I just returned from a week of traveling–first for a funeral in Maryland and then down to visit my mother in Virginia Beach. I checked out my blog aggregator and this curious posting on the creatio ex nihilo drew my attention.
We can put to the side the author’s statement that the creatio ex nihilo is an innovation of Thomas Aquinas. Surely he must know that it’s not. The doctrine is easily traced back to the second and third centuries.
The author believes that the theistic assertion of the creatio ex nihilo in fact reduces to atheism: both theist and atheist affirm that the the world has popped out of nothing; the theist has simply eliminated the “completely superfluous God” from the process. But in fact this is not what the atheist believes. The atheist is too rational to believe that the cosmos magically emerged from non-being. The cosmos is simply all that there is and ever was. Even when scientists like Lawrence Krauss speak of nothingness, they do not mean what philosophers mean by the word.
The nothingness of physics is not pure nothingness. A quantum void is not metaphysical emptiness.
When theists assert the creatio ex nihilo, they are asserting the unfathomable mystery of divine creation: (a) the cosmos is not God, (b) the cosmos need not have been, and (c) the cosmos depends completely on God for its existence. We do not pretend to know what it means to speak of nothingness. We are identifying, rather, an inconceivable boundary. The principal purpose of the creatio ex nihilo is not to explain anything but to dogmatically exclude theological understandings deemed incompatible with classical theistic belief—e.g., pantheism, deism, polytheism, emanationism, and creation from pre-existent matter. See my article “When Making Makes No Nuttin’ Difference.”
But the author does have a point: when the God of classical theism is properly distinguished both from the world he has made and from all “deities” belonging to the world, then the line between theism and atheism becomes harder to draw. That’s because the transcendent Creator utterly transcends the things he has freely made and therefore cannot be conceived as a some thing. God donates being to the universe; but the being of the universe is not divine. It’s not as if God takes a part of himself and remakes it into a created something. That’s mythology.
If you think you understand the mystery of the creatio ex nihilo, then ruminate on these words of John Scotus Eriugena:
We believe that he made all things out of nothing, unless perhaps this nothing is he himself, who—since he is extolled as super-essential above all things and is glorified above everything that is said of understood—is not unreasonably said to be “nothing” through excellence, since he can in no way be placed among the number of all things that are. For if he himself is at once all things that are and that are not, who would say that he is or is not something, since he is the being and more than being of all things? Or, if he is not something, by excellence and not by privation, it follows that he is nothing, by infinity. (Commentary on the Dionysian Celestial Harmony—4.73-82)
Is nothing clear now?