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CREATION; OR, THE TRANSMUTATION OF
BY PROFESSOR JACOB COOPER, D.D.
THE origin of the world is a problem in philosophy first both in time and importance. For its reality appeals to the senses with a certainty, which, however much denied by speculation, returns in all its original vigor in the common consciousness, and forces equally explicit testimony from the idealist who denies it in theory, by his invariable conduct in practice. So the world of spirit, be it in the form of Intellect, Force, Energy, or whatever name we choose to call that which acts, moves, and causes material things to be full of life, is equally patent to consciousness. The existence of something which causes the phenomenon is as certain as it, and is absolutely necessary to its production. As there cannot be an effect without an adequate cause, so there must be a force or energy to produce movement, change, or sensible phenomena. There can be no shadow without a substance to produce it; neither can there be any internal or external manifestation without a "sufficient reason" for its existence.
The earliest thinker who reflected upon what appealed to his senses felt the problem of the origin of things with
as much force as does the modern scientist or speculator. Perhaps he felt it even more, because his mind was more at leisure for original thought. He was untrammeled by theory, and not perplexed by the ultimate consequences of his speculations. He thought with greater originality because more naïvely. He was face to face with Nature, and felt the throbbings of that reality which had not become hackneyed through the use of words for things which they imperfectly express. But the origin of the world, which to the earliest philosophers was the universe, while it constantly appealed to them for solution, remained an unanswered riddle. Their thoughts rebounded from this Gordian knot of philosophy in helpless impotence. No other conclusion seemed possible to them than that the world was eternal; for absolute creation is unthinkable even by "Plato's brain," and, if made known at all, must be disclosed by a Being of higher powers than man.
Hence, every cosmogony, whether Indian, Chinese, Egyptian, or Greek, assumes, as an acknowledged fact, that there never was, or could be, the production of something out of nothing. Therefore, the primordial elements had existed eternally, and creation was simply growth or evolution from these as materials. These might be one or four; they might be in constant flux, or forever at rest, and their motions only apparent. The constant flux changes form, but not reality. The original substance could not be known to us except through the attributes, which, while they do not constitute its essence, are inseparable from it except in thought. These, our senses are enabled to perceive on the principle that "like knows by like"; and, by the same method, the substance, the essence, being in1 γαίη πὲν γὰρ γαῖαν ἐπώπαμεν ὕδατι δ ̓ ὕδωρ, αἰθέρι, δ' αἰθέρα δῖον, ἀτὰρ πυρὶ πῦρ αἴδηλον,
στοργῇ δὲ στοργήν, κ.τ.λ.
-Empedocles: As quoted in Aristotle, De Animâ, i. 2.
tangible, was apprehended by the mind, itself the essence of knowledge. But whatever form Reality might take, whether material or spiritual, be it dual or single, yet was at bottom the same, and all that the keenest speculators could hazard was that this never had a beginning. And yet they were not consistent. For as we learn from Aristotle's Metaphysics, which is the only authoritative history of early philosophy, that while the material of which the world is composed was eternal, and that which moved was so also, yet the aim of this chef d'œuvre of the Stagirite was to prove that motion was prior to the thing moved, and action prior to potentiality. While this must necessarily be admitted, yet, according to Aristotle's view, the former did not create the latter. There had to be something which underwent the change when any change occurred, either in the way of generation or decay; some substratum which persisted through all the modifications which a thing might experience, and through which it became apprehensible by the senses.1 And the thing moved or changed is, in all Greek philosophy, admitted to be different from the power which caused its changes.2
But at the same time it may be safely assumed, that the idea of absolute creation, that is the formation of something out of nothing, never entered the Greek mind, and that any enunciation of this doctrine would have seemed absurd. Their conception, which is to be gathered by inference rather than by formulated statement, was that matter was eternal, and that energy or force was coeval. There is, however, as we have seen, an inconsistency in the Aristotelic doctrine. For he clearly holds that the power to produce motion must exist before the thing which is 1 Vide Arist., Met. i. 3. 9; xi. 2. 1, 2.
Met. 1010. 13. καὶ τοῦ γιγνομένου ἤδη ἀνάγκη τι εἶναι. Ολως τε εἴ φθείρεται, ὑπάρξει τι ὄν, καὶ εἰ γίγεται, ἐξ οὗ γίγνεται καὶ ὑπ ̓ οὗ γεννᾶται ἀναγκαῖον εἶναι, καὶ τοῦτο μὴ εἶναι εἰς ἄπειρον.
moved, and actuality antedate potentiality. Hence the legitimate, in fact the only, conclusion which we can draw from these statements is, that matter came into existence subsequent to productive energy. And if we add Finality (the Tò où éveka, upon which Aristotle laid so much stress), we have involved the idea of creation of the materials and their arrangement into the universe according to a plan.
We say this is involved in the notions admitted to be true by this philosopher, though this is not asserted by him; nor is there any evidence that he believed this doctrine. Still we find in Aristotle's admissions enough for a beginning of cosmology. Given activity, that is power in act before potentiality, i.e. power in esse, and we have the basis for a theory of creation; though, as was said, the Greek mind did not grasp this conception. The mode of action after these factors are assumed is Development. puois from púw is the root idea of Greek cosmology, and precedes the theory of Darwin both in time and simplicity. But this does not constitute a creation any more than the conception of the Hindu mythology. The Indian cosmology starts with a supreme architect, Brahma, who contains within himself the whole universe of matter and spirit-not merely potentially but actually. By evolution he draws forth from the exhaustless treasures of his own being the phenomenal universe. It is all in him as the material of the web is in the body of the spider. Creation is Brahma objectified, not materialized; for everything existed before in him, and after evolution remains Brahma still. Hence the whole spirit of this system is pantheistic to such an extent that there is no individuality or responsibility; and so, if consistently carried out, there could be no moral character in man, and no religion but the Divinity worshiping himself. There is really no creation, no transference of energy into equivalent matter, nothing but simple change of form. Nor is the idea of destruction or
death different,—whether of the individual, if we can call a man such, or of the whole universe of earth and suns. For the soul of man at death is simply reabsorbed into Brahma, as a drop of water when it falls into the ocean; and the whole world is taken back again, as we could imagine the spider's web drawn back and transferred into the material of its own body.
But the idea of creation as given to us in the revelation of the Bible is radically different; for we are told that in the beginning God created the heavens and the earth. This idea recurs again and again, under various forms of expression, but always with an equivalent meaning. Whether in the book of Genesis, which enumerates the works of the six days of creation, or in the ninetieth Psalm, in the Gospel of John, or in the Second Epistle of Peter, the doctrine taught everywhere is that God really created the universe by Almighty power, out of nothing-that is, its materials as such did not previously exist. This has been the accepted interpretation of the word creation, and the meaning attached to the act of forming the world of material and spiritual existence. We accept this interpretation heartily and in perfect faith. But we believe that a meaning can be given to the word creation which in no way contravenes the plain teaching of the Bible; but at the same time is consistent with the accepted facts of science. To this problem let us now address ourselves.
Something must have existed from eternity, that is, without any beginning. We do not stop to inquire whether this something was matter or spirit, power, intelligence, will or law; visible or invisible, phenomenal or real; for unless this something-in whatever form it may be is of no consequence to our present inquiry-existed forever in the past eternity, nothing could at any time have arisen. For what is absolutely nothing could not by any possibility 1 Arist., Met. 1071. b, ἀλλὰ δεῖ τι αἰεὶ ὑπάρχειν.