A study of comparative philosophy of religion on “creatio ex nihilo” and “sheng sheng (birth birth, 生生)”
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The question whether the Ruist (Confucian) idea of Tian (heaven) or Taiji (ultimate polarity) is transcendent in comparison to Christian ideas of the Creator-God remains controversial in the history of Christian-Ru interaction. To tackle the debate, this dissertation investigates the intellectual histories of “creatio ex nihilo” in the Greek-European Christian tradition and of “sheng sheng” (birth birth) in the Chinese Ru tradition, and compares these ideas with a methodology combining the pragmatist use of “vague category” and the hermeneutical “situational thinking.” The emergence of the idea “creatio ex nihilo” from Plato to Augustine championed the “ontological dependence” of cosmic realities upon the Creator-God. Divine creation was typically thought of as one process whereby divine intelligence implants ideas and forms into an inchoate form of being so that varying realities are created. However, Descartes’ theory of “created eternal truth” conceptualized divine creation as not being constrained by any rule of intelligence. This Cartesian voluntarism pushes the theistic vocabularies of creation to their limit such that it allows us to delineate a de-anthropomorphic sub-tradition within the main theistic tradition of “creatio ex nihilo.” Descartes’ thought was refined by Schleiermacher and Tillich. There were two distinctive ancient Chinese cosmologies: one Daoist pioneered by the Dao De Jing, and the other is Ruist initiated by the Appended Texts in the Classic of Change. When Wang Bi employed the ontology in the Appended Texts to interpret the cosmogony of Dao De Jing, his understanding of Taiji influenced the Ru tradition to reach an idea of creation similar to “creatio ex nihilo.” Accordingly, Taiji’s creativity can be characterized as “generatio ex nihilo,” an unconditioned constantly creative cosmic power without a creator standing behind the scene. Wang Bi’s thought was refined by Zhou Dunyi and Zhu Xi. As this project demonstrates, the Ru tradition of “generatio ex nihilo” provides the most apt comparison to the de-anthropomorphic sub-tradition of “creatio ex nihilo.” If we define transcendence as what is indeterminate and ontologically unconditioned by the existing world, Taiji’s “sheng sheng” conceptualized as “generatio ex nihilo” is even more transcendent than the mainstream theistic Christian understanding of divine creation.
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