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Origins beliefs

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Origins beliefs are beliefs or stories describing how the universe, our earth, life, and/or humanity came into being. Such beliefs can be derived from many different venues including scientific investigation, metaphysical speculation, or religious belief. As with any set of beliefs, there are wide range of quality and quantity of systematic arguments and assumptions historically made in support of any one idea. Points of view on these subjects vary widely. While many see certain beliefs about origins to be disproven, anathema, or improbable, others do not. Some argue that certain beliefs are necessarily mutually exclusive while others claim that synthesis is possible.

Some origins beliefs are classified by historians as creation myths, a term used for a story of creation with deep explanatory or symbolic resonance for a culture. This terminology is sometimes seen as offensive when used to describe stories which are still believed today, as the term "myth" suggests ideas which are absurd or fictional. These beliefs and stories need not be a literal account of actual events, but may express what are perceived to be truths at a deeper or more symbolic level. Author Daniel Quinn notes that in this sense creation myths need not be religious in nature, and they have secular forms in modern cultures.

Many creation beliefs share broadly similar themes. Common motifs include the fractionation of the things of the world from a primordial chaos; the separation of the mother and father gods; land emerging from an infinite and timeless ocean; and so on.

Some religious groups assert that creation beliefs should replace or complement "scientific" accounts of the development of life and the cosmos. This assertion has proved highly controversial. For an account of this debate, see creationism.


Science-based beliefs

Science, strictly speaking, deals only with observable phenomena. Anything that cannot be observed (either directly or indirectly) is, by definition, not a subject of scientific investigation. Scientists look for patterns among observations, which give rise to hypotheses to be tested against further observations. If a hypothesis passes these tests, it is then called a scientific theory, which again is subject to amendment or rejection based on new observations.

The ability of the scientists to analyse unique and non-recurring events in the distant past (such as the creation of the universe) is limited, because such events cannot be directly observed nor experimentally repeated. However, science may be able to measure some of the effects of such events (for instance, via the microwave echo of the big bang) and interpret these observations within a scientific framework. By extrapolating the current observed state of affairs into the past, scientists seek to construct an accurate picture of the past. Those who are strict adherents to philosophical naturalism believe that such is all that is possible to know. This is not a universally accepted idea by any means, and there are many who promote other paths to knowledge which are not characterized as scientific inquiry.

In scientific theories supported by the mainstream scientific community, the universe and life is described as developing through solely natural causes, and the progress of science is hoped to continue to improve the explanation of things and events in the past.

Creation science is a creationist effort to integrate science and Abrahamic faith by allowing for both supernatural causes of phenomena as generally described by creation according to Genesis and the application of the scientific method in interpreting observable phenomena. It is rejected as pseudoscience by the mainstream scientific community.

Accepted mainstream scientific theories

The Big Bang theory is the dominant cosmological theory about the early development and current shape of the universe. The ultimate origin of the preconditions for the universe is currently a subject of speculation, and some believe it is beyond the bounds of scientific inquiry.

The modern evolutionary synthesis is the dominant biological theory about the origin of human life on Earth. This combines Charles Darwin's theory of the evolution of species by natural selection with Gregor Mendel's theory of genetics as the basis for biological inheritance.

The origin of life itself on Earth is more contested. The RNA world hypothesis is one explanation.

It should be pointed out that the above scientific theories are not ex nihilo beliefs, that is they do not start from nothing. They provide no mechanism for the origin ex nihilo of energy or matter. In this respect they are unlike the Jewish, Christian, and Islamic beliefs which assert that the universe, Earth, and life originated in a unique creative act by God, or "scientific" speculations which propose an original cause of some other type. For a more precise understanding of modern science's concepts concerning "matter from vacuum" or "something from nothing" see virtual particle and vacuum energy.

Beliefs grounded in philosophical naturalism

Atomism is an ancient Greek philosophy supported by Democritus, Epicurus and Lucretius which held that events in the universe were not the consequence of any act by a Creator, but rather was the result of atoms moving about randomly. This philosophy was reformulated as determinism after the Enlightenment and still enjoys a following by some scientists, though the character of deterministic interactions in nature involving quantum mechanics is an outstanding question.

The Anthropic Principle and its more controversial derivative the Strong Anthropic Principle are explanations for the existence of humanity with repsect to the conditions of the universe that we inhabit. The principle is used as a guide for some scientists to determine certain physical laws that have necessarily resulted in the existence of ourselves. In some sense, the Anthropic Principle is an empirical truism while the Strong Anthropic Principle is an idea that may defy falsification.

Deism was a popular belief of many scientists and philosophers of the post-enlightenment, including Newton, Leibnitz, and Thomas Jefferson that kept the formality of a creator, but allowed creation to function solely based on natural laws that were established at the time of creation. In this formulation, every interaction was completely deterministic.

The Many worlds interpretation of quantum mechanics and the idea of parallel universes are ways of resolving questions of causality and determinism in the framework of probabilistic interactions. In this speculative interpretation, the universe that we inhabit is one of many possible universes that all simultaneously exist, but are independent of each other, and each universe bifurcates with every quantum mechanical "observation".

Creation ex nihilo

Creation ex nihilo (Latin: out of nothing) is quite at odds with our everyday experiences, in that nothing spontaneously comes into (or vanishes from) existence but instead matter and energy merely change forms. However, quantum mechanics allows for energy to be spontaneously created from the vacuum as long as the Heisenberg Uncertainty Principle is not violated. This may give a means by which creation ex nihilo can be achieved, but nevertheless we are not currently able to explain creation ex nihilo, nor even to prove that it is required.

An explanation advanced by some theists is that God created the Universe out of nothing; some creationist hold also that life was created in something like its present state of variety, so that organisms were fully speciated from the beginning. While there are various attempts to square these ideas with available evidence and currently accepted theory, their explanatory utility, predictive power, and scientific standing are questioned by critics of creationism. Many scientists in the relevant fields, theist and otherwise, do not regard notions like divine power or divine will as playing genuine scientific roles in cosmology or biology.

The scientifically prevalent view is that life originated on Earth, although other views hold that organic compounds from comets may have been an important source of material for the appearance of life. The Miller-Urey experiment showed that amino acids could arise from a type of primitive environment. Nevertheless, scientific research on abiogenesis is ongoing.

Religious creation beliefs

Several religions have creation stories, some of which account for the existence and present form of the Universe by the act of creation by a supreme being or creator god. Most of these accounts depict one or several gods fashioning things out of themselves, or from pre-existing material (for example chaos or prakriti).

The scholastic traditions of Judaism, Christianity, and Islam for the most part speak of creation ex nihilo. This is typified, for example, by the assumption that the first verse of the Christian Bible ("In the beginning, God created the heavens and the earth") indicates the only self-existent entity is God with all other things deriving from God. 2 Maccabees 7:28 indicates that this philosophy may have been a common Jewish understanding of creation: "I beseech thee, my son, look upon the heaven and the earth, and all that is therein, and consider that God made them of things that were not ...". Similar to this is the language found in the Book of Hebrews, which states, "Through faith we understand that the worlds were framed by the word of God, so that things which are seen were not made of things which do appear". Some (notably Augustine of Hippo) also hold that God is altogether outside of time and that time exists only within the created universe.

However, in these traditions, the belief that God gave shape to pre-existing things was not unheard of, and that idea became more fully articulated especially under the influence of Greek philosophy. In both Judaism and Christianity, belief in creation "from nothing" began to dominate the traditions sometime in the second century C.E., in part as a reaction against classical philosophy. The following story from the Talmud illustrates this:

A philosopher said to R. Gamiliel: Your God was a great craftsman, but he found himself good materials which assisted him: Tohu wa-Bohu, and darkness, and wind, and water, and the primeval deep. Said R. Gamiliel to him: May the wind be blown out of that man! Each material is referred to as created. Tohu wa-Bohu: "I make peace and create evil"; darkness: "I form the light and create darkness"; water: "Praise him, ye heaven of heavens, and ye waters" -- why? -- "For he commanded, and they were created"; wind: "For, lo, He that formeth the mountains, and created the wind"; the primeval deep: "When there were no depths, I was brought forth". BR 1.9, Th-Alb:8

Departing from this tradition, some modern scholars have argued that these statements and all others are still susceptible to ambiguous interpretation, so that creation ex nihilo may not be clearly supported by ancient texts, including the Bible. They point out the similarities of the biblical account, to other ancient religious beliefs that the universe was created by God or the gods out of pre-existing matter, as opposed to "out of nothing". Some scholars see evidence that the biblical account, like other ancient religious views, presumes pre-existence of some kind of raw material, albeit without form: "Now the earth was formless and void, darkness was over the face of the deep, and the spirit of God hovered over the waters." God then fashions the disordered material, to create the world.

Bible-based beliefs

The stories of Genesis

The opening of Genesis tells the biblical story of creation. It involves God creating by means of speaking (e.g. "Let there be light") and actively working ("dividing the light from the darkness") over a period of six days. Taking Genesis as a literal account indicates that this is an actualy account of what occured on six days of 24 hours each. Alternatively, there are allegorical interpretations of the story that claim it to be a description of humankind's development of a relationship between creation and the creator. The level to which the story is taken at its literal meaning is in part related to how theologically conservative or theologically liberal the interpreter is.

There are some indications that the subsequent account of the creation of humanity is a distinct second creation account, though most literalists reject this hypothesis for obvious reasons. This idea has troubled many commentators (see A History of the Warfare of Science with Theology in Christendom by A.D. White, 1896, Dover Publications, 1960, page 5). The distinction between the two creation stories is concealed by some translations, such as the New International Version.For a more complete discussion, see the main article, Creation account(s) in Genesis.

According to the documentary hypothesis the existence of two creation stories is the result of the merging of two distinct traditions into one unified text. Literary and linguistic analysis by various authors offer a number of theories concerning modifications and editing which produced the text that exists today. Some readers of the Bible deny that two distinct creation stories exist; they have created a detailed set of religious readings which attempt to show that any differences are only apparent, but not actually real.

For some religious writers, such as Rabbi Joseph Soloveitchik, the existence of two separate creation stories is beyond doubt, and thus needs to be interpreted as having divine importance.

Young and Old Earth creationists

There is a sharp distinction between Young Earth creationists and Old Earth creationists who hold contradictory views regarding the age of the Earth. Young Earth creationism holds to the wording of the first story, where the Earth was created in six days. Young Earth creationists usually date the Earth at somewhere around 6,000 years old using the genealogies and other details in the Bible; the Ussher-Lightfoot Calendar of Bishop James Ussher presents one famous interpretation of these details. Young Earth creationists usually reject the Big Bang theory of the origin of the universe.

Old Earth creationists do not hold to the wording of either story and claim that the Earth is millions of years old. For example, Day-age creationism holds that the six days referred to are not ordinary 24-hour days, but rather much longer periods (of thousands or millions of years); the Genesis account is then sometimes interpreted as an account of the process of evolution. So-called Gap creationists believe that the creation of the universe in Genesis 1:1 preceded the six creative days that started in Genesis 1:2. In this approach, the passing of the "days" has nothing to do with the creation of the earth itself but rather the establishment of a suitable environment for the various kinds of life that appeared. This view harmonizes with geologists' reckoning of the earth's age in billions of years, though still has problems concording with biological evidence about the origin of the species and mankind in particular.

God as absolute origin

Creationists in the tradition of the Roman Catholic Church assert that God is the origin, out of nothing (Latin: ex nihilo), of all things that exist apart from God, who exists eternally. The Church holds as an unchangeable tenet of Christian faith, that:

"... three things are affirmed in these first words of Scripture: the eternal God gave a beginning to all that exists outside of himself; he alone is Creator (the verb "create" - Hebrew bara - always has God for its subject). The totality of what exists (expressed by the formula "the heavens and the earth") depends on the One who gives it being. — (Catechism of the Catholic Church: "Creation - Work of the Holy Trinity" [1])

Here, clearly, creation is described as an absolute beginning, which includes the assertion that the very existence of the universe is contingent upon a necessary, uncreated being, a God who is not himself created. Therefore the doctrine of creation places the knowledge of God central in the pursuit of the knowledge of anything, for everything comes from God. The "supernatural" refers ultimately to God alone. Nature is denied any divinity.

This doctrine of creation, generally speaking, is also shared by Judaism, Islam, Eastern Orthodoxy, Oriental Orthodoxy, and Protestantism. The strictness to which adherents are required to accept these views, and the sense in which these definitions are official, vary widely.

Saint Augustine (A.D. 354-430), embarrassed by Christians who would not accept this doctrine, wrote against them in his work The Literal Meaning of Genesis (De Genesi ad litteram libri duodecim). This translation is by J. H. Taylor in Ancient Christian Writers, Newman Press, 1982, volume 41.

"Usually, even a non-Christian knows something about the earth, the heavens, and the other elements of this world, about the motion and orbit of the stars and even their size and relative positions, about the predictable eclipses of the sun and moon, the cycles of the years and the seasons, about the kinds of animals, shrubs, stones, and so forth, and this knowledge he hold to as being certain from reason and experience. Now, it is a disgraceful and dangerous thing for an infidel to hear a Christian, presumably giving the meaning of Holy Scripture, talking nonsense on these topics; and we should take all means to prevent such an embarrassing situation, in which people show up vast ignorance in a Christian and laugh it to scorn. The shame is not so much that an ignorant individual is derided, but that people outside the household of faith think our sacred writers held such opinions, and, to the great loss of those for whose salvation we toil, the writers of our Scripture are criticized and rejected as unlearned men. If they find a Christian mistaken in a field which they themselves know well and hear him maintaining his foolish opinions about our books, how are they going to believe those books in matters concerning the resurrection of the dead, the hope of eternal life, and the kingdom of heaven, when they think their pages are full of falsehoods and on facts which they themselves have learnt from experience and the light of reason? Reckless and incompetent expounders of Holy Scripture bring untold trouble and sorrow on their wiser brethren when they are caught in one of their mischievous false opinions and are taken to task by those who are not bound by the authority of our sacred books. For then, to defend their utterly foolish and obviously untrue statements, they will try to call upon Holy Scripture for proof and even recite from memory many passages which they think support their position, although they understand neither what they say nor the things about which they make assertion." [1 Timothy 1.7]

Limits to the ontology of creation

While many scenarios are proposed by religion and science to identify 'first cause' and the origin of creation (ontology), there are some fundamental limits to the knowledge of humankind that present a barrier to finding any definitive answer.

Post-modern philosophy currently holds that there is nothing that one can know for certain. Kant put a good case to show that because we view the universe through the lens of the mind, which is 'shaped' by space, time, and the things embedded in space and time, it is not possible to see things-in-themselves (noumena) - the real objects that lie behind the subjective objects (phenomena) we recognise. If true, it is beyond the mind of humankind to perceive a condition that has no space or time. Many other philosophers, most recently Popper have all shown that there is precious little one can be sure of that would provide a starting point to determine the 'first cause' that led to creation.

Modern physics is an empirical science based on experiment and observation that characterizes how things happen through scientific theories and physical laws, but ultimately does not answer the question of 'why' things happen at the foundational (ontological) level. For example, the existence of the Big Bang is not predicated on a reason for its occurrence. What's more, the modern physics breaks down at the Planck time/Planck length, where both the influences of quantum mechanics and gravity are required to be combined in order to characterize the interactions that occur. As such, there is no model available that has been tested at this level, and so any attempt to theoretically probe beyond this regime in search of a more fundamental appreciation of the nature of the universe is hampered.

Religion has philosophy and oral testimony available to it to demonstrate a God or a separate "first cause" that called the universe into existence. As such it is dependent on faith in God or the specific "first cause" to which it ascribes.

Creation within various belief systems

Some creation beliefs are part of a named system of beliefs and are labeled as such below. Some creation beliefs seem to be better characterized according to time and/or place as they are part of a human culture in a time/place.


The Babylonian creation myth is described in Enma Elish. It existed in various versions and copies, the oldest dating to at least 1700 B.C.E.

In the poem, the god Marduk arms himself and sets out to challenge the monster Tiamat. Marduk destroys Tiamat, cutting her into two halves which become the Earth and the sky. Later on, he also destroys Tiamat's husband, Kingu, and uses his blood to create mankind. (Reference: A. Leo Oppenheim, Ancient Mesopotamia.)


Buddhism does not posit an eternal self or soul. Neither does it posit or assume an absolute first cause of all existence, such as a Creator God in the Judeo-Christian-Islamic tradition.


There are five major views of creation in China:

  • The first, and most consistent historically, is that no myth exists. This is not to say there were none existing at all, only that there is no evidence showing an attempt to explain the world's origin.
  • The second view is very indirect. It is merely based on a question of a dialog in an earlier reference. The idea in the question implies that the heavens and the earth separated from one another.
  • The third view is the one perpetuated by Taoism by the nature of its philosophy. It appears "relatively" late in Chinese history. In it, Tao is described as the ultimate force behind the creation. With tao, nothingness gave rise to existence, existence gave rise to yin and yang, and yin and yang gave rise to everything. Due to the ambiguous nature of this myth, it could be compatible with the first myth (and therefore say nothing). But it could, like its antithesis, be explained in a way to better fit the modern scientific view of the creation of universe.
  • The fourth view is the relatively late myth of Pangu. This was an explanation offered by Taoist Monks hundreds of years after LaoZi; probably around +0200 AD. In this story, the universe begins as a cosmic egg. A god named Pangu, born inside the egg, broke it into two halves: The upper half became the sky, the lower half became the earth. As the god grew taller, the sky and the earth grew thicker and were separated further. Finally the god died and his body parts became different parts of the earth.
  • The fifth view would be tribal accounts that vary widely and not necessarily connect to a system of belief.


References to God in the New Testament vary, however, overall they demonstrate an incorporation of the first cause. It should be noted, however, that the Chrisitian conception of God, the holy trinity, is more complex. The following example(s) illustrate(s) this:

Revelation 1:8 - I am Alpha and Omega, the beginning and the ending ... which is, which was, and which is to come, the Almighty.

The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints

Followers of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints believe that physical reality (space, matter and/or energy) is eternal, and therefore does not have an absolute origin. The Creator is an architect and organizer of pre-mortal matter and energy, who constructed the present universe out of the raw material.


  • Ptah, the self-created god of Fire created also Nun.

Classical Greece

Plato, in his dialogue Timaeus, describes a creation myth involving a being called the demiurge.


"The Mahaa-Vishnu, into whom all the innumerable universes enter and from whome they come forth again simply by His breathing process, is a plenary expansion of Krishna. Therefore I worship Govinda, Krishna, the cause of all causes." (Brahma-samhitaa 5.48)

In Hindu philosophy, the existence of the universe is governed by the triumvirate- The Trimurti of Brahma (the Creator), Vishnu (the Sustainer) and Shiva (the Destroyer). The sequence of Avatars of Vishnu- the Dasavatara (Sanskrit: Dasa—ten,Avatara—incarnation) is generally accepted by most Hindus today as correlating well with Darwin's theory of evolution, the first Avatar generating from the environment of water:.

Hindus thus do not see much conflict between creation and evolution. An additional reason for this could also be the Hindu concept of cyclic time, in some (4?) billion year cycles (unlike the concept of linear time in many other religions). In fact, time is represented as a wheel- 'Kaala Chakra'- Wheel of Time:.

In Hinduism, nature and all of God's creations are manifestations of Him. He is within and without his creations, pervading the entire universe and also observing it as an external observer. Hence all animals and humans have a divine element in them, that is covered by the ignorance and illusions of material existence.

An interesting point is that though Brahma is considered the Creator, unlike Vishnu and Shiva, there are very few temples of worship for Brahma. The only historic temple of Brahma in India (dating to the 14th Century) is the Jagatpita temple in Pushkar, Rajastan.


The Elders say that the first Hopi had chosen to live in this barren desert so that they would always need to pray for rain and thus not lose faith in their ceremonies which maintain their bond with the Mother nature and Creator. They said that the True Hopi people represents the Red race through the authority vested in them by the Creator, Maasaw .


In Islam all creation is attributed to Allah (the proper name for God in Arabic), the one and only God for Muslims. He is clearly identified as the "first cause" at numerous places in the Qur'an. Three instances follow:

(13:16) … Say: Allah is the Creator of all things, and He is the One, the Supreme

(57:3) … He is the First and the Last and the Manifest and the Hidden, and He is Knower of all things

(112:1) … Say: He, Allah, is One

(112:2) … Allah is He on Whom all depend

Referring to the first cause argument the Qur'an addresses the non-believers:

(52:35) … Or were they created without a (creative) agency? Or are they the creators?

(52:36) … Or did they create the heavens and the earth? Nay, they are sure of nothing.


The god Izanagi and goddess Izanami churned the ocean with a spear to make a small island of curdled salt. Two deities went down to the island, mixed there, and bore main islands, deities, and forefathers of Japan. See Japanese mythology#Creation of the world.


The notion of "Tzimtzum", or God's retraction to make way for space and time, is a core element to the Jewish approach to the First Cause notion, as explored by Rabbi Moses Maimonides.


The Maya of Mesoamerica creation story is recounted in the book "Popol Vuh". In the beginning there is only sky and sea, personified as a trinity of gods called Heart-of-Sky. They decide that they want someone to praise them. They begin by saying "Earth", which appears on demand from the sea. This is followed by mountains and trees, and Heart-of-Sky establish that "our work is going well". Next for creation are the creatures of the forest: birds, deer, jaguars and snakes. They are told to multiply and scatter, and then to speak and "pray to us". But the animals just squawk and howl. They are consequently humbled and will become servants to whoever will worship Heart-of-Sky. So Heart-of-Sky try to make some more respectful creatures from mud. But the results are not great, and they allow the new race to be washed away. They call upon their grandparents, who suggest wood as an appropriate medium. But the wooden people are just mindless robots, so Heart-of Sky set about the destruction of this new race by means of a rain-storm. This causes the animals to turn against the wooden people; even their pots and querns rebel, and crush the peoples' faces. The wooden people escape to the forests and are turned into monkeys. Heart-of-Sky then make yet another attempt at creating a suitably respectful race, and finally succeed by fashioning humans out of maize-corn dough.


The Maori creation myth tells how heaven and earth were once joined as Ranginui, the Sky Father, and Papatuanuki, the Earth Mother, lay together in a tight embrace. They had many children who lived in the darkness between them. The children wished to live in the light and so separated their unwilling parents. Ranginui and Papauanuk continue to grieve for each other to this day. Rangi's tears fall as rain towards Papatuanuku to show how much he loves her. When mist rises from the forests, these are Papa's sighs as the warmth of her body yearns for him and continues to nurture mankind.


Odin and his brothers used Ymir's body to create the universe. This universe comprises of nine worlds. They placed the body over the void called Ginnungagap. They used his flesh for creating the earth and his blood for the sea. His skull, held up by four dwarves (Nordri North, Sudri South, Austri East, and Vestri West), was used to create the heaven. Then using sparks from Muspelheim, the gods created the sun, moon and stars. While Ymir's eyebrows were used to create a place where the human race could live in; a place called Midgard. The first humans, Ask and Embla, were created from logs. [2]


Some philosophers like Hakim Bey and occultists like Peter Carroll think randomness, chaos or the Uncertainty principle is the prime mover according to science, and should accordingly be treated as divine.


You can trace the causes of things infinitely, or else you come to a first cause. But is there a first cause - a creator - or is there not? Obviously if there is not then he can't create anything . And if there is, he himself is spontaneously self-created . Either way, all things emerge spontaneously. Stuff just keeps happening. Everything emerges in an uncontrolled improvisation, whether there is a creator or not. Nothing, therefore, is commanded by anything else. That's the truth.


Everything and nothing are all interconnected, inseparable, a made whole. Zen denies that the person is the first cause. It says the Tao or ground of being is the real first cause.


The Zoroastrianism story of creation has Ahura Mazda creating 16 lands, one by one, such that each would be delightful to its people. As he finished each one, Angra Mainyu applied a counter-creation, introducing plague and sin of various kinds.

See also

External links

Last updated: 08-04-2005 17:48:54
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