Creation is a theological notion or position in many religions or religious myths which teaches that a single God, or a group of gods or deities, is responsible for creating the universe. The monotheistic religions of Judaism, Christianity, and Islam understand creation from the first two chapters of the Book of Genesis and also from their other sacred or theological writings which produce interpretations. All religions or cultures actually have their creation accounts, which are often called creation myths, but they have some striking similarities such as the existence of the agent(s) of creation and the resemblance between "creator" and "created."
The resemblance of the "created" to the "creator" is part of the purpose of creation in all religions. That purpose is realized when creatures recognize, worship, love, or manifest the creator. This point is more noticeable in the monotheistic religions.
The modern-day creation-evolution controversy in the twentieth century especially in the Judeo-Christian tradition issued in various types of creationism, depending on how creationists coped with the challenges of the sciences of cosmology, geology, and biology on the age of the universe, the age of the Earth, and evolution. The most anti-evolutionist type of creationism is "Young Earth creationsim," which fundamentalist and many conservative Christians adhere to, and which, taking the Genesis account literally, believes that the Earth was created by a direct act of God in six 24-hour days. The most reconciliatory type of creationism is "evolutionary creationism," which attempts to harmonize creation and evolution.
Creation myths: Their common features
It is a well known fact that different cultures or religions have different "creation myths," ranging from the Judeo-Christian creation narrative in the Book of Genesis to the creation myth among the Cherokee Indians in North America. The term "myth" means a traditional story or a sacred story in a particular culture or religion. Although it may not necessarily convey a factual event, nevertheless it is perceived to convey some profound truth as understood within a particular cultural or religious tradition. (The more popular use of the term to mean falsehood is outside the realm of discussion here.)
Walter Wright Arthen, a writer for the EarthSpirit community based in Boston, Massachusetts, U.S., observes that there are at least three commonalities amongst almost all different creation myths in the world: 1) the extraction of order from chaos, 2) the centrality of act, and 3) the resemblance between "creator" and "created." The first commonality is that creation starts from chaos, which is sometimes described as emptiness, void, or darkness. Creation is a movement from chaos to order, from non-being to being, from absence to presence, from formlessness to form, from primal darkness to light. The second point that is common amongst these different myths is the involvement of action in creation. This means the presence of a creator god or a group of creator gods as original agent(s) of action. This point seems to be of great significance, especially when the challenge of evolutionism is to be addressed. Thirdly, all creation myths talk about some resemblance of "creator" and "created" as part of the purpose of creation. All created beings are supposed to mirror the nature of the creator(s) at least to some degree.
The focus of the present article is upon the monotheistic religions of Judaism, Christianity, and Islam, although it will also deal with Hinduism and the Maya religion. But, it is useful to know these common features of different creation myths of the world as a general context.
Two accounts of creation in Genesis
There are two distinguishable accounts of creation in the Book of Genesis: 1) 1:1-2:3, which describes the grandeur of God's creation of the heavens and the earth in six days; and 2) 2:4-25, which is an account of the origins of humans and the earth in the context of their covenant with God. Mainstream biblical scholarship maintains that the first account was made in the Exilic and early post-Exilic period of Hebrew history, and that the second one was made earlier than the first.
The account of Genesis 1:1-2:3 begins with the celebrated statement: "In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth" ("Bereshit bara Elohim et hashamayim ve'et ha'arets" in Hebrew). Most biblical scholars believe that this account can be attributed to the so-called "priestly" writer(s)/editor(s) (known in academic circles as "P") who was responsible for a fair portion of the Pentateuch. Dating to roughly the Exilic and early post-Exilic period of Hebrew history, the account sets forth creation on a cosmic scale. The sequence of creation events in six days in this account is the same as that in the ancient Mesopotamian creation myth called Enuma Elish, "leading many to presume a dependence of the Old Testament account on that of the Enuma Elish or similar Babylonian documents." Nevertheless, this account was revered for its majestic poetry concerning the beginnings of the universe. It was shaped as a litany, likely for use in the Temple in Jerusalem, although its basic form may predate the building of the Second Temple.
Whereas the next account of Genesis 2:4-25 stresses the closeness of humanity's relationship to the environment and the immanence of God, the account of Genesis 1:1-2:3 emphasizes the transcendent greatness of God and culminates in the establishment of the Sabbath. The Hebrew term "hashamayim ve'et ha'arets" (translated as, "the heavens and the earth") is identical to the Sumerian term Anunaki (Anu=heaven, na=and, Ki=Earth), the name given to the gods in Southern Mesopotamia. By this means, author/redactors of the Babylonian exile were asserting the superiority of their God over the polytheistic gods of Babylonia. It is believed that the "P" source was concerned with maintaining a Jewish identity while removed from Jerusalem and Temple worship, and that the Sabbath was thus lifted up as a means to retain a distinctive identity in the midst of a pluralist Exilic culture. Hence, the account ends with the establishment of the Sabbath as an act of God, and an important part of the creative process.
Biblical scholarship maintains that the creation story found starting in Genesis 2:4 is the earlier of the two Genesis accounts. The story also reflects Israel's belief in its covenant relationship with God. The concern in the book of Genesis 2 seems mainly in the origins of humankind and the earth. There is a clear connection between humans and the land (2:7), and so is there the notion that people are a special creation of God.
Fundamentalist Christians hold to the belief that Genesis 2 is a recount of Day 6, and God's creation in the Garden of Eden, while Genesis 1 refers to the six days of creation. Genesis 2 does not divide the creation up into days. There are differences in detail between the two creation accounts, but no one seems to argue that one is more inspired than the other.
Creation in Judaism
Judaism naturally accepts the creation narratives in Genesis as part of the Torah, and Genesis 1 account is typically used to establish or strengthen the notion of Sabbath as a key mark of God's "chosen people."
But, various interpretations emerged in the rabbinic period. For example, a Midrash (rabbinic commentary) says that six things preceded the creation of the world: the Torah and the Throne of Glory were created; the creation of the Patriarchs was contemplated; the creation of Israel was contemplated; the creation of the Temple in Jerusalem was contemplated; and the name of the Messiah was contemplated (Genesis Rabbah 1:4). Also, the Mishnah (oral law) teaches that God created the world with ten Divine utterances. Noting that surely God could have created the world with one utterance, the Mishnah asks: What are we meant to learn from this? The Mishnah answers: If God had created the world by a single utterance, men would think less of the world, and have less compunction about undoing God’s creation (Mishnah Avot 5:1). These interpretations do not contradict the basic Jewish doctrine, based on Genesis 1, that God created the world out of nothing.
Creation in Christianity
Genesis 1 is a key passage for those who support the notion of creatio ex nihilo, or "creation out of nothing" in Christianity as well as in Judaism. This belief states that God created the cosmos without the aid of anything to begin. God's existence and creative power apart from any original "building blocks" is assumed. Of course, a notable exception appears in the NRSV translation, which reads, "In the beginning when God created the heavens and the earth," which, while still compatible with the Hebrew text, seems to make the assumption that God created the universe out of "chaos," and this idea is also found elsewhere in Scripture (notably in the Psalter). But, creation out of nothing is an official doctrine in Christianity.
There are some New Testament passages that support the doctrine: "Through him all things were made; without him nothing was made that has been made" (John 1:3); "God who gives life to the dead and calls things that are not as though they were" (Romans 4:17); and "By faith we understand that the universe was formed at God's command, so that what is seen was not made out of what was visible" (Hebrews 11:3). So, most of the early Christian writers such as Hermas, Aristides, Theophilus of Antioch, St. Irenaeus, Tertullian, St. Hppolytus, Origen, St. Cyprian, Methodius, Lactantius, and Alexander of Alexandria adhered to it, although there were some exceptions like St. Justin Martyr and St. Clement of Alexandria.
Before the Christian era, Aristotle had taught that the world, which has the duality of "form" and "matter," is made when "pure form" (God) and "prime matter" (independently preexistent from God) are combined. It had at least three problems from the viewpoint of Christianity: 1) that the power of God is jeopardized when he must rely on pre-existent "prime matter"; 2) that the unity of the world cannot be secured because it is caused by the two independent principles of God and "prime matter;" and 3) the emergence of the emanationist monism of Neoplatonism as a reaction against this dualism of Aristotle. The Christian doctrine of creation was meant to overcome those three metaphysical problems, thus asserting the omnipotence of God, the unity of the world, and the non-monistic relationship of God and the world.
The creation of the world in six days was seriously discussed by St. Basil of Caesarea in the fourth century. The term hexameron (hexa=six and emera=day) was used as the title of his influential work on the subject. It is interesting that he was trying to blend the scientific knowledge of his days with the Genesis account. Thus, various attempts today to integrate science with the Genesis account of creation seem not to be entirely new.
Creation in Islam
Regarding God's act of creation, we read in the Qur'an: "Do not the Unbelievers see that the heavens and the earth were joined together (as one unit of creation), before we clove them asunder? We made from water every living thing" (21:30). Concerning the creation of the heavens, the Qur'an declares: "Then (simultaneously) turned He to the heaven when it was smoke, and said unto it and unto the earth: Come both of you, willingly or loath. They said: We come, obedient. Then He ordained them seven heavens in two Days and inspired in each heaven its mandate; and We decked the nether heaven with lamps, and rendered it inviolable. That is the measuring of the Mighty, the Knower" (41:11-12). As for the creation of the earth, the Qur'an says: "He set on the (earth), mountains standing firm, high above it, and bestowed blessings on the earth, and measure therein all things to give them nourishment in due proportion, in four Days, in accordance with (the needs of) those who seek (Sustenance)" (41:10); "And We have spread out the (spacious) earth: How excellently We do spread out" (51:48).
Resembling the Genesis narrative of the six days of creation, the Qur'an states:
Your Guardian-Lord is Allah, Who created the heavens and the earth in six days, and is firmly established on the throne (of authority): He draweth the night as a veil o'er the day, each seeking the other in rapid succession: He created the sun, the moon, and the stars, (all) governed by laws under His command. Is it not His to create and to govern? Blessed be Allah, the Cherisher and Sustainer of the worlds (7:54).
Another reference to six days: "Verily your Lord is God, who created the heavens and the earth in six days, and is firmly established on the throne (of authority), regulating and governing all things" (10:3).
The doctrine of creation out of nothing is acceptable to Islam, and the Qur'ran has some passages in support of it: "Nay, your Lord is the Lord of the heavens and the earth, He Who created them (from nothing): And I am a witness to this (Truth)" (21:56); "Praise be to Allah, Who created (out of nothing) the heavens and the earth" (35:1).
Creation in other religions
The Hindu/Vedic texts such as the Srimad Bhagavatam describe that God in his form of the Primeval "Maha-Vishnu" lies on the "causal ocean" and as he exhales, a countless number of universes are created from the pores in his skin. Then as he inhales, they are brought back into his body and become un-manifest again until the time of his next outward breath. Each breath is equivalent to many billions of years according to our calculation.
The first living being created in each universe is called "Brahma" (that is, "Creator) and is given the task of creating a diversity of life and environments within that particular universe. According to people's karma from the last universe they are put into appropriate bodies in the new one, anything from being Brahma themselves to being a small ant, and the cycle continues for infinity. More purified souls are given the task of stewardship over the existence in a similar fashion to Brahma, and are known as "devas" but none have his specific powers.
Maha-Vishnu originates from The Supreme Person (Paramatma) - whose abode is beyond this material world. It is said that the material universes exist in a small space of an infinite and eternal 'spiritual sky', known as Vaikuntha. The spiritual sky, Vaikuntha, is beyond our material conceptions being filled with eternity, knowledge and bliss. In Vaikuntha it is said that "time is conspicuous by its absence" and thus, there is no creation or dissolution. It is not destroyed when the material universes become un-manifest, but stays as it is.
There are at least 3 hymns within the 10th Mandala of Rg Veda that deal explicitly with the creation: The Nasadiya Suukta, The Hiranyagarbha Suukta and The Purusha Suukta.
The Maya account for creation is described in details in the Mayan sacred book Popol Vuh. According to this book, Universe, Earth and people were created by three water-dwelling serpents and three heaven-dwelling entities:
There was only immobility and silence in the darkness, in the night. Only the creator, the Maker, Tepeu, Gucumatz, the Forefathers, were in the water surrounded with light. They were hidden under green and blue feathers, and were therefore called Gucumatz. By nature they were great sages and great thinkers. In this manner the sky existed and also the Heart of Heaven, which is the name of God and thus He is called.
Then came the word. Tepeu and Gucumatz came together in the darkness, in the night, and Tepeu and Gucumatz talked together. They talked then, discussing and deliberating; they agreed, they united their words and their thoughts.
Then while they meditated, it became clear to them that when dawn would break, man must appear. Then they planned the creation, and the growth of the trees and the thickets and the birth of life and the creation of man. Thus it was arranged in the darkness and in the night by the Heart of Heaven who is called Huracán.
The first is called Caculhá Huracán. The second is Chipi-Caculhá. The third is Raxa-Caculhá. And these three are the Heart of Heaven.
Then Tepeu and Gucumatz came together; then they conferred about life and light, what they would do so that there would be light and dawn, who it would be who would provide food and sustenance.
Thus let it be done! Let the emptiness be filled! Let the water recede and make a void, let the earth appear and become solid; let it be done. Thus they spoke. Let there be light, let there be dawn in the sky and on the earth! There shall be neither glory nor grandeur in our creation and formation until the human being is made, man is formed. So they spoke.
Purpose of creation
As noted above, the resemblance between "creator" and "created" is commonly acknowledged as part of the purpose of creation in all creation myths. The "created" are expected to resemble the "creator," by knowing, worshipping, uniting with, glorifying, loving, serving, or manifesting him. This point tends to be more noticeable in the monotheistic religions that adhere to a personal God.
According to Islam, if we know and worship God, his attributes such as mercy, grace, forgiveness, and justice will be manifested among us. So, the purpose of creation is expressed in the Qur'an in terms of recognizing and worshipping God: "I did not create Jinn and Men except that they may worship me" (51:56). For Moslems, worshipping other gods like in polytheism is against the purpose of creation, therefore.
For Judaism and Christianity, the glorification of God in the main is the purpose of creation: "The heavens are telling the glory of God; and the firmament proclaims his handiwork" (Isaiah 19:1); "everyone who is called by my name, whom I created for my glory, whom I formed and made" (Psalm 43:7). Further discussions on the subject within Judaism include that of Zalman of Liadi (1745-1812), an Orthodox rabbi within the Hasidic tradition, according to which the purpose of creation is so that the infinite God may be able to dwell in the finite world of creation eventually. Human beings, who are created as finite beings, are expected to observe the laws and commandments to know God better and to elevate this finite world to a level in which God can dwell; and this ultimate purpose of creation is to be truly accomplished in the days of the Mashiach (Messiah). Rabbi Pinchas Winston of Canada has expressed this purpose of creation in terms of our partnership with God: "This is so humanity can become a 'partner' with God in bringing creation to its completed and perfected state." In Christianity, the glorification of God was often discussed as the purpose of creation, but additionally nineteenth-century humanist theologians in Germany such as Friedrich Schleiermacher and Albrecht Ritschl referred also to the communication and inheritance of God's happiness to humans as the purpose of creation.
Realization of the purpose of creation would naturally make God rejoice. Hence Isaiah 62:4-5 states that God is "delighted" when his creatures unite with him like in marriage:
No longer will they call you Deserted, or name your land Desolate. But you will be called Hephzibah (my delight is in her), and your land Beulah; for the Lord will take delight in you, and your land will be married. As a young man marries a maiden, so will your sons marry you; as a bridegroom rejoices over his bride, so will your God rejoice over you.
When the Bible talks about God's delight over the realization of the purpose of creation (or even about God's "grief" over the frustration of that purpose as in Genesis 6:5-5), it is basically acceptable to Judaism and Christianity. In reality, however, much of Christianity has been unable to wholeheartedly welcome it because of the classical doctrine of God in Christianity, influenced by Aristotelianism, that God as perfect "pure form" is immutable, completely sufficient unto himself, and in want of nothing, and that even the realization of the purpose of creation would not add anything to the perfect happiness of God. This is echoed also in Islam: "O mankind! It is you that have need of God: but God is the One Free of all wants, worthy of all praise" (Qur'an 35:15).
It is interesting to note that Tenrikyo, a new monotheistic religion founded in Japan in the nineteenth century, which regards God as our Parent, believes that God created us as his children for our joy and happiness, and that when that purpose of creation is realized, God also becomes happy, that is, "cheered up." In Christianity, process theology goes beyond classical theism in favor of this biblical theme and maintains that the value of unity accomplished in the world in accordance with God's "initial aim" makes God feel happy. Jurgen Moltmann joins this, by saying that the glorification of God makes God joyful.
Various types of creationism
Especially in Christianity and Judaism, how to interpret the six-day process of creation in Genesis has been a major issue. It has especially been the case in the context of addressing the challenges of the sciences of cosmology, geology, and biology on the age of the universe, the age of the Earth, and evolution. Evolutionism asserts that evolution takes place by natural selection or genetic drift and not by God's act of creation. Those who believe in creation have developed roughly four types of creationism, and "evolutionary creationism," the final one on the list below, seeks a real reconciliation between creation and evolution.
- Young Earth creationism—This believes that the Earth and also the universe were created by God within the last ten thousand years, that is, within the approximate time frame of biblical genealogies literally as described in Genesis, and it also maintains that the Earth was created by a direct act of God in six 24-hour days, taking the text of Genesis 1 literally. Young Earth creationists are entirely against evolutionism, and they are usually fundamentalist and conservative Christians. They seek scientific explanations that confirm the literal truth of the Bible. Hence their position is also called "scientific creationism" or "creation science." In spite of their claim to be scientific as well as biblical, they are usually criticized of being unscientific because their standard of judgment is the bibical text as interpreted literally.
- Old Earth creationism—This form of creationism holds that the Earth was created by a direct act of God, but that the creation account of Genesis is not to be taken strictly literally. So, although it denies evolutionism, it believes that the age of the Universe and the age of the Earth should be as accepted by natural sciences. "Day-age" creationism is part of this school, and it holds that the "six days" are not ordinary 24-hour days but rather much longer periods (for instance, each "day" could be the equivalent of millions, or billions of years of human time).
- Intelligent design—Intelligent design is a movement whose goal is to restate creationism in non-religious terms and without appeals to scripture. It arose partly in response to the 1987 ruling by the United States Supreme Court in Edwards v. Aguillard that "creation science" is an inherently religious concept and that advocating it as correct or accurate in public school curricula violates the Establishment Clause of the First Amendment. Nevertheless, behind intelligent design is also the conviction that the truths arrived at by scientific inquiry will ultimately cohere with divine creation, and that therefore science itself can yield data that refutes the claims of evolutionary theory. Proponents avoid biblically based arguments and seek to challenge evolution on scientific grounds.
- Evolutionary creationism or theistic evolutionism—It is the view that, instead of faith being in opposition to biological evolution, some or all classical religious teachings about God and creation are compatible with some or all of modern scientific theory, including specifically evolution. It generally views evolution as a tool used by God, who is both the First Cause and immanent Sustainer/Upholder of the universe. Some proponents posit a few specific instances of divine intervention to bring about the origin of life and the emergence of human beings from animals. Others posit that divine laws are so inherent in the fabric of creation that life was inevitable and that the evolution of humans was inevitable as the outworking of these laws; thus evolution is nothing but a process whose result was already foreseen. Mainline Protestant Churches, the Catholic Church, and the major Jewish denominations usually hold this position.
- Walter Wright Arthen, "Paganism and Myths of Creation." Retrieved January 26, 2008.
- Barbara C. Sproul, Primal Myths: Creation Myths Around the World (San Francisco: HaperCollins, 1991), 123.
- Catholic.com, "Creation out of Nothing. Retrieved January 24, 2008.
- Sacred Texts, Popol Vuh, Part I, Chapter 1. Retrieved January 23, 2008.
- Rabbi Nissan Dovid Dubov, "The Purpose of Creation," in To Live and Live Again. Retrieved January 25, 2008.
- Rabbi Pinchas Winston, "The Purpose of Creation." Retrieved January 25, 2008.
- Peter B. Clarke, Japanese New Religions in Global Perspective (London: Curzon Press, 2000), 13.
- Jürgen Moltmann, The Church in the Power of the Spirit (New York: Harper & Row, 1977), 60.
- Talk Origins, "Edwards v. Aguillard." Retrieved January 24, 2008.
ReferencesISBN links support NWE through referral fees
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- Anderson, Bernhard W. (ed.). Creation in the Old Testament. Philadelphia: Fortress Press, 1985. ISBN 0800617681
- Anderson, Bernhard W. Creation Versus Chaos: the Reinterpretation of Mythical Symbolism in the Bible. Philadelphia: Fortress Press, 1987. ISBN 0800619986
- Anderson, Bernhard W., Steven Bishop, and Judith Newman. Understanding the Old Testament, 5th ed. Upper Saddle River, NJ: Prentice Hall, 2006. ISBN 013092380X
- Brandon, S.G.F. Creation Legends of the Ancient Near East. London: Hodder and Stoughton, 1964.
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- Moltmann, Jürgen. The Church in the Power of the Spirit. New York: Harper & Row, 1977.
- Oden, Thomas. The Living God. San Francisco, CA: HarperSanFrancisco, 1992. ISBN 0060663634
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All links retrieved April 6, 2022.
- Genesis 2:4-25, The Creation of Man and Woman. English Standard Version.
- Genesis 1:1-2:3, The Creation of the World, English Standard Version.
- A rewriting of Chapter I: In The Beginning..., The Word According to Yo, as told to Daniel*, Yoism. The view on Genesis as consistent with modern science, including evolutionary biology.
- Colossians 1:15-20, The Preeminence of Christ. English Standard Version.
- John 1:1-18, The Word Became Flesh, English Standard Version.
- On Islam and Evolution, a letter to Suleman Ali, Shaikh Nuh Ha Mim Keller, Masud.
- Creation in the Vedic tradition - an encyclopedic entry, VEDA.
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