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.
1) If I may reflect on this Sun-Sunbeam analogy that has been presented by adherents of the Grail Message to explain the nature of God, I’ll have to say that I am not convinced that the sunbeams or the sunrays are essentially different from the sun. There is no sensible way to talk of the sun (crudely put, a hot burning radiating ball of fire) existing without its sunbeams or rays. I contend that the sun’s rays have always existed together with the sun. In other words, there was never a time a pre-existing sun suddenly decided (as it were) to produce emanations.
When the star called the sun was born, that same instant did it begin to radiate away its beams. The nature of the sun is such that it produces emanations; it is incandescent. The sunbeam essentially flows out of the sun containing the very essence of the sun. To put it differently: it would be a strange star, indeed a star not worthy of its name, if it could be demonstrated that the Sun did not have its rays or beams co-existing with it at all times. If we then cannot properly speak of the sun without the sunbeams, I think the analogy that portrays God as the Sun and Creation as the Sun’s beams (sun’s radiations or emanations) is altogether faulty.
2) I also have a philosophical disagreement with any view that essentially reduces God to energy. The word energy has a rich physical meaning which can be brought to bear in these discussions as they provide an illustrative framework upon which to anchor concepts. God is not to be conceived of as merely some inanimate, unconscious, driving force or energy or motivating principle. He is not to be thought of as some primordial energy that somehow dissipates into Creation. To be fair, the human language can prove to be inadequate to convey our deeper thoughts on the subject, nonetheless we should really try and simplify our definitions as much as we can, taking care not to conflate ideas. The view of God as “primordial energy”, or “primordial light” or “primordial time” may sound very poetic and numinous but they are altogether mistaken in that these qualifiers essentially depersonalize or de-animate God. The only way to redeem this view or to imbue it with any merit is to say that these descriptors are to be regarded as God’s attribute in some poetic or metaphorical manner of speech. Ontologically speaking, these descriptors fail hopelessly in establishing the nature of the being we are talking about because on that view God is some nebulous inanimate or non-sentient entity.
3) God is first and properly speaking, a mind or a sentient (conscious) being. You can also call him the Primordial Consciousness or Primordial Life. He is personal—which is to say that he has self-will, free will, rationality, and consciousness. I must point out rather quickly that when I say that God is personal, you shouldn’t take that to mean that he is a human being or a human person. Personhood is not limited to Homo sapiens or for that matter, any other physically instantiated particulars. Philosophically speaking, personhood involves a self-conscious and rational being, or a unit of self-consciousness; and thus the expression cannot be straitjacketed and appropriated solely to evince some naturalistic presuppositions. Once you have established this, you can then go ahead to speak of other divine attributes that he properly possesses. Some of these attributes are that God is metaphysically or logically necessary, immaterial or incorporeal, eternal, non-spatial, immortal, omniscient, morally perfect, omnipresent or ubiquitous, and maximally powerful. So please let us stop borrowing excessively from the rich language of physics here in analogizing God to some Primordial force, energy, pressure, light, magnetism, singularity, electricity, gravity, momentum, etc. In my opinion these analogies to physical phenomena can be altogether counterproductive and belittling.
4) God’s infinite attributes are qualitative rather than quantitative. I find that often when people talk about divine infinity, they picture a God that has parts or components, and/or is spatially extended. Thus, they imagine that while speaking of God’s infinity, you are talking about some mathematical concept of infinity. For example, the set of all numbers (if you successively count upwards from 1) is infinite. God is not said to be infinite in that quantitative sense. He is not proposed to be made up of an infinite array of discrete or finite particulars; his infinite power is not to be understood as saying that he possesses an infinite amount of quantized energy; his omnipresence is not to be understood as saying that God literally physically occupies every inch of space-time. Infinity as it applies to God is merely qualitative as it seeks to express the total, undifferentiated and maximal nature of God. Indeed, as some have already pointed out, one can readily see vestiges of God’s superlative or infinite divine attributes in human beings and in the created order.
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.
In which an atheist expresses his frustration with engaging theists:
I found more often than not it is better to keep atheists beliefs to oneself. The debates become pointless. Many believers actually have not fully thought about what they believe, and so when confronted by logic or the thoughts of an atheist, it takes them out of their comfort zone. This is usually not a good feeling for them and leads to actions that are intended to protect their current state of “ignorance is bliss.”
There was a time when one could reasonably discuss with an atheist on belief and non-belief and expect a polite but firm discussion. Ultimately, the theist may not succeed in getting the atheist to see his point of view, but the exchange would be as cordial as it was passionate. This is because, the atheist would be interested in showing why he is not fully persuaded to believe. Perhaps, if you run into a decent friend or acquaintance who is ideologically opposed to you on the God question, such a frank but civil discussion can truly occur.
Alas these days, with the birth of this New Atheism, unsophisticated and full of sound and fury, it has become quite fashionable in atheist circles to deride, cajole, mock, insult and pollute theists and theism. This is what usually passes for intelligent debates with many of today’s atheists–some haughty posturing borne out of a sincere atheistic belief that virtually all theists are silly and DELUSIONAL. It is no wonder that these discussions quickly devolve into a mud-slinging match because people cease engaging honestly and respectfully; much heat expended but no light thrown on the issue before consideration. After one has tried a few times to discuss issues of great personal import with a person who seems more or less disposed to aggression, one inevitably tires of the whole affair. Perhaps, like some have suggested, there is really no point to these discussions. Atheists can gather together, as often as they are wont, listen to speeches (read sermons) delivered by their atheistic high priests, build up and exhort one another in their common God-disbelief, share an intimate fellowship of universal mockery or umbrage at some offensive actions from the faith arena, and disperse to their respective homes–ALL WITHOUT BOTHERING ABOUT THESE ‘IGNORANT’ THEISTS!
But I think that would be too easy—for how else are atheists going to satiate the inner hunger to rid theists of their meddlesome and ‘ignorant’ God-belief if they can’t utilize sundry web fora, Youtube videos, billboards and citybuses to fulminate on the ills of religion? I mean, how dare anyone hate on atheists anyway? Aren’t they the hallowed few who managed to see through the puerile sunday-school caricature of Christian orthodoxy they were unfortunately given when they were much younger? Aren’t they the uber-logical geniuses against whom every contrary opinion must be the product of some delusion and faulty reasoning? Why should the largely ‘ignorant’ mass of humanity squirm for being upbraided by the ‘ever-so-gracious’ but nonetheless ‘completely rational’ and ‘supremely intelligent’ atheist? Shouldn’t they consider the atheist’s sophomoric diatribe against theism, or his endless bellyaching over the ills committed by religious people, an act of charity? Oh well, I don’t know about you—but in the interest of peace, and to massage the egos of newly-minted atheists, who are eager to jump into a debate to vomit the latest things picked up in college, perhaps it is better to just sit still and allow the atheist to lecture for all he is worth.
Sadly, I have noticed that too many atheists are rather diffident about this namely: honestly sharing what they truly believe; you know, about constructing a positive worldview and philosophy that is completely devoid of God and its implications. Worse, an alarming number of the atheists who feign some serious dedication to science are actually terrible at it; do not seem to understand its finite scope, and regrettably cannot lecture on it. But of course, that shouldn’t matter—nothing is as satisfying as a smug dismissal of your theistic opposition as a bunch of deluded dingbats. Its a nice zinger, and I am sure if you deploy that characterization often, in no time, you would rise within atheist ranks. This shouldn’t be surprising to anyone for intolerance is a vice only when theists employ that against atheists. When atheists show intolerance for theists, it can only be because they were genuinely concerned about the theist’s ‘refusal to see the light’.
Let the discussions rage on.
LOL.. Ah Dawkins!
He is still avoiding any serious examination of his godless prattle and running from academics who want to challenge him to a serious debate. But of course, he has enough time in the world to go after your children. Apparently, not satisfied with preaching to his uncritical New Atheist flock on the vast danger of allowing theists raise their own children with the belief that there is a God, he has taken it upon himself to catch YOUR children young! Of course, he would not like you to point out to him the utter irony of baiting young children with a book called “The Magic of Reality” after supposedly denouncing and critiquing the alleged ‘numinous’. Yes, he can dash any appeal to the numinous to the rocks only when he is not borrowing the same concept to peddle his worldview. It makes me laugh the way Dicky Dawkins and his merry band of materialist science fetishists go to some lengths to borrow from and imitate these fundamentalist Christians they love to rail about.
Anyone with slightly better-than-average critical reasoning skills, both atheist and theist alike, can see “The God Delusion” for what it really is after reading it. It is little more than an unsophisticated piece of sophomoric diatribe. But of course, you don’t have to take my words for it. You can read it and see how far YOUR own critical thinking skills will go in spotting the illogical arguments that litter the whole religion-bashing screed. But of course his book achieves a vital purpose namely to empower other hitherto closet atheists to speak their anti-theistic convictions boldly. Having recorded such a phenomenal success by this initial endeavor, judging by the brood of militant atheists that now litter the public discourse and sundry web fora with their rancid obloquies, I suppose Dicky Dawkins has now embarked on another leg of his quasi-Pauline atheological missionary journey. Yes, now he is coming for your children!
But what’s wrong with Dawkins’ actions? Shouldn’t he be allowed to indoctrinate tender impressionable children into his atheistic worldview? Shouldn’t he be allowed to pretend that his worldview is simply just about “the science of it all’? Of course not. If he insists that children should not be taught the moral and religious outlook of their own caring parents until they are old enough to make a choice, why does he imagine that it is perfectly acceptable for theist parents to allow their own children be indoctrinated into Dawkins’ atheistic philosophy? Most children, who actually have the privilege of going to school, go there to learn the skills necessary to improve their lot in life. As they grow up and start taking rudimentary science courses, they begin to learn ‘useful’ and practical science as well as a scientific methodology and approach to tackling empirically testable hypotheses.
This means that they are not, during their tender formative years, indoctrinated into a largely atheistic worldview with its obvious naturalistic presuppositions and ‘dogmas’. Clever admixtures of empirically verifiable science with other atheistic assumptions form the bulk of this book. As a matter of urgency, you could pick up that book, edit out parts where it degenerates into atheistic conjecture and little hard testable and replicable science like the areas that deal with evolution by natural selection and speciation, and have a somewhat balanced, less propagandistic tool. If Dawkins insists that children be allowed to decide whether to follow the faith of their forebears only after they’ve grown old enough to critically assess the merits, the same reason should apply to any attempt to indoctrinate children into his atheistic philosophy conveniently masked as science.
It should be evident to all that atheism is not synonymous with science nor is theism the antithesis to science. Theists and atheists alike should teach younger children an appreciation for science and scientific thinking when and wherever it applies. However, since all knowledge is not amenable to the ‘scientific method’ despite its popular appeal, it would be better to foster and encourage independent critical thinking skills, as this would be a valuable tool. Such a tool will cause a young mind to question not just the myths they may have encountered in the faith sphere but also the all-too-easily assumed but unverified presumptions that now undergirds Dawkins’ philosophical atheism. There is enough mystery, awe and wonder about the cosmos for theists and atheists alike to appreciate and investigate without the leering old pedo-peddler Dicky Dawkins stalking and luring your children.
I don’t know A. C. Grayling‘s reasons for not wanting to debate, but, if I remember correctly, Dawkins doesn’t do debates anymore. There’s a reason he hasn’t done one for years. As far as I know, he declared himself out of debating theists even before Craig’s current clarion call for a head to head debate. If anyone knows better, I’m open to being corrected.
I’ll start out by informing the initiator of this discussion thread that the president of the British Humanist Association Polly Toynbee has pulled out of an agreed debate with Dr. William Lane Craig in October claiming as her reason that she “hadn’t realized the nature of Mr. Lane’s debating style.”
It will be useful to provide a little bit of backdrop to this story.
First of all, I’ll encourage you to disregard the duplicitous pretensions by Mr Dawkins in this matter. I’ll get to it later. Let’s just state that for brevity’s sake, Dawkins’ staunch and inflexible refusal to debate Mr. Lane Craig, a formidable apologist for Christian Theism, has lately begun to sit uncomfortably with his fellow university professors and other eminent personalities in the skeptical movement. When a lot of hullaballoo was made about his seeming cowardice on the matter, even as he continues to reap handsome profits from the sale of a God-bashing book, Miss Toynbee decided to toss her hat in the ring to protect as it were, the ‘reputation’ of atheism or secular humanism from charges of being intellectually incapable of defending their beliefs and convictions.
So, she signed up to debate Craig when he visits the UK this fall as he challenges the fallacious fulminations in “The God Delusion” and defends Christian Theism against the now-fashionable assault by many of today’s New Atheists. There had to be a reason why Dawkins was running scared of Craig, but of course at the time, it will be fair to say that poor Miss Polly Toynbee was not cognizant of this. So you’ll have to admire her guts or bravery for offering to take on Mr. Craig. But upon closer inspection, it quickly begins to look like that all-too-familiar arrogance and hubris that unfortunately affects a lot of these New Atheists. Who on earth could Mr Craig be anyway that one ought to think twice about a debate with him? What preposterous and laughter-worthy points is some so-called philosopher from America going to raise to successfully attack atheism or skepticism anyway? Why bother to do any research on this chap? It is not likely that he would be on the same intellectual footing as we fashionable God-abolishers with his mumbo jumbo about the existence of God, so why are some respectable academics in the atheism and skeptical movements apprehensive of a debate with the fellow? So with nary a thought, and of course brimming with her cocky self-assurance, she offered to debate Mr. Craig without as much as knowing anything about the man.
In hindsight, it is rather hilarious that the woman chickened out of the debate afterwards. In all honesty, I cannot blame her much. My guess is that not too long after she cavalierly threw her hat in the ring, her handlers apprised her of the formidable nature of her opposition. Now, I am not going to suggest that she was painted a flattering picture of William Lane Craig, but whatever she was told, she was made to understand in unmistakable terms what heavy intellectual and perhaps political toll would be her portion from a widely publicized debate in which her highfalutin secular humanism or atheism was intellectually, imperiously and conclusively dealt a devastating blow. The fact is that for all the bluster, or the haughty pretension to a superior knowledge on the God-question, many of these militant evangelistic atheists and secular humanists are shockingly and I daresay disturbingly under-informed on exactly what they are supposed to be against. She can thank her lucky stars that she got out of a very severe public embarrassment.
Now, concerning Richard Dawkins, I wish to make it absolutely plain that I think he deserves respect in the field of evolutionary biology. That’s his area of expertise. The man has a gift for metaphor and for explaining evolutionary concepts in very beautiful almost poetic language. Whenever he is speaking on the issue of evolution (that narrow field in which he specializes), one may be well-served to listen to him and take his words seriously as they represent perhaps the most current understanding of evolution we have today. I make this caveat here first of all, to assure you that I do not harbor some visceral distaste for the chief apostle of atheism.
So what happens when an evolutionary biologist leaves his narrow area of discipline, and then dabbles into Philosophy or Theology by writing a God-bashing best-seller? Should he be given the same deference as he might be given when he is speaking on evolution? Should his words be swallowed wholly and uncritically by a majority of the self-styled New Atheists seeing as this man was pronouncing entirely on a subject that he has at best, a rudimentary understanding? One doesn’t even need to be a theist to see that the answer is a vigorous negative.
This is why some Christian and Skeptical groups have on their own privately sought to sponsor a debate where Richard Dawkins’ expostulations in his book will be robustly challenged thoughtfully and intellectually. It makes sense, doesn’t it? For example, if some economist, with little or no training in Biology decides to write a strongly worded book vehemently criticizing evolution, it is normal to expect proponents of the evolutionary theory to challenge that economist’s understanding of evolution. Notice here that I am not saying that Richard Dawkins, or the economist in this case, have no right to write a book on any subject or academic discipline they fancy. But if they want to be taken very seriously, they should be very open to a mature and robust challenge of their understanding on the matter. This is where William Lane Craig steps into the picture.
We have seen that Richard Dawkins apparently has no scruples about debating persons of religious faith. His duplicitous claims of not debating creationists is belied by the fact that he has on different occasions debated people who are not rigidly wedded to his Evolution by Natural Selection like Alister McGrath, or people who might be in favor of Intelligent Design (spitefully dubbed creationism by the willfully ignorant) like John Lennox or indeed people who are creationists! We have seen that Dawkins is happy to join issues with lay clergy, and ordinary believers and theists. So let us dispatch this lie at once. When he was caught flat-footed with that lie, he is famously known to have said that he would love debates but only with someone like the Pope, a cardinal, an archbishop or some other visibly high representative for Theism. All these pronouncements sadly seem to be devoid of any real commitment. Why then is he afraid of debating someone who is reputed to be the best or rather the strongest mouthpiece for the opposition? Why is he running scared of Craig?
I suspect that the simple reason is because Richard Dawkins knows too well what a debate of that nature may do to him and his influence with this rapidly expanding quasi-religious New Atheism. As one of the four horsemen for Atheism in these times he has an image and a reputation to protect. By the way, the arguments that these New Atheists offer are neither different from that of atheists of the past century nor are they any more sophisticated. Richard Dawkins has seen clips of Craig where the unscientific and sometimes patently illogical and irrational presuppositions of latter-day New Atheists were graciously laid bare. For now, Richard Dawkins maintains that he is too busy to debate Craig—even as he runs to the bank with the handsome profit that a sophomoric treatment of the God Hypothesis has earned him. LOL, let’s not begrudge the man the fruit of his labors okay? As things stand now, it appears that none of the shrill and highly regarded mouthpieces of the UK atheist and humanist community is willing to stand up and be counted. Of course, it’s always easier and fashionable for belligerent New Atheists to cajole and to mock on various web fora and in YouTube videos’ comments section. I suppose when Craig is done and gone, they’ll emerge to attack and discredit whatever he might have said. Nonetheless, I can’t help wondering how the rest of the high church of ‘internet atheism’ feel about this sort of spinelessness from their much adored high priests.
Truly, far from being dead or a delusion, the God-issue is alive and well in the US, the UK and many other parts of the world. Unbelief it would appear is not really anchored upon the realization that there is no God; rather it seems to be a willful and concerted refusal to accept one higher than oneself to whom one must give account. It seems to me that this New Atheism isn’t so much as a result of a genuine failure to see glaring evidence that calls for a creator; it seems to be anchored on a desire to rid oneself of moral accountability to some superintending moral law-giver; or a petulant fist-shaking at a God who as it were, failed to prevent some personal calamity from befalling one.
Conclusively, I wish to point out with very earnest tones that the truth or the falsity of beliefs and worldviews are not decided by the outcome of a debate. Inasmuch as there is no doubt in my mind that a debate with Craig will expose the laughable superficiality and the gross misrepresentations in Dawkins’ best-seller, I would not take that to mean then that the existence of God for example, has been conclusively proven or established. Likewise, if Richard Dawkins were to somehow demolish Craig’s argument in that debate, it wouldn’t also mean then that the existence of God has been refuted. It will simply mean that one side has succeeded over the other in making a compelling case for their worldview. Nevertheless, it still falls on you to honestly and sincerely weigh the evidence and choose your own worldview in the teeth of mankind’s incomplete knowledge of himself, his surroundings and the universe on a grand scale.
In which an atheist tries to rebut the Causal Principle by presenting this dialogue:
Christian: When you see a building, you know it had a builder. When you see a painting, you know it had a painter. When you see the universe, you know it also had a maker. This is God (of course it must be the Christian form of the many Gods). It is IMPOSSIBLE for something to come from nothing
Atheist: A builder and a painter takes existing materials and uses them to make the end product such as a building or a painting.
What existing materials did God use to make the universe? What? Are you telling me God made the universe out of NOTHING? I thought you said that was impossible?
Here, the atheist tries to fashion a hypothetical discussion between a Christian and an Atheist which he hopes would seriously undercut if not rebut the Causal Principle. After reading that brief dialogue, the atheist hopes you would at least be persuaded to believe that the Christian is advocating a position which could be proven to be logically inconsistent or perhaps metaphysically unnecessary. At any rate, does the atheist’s objection actually defeat the Causal Principle?
The answer is NO.
The problem I suspect is that the atheist has not fully understood what the Causal Principle or the causal premise is actually saying. In my experience talking to many atheists, they usually attack a rather flippant or overly simplistic version of the argument without actually attempting to understand the full explication of that premise.
Let us briefly examine what the Causal Principle is actually saying. The proper way to understand what the Causal Principle is saying is to read it thus: “Being can only come from Being; something cannot come from non-being”. This would be the same as saying that “nothing (no something) comes from or of nothing/non-being”. This is not only intuitively and philosophically valid, it has also been confirmed constantly through science. There are no serious objections to this principle.
The common objections you hear from people claiming to anchor their objections on science is nothing but a grave misunderstanding of what nothing actually means. When you talk to people who pretend that this premise can be shown to be false, all you need do is try to talk to them about what they understand NOTHING to mean, and you will see quite clearly that in most cases they treat NOTHING as if it were SOMETHING indeed.
What about this atheist above who misconstrues the argument for why the universe has a maker? Well, I am not sure that this atheist understands the logical conclusion of his argument. It is one thing for an atheist to suggest that we may not currently have the full explanation of how the universe came about; or where the universe came from (considering the recent forays into multiverse theories). Nevertheless, it is another thing altogether to say the universe created itself out of nothing, or that it spontaneously popped into being. This is where many atheists indeed have to bite the bullet if they have to escape the logical inference to theism. But why would the atheist risk rationality and even common sense to stake out the absurd claim that the universe created itself? For the universe to spontaneously pop into being, or to create itself as it were, the universe would already have to be existing! This is clear nonsense.
So how do we apply the Causal Principle to the universe? Well, here’s the simple answer. The universe has already been proven to have a finite past. In other words, the universe was not eternal in the past. For the universe which shows a finitude in the past to begin to exist, it had to have a cause which brought it into existence. Even if you posit a multiverse (an unproven fantasy at the moment) which gives rise to this universe as one of several billion possible universes, you have not escaped or avoided the specter of cosmic beginnings. It simply pushes the question back as to how that parent or mother universe came to be. The atheist would be forced to declare that there is no naturalistic explanation for that, or else assert that this unproven figment of the imagination called the multiverse is simply eternal and uncaused.
The statement “God caused the universe to exist” does not furnish us with anything other than the realization that God preceded the universe and was the efficient cause of the universe. Consider the sculpture called The David, for instance. This sculpture didn’t pop into existence uncaused out of nothing from nothing and by nothing. It had a cause. The efficient cause of that sculpture is the sculptor Michelangelo. He is the one that thought it up and fashioned it albeit from a material cause (the marble). It is useful to understand the difference between efficient and material causes. When someone says that God is the cause of the universe, that statement does not furnish anyone with the physics of the event because the said event was clearly above naturalistic physics. When a Christian says that the universe did not spontaneously pop out of nothing, they are quite plainly saying that the universe came from something. That something is God. How God chose to do it is what science is trying to unravel.
So what stuff did God create the universe from? This is a very good question. God is held to be the maximal possible being. As a maximal being, he possesses maximal power. So, only a maximally powerful being can act on a state of affairs causally prior to the universe to produce the universe. Only a maximally powerful being can create the universe that now exists out of literally no stuff (nothing). The claim the Christian is making is simple: God is the explanation or the efficient cause of the universe—and this he did or fashion ex nihilo, or literally out of nothing; which simply means that he did not use any supposedly pre-existing material substance to create the universe.
At this juncture, the atheist may be tempted to disagree, with the hope that there may come a time in the future when some scientists that are deeply uneasy about the logical inference to theism, which comes out of the realization that the universe was not past-eternal, would succeed in showing a completely naturalistic account for the origin of the universe. Indeed, many of such theories purporting to establish a past-eternal universe have been advanced in the past and ultimately defeated.
If I may suggest, there is possibly no way that I see to get around the specter of cosmic beginnings. Any thinking atheist who purports to actually follow the science involved will sooner or later realize that the issue of the origin of the universe cries out powerfully for an explanation. The only explanation that makes sense of all the relevant philosophical and scientific knowledge at our disposal is the case made for a creator God.
Have you ever been accosted by an overzealous atheist who demands to know why there is evil in the world if God were really in existence? Perhaps, you might have also heard skeptics demanding to know why God doesn’t heal amputees, or feed all the homeless. I must confess that I am always amused by the “Why Wont God Heal Amputees” objection by atheists. I suppose that for them to establish that God does not exist, they’ve imagined that all they need do is pose some challenge for God to come and meet. Mighty presumptuous of atheists, won’t you say? To assume that God amounts to no more than a circus dog who is trained to jump through hoops. And so, for them, God must meet their demands or he doesn’t exist.
But pray tell, if a skeptic were presented with evidence for a case of something miraculous like the miraculous disappearance of cancer against the diagnoses of qualified doctors, or even the case of some spontaneous regeneration of limbs, would that do anything in the slightest bit to compel belief in God or the supernatural from an atheist? Will it rather not be the case that the atheist would reject the evidence before his very eyes, and seek to attribute it to some natural phenomena? And furthermore, if the requested miracle ever happened, what’s to stop the atheist from raising the bar? I mean, what’s next, “If God exists, why not heal all amputees and not just this one?” or “If God exists, why not remove all diseases and illnesses–surely he is a good God, and why would he not do so anyway?”; or what about “If God exists, why not remove suffering completely? Is he not capable of doing so?”
Such is the inflexible nature of willful unbelief: the systematic rejection of all inferences to God or Theism turtles all the way down. There is perhaps no gain in entertaining these amusing objections. It is useful to remind these skeptics that ultimately God performs miracles only in so much as they accord with his providential sovereignty over creation, or they glorify him. Deeply dissatisfying answer to a skeptic, but unfortunately you cannot make a silk purse out of a sow’s ear.
I just finished watching a debate held at the University of Notre Dame between Sam Harris and William Lane Craig on the topic “Is Good From God?” The audio and video of this debate can be located further down on this page in the comment section. I’ll encourage you to watch or listen to it as objectively as you possibly can.
First of all, I have to commend Sam Harris for actually agreeing to a debate on an issue like this. He is one of the four horsemen of Atheism in the world, and as such, his views on the issue of morality, is predictably going to carry some weight.
As we have seen, Dawkins has refused to debate Craig despite a flood of requests for him to do so. After all, as the chief apostle of Atheism in the world, you would think that he shouldn’t feel any qualms about an honest discussion on the God-issues he regularly inveighs against. What is he so terrified about that he consistently shuns a debate with Craig? If he is so sure and correct about his beliefs, and he wants to expose the pathetic ‘ignorance’ or unreasonableness of Theism, then he shouldn’t mind a discussion/debate with one of Theism’s strongest apologists.
Dennett has also interacted with Craig—Dennett is also a philosopher like Craig. But as we have seen in that exchange, and with other debates involving Dennett, he is practically useless at formal debates. As a matter of fact, he is so inept at it that you can practically feel his embarrassment when he is trounced by the opposite side.
What about Hitchens? Hitchens is probably the most oratorical of the New Atheists, but he came to the debate with Craig very unprepared; unprepared to deal with the arguments that Craig laid out and sometimes, even unprepared to have his own positions logically and critically examined. As a result he was also defeated in that debate.
Now, I have to point out that the rightness or wrongness of a worldview is not predicated on how poorly or how magnificently someone performs in a debate. But you have to marvel at the unjustified arrogance of the New Atheists when their best spokespersons are regularly confounded in debates against the side they deem to be populated by unsophisticated ‘faith heads’ and possibly delusional or psychopathic people.
Back to this debate with Sam Harris—I have to say that Sam Harris actually carried himself well. His task in this debate seemed to be to establish that science has a say in any discussion on Morality. He wanted to show that “the good” is just anything that tends to increase or maximize creaturely survival and comfort; and that “the bad” is anything that tends to decrease the chances of creaturely survival and comfort. His debate was liberally sprinkled with strong moral declarations. There wasn’t any doubt that he clearly apprehended a realm of objective moral values. On the existence of clear and objective moral values, he seemed to be pretty much in agreement with Craig. The only difference was that he could not provide a basis or foundation for these moral values that he eloquently espoused.
Craig, as he was wont to do, agreed with Harris’ moral indignation at some things that happen in the world. However, Craig’s burden in this debate was to show that objective moral values were properly grounded in God. In other words, the debate was not about whether Atheists could be moral, or whether they can live and act morally. Craig already concedes that indeed Atheists can and do live moral lives. The debate also was not on Moral Epistemology (which is how we come to know morals). It was on Moral Ontology—the existence in the real world of moral imperatives. Craig would argue that on an atheist worldview, there is no anchor or foundation for morality and as such, nothing on atheism makes morality binding on us. His argument seems to be that you need a transcendental anchor (in God) for the moral imperatives that force themselves on us.
Frankly, there was nothing new in this debate. If you’ve ever watched Atheists and Theists debate publicly and openly on the issue of Morality, you’ll find that the same issues are talked about ad nauseam. In fact, at this stage, it appears that the two sides are set in their ways and cannot be persuaded by the other no matter how well their viewpoints are articulated.
Have you ever tried to debate or discuss with an atheist on the existence of God? Have you ever tried to present the Cosmological Argument for the existence of God and immediately encountered this classic Dawkinsian objection: “Who designed the designer?” I am willing to wager that you must have. It is one of the major conversational retorts of the converts to this so-called New Atheism. I must confess that I find the logic behind this atheist argument to be unconvincing. According to Richard Dawkins you cannot infer a designer of the universe based on the complexity of the universe because this raises a further question namely “Who designed the designer?” But like Dr. William Lane Craig aptly demonstrates in the video above, contrary to Dawkins’ postulations, you do not need to have an explanation for your explanation to realize that the explanation you’ve got is the best explanation.
This is where it gets really interesting. In a debate with a theist, an atheist is likely to accuse a theist of using the “god of the gaps” argument—a charge which has the unfortunate effect of paralyzing the resolve of many a theist debater. The atheist charges that if the theist is going to claim that God created the universe, then the theist has to also answer “Who created God?”, and if that were to be ever answered, the next question would ensue “Who created that thing you said that created God?” The aim of this series of questions is to invite an infinite regress which would seem to show that the theist argument is unsound. Unfortunately, the problem with this atheist assumption is the ignorance of what the theist conception of God really is. Have you ever noticed how exasperated and dismissive an atheist usually gets when you properly demonstrate the atheist misunderstanding of the God concept?
Here is a short discussion between a theist and an atheist on this philosophically rich issue.
The problem I have with atheistic opposition to the simple theistic inference that the cause of the universe is not and could not be physical is that using Dawkins’ own criteria, at best what we can reasonably deduce is a naturalistic explanation to some aspect or substructure of the universe. There cannot be any naturalistic explanation for the origin of the universe, which when defined properly is the entirety of the physical, natural realm. Any explanation that seeks to validate that claim (the claim that one can adduce a proper and meaningful naturalistic explanation for the origin of the universe) will invariably turn out to be mind-shatteringly complex, highly implausible and I might even add non-testable. The ongoing research into multiverses readily comes to mind.
If Dawkins wants to make the argument that all explanations must be simple (I suppose the term “simple” invites a bit of subjectivity) or else we should disregard them as explanations, then he should be getting slapped down by theoretical physicists. This is not biological evolution and I wonder why he appeals too strongly to an evolutionary model. Just think, the field of quantum physics is already driving the most intelligent insane how much more when we begin to talk about 11 dimensional hysperspace and all the academic jargon of brane cosmology.
In the end, even if we never settle the issue of whether a god created the universe out of nothing at the cosmological singularity, one needs to realize that this is an issue that will never be satisfactorily resolved or explained with our current understanding of physics. The best we can do is deal with physical reality AFTER a universe has mysteriously appeared. If this realization proves to be intellectual dissatisfying for the atheist, he simply has to hope that sometime in the future, some theory of cosmological beginnings can be shown to be infinite in the past. It is a position he has to hang his faith on if he doesn’t want to face the seeming unreasonableness of his atheistic commitments.
After the theist’s opening comments, the atheist starts deconstructing the opening salvo.
There cannot be any naturalistic explanation for the origin of the universe…will invariably turn out to be mind-shatteringly complex, highly implausible and I might even add non-testable.
I’m sorry, but the above is simply nonsense.
1) We live in a complex universe, so not too surprisingly science describing it is also complex. But complex does not mean wrong, or impossible. Its beyond our computing capacity to model the gravitation interactions of the planets in our solar system; and yet, strangely enough, they somehow get by.
2) Implausible, by whose definition? Once something has been shown to occur it is no longer implausible – its fact. Atoms were once considered to be impossible – good thing we didn’t listen to those nay-sayers.
3) Current origin (cosmological) models make very specific and testable predictions about our own universe, meaning that they are to some extent testable. I posted a link to a video earlier in this thread that deals with this very issue. The classic example is the curvature of space-time – most cosmological models demand certain curvatures. We have measured the curvature of space, and thus have already been able to invalidate some models, and support other. Likewise, various cosmological models make other testable predictions – in regards to nature of vacuum energy, the interaction between gravity and the other fundamental forces, quantum entanglement, and so forth. As we become able to test those aspects of our universe we can further develop our cosmological models.
4) Not testable now does not equal not testable in the future. Until about two decade ago we had never directly imaged atoms; now, that tech is available in most unis. Until nine years ago it wasn’t possible to image below the diffraction limit of light – today myself and dozens of other scientists do it daily. Today, there are thousands of untestable questions. Tomorrow there will be a few less…
We live in a complex universe, so not too surprisingly science describing it is also complex. But complex does not mean wrong, or impossible. Its beyond our computing capacity to model the gravitation interactions of the planets in our solar system; and yet, strangely enough, they somehow get by.
Unfortunately, your refutations seem to be missing the point. Of course, the science describing an existing complex universe is/can be very complex indeed. The point however, if you’ve noticed, is that scientifically describing an existing universe is quite different from scientifically describing the origin of the universe. To contextualize therefore: if Dawkins’ reason for rejecting the God hypothesis for the origin of the universe is erected on the grounds that in doing so, one is positing something very complex, it would appear that he imagines that acceptable explanations must be simple. Nevertheless, as you have noted, simplicity need not be the main/the only/ or the most important criterion for accepting or refusing explanations. Therefore, objecting to God as the reason or cause for the universe, on the basis of complexity or simplicity seems neither here nor there. In any case, the scientific explanations for many things in the universe are quite complex (not simple or intuitively apparent. I am not sure why many atheists seem satisfied with this pretension to simplicity. It is rather the case that as we progress in science, we would settle for explanations that are increasingly more complex than what we currently have. The difference would be that they’d have greater explanatory scope and power.
Implausible, by whose definition? Once something has been shown to occur it is no longer implausible – its fact. Atoms were once considered to be impossible – good thing we didn’t listen to those nay-sayers.
You are treating the word “implausible” as if it means “impossible”. They have different meanings and so I am not exactly sure what your objection is here. Explanations can be implausible and yet very possible; or plausible and unfortunately impossible. Once again, any attempt to give a naturalistic explanation for the origin of the universe would run afoul of Dawkins’ rigid devotion to simplicity. In attempting to provide such an explanation for the origin of the universe, one would invariably have to tender explanations that are not only non-observable, but non-testable and highly implausible as well.
Current origin (cosmological) models make very specific and testable predictions about our own universe, meaning that they are to some extent testable. I posted a link to a video earlier in this thread that deals with this very issue. The classic example is the curvature of space-time – most cosmological models demand certain curvatures. We have measured the curvature of space, and thus have already been able to invalidate some models, and support other. Likewise, various cosmological models make other testable predictions – in regards to nature of vacuum energy, the interaction between gravity and the other fundamental forces, quantum entanglement, and so forth. As we become able to test those aspects of our universe we can further develop our cosmological models.
This is beside the point. Like I noted earlier, we can have reliable, reasonable and verifiable naturalistic explanations for some aspects of the universe. No one has posited that we can’t make specific and testable predictions about some phenomena in the universe. The problem lies in having a naturalistic explanation for the universe as a whole. Here, I am not saying that we are incapable of offering explanations for anything including the universe, but to assume there’s a naturalistic explanation for nature (the universe as a whole in its grandest scale) is to assume what you are trying to explain; it is assuming the prior existence of something that you are trying to show its origins. To think there is some naturalistic explanation for the origin of the universe is not to have understood what the universe properly means. All the talk about quantum entanglement, vacuum energy, gravity, space-time curvature and fundamental forces amply illustrates my point—we are merely investigating aspects of an already existing universe. When you happen on a genuine observable, testable and predictive naturalistic explanation for the very origin of the universe as a whole, I’ll be more than eager to hear it. Just don’t serve up another one of these many discredited theories out there.
Not testable now does not equal not testable in the future. Until about two decade ago we had never directly imaged atoms; now, that tech is available in most unis. Until nine years ago it wasn’t possible to image below the diffraction limit of light – today myself and dozens of other scientists do it daily. Today, there are thousands of untestable questions. Tomorrow there will be a few less…
It would appear that you have failed to understand my position. I am not in the least bit interested in examples showing that human beings have improved their knowledge with time; Or that things once thought impossible or difficult to answer or understand have been successfully resolved. To me, that is quite obvious as not to merit some sort of argument or debate. Nevertheless, in all of these, we have concerned ourselves with learning more about the intricacies of phenomena in the universe. In the already existing universe, it is very plausible that with time, we’ll discover and experimentally verify (test) many things we have a poor understanding of today. It leaves untouched though the very question of the origin of the whole shebang known as the universe. How can any naturalistic hypothesis to that end be testable? It is one thing to test an explanation of some aspect or phenomena inherent in this or any kind of possible universes, but it is another thing altogether to test an explanation purporting to show the origins of this or any other universes. It is not a surprise therefore that astrophysics and cosmology is an observational science not an experimental one. I can be charitable for example, and grant that the current research in brane cosmology/multiverses may yet yield some interesting fruit and produce some deeper and relevant understanding of our own universe. If it wants to pretend an answer to the origins of the universe, testable or non-testable sub-universal phenomena will not suffice. We will need to test and experimentally verify that any such explanations lead to the actual birth of an entire universe—I suppose, with its own variegated and stunning physical laws and constants. This is a challenge that cannot be realistically met.
Be that as it may, you are free to hang your faith on some highly implausible, non-testable and non-actualizable future state of affairs—if it helps your world-view.