18
Feb

Who Created God?

imagesSkeptics and believers agree that the universe demonstrates remarkable order. It operates according to a set of exquisitely fine-tuned laws that create an environment fit for human life. Even a minor change to any one of these laws would have prevented life from ever arising. The life that emerged in this universe is information-based, operating pursuant to the DNA blueprint that builds and sustains it. Information, we recognize intuitively, is the product of intelligence. Instruction manuals that explain how to build something to achieve a purpose do not self-assemble; they do not just appear. They must be written by intelligent actors for others to read and follow. There is no good reason to believe that the most complex “manual” ever created just appeared, simply because “enough time” has gone by.

When believers point to God to explain the existence of something from nothing, and order from randomness, the skeptic will often respond with a question: “Then who created God?” As one skeptic put it:

Something must account for that order. But your answer, God, is simply the acceptance of an immensely, probably infinitely greater amount of Order without question. Thus, you have not answered your question of “whence the order we see”, but merely made it bigger and unquestionable.

Though not phrased in the usual fashion, the question is the same: “Then who created God?”

A moment’s reflection will demonstrate the category error that is at play. The skeptic is asking, in essence, “Who created the uncreated eternal Creator?” The question is nonsensical, demonstrating only that the skeptic’s understanding of God is not what it should be. When God is invoked as the explanation for the universe, it is not in the sense of some superhero from a cartoon, or some ancient “god” who possessed specific powers. “God” refers to the conception the mind reaches when it seeks to answer the question: “What would provide an adequate explanation for what we find here?”

Specifically, what we find is that the universe had a starting point, at which both matter/energy and time began. That’s why it’s referred to as a time-space continuum. We find that the universe is operating in conformance to specific rules that govern function. It appears to be operating the way a sophisticated machine does, like a timepiece that has intricate parts. The life that exists in it arises because a set of billions of instructions is followed to take inanimate things and build them into greater, living things, composed of complex interconnected systems, with the ability to metabolize other things to provide fuel to live. And, most amazingly, for one such built “thing” – man – a mind emerges that is capable of thought, reason, emotion and, most importantly, imagination.

What the believer concludes from this seems obvious: the creator must have immense power and intelligence. He must be volitional and logical. And perhaps most relevant to the skeptic’s point, he must exist outside of time; he must be eternal. He must be the only being that has always existed, who did not himself pop into existence at a point in time.  In other words, the skeptic quoted above is correct to ask, in essence, “What came before?” Each thing we see must have preceding it a cause, an explanation, which is adequate to the result. When I contemplate the functioning of a complex computer, I realize that the great amount of information and complexity that it contains must be explained by a source that is adequate. It would be foolishness to conclude that it simply emerged from simpler computers over the course of time, even if I could discern within it a program that allowed it to “learn” or develop as time went by. No, I would have to conclude that something with intelligence and a purpose built the computer, because no other explanation is consistent with reason.

Could the universe have been created by something other than God? Perhaps some powerful being that created for a reason but was himself created? Yes, and for such a being, the question would be appropriate, who created him? But eventually one must reach a starting point. There cannot be an infinite regression of creation events unless one is willing to accept the conclusion that “nothing” created something. But that cannot be, at least not consistent with reason. It is a contradiction, no different than saying that square-circles once existed.

This may not seem obvious at first glance. Readers may picture in their minds the vast emptiness of space and wonder why something could not emerge from that. But this picture is itself mistaken, because the vast “spaces” would themselves be something. And we all intuitively realize that building blocks like atoms exist even when we cannot see them. The idea that a cloud can form from “thin air” is roughly similar. But this picture is not a picture of “nothing.” No, “nothing” means the absence of anything. There are no building blocks, visible or invisible. There is no “stuff” at all. Simply put, there is nothing there from which something could appear. Moving backward, there must come a point in which an infinite, eternal being of limitless power and intelligence is acting. Or, we must abandon reason altogether and conclude that it can no longer guide us in reaching conclusions. But we cannot rationally hold to a view that life, order, complexity emerge from the absolute vacuum of nothingness.

The skeptic quoted above insists that this is no solution at all. He contends that the original problem remains: if order exists on an increasing scale, then what provided God his “order.” This, too, reflects a category error. The type of order reflected in nature is the type of order that physical things display. Created things are composed of interconnected parts that function together for a purpose. The mind, by contrast, is not a physical thing, however much it is connected to the brain. The mind operates not on working parts but on ideas or concepts, which can eventually be translated or made into working parts. While the mind does reflect “order,” it is of a different type. By an “ordered” mind, we mean clarity of thought, not the number of parts that fit together. Thus an aircraft carrier and a mind both reflect order, but one is a created physical thing and the other is something quite different.

There is simply no good reason to believe that the Creator must have working parts, like his creation does. The skeptic’s implication that all ordered things must be made by things possessing greater order is nothing more than an unsupported assumption. The Creator of this universe must be adequate to the task; he must possess the level of intelligence and power needed to create and he must exist in a way that is not limited by space and time.

Why does any of this matter, some may ask? Quite simply because it makes no sense to seek God when one is convinced he does not exist. And seeking God, the believer realizes, is what life here is really all about.

Posted by Al Serrato

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20 Comments

  1. zilch says:

    Hey al- another great post. You do have a very clear expository style, which makes discussing these things with you much easier.

    That said, I don’t think there’s much here we haven’t covered already. I’ll try to answer one paragraph in detail. You say:

    “A moment’s reflection will demonstrate the category error that is at play. The skeptic is asking, in essence, “Who created the uncreated eternal Creator?” The question is nonsensical, demonstrating only that the skeptic’s understanding of God is not what it should be.”

    The question is nonsensical, if we assume that an uncreated eternal Creator exists. But that’s just what we’re debating here. A skeptic would not ask that question, because the skeptic does not assume that an uncreated eternal Creator exists.

    “When God is invoked as the explanation for the universe, it is not in the sense of some superhero from a cartoon, or some ancient “god” who possessed specific powers.”

    Well, at least historically speaking, gods started out at least as superheros of a sort: lightning bolt tossers and so forth. God as a more general power and intelligence is a more modern conception, partly encouraged by the science that explained thunderbolts.

    “God” refers to the conception the mind reaches when it seeks to answer the question: “What would provide an adequate explanation for what we find here?”

    If that’s true, than my God is Nature. And I’m in good company- as Baruch Spinoza said, “Deus, sive Natura”. My God isn’t a person or a unified intelligence, much less someone who tosses people into Hell for not believing in Him.

    And we have to parse your “adequate explanation”. Saying “Goddidit” as an explanation for anything is stretching the meaning of “explanation” taut to the snapping point. If you can’t explain God’s doing it in such a way that, say, predictions about further doings could be made, as good or better than what science would predict, then I would say that “Goddidit” is not an explanation at all. It’s merely an opinion about causation, but it doesn’t explain anything.

    The rest of your argument is basically the same we’ve had before: order needs an explanation, and the only explanation is a god. Again: yes, we can’t explain everything: why there’s order, or even why there’s anything at all (matter, energy, space, time, God…) rather than nothing. You can’t explain this with your God, though, either. It’s just passing the buck and tossing the logic that led you to claim that order needs an explanation.

    My humble opinion: I don’t think it’s bad to believe in a god or gods as long as you behave nicely. But I think the only reasons to believe in gods are faith, fear, and desire. Nothing I’ve seen in the real world so far has looked like it must have been created by a god, and not just by the magnificent laws of our Universe. But that’s enough for me.

    cheers from thawing Vienna, zilch

    • tumeyn says:

      Zilch writes: “Nothing I’ve seen in the real world so far has looked like it must have been created by a god, and not just by the magnificent laws of our Universe.”

      Precisely. You believe that the universe was created by the “laws of our Universe”. The ultimate (fundamental) reality of the universe is simply uncreated physical laws. That’s a faith assertion.

      I, on the other hand, believe that the physical laws were created by a rational mind. It’s also a faith-assertion – but it is an assertion that can explain the rationality of the universe and the rationality of our minds. (and the existence of consciousness)

      All of us have a faith in some sort of “eternal” (uncaused) entity. Either the laws of the universe are the “uncaused-cause” or that God is the “uncaused-cause”. One is true and one is false. But both require a leap of faith.

  2. Greg says:

    Rookie reader here. So zilch, let me see if I have this right … you’re content with nothing creating everything?

    Cheers from semi-wintry Maryland, G.

  3. al says:

    Zilch,
    Yes, we are covering the same ground, but that’s largely because we don’t agree. But I would like to thank you for the kind words about my writing style and for giving me the feedback that helps me to refine my thoughts on these matters.

    I’ll leave you with one flaw I see in your response: you say “my God is Nature.” I don’t see how you can square that with a scientific approach to knowledge. Do you believe nature to be eternal? Do you believe the Big Bang did not occur? If it did occur, then your position is that nature created itself, an absurdity. I’m afraid your response has more to do with your distaste for a God who throws people in hell than with the logical implications of your views.

  4. zilch says:

    Greg- I’m content with nothing creating everything if you’re content with nothing creating God. But actually, I don’t know what went down. That’s all right.

    Al- yes, I believe the Big Bang occurred: there’s lots of evidence for it. But what went before, or even if “before” has a meaning, I don’t know.

    As for my distaste for a God who fries nonbelievers eternally- that’s another issue. There are gods other than Jehovah who don’t toast uppity folks, for instance Ganesha, but I don’t believe in them either. As I’ve said, I don’t see how positing a God “explains” anything: it simply makes the questions bigger and ignores them.

    cheers from chilly Vienna, zilch.

    • Jordan says:

      Zilch,
      You said, “I’m content with nothing creating everything if you’re content with nothing creating God.”
      “Nothing creating God” does not equal “non-created God.” Nothing can NEVER create something.
      You said, “But actually, I don’t know what went down. That’s all right.”
      I think you’d be content to say that the reason for this is that you have never heard a rational/scientific explanation…that fits within your PREconceptions. The author is saying the same thing. Athiests have no rational/scientific explanation. When one ALLOWS for the possibility of an eternally existing God, he finds that not only does it fit what we see. Reason/Science demand it.
      Laws don’t come without a law giver. Information does not come without a source. Nothing never gives rise to something. Order implies design, etc.
      Trying to think about the world excluding the possibility of God is similar to trying to think about the world excluding the possibility of gravity.

  5. Al says:

    Zilch,
    Positing a God “explains things” in the same way that positing DNA explains why some cells turn into heart cells while others turn into eye cells. It is the beginning of the inquiry, not the end. It is an adequate cause for particular cell lines, though without knowing more about DNA, it isn’t a full explanation by any means. Positing God explains why there is life, order, intelligence, morality, fine-tuning etc in the universe. The alternative – that nothing is behind all this – explains nothing. Once God is posited as an adequate explanation, the next step is to look for him, to seek him out, just as the next step with DNA is to study it. This has great importance. You, apparently, will never do so, because you are convinced there is no reason to. You are looking at DNA and saying, “this explains nothing, as the DNA is more complex than the cells you are trying to explain. You have substituted one mystery with a greater one.” I hope you can see why this is flawed.
    Positing God doesn’t explain why things are the way they are; science does that. Positing God gives us a reason to pursue science in the first place.

  6. zilch says:

    Jordan- you say, for instance, that “laws don’t come without a lawgiver”. This is true of human laws in our experience. But our experience also shows us that lawgivers don’t come without parents of lawgivers- in other words, lawgivers evolve, like all other life forms. Simply exempting your God from the necessity of evolving or having parents means you are not relying on experience and logic, but on positing magic. And once you’ve posited magic, no holds are barred, and no more rational discussion is possible.

    Al- no, God is not an “explanation” for life in the same sense that DNA is a (partial) explanation for life. Knowing something about how DNA works enables us to make predictions- for instance, that acquired characteristics will not be inherited, because alterations of somatic cells cannot affect the DNA of the germ line. God doesn’t explain anything about life: you couldn’t use any conceivable knowledge about God to make that same prediction, for instance, or any other, as well or better than science and common sense do. Thus, God is at best a hypothesis, but not an explanation.

  7. al says:

    Zilch,
    When you use “hypothesis” and “explanation,” you are making reference to the scientific method of obtaining knowledge. Expecting that method to have application to a supernatural being – i.e. a being outside of nature and therefore not accessible by the scientific method – is of course futile. I am not suggesting that.
    Knowing that DNA is there gives scientists the impetus to study DNA and attempt to work with it to achieve a result. Knowing that God is there gives us, his creation, the impetus to study God (through general revelation and through his word) in an attempt to work within God’s framework and to achieve a result (eternity with him). That makes him more important, though less accessible, than DNA or the scientific method.
    I’m afraid you’re making a category error when you insist that God have “predictive value” the way a scientific hypothesis does. The importance of relating to God is not to advance “knowledge” but something entirely different.
    Do you see the distinction?

  8. zilch says:

    Yes, al, I see the distinction, and I agree with you about the futility of using science to investigate God. My questions are and remain: is this “entirely different” knowledge about God useful in any way, or likely to be true? So far, my provisional answers are “no” and “no”.

    cheers from chilly Vienna, zilch

  9. Al says:

    Zilch,
    If I want to visit chilly Vienna, it would make sense to find out from you what I might expect. I’ve never been there, so using you as a source of information is a smart move. I may never go to Vienna, but one place I can’t avoid is the next life. Knowledge of God is useful in the most important of ways – helping me to navigate that journey “beyond.” Whether its true or not is a question that you should answer after, and not before, you commence your study. When you realize that some of the finest minds of the past 2000 years have seen no reason to disbelieve, as compared with the relatively few that “insist” there is no God, I would say that your confidence level in answering the second question in the affirmative should be very high.

  10. Jim says:

    Zilch,

    As one who has been to Vienna (lived in Oesterreich for two years as a student), I’d like to encourage you: “Commence your study”. Love to hear more from you then.

    Jim

  11. zilch says:

    Trouble is, al, that vox populi, vox dei is true: people believe in gods because they want to live forever free of pain, and people believe in gods because they want justice, people believe in gods because they want divine parents, people believe in gods because it makes them strong in battle and confirms their faith, and people believe in gods because they love and fear.

    There are lots of reasons for people to believe in gods that have nothing to do with evidence from the real world. I can well understand the desire to go to heaven, but that desire does not prove that heaven exists. Thus, I’m not impressed by the numbers of people who believe in gods. By the way, of course, no matter what gods you believe in, there are more people in the world who do not believe in your gods. So it’s not as though most people today or through history have been Christians (or Muslims, etc.).

    cheers from snowy Vienna, zilch

  12. zilch says:

    Jim- what did you study in Austria? It’s a nice place to live in lots of ways, but I do sometimes miss California…

    About my studies: unfortunately, I only have twenty-four hours a day and I do have other pressing demands on my time. I will say that I have read the King James Bible through a couple of times, been to many various church services, argued with friends in person and online, and I haven’t seen any reason to change my mind yet. But as I’ve told al: I don’t think it matters that much what you believe, as long as you behave nicely.

    cheers from snowy Vienna, zilch

  13. Jordan says:

    Zilch,
    My point is seen in your last response. This “magic” as you call it, is simply the “supernatural,” or that which in outside the realm of physical, observable phenomenon. Even though it is outside the physical and observable, we can still see evidence of it’s existence in the physical and observable. Specifically here, we speak of how it is seen in the origins of matter, laws, order, information, etc. By statements, you’ve shown irrational bias against even the possibility of the supernatural, by labeling it “magic” and thus irrelevant.
    To better relate this, being a math guy, let me relate a mathematical illustration. I could use the examples of 0, negative numbers, or numbers that can’t be written as a ratio, but instead let me use one that requires a little deeper math knowledge but has better correspondence to what I’m trying to show.
    For a time, mathematicians believed that the square root of -1 did not exist. After all, such a number can’t be observed as a quantity of apples, or graphed on a number line. The study of such a number was even considered pointless for a time, as certainly it could have no real world implications. This number was labeled “imaginary” for these reasons. However, such a number was found to be logical (all numbers save 0 have 2 roots and thus -1 must also), fundamental (it is seen in the equation relating all the most fundamental of maths discoveries, Euler’s formula, e^(pi x i) + 1=0, of which Harvard mathematician Benjamin Pierce said “That is surely true, it is absolutely paradoxical; we cannot understand it, and we don’t know what it means, but we have proved it, and therefore we know it must be the truth.”) and even necessary to math for the solving of some equations, specifically those related to the field of electrical engineering. A more accurate name was given to these numbers: not imaginary, but just complex. A denial that these numbers could have existed would have set back math and thus the science of computers and other electrical device to an incredible degree.
    And thus it is with your preconceived rejection of God and the supernatural.

    • Jordan says:

      (Continued) As said before, although much more could be said,
      “Laws don’t come without a law giver. Information does not come without a source. Nothing never gives rise to something. Order implies design.”
      When these questions are asked, we are left with few possibilities. Either (1) they always existed (which denies any scientific explanation we’ve seen in the natural world, thus making this as much a faith claim in that which is outside the natural world as much as belief in God is), (2) they came from a source, but a source other than God (from which regression returns us to square one, as that source must have a source), or (3) their source is what seems to be logically necessary: something or someone eternally existent (eliminating the regression issue), really smart (the laws of the universe, design of dna, molecular machinery, fine-tuning, etc. point to this), really big (to have created the universe, yeah), and really powerful (to reference the thoughts of Scripture, the heavens declare the glory and power of God, the message of the stars goes out to all peoples of every language so that they are without excuse).
      You’ve simply rejected point 3 (God and the supernatural) as many before you had rejected “imaginary” numbers. Either rejection leads to inexplicable paradoxes, while their acceptance (logical despite a lack of FULL proof–my definition faith), just makes sense of things. Thus (although not without other reasons) I believe in God.
      Sorry for the long post. Thanks in advance for hearing me out.

  14. Al says:

    Jordan,

    Excellent analysis. Thanks for weighing in.

    Zilch,

    While reading the Bible is important, for your challenges, I would suggest Cold Case Christianity or one of Gary Habermas’ books on proof of the resurrection. Part of the reason we believe in the Bible is that the historical evidence of the life, death and resurrection of Jesus is sufficiently well-documented to be worthy of belief. I think you reject it out of hand due to the circular-argument preconception I have discussed with you previously – because you “know” miracles are not possible, there is no point in studying something that could not “possibly” have occurred.

    A point of clarification – I’m not saying we should believe because most people do. While this observation has some value, you are right to point out that “most people” can also be wrong. I use it only to say that this belief system has been scrutinized, dissected, attacked, challenged etc for centuries. It is not as if it were simply blindly accepted with no intellectual rigor ever applied to it.

  15. zilch says:

    Jordan- I’m also sort of a numbers guy. But I don’t see how the existence, or at least the mathematical utility, of complex numbers has anything to do with the existence of a magical (or supernatural if you prefer- the terms are interchangeable as far as I can see) Creator of the Universe. Sure, there’s an awesome amount of order in the Universe: the fact that math works, the amazing patterns that matter can take, and so forth. As I’ve said, I have no explanation for the existence of this order. But as I’ve also said, you have no explanation for the perhaps infinitely greater order of God, so I don’t see how the God hypothesis gains anything over the simple admission that order exists for whatever reason (or no reason). Add to this the fact that science works, and religion does not work, to explain how the world works, and I don’t see why I should embrace an even greater mystery to “explain” the mystery we already have.

    Al- you can take this as chickening out if you like, but I’m not going to read your recommendations. J. Warner Wallace doesn’t even bother answering my comments on his posts, and I’ve read quite a bit of apologetic literature already in my time. As I’ve said, I only have so many hours in the day, and I have other obligations. The arguments are starting to repeat themselves. I’d rather read the Bible to tell you the truth, consulting Strong’s or some other source to help my very fragmentary Hebrew and Greek.

    But I do appreciate your being civil and clear, something that many Christians (and not a few atheists) could well emulate. Cheers from very snowy Vienna, zilch

  16. Al says:

    Zilch,

    Fair enough. I too appreciate the civil tone and the food for thought. My most recent post attempts to address your begging the question response. After that, I’ll try to find other topics as I agree we’ve covering the same ground.

    A question though – do you read the Bible for literary purposes? I guess it suprises me given your other comments.

  17. zilch says:

    Al- I do read the Bible partly for literary purposes. I’m rather a language freak, and I enjoy the lyricism of the old translations: the King James of course, but also the Wycliffe and Luther Bibles. But mostly, I read the Bible because it’s been so important in human history. Plus, there’s some pretty good poetry and some ageless good advice in there. I like a lot of what Jesus says, and Ecclesiastes was obviously written by a wise person.

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