Challenge Response: You Think Something Came from Nothing

Here's my response to this week's challenge:


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This week's challenge is from a comment left by an atheist on this particular blog. He says this: “I've always wondered about the statement that something cannot come from nothing. Isn’t this a complete refutation of ex nihilo creation? If something cannot be created from nothing, there cannot be a created universe since there's nothing to create from. Adding magic or supernatural to the equation does not solve anything since magic is by definition doing something impossible. However, if for any reason we assume God can create something indeed out of nothing, the premise, ‘something cannot come from nothing’ is false.”

In other words, what they're trying to argue is that Christians hold two contradictory views. On the one hand, we say something cannot come from nothing, but on the other hand, we see creation ex nihilo – creation out of nothing. You can see how it sounds like we're making a contradiction.

This is a fair challenge and one that can be answered by simply clarifying the two terms we’re referring to. You’ll notice at the end [of the challenge] they add on this stipulation that is rather illegitimate. We'll get to that in a second. Let's first clarify the definitions.

When we say something cannot come from nothing, this is simply a shorthand way of saying every effect, like the universe for example, has a cause. Creation ex nihilo is not an uncaused event. Creation ex nihilo simply means that we think God created the universe without using pre-existing matter. This is why something cannot come from nothing and creation ex nihilo are not contradictions. 

They're referring to two different categories. Something cannot come from nothing is about the category of cause and effect, whereas creation ex nihilo is whether God needs matter in order to create the universe. This is why it's legitimate for us to say that God is a sufficient cause for the effect of the universe.

The person then says you can't answer the objection by adding magic or supernatural because those two are by definition impossible. This is illegitimate because they’re laying out this objection and then telling us how we're allowed to answer the question. What if a supernatural being is the cause of the universe? Sorry, you can’t answer it that way. 

It would almost be like if a person is murdered, and the police say you cannot implicate a white man. Well, what if a white man did it? Sorry, by definition the white man is innocent. Well, that's not legitimate. That’s not fair, but that's exactly what they’re doing. They’re stipulating the type of answer that’s allowed. The answer that we want to give might be the actual answer, but it isn’t even allowed as a possible answer.

They're raising a straw man argument. A straw man fallacy occurs when someone takes your position and mischaracterizes it in a way that’s much easier to attack, and then they attack that view. That’s, in essence, what's going on here. They're using the terms “something cannot come from nothing” and “creation ex nihilo” in ways we’re not defining them. 

Remember, something can’t come from nothing is about cause and effect whereas creation ex nihilo is about whether you need matter or not to create something like the universe. Since they're defining those terms in contradictory ways, then of course it makes it much easier for them to critique our view. In reality, when you define the terms in the appropriate ways and understand what they mean, then the objection and the challenge disappears.

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Alan Shlemon