In Christian & Islamic Theology, one could argue that there can't be Creation Ex Nihilo since 'before' Creation there was God.

In Philosophical Naturalism (which is not Physicalism - it subsumes it), one could have an eternally existing universe, as per Hoyles (now neglected) steady-state universe; in the Big Bang theory, one could argue that whatever physical laws hold in time there must be laws that hold outside of time that condition the creation of the universe; laws are of course not nothing.

In Buddhism, it appears that the universe is eternal (though cyclical).

In all three, Nothing, does not obtain at any time.

One is reminded here of Parmenides - non-being is not.

This points towards a supposition: Creation Ex Nihilo is impossible in the strict sense; when I say strict I mean Nothing should be taken in Parmenides sense, and not say Hegel, where it means pure indeterminiteness.

Am I justified in holding to this - or are there good counter-arguments?

  • I can only think of something like this: a (this) universe is just one of all 'possible' (or 'potential') universes. All 'possible' (or 'potential') universes are objectively just as 'real' or objectively just as 'unreal'. However, the superposition of all universes is... nothing. So, we find ourselves in a universe that, combined with all the other possible universes, adds up to nothing. Symmetry breaking. [Waves hand.] Anthropic bias. [Waves other hand.] :)
    – user3164
    Commented May 1, 2014 at 7:00
  • Possible duplicate of Can something come out of nothing or not? Why? (and, I suspect, a few others as well). Commented May 1, 2014 at 8:59
  • Is it possible that "creation" is a gloss we use to describe one of the boundary conditions of the universe, but that it was not 'created' per se? If we suppose that 'time' is a feature of our universe, i.e. if we take very seriously the idea that there is no time except in our universe and perhaps even that our universe is actually all that there is (there isn't even an "outside our universe"), then it's hard to see how to avoid the idea that the universe itself cannot be subject to a notion such a 'creation' without doing some violence to what we usually mean by the word. Commented May 1, 2014 at 9:02
  • Here's something interesting. The term ex nihilo contains within it an ambiguity. The "h" shows a consideration for the indeterminate, and not merely nothingness.
    – Marxos
    Commented Nov 17, 2018 at 16:24

3 Answers 3


Regarding your statement about Buddhism I would refer you to this passage from the Pāli Canon, (the most complete extant early Buddhist canon).

In contradition to your statement, it shows that Buddha expressly does not speculate on cosmology.

"So, Malunkyaputta, remember what is undeclared by me as undeclared, and what is declared by me as declared. And what is undeclared by me? 'The cosmos is eternal,' is undeclared by me. 'The cosmos is not eternal,' is undeclared by me. 'The cosmos is finite'... 'The cosmos is infinite,' ... is undeclared by me.

"And why are they undeclared by me? Because they are not connected with the goal, are not fundamental to the holy life. They do not lead to disenchantment, dispassion, cessation, calming, direct knowledge, self-awakening, Unbinding. That's why they are undeclared by me.

Majjhima Nikaya 63, Cula-Malunkyovada Sutta

Broadly related:

"Concerning the seen, the heard and the cognized he does not form the least notion. That brahmana who does not grasp at a view, with what could he be identified in the world?"

Sutta Nipata 4.5, 'Paramatthaka Sutta: On Views'

Personally, it seems any cosmological prior state of 'nothing' is existentially problematic.

Heidegger analyses the phenomenology of 'nothing' here: The distinction between essentia and existentia in Scholasticism, in which 'nothing' is described as "the purest indeterminate possibility of everything possible" - so not an actual state. However, the Thomist and Suarez schools apparently differ in their philosphical systems in this area, as described in the last section here: Catholic Encyclopedia, Essence and Existence, so it is unclear whether there is a standard view.

  • So at least Buddha agreed with me. (Phew!) That's a good Sunday
    – Asphir Dom
    Commented May 1, 2014 at 12:30

To answer this question requires careful consideration of exactly what the phrase "creation ex nihilo" (or "creation from nothing") implies. Grammatically speaking, this phrase specifies absolutely nothing about the initial conditions before the creation. It simply specifies that the creation itself must be completely from nothing. To put it in another sense, God could exist before this creation--but it would still be ex nihilo if there was no matter or energy in the pre-creation void which He used to make that creation.

To sum up, the barriers your question puts upon the meaning of creation ex nihilo are unjustifiable grammatically. Therefore, ex nihilo creative work is possible.


Your argument hits me as a modal problem.

In what sense are laws not nothing? If there is nothing to obey them, then I would argue that laws are a restructuring of nothing and thus are themselves nothing.

Otherwise the universe teems with laws that control the actions of all the absent things that might have existed. Etiquette for the unicorns in Camelot becomes intractably complex -- they cannot do anything, given their nonexistence, and yet they have boundless and limitless obligations.

This seems extravagant in the extreme. Occam would fall over stricken were he not already dead. So I would argue that laws that cannot be followed to do not exist. They are merely potential. If potentiality is a category of existence, ontology immediately develops all kinds of paradoxes.

Later psychoanalysis avoids this by firmly dividing cardinal, fixed and mutable realities, barring from full existence rules that have no referents or effects and potential things that are never realized, even though these have definite effects on our behavior through symbolism and idealization. I think this is justified.

If there are limitations on what can exist, those limitations are not things, they are only potential things that must exist if anything else exists.

Thus the Big Bang really does constitute creation ex nihilo.

  • How about Platos Forms in his cosmology? Suppose we think that there could be other laws...then a different universe may be possible; Lewis's modal world cosmology loosens all these restrictions apart from Contradiction. Commented Apr 3, 2015 at 19:35
  • I'd argue potential things are not nothing in the strict Parmenidian sense; but they are in Hegel. Commented Apr 3, 2015 at 19:36
  • His Nothing is pure indeterminiteness. Commented Apr 3, 2015 at 19:36
  • potentiality, as indeterminateness is, as you say, strictly not contained an ontological category; but possibly, as you say in a modal category; however, when I'm asking for creation ex nihilo - I'm asking about the Parminidean Nothing; which is unclear from my question. Commented Apr 3, 2015 at 19:44
  • To me the question is whether we need to segment existence, or whether it can be one cohesive thing. I think something as basic as Russel's paradox points out that we need to either segment reality in some very absolute way or abandon the intuition of negation. If the word 'nihilo' has any meaning, then we are not abandoning negation. I have edited in my own favorite segmentation in response to your comments.
    – user9166
    Commented Apr 3, 2015 at 19:44

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