Fundamental Difference Between the Daoist Theory of Universal Evolution and the Christian Concept of the Creation by God

The question of whether the universe has always existed as it does now is a most interesting, but also most perplexing one. Countless are those who, over the past thousands of years, have deeply pondered over this question and formulated what they considered to be the best answer, some going so far as to elaborate wonderful theories on the subject. Nonetheless, until today no consensus has emerged. Contemporary opinion tends to consider that the universe had a beginning, and that this beginning was a stage in the evolution of the universe — looking at the universe as a whole, it has neither an absolute beginning nor an absolute end. Daoist Cosmogony has proposed a similar view of the universe for the past two thousand years. This theory of universal evolution is radically different from the Christian theory of the Creation of the universe by God. Daoism considers that universal evolution follows its own laws and is not the product of divine creation. Rather, it is the product of Spontaneous evolution under the control of the Great Dao. The highest divinity of Daoism, the Primeval Lord of Heaven, emerged during the evolutionary process, which he helps to push forward according to the circumstances. On the other hand, Christianity considers that God created the world out of absolute nothingness.

Initial speculations on the origin of the universe

Early on, Laozi had reflected on the origin of the universe. He considered that Heaven and Earth have not existed indefinitely. Dao preceded the formation of Heaven and Earth. The process of the generation of Heaven and Earth by Dao is resumed in the following formula: <<Dao generates One, One generates Two, Two generates Three, Three generates the Myriad Beings.>> In other words, Dao generated the primeval unified whole, which divided into two opposing forces, whose interpenetration generated all beings. The two forces referred to by Laozi as the ‘Two’ are commonly considered to be designate Heaven and Earth. Later on, other Daoist theorists further reflected on the origin of the world and formulated systematic theories. These were discussed in the scripture The Source of Dao, which points out that before the formation of Heaven and Earth, there was nothing but limitless dark space, in which nothing existed. There was only Essential Vital Breath and Vital Breath of Spirit circulating everywhere. These Essential and Spiritual Vital Breaths refer to different functions of Dao, which formed the world and the myriad beings.

The complete description of the origin of the universe began in the Wei and Jin dynasties

Ge Hong, the famous accomplished Daoist and reputed astronomer of the Jin dynasty, made an important contribution to Daoist Cosmogony. In his Inner Book of the Master Who Embraces Simplicity, he considered the concept of ‘Mystery’, and its effect on the formation of Heaven and Earth. In his later years as a hermit on Mt. Luohu, he wrote the important work The Book of Pillow Secrets in which he discussed the ‘most sublime root’ and pointed out that before the formation of the world, the original chaos was like an egg, inside which was Perfect Man Pangu who called himself the King of Primeval Heaven. As the universal egg grew larger in its initial stages, he grew larger inside it. At the formation of the world, the light elements rose upwards to form Heaven and the heavy elements descended to form Earth, while the King of Primordial Heaven resided on Jade Capital Mountain in the centre of Heaven. Later on, other spirits, men and animals were formed. Ge Hong’s theory was later developed into a systematic Cosmogony. At about the same time, the Highest Clarity sect also reflected on the question of the origin and structure of the universe. Around the end of the Eastern Jin, the grandson of Ge Hong’s brother, Ge Caofu, wrote a large number of scriptures, amongst which the Numinous Treasure’s Lofty and Sublime Book of the Limitless Salvation of Mankind and other writings fully described the process of the formation of the world. Subsequently, the Book of the Supreme Venerable Sovereign’s Opening of the Heavens appeared, which also discussed the question of the creation of Heaven and Earth.

Author: Liu Zhongy
Translator: David Palmer
(Courtesy of: Taoism Culture & Information Centre)

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