During the 19th-century, while Christians were dealing with the notion of an ancient earth, non-Christians explored the ramifications of an eternal universe. Eternalism played a crucial role in the arguments made for Darwinism by its early advocates. Darwinists conceded that the odds of something as complex as living beings coming about by random chance were extremely low, even minuscule. However, if the cosmos is eternal, then it does not matter how unlikely an event may be. Given an infinite amount of time, if an event has any possibility of happening at all—no matter how remote—then inevitably it will happen. In an everlasting universe it does not matter how many multiplied trillions of years it might take. Eventually every possible scenario will get its day. We are here; so obviously our existence is possible. Therefore, concluded the Darwinists, as absurdly improbable as it is, an eternal and infinite universe renders our evolution inevitable.
19th century Germany would see some of the most vociferous advocates of Darwinism take eternalism to its logical conclusion. In his The Riddle of the Universe, Ernst Haeckel (1834-1919) would argue that an infinite and eternal world means that humanity must abandon the outmoded “ideals of God, freedom, and immortality.” Perhaps Fredrich Nietzsche (1844-1900) saw most clearly where eternalism led. He argued for what he called “the eternal recurrence theorem.” An infinite universe does not just render our improbable existence inevitable. It means that we have occurred again and again in the past, and we will recur in the future ad infinitum.
“In infinity, at some moment or other, every possible combination must once have been realized; not only this, but it must once have been realized an infinite number of times. . . .If all possible combinations and relations of forces had not already been exhausted, then an infinity would must lie behind us. Now since infinite time must be assumed, no fresh possibility can exist and everything must have appeared already, and moreover an infinite number of times.”
We are caught in an endless loop. Life has no purpose, nor can it have any. Nietzsche embraced nihilism, the view that “life leads to nothing” and that existence is “useless, empty, and absurd.” However, discoveries and advances in physics and astronomy at the beginning of the next century would overturn both steady-state cosmology and eternalism. The 20th-century would welcome the “Big-Bang” hypothesis. (Adapted from 40 Questions about Creation and Evolution)
Cross-posted at www.theologyforthechurch.com