If God is Creator of the world, as Jews, Christians, and Muslims all traditionally profess, then hypothetically we might come to know something about God by considering creation. So what is creation?
Creation according to Genesis
A few days ago, I read Genesis chapters 1 & 2, which tell the story of God (or gods?) creating the world. I remember writing a seven-page essay in seventh grade about why evolution was “wrong” according to the Bible. Within five years, I was telling people in my youth group that evolution and Genesis were compatible. Strangely, I have no memory of how or when or even why I changed my mind.
However I got here, I don’t take Genesis “literally”. I use pretentious quotation marks around that word because there are actually two very different accounts of Creation in Genesis (Genesis 1:1 – 2:4 and Genesis 2:5-25), making a consistently simplistic reading of Genesis as history virtually impossible.
If Genesis isn’t here to answer my curiosities about the history of the cosmos, what does it have to say? My take-away from reading Genesis was that the world is ordered, created by God, and good. The whole process is very neat and organized, from the sequential creation by category (light, then stars, then dry land and plants, then birds and fish, then land animals, and then humans) to the naming of the animals.
Creation according to Athanasius
So far (I’m 46 pages in), Athanasius has twice brought up creation as a whole. First, he listed popular accounts of creation and gave brief, paragraph-long arguments against each of them. Interestingly, one of his targets were the Epicureans, who evidently did not believe there to be a Mind behind the universe. Athanasius pointed to the complexity and diversity of creation as evidence of a creator. Some theists continue to make this case today.
A few chapters later, Athanasius argued that God has given humanity many avenues for knowing the divine. Athanasius points to the sheer scale and harmony of Creation as undeniable evidence of God’s guiding providence. (A similar line of thinking can be found in Romans 1.)
Is Creation good?
Is the world neat and orderly, as Genesis seems to suggest? Will a survey of the natural world necessarily lead us to contemplate the guidance of providence, as Athanasius evidently believed? Is the love and providence of God self-evident in Creation?
I honestly don’t think so. At the very least, it’s not that simple. To me, both Genesis 1 – 2 and those Athanasius snippets are terribly one-sided.
Of course, the world’s ecosystems and the human body often are incredibly complicated and harmonious (as far as I can tell). Creation includes the “circle of life,” resilient bodies, and fine-tuned relationships between innumerable life forms living together.
But not all ecosystems and bodies are healthy all of the time – far from it! Judging by the fossil record, our Earth has seen numerous mass extinction events long before humans arrived on the scene. According to the theory of evolution, human life emerged amidst brutal self-preservation, through killing and taking. Today, people continue to suffer from catastrophic natural disasters. Diseases and famines spread suffering across the Earth.
Any understanding of God as Creator, let along as loving Creator, has to answer for the chaotic and self-destructive streak that continues to run throughout creation. Creation may be good, and it may even point to a benevolent, brilliant Mind – but that can’t be the whole story.