The Beginning of Creation in Scriptures of Different Religions

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Hubble Images a Swarm of Ancient Stars – This stellar swarm is M80 (NGC 6093), one of the densest of the 147 known globular star clusters in the Milky Way galaxy. Located about 28,000 light-years from Earth, M80 contains hundreds of thousands of stars, all held together by their mutual gravitational attraction. Photo: NASA

In the words of the famous cosmologist and professor of theoretical physics at Imperial College London, Joao Magueijo:

“Cosmology was for a long time the subject of religion. That it has become a branch of physics is to some extent a surprising achievement.”1

Scriptures of every religion contain some account of how the universe was created. Before the current advances in the field of cosmology, the origins of creation remained a matter of belief for people of different faiths, who relied on their respective religious scriptures for unraveling the mysteries surrounding how the universe came into being. Even before the advent of the modern scientific era, some scriptures declared their inability to comment suitably upon these intriguing questions, such as how the universe was created. The most pressing questions among these have captured the human imagination for thousands of years: “Did anything exist beside the Creator before the creation of the universe began?” and “Does anything share eternity with God?” In this article we will undertake an analysis into whether the scriptures of different religions address these questions or not; how these scriptures have dealt with this particular aspect of creation; and whether these scriptures maintain that God created this universe out of nothing or they declare that when God commenced the process of creation, at least some entities were present and they were not created by God. These questions are inextricably linked to how the concept of God is presented by these scriptures, compelling questions in the nature of: Is God powerful enough to start creation from nothing? Or have matter, time, space or souls always existed and when God created this universe He merely used these constituents as building blocks. If the latter theory were to be accepted, then we would be forced to conclude that one or more of these entities are eternal like God. Theoretical physicists have led scientific inquiries into these confounding questions by using various self-devised methods as the understanding of science and cosmology have advanced. For scientists who deny the existence of God altogether or who are atheists, the challenge of rendering a plausible explanation for the creation of the universe is increasingly complex. If we were to assume that the universe has no creator and initially the energy content of the universe was zero, then we are left with the unanswered and equally puzzling question of how the present energy content of the universe may be explained by the laws of physics. Intriguing as these scientific debates are, we now turn to the focus of the present article, which is a theoretical inquiry into how did the ancient scriptures address the question of the creation of the universe?

Hinduism

Translation of a part of the Vedas - The Vedas are a large body of texts originating in ancient India and are among the oldest sacred texts. Composed in Sanskrit, the texts constitute the oldest layer of Sanskrit literature and the oldest scriptures of Hinduism and Buddhism.

Translation of a part of the Vedas – The Vedas are a large body of texts originating in ancient India and are among the oldest sacred texts. Composed in Sanskrit, the texts constitute the oldest layer of Sanskrit literature and the oldest scriptures of Hinduism and Buddhism.

We turn our attention first to Hindu scriptures, wherein the Vedas constitute the oldest scriptures of Hindu literature. The distinguishing feature of the Vedas from other religious texts of the Hindu faith is that the Vedas are believed to have been the result of direct revelation (Sruti). Among the four Vedas, Rigveda is considered to be the oldest and it declares the following:

“Who verily knows and who can declare it, whence it was born and whence comes this creation?

The Gods are latter than this world’s production. Who knows thence first it came into being?

He, the first origin of this creation, whether he formed it all or did not form it,

Whose eye control this world in highest heaven, he verily knows it, or perhaps he knows not.”2

This reference makes it clear that, according to the Rigveda, it is unclear whether creation occurred on God’s command or whether creation occurred as a consequence of a spontaneous phenomenon—leaving unanswered the question of whether God (or gods) themselves had any definite knowledge about creation. We will now explore how the Rigveda’s narration evolved through in subsequent Hindu scriptures. A topic of repeated discussion in the Hindu literature is whether everything was non-existent in the beginning except for the creator and was subsequently created, or whether some other entities of the universe share eternity with the creator. This question has been stirring the minds of Hindu theologians since ancient times. The Upanishads are philosophical texts considered to be early sources of the tenets of Hinduism. There are approximately 200 Upanishads, almost 12 of which are relatively older than the others. The Khandogya Upanishad narrates that Uddalaka, the son of Aruna, taught his son:

“In the beginning my dear, there was that only which is one only, without a second. Others say, in the beginning there was only which is not, one only, without a second; and from that which is not, that which is was born.”

The father continued, “But how could it be thus my dear? How could that which is, be born of that which is not? No, my dear, only that which is, was in the beginning, one only without a second.”3

Like the creation hymn of Rigveda, this ancient sage leaves the reader in confusion about the question under discussion. However, it is interesting to note that despite Hinduism being practiced today as a polytheistic religion, the ancient sages of the religion allude to a single entity as creator in the beginning of our universe. Among the trinity of the most prominent Hindu gods, i.e., Brahma-Vishnu-Shiva, Brahma is the cosmic creator. Vishnu preserves every cycle of creation, and at the end of each cycle Shiva destroys it all. Thus, this begs the question whether according to Hindu scriptures, Brahma created everything at the dawn of creation, or whether there was some raw material available before this process began? While a variety of Hindu scriptures address this question, the viewpoints expressed therein are seldom aligned with each other. A brief account of some of the notable texts is presented herein below:

Among Hindu literature, Manusmrti (or the Laws of Manu) is the discourse given by the sage Manu to the congregation of Rishis after the great deluge. The Laws of Manu were compiled in response to the flood and aimed at educating all strata of society on how to lead an organized life and be well-equipped to face such calamities in the future. Manu also endeavored to describe the origins of the universe, although his Laws do not state that the universe was ever non-existent – instead it narrates that in the beginning the universe was in a state of sleep and engulfed in total darkness. The Manusmrti propounds:

“This (universe) existed in the shape of darkness, unperceived, destitute of distinctive marks, unattainable by reasoning, unknowable, wholly immersed as it were in deep sleep.”4

The Shatapatha Brahmana, one of the important Hindu texts describing the Vedic rituals, also contains myths about creation and the deluge of Manu. It declares that before the creator began the process of creation, there was absolutely nothing present. Furthermore, the Sathapatha Brahmna expounds that even the creator himself in the beginning initially did not possess a mind, which needed to be created first. As this passage of Sathapatha Brahmna tells us:

‘‘Verily there was nothing here in the beginning: by death this (universe) was covered, by hunger, for Death is hunger. He created for himself this mind, thinking, ‘May I have a soul.’’’5

Strangely, according to this aforementioned passage from the Sathapatha Brahmna, initially the creator did not possess any soul or mind, but still had the capability to create a mind and soul. The Vedanta Sutras form a part of Vedic literature that was created to systemize and to remove contradictions within Vedic literature. The Vedanta Sutras present a different idea altogether which is contradictory to the idea presented in the above-mentioned passage of Sathapatha Brahmna. It states that:

“Ether (does) not (originate), on account of the absence of scriptural statement.”6

Here the word “akasa” has been translated as “ether.” In other places, it has been translated as “space.”

To summarise, according to Taittiriya Upanishad and the Sathapatha Brahmna, nothing was present before the creation of the universe. But according to the Laws of Manu, in the beginning this universe was in a state of sleep, and according to the Vedanta Sutras, ether is eternal and it was present even before the beginning of creation. The diversity of these viewpoints leaves the question of the creation of the universe in a more intriguing yet vexed place than before. An examination of the scriptures of other religions is thereby imperative in order to assess how these have addressed this puzzling question of how the universe came into being.

Taoism

Tao Te King, the teachings of Lao-Tzu, describes Tao in these words:

“The Tao that can be trodden is not the enduring and
unchanging Tao. The name that can be named is not the enduring and
unchanging name.

(Conceived of as) having no name, it is the Originator of heaven
and earth; (conceived of as) having a name, it is the Mother of all
things.”7

In the above-mentioned reference “Tao” is presented as the mother of all things. Leaving aside the debate about the nature of “Tao,” later scriptures of Taoism prescribe that space already existed at the time of the creation of the Universe. As this passage from the writings of Kwang-Ze (or Zhuangze), a Chinese sage who lived four centuries before Christ, tells us:

“In the grand beginning (of all things) there was nothing in all the vacancy of space; there was nothing that could be named. It was in this state that there arose the first existence; the first existence, but still without bodily shape.”8

Space may have meant nothing when Kwang-Ze uttered these words but today, in light of advances in the physical sciences, we know that even space is a complex entity.

Christianity

The first two chapters of the Bible narrate the creation story.

The first two chapters of the Bible narrate the creation story.

The first two chapters of the Bible narrate the creation story. They begin with the words:

“In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth…”9

It is clear that according to the Bible that the heavens and the earth are the creation of God. However, the Book of Genesis has not addressed the question with respect to whether any matter or space existed at the time this process commenced.

Islam

The Holy Qur’an is explicitly clear about how creation began.

The Holy Qur’an is explicitly clear about how creation began.

Now we come to the Islamic concept on this topic. The Qur’an offers insights into the phenomenon of the creation of the universe and prescribes with great clarity that God created everything. As the following verse of the Qur’an states:

“Such is Allah, your Lord. There is no God but He, the Creator of all things, so worship Him. And He is guardian over everything.”10

According to the foregoing Qur’anic verse, everything is the creation of God. The following two verses of the Qur’an and the Arabic word used in them sheds further light on this topic:

“The Originator of heavens and the earth! How can He have a son when He has no consort, and when He has created everything and has knowledge of all things?”11

“He is the Originator of the heavens and the earth. When He decrees a thing, He only says to it ‘Be’ and it is.”12

Therefore, as the aforementioned verses of the Qur’an clearly reveal, the creation of the universe was not a spontaneous phenomenon. Allah created everything. According to the Qur’an, His decree can create anything out of nothing. And since God created everything, it follows that no entity shares eternity with the Creator. To examine the true meaning of these verses we shall render an etymological account of the Arabic word “Badi” ( بدیع) used therein.

The word “Badi” is often translated as the “Originator,” which is one of the names and attributes of God used in the Qur’an. The dictionary of Lane translates “Badi” as, “[t]he originator of creation, according to his own will, not after the similitude of anything pre-existing.” However, historically “Badi” has been used in a more wide-ranging fashion and its use is not restricted to connoting “Originator.” Old dictionaries such as the “Al-Mufradat fi Gharib al-Quran” by  Allama Raghib Isphahani, compiled almost nine hundred years ago, explains that “Badi” when used in connection with God signifies, “originating the creation of a thing without any tool, matter, time or place.” Keeping these meanings ascribed to the word “Badi” in mind, we can submit conclusively that the Qur’an credits the entire process of the creation of the universe to God and provides that at the time of creation, matter and space did not exist—even time was the creation of Allah.

The Promised Messiahas Versus the Aryah Samaj

During the nineteenth century, Pundit Dayanand founded a Hindu reformist movement by the name of Aryah Samaj. The cornerstone of the movement’s philosophy was the belief in the infallibility of Veda. They believed that “prakriti” (or fundamental matter) and souls were never created, and instead were eternal like the creator.13

Rejecting the Pundit’s beliefs, the Founder of the Ahmadiyya Movement in Islam, Hazrat Mirza Ghulam Ahmadas, wrote that the Aryah concept of God represented a weak god who was not all-powerful as presented by the Qur’an. He contended that if matter and its properties and the souls of living beings together with their attributes were not God’s creation, then there was hardly any room in this universe for God. While undertaking an analysis of the beliefs of the Arya Samaj, Hazrat Mirza Ghulam Ahmadas wrote:

“Their brothers, the Aryah Samjists, who claim that they follow the Vedas strictly, deprive God Almighty of the power of creation. They hold that souls are uncreated and self-existing like God Himself, whereas reason would consider it a defect in God Almighty that he should be the Master of the world and yet should not be the Lord and Creator of something, and that the life of the world should not depend on His support but should be self-existing. Of the two positions, one that He has brought into existence the whole universe out of His Own perfect power and is its Lord and Creator and that the whole of the universe is dependent upon His Providence and that the attribute of creation and its power is inherent in His being and that He is not subject to birth or death; and secondly, that the whole of creation, which is under His control is not created by Him, and is not dependent upon Him for its existence, and that He is not its Creator and Lord and does not possess the attribute of creation and is not free from the defects of birth and death, reason would surely support the first.”14

Scientific Positions and the “Big Bang” Theory

As has been explored, this question has been discussed in scriptures of different religions for thousands of years. And theologians, while discussing this question, have been arriving at different conclusions. The mysteries surrounding the beginning of the universe have confounded theologians and scientists alike. Before the acceptance of the “Big Bang” theory, scientists believed in a stationary universe, which had existed forever. When evidence of an expanding universe led to the conclusion that this universe had a beginning in the form of a “Big Bang,” even Einstein found this idea to be perplexing. He wrote to another scientist stating that, “To admit such possibilities seems senseless to me.”15

However, such apprehensions had to be shelved in the face of mounting scientific evidence in support of the Big Bang Theory. Today, we know that in the beginning, i.e., almost 15 billion years ago this universe existed in a state of singularity, as Bill Bryson, author of A Short History of Nearly Everything  illuminatingly writes:

“It is natural but wrong to visualize the singularity as a kind of pregnant dot hanging in a dark, boundless void. But there is no space, no darkness. The Singularity has no around around it. There is no space for it to occupy, no place for it to be. We can’t even ask how long it has been there – whether it has just lately popped into being, like a good idea, or whether it has been there forever, quietly awaiting the right moment. Time doesn’t exist. There is no past for it to emerge from. And so, from nothing, our universe begins.”16

Bryson, continuing, cautions against perceiving the Big Bang as a massive explosion out of which the universe emerged. Instead, he states that it was “a vast, sudden expansion on a whopping scale.”17 In this state everything was in a singularity, and in this state laws of physics break down. Then space-time began at big bang singularity and the universe passed through a phase of inflationary expansion. Physicists today continue to rattle their brains with the question of how the universe began and whether the laws of physics alone are enough to explain its creation from nothing. They have been compelled to ask whether the principle of “quantum fluctuation” can render an explanation for how the universe was created without the assistance of a Divine Hand? Despite some leading biologists such as Richard  Dawkins in his recent publication, The God Delusion arguing that science has rendered God “unnecessary,” others have plainly acknowledged the inextricable link between these questions and God—as Dr. Andrei Linde, a cosmologist at Stanford, told the New York Times in 2001, “These are very close to religious questions.”18

Conclusions

Some scriptures, such as the Bible, do not address this question clearly.

In Vedas it is concluded that the human mind cannot know the reality of this topic. The Rigveda declares that perhaps even God is unaware of the reality of the beginning of the universe.

According to Manu, in the beginning, the constituents of the universe were present but were in a dormant state.

According to Vedanta Sutra’s and Tao scriptures (Kwang-Ze), space is eternal and was present when the creator initiated the creation of the universe.

Among the philosophical discourses of Hindu religion, Khandogya-Upanishad and Sathapatha Brahmna conclude that nothing was present in the beginning, beside the creator.

The Qur’an declares that every entity, including matter, space, souls and time were created by Allah alone. Nothing is eternal except for God.

Scriptures of different religions provide varying answers into the question of the creation of the universe, with different degrees of clarity. Consequently, their respective concepts about the power of God to create a universe out of nothing are also different from one another. After thousands of years this question still irritates the minds of ordinary people, theologians and scientists.

Endnotes

1.  João Magueijo, Faster than the speed of light: the story of a scientific speculation (Cambridge, MA: Perseus Book Group, 2003), 15.

2.  Rigveda, Book X, Hymn CXXIX, verses 6-7.

3.  Max Muller, ed., “The Upanishads,” in Sacred Books of the East, vol. 1, Sacred Books of the East (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1879), 93.

4.  G. Buhler, tran., The Laws of Manu, vol. 25, Sacred Books of the East (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1879), 2.

5.  Julius Eggeling, tran., The Satapatha Brahmana: According to the Text of the Mâdhyandina School, vol. 43, Sacred Books of the East (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1897), 402.

6.  George Thibaut, tran., The Vedanta-Sutras: Commentary by Sankaracharya, vol. 38, Sacred Books of the East (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1896), 3.

7.  James Legge, tran., The Sacred Books of China: The Texts of Taoism, vol. 39, Sacred Books of the East (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1891), 47.

8.  Ibid., 39:315.

9.  The Bible, Genesis 1:1.

10.  The Holy Qur’an, 6:103.

11.  The Holy Qur’an, 6:102.

12.  The Holy Qur’an 2:118.

13.  Dayananda Saraswati, Satyarth Prakash, Urdu Translation, 1899, 274.

14.  The Promised Messiahas, The Essence of Islam, vol. 1, The Essence of Islam, n.d., 36–37.

15.  Robert Jastrow, Until the Sun Dies (New York: Norton, 1977), 30.

16.  Bill Bryson, A Short History of Nearly Everything (London: Black Swan, 2004), 28.

17.  Ibid., 32.

18.  Ibid.

 

 

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