Ex nihilo

From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia
Jump to navigation Jump to search
Tree of Life by Eli Content at the Joods Historisch Museum. The Tree of Life, or Etz haChayim (עץ החיים) in Hebrew, is a mystical symbol used in the Kabbalah of esoteric Judaism to describe the path to HaShem and the manner in which He created the world ex nihilo (out of nothing).

Ex nihilo is a Latin phrase meaning "out of nothing": as ex nihilo nihil fit it means that nothing comes from nothing; as creatio ex nihilo, in contrast, it means that God created the cosmos out of nothing.[1]

"Ex nihilo nihil fit": matter is uncreated[edit]

In ancient creation myths the universe is not created out of nothing but from eternal formless matter,[2] namely the dark and still primordial sea (the cosmic ocean of chaos) from which gods emerged to introduce light and impose order.[3] In the imagery of the oldest Greek account of the origins of the world, Hesiod's Theogony (late 8th century BCE):[4]

First of all Chaos came into being, and then broad-bosomed Earth ... and misty Tartaros (the underworld) ... and Eros... From Chaos, Erebos and black Night came into being, and from Night again came Aither and Day ... Now Earth first of all brought forth starry Ouranos (the heavens) ... to be a firm seat for the blessed gods forever ... Then she slept with Ouranos and bore Okeanos (the sea that encircled the earth)... [5]

The classic adage expressing this idea was ex nihilo nihil fit, nothing comes from nothing, explained by the philosopher Leucippus (early 5th century BCE) as "nothing happens in vain, but everything for a reason and under necessitation," meaning that every existent or occurent thing has an explanation.[6] In the school known as atomism, the cosmos was conceived as a swarm of minute particles particles (the "atoms") eternally colliding with each other in a void called "No Thing", which was simply the space in which the atoms existed.[7] The atoms, being objects, could not be called gods, and the "No Thing" void could not be called immortal, which opened up new possibilities for rational theology: thus Plato in his dialogue Timaeus has an extramundane intelligence constructing atom-like entities as the building-blocks of the cosmos, while others such as Democritus approached even closer to atheism.[8]

Creatio ex nihilo: the creation of matter[edit]

The Book of Genesis, for example, opens with an earth covered in water and darkness until the "wind of God" disturbs the waters and light appears:[9]

In the beginning when God created the heavens and the earth, the earth was a formless void and darkness covered the face of the deep, while a wind from God swept over the face of the waters. Then God said 'Let there be light,' and there was light.[10]

God then makes a fissure in the waters and divides them with a firmament ("Let there be a firmament in the midst of the waters, and let it divide the waters from the waters"), gathering the "waters under the firmament" together so that dry land appears.[11] The term creatio ex nihilo excludes the idea of creation as the transformation of preexisting matter, which is the meaning of ex nihilo nihil fit.[12]

The book A Universe from Nothing by theoretical physicist and cosmologist Lawrence M. Krauss details creation not only from the absence of matter but from the absence of space-time in which matter could exist.

Metaphysics: the Principle of Sufficient Reason (PSR)[edit]


A major argument for creatio ex nihilo, the first cause argument, states in summary:[citation needed]

  1. everything that begins to exist has a cause
  2. the universe began to exist
  3. therefore, the universe must have a cause

An expansion of the first cause argument is the Kalam cosmological argument, which also requires creatio ex nihilo:[citation needed]

  1. Everything that begins to exist has a cause
  2. The universe began to exist
  3. Therefore, the universe has a cause.
  4. If the universe has a cause, then an uncaused, personal creator of the universe exists, who without the universe is beginningless, changeless, immaterial, timeless, spaceless, and infinitely powerful.
  5. Therefore, an uncaused, personal creator of the universe exists, who without the universe is beginningless, changeless, immaterial, timeless, spaceless, and infinitely powerful.

In Jewish philosophy[edit]

In The Book of the Articles of Faith and Doctrines of Dogma (Kitāb al-Amānāt wa l-Iʿtiqādāt, Emunoth ve-Deoth, completed 933) written by Saadia Gaon (c. 882−942) the metaphysical problems of the creation of the world and the unity of the Creator are discussed. In this book, Saadia Gaon gives four proofs for the doctrine of the creation of the world ex nihilo (yesh me-ayin).

To harmonize the biblical statement of the creation ex nihilo with the doctrine of the primordial elements, the Sefer Yetzirah assumes a double creation, one ideal and the other real. In introducing Sefer Yetzirah's theory of creation Saadia Gaon makes a distinction between the Biblical account of creation ex nihilo, in which no process of creation is described, and matter formed by speech as described in Sefer Yetzirah. The cosmogony of Sefer Yetzirah is even omitted from the discussion of creation in his magnum opus Emunoth ve-Deoth.


Early Islamic philosophy, as well as key Muslim schools of thought, have argued a wide array of views, the basis always being that the creator is an eternal being who is outside of the creation (i.e., any materially based entities within all of creation), and is not a part of creation. Several schools of thought stemming from the first cause argument, and a great deal of philosophical works from Muslim scholars such as Al-Ghazali, came from the following verses in the Qur'an. The following quotations come from Muhammad Asad's translation, The Message of The Qur'an:

  • 52:35: "Were they created by nothing? Or were they themselves the creators?"
  • 2:117: "The Originator is He of the heavens and the earth: and when He wills a thing to be, He but says unto it, 'Be'—and it is."
  • 19:67: "But does man not bear in mind that We have created him aforetime while at one point they were nothing?"
  • 21:30: "ARE, THEN, they who are bent on denying the truth not aware that the heavens and the earth were [once] one single entity, which We (formal singular) then parted asunder? – and [that] We made out of water every living thing? Will they not, then, [begin to] believe?"
  • 21:56: "He answered: 'Nay, but your [true] Sustainer is the Sustainer of the heavens and the earth—He who has brought them into being: and I am one of those who bear witness to this [truth]!'"
  • 35:1: "ALL PRAISE is due to God, Originator of the heavens and the earth, who causes the angels to be (His) message-bearers, endowed with wings, two, or three, or four. He adds to His creation whatever He Wills: for, verily, God, is most competent over all things."
  • 51:47: "It is We (formal singular) who have built the heaven with (Our creative) power; and, verily, it is We who are steadily expanding it."


Biblical scholars and theologians within the Christian tradition such as Augustine (354–430),[13] John Calvin (1509–1564),[14] John Wesley (1703–1791),[15] and Matthew Henry (1662–1714)[16] cite Genesis 1:1 in support of the idea of Divine creation out of nothing.

Some of the early Christian Church Fathers with a Platonic background argued that the act of creation itself involved pre-existent matter, but made that matter in turn to have been created out of nothing.[17]

Most biblical scholars agree that creation ex nihilo is not found directly in Genesis or in the entire Hebrew Bible.[18][19] The idea had its origin in 2nd century Christian literature, [20] when Justin Martyr (c.100-165) identified a tension between the "world-formation" of Genesis and the omnipotence of God. [21] A generation later gnostic thinkers such as Basilius, Marcion and the Valentinians were advancing the idea that a transcendent God could not have fashioned pre-existent materials.[21] The tension was finally resolved in the anti-gnostic Christian theology of the second half of the 2nd century, and by the 3rd century creation ex nihilo was regarded as a fundamental tenet of Christian theology.[21]

Opposing arguments[edit]


The "first cause" argument was rooted in ancient Greek philosophy and based on observation in physics. Originally, it was understood[by whom?] in the context of creation from chaos. The observed phenomenon seen in reality is that nothing moves by itself. In other words, motion is not self-caused; thus, the Classic Greek thinkers argued that the cosmos must have had a "prime mover" primum movens. However, this scientific observation of motion does not logically extend to the idea of existence, and therefore does not necessarily indicate creation from absolutely nothing.

In theology, ex nihilo creation states that there was a beginning to one's existence, and anything that exists has a beginning. This idea of a required beginning appears to contradict the proposed creator who existed without a beginning. In other words, people are considered to be contingent beings, and their existence depends upon a non-contingent being. However, if non-contingency is possible, then there is no basis for arguing that contingency is required for existence, nor can it be logically concluded that the number of non-contingent beings or non-contingent things is limited to one single substance or one single Being.

David Ray Griffin expressed his thoughts on this as follows:

"No special philosophical problems are raised by this view: If it is intelligible to hold that the existence of God requires no explanation, since something must exist necessarily and "of itself," then it is not unintelligible to hold that that which exists necessarily is God and a realm of non-divine actualities."[22]


Bruce K. Waltke wrote an extensive Biblical study of creation theology in which he argues for creation from chaos rather than from nothing - based on the Hebrew Torah and the New Testament texts. The Western Conservative Baptist Seminary published this work in 1974 and again in 1981.[23] On a historical basis, many[quantify] scholars agree that the doctrine of creatio ex nihilo was not the original intent of the Biblical authors, but instead a change in the interpretation of the texts that began to evolve in the mid-second century AD in the atmosphere of Hellenistic philosophy.[24][25] The idea solidified around 200 AD in arguments and in response to the Gnostics, Stoics, and Middle Platonists.[26]

Thomas Jay Oord, a Christian philosopher and theologian, argues that Christians should abandon the doctrine of creation ex nihilo. Oord points to the work of biblical scholars such as Jon D. Levenson, who points out that the doctrine of creatio ex nihilo does not appear in Genesis. Oord speculates that God created our particular universe billions of years ago from primordial chaos. This chaos, however, did not predate God, for God would have created the chaotic elements as well.[27][page needed] Oord suggests that God can create all things without creating from absolute nothingness.[28]

Oord offers nine objections to creatio ex nihilo:[29]

  1. Theoretical problem: One cannot conceive absolute nothingness.
  2. Biblical problem: Scripture – in Genesis, 2 Peter, and elsewhere – suggests creation from something (water, deep, chaos, etc.), not creation from absolutely nothing.
  3. Historical problem: The Gnostics Basilides and Valentinus first proposed creatio ex nihilo on the basis of assuming the inherently evil nature of creation, and in the belief that God does not act in history. Early Christian theologians adopted the idea to affirm the kind of absolute divine power that many Christians now reject.
  4. Empirical problem: We have no evidence that our universe originally came into being from absolutely nothing.
  5. Creation-at-an-instant problem: We have no evidence in the history of the Universe after the Big Bang that entities can emerge instantaneously from absolute nothingness. As the earliest philosophers noted, out of nothing comes nothing (ex nihilo, nihil fit).
  6. Solitary power problem: Creatio ex nihilo assumes that a powerful God once acted alone. But power, as a social concept, only becomes meaningful in relation to others.
  7. Errant revelation problem: The God with the capacity to create something from absolutely nothing would apparently have the power to guarantee an unambiguous and inerrant message of salvation (for example: inerrant Bible). An unambiguously clear and inerrant divine revelation does not exist.
  8. Problem of Evil: If God once had the power to create from absolutely nothing, God essentially retains that power. But a God of love with this capacity appears culpable for failing to prevent evil.
  9. Empire Problem: The kind of divine power implied in creatio ex nihilo supports a 'theology of empire', based upon unilateral force and control of others.

Process theologians argue that humans have always related a God to some "world" or another. They[30] also claim that rejecting creatio ex nihilo provides the opportunity to affirm that God has everlastingly created and related with some realm of non-divine actualities or another (compare continuous creation). According to this alternative God-world theory, no non-divine thing exists without the creative activity of God, and nothing can terminate God's necessary existence.

Some non-trinitarian Christian churches do not teach the ex nihilo doctrine:

  • The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints (LDS) teaches that Jehovah (whom they identify as the heavenly form of Jesus Christ), under the direction of God the Father, organized this world and others like it out of eternal, pre-existing materials.[31][32] The first modern (non-biblical) prophet of the religion, Joseph Smith, explained the LDS view as follows: "Now, the word create does not mean to create out of nothing; it means to organize... God had materials to organize the world out of chaos... The pure principles of element are principles which can never be destroyed; they may be organized and reorganized, but not destroyed. They had no beginning and can have no end"[33] Debate continues on the issue of creation Ex Nihilo versus creation Ex Materia between evangelical authors Paul Copan and William Lane Craig[34] and LDS/Mormon apologist Blake Ostler.[35]
  • Jehovah's Witnesses teach that God used the energy he possesses to create the Universe based on their interpretation of Isaiah 40:26.[36] They believe this harmonizes with the scientific idea of the relationship between matter and energy. They distinguish Jehovah from Jesus Christ, teaching that before he created the physical universe, Jehovah created Jesus and that Michael is the heavenly form of Jesus.


The Vedanta schools of Hinduism reject the concept of creation ex nihilo for several reasons, for example:

  1. both types of revelatory texts (śruti[37] and smṛti) designate matter as eternal although completely dependent on God—the Absolute Truth (param satyam)
  2. believers then have to attribute all the evil ingrained in material life to God, making Him partial and arbitrary,[38] which does not logically accord with His nature

The Bhagavad Gita (BG) states the eternality of matter and its transformability clearly and succinctly: "Material nature and the living entities should be understood to be beginningless. Their transformations and the modes of matter are products of material nature."[39] The opening words of Krishna in BG 2.12-13 also imply this, as do the doctrines referred to in BG 16.8 as explained by the commentator Vadiraja Tirtha.[40]

Most philosophical schools in Hinduism maintain that material creation started with some minute particle (or seed) which had to be co-eternal or a part of ultimate reality (Brahman). This minute starting point is also the point into which all creation contracts at the end of each cycle. This concept varies between various traditions, such as the Vishishtadvaita tradition (which asserts that the Universe forms a part of God, created from some aspect of His divinity) and Tamil Shaiva Siddhanta traditions (which state that the minute initial particle (shuddha Maya) has always existed and was never created).

See also[edit]



  1. ^ Bunnin & Yu 2008, p. 149.
  2. ^ Berlin 2011, p. 188-189.
  3. ^ Andrews 2000, p. 36,48.
  4. ^ Couprie 2011, p. 10,13.
  5. ^ Broadie 1999, p. 46.
  6. ^ Pruss 2007, p. 291.
  7. ^ Broadie 1999, p. 221.
  8. ^ Broadie 1999, p. 220-221.
  9. ^ Walton 2015, p. 27.
  10. ^ Clifford 2017, p. unpaginated.
  11. ^ Couprie 2011, p. 3.
  12. ^ Wolters 1994, p. 108.
  13. ^ The Nicene and Post Nicene Fathers First Series, Volume 1 The Confessions and Letters of Augustine with a Sketch of his Life and Work, 1896, Philip Schaff, Augustine Confessions, Book XI.11–30, XII.7–9
  14. ^ "Commentaries on The First Book of Moses Called Genesis, by John Calvin, Translated from the Original Latin, and Compared with the French Edition, by the Rev. John King, M.A, 1578, Volume 1, Genesis 1:1–31". Ccel.org. In the beginning. To expound the term 'beginning,' of Christ, is altogether frivolous. For Moses simply intends to assert that the world was not perfected at its very commencement, in the manner in which it is now seen, but that it was created an empty chaos of heaven and earth. His language therefore may be thus explained. When God in the beginning created the heaven and the earth, the earth was empty and waste. He moreover teaches by the word 'created,' that what before did not exist was now made; for he has not used the term יצר, (yatsar,) which signifies to frame or forms but ברא, (bara,) which signifies to create. Therefore his meaning is, that the world was made out of nothing. Hence the folly of those is refuted who imagine that unformed matter existed from eternity; and who gather nothing else from the narration of Moses than that the world was furnished with new ornaments, and received a form of which it was before destitute."
  15. ^ "John Wesley's notes on the whole Bible the Old Testament, Notes On The First Book Of Moses Called Genesis, by John Wesley, p.14". Ccel.org. "Observe the manner how this work was effected; God created, that is, made it out of nothing. There was not any pre-existent matter out of which the world was produced. The fish and fowl were indeed produced out of the waters, and the beasts and man out of the earth; but that earth and those waters were made out of nothing. Observe when this work was produced; In the beginning—That is, in the beginning of time. Time began with the production of those beings that are measured by time. Before the beginning of time there was none but that Infinite Being that inhabits eternity."
  16. ^ Henry, Matthew (1706). "Chap. I.". Commentary on the whole Bible. Christian Classics Ethereal Library. 1 (Genesis to Deuteronomy) ([online] ed.). Grand Rapids, Michigan: Calvin College. Retrieved 2010-04-09. The manner in which this work was effected: God created it, that is, made it out of nothing. There was not any pre-existent matter out of which the world was produced. The fish and fowl were indeed produced out of the waters and the beasts and man out of the earth; but that earth and those waters were made out of nothing. By the ordinary power of nature, it is impossible that any thing should be made out of nothing; no artificer can work, unless he has something to work on.
  17. ^ Wolfson, Harry Austryn (1976). The philosophy of the Kalam. Structure and growth of philosophic systems from Plato to Spinoza. 4. Harvard University Press. pp. 355–356. ISBN 978-0-674-66580-4. Retrieved 2010-02-25. It can be further shown that Philo and some of the Church Fathers who have adopted the Platonic theory of creation out of a pre-existent matter made that matter to have been created out of nothing [...]
  18. ^ Blenkinsopp 2011, p. 30.
  19. ^ Nebe 2002, p. 119.
  20. ^ Wolters 1994, p. 109.
  21. ^ a b c May 2004, p. 179-180.
  22. ^ "David Ray Griffin "Creation Out of Chaos and the Problem of Evil"". Anthonyflood.com. Retrieved 2013-08-01.
  23. ^ Creation and Chaos: An Exegetical and Theological Study of Biblical Cosmogony
  24. ^ May, Gerhard (2004). Creatio ex nihilo [Creation from nothing]. Continuum International. ISBN 978-0-567-08356-2. Retrieved 2009-11-23.
  25. ^ Frances Young ‘Creatio Ex Nihilo’: A Context for the Emergence of the Christian Doctrine of Creation. Scottish Journal of Theology, 44, pp 139-152. (1991).
  26. ^ James N. Hubler, "Creatio ex Nihilo: Matter, Creation, and the Body in Classical and Christian Philosophy through Aquinas" (PhD diss., University of Pennsylvania, 1995).
  27. ^ Face of the Deep: A Theology of Becoming - Catherine Keller - Google Boeken. Retrieved 2012-06-20.
  28. ^ Keller, Catherine (2003). Face of the deep: a theology of becoming. Routledge. p. 240. ISBN 978-0-415-25649-0. Retrieved 2009-10-04. Thomas Jay Oord has advocated an 'open theology' that 'embraces the hypothesis that God did not create the world out of absolutely nothing, i.e., ex nihilo. [...]' Matching Theology and Piety: An Evangelical Process Theology of Love', PhD dissertation (Claremont Graduate University, 1999), p. 284.
  29. ^ "Creatio Ex Nihilo: The Problem · For The Love of Wisdom and The Wisdom of Love · Thomas Jay Oord". Thomasjayoord.com. 2010-01-19. Retrieved 2013-08-01.
  30. ^ "Creation Out of Chaos and the Problem of Evil by David Ray Griffin".
  31. ^ "Jesus Christ". The Guide to the Scriptures. The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. Retrieved 2012-01-25.
  32. ^ Bruce R. McConkie (June 1982). "Christ and the Creation". Ensign.
  33. ^ (History of the Church 6:308-309).
  34. ^ The New Mormon Challenge: Responding to the Latest Defenses of a Fast-Growing Movement
  35. ^ "Reviews of The New Mormon Challenge " FAIR". Fairlds.org. Retrieved 2013-08-01.
  36. ^ "What Is the Holy Spirit?". The Watchtower: 4–6. October 1, 2009.
  37. ^ But compare King, Richard; Gaudapāda Ācārya (1995). Early Advaita Vedānta and Buddhism: the Mahāyāna context of the Gaudapādīya-kārikā. State University of New York Suny series in religious studies. SUNY Press. p. 58. ISBN 978-0-7914-2513-8. Retrieved 2010-05-31. [...] the Upanisads do not have a definitive point of view, even within the same Upanisad. GK III.23 notes for instance that the sruti equally upholds the view that creation occurs from a pre-existent being (sat) and that it proceeds from non-existence. creation is most frequently understood to be a transformation (parinama) or an emanation from a pre-existent reality. Creation from non-being (asat), however, is put forward as a possibility in Chandogya Upanisad III.19 and Taittiriya Upanisad II.7. This is not necessarily a creatio ex nihilo, but in all likelihood denotes an emergence of being from the pregnant and undifferentiated chaos known as non-being (asat). Nevertheless, the equating of non-being with nothingness may have been intended and it is certainly criticized on those grounds in Chandogya Upanisad VI.2. The predominant Brahmanical creation theme, however, describes an emanation from or transformation of "sat," whether envisaged as an abstract impersonal reality as in Taittiriya Upanisad II.i, or from a personal creator, as in Prasna Upanisad I.4.
  38. ^ "Brahmasutra Bhashya 2:1:34-36". Swami-krishnananda.org. Retrieved 2012-06-20.
  39. ^ Bhagavad Gita 13.20. Vedabase.com. 2011-07-15. Retrieved 2016-02-23.
  40. ^ See Sri Vadiraja's commentary on the Bhagavad Gita