Creation, how God is the author, not the first domino
It is useful to reconsider what it means to say “I believe in God, creator of Heaven and Earth.” Many people see creation where God is the great architect. That is, He takes pieces and puts them together and now He has His design. Since the discovery of the Big Bang, some have compared God to the individual who knocks over the set of dominos, causing all of them to fall down soon after. In both of these analogies, we see God as the first cause in the sense of being the first cause in time. In other words, God is the one that starts things off and then lets them go. Second, God is not necessarily involved at any future point, only to begin the series of causes. Third, it seems as though while in this instance God is conceived of as the first cause, it is plausible that there are a number of other types of causes that could conceivably do the work. For instance, it is possible that a house be built by unconscious robots and a domino set falls because of an earthquake.
One tactic of atheists when debating Christians is to claim that we push God to the margins once we make scientific advances. For instance, we understand a good portion of the Big Bang but not everything yet. Therefore, the atheist claims, the Christian sees this as a space for God to create. So long as we do not know what knocked down the first domino, we insert God as the cause. It is almost as if the more we know about the world, the less God has room to act. Atheists claim something similar with evolution. They seem to see it as a concession to say “I believe God did it, but through evolution.” To them, they see it as though at one point, God was deeply involved at every step, whereas now, His creative work is much more distant, working through many secondary causes and essentially invisible in every way. The atheist likely would claim that it is a simple step to make the leap from here to an uninvolved God completely and then no God altogether.
It is in fact not entirely accurate to speak of God as that which knocked down the first domino and “got things going.” God is of course the first cause and creator of our universe. Additionally, we know by faith that the universe had a finite beginning, essentially time is not infinite. Now, this finding is supported by modern science, however there is, as there always is in science, room for possibly rethinking the evidence and coming to new conclusions. It is nearly impossible to improve scientifically that all universes that could exist at all, began (even if we do know that ours began at the big bang) but at the same time is just as impossible to prove otherwise. In any case, some have put forth philosophical reasons for an impossibility of an eternal universe, but these are very controversial and even thinkers like Aquinas rejected them as fallacious. Given this, it seems as though if we speak of God creating as simply the one to start things off, we relegate creation to only a matter of faith and take it out of the philosophical realm. Consequently, it would be impossible to demonstrate that God is creator via rational arguments alone, (an opinion which Vatican I condemned as heretical, Vatican I affirmed that it is possible to rationally prove God created the universe.)
God’s role in creation is not just to start the universe off, and in reality, there is nothing special about the beginning in terms of creation. The fact that the creation has not always existed is certain because Scripture reveals this to us when it states “In the Beginning.” However, it is not relevant at all to whether or not the universe was created. If this is the case, creation has to be something different than God starting it off, otherwise, it would seem as though the beginning is essentially related to creation.
God’s role in creation is that He is what gives the universe its reality. The universe, and anything else that exists, including the spiritual realm of angels, are purely possible entities. In our post http://catholicxray.com/irrefutable-proof-for-the-existence-of-god-a-preview/ on the existence of God, we explained this by stating that these things were contingent because what they were (essence) was separate than the fact that they were real (their share in existence). Because of this, they are the types of things which need to be “made real.” God’s role in creation then is that of “pure act.” In other words, God, who necessarily exists because He is existence itself, pure unrestricted reality, the fullness of being, makes an act of existence, gives something possible reality and a share in being.
I will not dwell on the argument for God’s existence because we discussed that in the blog post linked above. The point here is that God’s role in creation is that of giving reality to something that by its own nature does not have it. See, God is the ultimate reality. It is not as though God is one being who happened to be on top of the pyramid of beings. Nor is it a rational question to say “why is God God?” “Why is reality this way and not that way?” “Why does God have these traits and not those?” These all commit the fallacy of assuming God is some sort of limited contingent being with a specific finite nature, in other words, a mere share in reality rather than reality itself. God is the unconditioned reality and the ultimate intelligibility. Once we fully grasp God (not in this life), we see how God answers all questions. God is not a being who happens to be at the top and have certain other traits. God is the ultimate fullness of being. All that exists is traceable back to Him either because He possesses a perfection in its fullest or because the perfection is in His intellect. We may look around at a forest and say things like “why is it green? Why is it tall? Why will it burn rather than melt? Why do these animals live here?” With God however, we cannot ask these things because God is not this way rather than that way. God simply is, and whatever it means to be fully real in every sense, is what God is.
God’s job in creating the world then is not simply building it and putting together contingent parts. God’s role is giving a finite share in existence to other things. These things, having only “received existence” (because they do not have existence from themselves by their own nature), need to receive it from somewhere. God is the ultimate first cause of this existence, the one who gives it existence.
God is not just the first cause in a series of causes moving back in time. God is the first cause in the sense of being the most fundamental. The earth’s gravity is the “first cause” of me not flying into space, but this isn’t because the earth’s gravity acted first and then I came down. It is because at every moment the earth’s gravity is the fundamental explanation and reason I am stuck to the earth.
An analogy I find helpful is God as author of creation. The work of an author comes entirely from His mind, just as writing a book does not involve taking pre-made objects and putting them together, so does creation for God not involve putting together anything preexistent. God’s creation is really just God’s thought made real by His will. God does not struggle to create but simply makes it so, just as an author, once he has an idea he wishes to put on paper, simply says the words and the story is made. There are many causes at play in a story’s plot. For instance, in the well-known Harry Potter series, (no spoilers beyond that which is in the first book), Voldemort is the cause of Harry’s scar and Voldemort’s initial demise is caused by the backfiring of his “killing curse” on Harry which was caused by the sacrifice of Harry’s mom. It is not as though these causes take away the need for the author, J.K. Rowling, to be a cause. It is true to say that both Harry’s mom and Rowling protected him from Voldemort’s curse and it is also true that both the backfiring of the curse and Rowling are the cause of Voldemort’s demise and Harry’s scar. So it is with God. It is not as though secondary causes eliminate the need for or in any way diminish God’s causal role. God is the first cause no matter how many secondary causes are used. Further, the fact that Harry Potter began, and the way it began, is not why we need an author to write the story. Harry Potter needs an author because stories are ideas put on paper. So it is with the world, regardless of its beginning (even if this beginning is entirely natural and scientifically explicable), we need an “author” because the world alone is a thought that needs to be “put on paper” or made real. Rowling is equally the author of the first chapter as she is the epilogue of the last book. She equally causes the killing curse to backfire and harm Voldemort and the cause of Harry’s broken arm falling off of a broomstick. Similarly, God is equally the cause of the beginning and the end of the world as He is everything that happens in between. It is true, that in God’s story which is the world there are free creatures like angels and men. However, this does not mean God isn’t ultimately first cause (although He does give some extra power that does not exist in the case of fictional characters to His creation) or that God isn’t in control. Every free creature only acts if God allows that creature to act.
We also have to understand that God is “writing” with a goal. Every part of this story is ordered towards His glory. This is only perfectly understood at the end of time. However, we play a role, as does everything else. It is for this reason, we cannot question God’s creation. Just as an author, if she is a good one, knows where she is taking her story; so does God know why He wills the world to exist as it does.
Another important point must be made here: as I mentioned in the second paragraph, some see evolution as even if not incompatible with God, something that makes God more obscure in creation and limits His role. This is not the case. Evolution (and I have to point out as I have done in previous blog posts, evolution and cosmology of the early universe are entirely different and the only reason I mention them in the same breath is because they are often lumped together in terms of their relation to God…inaccurately I might add…) is not “the method by which God creates.” This statement can be used as shorthand in a sense, but more accurately, God does not create using secondary causes. God did not make the universe real using anything other than His own will. Just as the fictional author does not ordinarily write using secondary causes (like an assistant author), so does God not create using secondary causes. Evolution is not a cause in creation, understood properly, at all. Evolution is involved in the change of an already existing contingent creation. In fact, evolution really only involves the change of living things on planet earth in an already existing tree of life in an already existing planet in an already existing universe. In Harry Potter, the fact that Harry receives a letter to go to Hogwarts is not “the way in which J.K. Rowling uses secondary causes to write.” It is the way in which she uses secondary causes within the story to make events happen within the story. This has to do with God’s providential care of creation, which includes the design of humans, however not God’s act of creation. God is the creator of evolution and the effects of evolution equally and completely. Similarly, God did not create our universe using the laws of physics. Even if the laws of physics are causal laws (unlikely it seems as we discussed in our post on God’s existence), they still are only causes in the secondary sense of making stuff happen within an existing world. An author does not create her work “through the actions of her characters.” God does not create through any physical reality at all. God is creator of all. It is true that God uses events in the universe, physical laws, and created objects to cause further events and bring other creations into existence in one sense (just as Harry is brought into existence by His parents). However, in the sense of making these things real rather than hypothetical possibilities, God is fully and equally at all times creator.
Once we realize God’s role in creation, we come to understand how anything in our world or anything we discover about our world does not push God to the side. God is at all times the same unchanging first cause of everything. If God were to remove His hand at any point, we would fail to exist. An understanding of how the world works or what events have led to the present state do not push God out of the picture or limit his role to “lighting the match of the universe 14 billion years ago.” Wherever we do not know how the universe works or how it has evolved over time, we do not need to think of this as “God’s special territory.” This applies to the beginning of the universe, of life, of our galaxy, and everything else. Assuming God is a good author and made a world without plot holes, these things should be explicable naturally, just as the events in the story should be explicable according to the character’s consistent activity and the plot’s overall sequence (to avoid idiot plot and “God in the machine” style writing). It may so happen that along the way (as some have noted possibly in the first living organism or something) and even now, God acts miraculously in order to show Himself more clearly. This means that God demonstrates He is in charge by suspending the laws of nature. But the miraculous events are not events where God is “more the creator” and more directly involved.
If for instance, the beginning of life is impossible to explain given the laws of nature and natural sciences, this does not mean God is more the creator of the beginning of life than He is of my computer functioning right now. If God created life in this manner, it means that God wanted to create a universe where life could not arise on its own, for the sake of manifesting Himself more perfectly, when He by his own power created life contrary to the ordinary course of nature. On the other hand, if God did not create life in this manner, it means that God wanted to create a universe where life could arise on its own, for the sake of manifesting Himself more perfectly, when by the very laws of nature, life arose on planet earth. At the end of the day, God is what made the life real and what continues to make it real. No matter what literary tools an author uses to develop her plot and what sequence of events or how realistic those events are, she is still the author and if she is a good one, she writes in the way she does because these methods most perfectly accomplish her goals. Similarly, God, the most perfect of authors, acts in the way He does because this manner most perfectly accomplishes His goals. Although miracles more clearly show direct divine intervention in the providence of the universe, they are not examples of God having a greater role in creation.
This post became long because I think that the point is significant. God’s creation is not like human builders or a distant first in time cause to start things off. God is the being that gives reality to the universe and all its parts at all times simply on account of His will. He does not do this through any other being or with any help. It is true that the reality God has created unfolds according to the natural physical laws, the free will of His creatures, and the events which He has decided will come to pass. But this does not make God a more distant creator, only a more fascinating one. Just as an author who develops the plot thoroughly and rational is still equally the author of the book, so God, even if His providence is developed over time and through many secondary causes, His creation, that is, the very existence of His work in the manner in which He chooses, beginning middle and end, is fully His work for His glory.