I’ve always learned about the doctrine that matter cannot be created nor destroyed. Our universe was organized, not ex nihiloed, but I’ve recently come across something that really has affected my testimony. Scientists say that matter can be created. It’s something I personally don’t understand, but if that’s the case I’m concerned. I know you know a thing or two so I would like this to be settled. Thank you so much for this!
Often times when you “hear” something, you aren’t getting the whole picture. I’ll go ahead and address that issue for you in a bit (since you seem to have a misunderstanding of both science and religion on the matter — pun intended). But I’d first like to address an alarming pattern from people who have questions like you do.
How do we discover truth? If our eyes tell us one thing, but our ears tell us another, which do we believe? It is a common occurrence to see a person speaking from one side of the room, but because of acoustics, it seems that the voice is coming from another part of the room. And what about lip syncing? It sure appeared that Milli Vanilli was singing a lot of hit songs. They even received a Grammy. But it just wasn’t so.
When we see with only one eye, we see an image. With the other eye, we see a slightly different image. Which is the “true” image, left eye or right eye? In logical discussions, we call this a false dichotomy. The “true image” does not need to be one or the other. They’re both true from a certain perspective. And when seeing with both eyes, we see a much clearer image with additional benefits such as depth perception.
So often we try looking through one eye or the other (science or faith). All we ever consider is that two-dimensional world. But if we ever take the time to see through both eyes, we see the more complete picture and experience the richness of a three dimensional world.
In this case, what you seem to have interpreted and seem to know are not the whole picture. You’re abandoning one eye in favor of the other. Instead, I’d advise you to look for the harmony between them and you’ll have more complete knowledge. The truths of God are at another level above our mortal realm.
Believe in God; believe that he is, and that he created all things, both in heaven and in earth; believe that he has all wisdom, and all power, both in heaven and in earth; believe that man doth not comprehend all the things which the Lord can comprehend. Mosiah 4:9
What you have done is somehow placed man’s science above God or the scriptures. If science says so, it must supersede all of God’s words to the contrary. Is that really how you want to deal with God? Just whose arm do you lean on for strength? What happens in 50 years when we find out the science has changed? Change our testimony again?
So, now to answer your question about creation.
It sure seems clear cut. Either he created “out of nothing” or he “organized” from materials already present. This is also a false dichotomy. This is not an either/or scenario. In fact, this century-old scientific principle actually unifies ancient thought with modern prophets.
The Hebrew word for “create” in Genesis is בָּרָ֣א /bā·rā/. And it is translated as “create.” But it only appears in Genesis. Alternate forms of the word also appear throughout the Old Testament. Interestingly, God is the one doing the creation in the vast majority of the time these forms are used. And even though these other instances of men “building” (rather than creating) is used in the Bible, this has led people to believe that the word in Genesis is a special kind of creation. It is “out of nothing” creation that only God can do. This was the ancient thought that carries over into modern day Christianity’s belief in ex-nihilo creation.
Then in the Latter-days, Joseph Smith said:
Now, I ask all who hear me, why the learned men who are preaching salvation, say that God created the heavens and the earth out of nothing? … If you tell them that God made the world out of something, they will call you a fool.
You ask the learned doctors why they say the world was made out of nothing, and they will answer, “Doesn’t the Bible say he created the world?” And they infer, from the word create, that it must have been made out of nothing. Now, the word create came from the word baurau, which does not mean to create out of nothing; it means to organize; the same as a man would organize materials and build a ship. Hence we infer that God had materials to organize the world out of chaos—chaotic matter, which is element, and in which dwells all the glory. Element had an existence from the time He had. The pure principles of element are principles which can never be destroyed; they may be organized and re-organized, but not destroyed. They had no beginning and can have no end.
— Joseph Smith (KFD).
This is what concerns you, correct? So, who’s correct? The learned preachers of the world? Or a modern Prophet? Actually, false dichotomy. It’s both.
The scientific creation “out of nothing” is not really from nothing. The first law of thermodynamic can be summed up in three statements.
The law of Conservation of Mass: Mass can not be created or destroyed.
The law of Conservation of Energy: Energy can not be created or destroyed.
The law of Conservation of Mass-Energy. Neither energy nor mass can be created or destroyed, instead mass is conserved as energy or energy is conserved as mass. A combination of the law of conservation of energy and conservation of mass (based on E = mc2 (energy mass equivalence)).
The first two laws ruled until the end of the 1800s. But around the turn of the century, there began to be an understanding that the two were interchangeable. Thus that third law was created and everything made more sense.
When we take photons of energy in such a manner as to create matter out of it, we call this “matter synthesis.”
Dictionary.com provides the following definition of “synthesis”.
the combining of the constituent elements of separate material or abstract entities into a single or unified entity (opposed to analysis,) the separating of any material or abstract entity into its constituent elements.
Likewise, we can take matter and turn it into energy. The most dramatic example of this is a nuclear bomb. Matter is considered a “more organized” form of energy. Some say that energy IS matter. I would be more specific. It should be considered “unorganized matter.” You may notice that Joseph referred to it as “chaotic matter” in the quote above. So, this is still “no matter” or “nothing”. When we hear of unorganized matter, we tend to think of interstellar dust floating around the universe that is not all that dissimilar to the big bang. But instead, it is much more obvious to me that “matter unorganized” refers to energy.
What we’re looking at is what people before the 1900s never considered or comprehended. So we can certainly say that God created matter “out of nothing” by “organizing constituent elements (energy)” into a “more organized” form (matter). Thus ancient thought, modern prophets, and modern science all agree by looking at it in three dimensions instead of just one or two.
Often when we learn something that challenges our faith in God, it is simply because we aren’t seeing the whole picture. It is always man’s deficiency, not the Lord’s nor his prophets.