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OCKHAM AND THE CREATION OF THE BEGINNINGLESS WORLD I. Three cosmologies Ockham's stand on the question of the possibility of God's having created the world ab aeterno, beginninglessly, strikes me as having more than just the scholarly interest it would naturally be expected to have. The nature ofthat wider interest can be shown in an introductory sketch of the three most important explanations of the world's existence. According to a popular version of the currently standard scientific cosmology,"Ten or twenty billion years ago, something happened— the Big Bang, the event that began our universe. Why it happened is the greatest mystery we know. That it happened is reasonably clear. All the matter and energy now in the universe was concentrated at extremely high density. ... It was not that all the matter and energy were squeezed into a minor corner ofthe present universe; rather, the entire universe, matter and energy and the space they fill, occupied a very small volume [just before the Big Bang]. ... In that titanic cosmic explosion, the universe began an expansion which has never ceased."1 The second of these three explanations of the world's existence is the standard theological cosmology, which for present purposes I take to be expressed in the first verse of Genesis. There the world is pretty clearly presented as having begun to exist, and its existence is unmistakably presented as having been caused by God. It seems clear that the Big Bang cosmology and the Genesis cosCarl Sagan, Cosmos, (New York: Random House, 1980), p. 246. 2 NORMAN KRETZMANN mology are compatible with each other, particularly if we confine our attention to the account in Genesis 1:1, the only part of the creation story relevant to this discussion. There is no apparent reason why "In the beginning God created the heaven and the earth" could not be the story behind the Big Bang. But at least superficially both the Genesis and the Big Bang cosmologies appear to be incompatible with the last ofthese three, Aristotle 's view that the world could not ever have begun to exist, that it must have existed beginninglessly.2 Since the orthodox theological explanation and the current standard scientific explanation ofthe world's existence are alike in pointing to an event which took place a finite number ofyears ago and which counts as the beginning ofthe world's existence, they look as if neither one of them can tolerate the idea of an infinitely old, beginningless world. But, of course, the scientific explanation does not rule out the possibility of a beginningless world simply by inferring the occurrence of the Big Bang at some time in the distant past. The inferences that lead to that result are all founded on considerations ofprocesses characteristic of the world as we know it, and so they can provide a basis for inferring only the origin ofwhat might be merely the current, fifteenbillion -year-long phase ofthe world's actually beginningless existence. After all, any account that begins by referring to the Big Bang begins without any explanation ofthe existence ofthe stuffthat abruptly began expanding then. For just that reason Big-Bang cosmologists sometimes expressly leave open the possibility of a world older than the Big Bang or even infinitely old—speaking, for instance, of"the fifteenbillion -year lifetime ofthe universe (or at least its present incarnation since the Big Bang),"3 or of the possibility that we inhabit "an oscil2 I call the beginningless-world cosmology Aristotelian because it is Aristotle's presentation of it that matters in this discussion, but it was also the view of the overwhelming majority of ancient philosophers. "Did the universe have a beginning? With only a very few possible exceptions, such a view was denied by everybody in European antiquity outside the JudaeoChristian tradition" (Richard Sorabji, Time, Creation and the Continuum: Theories in Antiquity and me Middle Ages; London: Duckworth, 1983 [Ithaca NY: Cornell University Press, 1983], p. 193). 3 Carl Sagan, The Dragons of Eden (New York: Random House, 1977; reprinted, New York: Ballantine Books, 1978), p. 13. Ockham and the Creation of the Beginningless World3 lating universe," which "has no beginning and no end, and [that...

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Additional Information

ISSN
1945-9718
Print ISSN
0080-5459
Pages
pp. 1-31
Launched on MUSE
2015-07-01
Open Access
No
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