‘But, then, who created God?’
We’ve all been there and it can be frustrating, but, in that moment, against our will, we feel the weight of the question. We feel the arbitrariness of our answer. ‘No one.’ Not only does it feel arbitrary, but we sense that an assumed privilege has been exposed and we wonder why we ever felt entitled to end our chain of causation at one entity back from the universe. Why not two? Have I ever heard an argument for why this makes sense? What was it again? I really need it right now!
The failure of our hypothetical, but all too recognisable, apologist is not the lack of an argument to justify his position as distinct from his challenger’s position. It is rather the failure to recognise in his challenger the same, equally arbitrary, position.
That is, our two friends here, in fact, both believe the same two important facts about the universe. First, whatever did give rise to the universe is eternal. It’s always been around. Second, that thing is uncreated or uncaused. Nothing gave rise to it. If either denies holding these beliefs, they are wrong and do so out of ignorance.
Let’s imagine our apologist is a Christian theist and his friend is an atheist and philosophical naturalist. The Christian naturally ends his chain of causation with the God he has believed in and learned about from the Bible. The atheist naturally ends her chain of causation with the universe itself. Either way, as soon as you stop the chain, you are declaring that the last thing is eternal and uncreated.
The question, then, is not why the Christian is permitted to arbitrarily invoke uncaused causes to get them out of a tight spot, but rather what evidence both the Christian and the atheist have to justify their choice for the uncaused cause, in which, make no mistake, both believe.
The original challenge, however, reveals an oversight on the part of atheist as well. This is a failure not peculiar to atheists, but common to the great mass of humanity. It is a failure to recognise she has a worldview at all.
Everyone wakes up in the morning staring out of a narrow slit in the top of a tiny keep that has been built by their parents, their birthplace, their language, their formal education, their experiences, their genetics, and every other influence both internal and external, integrated over time up to the very moment of waking up that morning. You cannot remove yourself from your perspective on the world, and it constrains the set of answers you have available for life’s important questions.
In The God Delusion,[i] Richard Dawkins outlines a philosophical naturalist worldview as follows:
An atheist in this sense of philosophical naturalist is somebody who believes there is nothing beyond the natural, physical world, no supernatural creative intelligence lurking behind the observable universe, no soul that outlasts the body and no miracles—except in the sense of natural phenomena that we don’t yet understand. If there is something that appears to lie beyond the natural world as it is now imperfectly understood, we hope eventually to understand it and embrace it within the natural. (p35)
Just as our Christian, whose worldview begins ‘in the beginning, God created the heavens and the earth’, doesn’t miss a beat declaring God created the universe and no one created God, so our atheist, who has already concluded that there is no being ‘lurking behind the observable universe’, finds the Christian’s answer obviously wrong and offensive to common sense.
Understanding the assumptions behind your own beliefs, and behind those of challengers, can mean interactions of point scoring and conflict are replaced with discovery and a deeper understanding—never a bad thing.
[i] R. Dawkins, The God Delusion (Random House, 2009).
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