The Contingency of Creation

A study of the created order noting its dependent relatedness to God.

©1998 by James A. Fowler. All rights reserved.
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The Contingency of Creation

   God is the only one who is self-existent, self-generative, self-sustaining, autonomous, independent, eternal and infinite. He is a non-contingent Being.

   Thomas Aquinas in the thirteenth century expanded Augustine's cosmological argument for God's existence to include the logical sub-thesis that "contingent things demand a non-contingent Being." A non-contingent Being is required as their source, or else contingency of origin keeps extending backward indefinitely, and as their functional correlative, or else there is a vacuous determinism. God, the non-contingent Being, created all things to be contingent upon Himself.

   The created order is not self-existent, self-generative, self-sustaining, autonomous, independent, eternal or infinite. Only God is such; and what God is only God is.

   If God is not the sustainer of all that He created, then He created something that is autonomous, independent, self-sustaining, self-actualizing. This would attribute to a created object what only God is, and impinge upon the exclusivity of God's autonomy and independence. Such is the basis of idolatry!

   God did not create something which could be self-sufficient, self-sustaining or self-generative. ALL that God created is contingent on His continued and on-going sustenance. The created order was derivative (ek theos) in its origin, and the created order is continuously derivative (ek theos) for its existence, order, function and operation. Everything that God created is contingent or dependent on the ontological dynamic of the all-powerful, eternal, living God in order to function as intended.

   To illustrate the "contingency of creation" we might note two concepts of "creativity" which are inadequate analogies of God's relation to His creation:

   First, the illustration of the artist. With talented "creativity" the artist crafts his work. Once completed, the marble figure or the painting on the canvas is independent of the artist. The artist might die, but the work of art remains.

   The relationship of the Creator to His creation is not like that of an artist to His work. The created order would disintegrate and vanish upon the withdrawal of the Divine presence. "In Him we live and move and have our being" (Acts 17:28). "In Him all things hold together" (Col. 1:17). "He upholds all things by the word of His power" (Hebrews 1:3). Creation would not exist autonomously and independently from God, apart from His sustaining providence, maintaining power and sovereign control. This is known as the "general immanence" of God in His creation. The "particular immanence" of God in His creation is the indwelling of Christ in the Christian.

   A second inadequate illustration is found when the male and female of a particular kind of living organism join together, and the union issues forth in the "creativity" of reproduction. It is the birth of another of the "same kind," for "like begets like," after their kind, the same in nature and essence.

   God's creating activity was not the creativity of reproduction. God did not create a creation that was essentially God, an extended God phenomena, an emanation or extension of the essence of God, of the "same kind." The creation does not become the existence-form of God, or the phenomenal appearance of the Absolute. The creation is not divine, and does not become "god." That which derives its origin from God is not necessarily of the same nature as God, for the greater can create the lesser, which is not one with Himself. God is not contained in, absorbed by or possessed by His creation.

   God is distinct from His creation, but He is not divorced, disconnected or detached from His creation. He is vitally connected to His creation, which must derive from Him (ek theos) in order to be sustained and maintained in its existence and function. That is the continuing contingency of the created order.

   The English word "contingency" is derived from two Latin words, con meaning "together with," and tangere meaning "to touch." From the latter word we get the English word "tangible" and the word "tangential" which is sometimes used as a synonym for "contingent." Contingency has to do with how two things "relate to, come in touch with, or in contact with one another." We are using "contingency" to refer to the relation of the creation to the Creator; to explain how the created order is connected with, inter-related with, associated with, conditioned by, subject to, and dependent upon God. God is necessary for the sustaining and function of the created order.

   The creation is contingent upon God, but God is not contingent upon the creation. God did not "need" the world. He was and is self-sustaining and self-sufficient. The creation was not necessary for God's existence or well-being, or to fulfill His "needs." God does not have any "needs" outside of Himself; not even a "need" for creation to be contingent upon Him. He lacks nothing! Some Christians have inadvertently explained that God created man because He was lonely and needed fellowship and social interaction. Impossible! That makes God's well-being contingent upon man. Never! God is not contingent upon creation. Creation is always contingent upon God.

   The realization of the contingency of the world upon God is a specifically Christian concept. The Greek scientists and philosophers sometimes explained the universe in monistic terms wherein "Nature" was deified and time was viewed as cyclical and eternal. Other Greek thinkers developed a very dualistic concept of the universe, wherein the immaterial was so removed from the material, the spiritual from the physical, that God was detached from the physical world. The early Christian thinkers rejected the extremes of Greek thinking, and explained the dynamic contingency of creation upon God and His grace. So convincing was their argument that Greek naturalism was put aside for many centuries.

   There was a resurgence of dualistic thinking in the writings of Augustine in the fifth century, as he emphasized the deterministic "will of God" separated from the actions of God. Thomas Aquinas fortified such dualistic arguments by separating faith and reason. The thirteenth century was a revival of interest in Aristotelian concepts. By the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries Francis Bacon emphasized empiricism, Rene Descartes separated mind and matter making reason supreme, and Immanuel Kant asserted that the mind can only know what it is subjectively involved with. These philosophical foundations led to a materialistic science that viewed the universe as mechanical, instrumental and deterministic, to be observed with rational empiricism.

   Only now in the late nineteenth and twentieth centuries are the observations of science forcing scientists to give up their faulty philosophical foundations. The principle of relativity and quantum theory have shown the fallacy of strict empiricism and positivism. There is a tendency, though, for science to swing to the opposite extreme of spiritualistic science with monistic emphases of a self-sustaining universe.

   Recent scientific studies are documenting the contingency of the universe. Science is having to admit that the best scientific evidence is against any hypothesis of an infinite, eternal universe. A "singularity" occurred; there was a beginning, a "genesis." There is design and order and purpose in the universe. There is an invariant dependability, constancy and faithfulness to the universe, to which all other things relate. There is an ontological relatedness to all that happens in the universe; a personal Being to which/whom all must relate to function as intended.

   We are seeing in our day the greatest explosion of scientific discovery of the universe in the history of mankind and his cosmological observations. The previous great period of revolutionary scientific discovery was in the fifteenth and sixteenth centuries when Copernicus and Galileo made their astronomical observations. Copernicus wrote a treatise On the Revolutions of the Celestial Spheres. It explained the solar system and the planetary orbits, repudiating the theories of a stationary earth that dated back to the Greek philosophers and Ptolemy. The institutional church of that time reacted with repudiation, ostracism and excommunication of those who advocated the new scientific theories. The church defended their traditional, literalistic interpretations of Scripture, but eventually had to admit that the observations of science were correct. (cf. "The Chronology of Creation")

   Now in the twentieth century we have had a "quantum leap" in scientific discovery. The astro-physicists are measuring the universe and evaluating the inter-relations of the micro and macro cosmological phenomena.

   Whereas Copernicus and Galileo discovered the revolutions of the planets, modern scientists are discovering the relativity, the relations of the universe. Whereas Copernicus and Galileo observed the design of the solar system, modern scientists are observing the derivation and dependency of the universe upon a dependable invariant. Whereas Copernicus and Galileo recognized the conformity and consistency of the bodies in space, modern scientists are recognizing the contingency of the universe. Whereas Copernicus and Galileo saw the patterns of the planets and stars, modern scientists are seeing the personal factors in control of the universe. Whereas Copernicus and Galileo explained the helio-centricity of the solar system, modern scientists are explaining the onto-centricity, perhaps even the theo-centricity of the universe. These are amazing times!

   Science is reluctantly having to conclude that the origin and operation of the universe demands a singular, intelligible Being in a continuously sustaining onto-relational connection with the cosmos. This is but a return to Christian thinking about the "contingency of creation."

   The concept of "contingency" has been expressed in various ways by scientists and theologians. Michael Polanyi, chemist and philosopher, referred to the ultimate relationality between Creator and creation. Albert Einstein is known for his "theory of relativity," which explains that light, space and time are not absolute, but are related to something else, an invariant. All the created order seems to be relative to an invariant, some power or energy, some One, who is absolute. T.F. Torrance, the Scottish theologian, has been the primary author to use the word "contingency" to explain the relation of the creation to the Creator.

   In essence this study on the "contingency of creation" is an attempt to apply Einstein's "theory of relativity" to a Christian understanding of cosmology and theology. No wonder it is not easy to understand! The established, eternal, immutable invariant to which all else is related or relative is God. God is the absolute, non-contingent Being. Christians need to understand that science and Christianity can be allies instead of antagonists, especially now as science is willing to admit the relativity, contingency and dependency of the universe. Einstein himself said that "science without religion is lame; religion without science is blind."

   The contingency of creation is being ever more clearly documented and explained as science observes the evidence for the "singularity" of the origin and commencement of the universe. Science is recognizing the necessary contingency of order, design, constancy and dependency upon a relational invariant that is omnipotent and personal. As they move closer to verification of Einstein's proposed "unified field theory," they move closer to recognizing the ontological contingency of an ultimate Being. But natural revelation alone and the "natural theology" based upon such will never bring science to the recognition of the greater understanding of contingency.

   The contingency of the creation is even more specifically documented, defined and explained by the evidences for the "singularity" of the incarnational redemptive action of God in Jesus Christ. The creation of the physical world "set the stage," so to speak, for the "new creation" in Jesus Christ. The cosmological "singularity" was the context for the redemptive "singularity."

   The ultimate meaning of God's creation and the contingency thereof is in the special revelation of God through Jesus Christ. In Christ there is the "new beginning" whereby man can experience "re-genesis," the spiritual regeneration (Titus 3:5) necessary to become a "new creature" (II Cor. 5:17) and a participant in the "new creation" (Gal. 6:15) and the "new humanity" (Eph. 2:15), restoring the "image of God" in man (Col. 3:10) so that man might function as intended. As the epitome of God's created order, man is the creature who can allow for the highest expression of God's character and Being, deriving such behaviorally.

   Christians, who are "new creatures" in Christ, are "created in righteousness and holiness" (Eph. 4:24) and "created in Christ Jesus for good works" (Eph. 2:10) which God prepares and for which He provides complete sufficiency. God sustains the "new creature" with enabling empowering. "He who began a good work in you will perfect it until the day of Christ Jesus" (Phil. 1:6). Christian living, the expression of God's character in the behavior of the Christian, is contingent upon God in Christ. No one can live as a Christian except by the grace provision of God, responding to such in faith which is our receptivity to His activity. The Christian life is a derived life, a derived righteousness. "Not that we are sufficient in ourselves to consider anything as coming from ourselves, but our sufficiency is in Him" (ek theos), as Paul explains in II Cor. 3:5. It is the resurrection of Jesus Christ that is the "singularity" that makes available the dynamic of divine life, the life of Christ Himself, to dwell in man and function through man. By such man is "saved" from dysfunction in order to function as God intended, contingent upon the life of the risen Lord Jesus.

   It is indeed regrettable that science is perhaps more willing to recognize the cosmological ramifications of the contingency of the universe, than theology is willing to recognize the theological ramifications of divine contingency in the Christian life. Christian religion stubbornly remains committed to static epistemological belief-systems rather than recognizing the ontological basis of a relationship with Jesus Christ wherein contingency on His Being comprises Christian living rather than "belief" in the "benefits."

   Science and theology have both been guilty of adhering to a dualistic "container model" of thinking. Science used to think of the universe as a big receptacle. In that big box they could not find God by empirical observation, even though the box seemed to be getting bigger and bigger. Science had a self-limited perspective, and eventually had to recognize that what was going on inside the box was related to and influenced by, contingent upon, something or Someone beyond the box.

   Popular theology seems to think that they have God figured out, and He is boxed up in their belief systems. "God in the box" of the Book, of their doctrinal/theological formulations, of their ecclesiastical actions and pronouncements, of their moral standards. The incentive for living has often been that "if we love the God in the box, we should behave so as to please Him." Such is the religion of performance and "works" with its resultant guilt and shame. Popular Christian teaching must "let God out of the box" and join with science in recognizing Him as the sustainer of all creation. Particularly they need to recognize the ontological relationship that the Christian has with God, and that the Christian life is only derived contingently from the life of the risen Lord Jesus.

   Science seems to be at the forefront of explaining the "relatedness" and "relativity" of the created order upon God. Religion, on the other hand, is running in circles trying to be socially "relevant" to the world. Rather than trying to relate the ecclesiastical institution and its practices to the fallen world, Christians should be at the forefront of interpreting the newest scientific observations of how God in Jesus Christ relates to everything in the world, and all the world is contingent and dependent upon God. More specifically Christian theology must consistently explain the contingent relation of the Christian "new creature" upon Christ for all Christian living.


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