Is God a Creator or Just an Organizer?

Post Author: Bill Pratt 

In Christian theology, God created everything that exists out of nothing (ex nihilo), simply by speaking the universe into existence. When we turn to Mormon theology, we find a very different concept of creation. Mormons deny that God created the universe ex nihilo. What do they believe? According to the editors of The New Mormon Challenge,

In distinction from Christian teaching, a fundamental component of the traditional LDS worldview is the rejection of creation ex nihilo. Instead, as was so common in the pagan religions and philosophies of antiquity, according to the Mormon doctrine of “creation,” God formed the world out of eternally preexisting chaotic matter.

William Lane Craig and Paul Copan quote from traditional Mormon theologians on God and creation:

In 1910, B. H. Roberts wrote that God is constrained in exercising his power by certain “external existences”: “Not even God may place himself beyond the boundary of space…Nor is it conceivable to human thought [that] he can create space or annihilate matter. These are things that limit even God’s omnipotence.” He added that “even [God] may not act out of harmony with the other external existences [such as duration, space, matter, truth, justice] which condition or limit him.”

Mormon theologian John Widtsoe maintains that belief in creation out of nothing does nothing but cause confusion: “Much inconsistency of thought has come from the notion that things may be derived from an immaterial state, that is, from nothingness.”

In addition to this assertion, Widtsoe asserts that God cannot create matter [out of nothing] nor can he destroy it: “God, possessing the supreme intelligence of the universe, can cause energy in accomplishing his ends, but create it, or destroy it, he cannot.” The sum of matter and energy, whatever their form, always remains the same.

Craig and Copan conclude, “Similar statements about creation from the authors quoted above and other influential traditional Mormon theologians could be multiplied many times over.”

What about contemporary Mormon scholarship? Craig and Copan show that they still affirm the views of their forerunners.

For example, the recent Encyclopedia of Mormonism asserts that creation is “organization of preexisting materials.” In an article entitled “A Mormon View on Life,” Lowell Bennion states: “Latter-Day Saints reject the ex nihilo theory of creation. Intelligence and the elements have always existed, co-eternal with God. He is tremendously creative and powerful, but he works with materials not of his own making.”

Craig and Copan note, parenthetically, that “as with Roberts above, Bennion recognizes that the denial of creatio ex nihilo necessarily limits God’s power.” They continue:

Mormon philosopher Blake Ostler writes that “Mormons have rejected the Creator/creature dichotomy of Patristic theology and its logical correlaries [sic], creatio ex nihilo and the idea of God as a single infinite Absolute.”

Craig and Copan quote Ostler at length about God as an organizer, not a creator:

The Mormon God did not bring into being the ultimate constituents of the cosmos—neither its fundamental matter nor the space/time matrix which defines it. Hence, unlike the Necessary Being of classical theology who alone could not not exist and on which all else is contingent for existence, the personal God of Mormonism confronts uncreated realities which exist of metaphysical necessity. Such realities include inherently self-directing selves (intelligences), primordial elements (mass/energy), the natural laws which structure reality, and moral principles grounded in the intrinsic value of selves and the requirements for growth and happiness.

It should be abundantly clear from these quotes that the God of Mormonism is not the God of Christianity. The God of Mormonism is an organizer of pre-existing intelligences, mass, energy, laws of nature, and moral principles.

Thus, as Craig and Copan point out, the Mormon God is not omnipotent in any meaningful sense of the word. The Mormon God is severely limited in what he can do. He must work with the pre-existing entities that existed before him.

It follows that the Mormon God cannot be the ultimate source of Being, the ground of all reality, the creator of the universe and everything in it, or the ground of goodness. The Mormon God, it turns out, is more akin to Superman than the God of classical theism.