Home > Christian Theology, Cosmic Origins > Is the Doctrine of ‘Creation from Nothing’ Absurd?

Is the Doctrine of ‘Creation from Nothing’ Absurd?

Most people are aware of the doctrine of creatio ex nihilo, which literally means “creation from nothing” – the belief that God created the universe from nothing. This doctrine is popularly held in contemporary Christian theology, and not surprisingly, William Lane Craig is an avid supporter of it.

Conversely, Craig holds to the principle ex nihilo nihil fit, “out of nothing, nothing comes,” saying that this “is as certain as anything in philosophy and that no rational person sincerely doubts it.”  Furthermore, he has also claimed that “it is impossible that nothing exists.”  Citing Leibniz’s view of God as a “logically necessary being,” Craig goes on to say that “there is no possible world in which nothing exists.”

The problem hardly needs to be spelled out: If it’s impossible for something to arise from nothing – and impossible for nothing to exist in the first place – then how can Craig justify the belief that God created the universe from nothing?

As far as I can tell, Craig has yet to clearly face this problem. He has written a Q&A post attempting to address it, but it’s simply nonsensical. For example, he writes, “Now is the doctrine of creatio ex nihilo absurd?  No, for it doesn’t contradict [the statement ‘it is not possible for something to come from nothing.’]”  Unfortunately, it plainly does seem to be contradictory.

His justification seems to be similarly nonsensical. He writes, “If something has a cause, then it doesn’t come from nothing,” and then goes onto say that God is a “creative cause” or “efficient cause” of the universe.  But doesn’t this also seem to contradict the idea of creatio ex nihilo?

His only hint at a genuine solution is through his claim that God created the universe without a “material” cause.  However, Craig would have to amend his statement from “out of nothing, nothing comes” to something like, “out of nothing, things can come as long as they have a creative cause.”  However, I’m not sure that this latter formulation has very much intuitive force.

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  1. mojo.rhythm
    11/14/2010 at 4:43 AM

    His approach to this awkward objection is a shotgun of fallacies, projection and red herrings.

    The most common rejoinder I hear in his debates is to say: “Well if you’re an atheist, you have to believe that the universe popped into existence TOTALLY out of nothing! Without a material cause or an efficient cause!”

    Needless to say, this doesn’t solve the problem for him even slightly. He is creating a false dichotomy (either God popped the universe into existence out of nothing or nothing popped the universe into existence out of nothing) and ridiculing option B to vindicate his own established position. Dirty used-car salesman tactics right there.

  2. 11/17/2010 at 2:51 PM

    I think that this is part of what is perhaps the most fatal objection to Craig’s argument: Craig is continually forced to argue that this or that premise of his argument is more plausible than its contradictory. But often we find that his premises are, at best, only marginally more plausible than their contradictories. And so Craig’s argument falls on the horns of the Principle of Dwindling Probabilities.

    Because he must rely on several propositions which are open to MUCH doubt (infinities cannot exist, A-Theory of time is correct, your example, etc.) his conclusion necessarily contains as much doubts as all of the premises do. And the total amount of doubt is quite high. Indeed, it is high enough to completely sink the whole argument.

  3. H.S.Pal
    12/14/2010 at 10:59 AM

    A CRITIQUE OF THE VOID

    A.Circular Reasoning

    In his article ‘The other side of time’ (2000) scientist Victor J. Stenger has written that as per the theory of quantum electrodynamics electron-positron (anti-electron) pairs can appear spontaneously for brief periods of time practically out of nothing, which clearly shows that anything that has a beginning need not have to have a cause of that beginning.
    From here he has concluded that our universe may also come literally out of nothing due to quantum fluctuation in the void, and therefore we need not have to imagine that God has done this job.
    But is it true that electron-positron (anti-electron) pairs are appearing literally out of “nothing”? Are scientists absolutely certain that the so-called void is a true void indeed? Because here there is a counter-claim also: God is there, and that God is everywhere. So actually nothing is coming out of “nothing”, only something is coming out of something. Here they will perhaps say: as there is no proof for God’s existence so far, so why should one have to believe that the void here is not a true void? But even if there is no proof for God’s existence, still then it can be shown that scientists’ claim that the universe has literally come out of nothing is a pure case of circular reasoning. If believers say that the void is not a true void at all, and if scientists still then hold that it is nothing but a void, then this is only because they are absolutely certain that God does not exist, and also because they think that God’s non-existence is so well-established a fact that it needs no further proof for substantiation. But if they are absolutely certain that God does not exist, then they are also absolutely certain that God is not the architect, designer, creator of our universe, because it is quite obvious that a non-existent God cannot be the architect, designer, etc. So their starting premise is this: God does not exist, and therefore our universe is definitely not the creation of a God. But if they start from the above premise, then will it be very difficult to reach to the same conclusion?
    But their approach here could have been somehow different. They could have said: well, regarding void, it is found that there is some controversy. Therefore we will not assume that it is a void, rather we will prove that it is such. Then they could have proceeded to give an alternate explanation for the origin of the universe, in which there will be neither any quantum fluctuation in the void, nor any hand of God to be seen anywhere. And their success here could have settled the matter for all time to come.
    By simply ignoring a rumour one cannot kill it, rather it will remain as it is. But if one takes some more trouble on him and exposes that it is nothing but a rumour, then it will die a natural death with no further chance of revival. Let us say that the saying that there is a God and that He is everywhere is nothing but a rumour persisting for thousands of years among mankind. What scientists have done here is this: they have simply ignored the rumour and thus kept it alive. But it would have been far better for them if they could have killed it, as suggested by me.

    B. “Circular Reasoning” Case Reexamined

    There can be basically two types of universe: (1) universe created by God, supposing that there is a God; (2) universe not created by God, supposing that there is no God. Again universe created by God can also be of three types:
    (1a) Universe in which God need not have to intervene at all after its creation. This is the best type of universe that can be created by God.
    (1b) Universe in which God has actually intervened from time to time, but his intervention is a bare minimum.
    (1c) Universe that cannot function at all without God’s very frequent intervention. This is the worst type of universe that can be created by God.
    Therefore we see that there can be four distinct types of universes, and our universe may be any one of the above four types: (1a), (1b), (1c), (2). In case of (1a), scientists will be able to give natural explanation for each and every physical event that has happened in the universe after its origin, because after its creation there is no intervention by God at any moment of its functioning. Only giving natural explanation for its coming into existence will be problematic. In case of (1b) also, most of the events will be easily explained away, without imagining that there is any hand of God behind these events. But for those events where God had actually intervened, scientists will never be able to give any natural explanation. Also explaining origin of the universe will be equally problematic. But in case of (1c), most of the events will remain unexplained, as in this case God had to intervene very frequently. This type of universe will be just like the one as envisaged by Newton: “Gravity explains the motions of the planets, but it cannot explain who set the planets in motion. God governs all things and knows all that is or can be done.” So we can with confidence say that our universe is not of this type, otherwise scientists could not have found natural explanation for most of the physical events. In case of type (2) universe, here also there will be natural explanation for each and every physical event, and there will be natural explanation for the origin of the universe also. So from the mere fact that scientists have so far been able to give natural explanation for each and every physical event, it cannot be concluded that our universe is a type (2) universe, because this can be a type (1a) universe as well. The only difference between type (1a) and type (2) universe is this: whereas in case of (1a) no natural explanation will ever be possible for the origin of the universe, it will not be so in case of (2). Therefore until and unless scientists can give a natural explanation for the origin of the universe, they cannot claim that it is a type (2) universe. And so, until and unless scientists can give this explanation, they can neither claim that the so-called void is a true void. So scientists cannot proceed to give a natural explanation for the origin of the universe with an a priori assumption that the void is a real void, because their failure or success in giving this explanation will only determine as to whether this is a real void or not.

  4. matthew Fuller
    02/01/2011 at 9:30 AM

    Without understanding, creation from nothing is absurd. “God did it” is an answer according to christians. But what is interesting is how one goes from “god did it” to how one knows “the christian god did it”.

    If one doesn’t know much if anything about “god” then identifying a christian deity from “god did it” is nearly impossible. It’s just taken on faith.

    Is this point ever debated? I don’t find theism absurd but I do find going from theism to christianity really absurd. I am agnostic. Another way of saying a nice atheist. For more granularity, well, that would take a much longer post you wouldn’t care to read.

    But really, does anyone ever go from “god did it from nothing” to “And I know it was the christian god”??

    I would love to read the few sentences of evidence a christian has, if they have anything at all!

  5. matthew Fuller
    02/01/2011 at 9:33 AM

    I would like to point out this is similiar to intelligent design – infering the nature of the desisgner and its intent from its design…one wouldn’t infer christianity from intelligent design. Again, I don’t see how this works, any info? I don’t know of one book about this…instead it’s just, “natural theology –> christianity”

    or.

    1. gather lots of paper.
    2. go to a tall tower.
    3. ????
    4. profit!

  6. Timothy Donald
    03/28/2011 at 11:00 AM

    To reply to the last 2 posts, I don’t think a Christian would imply a Christian deity from intelligent design, (at least not a clear thinking one) I think that the character of deities, (in all religion save perhaps some Pagan and Wiccan beliefs) are derived from special revelation or from spiritual texts.

    In response to the first few comments, you seem to confuse Craigs point, it is not that God made the universe out of nothing, but that the universe was made by God. The existence of matter and the necessary dimensions being created where they were not there before is not ‘by nothing’ in the same way as if they had been made naturalistically. I see the complications in a spaceless-timeless divinity creating a universe which is temporal, (see Wolfe’s article in response to Craig, it’s on Jstor and an excerpt on Google scholar for a fleshed out dialogue between the two) yet I think Craigs point is not on the nature of the ability of this God to create something which it is inherently not, but is a form of the Cosmological argument of infinite regression which stands. To disconstruct his argument one needs to look more into the ability of this God to create this world, as Wolfe realises and attempts. Not to attack the logic, for his homeground seems a real advantage for him.

  7. Kirui
    04/07/2011 at 5:52 AM

    What if he actually say the universe is an emanation from ‘heaven’ other than a creation from nothing? Even in OT, God is not necessarily a being ‘outside universe’.
    ‘in the beginning God created the heavens and earth’.
    No ‘out of nothing’ is mensioned hear. It is correct to say ‘out of a form that donot ressemble the present form. It is still biblicaly correct to say the universe fundamentally had no beggining! It is the ‘home’ of God.

    ‘what is seen was not made out of what is visible’.

    This verse from the book of Hebrews is different from saing ‘what exists was not made out of what exists’. ‘In the beginning was the invisible.’ This is to say for instance an ether like entity. The ‘waters’ mensioned in Genesis without the mension its origin. The ‘word’ who was with God in the beginning. Out of which everything was made. Mensioned in John. Read it for yourself.

    Philosophers of morden like craig have become too complicated that they no longer understand simple things. Even their own bible. They want to force God to be what they like. So above men to the extend that they no longer care even if they sound absurd.

    God is with us, in us. Yes the ‘us’, the essence of us as what makes ‘I’. The ‘matter’ of ‘I’. What the ‘I’ is ‘made up of.’ Not the I. Not my own self. Everybody’s self. We need not to proof. We define God properly as the only cause of some subjectively experienced phenomenon. We just realise it Craig like ‘proofs’ are just futile! I am sorry.

  8. philwynk
    05/05/2011 at 5:55 PM

    This can’t possibly be a serious post.

    I read Craig’s statements and detected no inconsistency whatsoever. The attempt at creating the appearance of inconsistency is nothing but playing with the various uses of the word “nothing.” Of course, you do know that in English, we frequently use words to mean more than one thing, or different sense of similar things, right?

    Look: God existed, but nothing else existed. God created everything out of nothing.

    Got that so far? Ok, now, let’s examine the three statements you’re pretending are in contradiction to each other:

    (1) “It is impossible that nothing exists.” God exists. God is not “nothing.”

    (2) “Out of nothing, nothing comes.” This is just a simple statement of the law of causation. Without God, if there’s nothing, then nothing happens. Don’t forget — God is not “nothing.”

    (3) “The universe was created ‘ex nihilo,’ out of nothing.” God existed, and nothing else. He created the universe out of nothing.

    See how easy it is, if you want to understand instead of playing silly, schoolboy games?

    Ok, carry on…

  9. 08/15/2011 at 12:42 PM

    Craig is a crank. Here is a blog post debunking his favourite, the Kalam Cosmological Argument: http://goo.gl/8YZl8

    And here is a short, accessible animation introducing the physics behind how things can come into existence, including the universe, from nothing: http://goo.gl/Im1fZ

  10. Grunderlyme
    09/16/2011 at 10:31 AM

    “If it’s impossible for something to arise from nothing – and impossible for nothing to exist in the first place – then how can Craig justify the belief that God created the universe from nothing?”

    –You can’t be serious! The conjunction of the two propositions

    (1) it is impossilbe for something to arise from nothing,

    and

    (2) it is impossible for nothing to exist in the first place,

    are just logically equivalent to the proposition that,

    (3) Something must have created the universe, namely, a being that cannot not exist–God.

    “God created the universe ex nihilo” means “God caused the universe to be without prior material conditions.” It doesn’t in the slightest mean something just popped into existence from nothing without cause, because God is not “nothing.” duh! God is the cause, the very “something” that caused the universe to be.

    I cannot believe the absence of intelligence so wantonly exhibited in these forums.

    You clearly didn’t understand that link to Craig’s Q&A, either. Go back and read it.

    • 09/19/2011 at 9:15 AM

      Godbots can and will recycle Craigs guff, over and over again. But the thing is that arguing over the Kalam bull is fruitless for one simple reason: BOTH of Craig’s (Kalam’s) premises are demonstrably false. The argument collapses.

      For more detail about this, see the link I gave above to the article on my blog.

    • Rob Heusdens
      06/18/2014 at 8:28 PM

      You sayL
      —–
      (1) it is impossilbe for something to arise from nothing,

      and

      (2) it is impossible for nothing to exist in the first place,

      are just logically equivalent to the proposition that,

      (3) Something must have created the universe, namely, a being that cannot not exist–God.
      —-

      (3) doesn’t follow, because we already concluded from (1) and (2) that the universe exists anyway, and never can not exist, so there is no task to be done for the creator. Task was already fulfiled. Find another job!

  11. Jenkins
    10/07/2011 at 8:47 AM

    philwynk :
    This can’t possibly be a serious post.
    I read Craig’s statements and detected no inconsistency whatsoever. The attempt at creating the appearance of inconsistency is nothing but playing with the various uses of the word “nothing.” Of course, you do know that in English, we frequently use words to mean more than one thing, or different sense of similar things, right?
    Look: God existed, but nothing else existed. God created everything out of nothing.
    Got that so far? Ok, now, let’s examine the three statements you’re pretending are in contradiction to each other:
    (1) “It is impossible that nothing exists.” God exists. God is not “nothing.”
    (2) “Out of nothing, nothing comes.” This is just a simple statement of the law of causation. Without God, if there’s nothing, then nothing happens. Don’t forget — God is not “nothing.”
    (3) “The universe was created ‘ex nihilo,’ out of nothing.” God existed, and nothing else. He created the universe out of nothing.
    See how easy it is, if you want to understand instead of playing silly, schoolboy games?
    Ok, carry on…

    Actually I don’t think anyone will take your post seriously. Simply inserting “God existed” is silly and doesn’t address anything. Which is why most scientist have no use for a God and have found no evidence a God exists.

  12. Jenkins
    10/07/2011 at 8:50 AM

    Grunderlyme :
    “If it’s impossible for something to arise from nothing – and impossible for nothing to exist in the first place – then how can Craig justify the belief that God created the universe from nothing?”
    –You can’t be serious! The conjunction of the two propositions
    (1) it is impossilbe for something to arise from nothing,
    and
    (2) it is impossible for nothing to exist in the first place,
    are just logically equivalent to the proposition that,
    (3) Something must have created the universe, namely, a being that cannot not exist–God.
    “God created the universe ex nihilo” means “God caused the universe to be without prior material conditions.” It doesn’t in the slightest mean something just popped into existence from nothing without cause, because God is not “nothing.” duh! God is the cause, the very “something” that caused the universe to be.
    I cannot believe the absence of intelligence so wantonly exhibited in these forums.
    You clearly didn’t understand that link to Craig’s Q&A, either. Go back and read it.

    You have no grasp of physics and cannot explain virtual particles. WLC tried. He failed. Physicists do not take WLC’s arguments seriously for a reason.

  13. Goldie
    07/13/2012 at 10:36 PM

    Interesting comments to which I have quite a few comments. First off i think its a bit optimistic to suggest that science has an explanation for all things – science might have some good guesses, but it certainly is unable to account for a lot at this time. Example – the concept of dark matter, which seeks to account for some 80% of mass that can be inferred from gravitational lensing, but cannot be otherwise measured. Dark matter because it doesn’t adsorb, emit or reflect light – hence can in no way be currently measured. So in effect we cannot explain a good 80% of mass in the universe.

    I think that the concept ex-nihilo is the only logical Conclusion if one seeks to believe in an Almighty God. God has to be the originator of all things in this universe, otherwise we would be seeking the originator of those things.

    However, confusion comes from this because we fail to understand what it would be like in an absence of time. Time is a necessary construct in our universe, because without it the matter we know cannot exist. Einsteins famous equation Energy = Mass * the square of the speed of light, not only points out that matter and energy are interchangeable, but it also links it to the one universal measure; the speed of light and since a measure of velocity is in this equation it implies the necessity of time (otherwise how do you measure velocity?).

    However, outside this time space continuum that we know as the universe there may be no time at all. Hence when scripture talks about the Alpha and the Omega or the eternal one we may get some hint that eternity is not measured in days. The creation account in scripture makes this plain too, as days, as a measure of time, only begin with creation.

    Once time is done away with all things are up for grabs, but matter, as we know it, cannot exist. It is this matter that I believe is being referred to in the concept of ex nihilo. Consider – Paul says that we “understand that that the worlds were framed by the word of God so that things which are seen are made of things we cannot see”. Interestingly in creation, when God speaks the universe into existence he utters the words let there be light, uttering into existince the very things needed in order to convert energy into matter.

    And incidentally, once time does not exist there is little point trying to frame questioons such as “what came before? I know that sounds like a huge cop out , but the point is that faith is about things unmeasurable, so if you are trying to argue the existence of God through what can be measured you will simply go round in circles.

  14. johnnyp76
    09/10/2012 at 1:59 PM

    Let me know what you think, my first kca post taken from my upcoming paper:
    http://www.skepticblogs.com/tippling/2012/09/10/the-kalam-cosmological-argument-and-william-lane-craig-1/

  15. Marcel Morais
    12/03/2012 at 8:24 PM

    I think that his (WLC’s) idea that there is no contradiction in his POV comes from something like this:
    (I) “out of nothing, nothing comes,”

    (II) “god is something”

    (III) Therefore is possible to other something (ie the universe) to come from god.

    The problem is that he is simply avoiding the question.
    (a) because Yaweh is not part of the universe itself (or a deistic god from what matters), unlike in the case of some Egyptian myths where god ejaculate in his own mouth to make the world. That is one of the main objections to this proposal. Instead of god using pre-existing material to make the universe he makes it purely out of nothing, hence the inconsistency (in his own POV, others can still use a different aproach);

    (b) Another thing that arises from his POV is the redundancy of his god.
    If
    (i) “it is impossible that nothing exists”

    conversely we say:
    (ii) something always existed.

    Then, not only it DOES NOT FOLLOW that this something needs to be god, also, in this case, there is no need for a CREATOR in the first place. This is the old and truthful of argument “avoiding a step” that he almost always quotes in his debates, revisiting it with the models for a static universe as evidence for its rejection, when the argument does not need necessarily a static and ethernal world.
    He pressuposes an ethernal world and begs the questions of its own inconsistency.

  16. Frank Keefe
    02/28/2013 at 5:08 AM

    The problem the atheists who reside here have is their lack of understanding of God…now as Christians we believe He isnt subject to such laws because He brought them into existence. if God can raise Jesus from the dead defying such laws unless any athest here knows of anyone else who has done this then bringing this Universe into being just by His word isnt beyond his power surely.The probem you all have is your atheism not being being able to accept such a supernatural being exists and so you will always look for a natural outcome not a supernatural one. Sort out your atheism and things will fall into place but remain a skeptic and you will be scratching your head until you die.

  17. Rob Heusdens
    06/19/2014 at 7:18 PM

    When one assumes that some divine being (aka God) was necessary for there “being something instead of nothing” then this reasoning already assumed that (without intervention of the higher being) there would be nothing and that only divine intervention turned nothing into being. Which is of course a very profound misunderstanding of the concepts of both “nothing” and “being” since in fact NEITHER have existence of their own as taken seperatedly. They only “exist” in so far they are taken in their unity of opposites, which is becoming or ceasing to be (ie. change), in which both being and nothing exist as vanishing moments.

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