Do creation and evolution have to be mutually exclusive? Is there a worldview that can accommodate them both? This article answers these questions, and is an introductory survey of various views, both ancient and modern, on how the world came to be.
Introduction: Pondering the Mysteries of God’s Creation
Ever since the dawn of time, man has pondered the mysteries of God’s creation – a universe so vast as to be virtually incomprehensible. How did God create it all – if, indeed, there is a God behind creation? When I was a little boy, I asked my father how creation happened, and he replied with a possibility that I had not even considered: “Perhaps it’s easier for the universe to exist than for it not to exist,” he said. It seemed like my father was hinting at the possibility that there may have been no need for a creation, neither for a God to create it all. How about simply shrugging your shoulders and saying, “It just is”?
Down through the ages, an untold number of seers and philosophers, sages and mystics have pondered the mysteries of creation, and the answers they have come up with have been as varied as the individuals themselves. What have been considered to be inescapable givens or axiomatic by some have not even entered the picture with others. Many have seen the connection between a culture or religion’s view of itself and how it views the nature of Creation. Students of comparative religion and mythology have come to the conclusion that every human culture has a creation myth, which even includes the nation of Israel; its creation myth is the creation account in Genesis. How you view your world, and your reality is probably intimately bound up with how you believe it came to be. What may be axiomatic to some may not even be considered by others; I suppose that it all boils down to a matter of spiritual perspective.
You can have a narrow, literal or dogmatic perspective that allows for one possibility only – that which is written literally in the words of the Bible, or whatever other sacred scripture you may adhere to. Or, you can have a broader and deeper perspective that also accommodates paradox and sacred allegory; this broader perspective can also see the common ground between the biblical creation story and those of other religions and worldviews. Perhaps the creation story, as it appears in Genesis, is not just about creation, but has lessons to teach us about other aspects of life as well. With my cosmopolitan, international upbringing, my perspective on things, on religions and cultures, is naturally a broader one. The question is: Do you consider the creation account in Genesis to be the absolute, literal truth, or do you feel that it is more symbolic and allegorical than literal, or the best educated guess that the Hebrew sages could come up with, lacking the tools and methods of modern science?
A Broader Perspective on the Creation Account in Genesis
“In the beginning, God created the heavens and the earth,” opens the creation account in Genesis. From the very first words, the Genesis creation account posits a dualism between father sky and mother earth. And so the Genesis account proceeds, with a progressive differentiation of Sun and Moon, day and night, sea and land, and so on. What existed before creation seems to have been a formless void, quite similar to the ancient Greek concept of the primordial state of chaos that preceded creation. This progressive differentiation of complementary opposites definitely has a sympathetic resonance with the Chinese concept of Yin and Yang. It also points out a key distinguishing difference between God and His creation, that only God has absolute, unconditioned existence, or I Am That I Am, whereas everything in His creation exists in relation to its complementary opposite.
God said, “Let there be light!” – and there was light. At each step of creation, God simply says, or puts forth his Word, and what He says is created. That’s awesome creative power. The Prologue to John’s gospel also tells us that in the beginning was the Word, which can also be seen as the creative utterance of God. The core question is this: How do we get from God Alone to the bringing forth of His creation? In other words, how does the Divine Unity become the many of God’s creation? Certain philosophers and sages have put forth the idea that creation started with a cosmic vibration, which can be seen as God alternately expanding and contracting to set up vibration – vibrational energy that then went on to manifest into created forms. Most famously, Hinduism has encapsulated this creative cosmic vibration of God into the sacred syllable Om. Other religious traditions also have their sacred syllables and sacred names for God, even Judaism. The words and vibrations we put forth also have creative power.
After each step in the creative process, God sees that what He has created is good. That’s not good for me, or good for you, but when God saw that it was good, without any further qualifying statements, we can assume that it meant good for the whole, or good for everyone and everything concerned. And, frankly speaking, having absolute and sure knowledge that something you have created is good implies the infinite and unbounded intelligence of God. We humans have only partial or incomplete knowledge, so our knowledge about what we create, and the ultimate extent of its goodness, is also partial or limited. Nevertheless, the limitations of our own knowledge are no excuse for not trying to create the best in our lives that we possibly can. If it is good for the whole and harms no one, then one is engaging in divine creativity; if it benefits oneself or a narrow group of people at the expense of others, it could be considered black magic, or an abuse of the creative power, and will bring negative karmic repercussions in its wake.
Beyond the general divine creative principles that I enumerated above, the details of the creation story in Genesis, and the particular order in which God creates things, gets quite problematic, especially from the viewpoint of a modern scientist. Even if you don’t believe that the days of creation were literal days, but figuratively stood for periods of thousands or millions of years each, still, the order in which God created things, according to Genesis, raises certain obvious scientific problems. For example, God created plants before He created the lights in the heavens, the Sun and the Moon, according to Genesis – but everyone knows that plants cannot live without sunlight, which they use to make their own food, a process known as photosynthesis. Here again, the Hebrew sages who wrote the Book of Genesis were writing without the benefit of scientific knowledge, so their best educated guesses were bound to go astray here and there in the details.
In this broader perspective on the creation story from Genesis, I have brought in a wide variety of different material that can be seen as having relevance to it – Chinese philosophy, Hinduism, ethics, karma, and even modern science. And I have also pointed out how certain elements from the creation account in Genesis can even be applied to one’s own life in the here and now, to help you handle your own creative life challenges in a more positive and constructive manner. The creation account in Genesis is, essentially, the origin myth of the Jewish people, as told by their biblical sages. From a literal perspective, it is simply a story about how God created the heavens and the earth, but from a broader perspective, it is full of philosophical and spiritual lessons to help us live a better life in the here and now – and that may be more valuable than its ability to give us the absolute, literal truth on exactly how creation happened.
Creation: God’s Infinite Power, Might and Dominion
Creation, as literally described in the words of the Genesis account, is the preferred belief of those who call themselves evangelical or born again Christians. “God wrote it, I believe it, and that settles it,” sums up their basic attitude or position. The creation of the whole universe in only a six day period affirms the tremendous or infinite creative power, might and dominion of God, with everyone and everything in His creation being His subjects. Accepting the possibility of evolution, to them, would entail God giving up some of this absolute creative power to chance and circumstance, and that they absolutely will not allow for. For biblical creationists, or absolute believers in the literal account of creation in Genesis, there can be no grey area, no wiggle room – either you believe it or you don’t. God is either in control, or He isn’t.
The belief that God created the universe in one fell swoop, or within a very short time, like one week, opens the door to a philosophical theory called Deism, which flourished in seventeenth and eighteenth century Europe, during the period known as the Enlightenment. Deism maintains that God, after creating the universe, left it to run on its own, like a well designed and well running clock, with no more intervention on His part. And so, Deism could also be called the theory of a clockwork universe. Of course, Deism would not fly or sit well with evangelical Christians, who feel that God has intervened and interacted with His Creation, in numerous ways and times throughout human history – through His biblical prophets or messengers, through great floods and other acts of God, and most importantly, by sending His only begotten Son to earth to atone for the sins of all mankind and thus reconcile sinful humanity back to Himself. Unlike Deism, in the biblical worldview of evangelical Christians, God cares, and has intervened in human history, and for those who turn to Him in repentance and prayer.
Evolution: God’s Infinite and Intimate Intelligence
Does a belief that God created the heavens and the earth exclude the possibility that evolution also played a role in how things came to be the way they are? In other words, do creation and evolution have to be mortal enemies? How about a blending of both? Those who are firm believers in the literal creation story as laid out in Genesis affirm the creative power, might and dominion of God over everything else, and tend to be dead set against evolution, which they see as diminishing God’s power and dominion, and leaving things up to chance and circumstance. But God’s creative power and will could also be behind the seemingly chance events of evolution as well. The Deists posited that the whole universe, and everything and everyone in it, is like an efficient machine that God created and left to run on its own – and that included begetting, or procreation, I presume. But this doesn’t preclude the possibility that there might be a divine spirit, or a ghost within the machine, animating and guiding it.
God is infinitely powerful, or omnipotent, but He is also infinitely intelligent, or omniscient. I don’t know if this idea is original to me or not, but I have always felt that God, being infinitely intelligent, would have gotten mighty bored if He had just created everything in one fell swoop; wouldn’t being behind the intertwining evolutionary paths of all of His creatures and animating them all, step by intricate step, be much more challenging and engrossing, and much more worthy for the infinite Divine Intelligence to engage itself in? How about an initial creation, in which God displays His awesome creative power and might, followed by evolution, in which God displays His infinite and intimate intelligence, which guides all life? Of all phenomena on display in God’s great universe, it seems to me that the phenomenon of life itself, and living organisms, is the most inherently divine, by its very nature. Materialistic scientists and physiologists may chalk up all vital processes occurring within the human body to simple mechanical laws of physics, operating along the path of least resistance, but I beg to differ.
Let’s contemplate the divine miracle of Life for a moment. One characteristic is that all living organisms share an incredibly complex and intricate level of organization – which is why life forms are called organisms, I suppose. If ever there was an argument for intelligent design, this would be it. Structurally speaking, one is struck by the sheer level of organizational sophistication occurring on multiple levels simultaneously. Functionally speaking, one is struck by the sheer number of biochemical reactions going on, all occurring with incredible timing and synchronization. Could this all be due only to random chance and circumstance, or to blind mechanical laws operating along the path of least resistance? I think not. All the physiological processes of your body – respiration, heartbeat, circulation, and more – occur automatically, without you having to consciously think about or will any of them. Genesis tells us that God breathed life into Adam, and he became a living soul; all traditional cultures have a word or concept of this divine Life Force, or life breath – Qi, Prana, Pneuma, or even the Hebrew Ruach, which is used in the original Genesis account. Why do medicinal herbs heal so well, with few or no negative side effects? My Ayurveda teacher, Doctor Vasant Lad, summed it up in two words: biological intelligence. It’s not the usual linear, discursive logic of intellectual thought, but it’s still intelligence, nonetheless – and probably of a much higher order as well.
A Divine Holistic Miracle in El Monte, California
A while back, several years ago now, when I was a much younger man, and living in southern California, my attention was drawn to a very interesting article in the local newspaper. It was about the mysterious appearance of crosses in frosted bathroom windows in various places nearby, including, of all places, El Monte, a place that many would consider to be the armpit of the universe. This was something that I just had to see for myself, so I managed to track down a person in whose bathroom windows images of crosses had appeared, and went out to witness the miracle. And sure enough, the cross images were there – and not just a simple cross, but a particularly Christian one, with decorative frills at the ends of each of its four arms – multiple images, all with the same design. Furthermore, the man gave me an additional demonstration; he broke or shattered a piece of glass that had the cross image in it when the light shone through it, and lo and behold – each smaller piece that the original piece broke into had its own, smaller cross image within it. It really felt like something straight out of the Twilight Zone.
Nobody knew exactly why the crosses had appeared, or what the cause was, but they appeared in the frosted bathroom windows of the houses of many poor, devoutly Catholic Hispanic families. Many of these people believed that it was a sign that presaged the second coming of Christ. What I took away from this whole experience, especially the shattering of the glass to produce a multitude of smaller but identical images, was that this was essentially what a hologram was, with each part reflecting the whole. In other words, could this be a sign that God thinks and creates holistically, or holographically? That certainly might be the case. In other words, while we human beings tend to think linearly, going from the parts to the whole, maybe God thinks holistically, going from the whole down to the parts. Geneticists tell us that every cell within our bodies, no matter what kind of cell it is, has all the genetic information contained within it to reproduce every other cell of the body; this is the same holistic Life principle in action. But what exactly causes one cell to develop into a liver cell, and another to develop into a bone cell, or a skin cell? Many mysteries remain as scientists try to probe ever deeper into the creative mind of God.
With his famous equation of E = mc2, Einstein took us into the Quantum age; modern physicists, in their exploration of subatomic particles, have discovered that, at the subatomic level, matter is a lot more conscious and alive than we ever expected. In the final analysis, solid matter may be nothing more than holographic energy interference patterns that are very dense and congealed. And so, from His very first divine utterance of “Let there be light,” God may have been working with light, vibration and energy all along. “Ye are not in the flesh, but in the Spirit,” said Paul (Romans 8: 9), and I feel that he wrote this in order to shake us loose from our excessive attachment to matter and the body, which is not really who we are. The materialistic perspective is that we are a body that has a soul, but the spiritual perspective is that we are Soul that has a body. Especially if we were created in the image of God (Genesis 1: 26), who is invisible and incorporeal, then that part of us that was created in God’s image must be that essential inner core of our being, which is Soul.
Further Thoughts and Reflections on Evolution
When evangelical Christians, who are biblical creationists, think of evolution, they are usually thinking of it in the modern scientific sense, in terms of the theory that was first put forth by Charles Darwin, and later followed up on by botanists, zoologists and paleontologists digging for fossil remains of now extinct life forms. This, of course, is the version of evolution that led to the spectacle of the Scopes “monkey trial” back in the 1920’s, which actually led to the birth of Christian fundamentalism through the publication of a series of handbooks collectively entitled, The Fundamentals. Nowadays, the term “fundamentalist” has fallen out of favor within the Christian community, and is no longer considered to be politically correct; Christians of the fundamentalist persuasion now call themselves Evangelicals. But beyond evolution in the modern scientific sense, evolution is a concept that has validity within other contexts as well.
If you are now a senior citizen, or are getting along in years, just pause to think back on where you were, both physically and spiritually, when you were a youth; most people would come to the conclusion that their overall view and perspective on life is very different now than when they were young, because the intervening life experiences they have had have taught them so much. What is this but a process of spiritual evolution of consciousness? One might even say that the whole purpose of life is spiritual growth, or evolution of consciousness. So here, right off the bat, we have discovered another kind of evolution than the one sought after by fossil diggers. Those of an esoteric persuasion maintain that there are two kinds of evolution: the evolution of material forms, or bodies, and the evolution of Spirit, or consciousness. During the course of your lifetime, you have used your body, or physical vehicle, to learn and grow, and to evolve in your state of consciousness – that’s only natural.
Then what happens when we get to the end of our life’s road – what happens to the process of spiritual evolution that we have been engaging in for our whole lifetime? Does it just come to an abrupt halt? What is the ultimate meaning and purpose of it all? According to many Christians, we simply drop whatever we were doing and trade everything in for a harp to play while we endlessly sing God’s praises for a whole eternity in heaven. I don’t know about you, but, with all due respect towards God, that sounds pretty boring to me. According to the doctrine of reincarnation, we pick up where we left off in this life and continue our process of spiritual evolution in the next lifetime. We may have intervening sojourns in heaven in between lifetimes as a form of spiritual rest and recuperation, but then we return to earth to continue our evolutionary process of learning and growing, and handling the karmic responsibility that comes with the fruits or results of our actions. And when we have evolved spiritually to the point at which we no longer need to return to earth, we remain in heaven.
Another way of looking at the whole process of spiritual evolution in the light of reincarnation is that we live our life and use the body we were endowed with, and the particular life situation we were born into, to the best of our ability in order to learn the spiritual lessons that we must learn, and then, when we have exhausted our possibilities for spiritual growth within this body and lifetime, and the body grows old and decrepit, we die, and move on to another lifetime of learning and growth, with a new body and life situation that presents new opportunities. I said previously that there were two kinds of evolution – physical and conscious – and it just might be that the gradual evolution of life forms, or bodies that were available, on this planet, from the most primitive primordial organisms up until the advent of man, was guided by the hidden hand of God to provide bodies that were commensurate with the level of spiritual growth through life experience that evolving souls were seeking and demanding. This might be a bridge too far for those who see themselves as conservative Christians, but it is a way to spiritually reconcile creation and evolution. If we were truly created in God’s image, the whole process of evolution could be seen as God’s way of experiencing and discovering more about Himself through us.
What Is Man’s Place within Creation?
A culture’s worldview, and the creation myth that it sprang from, must have a meaningful place and role for man within it if it is to be positive and constructive. If man does not have vision and purpose to his existence within creation, he suffers spiritually, and his behavior can become self-destructive. The Eighth Psalm sings the following lines about man:
What is man, that thou art mindful of him? and the son of man, that thou visitest him? For thou hast made him a little lower than the angels, and hast crowned him with glory and honour.
– Psalm 8: 4 – 5
From the above lines, it is clear that the Old Testament accords a place of rightful dignity and honor unto man. The Book of Genesis even tells us that man was made in God’s image. These are things for every individual to ponder on, to figure out exactly what these lines from the Old Testament mean to them; when you think about it, there are no quick and easy answers.
If one reads the creation account in Genesis, we find that man and woman were created not once, but twice. Was this just a scribal or copying error, or was it actually intentional, and is there some deeper meaning hidden within this double creation story for man? Let’s take a closer look. The first account of man’s creation is as follows:
And God said, let us make man in our image, after our likeness: and let them have dominion over the fish of the sea, and over the fowl of the air, and over the cattle, and over all the earth, and over every creeping thing that creepeth upon the earth. So God created man in his own image, in the image of God created he him; male and female created he them.
– Genesis 1: 26 – 27
There are several interesting and peculiar things about this first creation of man. First of all, God says, “let us make man in our image.” Why does God refer to himself using plural pronouns? Biblical scholars speculate that the scribes that wrote this verse were of the Elohim persuasion, which is seen as a holdover from early Canaanite polytheism. Then God tells man to have dominion over all the creatures within God’s creation; this, plus a similar exhortation from God to have dominion over His creation in the verses that follow has led, in the minds of many biblical scholars, to the current state of excessive dominion of man over the ecosystem, which has brought a lot of environmental destruction and degradation in its wake. Then, curiously enough, God reverts back to the singular pronoun when describing himself; not only that, but Genesis first refers to man with a singular pronoun, and then immediately switches back to the plural when mentioning the creation of male and female. This has led many to speculate that the original form of man was hermaphroditic, in which male and female were joined into one body. Others have seen this first creation of man, in which male and female were created together, to be God’s first experiment in creating woman, which Jewish folklore holds to be the demon woman Lilith, whose cardinal flaw, according to the patriarchal Judaic tradition, was being too dominant and independent.
Then, in chapter 2 of Genesis, God has another go-round at creating man – and woman. God creates Adam out of the dust of the earth, and breathes life into him, and Adam becomes a living soul. Genesis then goes on to describe the Garden of Eden, and the rivers that flowed through it. God even has Adam name the various creatures that roam in the garden, again showing the creative power that is inherent in speech and language. In addition to the Judaic tradition and its Hebrew language and alphabet, the Hindu tradition, with its Sanskrit language and alphabet, also posits divine origins for its language and alphabet. But most importantly with the second creation of man, God also tries again at creating woman, sending Adam into a deep sleep and fashioning Eve out of Adam’s rib. God now seems to have found a solution to the whole woman problem – flesh of Adam’s flesh, Eve is designed as a help mate for Adam. Man shall now cleave to his wife, and his wife to him.
I believe that the main message encoded in the double creation of man according to Genesis is that man has a dual nature. He has both an animal nature born of instinct and desire, as well as a higher divine nature that is capable of self reflection and spiritual awareness. It is this higher nature that is most like unto God, and in His image. Jewish mystics believe that there was a heavenly Adam, or Adam Kadmon, who existed in the spiritual world before the creation of the earthly Adam in the Garden of Eden, and that, in a mysterious, mystical way, God patterned the whole rest of His creation after the blueprint of this heavenly Adam Kadmon. This is yet another explanation for the dual creation of man in Genesis. It is within this dual nature of man, both animal and spiritual, that the potential for problems and negativity within man’s view of creation and his role within it arises. The Judaic spiritual tradition acknowledges this dichotomy of the higher and lower natures of man quite matter of factly, and maintains that it is man’s spiritual duty to cultivate and strengthen his higher nature, and the good impulse over the bad impulse through spiritual effort and following the commandments of the Torah.
In Christianity, of course, we have the doctrine of Original Sin, which was first put forth in a basic form by the apostle Paul, and further refined and put into its final form by Saint Augustine. Whereas Judaism believes that the good impulse and the bad impulse within man are pretty much even or balanced, or that one or the other can be strengthened into a position of dominance depending upon which you listen to, cultivate and follow, the Christian doctrine of Original Sin takes a decidedly negative view of human nature, and says that man is basically powerless to do anything to save himself without the saving grace of Christ. This, I feel, has put a kind of deep negative stigma on what is called “human nature” that denigrates it excessively, I feel. And so, Christian evangelicals and fundamentalists rail against what they perceive as the evils of “secular humanism”, whereas I feel that, essentially, humanism, or a deep, abiding faith in the basic dignity and worth of the human being, is actually no sin. Christianity has fallen a long way from the inspiring verses of the Eighth Psalm that I quoted above.
Greek Philosophy versus Christian Creationism – and the Scholastic Solution
As a marked contrast to the Judeo-Christian tradition, in which God created the heavens and the earth ex nihilo, or out of nothing, Greek philosophy had a more sophisticated and nuanced view of Creation and its nature. Plato believed that there were two worlds, which coexisted simultaneously – the divine World of Being and the physical World of Becoming. The divine World of Being was inhabited by eternally perfect forms called archetypes, after which everything in the mundane world was patterned. But the forms that exist in the mundane world are imperfect, and therefore transitory; since they are always trying to approach the absolute perfection of the perfect forms or archetypes in the divine World of Being, but never quite succeeding, they are transitory, and always arising, persisting for a time, and then subsiding or dissolving or decaying. Platonic philosophy had a definite spiritual focus, and was very much centered on the divine World of Being and its eternally perfect forms or archetypes.
His student Aristotle was a very different kind of philosopher – more pragmatic and worldly, and more centered on the ever-changing physical universe. Although the Platonists looked askance at the mundane world, regarding it as ultimately illusory, Aristotle affirmed that the physical universe, and the laws governing its constant change and manifestation, could be studied and known with certainty. Aristotle was an avid student of just about everything, and is often seen as the original prototype of the modern scientist; even though a lot of his theories and conclusions have long since been disproven, we can see in his empirical philosophy and methodology the beginnings of the modern scientific method. In fact, Aristotle emphasized empirical observation and evidence over theory; if newfound evidence contradicted a long established theory, said Aristotle, the old theory had to be changed to accommodate the new evidence, or discarded in favor of a new theory that did.
Aristotle saw a universe of constant motion and change, linked or woven together by intricate relationships and networks of cause and effect. Within this universe of constant motion and change, Aristotle saw the need for a Prime Mover, which he called God – the ultimate cause of it all. He did not see God as being the Creator of the universe – he believed that the universe, especially the earth, had always existed, but was constantly moving and changing form. The universe, said Aristotle, was always arising and subsiding from within itself, without any clear or universal point of origin. In Aristotle’s theory of constant change we can see the origins of the modern scientific concept of evolution. Aristotle was also a comparative zoologist who studied homologous anatomical structures within different creatures, comparing the hand of a man, and its bone structure, to the wings of a bird and its bone structure, for instance, and noticing the similarities between the two. From there, it is very easy to see how different life forms could have evolved, one from the other.
During the high Middle Ages, in the thirteenth century, Western Europe, being the citadel of Christian faith that it was, was on a collision course with the science and medicine of the Moors and Arabs; many of these Muslim scientists and physicians, like Avicenna and Averroes, were keen students and followers of Aristotle. And Christian Europe, of course, believed in the creation account as told in the Book of Genesis. The Muslims were the world leaders in science and medicine in their day, and Avicenna’s Canon of Medicine was the main textbook used in the European medical schools that were springing up in Salerno, Montpelier, and other cities of medieval Europe – so Muslim science and medicine, and Aristotelian philosophy, could no longer be ignored. To meet this challenge, a great Christian philosopher arose, named Saint Thomas Aquinas. He devised a comprehensive system of Christian philosophical theology called Scholasticism that tried to bridge the gap between faith and reason. The argument that he used to solve the dilemma or apparent conflict between the Aristotelian philosophy of the eternal existence of the cosmos and Christian creationism was that Aristotle’s theory was eminently reasonable, but unfortunately, he did not have the benefit of the divine revelation of the Bible. Anyway, history repeats itself, and this debate has reincarnated itself in modern times as evolution versus creation.
There were other features of the classical Greek worldview that seemed to have permeated the ancient world far and wide, and influenced many things. They saw the universe, and everything in it, as being composed of four elements – Fire, Air, Water and Earth – in varying proportions and combinations. Plato, and also Aristotle, maintained that there was also a subtle fifth element called Ether, which could be called matter on the verge of manifestation and differentiation into the other four elements. Plato believed in the existence of a Demiurge, or a cosmic craftsman who fashioned the various forms of creation from the primordial elements, but the point at which the Platonic concept of the Demiurge diverges from the Demiurge of the later Gnostic Christians is that Plato did not see this Demiurge as being evil or inferior. Greek mythology also posits the existence of a mythical race of giants that preceded humanity, who were called the Titans, a theme that also appears in the apocryphal Book of Enoch. And the Gaia hypothesis – that Mother Earth is a conscious, living being – has been enjoying a resurgence in popularity in recent years.
Various Eastern and Esoteric Perspectives on Creation
One of the most abused and misunderstood concepts of Hinduism when it comes to creation is the doctrine of Maya, or cosmic illusion. The idea that the whole universe is an illusion, and therefore unreal, has been used as a handy excuse for all kinds of apathy and nihilism – or worse. To set the record straight, the doctrine of Maya does not state that the universe doesn’t exist, it merely states that the phenomenal world is not what it appears to be. And if you have been with me so far in this article, I have demonstrated that there is definitely a hidden side to creation beyond what meets the eye, and that things aren’t always what they seem. Hindu yogis and mystics, like Paramahansa Yogananda have written about what they call the Law of Miracles, stating that the reason why Jesus Christ was able to perform miracles is that he was able to see beyond the illusory veil of Maya into a transcendent spiritual reality in which the seemingly immutable laws of nature were much more fluid and malleable to his will.
Closely related to this idea of Maya, or cosmic illusion, was a peculiar doctrine of certain forms or early Gnostic Christianity like Docetism – that Jesus Christ only appeared to be human, and to have a real physical body, but it was all an illusion, and that Jesus Christ, being divine, existed in a realm that was beyond human limitation and suffering, and therefore did not really die on the cross – it was all an illusion. Behind this doctrine of Docetism lay a deeper Gnostic conviction that most of the proto-orthodox branch of Christianity, as they saw it, with its heavy emphasis on Jesus’ passion and crucifixion, was turning into too much of a death cult. To them, venerating gruesome images of a crucified Jesus was like worshiping a dead man; the proper understanding of Jesus’ teachings and wisdom sayings, delivered during the years of his public ministry, were what had real saving power to the Gnostics. Interestingly enough, this docetic notion that Jesus didn’t really die on the cross somehow made it into Islam; the Quran states that Jesus only appeared to die on the cross, and that God took Jesus up into heaven.
Jewish mysticism, or Kabbalah, has its doctrine of Tzimtzum, that God withdrew some of his infinite Light in order to create the space within which creation could happen. From this doctrine, we can conclude that creation exists because God wills it. According to Kabbalah, the Infinite Light of God, or Ein Sof, spills over from the world or sphere of Kether, or the crown, and God’s Light or Spirit is stepped down to manifest as various spheres, or Sefiroth, below the Divine Crown on the Tree of Life, like Chokmah (Wisdom), Binah (Understanding), all the way down to Malkuth, or the earthly Kingdom, that Jesus spoke of when he prayed that God’s will be done in earth as it is in heaven. The Jewish mystics saw the universe, and all manifestation, as occurring in four levels or stages. From the highest to the lowest, they are: Atziluth, the world of emanation or closeness to God; Beriyah, the world of creation, where definite ideas begin to take shape; Yetzirah, the world of formation, in which forms appear; and Asiyah, the world of action or manifestion, which is our phenomenal physical world. The initial divine cause or idea is mirrored and fulfilled in the mundane result or effect.
The Western esoteric tradition has mirrored and carried on in the same general spirit of Jewish mysticism or Kabbalah in that it also sees a multilayered universe, with the upper layers being mainly Spirit, and matter becoming increasingly dense and solid in the lower layers, until one reaches the physical world, with its solid and impenetrable matter. The golden maxim of Hermetic philosophy is: As above, so below; as within, so without. As above, so below – God in heaven above is the original cause, and from this original cause flow the material effects down below. As within, so without – The macrocosm, or the world “out there” is a reflection of the personal microcosm, or the world within you, with both reflecting the same Divine Unity. The Western esoteric tradition also has four worlds to correspond to those of Kabbalah; from top to bottom, they are the Causal, Mental, Astral and Physical worlds. Because what is above is reflected in what is below, and what is within is reflected in what is without, creation is woven together by various networks of resonant affinities or correspondences in a holistic spirit.
Creation: A Subject as Vast as the Universe
One thing that became apparent to me as I was writing this article is that creation is limitless – it is a subject that is as vast as the universe. Where do I leave off in the writing of this article? This was a difficult question for me, because one thing leads to another, and everything within the overarching scheme of God’s Creation is inter-related. There is literally nothing that one can study or write about that is not somehow related or pertinent to the subject of creation. And so, for the sake of definition and closure more than anything else, I presume, most people, and most Christian believers, accept certain boundaries, which could be seen as arbitrary or self imposed, in deciding what they will believe or accept about God’s creation. To those with a more limited or circumscribed view of God’s creation in the conventional religious sense, they will stop with the creation account in Genesis and its literal interpretation only. To those with a broader and more interdisciplinary view of creation, there is room in their view for all kinds of ideas and possibilities – and a whole lifetime of exploring those possibilities as well. Where do you stand, and what do you accept as being within the realm of possibility?