Creatio ex logos


Dave writes:

Sarah, I appreciate your ministry and read your testimony. I came to God initially as a searcher and made a leap of faith from what seemed to me logical eclecticism i.e. all religions lead to or at least can lead to God. The only conflict with that belief is the Bible! I accepted Christ by “coming through the gate” of John 10. I since have come through the Cross as a major sinner – yuch, but praise the Lord for His forgiveness. I love Him much more now – through the Cross. So, moving on to my question: Panentheism- what do you know or think about it. I do not believe in “Process Theology ” which Panentheism (not pantheism) is associated with (ex. Whitehead). Why I entertain Panentheism is that I have trouble with “creatio ex nihilo” as being Biblical (and obviously does not fit into the 1st Law of thermodynamics). I would much prefer orthodoxy to state “creatio ex logos”. I do not believe God made creation from absolutely nothing. I believe it is from His Word… His breath… ex logos is substantial not nothing. God created the universe from His own substance – by speaking. Our own words are not “out of thin air” but have a source of energy behind their creation… it is a source of energy that is both “imminent (our breath, sound vibrations and physical shaping of words with our mouths) and “transcendent” (our mind and thoughts). There is obviously much more to this topic, and it is not without it problematic issues, but what do you think – about Panentheism – biblically and scientifically?” P.S. Pantheism also seems to fit nicely into the Kalam cosmological argument and it counter argument (God vs Nothing as the first cause).

In order to understand the true meaning of creatio ex nihilo, it will be helpful for us to revisit Aristotle, who described four different types of causes to answer the “why” of things; that is, he came up with reasons for why there would be any sort of change or movement. In the case of the universe, we can consider two of those causes: a material cause and an efficient cause. A material cause is something that is determined by the material of the thing being changed or moved. For instance, paper would be the material cause of a book. An efficient cause, on the other hand, is external to whatever it is that’s being changed or moved and is the agent of that change or movement. For instance, the efficient cause of a book would be a writer. Creatio ex nihilo, the idea that God created the universe from nothing, means that: a) God is the efficient cause of the universe; and b) there is no material cause of the universe.

From a theological point of view, creatio ex nihilo stands in opposition to the idea that God established the universe by making it from eternally existing matter (a material cause). Traditional Christian theology rejects the latter. Christian philosopher William Lane Craig, who has written deeply on this topic, points to Augustine who says that God, as the ultimate Being, “did not work as a human craftsman does, making one thing out of something else as his mind directs…. [his] Word alone created [heaven and earth]” [John 1:1-5]. This is supported by the distinction between the Hebrew words for “create” and “make” in Genesis. The word for make, asah, means to refashion from previously existing material, and it is used to describe the emergence of structure in the universe following its creation, things like the galaxy, stars, planets, and so on. The word for create, bara, refers to something that is an utterly new creation. Bara appears only three times in Genesis: once for the creation of the universe, once for the creation of the nephesh, or animal soul, and once for the creation of the human spirit, the neshama.

What all of this suggests is that creatio ex nihilo is synonymous with creatio ex logos. The universe was an entirely new creation, not something that was made out of pre-existing stuff. Now, while I’m not aware of any reason that the physical conservation laws must apply to the creation of the universe, I think you’re right that it violates some sense of conservation to have a universe appear out of absolute nothing. So, while creatio ex nihilo rejects the idea of eternally existing matter from which God shapes the universe, it does embrace the idea that God’s Word is the something from which the universe was created. This is entirely consistent with what’s been observed in physics.

The uniqueness of Genesis — short version

The following is a handy distillation of yesterday’s post, which refuted the claim that Genesis is just borrowed mythology from earlier traditions. I know some of you don’t have the time to read through articles like that in all their glorious wordage, so this is for you. It’s also intended for those of you who did read the article and need help remembering the key points.

The Claim

  • Atheists claim that Genesis is not unique, but merely borrowed pagan mythology.
  • This is based on the opinions of theological liberals who find parallels between the Genesis creation story and pagan creation myths like the Babylonian Enuma Elish.
  • The Enuma Elish was discovered in the 19th century as part of an archeological dig in the ancient city of Nineveh, where it was found recorded on clay tablets.
  • This written account of the Enuma Elish predates the earliest written account of Genesis*.
  • Together, the timing and the parallels lead some theologically liberal scholars to conclude that Genesis is not unique, but a plagiarism of pagan myth.

The Parallels

  • Themes of darkness and chaos preceding order
  • Appearance of light before the Sun, the Moon, and the stars
  • Development of the world progressing in stages that culminates in the appearance of humankind
  • God/gods resting once the work is complete.

The Differences

Genesis claims:

  • The universe was created from absolute nothing
  • Only God existed prior to the creation of the universe
  • There is only one God
  • God is greater than and transcends the universe
  • Humans are deliberate creations made in the image of their Creator.

Babylonian claims:

  • The universe is eternal; the world was made from pre-existing matter
  • Personified natural forces (gods) existed prior to the making of the world
  • There are many gods
  • The gods inhabit the universe; the main god (Marduk) is located in the city of Babylon
  • Humans are incidental creations, made from the blood of the slain monster Kingu.

Genesis narrative style:

  • God-centered
  • Not interested in human personalities
  • Generally flat in tone
  • Austere in prose
  • Thirty-one verses in length.

Babylonian narrative style:

  • Decidedly not God-centered
  • Focused on the passions of the warring gods
  • Animated in tone
  • Extravagant in prose
  • Nine hundred lines in length.

The Conclusion

There are parallels between Genesis and pagan creation myths such as the Babylonian Enuma Elish, but the differences are far greater. The key difference, which cannot be overstated, is the Genesis claim that God is the sovereign creator of the universe, from which all other things are made. No pagan myth makes this claim. Furthermore, the Genesis claim of a universe created from nothing is alone among all creation stories as being consistent with modern science. Genesis is therefore unique.

Is God’s word difficult to understand? Part II

A reader sent in a question about the difficulty of understanding God’s word. In Part I, Surak clarified and explained how easy it is for the average Christian to acquire the scientific understanding needed to defend scripture. In Part II, Sarah discusses the inherent difficulty (or not) of understanding God’s word.

TF writes:

I had a question, but wanted to let you know first that I stumbled upon your website when I read Sarah Salviander’s testimony and watched the well-done slideshow that accompanied it.  I then read the website’s FAQ, several articles, and lots of comments over several weeks.

After reading more than I thought I would, I have a question that keeps nagging at me:  Is truth hard to understand or easy?  I’m not a scientist by any stretch of the imagination (I’m a pastor) but I’ve always loved science, especially when I can connect the dots between my faith and God’s creation.  For most of my life, I’ve held a pretty simplistic view of our world as a result of reading God’s Word, but after substantial reading on your website I feel like my head is going to explode :)  I don’t know if I agree with all of it, but most of it is fascinating and really well-thought out/researched.  My problem is that it is so hard for a person like me to understand (and I think I’m on the average part of the intelligence scale so the majority of the population would be in the same boat as I am).

So would God make the truth about his creation so complicated that only someone well versed in relativity, Hebrew translations, genetics, and 5 or 6 other fields of study could understand it?  Or would God make the truth about his creation simple enough for all to understand?

I’m not saying God is simple or easy to understand or that he wouldn’t want to give us lots of things for even the most intelligent people to discover and ponder over a lifetime, but wouldn’t God make truths as foundational as “where we come from” and “how this world was created” accessible to everyone rather than just a tiny percentage of super intelligent people?

If the truth of creation is as complicated as what it is on your website, I’m afraid I have no chance of ever explaining it to anyone.  If that is the case, then it seems like God made the truth of creation hard to understand and left most people hopelessly in the dark.  Or have we complicated things and there is a truth that is easier for all to access?

When Jesus (who was the embodiment of all God’s truth/love/mercy/etc.) came he was accessible to all, not just the most intelligent, wise, pious, powerful, etc.  He made God’s truth intelligible to even the poor, uneducated of his day, so I tend to think that God would make an important truth like creation accessible to someone as average as me as well.

So what do you think – is the truth (about creation) hard to understand or easy to understand?  And why?

My response to TF and everyone else who shares his concern is this. How much effort a person has to make to understand the scientific truth about God’s creation depends on two things. First, if someone wants to understand just for himself, the truth is really simple: the opening statement of the Bible and modern scientific agree that our universe had a beginning and was created from nothing. That magnificent truth gained from scripture and confirmed by science is enough understanding to make sense out of the world and our place in it. Everything else is just details.

However, if you aspire to help others find the scientific truth about God and his works, you will have to make a greater effort, because there are many questions about the universe that confuse and trouble other people. As soon as you try to help these people, you will encounter the second problem that makes understanding more difficult. Those who accept the responsibility to scientifically minister to others will encounter individuals and groups who deliberately make understanding more difficult for everyone.

I once spent a frustrating two hours watching a debate between Hugh Ross and Kent Hovind, and much of the discussion centered around this very question. Hugh Ross is a Christian astrophysicist who believes, as I do, that the universe and the Earth are billions of years old. Kent Hovind is a Young-Earth Creationist who claims the Bible says the Earth is just a few thousand years old. The debate centered on the age of the Earth, and how we know what it is.

Hovind stubbornly rejected nearly everything Ross offered as evidence. As a scientist, I can tell you that the evidence Ross offered was scientifically sound and compelling. In fact, Ross’s work is on the cutting edge of scientific efforts to understand the place of humankind in the universe God created. But, Hovind rejected the evidence out of hand and showed no respect for modern science.

One point Hovind repeatedly insisted on during the debate was that people in possession of what he called “special knowledge: about scripture and the world are gurus who are promoting cults, not Christian faith. Hovind implied Ross is a “guru” promoting a “cult” form of Christianity simply because Ross relies heavily on scientific understanding and careful translations of ancient Hebrew to interpret Genesis the way he does.

It is troubling that Hovind regards the study of God’s creation and the study of God’s word in the Old Testament as somehow wrong. His attitude is reminiscent of the Medieval age when science was first getting started, and dogmatic people accused the new scientists of sorcery and witchcraft for their efforts to understand physics, chemistry, and biology. Hovind’s resistance to science has a very primitive feel to it.

Hovind must know that a “guru” is someone who claims to have special knowledge that only they can achieve through some higher spiritual power. The special knowledge of a guru can only be passed down in mystic ways from one guru to the next. The claims of a scholar or scientist are in sharp contrast to those of a guru. The deep knowledge of a scholar is something that is attainable by anyone who has the inclination and time to pursue it — no special spiritual powers are required. Scientific knowledge is something that can be accumulated and passed on from one scholar to another in a rational, testable, non-mystical manner.

I don’t believe TF is making the same point Hovind did, that the knowledge needed to interpret Genesis the way I do is “special.” Hovind is intellectually dishonest, and he was not debating in good faith. He demonstrated no openness to being persuaded by any amount of evidence. On the contrary, he used any means he could to undermine and dismiss the evidence. Science has served humankind so well because it has one ironclad rule — go where the evidence takes you. Hovind is not willing.

I know that TF is asking an honest and important question: is the truth of the Bible accessible to everyone? After all, not everyone has the deep, scholarly knowledge required to discover Schroeder’s interpretation of Genesis or to fully understand it. Does this mean the truth of creation is complex and hard to understand? The answer is both yes and no. I’ll start with the no and then explain the yes.

The truth of creation is not difficult to understand

The essential and fundamental truth of creation is not difficult to understand. God makes the essentials — the things you really need to know to be saved — understandable by everyone. These essentials are:

  1. God is the sovereign Creator of all things.
  2. Jesus Christ is Lord and Savior, and through Him we have eternal life.

There is, of course, much more that can be said about the meaning and purpose of the Christian faith, but if a person understood only these two essentials and really believed them, that’s all he would need to be saved.

In terms of the first essential, all a person has to do is read the first few words of the Bible to understand that God is the sovereign Creator of all things: “In the beginning, God created the heavens and the earth.” That’s it. But it’s such a simple and self-evident concept that a person doesn’t even strictly need a Bible to come to this conclusion.

In my testimony, I explained how, despite virtually no contact with the Christian faith, I arrived at the conclusion that God created everything all on my own, just by looking at the physical world around me. Everything we see in the physical world is testimony to God’s sovereignty. (This is straight out of Psalm 19 and Romans 1:20.)

And, if a person reads a little bit about astronomy and physics, he will find that even the simplest understanding of big bang cosmology is sufficient to support the idea of God as the sovereign Creator. The big bang tells us there was a beginning to the universe, therefore it was created. The Creator logically must exist beyond the universe, must necessarily be beyond the limits of space and time, and is therefore a non-corporeal and timeless entity — is that not a basic description of God? A person doesn’t need a degree in physics or fluency in Hebrew to understand the profoundest truth about God and His creation.

As for the second essential, all we have to do is read the Gospels to understand it. As TF pointed out, Jesus made the truth intelligible to everyone. At the most fundamental level, these two essentials are what a Christian needs to know, and both are completely understandable by anyone.

The truth of creation is difficult to understand

So, if the essentials are all we need to be saved, why bother to search for hidden meanings or deeper truths in scripture, especially if they’re so difficult? The answer is that we make the effort in order to fulfill our Christian mission of growing closer to God. God wants us to make a constant effort to know him, so he challenges us. Knowing God should be a lifelong pursuit. Most of us know from experience that the more valuable a thing, the more difficult it is to attain.

God made his truth very simple when it comes to understanding our relationship to him and how we are to be saved. But, God also made us curious for a reason. People should be most curious about their maker. It is important that we always have questions about him as we are seeking him. People need to feel restless about their understanding of God to avoid becoming complacent. We should never become so arrogant that we feel we’ve reached some ultimate level of understanding. Our lack of understanding reminds us to be humble before our Creator.

Christian author, Frank Viola, listed several “shocking” beliefs of St. Augustine, and this one is relevant here: “If you are going to teach Scripture, you must have a knowledge of the natural world, mathematics, music, science, history, the liberal arts, and a mastery of dialectics (the science of disputing).” This doesn’t mean you have to be an expert in all of these things (which is impossible anyway), but it does mean you are obligated to have a broad knowledge that encompasses these things.

The study of the Bible and the world is more difficult for those who aspire to teach others. Ministering to others is a great calling and a heavy responsibility that requires one’s best efforts. Fortunately, it doesn’t require a lifetime of university-level study, but it does require some basic proficiency.

There was a time when I wanted to become proficient in ancient Hebrew so that I could really delve into Genesis, but I soon realized I have neither the time nor the inclination. Instead, I rely on the work of Hebrew scholars to determine the nuanced meaning of certain Hebrew passages. This doesn’t mean I’m off the hook — this still requires familiarizing myself with the basics of Hebrew and the methods scholars use to determine meaning from ancient texts. Even though I will never become anywhere near as proficient as someone like Gleason Archer, I’ve learned enough to evaluate the credibility of what the scholars are saying.

Some people balk at the idea of relying on experts, but the way I see it is this. God gave us Biblical scholars and scientists, just as God gave us engineers, physicians, craftsmen, musicians, storytellers, and every other type of person we need to have a functioning civilization. These are people who have the desire and God-given talent for doing specific things very well so that we don’t each have to try to master everything ourselves.

God made us into social beings for this reason. We are admonished to love one another, and part of loving is trusting each other and working together. So, I accept the honest efforts of other scientists and scholars and do my best to build on it. I know that people are fallible in their understanding of scripture and the world, but in general scientists help each other to correct mistakes and make steady progress in the search for God’s truth.

So my message to TF and all of those who doubt their ability to understand God and his works through science is this. You have willingly taken on the role of a teacher. God loves you for your honest question and your genuine desire to know. Your lack of confidence in the face of such a great challenge is understandable, but you cannot fail as long as you keep trying. Every step on the path to understanding God and his works is a triumph. It is a testimony to your commitment that you will never know enough to satisfy your desire to know God. It is enough that you will be able to help others who share your holy desire.

It is the glory of God to conceal things, but the glory of kings is to search things out. — Proverbs 25:2.

The physics of miracles: thermodynamics


Miracles are part of Christian tradition that are often ridiculed by atheists. The claim is that God or one of God’s agents does the impossible, and impossible things never happen, because they defy the laws of nature, so why do you believe in something as nonsensical as miracles?

But is that really what all miracles are — defying the laws of nature and doing the impossible?

Before we get into the physics, let’s first go to scripture to see how miracles are defined. (Generally speaking, in any argument with atheists over something in scripture, the first thing you should do is carefully study the relevant passages to see what the actual claim is. Atheists almost always get it wrong.)

There are two Hebrew words translated as ‘miracle’ in the Old Testament. They are

  • oth: this word refers to a sign. The purpose of this sort of miracle is to draw people’s attention to God. (e.g. Exodus 12:13)
  • mopheth: this word refers to a wonder and is often used together with oth (signs and wonders). The purpose of this sort of miracle is to display God’s power. (e.g. Exodus 7:3)

The Greek counterparts in the New Testament are

  • semeion: this word refers to a sign, and is used to describe acts that are evidence of divine authority, usually something that goes against the usual course of nature (e.g. John 2:11)
  • teras: this word refers to a wonder, and is used to describe something that causes a person to marvel (e.g. Acts 2:22)

There are two additional words used for miracle in the New Testament:

  • dunamis: this word refers to an act that is supernatural in origin (e.g. Mark 6:2)
  • ergon: this word means “work,” as in the works of Jesus (e.g. Matthew 11:2) (interestingly, ergon is the Greek word from which the unit of energy, erg, is derived)

Is it possible to square some miracles with the laws of nature without detracting from their wondrousness? I believe the answer is yes, based on two branches of physics: thermodynamics and quantum mechanics. In this first part, I’ll discuss miracles from the perspective of thermodynamics, the branch of physics that deals with heat, energy, and work.

What follows is more properly described as statistical mechanics, or statistical thermodynamics, but you don’t need to get hung up terms. This field of study deals with predictions about the behavior of systems with enormous numbers of particles. These numbers are so huge that no one could be absolutely certain about any predictions, but this is where statistics come to the rescue. You can make statistical predictions about systems of particles, and, as you’ll see, the more particles you’re dealing with, the more accurate the predictions become. And, interestingly, this is precisely what permits miracles that do not violate the laws of nature.

The laws of nature permit a lot more than most people realize. In our everyday lives, we don’t usually define common sense expectations in terms of probabilities, but that’s often precisely what common sense is. In thermodynamics, that which constitutes our everyday expectation in any given situation is what’s referred to as the most probable state of a system.

To see what I mean, let’s consider a room with air in it, and imagine that we divide the room into two equal parts. We’ll also imagine this room and the air molecules comprise a closed system: the room has been effectively sealed off with its doors and windows closed for several hours, with no energy or air added to or removed from it. This means the room has had time for the air particles to jostle around and distribute themselves randomly. What we expect when we walk into the room is that the air molecules will be relatively evenly distributed throughout the room with approximately the same number of molecules on either side. What we don’t expect is that all of the air molecules will be on one side of the room with a vacuum on the other side. Most of you probably couldn’t explain why you’d be astonished to find all of the air on just one side of the room — you intuitively sense that this would be extremely odd — but there is a sound reason for this expectation that is rooted in probability.

Let’s construct what scientists call a toy model, which is a very simplified example of a situation you wish to study, in order to understand the fundamentals. Our toy model consists of a room divided in half with only two air molecules in it, an oxygen molecule and a nitrogen molecule. Here are the possible arrangements of these molecules:





Each possible arrangement is called a “state” of the room. We see that there are four possible states for the room. There are two states in which the air molecules are distributed evenly in the room, and two in which both of the air molecules are on one side of the room. The probability of finding a room in a state in which both molecules are on one side of the room is 2 out of 4, or 50%.

Easy enough. But things start to change quickly the more particles we add. Let’s see what happens when we double the number of molecules to four — one nitrogen, one oxygen, one argon, and one carbon dioxide.

















As you can see, there are a total of 16 possible states for the room. Again, there are only two states in which the air molecules are on one side of the room, but now there are many more total possible states than before. The probability of all four molecules spontaneously arranging themselves on one side of the room is 2 out of 16, or 12.5%. This is a lot less probable than in the previous example, but not so low that you would be astonished to find all of the air molecules on one side of the room.

Based on this toy model, we can write the mathematical expression for the total number of possible arrangements of air molecules in a two-sided room as

total # of states = (2 sides of the room)# of molecules



That’s 2 raised to the power of the number of molecules. For the two-molecule example, that’s 22 = 4, and for the four-molecule example, that’s 24 = 16.

Let’s consider a room with N = 100 air molecules in it, and calculate the probability of finding all of the molecules on one side of the room:

total # of permutations = 2100 = 1030

Even with a paltry 100 air molecules in the room, the probability of finding them all on one side of the room is a minuscule 2 out of 1030 possible permutations. Let’s put this in perspective. If the air molecules randomly redistributed themselves every second, you’d have to wait a trillion lifetimes of the universe before you’d have a reasonable expectation of finding all 100 air molecules on one side of the room.

Let’s now consider a typical room, which has N = 1027 air molecules in it. That number is a 1 with 27 zeroes after it


or a billion billion billion.

The total number of possible arrangements of the air molecules in a room divided into two equal parts is

2N = 21027

or 2 raised to the power of a billion billion billion. It’s an absurdly large number.

There are still only two possible ways for all of the air molecules to be on one side of the room or the other, so the probability of finding a room in a state in which all of the air molecules are, by random chance, on one side of the room or the other is 2 out of 21027. To say that this is an extremely improbable state is beyond understatement.

In fact, by any reasonable definition, we can say that it’s effectively impossible for the air molecules in a room to spontaneously arrange themselves to be on just one side of the room. But notice that it’s not strictly impossible. The probability of finding the air molecules on one side of the room by chance is extremely, extremely low, so low that we would never expect it to happen in the normal course of nature, but the probability is not precisely zero.

This toy model neglects other important physical effects, but it suffices to demonstrate the point that a lot of physical systems are largely governed by probabilities. Personally, I think this is how God has built leeway into the system of the universe to do the seemingly impossible in the natural world without violating the laws of nature. It is God, or an agent of God, doing what is effectively impossible, i.e. impossible for us, but not strictly impossible, and certainly not impossible for God.

Let’s consider a biblical example — the parting of the Red Sea. In Exodus 14, Moses is described as stretching out his hand at God’s command and parting the Red Sea so that the millions of people of Israel could cross it and escape from the pursuing Egyptians. This is referenced later in Deuteronomy 26:8 as one of the “signs and wonders” (oth and mopheth) God used to display his power and free Israel from Egypt. The probability of finding the waters of the Red Sea spontaneously parting on their own would be as exceptionally low as in our example of the air molecules in the room spontaneously arranging themselves on just one side. It’s so low that we would never expect it to happen in the usual course of nature, but, as we saw in the example of air molecules, it’s not strictly impossible.

Do not misunderstand me. I am not: a) claiming that all physical miracles have a foundation in probability — the miracle (semeion) of Jesus turning water into wine would involve a different physical mechanism than that illustrated by statistical thermodynamics; b) claiming that all miracles are physical in character; or c) attempting to explain miracles in a way that detracts from their miraculousness. That physical miracles could fit into the natural framework of the universe makes them no less wondrous than if they defied the laws of nature. Think of it this way. It’s not strictly impossible for you to win the Mega Millions lottery four times in a row — the probability is approximately 1 out of 1025, about 100,000 times more probable than finding 100 air molecules on one side of a room. However, the odds are so overwhelmingly against it that it no one would believe it happened without someone intervening in the system to force this outcome. Isn’t that what we’re talking about with miracles?

According to the laws of physics, a miracle like parting the Red Sea does not violate the laws of nature, it just requires a far greater power over the forces of nature than we humans could ever have.

In the next part, I’ll look at miracles from the perspective of the weird and wondrous world of quantum mechanics.

Since posting, I’ve lightly edited this article for clarification of two points: 1) not all physical miracles are probabilistic in nature; and 2) not all miracles are physical in character. Some miracles described in the Bible, such as the creation of the universe, the creation of the nefesh (animal soul) and the neshama (human soul), and Jesus’ resurrection and ascension, are entirely supernatural in character.

Parting of the Red Sea image credit: The Swordbearer.

Jewish authority on scripture

I grew up atheist in a secular country, so my experience with Christianity was very limited until I moved to the U.S. As I explained in my testimony, I came to my belief in God and acceptance of Jesus Christ mostly through my work in astrophysics, and particularly through the work of an Israeli physicist named Gerald Schroeder.

Schroeder is an Orthodox Jew who has been living in Israel since the 1970s, and he describes himself as an applied theologian. I have found his commentary on Genesis and modern science to be extremely insightful and inspired. Not everyone agrees with Schroeder’s interpretation of Genesis and its compatibility with modern science, but nevertheless, it is honest work based on deep scholarship, an obvious love for God, and respect for both scripture and science. It was through Schroeder’s work that I came to believe in the God of the Bible, and eventually to accept Jesus Christ.

Most Christians I have encountered through public speaking events and this website are intrigued by Schroeder’s work and willing to explore it, but I recently had a reader try to warn me against trusting Schroeder for the reason that he is an “unbelieving Jew.” According to this person, Schroeder, as a Jew, has failed to recognize his Messiah, so his authority on scripture is called into question. It never occurred to me, as someone who came to Christianity by way of Jewish wisdom, that I should mistrust an Old Testament authority, because he has not accepted Jesus. When I began my ministry several years ago, I had been told by some Christian friends to expect a bit of this, but I was still taken aback by it.

I contacted “Rabbi B,” a friend who is a Messianic Jew and a rabbi, and asked him whether a person’s failure to recognize Jesus as the Messiah is a sufficient reason to reject his authority on scripture. Below is his response.

The idea that Jews who do not embrace embrace Jesus as the Messiah can’t be trusted to elucidate the Scriptures is a specious argument. Paul indicates in Corinthians, I believe, that when the unbelieving Jews read the Scriptures, there is a veil over their eyes which prevents them from recognizing the Messiah.

But this does not preclude their understanding of the Scriptures generally or that they have not been given a certain amount of understanding concerning other matters.

Jesus also stated that though the Jews diligently search the Scriptures, they fail to recognize the Messiah. Again, this does not mean they have no insights to offer, it simply means they do not recognize or have failed to identify who the Messiah is. In fact, we have a very old tradition that the patriarchs all experienced blindness. Abraham was blind to who the son of promise would be — he experienced a spiritual blindness. Isaac experienced a physical blindness when he was fooled by Jacob, as his eyes were dim. Jacob’s blindness was due to the environment, as it was darkness which prevented him from seeing Leah, when he thought he was marrying Rachel.

Here is the interesting part. The rabbis look at the blindness of the three Patriarchs and conclude that it portends the blindness of Israel when the Messiah comes, that they will not recognize Him when He comes. Which, as we know, has been very much the case.

Paul, alludes to this idea in Romans, I believe, when he speaks of a ‘blindness in part’ that has come upon Israel, particularly regarding the identity of the Messiah. Again, it’s a blindness IN PART … not complete and utter blindness. It is important to remember too, the Jews were entrusted with the very oracles of G-d, i.e. the Scriptures, again, according to Romans.

Rabbi B offers more insightful commentary at his blog, and may be contacted at rebbaruch10 -at- gmail -dot- com (replace the ‘at’ and ‘dot’ with the appropriate symbols).

Austin Event: John Lennox and Steven Weinberg

UPDATE: Sadly, Professor Weinberg has withdrawn from this event. Philosophy professor Daniel Bonevac will take his place, and the event will proceed as planned.

Also, for some reason, “Veritas Forum” has been scrubbed from the promotional materials, so the new poster is below.

For those of you in the Austin, Texas area, the Veritas Forum is hosting a dialogue between John Lennox and Steven Weinberg Daniel Bonevac. For those who can’t make it, Veritas tends to post videos of their events on their website, so check in with them afterward.



Demolishing atheist arguments — clarification on the Third Way

This is a follow-up to Russell’s guest post about Aquinas’ Five Ways. Following a vigorous discussion in the comments, he wanted to clarify his commentary of the Third Way.

My apologies, I’ve muddled up the Third Way a bit here. Let me try it again and unmuddle. If you aren’t satisfied, I’ll double your money back.

The Third Way

The third way is taken from possibility and necessity, and runs thus. We find in nature things that are possible to be and not to be, since they are found to be generated, and to corrupt, and consequently, they are possible to be and not to be. But it is impossible for these always to exist, for that which is possible not to be at some time is not. Therefore, if everything is possible not to be, then at one time there could have been nothing in existence. Now if this were true, even now there would be nothing in existence, because that which does not exist only begins to exist by something already existing. Therefore, if at one time nothing was in existence, it would have been impossible for anything to have begun to exist; and thus even now nothing would be in existence – which is absurd. Therefore, not all beings are merely possible, but there must exist something the existence of which is necessary. But every necessary thing either has its necessity caused by another, or not. Now it is impossible to go on to infinity in necessary things which have their necessity caused by another, as has been already proved in regard to efficient causes. Therefore we cannot but postulate the existence of some being having of itself its own necessity, and not receiving it from another, but rather causing in others their necessity. This all men speak of as God.

The words ‘possibility’ and ‘necessity’ have be used in the context of Aquinas’ time.

‘Possibility’ is used in the Aristotelian sense, that is, the hylemorphic composite nature of something that can possibly be and not to be. This nature is inherent. Whatever form something has now, if it has hylemorphic nature, it will fail to exist in that form given enough time. It lacks the potential for indefinite existence.

By ‘necessity,’ he means the opposite of possibility: something that by its nature is everlasting, it cannot cease to exist no matter how much time passes. It cannot change into something it is not. By its very nature, for example, it cannot become contingent.

Aquinas’ argument starts with establishing the fact that if the hylemorphic somethings of the Universe, be it an entity or an action or a cause or an event or whatever, at some point, given infinite time, never existed, and, again, given infinite time, all things would have never existed, and we wouldn’t be here arguing about why we are here.

He says that’s absurd, and, because we are here, something has to have Necessary Being, which means something that exists is non-temporal and non-contingent. Here he uses being to mean being as existence and as a supreme being that men call God, “I am that I am,” which is of itself Being. He uses being not as one being among other beings, but being qua being. I’m not an expert in Latin, but the tricky passage is here: Ergo necesse est ponere aliquid quod sit per se necessarium, non habens causam necessitatis aliunde, sed quod est causa necessitatis aliis, quod omnes dicunt Deum. Sit per se isn’t complete by itself, so we have to look at necessarium, as well, and that all roughly translates into being as an abstract which has its own necessity, its own everlastingness.

It’s this Necessary Being that sustains all Possible things.

So, Aquinas’ argument then takes care of the Universe always existing, the Universe contracting and expanding forever, and multi-universes for the same reason.

I hope this has unmuddled what I had muddled. Amateur philosophers, sheesh!

Another point is that these Ways are not empirical, scientific proofs, but metaphysical demonstrations. That means none of his arguments are tied to past, current, or future scientific knowledge, because they don’t rest on empirical evidence.

Fire Back: Where the Readers Respond

In which a reader asks about death before sin.

PH writes:

You say in your FAQ that both Genesis and the NT are clear that homo sapiens existed before the creation of Adam. Yet Genesis and Romans are both very clear that death came about as the result of sin. How do you reconcile these two statements?

I believe Gerald Schroeder is correct that it was spiritual death, not physical death, that resulted from sin. After being told, “on the day that you eat [the forbidden fruit] you shall surely die,” (emphasis added) and then eating the fruit, Adam lives for another 930 years. Instead of being physically killed as a punishment, he and Eve are thrown out of Eden, and God never addresses them again. In God According to God, Schroeder explains why this is a far worse punishment:

The Bible does not imply that eating of the forbidden fruit brought physical death for the first time into the world. The death that this first of human couples experienced was the death of their unbounded spirituality. Loss of spirituality for one who had conversed with the Creator, a separation from that infinite light, would be far more devastating than actual physical death. For this unfortunate couple of the Bible, only the physical remained.

Cain suffered similarly. At Cain’s exile, following his murdering Abel, he pleaded: “My punishment is greater than I can bear… From Your Presence I shall be hidden” (Gen. 4:13-14).

Hugh Ross points out that we have a tendency to forget the first fall was Satan’s, not man’s. I suppose God knew Satan would corrupt the world, so he mercifully built physical decay and death into this fallen world so that neither would it last forever nor would we even have enough time to grow more corrupt than we already are.

Scripturally, there is no problem whatsoever with physical death preceding Adam. In fact, as strange as it sounds, we should be grateful to God for it.

How to demolish the most common arguments against God

Are you tired of hearing the same weak atheist arguments over and over, but lack a definitive way to respond to them? Do you sense that they’re wrong, but have trouble articulating why? Chances are, you have a vague and passing familiarity with the philosophy of St. Thomas Aquinas, who demolished these arguments centuries ago; but to be an effective defender of your faith, what you need is a solid understanding of Aquinas’ Five Ways.

The following is a guest post by one of our readers, Russell, who has been studying Aquinas. After he left a comment about Aquinas’ Five Ways in another article, I requested that he write this overview. Once you familiarize yourself with the Five Ways, you’ll realize that they’re really just common sense—and excellent retorts to those atheists who demonstrate that their level of understanding doesn’t even rise to the level of common sense.


This is a quick overview of Aquinas’ most famous arguments, the Five Ways, for the existence of God. I’m not an expert on Aquinas, so any faults about his Ways are mine, not the good Doctor’s.

St. Thomas Aquinas was born in Italy, and lived from 1225 to 1274. Known as “Doctor Angelicus,” he was a great theologian, prolific writer, and the father of the Thomistic school of theology.

Aquinas combined Aristotelian dialectic with Christian theology. I know, doesn’t sound all that impressive. We can’t see how profound that was, because, like fish who can’t see the water in which they live, we can’t imagine a world without it. The combination of Athens and Jerusalem has been a cornerstone of Western Civilization, and his influence in this regard cannot be overstated.

Sadly, most modern ‘thinkers’ have no clue who Aquinas was, and therefore why their arguments against God are nothing more than the babbling of uneducated fools. They don’t realize Aquinas already dealt with the nattering nonsense that keeps trying to pass itself off as science and logic.

Aquinas’ Five Ways, or Quinque viae, are still standing, centuries later, as solid arguments for the existence of God. Not proofs of existence, like some keep saying, but arguments for the existence of God.

His Five Ways are:

  1. The Argument from Motion.
  2. The Argument from Efficient Cause.
  3. The Argument to Necessary Being or Contingency.
  4. The Argument from Gradation.
  5. The Argument from Design.

You could spend a lifetime examining his arguments, but we’re not going to do that here. All I’m aiming for is a broad overview of the Big Five.

One core idea that Aquinas builds on is Aristotelian in nature: the difference between potentiality and actuality. The idea is, something can exist in one state or the other, say a rock on top a hill. The rock has the potential to roll down the hill, but it cannot do so on its own. If another force—say, a mover—pushes the rock, then it will actually roll down the hill.

The First Way

The first and more manifest way is the argument from motion. It is certain, and evident to our senses, that in the world some things are in motion. Now whatever is in motion is put in motion by another, for nothing can be in motion except it is in potentiality to that towards which it is in motion; whereas a thing moves inasmuch as it is in act. For motion is nothing else than the reduction of something from potentiality to actuality. But nothing can be reduced from potentiality to actuality, except by something in a state of actuality. Thus that which is actually hot, as fire, makes wood, which is potentially hot, to be actually hot, and thereby moves and changes it. Now it is not possible that the same thing should be at once in actuality and potentiality in the same respect, but only in different respects. For what is actually hot cannot simultaneously be potentially hot; but it is simultaneously potentially cold. It is therefore impossible that in the same respect and in the same way a thing should be both mover and moved, i.e. that it should move itself. Therefore, whatever is in motion must be put in motion by another. If that by which it is put in motion be itself put in motion, then this also must needs be put in motion by another, and that by another again. But this cannot go on to infinity, because then there would be no first mover, and, consequently, no other mover; seeing that subsequent movers move only inasmuch as they are put in motion by the first mover; as the staff moves only because it is put in motion by the hand. Therefore it is necessary to arrive at a first mover, put in motion by no other; and this everyone understands to be God.[1]

Things do move. We see them moving. Something has to move the thing that’s moving. Potentiality is only moved by actuality. Something can’t exist potentially moving and actually moving. So a potential depends on an actual to change it to an actual. There has to be something that does not need to be moved, that moves all things, and that is God.

This isn’t what most people think it is—this is not an argument for a beginning of a temporal series. The Unmoved Mover in this case is above the lower elements of the set. Aquinas jumps categories, from things that are contingent to a non-contingent entity. There has to be a change in categories because the non-contingent entity is fundamentally different than contingent things. Aquinas will make use of this idea again. And because this is only talking about contingent things, Aquinas says only contingent things have a start to their movement.

The Second Way

The second way is from the nature of the efficient cause. In the world of sense we find there is an order of efficient causes. There is no case known (neither is it, indeed, possible) in which a thing is found to be the efficient cause of itself; for so it would be prior to itself, which is impossible. Now in efficient causes it is not possible to go on to infinity, because in all efficient causes following in order, the first is the cause of the intermediate cause, and the intermediate is the cause of the ultimate cause, whether the intermediate cause be several, or only one. Now to take away the cause is to take away the effect. Therefore, if there be no first cause among efficient causes, there will be no ultimate, nor any intermediate cause. But if in efficient causes it is possible to go on to infinity, there will be no first efficient cause, neither will there be an ultimate effect, nor any intermediate efficient causes; all of which is plainly false. Therefore it is necessary to admit a first efficient cause, to which everyone gives the name of God.[1]

In some ways this is another angle to his First Way. Nothing can cause itself, for it would have to pre-exist itself to do so. So anything caused has to have a cause. You can’t have an infinite number of causes, because something along the way has to change the potential causes into actual caused. There might be more than one intermediate causes, but they, too, can’t stretch into an infinite series for the same reason. So there has to be another category above causes and caused, an Uncaused Cause, which we call God.

How long of a paint brush would you need to get it to paint by itself? A meter? 100 meters? An infinite length? The answer is, there is no length that will change the potential nature of the brush to an actually painting brush. It will require a mover, a cause, to do so.

Movement and cause are the same: that which is contingent has to rely on an non-contingent entity to become actual and caused. Again, this isn’t a temporal series. It can apply to those, but the underlying requirement is the Uncaused Cause, the Unmoved Mover, which is in a different category than contingent things.

The Third Way

The third way is taken from possibility and necessity, and runs thus. We find in nature things that are possible to be and not to be, since they are found to be generated, and to corrupt, and consequently, they are possible to be and not to be. But it is impossible for these always to exist, for that which is possible not to be at some time is not. Therefore, if everything is possible not to be, then at one time there could have been nothing in existence. Now if this were true, even now there would be nothing in existence, because that which does not exist only begins to exist by something already existing. Therefore, if at one time nothing was in existence, it would have been impossible for anything to have begun to exist; and thus even now nothing would be in existence – which is absurd. Therefore, not all beings are merely possible, but there must exist something the existence of which is necessary. But every necessary thing either has its necessity caused by another, or not. Now it is impossible to go on to infinity in necessary things which have their necessity caused by another, as has been already proved in regard to efficient causes. Therefore we cannot but postulate the existence of some being having of itself its own necessity, and not receiving it from another, but rather causing in others their necessity. This all men speak of as God.[1]

The Third Way is another angle of the first two, but Aquinas really brings out the need for a non-contingent entity.

These first three ways are profound enough to answer the blathering ninnies that run about saying stupid things like, “If everything has a cause, then what caused God?” and “What if the Universe is of infinite time, Bible boy? What then?”

The first question—what caused God—shows the utter lack of education possessed by many of those with degrees. Aquinas doesn’t argue that everything has a cause, but that everything contingent has a cause. If you are talking with someone who makes the argument that God should have a cause, you should kindly point out that no serious philosopher has made that argument, especially not Aquinas, not Aristotle, and not even William Lane Craig.

Here’s a bit of advice for Christians defending against such an argument. If the person persists in maintaining that’s the argument, he’s not arguing from good faith, he’s intellectually dishonest and you may treat him as such. Dialectic arguments should only be used to explode his pseudo-dialectic mutterings. Use rhetoric to strike against his emotions. Stick to the truth. You’ll do fine. If he accepts your correction, you could end up having a delightful discussion with him.

The second question—what if the universe is infinite in time—isn’t quite as cut and dried. Aquinas makes an argument for a single act of creation, but he also argues such an event isn’t needed. The tricky part is understanding that Aquinas’ argument for God is not one of a temporal series in and of itself, but that God, the Unmoved Mover, the Uncaused Cause, the Necessary Being, is fundamentally different than anything that isn’t Him. God is a different category altogether. If the Universe has begun to exist, then it there needs a Cause that is Uncaused. I know, dead horse. And for everything in the Universe, there needs be a Necessary Being to uphold all existence, because if something can not exist at one point, it lacks the ability to self-exists.

If the Universe has always existed, or even if there’s an infinite number of Universes, then there needs be a Necessary Being to uphold all existence. It doesn’t matter if there is a beginning or not to the Universe, everything contingent needs to be upheld moment to moment by the Necessary Being.

“Fine, but what about a quantum field fluctuations?” Same answer.

See, the problem is at this point, the person arguing against God while trying to use science is barking up the wrong category. God’s involvement is metaphysical, above nature, also know as supernatural. Using contingent factoids cannot prove or disprove arguments from a metaphysical category.

The guy arguing against God needs to engage the actual arguments made by Aquinas at the same level in order to be rational. Anything less is dishonest.

The Fourth Way

The fourth way is taken from the gradation to be found in things. Among beings there are some more and some less good, true, noble and the like. But ‘more’ and ‘less’ are predicated of different things, according as they resemble in their different ways something which is the maximum, as a thing is said to be hotter according as it more nearly resembles that which is hottest; so that there is something which is truest, something best, something noblest and, consequently, something which is uttermost being; for those things that are greatest in truth are greatest in being, as it is written in Metaph. ii. Now the maximum in any genus is the cause of all in that genus; as fire, which is the maximum heat, is the cause of all hot things. Therefore there must also be something which is to all beings the cause of their being, goodness, and every other perfection; and this we call God.[1]

Like Aquinas’ other Ways, this is just a summary of his arguments. He spends hundreds of pages explaining why God has to be Good and not just anything. This is not a quantitative argument about sums and magnitudes, but one of transcendental perfection. To treat this as the extent of his argument is either ignorant or dishonest.

For example:

That’s an argument? You might as well say, people vary in smelliness but we can make the comparison only by reference to a perfect maximum of conceivable smelliness. Therefore there must exist a pre-eminently peerless stinker, and we call him God. Or substitute any dimension of comparison you like, and derive an equivalently fatuous conclusion. — Richard Dawkins, The God Delusion


The Fifth Way

The fifth way is taken from the governance of the world. We see that things which lack intelligence, such as natural bodies, act for an end, and this is evident from their acting always, or nearly always, in the same way, so as to obtain the best result. Hence it is plain that not fortuitously, but designedly, do they achieve their end. Now whatever lacks intelligence cannot move towards an end, unless it be directed by some being endowed with knowledge and intelligence; as the arrow is shot to its mark by the archer. Therefore some intelligent being exists by whom all natural things are directed to their end; and this being we call God.[1]

This is just common sense, which explains why most learned men of our age have no idea what point Aquinas is making here. That which lacks intelligence cannot have a purpose. Unintelligent thing act according to laws set for them. Intelligence precedes laws. So, that which has set the laws by which all things are governed we call God.

Since we don’t know for certain what the physical laws were like during the first blip after the Big Bang, we can’t describe how things worked. But, again, God is above that, He had laid down governance for those initial conditions as much as He did for the material Universe after. All things operate according to His will.

The implications should be clear, no matter what law is discovered by man’s questing, it cannot supersede God. There is no God of the gaps for Aquinas—God is above and below all.

To summarize, Aquinas argues for some Being that is above everything as the First Cause, the Unmoved Mover, and is the fundamental source of everything, the Necessary Being. He is the Alpha and the Omega, whom men call God. He exists in a different category than everything else in the Universe, and is not just one entity among many.

Every time someone makes an argument against God and either doesn’t address Aquinas or does so incorrectly, despite being corrected, you know they are not arguing honestly. No fact of the physical universe can prove or disprove God. No law, no factoid, no wild-eyed claims of quantum field fluctuations can address the wrong category.

So why aren’t these Ways considered proofs? Aquinas set out to defend belief in God as being philosophically rational at a metaphysical level, not something empirically provable, by merging Athenian logic and Jerusalem belief.

In this benighted age, where Science über alles is the mode de jour of all right-thinking people, this is nigh well unconceivable. It’s claimed that science encompasses all knowledge, including metaphysics, which is an absurd position to take, since that means science also includes astrology and the rules to croquet.

The Five Ways aren’t arguments for Jesus being the Son of God or that the Bible is the Word of God, but that there are rational reasons for accepting the existence of a Supreme Being, whom men call God.

This was just a quick flyby at 30,000 feet. Aquinas was a prolific writer, and he explores these ideas further in many books and hundreds and hundreds of pages.

If this has piqued your interest, I suggest checking out Professor Edward Feser’s blog. Professor Feser has a gift for explaining Aquinas clearly, as well as many philosophical arguments, both the pros and cons. I also recommend Aristotle’s Metaphysics, and, of course, the Summa Theologica.

[1] Wikipedia :