Monday, 30 April 2007

Before the Beginning

Earth from SpaceThe basic philosophical problem that faces us is the fact that something—rather than nothing—is there. Furthermore, it is also clear that this something-that-is-there has two parts: I am there and something in contrast to myself is there. Being is there. But the question immediately arises, “Has it always been there?”

There are relatively few answers. In almost any profound question, the number of final possibilities is very few indeed. Here there are four:

(1) Once there was absolutely nothing and now there is something.
(2) Everything began with an impersonal something.
(3) Everything began with a personal something.
(4) There is and always has been a dualism.

For the first explanation to be true, nothing must really be nothing—totally nothing—neither mass nor motion nor energy nor personality. Think, for example, of a circle that contains everything there is; and there is nothing in the circle. Then remove the circle. That is the concept of absolute nothing. I know no one who has propounded the concept that all that now is has come out of such absolute nothing.

The fourth notion, of eternal dualism, has never stood under close analysis, for men naturally press on behind the dualism and its particulars towards a unity by which to comprehend the duality.

The impersonal beginning, the notion that everything began with an impersonal something, is the consensus of the modern Western world and of almost all Eastern thinking. Eventually, if we go back far enough, we come to an impersonal source. This view is embodied in the notion of the uniformity of natural causes in a closed system.

However an impersonal beginning raises two overwhelming problems which neither the East nor modern man has come anywhere near solving.

First, there is no real explanation of the fact that the external world not only exists but has a specific form. As I look at the Being which is the external universe, it is obviously not just a handful of pebbles thrown out there. What is there has form. If we assert an impersonal beginning then we have no explanation for this.

Second, and more important, if we begin with an impersonal universe, there is no explanation of personality. The assumption of an impersonal beginning can never adequately explain the personal beings we see around us; and when men try to explain man on the basis of an original impersonal, man soon disappears.

But the Judeo-Christian tradition begins with the opposite answer. And it is upon this that our whole Western culture has been built. The universe had a personal beginning—a personal beginning on the high order of the Trinity. That is, before “in the beginning” the personal was already there. Love and thought and communication existed prior to the creation of the heavens and the earth,

Something was there before creation. God was there; love and communication were there; and therefore, prior even to Genesis 1:1, love and communication are intrinsic to what always has been.

(Summarized from Genesis in Space and Time, by Francis Schaeffer.)