(Unconvincing) Reasons Some Affirm Creatio Ex Nihilo
There are good and bad reasons people affirm the idea that God created the universe from nothing. Some have merit. But to me, none are finally convincing.
In this essay, I’ll list three such reasons. I plan to address each in detail in my forthcoming book. And I’ll post other reasons in future blogs.
What I Was Taught
I recently conducted a social media poll asking questions about creation from nothing. I asked why people believe God created the universe from absolutely nothing. I received hundreds of responses, and I’m using some of them for this book. The most common response to my question was this: “That’s what I was taught.”
Those giving this response sometimes added that they hadn’t thought much about creation from nothing since learning of it. They simply accepted creatio ex nihilo without thinking much about the theory’s strengths and weaknesses. I suspect many Christians fail to see why believing the theory even matters, except insofar as it affirms God as Creator.
The good news is that this response to my question indicates that some of us remember what we learned in Sunday school or catechism! (I’m sure our teachers will be surprised.) The curricula of several Christian groups teach creation from noting. Roman Catholic and Episcopal catechisms mention creatio ex nihilo, so does the Westminster Confession. Curricula from other Christian groups may not explicitly promote the theory, but many of their teachers likely taught it. Whatever the reason, what we were taught continues to function as the reason many accept creation from nothing.
Of course, we’ve all encountered ideas long ago we now think inaccurate or implausible. We all must learn to sift the wheat from the chaff. Wise ones know education never stops. The question we need to ask is whether we should continue to affirm the creation from nothing theory today.
I will argue there is a better way to think about God’s initial creation of the universe. But I also retain what I think helpful in the traditional theory. At the least, I hope those who continue to affirm creation from nothing after reading my book will have better reasons for doing so than “that’s what I was taught.”
The Bible Says So
Many Christians read the first verse of the Bible and think it means God created the universe from absolutely nothing. The verse actually says this: “In the beginning when God created the heavens and the earth…” (1:1). Notice that it doesn’t explicitly say God created from nothing.
The Genesis 1:2 says a “wind” or “spirit” of God hovered over something when creating in the beginning. “The earth was a formless void and darkness covered the face of the deep, while a wind from God swept over the face of the waters,” says the second verse. Other translations of the Bible use different words. But none says God created from absolute nothingness.
A growing number of biblical scholars – from my count, the majority – don’t think the first verses of the Bible explicitly say God created the universe from nothing. Most don’t think other verses in the Bible explicitly make this claim. The scholars I’m referring to include conservative and liberal, Christian and Jewish.
Because I deeply appreciate God’s revelation in the Bible, I’ll explore in some detail what it says about God creating. I suspect many will be surprised by the diverse views found in Scripture. Biblical writers say God creates from something, and I’ll build upon that idea for my alternative theory.
Many Theologians Affirm Creation from Nothing
Christians who study the creation from nothing theory find that many Christian theologians in the last 1,700 years affirm it. Creatio ex nihilo is not explicitly stated in the major Christian creeds. And many Christian denominations don’t mention it in their articles of faith. But some of the smartest theologians in history accept the idea that God created the universe from absolutely nothing.
A closer look at the reasons these theologians affirm creation from nothing reveals significant diversity. Some (wrongly) thought the Bible requires this view. Others followed the logic of their philosophical and metaphysical commitments. Some argued from psychological assumptions. Others thought science required creation from nothing. I suspect many in the past and present affirm creatio ex nihilo because they don’t know of a better alternative.
There are understandable reasons to affirm creation from nothing. Theologians from yesteryear were not idiots. But they were also not all-knowing. We don’t share all of their opinions or perspectives today on reality. My alternative creation theory will retain helpful aspects of the traditional view while rejecting what I think are unhelpful. We have good reasons to seek an alternative to creatio ex nihilo.
In a few follow-up blogs, I’ll offer more of the (unconvincing) reasons some Christians affirm the creation from nothing theory.