A pantheistic creation story
“Big History” is a modern origins story that is being developed online for school students and is supported by Bill Gates, one of the world’s richest men. The objective is to develop a framework for learning about anything and everything that includes a deeper awareness of our past. It claims to tell a story that our children need to know. But what will they learn?
History of the universe
“Big History” is based on eight “threshold moments” when the universe increased in complexity:
- Origin of the universe billions of years ago as explained by the big bang theory.
- Stars light up from the remnants of the exploding gases.
- New chemical elements form when stars die and create new types of atoms.
- Rocky planets such as the earth and the solar system form around stars.
- Molecules combine to form single celled living organisms that evolve into multi-celled organisms.
- Human beings appear as a consequence of evolutionary processes.
- After the last ice age about 10,000 years ago, humans develop agriculture.
- The modern revolution, characterized by the use of fossil fuels and global communication.
Although “Big History” is based on humanity’s current scientific and historical understanding, the following questions come to mind.
Although Big History states these as facts, it assumes that:
- The origin and development of the universe can be explained by the laws of science.
- The early universe was simple.
- The universe has become more complex with time.
Once these are assumed, the rest follows as a consequence. So the course is teaching that these assumptions are facts. Instead they are scientifically unprovable.
As history trumps science when dealing with the past, the Bible surpasses science with regard to the origin of the universe and the nature of the early universe. In particular, the assumption of the uniformity of scientific laws isn’t valid past the creation of the universe about 6,000 years ago. So history shows the first two assumptions are false.
The assumption that “The universe has become more complex with time”, goes against common sense and the law of cause and effect. How can an inanimate object gain increasing complexity and increasing information by using the laws of science alone and not outside intelligence? How can an animal or plant gain increasing complexity and increasing information by using the laws of science alone and not outside intelligence?
This secular origins story is based on miracles than can’t be explained by science. Yet it claims to be scientific!
Before the beginning of time it assumes there was nothing – no time, mass, energy or space. After the beginning of time a tiny particle smaller than an atom appears that contains everything in today’s universe. This means that something appears from nothing, which is not allowed in the laws of physics! In a science where there is no place for miracles, this is certainly a miracle. How was all the mass and energy within the universe created out of absolutely nothing using only the physical forces within the universe? How could the universe create itself?
According to Big History, the universe can create complexity and information. This happens as a series of stages, each of which produces something utterly new. Each of these threshold moments is a miracle as the increase in complexity and information cannot be explained by the laws of science. How could the universe increase complexity and information by itself?
How does the universe create complexity despite the second law of thermodynamics, which says that “The general tendency of the universe is to move from order and structure to lack of order and lack of structure”? This is never explained. There is just a statement that it can create complexity, but with great difficulty! So the universe builds itself, which is pantheism. The universe is god. So intelligence and intent is attributed to inanimate objects or concepts, such as “Life interjects” and “DNA learns”.
It is interesting to note that the example of increasing complexity used in Big History was our modern society and not a biological example such as the DNA molecule or the human mind.
Big History is guilty of circular reasoning. It states assumptions and ideas as facts. Its key findings are based on its assumptions and presuppositions. For example, it reveals how complexity slowly evolved. But this is also an assumption.
Big history is speculative. It says, “We can imagine the early universe breaking up into billions of clouds”.
Big history is a product of the secular paradigm or worldview that has rejected the God of the Bible.
Big History is certainly ambitious. It has big assumptions, big miracles, big extrapolation and big imagination. Although it claims to be big on history, it actually includes little recorded history.
As “the story of how the universe creates complexity” and the “unifying story that gives a sense of the whole of history”, it is a pantheistic creation story that replaces the Bible.
Do our children need to know this? How much better if they knew the Bible and accepted its message as the unifying story that gives a sense of the whole of history?
Written, October 2013
Recently the Large Hadron Collider near Geneva in Switzerland has been used to discover a new sub-atomic particle. The collider directs streams of protons around a 27 km circular tunnel so they collide head-on and records the sub-atomic debris that results.
A researcher reported, “Our new measurements are a great way to test theoretical calculations of the forces that act on fundamental particles, and will move us a step closer to understanding how the universe is held together”. So scientists are seeking to understand how the universe is held together. According to the Bible, what they discover will be secondary causes and not primary ones.
Primary and secondary causes
The Bible says that everything in the universe is held together by the powerful word of the Lord Jesus Christ. He is “sustaining all things by His powerful word” (Heb. 1:3) and “in Him all things hold together” (Col. 1 :17). God’s divine power sustains the mass, energy, space and time of our universe. It the primary reason the universe is held together.
The Bible also teaches that God spoke the universe into existence.
- “the universe was formed at God’s command” (Heb. 11:3).
- “By the word of the LORD the heavens were made, their starry host by the breath of His mouth … Let all the earth fear the LORD; let all the people of the world revere Him. For He spoke, and it came to be; He commanded, and it stood firm” (Ps. 33:6-9).
- With regard to the whole universe (visible and invisible, living and inanimate); “at His command they were created” (Ps. 148:5)
- “God said” is mentioned ten times in the description of the creation of the universe (Gen 1:1-31).
The orderly mechanisms and models of science reflect God’s nature. These mechanisms and models are secondary causes which describe how the universe operates. They are part of the creation over which God has dominion (Job 25:2; 38:33). The eternal omnipotent God who has massive intelligence is the original and ultimate cause because He determined how the universe operates.
God not only designed and created the universe, He continues to sustain it by His divine powerful word. He is both a Creator and a Sustainer.
Written, December 2011
What happened at the beginning of time?
The best place to begin reading a book is at the beginning. It’s important to read the beginning in order to understand what happens later. This article begins a series that looks at the beginning of the bible. This helps us understand later events in the Bible, like when Jesus Christ came to earth.
Interpreting the Bible
As “all Scripture is God-breathed”, the original text contained no errors or mistakes (Prov. 30:5-6; 2 Tim. 3:15-17). The words in the original language were inspired by God as the human writers of the Bible were given the words by the Holy Spirit (2 Pt. 1:20-21). That is why it is often referred to as the Word of God. In fact Scripture is the only source of revelation that is not affected by sin (Gen. 3:17-19; Rom. 8:20-22). The Bible is our only reliable authority on the creation of the world—we have no other eye-witness account.
While Scripture is accurate, it is not exhaustive. However, it is sufficient to make us “wise for salvation” and “thoroughly equipped for every good work” (2 Tim. 3:15-17NIV). It is a concise book with no unnecessary detail. God gives us the important things that we need to know and we need to use our intellect to apply these to our situations in life.
God intended that ordinary people would be able to understand the Bible. For example, fathers were to teach the Scriptures to their children at home (Deut. 6:4-9; Eph. 6:4). Also, the Bereans “examined the Scriptures every day to see if what Paul said was true” (Acts 17:11). They only need the help of the Holy Spirit (1 Cor. 2:14).
The meaning of scripture is the meaning the inspired authors intended to convey to their generation. The only exception to this rule is prophecies which also have another meaning when they are fulfilled at a future time. So, it is important to find out how the original readers would have understood the words. After all, it was their language being used in their circumstances.
The Bible is a theological book. It contains the message of salvation from the penalty of our sin. But this theology is set in a world of history and science. It uses the physical world to illustrate and reveal spiritual truths. Although it is not a history book, the history in the bible is accurate. Although it is not a science book, the science in the bible is also accurate. What it says is exactly true. Because it is the inspired word of God, its language communicated accurately to its original readers and a good translation communicates accurately to us today.
The interpretation of scripture requires consideration of the text and the context in which it was written. This includes knowledge of the language, culture and history of that time. For example, is the text a literal narrative or is it poetic? It should be taken literally unless there is ample reason to believe the text was meant to be taken figuratively, such as metaphors, symbolism and parables. Also, other passages of scripture may help to confirm the meaning of a difficult passage.
The Context of Genesis
The book of Genesis was complied and written by Moses in the 14th century BC from oral history and revelation from God (Acts 7:22; 15:1; Genesis 17; 2 Peter 1:21). Moses wrote the first five books of the Bible. Until he was weaned, his mother would have taught him the history of the Hebrew people. When he was older, Moses was “educated in all the wisdom of the Egyptians and was powerful in words and action” (Acts 7:22).
Moses wrote the first five books of the bible while travelling between Egypt and Canaan. The people in both of these lands worshipped idols. The forces of nature were personified as pagan gods. These mythical beings included the sun god, the river Nile, and the golden calf in Egypt and sun, moon and stars, Baal – the god of the rain and storm, Asherah – the goddess of the sea and fertility in Canaan. The ten plagues were directed against the gods of Egypt. On the way to Canaan they moved through lands where people tried to seduce them into idolatry and immorality. Middle Eastern creation myths usually involve how one of the gods triumphs in a mighty battle against the forces of chaos and then reigns over the other gods and creates order out of chaos.
Genesis was written to these Israelites to educate them about the true God and protect them from idolatry. Moses is declaring that God has revealed Himself in creation and in history; Baal is not the true god. The New Testament affirms this as real history. Jesus quotes v.27 in Mt 19:4 and Mk. 10:6 and Adam and Eve are mentioned several times (Lk.3:38; Rom. 5:14; 1 Cor. 15:22, 45; 1 Tim. 2:13-14; Jude 14).
Genesis is the foundation of the Bible. It is a book of beginnings; containing a selective history according to God’s purposes. The word “Genesis” comes from the Greek word meaning “origin” or “beginning”. The Hebrew name for this book was “in the beginning”. So Genesis describes the beginning of the universe, the earth and all its inhabitants of human beings, marriage, family, society, civilization, sin and redemption and how God relates to His creation. It contains the original and true account of creation and shows who God is, who we are, what our basic problem is and God’s solution to that problem. In this article we look at Genesis 1:1-2:3.
God is the Creator
The bible begins by saying, “In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth” (Gen 1:1). So the answer to the question of the origin of the universe and of life is given in the first verse of the bible. The fact that God refers to Himself as “us” seems to be a reference to the trinity (Gen. 1:26; 3:22). This is confirmed in the New Testament, which says that Jesus created everything (Jn. 1:3; Col. 1:16).
How did God Create?
God created the universe in a series of creative acts over six days (Gen. 1:1-31). “God said” is mentioned nine times in this passage. For example, “God said, ‘Let there be light’, and there was light” (v.3). He spoke and light shone in a world that was previously dark. So the pattern is that God spoke and it happened (Psalm 33:6, 9; Hebrews 11:3). His creative acts are also described as “God created” (v.1,21,27), and “God made” (v.7,16,25). The outcome is stated, but few details are given of the process. After all, this was written in the 14th century BC to be understood by ordinary people. This helps understanding by readers with a wide range of linguistic skills and intellect. So, according to the Bible, God created everything out of nothing, whereas according to evolution, nothing organised itself into everything.
I believe that over this period God created a mature world that was fully functioning. For example, Adam and Eve were adults, not babies or children; they were called man and wife right after Eve was created (Gen. 2:25). Also, they and the animals needed food to eat from the very beginning of their creation. Of course, this was a miracle and Moses was familiar with miracles (Ex. 10:1).
God also created the laws of science which have operated since the creation. These laws do not include the act of creation itself. For example, the first law of thermodynamics states that energy and matter (remember e=mc2) is always conserved; it cannot be created or destroyed. We cannot apply these laws to the week of creation when energy and matter were made. This means that today’s operational science does not apply to origins like creation. It cannot explain miracles. We should be careful not to extrapolate to areas outside the area of our observations. Like Job, we need to be reminded by God that no-one was there in the beginning, “Where were you when I laid the earth’s foundation?” (Job 38:4).
When did God Create?
It happened “In the beginning” (v.1). This was the beginning of time because God created time. God was all that existed before this occasion, because He is timeless (Psalm 90:2). Jesus said, “at the beginning of creation God made them male and female” (Mk. 10:6). So this first week when Adam and Eve were made was the “beginning of creation”. The Israelites knew it was only a few thousand years before their times. They had the genealogies from Adam to Noah; Shem to Abraham; Isaac, Jacob, Levi; Levi to Moses and then down to their generation (Gen. 5:1-32; 11:10-26; Ex.6:16-20,26-27). Luke supplies similar information in the genealogy of Jesus (Lk. 3:23-38).
Why did God Create?
Creation shows God’s power and divine character (Rom. 1:20). Like the universe, God exists, and is orderly and reasonable and good. God is also personal, like mankind. He greater than all other gods. As He has chosen to show His love through human begins such as us, God created the earth to be inhabited (Is. 45:18). Adam and Eve are described as being the last of God’s creative work (v.27).
Why did God take so long?
After each creative act, the bible says “And there was evening, and there was morning—the X day”, where “X” ranges from “first”to “sixth” (v.5,8,13,19,23,31). Then it says that God rested on the seventh day (Gen. 2:2-3). The instances in this chapter of the Hebrew word for day, “yom”, used in conjunction with “night”, obviously refer to daylight hours (v.5,14,16,18). What about the six times that “yom” is qualified by “evening and morning” and a number? What did this mean to the Israelites in Moses’ time? Is it daylight, 24 hours, some other period of time, a moment, or a theological category? A period of 24 hours is the only meaning that makes sense in this context. This is consistent with the fact that a Jewish day begins and ends at sunset, rather than at midnight. This means that a day is comprised of an evening (night) followed by a morning (daylight). Genesis 1 is also a sequence of events in time like the lifetimes in the genealogy of Genesis 5.
The sun, moon and stars are to “serve as signs to mark seasons and days and years” (v.14). Obviously this instance of the word “days” means periods of 24 hours. This phrase also shows the Hebrews had words for longer periods than day which could be used by the author if required. But the language used for the six days in Genesis 1 makes no suggestion of a longer period of time.
Why did God take six days? After all, He could have made everything in six seconds! God’s six days of work and one day for rest were an example for His people. According to the fourth commandment, they were to work for six days, but not do any work on the seventh day because God made the universe in six days and then rested on the seventh day (Ex. 20:8-11). This only makes sense if the days of the creation week were the same as those of the working week. God set the example of six days work and one day rest. The working week is based on the creation week. That’s why there is seven days in a week. The seven-day week has no basis outside Scripture.
Creation of the Universe
The clear intention of Genesis 1 is to give the Israelites an account of the origin of the universe. It shows God as the creator of time, matter and energy and everything within the universe. They needed to know why their God was greater than the gods and idols of the Egypt and Canaan. Many pagan creation myths were probably corruptions of the original account of creation recorded in Genesis.
Moses summarized God’s creative work as follows:
Day 1: Space, matter and energy, and light created (v.1-5).
Day 2: Matter and energy distributed across the cosmos (v.6-8).
Day 3: Dry land and vegetation were created on earth (v.9-13).
Day 4: The sun, moon, stars and planets provided light and their cycles provided measurements of times and seasons (v.14-19).
Day 5: Aquatic creatures and birds were created (v.20-23).
Day 6: Animals and the first people, Adam and Eve, were created (v.24-31).
On Day 7 God rested (Gen. 2:2-3). He had finished His work of creation. Now he would sustain His creation and after man’s sin He would change the universe and then reconcile and redeem (Col. 1:17; Heb. 1:3).
The fact that God created different kinds of organisms which reproduced “according to their kinds” is mentioned ten times in v.11,12,21,24,25. This implies that each “kind” of creature is distinctive, which is consistent with the statement that “All flesh is not the same: People have one kind of flesh, animals have another, birds another and fish another” (1 Cor. 15:39). Their descendants never change from one “kind” of life to another.
What is Moses saying to the Israelites? Our God supersedes all the others. He is a powerful Creator who made everything. He even made what other nations considered to be gods. The true God is separate from creation. This is the same message that Paul told in Romans 1.
People: In the image of God
The fact that mankind was made in the image of God is stated three times (v.26-27). It shows that people were in the image of God from the beginning. What did this mean to the Israelites in Moses’ day? They used the term to describe a likeness between parents and children—Seth was described as being in Adam’s likeness (Gen. 5:3). Also pagan idols were represented as images (Lev. 26:1).
To answer this question we will see what Adam and Eve do that is unique to humanity. First, the statement that is made twice with respect to humanity but to no other creature is that they will “rule over the fish in the sea and the birds in the sky and over every living creature that moves on the ground” (v.26, 28). For example, Adam was to tend and care for the Garden of Eden (Gen. 2:15). So mankind was to rule over the rest of creation: we are the link between God and creation. (Ps. 8:5-8). But due to sin “at present we do not see everything subject to them” (Heb. 2:8). We have great power and responsibility. Second, Adam was prohibited from eating from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil (Gen. 2:16). People are conscious of moral values: we call some things good and others bad. This moral nature of mankind is different to the instincts of the animal world. Third, Adam named the animals (Gen. 2:19-20). Mankind is creative and inventive: this involves imagination, the ability to think in conceptual terms (abstract thinking), and the ability to see a thing with the eye of the mind and then create it physically. Fourth, Adam and Eve talked with God (Gen. 3:8-13). People can communicate and use language to convey ideas and discuss issues. In particular we can communicate with God.
Elsewhere the Bible says that people are comprised of spirit, soul and body (1 Th. 5:23). No other creature on earth is a spirit. Our spirits live forever, but there is no mention of life after death for animals. Maybe it is the spirit that is made in the image of God.
Creation was very good
“God saw that it was good” is mentioned 7 times in Genesis 1 (v.4,10,12,18,21,25). This means that it is in line with His divine purposes and in accordance with His divine character. Also, “good” is the opposite of “evil” and fruit is “good” food (Gen. 2:9). It finishes by saying, “God saw all that He had made, and it was very good” (v.31). This is a strong indicator that the world originally had no death or disease.
It was an excellent creation that had not yet been spoilt by sin. Sin is never described in the Bible as being “good” and death is called the “enemy” (1 Cor. 15:26). This original creation is very similar to last two chapters of Revelation, where “there will be no more death or mourning or crying or pain, for the old order of things has passed away” because “no longer will there be any curse” (Rev. 21:4; 22:3). Peter said that after Christ returns God will restore everything (Acts 3:21).
Because there was no sin, there was no death of animals or humans. In fact the animals and people were vegetarian at the beginning (v.29-30) and in the restored state (Isa. 11:6-9: 65:25). As people and animals faced no predators, they were in harmony and there was no fear. There was peace on earth.
Lessons for us
The Bible shows that the universe was created by an intelligent and powerful God. He did it in six days with one days rest to give us the pattern for a seven day week. There was no sin in the original creation and we can look forward to the restoration to this in the new heavens and new earth described at the end of the bible (2 Pt. 3:13). In the meantime we can praise God: “You are worthy, our Lord and God, to receive glory and honour and power, for You created all things, and by Your will they were created and have their being” (Rev. 4:11).
Adam and Eve were the climax of creation. They were made in the image of God to rule the rest of creation. They were also creative, with a moral nature and the ability to communicate with God. Even though our world has been spoilt by sin, people still bear the image of God. This gives them great significance.
Becoming a Christian is like being recreated in the likeness of God (Eph. 4:24; Col. 3:10). We become a child of God. Do we think and act like an image of God? Like an image of Christ? Are we using our personality and spirituality like God? Are we behaving in His likeness? Through Christ in our lives, believers are becoming more Godlike (2 Cor. 3:18).
 A day is the time for one rotation of the earth about its own axis. A month is approximately the time for one orbit of the moon around the earth. A year is the time for one orbit of the earth around the sun. There is no such physical relationship for the week.
Written, July 2004
See the next article in this series:
- In the beginning. Part 2: The first marriage
When I was on vacation in South Australia there were two explosions – one in a restaurant and another in an explosives factory. The debris was scattered across the neighborhood, killing several people. It reminded me of the evolutionists’ idea that the universe was formed from a “big bang.”
According to the Bible, “In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth” (Gen. 1:1 NIV). The Hebrew word for “heavens” (samayim) can also refer to the atmosphere (Gen. 8:2); or the sun, moon and stars (Gen. 1:15-17); or God’s dwelling place (Ps. 2:4). At least eleven times, the Bible says that God “stretched out” or “stretches out” the heavens. The context of two of these passages may be the atmosphere (Jer. 10:12; 51:15), for another two it is the stars and galaxies (Job. 9:8; Isa. 45:12), while the remainder relate to either of these alternatives (Ps. 104:2; Isa. 40:22; 42:5; 44:24; 48:13; 51:13; Zech. 12:1). The theme of all these passages is the greatness of God as Creator of the universe (Isa. 42:5; 44:24; 45:12; 48:13; 51:13; Zech. 12:1).
The events of creation were supernatural acts of God (Ps. 33:6,9; 102:25). As these events were outside human experience, the Old Testament writers used figurative language as there was no other way to describe them in the Hebrew language. They wrote that God “stretches out the heavens like a tent” (Ps. 104:2), and “He stretches out the heavens like a canopy (or curtain), and spreads them out like a tent to live in” (Isa. 40:22). The Hebrew word natah means to stretch, spread out or extend in every direction. It represents what one does in pitching a tent by unrolling the canvas and “stretching it out.” For example, Abram “pitched (natah) his tent, with Bethel on the west and Ai on the east” (Gen. 12:8). As a simile of God’s creation of the heavens, in the six days of creation (Ex. 20:11), God stretched out the heavens like a tent.
The stellar heavens are mentioned on the fourth day of creation: “God said, ‘Let there be lights in the expanse of the sky (samayim) to separate the day from the night, and let them serve as signs to mark seasons and days and years, and let them be lights in the expanse of the sky to give light on the earth.’ And it was so. God made two great lights – the greater light to govern the day and the lesser light to govern the night. He also made the stars. God set them in the expanse of the sky to give light on the earth, to govern the day and the night, and to separate light from darkness” (Gen. 1:14-18).
When we apply this image to the creation of the stars and galaxies we see that God stretched out the heavens (universe) to a vast size to make room for all the stars and galaxies. Vast size and the assumption that the speed of light is constant give the universe an apparent old age. This is like the rest of creation which seems to have been created in a mature form. For example, on the sixth day of creation, God created Adam and Eve as mature adults. They were a unique creation; no other people were created in this manner. Likewise, if the original heavenly bodies were created in a mature form, on the seventh day they would have had an apparent old age.
So God created the stars and the galaxies with a “big stretch” not a “big bang.” The next time you stretch something out, like a tent, remember that in the beginning God stretched out the universe and that the vast expanse of stars and galaxies “declare the glory of God” (Ps. 19:1).
Published, June 2008
Did you know that our view of the physical world can strongly influence our thoughts, our behavior and our future?
From its first verse, the Bible clearly teaches that “In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth.” This message is the foundation of the Christian faith, and is repeated throughout the Bible. In Job, the oldest book of the Bible, God says, “Where were you when I laid the earth’s foundation?” and “Everything under heaven belongs to Me” (Job 38:4; 41:11 NIV). Paul wrote, “All things were created by Him” (Col. 1:16). And the last book of the Bible says God, “created the heavens and all that is in them, the earth and all that is in it, and the sea and all that is in it” (Rev. 10:6).
The Bible tells us how God communicated to mankind and how people have responded since the beginning of recorded history. Our key reference for this article is Romans 1:18-32. Read it now.
The Universe: A Revelation Of God
Paul summarized how God has revealed Himself to humanity through the physical world. Regarding wicked people, he wrote: “What may be known about God is plain to them, because God has made it plain to them. For since the creation of the world God’s invisible qualities – His eternal power and divine nature – have been clearly seen, being understood from what has been made, so that people are without excuse” (Rom. 1:19-20).
People have no excuse for not knowing God; it should be instinctive. They have no excuse for rejecting the Creator. Instinct is a programmed response that is essential for life. Our two pet rabbits have dug a burrow in the ground without ever being taught to do so by another rabbit. Some of our body functions that are instinctive are: our heart beat, blood circulation, digestion and breathing. A breakdown of any of these systems is life threatening. The same applies to our knowledge of the Creator.
God reveals Himself to us through His creation. We all see this every day – in people, plants, animals, earth, sun, moon and stars. They are evidence of a great Creator. God is the only Creator of energy, matter and life; He is the ruler of the universe. By looking at the beauty and complexity of creation – whether on the large scale of stars and galaxies, or the small scale of atoms and molecules – anyone can know there is a God.
King David expressed this well in a song of praise: “The heavens declare the glory of God. The skies display His marvelous craftsmanship. Day after day they continue to speak: night after night they make Him known. They speak without a sound or a word: their voice is silent in the skies; yet their message has gone out to all the earth, and their words to all the world” (Ps. 19:1-4 nlt).
The existence of the physical world is a message of God’s creatorial power. This is called God’s general revelation of Himself. It is available to everyone no matter where or when they lived and it doesn’t depend on knowing the Bible. People in ancient times would have also heard by word of mouth, as Adam and Eve would have passed on the account of God’s great creation to their descendants. So people originally knew God the Creator, but this knowledge was lost over time.
Moses compiled the record of the early history of our earth in the book of Genesis. He recorded man’s failures including: Adam and Eve’s disobedience, Cain’s murder of Abel, Lamech’s violence, the prevalence of evil before the great flood, the behavior that caused Canaan to be cursed, Nimrod building Babylon in rebellion against God, and building the tower of Babel as a monument to man’s greatness (Gen 3:6; 4:8,23; 6:5; 9:24; 10:8-12; 11:2-4). These were all symptoms of man forgetting the Creator.
Then we read that Abraham travelled from Ur of the Chaldeans to Canaan. Clearly both these civilizations rejected all evidence of the Creator. Ur, the capital of the Second Sumerian State, was a center of pagan idolatry where people worshiped many gods (Gen. 11:31; Josh. 24:2). They also kept careful records of the movements of the planets and stars and had a form of astrology in which they associated the planets and stars with their gods and goddesses. After Ur was destroyed it was replaced by Babylon as the dominant city in the Middle East.
The Canaanites also worshiped idols. They explained nature by reference to their gods and goddesses – such as Baal, the god of the rain and storms, and Asherah, the goddess of the sea and fertility. They had a pantheon of gods under the control of El, the creator of created things, and his counterpart Asherah, the mother goddess. Kings were regarded as divine, and former kings were invoked as saviors.
Canaanite religion was the most sexually depraved of any in the ancient world; male and female prostitution and sexual fertility rites were common (Dt. 23:17,18). Drunkenness and immorality were prevalent during their religious celebrations. The Canaanites also mutilated their bodies (Dt. 14:1-2). Led by Joshua, the Hebrews came out of the desert to invade Canaan in 1440 bc. At this time many tribal groups lived in the area.
The Hebrews were forbidden to worship the Canaanite gods. Instead, they were to destroy their objects of worship, destroy the Canaanites, and not intermarry with them (Ex. 23:23-24; 34:11-16; Dt. 7:1-5; 20:17-18). However, we know they disobeyed God: Judah’s first mistake was in marrying a Canaanite woman (Gen. 38:2). This led to the idolatry and evil practices that were later removed by King Josiah (2 Ki. 23:4-25). These included: shrines and articles made for idols such as Baal, Asherah and all the starry hosts; pagan priests “who burnt incense to Baal, to the sun, and moon, to the constellations and to all the starry hosts”; male shrine-prostitutes; child sacrifices; horses and chariots dedicated to the sun; spirit mediums and seance leaders; and household gods.
Clearly the Canaanites rejected the Creator and turned to idolatry and wickedness. As a result they were judged by God when Josiah was king.
When Paul visited Athens, “he was greatly distressed to see that the city was full of idols” (Acts 17:16). Athens was a great cultural, educational and religious center – the most important university city in the ancient world. It contained several temples to honor the goddess Athena, and its citizens would have also worshiped their emperor.
The Acropolis in Athens was decorated with buildings and sculptures such as the Parthenon and the immense statue of Athena which was over 10 meters (33 ft.) high. The Athenians worshiped the great Greek gods and their Roman equivalents including Zeus (Jupiter), Hera (Juno), Poseidon (Neptune), Demeter (Ceres), Apollo (no Roman equivalent), Artemis (Diana), Ares (Mars), Aphrodite (Venus), Hermes (Mercury), Athena (Minerva), Hephaestos (Vulcan), Hestia (Vesta) and Dionysus (Bacchus) .
Paul spoke with Epicurean and Stoic philosophers. The Epicureans lived for pleasure, while the Stoics were pantheists who avoided expressing their emotions. The Greeks were well known for their philosophers – such as Socrates, Plato and Aristotle – so it’s not surprising that a favorite activity in Athens was to discuss “the latest ideas” (Acts 17:21).
When Paul preached in Athens his topic was “An Unknown God.” He knew the Athenians were “very religious,” so he introduced them to “The God who made the world and everything in it” – the very source of life (Acts 24-25). Like the ancient Canaanites, the Athenians had lost the knowledge of the Creator. They forgot that design demands a designer, and a complex world requires an intelligent Creator – nature didn’t create itself.
In Athens Paul declared that all nations who live on earth come from a common ancestor, Adam. Then he pointed out how the Greeks were worshiping something of their own creation – idols made of gold, silver and stone. What ignorance! God isn’t like anything that humans have thought up and made. The truth according to the Bible is that God made us; we don’t make Him with our hands or our minds.
Then Paul urged them to turn to the true Creator God in order to escape His coming judgment. He gives a clue on how this is possible by mentioning that Jesus Christ was raised from the dead.
Published: May 2004
See Part 2 of this article:
- What happens if we reject the Creator?: Part 2