Monday, 7 December 2009
Creation out of Nothing by Copan and Lane Craig
Paul Copan and William Lane Craig
Leicester/ Grand Rapids: Apollos/ Baker Academic, 2004. 280pp. pb.
£14.99 ISBN 1-84474-038-2
Creatio ex nihilo (creation out of nothing) is an important doctrine that has come under fire in recent decades from theologians such as Gerhard May and scientist-theologians such as Ian Barbour. May contends that creation ex nihilo is biblically ambiguous and that it was a second-century response to Gnostic ideas; Barbour rejects it in favour of an absolute dependence of the universe on God.
It is in response to these ideas that Copan and Craig have teamed up to write this inter-disciplinary book. They show that creation out of nothing is biblical, and scientifically and philosophically grounded. They don’t explore the rich theological implications of creatio ex nihilo but do show that there is a very strong cumulative case for the doctrine and contra May it is a thoroughly biblical one.
The first three chapters explore the Old Testament, the New Testament and much of the extra-biblical evidence. At times these chapters read like a rich mosaic of commentators, but the conclusion in each one is that creation out of nothing is not a second-century invention; it is implicit in both testaments as well as explicit in the Jewish and early Christian writings.
The second half of the book (chapters 4-8) deals with scientific and philosophical arguments. Chapter 5 exposes the error that many – such as Barbour – make in conflating conservation and creation: ‘Creation is distinct from conservation in that creation does not presuppose a patient entity but involves God’s bringing something into being’ (165).
Chapter 5 explores the problem of the creation of abstract objects such as mathematics concepts. They examine three possible solutions: absolute creationism (which seems to be anything but absolute!), fictionalism and conceptualism. They conclude that much creative work is being done and still remains to be done on this issue; hence, they are not prepared to pronounce judgment over which solution is the most plausible. (I’m tempted to say none of the three they mention!)
The impossibility of an infinite past is explored in Chapter 6. Chapter 7 examines two broad lines of scientific evidence that the universe is not eternal and that it had an origin a finite time ago. The first of these evidences is the expansion of the universe and the standard big bang model of creation; the second, thermodynamics.
The final chapter examines naturalistic alternatives to creation ex nihilo; namely, that the universe created itself and that the universe sprung into existence uncaused out of nothing. Here they ably show the fallacious nature of these arguments.
One need not agree with all their arguments, but Copan and Craig have provided an excellent, inter-disciplinary and timely cumulative case for creatio ex nihilo.
Review originally published in Science and Christian Belief 18(1) (2006)