In light of the forthcoming debate between Bill Nye – The Science Guy – and Ken Ham – The Creation Science Guy – which will take place at Ham’s Creation Science Museum in Cincinnati, Ohio on February 4th; I thought it would be interesting to consider how the Christian orthodox teaching of creatio ex nihilo (‘creation out of nothing’), which serves prominent for T. F. Torrance’s approach to things, might impact how we as Christians might think about the relationship of Christian theology and the empirical or so called ‘hard’ sciences that engage in observational science. It might in fact be surprising to some, how ‘creation out of nothing’ might in fact favor the methodology advocated by Bill Nye, more so than it does Ken Ham.
Creation out of nothing (CON) was a teaching of the Christian church that developed quite early on in the 2nd century in particular. In fact it was a doctrine that was utilized as an apologetic, actually, against the dualistic heresies making there way into the church early on; primarily the blossoming Gnosticism. And yet in affirming CON, what ends up happening is that God and creation come to have an independence of their own; albeit God’s is a non-contingent independence, while creation’s is contingent independence – but an integrity and independence for both entities, nontheless. Thus, it might be contended, that if God and the creation are not given enough distinction, and we begin to tie God’s existence into the creation too closely, or too transcendentally, that we end up losing a God-world distinction, and He becomes one and mixed with His creation (pantheism), instead of its sustainer, and Lord; or he becomes aloof, and so distant from creation, that creation itself is no longer understood to be a good given by God, but a bad and something to escape from (Gnositicism).
Scottish theologian, David Fergusson, makes my brief points above more compelling and crisp; so let’s read what he has to communicate:
In their polemics against gnosticism, both Irenaeus and Tertullian reinforce and extend the doctrine of creation out of nothing. It is required not only to contest the assumption about the eternity of matter, but also to maintain the strict ontological distinction between the one God and all created reality. The cosmos does not represent a series of ontological gradations emanating from the divine outwards. There is one God, and everything else exists through the power of the Word of God. Since the Word of God is to be regarded as of the divine essence, it cannot be an intermediate deity that links the one true God with lower levels of reality. On both sides, therefore, the God–world distinction requires the doctrine of creation out of nothing. Neither is the world divine, nor is God divisible and composite like creaturely beings. So we must think of the world as the good creation of the one God from out of nothing. In this respect, ‘nothing’ simply denotes ‘not something’. ‘Nothing’ is not some shadowy substance suspended between being and non-being. Instead, it refers to what does not exist. In other words, the cosmos is not formed from eternal matter, nor does it emanate from the divine being. One implication of this sharp ontological distinction between creator and creation is that it belongs not to theology but to natural science to discover how the world works. This is a corollary of the Christian refusal to divinize the world, albeit one that has not always been recognized. [David Fergusson, “Creation,” in The Oxford Handbook of Systematic Theology (UK: Oxford University Press, 2010), edited by John Webster, Kathryn Tanner, and Iain Torrance, 80.]
If the implication that Fergusson teases out from the doctrine of creation out of nothing is viable; this debate between Dye and Ham would appear to place Dye (who I think is an atheist) on the Christian side of things, ironically, and Ham on the heretical side of things, since he would be guilty of collapsing God’s life into his creation, and as such tying God into creation in a way that His life becomes contingent upon creation’s existence. And this, Ham’s approach, would be exactly backwards from what he actually hopes to argue for; i.e. the necessity of God’s existence as attested to by creation.