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 Post subject: Is God creating from nothing a logical contradiction?
PostPosted: Wed Mar 24, 2021 7:41 am 
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Hello all,

So we all understand that God's omnipotence entails that he can't do things which are logically impossible.
For example, he can't create a square circle because that isn't a thing. A shape can't have 4 corners while simultaneously having none.
He can't create a rock too heavy for him to lift because God is infinite. That would suppose he has infinite 'lifting power' which means, that rock would need to weight more than infinity which doesn't make sense.

My question then is, where does this leave the creation of the universe?

If there was nothing prior, and not merely empty space but actually nothing, then how can he create something from nothing?
If we say God created the universe ex nihilo, it means he doesn't use anything from himself since God cannot be divided according to Divine simplicity.

Like, how does he bestow being where there is none?
Rather than dividing himself, does he share of his being to create?

Thank you all


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 Post subject: Re: Is God creating from nothing a logical contradiction?
PostPosted: Wed Mar 24, 2021 10:27 am 
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He doesn't share His being; that would lead to pantheism.

Not only with respect to the initial act of creation but also with respect to the ongoing existence of the universe, things exist because God wills them to.


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 Post subject: Re: Is God creating from nothing a logical contradiction?
PostPosted: Wed Mar 24, 2021 10:57 am 
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To add to Obi's reply, it is helpful to remember the distinction between something's efficient cause and it's material cause. When we say God created ex nihilo, we mean the world lacked a material cause. It was made out of nothing. That does not mean the world lacked an efficient cause. Indeed, the efficient cause of the world is God.

It would be a self contradiction to say the world made from nothing means that it has no efficient cause. There is no contradiction in saying that God cannot will something into being, i.e., that something need not have a material cause. In fact, there's no reason to say that God could not create ex nihilo today. If God willed something new into existence, that wouldn't mean He made it out of preexisting material (though He could if He so chose). He could simply will something to be even now.


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 Post subject: Re: Is God creating from nothing a logical contradiction?
PostPosted: Thu Mar 25, 2021 2:18 pm 
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If creation ex nihilo is a logical contradiction, then so is modern cosmology, the Big Bang Theory is literally a theory that the universe spontaneously arose from nothing. So the option is to either believe that God created the universe from nothing, or that the universe spontaneously arose from nothing without a cause. The traditional option of the static universe (the so-called Steady State) became untenable once Edward Hubble discovered the Red Shift in the 1920s. Some try to reconcile the Big Bang with the Steady State by positing an oscillating universe, but they have neither evidence nor logic in their favor.


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 Post subject: Re: Is God creating from nothing a logical contradiction?
PostPosted: Thu Mar 25, 2021 9:55 pm 
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Nor sure why you're making that claim, Doom. I'm pretty sure I've read you somewhere over the years correct people on this very issue. The Standard Model doesn't say anything about the origin of the universe. It only describes the expansion of the universe from the earliest moments at which we can mathematically model it. What came before, or if that means anything at all, is a different question entirely and can't even begin to be guessed at without a theory of quantum gravity. That's like saying a big problem with Darwinian evolution is that it can't give an account of the origin of life.

So, no, it isn't true that the BBT "is literally a theory that the universe spontaneously arose from nothing." The vexing problem for physicists is exactly this, that the BBT cannot make such a prediction, which either implies that it did come from nothing (which the obvious theological implications) or else that there is new physics we need to discuss the "moments before" the BB. That's why you have all of the multiverse theories or things like curved boundaries of spacetime using imaginary numbers (a la Hawking) or Penrose's conformal cyclical cosmology, etc.


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 Post subject: Re: Is God creating from nothing a logical contradiction?
PostPosted: Fri Mar 26, 2021 1:10 pm 
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All of which only succeed in pushing the question back a level.

Hawking: Given M-theory and gravity, the universe is inevitable, so we don't need God.
God: Get your own gravity and M-theory.


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 Post subject: Re: Is God creating from nothing a logical contradiction?
PostPosted: Fri Mar 26, 2021 1:42 pm 
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theJack wrote:
Nor sure why you're making that claim, Doom. I'm pretty sure I've read you somewhere over the years correct people on this very issue. The Standard Model doesn't say anything about the origin of the universe. It only describes the expansion of the universe from the earliest moments at which we can mathematically model it. What came before, or if that means anything at all, is a different question entirely and can't even begin to be guessed at without a theory of quantum gravity. That's like saying a big problem with Darwinian evolution is that it can't give an account of the origin of life.

So, no, it isn't true that the BBT "is literally a theory that the universe spontaneously arose from nothing." The vexing problem for physicists is exactly this, that the BBT cannot make such a prediction, which either implies that it did come from nothing (which the obvious theological implications) or else that there is new physics we need to discuss the "moments before" the BB. That's why you have all of the multiverse theories or things like curved boundaries of spacetime using imaginary numbers (a la Hawking) or Penrose's conformal cyclical cosmology, etc.


There us literally no major figure on modern cosmology who denies the Big Bang. The last one was Fred Hoyle, who died 25 years ago. It is the consensus view.


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 Post subject: Re: Is God creating from nothing a logical contradiction?
PostPosted: Fri Mar 26, 2021 8:09 pm 
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theJack wrote:
To add to Obi's reply, it is helpful to remember the distinction between something's efficient cause and it's material cause. When we say God created ex nihilo, we mean the world lacked a material cause. It was made out of nothing. That does not mean the world lacked an efficient cause. Indeed, the efficient cause of the world is God.

It would be a self contradiction to say the world made from nothing means that it has no efficient cause. There is no contradiction in saying that God cannot will something into being, i.e., that something need not have a material cause. In fact, there's no reason to say that God could not create ex nihilo today. If God willed something new into existence, that wouldn't mean He made it out of preexisting material (though He could if He so chose). He could simply will something to be even now.


Yeah I agree the world was made from nothing, not an empty room that God was sitting in but literally nothing.

So I guess I was asking, is it a contradiction to say you can make something without pre-existing material?
For example, to say a builder made a house without any pre-existing material seems contradictory.
If he had no concrete, bricks, wood, tools etc. but made a modern day house, how did he create it?

Not to say God needed to use a tool or something in order to create the universe but, but why is it different to say "God can't make 2+2=5" and "God can't create something out of nothing"?

Again, I do think it is true, I just don't know how to explain that.


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 Post subject: Re: Is God creating from nothing a logical contradiction?
PostPosted: Fri Mar 26, 2021 8:37 pm 
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2+2=5 is an intrinsic contradiction. Creation ex nihilo isn't. The builder, in the strict sense, is making, not creating.


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 Post subject: Re: Is God creating from nothing a logical contradiction?
PostPosted: Sat Mar 27, 2021 1:04 am 
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Obi-Wan Kenobi wrote:
2+2=5 is an intrinsic contradiction. Creation ex nihilo isn't. The builder, in the strict sense, is making, not creating.


Why isn't it though?


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 Post subject: Re: Is God creating from nothing a logical contradiction?
PostPosted: Sat Mar 27, 2021 9:35 am 
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I don't see the problem so I can't explain anything to you about it. Can you say why you think it is a contradiction?


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 Post subject: Re: Is God creating from nothing a logical contradiction?
PostPosted: Sat Mar 27, 2021 10:36 am 
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gmor8802 wrote:
Obi-Wan Kenobi wrote:
2+2=5 is an intrinsic contradiction. Creation ex nihilo isn't. The builder, in the strict sense, is making, not creating.


Why isn't it though?


It isn’t, imho, because there simply needs to be potential in order to move from cause to effect. The universe certainly cannot come into existence merely from nothingness. On that, I think we all agree. And yet, it exists. Nothing, (and here we mean material nothingness), has no potential. So, there cannot be a material cause to the universe or else THAT would be the logical contradiction. Rather, the potential for the cause to exist resides in its efficient cause. This is what makes “creation” different from “change.” While I agree with you that creation is not something we experience, and is therefore wholly different from other cause/effect relationships we are accustomed to, they are NOT as you imply contradictory. Rather, it simply speaks to the power of the unique efficient cause of something like a universe. The universe has a cause, but it is not a material cause because we are speaking of matter itself coming into being. So, while you attempted to place your question outside of the normal “Can God make a rock...” type questions, I would say that it does seem to fall into it.

FJ


Last edited by forumjunkie on Sat Mar 27, 2021 2:08 pm, edited 1 time in total.

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 Post subject: Re: Is God creating from nothing a logical contradiction?
PostPosted: Sat Mar 27, 2021 1:55 pm 
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I know it's a function of what I've been reading lately (Brian Davies' The Existence of God and the Problem of Evil), but I notice a lot these days that people are tripping over what Davies calls "theistic personalism." That's the idea that God is a thing like us, only bigger and stronger and smarter and better. God is not a thing like us; in fact, God is far more unlike us than He is like us in any respect. So when we try to use the image of a carpenter making things and think that tells us something about how God creates, that's a category error.


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 Post subject: Re: Is God creating from nothing a logical contradiction?
PostPosted: Sat Mar 27, 2021 3:31 pm 
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gmor8802 wrote:
Obi-Wan Kenobi wrote:
2+2=5 is an intrinsic contradiction. Creation ex nihilo isn't. The builder, in the strict sense, is making, not creating.


Why isn't it though?

As Francisco Suarez put it, it's not contradictory because action qua action requires only an agent and an effect, not a patient. This is more or less what FJ and Father and The Jack are saying, but they are putting it into the language of causation, etc. Suarez's point here is strictly a conceptual observation about what action as such is.


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 Post subject: Re: Is God creating from nothing a logical contradiction?
PostPosted: Sun Mar 28, 2021 2:40 am 
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Obi-Wan Kenobi wrote:
I don't see the problem so I can't explain anything to you about it. Can you say why you think it is a contradiction?


I don't think it is, I just don't know how to explain it.

Probably because I don't know how to imagine an ex nihilo creation. I have no mental image of how that could possibly be :scratch:
Every act of creation that I can imagine involves something being turned into something else.

We say God is existence itself and he gives existence to all other things. God is a necessary being, he depends on nothing to exist, and God must exist by definition. Existence is God’s nature.

Maybe I'm getting the analogies wrong? Back to the house building analogy. Is it more correct to say that God is both, the builder of the house and the tools themselves, because the tools are necessary to build the house but also, the builder needs to be there to use them?

So because God is existence, he is capable of bringing being into existence from non being as it is his nature.
Fire is hot because that is its nature and so, it is capable of burning things and melting things into liquid.
God is existence as that is his nature and so, he is capable of creating and bringing things into existence.

Is that closer to an explanation that responds to the charge that creation ex nihilo is logically contradictory?


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 Post subject: Re: Is God creating from nothing a logical contradiction?
PostPosted: Sun Mar 28, 2021 9:03 am 
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Trying to imagine creation ex nihilo is a good part of the problem you're having. Imagination won't help here, only obscure. Conceiving is the thing you're looking for--the conceptual faculty is distinct from the imagination--and I already explained why there's no conceptual difficulty with creation ex nihilo above.

Apart from that, I don't know that the ways you're framing it--God as builder and tools, existence bringing existence into being--are helpful. In a great many cases, no tools are required. Imagine a dragon. What tools, apart from yourself, did you use to create that image? Tools aren't part of the notion of action any more than a patient is part of the notion of action. Just agent and effect. The existence bringing existence into being thing is also, I think, not helpful, because the two things are so radically distinct. We're not an extension of God's existence, nor do we share univocally anything with him.

I prefer to say that what omnipotence is, at its root, is the power to create ex nihilo. Many people want to try to cash it out as the power to do whatever is logically possible or some such. There are some technical problems with that account. (For those who accept Middle Knowledge, for example, there's the fact that there are logically possible scenarios that God can't bring into existence. If P in C would freely A, then although it's logically possible that P in C would fail to freely A, still, God can't bring about P in C without P freely Aing.) The best response to this is to reject Middle Knowledge, of course, but I still think it helps illustrate part of the conceptual problem with reducing the Absolute Power to a matter of checking the box of logical possibility.


Last edited by gherkin on Sun Mar 28, 2021 7:52 pm, edited 1 time in total.

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 Post subject: Re: Is God creating from nothing a logical contradiction?
PostPosted: Sun Mar 28, 2021 1:21 pm 
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Correct me if I'm wrong, gherkin, but the problem of reducing omnipotence to the ability to do all that is logically possible is in some way analogous to the problem of reducing math to pure logic. What I mean is that misunderstands both what logic is and what the thing being reduced is. It seems to me that logic must necessarily be incomplete for no other reason than it is requires the presumption of axiom -- that is, it is contingent enterprise. So when Russell tried to reduce math to logic, he presumed the latter could be complete (or, at least, infinite); but its "groundedness" so to speak ultimately grounded the project.

Maybe similarly, omnipotence is plainly not a contingent enterprise. We can discuss the relation between the set of all logical possibilities and omnipotence, but we ought not try to reduce the latter to the former. To your point about omnipotence being the ability to create ex nihilo, that reminds me of the way that I've thought of omnipotence, which is not to be quantitatively different from power (i.e., my power, but more all it, such that all of it that is or could be) but rather qualitatively different. So I've said that omnipotence is that which enables power itself. If anything has any power to act, it is only because it is related to the First Cause (and I'm obviously working directly from the First Way here). So on a fundamental level, omnipotence is the first bringing about of the effect. But such "first" effect, while not being uncaused in terms of efficiency (since the First Cause is the efficiency) seems it always must be ex nihilo in so far as it means no material cause. I mean, in every causal chain we can imagine, we can break down the causal structure until we get to something where there's no material at all that precedes. Take the quantum fluctuations in todays QFT. Ok, what causes *that*?

Put a hair differently, we can and must terminate in a First Efficient Cause. But because that First Efficient Cause must be pure act, it can't have a body, can't be material. So I don't see any way to have a First Material Cause. That means, at the bottom of any chain of material causes, there must be an ex nihilo effect, and that would tie directly into the omnipotence of the First Cause, perhaps just being identical to it.

Thoughts?


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 Post subject: Re: Is God creating from nothing a logical contradiction?
PostPosted: Sun Mar 28, 2021 2:39 pm 
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Let's see if this works.

What I have is an illustration showing a mathematical point (0 dimensions). Extend the point to form a line (1 dimension). Add other lines to form a square (2 dimensions). Finally, transform the square into a cube (3 dimensions.)

Now the challenge is to transform the cube into a 4-dimensional object. Can anyone do it?

Just imagine a 4-dimensional object and draw it. Except we are incapable of imagining a 4-dimensional object.

And that's where we are discussing creato ex nihilo, the Big Bang and so on -- We are not capable of imagining such things.

(Nope, the illustration didn't go through.)


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 Post subject: Re: Is God creating from nothing a logical contradiction?
PostPosted: Sun Mar 28, 2021 7:57 pm 
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theJack wrote:
Correct me if I'm wrong, gherkin, but the problem of reducing omnipotence to the ability to do all that is logically possible is in some way analogous to the problem of reducing math to pure logic. What I mean is that misunderstands both what logic is and what the thing being reduced is. It seems to me that logic must necessarily be incomplete for no other reason than it is requires the presumption of axiom -- that is, it is contingent enterprise. So when Russell tried to reduce math to logic, he presumed the latter could be complete (or, at least, infinite); but its "groundedness" so to speak ultimately grounded the project.

Maybe similarly, omnipotence is plainly not a contingent enterprise. We can discuss the relation between the set of all logical possibilities and omnipotence, but we ought not try to reduce the latter to the former.

The math point is a little beyond me this evening, I'm afraid. :) But in general, I think reductive explanations are chimerical anyway, and you're right--reducing God's power to anything else is certainly a bad idea, even if you can make helpful connections to other stuff like logical possibility or what have you. The whole Leibizian pursuit is, I think, closely connected to the theistic personalism that Father mentioned. Maybe Leibniz himself rose above it, I don't know him well enough to be sure, but certainly contemporary leibnizians don't.

To your point about omnipotence being the ability to create ex nihilo, that reminds me of the way that I've thought of omnipotence, which is not to be quantitatively different from power (i.e., my power, but more all it, such that all of it that is or could be) but rather qualitatively different.[/quote]
Yes. It's not my point, though. I'm pretty sure I read it first in James Ross. I actually don't know St. Thomas on this stuff nearly as well as I should.

Quote:
So I've said that omnipotence is that which enables power itself. If anything has any power to act, it is only because it is related to the First Cause (and I'm obviously working directly from the First Way here). So on a fundamental level, omnipotence is the first bringing about of the effect. But such "first" effect, while not being uncaused in terms of efficiency (since the First Cause is the efficiency) seems it always must be ex nihilo in so far as it means no material cause. I mean, in every causal chain we can imagine, we can break down the causal structure until we get to something where there's no material at all that precedes. Take the quantum fluctuations in todays QFT. Ok, what causes *that*?

Put a hair differently, we can and must terminate in a First Efficient Cause. But because that First Efficient Cause must be pure act, it can't have a body, can't be material. So I don't see any way to have a First Material Cause. That means, at the bottom of any chain of material causes, there must be an ex nihilo effect, and that would tie directly into the omnipotence of the First Cause, perhaps just being identical to it.

Thoughts?

Sounds pretty plausible. I'll have to think more about it.


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 Post subject: Re: Is God creating from nothing a logical contradiction?
PostPosted: Mon Mar 29, 2021 7:55 am 
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Vern Humphrey wrote:
Let's see if this works.

What I have is an illustration showing a mathematical point (0 dimensions). Extend the point to form a line (1 dimension). Add other lines to form a square (2 dimensions). Finally, transform the square into a cube (3 dimensions.)

Now the challenge is to transform the cube into a 4-dimensional object. Can anyone do it?

Just imagine a 4-dimensional object and draw it. Except we are incapable of imagining a 4-dimensional object.

And that's where we are discussing creato ex nihilo, the Big Bang and so on -- We are not capable of imagining such things.

(Nope, the illustration didn't go through.)



I made a tesseract in high school.


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