What Is Eternal?
St. Paul, Minn.
Something is eternal! This is the most axiomatic of all axioms, the most self-evident of all truths. To say that something cannot come from nothing may be to repeat an overworked phrase, yet it is also to restate an unalterable truth.
Even the absolute materialist must concede that everything is grounded in eternity. This is as fundamental to his development of matter and man as it is to the theist. The chair in which I am sitting, the desk on which I am writing, the paper, the ink, the typewriter, which I am using, all have their existence ultimately depending on the eternal. To deny this is to deny reality itself. One has only to seek to trace anything back to its ultimate source or origin to see its necessary relationship to what we will presently call the "undefined eternal." The desk on which I am writing is made of wood. This wood came immediately from a tree. The tree in turn was the product of a seed. The seed, itself, was the product of a different tree which had been able to grow because of its ability to utilize certain basic elements of the earth. Thus, we would be completely accurate in saying that the desk at which I am sitting is basically composed of certain combinations and adaptations of some of the elements. These elements may be further broken down into atoms which may be even further broken down into electrons and protons. In the views of some scientists, these may be further broken down to the point that matter is a form of energy. But still one does not get away from the force of the fact that every existing thing is grounded in the eternal.
If we should follow the absolute materialist in his reasoning, we would be taken back through the supposed evolution of life, through the emergence of the living from the non-living, even through the evolution of matter itself. Yet, we would still ultimately stand face to face with the fact that something is eternal. If the basic foundation of matter is energy in motion, then energy in some form existed before matter.
The recent claims of some scientists that they may be able to "create" matter (i.e. make new matter from other matter) in no way alters this fact. For in his attempts to bring into existence matter which did not previously exist, the scientist begins whith matter and energy which did previously exist. Even if scientists are successful in bringing matter into existence, which did not previously exist, all that will have been done will be to prove that under favorable conditions, certain types of matter can "give birth" to other matter. If something is not eternal, then they must not seek to "create" matte: by the formation of favorable conditions, but they must seek to "create" matter by the elimination of all conditions. Unless something is eternal, we must trace the ultimate origin to the time when there was no matter, no elements, no energy. We must envision, not only a time when there was no earth, but also when there was no sun, no stars, no gaseous elements from which they might be formed NO THING. Then we must bow before this great state of Nothingness with reverence, humility and awe. For NOBODY, out of NOTHING, with NOTHING to do it, with created the great and marvelous SOMETHING which we behold. No greater feat of magic has ever been performed, no greater miracle has ever been claimed, no greater fraud has even been perpetuated. Yet, this is the conclusion to which the "educated" man of today is driven unless, UNLESS, he wishes to write an answer other than NOTHING in the blank of the following statement, _______ is Eternal. If he writes an answer in this blank other than NOTHING, then our axiom has been admitted. SOMETHING IS ETERNAL!
But the inquiring mind cannot stop here. Faced with the undeniable reality that something is eternal, the honest searcher must seek to know what this "undefined eternal" is.
Dilemma of Agnosticism
Here the agnostic bogs down. He fears to face the inquiry and seeks to take refuge in the disposition that "I do not know and cannot know what is eternal." But clearly such an attitude is not only irrational, it is impossible to truly maintain. There can be no such thing as true agnosticism in a practical way for two reasons. First, to be a true agnostic one would forever have to close his mind to the problem of what is eternal. Guided by the disposition that I do not know and cannot know, the agnostic would be forced to abandon all search, all questioning, all desire to know. This is an impossible state of mind. Second, agnosticism is an impossible philosophy by which to live. "On the grounds that certain knowledge of God and spiritual things is unattainable, it bids man think and feel and act as if there were no God and no spiritual life and no further existence. It thus degenerates into a practical atheism." (New Schaff-Herzog Encyclopedia of Religious Knowledge, Vol. I, p. 87.) While avowedly affirming nothing, practically the agnostic affirms the negative that that which is eternal is not God. And in so doing, he runs from the refuge to which he ostensibly fled for shelter.
Thus the honest mind is forced again to the consideration of what is eternal. Only two answers have ever been seriously maintained and we will now examine these one at a time.
Materialism is the doctrine or belief that MATTER is eternal. It should be emphasized at the outset that materialism, like theism, is a FAITH. Sometimes those who do not believe in God are wont to belittle the idea of faith. But in the world in which we live it is impossible not to exercise faith in something. Those who do not have faith in God have faith in something other than God. The responsibility of the materialist is, not to ridicule the exercise of faith, but to show the faith which HE exercises is more reasonable and rational than the faith which the theist exercises. This he cannot do and should he even attempt to so do, he will end in utter failure. William Clark has forcefully pointed out that it "is fair to say at this stage of history that all materialistic explanations of existing things have lapsed into common failure." (The Christian Doctrine of God, p. 393.)
Science cannot produce one shred of evidence to indicate that matter is eternal. The very opposite is true. All of the known facts of the universe in which we live point inevitably to the conclusion that matter is not eternal. Those who hold the doctrine of materialism do so without facts and often in the face of the facts. Not only so, but they are faced with insurmountable difficulties all along their pathway of tracing life. For when one affirms the eternity of matter, he, at the same time, affirms that life emerged from non-life, order from non-order, intelligence from non-intelligence and spirit from non-spirit. He likewise affirms that all of this took place without guidance, plan or direction. He is forced to the conclusion that the world with all its wonders and marvels is totally the produce of change. Therefore, the doctrine that matter is eternal is unreasonable as well as unscientific. This has been dramatically demonstrated in recent weeks by indications that even the top scientists in Russia are no longer satisfied with a purely materialistic explanation of life.
If then, the question of what is eternal cannot be satisfactorily answered by the doctrine of materialism, how is it to be answered? The only other possibility is that Mind, manifested in the existence of God, is eternal. There is, of course, the popular idea today that the world and its phenomena are to be explained by the doctrine of pantheism. This is the belief that the world itself, with its forces, movements and actions IS God. This doctrine denies the personal being of God and seeks to identify God as Cosmic Energy or force. The fallacy of this faith is that it ultimately reverts to materialism and collapses at the same spot. For if the only god in the universe is a god of Cosmic Energy, then this energy must be eternal. But this is the exact affirmation of materialism and is equally unreasonable and unscientific.
We return again, then, to the only possible answer to the question of what is eternal. It is the answer which is affirmed in scripture and expressed so beautifully by Paul. "Which in its own time he shall show, who is the blessed and only Potentate, the King of Kings, and Lord of Lords; who only hath immortality, dwelling in light unapproachable; whom no man hath seen, nor can see: to whom be honor and power eternal." (I Tim. 6: 15-16.) Or again, "Now unto the King eternal, immortal, invisible, the only God, be honor and glory for ever and ever." (I Tim. 1:17.) This was the same wonderful truth that had been expressed many years earlier by Isaiah in these graphic words: "For thus saith the high and lofty One that inhabiteth eternity, whose name is Holy." (Isa. 57:15, emphasis added.)
Yes, something is eternal. That something is God. This is a faith that is founded in fact, that rises with right reason and that can be continued in confidence. May we never allow the clouds of skepticism and doubt to block the sunshine of this truth from our souls. May we with unwavering trust be guided by this truth until we, ourselves, stand on the other bank of eternity and are ushered into the presence of Him who makes his habitation there.
Truth Magazine VI: 7, pp. 11-13