Is the World Eternal? Does it Predate God?
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.