Is the World Eternal? Does it Predate God?

September 29th, 2023 / 6 Comments

For more than a decade, I’ve argued that theists should reject the idea God creates something from nothing (creatio ex nihilo). I often explain why and offer an alternative view of God’s creating: creatio ex creatione sempiternalis in amore. You can find my arguments in the recently published T&T Clark Handbook on Suffering and the Problem of Evil (2023) and my book Pluriform Love (2022).

I often hear two related worries in response to my rejecting the creation from nothing theory. One worry is that rejecting this view means our universe is as old as God. It’s eternal.

Another worry about rejecting creation from nothing is that one must say creation predates God. If this is so, we can’t say God is Creator of or plays a creative role in the existence of all things.

Fortunately, my view overcomes those worries. Below is an excerpt from the Handbook essay I mentioned above. In it, I explain how these two worries are overcome…

No Universe Everlastingly Exists

To say God necessarily creates and loves creaturely others, as I do, leads some to think the view requires our universe to exist everlastingly. If true, this would deny the Big Bang, a theory widely embraced by scientists. The God who exists everlastingly and everlastingly loves creatures, some might say, requires that our universe be everlasting.

My theory of creation does not say our universe is everlasting.

I affirm with most contemporary cosmologists that our universe had a beginning roughly 13.8 billion years ago. But contemporary science offers no empirical evidence for or against what existed prior to the Big Bang.

Creatio ex creatione sempiternalis in amore speculates that the chaos of a previous universe existed prior to our universe. God created at the beginning of our universe in relation to a chaotic universe God previously created. The chaos of a previously dissipating universe would be comprised of quarks, subatomic particles, and the most basic entities of existence.

While no single universe exists everlastingly, a succession of chaotic elements, entities, creatures, or universes has always existed. The everlastingly creative God creates each in this everlasting succession. Every creature and universe is temporary, however; all creaturely others have a beginning. Consequently, neither our universe nor any other is eternal.

Wild Horse Analogy

No analogy can explain perfectly what I am proposing, but let me offer something approximate. I spend time with and photograph wild horses in Idaho. Sometimes, a stallion can father generations in a herd. He impregnates mares, the fillies of those mares, the fillies of those fillies, and so on.

Imagine a stallion who lived a million years. Suppose it is this stallion’s nature to bear offspring, and he always relates to at least one mare but often to many. Suppose the lifespan of a typical mare is twenty-five years. The stallion in this analogy goes through a succession of relationships with mares who bear offspring. Those offspring bear more offspring. And so on. But no single mare lives a million years alongside the stallion.

Apply this analogy to God and creation. An everlasting God who by nature always creates and loves creatures will always have others with whom to create and love. But no creaturely other – whether single entity or universe – is itself everlasting. Each comes and goes. The succession of creations is everlasting, but no single creation exists forever. In this way, God can necessarily create out of what God previously created, and yet no universe exists everlastingly or necessarily.

In sum, no universe is eternal. But because God always creates in relation to what God previously created, there will always be creaturely others.

Creation Does Not Predate God

To deny God creates ex nihilo might lead some to worry creaturely entities existed before God. According to this worry, God “stumbled upon” preexisting materials from which God fashioned a universe. These materials predate God.

My alternative to creatio ex nihilo denies that any materials predate God.

The view I offer says God always loves and creates in relation to, alongside, or out of what God previously created. Whatever existed just before our universe must have been highly diffuse, chaotic, and simple. God created the elements in the chaotic and dying universe preceding ours. In other words, God created something new at the Big Bang from that which God created previously.

Creatio ex creatione sempiternalis in amore says God always creates in each moment out of that which God created in the previous moment. This means no universe, world, creature, or “thing” predates God’s creating. God does not create out of “stuff” God had never previously encountered. God never “stumbles upon” something uncreated.

Wild Horse Analogy 2

The stallion analogy helps us to understand this. But we’ll have to expand it. Remember that we speculated this stallion lives a million years and, by nature, relates with and procreates alongside mares. But the mares with which he procreates came from his previous procreation with their mothers. The stallion co-creates in relation to what he previously co-created. The hypothetical stallion who lives a million years came into existence, of course. He will eventually die.

In God’s case, however, procreating in relation to creation had no beginning and has no end. God exists, loves, and creates everlastingly. But just as the stallion relies upon co-creating mares, God also relies upon the contributions of creaturely others when creating.

This analogy works just as well if we speculate God is a mare who lives a million years but mates with stallions who live twenty-five years. It may work even better if we think the gestation of the prenatal colts is like the God whose existence is a womb in which creatures arise. But the mare analogy has the same time limitations of the stallion analogy. Mares do not exist everlastingly. Only God is an everlasting creator, and God’s co-creators come and go.

In sum, no universe, creature, or chaos predates God, and no one or nothing but God is everlasting.

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Steven Hoyt

i wonder about your taking on the idea that god isn’t existentially accidental or that god is love.

first, arguing ex nihilo nihil fit (nothing comes from nothing and so if anything exists, something is eternal) only implies something is eternal, not that god exists and is that eternal something. so while you might argue creatio ex se (god created from himself), there wouldn’t be any argument to make for it that isn’t presented with this sizable defeater.

finally, if we presume natural theology (we can know something about god via his creation) reveals god is love, what part of this vast creation would imply it? gratuitous evil is still a huge problem even if one accepts your “god can’t” explanation. moreover, it’s far more plausible that given the sort of universe we live in, god is ambivalent to individuals (any one instance of anything ever created).



Thanks, Steve. I agree that rejecting creatio ex nihilo does not require one to believe in God. One could reject creation from nothing, be an atheist, and think the world is eternal. But I think there are other good reasons to believe God exists.

As to your second argument, I address it in several books. Look especially in chapter 3 of The Uncontrolling Love of God. In that chapter, I talk about both the problem of evil (a problem for most theists) and the problem of good (a problem for most atheists).

Bill Yarchin

I always enjoy reading your stuff. I would like to engage briefly using excerpts from your text.

Here you invite us to imagine God’s never-ending creative activity spanning a never-ending sequence of created universes. In your account, God’s never-ending creative activity transpires as an agent (God) acts upon the chaos of a previously dissipating universe.

Although you don’t say so, we could imagine this previously dissipating universe as having run its thermodynamic course assuming its physics parallels the physics of this universe, which is a reasonable assumption albeit limited to our current understanding of physics.

Chaos consisting of disorganized physical entities (quarks, subatomic particles and the most basic entities of existence) from a prior universe gets organized as God creates another universe. How are these physical entities not co-everlasting with God?

In which case we would not have God’s never-ending creative activity transpiring as an agent acting upon physical entities that have no agency themselves.

Agency is getting a lot of attention these days. Bruno Latour in particular draws attention to the superabundance of agencies that constitute the physical universe.


Thanks, Bill. I enjoy reading your responses to my ideas!

I think you’re getting my ideas right. I want to say that no particular physical entities are themselves eternal. But there has been an eternal succession of physical entities, each created by God. So each creature comes into being at some point. But the series is beginningless.

Thanks also for the Latour recommendation.

Colin Hull

We don’t know what existed before the Big Bang, that stuff that suddenly started expanding for some strange cause,
We have problems of thinking of time before our cosmic physical time because time and space in the universe are joined and before the beginning exits there is no time. But even with a succession. of universes (if there is /has been such) we must say God was before them.
The end of the universe is also a mystery because some scenarios point to a cold everlasting emptiness that continues to expand when all the stars have died and not able to be replaced because of the diffusiveness to remaining matter.
Then is also the little matter of what heaven is into which we are invited and whatever existence the resurrected life is with Christ that is promised to be everlasting.


Thanks for chiming in, Colin. The proposal you offer seems to make several assumptions I would not.

For instance, you seem to think there was a time in which there was no time… a strange idea if not outright contradiction.

And you like to appeal to mystery.

I’m offering a proposal that avoids your appeal to mystery. And it avoids the contradiction of saying there was a time before time.

Perhaps my proposal is wrong. But I think there are good reasons for it.

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