Visualizing creation

It’s easy enough to imagine the universe flashing into existence, but this cannot have a physical meaning. It can, however, serve as a metaphor for creation.

Say the universe is five minutes old. Knowing this, now I ask “what happened five minutes ago?” The answer is “whatever was happening then”. I, of course, want to talk about some sort of transition and so I rephrase the question as  “no, what happened at the midpoint of the time between 5.5. and 4.5. minutes ago? In visualizing a time before the five minutes there’s no doubt that I’m imagining something, but presumably the point of talking about time is to talk about it as it is and not as it is in our imagination, and so talking about “5.5. minutes ago” is a failure to keep to this rule. So either both times are imaginary, or only the first is: if the former, I’m not asking about the universe but about about my imagination of it; if the latter then the times are not continuous and so can have no midpoint. You can imagine as many counter-factual histories as you please, but you can’t ask what happens in the time between a counter-factual history and a real one.

In visualizing this flash point beginning of history we have a metaphor of nature as at once being given an existence of its own and being entirely dependent on another. We have a sense that the flash makes it exist of its own. One needs only to “get it started” and it carries on by itself, and the “getting it started” has no physical meaning, as said above. At the same time, the flash-into-existence metaphor speaks to the lack of an ontological foundation of the universe. So the metaphor seems to speak at cross-purposes, as giving both an independence and dependence to the universe.

Our visualization of the creation of the universe, therefore, cannot have a physical meaning, but is a metaphor for the fact that what is created both exists of itself and is dependent on another. We can approach creation by two tracks – by way of its existential poverty or its existential sufficiency. The first has been well explored by cosmological arguments, but the second, though almost entirely unexplored, would be an approach more fitting to the modern-contemporary temperament.

But “sufficiency” means “needing no other” and so the only theism that we seem to be able to get out of the sufficiency of the universe is pantheism. Is this right?

St. Thomas divides “creation” into the active and passive: the active being God himself as indistinguishable from his power, passive creation as the creature. Here the better metaphor for creation seems to be the line and its point – the two differ in being, but in such a way that all finitude is on the part of the point. The limit, like the creature, both differs from the figure and is inseparable from it. Creation is not a part of God any more than a point is a line segment, but just as a point marks the place where an expanding line ceases to give rise to a line segment, creation marks the location in which God’s activity terminates in something less than the persons of the Trinity.

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