June 29th 2019

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Articles from this issue:

COVER STORY John Setka, for all his faults, is the perfect scapegoat

FIGHTING FUND NCC president Patrick J. Byrne outlines the goals for 2019

SPECIAL FEATURE Author Rod Dreher brings St Benedict to bear on our decline and fall

INTERNATIONAL AFFAIRS One million protest China's attack on Hong Kong's freedom

GENDER POLITICS Vatican issues document on gender ideology

POLITICS AND SOCIETY New secularist strategies to bury Christianity

HISTORY OF SCIENCE Faith and reason and Father Stanley Jaki, Part 4: Ancient Jewish view of the cosmos

NATIONAL AFFAIRS Cardinal Pell's appeal: An account from the live streaming

BANKING FEATURE Greed works ... at least for a while and for a few

IDEOLOGY Feminist claims for equality, Part 2: What feminism should be

IDEOLOGY WARS Roger Scruton and the Tories: a sorry tale

MUSIC Melodic abundance: John, Paul, Duke and Antonio

CINEMA The End: Staging the apocalypse

BOOK REVIEW Scenes from Dante's Inferno

BOOK REVIEW Mrs Gould: she who drew the pictures



NATIONAL AFFAIRS A Q&A to clarify issues in Cardinal Pell's appeal

HUMOUR A Western flop lob-story and that

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Faith and reason and Father Stanley Jaki, Part 4: Ancient Jewish view of the cosmos

by John Long

News Weekly, June 29, 2019

The ancient Jews, as illustrated by numerous passages in the Old Testament, had a very different view of how the universe worked. As Genesis 1 tells the story, in the beginning, that is, at the dawn of time, God created the heavens and the earth, the expression used to describe the universe in those times.

The ancient Jewish cosmos, as above,
resembled the cosmos as conceived by most
if not all ancient Middle-Eastern cultures.
The difference that made the difference, is that,
for the Jews, God is separate from the cosmos,
above it and governing it. In the cosmic visions
of all their neighbours, the cosmos is god or gods
or bits of gods and everything in the cosmos
is a god, gods and bits of gods.

In Jaki’s thinking, two points are important here. First, that, before creation, the universe did not exist. The doctrine is called creatio ex nihilo, creation from nothing and in time. The universe did not exist, then it did, by a wilful act of the Creator. This contrasts with the Aristotelian notion of the universe (and that of other ancient cultures), that the universe is eternal and always existed. Second, God said that his creation was good. In the human mind, this can be taken in part as meaning that Creation is ordered and rational.

The Old Testament, though, not only describes the power of God in his miracles, such as the parting of the Red Sea, but also in his ordering and control of nature. Time and time again reference is made to God’s fidelity to his people Israel, and evidence is given in the regularity and stability of nature.

We can start with some examples from the Psalms, which express God’s mastery over creation and his fidelity to the house of Israel.

Psalm 89 says:

O Lord I will always sing of your constant love;
I will proclaim your faithfulness forever.
I know that your love will last for all time,
that your faithfulness is as permanent as the sky. (1–2)

Heaven is yours, and the Earth also;
you made the world and everything in it. (11)

In a vision long ago you said to your faithful servants …
“But I will not stop loving David
or fail to keep my promise to him.
I will not break my covenant with him
or even take back one promise I made him.
Once and for all I have promised by my holy name:
I will never lie to David.
He will always have descendants,
and I will watch over his kingdom as long as the sun shines.
It will be as permanent as the moon,
that faithful witness in the sky.” (19, 33–37)

Psalm 19 says:

How clearly the sky reveals God’s glory!
How plainly it shows what he has done!
Each day announces it to the following day;
each night repeats it to the next. (1–2)

And Psalm 136 says:

Give thanks to the Lord, because he is good; his love is eternal …
He alone performs great miracles; his love is eternal.
By his wisdom he made the heavens; his love is eternal;
he built the earth on the deep waters; his love is eternal.
He made the sun and the moon; his love is eternal;
the sun to rule over the day; his love is eternal;
the moon and the stars to rule over the light; his love is eternal. (1, 4–9)

Psalm 104 recounts God’s creation and mastery of the physical world:

Praise the Lord my soul!
O Lord, my God, how great you are!
You are clothed with majesty and glory;
you cover yourself with light.
You spread out the heavens like a tent
and built your home on the waters above.
You use the clouds as your chariot
and ride on the wings of the wind.
You use the winds as your messengers
and flashes of lightning as your servants.
You have set the earth firmly on its foundations,
and it will never be moved. …
You created the moon to mark the months;
the sun knows the time to set. (1–5, 19)

God’s control of nature was often cited to strengthen the faith of the Jewish people, especially when times were hard. In Jeremiah their wavering faith was strengthened by the faithfulness of God as witnessed in the obvious faithfulness of nature:

“The Lord said to me, ‘I have made a covenant with the day and with the night, so that they always come at their proper times; and that covenant can never be broken. In the same way I have made a covenant with my servant David that he would always have a descendant to be king, and I have made a covenant with the priests from the tribe of Levi that they would always serve me; and these covenants can never be broken’.” (Jeremiah 33: 19–22)

Earlier on in Jeremiah, God assures his fidelity to Israel with reference to the stability of day and night:

The Lord provides the sun for light by day,
the moon and the stars to shine at night.
He stirs up the sea and makes it roar;
his name is the Lord Almighty.
He promises that as long as the natural order lasts,
so long will Israel be a nation. (31: 35–36)

In Sirach, echoing the first chapter of Genesis, the author points out the creation of the universe, and man’s ability and confidence to understand and master it:

In the beginning the Lord did his work of creation,
and gave everything a place of its own.
He arranged everything in an eternal order
and decreed that it should be that way forever.
Not one part of creation ever grows hungry;
no part grows tired or stops its work.
The parts do not crowd one another,
and they never disobey his word.
When the Lord made all this,
he looked at the earth and filled it with good things. …
Then the Lord formed human beings from the dust
and sent each of them back to it again.
He gave them only a limited time to live,
but he gave them authority over everything on earth.
He made them to be like himself,
and gave them his own strength.
He made all other creatures afraid of them;
he gave them authority over all the animals and birds.
He gave them their tongues, their eyes,
their ears, their mind, and their consciences.
He filled them with knowledge and understanding
and showed them the difference between good and evil.
He gave them his own insight
to let them see the majesty of his creation. (Sirach 16:26-29, 17:1-8)

Finally, creation from nothing at all is explicitly mentioned in 2 Maccabees, by the Jewish mother urging her son to remain steadfast in the face of death: “So I urge you, my child, to look at the sky and the earth. Consider everything you see there, and realise that God made it all from nothing, just as he made the human race” (7:28).

John Long has undergraduate qualifications in physics and philosophy from the University of Michigan, and a PhD in physics from Monash University. He has taught physics and engineering at an Australian university for over 20 years.
Part 5 of this series looks at how the cosmos is understood in the New Testament and how that view was evaluated and developed throughout a long incubation as Christian thinkers drew out its implications little by little.

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