Thursday, July 1, 2010

Hans Küng: The Testimony of Faith to the Ultimate Origin

The Testimony of Faith to the Ultimate Origin
by Hans Küng article link
Tikkun Magazine, March/April 2010

Science can neither confirm nor refute what the two accounts of Genesis proclaim as their clear message: in the beginning of the world is God. So it is not "in the beginning was the Bang," but "in the beginning was the word, the will, and there was light; there was energy, matter, space, and time."

Creation of Space and Time from Nothing

Here we are speaking only in an inauthentic way of a "before" the creation of the world. What was God doing before he created heaven and earth? Augustine, in chapter 11 of his Confessions, already gave a precise answer to this question, which he regarded as impertinent. He was brief and terse: the question was meaningless; the question about the "before" was superfluous. Why? Because the world was not created in time, but with time; to this degree Einstein agreed with him. So only the creator is "before" the cosmos, only eternity is "before" time; here Augustine goes further than Einstein and addresses God: "Furthermore, although you are before time, it is not in time that you precede it. If this were so, you would not be before all time. It is in eternity, which is supreme over time because it is a never-ending present, that you are at once before all past time and after all future time." Thus from a theological perspective the act of creation is a timeless act; it comes about through time. And time is created time, created time-space, created space-time.

Now what does it mean to talk of creating the world "from nothing"? In the Bible, as I have said, this is only a later notion, the fruit of Hellenistic reflection. It does not mean the nothing becoming independent, as it were an empty black space before or alongside God. Nothingness must not be confused either with the "vacuum" of modern particle physics, whose "fluctuations" perhaps stand at the beginning of our universe, and which is in no way a nothing, but a something. What is meant rather is absolute nothing, which excludes any material cause in the act of creation. Creation "from nothing" is the philosophical and theological expression of the fact that the world and human beings along with space and time owe themselves solely to God and not to another cause.

But God does not owe himself to any cause. One may not even call God causa sui (cause of himself), as Descartes and Spinoza did. He is not caused at all. He is by definition the uncaused reality, because it is eternal and perfect: Id quo maius cogitari nequit -- "that than which nothing greater can be thought" (Anselm of Canterbury, Descartes). The Bible does not philosophize about this. But it does express the conviction that the world is radically dependent on God as the author and sustainer of all being yet also remains independent of God. Christian theology has maintained that creation continues: creatio continua. For our present understanding, only in this way is the coming to being of the world as an ongoing process in time possible as a process that does not exclude the origination of new structures but includes them.

Creation from nothing and ongoing creation must thus be as a unity -- both are the condition of the possibility of physical process generally. As U. Lüke wrote in Kosmologie (Vandenhoeck and Ruprecht, 2004): "Creatio continua and creatio ex nihilo would simply be two names for one and the same creative activity of the eternal God, itself timeless and at the same time appointing time. And this one and the same creative activity of God would not lie beyond in a singularity billions of years away, but would be strictly present to us, beyond our control, but nearer to us than we are to ourselves."

What Is the Meaning of Belief in Creation Today?

In images and parables of their time, the biblical accounts of creation answer simple basic questions that also arise for human beings of today and that science cannot answer with its method and language. What are answered in the Bible are not purely theoretical questions but elementary existential questions:

* What was at the beginning? The good God, who is the origin of each and all.

* Is anything else (star, animal, or human being) God alongside God? No, there is no God but God.

* But aren't a good principle and an evil principle obviously fighting one another in world history? No, God is the good God who is not in any competition with any evil or demonic counterprinciple.

* Isn't part of reality of a lesser quality: matter as compared to spirit, sexuality as compared to spirituality? By no means -- the world of the good creator God is fundamentally good, and thus also are matter, the human body, and sexuality. "God saw all that he had made and it was very good" (Gen. 1:31).

* What is the goal of the process of creation? The human being -- not isolated but in the midst of the cosmos -- is the great goal of the process of creation. According to the Bible, it is not first a redemption but already the creation that represents God's gracious concern for the world and human beings. The preservation of the world can be seen as continued creation and evolution.

We can ask ourselves: Is it pure chance that modern science could develop in particular against the background of the Jewish and Christian doctrine of creation? Two basic insights that the Qur'an also stresses were beyond doubt helpful presuppositions here:

* The world is not God; it is created and not holy in itself; it has been at the disposal of human beings.

* The world is not chaos but ordered, cosmos; it may be used, built on, investigated by human beings.

So what sense can it still make today in respect to the beginning of the world not only -- scientifically -- to speak of a Big Bang, of models of the world and theories of the cosmos, but also with full justification -- theologically -- to speak of a God who has created the cosmos, as countless people from the Hebrew Bible on -- Jews, Christians, and Muslims‚ but also many others -- have confessed time and again?

Belief in creation adds nothing to the instrumental knowledge that science has so infinitely enriched; it does not offer any scientific information. But creation faith gives us an orientating knowledge, particularly in a time of rapid scientific, economic, cultural, and political revolutions and therefore of uprooting and loss of orientation. It allows people to discover a meaning in life and in the process of evolution, and may provide them with standards for behavior and an ultimate security in this unimaginably great universe. Even in the age of space travel, when they reflect on the amazing results of astrophysics and as always look out at the starry night sky, people will ask themselves: What does it all mean? Where is it going? Does nothingness explain anything? Is reason satisfied with that?

The only serious alternative -- one that pure reason, like so much else, cannot prove because it transcends its horizon of experience, yet for which there are good reasons, an answer that is thus completely rational -- is that the whole does not come from a Big Bang but from an origin. It comes from that first creative ground of grounds that we call God, the creator God.

Even if I cannot prove it, I can still assert it with good reason, in that enlightened trust in which I have already affirmed the existence of God, which is so rational and so tested for me. For if the God who exists is truly God, then he is not just God now, for me here and today, but God already in the beginning, God from all eternity. Only in this way, it seems to me, does the universe become plausible to us in its existence as cosmos, in its mathematically ordered, highly complex, and tremendously dynamic nature. And in the face of the magnitude of our universe and the complexity of science, many scientists have shown feelings of amazement, of reverence, of joy, and even of terror and thus have also asked whether this universe does not embrace more than the apparent -- a question that cannot be answered by science but only by a rational trust that has its grounds and that we call faith.

So believing in the creator of the world today does not mean believing in some myths, nor does it mean imagining God as creator in the way in which for example the incomparable Michelangelo as an artist painted him in a completely human way on the ceiling of the Sistine Chapel. Here all notions come to an end. Nor does believing in God as the creator of the world mean deciding for this or that one of the changing models of the world that great scientists have worked out. And this is not because here the issue is one of presupposing all models of the world and the world itself. Even an eternal world of the kind assumed, for example, by Aristotle would be compatible with belief in God. This was the view of Thomas Aquinas, though on the basis of the Bible he was convinced that the world had a temporal beginning. That the eternal God is before all time does not mean a temporal but an ontological priority.

Today, to believe in the creator of the world against the horizon of scientific cosmology means to affirm in enlightened truth that the ultimate origin of the world and human beings does not remain inexplicable; that the world and human beings have not been senselessly thrown from nothing into nothing; but that as a whole they are meaningful and valuable, not chaos but cosmos, because they have their primal ground, their author, a creator, a first and last security in God.

Once again it must be emphasized that nothing compels us to this faith. We can decide for it in complete freedom. Once we have decided for it, however, this faith changes our position in the world, our attitude to the world. Anyone who believes in God as the creator can with good reason also fully affirm the world and human beings as God's creation. The person can, above all, respect human beings as our fellow human beings (and not as lesser beings), but also respect and cultivate nonhuman nature, particularly the animals, as our environment and the world with which we live (and not as our born enemies, not as material to be used at random).

It is not although I am God's creature, but because I am God's creature, and because my fellow creatures and my environment are God's creatures, that I, my fellow human beings, and also -- for all the difference -- animals receive a dignity that has to be respected. The "fill the earth and subdue it" of the creation story (Gen. 1:28) cannot be understood as carte blanche for unscrupulous exploitation and destruction of nature and the environment, certainly not in an age when we soberly contemplate the "limits of growth." Believing in the creator God allows me to take my responsibility for fellow human beings and the environment and the tasks imposed on me with greater seriousness, with more realism and hope.

NOTE: This article was adapted from chapter three of The Beginning of All Things, by Hans Küng, translated by John Bowden. Eerdmans, 2007.

Hans Küng is president of the Global Ethic Foundation in Tübingen, Germany, and professor emeritus of ecumenical theology. Among his many books are Global Responsibility; A Global Ethic for Global Politics and Economics; and, together with Rabbi Homolka, How to Do Good & Avoid Evil.

Tikkun Magazine March/April 2010
Tikkun Magazine home page


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