is to say, that God does not create the world (including sapient beings such as us) from pre-existing material, nor does he call it out of nothing. Rather, he “draws” them from His own substance; or to put it another way, we all “flow” out of God.
It occurs to me that during the course of the various religious and philosophical musings I’ve posted here, there are some concepts which I have used very frequently, but which I haven’t really elaborated. In short, I’ve just tossed them out with a link, if that, and plowed on. One such example in particular is the concept of emanation. Emanation is a highly important concept in both Gnosticism and Neoplatonism, in which they both differ from orthodox Christianity. The mode in which the universe came into existence has implications for one’s theology, cosmology, and philosophy, so I think it’s worth revisiting these different views on the origin of the cosmos and looking at them in greater depth.
First, it’s important to look more generally at how the universe came into being. First, one might maintain that the universe did not come into being at all, since it has existed and will exist eternally. Both some atheists and some theistic systems assume this model. The universe may change or go through cycles (which may or may not repeat), but it has no discrete origin. It’s worth pointing out that even this perspective doesn’t necessarily eliminate the possibility of creation. As Mortimer Adler pointed out in his book How to Think About God, one can still think of God “exnihilating”–holding in existence–a cosmos without linear beginning or end. As I’ve explained in more detail here, God, properly understood, is completely outside of time and space in the sense in which we use those terms. A linear infinity of time–going infinitely into the past and likewise into the future–is still far “smaller” or “less” than the true atemporal eternity of God. To re-use the image I used in the earlier post consider:
Eternity, in this depiction, really shouldn’t be a separate sphere, but the entire plane–or better, the entire space–within which the comparatively tiny line of time lies and by which it is supported. Thus, God can easily be thought of as creating spacetime in all its linear infinity as a mere drop in the higher-order infinity proper to Him.
Last time I stated the postulates I’m starting with in order to move forward in considering the Fall. They seem reasonable to me, in light of what has been looked at and discussed in this series over the last nine months. However, I want to look at one alternative (which I reject) in order to elaborate on why I reject it and what I see as being problematic about it.
First, I need to correct something I omitted in my last post. I gave my “postulates” for this discussion, but left out the most obvious and important one, the zeroth postulate, if you will, without which there’s no point in even having written this series to begin with.
0. Science is correct in asserting the vast age of the Earth and universe, and the evolution of humans from lower animals.
Comment: As noted in my update to the previous post, this is not a postulate properly so-called; but it’s solid enough.
Corollary: Any theology which does not take 0. into account is to that extent erroneous, and need not be taken into account. Therefore, for example, young Earth creationism, anti-evolutionism, and so-called Intelligent Design as presented, are non-starters.
Having set the stage, let’s move on to look at a popular account of the Fall that seems fairly popular in some circles and discuss its ramifications.
Not geometric postulates, though! This is a sort of continuation of my last post in this series, as well as trying to articulate what I’m postulating, what I”m trying to avoid, and why.
First, as I said way back here (allow me the luxury of quoting myself without seeming a total egotist!):
Nasty things–evils–existed long before humans came on the scene. Hurricanes, earthquakes, floods, droughts, tornadoes, predators, disease, pestilence, cancer, and so on have been around for eons. Thus, any system that posits their existence as coming after the Fall of Man is not going to work. [E]vils or Evil can’t be blamed on Eve’s apple.
Without claiming to give knowledge from on high, I suggested a possible (and in my mind, not unreasonable) theory as to the origin of pre-human evil, here.
For reasons that I’ve elaborated on in this series, as well as in the previous post, I think it’s hard to maintain the idea of Original Sin as a discrete, specific transgression by a particular individual or couple at a particular time in history. Therefore, theories of the Atonement that are based on the traditional concept of a literal Adam, Eve, and Fall must be reworked and overhauled, perhaps massively. Summarizing this,
1. The evils in the physical universe are not caused by the Fall of Man,
2. which could not have occurred as a discrete act by a specific person or persons.
I think these are fairly sound postulates, though I want to discuss objections to number 2 in an upcoming post. The following two postulates are more speculative and will be revisited, but I’ll state them simply for now:
3. Man was originally good in intention (metaphysically or from a supra-temporal or aeviternal perspective), if not temporally and/or historically, and this original metaphysical goodness was marred, if not temporally and/or historically (lots here to unpack, but let it be for now).
4. Christ, through his life, death, and resurrection brings atonement to humanity (though how this is done is not yet clear, assuming one rejects the literal Genesis story. Once more, let it be for now).
This is where I’m starting from as I try to pick my way forward on the Fall and what that may or may not mean.
Update: It is Lent, so I will repent of my sins against mathematics. I used the word “postulate” very loosely. In mathematics (my field) a postulate (or axiom) is the most basic point from which one builds a proof or argument. Postulates are not proved because they cannot be proved–they’re self-evident. For example, postulate number one illustrated above (the illustrations show Euclid’s Postulates) is that two points in a plane give a unique line. If one understands what “point”, “plane”, and “line” mean, this postulate is self-evident; it must be true; it can’t not be true. The points above are certainly not like this. None of them are self-evident, and given what we know about the origins of the cosmos, 1 can be reasonably proved (remember, postulates can’t be proved). It would have been better to call these points my starting points or my basic assumptions. Oh, well.
I also realized that I should have added another basic assumption; but I discuss that in the next post in this series.
It’s been some time since I’ve written on the Fall. Partly, I got a bit burned out on the topic after the many, many posts I did. Another factor was that I changed my mind on some aspects of the issue. Finally, after fifty-four posts, I concluded that I didn’t have a conclusion yet. I still don’t, quite. However, in the process of surfing about the Internet, I ran across some articles discussing just this issue–to wit, how does one square modern knowledge of human origins with the (apparent) Biblical requirement that all humans descend from a single priaml couple–and I thought it worthwhile to point them out and briefly discuss them.
It’s interestingly appropriate, given the content and image for today’s Rubá’í of the Day. Since I schedule the Rubá’í of the Day posts months ahead of time, I rarely remember what the specific verse for the day is or what image I selected for it until it posts. I was thinking about this post last night, and when I decided to write it today, lo and behold: there were Adam and Eve in today’s rubá’í! I certainly can’t ignore such a synchronicity, so on we go!
This past summer came news of possible interbreeding between early Homo sapiens (modern humans) and other groups, possibly of different but related species. This is in addition to the possible and much-disputed hybridization with Neanderthal Man. Admittedly I’m a little late on this–I was deep into “Legends of the Fall” at the time, and somehow overlooked this fascinating news, which I should have incorporated at the time. Oh, well–better late than never.
The first story indicates a possibility of mixing between modern humans and the so-called Denisovan hominin. Denisovans were discovered only four years ago, and the remains are still fragmentary. Nevertheless, DNA analysis indicates the Denisovans to be distinct both from modern humans and from Neanderthals, though they seem more closely related to the latter. This analysis also indicated Denisovan DNA exists in modern populations, too, especially Melanesians and Australian Aborigines. This would indicate some interbreeding between early modern humans and Denisovans.
The second story indicates hybridization between early modern humans and one or more unknown species or subspecies in Africa. In this case there are no physical remains such as bones; rather, patterns of DNA unlike any other human (or Neanderthal) DNA have turned up in some African populations. This is interpreted as indicated hybridization with some other unknown group or groups–quite likely, given the large number of early hominids in Africa. What is surprising is the relative recentness of this interbreeding–as recently as 20,000 years ago, long after other populations had already left Africa.
This is still more evidence that while all humans today have common ancestors in the relatively recent past, there were nevertheless many different groups that contributed to the human genome, and not all original populations necessarily had a single origin. More and more we see the need to rethink traditional theology in regard to the Fall and the origin of humanity.
OK, so let’s do a summary of the points I’ve developed over the last few posts (editing slightly where needed).
1. a) infinite punishment for finite sin is just or
1. b) God is a capricious tyrant.
Regarding people who hold the TVOH, and thus necessarily (if implicitly) one of the above,
2. a) Many Christians actually see Hell not as a sorrowful thing, but a vital necessity and an active good.
2. b) As a corollary, they have an active desire to see malefactors damned. In short, it’s not just a tragedy, but an active attitude of, “Yes, those m*^%$#@*&^%$#s are getting what they deserve! Justice is served! God is not mocked!”
2. c) As another corollary, such people seem to have a model of morality that is at best conventional, if not pre-conventional, a model which they project on everyone else; that is, they assume that people are driven so much towards selfishness and sin that only threats, the bigger the better–preferably the infinite and eternal threat of Hell–can keep them in line.
2. d) As a final corollary, this implies that these people have rather disordered inner lives themselves. In short, they are not saying, “Because of the love of God and the grace He gives me, I no longer have a desire for sin X,” or even the less exalted, “Though I am strongly tempted to X, I don’t want to be that kind of person,” but rather, “I wanna do X soooo bad, but if I do I’m gonna burn, so I’ll refrain. As long as all the other yahoos who give in will burn.” Read the rest of this entry