On Views About Creation and Their Implications

Although admittedly limited, my experience with friends and students suggests that the average theist doesn't really understand the doctrine of creation ex nihilo. Rather, they accept the view that God created the universe from something like a reservoir of energy within him. As the chart above illustrates, this has serious implications. For if you're like them, then you are not a classical Anselmian theist. Rather, you're either a pantheist, a panentheist, or a demiurgist

Now you might be fine with accepting that, but notice that you've also given up a lot in doing so. For example, you've given up most of natural theology. For now you accept that the stuff of the universe is eternal and uncreated.[1] But perhaps the deepest problems lie ahead. For now you have a choice: you can say that (a) the materials are at least part of God, or you can say that (b) they are distinct from God. If you accept (a), then it's now hard to distinguish you from other pantheists and panentheists that are very far from classical theism. But if you accept (b), then you accept that matter is either a brute fact or a necessary being, in which case, again, kiss the cosmological argument goodbye. You can also say goodbye to the radical dependence of creation upon Creator, as well as a substantial amount of awe toward the transcendence, greatness, and otherness God. 

On the other hand, you might want to sit tight with classical theism and hold on to the doctrine of creation ex nihilo. Your problem now is that the plausibility of the doctrine of creation ex nihilo is on an epistemic par with the hypothesis that the universe popped into existence out of nothing without any cause whatsoever

So what's a classical theist to do? Probably the most sensible thing to do, if you are inclined to accept a religious conception of the world, is to reject classical theism and accept pantheism, panentheism, or (internalist or externalist) demiurgic theism. But then, again, it'll cost you a big cut in epistemic motivation and religious significance. Tough choices all around.
[1] If you accept the view of creation under discussion but you don't think the posited reservoir of energy within God is uncreated and eternal, then you think it either arose uncaused out of nothing, or you think God created the reservoir of energy within himself ex nihilo. The former view is incompatible with classical Anselmian theism; the latter reduces to the classical Anselmian theism, which is already accounted for on the chart. Read on for a critical problem with the latter's view of creation.


MontJoie said...

I don't see why matter is a brute fact or necessary being if it's distinct from God. Can you flesh that out? It doesn't seem to be a required consequence. It's distinct from God, and came into being at a particular time.

exapologist said...

Hi MontJoie,

Yes, there is room within logical space for such a view: God could've created the reservoir of energy within himself ex nihilo. I was going to add it, but ultimately left it out, as it reduces to the other options already represented on the chart. For it just reduces to classical theism. And the problem with such a view reduces to the same problem with the version of creation ex nihilo represented on the chart, viz., that creation of a reservoir of energy within God ex nihilo is on an epistemic par with such a reservoir coming into existence uncaused out of nothing.


Joe said...

RC Sproul's mentor the late John Gersner saw this very problem that you bring up and said the only logically consistent position was panentheism. If I remember correctly I believe Gersner said he noticed the problem by reading Jonathan Edwards who he claimed was also a peanentheist.

exapologist said...

Thanks for the references, Joe!


Review of Trakakis' (ed.) <i>The Problem of Evil: Eight Views in Dialogue</i>

Daniel Johnson reviews the book for NDPR .