bible christianity philosophy science theology

a finished beginning?

In addition to believing that the universe was created 6,000 years old, many Christians assume that it began in a ‘perfect’ state.  I’ve 3 main problems, scientific, biblical/theological & linguistic, with this view:

Scientifically, I can imagine some form of string theory or multiverse theory being interpreted or mis-interpreted in such a way that the ‘first stuff’ from which everything we know ‘came from’ was somehow ‘perfect’.  But in addition to being devoid of any observational evidence (says the likes of Paul Davies), I’m not even sure what physical characteristics would be required for a ‘perfect’ universe.  But suffice to say that nothing we yet see seems to be even close – by anyone’s standards or definitions of ‘perfect’.

Biblically and theologically, not only do the creation narratives use the term ‘good’ rather than ‘perfect’ to describe the creation, in addition, the very first description of the state of creation, quite clearly in the second verse of the Bible, is tohu va vohu (‘formless and void’).  God here is not pictured as a deistic god whose creative activity touches creation singularly and solely at it’s first instant, then leaving it ‘on its own’ as it were.  Rather, the picture is of a Creator who not only initially creates (creatio ex nihilo or creatio originalis) a creation that is other than and distinct from himself, but who creates a creation which is not yet what it will be.  The Creator thus keeps on creating (creatio continua) and ordering the creation – bringing it toward the final goal, end or telos , which in Christian theology is nothing but a full renewal, and healing of it: New Creation (creatio nova).  As Wesley writes of Genesis 1:2, “The Creator could have made his work perfect at first, but by this gradual proceeding he would shew what is ordinarily the method of his providence, and grace.”

Linguistically, in just about any language you slice it, the term ‘perfect’ inescapably describes the state of being finished, completed or perfected.  It seems (contra Wesley above) a flat contradiction that we could (or indeed that God would) call any thing finished at its beginning.

5 replies on “a finished beginning?”

Great post.

When someone tells me this, I always like to clarify what exactly they’re meaning by ‘perfect’ (I usually find they’re meaning in the moral sense ‘no sin/evil/bad happening’).

However, in some senses of the word, I think ‘perfect’ perfectly describes ‘the beginning’ (as far as we’ve yet discovered).

perfect – having all the required elements – Yes, it had all the required elements to get us this far.
perfect – highly suitable – Yes, even if only in small corners of the universe, we know it’s highly suitable to carbon-based life. (Maybe the adverb ‘highly’ is pushing it in this scenario)
perfect – absolute, complete (in the sense that there is nothing else and needn’t be anything else) – well…a naturalist might want to think so..

Yes, I see your point about what we might call a ‘perfect (or suitably equipped/fitted/planned/etc.) beginning’. Though I’d think the term ‘good’ says what is intended in a better, less-open-to-confusion way? The creation was ‘good to go’ – ‘good to become mature’ – ‘good for the journey toward completion/perfection’, etc.

and yes, I don’t think the no-evil/sin-before-the-apple-was-eaten view holds up either. Even on a literalist reading, there was a tempting/deceitful snake slithering about in Eden. And I think tohu va vohu at the beginning lends itself to the view that the Creative work (particularly creatio continua of the Creator is that which brings order out of existing chaos – and brings good out of existing evil.

Yeah – like almost any word – it has multiple meanings which probably need clarifying. In describing the state of the beginning I would’ve thought that the word ‘good’, for a lot of people, entails a lot more prescriptive ‘ought’ than it does descriptive ‘is’.

‘Good’ is probably more appropriate than ‘perfect’, particularly in Chrizo discussion (biblical use of the word, doctrine that it’s going to get/getting better). I suppose the level of confusion encountered regarding word choice in a conversation is directly relatable to the intellectual history of the people in the conversation. We choose accordingly.

I think ‘good’ makes the most sense descriptively as a qualitative expression of the value that the creation has to the Creator. Value is in the eye of the Valuer.

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