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Ex nihilo

Tree of Life by Eli Content. 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), Joods Historisch Museum.

Ex nihilo is a Latin phrase meaning "out of nothing". It often appears in conjunction with the concept of creation, as in creatio ex nihilo, meaning "creation out of nothing"—chiefly in philosophical or theological contexts, but also occurs in other fields.

In theology, the common phrase creatio ex nihilo ("creation out of nothing"), contrasts with creatio ex materia (creation out of some pre-existent, eternal matter) and with creatio ex deo (creation out of the being of God).

The phrase ex nihilo also appears in the classical philosophical formulation ex nihilo nihil fit, which means "Out of nothing comes nothing".

Ex nihilo when used outside of religious or metaphysical contexts, also refers to something coming from nothing. For example, in a conversation, one might raise a topic "ex nihilo" if it bears no relation to the previous topic of discussion.


  • History of creatio ex nihilo 1
  • Theological usage 2
    • Approaches favoring ex nihilo creation 2.1
      • Logical approaches 2.1.1
      • Ancient Greek speculation 2.1.2
      • Islamic views 2.1.3
      • Christian theologians 2.1.4
      • Hindu 2.1.5
      • Modern physics 2.1.6
    • Arguments against ex nihilo creation 2.2
      • Logical approaches against ex nihilo 2.2.1
      • Opposition within modern Christian theology 2.2.2
      • Hindu views 2.2.3
  • See also 3
  • Notes 4
  • Further reading 5

History of creatio ex nihilo

Ancient Near Eastern mythologies and classical creation myths in Greek mythology envisioned the creation of the world as resulting from the actions of a god or gods upon already-existing primeval matter, known as chaos.

An early conflation of Greek philosophy with the narratives in the Hebrew Bible came from Philo of Alexandria (d. AD 50), writing in the context of Hellenistic Judaism. Philo equated the Hebrew creator-deity Yahweh with Aristotle's primum movens (First Cause)[1][2] in an attempt to prove that the Jews had held monotheistic views even before the Greeks. However, this was still within the context of creation from pre-existing materials (i.e. "moving" or "changing" a material substratum.)

The classical tradition of creation from chaos first came under question in Hellenistic philosophy (on a priori grounds), which developed the idea that the primum movens must have created the world out of nothing.

Theologians debate whether the Bible itself teaches creation ex nihilo. Traditional interpreters[3] argue on grammatical and syntactical grounds that this is the meaning of Genesis 1:1, which is commonly rendered: "In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth." They further find support for this view in New Testament passages like Hebrews 11:3—"By faith we understand that the universe was created by the word of God, so that what is seen was not made out of things that are visible"—and Revelation 4:11—"For you [God] created all things, and by your will they existed and were created." However, other interpreters[4] understand creation ex nihilo as a 2nd-century theological development. According to this view, church fathers opposed notions appearing in pre-Christian creation myths and in Gnosticism—notions of creation by a demiurge out of a primordial state of matter (known in religious studies as chaos after the Greek term used by Hesiod in his Theogony).[5] Jewish thinkers took up the idea,[6] which became important to Judaism, to ongoing strands in the Christian tradition, and—as a corollary—to Islam.

The first sentence of the Greek version of Genesis in the Septuagint starts with the words: ἐν ἀρχῇ ἐποίησεν, translatable as "in the beginning he made."[7]

Cosmological argument on ex nihilo— procreation (Gap) Theory, Abrahamic Philosophy

A verse of 2 Maccabees (a book written in Koine Greek in the same sphere of Hellenized Judaism of Alexandria, but predating Philo by about a century) expresses the following: "I beseech thee, my son, look upon the heaven and the earth, and all that is therein, and consider that God made them of things that were not; and so was mankind made likewise." (2 Maccabees 7:28, KJV) While those who believe in ex nihilo point to God creating "things that were not", those who reject creation out of nothing point out that the context mentions the creation of man, who was "made from the dust" and not from absolutely "nothing". Many ancient texts tend to have similar issues, and those on each side tend to interpret the text according to their understanding.

Max Weber summarizes a sociological view of the overall development and corollaries of the theological idea:

[...] As otherworldly expectations become increasingly important, the problem of the basic relationship of god to the world and the problem of the world's imperfections press into the foreground of thought; this happens the more life here on earth comes to be regarded as a merely provisional form of existence when compared to that beyond, the more the world comes to be viewed as something created by god ex nihilo, and therefore subject to decline, the more god himself is conceived as a subject to transcendental goals and values, and the more a person's behavior in this world becomes oriented to his fate in the next. [...][8]

Theological usage

Approaches favoring ex nihilo creation

Logical approaches

Not all ex nihilo thought assumes a divinely-revealed creator.

A major argument for creatio ex nihilo, the First cause argument, states in summary:

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

Another argument for ex nihilo creation comes from Claude Nowell's Summum philosophy that states before anything existed, nothing existed, and if nothing existed, then it must have been possible for nothing to be. If it is possible for nothing to be (the argument goes), then it must be possible for everything to be.[9]

Other support for creatio ex nihilo belief comes from the idea that something cannot arise from nothing; that would involve a contradiction (compare ex nihilo nihil fit). Therefore something must always have existed. But (this account continues) it is scientifically impossible for matter to always have existed. Moreover, matter is contingent: it is not logically impossible for it not to exist, and nothing else depends on it. Hence one deduces a Creator, non-contingent and not composed of matter.

Ancient Greek speculation

Some scholars have argued that Plethon viewed Plato as positing ex nihilo creation in his Timaeus.

Eric Voegelin detects in Hesiod's chaos a creatio ex nihilo.[10]

The School of Chartres understood the creation account in Plato's Timaeus to refer to creatio ex nihilo.[11]

Islamic views

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 was an eternal being who was outside of the creation (i.e. any materially based entities within all of creation), and was 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."

Christian theologians

Biblical scholars and theologians within the Christian tradition such as Augustine (354-430),[12] John Calvin (1509–1564),[13] John Wesley (1703–1791)[14] and Matthew Henry (1662–1714)[15] 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.[16]


RigVeda quotes "If in the beginning there was neither Being nor Non-Being, neither air nor sky, what was there? Who or what oversaw it? What was it when there was no darkness, light, life, or death? We can only say that there was the One, that which breathed of itself deep in the void, that which was heat and became desire and the germ of spirit." which is suggestive of the fact that Ex nihilo creator was always there and he is not controlled by time or by any previous creation.[17]

Modern physics

A widely supported scientific theory in modern physics is the zero-energy universe which states that the total amount of energy in the universe is exactly zero. It has been argued that this is the only kind of universe that could come from nothing.[18] Such a universe would have to be flat in shape, a state which does not contradict current observations that the universe is flat with a 0.5% margin of error.[19][20]

The paper "Spontaneous creation of the Universe Ex Nihilo" provides a model for a way the Universe could have been created from pure ‘nothing’ in information terms.[21]

Arguments against ex nihilo creation

Logical approaches against ex nihilo

The first cause argument was rooted in ancient Greek philosophy and based in observation in physics. Originally it was understood 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. This logic however, is a misunderstanding of theological arguments. Such arguments make a distinction between existence and creation. By definition, everything that is creation must have a creator; however, not all that exists was created. Generally, monotheistic arguments do not posit that all things have a beginning, rather that all things which have a beginning must also have a source or cause. Because the Universe has an apparent beginning, it must also therefore have a transcendent cause.

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]

Theologically based arguments generally bypass these objections through the presumption of omnipotence.

Opposition within modern Christian theology

Bruce K. Waltke wrote an extensive Biblical study of creation theology that argues creation from chaos rather than nothing based on the Hebrew Torah and the New Testament texts. This work was published by the Western Conservative Baptist Seminary in 1974 and again in 1981.[23] On a historical basis, many 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 which began to evolve in the mid second century A.D. in the atmosphere of Hellenistic philosophy.[24][25] The idea solidified around 200 A.D. in arguments and in response to the Gnostics, Stoics, and Middle Platonists.[26]

Thomas Jay Oord (born 1965), 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 did not predate God, however, for God would have created the chaotic elements as well.[27] 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:

[33] An ongoing debate exists 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.

Hindu views

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 tradition such as the Vishishtadvaita tradition that asserts that the Universe a part of God and 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


  1. ^ Yonge, Charles Duke (1854). "Appendices A Treatise Concerning the World (1): But what can be worse than this, or more calculated to display the want of true nobility existing in the soul, than the notion of causes in general being secondary and created causes, combined with an ignorance of the one first cause, the uncreated God, the Creator of the universe, who for these and innumerable other reasons is most excellent, reasons which because of their magnitude human intellect is unable to apprehend?" The Works of Philo Judaeus: the contemporary of Josephus. London: H. G. Bohn". 
  2. ^ Plato Laws Book X, Public Domain-Project Gutenberg. "ATHENIAN: Then I suppose that I must repeat the singular argument of those who manufacture the soul according to their own impious notions; they affirm that which is the first cause of the generation and destruction of all things, to be not first, but last, and that which is last to be first, and hence they have fallen into error about the true nature of the Gods… Then we must say that self-motion being the origin of all motions, and the first which arises among things at rest as well as among things in motion, is the eldest and mightiest principle of change, and that which is changed by another and yet moves other is second."
  3. ^ Collins, C. John, Genesis 1-4: A Linguistic, Literary, and Theological Commentary (Phillipsburg, NJ: P&R Publishing, 2006), 50ff.
  4. ^ May, Gerhard (2004). ]Creation from nothing [Creatio ex nihilo. Continuum International. p. xii.  
  5. ^ May, Gerhard (1978). Schöpfung aus dem Nichts. Die Entstehung der Lehre von der creatio ex nihilo [Creation from Nothingness: the origin of the doctrine of creatio ex nihilo]. AKG 48 (in German). Berlin/New York: de Gruyter. p. 151f.  
  6. ^ Siegfried, Francis (1908). "Creation". The Catholic Encyclopedia, volume 4. New York: Robert Appleton Company. Retrieved 2008-09-30. Probably the idea of creation never entered the human mind apart from Revelation. Though some of the pagan philosophers attained to a relatively high conception of God as the supreme ruler of the world, they seem never to have drawn the next logical inference of His being the absolute cause of all finite existence. [...] The descendants of Sem and Abraham, of Isaac and Jacob, preserved the idea of creation clear and pure; and from the opening verse of Genesis to the closing book of the Old Testament the doctrine of creation runs unmistakably outlined and absolutely undefiled by any extraneous element. "In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth." In this, the first, sentence of the Bible we see the fountain-head of the stream which is carried over to the new order by the declaration of the mother of the Machabees: "Son, look upon heaven and earth, and all that is in them: and consider that God made them out of nothing" (2 Maccabees 7:28). One has only to compare the Mosaic account of the creative work with that recently discovered on the clay tablets unearthed from the ruins of Babylon to discern the immense difference between the unadulterated revealed tradition and the puerile story of the cosmogony corrupted by polytheistic myths. Between the Hebrew and the Chaldean account there is just sufficient similarity to warrant the supposition that both are versions of some antecedent record or tradition; but no one can avoid the conviction that the Biblical account represents the pure, even if incomplete, truth, while the Babylonian story is both legendary and fragmentary (Smith, "Chaldean Account of Genesis", New York, 1875). 
  7. ^ Chamberlain, Gary Alan. The Greek of the Septuagint. 
  8. ^  
  9. ^ Ra, Summum Bonum Amen (2004) [1975]. "Chapter 2". SUMMUM: Sealed Except to the Open Mind. Salt Lake City: Summum. Retrieved 2006-12-15. 
  10. ^  
  11. ^ ^ Stiefel, Tina (1985). The Intellectual Revolution in Twelfth Century Europe. New York: St. Martin's Press. ISBN 0-312-41892-2.
  12. ^ 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
  13. ^ "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".  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."
  14. ^ "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".  "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."
  15. ^  
  16. ^  
  17. ^ David Adams, Leeming (2010). Creation Myths of the World: An Encyclopedia, Volume 1. ABC-CLIO. p. 2.  
  18. ^ "A Universe from Nothing". Astronomical Society of the Pacific. Retrieved 10 March 2010.  by Alexei V. Filippenko and Jay M. Pasachoff
  19. ^ "Will the Universe expand forever?". NASA. Retrieved 18 October 2011. 
  20. ^ "A Universe From Nothing lecture by Lawrence Krauss at AAI". 2009. Retrieved 17 October 2011. 
  21. ^ Lincoln, M.; Wasser, A. (2013). "Spontaneous creation of the Universe Ex Nihilo". Physics of the Dark Universe 2 (4): 195.  
  22. ^ """David Ray Griffin "Creation Out of Chaos and the Problem of Evil. Retrieved 2013-08-01. 
  23. ^ Creation and Chaos: An Exegetical and Theological Study of Biblical Cosmogony
  24. ^ May, Gerhard (2004). ]Creation from nothing [Creatio ex nihilo. Continuum International.  
  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. ^  
  29. ^ "Creatio Ex Nihilo: The Problem · For The Love of Wisdom and The Wisdom of Love · Thomas Jay Oord". 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. ^  
  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". Retrieved 2013-08-01. 
  36. ^ "What Is the Holy Spirit?". The Watchtower (Watch Tower Society): 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.  
  38. ^ "Brahmasutra Bhashya 2:1:34-36". Retrieved 2012-06-20. 
  39. ^ "Bhagavad Gita 13.19 or 20". Retrieved 2012-06-20. 
  40. ^ See Sri Vadiraja's commentary on the Bhagavad Gita

Further reading

  • Monique Terrazas. "Discovering The Money Tree".  Go to page 15.
  • Charles Bean (Chief Economist and Executive Director for Monetary Policy, Bank of England). "Bank of England Bulletin 2008 Q1" (PDF). Especially page 103 bottom left - on money creation
  • Thomas Jay Oord (2010). "The Nature of Love: A Theology". St. Louis:  (especially chapters 4 and 5.)
  • Jon D. Levenson, Creation and the Persistence of Evil: The Jewish Drama of Divine Omnipotence (Princeton, N.J.: Princeton University Press, 1994; New York: Harper & Row, 1987).
  • Sjoerd L. Bonting, Chaos Theology: A Revised Creation Theology [Ottawa: Novalis, 2002].
  • Huchingson, James Edward (2001). Pandemonium tremendum: chaos and mystery in the life of God. Cleveland, Ohio: Pilgrim Press.  
  • David Ray Griffin, "Creation out of Chaos and The Problem of Evil" in Davis, Stephen T., ed. (2001) [1981]. Encountering Evil: Live Options in Theodicy (new ed.). Louisville, Ky: Westminster John Knox Press.  
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