Aristotle, Plato and Rambam: On Creation


Moshe Ben-Chaim




Francesca: In today's class, did we conclude that there are some things that will not be conclusively provable one way or the other? Thus, we go with the Rambam because we do hold the Torah was given by God?

This question is in regards to the eternity of the universe as a natural result of God creating it initially and then it continuing to exist as a result vs. the continued existence due to God willing it to continue to exist.


Rabbi: Let’s review Rambam (Book II, chap. xxv) and approach your question. Let’s also identify the positions. The Torah teaches that God created everything. Nothing existed but God, and due to God’s will, all matter and forms came into existence from nothingness (creation ex nihilo).

Aristotle’s view of the universe is not something created from nothing (ex nihilo) or created anew (de novo). The universe – as it is now – was eternally this way.

Plato’s universe is somewhat like Aristotle: matter always existed (it was not created), but unlike Aristotle, God fashioned that matter from its chaotic state into refined substances and forms. “Unlike the creation by the God of medieval theologians, Plato’s Demiurge does not create ex nihilo, but rather orders the cosmos out of chaotic elemental matter, imitating the eternal Forms. Plato takes the four elements, fire, air, water, and earth (which Plato proclaims to be composed of various aggregates of triangles), making various compounds of these into what he calls the Body of the Universe.” (

Now let’s address your questions…


Francesca: What Rambam seems to be saying is that if we do accept the eternity of the universe as Aristotle views it, then we would be accepting a position that would result in conflicts with the fundamentals of our religion?


Rabbi: Yes, the conflict is with the Torah’s account of Creation from nothingness. And in Aristotle’s universe - unchanging and uncontrolled by God - miracles are impossible. This too contradicts Torah’s numerous accounts of miracles.


Francesca: He goes on to say that because neither position is proved one way or the other, there is no convincing reason to consider the argument for the eternity of the universe unless it’s actually proven. The Rambam seems confident that this is one of those questions that Aristotle’s position will not be able to penetrate conclusively.


Rabbi: Yes. Rambam says that Aristotle based his position on an argument alone, without proof. Thus, there is no reason to reject the literal account of Genesis; that Creation was made from nothing, certainly if arguments can equally support Creation.

But you see Rambam’s honesty,  as he says if Aristotle had proof for an eternal universe, we would reject the Torah’s literal interpretation. Here, Rambam teaches a fundamental: we never reject our minds, regardless of what we read, and regardless of where we read it. Once a proof exists for any idea, we must follow that proof, and reinterpret all that conflicts with it. This is unlike people today who will reject their minds, if some book or Rabbi makes a claim, regardless of how absurd the claim might be.


Francesca: I’m wondering if this is like the question we talked about in Koheles where certain people ask what will happen to us when we die. We wouldn’t know except what God tells us in the Torah because our framework of being “alive” puts limits on what we can understand about death.


Rabbi: If you mean to equate areas that are outside of our intellectual reach due to the impossibility to observe, then yes. We cannot observe the moment of Creation, nor the afterlife.