In some religious cum philosophical discussion forum, a discussant trying to understand the concept of God throws out this question and makes the following comment:
Who created God or how did God come into existence? This question has been bothering me for some time now and I have found that it is beyond human comprehension. So I just want to get you guys’ views. This is for those who believe there is a God.
For starters, it wasn’t readily apparent whether the gentleman asking this question was an agnostic, a skeptic or a fully committed atheist. It helps to know the philosophical persuasion of a person asking these sorts of questions so as to know how best to respond to the query. Anyway, since his tone did not sound hostile, dismissive or confrontational, I am persuaded that he just might be a truth seeker who genuinely has some difficulty understanding the concept of God. I’ll try to answer the question as clearly as I can with the hope that this would help to clear the mental cobwebs regarding this all-important question.
Usually when atheists scoff at the God concept, it is usually because they fundamentally have an ill-thought out caricature of the subject; they have not invested adequate time and mental resources into examining a proper classical theistic treatment or analysis of the concept. That is to not to say however, that if or rather when they do, they will definitely agree with the concept, but at least their denials and objections to the God concept would rest on a deeper philosophical plank and not on obvious and simplistic misrepresentations—and certainly not on knavish ridicule or buffoonery.
When theists talk about God, what exactly do they mean by the idea of God? In classical theism—the mainstream theistic view which follows after the rich philosophical tradition of Plato, Aristotle, Augustine, St. Anselm, Maimonides, Averroes and Thomas Aquinas—God is defined or understood as the “absolutely metaphysically ultimate being”; God is understood or postulated to be “the greatest conceivable being”; God is that being of which nothing else can be greater. The classical theistic conception of God is that “God is that which exists necessarily and not contingently” which is to say that God exists of a necessity of His own and thus did not derive his existence or essence from anything outside of himself. He is that which not only happens to exist but could not in principle have failed to exist. In fact, if you could point or identify anything which in principle gave rise to or caused God to begin to exist, then that thing which you have identified is what God properly is by definition; it will simply mean that the entity which you previously called God was erroneously identified owing to the fact that it began to exist at some point, and it had an explanation for its existence outside itself—namely in that entity which gave it its existence and essence.
God is the metaphysical ground of all existence—in other words he is Existence himself in the most basic sense. God is the answer to the question “why does anything exist”? In other words, for us to even talk about the existence of contingent things or things which derive their existence from some other outside itself there had to be something which exists of his own nature and MUST NOT as a matter of principle derive its existence from anything else. If there was not a being like this, that is, something or a being who is Pure Actuality then there simply will not be anything in existence at all. At this point, serious seekers should begin to get the idea of what God is posited to be.
Contingent beings have potentiality which had to be actualized for them to exist. For example, if I am a carpenter and I want to build a chair, I may for instance draw it on a piece of paper. On this piece of paper, I’ll have the specified dimensions of the chair and a certain kind of chair pattern that I hope to erect. This piece of paper containing the sketch of a chair is in a state of potentiality—it has the potential to become a chair; and only when it is finally fashioned by a carpenter does it become actualized. In other words, it is possible that the chair never becomes actuality if for instance, I decide to toss the paper into a fire. This is a classic example of every other thing in existence (save God) for like the chair in my example, every other thing is contingent (except God) and thus they need someone or something to actualize them. This incidentally is what it means to talk about things having a cause or having an explanation for their existence outside themselves. God, in classical theism, is thus understood as Pure Actuality—he never had any potentials of any sort that needed to be actualized in the very first place.
At this juncture, it is important to understand that the classical theistic conception of God is not a case of special pleading. It is not as though theists arbitrarily claim God to be these things, and it might be possible say to imagine or conjure up a God that does not meet these criteria. Anything which does not meet all these criteria by which a classical theist (incidentally this covers the monotheistic faiths) understands and characterizes God is thus hopelessly unworthy of the name. The fact that some might have other conceptions of God which might strip God of this exclusive category and perhaps deny his divine attributes (I discuss these attributes here) offers no headaches for most classical theists.
Now, in order to press home the point of this God concept, it is useful to remember that this classical theistic understanding I have spelled out is EXACTLY the same understanding that most atheists and skeptics had/have of the universe for a long time. They maintained that the Universe just is, and has always existed of a necessity of its own—sort of like a brute fact. In other words, this God-concept that is now vituperatively and ferociously denounced amongst nascent New Atheists is in a sense hypocritical and nauseatingly duplicitous for they’ve always ascribed to the Universe the same attributes that a theist ascribes to God. This idea that something just had to exist without being caused by something else and which in turn provides sufficient reason or explanation for everything else that now exists (i.e self-existent or metaphysically necessary) OR that something never began to exist at some point in the past and has thus existed throughout all time (i.e eternal) is NOT foreign to atheists at all—on the contrary, this is exactly how they used to describe the Universe or the Cosmos for many centuries.
Theists down through the ages (and I might add deists of some stripes) have laid down powerful philosophically-sound arguments for a creator. The atheist now has to reach for fantastic and unproven multiverse theories to prop up his disbelief in God now that science has also lent its voice in forcefully and powerfully demolishing the age-old atheistic presumptions that the Universe was eternal. As a matter of fact, I make bold to say that any atheist currently stuck on the idea that the Universe did not begin to exist (with all the rich scientific findings and discoveries we have on that issue), or that tries to paint the current scientific findings and pronouncements on this matter as inconclusive is hopelessly ignorant or worse intellectually dishonest.
Therefore, it amuses me greatly how any rational thinking person, especially one who purports to have a sufficient grasp of the issues being discussed, would ask something like “Who or what created God?” or “how did God come into existence?” That is like asking “what caused that thing which cannot in principle have a cause?”—and that, I maintain, is a meaningless question. It is like asking “what is that which actualized that thing which in principle is Pure Actuality and thus never needed to be actualized?” or to give another example, it is like asking “what is it which gave essence or existence to that which in principle is said to be Pure Existence and which in turn gave essence or existence to everything else?” or perhaps to ask “what is that which caused to come into existence that which in principle has always existed of a necessity of its own nature?” At this point, I believe you already get my drift. To be honest, one has to be colossally limited in one’s mental processes to fail to grasp this fine point.
Indeed, my experience with skeptics and atheists of all stripes is that the intellectually dishonest ones fully understand the point even when they flatly deny it for other self-serving reasons. Then there are the philosophically and scientifically naïve but vociferous atheists who cannot be prevailed on to pause for a moment of sober reflection in order to fully understand the issues at hand—such are usually best left to their own vain and noisy effusions when it becomes clear that they have opted not to engage their thinking faculties in their rabid defense of their atheological worldview. Perhaps, the only ones worthy of heartfelt sympathy and diligent explanations of these concepts are the open-minded non-theists who through no fault of their own are mired in confusion resulting from the sometimes imprecise articulation of this God-concept by theists or the cartoonish misrepresentations of the same subject by the God-deniers.
In which a skeptic queries the concept of “Ex Nihilo” creation:
The idea of God, as the supreme uncaused Cause, helps in escaping the irrationality of springing out of an absolutely unproductive void — nothing. But in an empty world, there would be God and nothing, but now there is us and something. Does that mean your God created from NOTHING? Also in your view, is design necessary for a creation out of nothing, with no rule or character to conform with?
I would agree with the first part of your submission that God as a necessary being is absolutely required if one wishes to avoid the utterly irrational proposition that things which were not in existence suddenly and spontaneously popped into existence from NOTHING. That is a metaphysical impossibility. Being does not, cannot, and never will, emerge from non-being. The problem I notice in discussions of this sort is that far too many skeptics and atheists have a twisted and unrealistic understanding of the word ‘NOTHING’.
Quite frankly, I am amazed that this same misunderstanding has continued to appear in discussions of this sort. When people who claim to be able to demonstrate that being can emerge from non-being (from nothing) attempt to explain this deeply irrational stance, you can immediately see that they treat the ‘NOTHING” as if it were indeed ‘Something’. This is to say that they playing semantic games and not quite coming to grips with the philosophical meaning of ‘nothing’ (i.e. not anything at all). “Nothing’ or ‘Nothingness’ does not imply vacuum, or void, or empty; has no components or parts, and certainly no attributes; is not governed by any physical laws and certainly cannot be meaningfully thought of as involving any interactions. To be painfully tedious, nothingness (nothing) is simply what it states: the non-existence of anything at all. This is a concept that naturalists or empirical materialists sometimes have a hard time to come to grips with.
Now, what does it mean when people say that God created “ex nihilo”? This simply means that God did not create the universe out of any previously existing matter; he created literally out of nothing. There was no pre-existing material substance which he used (as it were) to create all physical reality. This happens to have been confirmed scientifically as well. It boggles the mind to read people in 2011 say something like “matter is eternal and merely changes form”. To me, it sounds like reading someone saying that the earth is flat. But I suppose I shouldn’t judge harshly because I must admit, sometimes it can be hard for people to imagine that at some point in the past the universe came into being with all matter, energy, gravity, dark matter, dark energy, and all the initial set of conditions and constants. To suppose there was some pre-existing matter which reorganized or reassembled into this universe is to work with an outdated view. Frankly, no one who is familiar with the state of current cosmology or astrophysics will say this—not with the degree of scientific and evidentiary support the Big Bang model currently enjoys.
To answer your last question as to whether creation out of nothing presupposes design, I’ll answer thus: logically, one is not committed to saying that creation out of nothing must presuppose design. In other words, we can quite imagine that it possible for a God capable of creating all matter and energy to have done so without imbuing said creation with a final cause/purpose/design. That is, there is no logical contradiction inherent in stating that “a maximally powerful God exists” and “God created the universe without any teleological implications.”
However, as one begins to probe the universe, one will quickly and immediately recognize the exquisite and mind-numbingly precise degree of fine-tuning that is required for this universe to have continued to exist immediately after the Big Bang event and further to have continued to expand as it has to eventually support life. Now before anyone starts muttering “the anthropic principle”, you should realize that I am not personally invested in the appearance of life per se, as I am invested on the idea that the universe, without these initial conditions and constants, without this exquisite fine-tuning, would have collapsed in on itself shortly after the Big Bang creation and thus ceased to exist. This is before we even get to the possibility of other macro-worldly phenomena like stars, galaxies, clusters, super-clusters, black holes, nebulae etc.
Besides, as you continue to investigate, you will see unmistakable and tell-tale signs of design or fine-tuning that permeate the universe. It is also important to note that not everything exhibits a teleological imperative. Nevertheless, if you choose to be unconvinced about the clearly evident signs of design or fine-tuning in the universe, I have no quarrel with you. But, unless you can conclusively demonstrate why anyone should doubt a design inference, anyone is within his/her rational right to hold and affirm what is painstakingly clear.