According to some Christian outlooks we were made for another world. Perhaps, rather, we were made for
this world to recreate, reclaim, and renew unto God's future aspiration by the power of His Spirit. - R.E. Slater
Secularization theory has been massively falsified. We don't live in an age of secularity. We live in an age of
explosive, pervasive religiosity... an age of religious pluralism. - Peter L. Berger
Exploring the edge of life and faith in a post-everything world. - Todd Littleton
I don't need another reason to believe, your love is all around for me to see. - anon
Thou art our need; and in giving us more of thyself thou givest us all. - Khalil Gibran, Prayer XXIII
Be careful what you pretend to be. You become what you pretend to be. - Kurt Vonnegut
Religious beliefs, far from being primary, are often shaped and adjusted by our social goals. - Jim Forest
People, even more than things, need to be restored, renewed, revived, reclaimed, and redeemed; never throw out anyone. - anon
... Certainly God's love has made fools of us all. - R.E. Slater
An apocalyptic Christian faith doesn't wait for Jesus to come, but for Jesus to become in our midst. - R.E. Slater
Christian belief in God begins with the cross and resurrection of Jesus, not with rational apologetics. - Eberhard Jüngel, Jürgen Moltmann
Our knowledge of God is through the 'I-Thou' encounter, not in finding God at the end of a syllogism or argument.
There is a grave danger in any Christian treatment of God as an object. The God of Jesus Christ and Scripture is
irreducibly subject and never made as an object, a force, a
power, or a principle that can be manipulated. - Emil Brunner
Ehyeh Asher Ehyeh means "I will be that who I have yet to become." - God (Ex 3.14)
Our job is to love others without stopping to inquire whether or not they are worthy. - Thomas Merton
The church is God's world-changing social experiment of bringing unlikes and differents to the Eucharist/Communion table
to share life with one another as a new kind of family. When this happens we show to the world what love, justice, peace,
reconciliation, and life together is designed by God to be. The church is God's show-and-tell for the world to see how God wants
us to live as a blended, global, polypluralistic family united with one will, by one Lord, and baptized by one Spirit. - anon
The cross that is planted at the heart of the history of the world cannot be uprooted. - Jacques Ellul
The Unity in whose loving presence the universe unfolds is inside each person as a call to welcome the stranger, protect animals
and the earth, respect the dignity of each person, think new thoughts, and help bring about ecological civilizations. - John Cobb & Farhan A. Shah
If you board the wrong train it is of no use running along the corridors of the train in the other direction. - Dietrich Bonhoeffer

Monday, February 2, 2015

Debating Christianity's Traditional Creational Explanation - "Creatio ex nihilo" or "Creatio ex continua"?




By way of a disclaimer here at Relevancy22 my overall premise is that (1) God is dependent upon nothing and (2) God is Creator of all - even if it is "nothing". This is my philosophical Christian position more commonly described as "creatio ex nihilo" - creation from nothing. It is also a widely held traditional position of Christian orthodoxy.

However, in physics - and especially in quantum physics - there is no such thing as "nothing." And so my creational position would go on to say that "nothing cannot be created out of nothing unless that nothing really isn't nothing but actually held something within its composition." This is the "creatio ex continua" position - creation from something which is a less widely accepted position but nonetheless orthodox teaching of Christianity as well.


The problem here is that one cannot be the other. Either it is or it isn't. And if we continue to define these positions in dualistic categories than we may miss the essence of each position as separately understood.

But before I go on to explain what I mean here I want the reader to know that "creatio ex continua" is not strictly a panentheistic position as some would like to read into it. But a more modified relational process theological position stating the ontological linkage between our Redeemer-Creator with His creation. That is, though God created from nothing philosophically speaking (for argument's sake) God is still uniquely linked to His creation even as a quantum singularity is linked to its point of origin.

As such, I am not describing an ontological interdependency between God and the world (sic, classic panentheism in the liberal process sense) but in another sense - in the more conservative sense of process theology - God and His creation are indeed uniquely linked creationally.

This then is the process side of God's creatorship without the antecental panentheistic elements that have been philosophically attached to it by a more liberal process theology which I take liberty to prohibit through a more conservative relational interpretation of process theology.


Now, let me return to my earlier thought. Within the realm of physics there is always "something" inside of "nothing" - whether it be a vacuum of space which really isn't a "vacuum of nothingness." Or tightly-wound inter-dimensional spaces which appear empty but aren't. Or even the primordial soup of the Big Bang itself which then consisted of a "nothing" composed perhaps of an intense (or blinding) darkness (or light) of "energy and force" intertwined with one other.


And remember, under intense gravitational forces, light cannot escape. Thus my supposition of a "darkness or void" as versus a "blinding light" per se.... But who knows, in the realm of poetry maybe all this primordial soup was very light itself with no darkness at all since space itself did not exist as we know and experience it today.


Nor did time before the eruption of the Big Bang. Why? Because time could not have begun having become overwhelmed in the spatial soup of gravity's forces and liquefied into 2 or 1-dimensional space itself.

And so, space was limited to 2 dimensions, or perhaps 1 dimension, and time was without existence so that in a sense you could describe these physical conditions of our early universe as a kind of "eternality" without presence, form, or prior antecedence. Moreover, creation's beginning point - as the science of quantum physics understands it - is known as a "singularity" of the space-time event.


Therefore, what traditional Christianity would call "nothing" - which played off the older Greek idea of "nothing" - is actually not "nothing" but something. Something quantumtative. But then again, how would the non-scientific church have known about this physical absurdity if quantum physics hadn't yet been discovered?


Too, it wasn't until the mid-20th century that these quantum scientific discoveries were known. And lest of all by traditional Christianity which historically runs decades, if not centuries, behind the academic curve of kno
wledge because of its religious belief structures so resistant to change. Let alone supposing that more ancient cosmologies (sic, Wikipedia) would be helpful in explaining this kind of singular discussion. Why? Because quantum physics is not yet a 100 years old. Till then the world never knew of early creation's physical description in these scientific terms.

And don't suppose the bible would either. It was written by ancient cultures thus immediately dating its resources of human knowledge. Which is both the beauty of the Bible and the frustration of its interpreters. Some would read into its pages more than it is saying thus overlaying personal dogmas with personal interpretations to orthodox doctrines. Whereas other readers would more properly hold back in granting too much interpretative license and when doing so gain the beauty of God's written revelation by its silence. And for many of us, the silence of Scripture is as helpful as its pointedness of salvific revelation. For by it we may think more creatively, more expansively, with the newer academic findings at hand across as many inter/intra-disciplinary fields as possible without the Scriptural inhibition of forbidding or detraction.

And so, to press the point a bit further - and in a kind of equivocal argument - the concept of "nothing" could be equivocated with the concept of "zero" - which in mathematics and science is the most infinite of numbers one can rest a theory upon (sic, Wikipedia again). Meaning that "zero isn't necessarily zero" and neither is "nothing necessarily nothing."

Hence, this blog site here leans to the philosophical grounds of traditional Christianity's "creatio ex nihilo" premises but posits that in the actuality of our current universe the alternate teaching of "creatio ex continua" may perhaps be the better physical explanation even as "creatio ex nihilo" is perhaps the better philosophical argument (cf. Wolfhart Pannenberg here and here and here).

My last thought is that the theological historian Dr. Olson makes "creatio ex nihilo" foundational for God's Transcendence, Grace, and Separateness from evil. However, we have demonstrated many times that this traditional Christian dogma (or blik) is not necessary in upholding this linkage in order to retain those foundational ontological, relational, and metaphysical arguments.


Lastly, if you're confused, then please read the traditional article below by Roger Olson and then look up all the "creatio ex continua" articles here on this site starting with the first several linked immediately above including the index given at the bottom of this post. Hopefully what I am doing here is not positing something new in a sense, but rather attempting to update the oldness of traditional Christianity with the newness of our technological age without grossly exceeding interpretive bounds with more pertinent and relevant questions.


When doing this it seems everything changes - and perhaps well it should! But in the changes we must attempt to neither bind the Scriptures nor our Lord in the process. Whether it be by our insistence upon adhering to the older doctrines of the church or by turning a blind eye to what newer discoveries are telling us about ourselves, the universe, and God Himself through the narrative of church history and human event as they provide greater depth to our reading of the Bible.

And yet, in all things, may all honor and glory be given to our glorious Redeemer God in the unity of the church bound in the great mystery of the Son and Spirit.

Peace,

R.E. Slater
February 2, 2015







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Why I Believe in “Creatio ex nihilo” (Creation out of Nothing)
(Even Though the Bible Doesn’t Directly Teach It)

by Roger Olson
January 30, 2015

Every once in a while I meet someone who, while exhibiting every sign of being a true Christian, denies the traditional Christian doctrine of “creatio ex nihilo”—creation out of nothing. This belief, the “prior actuality of God” (Austin Farrer’s term), combined with the idea that God created in the beginning out of nothing (not “Nothingness”—Greek philosophy’s me-ōn), is not directly taught in Scripture. However, the early church fathers, especially (but not only) the Cappadocian Fathers (Basil of Caeasarea, Gregory of Nyssa, and Gregory Nazianzus), insisted on it against Greek philosophy and Roman religious myths. Gradually it was raised to the status of dogma by most branches of Christianity even if rarely, if ever, explicitly stated as such in creeds or confessions of faith.

Why?

Creation out of nothing is the only alternative to four alternative beliefs about creation that are absolutely untenable for Christian thought:

1 - One is pantheism or panentheism—belief that God and the world are either identical or interdependent. In either case the world is part of God or so inextricably united with God eternally that God is dependent on it. (Here “world” refer to creation, the universe, finite reality.)

2- Another alternative belief about creation is that God created the world out of some pre-existing matter that he did not himself create. In that view God “created” by organizing an eternal something that was chaotic and stood over against him.

3 - Yet another alternative belief is that God created the world out of himself in which case the world is made of “God stuff”—God’s own substance.

4 - Finally, a mostly modern, secular view is that some world (or substance, energy) has always existed and God, if he exists at all, has nothing to do with its origin or development.

If there is a fifth possibility, alternative to creation out of nothing, I am not aware of it. All that I have considered “boil down” to one of those four.

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Many Christians, to say nothing of non-Christians, embrace one of the alternative beliefs about creation, for whatever reasons, and feel permitted to do so because neither Scripture nor creedal orthodoxy explicitly requires creation out of nothing. (Some Christian denominations may require it, but most do not explicitly say so.)

So is creation out of nothing just speculation on the part of orthodox Christian theologians? Why has this idea been so prominent and defended so strongly by traditional Christian theologians if Scripture and creeds do not explicitly require it? Why do I believe in it while admitting it is not explicitly taught in Scripture and points to an impenetrable mystery?

Creation out of nothing is not mere speculation; it is based on other beliefs that are explicitly taught in Scripture and that are part and parcel of traditional, orthodox, classical “Great Tradition” Christianity.

Here is where I think many modern Christians, both conservative and progressive, across that spectrum, fail to realize there are necessary Christian beliefs that are not explicitly taught in Scripture. Yes, admittedly, they are “man-made doctrines” and are more part of Christian philosophy, Christian presuppositions underlying explicit dogmas about Christ, the Trinity, and salvation, than confessional, systematic theology itself. (This is a somewhat artificial distinction but I find it helpful at times and this is one such “time” or instance. Some would call it “the Christian worldview”—the set of basic perspectives, “blik” [to borrow a term from philosophy R. M. Hare], that underlie Christian dogmas about God, Christ, and salvation.)

Creation out of nothing is part of what Emil Brunner called “Christian ontology”—derived from revelation but not explicitly revealed. Without it certain revealed truths cannot be maintained or defended; they slip away without this ontological, metaphysical foundation.

Creation out of nothing (in the beginning, not moment-by-moment as Jonathan Edwards speculated) is necessary, as I said, because without it one will believe in one of the alternative views mentioned above and will eventually find crucial gospel tenets dissolving. It is the only alternative to those views of creation and alone supports and defends the revealed gospel of truth about God, Christ, and salvation.

Now, I find it necessary to warn not to attempt to provide an alternative to creation out of nothing by saying God created “out of love.” That is not an alternative to creation out of nothing; it is simply speaking of God’s motive or disposition behind and for creation—not the what out of which God created. It is completely compatible with creation out of nothing and does not replace it. When someone says God created “out of love” they are not expressing an alternative to creation out of nothing.

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All of the above is to say that there is a Christian ontology, a Christian metaphysical worldview, perspective about reality, that is not itself explicitly revealed but is established because it is the only support for what is revealed and expressed in classical, orthodox Christianity. Often its support is that alternative views are simply untenable in light of revealed truth and, if held, lead inexorably to distortions of the gospel itself.

So what revealed truths, held and taught by all branches of catholic and orthodox Christianity (including the Reformers) make creation out of nothing necessary in spite of its impenetrable mysteriousness?

First is the transcendence of God, God’s holiness, wholly otherness, majesty, power, glory and freedom. Throughout Scripture God is revealed as not dependent on anything in creation for his actuality. Do you need a proof text? Paul to the Athenians in Acts 17:22-31: God does not need anything and gives life and breath to all mortals. Some may point to another portion of Paul’s soliloquy in Athens—that we “live and move and have our being” in God and are “God’s offspring.” None of that undermines and indeed must be interpreted in light of God does not need anything. That is a constant theme throughout Scripture: That God is “above” creation and does not need anything outside of himself to be God. A God who needs the world for anything is not the God of the Bible. “Without the world, God is not God” is Hegel’s heresy, the root of all panentheism, and it undercuts and undermines God’s holy transcendence. This is “another God,” not the God of Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, Isaiah, Jesus and Paul.

Second is the gratuity of grace, the revealed truth that redemption is solely gift and that grace for salvation cannot be forced or necessary. It also cannot be presumed as if God owed it to himself or anyone or anything. This belief is integral to Christian soteriology and arises out of biblical revelation and out of the very meaning of grace itself: “For by grace are you saved…and that not of yourselves….” (Ephesians 2:8-9) If creation out of nothing is not firmly held and defended, the freedom of God in redemption and salvation, grace itself as sheer gift, slips away.

Third, finally, is the reality of evil and God’s non-involvement in and non-participation in evil. Creation out of nothing protects the reality of evil from being reduced to illusion (our not-yet-knowing of our own divinity) or necessity (in which case it is not really evil).

These three Christian ideas, derived from revelation itself, if not directly revealed, depend on creation out of nothing. One or more of them completely undercuts and undermines all the alternative perspectives on reality. Only creation out of nothing protects God’s holy freedom and wholly otherness, the gratuity of redemption, and the reality of creaturely opposition to God as evil/sin.

In other words, even though creation out of nothing is not explicitly revealed or normally stated in creeds and confessions of Christian denominations and churches, it inevitably appears as we bore down to inspect and think about the presuppositional pillars that uphold ecumenical Christian belief and experience. It is an aspect of Christian ontology which is just as important as Christian doctrine. The line between the two is admittedly blurry, not absolutely distinct, but we might say that Christian ontology appears not so much directly out of revelation as out of close inspection of Christian beliefs based on revelation in light of alternative religions, philosophies and worldviews in culture. Creation out of nothing was discovered, not invented, by the church fathers as they examined the worldviews, religions and philosophies around them in Hellenistic culture. So today we need to rediscover it and embrace and defend it as we examine modern and postmodern secular and pagan worldviews, religions and philosophies in and among which the same alternative beliefs about God and creation arise (as in Hellenistic culture).

In other words, we can no longer take creation out of nothing for granted; alternative beliefs about God and the world are seeping and creeping into Christian churches. We need to find spaces for teaching Christian ontology (under whatever name). We need to correct Christians who are confused about God and creation, especially those who are coming to believe that creation (e.g., our souls) are “part of God” or that God “did his best with what he had” in creation which is the explanation for evil.

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Note: This is an opening to a conversation among Christians. I don’t expect non-Christians to believe in creation out of nothing (although some might). If you choose to comment or question, please keep that in mind. If you are not a catholic-orthodox and/or evangelical Christian (concerned for biblical revelation and basic Christian orthodoxy) you are free to ask questions about Christian belief including creation out of nothing, but please do not misuse this blog to promote your alternative belief system or worldview (or metaphysical/ontological skepticism). If you perceive yourself to be a catholic-orthodox and/or evangelical Christian and choose to respond negatively (with disagreement) state whether you agree with the three basic Christian dogmas/doctrines I stated that I argue require (together) belief in creation out of nothing. In any case, keep in mind that the purpose here is dialogue. Keep it civil.