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Two Theories of Creation:
Creation out of Nothing - Creation out of Chaosmos

Thomas Jay Oord

The following lists represent the main ideas proposed in a panel debate/discussion at the Wesleyan Philosophical Society meeting, Duke University, March, 2008.

Nine Problems with Creatio Ex Nihilo

1. Theoretical problem: absolute nothingness cannot be conceived.

2. Biblical problem: Scripture – in Genesis, 2 Peter, and elsewhere – suggests creation from something (water, deep, chaos, invisible things, etc.), not creation from absolutely nothing (see Speaking the Language of Canaan: The Old Testament and the Israelite Perception of the Physical World).

3. Historical problem: Creatio ex nihilo was first proposed by Gnostics – Basilides and Valentinus – who assumed that creation was inherently evil and that God does not act in history. It was adopted by early Christian theologians to affirm the kind of absolute divine power that many Christians – especially Wesleyans – now reject.

4. Empirical problem: We have no evidence that our universe originally came into being from absolutely nothing.

5. Creation at an instant problem: We have no evidence in the history of the universe after the big bang that entities can emerge instantaneously from absolute nothingness. Out of nothing comes nothing (ex nihil, nihil fit).

6. Solitary power problem: Creatio ex nihilo assumes that a powerful God once acted alone. But power is a social concept only meaningful in relation to others.

7. Errant revelation problem: The God with the capacity to create something from absolutely nothing would apparently have the power to guarantee an unambiguous and inerrant message of salvation (for example, inerrant Bible). An unambiguously clear and inerrant divine revelation does not exist (see The Modern Inerrancy Debate).

8. Evil problem: If God once had the power to create from absolutely nothing, God essentially retains that power. But a God of love with this capacity is culpable for failing to prevent genuine evil (see The Problem of "Natural" Evil).

9. Empire Problem: The kind of divine power implied in creatio ex nihilo supports a theology of empire, which is based upon unilateral force and control of others.

Twelve Advantages to Creation out of Chaosmos

1. Theoretical advantage: We can conceive of creating something from materials previously organized differently or in a different state.

2. Biblical advantage: This theory generally fits with the biblical notion – in Genesis, 2 Peter, and elsewhere – that God creates from something (water, deep, chaos, etc.; see Genesis Bible Study Lesson Two: The Cultural Context of Israel).

3. Historical advantage: This general theory was affirmed by early Christian theologians (although by few Christian theologians after the 2nd century) and deemed a logical possibility by such influential Christians as Thomas Aquinas.

4. Empirical advantage: This theory corresponds with what we know from the evolution of life, in terms of something new evolving from what has come before.

5. Superstring advantage: This theory is compatible with contemporary superstring theories (see physicists Neil Turok, Paul Steinhardt, John Barrow, Alan Guth, and others).

6. Analogy with creature creativity: This theory corresponds with how we understand our own creating activity, without equating the Creator with the creatures.

7. Multiple powers advantage: This theory fits with our everyday notion of power as that which can only be understood in relation to other powers. Power is social.

8. Dynamic revelation advantage: This theory fits better with a doctrine of dynamic biblical inspiration whereby God interacts with creatures possessing their own (God-given) capacities, notions, and tendencies – including capacities for error (see Revelation and Inspiration of Scripture).

9. Problem of evil advantage: If God has never created from absolutely nothing, it seems plausible that God does not have the ability to control others entirely. A God of love without the ability to control others entirely should not be charged with culpability for failing to prevent the evils caused by free or indeterminate creatures.

10. Relational advantage: A God who always enjoys relations with non-divine others and creates by means of those relations is an essentially relational God (see Relational Holiness).

11. Love advantage: If being related to others is necessary to love others, a God who has always enjoyed relations with non-divine others might be said to love non-divine others essentially and not arbitrarily. Thus God’s nature is love.

12. Ethics advantage: This theory suggests that God works persuasively with others rather than coercing them, and this serves as a model for nonviolent creaturely ethics arising from our essential responsibilities to the other.

Thomas Jay Oord, Ph.D.
Northwest Nazarene University

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