Creation ex Nihilo or ex Materia? A Critique of the Mormon Doctrine of Creation -- By: Paul Copan

Journal: Southern Baptist Journal of Theology
Volume: SBJT 09:2 (Summer 2005)
Article: Creation ex Nihilo or ex Materia? A Critique of the Mormon Doctrine of Creation
Author: Paul Copan


Creation ex Nihilo or ex Materia?
A Critique of the Mormon Doctrine of Creation

Paul Copan

Paul Copan is the Pledger Family Chair of Philosophy and Ethics at Palm Beach Atlantic University in West Palm Beach, Florida. He has written and edited a number of books including (with William Lane Craig) Creation Out of Nothing: A Biblical, Philosophical, and Scientific Exploration (Baker/Apollos, 2004), (with Paul K. Moser) The Rationality of Theism (Routledge, 2003), and Will the Real Jesus Please Stand Up? (Baker, 1998).

Orthodox Christianity has understood that God created the universe out of nothing (ex nihilo). Creating simply by divine fiat, God needed no preexistent materials. This view of creation strongly supports the doctrine of God’s omnipotence. Mormonism, however, rejects creation out of nothing. God is merely an Artificer or Shaper or Organizer of eternal matter. According to F. Kent Nelson and Stephen D. Ricks, the LDS understanding of creation “differs from both scientific and traditional Christian accounts” in that it recognizes creation “as organization of preexisting materials, and not as an ex nihilo event.”1

Mormons often claim that Christians imposed the doctrine of creation ex nihilo on Scripture. LDS theologian B. H. Roberts declared that “Christians converted into dogma the false notion of the creation of the universe out of ‘nothing,’ assuming God’s transcendence of the universe. They accepted the idea that ‘creation’ meant absolutely bringing from nonexistence into existence, and ultimately pronounced anathema upon those who might attempt to teach otherwise.”2 The influence of Greek philosophy on the early church Fathers is an oft-cited reason for “theological add-ons” such as creation out of nothing.3

In an energetic but ultimately failed effort to defend the LDS position on “creation from [eternally] preexisting matter,” Stephen D. Ricks classifies the defense of creation out of nothing as a doctrine that emerged significantly later in church history. He claims that it is still “fiercely maintained by fundamentalist Protestants (who continue to rigorously exclude Latterday Saints from Christianity because Latterday Saints affirm a belief in the existence of matter before the creation).”4 He condescendingly speaks of the defense of creation ex nihilo as the “rearguard actions by theological enthusiasts, members of great ‘yawning’ associations, and participants in meetings of societies of Christian philosophy.”You must have a subscription and be logged in to read the entire article.
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