In Wesley’s view the fish and fowl were indeed produced out of the waters, and the beasts and man out of the earth. At the same time, the earth and those waters were made out of nothing. A question still remains. If the earth and waters were made out of nothing, why was “something” needed as a “substrata” for the creation of the fish, fowl, beasts and man? It is just another inconsistency, as many others. God either created all His creatures out of nothing or He needed a raw material for some of His creation.
Creation out of nothing is not thought by the Bible. If God created the universe, He created it out of Himself, out of His own resources, energies or powers, which have generated something else. Nothing comes out of nothing, and God can be seen as the most original source of existence.
Theophilus of Antioch was the first Christian writer to give explicit arguments in favour of the doctrine of creatio ex nihilo which van Bavel usefully summarises as follows:
“1) If not only God but matter also were uncreated, as held by the Platonists, God would no longer be the creator of everything and the only Lord; 2) If matter were uncreated and unchanging, it would be equal to the immutable God;
“If God had created the world out of pre-existing matter, that would be nothing special; for human beings also can produce something new out of existent matter.”
Such arguments were seen to be persuasive and the later Christian thinkers accepted the doctrine of creatio ex nihilo which remained the established Christian teaching on creation. As Rowan Williams said, this doctrine is at the heart of St. Augustine’s accounts of creation, because it has the merit of combining a simultaneous defence of God’s transcendence of the material world but at the same time His connection with it.
Augustine gave to the doctrine of creatio ex nihilo a larger extent and his analysis was very profound in many details. Creation from nothing for Augustine was, as a matter of fact, a creation made from formless matter which had been created from nothing.
“First there was made confused and formless matter so that out of it there might be made all the things that God distinguished and formed. He goes on to say that ‘therefore, we correctly believe that God made all things from nothing. For, though all formed things were made from this matter, this matter itself was still made from absolutely nothing’....”
Augustine’s views on nothingness are very interesting. Nothingness isn’t anything at all but is a negative principle which explains the human penchant towards negativity. The created beings are good because they are created by God but they have also a dark side because this creation had been made from nothing and this is the principle of evil. Being and non-being are the two sides of reality, and whilst being is good, non-being has an opposite qualification. Thus, the ‘nihil’, far from being literally nothing, about which nothing meaningful may be said, actually plays a crucial and indispensable role in Augustine’s account of the world, its being, its creation and its relationship to God. It is that which accounts for the world’s corruptibility and tendency toward nothingness, and it continues to make its haunting ‘presence’ or ‘absence’ felt in the undoubted ‘presence’ of evil in the world, a ‘presence’ which is itself an ‘absence’.
The idea of creation from nothing has a very strong theological connection with many other theological commonly agreed issues, but, in my opinion doesn’t have any metaphysical or scientific support. In my opinion, the principle of creation from nothing, developed by the Christian thinkers, is not what the first 2 chapters of the book of Genesis try to tell us. God, in the biblical context, must be seen as the cause of all things, and not only a catalytic or transformative Force of “nothing” in “something”. He causes things from His own Reality, generating them as an effect of His powers.
The created world is generated by words, which can transform, in a rational or ordered way, energies in deeds. By what mechanisms has this transformation been produced? We don’t know. An agnostic attitude is probably the most rational one in this regard. Nevertheless, “nothing” is not able to receive any command; it is one of its characteristics. “Nothing” cannot react because there isn’t anything to react in it.
God is a cause, generating effects from that cause. The universe was caused by God as a seed causes the growth of a flower. The universe had its potentiality in God therefore the world had existed in its seed in Him before becoming an actual reality. All elements needed for the existence of the universe had to be present in God, before its creation.
Everything which exists has a cause in another existent thing, not in absolute nothingness. Saying that God had created all that is from nothing doesn’t mean anything because it doesn’t establish any causal relationship between nothing and what it is. According to the Greek philosopher Aristotle, there are four types of causes – material causes, formal causes, efficient causes, and final causes. Absolute nothingness cannot account for any of these types of cause. If God is at the same time the material cause, formal cause, efficient cause, and final cause of the entire existence, nothingness doesn’t play any function in creation.
Energy can transform itself in matter and matter in energy as Einstein has shown in his formula, E=mc2.
“Einstein theorized that matter and energy are interchangeable. Matter takes up space, has mass and composes most of the visible universe around us. Energy, on the other side, takes multiple forms and is essentially the force that causes things to happen in the universe. Yet both matter and energy are variations of the same thing. Each can convert into the other. According to Einstein and to the first law of thermodynamics, a fixed quantity of energy and matter exist in the universe.”
Can energy by transformed in matter? The answer is yes and is given in the following quotation:
“So yes, humans can manufacture matter. We can turn light into subatomic particles, but even the best scientists can’t create something out of nothing.”
If not energy, what else can convert into matter? One thing can be said for sure. Absolute nothingness, no particles, no fields, no space, no laws, no nothing cannot be transformed into anything because there absolutely isn’t anything in it. Absolute nothingness is only a concept which can never be instantiated in reality. For this reason, creation from absolute nothing by God is only an absurdity which doesn’t do any good to the Christian faith.
What are spoken words and how can they become matter? They are only sounds with a certain meaning or significance. They are symbols, communicated messages. Can words generate matter by transforming themselves into it? Not to the common knowledge. God didn’t transform words into matter, but He had materialised ideas based on His rationality, for this process, using matter and energy. Did God create matter and energy from absolute nothingness?
He surely didn’t because absolute nothingness cannot exist. How God would have created energy and matter, we don’t exactly know, but before their existence there was something in His Reality which could have been transformed into energy and matter. If not, the direct chain of causality between Him and the created world would be broken. If God is a pure spiritual Reality and spirituality is the opposite of matter, it is hard to imagine how matter can be produced by pure spirituality. Are matter and spirituality interchangeable in a similar way to the manner in which matter and energy are interchangeable? Before humankind can demonstrate this kind of interchangeability, creation from nothing is only a speculation.
God asked the earth to bring forth vegetation. But earth which is matter without consciousness doesn’t hear and is not able to interpret symbols. Probably it is more rational if we understand that God prepared earth for the process of growing vegetation by endowing it with all needed ingredients for the process. The book of Genesis is far from explaining how the universe came in place.
The concept of the creation from nothing, existent in both religion and science, demonstrates a limit of human comprehension. It is hard to imagine an infinite existence with no beginning or end. This existence may or may not have its own Consciousness; the answer will depend on the person engaged in the spiritual experience with that Consciousness.
At the same time, creation from nothing is a principle no less confusing than the principle of the eternity of all existence. Nevertheless, Thomas Aquinas, a very important theologian of the thirteenth century, considered that all things must have a beginning, there cannot be an infinite regress of causation, and consequently a Prime Mover is a necessary concept. In the natural finite human logic, this seems to be right, but in point of fact, presuming the Prime Mover is a way of transferring the need for causation to a transcendental Reality. If all things have a cause, the Prime Mover has to have a cause also. The idea that the Prime Mover doesn’t need to have a cause cannot be in any way demonstrated other than by rejecting the impossibility of an infinite regress of causalities. At the same time, it is very difficult to sort out problems at the level of the infinite dimension of reality using only a logic based on the finite human dimension.
If there is one exception to the principle of causality that of the Prime Mover there can be others, and also the entirety of existence, the existence per se can be such an exception. Dividing reality into necessary existence and contingent existence doesn’t sort out the problem because God as a necessary existence needs His creation in order to be the Creator. God cannot be the Creator without His creation and being Creator is one of His most important attributes.
The creation from nothing is a principle loosely exemplified in the Bible and about which science has already pronounced itself by the laws of thermodynamics. The first law of thermodynamics specifies that the total amount of energy in a closed system cannot be created or destroyed (though it can be changed from one form to another). Matter, instead, can be both created and destroyed by transforming it into energy. Mass became another form of energy that has to be included in a thorough thermodynamic treatment of a system. At the level of the universe, it is important to define what meaning a closed and an open system has and which better describes our cosmos.
Is the universe a closed system? How about the entirety of existence as an infinite reality, can it be considered a closed system? The universe is a closed system if it isn’t influenced by anything outside it.
If there are a plurality of universes, before knowing what the relation between them is, it is difficult to describe our universe as closed or open. On the other side, when we talk about the entirety of existence or the existence per se there isn’t anything outside it, it is an infinite system therefore the notions of closed and of infinite must both be integrated by the same equation.
God didn’t do things from “nothing”, as Theophilus of Antioch understood “nothing”, because never was there such a non-reality as absolute nothingness. Probably, all material existence comes from an infinite and constant energetic source. If God exists and if He is eternal there isn’t such thing as absolute nothingness because He doesn’t equate with absolute nothingness.
Is energy in space or outside space? Does energy have mass? I tried to find an answer to these questions in the scientific literature but I got mixed opinions.
Most answers are related to the photons, a form of energy; consequently if photons occupy space, energy must be said to occupy space also, and if photons have mass, energy has mass. One thing can be said; where there isn’t any space, light cannot travel and cannot be there for the simple reason that in this case there isn’t any “there”.
God firstly needed space in order to create something and space is the condition of all creation. Space cannot be created from outside space or from a state of no space at all because for its physical existence every reality needs space. The idea that God could have created space from outside space is absurd but is the necessary consequence of the affirmation that first of all He would have created space, and the entire creation started with His creation of space. If God was outside space He couldn’t have existed as an objective existence.
Space being already out there, the creation was done in the context of something and not out of nothing because space is something, not nothing. God couldn’t have created space out of nothing because He is eternal and necessarily He occupies space, therefore space also must be eternal and co-existent with Him. God’s existence completely out of space cannot be a Reality but only a concept in the minds of intelligent beings living in space. God couldn’t have created anything from out of space, from absolute nonexistence, because such a concept can never become real. The assertion that God would have created space in the beginning of His creation is nonsensical as far as He is eternal and He occupies space. Space must be also eternal if God is an eternally existent divinity.
If God wasn’t infinite in space something else must be at the limits of His space, but He doesn’t have any limits. That something cannot be absolute nothingness understood also as inexistence of any space, because space per se, not the space of a certain object, cannot be limited by absolute nothingness. Space per se can be occupied or can be relatively empty but it is infinite in its extension. God eternally occupies an infinite space or He isn’t an infinite Reality.
Creation out of nothing is an absurd proposition as long as any creation would have been realised in a spatial context. Besides the infinite space, there is also the individual space of every object which is linked with time, in the way that was explained by Einstein.
In order to be consistent with the biblical account, one must accept that we don’t need the idea of nothing, in any way, for the explanation of God’s creation. God didn’t need a certain “nothing” in order to create “something” and that “nothing”, no space, no energy, no matter, no fields, and no laws, couldn’t have replaced existence per se.
Roger E. Olson summarises very well the possible visions about the relation between God and His creation:
“Creation out of nothing is the only alternative to four alternative beliefs about creation that are absolutely untenable for Christian thought. One is pantheism or panentheism—belief that God and the world are either identical or interdependent. In either case the world is part of God or so inextricably united with God eternally that God is dependent on it. (Here “world” refer to creation, the universe, finite reality.) Another alternative belief about creation is that God created the world out of some pre-existing matter that he did not himself create. In that view God “created” by organizing an eternal something that was chaotic and stood over against him. Yet another alternative belief is that God created the world out of himself in which case the world is made of “God stuff”—God’s own substance. Finally, a mostly modern, secular view is that some world (or substance, energy) has always existed and God, if he exists at all, has nothing to do with its origin or development.”
It is understood that creation out of nothing is an important element of fundamental Christian beliefs and it sustains other important teachings of Christianity inclusive of the teachings of the gospels. Even if it isn’t taught by the Scriptures one must support the principle of creation out of nothing, if not many Christian teachings would be questioned. One such fundamental thesis in doubt if creation out of nothing is rejected, is that God doesn’t depend on His creation for His actuality. This of course is false because God depends on the existence of His creation in order to be an actual, not only a potential Creator. The affirmation that God doesn’t need anything is absurd as far as He needs to be loved by human beings and displayed tremendous energy and sacrifice to reveal His love to humankind.
To say that God wants us to love Him but He doesn’t really need our love is a deformity which is very present in some Christian movements. God doesn’t endorse the imposition of any religious dogmas or doctrines on people by other people. One should try to understand all possible interpretations of the biblical texts and choose whichever seems to him or to her closer to his or her spiritual experiences. God needs our love as much as we need His love and without humankind Christ couldn’t have been embodied in a human being making visible the Father’s love. God wants to be known by conscious beings able to understand Him.
According to Roger E. Olson, if one doesn’t believe in creation out of nothing he or she casts doubt on the principle of gratuity of grace..
The Bible doesn’t teach creation from nothing, but the creation from chaos, which is symbolised by the primeval sea. The book of Genesis is silent as to the origins of the primeval sea and it is absurd to think that God would have created chaos from within Himself before creating an orderly universe. God being a rational Reality, He wouldn’t have created chaos, so the chaos represented by the primeval sea couldn’t have been created by Him.
Comparing the theory of the Big Bang and the creation of the universe from a primeval sea, the result is a huge difference in the quality of the explanations given by science in comparison with the texts of the Bible. Scientific explanations are by far much better supported and much more credible than the narratives of creation of the universe and of humankind from the book of Genesis.
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