Atheists ask 'Who made God?' But no-one 'made' God. God has always existed.
Theists claim that God made the universe. Atheists retort: 'so who made God?' 'Who designed the designer? Who created the creator?' They apparently believe that this is a debate-stopping question, and that no theist has ever thought of it in the past few thousand years.
Think about this argument:
- Everything that began to exist has a cause
- The universe began to exist
- Therefore the universe has a cause.
Theists identify this first cause with God, and this is one of the traditional arguments for God’s existence, called the Cosmological argument or 'First Cause' argument. Atheists counter it with the challenge: if God made the universe, who made God?
Let’s think about this a little more carefully. There are only two possibilities. Either
- There is an infinite chain of cause and effect stretching eternally backwards. For every cause you come to, you can always ask ‘but what caused that?’ (This has some problems of its own, but we won’t get into them here.) Or
- The chain of cause and effect comes to an end somewhere as you trace it backwards. There is some kind of first cause, whatever or whoever that may be.
If there is a first cause - if the chain of cause and effect does come to an end somewhere - this first cause cannot just be another of the same kind of thing as all the other causes in the chain. It must (by definition) be uncaused. And the only way to make sense of this is that it did not have a beginning. Whatever the first cause is, it has always existed.
So why do we need to invoke God? Why not just say that the universe itself has always existed? This is exactly what many scientists believed up until the mid 1960s. It can be found in models such as the Steady State universe of Hoyle, Gold and Bondi.
But today, the scientific evidence won’t let us make this choice. We know that the universe did have a beginning, in the hot Big Bang, 13.7 billion years ago. Because the universe did indeed have a beginning, it must have a cause.
This is still a long way short of full-blown theism. But it certainly points in the direction of theism rather than atheism.
Most physicists today, whether they are theistic believers or atheists, would say that time and space (or: spacetime) came into existence with the universe itself. There is no physical 'outside' of space, just as there is no 'before' or 'after' time. The idea is (to borrow a picture from Stephen Hawking) as meaningless as asking what is north of the north pole.
But if there is a God who created the physical universe, God himself cannot be part of this universe. He cannot be within space and time. God’s existence must be completely different.
One of the traditional terms that is used is to say that God is omni-present. He is present everywhere and equally. You cannot confine God to a particular place. (Yuri Gagarin, the first man in space, famously said that he 'did not find God out there.' Well no, of course he didn't. Nobody ever thought he would.)
The other traditional term that is used is to say that God is eternal: he is present at all times equally. You cannot confine God to a particular time. God did not come into being. He always is. Therefore it is meaningless to ask what caused God, or who made God. This question is not the debate stopper that people sometimes imagine it to be.
I want to consider briefly two challenges to the ‘First cause’ argument that are sometimes raised by scientifically minded people:
First, the 'who made God?' argument is sometimes framed in terms of complexity: if God made the universe, God must be even more complex than the universe is. Therefore (it is claimed) we have tried to explain away one complex thing (the universe) by introducing another complex thing (God).
It is important to grasp that the argument is about causality, not about complexity. We don't have a problem explaining one complicated thing in terms of another: this web page is a fairly complicated thing. It can be explained in terms of another, more complicated thing (me). No-one has a problem with that. The issue is where – or whether – the chain of causality has a beginning. The challenge of complexity is a red herring.
The second challenge is the suggestion that quantum physics can account for the universe without appealing to some external cause. The whole universe is just a vacuum fluctuation – 'the ultimate free lunch,' as Alan Guth puts it.
At first sight, this appears to be a serious challenge, but it is not: the quantum vacuum is not 'nothing.' It is already something. It is a set of physical laws, and a seething mess of virtual particles. This itself needs some kind of causal explanation.
David A Couchman MA M.Sc M.Min FRAS, September 2011