Can there be Creation Ex Nihilo?



In Christian & Islamic Theology, one could argue that there can't be Creation Ex Nihilo since 'before' Creation there was God.

In Philosophical Naturalism (which is not Physicalism - it subsumes it), one could have an eternally existing universe, as per Hoyles (now neglected) steady-state universe; in the Big Bang theory, one could argue that whatever physical laws hold in time there must be laws that hold outside of time that condition the creation of the universe; laws are of course not nothing.

In Buddhism, it appears that the universe is eternal (though cyclical).

In all three, Nothing, does not obtain at any time.

One is reminded here of Parmenides - non-being is not.

This points towards a supposition: Creation Ex Nihilo is impossible in the strict sense; when I say strict I mean Nothing should be taken in Parmenides sense, and not say Hegel, where it means pure indeterminiteness.

Am I justified in holding to this - or are there good counter-arguments?

Mozibur Ullah

Posted 2014-04-30T23:41:48.530

Reputation: 1

Here's something interesting. The term ex nihilo contains within it an ambiguity. The "h" shows a consideration for the indeterminate, and not merely nothingness. – TheDoctor – 2018-11-17T16:24:36.773

I can only think of something like this: a (this) universe is just one of all 'possible' (or 'potential') universes. All 'possible' (or 'potential') universes are objectively just as 'real' or objectively just as 'unreal'. However, the superposition of all universes is... nothing. So, we find ourselves in a universe that, combined with all the other possible universes, adds up to nothing. Symmetry breaking. [Waves hand.] Anthropic bias. [Waves other hand.] :) – None – 2014-05-01T07:00:03.470

Possible duplicate of Can something come out of nothing or not? Why? (and, I suspect, a few others as well).

– Niel de Beaudrap – 2014-05-01T08:59:09.920

Is it possible that "creation" is a gloss we use to describe one of the boundary conditions of the universe, but that it was not 'created' per se? If we suppose that 'time' is a feature of our universe, i.e. if we take very seriously the idea that there is no time except in our universe and perhaps even that our universe is actually all that there is (there isn't even an "outside our universe"), then it's hard to see how to avoid the idea that the universe itself cannot be subject to a notion such a 'creation' without doing some violence to what we usually mean by the word. – Niel de Beaudrap – 2014-05-01T09:02:02.703



Regarding your statement about Buddhism I would refer you to this passage from the Pāli Canon, (the most complete extant early Buddhist canon).

In contradition to your statement, it shows that Buddha expressly does not speculate on cosmology.

"So, Malunkyaputta, remember what is undeclared by me as undeclared, and what is declared by me as declared. And what is undeclared by me? 'The cosmos is eternal,' is undeclared by me. 'The cosmos is not eternal,' is undeclared by me. 'The cosmos is finite'... 'The cosmos is infinite,' ... is undeclared by me.

"And why are they undeclared by me? Because they are not connected with the goal, are not fundamental to the holy life. They do not lead to disenchantment, dispassion, cessation, calming, direct knowledge, self-awakening, Unbinding. That's why they are undeclared by me.

Majjhima Nikaya 63, Cula-Malunkyovada Sutta

Broadly related:

"Concerning the seen, the heard and the cognized he does not form the least notion. That brahmana who does not grasp at a view, with what could he be identified in the world?"

Sutta Nipata 4.5, 'Paramatthaka Sutta: On Views'

Personally, it seems any cosmological prior state of 'nothing' is existentially problematic.

Heidegger analyses the phenomenology of 'nothing' here: The distinction between essentia and existentia in Scholasticism, in which 'nothing' is described as "the purest indeterminate possibility of everything possible" - so not an actual state. However, the Thomist and Suarez schools apparently differ in their philosphical systems in this area, as described in the last section here: Catholic Encyclopedia, Essence and Existence, so it is unclear whether there is a standard view.

Chris Degnen

Posted 2014-04-30T23:41:48.530

Reputation: 3 038

So at least Buddha agreed with me. (Phew!) That's a good Sunday – Asphir Dom – 2014-05-01T12:30:00.950


To answer this question requires careful consideration of exactly what the phrase "creation ex nihilo" (or "creation from nothing") implies. Grammatically speaking, this phrase specifies absolutely nothing about the initial conditions before the creation. It simply specifies that the creation itself must be completely from nothing. To put it in another sense, God could exist before this creation--but it would still be ex nihilo if there was no matter or energy in the pre-creation void which He used to make that creation.

To sum up, the barriers your question puts upon the meaning of creation ex nihilo are unjustifiable grammatically. Therefore, ex nihilo creative work is possible.


Posted 2014-04-30T23:41:48.530

Reputation: 21


Your argument hits me as a modal problem.

In what sense are laws not nothing? If there is nothing to obey them, then I would argue that laws are a restructuring of nothing and thus are themselves nothing.

Otherwise the universe teems with laws that control the actions of all the absent things that might have existed. Etiquette for the unicorns in Camelot becomes intractably complex -- they cannot do anything, given their nonexistence, and yet they have boundless and limitless obligations.

This seems extravagant in the extreme. Occam would fall over stricken were he not already dead. So I would argue that laws that cannot be followed to do not exist. They are merely potential. If potentiality is a category of existence, ontology immediately develops all kinds of paradoxes.

Later psychoanalysis avoids this by firmly dividing cardinal, fixed and mutable realities, barring from full existence rules that have no referents or effects and potential things that are never realized, even though these have definite effects on our behavior through symbolism and idealization. I think this is justified.

If there are limitations on what can exist, those limitations are not things, they are only potential things that must exist if anything else exists.

Thus the Big Bang really does constitute creation ex nihilo.


Posted 2014-04-30T23:41:48.530


How about Platos Forms in his cosmology? Suppose we think that there could be other laws...then a different universe may be possible; Lewis's modal world cosmology loosens all these restrictions apart from Contradiction. – Mozibur Ullah – 2015-04-03T19:35:00.437

I'd argue potential things are not nothing in the strict Parmenidian sense; but they are in Hegel. – Mozibur Ullah – 2015-04-03T19:36:03.513

His Nothing is pure indeterminiteness. – Mozibur Ullah – 2015-04-03T19:36:28.920

potentiality, as indeterminateness is, as you say, strictly not contained an ontological category; but possibly, as you say in a modal category; however, when I'm asking for creation ex nihilo - I'm asking about the Parminidean Nothing; which is unclear from my question. – Mozibur Ullah – 2015-04-03T19:44:08.287

To me the question is whether we need to segment existence, or whether it can be one cohesive thing. I think something as basic as Russel's paradox points out that we need to either segment reality in some very absolute way or abandon the intuition of negation. If the word 'nihilo' has any meaning, then we are not abandoning negation. I have edited in my own favorite segmentation in response to your comments. – None – 2015-04-03T19:44:34.427

Ok; I can't say I disagree with what you're saying; but I want to emphasise my starting point is different - I'm asking about a Parmenidian Void; I'll alter my question to reflect that. – Mozibur Ullah – 2015-04-04T08:46:17.293

OK, but people can just be wrong, and Parmenides was just wrong. If all is one, either logic is severely compromised, or we need to reject the notion of negation, and therefore of 'nothing' completely. – None – 2015-04-04T17:19:24.623

Sure; people can be wrong. But I'm not arguing for Parmenidian Oneness here; just his notion of Nothing in terms of the question asked. – Mozibur Ullah – 2015-04-05T09:23:25.050

Which forces us right into Russel's paradox and is not logically tenable. You only have this particularly strong notion of Void because it is based on the Oneness of everything, at least to the point the One can be negated. It presumes a strong connectedness of reality that is so strong it is logically inconsistent. No one needs to make sense out of nonsense, and Parmenides Void is nonsense. – None – 2015-04-05T13:13:31.860

In what way is Russell's paradox is relevant here? I'm using Parmenides notion of Nothing because it's this notion I want to examine in relation to the World; I'm not examining here his notion of Oneness and what it might mean. – Mozibur Ullah – 2015-04-05T15:35:38.107

As for making sense out of nonsense - this is what one reading of Russell's Paradox did to Freges conceptual system; it had to re shaped ditto with Russell - his theory of ramified types. – Mozibur Ullah – 2015-04-05T15:44:50.000

To say 'All is One' is as much of a platitude of holism as 'All is Atomic' of reductionism; both need to qualified to mean anything sensible; I'm interested in Parmenides argument in part out of its own intrinsic interest, and that it was important historically - doesn't it pique your curiosity that atoms at one point were conceptualised as Parmenidian Ones - at least by Liebniz? – Mozibur Ullah – 2015-04-05T15:49:25.550

And is it worth saying that paraconsistent logic allows both Russell's Set and the Universal Set to be both made meaningful from a Set Ontology? – Mozibur Ullah – 2015-04-05T15:51:57.647

But all that logic becomes preconditions and undermines the idea of the Void. If there are crazy layers of rules that must be applied in order to make sense of anything, then those requirements exist, and there is no Void. If those rules really are optional, then there is no need for anything to acutally work. You can let Buddhism solve that for you, but I then you lose the abiliity to define 'nothing' so precisely, becsause 'nothing' procees from an idea of a thing and a clarity of negation that you have just washed away with the Buddhism... – None – 2015-04-05T16:14:00.747

Basically, I am just coming around to agreeing with the end of the first answer. 'Nothing' is intrinsically so problematic that it must be illusory, and the stricter notions of 'nihilo', including Parmenides are false presentations based on human misunderstanding. – None – 2015-04-05T16:22:41.117

Well, Parmenides would agree with you - he only introduces it to dismiss it. – Mozibur Ullah – 2015-04-05T16:33:46.733