CREATION, in the Bible, the action of [a] god [of the Christians], as related in Genesis (see 1-2:4a and 2:4b-3:24), that brings into being the universe and all its contents.
Ancient Accounts of Creation.
Philosophically, the notion of creation is defined as the production of an existing thing out of no preexisting material and by no emanation from the preexisting self ( creatio ex nihilo sui et subjecti ). It is doubtful, however, that this definition, which comes out of Greek science, has anything to do with the notion of creation presented in the Bible and in the creation stories of other ancient peoples. No biblical verb for "create" expresses this philosophical concept.
In the Bible and in other comparable ancient literatures, creation is a theme expressed in explanatory stories to account for the world. In practically all ancient cultures, the biblical included, the universe was thought of as an original chaos into which order had been introduced by a creative hand: This was the essence of creation. The type of order envisioned varied from culture to culture. In the biblical perspective, it was important that light should be separated from darkness, day from night; that the sun, moon, and stars be assigned their proper function of determining seasons and times; and that the various forms of plant and animal life should be properly categorized. Although the figures differ from myth to myth, all the ancient stories intend simply to give a poetic accounting for cosmic origins. When viewed in terms of creational motifs, the stories tend to be similar.
Besides creation by a sky god, myths of creation include myths of emergence, as from a childbearing woman, or creation by the marriage of two parents representing earth and sky. The cosmic egg from which protohumans emerge is a feature of some Hindu, African, Greek, and Chinese myths. In other traditions, the earth must be brought up from the primordial waters by a diver, or is formed from the dismembered body of a preexisting being. Whether the deity uses preexisting materials, whether he leaves his creation once it is finished, how perfect the creation is, and whether and how creator and created interact vary among myths. The creation story also attempts to explain the origins of evil and the nature of god and humanity.
The Genesis accounts of creation are somewhat different from other Middle Eastern myths with which they are frequently compared, in that they give a new direction to the theme of creation as it involves the human race. Numerous themes in the Sumero-Babylonian song of Enuma elish and the Gilgamesh epic recur in Gen. 1-3. Some also recur in Ezek. 28, which makes additional use of the same themes for a different purpose, and in Sirach 16:24-17:14. This recurrence testifies to the common matrix from which biblical and other Middle Eastern myths were formed. What is exceptional in the biblical stories, however, is their tendency to deal with humanity not as a by-product or an afterthought of the creative mind of the deity, but as having been at the forefront of divine thought from the beginning. To the Western mind, Genesis bespeaks a rationally ordered creation, whereas in the other tales it seems unmotivated and capricious. B.V.
The medieval Christian church accepted Genesis as the complete story of creation. The story of Noah and the flood accounted for the existence of the different human races and the animals and plants found in the familiar world. As formal science developed, however, and the thought of the Greeks, particularly that of Aristotle ( see Greek Philosophy ) , was recovered in the West about 1200, questions arose concerning the evidence of personal observation. Humanity as the center of the universe, for example, could not be accepted if the earth revolved about the sun, as proposed by the Polish astronomer Nicolaus Copernicus in the 16th century and refined by the German and Italian astronomers, respectively, Johannes Kepler and Galileo. Galileo was judged a heretic, but his observations could not be ignored. By the 17th century Western philosophers such as the Deists and Rene Descartes of France had laid the basis for what may be called the argument from design for the existence and nature of god. In simple form, this argument could be phrased in an analogy between the world and a clock. Even if one disbelieved the biblical account of creation, the intricacy of the operations of the world seemed to indicate the necessity for a supreme designer, something like a watchmaker, who set the mechanism going and regulated it if necessary. Explanations of the mechanics of the physical universe by the English mathematician and physicist Isaac Newton and others were accepted more or less readily in the 18th century. But discoveries in geology, and the growing possibility that the earth might be older than the 6000 years postulated by the Irish archbishop James Ussher ( see Chronology ) in the 17th century, disturbed traditionalists. Even more disturbing was the speculation that led to the evolutionary theories of Charles Darwin ( see Evolution ). The physical world, animal life, and even human beings were, according to this thesis, the product of gradual development, and specific creation was at least implicitly denied.
Biblical criticism ( see Biblical Scholarship ) in the late 19th century cast further doubt on the inerrancy of the Bible. In reaction, Pope Pius X condemned Modernism (q.v.) in 1907. In the 1920s American fundamentalists intensified their criticism of scientific theories of evolution and actively opposed the teaching of Darwinism in public schools ( see Fundamentalism ). In the later years of the 20th century, moreover, a conservative resurgence in the U.S. brought wide publicity for a view that became known as scientific creationism. Creationists claim that the evidence for evolutionary science is flawed, that the biblical account of creation can be proved scientifically, and that either both theories should be taught in American schools or neither should be. Amid much controversy, legislation mandating equal treatment for both was adopted in Arkansas and Louisiana in 1981, but was overturned in 1982. The U.S. Supreme Court in 1987 ruled that the Louisiana legislation serves a religious purpose and, thus, violates the constitutional principle of separation of church and state.