In his 2005 release “Fine Line,” Paul McCartney mused that “There is a long way between chaos and creation” (Paul McCartney, Chaos and Creation in the Backyard, EMI/Capitol Records). Perhaps unwittingly, the Liverpudlian noted a critical point in the intersection of faith and reason. Sir Paul’s declaration reflects a theological/philosophical reality of which biblical authors and Greek sages were aware, and this concept is at the heart of the issue of teaching within the context of Christ-centered higher education. Once we realize that we can comprehend the world in which we live, we discover that we need to ask a logically-prior question: “Why can we comprehend the world in which we live?” The issue of how we make sense of our world presumes that we can, in fact, make sense of our world.
Among the ancient Greeks this concern was expressed in the distinction they made between chaos and kosmos. In answer to Hesiod’s question concerning the origin of all things, the Muses informed him that “first chaos came into existence” (Hesiod, Theogony, 116). While this poet may have understood chaos as no more than an unformed substance, Aristotle’s comment on Theogony reveals his perception of chaos as disorderly and ugly (Aristotle, Metaphysics 984b.20-39). Aristotle consulted Hesiod while the student of Plato was searching for the cause of all good order (kosmos) and arrangement (Metaphysics 984a.15-17). He sought to comprehend why we live in the midst of order (kosmos) rather than disorder (chaos); the former offers a reasonable expectation for understanding our universe, the latter does not.
Curiously, McCartney’s lyric makes a similar point in terms that echo biblical language. “In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth, and the earth was tumbled and jumbled” [Hebrew: tohu vevohu] (Gen 1:1-2a). Facing the formless void that was the primeval earth, God began bringing order to the chaos; he sorted through what was tohu vevohu. Light and darkness were separated from one another as were sea and dry land. Plants and animals were brought into existence in various distinct, orderly kinds. Aristotle’s term, kosmos, would be appropriate to describe the results of this work of God, but a better Greek word is available: ktisis, “Creation.” While both kosmos and ktisis note the orderliness of the realm in which we live; the latter term acknowledges (at least implicitly) the action of the Creator.
Because we live in a kosmos/ktisis, our quest to comprehend our surroundings leads us toward a reasonable goal. In a kosmos/ktisis we can hope to perceive the order in which we are immersed and to take (at least preliminary) steps toward discovering the character of that order. Existence within the tumble and jumble of chaos would offer no such hope; the concept of “laws of nature” would be meaningless, even the communication necessary to express such laws would be impossible in a chaotic state where all words mean everything and nothing simultaneously.
At this point a distinctive quality of Christian scholarship becomes evident. Whereas all scholars must recognize the (at least partial) orderliness of the kosmos, without recognizing the kosmos as ktisis they are ultimately unable to account for the existence of this orderliness; they can proceed no further than the unsatisfying assertion that the kosmos just is (and we do not know why it is). Christian scholarship recognizes the orderliness of the kosmos/ktisis and finds there evidence of the Creator. Now we are prepared to return to the question raised earlier: “Why can we comprehend the world in which we live?” Such comprehension is possible because the world in which we live is not a chaos but a ktisis, formed by the Creator. What we comprehend is the order imposed on chaos by the Creator. There is indeed “a long way between chaos and creation.”
In many instances the intersection of faith and scholarship, the context in which Christ-centered higher education occurs, is most clearly evident when considering such fundamental questions as whether our classrooms function under the influence of chaos or kosmos. As Christian scholars we are compelled to respond “Neither”; in the world of Christian scholarship, we work within the framework of ktisis. The various disciplines that constitute the Christian academy intersect most clearly at this foundational level. My desire is to consider the outlines of some of those intersections, investigating how Christian scholarship informs theology and how theology informs Christian scholarship. If successful, I hope that I will detect a few fingerprints of the Creator.