October 23, 2012

Creation's Birthday

        Join me in wishing Happy Birthday to Earth and all the Creation!  According to James Ussher, an Irish scholar, theologian, and bishop, (1581-1656), the Creation was created at nightfall on the evening before October 23 in the year 4004 BC, thus making it Sweet Six Thousand Sixteen this year.
        It's easy to ridicule a statement like this because there's so much wrong with it both scientifically and theologically.  Nevertheless, it's not without interest.  First of all, Ussher was a formidable scholar and was joined in this endeavor to calculate the earth's exact age by such still-respected scientists as Johannes Kepler and Sir Isaac Newton.  In Ussher's day it was considered an important and serious topic of study, and what made Ussher's calculation so notable is that he brought together the most up-to-date scholarship, the cutting edge of scientific knowledge, and a rigorous
intellect.  His example should serve as a reminder that the state of knowledge shifts, and what we believe today, even if takes into account our best scientific (and theological) understandings, may well seem absurd four hundred years from now.  We must never believe that we have a monopoly on the Whole Truth.
        Secondly, Ussher lived in an age when it was believed that we might know everything.  This gave way to an era of specialization when it was understood that no one could possibly have a comprehensive knowledge, and the best one could hope for was to know as much as possible in one narrow topic.  Recently we've begun to shift again to a realization that specialized subjects do not exist in isolation, and that even to understand some specific topic requires an understanding of neighboring fields.  Perhaps those Renaissance scholars, with their broad generalizations and their dabblings in all subjects, have something to teach us after all about the interconnectedness of knowledge.
        And finally, this idea of accounting for the entire history of the universe strikes a chord with me as a creator.  Like many writers of speculative fiction, I am a Creator of Worlds, and as such I veer between two extremes of viewing my Creation.  I have such a deep and intimate love of my universe that I think I can know everything there is to know, account for every twist of history in every year, name every fantastical species of plant or animal, set every breeze in motion…  But at the same time I realize that fictional universes, just like our own real Earth, are far too complex, far too broad, far too deep, ever to be known in their fulness.  But I don't need to know everything, just as my readers don't need to know everything.  In fantasy as on Earth, the mystery is okay, especially if it inspires in us a sense of wonder that draws us toward the search for Truth and a willingness to be surprised by what we might discover.

[Pictures: The Fourth Day, woodcut by Julius Schnorr von Carolsfeld, from Die Bibel in Bildern, 1860 (image from Wikimedia Commons);
Creation of the Universe, woodcut by Michael Lotte, 1554 (image from Freemasonry & Esoterica);
God creating the World, woodcut by anonymous artist, from a 1527 Latin Vulgate Bible (image from Folger Shakespeare Library);
Creation of Light, wood engraving by Gustave Doré, 1866 (image from Wikimedia Commons).]

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