The transcendence of the Creator


A couple of weeks ago I mentioned on another thread that I believed that a proper understanding of the Christian God ruled out theories of intelligent design. A fellow member asked me to start a new thread, which in turn inspired me to write a series of blog articles, not on the question of intelligent design per se but on the question of divine transcendence and the doctrine of creation.

I have published the first article in the series: “The Christian Distinction.” I invite you to drop by and to read this article and the subsequent articles in the series.

The basic thesis of this article: “In the revelation of the gospel a new and distinct way of thinking divinity and cosmos is introduced. Robert Sokolowski calls it the Christian distinction. God becomes understood as one who might have freely chosen not to create the world, without any diminishment of his goodness and greatness; the world becomes understood as radically contingent, as that which did not have to be.”


Excellent article, thank you. I’ll make sure to bookmark the site.


Hi akimel,

The review was well written, though Sokolowski’s quotes are mainly lacking in substance. Sokolowski made many assertions without showing any validation. It seemed to merely be an opinion. I would think that the NT and the early church had very different views to Sokolowski. God and creation are intrinsically linked together: “In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth” (Genesis 1:1). Creation is the very first premise found in scripture, apart from God Himself. Jesus is also spoken of as the creator: “in him were all things created, in the heavens and upon the earth” (Colossians 1:16 ). Faith in creation is tantamount to faith in God. If one statement is false than the other statement is equally false. We can all have our own unique opinion; but the church has always believed in God as the creator, as seen by these scriptures. If you think this is not true, then perhaps the statement should be validated with contrary evidence from the scriptures or fathers, and not just assertions as given by Sokolowski.




Another way of making Sokolowski’s point is to assert that God has created the world from out of nothing. I don’t think anyone will dispute that from the late 2nd century onward the creatio ex nihilo was the virtually unanimous view of the Church Fathers. I say “virtually” only because I am not aware of any post-2nd century Church Fathers who disputed the doctrine; but I don’t want to leave myself open to exceptions. :slight_smile:

Whether the doctrine is found in Scripture itself is another question, though 2 Macc 7:28 immediately comes to mind: “I beseech thee, my son, look upon the heaven and the earth, and all that is therein, and consider that God made them of things that were not; and so was mankind made likewise.”

In any case, the critical point is that the classical Christian understanding of God excludes any kind of necessity in God’s creation of the cosmos. He did not have to create the world, and if he had not, his goodness and majesty would not have been diminished nor is it increased when he does create the world. Infinite being plus created being does not equal two beings.



Read your post, but am unclear about a few things:

Are you saying that God is transcendent but not immanent? And are you implying that because of God’s transcendence, we cannot say that apparent design in creation points to a Designer?




Hi Al,

The Apostle’s Creed accounts for an early reflection of church teachings on creation:



Caleb, no, I am not saying that God is not immanent. I am arguing, rather, that he is radically different. I would go on to suggest that it is this radical difference that makes possible his immanence.


Hey Al,

Can you say a bit more about how this understanding of God would rule out intelligent design, per your OP?.




Hi, Caleb. Let me quote a passage from Herbert McCabe to give you an idea of how I am presently thinking of all this:

Does that clarify?


I’m not understanding yet, Akimel.

All this seems to me completely consistent with Father having created the universe – in whichever way He may have chosen to create it. He isn’t OF the universe; the universe is from Him, through Jesus. I get that. He isn’t like those other gods of other creation myths in that he is part of all that already is and somehow (usually by some insane and often obscene method) pulls it all together into an organized cosmos. He is completely OTHER. We can’t see any sign of Him in this world as exemplified by Khrushchev’s statement that his cosmonaut didn’t see God though he traveled into outer space. God is not an inhabitant of the world and God is not the world. He is the outside entity who created the world.

When I make a piece of pottery, I buy clay gathered from the earth, form it with hands also made from the earth, fire it with energy drawn (ultimately) from the sun, glaze it with elements from the earth, and again use the sun’s energy to complete it. I remain in the same world in which my pottery exists. Theoretically, if the pottery were cognizant, it could discover me right there in its world as one of the world’s denizens. That is the kind of god the pagans worship. Our God is not like that. Still, I already believed that, even if my limitations in thinking prevent me from always incorporating it into my thought processes. As yet, I see no reason to deduce that this precludes Father from having actively created and designed – whether He in fact DID actively create and design is another matter. I just don’t see why this tells us one way or another.

Love, Cindy


Cindy, there’s no disagreement that God has created the universe and given it its “design,” order, etc.

McCabe, I think, is thinking of “God of the gaps” arguments, as if science could point to a feature of the universe and say, “That indicates there must be a creator.” For McCabe, there is no God of the gaps, and no need to look for any gaps.



I’ve got some thoughts on that quote, but I’m not sure when I’ll be able to reply. Real busy today.



Okay, I think I begin to follow you now, Akimel. I just sort of expected something I might disagree with, but so far I haven’t seen anything. :laughing:


I didn’t think we were disagreeing. I just wasn’t being as clear as I should have been. :slight_smile:


Hey Al,

A few thoughts:

It seems to me that Scripture often says that creation gives evidence of a creator:

Likewise, Paul, in Romans 1:19-20

Both of these texts speak of what may be known, or knowledge. Now I do not believe that the existence of God can be proven from creation, or that it gives us certainty, but I do believe we can have confident knowledge in his existence based on the glory, majesty, and intricacy of the created order.





The translation I used is the NIV, for better or for worse.


Caleb, I do not of course disagree that the world can be experienced as witnessing to the reality of God, though a good atheist will point to features of the world that might be invoked to argue against a divine creator. I’m thinking particularly of horrific suffering.

As I mentioned to Cindy, I think that Herbert McCabe is denying the possibility that modern science can constructively speak to the question of God, one way or the other. Think, e.g., how the Big Bang has been apologetically exploited by Christians as demonstrating the existence of God. Physicists then respond with theories about how energy could spontaneously appear from nothing. Think also of the anthropic cosmological principle, where folks point to all the “fine-tuning” that appears to have been necessary for intelligent life to emerge.

McCabe, I think, would reject all such appeals to scientific evidence as misunderstanding the nature of the Christian God.


I have started a series on my blog on the Creatio ex Nihilo. So far two articles have been published, the second addressing the question of Scripture and the doctrine of creation. FYI.