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Creation belief

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Creation beliefs and stories describe how the universe, the Earth, life, and/or humanity came into being. The term creation myth is used by historians for a story of creation with deep explanatory or symbolic resonance for a culture. This terminology is often seen as offensive when used to describe stories which are still believed today, due to the term "myth" having a common-usage connotation of a story which is 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 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 fall into similar categories: the fractionation of the things of the world from a primordial chaos, the separation of the mother and father god, from an ocean existing before the world, etc.

Some fundamentalist religious groups assert that creation beliefs should replace or complement so-called "scientific" accounts of the development of life and the cosmos, see creationism.

Table of contents
1 Science-based beliefs
2 Bible-based beliefs
3 Babylonia
4 China
5 Egypt
6 Hinduism
7 Islam
8 Japan
9 Maya
10 Maori
11 Zoroastrianism
12 See also

Science-based beliefs

Science, strictly speaking, deals only with that which is observable and repeatably observable. Anything that cannot be observed is by that very fact not scientific. 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 theory, which again is subject to amendment or rejection based on new observations.

Limited to the scientific method, science cannot deal with non-repeatable events such as specific events in the past. However, science can be used to study the remains of these events and interpret them according to observed patterns. The whole universe is the remains of past events, so even though, strictly speaking, "scientific cosmology" is an oxymoron, when one assumes philosophical naturalism it is believed that an extrapolation from present, observed patterns can give an accurate picture of the past. Not everyone believes in philosophical naturalism, not even all scientists, but there are certain beliefs of creation which are based on science.

The scientific Big Bang theory is the dominant cosmological theory about the early development and current shape of the universe.

The modern 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 which is considered scientific by some.

It should be pointed out that these science based beliefs are not ex nihilo beliefs, that is they do not start from nothing. They do not account for where the mass and energy of the universe came from, or for how life first began. In this respect they are like most creation beliefs, but notably unlike the Jewish, Christian, and Islamic beliefs, among others. The origin of life has many competing science based theories and the ultimate origin of the universe is widely believed to be a topic beyond scientific inquiry.

Bible-based beliefs

Traditional "orthodox" teachings concerning Bible-based beliefs

"Orthodox" here does not refer to a particular church, nor a group of churches, that contain the word "orthodox" in their name, rather to the historical use of the term to the "straight teaching" of Biblical literalism.

"In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth. And the earth came into existence lifeless and still, and darkness was upon the face of the deep and the Spirit of God came to rest on the face of the waters." So begins Genesis, chapter one. Translating the verses into modern terminology, the description given is one that has neither pre-existing matter, nor posits that matter is part(s) of the creating deity.

The first chapter gives a chronological account separated into the equivalent of six 24 hour days, ending with a seventh day where God ceased his creative activity. This narration ends with chapter two, verse four.

Chapter two from verse five to the end of the chapter relates a second account of creation. Because of the structure of Biblical Hebrew language and grammar, it does not contradict the first account; rather, it complements it by giving an anthropocentric view of creation. Biblical Hebrew lacked the formal tense structures in its grammar to indicate when God created the trees, animals, planting of the garden and other acts of creation that were mentioned after describing how God created man: therefore, these statements can refer to prior acts of creation, prior to the creation of man.

Though the Biblical account of creation is very short, it sets the pattern for Biblical philosophy. God is simply assumed, there are no logical proofs for his existence presented. God acts into history, his first recorded action being the creation of the universe. God communicated with mankind. The Bible is the record of his actions and communications. God can be known through his communications and actions, hence it is important that the Bible be an accurate record of history. As a result, ancient Judaism and later early Christianity were historical religions that favored action over contemplation.

Modern theories based on philosophical naturalism concerning Bible-based beliefs

The first book of the Bible, common to Judaism and Christianity, contains two accounts of creation. The first is in Genesis 1, the second is in Genesis 2. In the opinion of many modern scholars, neither account is directly concerned with the origin of mere matter. According to the Documentary hypothesis, these two versions of the creation story existed independently, and the editor(s) of the Bible used both sources in creating the final version of Genesis that we know today.

The first account, which has the literary characteristics identified with the priestly ("P") source (starting in Genesis 1:1), begins: "In the beginning God (Elohim) created the heaven and the earth. "(KJV). The world in the beginning is darkness and an abyss, a great body of water constantly attended by a mighty wind. Elohim then speaks commands, which are the sole cause over a period of six days[1], of light, the sea and sky, dry land with plants, stars, sun and moon, fish and birds, animals and finally man. At each stage the creatures are declared to be 'good'. Following the creation of human beings, Elohim surveys the whole creation, and it is declared "very good", and "finished". On the seventh day having ceased from creating, Elohim blesses and hallows the day of his rest.

Creation order: "one day": the earth is an uninhabited abyss of darkness, a wind moves over the waters and Elohim creates light; "A second day": sky separating waters above from waters below; "A third day": dry land; herbs; "A fourth day": sun; moon; stars; "A fifth day": sea creatures; birds; "The sixth day": land creatures; cattle; man and woman.

The account is highly structured. The first three days concern the creation of three habitations, corresponding to the inhabitants created on each of the last three days, culminating in the rest of Elohim on the seventh day. Original darkness and chaos is replaced with an ordered and inhabited cosmos subject to the benevolent dominion of man and woman made in the image of God, crowned by the Sabbath of Elohim; each day of the creating week is similarly marked by a beginning in darkness and an ending light, by the refrain of, "and it was evening and it was morning", except for the seventh day, which concludes with "and Elohim blessed the seventh day, and made it holy".

The second account, which has the literary characteristics of the Jahwist ("J") source, begins: "This is the account of the heavens and the earth when they were created. When the LORD God (YHWH Elohim) made the earth and the heavens-"(NIV); first a man, Adam, is created out of dust, then a woman, Eve, is created from Adam's rib. However, the creation order is different.

2:4: earth and heavens; 2:5 plants and mist; 2:7: man; 2:8: garden of Eden; 2:9: trees; 2:19: beasts of the field; 2:21 woman. 

The creation is described as being in need of a man, which YHWH Elohim supplies by fashioning him from dust and breathing life into his nostrils. Man himself is described as having need of a suitable helper, which YHWH Elohim supplies by creating the woman. There is no mention of a sabbath, although the garden to the east of Eden into which Adam is placed to tend it, is situated by YHWH Elohim for the extension of paradise into the whole earth and the acquisition of all sorts of wealth, and it is already complete with everything necessary to sustain life and happiness. However, the account closes with the expulsion of Adam and his wife from the garden by YHWH Elohim, with the way barred against their access to the tree of life by an angel and a flaming sword.

[1]The Hebrew word "yom" is generally translated in context to "day" by biblical scholars, but the Hebrew word itself can take many other meanings besides a 24-hour period, and some argue that this is a correct translation.

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 to have divinity.

This doctrine of creation, generally speaking, is shared by doctrinal definitions of Judaism, Islam, Eastern Orthodoxy, Oriental Orthodoxy, Protestantism and most of its derivatives, as well as the Roman Catholic Church. The strictness to which adherents are required to accept these views, and the sense in which these definitions are official, vary widely.

Implied, is the invitation to intrude upon any territory of knowledge subject to scrutiny in order to seek truthful understanding of facts, out of the conviction that God has given being to all things that exist, and has given to mankind this task of mastery. Hypothetically for example, such a doctrine has already embraced evolution in principle, provided only that the facts compel its acceptance, and will not cling to it if the facts finally prove otherwise. Its ultimate investment is to move forward in the knowledge of the Creator, and it has no permanent commitment to anything else called knowledge, once it has been rejected in favor of more complete knowledge. Therefore, it is not creationism that is rejected should evolution be proven, as long as creationism is the doctrine of creation. This, more than anything that science may succeed in proving, shows the distinction between the doctrine of creation, and what is now called creationism.

Saint Augustine (A.D. 354-430) in his work The Literal Meaning of Genesis (De Genesi ad litteram libri duodecim) embarrassed by Christians who would not accept this implication of the Doctrine of Creation, wrote against them. 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]

The doctrine of creation expects, and even requires, that forward movement must occur. St. Vincent of Lerens wrote more generally concerning the progress of religion, in 434:

"Shall there be no progress of religion in the Church of Christ? By all means the greatest progress. Who could be so jealous against men, so spiteful against God that he try to prohibit this? However, the progress must be one which can be called the progress of our faith and not a change." "The decisions of the Christian religion shall follow rightly these laws of how to make progress". Patrologia Latina, 50, 667 (Migne)

In philosophy derived from the Scriptures of Judaism and Christianity, the doctrines of creation are the centripetal force, by which the centrifugal force of science is welded to the center, which is God. That is to say, the doctrine of creation is always in tension against science, preventing its movement away from God. The same doctrine pushes against science, to keep it from collapsing into magic and superstition, crashing in upon the center where God is alone. This analogy to the physics of a hub and spokes is inadequate, because in reality the struggle between science and God, with theology connecting the two, takes place where all of the complications of human nature are involved, and the progress of understanding bears no resemblance to the fluid motions of a wheel.


The Babylonian creation myth is described in Enûma Elish, a 12th century BC poem preserved on seven clay tablets.

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.


A. Leo Oppenheim, Ancient Mesopotamia


There are two major creation myths.

In the first myth, the universe began 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.

In the second myth, tao is 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 but it could be explained in a way to better fit the modern scientific view of the creation of universe.


In the beginning was only ocean. Then a hill became visible rising from the ocean, and at this point the first god awoke (The cosmology of Heliopolis held that this first god was the sun god Ra, that of Memphis that it was the earth god Ptah). The first god began to create other gods, who proceeded to create the various aspects of the world.


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 (unlike the concept of linear time in many other religions). In fact, time is represented as a wheel- 'Kaala Chakra'- Wheel of Time

An interesting point is that though Brahma is considered the Creator, unlike Vishnu and Shiva, there is no temple of worship for Brahma, reasons for which form part of myths.


The account in the Qur'an has only one creation story. It is based on the Biblical version (Man created from water: Surah al-Furqan 25; Man created in diverse stages: Surah Nuh 14; Man created from clay: Surah as-Saffat 11, Surah al-Sajdah 7-9; Man created from muddy dirt or scum: Surah al-Hijr 15)


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 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.



Ahura Mazda created 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

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