Who Created God?
Who created God?
Just for the record, it’s not that I’ve been watching soaps for some time.
I’ve been reading up on this question.
That’s all the reader gave me. “Who created God?”
At first blush, it could seem like a trip-up question, right, a “gotcha”–which isn’t to say that this is the intention of the questioner, by the way!
It’s fantastic, for all sorts of reasons, not least of all because it shows that there are common questions between religion and science.
In fact, scientists and theologians (or at least the one who wrote in this question) are curious about essentially the same thing: how can something begin without something to begin it…and how did that beginning begin?
In a very cool book called Sleuthing the Divine: The Nexus of Science and Spirit, theologian Kevin Sharpe states that “Discussion about the beginning of the universe stands on shaky ground. We want to talk about actions before the big bang and the provision of existence to the universe, but the meaning of such words as origin, beginning, created, acts, happened, and before arises from the way they apply to the ideas of time and space, in particular the notion of time passion. Before, for instance, means “stands in front of” spatially or in time. Since time and space only started with the big bang, the phrase “before the big bang” is senseless. Language breaks down when talking about a supposed something that happened outside of time and space.” (33-34)
Later he makes the interesting point that 100 years ago we had no concept, and few if any concepts to allow us to think about the concept, of ATM cards. But “[c]ircumstances change and, along with them, our experience and our language. The lack of language for something says naught about its existence.”
Below I have a brief sketch of some of the scientific and theological debates about the beginning of the beginning of the beginning. We might not have the language yet to figure it out, but we sure have the curiosity to want to try.
Believe it or not, there are a lot of connections between theological thought and quantum physics, which is another reason why I’ve been gone for a while. I’m trying to wrap my mind around quantum physics, and it hurts.
As the scientist and theologian John Polkinghorne said on Speaking of Faith (see the link below), “If working in science teaches you anything, it is that the physical world is surprising. And I was a quantum physicist, and the quantum world is totally different from the world of every day. It’s cloudy, it’s fitful, you don’t know where things are, if you know what they’re doing. If you know what they’re doing, you don’t know where they are. So that it’s a complex world and quite different from what we expected. But it’s an exciting world because it turns out we can understand it, and when we do understand it, we have a deep intellectual satisfaction. Now, if the physical world surprises us and is different from everyday expectation — common sense, if you like — it wouldn’t be very odd, really, would it be, if God also turned out to be rather surprising. Things that are just on the surface, easy to believe, are not the whole story. There’s a deeper, stranger, and more satisfying story to be found, both in science and in religion.”
That is, neither theology nor science can be assured to give us certainties. They can be assured to give us surprises.
You can’t talk about quantum physics without talking about quarks, even though it is a bit difficult to take anything seriously when you use the word “quark” on a regular basis.
Polkinghorne speaks of quarks as “unseen realities.” Only their histories are observed, but they never are. Yet an entire scientific discipline and way of seeing the world is based on that which is not seen but still and even so observed.
The proponents of the Big Bang theory maintain that all the energy of the universe was hyper-concentrated, a nuclear reaction exploded all of the matter, and our universe is continuing to expand from that initial event.
The Big Bang will, say many, end “when the explosion has exhausted its energy, when the dissipation of heat is complete, wehn all matter has been reduced to inert components. The cosmos began with a bang, but we can expect it to end with a forlorn and frozen fizzle.” (God, the World’s Future, Ted Peters, 132).
That’s entropy, namely that hot goes to cold, not the other way around. We’re on a one-way street and the end is coming in only a matter of time.
Of course, we are still here left with a variation on the theme: How did that matter become created? Note, then, the parallels between this scientific theory and the theological notion of creatio ex nihilo.
Some have come up with a response to that question, the theory of infinite oscillation. This idea maintains that the universe is infinite, and is constantly expanding and contracting. We just happen to live in a period of expansion. Some guess that each period lasts 8 billion years, and when we near the end of this present era, all galaxies will rush toward one another toward powerful density. Ultimately, this tiny mass will expand again, and matter will be flung far toward another era of expansion.
And yet we can’t wrap our minds around infinity, time with no beginning or ending. We still want to know about the beginning…not to mention the ending, which is another blog.
Creation ex nihilo
This theory is a fundamental theory bound up with Christian tradition, although it is nowhere to be found in scripture. It pretty much means what it says. Out of absolutely nothing, something was created. This notion was put forward in part to emphasize the teachings in Genesis 1, and also to fight the idea that God used pre-existent matter to create–for then that matter would be prior to God, and possibly tainted with evil. The notion of matter as evil was one that Plato gave to the Christian tradition, and we still see evidence of it from time to time, not least of all in regard to sex, but also in the Christian Church’s Johnny-come-lately contributions to ecological concern (God’s World, God’s Body, Jantzen, 134). As an aside, one of my beefs against the Left Behind series concerns the emphasis on fleeing creation, rather than the redeeming of it. But that too is another blog.
Ted Peters points out that if you work with this theory, it seems as if “the first thing God did for the world was to give it a future.” This binds the beginning with the ending, and makes a person want to pay attention to the way of thinking through each. What sort of future, and how does that affect the present, and who do we understand this God to be in the first place?
A troubling element of this theory is that nothing is, in fact, something. So that something, that is, nothing, would precede God anyway. How can one get before the beginning?
The Universe is God’s Body
According to Jantzen (134), the universe is God’s body, it “is God’s self-formation, and owes its being what is directly to God’s formative will.” In contrast to creation ex nihilo, creation occurred out of Godself.
Complicating this idea is that then everything in the universe must be eternal, for nothing may become or die without affecting “the totality of God.”
This idea raises the interesting idea that God did not begin, but perhaps is always beginning, for creation is always occurring.
Objective Ground of Being
This is a fancy phrase which simply identifies God not with some metaphysical supernatural being, but rather with the essence of everything, the ultimate reality, the tie that binds everything together. It was a favorite idea of theologian Paul Tillich. On the upside, God is no longer understood to be Zeus, some powerful super-natural being which becomes involved in creation capriciously. On the downside, God can then be nothing in particular, or be what one wants it to be.
Nature of God
In the end, John Macquarrie might have it best: “The truth is that the world always remains ambiguous, and although people can argue as long as they like, tracing their rival patters, the case will never be established conclusively, one way or the other. Faith arises when the believer is so impressed by some particular limted area of reality that it becomes for him a paradigm for interpreting the whole and, so far as one can talk of proof or disproof in such matters, his paradigm will either prove itself or break down as he tries to extend it to wider areas of experience.” (Thinking about God, 119).
I think he’s right, here. Nobody really knows, regardless of one’s discipline or belief system, how anything came to be. In the end, we all have “faith” in something, faith being something in which we believe without really knowing “for sure.”
The question isn’t whether we have faith, but in what do we have faith?
And the follow-up question is this: What does that faith look like on the ground? That is, what are the implications of that faith? Even here I am not juxtaposing science and religion, for even within religion, different ideas of how creation came to be change how a person values creation and sees history playing out.
So, reader, thank you for posing your question, and thank you for then spurring so many more.
Below are several links that you might find interesting.
These first three are from the I-can’t_recommend-it-enough Speaking of Faith program. Read the transcript if you must, listen to the actual show if you can. Note the links under “resources” on the left side of the page.
Then just in the last several days Stephen Hawking, whom I admire deeply, announced that God did not create the universe–an idea he had not dismissed out of hand before now. Instead, the world was created spontaneously. Here’s the story:
And, lest you think that theologians and scientists are All Geek, No Hip, check this out:
What do you think?