Contingency per se Entails creatio ex nihilo

Every contingency is brought into being from a state of affairs in which it does not actually exist; from a condition of things in which it is nowhere to be found. And as this is true of each contingency, so therefore is it true of all contingencies, and of the whole lot of them taken together. Contingent being as such comes into being from a prior state of its own non-being.

In a state of affairs in which there are no contingent beings, there is nothing but necessary being. If contingent beings are to be brought into existence from this state of affairs, there are only two possibilities: either they are made from God, and he furnishes from his own actuality the matter of their becoming; or he creates them from nothing. If the former, then, as departments of God, contingencies are in fact necessities. They aren’t contingent in the first place. This is monism. It radically contradicts experience as such, which it has no alternative but to declare our lives illusory and radically unintelligible. So it can’t be true: we can’t really even think it might be true.

Creatio ex nihilo must therefore be true. Having come into existence from nothing turns out to be an inherent aspect of contingent being.

111 thoughts on “Contingency per se Entails creatio ex nihilo

  1. Pingback: Contingency per se Entails creatio ex nihilo | Neoreactive

  2. @Kristor – This does not apply to uncreated beings such as God, who is an uncaused cause.

    If Men are also uncreated beings (as Mormons believe) then Men are also uncaused causes.

    The proof breaks down.

      • @Kristor – My argument depends only on the reality of ‘free will’ – if will is genuinely free, then men are (to *some *extent – it does not need to be completely) uncaused causes. And the genuine freedom of will is absolutely intrinsic to Christianity.

      • But you have not answered my question: are you in any respect contingent? Could you possibly be different in any way whatever? If you are the least bit free, it would seem so. If so, you are not necessary, and your existence requires an exogenous cause.

    • Mormons do not believe men are uncaused beings. They are caused by the reproduction of Elohim and his wives. So, they are still contingent. A serious problem with Mormonism is its utter lack of necessary beings.

  3. Pingback: Contingency per se Entails creatio ex nihilo | Reaction Times

  4. here’s the deal: logic doesn’t prove anything in reality, doesn’t exist independent of the mind, is a formal description of how we think.

    there’s no sense in saying logic has proved something, except in the cases of axioms and tautology (which are merely speech acts; definition and grammar).

    we can take lawrence krauss and make a sound argue that nothing isn’t a true state of affairs. we can take the philosophical objections to creatio ex nihilo and say there’s no reason to presume there wasn’t always something.

    creatio ex nihilo is no proof of the gods. what it stands to represent is that something has always existed. but in order to remain coherent, that something must be causal to what is contingent. ex similibus sicut.

    this demands creatio ex se and makes it very difficult to have a deity which is not in some important way, like the contingency he created. how would he not be an object; which tillich and robinson try to get around, however well or poorly they do.

    the biggest mistake would be making a conclusory leap from rationally necessitating some eternal reality to automatically attributing volition to it.

    there is no rational way to necessitate volition.

    since we like logic here, then we have to apply the principle of parsimony. in doing so, inevitably we’d have to dismiss the idea of god’s outright; there are problems with occur with the idea that just appear with a non volitional first cause.

    • … logic doesn’t prove anything in reality, doesn’t exist independent of the mind, is a formal description of how we think.

      there’s no sense in saying logic has proved something, except in the cases of axioms and tautology (which are merely speech acts; definition and grammar).

      Is that a logical argument?

      • it sure is. the fact that it takes a logical form is not what justifies the conclusion being true. “reasons to assert” justify propositions.

        there isn’t anyone who has ever taken even a cursory or casual course in first oder logic who would disagree here. it is a fact that perfectly formed arguments have false conclusions, and a fact that the most invalid logic may have true conclusions.

        what’s to say then but everything i have?

      • as for your post, ex nihil nihil fit is the argument for first cause, not creatio ex nihilo (since the latter arbitrarily makes a special case by merely saying god is not a created being; the latter necessitates a first cause and can be the only explanation since infinite regression has no capacity to explain anything ultimately … such as “why anything at all?”)

        but again, volition (the only attribute that makes first cause a case for the gods) cannot be rationally necessitated.

      • why anything at all?

        because something has always existed. well, if the universe is contingent, how did it come into being?

        well, either from things themselves contingent or from something not contingent.

        so ultimately, what you’re saying is that “turtles all the way down” doe’s explain “why anything at all” and to have any explanation, we have to conclude something is eternal?


        is that god?

        no, not if it lacks volition.

        is it an impressionistic guess that it is or isn’t volitional?


        so does the existence of the universe prove god created it?

        no. again, something itself contingent could be the sufficient cause. first cause only applies to the question “why anything at all”. the first cause is a necessary cause for any and all contingent realities, by definition. however, there may in fact be no first cause at all. we’re inferring and merely being as rational as we can in guessing what we cannot know or prove in reality.

        (this is how the conversation ought to go)

      • Why anything at all? Because it turns out to be impossible to obtain nothing at all. If it were possible, its possibility would (somehow or other) be something.

      • meh. it may be possible. just because we cannot conceive of “such a world” (i had no idea folks still enjoyed invoking medival concepts like possible worlds. that’s cute.) does not mean a state of “no worlds” cannot obtain and in fact was not an initial state prior to “anything at all”.

        should you want to play that semantic game, then i should say that to exist is to manifest in reality, and given that god transcends reality, god literally does not exist. but, i don’t do that kind of illogical pigeon-holeing and your objection here, is semantic and trivial.

      • That’s one of the things people seem to say when logic arrives at conclusions they find disagreeable: “Oh, that’s just logic-chopping, just words and concepts.” Their own arguments likewise use logic and words – how not? – but for them this is perfectly OK.

      • kristor, this is not to you but to my rather indignant critic, whom i can’t directly respond to …

        in fact, that’s entirely straw. it does not follow from what i’ve said that we can’t know anything or prove anything. what i have said follows very cleanly with pragmatic principles about epistemology; namely, that truth is indistinguishable from justification, and that we can only then discuss justification because these, not truth, have epistemic basis. it happens too, the sciences have realized this and adopted model-dependent theories themselves. (see mlodinow/hawking in “the grand design”, somewhere around page 40).

        now, it is a truism that if pragmatic views of truth and particularly justification, were not the case, then surely no argument would ever form having entirely the basis of “here are the reasons to think so”; for the “truth” sans justification wouldn’t vex folks like pontius pilot or aristotle or realists in general, ever. it would be plain to us. instead, it isn’t and so, aside from axioms, tautology, and truism, we only believe what is true because we believe we are justified to call it so.

        if you need a light for the straw, i’m happy to loan you my matches.

      • here though, kristor, to say there is a critic of logic using logic and this is somehow self-defeating is pedestrian and from not knowing what logic is. you are essentially saying that since we both have thinking brains, it’d be self-defeating to criticize how another brain is thinking … because it too is a brain that is thinking.

        logic is a formal description of HOW we ALL think. formalized logic was developed EXACTLY in order to critique poor reasoning.

        what you’ve just appealed to is called a hasty generalization, and an appeal to ridicule, and a genetic fallacy. if i had to guess, you can do better and i hope you do.

        let’s presume that i am just any ordinary, perfectly rational person, eh? that means i don’t just want to believe any old thing; i want to believe the most justified things there are to believe. it’d also mean i wouldn’t go about getting there by dismissing folks that disagreed with me simply for the fact they do.

        it seems there is no point i have made that you actually try to engage and justify. instead, you’ve dismissed each one by not addressing them, or naming them and dismissing them out of hand. that does not sound to me like we share the same goals in what we believe and why.

      • Steven, you were the one who replied to a responsive argument with a dismissive “Meh; how medieval; trivial semantic games,” and so forth.

        Notice please that “nothingness is impossible” does not at all contradict “something has always existed.” Indeed, if nothingness is impossible, it follows trivially that something has always existed. I.e., we are not in disagreement on this score, and I was not objecting to your argument in the first place – let alone dismissing it or ridiculing it, as you have done with mine – but rather chiming in to support it.

        Pluck the beam out of your own eye.

      • oh, i don’t think any of us would hold different conclusions, mate. what we’re all deliberating is how we get there, how we justify.

        my only real point is that creation ex nihilo is not an epistemological proof not a logical argument that entails any logical “must” and is not demonstrable “true”.

        with me?

      • Um, no. Not because I’m not trying! It would help if you slowed down even so much as to punctuate properly.

        I still don’t understand why you are taking me to be arguing that creatio ex nihilo is itself an argument for some other proposition. I haven’t offered any such arguments in this thread, so far as I can tell; have not adduced it as a premise, but rather only concluded to it from the nature of contingency. If I am not deploying it even as a premise, then certainly I am not suggesting that it alone is any sort of argument – epistemological or otherwise – for or against anything.

        Can you demonstrate that creatio ex nihilo “is not demonstrably true” – that, i.e., it cannot possibly be demonstrated? So far, I cannot see that you have yet shown even how my own little argument for ex nihilo creation of contingencies is flawed, let alone that there are no possible successful arguments for it. Indeed, you are asking (very good and interesting) questions that show you are still trying to understand it.

        I get hives when people put scare quotes around the word ‘truth.’ What are we, Pontius Pilate? If it isn’t true, it’s false. That should suffice.

      • clearly i’ve miscommunicated. my point is that your conclusion “creatio ex nihilo must be true” is not true. while it may be that all contingent things were in fact created from nothing, you have made no case in which the ONLY conclusion is THAT this is the only way contingent things are created. obviously, that’s not the case.

        so, a valid argument you may have, but it is not a necessary conclusion.

        my entire set of comments about creatio ex se, examples of contingency birthing more contingency, etc. was not to prove anything about gods or anything else. they were to be counter examples 1) of why creatio ex nihilo cannot be necessitated, 2) it has not been presented as a necessity and so the ultimate point that “ex nihilo *must* be true” does not follow from your premises (therefore is not valid or sound), and 3) with ex nihilo nihil fit, tried to give an example of what constitutes a necessary conclusion.

        that’s about as slow as i can go. we on the same page?

        i’ll try to be more clear. sorry.

      • … you have made no case in which the ONLY conclusion is THAT this is the only way contingent things are created. Obviously, that’s not the case.

        Now at last we may be getting somewhere. You assert that I have made no case, but you have not shown it. You may be able to. But I don’t think we have been on the same page about what I am arguing, and what I am not. It would be good to get there before you try to knock down my argument.

        I am not arguing that contingent things make no causal contribution to each other. That would be silly. I am arguing only that the ultimate source of a contingent thing’s being cannot itself be contingent. Contingent things can shape each other, but they cannot create.

        Perhaps if I plot this out on a timeline it will become clearer. Say that your intention to scratch is A, and the scratch itself is B. A clearly contributes to B. But until B is somehow there to receive the contribution from A, there’s no place that A’s contribution can go. A and B must both actually exist in order for there to be any actual relations between them whatsoever, let alone causal relations. Until B has come to pass, the intention at A is aimed at a state of affairs that does not yet actually exist. A is then over and done with, and B has not yet completely happened. Until it has, and it is fully actual, it just won’t be true that A caused B, because “B” will be an empty term.

        My point is that the intention cannot bring about its own fulfillment. If it could, then B would not actually exist as a disparate event. It would be only an aspect of A. And this would be true for all events that are links in causal chains, with the result that we’d be in a block universe.

        So, a valid argument you may have, but it is not a necessary conclusion.

        Last time I checked, the conclusion of a valid argument followed from the premises necessarily. Perhaps what you mean to say is that my argument might be valid, but that alone would not make its conclusion true. Agreed. You need true premises for that.

      • well right. we’ve both agreed and articulated that something eternal must exist. but again, hear my point: it is not true “creatio ex nihilo must be true”.

        the one thing i have concerned myself with you is that, the one statement. and in fact, the reason i brought up creatio ex se is as a counter example, because if it TOO can proceed from the very same premises as creatio ex nihilo, then ex nihilo is not logically necessary (ie, cannot be said to “must” be the case).

        even went so far as to give history on what creatio ex nihilo was classically used for; theology, not apologia.

        i don’t think you appreciate the term “necessary”. it does not mean that a conclusion “necessarily” follows from a set of premises. that’s merely a requirement to be a valid argument at all.

        a necessary argument means that one and only one conclusion can be drawn. it doesn’t even relate to a conclusion actually being true or false.

        if there is one and only one conclusion from a set of premises, then it is a necessary conclusion … in which you can legitimately say “x MUST be true, at least rationally”.

        are we there yet?

      • No, we are not. Believe me, I am clear on the logic; I know the difference between a sound argument and a valid argument, and I understand logical necessity.

        That a conclusion necessarily follows from certain premises does not mean that it is necessarily true, *unless* the premises too are necessarily true.

        But there is no requirement that one and only one conclusion may follow (whether or not it be true) from a given set of premises. What follows, follows; and any number of things might follow from a set of premises, depending on their implications. Socrates is a bachelor, men are mortal, and bachelors are men; from these premises it follows necessarily that Socrates is a man and that he is mortal; if the three premises are also true, then there is no possibility that either of the two conclusions can be false: their truth is logically necessary.

      • oh lord. listen, i really don’t do well when folks say they know things they don’t. in philosophy, it becomes clear when a techical word like “necessity” means something very distinct and formal, and a person mistakes the appearance of the word (like “necessarily [follows]”) as being at all the same thing … because they really don’t know the term at all.

        i’m going to leave you with this article from SEP. i can’t take the time to discuss the fact that my point is about modality and you’re conflating it with logical grammar.

        to say “x must be true” is a conclusion that not only implies a truth-value (what you’re conflating) and a modality (whether or not the conclusion is or is not in a certain mode).

        i no longer think that i’m going to fast. i no longer think i’m missing your point. i no longer think the failing here is mine. i do think, however, i’m simply saying things you really don’t genuinely understand (but not that you couldn’t, of course).

        cheers, mate.

        all the best …

      • and no again in saying you need true premises to make a valid argument.

        i may be spinning my wheels here.

        valid only means that if and only if we TAKE the premises AS true, and if the conclusion follows, then the argument is valid.

        what you’ve described is called “sound”. sound arguments are ALWAYS valid and the only difference is the premises are ACTUALLY true. it means in that case, we rationally can’t do anything but take the conclusion to be actually true as well; though in reality, come to find out, it may not be.

        as to talking about arguments being flawed but yielding true conclusions, or invalid arguments having true conclusions … well, that was in my very first comment, no?

      • Steven, you are going too fast. You are not reading carefully enough. I did not say that true premises are needed for a valid argument. I said that true premises and a valid form of argument are needed in order for the conclusion of the argument to be true.

      • listen, i’ll be the first to admit when i’m wrong, and i may be here, but if you don’t mind, tell me how a quick or slow read here would lead anyone in general to anything other than the way i took it?

        me: So, a valid argument you may have, but it is not a necessary conclusion.

        you: Last time I checked, the conclusion of a valid argument followed from the premises necessarily.

        the point you were responding to? what constitutes a necessary conclusion.

        what did i do? explain not only what a necessary conclusion means, and went on to go ahead and just tell you in detail what a valid argument is and what a sound argument is … why? because you described conditions of a sound argument and called it valid one. i’m sorry for being thorough, but if you foray off on this point, it’d only be to avoid the point, which is that you do not know what a necessary conclusion is … my whole entire reason for ever commenting at all. remember “creatio ex nihilo MUST BE true”? that whole thing?

      • Slow down. You’re tripping over your own feet. The conclusion of a valid argument necessarily follows from its premises, *whether or not it is true.* “It necessarily follows” does not mean “it is necessarily true.” If however the premises of a valid argument are true, then the truth of the conclusion follows and its truth is necessary.

        Just slow down and read more carefully, so that you can be sure you are responding to what I have actually said.

      • at this point, it’s clear. you are still talking about how to properly argue that the sky is blue and my point is that it isn’t always blue, that we can’t say it must be blue. you have a very casual (if any) understanding of necessity. mode, my friend. mode. could, couldn’t, must, mustn’t, possible, impossible, etc.

        i’ll leave you to your (hopefully) studies.

      • Bad writing again – muddied, ungrammatical, wordy. Here’s the proper English for you:

        A necessary conclusion is true in all possible worlds.

        I don’t do well with folks who cannot write, or who repeatedly and pitifully miss the plain point, or who mistake again and again what others have said, or who go off on wild goose chases on the bases of their risible puerile misapprehensions, or who play gotcha (“Ha! You thought I was talking about logical necessity all this time when really I was talking about modal necessity! Fooled you!”) – or who cannot (or will not) mount a cogent argument, instead resorting to bare assertions, snark, and supercilious condescension.

        Do you really mean to suggest that the conclusion of a valid argument from its premises follows in some other mode than necessity? Is it in your phantastic world only contingently true that if p then q, and p, therefore q? I am not asking, mind, about the truth of q, or about the mode either of p or of q – you would do better to avoid repeating such grotesque errors of reading comprehension, if you can – but only about the mode of the implication.

        If you’ve got an argument that shows that contingent things could be created other than ex nihilo, let’s hear it. You have not so far furnished anything of the sort. It really would be interesting to read one. But so far you have given no evidence of competence to write even a coherent paragraph, let alone a compelling argument.

        I do think, however, I’m simply saying things you really don’t genuinely understand.

        On the contrary. As you have repeatedly admitted in this thread, you have failed to understand at the most basic level what I am saying. E.g.:

        Steven Hoyt: As for your post, ex nihilo nihil fit is the argument for first cause, not creatio ex nihilo …

        Kristor: I wasn’t arguing that there must be a First Cause.

        Steven Hoyt: I realize. You were saying creatio ex nihilo proves something. It in fact, doesn’t.

        Kristor: No, I truly wasn’t. I was arguing to creatio ex nihilo, not from it.


        Kristor: … my argument might be valid, but that alone would not make its conclusion true … You need true premises for that.

        Steven Hoyt: And no again in saying you need true premises to make a valid argument.

        Kristor: I did not say that true premises are needed for a valid argument. I said that true premises and a valid form of argument are needed in order for the conclusion of the argument to be true.

        E.g.: you cannot seem to grasp that there is a fundamental, critical difference between saying that q follows necessarily from p and saying that q is necessary. You took me to have been saying the latter when I was saying the former. But, that q follows necessarily from p just does not mean that q is necessary (or even true). We can assert that q is necessary only if it follows necessarily – i.e., validly – from p, and if p is necessary.

        [Notwithstanding all that, I do think it necessarily true that contingencies must be created ex nihilo. I.e., I think that it is necessarily true that they cannot be created from God, nor from contingencies, but therefore only from nothing. I think that the premises of this argument are necessary, and that the conclusion follows from them validly, so that it, too, is necessary.

        You have asserted – I cannot honestly say “argued” – on the contrary that creatio ex se follows from these same premises. Not that I would be troubled if it did – nor, so far as I can see, would my conclusion – but you have not shown that it does indeed follow. You have not even defined creatio ex se.]

        Your writing is execrably muddled. E.g.:

        … the ultimate point that “ex nihilo *must* be true” does not follow from your premises (therefore is not valid or sound) …

        “Valid” and “sound” properly characterize arguments, not conclusions of arguments.

        Despite your evident intelligence, it is hard to resist the impression from the mess of your exposition that your thoughts are likewise somewhat disordered. You can throw off hyperlinks to SEP articles till the cows come home, but until you can assemble clear, intelligible, cogent and compelling arguments, you’ll just be pissing in the wind.

      • the challenge, my friend, is demonstrating that your argument takes a form that sets the mode “in all possible worlds, x and only x”; the ” creatio ex nihilo MUST BE” portion of your conclusion. my counter example was creatio ex se, the view that god created all contingent things from himself. since the very same premises used in your argument can have two very different, valid conclusions, then your argument does not take a mode of necessity (as i said in my first comment, there is no MUST about it creatio ex nihilio). it “necessarily follows” that is we take creatio ex se as true, then we do not take creatio ex nihilo as true, if both are epistemological assertions. i said historically, creatio ex nihilo is not an epistemological proposition but a theological statement; even pointed you to nicholas of susa making that point centuries ago.

        son, if by this point you can’t rub two cents together enough to see i’ve been more thoroughly consistent and diligent than a student working toward an into thesis to begin his MA, i doubt you know what substantive means. largely, i think we could agree that’s because you have yet to study epistemology and went headlong in that direction in talking about creatio ex nihilo and “must bes” and “truths” as if you were even acquainted witb any of those terms formally rather than casually.

        since i’m at my wit’s end and from here i can only promise ugliness, i’ll cut that short and end my comments to you. they after all, are falling on deaf ears.

        all the best,


      • Your comments are not falling on deaf ears. I am earnestly and honestly trying to understand and reckon with your arguments. I have been stymied by your inarticulate and sloppy writing. But this at last – despite being riddled with syntactical errors – is something I can work with.

        Creatio ex se – or creatio ex deo, as it is usually called – does not contradict creatio ex nihilo, provided both are properly construed. Creatio ex nihilo does not and cannot mean “creation out of some stuff that is nothing;” that’s an incoherent concept, a contradiction in terms. So creatio ex nihilo does not indicate that God reached out into the nothingness that surrounded him (because he is absolute, nothing is outside God) and out of it built creatures. It means properly, “creation out of nothing that is independent of God.” Creatio ex deo, for its part, cannot coherently mean that God creates by somehow sequestering a jot of his own substance in and as a creature, for if it did then creatures would just be God (as with the Incarnation), and the distinction between them would vanish.

        It turns out that when we construe creatio ex deo and creatio ex nihilo coherently, they terminate on the same notion. Bill Vallicella does a superb job of explaining the integrity of these two notions of creation, showing that their disparity is only apparent. In the process, he reconciles creatio ex nihilo with ex nihilo nihil fit. While he does not explicitly address nemo dat quod non habet and ex similibus sicut, he effects a reconciliation with them, too. It is an elegant piece of work. Read the whole thing (his precedent post is also worthy). The key paragraphs:

        When I say that God creates ex Deo what I mean is that God operates on entities that are not external to God in the sense of having existence whether or not God exists. I build a rock cairn to mark the trail by piling up otherwise scattered rocks. These rocks exist whether or not I do. My creation of the cairn is therefore not ex nihilo, but out of materials external to me. If God created in that way he would not be God as classically conceived, but a Platonic demiurge. So I say that God creates out of ‘materials’ internal to him in the sense that their existence depends on God’s existence and are therefore in this precise sense internal to him. (I hope it is self-evident that materials need not be made out of matter.) In this sense, God creates ex Deo rather than out of materials that are provided from without. It should be obvious that God, a candidate for the status of an absolute, cannot have anything ‘outside him.’

        Suppose properties are concepts in the divine mind. Then properties are necessary beings in that they exist in all metaphysically possible worlds just as God does. The difference, however, is that properties have their necessity from another, namely God, while God has his necessity from himself. (This distinction is in Aquinas.) Suppose that properties are the ‘materials’ or ontological constituents out of which concrete contingent individuals – thick particulars in Armstrong’s parlance – are constructed. (This diverges somewhat from what I say in PTE, but no matter: it is a simplification for didactic purposes.) We can then say that the existence of contingent individual C is just the unity or contingent togetherness of C’s ontological constituents. C exists iff C’s constituents are unified. Creating is then unifying. Since the constituents are necessary beings, they are uncreated. But since their necessity derives from God, they are not independent of God.

        In this sense, God creates out of himself: he creates out of materials that are internal to his own mental life. It is ANALOGOUS to the way we create objects of imagination. (I am not saying that God creates the world by imagining it.) When I construct an object in imagination, I operate upon materials that I myself provide. Thus I create a purple right triangle by combining the concept of being purple with the concept of being a right triangle. I can go on to create a purple cone by rotating the triangle though 360 degrees on the y-axis. The object imagined is wholly dependent on me the imaginer: if I leave off imagining it, it ceases to exist. I am the cause of its beginning to exist as well as the cause of its continuing to exist moment by moment. But the object imagined, as my intentional object, is other than me just as the creature is other than God. The creature is other than God while being wholly dependent on God just as the object imagined is other than me while being wholly dependent on me.

        If Vallicella is right that ex deo and ex nihilo do not properly assert different things, then neither is a counterexample to the other.

        Vallicella may be wrong. But I for one can’t see how to show that he is.

      • nothing to do with contradiction, mate!

        if god either created from himself or literally out of nothing, you cannot say either **must** be anything; they rely on the same premises and either of them **could be** the case!

        so, no! it is not true that “creatio ex nihilo MUST BE true” precisely because it only MAY BE true.

        my writting, since you keep appealing to it as an excuse, is perfectly fine. your only complaint can be that i don’t use capitalization, or that your reading level is below a graduating highschool senior’s. and only one of these, i’m responsible for.

        don’t bother with replies. you simply can’t get there from here.

      • Again, you are just not reading what has been written. It cannot be the case that God either created from himself simpliciter or literally out of nothing, because both those alternatives are incoherent. Neither one of them can work. Nor then, insofar as they are incoherently construed, can either of them be a proper conclusion from the premises. Only if they are incoherently construed can they be construed as truly different.

        You seem determined to “win” by means of snark, insult, condescension, and misdirection, by deliberate misreading and sloppy rhetoric. It’s pathetic, as well as ugly. You are not an honest interlocutor. I.e., you are a troll. I shall now stop feeding you.

      • sigh. you don’t know what incoherent means now?

        p1) god is non contingent
        p2) god created all contingent things
        c1) god created from himself, OR
        c2) god created from nothing at all

        name the incoherency, eh?

        you still don’t seem to get the fact (hilariously) that you 1) just said your entire post has an incoherent conclusion, and 2) neither argument is valid or invalid because they somehow “work” or not; both can be perfectly arranged into a valid argument, and 3) since EITHER conclusion is POSSIBLY true, NEITHER are NECESSARILY true.

        but again, i give up.

        it’s your wall and you seem to want the last word; have at it.

      • Oh, don’t give up! Just go back and read more carefully – obviously you still have not done so – and you’ll then be able to reflect back, and then reflect upon, and respond to, what has actually been written.

        Now I really will stop.

      • you: Perhaps what you mean to say is that my argument might be valid, but that alone would not make its conclusion true. Agreed. You need true premises for that.

        right, that’s a sound argument … and i took the time to say that not even in the case of sound arguments does the argument form create a necessary conclusion. i’ve already said what does, so valid and sound are quite non sequitur to necessary conclusions.

      • i can’t reply to the new critic directly, kristor, so again, my apologies …

        again, nothing i’ve said entails my disagreeing about your comments on the metaphysical questions about god. since you are catholic, i rather like fr. herbert mccabe’s comments around page 6 of “god matters”. he describes the validity of the question of god being justified by the validity of a question about the world; namely, why anything at all.

        like him, if being atheist entails to rejecting god as an answer to the question, then myself, mccabe, “and a host of theologians, like aquinas, are atheist too.”

        like mccabe, god is not an answer to the question but a response to its mystery, for “we have no concept of god … what goes for the God we try to name with the word [and ideas] ‘god’ does not god for the God we’re trying to name.”

        all i would disagree with you on is the hair-splitting use of the word “efficient”. metaphysics are only “efficacious”, meaningful. they’re by definition neither true or false (great expose by ayer and smith in LTL and “atheism: the case against god” respectively).

        i’m not making comments on value and worth. i’m taking up the epistemological impossibility of proving gods, of demonstrating them.

        i’m a christian. i have definite ideas on the subject of god and clearly wouldn’t disagree that any one of us concluding “there are gods” is wrong, i wouldn’t suggest that god and ideas of god are not meaningful. what i’m saying is we cannot elevate the question above metaphysics and all we can suggest is that empirically, “by way of experience”, god matters very much because of the efficacy of exploring the mystery. so much so, that it is uninteresting whether or not there actually is a god; for if there is not, certainly there is meaning for all the praxis of this way of thinking, talking, and living.

        what i wouldn’t begin to do is compare my morality with someone else’s and be the arrogant prig saying people are morally better off with a belief in god than without.

      • maybe i misunderstand then. your point seems to me entailed in your concluding paragraph; that creatio ex nihilo must be true. should that be the case, then surely i’ve explained exactly why it can’t “must” or “true” at all.

        what am i missing?

      • Well, all I said was that any and every and all x that come into being must by definition come into being from a state of affairs in which there is no x at all – a nothingness of x. Before all worlds, e.g., there were no worlds hanging about that could then be fashioned into worlds.

        All contingent x comes from a nothingness of x. That’s all I argued.

        There are lots of other related arguments about the First Cause, of course, but I wasn’t making them.

        I must say that your point about the difficulties in moving from a First Cause to a First Volition is interesting. I’m not so sure that the difficulties are fatal, provided we take “will” properly as ascribed to the First Cause. If we take it in the same way that we do when we speak of our own volition, then I think you are probably right that it is hard to draw a solid inference from a First Cause to a being with that sort of will. But then, that is not the sort of will that Classical theism has ascribed to God. Unlike any other being, he is actus purus; naturally then his will is not of the same sort as ours.

      • i wouldn’t say all x that are contingent come into being from nothingness. that’s a mistake. as surely as my painting a picture is contingent on my existing, it isn’t at all clear in any other way but that the painting came from something rather than nothing; a counter example to “all x are y and come from z”. at best, to make your point, you’d have to be rather pedantic and say the painting did not exist but now does. but this is the mistake. the claim is not about the coming into being but about its source being nothing; ie creatio ex nihilo. certainly, all that made the painting come about were a causal set of things which already existed, contingently.

        frame it this way: creatio ex nihilo was never about proving god, but instead, to say that god does and did what no contingent thing can to; which is create something literally out of nothing, not pedantically as in “this existing stuff, i used to make some neat, new, interesting rearrangement”. it was a theological idea. nicolas of cusa in “wisdom” makes this point and goes on into several terms meaning or similar to “creatio ex se” … in other words, god is why all else exists, and why ex nihilo is not an opposing claim to ex se.

        with me so far?

      • Yes, but you are not with me – you are not getting the argument I have made. That may of course be the fault of my exposition. Regardless, the confusion seems to be why you are posing numerous counterarguments to claims I have not quite made, or to which I have not even referred. Many of them are quite interesting, and they are all closely related, but they are not quite pertinent. E.g., I have not mentioned creatio ex se, either to agree or disagree with it, or for any other reason. I happen to agree that it does not contradict creatio ex nihilo, provided we parse the terms carefully enough (i.e., all things come of God, but they are not constituted of God; they are created by him, but not from him).

        I am indeed being what you call “pedantic,” and what I would call careful. I am saying that the painting came to be from a state of affairs in which the actuality of the painting was zero: from the nothingness of the painting. This transition from the inactuality of the painting to its actuality is unremarkable to us, because such acts of becoming characterize every moment of our lives. But upon examination, the act of becoming is a thundering great mystery. We don’t really know how to make things happen. We will things to happen, and then they do – or often enough they don’t. When things happen, we find that they are thoroughly and intelligibly related to other things that had happened. We find that the causal nexus is integral, a seamless web. We can see how the painting is a development of what came before it. But what we absolutely cannot do, and cannot understand, is how to obtain a new event on our own, let alone how to make it in such a way that it is intelligibly related to what came before it.

        Think of it: where did this present moment of your life come from? Did you create it? No; you found yourself in it, willy nilly. Did some prior moment of your life create it, or did some other creature create it? No. Creation is an ultimate, that no creature can get inside of and explain.

        You can demonstrate this incapacity fairly easily. Do something simple, like scratch your cheek. How did you do it? How did you reach up and scratch, how did you move your muscles to make that happen. See? That’s what I’m getting at. We can see the causal links between creaturely events, but those links aren’t doing the causing, they are only characterizing it once the causation is over and done with. We can understand what happens, but only ex post. If we could understand things ex ante, we’d be God.

      • well first, let’s blame me. i probably blew past your point without bringing you along for the ride, eh.

        i understand you. i’ll slow down though.

        i scratch my cheek. why say i’m not or that all causal necessity isn’t stochastically contained or entailed by “i scratched my cheek” entirely. this is what i don’t understand.

      • It’s tricky, I admit. Notice that the containment of the causal factors of the scratching in the event of the scratching, which we denote by “I scratched my cheek,” is indeed comprehensive. “I scratched my cheek” looks back at all the things that fed into the scratching, and notices that it happened, and that its happening was intelligibly related to your prior intention to scratch.

        But not only to your intentions. Notice also that the scratching implicitly comprehends *all* the causal factors of the scratching. Even at the corporeal level of analysis, the scratching could not have occurred without the cooperation of the entire universe. The inertial structure of the whole cosmos had to change in concert with the execution of your intention, in order for that execution to proceed. How? Did you arrange for that to happen? Where did the cosmic nisus to accommodate your act of scratching come from? Equally perplexing: where did the accommodation of the scratching act to the prior act of intending to scratch come from? The scratching was a product of the whole history of the cosmos; how is its accommodation to your prior act of intention any more intelligible than its accommodation to the prior acts of the air molecules that had to get out of the way in order for it to happen? We apprehend that the intention is somehow more intimate with its fulfillment than, say, the thoughts of Napoleon on Elba; your intention plays a more important role in the act than his thoughts. But why? How? We take that differential of importance for granted, as perhaps we must. But analytically, there seems no prior reason why it should be so.

        The deep structure of causation is deeply mysterious. It seems to be one of those things that we can’t explain because it is basic to becoming, and the basis of the intelligibility of becoming. It looks an awful lot like becoming is intelligence; that causal links are recognitions (cf. Psalm 19:2-3).

      • ah, well, for that, folks already have developed the distinction between causality and freedom; such that being free in a world that doesn’t prohibit scratching, i may scratch. so conflating the two would lead to the whole universe is causal to my act of scratching. there too, distinctions exist; for instance, causally, all explanation required to explain the fact of my scratching are entailed by “i scratch my cheek” (sufficient cause) and it may be, but hardly should be expected, that something else also contributed “indirectly” to make that happen. and, in neither case is “it” the universe. the universe is only a “necessary” cause in that it needs to exist, things being a certain way to allow for folks, and for folks to make scratching happen.

        scratching doesn’t comprehend. it is only that we both generally know what scratching means and entails that makes sense in stating “i scratched my cheek”.

        there is no real causal cooperation. there’s simply an environment where certain things can happen, and other things, not.

      • I’ve tried, but your prose is so messed up that I can’t figure out what you are trying to say here, or how it relates to my answer to your question. Sure, in a world that permits your scratching, you may scratch. But how do you do it? I submit that we can’t answer that question.

        OK, how about this: I think that this is the central question: how do you be? I don’t think we can answer that question.

        There is no real causal cooperation. There’s simply an environment where certain things can happen, and other things, not.

        I don’t think this does justice to the facts. I mean, it’s obviously true so far as it goes, but there’s more at work in stitching the cosmos together from one moment to the next than, “such and such is possible, so it can happen.” It’s possible that you could go one way, and the rest of the world could go another; but if that were to happen, you’d leave the world and be in some other – or the world would leave you, which would amount to the same thing.

        What it is practically possible for us to do and remain members of this world is tightly constrained by what it is compossible for us and the world to do. E.g., I can’t eat my cake and still have it on the counter over there. Whichever way I decide to go in respect to my cake, the rest of the world has to go along with my decision if that decision is to be carried through act into fact. If I eat my cake, the world cannot then be such that Kristor has not eaten his cake.

        And there is massive coordination involved in fitting all those different acts independently determined by each item of the cosmos into an integrity.

      • the world does not go along with you. that’s like saying the ocean is as it is because of … surfing.

        no, the universe is necessary for us to do anything at all. it plays no important role in my very complete causal explanation of how surfing is possible and how to surf.

        if you asked how surfing worked and i started with “well, let me explain atoms and then we’ll move on to laws of motion”, you’d think i was nuts!

        the universe is necessary for surfing. to explain surfing, it is completely unnecessary; since here, we are most interested in sufficient causes and perhaps indirect causes.

        your expectation is that in order to explain anything, we have to explain (know) everything, and that’s just lunacy.

        the only requirement of any explanation is that it satisfies the person asking the question. if you don’t think “i scratched my cheek” does justice to all of the facts, then it’s clear you didn’t just want to know why or how i did. you would be the child asking his parents “why” after every single answer they gave.

        you need to learn the role of speech acts, of modes of causation, modes of propositional conclusions, and realize quit frankly, “necessary cause”, “necessary conclusion”, and “necessarily follows” are all three vastly different things and that the word “necessary” in formal epistemology has meanings that are not exchangeable.

      • @Steven Hoyt

        Thank you for the new screen name; my choice boiled down to The Arrogant Prig and Moloch Worshipping Faggot, a name given to me by an acquaintance at Oxford. If you know a morally deranged man who needs a screen name, please pass Moloch Worshipping Faggot along. On Facebook, the most obvious sign of moral derangement is a selfie with a superimposed translucent rainbow flag. Thanks again.

      • When the university rejected my plan for curing invincible ignorance by means of a ritual involving holy water, sonorous invocations from the Latin translation of the Organon and a cattle prod, I consoled myself, and continue to console myself, with this passage from Porphyry: Do not associate with anyone whose opinions cannot profit you, nor join with him in converse about God. For it is not safe to speak of God with those who are corrupted by false opinion. Yea, and in their presence to speak truth or falsehood about God is fraught with equal danger. It is not fitting for a man who is not purified from unholy deeds to speak of God himself, nor must we suppose that he who speaks of Him with such is not guilty of a crime.

    • @Steven Hoyt
      You’re not wrong, just wrong-headed. Since map is not territory, the question of the truth of any metaphysical or doctrinal state of affairs is not “does my belief about supernatural realities strictly correspond to objective existence?” but “does my belief support the living of a righteous life?” The truth of any statement is determined by its efficiency.
      It’s obvious where I come down on the old question of the ontological status of theoretical entities. In a similar way, arguments about religious doctrine are useful only among members of a particular faith community. Being a faithful Catholic is likely to produce a more righteous life than being an atheist or a Muslim; though none of these is likely to lead to a human rebirth any time soon, much less any type of heavenly existence.

  5. The argument from Mr. Hoyt is terribly out of date (and he scoffs at ‘medieval’ concepts). We can’t prove anything! We can’t know anything! We’re only guessing, and in fact our rational guess-work may be totally wrong because the answer may be irrational.

    Essentially, this is saying… nothing. One might rightly ask who has raised this objection? Has Steven Hoyt raised it? And if so, how can we prove he has raised it? If we cannot prove he has raised the objection, then we must use our logic to concoct some reasoning in order to justify responding to it, i.e – if my eye perceives a comment from Steven Hoyt, it follows that he has likely posted a comment. However, this is far too rationalist. There could be a completely irrational explanation for why this is so. Thus, not much point bothering really.

  6. @Kristor “But you have not answered my question: are you in any respect contingent? Could you possibly be different in any way whatever? If you are the least bit free, it would seem so. If so, you are not necessary, and your existence requires an exogenous cause.”

    In my understanding, that doesn’t follow. Contingency is a false conception – not relevant to this matter. It is derived from the metaphysical assumption that God is not contingent, therefore necessary – but this is not an assumption I hold, and there is no prior necessity that I should hold this assumption.

    I have different metaphysical assumptions, and with them in place the proof does not work. Your proof only works because, in a sense, you have already-assumed several key assumptions that make it work! The only compelling reason to agree to these assumptions is that they link together in a reasonably-coherent system; but then so do my different assumptions.

    As you know, I regard free will, the genuine capacity for choice, as a core aspect of Christianity as attested throughout the Bible again and again – and free will seems to entail that Men can have non-random but uncaused thoughts – and this seems to entail (or at least cohere with) a view of Men as like God in this respect; an interpretation which also fits with the revelation that we are Sons and Daughters of God, brothers and sisters of Christ – hence we are already (embryonically at least) divine in nature.

    I don’t expect you to share this metaphysical system! but it is a coherent system and it is also qualitatively different from the one which you are putting forward; and it does not include creation from nothing.

    Therefore, I suggest that your proof only works when several ‘contingent’ metaphysical assumptions are in place. What we are really doing is comparing one metaphysical system with another – both work to some extent, but have different strengths and weaknesses.

    Preference between metaphysical systems would hinge on (e.g.) which is judged best to fit what is regarded as the most authoritative source of revelation – e.g. how the Bible is read and understood, whether the Christian churches from the second century AD are regarded as authoritative, various understandings of the lineage of priesthood authority, and interpretations of who was on the right side (or whether there was a right side) in the various schisms over the centuries.

    • Contingency is a false conception – not relevant to this matter. It is derived from the metaphysical assumption that God is not contingent, therefore necessary – but this is not an assumption I hold, and there is no prior necessity that I should hold this assumption.

      Well, but wait a moment: the matter of the post *just is* contingency, and what must be true of contingencies. The post is not about God.

      Nor is contingency derived from any concept about God. It is derived from the notion of necessity (whether or not God is necessary is a closely related but discrete question). If something is necessary, it is exactly what it is in every possible state of affairs. Necessary things don’t require an explanation of how they came to be, because … they didn’t come to be!

      Contingent things on the other hand are not necessary. They might be, they might not. That’s all. If they are, they came to be.

      I doubt that you really mean that contingency is a false conception. If that were so, there would be no contingent things at all, and everything about you and me would be absolutely necessary and could not possibly be otherwise – no, not by the least jot or tittle. In that case, there would be no freedom at all, anywhere.

      If contingencies exist, then one of two things must be true of them:

      1. There must be some reason(s) for their existence, that we can (in principle) adduce to explain it; or,
      2. There is no reason for their existence, in which case they are strictly unintelligible, brute facts that cannot anywise be interpreted, but rather only taken, suffered.

      If the second of these options is true, then no understanding of contingent things is possible, and all discourse upon them is forestalled. But then we could not live, even vegetably. And the notion that we can’t begin to understand anything that happens in the world is radically at odds with our experience.

      If the first of the options above is true, then contingent things must be caused by some factor or other. They can’t bring themselves into existence, because until they exist they can’t have power to do anything, nor can they have any other properties whatever: only actual things can have properties or powers.

      So contingent things – each of them, ergo all of them – must be brought into existence by something that is not contingent. Thus contingent being as such must be brought into existence by something that is not contingent, and from a state of affairs in which there is no such thing as contingency. Contingency as such cannot have its ultimate source in contingency. It must come from necessity; but it cannot be itself necessary, or it would not be contingent, and would not have come from anything in the first place, but would rather always be.

      So we can’t obtain the raw material of contingency from necessity, and we can’t get it from contingency either. The conclusion must be the only remaining option: creatio ex nihilo.

      Whether the God of the Bible is to be identified with necessity is again a closely related but discrete question.

      • Kristor writes: “Nor is contingency derived from any concept about God. It is derived from the notion of necessity.”

        Mr. Hoyt says that logic is description of how we think, but the originators of Logic saw it as a description of necessity.

        But why let God depend on Logic either way? If Logic were sufficient, Faith would have no necessity. That Faith is necessary implies that Logic is insufficient, or has the “Sharknado” of the newly begun semester rendered my thinking dense and insipid?

      • But why let God depend on Logic either way? If Logic were sufficient, Faith would have no necessity. That Faith is necessary implies that Logic is insufficient.

        Indeed! Logic and natural theology can lead you to the water, but they cannot make you drink. They can clear away the obstacles, but they cannot force you up the narrow path.

        But then, as I said to Bruce, the post is not about God.

  7. @Bruce Charlton
    “Preference between metaphysical systems would hinge on (e.g.) which is judged best to fit what is regarded as the most authoritative source of revelation ”
    This is very odd.
    Metaphysics is constructed to understand everyday phenomena. Aristotle began by trying to account for the problem of motion. The uncaused cause comes at the end of a chain of inference whose begining is just motion or change as we see before our eyes.
    There is no question of “judging between sources of revelation”. If you propose an alternative metaphysics, first you need to show that it accounts for the motion or change in everyday phenomena.
    Your entire basis for some alternative unspecified metaphysics seems to be this very strange statement:
    “if will is genuinely free, then men are (to *some *extent – it does not need to be completely) uncaused causes”

    A partly uncaused cause??
    Do you reject the account that classical metaphysics gives for free will?. Could you give reasons for your rejection?

  8. @Kristor – My point is that the reason that you are talking about contingency is because of covert metaphysical assumptions.

    Contingency is not a concept that just pop-out of reality at us – it is a philosophical concpet and one that would be very hard to explain or understand to most people.

    The reason you are talking about it is (I believe) due to the history of a particular strand of theological discourse, and the reason that these theologians talk about it is because non-contingency is regarded by them as a core attribute of God, when God is conceptualized in a way that includes creation ex nihilo.

    I am suggesting that this argument works for you because of your background of present but unspoken metaphysical assumptions, indeed the very terms of the argument derive from these assumptions – but it does not work for those who do not share those assumptions.

    • And an “uncaused cause” is easy to explain to masses?
      I take it that you have no objection to the term and concept “uncauses cause” since you wrote in the very first comment
      “This does not apply to uncreated beings such as God, who is an uncaused cause. ”

      Question is what are these “present but unspoken metaphysical assumptions” that you dispute?

    • On the contrary, contingency is very easy to explain to people, as compared to necessity. Everyone knows what contingency is about: contingent things might or might not happen. What is so odd or abstruse about the idea that things might or might not happen? The notion is implicit in gambling, insurance, investment, marriage, sex, expectation, disappointment, frustration, hope; indeed in every one of our acts and adventures, all of which might work out as hoped and expected, or not. Contingency is the stuff of life; indeed, there is almost nothing else to life, at all.

      I repeat that the argument of the post is not about God. There could be no God at all, and it would still stand. It is about the nature of contingency. Unless you are going to deny that there is any such thing as contingency – which, as a Christian and a believer in human freedom, you won’t – then you are going to want to be able to explain in principle how contingent things came to be. It can’t make sense to argue that they came to be for no reason at all. They can’t have created themselves. Something else, then, not itself contingent, must account for them. Necessity is the only candidate still standing. It can’t have created contingencies necessary, for that would be a contradiction in terms. We can’t suppose that it created them from contingencies, for that would be to beg the question. Ex nihilo is the only thing that’s left.

      Is that necessity which created all contingencies ex nihilo the being that all men have called God? That is a different question.

  9. @Kristor- Yes, but contingency is over-inclusive as a category, a heterogenous rag-bag; and only makes sense by contrast with the necessary.

    “you are going to want to be able to explain in principle how contingent things came to be. It can’t make sense to argue that they came to be for no reason at all. They can’t have created themselves. Something else, then, not itself contingent, must account for them. ”

    But this is not intuitively true; it is far from being an unchallengeable assumption. I would suggest the opposite – that it is natural and spontaneous to think ofthe important entities as always having been, as having existed forever (although perhaps having undergone transformations taht did not affect their identity).

    This seems to be what many children and hunter gatherers think, how they explain first things; it is how William James thinks – and it is also how I think! There are *many* things that were not created- I don’t know how many, but many!

    You may not agree with this, but you cannot refute it! because it is a metaphysical assumption which is integrated with a coherent metaphysical system.

    • But the notion of a temporally ordered series of events that has no beginning is quite easy to refute. Take point A infinitely far back in that series, and point B, yesterday morning. How many seconds are there between A and B? An infinite number. How long would it take to go from A to B? An infinitely long time.

      Starting then at A, when would you arrive at B? Never. B would never happen; it would always lie infinitely far in the future, no matter how long you waited around after A had passed.

      But ex hypothesi, this is so for every moment in the series. None of them would ever come to pass, because there would always be an infinite amount of time remaining before anyone could get to them.

      Time must have had a beginning. It cannot be ultimate; it must be created.

    • Bruce,
      My experience with children is that they keep asking the question of infinite regression of created things and the only answer that satisfies them is ex-nihilo creation. I don’t know if this is the bias of inherited (post)-Christian culture or a natural tendency.

    • It doesn’t contradict experience. Experience for finite, created beings doesn’t include ex-nihilo creation. It’s hard for created, finite beings to grasp.

      • Of course, I was repeating Kristor’s argument that monism (whatever he conceives that to be) contradicts experience and therefore can’t be true. We agree that that neither mankind nor angels have ever experienced or observed ex nihilo creation (contrast Job 38:7). What hasn’t been proven to my satisfaction is that God (whatever you conceive Him to be) necessarily has, unless the argument is circular, i.e. that God is by definition the one who creates things ex nihilo. But that is not a definition I accept or that is supported by the biblical account of creation. In Genesis 1:2 the Spirit of God moved upon the face of the waters (thus the KJV, other translations are similar) with no mention of the creation of those waters or the deep.

      • Creating nothingness is not possible.

        Monism contradicts experience as such (if monism is true, there can be no such thing); creatio ex nihilo does not. We cannot create things ex nihilo, not because such creation is logically impossible (as experience is under monism) but because we are not God. It does not contradict our experience, it’s just that we can’t do it ourselves.

        The 72 rabbis who translated the Pentateuch into the Greek Septuagint thought that abyssos was the apt translation of the Hebrew tehom. Both words mean “deep,” both are used to denote the oceans, and of the Ocean that surrounds the firmament. Abyss means literally “without bottom” – without limit or form. Water for the Hebrews signified chaos, formlessness (thus its use in rites of baptism in the mikveh or the living water of a river, in which the catechumen was plunged into its killing depths, his prior state dissolved, and emerged a new sort of being – an Israelite consecrated to the Law).

        “The earth was without form, and void.” What has no form is not any definite thing; is not any thing at all. It is not a thing; it is no thing.

        Genesis may not spell out “creatio ex nihilo,” but it seems to presume the truth of it.

        Whatever the nature of tehom, the real question is whether the abyss is independent of God. If so, God is not ultimate, so that there might be other gods or powers like him – e.g., Oceanus. But he has told us that there are no such things as gods like him, and has commanded us not to think so. It is his very first commandment to his people.

      • Genesis 1:1 precedes Genesis 1:2. I would think “the heavens and the earth” would mean “everything” to ancient people.

      • Total nothingness everywhere is not a concept that the Hebrews maintained. And if total nothingness is the original state and previously persistent of the universe, then that strongly implies that is the state to which it can return, not just eventually, but at any moment. If it can suddenly appear out of nothing, it can suddenly disappear into nothing, all observations of actuality notwithstanding.

        The waters in Genesis are divided, not created ex nihilo. Creation was a process of imposing order on chaos. That is what the word originally meant.

        It is no coincidence that Jon Levenson’s Creation and the Persistence of Evil was written after the holocaust. Drawing on the early substratum of the Bible, Levenson defines God’s authorship of the world as a consequence of his victory in his struggle with evil. He traces a flexible conception of God to the earliest Hebrew sources, arguing that Genesis 1 describes the attempt to contain the menace of evil in the world, a struggle that continues today. The theodicy problem is real, and ex nihilo creation makes explaining the existence and persistence of evil while maintaining the goodness of God, really problematic. Or as Friday put it in Robinson Crusoe: ‘Why God no Kill the Devil?’ or, in the current context, make him out of nothing?

      • Total nothingness everywhere is not a concept that the Hebrews maintained.

        A good thing, because it is impossible. Even if there were nothing actual, there would still in that case be the possibility of nothing actual; and that possibility would be something. Nothingness is impossible.

        The waters in Genesis are divided, not created ex nihilo. Creation was a process of imposing order on chaos. That is what the word originally meant.

        Water for the Hebrews was a symbol of chaos. Chaos, or formlessness, is not any particular thing; it is not any thing. It is nothing.

        When God separated, he formed; but the formless is not some sort of pliant stuff waiting there to be formed; as being without form, it is nothing at all.

        … ex nihilo creation makes explaining the existence and persistence of evil while maintaining the goodness of God, really problematic.

        If creatures had no agency, this would be true.

      • Kristor,

        By your rejection of nothingness (“it is impossible”), it seems to me you are not arguing for creation ex nihilo. You are arguing for creation ex Deo. Or perhaps you are arguing that the forms are pre-existing and co-eternal with God.

      • Yes and no. The impossibility of absolute nothingness is more than anything else an argument against the notion that the universe might have sprung into existence from a state of absolute nothingness: you can’t get something from absolutely nothing, and furthermore you can’t even get absolutely nothing in the first place.

        Creatio ex nihilo properly construed posits not that God created the world out of some “nothingness stuff” (an oxymoron) or “chaos” (another way of saying “nothingness stuff”) but rather out of nothing independent of him. Properly construed, creatio ex deo and creatio ex nihilo turn out to be two ways of saying the same thing. We just have to be careful to remember that, just as creatio ex nihilo can’t mean “creation from nothingness stuff,” likewise creatio ex deo can’t mean “creation from God stuff.” I.e., we have to be careful to avoid thinking that God somehow calved off part of himself to get the stuff from which he could then create things (for that would result in the counterfactual supposition that we are bits of God, no less – ergo perfect, like him)(Not!).

        The basic idea is that God doesn’t need stuff. He just needs his own ideas – his ideas, which he has eternally – uttered as his Word.

      • Kristor,

        I’m sorry, but I disagree with your articulation of what is real, God’s role in creating and sustaining evil, and his inability to stop sustaining evil without erasing everything. This isn’t redemption. This is a caricature, a vision of a monstrous solipsistic god who can’t stop thinking about evil, which evil would cease to exist if he stopped thinking about it. That this sort of god is the only possible logical explanation of the cosmos, that this was the understanding of the Hebrews and their contemporaries when Genesis was written, and that this is provable to every reasonable person is beyond me. I hope I have merely misunderstood what you are trying to prove.

      • Yes, you appear to have misunderstood what I’m saying. Take God’s inability to stop sustaining evil without erasing everything that it has historically influenced. To do such a thing is not a power that God might possibly have. It is like the power to create a square circle – another thing that all beings whatever, including God, cannot do, because it is logically impossible. In other words, there is and can be no such power to begin with.

        Why doesn’t God cease to hold Lucifer in being, starting right now? Why doesn’t he kill the guy? Well, you can’t kill an immortal, any more than you can square a circle. Once an immortal exists, he exists, by definition. The only way that God could eliminate Lucifer is by not creating him a seraph in the first place. But then he wouldn’t have been Lucifer to begin with, but something else. But if he did that, this world would be quite different than it is, and the you that is a product of the fallen world would not exist. The you that you know would not exist. Something else would, instead. In order to wipe out the evil of the Fallen world from the get go, God would also have to wipe out all the beauties it has also produced.

        It should also be borne in mind that God is not sustaining the universe in existence by virtue of an act that is reiterated or that goes on a long time, the way that we sustain an imagined triangle in existence. God is eternal. He is not in time. Time is in him. So his creation and sustenance of the world throughout its history happen all at once for him, as a single act.

        As to whether the Hebrews had all this in mind in composing Genesis, they certainly did when Job was written – a text that some scholars date to before the composition of Genesis. The engine of the book is that Satan wants to torment Job just for jollies, to settle a bet – and God lets him do so. When Job raises the same sort of objections that you do here, God’s reply is clear: human categories of evaluation do not straightforwardly appertain to God, and it impudent of us (albeit natural) to rebuke the morality of his creative act, in virtue of which evil has, and persists in, being (Job 38-41).

        Isaiah, too, a little later, was alive to the difficulties of theodicy under monotheism; yet he was forthright in affirming it nonetheless, in conformity with the OT condemnation of polytheism as a fundamental category error:

        I am the Lord, and there is none else, there is no God beside me: I girded thee, though thou hast not known me:

        That they may know from the rising of the sun, and from the west, that there is none beside me. I am the Lord, and there is none else.

        I form the light, and create darkness: I make peace, and create evil: I the Lord do all these things

        Woe unto him that striveth with his Maker! Let the potsherd strive with the potsherds of the earth. Shall the clay say to him that fashioneth it, What makest thou? or thy work, He hath no hands?

        Woe unto him that saith unto his father, What begettest thou? or to the woman, What hast thou brought forth? …

        For thus saith the Lord that created the heavens; God himself that formed the earth and made it; he hath established it, he created it not in vain, he formed it to be inhabited: I am the Lord; and there is none else

        Tell ye, and bring them near; yea, let them take counsel together: who hath declared this from ancient time? who hath told it from that time? have not I the Lord? and there is no God else beside me; a just God and a Saviour; there is none beside me.

        Look unto me, and be ye saved, all the ends of the earth: for I am God, and there is none else.

        – Isaiah 45:5 ff.

  10. I have commented here before on this subject, so apologies for the repetition. I have always tended to take the position that the Vedantin “monist” doctrine of illusion is actually quite compatible with classical theism – depending, of course, on how we understand “illusion”. The created order is illusory in the sense that it lacks being of its own and is not Real, capital R. The Great Tradition of the West seems to me to be a form of weak panentheism with its principle of concurrent causation. What distinguishes it from nondualism proper is the doctrine of creatio ex nihilo which safeguards the absoluteness of Divine transcendence. But is this necessary? Could a qualified nondualism, a stronger panentheism, one in which differences are real yet still affirming an underlying unity of Reality hold up? I’m thinking here in terms of “degrees of Reality”.

    • I cannot too highly recommend that you read Bill Vallicella’s discussion of creatio ex nihilo, quoted and linked above. Bearing your comment in mind, two things leap out at me from his paragraphs I quote above.

      First, in Vallicella’s scheme creatures have zero existence independent of God. There is nothing to their being that is not furnished by God, from God, in God, of God. It is not as though he creates them outside himself, and from then on they cook along under their own ontological steam. On the contrary, their continued being is analogous to the continued being of a purple right triangle in my imagination. The right triangle is not me – it is discrete from me. But it has no existence at all apart from my imaginative act. Likewise then creatures have no existence at all apart from God’s creative act, even though they are not themselves God, but rather his unifications of his own eternal ideas.

      This step of Vallicella’s beautifully simplifies Platonism and integrates it with Aristotelianism. We are accustomed to thinking of the created order as a thing unto itself, which somehow participates the Ideas. Somehow or other the Ideas shine down into creation from the Platonic Realm. But in Vallicella’s scheme, no such shining down is needed: creatures *just are* togethernesses of Platonic Forms; the concrete individual in which alone Aristotle sees the Forms existing *just is* a unification of those Forms, and the unification takes place nowhere else but within the Platonic Realm: the mind of God.

      Second, what this does for monism is to derive real creatures entirely from the primary, ultimate Real, God. The creaturely illusion Vedanta notices, then, is not the illusion of creatures that they exist – they do exist, so the apprehension that they do is not an illusion – but rather that they exist independently of God, disparate from or disintegral with him. This illusion translates into Christian terms as the sin of pride: the illusion that we have ultimate nomological power – that we are authors, rather than stewards who, like Adam, have been granted vicarious agency to name, agency that is not ultimately our own.

      Treating maya as pride habilitates monism to theism by qualifying it. It corrects the sweeping and naïve (and incredible) notion that creatures have no existence whatever, instead more carefully insisting only that they have no existence independent of God.

      • This would argue that evil (or the devil if you prefer) exists because it (or he) exists in God’s mind like your purple right triangle and is furnished by God, from God, in God, of God. It follows that if God stopped thinking about evil and the devil that evil and the devil would cease to exist because they can’t cook along under their own steam, having no existence at all outside of God’s imaginative act. The theodicy problem here is very real, and it makes the interior workings of God’s mind very problematic.

      • Yes; the devil certainly exists only because God creates him and sustains him in being (these apparently disparate operations being in fact the one operation of creation). As giving Satan existence, God ipso facto creates him free, ergo free to err. Same for us, or any creature. It is not possible to get a creature that cannot err and that is also free; nor is it possible to get angels or humans that are not free (if you created something like an angel or like a human except not free (ergo free to err), you’d have something other than an angel or a man).

        God can erase the evil of Satan only by erasing the whole of the history that followed upon it, as influenced thereby. This would entail the erasure of Kristor and Leo, as we now know them. I think it’s a great thing that God has not unmade our cosmos, but has instead redeemed it.

        The problems of theodicy that appear when we attribute all creative power to God (whether or not we reserve sub-creative powers to creatures)(as I think we should) are upon close examination only apparent. I.e., not real.

    • The vedantist that is free of maya realizes himself to be God or at least Brahma. I do not see how this can be even made compatible with theism with its strict separation of a creator and creatures.

  11. If this stronger form of panentheism passes, then are we denying creatio ex nihilo? The classical theist could easily object on the grounds that it blurs the distinction between good and evil. But, if we don’t allow this, then how can we affirm a real theosis, a divinization worthy of the name?

    • No, ex nihilo is not denied under this stronger panentheism, but rather only properly qualified, so that it agrees with ex nihilo nihil fit. Creatures don’t come from nothing whatsoever, because there is nothing to nothing whatsoever that anything could be from. Rather, they come from nothing that is independent of God; for, because God is Ultimate, there *simply can’t be any such thing as independence from God.* The sense of ex nihilo then is only to deny that there was some stuff out there that had no dependence on God which he then shaped or unified into creatures. Rather, there was some stuff *in* there, *in* God – some prime matter, some pure potentiality of becoming (as Whitehead characterizes the Eternal Objects (of God’s contemplation)(of Himself)(cue the Trinity), his name for the Platonic Forms) – that God unified into togethernesses (another of Whitehead’s terms) of the various Forms.

      That we are composed of Eternal Objects does not mean that we ourselves are eternal. Nor does our composition by God entail that our acts are really his. One of the forms that can be instantiated in creatures is the form of agency. As Aristotle noticed, what has no power to act has no actual existence. If we are at all real, then, we have some agency, ergo some real options, ergo some power to err.

      • By the way, Chastek has a post today that is quite relevant to this notion of strong panentheism: Space, stuff, and God. Read it, and then compare the Kabbalist notion of the tzimtzum.

        Scriptural support for creatio ex nihilo – specifically too for Vallicella’s gloss on what “nihilo” means in this context – is found in 2 Maccabees 7:28:

        Look at the heaven and the earth and see everything that is in them, and recognize that God did not make them out of things that existed.

  12. Even the Hesiodic genesis hints at the ex nihilo principle: Hesiod says in his Theogony that Chaos, “was the first thing that came to be.” Other things, like Earth and Sky might have “come to be” simultaneously with Chaos, but after that the things that were without a cause caused everything else, either by meiosis or procreation. The Theogony strikes first-time readers as a Chaos of proper names in total confusion, but Hesiod is dedicated to explaining things by cause-and-effect. This requires an original causeless something that springs into being where previously there was nothing and then causes everything subsequently. Thales of Miletus said that “Water is first,” a distant echo of the Tehom, perhaps, in half-Phoenician Miletus; but he also said that “Everything is full of gods.” But neither Hesiod nor Thales can find a figure for the causeless cause. In this case, Genesis is a better story, because it finds a figure for the causeless cause.

    • In Genesis, creatures come to be from a state of their own formlessness and inactuality, and then exist. “Exist” is ex, “out,” + sist, “stand.” God simply *is.* Creatures then stand out from God. If they ex + sist, we could say of God that he simply sists. He does not need to be got going somehow.

      Yet under Christianity too, as with Hesiod, the Causeless Cause springs forth into being: he is pure living act, not some mere dead fact.

      Bearing in mind the Vallicellan synthesis, we could say that if creatures exist and God sists, then his creative act was his insistence, expressed in his Word. It was rather an involution than an evolution; an immanation rather than an emanation; an intensification rather than an extensification; an intension rather than an extension.

      • A sentence got left out of my post. It was supposed to be the first sentence. People seem to have been struggling toward the notion of a causeless cause, or the ex nihilo principle, for a long time, and there are intimations of the notion, as though people intuited its necessity, in Greek speculation. There was a concluding sentence too, that has also gone missing, but I can’t reconstruct it.

  13. Here’s an interesting notion……..Considering God’s nature, could He not have created the Created Order? I would have to say no. If God is absolute, then He is all possibillity – He would necessarily “spill out” beyond Himself (or in Himself) in the direction of absolute nothingness, but never quite get there (because that would be metaphysically impossible I presume.)

    So….. with regards to creation, necessity and freedom converge?

    • It would seem so. God’s creative act is free – what could constrain God? Yet as his, and as perfectly conformed to his nature, and thus to his perfect will to effect the perfect good he perfectly knows, it cannot be other than it is except he be other than he is, which is impossible. The perfection of good is the perfection of power, and thus of agency, thus of freedom.

      NB that we need not think our world is the only one God creates. There could be infinitely many.

  14. Pingback: Outside in - Involvements with reality » Blog Archive » Chaos Patch (#78)

  15. Pingback: This Week in Reaction (2015/09/06) | The Reactivity Place


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