It seems to be a pretty common assumption among the religious faithful of today that God created the universe. This is by no means a given, however, nor is it the case in some of the better-known pre-Christian mythologies. In Greek mythology, the gods did some creating, but the universe itself was already there. The common belief seems to be that it all emerged out of chaos, and then the earth and sky gave birth to the gods and many other unusual beings.
Norse mythology has it that the ice of Niflheim combined with the fires of Muspelheim in the void of Ginnungagap, resulting in the creation of the giant Ymir and a celestial cow, who licked the ancestor of the gods out of a block of ice. His grandsons Odin, Vili, and Ve killed Ymir and made the world out of his corpse.
In other words, the universe more or less created itself, but the gods filled in the details.
The other day on the radio, I heard some preacher dude insist that pagans believe God exists within creation, which I feel is rather misleading. Yes, it does appear that many pagan religions believe the gods came into existence along with the universe rather than predating it. But since the universe was essentially self-making, could it really be considered “creation” anyway? Referring to the entire universe as “creation” shows an inherent bias toward religions that teach a universal creator. What’s kind of interesting here is that Stephen Hawking has recently said the universe had probably come into being on its own, and that seems to be exactly what many of these older religions also taught. It was just specific parts of the universe that required intelligent design on the part of one or more gods.
Now let’s take a look at Genesis 1:1-2: “In the beginning when God created the heavens and the earth, the earth was a formless void and darkness covered the face of the deep, while a wind from God swept over the face of the waters.” This is from the New Revised Standard Version, and a footnote adds that the first part could possibly also be translated “In the beginning when God began to create” or “In the beginning God created.” So what’s the implication here? Is it that God first created the universe as a void, and then made something tangible out of it? Or was the void pre-existing, and God’s contribution was just the tangible part? A lot of accounts of creation don’t start with absolutely nothing, but with a sort of formless chaos that is then made into something orderly, either on its own or through the action of one or more intelligent beings. I’ve frequently heard the argument that God is eternal and the universe isn’t, which presumably means that God had existed forever before suddenly deciding on a whim to make chaos out of nothing, and then to make matter out of the chaos after an unspecified amount of time. I know God works in mysterious ways, but still, what was he doing before making the universe, and what changed to cause him to do that? Well, some Jewish myths held that God had created other worlds before our own, so that’s one possibility. Regardless, the idea that God created something from nothing is by no means certain, even if you do go by the Genesis account. The Jewish philosopher Philo of Alexandria, whose ideas were instrumental in the foundation of what became orthodox Christian thought, believed that the world was created from pre-existing material. So what’s the point here? Maybe that, even if you say “God did it,” it still leaves a lot of questions unanswered.