William Caldwell.

The idea of creation; its origin and its value online

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Idea of Creation; its Origin

and its Value









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Founded by John D. Rockefeller


Idea of Creation; its Origin
and its Value






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It is only fair to the University to say that this thesis was sub-
mitted five years ago. It is now printed with no addition, with
few subtractions and without improvement except that, through
the kindness of my friend. Dr. John M. P. Smith, I have been able
to bring the bibliography up to date.

I am indebted to Professor George Burman Foster for suggest-
ing the subject, for helpful hints as to the treatment and for much
besides not easy to designate.

I can not refrain from a fuller expression of deep indebted-
ness to my lamented friend and instructor, President William
Rainey Harper, under whose guidance and inspiration the Old
Testament materials were worked out. Under his leadership the
Old Testament became more human and more divine. Out of the
historical and critical study there emerged a new spiritual unity
and a new ethico-religious value, as the supreme purpose of crea-
tion and redemption was seen fulfilling itself in many ways through
an age-long process; and the divine authority remained, not
because supported by isolated texts torn from their contexts, but
because through all the process the one increasing purpose was
manifest, the purpose of holy love.

William Caldwell.

Fort Worth, Texas, May, 1909.



Introductory — The Idea reflected in Jewish, Christian and Moham-
medan thought — The Idea of Creation the correlate of theism
— Various Naturalistic Theories — Modifications of the Crea-
tion Idea, Jewish and Christian — The question of Freedom in
Creation — The history of the Idea of Creation 5-13


The Super-Psychological, Super-Historical Treatment — The Psycho-
logical and Historical Theory 14-20



Introductory — Purpose of the sacred writers — The Idea of Creation
in early Prophetism (National), Gen. 2:4b-3 — The Idea of
Creation in the Wisdom Literature, Prov. 3:19, 20; 8:22-33,
and the Book of Job — The Idea of Creation in later Prophet-
Ism (Universal), Isaiah 40-66 — The Idea of Creation in the
Priestly Element, Gen. 1:1-2 :4a — The Idea of Creation in the
Psalms 8, 19, 24, 33, 74, 89, 90, 95, 103, 104, etc 21-44


The Value of the Idea of Creation for Christian Faith — It Arose in
Opposition to Gnosticism — It is Indispensable for Christian
Faith 45-48




The Idea of Creation, in its highest sense, is peculiar to the
circle of thought which moves through the three points of Judaism,
Christianity, and Islam ; is a part of the theistic view of the world,
and comes to its supreme expression in the doctrine of creation out
of nothing by a supramundane God. It will be our thesis to show
that this deliverance of faith, rightly interpreted, has abiding sig-
nifi'cance for religion ; that, insofar as it expresses the unconditioned
sovereignty of God, it is indispensable to Christianity.

The Idea Reflected in Jeivish, Christian and Mohammedan Thought.

In the Jewish faith, ' ' The belief in God as the Author of Crea-
ti^on, ranks first among the thirteen fundamentals enumerated by
Maimonides." The doctrine is taught in all modern Jewish Cate-
chisms. "To such a degree has this (doctrine) found acceptance
as the doctrine of the Synagogue that God has come to be desig-
nated as 'He who spoke and the world sprang into existence.' "
(Jewish Encyclopedia, Article "Creation.")

The Roman Catholic doctrine is stated most unequivocally:
I" God exists of Himself * * * the fundamental dogma con-
cerning all things else is that they are produced out of nothing by
God. " " The Datin Church has always attached to creare the mean-
ing of production out of nothing." "When Creation is described
as a production from, or out of, nothing (de nihilo or ex nihilo),
the "nothing" is not, of course, the matter out of which things
are made. It means "out of no matter," or "not out of anything,"
or starting with absolute non^being and replacing it with being."

"To the unprejudiced mind the dogma of creation is as plain
at the dogma of a self -existing God. The two notions are correla-
tive. Things outside of God must, from the fact that they do not
exist necessarily, depend on other Being. The Notion of Creation
is free from contradiction, as no other is. It is without analogj',
yet reason plainly tells us that creative power is a necessary attri-
bute of God." (V. Manual of Catholic Theology, by Wilhelm and
Scannel, Vol. I., p. 385ff.)


The Protestant doctrine on this point does not differ from the
Roman Catholic. The "Westminster Confession of Faith teaches
that "It pleased God the Father, Son and Holy Ghost, for the
manifestation of the glory of His eternal power, wisdom, and good-
ness, in the beginning, to create, or make of nothing, the world, and
all things therein, whether visible or invisible." (Chap, IV., Sec. I.)
Dr. Charles Hodge says: "If there be no creation, there is no

In accordance with the rigid and uncompromising theism of
Mohammedanism, the Idea of Creation is greatly emphasized in
the Koran. There is no detailed account of Creation, details are of
little consequence, and few concessions are made to popular con-
ceits of the Araibs. Some acquaintance is sho^vn with the Biblical
traditions. In this unpoetic, and almost brutally practical, faith,
we may see the value of the bare idea of creation in its clearest

"Call thou, in the name of thy Lord who created" (Sura 96.)
The attritoute of majesty and power imiplied in the bare, unqualified
words "who created" is emphasized in the doctrine.

In Sura 11, the thoug'ht of Creation is closely coupled with
that of Providence. "There is no creature which creepeth on the
earth, but G^d provideth its food. * * * It is He who hath
created the heavens and the earth in six days, (but His throne was
above the waters before the creation thereof)."

The incomparable glory and power of God are seen in His
creative activity.

"He hath created the heavens and the earth to manifest
His justice." "Shall God, therefore, who created be as he who
createth not ? " (Sura 16). " But the idols which ye invoke, besides
God, create nothing, but are themselves created. " (Sura 16.) "It
is He who hath given you life, and will hereafter cause you to die ;
afterwards he will again raise you to life. ' ' (Sura 22. )

Verily the idols which ye invoke, besides God, can never create
a single fly, although they were assembled for that purpose ; and if
the fly snatch anything from them, they can not recover it. Weak
is the petitioner and the petitioned, — ^^God is powerful and mighty."
(Sura 22.)

He hath created the heavens without visible pillars to sustain
them, and thrown on the earth mountains firmly rooted, lest it
should move with you * * * This is the creation of God : sihow


me now what they have created, who are worshipped beside Him ? ' '
(Sura 31.)

"Do they look up to the heaven above them and consider that
we have raised it and adorned it, and that there are no flaws there-
in? We have also spread forth the earth * * * Is our power
exhausted by the first creation?" No, there is "a new creation
* * * the raising of the dead. We created man, and we know
what his soul whispereth within him ; and we are nearer unto him
than his jugular vein." (Sura 50.)

' ' All things have we created * * * our command is no more
than a single word, like the twinkling of an eye." (Sura 54.)

The one word was ^^kun" ("let there be"). That is, all things
were created by a word in the twinkling of an eye. There can be
no greater expression for stating the power of God. It is to-be
repeated that this doctrine is for Mohammedanism almost wholly
devoid of the poetry that we find in the creation hymns, in and out
of the Scriptures, and is of greatest practical value in guarantying
God's power to reward His friends and punish His enemies. That
is, it is the presupposition of Providence and moral government.

Other references to the Koran on this subject: Suras 21, 31,
41, 95, etc.

The Idea of Creation the Correlate of Theism.

The doctrine is not the antithesis of any temporal evolution;
it is not to be bound up with any details, such as six days, whether
these be interpreted literally or figuratively. Evolution may be a
useful hypothesis as to certain processes and results, but it still
leaves us with the ultimate question of matter and mind as we know
them; did they always exist in their present apparent dualism; if
not, which has the precedence, matter or mind? Or, is it possible
to have something which is neither matter nor mind, but having in
itself the potentiality of both ?

The doctrine will exclude the pantheistic view of the world,
which makes the universe the "existence form," the "living gar-
ment, ' ' of God.

All theories which exclude mind from causation in the
universe will likewise be eliminated. Still further, the doctrine can
not be harmonized with views which admit mind only in connec-
tion with matter.


This doctrine must also exclude all dualism like the Persian,
positing an eternal struggle between a good and an evil being; or
eternal matter with independent existence. Again, it excludes all
thought of a Grod who finishes a universe, which thereafter exists
apart from Him.

All thought of necessity is likewise shut out. God must be and
remain unconditioned. Nothing can limit His holy will. The ex-
pression of the eternal Personality must be free, for there can be
nothing without to limit the absolute Spirit. (Creation, however,
because of the richness of the divine nature, can not be merely the
fiat of almighty power ; it must be also the expression of holy lov*^
x" The creative act must ever transcend our thought. We can
rest upon it as a fact, but we can form no conception of its
method. But the origin of the heterogeneous within the homogen-
eous, the origin of motion in some primal mass, is just as incon-
ceivable. The idea of creation does not depend upon our ability
to picture it. The content of the concept may be left incomplete if
we find the concept itself indispensable to our thought. That such
is the case we hope to show.

Various Naturalistic Theories of the Cosmos.

It may be useful now to enter a little into details with respect
to various other theories. We may conveniently start with a prop-
osition which meets with universal assent, ex nihilo nihil fit. ^o
one, I suppose, has ever been bold enough to suggest that the Uni-
verse came into existence in a vacuum, or created itself out of noth-
ing. We all have to start with a certain datum. We must have
an eternal God, or eternal matter, or eternal something. Those who
deny the existence of an eternal God must affirm an eternal uni-
verse, suffering manifold changes, indeed, but always substantially
the same. But the Universe, as we know it through geology and
astronomy, has suffered extraordinarj'^ changes, carrying us back in
thought to a primordial state, which we designate as chaos, over
against cosmos. Now, the question arises, how is it possible to get
from chaos to cosmos?

(a) There is the physical-law theory. According to this
theory you have matter in a nebulous form extended beyond what
we now know as the most remote planet.

This matter already has its well known, as well as its to us still


unknown, properties. Under the operation of perfectly definite
laws of physics and chemistry there resulted what we know as the
heavens and the earth, including suns, planets and all still nebulous
matter in the skies, and also all the plants and animals, and their
relations and adjustments, on our globe.

We can now make predictions on the basis of physical and
chemical laws. Prof. Huxley thought that with adequate knowl-
edge of these physical and chemical laws it would have been a little
thing to write the future history of the heavens, as well as that of
the animals and plants on the earth. The history of man in his
struggle and victory over other animals, his besetment with illusions,
his incorrigible tendency to project ideals and seek moral ends,
would have been from our point of view, one of the most interest-
ing chapters, albeit, it would have been a very short chapter and
relatively an unimportant one, looked at from the viewpoint of the
whole history. This theory, as worked out in detail with reference
to the origin and movement of the heavenly bodies, is forever
associated with the name of La Place. It has been an interesting
hypothesis of method, has appealed to many scholars, has always
attracted a certain type of the popular mind, has been accepted by
many Christians as the n^anner of the divine activity. But after
all is said, it does not offer us a satisfactory solution of the ques-
tion of origin or being. The theory not only starts with matter,
but with laws. Furthermore, a little motion has to be supposed,
the "nebula has a slow rotation upon an axis;" then it has to be
supposed that this mass, which is the Universe, is radiating heat.

(b) Another theory posits intelligence in nature itself. The
apparent impossibility of getting ahead with blind forces of matter
and motion, though there be physical and chemical laws granted,
staggers even those who find no place for an extramundane mind.
It seems to them that with the blind forces we could, at best, only
have a shuffling about, but never the kind of order, adjustment and
progress that we perceive in our world. So analogy has been sought
from the biological world rather than from the chemico-physical
world. The difficulty of passing from the non-living to the living
has never been overcome. It is then proposed to start with life.
We have it in the plant. It acts in a way suggestive of mental
operation. The plant chooses and rejects elements of earth and air
according to its needs; it turns its head to the light. It has an
elective fellowship with earth, and air, and sky, and it adapts the


various elements to its awn use for life, growth and reproduction.

But, it is said, no one has ever been able to lay hold of the
principle of life and adaptation apart from the plant.

The case seems even stronger in the animal world. The animal
begins as a microscopic germ, but that germ contains within its
mimic w^orld all the potencies of the future. Out of this come
organs for light, fashioned in darkiness, organs for hearing, fashioned
in stillness, organs for breathing fashioned before they are needed,
and an infinitely complex system of correlations for feeling, acting,
"willing, knowing, and all without any apparent external mental
influence. From all this it is concluded we have a natura naturans,
a vis in rebus insita, but we have not, and do not need, an extra-
mundane mind. This is hylozoism.

Another form of this theory more clearly distinguishes mat-
ter and mind, but finds them inseparable. rThe mind is the soul
of the world,Jjnma mundi.

The analogy here is not simply from biology, but rests upon
an interpretation of man, as made up of soul and body.

These theories not only set aside all thought of creation, but
they leave us without any personal Being with whom we can come
into personal relations. Even if they proved true our question of
creation remains.

Modification of the Creation Idea, Jewish and Christian.

But there have not been wanting objections to the doctrine of
creation tvithin the Jewish and Christian Churches. ' ' Jewish litera-
ture (Talmudic, pseudo-epigraphic, and philosophical) shows that
the difficulties involved in this assumption of a creation ex nihilo
* * * were recognized at a very early day, and that there were
many among the Jews who spoke out on this subject with perfect
candor and freedom. Around the first Chapter of Genesis was
waged many a controversy with both fellow-Jews and non-Jews,
^lexandrian Jews, under sway of Platonic and neo-Platonic ideas,
conceived creation as carried into effect through agencies, though
still an act of divine will, while the i;«lation of the agencies to the
Godhead is not always clearly defined,' so that it is possible almost
to regard them as divine hypostases, — sub-deities, as it were, with
independent existence and a will of their owti." (Article on "Crea-
tion," Jewish Encyclopedia.)


Christian thinkers have felt themselves free to hold views at
variance with that commonly accepted by the Church in general.

Origen, though he referred all existence to the will of God,
still held the Universe to be eternal.

Scotus Erigena, with pantheistic bent, said, ^Uion aliud Deo
esse et velle et facere," thus making the universe co-eternal with

Other Schoolmen, not pantheistic, held the world was
co-eternal with God, though distinct from Him and dependent on

Some modern theologians, under the influence of monistic
philosophy, though believing in an extramundane personal God,
have nevertheless assumed the relation between God and the world
to be^ternal.

^he idea that God made the world out of his own substance
has had its defenders among churchmen of all the ages.) "Sir
William Hamilton said that it is impossible to conceive tlie com-
plement 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, on 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.' "
Again he says: "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."

The Church has always withstood this objection to the doctrine
of Creation.

The Question of Freedom in Creation.

Cousin said, God's "essence consists precisely in His creative
power," and "He can not but produce. * * * (Jod is no more
without a world than a world is without God. ' ' Yet, he denied that
He made creation unfree.


Some, rejecting natural or metaphysical necessity, hold that
God is under moral necessity to create, because He is love, and
love must have its o-bjects.

Leibniz would say, God is benevolence and is under moral
necessity to create beings to make them happy.

The common view held by the Church is that God is self-suf-
ficient, and wias under no obligation whatever to create, being
wholly independent of His creatures.

The element of truth in this view, and it is all important, is
that God must be and remain free and absolute Sovereign. A danger
lies in the statement, viz.: That God may be an arbitrary despot
and the world His slave or toy. But this danger is shut out by
the fact that it is the very nature of the God manifested in Jesus
Christ, who is Holy Love, to act freely in accordance with all the
fulness and glory of His ethical Personality. The holiness of God,
His apartness, must not be separated from His glory. His mani-
festation. The Seraphim chant ''Holy, holy, holy is the Lord of
hosts," but the immediate antiphonal response is, "The fulness of
the whole earth is His glory." God must not be self-sufficient in
such a way as to render Him unethical. (On this section, see
Hodge's Theology, Vol. I, p. 550ff.)

The History of the Idea of Creation.

The idea of Creation out of nothing is not explicitly stated in
the Old Testament. It appears in II. Maccabees, 7 :28. It seems
implied in the New Testament, Rom., 4:17; Heb., 11:3. \[]h.ere is
clearly evident a progress in the Old Testament, always toward the
idea of creation out of nothing. If it can pot positively be affirmed
that this doctrine is reflected in Gen. 1, we may at least say that
only one step remains. And so compatible is the chapter with that
doctrine that it has for ages lent itself to it. Perhaps more than
any other scripture this chapter strengthened the Church in its
deliverance of faith which won over all divergent theori%

Pantokrator appears in the old Roman Symbol. It is brought
to greater definitencss in the Apostles' Creed, "Creator of Heaven
and Earth." This sharpening of the doctrine was brought out in
opposition to the Gnostics. But it was already implicit at least in
the earliest rule of faith.

Creation out of nothing appears in ecclesiastical writing first


in the Shepherd of Hermas. (Bk. ii, 1st Com.) He does not refer
to the doctrine as something new or unknown. Justin, Athenagoras,
Clement of Alexandria, are not careful to distinguish creation from
fashioning the world out of amorphous matter. But, since the days
of Iranaeus and Tertullian, the doctrine of creation out of nothing
has been dominant in the Church.


* *


The theories on this subject may be classed as psychological
and historical on the one hand, and super-psychological and super-
historical on the other. The latter theory clings to some form of
primeval revelation, or Uroffenharung. The following quotation
will illustrate this theory: "Besides being poetic, the Sacred Nar-
rative (speaking of the account of Creation) is pre-eminently
symbolical — it must be symbolical because the divine reality could
never be intuitively known. The facts transcend all the possibility
of human experience. Whatever knowledge the writer had in regard
to the creative process must have been revealed by divine omni-
potence) But such a revelation could not have been communicated
in mere vocables. Words are themselves but signs — mere arbitrary
signs of images and ideas — and can convey no meaning unless the
image or the idea be already before the mind. The only natural
hypothesis (of this supernatural occurrence) is that the knowledge
wa.s ^conveyed in a symlbolic representation — a vision of the past
in a succession of scenic representations with accompanying verbal
announcements, like the visions of the future in the prophecies of
Ezekiel and the Apocalypse of John. The original formless nebula,
the primeval darkness, the brooding spirit producing motion, the
consequent luminosity, the separation of the aeriform fluid into
atmosphere and water, the emergence of the solid land, the appear-
ance of the heavenly luminaries, the swarming of the waters with
living things, and the appearance of birds of wing in the expanse
of heaven, the bringing forth of land animals, and finally, the
creation of man — all pass before His mind in a succession of pic-
torial representations of the actual progress of creation. The
eights seen, the voices heard, the emotions aroused, are just those
adapted to bring out the very words the seer actually uses, and in
both cases the very best words that could have been used for such
a purpose. The description being given from the barely optical,
rather than the reflective or scientific standpoint more or less ad-
vanced, is on this very account the more vivid, as well as the more
universal. It is the language read and understood by all."
(Cocker, Theistic Conception of the World, p. 144.) The writer
adds : * * But he who can look upon it with a clear eye, and grasp its

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Online LibraryWilliam CaldwellThe idea of creation; its origin and its value → online text (page 1 of 5)