Category Archives: Creation

What Did Ancient Israel’s Neighbors Think about the Origins of the World?

Post Author: Bill Pratt 

Ancient Israel was immersed in two dominant cultures, that of the Egyptians and that of the Mesopotamians. The Hebrew accounts of the origins of the universe stand in contrast to these ancient cultures, so it would be interesting to see a summary of what these other cultures believed.

Jim Adams provides a helpful summary of their views on the cosmogony (origins of universe) and theogony (origins of gods) in the New Mormon Challenge

First, the people of both Egypt and Mesopotamia were polytheistic (accepted many gods). Although at times each religion acknowledged a superior or high god such as Marduk or Amun-Rê, that did not constitute the dismissal of other gods from their respective pantheons.

Second, each cosmogony contains a theogony that presents the origin and genealogy of the gods with the primary purpose of specifying the hierarchical role of each god in their respective pantheon. In fact, any god in the pantheon could be proclaimed supreme over the others when that god was addressed or called upon for help.

Third, the gods are constituent with the matter of the universe, and in fact the gods are typically depicted as a personification of a particular natural phenomenon (e.g., sun, sky, water). Hence, the gods do not transcend the material world and are limited to the power of the phenomena they personify.

Fourth, the gods are engendered beings and are often depicted as creating other gods by begetting them.

Fifth, fundamental to each of the cosmogonies is a preexisting primordial realm represented by the primeval waters of chaos wherefrom the gods, humanity, and nature find their ultimate origin.

Sixth, this primordial realm transcends the gods. It limits their power, and its fundamental laws of operation are laws to which the gods are subject.

Adams cites the Jewish biblical scholar Yehezkel Kaufmann who believes that the fifth and sixth features above are the fundamental marks of ancient paganism. Kaufmann describes it as

the idea that there exists a realm of being prior to the gods and above them, upon which the gods depend, and whose decrees they must obey. Deity belongs to, and is derived from, a primordial realm. This realm is conceived of variously—as darkness, water, spirit, earth, sky, and so forth—but always as the womb in which the seeds of all being are contained.

Alternatively, this idea appears as a belief in a primordial realm beside the gods, as independent and primary as the gods themselves. Not being subject to the gods, it necessarily limits them. The first conception, however, is the fundamental one. This is to say that in the pagan view, the gods are not the source of all that is, nor do they transcend the universe. They are, rather, part of a realm precedent to and independent of them. They are rooted in this realm, are bound by its nature, are subservient to its laws.

To be sure, paganism has personal gods who create and govern the world of men. But a divine will, sovereign and absolute, which governs all and is the cause of all being—such a conception is unknown. There are heads of pantheons, there are creators and maintainers of the cosmos; but transcending them is the primordial realm, with its pre-existent, autonomous forces.

It is against this pagan background that the Hebrews presented quite a different version of cosmogony and theogony. The Hebrew God had always existed, and was responsible for creating everything that exists in the universe. Therefore, the Hebrew God was not in any way limited by a pre-existing realm.

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.

Why Is the Doctrine of Creation Ex Nihilo So Important?

Post Author: Bill Pratt 

Creation ex nihilo is the Christian doctrine that God created the universe and everything in it out of nothing. He spoke all that exists, besides himself, into existence. Why does this doctrine matter?

Francis Beckwith, Carl Mosser, and Paul Owen, editors of the The New Mormon Challenge: Responding to the Latest Defenses of a Fast-Growing Movement, write:

At the heart of every world-view is its understanding of God and the universe. From this understanding flow most of the other key components of a worldview. For nearly two millennia Christians have confessed in all their creeds that God is the “Maker of heaven and earth.” The Nicene Creed specifies that this includes “all things visible and invisible.”

At the heart of the Christian worldview is the idea that God is the creator of all other reality; there is a fundamental distinction between Creator and creation. . . .  The creedal affirmations of Christians are but reaffirmations of the first verse of the Bible, which majestically proclaims: “In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth.”

The relationship of God to the universe that humans inhabit is a foundational truth claim of every worldview. They continue:

Thomas V. Morris points out that the biblical doctrine of creation is the key to a distinctively theistic perspective on reality. He writes, “This one statement captures the heart of a theistic world-view. We live in a created universe. For centuries, theists have held that the single most important truth about our world is that it is a created world. And it is no exaggeration to add that it is one of the most important truths about God that he is the creator of this world.”

Creation ex nihilo distinguishes theism from other worldviews that dominated the ancient world.

It was, in fact, the doctrine of creation out of nothing (ex nihilo) that most fundamentally distinguished the Judeo-Christian view of God and the world from the various religions of the ancient Near East and philosophical systems of Classical Greece—all of which assumed that the world had been formed out of eternally preexisting chaotic matter.

This doctrine has profound implications for the world we live in.

According to Christian teaching, it is God’s absolute creation and continuing conservation of the universe that accounts for its existence, order, rationality, goodness, and beauty. It is because God created the universe ex nihilo and proclaimed it good that we can be assured that evil is not somehow part of the fabric of the universe but a parasite that will one day be overcome.

And finally, the scientific method, which has given us the technology that has improved our lives so much, owes its genesis to the doctrine of creation ex nihilo.

Furthermore, according to many historians of science, the Christian doctrine of creation played a significant role in the rise and development of modern science by providing many of its basic presuppositions. It has been shown that the doctrine of creatio ex nihilo was one of the reasons the scientific revolution occurred in Christian Western Europe rather than in the ancient world or some other culture. It could even be argued that, apart from the presuppositions supplied by the Christian doctrine of creation, modern science (realistically understood) would be impossible and that divorcing science from the ground of these presuppositions makes it irrational.

Who Made God? (Again)

Post Author: Bill Pratt 

If God created everything, then who created God?

The Christian answer to this question is that nobody created God because He is the one self-existent, uncaused, uncreated, eternal Being. Only things that come into existence need a cause, but God never came into existence. He has always existed and will always exist.

It is impossible for God not to exist.  While the universe and everything in it came into existence, and therefore all need a cause, God is the only Being that exists necessarily and eternally.

To ask a Christian who made God, then, is to ask who made the un-made or who created the un-created. It’s a nonsense question.

What Is the Age of the Earth?

Post Author: Bill Pratt 

There is much debate among Christians about whether the universe was created in six literal days about 10,000 years ago, or whether the universe came into existence about 13.5 billion years ago, and the earth about 4.5 billion years ago, through the creative acts of God. Who is right?

We just don’t know. Here are some important facts to remember. Bible-believing, orthodox Christians hold both views. Both sides read the Bible using the same historical-grammatical interpretive method. There are good theological arguments on both sides. The one important difference between the two views is that the old earth view is affirmed by most relevant scientific disciplines, whereas the young earth view is not.

Since this issue is not a matter of primary doctrinal importance, both sides are legitimate Christian viewpoints.  What is important to affirm is that God created the universe out of nothing. Both sides agree on that. They just disagree about how God created and when God created.

#10 Post of 2013 – How Do We Know the Universe Hasn’t Existed Eternally?

Post Author: Bill Pratt

For those of you who look to science to answer every question, cosmologists are pretty unanimous in agreeing that our universe is not eternal, and in fact begun about 14 billion years ago. You may not like this answer, and so go running toward alternative cosmologies to escape the standard big bang model of the universe. Unfortunately, there is no salvation there either.

As summarized nicely on the Wintery Knight blog, “The Borde-Guth-Vilenkin [theorem] shows that every universe that expands must have a space-time boundary in the past. That means that no expanding universe, no matter what the model, can be eternal into the past. Even speculative alternative cosmologies do not escape the need for a beginning.”

So it would appear that science is no help to those who want to desperately cling to an eternal universe. What about philosophy?

The dominant ancient metaphysical traditions have also demonstrated why the physical universe cannot be eternal. Here we quote from Edward Feser in an article he wrote for First Things:

In general, classical philosophical theology argues for the existence of a first cause of the world—a cause that does not merely happen not to have a cause of its own but that (unlike everything else that exists) in principle does not require one. Nothing else can provide an ultimate explanation of the world.

For Aristotle and Thomas Aquinas, for example, things in the world can change only if there is something that changes or actualizes everything else without the need (or indeed even the possibility) of its being actualized itself, precisely because it is already “pure actuality.” Change requires an unchangeable changer or unmovable mover.

Feser goes on to consider other great thinkers of the past:

For Neoplatonists, everything made up of parts can be explained only by reference to something that combines the parts. Accordingly, the ultimate explanation of things must be utterly simple and therefore without the need or even the possibility of being assembled into being by something else. Plotinus called this “the One.” For Leibniz, the existence of anything that is in any way contingent can be explained only by its origin in an absolutely necessary being.

But why can’t the first cause, the necessary being, “the One,” be the universe itself instead of God? What is the difference between an eternal Creator and an eternal universe?

The difference, as the reader of Aristotle or Aquinas knows, is that the universe changes while the unmoved mover does not, or, as the Neoplatonist can tell you, that the universe is made up of parts while its source is absolutely one; or, as Leibniz could tell you, that the universe is contingent and God absolutely necessary. There is thus a principled reason for regarding God rather than the universe as the terminus of explanation.

So, positing the universe as an eternally existing thing that is the cause of everything else both collides with modern science and with classical metaphysics. I happen to think the metaphysical arguments are stronger, but maybe you prefer the science. Either way, it don’t look good for an eternal universe.

Has God Dealt Justly with the Human Race? Part 1

Post Author: Bill Pratt

So many people complain that God, if he exists, is a tyrant who expects too much of human beings. To ask that we trust only his Son for salvation is unfair and exclusive. How do Christians respond to these accusations?

Pastor R. C. Sproul once spoke about God’s fairness in his dealings with mankind, and I have never forgotten what he said. Sproul summarized the entire biblical account of God’s dealings with mankind to put in perspective what really happened. Here is a paraphrase of what he said with some of my own commentary to flesh out the narrative.

A perfect, self-existent being, was living in perfect community and love, not needing anything. This God is perfectly holy, righteous, loving, just, and the ground of all beauty and of all that is good.

God decides to share his love and the gift of life with finite creatures. He creates a vast universe, he creates all the laws of chemistry and physics; he fine tunes the constants of gravitational, electromagnetic, and nuclear forces so that physical life can survive. He creates trillions of stars so that one tiny planet can support life; even burned out stars are needed in sufficient quantity to produce fluorine, which is essential to life on earth.

He creates a perfectly sized star which is just the right distance from the earth to provide heat and light. He creates a moon which the earth needs to regulate the tides and keep the earth’s tilt just right for temperatures to support life.

In fact, he creates the entire known universe and everything in it with the sole purpose of providing his creatures a physical world in which to live.

After the universe is created, this God then creates creatures who scurry around the newly formed earth doing exactly what God designed them to do. At this point, God decides that he would like to create a special creature, one that bears his image. This creature will have a rational mind, a moral conscience, a free will, and an ability to freely love God his Creator.

God scoops up a clump of mud and breathes life into it and names the new creature “man.” He provides this new creature with a partner whom he calls “woman.” He tells these creatures that they are beautiful creations and that he wants to have an intimate relationship with them. They will have dominion over all the plants and animals of the earth. They will rule as the sovereign king and queen over everything God created on earth.

However, as the author and creator of the entire universe, he is authorized to set up boundaries for them. He asks them to be holy as he is holy. He asks them to keep him in focus as their Creator and to obey his guidelines which are meant for their good. God tells them that if they do not obey him, if they commit treason against him, they will die.

In part 2, we will see what happens next. Will they obey him or commit treason?

Which Evolution Debate Will Soon Be History?

Post Author: Bill Pratt

In a recent USA Today article, the headline read “Scientist: Evolution debate will soon be history.”  The first line of the article is, “Noted paleoanthropologist Richard Leakey predicts skepticism over evolution will soon be history.”  What do we make of this article?

The first thought that should come to your mind when you read this headline is the following: “Which definition of evolution is Leakey using?”  As I pointed out in a blog post a few weeks ago, there are at least 6 definitions of evolution that are commonly employed.

Unfortunately, you have to read about 10 paragraphs before getting to the answer, and even here the reporter barely covers it.  Perhaps this is because Leakey failed to provide a definition, or maybe the reporter saw no need to clearly define the term (both of these are problematic since the whole article is talking about the evolution debate ending).

So which definition of evolution is it?  Here is Leakey, quoted in the article:

If you don’t like the word evolution, I don’t care what you call it, but life has changed.  You can lay out all the fossils that have been collected and establish lineages that even a fool could work up.  So the question is why, how does this happen? It’s not covered by Genesis. There’s no explanation for this change going back 500 million years in any book I’ve read from the lips of any God.

The best I can tell is that we’re talking about definition 3 from the previous blog post: limited common descent: the idea that particular groups of organisms have descended from a common ancestor.  It is possible Leakey is referring to other definitions, but he never makes himself clear, and so we are left to guess.  He makes no mention of natural selection, universal common descent, or genetic mutations.

If Leakey is referring to limited common descent, then there is no debate at all, and he is arguing against imaginary skeptics.  Virtually every creationist accepts limited common descent.

If, however, Leakey is specifically talking about human evolution (since that is what he is an expert in), then there are several different takes from the creationist community.

Theistic evolutionists would have no problem saying that hominid (pre-human) fossils represent human ancestors.  For them, God placed a soul in the first modern humans, but planned for the process of evolution to provide the bodies.

For old earth creationists, the pre-human hominids were created by divine special creation hundreds of thousands, and even millions, of years ago.  They deny a direct evolutionary link between these hominids and modern humans.

For young earth creationists, hominid fossils represent either extinct offshoots of humans, or extinct apes, these two groups not being evolutionarily related.  Remember that for them, God specially created all major kinds of animals recently in the earth’s history (6,000 to 20,000 years ago).  Since that time, animal life has been rapidly evolving.  Therefore, there is a direct evolutionary link between some of the hominid fossils and humans (such as Neanderthal), but there is no direct evolutionary link between the ape-like hominids and humans.

Those in the intelligent design community may fall into any of these three groups, or they may have even other interpretations of the hominid fossil data.

The point of all this is that there are numerous definitions of evolution and there are numerous views about human evolution.  Before any debate about evolution can end, there is going to have to be a clear definition of terms and then strong evidence marshaled.  This article fails to do either.

As a footnote, Leakey says his reason for wanting the evolution debate to end is the following:

If you get to the stage where you can persuade people on the evidence, that it’s solid, that we are all African, that color is superficial, that stages of development of culture are all interactive, then I think we have a chance of a world that will respond better to global challenges.

What is truly bizarre about this statement is that I’m not aware of anyone from the creationist community who denies any of this.  Certainly Christian creationists have no problem affirming that all humans are descended from the same place, and would even go one further and say that we are descended from the same two people.  We would also affirm that all human races are equal in the eyes of God, and nobody disputes that development of culture is interactive.  I have no idea who Leakey is arguing against in these remarks, and so the main thrust of Leakey’s thoughts are completely lost on me.

What Is Nothing?

Post Author: Bill Pratt

There seems to be a lot of confusion over the word nothing, when scientists and philosophers are talking cosmology.  Philosophers, when speaking about the origin of the universe, will ask questions like, “Why is there something rather than nothing?” or “Did the universe come from nothing?”

When philosophers ask these questions, they have a very specific definition of the word nothing in mind.  They mean, by nothing, that literally no thing existsIt is the non-existence of everythingSeems simple enough, right?

Obviously not to some scientists, who cannot seem to grasp this concept of nothing.  We hear from them that the universe can indeed come from nothing.  For example, the universe could come from a quantum vacuum.  Or it could come from the law of gravity.  Or it could come from all the laws of physics.  Or from positive and negative energy in equilibrium.

But wait!  All of these examples of nothing are something.  They are definitely not nothing.  Quantum vacuums and gravity and energy are all very much something.  They are things that exist, and so they are not nothing.

When a scientist tells us that the universe came from nothing, but then he goes on to describe nothing to us, he is absolutely not talking about nothingNothing cannot be described.  Nothing has no properties, no existence, no substance.  It is no thing.

Where does this leave us?  Positing physical laws, energy, or quantum anything as the causes of the universe does not answer the philosophers’ questions of “Why is there something rather than nothing?” or “Did the universe come from nothing?”  In fact, science, in principle, cannot answer these questions because they are philosophical questions, not available to scientific investigation. 

Anyone who tries to answer these questions with scientific explanations is simply confused about what is being asked.

What Is the One True Christian View on Evolution?

Post Author: Bill Pratt

Trick question!  There isn’t one, despite what some people will tell you.  You see, the issue of exactly how God brought forth life on earth is just not something that is part of the essential teachings of Christianity.  What are the essential teachings of Christianity?  Those doctrines that were elucidated by the creeds and councils of the first five centuries of the church.  The question of how life formed was never a central part of these creeds and councils, so we can safely assume that the apostolic tradition was not particularly concerned with it.

Today, there are a great variety of views on the formation of life within orthodox Christianity.  Tim Keller gives a nice survey of the wide spectrum of views:

Some Christians in the highly publicized Creation Science movement . . . insist that Genesis 1 teaches that God created all life-forms in a period of six twenty-four-hour days just several thousand years ago.  At the other end of the spectrum are Christians who take the independence model and simply say that God was the primary cause in beginning the world and after that natural causes took over.  Other thinkers occupy the central positions.  Some hold that God created life and then guided natural selection to develop all complex life-forms from simpler ones.  In this view, God acts as a top-down cause without violating the process of evolution.  Others, believing there are gaps in the fossil record and claiming that species seem to “appear” rather than develop from simpler forms, believe that God performed large-scale creative acts at different points over longer periods of time.

I tend to lean toward the last view Keller mentions, but I am not completely certain and stand ready to hear differing points of view.

Why am I bringing this up?  Because there are too many non-Christians who are letting the question of evolution get in the way of their turning to Christ.  My plea is simple.  Focus on the central teachings of Christianity first.  Take a good look at Jesus Christ – who he is and what he accomplished.  After getting those things straight, you may want to investigate the origins of life to try and figure out how God created all the organisms we see around us.  Please put first things first and don’t let the debates over evolution divert you from the most important decision you’ll ever make.