There are some sophisticated atheists out there. Intellectuals with beards who write books, engage with the nuances of the Christian faith, understand Calvinism, trinitarian theology, the gospel and the different interpretations of soteriology. These sophisticated atheists will roll their eyes when hear somebody spouting a one-liner from The God Delusion. They will repudiate the movement that is often referred to as New Atheism. As I pointed out in my article The Case Against New Atheism, the New Atheists are not sophisticated. In their style of argumentation, ignorance and behavior, they resemble some of the worst stereotypes of religious zealots. But how can one distinguish a sophisticated atheist from a New Atheist? There is one tell-tale indicator, namely their usage of the ‘who created God?’ argument. Throughout this article, I will explain why ‘who created God?’ is my example of a thoughtless question.
This may strike many readers as odd. Atheists often champion this question as an impenetrable defeater; the one question that no religious person can answer. In his book The God Delusion, Richard Dawkins used this question to form a syllogism reaching the conclusion that God almost certainly does not exist. Yet it is my example of a thoughtless, shallow question. If I had little respect for an argument, I might reply, “What’s next? ‘Who created God?'” Atheist intellectuals such as Dr. Michael Ruse regard this argument as “embarrassing.” He writes, “Thus, like a first-year undergraduate, he can happily go around asking loudly, ‘What caused God?'” This argument, though championed by some, is held in very low repute by others.
It Is Literally An Incoherent Question
For somebody to ask “Who created God?” would be something like asking
who created the number one. They may say that it must have had a creator. That creator must have had a creator and so on to infinity. But since at least one creator presupposes the number one, we are led to a contradiction, and therefore the number one does not exist. Philosophers and mathematicians often regard numbers as immaterial objects rather than constructions of the human mind. On this view, they have always existed. So to ask of one of these philosophers, “who created the number one?” would be to ask an incoherent question. (I am aware that there are alternative explanations of numbers.)
The ‘who created God?’ argument takes the same form. Before you ask who created God, you must discern who God is, just as one would have to discern what the number one is before asking who or what created it. Philosophers typically define God as the greatest conceivable being. Accordingly, he is metaphysically necessary in his existence, meaning that it is impossible for him to not exist. When somebody asks me, “Who created God?” it just sounds like a malformed, incoherent question because it is impossible for God to be created.
In this article, the blogger Bob Seidensticker attempted to defend the ‘who created God?’ objection against this critique. He pointed out that this definition is just arbitrary. Well, it is not as though Christians are just changing their position to dodge the objection. That really is what we believe. If you were going to ask, “Who created the number one?” it would only be applicable if the other party ascribed to certain theories of mathematics. The only real answer is “Nobody.” You cannot ask ‘who created God?’ of somebody who does not believe in created gods.
An Unrealistic Demand For Explanations
Let us explore the implications of the ‘who created God?’ challenge. If it were indeed a valid challenge, there would be an underlying principle that we could isolate. That principle would be something like, “In order to say that A caused B, you must be able to show where A came from.” But if that principle were applied universally, we would never be able to explain anything. The project of science would be fully undermined. We would never be able to test a hypothesis because we would not know the explanation of that hypothesis.
Seidensticker issues two responses to this observation. First, he pointed out that he might hypothesize that a wizard caused some phenomenon, and we must accept it without asking where the wizard came from. After all, is this argument not a concession that we do not know where God came from? The problem is that when we (apologists, philosophers and theologians) say that God created the universe, we are not invoking God as an explanatory hypothesis. We are not saying, “Here is a universe. Perhaps God created it.” Apologists use deductive and inductive arguments leading to the conclusion that God created the universe. If one had something similar for a wizard bringing about some phenomenon, that would be open to assessment.
The second point that Seidensticker raised was that he will accept common explanations of phenomena as opposed to uncommon explanations. If you find ashes in a field, you are likely to conclude that it was caused by fire because fire is common. But this entirely misses my point. I was arguing that if you apply the principle that “In order to say that A caused B, you must be able to show where A came from,” you would not be able to conclude that fire was the explanation of ashes. That principle, isolated from the ‘who created God?’ question leads us to extreme impracticality and the destruction of all scientific pursuits.
The Necessity of A Prime Mover
The incoherence of the question ‘Who created God?’ may not be obvious to some who do not understand or have never heard of attributes such as divine aseity. But perhaps the incoherence will become clearer if we pose the question thusly: who created the Prime Mover? By the nature of the case, the Prime Mover would have to be uncreated. As Aristotle argued in his Metaphysics, the series of temporal past events cannot extend to infinity. There must have been a first cause that brought all things into existence.
This will raise the question of who, or what, this first cause is. As the cause of the universe, the Prime Mover must transcend the universe. This will include the multiverse, the quantum vacuum, all matter, energy, space, time, and nature. Therefore, the cause of the universe must be spaceless, timeless, immaterial and supernatural. So, tell me, silly Christians, who created the timeless Prime Mover?
Of course, I anticipate that the atheist may agree that there does exist a Prime Mover who possesses all of these attributes. But it is impersonal. There are several problems with this hypothesis. The main one is that if the cause was eternally present, then the effect would need to be eternally present. If the properties for creating the universe existed forever, and were just part of a mechanical process, the universe should also have existed forever. From this it follows that the cause of the universe must be personal as well, for in free will, this cause chose to bring the universe into being a finite time ago.
In response to the necessity of the Prime Mover, all that Seidensticker had to say was that there is no consensus about the finitude of the past among scientists. I am not sure if he means that there is some rogue scientist hidden away at a community college who believes that the universe is eternal. But even if there are some who believe that, we may say that the majority of scientists believe that the universe is not eternal.
Scientists typically take this position for two reasons. First, the universe is expanding. If you were to rewind the tape of the history of the universe, you would see it contracting until it reached an absolute beginning. Second, the law of entropy indicates that the universe is running out of energy. If the universe was eternal, it would have reached its’ expiration date an infinite time ago. That is why the physicist Dr. Alexander Vilenkin writes, “It is said that an argument is what convinces reasonable men, and a proof is what convinces an unreasonable man. With the proof now in place, cosmologists can no longer hide behind the idea of a past eternal universe. They have to face the problem of a cosmic beginning.”
Second, Aristotle did not rely on modern cosmology to establish the necessity of a Prime Mover. He pointed out the impossibility of an eternal past. Think about it for a moment. If the number of past events prior to today were infinite, then today would have never arrived. One cannot traverse an infinite number of events. Therefore, there must be a beginning to the universe and a first cause to break the chain of an infinite number of past events. Therefore, the question ‘who created God?’ is reduced down to ‘what caused the timeless First Cause?’
There Is No Application For ‘Who Created God?’ In The Majority of Arguments
‘Who created God?’ often serves as a reflex to an argument for God’s existence. Oh, you say that God is necessary to explain the universe? Well, who created God, smart guy? However, this reflex often serves as a mechanism for dodging an argument. Asking who created God really has no applicability in many of the arguments for the existence of God. Think for a moment of the Transcendental Argument for God’s existence. In this argument (I treated it here) if a true proposition exists, then God must exist because atheism possesses no ontological resources for true propositions (*Before you assess the argument, please read more than just that line. Read the article.) If you were to respond to that argument by posing the challenge, “But who created God?” it would be a sign of intellectual laziness and a lack of engagement.
Similarly, the modal ontological argument for God moves from the possibility of God’s existence to the necessity of God’s existence. Arguments from consciousness, the resurrection, substance dualism, and the majority of arguments are just invulnerable to the question of who created God. Even if we were to charitably concede that ‘who created God?’ refuted the argument from design, it still would not stand as the bulwark against the most robust arguments. At best, it is irrelevant.
The Design Argument, Simplicity And Complexity
‘Who created God?’ is most prevalently a response to teleological arguments for the existence of God. A teleological argument will suggest that some aspect of the universe exhibits features of intelligence and therefore must have a designer. The atheist will retort, “But God also exhibits features of intelligence and therefore he must also have a designer. If we know that the universe is the product of intelligence because of complexity, then we must also conclude that since God is complex, he must also be a product of intelligence.”
There are three problems with this retort, some of which I have already mentioned. First, to say that a metaphysically necessary being needs to be the product of intelligence is to spout an incoherency. You cannot ask ‘who created God?’ of someone who does not believe in created gods. Second, design arguments do not rely on complexity alone. A license plate code may be complex. But that complexity alone does not lead us to conclude that somebody specifically arranged the letters and numbers in that way. If the license plate code said your name, then we may conclude that it was the product of intelligence. This is typically regarded as specified complexity. This objection conflates complexity with specified complexity.
Finally, a simple explanation is not always a better explanation. A human being is more complex than carvings in a cave, but nonetheless, we will posit human beings as explanations of carvings in a cave. Before Seidensticker tells us again that human beings carving in a cave is common, remember that this misses the point. I am extracting the principle that simplicity is always the better explanation and applying it. This is an example of reductio ad absurdum. Further, what good reasons are there to think that God is complex? A complex idea does not make him complex. In fact, God is a spirit, meaning that he does not have any physical components. Perhaps it could be argued that God is the simplest of explanations.
Based on these three responses, it does not seem that ‘who created God?’ is a robust response to the design argument.
At Most, ‘Who Created God?’ Is A Defensive Measure
While atheists may attempt to mount an affront against theism based on this question, it really only works as a defensive question. Used as an argument against the existence of God, it takes its’ weakest form. Consider Richard Dawkins’ argument leading to the conclusion that God almost certainly does not exist. He argued on pages 157-158 of The God Delusion as follows:
1. One of the greatest challenges to the human intellect has been to explain how the complex, improbable appearance of design in the universe arises.
2. The natural temptation is to attribute the appearance of design to actual design itself.
3. The temptation is a false one because the designer hypothesis immediately raises the larger problem of who designed the designer.
4. The most ingenious and powerful explanation is Darwinian evolution by natural selection.
5. We don’t have an equivalent explanation for physics.
6. We should not give up the hope of a better explanation arising in physics, something as powerful as Darwinism is for biology.
Therefore, God almost certainly does not exist.
If all of the premises to this argument were true, the most robust conclusion to draw would be that we cannot infer design in nature. These are defensive premises. Yet he concludes that God almost certainly does not exist. That does not flow from the given premises, even if they are true. Professor Dawkins is simply careless when he reaches that conclusion. Unfortunately, many atheists are as well when they tout this argument. Rather than using this as an affront against theism, my advice to the atheist would be to reserve it for design arguments, where it takes its’ strongest form (though as we have seen, even there it is not impressive).
Atheists Who Use This Argument Are Guilty of Special Pleading
Somebody is guilty of special pleading when they appeal to a certain principle and then ignore it when it is applied to aspects of their position in a way that they find unfavorable. Ironically, atheists often accuse Christians of special pleading for not allowing that God has a cause. However, as the arguments are framed, the theist is not guilty of special pleading. The theist will argue, for example that “Everything that begins to exist has a cause.” If God did not begin to exist, then this principle is not applicable. However, atheists who use ‘who created God?’ as an argument against God’s existence are guilty of special pleading.
The principle that can be extracted from this argument would be ‘If an entity exists, it must have a creator.” But if the universe created you, then who created the universe? If everything needs a creator, then who is the creator of the universe? Of course, if the atheist is using the question as a defensive maneuver (an attempt to ward off apologetic arguments), then they will not be vulnerable to this objection. But if they are mounting it is as an argument against the existence of God, then they are guilty of special pleading. They are saying that the principle applies to God but not to the universe.
Why ‘Who Created God’ Is My Example of A Thoughtless Question
I am grateful that many of the atheists whom I have had the pleasure of knowing repudiate this argument. When I want to roast them, I can accuse them of using ‘Who created God?’ and they will find it amusing precisely because it is such a deplorable argument. Taken as an argument against God’s existence, I can only think that the atheist is not referring to the God of the Bible, because as Christians, we do not believe in created gods. Taken as a defensive measure, it does not do much to ward off the design argument, nor especially other arguments for God’s existence.