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Is the Doctrine of ‘Creation from Nothing’ Absurd?

11/11/2010 19 comments

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.