Really interesting post from the philosopher Anthony Flood more or less critiquing Bill Vallicella's view of creation ex nihilo. The basic argument is the creation ex nihilo ends up being incoherent or leads one naturally to a kind of pantheism. Of course it ends up being more of a neoPlatonic critique of the late ancient and medieval Christian revampings of the neoPlatonic conception of creation. You've probably heard that all through Christian history there always was that uneasy separation from pantheism. Clearly pantheism is unBiblical, yet many Christians, especially the mystics, lapsed into it. Read through the paper and you'll probably understand a little better why it is so natural. The argument is quite interesting, especially considering Mormon problems with creation ex nihilo.
The basic argument is as follows:
[If] God does not “create out of some stuff called ‘nothing’”; if “it is not the case that there is something distinct from God out of which God creates”; if “divine creation is not the forming of a pre-given matter, or any sort of operating upon something whose existence is independent of God,” then we must conclude, it seems to me, that God operates upon and creates out of that which is not distinct from God himself.
Now that which is not distinct from a thing logically cannot fail to be that thing. Therefore the creation that issues from God’s operation upon himself is, necessarily, God. If God exists, then for any x, x is either God or a creature of God: tertium non datur. For God to create, but not out of that which is other than God, is for God to create out of God. Perhaps Vallicella can shown, or has already shown in PTE, how the product of such a process could be other than God. Absent such a showing, the logic of exnihilation would seem to issue in pantheism.
The problem, if there is one, is whether God can withdraw and "create" an emptiness or nothing. Thus what God creates, in this kind of neoPlatonism, is a mixture of nothing and the divine. I suspect most Christian theologians would be uncomfortable with such a view, but it is a rather common Jewish view. Indeed this constriction of God is a rather common treatment resulting from Jewish neoPlatonism. Matter is thus nothing (as with Plotinus), but occurs because it is a nothing or opening God creates. I should caution that this is not what Jewish theologians mean from creation from nothing though - there they mean the nothingness which is God or the neoPlatonic One. (Called the en-sof in Judaism)
This Jewish view can be found, to certain degrees, in Plotinus as well. There we famously have two kinds of absolute-other. There is the One, from which all originates. Then there is matter which is also absolutely other. I ought to repost the whole discussion, which was in connection to Derrida and neoPlatonism. (The post is here, at the bottom of the page) However I'll just quote the Plotinus. (I should add that I am anything but a well versed scholar of neoPlatonism - so perhaps I am misreading him. If so then I certainly am not alone as I've found others making similar points.)
Now Matter is a thing that is brought under order - like all that shares its
nature by participation or by possessing the same principle - therefore, necessarily,
Matter is The Undelimited and not merely the recipient of a nonessential quality
of Indefiniteness entering as an attribute. [...]
Matter, then, must be described as Indefinite of itself, by its natural opposition to Reason-Principle. [...]
Then Matter is simply Alienism (Other) [the Principle of Difference]? No: it is merely that part of Alienism which stands in contradiction with the Authentic Existents which are Reason-Principles. So understood, this non-existence has a certain measure of existence; for it is identical with Privation, which also is a thing standing in opposition to the things that exist in Reason. [...] For in Matter we have no mere absence of means or of strength; it is utter destitution - of sense, of virtue, of beauty, of pattern, of Ideal principle, of quality. (Enneads, II.4.15-16, emphasis mine)
Siris has some comments on all of this as well.
As I mentioned there, I think that in a way Flood is just offering a neoPlatonic critique of Aquinas. However that does beg the question somewhat and ends up just denying the whole notion of creation ex nihilo. Now certainly I find problem with the view. And perhaps the view arose through confusion over Philo's position, which was apparently much more in line with middle Platonism than it is usually presented. The point being though, that simply denying it doesn't seem to carry that much weight.
Prosthesis has an interesting discussion of all this as well.
Vallicella responds to both Prosthesis and Flood.
Vellicella has one more interesting entry in this series. This one more focuses in on the question of pantheism.