Creation ex nihilo

Related posts: Immutable, Omnipresence; Omniscience; The Fall of Man: Defense of the Doctrine; Election

Creation ex nihilo refers to the act of God creating all things (other than himself), without the aid of and precluding the existence of any primeval matter. In simple terms it means creation out of nothing. This concept is accepted by most Christian denominations including the Roman Catholic Church, Eastern Orthodox Churches, and Protestant denominations.
Hebrews 11:3 is a common defense of this belief. It reads, “things which are seen were not made of things which do appear.” Or as it reads in the New American Standard Bible, “that what is seen was not made out of things which are visible” (See also 2 Macc. 7:28).

There is no creation ex nihilo in the teachings of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. Consequently, there is the idea that some things cannot be created by God (or are beyond his direct control). When Latter-day Saints use the word creation (as in the creation of the universe) they mean it in the sense of an artist creating a sculpture or painting; that is, that the masterpiece was created from existing materials. In this sense God is seen as a kind of architect of the universe, “the framer of heaven and earth” (D&C 20:17) by whom the universe was “organized and formed” (Abr. 4:1).

Mormon teachings hold that there are a number of things which cannot be created, such as the matter from which the universe was organized (Abr. 4:1), intelligence (Abr. 3:18; D&C 93:26), and truth (D&C 93:26). It could also be argued that the laws of justice are eternal and cannot be created (Alma 42:22): Thus God had to “appease the demands of justice” (Alma 42:15) and it impossible for mercy to rob justice (Alma 42:25).

Furthermore, the fact that God had to prepare an elaborate plan of salvation which included sacrificing his Only Begotten Son to reclaim his children from physical and spiritual death strongly suggests that God acts within constraints which, to some extent, are beyond his control. All of these points work against the concept of creation ex nihilo.

There are also things which God created because his wisdom and purpose. Forgiveness of sin and the power of resurrection was brought about out by the atonement (Alma 34:15; 42:23); and laws, such as the law of Moses, can be created for a specific (and sometimes transitory) purpose. Though these things are not created from nothing per se, there was a point when they did not exist. Thus prior to the atonement there was only a preparatory redemption (Alma 13:3; Mosiah 3:13).[1]

Latter-day Saints are free to consider the uncreated nature of physical laws and more abstract concepts such as mathematics. Is mathematics created or discovered?–Many mathematicians discuss mathematics in terms of discovery. LDS scientists and thinkers can also theorize about physical laws. Is a given physical law created by God or is it a fundamental uncreated law? Are God’s physics more refined than ours? Do conservation laws prove that some things cannot be created or destroyed? And so forth.

There are some who argue that the Big Bang theory supports the concept of creation ex nihilo. However, a correct statement would be that nothing about the universe can be known prior to the instant of creation (the Big Bang). This limitation means that nothing can be said about what was before it. Though the idea of the Big Bang harmonizes well with the first cause argument, to say that the Big Bang theory proves creation ex nihilo is spurious reasoning. In the words of the Greek philosopher Parmenides,

I will not let you say or think that it was from what is not; for it cannot be said or thought that anything is not.[2]

[1] James T. Duke, “The Literary Structure and Doctrinal Significance of Alma 13:1–9,” Journal of Book of Mormon Studies, vol. 5, no. 1, Spring 1996, see pp. 114-116;.

[2] Taken from Blake T. Ostler, “The Doctrine of Creatio Ex Nihilo is a Big Fuss over Nothing: Part II.”

One thought on “Creation ex nihilo

  1. An interesting BYU Studies article, “Ex Nihilo: The Development of the Doctrines of God and Creation in Early Christianity,” by Keith Norman

    “In fact the Old Testament account of the creation, from Genesis 1 and consistently throughout, supports the radical departure of Joseph Smith and Mormonism from the orthodox ex nihilodogma. God fashioned or organized the heavens and the earth from existing material and not ‘out of nothing,’ and though God is far above man in his righteousness, perfection, and glory he formed man ‘in His own image and likeness.’ This personal, anthropomorphic, actively-working God is vastly different from the one of the creeds and the theologians, and belief in this kind of a Father-Creator brought at least as much contempt from sophisticated thinkers in the early Christian period as it does today.”

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