Without Nothing, Where Would Christian Theology Be?

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On March 20, physicists and other thinkers gathered at the American Museum of Natural History to debate the concept of nothing. According to FoxNews, “The simple idea of nothing, a concept that even toddlers can understand, proved surprisingly difficult for the scientists to pin down, with some of them questioning whether such a thing as nothing exists at all.” (http://goo.gl/9uBvF)

Heart of Christian Theology
Christians should take notice of this debate because it is at the heart of our theology, our understanding of God, and of creation. Creation ex nihilo, out of nothing, is the historic Jewish and Christian teaching. We cannot develop that doctrine here, but this truth has tremendous implications.

God began the Bible with “In the beginning, God created the heavens and the earth” for a reason. In that one short verse, He set His authority, His power, and His ownership over all that we can sense. Without Genesis 1:1, all else in Scripture falls. Upon Genesis 1:1, all else in Scripture depends.

The God who created ex nihilo is the God whose ownership and authority is comprehensive and complete. He needs nothing. He uses nothing. He creates everything out of nothing. This is the foundational theological premise.

Science and Theology
Therefore, when scientific thinkers debate the question of nothing, they can begin to sound like theologians. Lawrence Krauss, a theoretical physicist, suggested that nothing equals “no space at all, and no time, no particles, no fields, no laws of nature.” This sounds much like the Christian view of God who is outside of space, time, and even the laws of nature.

Thinker, Jim Holt, unsatisfied with Krauss’s proposal, queried, “But what about physical laws, what about mathematical entities? What about consciousness? All the things that are non-spatial and non-temporal.” While the Christian theologian would deny the eternality of mathematical entities and physical laws, he would affirm the eternal consciousness of God Himself.

One Mathematician’s View
On the very next day, March 21, a friend of mine, Dr. Bob Doran, a top-tier, national award-winning mathematician and professor at Texas Christian University, presented a paper to his colleagues and students on this very question. His title: “Much ado about nothing. Was Shakespeare onto something?” He wrote to me about that paper.

My working “definition” of nothing was the “absolute utter absence of any physical, mental, or even spiritual, notion of nothing that a human can envision.” This definition of nothing is so abstract that there is no way to actually comprehend it. It rules out empty space, zero, the empty set, and any other human idea of what nothing is. It is a basic notion that simply must be accepted.

In particular, my definition of nothing rules out dark matter, negative gravity, anti-matter, black holes, and any other notion that scientists wish to “postulate” in order to get creation of the universe (the big bang) going without a creator.

On the other hand, once one recognizes that the abstract notion of “nothing” is the most basic building block that God used to speak the universe into existence (Genesis 1:1), all the rest begins to make sense. For example, beginning with “nothing” one can then define the empty set E = { } to be the set with nothing in it.

The great mathematician, John von Neumann, used this notion of the empty set in 1923 to define the number 1:

Definition: 1 = {E}, the set containing the empty set. The set {E} is not empty, it contains E.

Next, one can define 2 by:

2 = {E, {E}}, the set containing both the empty set E and the set {E}, containing the empty set E.

Continuing in this fashion one can construct the set N = {1,2,3,4,5, . . . }, the infinite set of positive integers.

Once we have the set N, it is tedious but well known how to construct from N all of the number systems of mathematics (the real numbers R, the complex numbers C, etc.). Then functions, limits, derivatives, integrals, . . ., and the hundreds of different but interrelated fields of mathematics can be logically and carefully developed. This includes Kepler’s Laws of planetary motion, Newton’s laws of physics, quantum mechanics, and Einstein’s theories of relativity (which, in essence, these theories are just a sub-branch of differential geometry), etc.

The point is, beginning with “absolute emptiness” (nothing) one can precisely construct all known mathematics (as well as all future mathematics yet to be discovered). Then, this mathematics can be used to describe the universe in which we find ourselves. Even though we can’t go back to the beginning (Genesis 1:1) God left us with an amazing gift of mathematics, a gift that parallels in a very abstract way, the creation of his universe.

In God’s hands, nothing is everything, the foundation of our theology and a comfort to our souls.

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