“In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth.” So begins the first creation narrative in Genesis, chapter one. This narrative, which among other things states that water existed on earth before there was light, encompasses the creation of all living things, including humans. The story is directly contradicted by the following chapter of Genesis, which states that the human race sprang from a single man created out of mud and his female companion who was created from one of the man’s ribs, and that all animals were created after the man to be his companions.
Science has given us the idea of the Big Bang as event one in the creation of the universe, but there seems to be no unified agreement on what came before or specifically what caused it. Modern space exploration has yet to reveal much about the first few moments following the Big Bang when many important developments are thought to have occurred. Ancient Eastern philosophies postulate an expanding and contracting universe which seems to agree somewhat with modern science, though couched in their own religious language, the days and nights of Brahma.
If we are to believe the universe was spoken into existence by God, we could just as easily surmise that all existence is nothing more than an illusion in the mind of God, since God would only need to think something to bring it into existence. The world we inhabit has substance, however, and the elements can be broken down into smaller units. We don’t just see and hear the world, we can touch it, taste and smell it. If we’re just illusions within the mind of God we’re part of an extremely intricate illusion.
If the account in Genesis is correct, and the earth was spoken into existence six thousand years ago, undoubtedly there had to be an intelligent entity there to guide how it turned out, given it’s current advanced state. If the world is several billion years old as scientific evidence suggests, that leaves a lot of time for trial and error. Creation follows a logical sequence. No one builds a house from the outside in. First, the foundation is laid, then the frame is constructed, then the walls and ceilings are put in place.
Before life as we know it could develop on earth there had to be water. Before there could be water, the elements of hydrogen and oxygen had to exist. Prior to that, at some point early in the creation of the universe, matter and energy were instilled with certain properties, which led to everything that came afterward. Was this part of a conscious plan by an intelligent entity? Humans have attempted to answer that question for as long as they’ve had minds with which to ponder the nature of the universe. If the earth began as a fiery mass spinning in the cosmos before settling into orbit around the sun, it had to cool down considerably so the elements could come together to create the water and develop an atmosphere. This most likely didn’t happen in six or seven days.
Most apes live in trees. One day, one of them came down and decided to go for a walk. The ultimate outcome was the human race. As creation myths go, it’s not the most detailed or dramatic, but may be closer to what actually happened, though the process probably took hundreds of thousands, if not millions of years. In much of the material I’ve read, many scientists do believe walking upright was the biological innovation that freed up humans’ hands and allowed them to become the toolmakers that gave them their competitive advantages in the wild. Tool making helped them to develop their advanced brains, which eventually led to language.
If we look at the development of a child, we can get a rough idea of how humans developed. At first, the child is totally helpless, before learning to move its arms and legs and to stand. Next, the child learns to crawl, then walk, and at last acquires language. By age four or five, a person has acquired sufficient mobility to carry out most tasks, but lacks the proper level of maturity to survive on his or her own. Using the analogy of an individual, I would estimate that the human race is just entering puberty.
In his work The Origin of Consciousness in the Breakdown of the Bicameral Mind, Julian Jaynes speculates that early humans experienced auditory hallucinations generated by the developing cerebral cortex which they misidentified as the voice of God. Over time they came to recognize these “voices” as thoughts generated within their own heads, though schizophrenics still believe they’re originating from an external source. Development of conscious thought is believed to be a recent innovation, which coincided with language acquisition and led to the rise of civilization.
Everything has a beginning. Sometimes we’re fortunate enough to be present when something starts. Within my lifetime, much of current day Atlanta has been built and, in many cases, demolished and replaced by something bigger but not always better. For those events we weren’t present to witness first hand, all we have is the evidence left behind. It’s how we interpret the clues that leads us to our own origin stories.