Lawrence Krauss, a physicist in an recent interview with Krista Tippett on her podcast “On Being,” talked about “dark matter.” For many years, scientists considered dark matter to be nothing but a huge void between particles in the universe; an empty space; nothing. Now they’ve discovered that it weighs something, and weight means that there must be something there. “30 percent of the universe roughly is this dark matter,” stated Krauss. “[It] is made, we’re reasonably convinced, of some new type of elementary particle that doesn’t exist here on earth.” The title of his recent book is: A Universe from Nothing: Why There Is Something Rather Than Nothing. So this nothing has become something.
This caught my interest because of the ancient argument between Augustine and Pelagius about creation. Augustine argued that God created the universe “ex nihilo,” meaning “out of nothing.” Pelagius argued that God created the universe “ex Deo,” meaning “out of God’s own essence.” What caused the discussion was the first two verses of Genesis one: “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 . . . .” What exactly was this “formless void?” Was it something or was it nothing? We all know where the argument ended up; creating the world out of nothing is the dominant view of creation in Western theology, while Pelagius was thrown out of the church as a heretic.
It is interesting how those verses in Genesis use phrases similar to what physicist Krauss uses, when he is anything but a believer. The “formless void” and the “darkness” form the “dark matter” or the what was thought to be “nothing.” From this “dark matter,” or “void,” comes Augustine’s idea that God created the universe out of nothing. Pelagius would say that by God speaking the universe into being (“And God said”), creation came out of the very essence of God. One view sees God as transcendent and distant from creation while the other sees God as imminent and personally involved with creation and its creatures. One is a materialistic view of creation that allows for domination and exploitation of the created order while the other is a spiritual view of creation that calls for reverence and respect for the created order.
So if, according to physicists, this “dark matter” or “formless void” is actually something rather than nothing, Augustine’s doctrine of ex nihilo is no longer valid. The question remains, did God create the universe out of “something” or out of God's own essence? Or was that “something” really God’s very essence?
It is also interesting that at the time of these discoveries by physicists, there is a growing interest in Pelagian thought through Celtic spirituality and the writing of Philip Newell. One of the main tenants of Celtic spirituality is reverence and respect for nature, stemming from the view of ex Deo. For them, God is revealed through both the “big (the size of the cosmos) book” of nature and the “little (able to be held in one’s hand) book” of sacred scripture. This interest in Celtic spirituality comes as a result of seeing where Augustine’s materialistic view of nature and creation has taken the planet. Interest in sustainability and creation care is cropping up everywhere, even in some unlikely places. Evangelical Christians have formed an organization called “Evangelical Environmental Network” (http://www.creationcare.org/) to raise awareness on issues of creation care.
The time is ripe for vindicating this supposed heretic from the fourth century. The time is ripe for treating nature with reverence and respect rather than something to be dominated and exploited. The time is ripe for viewing creation as coming from the essence of God (ex Deo) rather than out of nothing (ex nihilo). After all, nothing is something.