The Final Frontier: Exploring the (God of the) Universe – Part 2 (Science, Conclusion)

Science – Laws Which Cannot Be Broken in this Universe:

It is almost quaint and pastoral to discuss the beginnings of the universe. After all, if as some theorists speculate, we are but either a singular universe among many, the multiverse, or perhaps a universe growing inside another one, or even a continuation of contractions and expansions so that from an explosion we grow up until a point and then rapidly contract, only to begin again. If this is the case, then philosophers and theologians may better spend their time discussing the illusion of time in the eternality of matter and energy rather than the beginning of this particular universe, as if it was either the first or the last. This conclusion is not reach in brevity of speculation, but in consideration of the several laws of thermodynamics and the most ancient religion, mathematics.  In this section, I want to briefly highlight several of the recent scientific formulations which prevent ex nihilo as a legitimate theology of the Christian faith. I draw from Brian Green and Lee Smolin as experts in the field of theoretical physics.

In Smolin’s 1997 book, the theoretical physicist becomes a deep philosopher[1], although with a stance against the use of religion to determine cosmic origins. Nevertheless, in the nooks and crannies[2] of his esoteric theories will lead us later to be able to theologize his words. For how, however, he provides us with our starting point to determine how science proves wrong the ancient doctrine of ex nihilo. Smolin notes that at the start of the Copernican, the universe was thought to be “finite and spherical (1997:3).” Even with all of the discoveries, it wasn’t until much later that the universe was seen as something less than this. Oddly enough, it was almost prophetic mystic monk, Giordano Bruno, who pushed this envelop to conclude that space was indeed infinite, our sun was a star and stars were suns around which orbited other populated planets. Of course, these things would lead to his burning at the stake, but this mystic was, without question, ahead of his time[3].

Of theological interest, Smolin notes in several places the “intricately structured” (1997:11) universe which has a natural hierarchy from the minute neutron to the mirror of the atom, the solar system. His quest then, which he continues to maintain that the answer cannot be found in religion, is to discover the origin of this structure, much as biologists attempt to find the origin of life (1997:35). Yet, he is seeking to “understand the whole of the universe as comprising a single, interrelated system (1997:13).” He goes on to maintain several things which are important to our overall discussion, namely, that the universe is not eternal (1997:14). Thus, the laws of the universe aren’t eternal, ending philosophical hopes of pinning the laws to an eternal lawmaker. Calling the model of the eternal universe an “outmoded relic of nineteenth-century science” (1997:15), Smolin attempts to demonstrate that our universe, as opposed to the universe, is a product of evolution. This process includes the laws and mathematics associated with our universe. All of this allows him to inquire as to what existed before this universe. His conclusion, is that quantum physics ends the millennia old attempt by Greek philosophers and Christians to “escape nature and partake of heaven” as life is no longer reducible to physics (1997:25) and further, to meet Aristotle and Newton in the middle[4].

In writing of the eternality of matter and energy, he notes the work of Roger Penrose and Stephen Hawking, noting the difficulty in discovering what happened before and/or after the singularity which produced our universe (1997:79-81). It is this scientific theory of the singularity which propels Smolin to consider that black holes are singularities in the same vein of those which produced this universe. It should be considered then, that each singularity is starting with pre-existing matter and energy, following the first law of thermodynamics[5]. He then notes throughout his work, that the universe is self-organizing along a similar pattern. None of this violates the first law of thermodynamics, which states that energy cannot be created or destroyed, as this prevents the idea of a closed universe because each succeeding universe would receive the initial energy to begin its organization from the previous universe via the singularity.

Brian Greene, counter to the previously mentioned William Lane Craig, notes that if we were to extrapolate “all the way back to “the beginning,” the universe would appear to have begun as a point… in which all matter and energy is squeezed together to unimaginable density and temperature. (2003:1476/7368).” Later, Greene notes that this unfurling of space is not simply a beginning, but contains the entirety of the universe, which falls well within the first law of thermodynamics. He postulates that the so-called Big Bang, was a hyperinflation of the cosmos in which this unfurling expanded from preexistent energy and matter and quite possibly, means that our universe is bigger, and thus older, than what we know of now.  In a previous book, Greene notes that the Big Bang simply denotes what happened after “time zero.” Existing before were large densities of matter and energy and, most importantly, gravity. Again, all of these contribute to the implied properties of the point, something often missed by ex nihilo philosophers.

Giberson notes in his book, The Language of Science and Faith, that the first law of thermodynamics, that which we have been discussing as severely limiting to the doctrine of ex nihilo, is the “best-established law in all of science.” As we have seen with both Smolin and Greene, neither of them approaches the destruction of it nor even considers that this law is not in some way absolute. Going further, Giberson notes that the expansion of the universe means that it must have had a starting point and that we are in the midst of an ongoing explosion. Tying these three scientists together, we approach the notion that our universe had a beginning, but that it was not ex nihilo. The preexistent energy and matter in this universe exists within laws and structures which have evolved to produce life as we know it, which occurred through its own similar evolutionary procedures. Regardless, we find in the presented credible scientific theories and continued discoveries a roadblock to the belief that either our universe is the only universe and/or that this universe sprang from nothing. 

Our Evolving Theological Position: Panentheism

The Classical Theistic position was one which came to fruition against Gnosticism and Platonic thought at a time when Platonic logic was giving great support to the Christian faith. It was made in reaction to pressing issues. Today, we have pressing issues with the advent of science. There will be some who will dismiss the influence of science on theology, but if we are true to the historical picture, we will easily see that Christian doctrine has often been shaped, from the Canon to the Creeds, by reactions to outside pressures. It is not that the truths of Christianity are changing to match the times, just the opposite. The first chapter of Genesis was written to shape the identity of the Jewish exiles in Babylon, giving them hope in YHWH. They used Babylonian concepts to redefine the idea of Creation to stand against the onslaught of the cultural hegemony being promulgated through the exile. Today, we aren’t merely allowing scientific principles to become our theology and thus deny God, but we, like the Christians who formulated ex nihilo to withstand the approach of Gnosticism and to dismiss that anything existed alongside of God and the Israelites who threw out the Babylonian creation myths in favor of upholding YHWH, we can called to allow that all truth is God’s truth, and to change our truth to fit it. Creation ex nihilo is no longer a tenable position for the Church and must be changed; however, what changes it must answer the objections of the Classical Theists, meet the scientific revolutions of the past decades, and be true to the ancient creeds that God is the Creator of heaven and earth. To meet the scientific claims of this present age, much like our spiritual ancestors of the past, I propose that we do nothing new, but return to an older, allowable, Christian belief, creatio ex deo, and supplement this with panentheism.

I want to briefly rehearse some issues which I believe panentheism will solve. First, there is the first law of thermodynamics which states, simply, that matter can neither be created nor destroyed. This prevents a doctrine which states that at some point, all matter and energy was created by God. In what I would call a subsection to the first problem, there is the philosophical rejection of absolute nothingness. It is impossible to conceive it because absolute nothingness would then have to include God. Simply put, God cannot exist alongside absolute nothingness without being included in it, making God nothing. Second, there are Smolin’s statements that nothing can exist apart from what is created. Here, this borders on the ancient Greek belief that the gods existed alongside eternal matter, which is something that the Christian theologians rightly rejected as making God either equal to matter or in danger of being inferior to the maker of the matter. There is also the notion, contained within these two that a God who exists outside of his created cosmos would have only a small role to play in the continued order of it, having to obey his own established natural laws. Theologically, while free will is somewhat maintained, there is the notion of the sovereignty of God which must be dealt with in order to have a God who exists before and part from his creation. Finally, to this latter point, there is as Milton noted, the continued theological belief that somehow Creation is not good under ex nihilo.

What is panentheism? As Baruch Spinoza claimed in his book, Ethics, “Whatsoever is, is in God, and without God nothing can be, or be conceived.” This is not pantheism which posits that everything is God, but that everything exists within God. The term, first coined by Karl Christian Friedrich Krause, represents a concept which goes back much further than the recent scientific revolutions. We find this first articulated by the ancient Greeks such as Heraclitus and Plato. The former found a panentheistic expression in the use of Logos to dictate the pervasion of the cosmos by an ordering principle. Platonic Philosopher turned Christian Theologian Justin Martyr would later use Heraclitus’s Logos to define John’s Logos. This concept focuses on the divine omnipresence. In the West, it is found among Process theologians and in the East, slightly redefined to exclude a complete union between God and creation; however, given scientific principles, a complete separation may be impossible.

Panentheism allows a focus on the ontological existence of Creation. Admittedly, we have grown as a species in our cosmological outlook since the days of the Hebrews, but we share some of the same concerns. What does it mean to exist? Further, panentheism allows that God continues to be involved and to evolve the processes which produce this cosmos. Polkinghorne argues that “It is the Creator who ordains the laws of quantum theory and general relativity… who ‘breathes fire into the equations and makes a universe for them to describe.’” (Polkinghorne:99)[6] Building upon this reality, we should be hesitant about redefining ‘Creator’ by our persistently wrong interpretation of a Creator who created out of nothing. Instead, when we understand the creeds and our canonical traditions to mean that God is creator, we must seek to understand this term both without existent biblical traditions and theology influenced by science. God is ontologically the creator, just as we are ontologically created, but what does this mean?

I argue for a liberal use of panentheism to answer scientific discoveries while maintaining the core faith of the believer, that there is indeed a God. In this view, matter and energy does not exist apart from God, but within God. Because God is an indescribable substance, it is entirely possible to maintain that the eternality of matter and energy are so uniquely related to the substance of God as to be indistinguishable from God. It is not that God created something out of himself, but that God formed all that there is through himself. This is not a true ex deo position, as I maintain that the cosmos is not out of God but still in God, or with God. Thus, the Creation is good because the fountain of it, as Milton said, is good. Here, I note Max Weber’s prophetic warnings of the growing dualism, almost as humanity had given up hope in Creation,

As otherworldly expectations become increasingly important, the problem of the basic relationship of god to the world and the problem of the world’s imperfections press into the foreground of thought; this happens the more life here on earth comes to be regarded as a merely provisional form of existence when compared to that beyond, the more the world comes to be viewed as something created by god ex nihilo, and therefore subject to decline, the more god himself is conceived as a subject to transcendental goals and values, and the more a person’s behavior in this world becomes oriented to his fate in the next[7] .

What we perceive as evil could be explained through the processes on entropy[8]. If we can seek to understand it as that way, we can then overcome the dualism needed between good and evil in creation.

Further, and I do not mean to go fully into this here, but the budding science associated with the ancient concept of mimesis explains the constant (if constant can be used liberally to cover the ‘slow’ billions of years which it takes to expand a universe through its own evolutionary processes) reordering of matter and energy, eternally preexistent, into the multiverse. Creation, uncreation, and the New Creation can more easily be described using panentheism in that God is reclaiming what is his, himself, from the ravages of time. This cosmic reordering, as found in Genesis, Isaiah, and Revelation has been misunderstood throughout the ages, but due to modern biblical scholarship, we understand the author’s meanings – that Creation is God centered and that sometimes, God reorders the existing materials to refocus it back on himself. This is a continual promise from the God of Scripture and fits neatly without panentheism.

Creation existing within God, as a part of God, inseparable will be difficult for many to accept but the idea of an interpenetration involving the Deity is nothing new. The Trinity is described as existing concurrently, or in perichoresis, a belief which was first articulated by Gregory of Nazianzus. It is entirely possible that what we have come to call creation can equally exist without the divine substance and we have the theological proof to allow our evolving position. Further, if both Smolin and Green are correct, and there is a multiverse system with new universes being created by singularities existing within black holes, then we have evidence of a natural interpenetration. We secure this idea when we consider that since matter and energy can neither be destroyed nor created, then all universes share the same matter and energy which is a cosmic example of interpenetration.

In returning briefly to the connection of Creation to ethics, which was an area explored by later Hebrews, Brueggemann suggests that the creation theology of ancient Israel is connected to the covenant testimony of Israel. While Creation is nearly absent in Deuteronomy, it is found throughout the rest of the Old Testament, and if we are connecting ethics to Creation as in Isaiah we discover that God’s view of Creation retains a more ethical consideration than usually attributed. However, the concept of Creation and Covenant is found in Israel’s testimony. After all, the God who creates, alone, is the same God who has ordered the universe according to His justice, and it was God’s justice to which Israel subscribed, depending on to bring them from exile. I would contend that an ex nihilo approach to an ethical covenant would actually dismiss some of the ethical connections where as a panentheistic approach resolves the tension and solidifies the connection between God and Creation.

While the praxis in relation to systemic theology has not been covered in this paper, there is one praxis which I would like to consider. Much of the Reformed Doctrine is built upon the sovereignty and holiness of God as defined through a Calvinist interpretation of an Augustinian understanding of Paul.  This view leads to a violent God which allows that God would forever dismiss those from his sight who was not predetermined to be saved. Further, dispensationalism would lead us to believe that God has his intent to completely destroy the known cosmos through violence. While this is acceptable to some, the God revealed through Christ, while holy and a judge, does not act in violence. There is a considerable difference between the God of Justice and Mercy and the God of the dispensationalist Revelation in which plague and plague is poured out among people who could no longer repent. Further, there is a difference between a God who calls to all and a God who has predetermined whom will be saved and temporarily tease them with salvation. For panentheists, the questions would remain then, 1.) can God forever lose a part of himself and 2.) can God do violence to himself?

Creatio ex deo also leads us to the idea of the ontological Creator and the ontologically created. If all things exist within God, even the very cosmic order, then God continues to create, an implied attribute which is eternally his and his alone. If this universe is in a state of panentheistic creation, then God is always the lawmaker, always the creator, and thus does not have a shadow of changing in him. Further, we are always ontologically created and we ontologically exist. As part of the matter and energy which can neither be destroyed nor created, our vaporous life is always bound up in an eschatological hope that we will rise with him in the continuous new creation[9].  The fact that God is an ontological Creator is made evident in the liturgical hymn of Creation in Genesis 1 in which the seventh day never ends. This is maintained as well throughout Scripture and Christian canonical tradition in which God is said to be an ever-present Creator, not a God who at one time in the past created. It is only because God is ontologically Creator that he is at times a judge and at times a savior and at other times the Lord of the armies of Heaven.

Conclusion:

That science will continue to expand our theology is no historical novelty. We have accepted it, sometimes begrudgingly, with Copernicus, Newton and even the germ theory. Allowing that the first law of thermodynamics constitutes a massive rebellion against the long held but not necessarily biblical doctrine of ex nihilo does not make us either inventors of heresy or somehow compromisers of Scripture. Instead, we find ourselves rediscovering old truths and ancient theologies, minority theologies to be sure, which is in a position to be both more biblical (see Milton’s us e of Scripture which is compared the theological necessity of the time which developed ex nihilo) and more, to use a word which is quickly losing its meaning, universal.

The dual and interconnected doctrines of panentheism and ex deo present to us a theology which is acceptable to both of God’s inspired books – Scripture and Science. Further, if praxis[10] is developed, we can see that this theology produces a praxis which connects all to everyone and everyone to God. It takes away the notion that we are simply living here until we leave, as if this cosmic order is somehow evil and apart from God. Further, it develops the notion that God is still ontologically the Creator of canonical traditions. There is also ecology and eschatological matters which arise along with soteriology which, I am convinced, would be beneficially shaped in conjunction with ex deo. Such a doctrine also answers the atheistic claim by those, such as Hawking, that there is nothing for God to do in creation. Indeed, if everything is in God, and through this God everything is upheld, then we find that God is not simply ‘doing’ anything, but is, as his most enduring appellation relates, is the very existence of everything[11].


[1] He writes, “Thus, what I am presenting in this book is a frank speculation, if you will, a fantasy. This fantasy is inspired by diverse sources and issues, some physical and mathematical, some biological, and others philosophical.” (1997:6)

[2] Karl Giberson argues against this very thing in his recent work with Francis Collins, The Language of Science and Faith: Straight Answers to Genuine Questions (Intervaristy Press, Downer’s Grove, Il 2011). While there is hesitancy to try to theologize every scientific discovery, I would contend that we allow these discoveries to push our theologizing about the natural universe.

[3] Bruno was not the only Christian mystic to be ahead of his time. In future discussions on this topic, I will turn to Meister Eckhart who determined, long before theoretical physicist Brian Greene, that time was a mere illusion.

[4] Smolin writes, that “Quantum physics…avoids both the Aristotelian fiction of our absolute centrality and the Newtonian fiction of our absolute alienation (1997:25).”

[5] These are the few laws which he considers absolute (1997:83).

[6] Theology in the Context of Science

[7] Weber, Max (1978). Roth, Guenther; Wittich, Claus. eds. Economy and society: an outline of interpretive sociology. 1. Berkeley: University of California Press. p. 521.

[8] The Second Law of Thermodynamics states that in an enclosed space equilibrium will be achieved. Simply, it is seen when a cup of hot tea assumes room temperature. The orthodox doctrine of deification, or theosis, finds support beginning in the New Testament, 2 Peter 1.4, as well as in the earliest Christian writings. Fusing science and theology, I would suppose this process allows that when evil or injustice comes to the surface, it is removed so that only the good, or the divine godliness, survives.

[9] I did not cover it in this paper, but the Hebrews, Romans and Greeks all saw history as cyclical. The recreation of universes may fit into this, broadly.

[10] I would like to maintain that theology without praxis is dead.

[11] See Exodus 3.14; Romans 11.36; Hebrews 11.6

The Final Frontier: Exploring the (God of the) Universe – Part 1 (Theology)

This is a paper from this semester…. a rough draft, um, I guess… This is an area I would like to explore in longer volume, but I guess I first have to have a publisher….

Introduction:

Christians are often left with two options when it comes to science and theology. They can either theologize science to the extent where they begin to create a ‘God of the Gaps’ theology, or they can place science in the bible[1]. When it comes to the act of creation, Western Christians have been left with ex nihilo as the theological and scientific principle to describe what God created our universe from; yet, science is revealing otherwise. To avoid both the ‘God of the Gaps’ theology, as well, as reading into Scripture scientific consensus in regards to Creation, I propose that we explore alternative theologies which are more likely to represent a co-habitation with science as well as with Scripture. Instead of creatio ex nihilo, I propose that the natural theology of Christianity is creatio ex deo. To that end, I will engage the early Christian writers who developed ex nihilo to combat other heresies, recent scientific discoveries regarding the existence of matter, the (Eastern) Orthodox belief of panentheism, as well as the few modern theologians who are arguing for a liberal use of panentheism and creatio ex deo.

Origins and Interaction with Ex Nihilo

“We believe in God, the Father, Almighty, Maker of Heaven and Earth.[2]” These words, or some variation, begin many of the later Christian creeds, but the rule of God as Creator was almost absent from the earliest creedal statements of the Church[3]. There is the Apostles’ Creed, and only one before that, is Justin Martyr’s statement (Leith 1963:18) which allows that God is the “creator and maker of all creation.” Irenaeus limits God to “maker of heaven, and earth, and the sea, and all things that are in them.” (Leith 1963:21) In Tertullian’s rule, there is only the mention made in relation to the Father and the Son, no doubt quoting Colossians 1.16. Granted, while Justin, Irenaeus and Tertullian were generally developing rules of faith, these statements show the stresses on Christian doctrines at the time. Hippolytus gives a baptismal creed with no mention of creation (Leith 1963:23). Marcellus of Ancyra, c. 340, also gives no mention of Creation. It would seem then, that not counting Irenaeus[4], the Western Creeds which were developed, did not see the need to focus on Creation in the rules of faith or local creeds. In the East, however, we find a much more prevalent issues of God as Creator. Leith (27) cites the Oriental Creed (Lietzmann) which predated 325 as among the first to include the phrase “creator of all things.” The local creed of Caesarea states that God is “Creator of everything visible and invisible.” Nicaea should be counted as an Eastern Creed, since the role of the West was limited, and it started after issues arose in the East (Alexandria). It follows, as it was apt to do, the Caesarean creed of just a few months before. The Creed of 381 matches the Nicene Creed.

Before these creeds were fully developed, there was a process which began in the cultural milieu which existed during the early Church, as it left its Jewish heritage and become more Gentile. As texts were examined outside their point of cultural origin, both the Hebrew prophets, which we will get too later, and the Greek philosophers became sorely misunderstood.  For example, Clement of Alexandria railed against the panentheism of the Greek Philosophers[5], which he claimed to be indebted too, for “deifying the universe.[6]” Instead, he suggested that they begin to seek the “Creator of the universe” which “has merely willed” and “it follows that things come into being.” These statements, made against Plato and his work, Timaeus, would allow the Clement of Alexandria to begin the formulation ex nihilo[7].

Jaroslav Pelikan, however, counters Osborn in suggesting that while Tertullian was equally waging war against Plato’s idea that God and matter co-eternally co-existed, that both men were somewhat dependent upon Theophilus of Antioch.[8] In this work, Autolycus, Theophilus states that “the power of God is manifested in this, that out of things that are not he makes whatever he pleases” perhaps misunderstanding the origin of the visible out of the invisible as expressed by the author of Hebrews to mean creation out of nothing[9]. Regardless, the earliest Christian theologians were waging a theoretical war against Greek Philosophy which they saw as no doubt lending support to Gnosticism. They were scientists and neither were making scientific statements. Tertullian admits that their statements were indeed not found in Scripture, mainly because Scripture assumed that ex nihilo was easily understood, “For I maintain that, even if the Scripture has not expressly declared that all things were made out of nothing—just as it abstains (from saying that they were formed) out of Matter—there was no such pressing need for expressly indicating the creation of all things out of nothing, as there was of their creation out of Matter, if that had been their origin.” (Ad Herm 21) The issue with Tertullian, just as with the others, is that he was writing against Gnostics.

Before I continue, I want to examine several statements made by early Christian writers, in that often times, their doctrine of Creation was inseparable from their doctrine of God. For instance, Novatian  (c. 3rd century), wrote that God “is the absolute and perfect founder of everything…There is no room left for any being superior to him, because he contains all things…He knows no bounds, for there is nothing greater than he is. He is eternal, because there is nothing older than he is. He has no beginning, and so can have been preceded by no one. He is immortal, and dwells outside of time (On the Trinity I.2).” Creation, then, is everything not God. Creation is not from eternity, is not as old as God, and is not co-equal. Arnobius of Sicca (c.4th century) would agree, writing, “He was never brought out to exist at some point in the past. He is the source of all things, the Father of all ages and seasons, for they do not exist of themselves (Against the Nations I.34).” Athanasius (4th century) condemns those who deify creation because nothing can measure up to God, as he has power over everything (Against the Heathen 2.92). Cyril, in his Catechetical Lectures (4.5, 8.3), declare that God is God because he has the power over everything as the source, creator, of everything. Augustine would agree (On Faith and the Creed 2.3).

In regards to the statement of existence, Augustine writes, “Everything that exists and what anyone makes existed either by itself, or has been made out of something else or has been created out of nothing. A human being, because he is not omnipotent, makes children out of himself and makes objects out of something else… A person can make the box but cannot make the wood. In fact, no human being can make anything out of nothing. But God, who is almighty, has begotten a Son from himself and made the world out of nothing. He also formed humankind out of the dust of the ground, so as to demonstrate by his actions on all three levels that his power is supreme in all things (Against Felix the Manichaean 2.18).” Clearly, Augustine is giving as a sign of God’s godhood the ability to create of out of nothing, as if this had to happen to demonstrate that he was God. In effect, it may be argued that Augustine could not see a God who could create out of nothing but had never demonstrated that ability. He had to demonstrate it to be God.

Origen, in his On First Principles 2.1.4, calls it ungodly to speak of uncreated matter which is co-eternal with an uncreated God, connecting them with those who believed that the world came about by chance. Lactantius, writing in beginning of the 4th century, demanded that a God who worked with pre-existent matter was imperfect and that the one who had prepared the matter was a more powerful God (Divine Institutes 2.9). Chrysostom has sharp words for those who “say that things that exist were made out of some primary matter and to deny that the Creator of all made everything out of nothing.” He says it would be “the height of stupidity (Homilies on Genesis 2.2).” The theme is common, then, that pre-existent matter would signal a being which could not be the God of the theologians’ understandings. God was limitless and all-powerful exactly because he had created ex nihilo.

The matter raised by the early Christian thinkers was one of co-existence with God. If matter co-existed with God, then God could not have been said to have created everything. Further, one couldn’t call matter God, as that resulted in pantheism. The issue of Creation was later used as a test of apostolicity by others, including Origen who included in the necessary confession, “that there is one God, who created and arranged all things (Pelikan 113).” It was also an issue of the problem of evil and redemption. Only the God who created could save humanity, Athanasius would come to believe and state in his work, On the Incarnation (17.1). He would write, “He has made all things out of nothing through his own Logos, Jesus Christ our Lord.” Athanasius also argued that salvation was the rescue of humanity out of the primordial nothingness, the same nothing which all of creation had been called from (Ath. Ar 2.76). Not only was it regarding the salvation of humanity, but creation ex nihilo provided for the eternality of God, according to Athanasius, who wrote, “And if he, when there was no other energy, created the ages, which are made up of times, and provided the principle of creation for all things” then we must assume that God alone was eternal. So, within the ex nihilo doctrine, several issues were solved for the early Christian writers, namely, anti-Gnosticism.

Pelikan notes that ex nihilo was made expressly to counter the doctrines of emanation. He also notes in Vol II of his series that later in the 8th century, the Dualists who resurrected the Augustinian debate from four centuries before labored against ex nihilo from the standpoint of a sovereign God who created Evil. Their position was that evil wasn’t created, if it was believed that what really happened was that God brought forth “out of his own essence” evil, which is not an act of creation (221-222). The Dualists were countered that God could not create evil, and thus to do so would violate his nature. This meant that anything evil, including matter, was not created by God. As a dualist creed would later state, “God created and made all good things… by which I understand only those things that are invisible to the physical eye; the other things were created and made by the devil[10].” The argument for orthodoxy was generally given by John Damascus who argued for ex nihilo on the basis that Dualists were arguing against matter, and in doing so, essentially cursed God the Creator. Simply, if one disliked the created world, or held it off as somehow less than good, that person was attacking God directly[11]. Essentially, there were two principles, God and the ‘god of this world’ so that it wasn’t so much creation at stake as monotheism.

In examining the medieval Church, we come to the conclusion that the continued focus on the ex nihilo doctrine was an almost central tenet to their faith. Pelikan notes that in the apologies of the medieval theologians, the chapter on this particular doctrine was often the longest.[12] While many ancient doctrines were questioned, it seems that this one escaped even though many would acknowledge that it simply wasn’t to be found expressly stated in the Scriptures. Thomas Aquinas would later reclassify the doctrine as a matter of faith, rather than a matter of proof, allowing for Christians to disagree with it without the condemnation of heresy.

Ex nihilo was developed in conjunction with the early doctrines of God and fine-tuned later as the Trinitarian dogma developed. It met the challenges of the Gnostics first, the Manichaeans, and later the dualists. It positioned God the Creator of the Christian creeds as the first and only principle of Creation, which was supported by the Scriptures. Further, when the Church met new philosophies, it sustained it to combat any lessening of the Christian monotheism or the ecological impacts of viewing matter as evil. The modern theologian must remember, however, that it was in the context of theological challenges, and not scientific discoveries, that this particular doctrine developed. Further, one must remember that Augustine, Aquinas, Calvin and others where not opposed to reexamining doctrine in light of new understandings of the natural world produced by what we understand as Science. What mattered to them were the theological implications of their theological opponents.

In returning to Thomas Aquinas, briefly, I note that it is in him that science and theology can find a spiritual father. While he believed in creatio ex nihilo, he was not one to hold to that as a deep doctrine of the faith, as I noted above. In speaking of creatio ex nihilo, Aquinas would defend that concept using language similar to language used by panentheists, “Since God is the efficient, the exemplar and the final cause of all things, and since primary matter is from Him, it follows that the first principle of all things is one in reality. But this does not prevent us from mentally considering many things in Him, some of which come into our mind before others (Summa Theologia  I:44:4).” However, while the matter came from God, the idea remains that God created in the modern sense, that he created from nothing, which he refuse to define as a substance (no-thing), “”To create is, properly speaking, to cause or produce the being of things (Summa Theologia, I:45:6).” All of this is bound up in his use of Aristotle in setting God as the exemplar, or first cause of creation, and as he would also write, words have meaning[13], which of course, allowed him in another work to write, “Properly speaking.[14]

Following Aquinas, albeit from a different starting point, John Milton rediscovered the formulation of creatio ex deo[15]. For Milton[16], who was no stranger to questioning doctrines and dogmas of the Church, creatio ex nihilo was one which made no sense[17].  Milton argued that God is the “primary and efficient cause of all things” but contended that the “moderns” with which he contended had no substantial evidence for their theory that creation had sprung from nothing. Milton, ahead of his time, argues that neither the Hebrew, Greek, or Latin word in Genesis would require something from nothing. He further notes that paradox of God creating darkness (Isa 45.7), which is nothing, in which God would have to at the same moment create and uncreate. He next turns to the Deuterocanonical authors, namely Wisdom and 2nd Maccabees[18] to suggest that the ancient authors would recognize something from something instead of ex nihilo.

Milton goes on to note that “action and passion are relative terms” requiring something to exist upon which God to have action and passion on. He goes on, however, to note that the two books of God, Scripture and Reason (or Science), clearly state that everything was created but that it would be impossible for things to be created out of nothing, then matter must have pre-existed before given a shape by God. Milton sees only two possibilities then. First, there is the platonic notion that matter exists independently of God. Second, that matter must “have originated from God at some particular point of time”. He calls the former inconceivable. The latter he traces to Scripture, including Romans 11.36, 1 Corinthians 8.6, and Hebrews 2.11. He further builds the case through the use of the philosophical causes – “efficient, material, formal, and final.” He writes,

Inasmuch then as God is the primary, and absolute, and sole cause of all things, there can be no doubt but that he comprehends and embraces within himself all the causes above-mentioned. Therefore the material cause must be either God, or nothing.

He thus concludes that either matter comes from God, or there is no cause whatsoever. He further theologizes his discovery to note that the “original matter… is not to be looked upon as an evil or trivial thing, but as intrinsically good, and the chief productive stock of every subsequent good.” Why? Because of the source.

Currently, the Western view is split between the traditional view of ex nihilo as upheld by Protestants who ironically state everything in the case of sola scriptura and the Roman Catholic Church. Both claim to believe in ex nihilo, as we shall see. First, since the Protestant denominations have no singular magisterium to speak for it, I have turned to Dr. Albert Mohler, the current president of the conservative evangelical Southern Baptist Convention, and William Lane Craig, the current evangelical philosopher, to represent the traditional conservative viewpoint of ex nihilo. He writes,

The Bible begins with the declaration that “in the beginning, God created the heavens and the earth” (Gen. 1:1). The doctrine of creation forms the starting point for our understanding of the cosmos and our place within it. The Bible’s straightforward explanation for the existence of all things is traced to God’s own intention to create the cosmos as the theater of his own glory. The Bible rejects all forms of dualism or polytheism, leaving the God of the Bible as the sole explanatory principle of the universe. Nothing that exists does so outside of his sovereignty and intention. The God of the Bible creates ex nihilo (out of nothing) and is not dependent upon any preexistent matter or conditioned by any external force[19].

Mohler has been adamant that Genesis is a “plain sense” account of the beginnings of the cosmos. He goes so far as to state, as he has done on several occasions, that the Gospel falls if Genesis 1-3 is not taken as “literal.” Mohler is not the philosophical theologian that Craig is, however, so we would not expect the level of interact we find in our next theologian.

Craig positions three alternatives to the question of why something exists rather than nothing.

“(T)he universe either had a beginning or had no beginning; if it had a beginning, this was either caused or uncaused; if caused, the cause was either personal or not personal. Four lines of evidence, two philosophical and two scientific, point to a beginning of the universe. If the universe had a beginning, it is inconceivable that it could have sprung uncaused out of absolute nothingness. Finally, the cause of the universe must be personal in order to have a temporal effect produced by an eternal cause. This confirms the biblical doctrine of creatio ex nihilo.” (italics mine)[20]

Throughout the paper, Craig takes an approach which seems not to pay attention to scientific principles. When he does handle science, I suspect that he is still reaching through the philosophical lens. His starting point, as with Mohler, is Genesis 1. Craig ignores the fact that, as Milton pointed out, in order to act, one must have something to act on. Craig accurately notes that through the miracle of math, we are able to travel back in time to a point on a linear scale in which the universe was contracted to a singular point. This, he says, marks “the beginning of the universe” noting that the “state of “infinite density” is synonymous with “nothing.” His pattern is thus rendered”

  1. The universe “began with a great explosion from a state of density.”
  2. No object can really have infinite density
  3. Infinite density = nothing
  4. Thus, it is required that the universe has a beginning from nothing.

This ignores the reality of “infinite density” and the properties of that point. Philosophically, Craig should note that the abstract or implied properties of the singularity are that of being a point or beginning. Absolute nothing, which is an entirely different monster to tackle, philosophically, could not by definition have properties, implied or otherwise. As Lee Smolin notes, the properties of this singularity is what would go on to cause the entropy we currently see in the universe. Thus, Craig is wrong to state that the universe has begun from nothing[21].[22]

The Roman Catholic position follows many of the ancient theologians still yet. They officially argue,

In every kind of production the specific effect had as such no previous existence, and may therefore be said to have been educed ex nihilo sui — from a state of non-existence — so far as its specific character is concerned (e.g. a statue out of crude marble); but what is peculiar to creation is the entire absence of any prior subject-matter — ex nihilo subjecti. It is therefore likewise the production totius substantiæ — of the entire substance. The preposition ex, “out of”, in the above definition does not, of course, imply that nihil, “nothing”, is to be conceived as the material out of which a thing is made — materia ex quâ — a misconception which has given rise to the puerile objection against the possibility of creation conveyed by the phrase, ex nihilo nihil fit — “nothing comes of nothing”. The ex means (a) the negation of prejacent material, out of which the product might otherwise be conceived to proceed, and (b) the order of succession, viz., existence after non-existence.[23]

Further, they expressly deny creation from, or out of, the deity, either in procession or emanation due to the inability of creation to have an intrinsic divine quality or to have the divine substance divided. It is worth noting that in Catholic theology, the Spirit proceeds from the Father and in the book of Hebrews, the Son is the emanation of the Father. As noted above, creation ex nihilo became an orthodox doctrine developed against Greek support of Gnosticism when the Church began to leave its Jewish roots. The Old Testament has been recognized to not support this particular doctrine, something that Tertullian would have fully agreed with, albeit with the caveat of arguing from silence. It is to the doctrine of creation in the Old Testament to which I now turn.

Old Testament/Jewish Theology

There are more than two creation stories in the Hebrew Canon. The most familiar are those in Genesis 1 and Genesis 2, although whether or not they are actual creation stories is a matter of debate. There is mention of Creation in the Decalogue found in Exodus 20.9-11 (see also 23.12, 31.14-17; cf the Decalogue in Deuteronomy 5.12-15 in which the Sabbath is disconnected from the act of Creation). Beyond that, in various psalms such as 8, 33, 104, and 148 we find references to the act of creation. In Job 26 and 40-41 we find older creation accounts in which God destroys the sea monsters which brings about creation. The books of the Prophets contain the creation myths as well, such as in Isaiah 45.7-19 and Jeremiah 10.6-13, 51.15-16. More importantly for the future discussion, the book of Proverbs contains the beginning insight into God’s artisan, Wisdom (Proverbs 3.19-20; 8.1-36). God as Creator is one of the unique qualities of YHWH. Further, the (usual) fact that the Hebrew God was able to create without the acts of theogony, cosmogony or other forms of myths which a god created the world without the interaction from other gods provided a theological basis for the future rise of monotheism.

However, there is emerging discussions on what exactly ‘create’ means. Commonly, the debates rage in the mother tongue of the attendees, however, as scholars are coming to discover, the Hebrew doesn’t comport well with the modern notions of creation. John Walton, first in his book The Lost World of Genesis One and now in his latest, Genesis One, contends that the Hebrew word bara does not mean to ‘create’ but instead, means to give existence, or to assign function[24]. Thus, in Genesis 1, God is not so much seen as creating the items enumerated, but giving them functions in the cosmic temple. He notes that throughout the Old Testament, the word is found nearly 50 times, attached to various things such as the “heavens and the earth” (Gen 1.1), a pure heart (Psa 51.10), and most importantly, a covenant people as in Malachi 2:10. Walton cites eight categories for ‘creation:’

  • Cosmos (10, including New Cosmos)
  • People in general (10)
  • Specific groups of people (6)
  • Specific individuals or types of individuals (5)
  • Creatures (2)
  • Phenomena (10)
  • Components of cosmic geography (3)
  • Condition (1: pure heart)

What is first seen is that the created things, not counting the cosmic event at the moment, are things already in existence (by our modern standards), but reassigned a functionality in God’s Temple. Thus, the Hebrew word doesn’t lend itself to the idea that God created out of previously non-existent material, but in assigning function, brought items into existence in a way which they had not previously been. This is a common, as Walton repeatedly points out, concept in the Ancient Near East[25].

Walter Brueggemann contends, as well, that the ancient Hebrew thought did not contain an ex nihilo creation concept[26]. For bara, Brueggemann notes that it is the “most majestic of terms for God’s actions as Creator, a verb used with no other subject except Yahweh.” (1997:146) He argues that the very name of Yahweh is a pointer to the generative power of the Hebrew God in that the root of the divine name means to be. However, it is generative with pre-existing material (see also 2008:325 in which Brueggemann notes that God was speaking to things already present and waiting for his command). He notes that the various Hebrew verbs linked to bara in the various passages regarding God’s acts “bespeaks active, material engagement with the stuff of creation, in an artistic endeavor.” It is the outcome of the work which is the creation, with the work being made on material already in existence (1997:147). Thus, when we think of creation, we must think of the end result, and not the act, although Brueggemann is careful to note that the “venturesome rhetoric” of Israel should not be reduced and simplified (1997:149). Proponents of ex nihilo as well as Young Earth Creationists should take note of this warning.

For Brueggemann, the pre-exile creation stories weren’t necessarily rooted in exploring ethical monotheism, but in royal ideologies and propaganda of various regimes. This may also help to explain the various, accepted and non-redacted, names of God (such as El and YHWH). The example found in Psalm 89 is given, in that David’s line is secured next to the celebration of God’s divine order in creation. Thus, the royal lineage was royal because it was connected to the God who ordered the world. While the temptation, against Brueggemann’s warning, is simplify creation rhetoric as political propaganda, we must endeavor instead to see the royal line attaching itself to an existent creation theology to secure itself. Or, as Brueggemann suggests, the fact that these poems and other liturgical reenactments contain their “rich play of rhetoric” does “not lend itself to the explanatory analysis with which it has often been forced in the interest of a “creation science.” (1997:157)

Along the same lines, the Exile gave Israel its more formative creation ideology as it was faced with the loss of identity. Creation by God had to be articulated in such a way as to prevent the absorption of Israel into the great Babylonian hoard. We find this best articulated in what scholars call deuteron-Isaiah. In 40, 43-45, the prophet gives hope to the Jewish exiles by reminding them of the eternal promise made to Jacob, and the creation of Jacob, by YHWH. This helped to secure against the Babylonian pantheon, the growing monotheistic loyalty to YHWH and shield the identity of Israel. We find some of this imagery in Jeremiah 10.1-16 in which YHWH is contrasted against the false gods. The prophets were shaping a cosmic God who had not only created the world but beget the People, established the royal lineage, and thus brought to himself Israel in a way that could not be severed as much as creation would not end.

As I noted before, there is a certain amount of connection between ethics and (the New) Creation found in Isaiah 65.17 and 66.22[27]. In T. Ryan Jackson’s recent work, New Creation in Paul’s Letters[28], is second chapter deals with the idea of New Creation in the Old Testament. Calling the “new heavens and the new earth” a merism, he attempts to unpack the phrase, adding to it the idea of the new covenant as found in Jeremiah and Ezekiel. Of interest is Jackson’s description of the ‘new thing.’ YHWH is telling the exiles in Babylon to forget the Exodus story and instead, wait for the new liberation. This is also the meaning behind the ‘former things’, in that it is not speaking about the old world, but the old world system which was established by YHWH’s deliverance of Israel. Jackson’s point is that the New Creation is not a moment of an eschatological end, but something related to deliverance which accomplishes new things while ending the sins of idolatry of the old world system. This idolatry takes center stage for several subsections, in which Jackson attempts to show that the New Creation is God’s deliverance of Israel out of exile and a re-establishment of a God-centered dispensation. Creation, then, becomes the track of history in which the Creation event is tied expressly to a Covenant with Israel. Further, the New Creation is brought out of the old through a reordering of the priorities of Israel, turning them back towards YHWH. All of this comports with Brueggemann’s belief that Genesis 1 prepares the way for the “primal drama of the Bible” in that the appeal is made to God to heal the world through his ordering (2003:33). Even in Genesis 1, we see that the role of Creation reach its zenith with the creation of the human species. Following Walton and somewhat Jon Levenson before him, we understand this text to be a liturgical text sung during Temple worship, signifying the covenant. It was about the ethical covenant established between God and Israel, without much regard as to the material of Creation. In fact, Brueggeman says that while some creation texts permit an ex nihilo approach, but that it is not required.

It is not just the Hebrew Bible which precludes a doctrine of ex nihilo, but so too science. Admittedly, I am not trained as a theoretical physicist; however, I will attempt to engage those who have been, in order to draw out the scientific road blocks to such a theological stance.


[1] Young Earth Creationists regularly point to such verses as Job 26.7 as a collusion with the scientific principle of gravity and that Leviticus 17.11 points to biology.

[2] I am starting with the Creeds because they are generally formulations of general theological principles and part of the canonical traditions of the Christian Church. Further, given the pride of place in the Creeds, early Christians considered God as Creator as something important to maintain.

[3] The brief survey is pulled from: Leith, John H. Creeds of the Churchs: A Reader in Christian Doctrine from the Bible to the Present. Garden City, N.Y.: Anchor Book, 1963.

[4] It is worth mentioning that Irenaeus, while notable counted among the Western Christians, came from the East, during which he had purportedly learned at the feet of St. Polycarp.

[5] I note that not all of Greek philosophy was done away with, as the Logos doctrine is surely Greek as is the immortality of the soul.

[6] Clem. Prot. 6.70.1

[7] Osborn, Eric Francis. The Philosophy of Clement of Alexandria. Cambridge. 1957, 33

[8] Pelikan, Jaroslav – Vol 1.35

[9] The author of Hebrews was not contrasting nothing and something, but was using a familiar, albeit, Platonic, worldview in which the heavens contained the ideas which came to fruition on the earth below. See: Plato Tim. 51–52; Plato Rep. 7.1-3; 9.592b; Plato Soph. 246–47; see also Philo Leg. All. 3.100-103

[10] Pelikan Vol III 239

[11] Peter of Sicily preached that the dualist “hurls curses as the one God, the Highest, and curses the one who created him.” (Hist 17)

[12] Pelikan Vol IV 15

[13] Summa Theologia I.67.1

[14] Summa contra Gentiles 2.17

[15] All quotes are found in Milton’s On Christian Doctrine.

[16] Milton and the Manuscript of De doctrina Christiana,  Gordon Campbell

[17] It is worth noting that Milton’s doctrine of creation was made in connection to his adverse position of the Trinity.

[18] I note that modern interpreters often turn to 2nd Maccabees 7.28, forgetting Wisdom 11.17, in trying to prove that ex nihilo was considered by the ancients.

[20] William Lane Craig, “Philosophical and Scientific Pointers to Creation ex Nihilo,” in Contemporary Perspectives on Religious Epistemology, ed. R. Douglas Geivett and Brendan Sweetman (New York: Oxford University Press, 1992), 191.

[21] Smolin, Lee. The Life of the Cosmos. New York: Oxford, 1997. 75-89

[22] For a fuller discussion and response to Craig’s article, see Wes Morriston’s Creation Ex Nihilo and the Big Bang, Philo, Vol 5, No 1.

[23] Siegfried, F. (1908). Creation. In The Catholic Encyclopedia. New York: Robert Appleton Company. Retrieved November 23, 2011 from New Advent: http://www.newadvent.org/cathen/04470a.htm

[24] 38-49, Lost World of Genesis One.

[25] For a larger discussion of the cognitive environment in which the Old Testament existed, see Walton’s book, Ancient Near Eastern Thought and the Old Testament: Introducing the Conceptual World of the Hebrew Bible.

[26] Unless otherwise noted, I will be summarizing the arguments he has made in the following three books, Theology of the Old Testament: Testimony, Dispute, Advocacy (Fortress Press: Minneapolis, 1997);  Old Testament Theology: An Introduction (Abingdon Press: Nashville, 2008); and An Introduction to the Old Testament: The Canon and Christian Imagination (Westminster John Knox, Louisville, 2003)

[27] See also David Russel’s work, p69-76, in which the author notes as well as the New Creation which is the focus of Isaiah 65-66 is not a creatio ex nihilo, but one of rearrangement.

[28] Jackson, T. Ryan. New Creation in Paul’s Letters. Tubingen: Mohr Siebeck, 2010.


Just how old is the doctrine of Creation Ex Nihilo? And does that make it right?

English: The School of Athens (detail). Fresco...

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Rabbi Leo Samuel relates that it goes back to the early Rabbinical period, but like most theology is only considered through philosophy.

 Just as the early rabbinic writings provide some evidence that they accepted the theory ofcreatio ex nihilo, so too, did the Early Church Fathers. The one lone exception was Justin Martyr (ca. 100-165 C.E.), who saw no conflict between Plato’s view of creation and the Genesis story. The theme of the early 2nd century work, The Shepherd of Hermas, expresses God’s oneness as being basic to the early Church, and was undoubtedly influenced by theShema Prayer recited by Jews twice daily: “First of all, believe that God is one, who created everything and maintained it, and who made everything to be out of what was not, who contains everything but alone is not contained.”

At some point, one must begin to take into account the philosophy which comes from science into account when discussing theological issues. The fact is, is that ex nihilo, whether due to anti-gnostic influence, or to rail against paganism, was created to combat the notion that YHWH was not the Almighty, but instead, had to work with something pre-existent. While the theological result of ex nihilo is accurate enough, in that it preserves the uniqueness of the monotheistic God, but now, it is becoming scientifically inaccurate. With the advent of the laws of thermodynamics, especially the first one, and the model of the reprocessing universe, we are coming to understand that our universe is one in a chain of universes, perfected to the point of being fine tuned to produce life and we can understand this through the anthropic principle, first of all. Second, through mathematical science and the such. Ex nihilo, which is not truly found in Scripture, and is something which actual Hebrew Scholars dismiss unlike apologists who create fantastical philosophical theories which deny both the stated properties and the implied properties of the singularity from which this universe unfurled. We have a problem then. Either we do what our theological and philosophical ancestors did when they created, from nothing, the doctrine of ex nihilo, and move our theology using existent knowledge to proclaim the truth of God as Creator, or we simply continue to deny reality.

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‘A Universe From Nothing’ by Lawrence Krauss, AAI 2009

Two things: First, there is some rather colorful language at the beginning and throughout regarding religion, sorta. Second, this is in response to a previous post about theologies of creation. I like the multi-sided view. So there.

HT – the Canadian who ain’t Todd Bentley but looks like him

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Some articles on Creation Continua, ex nihilo

The Courage of a Mother (2 Macc. 7:20-42)

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This one is devoted to Rodney’s pet project, Creation Continua,

Creatio ex Capacitas and Creatio Continua: When having Power just isn’t

The biblical passage above has been the subject of much debate in light of not only how God created, but also as to out of what He created. There are two main camps in this debate: those who affirm creatio ex nihilo and those who affirm panentheism. Both speak of God’s omnipotent creativity expressed through the generation of new modes of existence. Creatio ex nihilo advocates claim that God did this ‘out of nothing;’ creating all things out of absolutely nothing. Panentheists purport that God created by influencing a realm of ‘non-divine actualities.’ These non-divine actualities are comprised of ‘moments of experience,’ which have always been, and these actualities present the options from which the next moments are created. Panentheists believe a realm of actualities has always existed alongside God, although the individual actualities themselves are neither eternal nor do possess any divine power in, or of, themselves

This is interesting as well:

The Greeks held that the cosmos had always existed, that there has always been matter out of which the world has come into its present form. Aristotle (384-322 BC), the foremost natural philosopher of his day, had developed a philosophical argument for the eternity of the world (Physics, I, 9; On the Heavens, I, 3). Philosophers of other schools such as the Stoics and the Epicureans also agreed that the world or its underlying reality is eternal. All these thinkers were led to this conclusion because they observed that “nothing can come out of nothing,” and so there always has to be a “something” that other things can come from, however one understands the processes of coming into being and passing away.

Against this notion of an eternal cosmos, the church fathers reasserted the biblical doctrine of creation, and in doing so they emphasized not only the transcendent otherness of God but also the astonishing immensity of God’s power.

God did not form the world out of a pre-existent matter, but spoke into being (“Let there be!”) that which literally did not exist before.

This doctrine of creation out of nothing (creatio ex nihilo) is not a teaching dependent upon particular biblical passages, though thinkers have cited 2 Maccabees 7:28 and Rom. 4:19, both of which speak of God bringing things into existence from non-existence. Yet these verses exerted less influence than the declarations of God’s creative power found throughout the Bible.

 

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Chad is correct*, Rodney is wrong – Science proves Creatio ex deo

This shouldn’t surprise anyone, but Rodney is wrong when he argues from a theological perspective, that Creation occurred out of nothing. Chad sorta argues against it, although timidly so.

Here’s the solution. Science has proven that matter/energy cannot be destroyed or created. Thus, to say that God created everything out of nothing is scientifically impossible. It’s just wrong. Instead, we should go back to the idea, and build upon this – unless, of course, in building upon this we begin to find value in all of Creation – that Creation proceeds, develops, evolves from God, ex deo.

Think of the theological implications of that.

Is Willimon a heretic? Creation Ex Nihilo

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We are reading this book for our Sunday School class. I’ve gotten to the fourth page so far and already, my whole theology has been shaken to the core. Can I trust the bible? Oh my… I’m kidding of course… But Willimon approaches the subject of Creation like this:

In Genesis, God does not really create the world out of nothing, ex nihilo, but rather works on the dark and formless void. Creation is that good that would not be there if God were not the sort of God who God is. God addresses the chaotic, formless stuff of darkness with, “Let there be light!” God speaks to the chaos, and in that address there is evocation of a world that God calls “good.” Creation is depicted in Genesis as a series of divine addresses.

To many, Creation Ex Nihilo is sacrosanct. I personally do not believe that. I tend to believe in Creation Ex Deo. I’m not sure where Willimon is going, but I wanted to use his statement here for my own jumping off point.

Two things. First, we know that matter cannot be created or destroyed. Second, we know that something existed before everything else. Now, I do not take Genesis 1 as actually applying to the creation of the world. Long story, but if you want to know, just ask.

When God was placing things in order, at the very beginning, or whatever, there did exist something. Chaos. Void. ‘Formless stuff of darkness.’ Something. It wasn’t nothing out of nothing which is, frankly, absurb. It was something out of something. Given that I believe that God existed before all, and that God obeys natural laws – the laws he created – creation cannot then be ex nihilo, but in my opinion, ex deo. I do not mean that the created mass then is the same as the Creator, but I do mean that the created mass is not wholly separate from God. In other words, God is not so transcendent that we are as his creation untouchable and unmanageable and unsaveable.

Anyway… I cannot wait to see where this books leads…

Three Interpretations of Genesis 1

In preparing for John Walton’s book, The Lost World of Genesis One, I had to refresh myself in the different interpretations of Genesis 1. I am doing this in preparation of Walton’s book review, which I hope to have done on Monday:

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Three Creation Concepts – God, Nothing, Material

In preparation for the review of John Walton’s Book, The Lost World of Genesis One, I found myself having to study creation ex nihilo. (This actually started with James McGrath’s book in connection to the deity of Christ) While I have known what this concept entails, I was amiss in understanding what stood along side this concept as alternatives. So, in an effort to better prepare myself for the coming book review, I thought that I might share a bit of these concepts for discussion:

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