THE VIEW THAT HOLDS THAT BOTH GOD AND MATTER ARE ETERNAL IN THE LIGHT OF THE BIG BANG
Plato and Aristotle were two prominent historical advocates of the view that both God and matter are eternal. Their followers and devotees also shared their views. However, despite the fact that these celebrated philosophers uphold this view, the idea is not a fundamental one. Ideologists of materialistic philosophy seem to be justified in their arguments. Either God was before (eternal) and created matter; or matter was before (eternal) and there is no God.
The view of materialistic philosophy that considers the universe eternal and denies God and the view of the monotheistic religions that argues God to be eternal and the universe to be His creation were clearer in the minds of the general public than the view that accepted both God and matter to be eternal. The views of Plato and Aristotle and of their disciples on the issue called for interpretation, and some of their commentators interpreted them as monotheists, while others as deists.
Plato says that God created the universe out of “chaos” and gave it shape; the creation of stars was followed by that of the planets and Earth. Plato is nearer to the idea of creation than his disciple Aristotle, who maintained that the stars burn with an inexhaustible fire.
According to Plato, all objects in the universe are but reflections of real entities in the world of “ideas.” In the world of “ideas” there is an archetype for every object (pen, table, etc.) and concept (beauty, etc.) that exists upon earth. These entities in the “world of ideas” are absolute. For Plato, objects on earth are created according to these “ideas;” in other words, God acts with reference to them. In Plato’s writings, “ideas” have sometimes a supra divine existence and sometimes they are below God and sometimes they are integrated with Him. Plato considers God the absolute good and places Him at the peak of the hierarchy of existence. God’s (Demiurge’s) integration with “ideas” in certain passages of his work, his placing Him at the peak of the hierarchy of existence appealed to some thinkers, exponents of monotheistic religion, as they saw the “ideas” occupying God’s mind as the primordial images of the created things. Plato’s statement that “ideas” acquired their characteristics from the “idea of Good” and Plato’s identifying God with the “idea of Good” fit in with this conception. Such a commentary draws Plato’s philosophy to the account given by monotheistic religions. There are commentators who consider each “idea” as an independent atomized reality independent from God. The discussion of the divergence in the views of commentators is beyond our scope.
A concept that corresponds to the creation of matter ex nihilo does not exist; nevertheless, matter considered to be eternal has nothing to do with the materialistic conception of matter. Plato’s “matter” is shapeless, indefinite, invisible and indefinable. God shapes matter on the pattern of “ideas.” Plato’s conception of the world as the shadow of the “ideas” has inspired many mystics.
ARISTOTLE’S ETERNAL UNIVERSE PATTERN
Aristotle said that the universe was never in a “chaotic” state, that matter in the universe always had a form and that stars burned with an inexhaustible fuel. According to him, the origin of motion in the universe was God, whom he qualifies as the “Prime Mover.” According to him, God is immaterial; He is absolutely perfect and immutable. Aristotle thought that motion had to have a Prime Mover, but failed to notice that matter had to have a beginning.
Certain commentators of Aristotle, referring to the philosopher as a “deist,” said that he had considered God to be the Prime Mover, relegating Him to a place outside the universe. Yet, Aristotle not only placed God at the origin of the motion as ‘Prime Mover,’ but he also referred to Him as “telos” of the universe. How can He, toward whom the universe turns, be unrelated to the universe?
Aristotle said that everything has a final cause. This presumed the foreknowledge of all the phenomena designed to take place in the universe. Assuming that the evolutionary processes of the phenomena upon the earth are the stages a statue will be going through before it takes its final shape, the image of its finished form should have been in mind. Who is the owner of the design toward which the universe is directed? God, the source of “the final cause” and being telos of the universe cannot possibly be indifferent to the universe. To my mind, some of the modern commentators try to build up an image of Aristotle that would fit into their positivistic outlook. However, most of Aristotle’s postulations are at variance with these views. In his celebrated work entitled Metaphysics, Aristotle enumerates the attributes of God and says that the unity prevailing in the universe proves the unity of God. He stresses that God is the Law and the Lawgiver; that He is both Order and the Designer of Order; and that everything is arranged by Him and for Him.
We are not concerned here to find out who among the commentators of Aristotle is justified in his claims; however, ascribing Aristotle the pithy attribute of “deist” I think should be a matter of discussion. Aristotle justifiably leveled criticism at Plato’s doctrine of “ideas.” He was of the opinion that Plato’s imaginary world made up of useless objects served but to generate confusion and failed to shed light on the things and motion in the universe. The criticism is against the consideration of ideas as atomized, abstract, real and independent beings.
According to Aristotle, “the final cause” is the sine qua non of the being upon the earth. The teleological interpretation of the universe is one of the major points shared by Plato and Aristotle.
FARABI AND AVICENNA
Plato and Aristotle shared some of the basic views of monotheistic religions and the fact that their studies encompassed social, political and scientific aspects of the world of phenomena had considerable influence on a great many thinkers of monotheistic religions. Muslim philosophers were the first to seriously consider these Greek Philosophers. Aristotle had decisive influence on Farabi, Avicenna and Averroes, who came into contact with him through translations.
These philosophers tried to integrate the creation out of nothing of Islam with Aristotle’s eternal universe. They attempted to make a compromise between the Quran and Aristotle’s philosophy. However the act of creation necessitated a beginning and “creation in eternity” thus clashing with the nature of creation that called for a beginning. It was clear that these philosophers were discordant with pure reason. Yet, Ghazzali’s contention that they denied the act of creation has no justification. They did not deny the act of Creation, but introduced the idea of eternal universe that is incompatible with the essence of Creation. They considered God the Necessary Being, and the rest, beings dependent on Him. They also said that the attribute of eternity of the universe was not the same as the attribute of eternity of God. Farabi, in his Al-Jam, says that to believe in the eternal existence of the universe in this sense is tantamount to denial of God. They consider matter as an object subject to God’s will that obeys every order that God gives. What is at issue for them is the clarification of the concept of “eternal.” They are nearer to the creation concept of theistic religions rather than the eternal universe concept of Ancient Greece. Nevertheless, the evidence produced by the Big Bang that demonstrates that the universe had a beginning corrects these philosophers and proves the truth of the objections raised against them. The following two points correct the philosophies of Farabi, Avicenna and Averroes:
1-The universe has a beginning. It follows that the universe was created not “in eternity” but at a given point in time.
2-Universe-time also has a beginning; this is the same as the origin of the universe. Thus there is no justification in taking us back to the infinite and deriving from it the concept of “eternal time.”
MONOTHEISM AND CREATION EX NIHILO
The Christian world came into contact with Plato and Aristotle through translations from the Arabic. Albertus Magnus and Thomas Aquinas were influenced by Aristotle’s philosophy. Some Christians refer to them as “Christians before Christ.” Aristotle’s physics were adopted as the official view of the Church, and the process of sanctification of Aristotle’s philosophy began. However, the Church that sanctified him did not sanction his concept of the eternal universe and never gave up its belief in creation ex nihilo. Those who, like his counterpart Ghazzali in the world of Islam, embraced Aristotle’s logic and philosophy of nature strongly opposed his concept of an eternal universe, while a few philosophers who took sides with him accredited his concept of universe without having to drive apart the act of creation.
The answer to the question as to whether the universe and matter had been created or not will also be the answer to the question as to whether the monotheistic religions or Plato and Aristotle were right. The Big Bang postulates that the universe had an origin, which marked the beginning of time, and has thus substantiated the truthfulness of the monotheistic religions on this issue.
An interesting point is the absence of any dialogue about the creation ex nihilo in Ancient Greek. The eternity of matter was taken for granted, as an axiom. The question whether matter was created ex nihilo or otherwise had never been on the agenda. Rather, they debated about the elements of which the universe was made, the question as to whether there is finality in the universe and certain models. It is interesting to note that in such a serious atmosphere of philosophical debates this issue had not been raised. Other than those who advocated monotheism, the idea of creation ex nihilo did not occur to the human mind. The Big Bang supports the postulate of creation ex nihilo by pointing to the origin of matter and time, based on scientific evidences.
SCIENCE IN THE AGE OF PLATO AND ARISTOTLE
In the time of Plato and Aristotle, scientific discoveries were inadequate. When they stated that the sky had an eternal existence, they interpreted it as an object unchanging and one that is not subject to decay. The fact that all celestial objects are of the same material as our earth and that the same atoms are the constituents of space came to be realized thanks to sophisticated telescopes. Even elementary school students know that sublunary space is subject to change and decay, while the idea that superlunary space is unchangeable and incorruptible is erroneous. It is common knowledge now that the celestial bodies are no longer believed to be eternal. During Aristotle’s time men labored under the illusion of an immutable universe, and the idea of the eternity of celestial bodies suited this fanciful conception well.
Aristotle’s and Ptolemy’s earth-centered universe concept was discredited following the discovery of the heliocentric system and the realization that the earth’s constitution did not differ from the constitution of other stars and the sun. This new conception shook the Church, which had been advocating the truth of the Aristotelian and Ptolemaic systems. It is interesting to note that the Church, despite the overriding influence of Aristotle, never accepted his “eternal universe” concept. Despite the great number of divergences among the monotheistic religions themselves and in their subdivisions, they all share the view that the material world is transient and created.
This important point is a contention shared by all monotheistic religions. The establishment of truth will also be the establishment of the fact whether monotheistic religions can be relied upon or not. For the demonstration of this hypothesis means the collapse of all the systems challenging the monotheistic religions.
Plato and Aristotle were not fortunate enough to have the scientific data available today at their disposal. The chain of discoveries of Copernicus – Kepler – Galileo – Newton had not yet taken place, nor had they inherited the heritage of an Einstein. They knew nothing of the Doppler effect, or the Fraunhofer lines, and they did not have the infrastructure to enable them to make trustworthy astronomical observations. One can see that no matter how sophisticated a philosophy may be, so long as it is deprived of scientific heritage and instruments of observation, along with products of technology and experimental facilities, it is bound to remain lame and liable to error.
BEGINNING OF TIME AND SUMMARY
We can briefly summarize as follows the corrections brought to the Ancient Greek philosophy by the Big Bang and the science of physics:
1-It has been demonstrated that the universe and matter are not eternal. The view poised by the followers of monotheistic religions that the universe and matter are not eternal has proven to be justified.
2-According to the Aristotelian and Ptolemaic systems, the universe is confined within static boundaries. The fact that the Big Bang theory brought to light an ever-expanding universe has proved that the universe has no static boundaries, as these boundaries are expanding every moment.
3-The Big Bang theory postulates that a time will come when the celestial bodies will vanish; this in fact eventually came to be proved through observations of the stars and astronomical calculations. This has disproved the belief of the Ancient Greeks in the existence of an inexhaustible fuel consumed by the stars and of the divine character of the superlunary world.
4-The formulas of the theory of relativity have linked the universe with motion and time. The demonstration of the origin of the universe has also demonstrated the beginning of motion and time. This has corrected the Greek misconception that had supposed the universe and time eternal.
5-The Big Bang theory has proven that the universe is not eternal and that a day will come when the universe experiences a Doomsday. This conception of “Doomsday” does not figure in Plato’s and Aristotle’s philosophies. The Big Bang theory points to this lack in their philosophy and corrects their ideas of a never-ending universe.