Two Theories of Creation:
Creation out of Nothing - Creation out of Chaosmos
The following lists represent the main ideas proposed in a panel
debate/discussion at the Wesleyan Philosophical Society meeting, Duke
University, March, 2008.
Nine Problems with Creatio Ex Nihilo
1. Theoretical problem: absolute nothingness cannot be conceived.
2. Biblical problem: Scripture – in Genesis, 2 Peter, and elsewhere –
suggests creation from something (water, deep, chaos, invisible things,
etc.), not creation from absolutely nothing (see
Speaking the Language of Canaan: The Old Testament and the Israelite Perception
of the Physical World).
3. Historical problem: Creatio ex nihilo was first proposed by
Gnostics – Basilides and Valentinus – who assumed that creation was
inherently evil and that God does not act in history. It was adopted by
early Christian theologians to affirm the kind of absolute divine power
that many Christians – especially Wesleyans – 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. Out of nothing comes nothing (ex nihil, nihil
6. Solitary power problem: Creatio ex nihilo assumes that a
powerful God once acted alone. But power is a social concept only
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 (see The Modern Inerrancy Debate).
8. Evil problem: If God once had the power to create from absolutely
nothing, God essentially retains that power. But a God of love with this
capacity is culpable for failing to prevent genuine evil (see
The Problem of "Natural" Evil).
9. Empire Problem: The kind of divine power implied in creatio ex
nihilo supports a theology of empire, which is based upon unilateral
force and control of others.
Twelve Advantages to Creation out of Chaosmos
1. Theoretical advantage: We can conceive of creating something from
materials previously organized differently or in a different state.
2. Biblical advantage: This theory generally fits with the biblical
notion – in Genesis, 2 Peter, and elsewhere – that God creates from
something (water, deep, chaos, etc.; see
Genesis Bible Study Lesson Two: The Cultural Context of Israel).
3. Historical advantage: This general theory was affirmed by early
Christian theologians (although by few Christian theologians after the
2nd century) and deemed a logical possibility by such influential
Christians as Thomas Aquinas.
4. Empirical advantage: This theory corresponds with what we know from
the evolution of life, in terms of something new evolving from what has
5. Superstring advantage: This theory is compatible with contemporary
superstring theories (see physicists Neil Turok, Paul Steinhardt, John
Barrow, Alan Guth, and others).
6. Analogy with creature creativity: This theory corresponds with how we
understand our own creating activity, without equating the Creator with
7. Multiple powers advantage: This theory fits with our everyday notion
of power as that which can only be understood in relation to other
powers. Power is social.
8. Dynamic revelation advantage: This theory fits better with a doctrine
of dynamic biblical inspiration whereby God interacts with creatures
possessing their own (God-given) capacities, notions, and tendencies –
including capacities for error (see Revelation and Inspiration
9. Problem of evil advantage: If God has never created from absolutely
nothing, it seems plausible that God does not have the ability to
control others entirely. A God of love without the ability to control
others entirely should not be charged with culpability for failing to
prevent the evils caused by free or indeterminate creatures.
10. Relational advantage: A God who always enjoys relations with
non-divine others and creates by means of those relations is an
essentially relational God (see Relational
11. Love advantage: If being related to others is necessary to love
others, a God who has always enjoyed relations with non-divine others
might be said to love non-divine others essentially and not arbitrarily.
Thus God’s nature is love.
12. Ethics advantage: This theory suggests that God works persuasively
with others rather than coercing them, and this serves as a model for
nonviolent creaturely ethics arising from our essential responsibilities
to the other.
Thomas Jay Oord, Ph.D.
Northwest Nazarene University