Creation from nothing
Why is there anything at all? How can we make sense of things? What is real? What is true? What duty do I owe to myself, to others, to God? Human beings have been asking such questions from time immemorial. Is the cosmos we find ourselves in just an inexplicable accident, to be taken as a mere given, where we find ourselves thrown into the hands of an uncertain fate? Or is our cosmos a creation, a good gift of a good God, manifesting order, wisdom, and love to be enjoyed by God’s intended human image bearers?
Every human being has some basic way of answering such foundational questions, by way of mythos (meaning-oriented stories) and by way of logos (articulated rational order). The Christian doctrine of Creation ex nihilo lays out the relation between God and the Cosmos that frames how to respond to these questions in the light of Christ. The doctrine has Scriptural, theological, and philosophical dimensions, developed over a millennium of Christian reflection on all aspects of reality. The summation and integration of this thinking put together by Thomas Aquinas (1225-1274) is again becoming appreciated in recent times by Protestants, Orthodox, and Catholics alike. The classical doctrine is quite unlike modern notions of “creationism” and allows science and faith, head and heart, Scripture and reason, to be held together in a proper balance.
In this class, we will be make use of a recent book, Creation: A Guide for the Perplexed (2017) by Simon Oliver, a Canon of Durham Cathedral (Anglican) and Professor of Divinity at Durham University in the UK. Drawing on the thinking of the Church Fathers and Thomas Aquinas, Professor Oliver says that “This book deals with issues of fundamental theology and philosophy – particularly creation’s relation to God … The theologians of early Christianity had a clear sense that, unless we are clear before all else about exactly how creation is distinguished from God and yet relates to God, the edifice of Christian theology will quickly crumble into confusion and superstition.”
Indeed, much modern thinking on creation and creationism, whether from the atheist or “fundamentalist” perspectives, falls into exactly the trap that Prof. Oliver warns about. The early Christians found that they had to understand God’s creation not like the Greeks—and like many moderns—as if some super-being were manipulating and ordering preexisting matter, like a designer tinkering with a machine. Rather creation involves the continual coming-to-be and upholding of all things from absolutely nothing other than the creative power of the utterly transcendent Creator.
The proper doctrine of creation never sees God as another cause-among-causes in the created order. God is both utterly transcendent of and intimately present to his good creation. God does not compete with natural causes as an explanation of things. Rather natural things are sustained and enabled in their natural agency and character as secondary causes by virtue their reception of the gift of created being always being granted to them anew by God’s act of primary causation. The doctrine of Creation ex nihilo remains viable today, giving us an overarching way to see all things and to appreciate the vast rational order of the Universe that the modern natural sciences have discovered that were unknown to the ancients.
The Sections of this class on each of the different 6 pages are:
- Creation from nothing
- How to read the Scriptures
- Valuing wisdom from non-Christians
- Some Scriptural basics
- The Church Fathers on Creation
- Thomas Aquinas on creation
[Use the page numbers at the bottom to navigate back and forth between pages for this class. Use this link to return to the Introduction page for all 4 classes.]