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 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.
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.