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§ 1. Different Theories concerning the Origin of the Universe.

The question concerning the origin of the universe has forced itself on the minds of men in all ages. That the mutable cannot be eternal, would seem to be self-evident. As everything within the sphere of human observation is constantly changing, men have been constrained to believe that the world as it now is had a beginning. But if it began to be, whence did it come? Without the light of a divine revelation, this question is unanswerable. The data for the solution of the problem do not lie within the sphere either of experience or of reason. All human theories on this subject are nothing more than conjectures more or less ingenious.

Apart from the pantheistic doctrine which makes the universe the existence form, or, as Goethe calls it, “das lebendige Kleid” (the living garment) of God, the most prevalent views on this subject are, First, those theories which exclude mind from the causative origin of the world; Secondly, those which admit of mind, but only as connected with matter; and Thirdly, the Scriptural doctrine which assumes the existence of an infinite extramundane mind to whose power and will the existence of all things out of God is to be referred.

It is a self-evident truth that existence cannot spring spontaneously from non-existence. In this sense ex nihilo nihil fit is an universally admitted axiom. Those, therefore, who deny the existence of an extramundane mind, are forced to admit that as the universe now is, it must have always been. But as it is in a state of perpetual change it has not always been as it now is. There was a primordial state out of which the present order of things has arisen. The question is, How?

The purely Physical Theory.

According to the first hypothesis just mentioned, the primordial condition of the universe was that of universally diffused matter in 551a highly attenuated state. This matter had the properties, or forces, which it now everywhere exhibits; and under the operation of these forces and in accordance with the laws of heat, motion, etc., not only the great cosmical bodies were formed and arranged themselves in their present harmonious relations, but also all the organisms, vegetable and animal, on this globe and elsewhere, were fashioned and sustained. Every man knows enough of physical laws to be able to predict with certainty that on a cold day in the open air the moisture of his breath will be condensed; so, according to Professor Huxley, on this hypothesis, with adequate knowledge of those laws, it would have been easy from the beginning to predict, not only the mechanism of the heavens, but the fauna and flora of our globe in all the states and stages of its existence.

The Nebular hypothesis, as first proposed by La Place, was the application of this theory to the explanation of the origin and order of the heavenly bodies. This hypothesis may be thus stated, “Suppose that the matter composing the entire solar system once existed in the condition of a single nebulous mass, extending beyond the orbit of the most remote planet. Suppose that this nebula has a slow rotation upon an axis, and that by radiation it gradually cools, thereby contracting in its dimensions. As it contracts in its dimensions, its velocity of rotation, according to the principles of Mechanics, must necessarily increase, and the centrifugal force thus generated in the exterior portion of the nebula would at length become equal to the attraction of the central mass. This exterior portion would thus become detached, and revolve independently as an immense zone or ring. As the central mass continued to cool and contract in its dimensions, other zones would in the same manner become detached, while the central mass continually decreases in size and increases in density. The zones thus successively detached would generally break up into separate masses revolving independently about the sun; and if their velocities were slightly unequal, the matter of each zone would ultimately collect in a single planetary, but still gaseous, mass, having a spheroidal form, and also a motion of rotation about an axis. As each of these planetary masses became still farther cooled, it would pass through a succession of changes similar to those of the first solar nebula; rings of matter would be formed surrounding the planetary nucleus, and these rings, if they broke up into separate masses, would ultimately form satellites revolving about their primaries.”509509Loomis, Treatise on Astronomy, New York, 1865, p. 314. We thus have an ordered universe 552without the intervention of mind. Every one knows, however, that there is a form in which the nebular hypothesis is held by many Christian theists.

Theories which assume Intelligence in Nature itself.

The obvious impossibility of blind causes acting intelligently, or, of necessary causes being elective in their operation, has led many who deny the existence of an extramundane Mind to hold, that life and intelligence pertain to matter itself in some at least of its combinations. A plant lives. There is something in the seed which secures its development, each after its kind. There is, therefore, something in the plant, which according to this theory is not external to the plant itself, which does the work of mind. That is, it selects or chooses from the earth and air the elements needed for its support and growth. It moulds these elements into organic forms, intended to answer a purpose, and adapted with wonderful skill to accomplish a given object. With regard to this principle of life, this vital force, it is to be remarked that it is in the plant; that it is never manifested, never acts, except in union with the matter of which the plant is composed; when the plant dies, its vitality is extinguished. It ceases to exist in the same sense in which light ceases when darkness takes its place.

What is true of the vegetable, is no less true of the animal world. Every animal starts in an almost imperceptible germ. But that germ has something in it which determines with certainty the genus, species, and variety of the animal. It fashions all his organs; prepares the eye for the light yet to be seen; the ear for sounds yet to be heard; the lungs for air yet to be breathed. Nothing more wonderful than this is furnished by the universe in any of its phenomena.

If, therefore, vegetable and animal life work all these wonders, what need have we to assume an extramundane mind to account for any of the phenomena of the universe? All that is necessary is, that nature, natura naturans, the vis in rebus insita, should act just as we see that the vital principle does act in plants and animals. This is Hylozoism; the doctrine that matter is imbued with a principle of life.

Another form of this theory is more dualistic. It admits the existence of mind and matter as distinct substances, but always existing in combination, as soul and body in man in our present stage of being. The advocates of this doctrine, therefore, instead of speaking of nature as the organizing force, speak of the soul of the world; the anima mundi, etc.


It is enough to remark concerning these theories, (1.) That they leave the origin of things unaccounted for. Whence came the matter, which the theory in one form assumes? Whence came its physical properties, to which all organization is referred? And as to the other doctrine, it may be asked, Whence came the living germs of plants and animals? To assume that matter in a state of chaos is eternal; or that there has been an endless succession of living germs; or that there has been an eternal succession of cycles in the history of the universe, chaos unfolding itself into cosmos, during immeasurable ages, are all assumptions which shock the reason, and must of necessity be destitute of proof.

(2.) These theories are atheistic. They deny the existence of a personal Being to whom we stand in the relation of creatures and children. The existence of such a Being is an innate, intuitive truth. It cannot be permanently disbelieved. And, therefore, any theory which denies the existence of God must be not only false but short-lived.

The Scriptural Doctrine.

The Scriptural doctrine on this subject is expressed in the first words of the Bible: “In the beginning God created the heaven and the earth.” The heavens and the earth include all things out of God. Of which things the Scriptures teach that they owe their existence to the will and power of God. The Scriptural doctrine therefore is, (1.) That the universe is not eternal. It began to be. (2.) It was not formed out of any preëxistence or substance; but was created ex nihilo. (3.) That creation was not necessary. It was free to God to create or not to create, to create the universe as it is, or any other order and system of things, according to the good pleasure of his will.

The doctrine of an eternal creation has been held in various forms. Origen, although he referred the existence of the universe to the will of God, still held that it was eternal. We speak of the divine decrees as free and yet as from everlasting. So Origen held that this was not the first world God made; that there never was a first, and never will be a last. “Quid ante faciebat Deus,” he asks, “quam mundus inciperet? Otiosam enim et immobilem dicere naturam Dei, impium est simul et absurdum, vel putare, quod bonitas aliquando bene non fecerit, et omnipotentia aliquando non egerit potentatum. Hoc nobis objicere solent dicentibus mundum hunc ex certo tempore cœpisse, et secundum scripturæ fidem annos quoque ætatis ipsius numerantibus. . . . . Nos vero consequenter 554respondimus observantes regulam pietatis, quoniam non tunc primum cum visibilem istum mundum fecit Deus, cœpit operari, sed sicut post corruptionem hujus erit alius mundus, ita et antequam hic esset, fuisse alios credimus.510510De Principiis, III. 3. Works, edit. Paris, 1733, vol. i. p. 149, c, d.

Of course those of the schoolmen who made the thoughts of God creative, or identified purpose with act, or who said with Scotus Erigena, “Non aliud Deo esse et velle et facere,” must regard the universe as coeternal with God. This was done by Scotus in a pantheistic sense, but others who regarded the universe as distinct from God and dependent upon Him, still held that the world is eternal. The influence of the modern Monistic philosophy, even upon theologians who believe in an extramundane personal God, has been such as to lead many of them to assume that the relation between God and the world is such that it must have always existed. The common doctrine of the Church has ever been, in accordance with the simple teaching of the Bible, that the world began to be.

The second point included in the Scriptural doctrine of creation is, that the universe was not formed out of any preëxistent matter, nor out of the substance of God. The assumption that any thing existed out of God and independent of his will, has ever been rejected as inconsistent with the perfection and absolute supremacy of God. The other idea, however, namely, that God fashioned the world out of his own substance, has found advocates, more or less numerous, in every age of the Church. Augustine, referring to this opinion, says, “Fecisti cœlum et terram; non de te: nam esset æquale unigenito tuo, ac per hoc et tibi, . . . . et aliud præter te non erat, unde faceres ea; . . . . et ideo de nihilo fecisti cœlum et terram.511511Confessiones, XII. 7. Works, edit. Benedictines, Paris, 1836, vol. i. p. 356, c, d.

Not only those of the schoolmen and of the modern theologians who are inclined to the Monistic theory, made all things to be modifications of the substance of God, but many Theistic and even Evangelical writers of our day hold the same doctrine.512512The writer was dining one day with Tholuck and five or six of his students, when he took up a knife from the table, and asked, “Is this knife of the substance of God?” and they all answered, “Yes.” Sir William Hamilton also held that it is impossible to conceive the complement of existence being either increased or diminished. When anything new appears we are forced to regard it as something which had previously existed in another form. “We are unable, on the one hand, to conceive nothing becoming something; or, 555on the other, something becoming nothing. When God is said to create out of nothing, we construe this to thought by supposing that He evolves existence out of Himself; we view the Creator as the cause of the Universe. ‘Ex nihilo nihil, in nihilum nil posse reverti,’ expresses, in its purest form, the whole intellectual phenomenon of causality.”513513Lectures on Metaphysics. Boston, edit. 1859, lecture xxxix. p. 533. To this he elsewhere adds, “In like manner, we conceive annihilation, only by conceiving the Creator to withdraw his creation from actuality into power. . . . The mind is thus compelled to recognize an absolute identity of existence in the effect and in the complement of its causes — between the causatum and the causa,”514514Discussions on Philosophy and Literature, etc. By Sir William Hamilton. New York, edit. 1853, p. 575.and therefore, “an absolute identity of existence” between God and the world. This doctrine the fathers, and the Church generally, strenuously resisted as inconsistent with the nature of God. It supposes that the substance of God admits of partition or division; that the attributes of God can be separated from his substance; and that the divine substance can become degraded and polluted.

The third point included in the Scriptural doctrine of creation is, that it was an act of God’s free will. He was free to create or not to create. This is opposed to the doctrine of necessary creation, which has been set forth in different forms. Some regard the phenomenal universe as a mere evolution of absolute being by a necessary process, as a plant is developed from a seed. Others, regarding God as a Spirit, make life and thought essential and coeternal with Him, and this life and power are of necessity creative. God’s “essence,” says Cousin, “consists precisely in his creative power.”515515Cousin’s Psychology, New York, edit. 1856, p. 443. Again, he says,516516Ibid. p. 447. “He cannot but produce; so that the creation ceases to be unintelligible; and God is no more without a world than a world without God.” As, however, thought is spontaneous, Cousin, when called to account for such utterances, maintained that he did not deny that creation was free.

Some who do not admit that God is under any natural or metaphysical necessity to give existence to the universe, still assert a moral necessity for the creation of sensitive and rational creatures. God, it is said, is love; but it is the nature of love to long to communicate itself, and to hold fellowship with others than itself. Therefore God’s nature impels Him to call into existence creatures in whom and over whom He can rejoice. Others say, that God is 556benevolence, and therefore is under a moral necessity of creating beings whom He can render happy. Thus Leibnitz says “Dieu n’est point nécessité, métaphysiquement parlant, à la création de ce monde. . . . . Cependant Dieu est obligé, par une nécessité morale, à faire les choses en sorte qu’il ne se puisse rien de mieux.517517Théodicée, II. 201; Works, Berlin, 1840, p. 566.

According to the Scriptures God is self-sufficient. He needs nothing out of Himself for his own well-being or happiness. He is in every respect independent of his creatures; and the creation of the universe was the act of the free will of that God of whom the Apostle says in Rom. xi. 36, “Of Him, and through Him, and to Him are all things.”

The common faith of the Church on this subject is clearly and beautifully expressed by Melancthon:518518Loci Communes de Creatione, edit. Erlanger, 1828, p. 48.Quod autem res ex nihilo conditæ sint, docet hæc sententia: ipse dixit et facta sunt; ipse mandavit, et creata sunt, id est dicente seu jubente Deo, res exortæ sunt: non igitur ex materia priore exstructæ sunt, sed Deo dicente, cum res non essent, esse cœperunt; et cum Joannes in quit: Omnia per ipsum facta esse, refutat Stoicam imaginationem, quæ fingit materiam non esse factam.

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