Creatio ex Nihilo

Materialism suggests that when a new whole – such as a person – appears in the cosmos, it is as a result of the combination of preexistent parts that come together to form that whole. Persons, then, are on the materialist account somehow artifacts or characteristics of their constituent components, or are emergent from their componence. They are nothing but the combination of their components.

But notice that to say that a whole is only the combination of its parts is just to say that a combination combines in virtue of its combination. It is a dormitive virtue “explanation.” It is, to put it bluntly, a proposition that proposes nothing, an “explanation” that explains nothing.

This perhaps is why the most stringent, consistent materialists insist that there is no such thing as a whole with constituent parts; why they insist in particular that there are no such things really as persons. That way, they avoid the problem of explaining the genesis of any wholes. They can retreat to the void, and to dead aimless atoms aimlessly wandering, colliding, combining. They can retreat to death, and disorder, and the “freedom” that comes from utter want of meaning.

But that’s all stupid nonsense. There are persons, of course; and there are all sorts of other wholes, constituted of parts. To argue otherwise is to contradict experience as such.

It is then simply false that wholes are agglomerations of parts, and nothing more. Wholes are prior to their parts, qua parts. This is to say that they simply cannot be sufficiently derived from, or consist in, only the motions of their parts. It is to say that they are something different, and other than, and over, and above, their parts. It is, finally, to say that *they cannot be completely accounted for in terms of the motions of their antecedents, or by them sufficiently determined.*

It is to say that wholes come from somewhere other than, and more than, their past in this cosmos, as that is mediated by the motions of their constituent parts.

It is to say that novelty as such is an ingression to this world from somewhere beyond it.

And that is to say that each new moment is an instance of creation; of absolute creation; of creation of something from a nothingness of that thing.

Creatio ex nihilo follows inexorably from mere happening.

33 thoughts on “Creatio ex Nihilo

  1. Pingback: Creatio ex Nihilo | @the_arv

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    • Hah! Good catch! Quite right. “Organism” would have been a better choice. “System” would have been even broader.

      But then, persons are not so much parts of organisms as aspects of them, in rather the way that entrenched meanders are aspects of some fluvial systems.

      • True. But then, that doesn’t quite work either, because not all individuals have parts. Materialists don’t deny there are individuals as such – atoms, in the original sense of that word – but rather only composite individuals.

        “Whole” suffers the same difficulty, come to think of it. Not all wholes have parts. God, for example, is one, whole and indivisible, and has no parts.

  3. This is very true. I have long thought, do materialists love their children? If so, why? According to their doctrine there is nothing really there, certainly nothing you could reasonably call real.

    • Yes. No child, no self, no love; none of those things are real under materialism. But nor then by the same token is materialism itself real under materialism: no mind actually exists to understand or believe in it. It argues that it is itself incredible.

    • You people have a very impoverished view of materialism, which leads you to incorrect inferences about what actual materialists believe. Seems like a waste of time.

      It’s a fundamentally anti-intellectual view, in that it assumes that attempts at explaining something is to diminish it, rather than enrich it.

      My love for my children is in no way diminished by acknowledging that it is a result of billions of years of evolution, and that it is implemented by neural machinery. On the contrary, it is made stronger and realer.

      • Eliminative materialism is the only consistent sort.

        But very few materialists are willing to go so far as, say, the Churchlands. You are right I am sure that almost all materialists rightly believe in their own actual existence. But under their avowed materialism, strictly speaking, the reality of the conscious subject of experience is impossible to explain. There’s no way to get from the aimless hurrying of atoms in the void even to a molecule, let alone to a human subject who loves other real human subjects.

        Notice that physics describes how atoms hurrying in the void form molecules. It does this by describing the aims of those atoms: to complete their electron shells – which is to say, to achieve a certain form. So doing, it invokes final and formal causation. It thereby *rejects materialism,* which reduces causation to material and efficient causes.

        This is important, and bears repeating for the sake of emphasis: the scientific account of nature is *not materialist.*

        You are right to say that your love for your children is in no way diminished by acknowledging that it is a result of billions of years of evolution, and that it is implemented by neural machinery. This acknowledgement is to say no more than that what has happened has happened, which is certainly true. But to say that it has happened, and is happening, for no reason – which is what the rejection of formal and final causation strictly entails – is not just to diminish your love for your children, but to eliminate it altogether as yours.

      • You have it entirely inverted… Strict materialists deny (P)erfection provoking an absolutely impoverished view of the strict materialist. It can be no other way.

      • Just for the record I wasn’t saying that materialists don’t love their children but they are being logically inconsistent when they do because their belief denies any true reality to the individual.

      • Notice that physics describes how atoms hurrying in the void form molecules. It does this by describing the aims of those atoms: to complete their electron shells – which is to say, to achieve a certain form. So doing, it invokes final and formal causation. It thereby *rejects materialism,* which reduces causation to material and efficient causes.

        Like I said, you have an extraordinarily impoverished view of materialism, which does not reflect the views of any actual materialist.

        And you also seem to have some extremely confused views about physics if you think there is some kind of ontological distinction between the laws that describe atoms “hurrying” in the void (a revealingly incorrect intentional phrase itself) and the laws that cause them to form molecules. You can’t expect to have a good viewpoint on the limitations of physics if you don’t understand how it works.

      • [You are confused] if you think there is some kind of ontological distinction between the laws that describe atoms “hurrying” in the void … and the laws that cause them to form molecules.

        You have missed the point, to a degree that verges on sublimity. I do not, of course, think that there is any such distinction. That was why I took notice of natural law in the first place. Duh!

        If there are laws of any sort, whether of hurrying or of valence, then the undisputed hurrying of atoms is, precisely, *not aimless.* It is on the contrary *teleological.* It is ordered by the laws we have noticed, toward some lawful end. So it is both formally and finally caused; whereas materialism insists that events are only materially and efficiently caused – that nature is ateleological.

        The teleological homeostases that science finds everywhere in nature *refute materialism.*

        Now, I know very well that most materialists have not yet understood these fatal problems with their metaphysical system. They have not yet noticed, the poor dull puny ridiculous uneducated witless sophomoric sods, that to say that nature is ateleological is to say that there is no such thing as nature in the first place, so that there can then be no such thing as a science of nature, of any sort. They have not noticed that their proud little metaphysic refutes itself.

        Pathetic. Sad!

        But then – apart from a few consistent and thoroughgoing purists, such as the absurd and risible Churchlands – almost all of them are not really materialists at all, properly speaking. No matter what they say, they *act* as if they believe in their own existence, and in the reality of their feelings, thoughts, decisions, and acts. Their materialism then is a public pose, an outward sign, indeed a sort of preening, belied by their practice of life, which is sustained from one day to the next by myriad exceptions to their avowed materialist principles.

      • Because “love” is not and cannot ever be a “redundant phenomenon,” i.e., there is no “equal love,” and thestrict materialist only knows the “redundant phenomenon” then strict materialists cannot know “love.”

        Ergo, strict materialists cannot love and therefore cannot love their children UNLESS they deny strict materialism and confess to singular phenomena.

      • Why bother to say anything if you aren’t trying to be understood. You may have simply post “nuh-uh.” Explain your disagreement in a way that we can determine what precisely is the disagreement.

  4. “….consistent materialists insist that there is no such thing as a whole with constituent parts..”

    This reminds me of some related comments recently made by atheo-materialists over at the blogs of Ed Feser and Victor Reppert regarding causation- that all series are purportedly accidentally ordered, not essentially ordered, which consequently does away with the need for a sustaining first cause.

    • It also does away with compound events that integrate many causal factors, such as the lives of atheo-materialists. If all series are accidentally ordered, there are no such things as human lives, or as the complex coordinate corporeal acts of which such lives are constituted. There are, rather, only atomic experiences that nowise cohere, and that do not relate to anything else in an ordered or consistent way, and that do not therefore do anything. This eliminates the binding problem; but it does so by eliminating all our experience as such. Which is to say that it eliminates the only evidence we can possibly have of what it is to exist.

      When your explanans cuts away your explanandum, you know you are using Ockham’s Razor on bone.

      If there are no composite wholes, then there is no world; a fortiori, then, is there no history of a world. Nor then is there causation of any sort, whether essential or accidental. So nor then is there such a thing whatsoever as an event. No world, then no events therein.

      So you need essentially ordered series in order to obtain accidentally ordered series. Accidental order supervenes upon essential order. There can be accidents only of essents.

      • Hi Kristor,

        How do you think Western cosmological arguments square with the Buddhist doctrine of dependent origination? Some would say that this doctrine refutes all attempts to establish an ultimate substratum or originator. But, I’m not so sure. It seem to me that Buddhist “Emptiness” underlies “dependent origination” . Could we interpret “Emptiness” as the uncaused condition of dependent appearances?

        I can’t seem to escape my Perennialist disposition.

      • As a doctrine in ontology (rather than in psychology, as some take it), dependent causation – pratītyasamutpāda – is the Buddhist version of ex nihilo nihil fit – of which one corollary is that from any actuality something or other must come, or else it is not actual (does not act) in the first place.

        The suggestion that pratītyasamutpāda refutes a First Cause relies upon the idea that the chain of actual contingent causes had no beginning. It is, in other words, the suggestion that if the chain of actual contingent causes had no beginning, then it had no beginning. There’s nothing to support the suggestion, other than itself. And unfortunately for those who support it, the suggestion is counterfactual: a causal chain that extended infinitely far into the past could never have completed the infinite process by which it arrived at any particular present moment, so that if the causal chain extends infinitely far into the past from any such present moment, then no moment of the chain could ever have come to pass, including this one right now, and all the others we have experienced.

        This all amounts to saying that pratītyasamutpāda does *not* refute the doctrine of a First Cause.

        The Buddhist Emptiness is coterminous with the Supra-Personal Godhead of Dionysius the Areopagite, which is logically prior to all actual manifestation (including that of the Trinity). It is, i.e., a traditional notion in Christian metaphysics. It is the God of Aquinas, who is not a being, but is rather Being as such: Being per se, and Being a se.

        Perennialism is no problem so long as you remember that Christianity is the fulfillment and perfection of the Religion of Adam.

      • In other words, “infinite regress” is false, but more importantly, there is no truly redundant phenomenon.

  5. The strictly materialist view is one thing. But there is something to be said for the idea that our true self is not what we think it is. There is a true essence that is the self but layered on top of that is the constantly changing and decaying physical body, all the thoughts that are influenced by media and other people and all the choices we made because of the influence of outside forces. But we feel like all of that is our self and so we think and act as though it is.

  6. Creation is all singularity and no redundancy anywhere ever. Perfection insists where “universal equality” is denied.

  7. Kristor,

    I’m not sure if I don’t follow you or you don’t follow me.The Aristotelian-Thomistic argument for an unmoved mover has nothing to do with temporal causation though. The Angelic Doctor took the view that even if the universe had no temporal beginning and is infintely old, there would still need to be an ontological First Cause to account for any actuality at all in the present. The regress can go back infinitely, but it can’t go “down ” infinitely.That’s what I was getting at when I brought up Emptiness understood as the unconditioned uncaused cause.

    • We follow each other. Even if the the universe had no temporal beginning, we would still need an uncaused cause to cause the whole causal sequence. But by the Kalam Cosmological Argument, it had to have had a beginning. So we arrive at the uncaused cause no matter where we turn. Go all the way down, and there he is. Go all the way back, and there he is. And so forth.

  8. Kristor,

    The Buddhist Emptiness is coterminous with the Supra-Personal Godhead of Dionysius the Areopagite, which is logically prior to all actual manifestation (including that of the Trinity).

    How is that consistent with the Son’s being “eternally begotten of the Father”? Maybe “logically prior” and “actual manifestation” are doing more work than I’m realizing?

    • The whole logical stack, including the logical necessity of the eternal actuality of the Trinity, is operative at once, and eternally. Put another way: the actuality of the Trinity is implicit in the Supra-Personal Godhead. It isn’t as though you could get the actual Trinity without the Supra-Personal Godhead, or vice versa.

      Put yet another way: the actual Trinity *is* the Supra-Personal Godhead actualized.

      The ergo of logic is the urge in virtue of which things happen. It is the relations between ideas, and their relative beauty, that allure action to realize them. If this, then … wonderfully, inexorably … therefore that.

      And ideas are not real – i.e., *they are not even ideas* – except insofar as they are manifest at least implicitly or virtually or eminently in some actual. Were it not for his actualization in and by the Trinity, the Supra-Personal Godhead would not be even an idea.

      From the One, all things derive. From the Ten Thousand Things, we infer the One. Were there no such things, there could be no One.

      This is easy to see by analogy with the numbers. There is 5 only because there are all the infinite range of numbers. We see from 5 that there must be infinity. If there were no 5, there could not be infinity.

      • Hi Kristor,

        “The actual Trinity is the Supra-personal Godhead actualized.”

        How do you think that lines up with the AT point of view ? Could the Thomist ask why the need for two “degrees” of Divinity if God is “pure ” act or ” Being Itself”?

      • Well, bearing in mind that I’m just a guy with internet access, I think it lines up pretty well.

        It’s not as though the Supra-Personal Godhead is somehow better or nobler or greater – or even other – than the actual Trinity. So, noticing the distinction between the Godhead and the Trinity does not introduce another degree of divinity. To notice the Supra-Personal Godhead is only to notice as it were that the three mutually perpendicular circumferences of the Persons together describe a sphere. No sphere, no circumferences thereof; but then, eternally, sphere, ergo circumferences, eternally.

  9. Hi again, dear Orthospherians 🙂

    Speaking of Creatio ex Nihilio, I have a Catholic friend who is wondering Why God created anything in the first place, since He is already perfect. I tried to find answers in this blog, but my search queries failed to produce something. Do you people have something on that topic? (Yes, I’m really “Asking for a friend” :D)

    The Cathechism says:
    ‘The ultimate purpose of creation is that God “who is the creator of all things may at last become “all in all”, thus simultaneously assuring his own glory and our beatitude.”140’

    On some googling I found this article: which says:
    “1. God created not out of a need he had but because of the way creation accomplished something he valued.
    2. God ought to value himself and his attributes more than anything.
    3. Creation must have resulted from the way God saw the value of expanding himself: his goodness, truth, beauty, and all the things that are a part of him.”

    But this doesn’t really answer my friend’s question: He is already perfect and fulfilled, what does creation an imperfect world *add*? Yes, humans have the *freedom* to choose God and thus come *closer* to perfection, but before Humans, God (i.e. Perfection) was *all there is*. So how is creation an improvement? I’m sure there is a good Catholic answer to this.

    For your possible interest: I have before me Alexander Baumgarten’s German book “Metaphysik” which is apparently not widespread in anglophone circles. The author speaks about the “Purpose of Creation”. He writes, and I am both translating and paraphrasing, that
    “The recognition of great perfection is Glory [/Glorification]. […]
    Through this world [/Creation], the Perfections of God can be seen more clearly and truthfully. So the World is useful for the Glory of God, to those who are able to recognise God from the World. This use(fulness) is realised (made real – verwirklicht) by the Creation of the World and all the Spirits/Minds in it. Thus the universe serves God for the purpose of realising (making real) his Glory, which (the Glory) he clearly recognises as good”[Because God is indeed perfect and thus deserving of being recognised as perfect i.e. glorified.]
    Then I skip a bit and then Baumgarten ends that part with “Thus Religion [The Glorification of God] is the final purpose of Creation”. After some more material on Faith being rational and Revelation being true, he ends his book with the Phrase
    “Seine Ehre, sein Name und sein Lob werden in Ewigkeit bestehen” — “His Honour, His Name and His Praise will persist for Eternity.” I think you’d like the book 🙂 Baumgartens project is to derive these conclusions from first principles, so the book starts with the Axiom of Identity and similar Logical things and proceeds in a wide circle (e.g. via deriving immortality in the Christian sense) to what we just read.

    On having reread this, it is very similar to the Catechism — thus it does not answer my friend’s question of How creation added something worthwhile to God’s Perfection. What do you folks think?

      • Oh! Hehe, so simple, yet makes good sense. Thanks, Kristor!
        Let’s see if I understood: The World contains Good — e.g. morally good actions or the correct recognition of God as Perfection. So failing to create this World would have been failing to create something which is good.
        I see! Now, this quickly gets to the problem of Evil, and Baumgarten spends quite some time on how God allows Evil to happen but is not its Author, while He *is* the author of the Good. But the simple Catholic response suffices — God leaves us freedom because The Free Choice of God is good and “Perfect omnipotence could not fail to do every good thing” etc. I’ll go tell my friend 🙂 Thanks again!

      • You are most welcome.

        It goes back to Saint Anselm’s Discovery that the Ultimate must necessarily be that than which no mind could possibly conceive a greater. Which then is greater: a god who might have done something good, but did not; or a god otherwise exactly the same as the first, who went ahead and did that good thing? The question answers itself. Only the latter god could be God, properly speaking.


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