Creatio ex Capacitas and Creatio Continua: When having Power just isn't Enough

Creatio ex Capacitas and Creatio Continua: When having Power just isn't Enough

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Creatio ex Capacitas and Creatio Continua: When having Power just isn't Enough

In the beginning when God created the heavens and the earth, the earth was a formless void and darkness covered the face of the deep . . . Then God said, "Let there be light;" and there was light. ~ (Genesis 1:1-2a; 3 NRSV).

The biblical passage above has been the subject of much debate in light of not only how God created, but also as to out of what He created. There are two main camps in this debate: those who affirm creatio ex nihilo and those who affirm panentheism. Both speak of God's omnipotent creativity expressed through the generation of new modes of existence. Creatio ex nihilo advocates claim that God did this 'out of nothing;' creating all things out of absolutely nothing. Panentheists purport that God created by influencing a realm of 'non-divine actualities.' These non-divine actualities are comprised of 'moments of experience,' which have always been, and these actualities present the options from which the next moments are created. Panentheists believe a realm of actualities has always existed alongside God, although the individual actualities themselves are neither eternal nor do possess any divine power in, or of, themselves.

Those on both sides of this debate profess God to be a sovereign, holy, omnipresent, and a personal being who interacts with the loving intent of bringing about the most possible good for all creation. The discrepancy in the debate is found in the different views of how this goal is carried out. As a result, some of the attributes of God are conceived differently: in particular God's love and omnipotence, and free creaturely response to God.

Those professing creation ex nihilo come under fire by those who ask the question "what is nothing?" This question cannot be ignored, because, while it endows God with unlimited power over creation by showing Him to be the sole actor in creating, creatio ex nihilo seems paradoxical. Or as Peter Van Inwgen says,

To say that there is nothing is to say that there isn't anything, not even vast emptiness. If there were a vast emptiness, there would be no material object - no atoms or elementary particles or anything made of them - but there would nevertheless be something: the vast emptiness (Qtd. "Creation Out of Nothing" Lodahl. 2).

Critics criticize panentheists for affirming the existence of a 'realm of non-divine actualities.

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' This hypothesis makes critics feel uncomfortable because it imples some realm or another of actualities has eternally existed alongside God. The property of being eternal had been something many theists had only attributed to God. Process theologians (who are generally panentheistic in their philosophy) speculate that this attribute is assigned to a continually changing realm outside of God. David R. Griffin draws this distinction between ex nihilo and panentheism when writing:

Traditional theism has always held that energy or power is eternal. But it hypothesized that this power belonged to God alone, and was at some point all embodied in God. I share the view of those who hold instead that power has always existed in non-divine actualities as well as in the divine actuality . . . All that is necessary to the hypothesis is that power has always been and necessarily is shared power, that God has never had and could never have a monopoly on power, and that the power possessed by the non-divine actualities is inherent to them and hence cannot be canceled out or overridden by God (Original emphasis, 105).

Griffin and others argue that this shared power does not rob God of sovereignty because divine power is necessary for creative expression. The claim is that there must be "a world of some kind that exists apart from God, and independent of God's will or desire" (Original emphasis. Lodahl. 8). Why? Because God's love must be expressed in some form to something outside of Himself, and that something must have freedom.1

Recognizing the need for God to express love, opponents to panentheism have responded by supposing that God expresses love within the Trinity. A question posed by David Brown serves as a response for those who object to the panentheistic view: "Is not self-love only wrong if others are neglected?"(Trinity, 527). Wolfhart Pannenberg adds this thought:

In the mutual love of the trinitarian persons love does not simply denote activities in their mutual relations ... love is the power which shows itself in those who love and in their turning to one another, glowing through them like a fire. Persons do not have power over love. It rises above them and thereby gives them their selfhood. It maintains itself through reciprocal relation of those who are bound together in love. Each receives his her self afresh from the other, and since the self-giving is mutual there is no one-sided dependence in the sense of belonging to another (Systematic Theology. 426-427).

The debate rages on.

This paper seeks to bridge the gulf between these two opposing views by presenting a theory that sheds light on the virtues of both. While it is important to affirm that God was the necessary (if not sufficient) cause in creation, it can not be ignored that creation from nothing seems to be, as Lodahl admits, illogical. Moreover, if it is necessary for God to love something outside of Himself to have something upon which to express His divine creativity, then preexisting material seems to be needed. Critics of this hypothesis contend that the 'realm of non-divine actualities' forces God into an infinite regress of creation. God "creates" the universe out of 'moments of experience' made only of previous 'moments of experience.' It begs the question "out of what does God create?" Panentheists ascribe metaphyscial ultimacy to this realm of nondivine actualities and answer, in the words of the old tale, "it's elephants all the way down." This answer does not sit well with classical theists. So, how do we affirm God's primary role in creation, the uniqueness of His eternal existence, and the presence of 'a world of some kind' to be loved and acted upon? My response is creatio ex capacitas ~ creation out of ability.

The root of the argument is not the claim that God created the universe because He had the ability; rather, He created out of His ability. God created the world from His inherent power as the individual of "which nothing greater can be conceived." The argument for creatio ex capacitas is as follows:

1. Energy is "[the] capacity of matter to perform work as the result of its motion or its position in relation to forces acting on it. Energy associated with motion is known as kinetic energy, and energy related to position is called potential energy."2

2. Matter is what makes up the corporeal world; that which the universe is made of.3

3. Energy and matter are related [From 1].

4. God is omnipotent.

5. Omnipotence includes having energy at a maxima, in all possible worlds, where having energy as a maxima is possible.

6. Therefore, God's energy is at a maxima. [From 1,4, and 5].

7. Humanity's energy is not at a maxima [from 6 and 7].

8. In spite of Humanity's energy not being at a maxima, humans have accomplished matter/energy conversions. (Humans have turned matter into energy and energy into matter.)4

9. God is also capable of matter/energy conversations [From 5].

10. Potential energy is "stored energy possessed by a system as a result of the relative positions of the components of that system."5

11. God's position in the universe is the greatest.

12. Therefore, God's potential energy is at a maxima [From 6 and 11].

13. Kinetic energy is "[the] energy possessed by an object, resulting from the motion of that object." 6

14. God's motion in the universe is the greatest.

15. Therefore, God's kinetic energy is at a maxima [From 6 and 15].

16. God is the Creator of this Universe.7

17. The universe is made of matter [from 2].

18. Kinetic energy is the energy of motion.

19. Potential energy can be turned into kinetic energy.8

20. In the act of creation, God's potential energy is put into motion and it therefore becomes Kinetic [From 14, 16, and 17]

21. Therefore, God converts the kinetic energy into matter when creating [from 10, 14, and 18].

It should be clarified that this argument is neither an analogy of God acting as energy nor does it purport that God is energy. This argument speaks to the use of energy by God; that is, how God uses the energy He has. This is a key thought of what is to come.

Some may say that this theory sounds pantheistic (that world is comprised of parts of God). The capacitas illustration is the same used to speak of the principles of potential and kinetic energy. For instance, the ball is suspended in the air (for our purposes God will be the ball). Within this picture is the rub that separates the energy from being pantheistic 'pieces of God.' Potential energy is determined by relative position: the ball is at a given height in relation to the rest of the world spatially, while God's position is a matter of relation in ability (which is higher than anything else). God's position, and therefore potential energy (potential to act), is at a maxima, because He is the highest in creation.9

God has this energy necessarily, for by His definition it is essential to God. The ball on the other hand, does not have this energy necessarily, because it is not God.

While God possessing this energy is necessary and God cannot be called God without it, the energy itself is not part of God's essence. How? An example of this can be found with police officers. Officers wear uniforms that distinguish them from civilians as a necessary part of their profession. Police officers wear guns, handcuffs, a blue uniform, and (barring undercover work) carry a badge that signifies to the observer their position as law enforcement agent. However, while the badge is part of the office of the policeperson (what he/she needs to have one in order to be officially recognized), the badge itself is not a part of the human being. This analogy applies to God's relation to energy. In essence, God possesses the energy because it comes with the job.10

God exemplifies the kinetic energy side of the coin by being the most active actuality in the universe. His omnipresence alone speaks to His being everywhere, which involves acting. As the most active in the universe, God's energy is at a maxima. An analogy of God's energy from this standpoint can be seen through fire, because fire radiates energy in the form of heat. Although fire is not fire if it does not radiate heat, the heat itself is not fire. Heat is a form of released energy. Recent work at the Stanford Linear Accelerator Center (SLAC), gives another example.

David Ehrenstein writes:

Turning matter into light, heat, and other forms of energy is nothing new, as nuclear bombs spectacularly demonstrate. Now a team of physicists at the Stanford Linear Accelerator Center (SLAC) has demonstrated the inverse process--what University of Rochester physicist Adrian Melissinos, a spokesperson for the group, calls "the first creation of matter out of light." In the 1 September Physical Review Letters, the researchers describe how they collided large crowds of photons together so violently that the interactions spawned particles of matter and antimatter: electrons and positrons (antielectrons) ("Conjuring Matter From Light." 1).

As stated before, creatio ex capacitas shows how God converts energy into matter for creating.11

Matter, in whatever form (atoms, 'superstings,' 'non-divine actualities,' cheese, etc.), provides the building blocks of all that is in this universe. Adherents to the ex nihilo view the world as contingent, and they may find this theory intriguing. After all, according to this theory the world is solely dependent on God for its existent and was created at one 'moment in time' from this energy. The ex nihilist, who affirms that the energy was always existing, is only affirming that God is omnipotent and radiates energy as He radiates love. The panentheists can also affirm this system, because a realm of non-divine actualities can be described in these terms. The only point of contention between these two groups would be on the issue of love -- as to whether it involves the necessity of a world -- and this question of love is vastly important.

Creatio ex capacitas presents a God of unlimited maximum power, but the theory does not discount or downplay the role of love in creation. "God is love" (I John 4:16), and while I propose that God created out of energy, the reason was His necessity to love. I agree with Lodahl who argues that it is a particularly Christian conviction that God has created by the Word - the Word that became flesh in the person of Jesus of Nazareth - belies any hint of arbitrariness or caprice in God's act of creation, suggesting instead that creation is the deliberate expression of divine love revealed at Gethsemane and Golgotha. In this case, perhaps creatio ex nihilo might well be compared to creatio ex amore: God created out of (and as an expression of) self-giving, creative love. (6).

In my theory, I offer a God of infinite power and love who creates and sustains a universe by His sovereign will.Creatio ex capacitas' foundation rests upon the power of God actualized in creation. God's raw energy turned to matter, while not a part of God's being, exists necessarily as a by product of His existence.

Now that this argument has been outlined, a discussion of how this account coincides with some of the theological questions of the nature of the universe must be addressed. God has often been discussed as a member-less being, or in the words of William Wainwright, "if classical theism is true, at least one unembodied mind exists (namely, God)" (Philosophy of Religion. 107). This thought is found in the Gospel of John, wherein Jesus the Christ clearly states that 'God is a spirit'(4:24). But how does a spirit create corporeal, physical material? The question is not 'how would God manipulate the energy and matter without the use of physical hands or feet?' Rather, the question is 'are there two apparent realities (spiritual and corporeal) that are different in kind?" If so, there seems to be a duality in the universe.

Creatio ex capacitas affirms that God is indeed spirit, and that the universe is corporeal. However, it does not affirm a metaphysical duality, because spiritual and corporeal are not different in kind but different in degree. How so? The creation of the universe was not the starting point for God in His creativity. Instead, God was continually converting energy into matter and vice versa; i.e., God has always been creating and loving. Thomas Oord has reminded us that the frequently quoted Genesis 1:1 passage is a "teaching found in Christianity that God is continually creating" (41). It is from this view that creatio ex capacitas overcomes the apparent dualism: creatio ex capacitas must be seen along side creatio continua: "continuing creation."

The energy from which God creates is a byproduct of His existence, but the energy is also being formed into that which is not God. It does not have multiple perfections (e.g. omnipotence, omnipresence, omniscience). It is not "that which nothing greater can be conceived." Along with not being perfect, creation is also not completed. The universe is still growing, changing, and evolving in response to the call of God and His continued actions in creation. God is calling and drawing the universe closer to perfection and completion by making it more like He is: spirit. Slowly the corporeal world is changing into the spiritual, mirroring more and more that which God is. This echoes the Platonic thought, furthered by Aristotle, of God as "the Prime Mover." In the Aristotelian mode, the movement of creation from corporeal to spiritual is the Final Cause -- that which "everything moves toward . . . in the way a runner moves toward a goal"(Palmer 73). In this light, passages that speak of the "passing away of the heavens and earth" can be interpretted as creation becoming more spiritual.

Creatio continua is also found in other passages of Scripture. The writer to the church in Rome writes thatWe know that the whole creation has been groaning in labor pains until now; and not only the creation, but we ourselves, who have the first fruits of the Spirit, groan inwardly while we wait for adoption, the redemption of our bodies (emphasis mine Vs. 22 - 23. NRSV).

This passage speaks to the heart of creatio continua, because it deals directly with the creation as a whole striving towards union with God. This final union with the almighty is the transformation from the corporeal to the spiritual. The material objects of our world (the corporeal) will not cease to exist, but they will be altered and recombined into the spiritual.I believe that my theory of creatio ex capacitas is based upon scientific, philosophical, and biblical principles. The novelty of the argument is seen in the combination: Creaio capacitas supports creatio continua (and vice versa), because both theories imply that God possesses the maximum power with regard to energy, is always creating, and God is creating out of His converted energy. In addition, God is continually acting, moving, creating, changing, interacting, and seeking to redeem all of creation by drawing it closer to Himself. God does so because God loves perfectly: God's love is necessary yet freely and ungrudgingly given.


1. Creaturely, love requires freedom - a creature needs to have the ability to choose in order for a love act to take place. Anything less that the ability for a creature to respond freely, is not love. Freedom in this model is metaphysical, not because it is a state that is outside of God, but because of God's nature. If God is all-loving, then the creatures He creates are necessarily free, because a being defined by such love could create nothing other than free creatures, especially if He would like said love reciprocated.

2 Encarta

3 "Matter: in science, general term applied to anything that has the property of occupying space and the attributes of gravity and inertia" (Encarta).

4 The atomic bombing of Hiroshima is an example of the former, while recent work at the Stanford Linear Accelerator Center (SLAC) speaks to the latter.

5 Encarta.

6 Encarta.

7 As opposed to "other possible worlds."

8 "The relationships between kinetic and potential energy and among the concepts of force, distance, acceleration, and energy can be illustrated by the lifting and dropping of an object . . . As this force acts through a distance, energy is transferred to the object. The energy associated with an object held above a surface is termed potential energy. If the object is dropped, the potential energy is converted to kinetic energy" (Encarta).

9 The relation between relative position and ability can be see in two ways; First, if there was 'nothing' other than God before creation, God's relative position would have been to Himself; Second, if a realm of 'non-divine actualities' were present, God was greater, having the most perfections. This view can be seen through this analogy: The potential ability/power/influence of the President of the United States is exponentially greater than that of the wine steward of the White House's kitchen, when it comes to US foreign policy. While both could have thoughts about the matter, and even influence over what takes place, by virtue of their relative positions of power/authority, one will necessarily beat out the other.

10 As with all analogies, this one can be taken only so far. The 'badge' in this model represents the energy of God as a property that is possessed by an actuality, but is not a part of its being. This image can become confused if too much attention is given to the symbolic nature of a real officer's badge and the connotations associated with it.

11 A biblical rendering of God's matter/energy conversion would be enclosed within the image of the creative power held within God's "Word." (e.g. Gen. 1:1-26, Heb. 1:3; 11:3). While these passages are not to affirm that God has a corporeal mouth by which He communicates, they are vital in speaking towards God's activity; that He is moving. It is not just His potential to act that is being discussed, but rather that He has indeed acted: the potential energy has been acted upon kinetically with the matter/energy conversion.


The Bible (NRSV) 11/30/00 4:42

Brown, David. "Trinity" in A Companion to Philosophy of Religion. ed. Philip L. Quinn and Charles Taliaferro. Cambridge, Mass.: Blackwell, 1997.

Ehrenstein, David. "PHYSICS: Conjuring Matter From Light." Science Magazine Online. 12/7/00 10:04. "Energy," Microsoft® Encarta® Encyclopedia 99. © 1993-1998 Microsoft Corporation.

"Kinetic Energy," Microsoft® Encarta® Encyclopedia 99. © 1993-1998 Microsoft Corporation.

Lewis, C.S. . Problem of Pain. Broadman & Holman Publishers. Nashville, Tennessee 1996.

Lodahl, Michael E.. "Creation out of nothing? Or is Next to nothing good enough?" in Thy Name and Thy Nature is Love: Wesleyan and Process Theologies in Dialogue. ed. with Bryan P. Stone. Nashville: Kingswood. Forthcoming.

"Matter," Microsoft® Encarta® Encyclopedia 99. © 1993-1998 Microsoft Corporation.

Oord, Thomas Jay. "Am I My Keeper's Brother?: Help for the Christian in the War Over Creation: the Doctrine of Continuing Creation (creatio continua)." Preacher's Magazine. vol. 73, no. 4 (June/July/August 1998): 39-44.

Palmer, Donald. Looking at Philosophy: The Unbearable Heaviness of Philosophy Made Lighter. Sec. Ed. Mayfield Publishing Company, Mountain View California, 1994.

Pannenberg, Wolfhart. Systematic Theology. Vol. 1. Trans. Geoffrey W. Bromiley. William B. Eerdamns Publishing Company, Grand Rapids MI, 1991.

Wainwright, William J. Philosophy of Religion. 2nd Ed. Wadsworth Publishing Company, 1999. Last modified: July 15, 2003
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