On The Incarnation (1:2) Creation Variations

In regard to the making of the universe and the creation of all things there have been various opinions, and each person has propounded the theory that suited his own taste. For instance, some say that all things are self-originated and, so to speak, haphazard. The Epicureans are among these; they deny that there is any Mind behind the universe at all. This view is contrary to all the facts of experience, their own existence included. For if all things had come into being in this automatic fashion, instead of being the outcome of Mind, though they existed, they would all be uniform and without distinction. In the universe everything would be sun or moon or whatever it was, and in the human body the whole would be hand or eye or foot. But in point of fact the sun and the moon and the earth are all different things, and even within the human body there are different members, such as foot and hand and head. This distinctness of things argues not a spontaneous generation but a prevenient Cause; and from that Cause we can apprehend God, the Designer and Maker of all.

Believe it or not, even before Darwin, many people believed that the entire universe came into being randomly and had no larger purpose for existing. That worldview existed long before the theory of evolution. What may, at first glance, look like a very crude appeal on Athanasius’ part is actually a strong argument for a Creator from common experience.

Athanasius is doing something here that Christians have always had to do; engage the culture around them. It is never enough to dogmatically quote Bible verses when conversing with someone who doesn’t already accept the Bible as God’s written revelation. It isn’t enough to get into a shouting match with unbelievers and yell past each other. Just because someone is emotional and loud doesn’t mean that their argument holds any water. Most of time it indicates the argument is lost from their end.

From the beginning of the Church there have been those who have given their intellects in service of God. Many of the early Christians found themselves in situations where they had to answer the questions of philosophers and spiritual seekers. What Athanasius is doing here is presenting alternate viewpoints to his own and deftly deconstructing them to see what is at their core. In this case, he is considering the viewpoint that nothing is created, everything we see around us is a product of random particles configured haphazardly. None of this was “intended,” it is simply an accumulation of the dust of dead stars and the time it took to morph into this present arrangement.

Athanasius’ rebuttal comes from observing diversity in unity. He claims that if everything we see around us was just thrown together “in this automatic fashion,” everything would be uniform and without distinction. How precise can an unguided process be? How could such intricacies as we see around us every day just have oozed into actuality?

In the end, the arguments go back and forth, and they are both very simple. The Epicurean focuses on the chaotic parts of creation and sets forth his argument. Athanasius sees the complexity and harmony of creation and points it out. He insisted that this world was not simply glopped together; there is a beauty and grandeur to it that comes from deliberation. There is a wonderful symmetry to it that can only be explained by a Creator. In the end, you either see it or you don’t, but it’s glaringly obvious.

In Romans 1:18-20 , Paul writes, “18 For the wrath of God is revealed from heaven against all ungodliness and unrighteousness of men, who by their unrighteousness suppress the truth. 19 For what can be known about God is plain to them, because God has shown it to them. 20 For his invisible attributes, namely, his eternal power and divine nature, have been clearly perceived, ever since the creation of the world, in the things that have been made. So they are without excuse.”

We don’t need to write 20 page explanations for why the universe must have a Creator. All we have to do is point out the obvious: there is remarkable intricacy, there is beauty, grandeur and symmetry; not only physically, but intellectually. This is not the kind of world that would come from random materials glopping together. That kind of world would be a total nightmare. There would be no complimentary elements or complexity, all would be rudimentary and uniform. It all come down to whether or not this life has intrinsic meaning or not. No 20-page explanations can convince us one way or the other; no matter how much scientific jargon they contain. The common things: love, joy, peace, relationships, art, recreation, etc. will show us that life has meaning and that we have a higher purpose than mere survival. If we do not find a hint to life’s greater meaning in everyday life, we definitely will not find it in scientific jargon. That is because this is a philosophical question, not a scientific one. So Athanasius sticks with a simple argument based on common experience.

That is Athanasius’ argument. Whether you think it is a strong argument or a weak one, he is at least trying to thoughtfully address an opposing worldview using the mind God gave him. We could all do better to emulate that.

Others take the view expressed by Plato, that giant among the Greeks. He said that God had made all things out of pre-existent and uncreated matter, just as the carpenter makes things only out of wood that already exists. But those who hold this view do not realize that to deny that God is Himself the Cause of matter is to impute limitation to Him, just as it is undoubtedly a limitation on the part of the carpenter that he can make nothing unless he has the wood. How could God be called Maker and Artificer if His ability to make depended on some other cause, namely on matter itself? If He only worked up existing matter and did not Himself bring matter into being, He would be not the Creator but only a craftsman.

Apparently, this was another argument wafting around among the intelligentsia that originated with Plato. Matter itself is eternal and the Creative Mind simple rearranged matter to bring forth creation. This is most likely because of the very rigid split between matter and the Ideal, in Plato. Platonic thought led one to Gnosticism. It is the idea that matter is somehow tainted and less “good” than spirit or intellect or perfect forms, which exist in a non-material sense.

The poor man’s version goes like this: You see a tree that is mangled and twisted. You have an idea of the perfect tree in your head. That physical tree doesn’t match up with the ideal tree. Therefore the physical is lesser. In the same way, if God didn’t create matter, God can be seen as not only transcendent but completely separate from our creation. It would then lead us to look down on physical things like our bodies, the world around us, etc. while elevating our thoughts, dreams or emotions to a higher status of importance. Here’s the problem: matter is completely objective by nature and our thoughts are not. The more we are in “the real world” the healthier we are. That’s why a good walk in the countryside and fresh air can do us good when we have been shut in all day staring at man-made screens or studying. We need to stay grounded and being out in God’s creation has a great way of doing that.

The truth about creation is that God created matter and called it good. It reveals Him with its beauty and grandeur. Just read the Psalms and notice how much David calls our attention to material things as they reveal God’s glory to us.

Then, again, there is the theory of the Gnostics, who have invented for themselves an Artificer of all things other than the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ. These simply shut their eyes to the obvious meaning of Scripture. For instance, the Lord, having reminded the Jews of the statement in Genesis, “He Who created them in the beginning made them male and female . . . ,” and having shown that for that reason a man should leave his parents and cleave to his wife, goes on to say with reference to the Creator, “What therefore God has joined together, let no man put asunder.”22Matt. xix. 4–6 How can they get a creation independent of the Father out of that? And, again, St. John, speaking all inclusively, says, “All things became by Him and without Him came nothing into being.”33John i. 3 How then could the Artificer be someone different, other than the Father of Christ?

In “Christian Gnosticism” (and I use that term knowing it to be an oxymoron) the material world is created by a Demiurge, who is an evil and stupid god. This god not only creates matter (which the Gnostics believed to be evil) but he also enslaved our pure spirits (divine sparks) in these ghastly bodies. If you have ever heard of the expression that our spirits are trapped in our bodies, this is a Gnostic belief.

The apostle John had to stave off the Gnostic heresy in his writings, and we can see that it is still around in Athanasius’ time, hundreds of years later.

The idea that the god who created this world is evil and dim-witted is not a Christian idea, although it pops up here and there. Usually when we let ourselves think that the Old Testament God is only angry and vicious while the New Testament God is nice and gracious. A careful reading of both testaments reveals the continuity of God’s character from Genesis to Revelation. That is what is at stake here and Athanasius opposes the Gnostic influence fiercely.

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~ by shardsofeternity on November 30, 2011.

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