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Creation is a more fundamental notion than nature.

By Peter Sellick - posted Tuesday, 19 March 2013

The title of this essay is a quotation from Stanley Hauerwas' book "The State of the University." It is one of those throw-away lines that Stanley often places in his texts to provoke but which he does not explain. What could it mean? In our time, under the atheist presupposition assumed by most academics in natural science, there is no such thing as creation; all is nature. All is mechanism and there is no purpose or mind behind the mechanism. This is a convincing proposition on which all talk of nature is based. Your children who enter a science class, even though they may come from deeply Christian families will be seduced by this proposition. In fact all of secular education makes this assumption. That is why secular universities are so opposed to the teaching of theology, to do so would undermine all disciplines.

So to say that creation is a more fundamental notion than nature is provocative to say the least. At the bases of the provocation is a misunderstanding; that "creation" infers physical causality and that it thus competes with modern cosmology. The latter discipline has long since chased God out of the universe; He is no longer a creditable force to be reckoned with. The result is that the universe contains no meaning that we can find. It is impossible for late modern people to look at the universe and praise God.

But this is not the end of the story. In the New Testament, creation is a work of Christ, "through whom all things came to be." This is a conundrum for modern atheism that is fixated on God as a supernatural person who is absent. However, Christianity is based on an historical event or events that cannot be absent, and cannot be erased or ignored. Or rather, it is based on the meaning of these events. The writers of the New Testament came to the conclusion that the event of the one we call Christ may be interpreted as the creation of all things. Clearly, this is a long way from the idea that a supernatural being with infinite power brought the universe into being. This man, Jesus, through his teaching and trial and death and rumoured resurrection is indeed the creator of all things.


If we may be at ease with what may be called the traditional understanding of creation that involves only the Father of the Trinity, we cannot be at ease in thinking what the New Testament asserts that Christ is the one through whom all things came to be. This assertion produces a logical and conceptual log-jam that denies understanding.

In order to understand what is being said here we must consider in what world we humans live. Even though natural science has investigated sub-atomic particles and the almost limitless bounds of space, this is not the world we live in. We may give assent to scientific discovery but such things remain for us on the level of the intellectual, a level at which only true nerds live. The rest of us live at the level of our relationships. The loss of those relationships, especially of spouse and child, threaten our very existence. That is why, in Scripture, there is so much emphasis on the neighbour, the one closest. This is where we live and have our being.

We are now able to understand the title of this essay. Creation is a more fundamental notion than nature because creation is where we truly live, where we find the source of life. From here, it is a short step to understanding the New Testament proclamation that Christ is the one through whom all things came to be. In saying this they did not mean that the planet Jupiter was, at one time, created by Christ. They did not live in a scientific universe but in a relational one. Jesus, by treating as friends those excluded from society, often for good reason, and his unmasking of the powers of death in the world by allowing them to do their worst to him, created a social world. This social world is the working out of the prophecy of the end times in which "the lion will lay down with the lamb". This is the world to come, a world that is increasingly found within the world of sin and death, to use biblical language. This is the new thing that is the culmination of the historical consciousness of Israel.

The confusion between nature and creation began with the investigation of nature by the first English scientists. We would now call them fundamentalist Christians in their attitude to Scripture. Newton believed that God was an active force within the universe. This theological overreach came to grief when it was realised that God was superfluous to mechanistic explanation and the new age of atheism began. Modern cosmology has replaced the biblical creation stories. Many have come to the conclusion that this proved that the creation stories were simply wrong and could be discarded. They are leftover from and age of ignorance. But remember, these stories were written before the mechanistic consciousness that only came to be with Descartes. They are thus not a narrative of cosmological genesis but rather aim to delineate the relationship between God and the creation i.e they are theological arguments, not scientific descriptions of nature.

This situation highlights our dilemma regarding nature and creation. The creation stories are relational and ontic. The pinnacle of both stories is the coming together of the man and the woman. Modern cosmology is mechanistic. To confuse the two is to make a category mistake; they are not the same thing.

Our assertion that creation is a more fundamental notion than nature is an assertion of what is means to be a human being. From the perspective of nature human beings have a dark generation in the mists of evolutionary time. They are a species among the species even if they are a thinking species. Radical environmentalists may give precedence to nature over human aspirations and mourn the despoiling of the earth by one species that has overreached itself.


On the other hand, from the point of view of creation, humanity is described in their psychic reality. There is a brokenness at the centre of our lives. Even the most well-intentioned and intelligent person will experience this. The good that we would do is often not what we do (to paraphrase St Paul). There is often no goodness in us. The history of the nations as well as individual history bears witness to the fact that something is wrong and that all the best intentions in the world often lead to bad outcomes. There is talk of the fog of war, but all of life is a bit of a fog for us. It is not clear what we should be or where our destiny lies. The secular age tends to swerve from human triumphalism to outright pessimism.

While the view from nature gives only a dark and mechanistic origin, the view from creation is furnished by history, narrative, legend and poetry. This is where we find God. We do not find Him among the stars or as instigator of the Big Bang, we find Him in tales of the human. That is why literature is so important, good literature has a habit of defining the human simply by enunciating truth. The gospels are historical fictions. While they are based on actual events in life they are also embellished in order to make a theological point, by theological I mean, as pertaining to God that pertains to the relational world in which we live.

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About the Author

Peter Sellick an Anglican deacon working in Perth with a background in the biological sciences.

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