Week 6 of 50 in the Institutes: The Chicken or the Egg?

As point man in our reading group, I stay a week ahead of the daily assignments so as to provide my reflections in advance.

The following passage in 1.14.1 reminded me of a conversation I had many years ago (emphasis added):

In fine, let us remember that that invisible God, whose wisdom, power, and justice, are incomprehensible, is set before us in the history of Moses as in a mirror, in which his living image is reflected. For as an eye, either dimmed by age or weakened by any other cause, sees nothing distinctly without the aid of glasses, so (such is our imbecility) if Scripture does not direct us in our inquiries after God, we immediately turn vain in our imaginations. Those who now indulge their petulance, and refuse to take warning, will learn, when too late, how much better it had been reverently to regard the secret counsels of God, than to belch forth blasphemies which pollute the face of heaven. Justly does Augustine complain that God is insulted whenever any higher reason than his will is demanded. He also in another place wisely reminds us that it is just as improper to raise questions about infinite periods of time as about infinite space.

I was having a conversation with a chemical engineer on staff at a chemical company where I was working as a summer intern during college.  He wasn’t a believer, and we were discussing the age of the universe.  We were considering the account given in Genesis 1-2 which, on the face of it, doesn’t allude to eons of time involved in creation.  This engineer pointed out how the vastness of the universe itself was prime evidence that everything began billions of years ago, because, after all, we know that the nearest star is over four light years away, and the diameter of the universe is (now) believed to be 93 billion light years.  He further contended that, if God had created the universe and it in fact wasn’t as old as it appeared to be, then such a “god” was deceptive, and a deceiver himself.

That assertion is an insult to God, as Calvin pointed out in 1.14.1 (highlighted above), in that it seeks to subject God’s will to man’s, and requires God to limit his ways to man’s.  Besides this, my friend’s assertion was fallacious on two accounts.  In the first instance, if God cannot make anything except by natural means, he cannot create anything, since the first law of thermodynamics is that matter can neither be created nor destroyed.  But if God is God, he can suspend natural, physical laws (even before they exist) to create the universe and everything in it however he may desire.  My friend was saying, in a sense, God can’t create a full grown chicken, only the egg (or less), because if he creates a full grown chicken, he is a deceiver because it will appear that the chicken is older than it really is.

And this brings up the second fallacy of my friend’s contention.  God hasn’t been deceptive in any way about his creation, because of special revelation.  In addition to the heavens declaring his glory, he has spoken in his Word and revealed “in the beginning God created the heavens and the earth”.  Bible scholars disagree about what fits into that account (days are ages, etc.,), and many seek to read into it long eons of time.  Calvin went the other direction, rightly noting that God could have created the entire universe in a moment, if he so desired (1.14.22):

Moreover, as I lately observed, the Lord himself, by the very order of creation, has demonstrated that he created all things for the sake of man. Nor is it unimportant to observe, that he divided the formation of the world into six days, though it had been in no respect more difficult to complete the whole work, in all its parts, in one moment than by a gradual progression. But he was pleased to display his providence and paternal care towards us in this, that before he formed man, he provided whatever he foresaw would be useful and salutary to him.

So it is not with glee but rather with appreciation of Calvin’s sense of humor that I close with his reference to Augustine’s Confessions, in 1.14.1:

It was a shrewd saying of a good old man, who when some one pertly asked in derision what God did before the world was created, answered he made a hell for the inquisitive (August. Confess., lib. 11 c. 12). This reproof, not less weighty than severe, should repress the tickling wantonness which urges many to indulge in vicious and hurtful speculation.

Links to Reformation 21 blogs through the Institutes:

Feb. 9:  1.13.26 – 1.13.29

Feb. 10:  1.14.1 – 1.14.5 

Feb. 11:  1.14.6 –  1.14.11

Feb. 12:  1.14.12 – 1.14.18

Feb. 13:  1.14.19 – 1.14.22

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