Category Archives: Creation Ex Nihilo

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.

Time, The Succession of Moments, and An Actual Infinite

Post Author:  Darrell

I recently did a couple of posts regarding the incoherence of an actual infinite and how, as a result, the eternality of matter as taught in Mormonism is impossible.  These posts can be found here and here.

I want to address another way of analyzing the concept of “eternal matter” as taught in the Mormon Church.  Let’s assume for a moment that an actual infinite is possible; could matter have always existed, i.e., could it be eternal?  Unfortunately for Mormons who hold to creation ex materia, the answer is a resounding “no.”

According to Einstein’s Theory of Relativity if matter has always existed, time has always existed, for time and matter are relative, i.e., you can’t have one without the other.   In addition, if time has always existed, the past is actually infinite.  In otherwords, prior to today there have existed an actually infinite number of moments (see the above referenced posts which discussed this fact).  However, time is a series of events or moments formed by successive addition, and it is impossible to form an actual infinite through successive addition. 

In successive addition, the collection is instantiated sequentially.  For example, if I am given one M&M at a time, no matter how many M&M’s I receive it is always possible for me to be given “one more.”  Thus, one could never say that I have an actually infinite number of M&M’s. 

In the same sense, since time is formed through successive addition, i.e., one moment followed by another, no matter how much time has passed, more time is always possible.  You can always have “one more moment.”  As a result, it is never possible to say that prior to today there has been an actually infinite amount of time.   

There are additional philosophical issues with eternal matter and the succession of moments in a beginningless/eternal universe.  Paul Copan and William Lane Craig share some of their thoughts in The New Mormon Challenge.

In order for us to have “arrived” at today, existence has, so to speak, traversed an infinite number of prior events.  But before the present event could arrive, the event immediately prior to it would have to arrive; and before that event could arrive, the event immediately prior to it would have to arrive; and so on ad infinitum.  No event could ever arrive, since before it could elapse there would always be one more event that had to have happened first.  Thus, if the series of past event were beginningless, the present event could not have arrived, which is absurd! (Copan and Craig, The New Mormon Challenge, Zondervan, 2002, 135)

The temporal series of events we call time cannot be actually infinite, and as a result, the universe, time, and matter all had to have a beginning.  The universe could not have been created ex materia, for eternal matter is impossible.  In addition to the the philosophical arguments, there is a wealth of scientific data to support the finite nature of matter, time, and the universe.  It can easily be said that nearly all signs point towards creation ex nihilo just as traditional Christianity has been declaring for nearly 2000 years.

God Bless!


Is An Actual Infinite Coherent? Part 2

Post Author:  Darrell

In my last post I discussed how an actual infinite number of things is incoherent.  How does this apply to the universe, time, and Mormonism?

The Mormon Church denies creation ex nihilo, choosing instead to teach creation ex materia, the position that God organized the universe from pre-existing matter.  In fact, Mormonism takes this position even a step further, teaching that matter, the stuff everything is made of, has always existed.

Time and matter are relative, i.e., one cannot exist without the other (see Einstein’s theory of relativity).  Therefore, if matter has always existed, time has always existed.  Time is the succession of moments; in otherwords, one moment following another makes up time.  If time has always existed, prior to today there existed an actual infinite amount of time.  As a result, there were an actual infinite number of moments prior to today.

However, an actual infinite number of things is incoherent, and whatever is incoherent is impossible.  Therefore, an actual infinite number of moments prior to today, as well as the Mormon belief of the eternal existence of matter and the universe are all impossible.


Is An Actual Infinite Coherent? Part 1

Post Author:  Darrell

In short, no.   The story of Hilbert’s Hotel helps to demonstrate this fact.  It goes like this…  Let’s say we have a hotel that has an infinite number of rooms and an infinite number of guests; as a result, the hotel is full.  If a prospective guest walks in and asks for a room, can he check in?  Since there are an infinite number of rooms, the answer must be “Yes.”  How about if an infinite number of guests arrive wanting to check in.  Can they?  Again, despite the fact that the hotel already has an infinite number of guests, since there are an infinite number of rooms, guests can always check in – even an infinite number more.

Now, let’s say that the guests in all of the odd-numbered rooms check out, how many guests are left?  There are an infinite number of total rooms.  However, there are also an infinite number of odd-numbered rooms, the guests of which checked out, and there are also an infinite number of even-numbered rooms, the ones still left occupied.  So in reality, there are still an infinite number of guests left in the hotel even though an infinite number of guests just checked out.  This means when you take an infinite away from an infinite, you still get an infinite.

Where does this leave us?  Even though Hilbert’s Hotel has an infinite number of guests and rooms, more rooms and guests can always be added.  In addition, no matter how many guests check out there will always be an infinite number of guests left.  As a result, the hotel could have a sign which reads, “Hilbert’s Hotel: Always full, Yet Rooms Are Always Available.”

This illustration points out how an actual infinite is incoherent.  In an actual infinite the whole and the parts are always equal.  You can take half away and still have an infinite, or you can add more and still have the same amount – an infinite.  However, in reality, a part can never equal a whole.  For example, two is part of four (half of it to be exact). Thus, two can never equal four.

Is there any infinite that is coherent?  Yes, a potential infinite.   A potential infinite is always finite and the whole is always greater than the parts.  In a potential infinite you can always add more, but it will never become actually infinite.  For example, let’s say you have 100 Jelly Beans in a pile.  You can always add more Jelly Beans to the pile.  In fact, you can continue to add Jelly Beans and never reach a maximum.  As a result, you could say that the pile you are creating as you add more is potentially infinite.  It is not an actual infinite because no matter how many you add, there are always a finite number of Jelly Beans in the pile.  However, it is potentially infinite because more can always be added.

In the next post, we will look at how the concept of an actual infinite applies to the universe, time, creation, and Mormonism.  Stick around.