The question “who made God?” is not a knock-down refutation to the cosmological argument. Skeptics need to stop pretending that it is.
One of the most astonishing facts that scientists have discovered over the last 100 years is that all physical reality began to exist in the finite past. Before big bang cosmology, scientists thought that the universe existed eternally.
While there are still a few Christians who get a little squeamish about the Big Bang theory, I like to tell them that the Big Bang is your friend, not an enemy. Far from disproving the existence of God, the theory shows that all space, time and matter began to exist. If that’s the case, then the required cause of space, time and matter can’t depend on space, time and matter.
Let that sink in a little. What would fit the description of a spaceless, timeless, immaterial cause? That sounds a little suspicious, like Genesis 1:1. Robert Jastrow, an agnostic scientist, and former NASA director wrote just that:
The essential element in the astronomical and biblical account of Genesis is the same…For the scientist who has lived by his faith in the power of reason, the story ends like a bad dream. He has scaled the mountains of ignorance, he is about to conquer the highest peak; as he pulls himself over the final rock, he is greeted by a band of theologians who have been sitting there for centuries.
So what is the cosmological argument? The most popular version goes like this:
- Everything that begins to exist has a cause.
- The universe began to exist.
3. Therefore, the universe has a cause.
The theological implications here are pretty obvious and as I’m sure you can imagine, not everyone is a fan. There’s been a lot of push-back from skeptics, but probably the most popular (and I think worst) objection is the question is…
Oh yeah? Well, Who made God?
These skeptics think we just kicked the problem down the road a bit. This isn’t limited to the internet infidel crowd. Here’s Jim Holt. His book Why Does the World Exist? was a bestseller for 2013. This quote is from a TED talk he gave in 2014: “…even if we have this equation, God + nothing = the world, there’s already a problem: Why does God exist?…it’s conceivable if God were to exist, he might wonder, I’m eternal, I’m all-powerful, but where did I come from?”
Or here’s Rebecca Goldstein, who has a Ph.D. in the philosophy of science from Princeton: “Who caused God? [Theists offer] a prime example of the Fallacy of Passing the Buck: invoking God to solve some problem, but then leaving unanswered that very same problem when applied to God himself.”
Now, if you’re tempted to question the intellectual honesty of a person making an objection like this, I can’t say that I blame you.
No one is defending the premise that “everything that exists has a cause.”
That’s just deliberately changing the first premise. The first premise is “everything that begins to exist has a cause.” No theist thinks that God began to exist, or ever wondered where he came from. I mean, from Plato to Aristotle to Augustine to Aquinas — or shoot — from Moses, David and the prophets indicate that some Unmoved Mover or God exists without a cause. For instance, Psalm 90:2 says “Before the mountains were born or You gave birth to the earth and the world, even from everlasting to everlasting, You are God.”
Philosophers and theologians call this attribute of God divine aseity, and it’s not a novel concept. Quoting the 19th-century Presbyterian theologian Robert Shaw: “God is self-existent and independent. He has all life, glory, and blessedness, in and of himself. His existence is necessary and underived; for his name is, ‘I am that I am.’ — Exod. iii. 14. His glory and blessedness are likewise underived. His glory necessarily results from or rather consists in, the absolute perfection of has own nature, and his blessedness is all summed up in the possession and enjoyment of his own infinite excellencies. Being thus all-sufficient in and unto himself, he must be independent of any other being.”
Some atheists at this point say “you can’t define God any way you want!” But anyone who has done some mathematics understands how definitions work. If we define a set of numbers as all natural numbers larger than zero, you can’t cry “special pleading!” when someone says zero is the lower bound to that set and that there is no number before zero. Furthermore, this is what the atheist has always said about the universe up until recent cosmology has called it into question — that matter has always existed.
Asking who created God is a nonsense question and it completely misses the point of the argument
If you think about it, asking this question is like asking what shape the color purple is or what the number 7 tastes like. The skeptic is basically asking “What caused the thing that is the uncaused cause?” or “what brought into being that which has always been?” Asking the question is also an adventure in missing the point. The Christian philosopher Ed Feser is helpful here:
What [the argument] seeks to show is that if there is to be an ultimate explanation of things, then there must be a cause of everything else which not only happens to exist but which could not even in principle have failed to exist. And that is why it is said to be uncaused — not because it is an arbitrary exception to a general rule, not because it merely happens to be uncaused, but rather because it is not the sort of thing that can even in principle be said to have had a cause, precisely because it could not even in principle have failed to exist in the first place. And the argument doesn’t merely assume or stipulate that the first cause is like this; on the contrary, the whole point of the argument is to try to show that there must be something like this.
…So, to ask “What caused God?” really amounts to asking “What caused the thing that cannot in principle have had a cause?”, or “What actualized the potentials in that thing which is pure actuality and thus never had any potentials of any sort needing to be actualized in the first place?”, or “What imparted a sufficient reason for existence to that thing which has its sufficient reason for existence within itself and did not derive it from something else?” And none of these questions makes any sense. Of course, the atheist might say that he isn’t convinced that the cosmological argument succeeds in showing that there really is something that could not in principle have had a cause, or that is purely actual, or that has a sufficient reason for its existence within itself. He might even try to argue that there is some sort of hidden incoherence in these notions. But merely to ask “What caused God?” — as if the defender of the cosmological argument had overlooked the most obvious of objections — simply misses the whole point. A serious critic has to grapple with the details of the arguments.
The question “who made God?” falls into an infinite regress.
This is precisely where Mormon theology falls apart. Mormons believe that God was once a man who eventually progressed into becoming God. But then that God must have come from somewhere, and then the God before him must have come from somewhere until we get into Buzz Lightyear territory. To infinity and beyond!
Jim Post, an atheistic philosopher at Vanderbilt also believes that the who made God objection is a pretty terrible one. He says: “…there cannot be an infinite regress of explanations… Again the reasons are not practical, such as the finiteness of our faculties, but logic or conceptual, entailed by the very notions of explanations involved. Even for an infinite intellect, regresses of such explanations must end.”
And here’s Peter Lipton, also another atheistic philosopher: “…explanations need not themselves be understood. A drought may explain a poor crop, even if we don’t understand why there was a drought; I understand why you didn’t come to the party if you explain you had a bad headache, even if I have no idea why you had a headache; the big bang explains the background radiation, even if the big bang is itself inexplicable, and so on…the (why-regress) argument brings out the important facts that explanations can be chained, and that what explains need not itself be understood.”
Here’s the thing: Unless you’re just apathetic to the question, everyone is trying to identify the first cause of the universe, whether they believe in God or not. A spaceless, timeless, immaterial and immensely powerful cause is required to exist, or it seems you’re left with an infinite regress. Asking the question “who made God” as if you’ve said something profound and devastating is weak sauce.
Originally published at isjesusalive.com on January 15, 2019.