There is possibly no greater philosophical question that has plagued the history of philosophy than the question of origins. From where does life come? Did the universe have a beginning, or is it eternal? From where do we come? Why is there something rather than nothing? Cosmologist, Stephen Hawking, writes, “The eventual goal of science is to provide a single theory that describes the whole universe.”
The Bible, to many people, is not scientifically satisfying enough. It simply opens up with, “In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth.” It assumes that the universe had a beginning and that all things within it was created by God. But, if we think about it, there is no more challenging statement to modernistic presuppositions than this simple statement. As it challenged the polytheistic presuppositions of the ancient world, so it challenges the materialistic presuppositions of the modern world. It is this very first verse of the Bible that the creed affirms when it states, “I believe in God… Creator of heaven and earth.”
The Beginning of Everything
The very first thing that the opening line of the Bible challenges, both ancient and modern, is that everything that exists, the universe and all that is contained within it, had a beginning. This was a challenge to ancient cosmological theories, which held to an eternal recurrence theory arguing “that everything that happens is part of an endlessly repeating cycle or sequence of events”; or modern theories which insist that the universe itself has sprung from "nothing" because of the boundless and unstable particles bouncing to and fro in and out of existence, and then recreating themselves from seemingly nothing, and this process, like ancient cosmological theories, repeating itself ad infinitum. No, Genesis stubbornly opposes both ancient and modern theories that the universe has recreated itself through endless cycles when it states simply, “In the beginning God created…” Therefore, standing against the entire sweep of human innovation when it comes to the theory of origins, Genesis 1:1 is one of the most profound statements to be made about our origins, and has simply not gone away, even in light of modern science. Why is this so?
The reason this is so, I believe, is because of the insistence of Psalm 19:2 that the universe itself “pours forth speech” and “reveals knowledge” daily, and this speech and knowledge concerns the glory of God. Calvin described the universe as a “most beautiful theatre” wherein we are placed in order that we may “ponder with pious meditation to what end God created” it. In this sense, Calvin continues, “God himself has shown by the order of Creation that he created all things for man’s sake,” and what he means by this, is that in contemplating the works of God in creation it might help us understand God’s benevolence toward us. And so, the scientific quest ought not to speculate about a theory that can explain everything, but rather ought to come to terms with the God who created everything. If we allow the beauty and grandeur of what we perceive in the universe to drive our minds to reach beyond what we perceive in order to contemplate the One who is behind all of the majesty, we may come to see that truly, the heavens declare the glory of God (Psalm 19:1). This type of wonder, though his conclusion different, was even true for the philosopher Immanuel Kant, when he wrote in his famous The Critique of Practical Reason, “Two things fill the mind with ever new and increasing admiration and awe, the more often and steadily we reflect upon them: the starry heavens above me and the moral law within me. I do not seek or conjecture either of them as if they were veiled obscurities or extravagances beyond the horizon of my vision; I see them before me and connect them immediately with the consciousness of my existence.” These two things drove Kant to observe firstly "worlds upon worlds and systems of systems... into limitless times of their periodic motion, its beginning and continuance"; and secondly his distinction from it as a thinking creature with morality. Why are these two observations significant?
God as Creator: The Cosmic Lawgiver
Psalm 19:1 declares that God is the “creator of heaven and earth.” This is what the creed affirms, or in the Psalmists words, “proclaims his handiwork.” Calvin comments, “When we behold the heavens, we cannot but be elevated, by the contemplation of them, to Him who is their great Creator; and the beautiful arrangement and wonderful variety which distinguishes the courses and station of the heavenly bodies, together with the beauty and splendour which are manifest in them, cannot but furnish us with an evident proof of his providence.” In other words, when we see the laws embedded within the universe which governs it, we are able to clearly perceive that these laws bring order to an otherwise chaotic universe, and if there is order in what would be otherwise chaotic, there must be a mind behind the universe that is bringing about the order through the law. To state it differently, the laws of the universe, which all scientists agree to, must posit a lawgiver who sustains the universe through the laws. This is what the psalmist reflects on when he sees the sun moving across the sky in an ordered fashion, or, as he poetically states, “which comes out like a bridegroom leaving his chamber, and, like a strong man, runs its course with joy” (Psalm 19:5). It is God who governs the laws by which the sun maintains its course, and through whom we have our seasons in a perpetual cycle.
Now, not everyone will agree to the necessity of a lawgiver though the presence of laws are certain. In fact, the question as to the origin of the laws rarely comes up in the study of the natural sciences. However, Paul Davies admits it was because of the theological convictions of Renaissance Europe that the laws in the universe point to a divine lawgiver that gave rise to modern science as we know it. Ironically, the laws themselves have now been given divine attributes and have come to explain the universe apart from a Creator. But the question still remains, even if not asked in science, where do the laws come from? This question confronts those who insist that the laws are there, and there is nothing more one can know about them. This this is why Genesis 1:1 remains a stubborn objection to modern theory. Genesis simply states that everything, including the laws, have their origin in God who is the Creator of heaven and earth. But what does this God require of us?
The Creator and the Creature: The Moral Lawgiver
After beholding the glory of God in the heavens, the Psalmist reflects on the activity of God among people, his special creation. Not only does God govern the universe through law, but he also governs humanity through law. This is why Psalm 19:7 reads, “The law of the LORD is perfect, reviving the soul…” As we had said in a previous post, if we were left only to discern God in nature, then we would run into all sorts of errors, such as Paul Davies who attributes divine characteristics to natural laws that govern the universe. However, Christians are insistent upon the fact that God has revealed himself to us through the Bible. The cosmic lawgiver also gives laws to his rational creatures, by which we are to both know God and also know how to function in this world.
Now, some scientists would postulate that we merely operate according to instinct, like all other creatures. However there is most certainly a deeper sense in our own consciousness that we are quite different to other creatures. For one, we contemplate our own existence, and this leads humans to worship something; and for another, we distinguish between right action and wrong, or in other words, we consider ourselves moral beings. Explanations as to why humans are unique in these two senses vary. But the answer the Bible gives, in my mind, remains the most satisfying of all other answers. Quite simply, the Bible speaks of humans created in the image of God (Genesis 1:26-27). This means that humans are part of the natural world, and very much animal in this sense, but it also sets us apart from all other animals by placing us in a special privileged position in creation as the image bearers of God. We are, therefore, created with the capacity to know God, which we looked at in a previous post, and we are also created with a moral desire to distinguish between right and wrong. The problem is, the distortion of the first (worship) leads to a distortion of the second (morality). To state it differently, it is when we depart from the correct worship of the Creator God, that we lose our moral compass to function as created beings. Humans need a path, we need a guidance, and there is no better guidance than that given by the One who created us in the first place, and created us to display his glory! (Psalm 119:105). In this sense, Scripture is the sure guide both to the correct worship of God, and also to the correct knowledge of right and wrong. Without Scripture, we are left to determine our own worship, and this ends in the relativizing of truth which ends in the distortion of morality.
When the creed therefore affirms, “I believe in God… Creator of heaven and earth,” it also calls the believer to respond to God the Creator as his creature. In other words, it affirms that he governs the universe through laws, but it also affirms that he requires humanity to respond to him in a special way as his special creatures. In order for us to know how we ought to respond to him, he had to reveal his will to us through law, and this we have contained within the pages of Scripture as a sure guide to our path of life.
The answer the Bible gives when it comes to the great questions of life, is quite simple, yet profound. Where does life come from? Did the universe have a beginning? Where do we come from? The Bible challenges all the presuppositions both ancient and modern as to the origins of life, and stubbornly remains a constant stumbling block for the world of science. It answers very simply, “Yes, the universe had a beginning, and all life comes from God.” But it also goes beyond this and describes a God who governs the universe according to laws, and also governs humanity according to law. The former is observed in the order of creation, while the latter is found in the revealed pages of Scripture. So when the creed affirms, “I believe in God… creator of heaven and earth,” it affirms that God is Lord, and I am his subject. He is the lawgiver, and I am the law-keeper. He is in control, and I am dependent. These affirmations reminds us of the correct Creator/creature distinction, and makes us ponder our own existence in light of this truth. It heeds the counsel of the author to Ecclesiastes, “Be not rash with your mouth, nor let your heart be hasty to utter a word before God, for God is in heaven and you are on earth. Therefore let your words be few.”
 Hawking, S. 1988. A Brief History of Time. London: Bantam Books, pg. 11.
 A presupposition, as I use it in this context, is a foundational belief held to through which all reality is interpreted.
 Strambaugh, J. 1995. Eternal Recurrence (in Honderich, T. ed. 1995. The Oxford Companion to Philosophy. Oxford: Oxford University Press, pg. 251).
 See Krauss, L. 2012. A Universe From Nothing. New York: Free Press.
 Calvin, J. 1559. Institutes, I:XIV:20. (transl. Battles, F. ed. McNeill, J.T. 2006. Louisville: Westminster John Knox Press, pg. 179).
 Calvin, I:XIV:22.
 Calvin, commentary Psalm 19:1 (transl. Rev. James Anderson).
 Davies, P. 1992. The Mind of God. London: Penguin Books, pg. 77.
Ibid, pg. 82ff. Davies lists four characteristics of the laws which are divine properties: universal, absolute, eternal, and omnipotent.
[disclaimer: I corrected the quote from Kant, which I initially incorrectly ascribed to his Critique of Pure Reason. Also, I reworked my use of his quote as I felt initially it seemed as though I used him to justify my argument, when this wasn't my intention. I wanted to show that even Kant's amazement at what he observed above him (universe) and within him (morality) has great significance as to the reason why we wonder these things (and hence my argument to follow). Kant's quote served to lead into my argument, not justify my argument at this stage.]
I am the pastor/elder of a small suburban church on the outskirts of Cape Town. I enjoy coffee, theology, and fresh air. We are grateful to have all three in abundance.