The “Who made God” objection

The Cosmological argument, in its various forms, is a common line of evidence that points to the existence of God. The idea is simple; the universe is the kind of thing that needs an explanation and God is the most plausible candidate to explain it. An incredibly common objection to hear is the idea that if the universe needs a cause then so does God! During William Lane Craig’s presentation on March 7 at the University of Calgary he made the claim, as he often has, that the explanation for one effect does not, itself, need an explanation. This claim was greeted, as it usually is, with snide chuckles. It sounds as though it is a diversion, I’ll grant that first impression, but the question is whether or not it truly is a diversion? Is it true that explanations do not need to be explained?

To end or not to end?

The assumption that explanations must have explanations rest on an assumption about explanations that deserves consideration; does the string of explanations have an end or not? To say that all explanations require an explanation assumes that there cannot possibly be an end to the string of explanations. Of course, if we were to answer that God was created by Uber-God the Atheists would still not be satisfied, it seems to me, because they would simply turn around and ask what made Uber-God.

But one of the very definitions of God is the “first cause.” Put another way, he is a “necessary being” that cannot have another cause. Put more bluntly, he’s the only guy who can rightly say, “the buck stops here.” Explanations need explanations right up to the point when you reach the very first explanation. That very first explanation, the one without any further explanation behind it, is what we call God.

However, Atheists don’t buy that. They keep asking for explanations. Why? Frankly, because they have already assumed that God does not exist. They refuse to accept a “buck stops here” explanation precisely because that explanation would be God and they refuse to accept the existence of God. When they ask for an explanation for God they are implicitly saying, “since God does not exist, give me an explanation of God.” They are, frankly, begging the question by assuming the very thing that they are trying to prove.

Explanations can have unanswered questions

To further help answer this question of whether or not an explanation needs to be fully explained in order to be a reasonable explanation, I draw on the insights of a master of present day philosophy and cultural commentary, Weird Al Yankovic. In an epic tale of a family vacation to a destination that can only be properly described as one of the world’s great monuments (rivaling the Pyramids and the Taj Mahal), the song describes an heroic journey, complete with various unexpected twists and turns, to the Biggest Ball of Twine in Minnesota. This “glorius huge majestic sphere” was obviously the product of human creative impulses, right? It’s not the kind of thing animals would create and we know of no alien civilization that hurls huge balls of twine at our planet. No, it would seem some representative of the human race was responsible for this particular example of fine art.

But that theory raises a problem. After all, positing that a human is the explanation for the Biggest Ball of Twine in Minnesota (BBTM) raises a whole series of questions that Yankovic lays out with great literary insight.

Oh, what on earth would make a man decide to do that kind of thing?
Oh, windin’ up twenty-one thousand, one hundred forty pounds of string
What was he trying to prove, who was he trying to impress?
Why did he build it, how did he do, it was anybody’s guess
Where did he get the twine, what was goin’ through his mind?
Did it just seem like a good idea at the time?

If we follow the reasoning of the Atheists with respect to the greater sphere we call our “universe” then any explanation that is not, itself, completely explained is no explanation at all. Therefore, the fact that we have so many outstanding questions with respect to the explanation that “a man” made the BBTM can lead a reasonable person to one conclusion, and one conclusion alone; “a man” is not a suitable explanation for the BBTM.

Or, alternatively, an explanation can be a perfectly legitimate explanation even if questions remain. Even if some unimaginably powerful, immaterial being outside of our universe created our universe and, itself, had a creator (this being would not be God, but let’s put that aside for a moment), if we knew absolutely nothing about the creator’s creator would we be in a significantly different position than if we knew nothing about the parents of the man who made the BBTM? Given that lack of knowledge, are we justified in concluding that “a man” could not possibly have created the BBTM, or that an unimaginably powerful, immaterial being could not possibly have created the universe?

Now there could be some hypothetical outstanding questions that would destroy a theory. Suppose, for instance, that the BBTM was discovered among a tribal society with no access to twine and no previously recorded interaction with the civilized world. Well, then the theory that one of them did it certainly does raise some questions that would likely kill that theory. Similarly, if it could be shown that there is good reason to believe that an unimaginably powerful and immaterial being was incapable of creating a universe (I’m not sure how this would be shown, but let’s use our imagination caps) then certainly that would be the death knell of any such theory.

So to say that questions remain about the cause of the universe is not necessarily catastrophic to the theory that the universe was created by God any more than the fact that questions remain about the cause of the BBTM is catastrophic to the theory that some guy with access to a lot of twine and too much time made the BBTM. The Atheists need to do more than keep telling us “I have questions” as though that is supposed to somehow be problematic to the God-theory of the cause of our universe.

And, of course, chuckling whenever William Lane Craig reminds us that explanations do not themselves require explanations is not persuasive either.

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About Paul Buller

Just some guy with a variety of eccentric interests.
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24 Responses to The “Who made God” objection

  1. Nate says:

    As an atheist, I can say that I don’t mind if someone wants to believe in the theory that God created everything. I understand that position. But what keeps me an atheist is that I don’t see a reason to accept that theory for myself. I think this is why atheists ask the “who made God?” question — it’s an effort to show that even if pointing to God answers our existence for some people, it doesn’t answer it for the rest of us.

    To me, it’s evident that the physical world exists, but I have never experienced the supernatural. So while I may not know exactly how our universe was formed — what caused the Big Bang, in other words — I can more easily imagine physical causes than supernatural causes, because I at least know the physical exists. What caused the physical, you ask? I don’t know. But if we can say that something is eternal, why can’t matter or energy be eternal? To me, it’s easier to imagine that physical elements have always existed than it is to imagine a supernatural being complex enough to create the physical has always existed.

    I don’t know if that’s helpful or not. I just wanted to point out that, at least for atheists like me, our problem with accepting the God theory is not that we don’t wantGod to exist — in fact, many of us do want him to — we just haven’t seen good enough evidence to convince us that he does.

    Thanks. Nice profile pic, btw. 🙂

    • Paul Buller says:

      Nate,

      Thanks for the kind reply. I’m glad you enjoy the profile picture; I think the Simpson’s are a seriously under-utilized depository of excellent life commentary!

      Much of your response is unfortunately unrelated to the content of my article, so I’ll leave most of it alone. However, you do raise an interesting (and related) point when you comment, “… it’s easier to imagine that physical elements have always existed …” A couple of observations are in order. First of all, that you would acknowledge the possibility of an eternally existing, uncaused entity is instructive. If the universe existed eternally then I think we can agree that the question, “who made the universe?” is meaningless. Correct? If so, then I think we can equally agree that if God, instead of the universe, existed eternally, uncaused, then again the question of “who made God?” is meaningless. When we are dealing with an eternal, uncaused entity the question of causation with respect to that entity is meaningless, whether it is the universe or God.

      Secondly, while you may be able to imagine an eternal and uncaused material universe, it would seem the consensus of cosmological scientists begs to differ. For a variety of reasons they seem to agree that the universe had a beginning. So while you can imagine an eternal and uncaused universe the universe that you are imagining is just as real as the unicorn that I might imagine. Once we accept the evidence for a beginning, the question of “who made it?” is once again very meaningful and interesting question to ask.

      With respect to your lack of experience of God, though that is wildly irrelevant to the subject, I would simply like to point out that your lack of experience is very unfortunate, just as a blind person’s lack of experience of a sunset is very unfortunate. The difference, of course, is that a blind person cannot ever possibly experience a sunset whereas you may possibly experience God. After all, unlike a sunset, God wants to be experienced.

      • Nate says:

        Thanks for the reply, Paul.

        Secondly, while you may be able to imagine an eternal and uncaused material universe, it would seem the consensus of cosmological scientists begs to differ. For a variety of reasons they seem to agree that the universe had a beginning. So while you can imagine an eternal and uncaused universe the universe that you are imagining is just as real as the unicorn that I might imagine. Once we accept the evidence for a beginning, the question of “who made it?” is once again very meaningful and interesting question to ask.

        I think this misunderstands the point I was trying to make, so I apologize for not being very clear. I agree that our universe had a beginning — we commonly refer to it as the Big Bang. But as yet, no scientists agree on what predates the Big Bang. As Swej Hammer stated, there are many different theories as to how our universe may have arisen, and it’s very possible that we’ll never know what the true cause actually was. But just because we know it had a definite beginning does not mean it needed an intelligent creator. That could be what happened — but we have no scientific reason for thinking that’s the answer. And since no one’s been able to prove that the supernatural even exists, just saying that there could be a creator-god doesn’t mean that’s the best explanation.

        Again, it’s possible. And I really don’t fault people for believing in that possibility. But I hope that those who do believe in God can at least understand why some of us don’t.

        Anyway, thanks again for the discussion. Take care.

        • Paul Buller says:

          Nate,

          Thanks so much for the clarifications. One of the serious limitations of online discussions is the propensity to misunderstand each other. I’m glad you took the time to graciously clear up my misunderstanding of your perspective. I hope I more appropriate engage it now.

          Just as a quick note, I need to point out that various objections to the “God hypothesis” have been raised during these discussions but as of yet nobody is putting their efforts behind defending the “who made God” objection. I take that as implicit confirmation that the basic thesis of my article stands.

          I am still somewhat confused as to why you raised the possibility of an infinitely old universe if you acknowledge that our universe had a beginning. I’m not sure what that added to the conversation, but given your clarification I guess we can put that behind us.

          I am also delighted to hear that you acknowledge that God is a “live option” with respect to the cause of the universe. You seem to place a lot of weight on the alleged lack of evidence for the supernatural, or more specifically the lack of scientific evidence for the supernatural. I find this perplexing given the wealth of high quality literature out there specifically addressing issues of Theism. Quentin Smith, for instance, has bemoaned the fact that Theism has come back with a vengence in philosophy departments across the English speaking world. Is this resurgence of belief in Theism occurring in a total vacuum of good reasons to accept Theism? That seems utterly unlikely. To say “there is no evidence” sounds unconvincing given the fact that so many philosophers are starting to accept the fact that there are many good reasons to accept the reality of God; more than in the past. Even those who continue to reject God (like Quentin Smith) have been forced to acknowledge that Theists are making a good case for his existence; a case worth responding to.

          With respect to the lack of scientific evidence for God I haven’t the faintest idea why this should be even slightly surprising or concerning. We lack scientific evidence for all kinds of realities that nobody questions. Which test tube contained calculus? Where is the microscope that observed the laws of logic? Not one of these is even remotely testable or even accessible via science (in fact, science is founded on them!) yet I know of nobody who rejects them. No, the lack of scientific evidence for God does not concern me in the least; to be honest, if somebody were to directly observe God through the scientific method I dare say whatever they observed would be unworthy of the title “God.” If we are going to find answers to what created the universe, honestly scientists are just about the most ill-equipped to answer that question.

          • Nate says:

            Hi Paul,

            I think the “who made God” question does have some merit. To me, God must be a complex being if he is intelligent and powerful enough to speak things into existence. But so far as we know, only a process like evolution can satisfactorily explain how a complex entity can ever come into being. That’s one of the reasons why nonbelievers have a difficult time believing in God, and it’s what they’re often driving at when they ask the “who made God” question.

            As to things like math and logic, those are concepts, not living beings. We can discover their truths simply through reason. Also, some of those concepts don’t actually have to exist to be useful — like a perfect circle, for example. We can understand the concept, even if such a thing doesn’t actually exist. By the same token, I believe the concept of God can exist even if such a being doesn’t.

            Thanks again 🙂

            • Paul Buller says:

              A couple of replies. You comment that “so far as we know, only a process like evolution can satisfactorily explain how a complex entity can ever come into being.” That may be the case (within the natural world), but nobody has ever claimed that God came into being. This is precisely the Theistic contention; God has always existed in his present form. Part of the definition of God is a “necessary being” – in other words a being that cannot have ever not existed. To require an explanation of “god” is to assume that God – the necessary being who has always existed – does not exist. But Atheists who assume an uncaused God does not exist (i.e. they demand an explanation of “god”) in order to disprove the existence of an uncaused God are utilizing a subtle form of question begging as I explain in the original article.

              With respect to math and logic you are right that we discover those via reason. But that was my point; something other than the scientific method is employed. To accept realities that are beyond the ability of science to test (whether they are abstract objects like numbers or living entities like God) is not a problem so long as one is utilizing tools appropriate to the truth claim under investigation.

              Further to the math issue, you may enjoy this recent presentation at one of our monthly meetings on this very subject. It’s long but very informative!

              Thanks.

  2. Swej Hammer says:

    Another atheist viewpoint here:
    A) Chuckling when William Lane Craig reminds us that explanations do not require explanations is acceptable in this case, because the explanation that an all-powerful being created the universe is not really an “explanation”. It’s an unproven supposition, isn’t it? I might similarly claim that leprechauns cause rainbows and that no other explanation is needed as leprechauns are by my definition eternal creatures. This is not convincing.

    B) You can define God as “the first cause” but that neither assures there was a “first cause” nor assures that your concept of “God” is accurate. You are simply inventing definitions to fit your beliefs. If there was a “first cause”, it would likely be unintelligent, as intelligence implies prior knowledge, doesn’t it?

    C) The cause of the big bang could be a “who”, but I think it is more likely a “what”, given that all past experiences have revealed only natural causes of natural events. Even so, the are many possibilities: It’s possible that our universe is part of an unending chain of bubbling universes… It’s possible that our universe dies and is reborn like the mythical phoenix in an eternal cycle… It’s possible that there once was a god of light and a god of darkness who destroyed each other, sparking a cycle of unending universes… You see, there are many possible scenarios, including yours. But as we have no evidence that supernatural gods even exist, I think it’s a leap to cling to this scenario above others and further suppose they are capable of creating a universes.

    D) The point is that we do not know what caused the big bang… and we should get comfortable with the fact that we may never know. Let’s deal with the here and now, with the things we can know and understand, rather than inventing untestable arguments that support our previously held beliefs and admonishing others who chuckle at them.

    I admire your search for truth.. I just happen to think you’re going about it in the wrong way. Thanks.

    • Paul Buller says:

      Swej,

      With respect to your comments under “A” I would suggest you take seriously Craig’s Kalam Cosmological Argument and actually read up on it instead of dismissing it as mere superstition. He outlines very specific reasons for each of the conclusions he draws so his line of reasoning is hardly as ad hoc as your leprechaun counter-example. He references specific facts about our universe and derives specific conclusions from those facts; conclusions which are actually related to the facts he observes. Leprechauns, on the other hand, are purely ad hoc and there is no reason to draw that conclusion from the observation of rainbows. Your counter-example and the snickering you feel is justified says more about your grasp of the relevant arguments than it does about the arguments themselves.

      With respect to your comments under “B” again it would serve you well to better understand the philosophical history behind the concept of a “first cause.” It is neither arbitrary nor haphazardly invented as you imply.

      With respect to your comments under “C” they are largely rooted in your own opinions and speculation (i.e. you think it is more likely to be a “what” than a “who”). Your opinions are interesting, and you are welcome to hold them, but if you have specific evidence or specific lines of reasoning to bring to the conversation I would prefer to discuss those.

      With respect to your comments under “D” I don’t think you considered the implications of what you wrote. You seem to imply that there is a cause of the universe, but that we do not know what it is. Then you turn around and claim we are “inventing” a cause. How can you acknowledge the need for a cause of the universe on the one hand and accuse Theists of inventing a cause on the other hand? If there is a cause of the universe (and you seem to openly acknowledge there is, but “we don’t know” what it is) then I see absolutely no grounds on which one can confidently dismiss the Theistic explanation of that cause.

      I’m glad that you admire my search for truth, and I am glad you are equally passionate in your search. Just as you encouraged me to reconsider the direction of my search I am going to offer you some encouragement as well, in the same spirit. Do something that so many Atheists seem absolutely resolutely unwilling to do; your homework. Most of the lines of reasoning (and opinions) you offered have been more than amply addressed by Theists over the years. Take their arguments just as seriously as you hope Theists will take your arguments; consider their arguments just as carefully as you hope Theists will consider your arguments.

      Thanks for popping by.

  3. Swej Hammer says:

    I agree that the universe appears to have had a “beginning”, the point you missed is that no one actually knows what that beginning is, so to invent a “Who” is mere speculation at this point.

    And yes, I’ve read Craig’s argument, and it seems to me he fails to defend (and thereby assumes) a key premise: That an infinite entity is more probable than an infinite chain of entities. Both are infinite, so should need no additional “first cause”. (1) I’m curious if you can explain how this objection is overcome.

    Also, it is certainly not my “opinions and speculation” that we have only thus-far found natural causes for natural events. (2) If you disagree, please point to a supernatural agent we have objectively identified.

    I’m sure you’re aware that even if a logical argument is internally consistent or valid there is no way to know if it is sound unless you can demonstrate the truth of its premises. Religion does a good job of inventing arguments, but often fails at confirming them. In the quest for truth, I think this is where religion must step aside and let science take over. If you disagree, please answer 1 and 2 above.

    Thanks!

    • Paul Buller says:

      Swej,

      By way of clarification, I have yet to find anything in your responses that actually touches on the “who made God” objection. I assume the basic thesis of my article on that one objection (not the others you have brought up) stands.

      William Lane Craig has been very clear with respect to the reason why one cannot have an infinite chain of events. Hilbert’s hotel comes to mind. The impossibility of arriving at infinity via successive addition is another answer he’s given. All these issues have been masterfully handled by Craig and I will not repeat them here because he does a better job of addressing them than I do. The simple reality is that arriving at infinity via a chain of events is not philosophically possible. That would be one simple reason why the God hypothesis is superior to an infinite chain. If you don’t agree then go take that up with Craig.

      It may be the case that we have only found natural causes for natural events (doubtful – human intelligence is causal and exhibits characteristics not found in nature, but I digress) but even if that is the case, that serves to indirectly confirm one of the premises of Kalam – effects need causes. If there is an effect in the natural world, that effect had a cause, as you point out. If the universe itself came into existence, that origin also needs a cause. However, the cause of the universe cannot have been part of the universe, by definition. Put another way, whatever caused the natural world cannot, itself, be natural. If it is “beyond” nature we call that, by definition “super” – natural. We may squabble about types of causes within the natural world, but when it comes to the cause of the entire natural world itself it seems clear to me that it is not an unreasonable extrapolation of our present knowledge to posit a supernatural cause.

      And with respect to your unwavering faith in scientism, I point to my comments made to Nate to the effect that humans accept a wide range of realities about the world that science cannot, even in principle, explore or confirm. Math and logic are but two examples. So if religion needs to step aside because it is “unscientific” then I dare say a good many other fields including math and logic do as well. Are you ready to brush those aside simply because they do not fit into the excessively narrow and impractical limitations of “science is the only means to truth?” I am not.

  4. swej says:

    Thanks for the conversation. I’m procrastinating on some other work, so I have a little time for another response. Pease excuse my hasty tone:

    My understanding is that your “Who Made God” objection stands on the premise that the definition of God is the “first cause”? I would reject this simply because you can’t define a being into existence. Also, you are misunderstanding the way scientific reasoning works if you think a question cannot be answered tentatively in science. All we need is something testable, just any prediction that can be made by your supposition, so that we can distinguish it from the nonsense of leprechauns.

    Don’t worship Craig. His arguments can be good and sometimes so bad it’s remarkable they come from the same person. The argument that given an infinite chain of events you could never reach the present moment is one of those. This may be so, but an infinite God does not overcome this problem.

    I agree that things with beginnings have causes. I do not agree that things outside of the known universe are magical. Supernatural yes, if that is your definition, but not necessarily god-like. We have no evidence of god-like beings existing within our without our universe, period. If yoiu want to water-down your definition of god to anything that exists outside our universe I might accept it, but I don’t think you will.

    Math and logic are in fact testable by science. I know 2+2=4 because I can use these terms on real objects with success. Logical reasoning also applies to real objects with success, otherwise it would not be useful. But not ALL math or ALL logic is sound. When you have faith in math or logic (or religion) that cannot be confirmed you run the very real risk of believing a falsehood. Even Einstein’s theorems needed confirmation, and Craig is no Einstein.

    If requiring adequate confirmation is “scientism”, then you are a “scientist” in 99% of your life with the exception of religion. I just go 1% more.

    Thanks.

    • Paul Buller says:

      Swej,

      I can count at least 3 or 4 instances in your reply where you are replying to an idea that I absolutely do not hold. Somewhere between my having an idea, writing it down, you reading it and responding there has been a break down. It could just as easily have been on my end as it could have been on yours so I am not trying to pinpoint the breakdown, I am simply pointing out the reality that we are no longer talking with each other, we are talking past each other. That is the worst form of dialogue to have.

      Given that reality I will just thank you for your time and wish you success in your search for truth.

  5. swej says:

    Thanks Paul. I see my questions threw you for a loop. I try to listen for the assumptions behind your words in addition to the arguments themselves, and I understand this could be difficult if you’re not used to having your assumptions questioned.

    For clarification though, I gave two reasons for disagreeing with your blog post. See if you can find those above. In addition, I asked 2 straightforward questions of you. The first you did not defend yourself but rather point to Craig, which is OK but, like Craig, you fail to consider if the argument could also apply to the claim of an infinite intelligence. Again, where did all that knowledge come from if not by added succession? The second you defend using “math and logic” as examples, and I showed why this is a false comparison because these things can be confirmed using real-world objects, unlike your claim to an infinite “Who” that created the universe.

    Now, if you are uncomfortable digging deeper, that is fine. Thanks for the conversation while it lasted, and good luck on your journey.

    • Paul Buller says:

      As I said in my previous reply (see if you can find it!) your understanding of my assumptions is so utterly inconsistent with my actual assumptions that we are no longer having a conversation anyway. You are just taunting a straw man of your own creation at this point.

      Have fun with that!

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  7. Eric A says:

    Hey Paul, good article, and just letting you know regardless if there’s proposals of a multiverse hypothesis, or another model, like the oscillating model, or inflationary models, the Borde-Guth-Vilenkin Theorem shows that any universe that’s on average expanding throughout it’s history still would have an absolute beginning. So there’s still going to be a finite universe, or ultimate beginning to physical reality. Here’s a clip on the BVG: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=XcbFFvVeoAk

  8. Lithp says:

    Why would I accept the “definition” that God is the first cause? That strikes me as awfully convenient. First of all, what is this “God” of which we speak? The concept of a deity has been defined a thousand different ways by a thousand different cultures. Most say that there was a creation event, but not all say that “God” predates the universe. Hindus, for example, believe in an eternal cycle of creation, destruction, & recreation, with “God” simply being a universal essene that changes its form along with the universe. Many cultures are polytheistic, and assert that, not only was there a god that created the universe, there was indeed a god who created that god.

    So, to begin with, telling me that I’m supposed to accept this particular conception of god seems pretty arbitrary. But setting that aside for the moment, defining the first cause as “God,” specifically, seems almost provocative. It’s like we’re saying that, if there IS a first cause, then we have to call it “God,” to which I again ask why. “God” carries particular connotations, so this feels almost like trying to trick me into accepting those connotations as true simply by accepting the frankly unrelated point that the universe, as far as we can tell, had an origin. “God” is almost always depicted as sentient, often called things like “benevolent” or a “guardian,” & is often associated with the cultural lore of the person advancing the argument. Implicitly labeling the universe with these values strikes me as more presumptive than not accepting that label.

    Note also that the goal of this argument is essentially to tell atheists that they need to accept the existence of God because the universe needs a creator, so to say that the assertion can’t be thrown right back is to play with a loaded deck.

    Which is what atheism really is, not accepting that assertion. Can I conceive of an all-mighty being? I suppose I can generate the idea, I know what the words mean when linked together. Would this idea that I’ve conceived be hypothetically capable of creating the universe? Well, “creating the universe” is an ability & it has all abilities, so sure. But “can you conceive of it” is a totally different question than “does it exist?” Which, who says that I’m trying to prove it doesn’t? Why would I need to prove the nonexistence of something? The existence of a claim should never be simply assumed, & as that claim repeatedly fails to be established, it is sensible for doubt to solidify from neutrality to dismissal. It’s like the Loch Ness Monster. No one is ever going to drain the Loch to show that there’s nothing there, but the case for its existence looks so bad that it’s not even worth treating as a serious possibility.

    I suppose the point that you’re trying to get at with the ball of twine is that we can know, generally, how something came about even if we don’t have all of the answers. This is true, but the problem with using any man-made object for this analogy is that it isn’t an example of something with an unknown history being investigated. We have plenty of examples of twine to understand how twine is made. Deducing the origin of an object that is ACTUALLY unfamiliar is REALLY difficult. Are those lights in the sky UFOs? Meteorites? Military jets? Weather balloons? Balls of gas? To say nothing of an object that is truly 1 of its kind–IE the universe.

    • Paul Buller says:

      You ask, “First of all, what is this “God” of which we speak? The concept of a deity has been defined a thousand different ways by a thousand different cultures.” WLC’s argument does not define God according to a specific Theistic tradition. The Cosmological argument is not intended to defend Christianity, but rather “Theism proper” of which Christianity is one branch. But there is something else in this that Atheists almost always overlook; if ANY supernatural creator (of any flavour) exists, then Atheism is false. Even if Christianity is completely wrong and, say, Islam or Hinduism is correct, Atheism is also wrong. The ‘which God?’ reply should bring absolutely no comfort to the Atheist because they have implicitly conceded the primary point that they are “A-” about.

      You talk through a thought process involving your concept of deity, and end with “But “can you conceive of it” is a totally different question than “does it exist?”” This sounds like a variation on Anselm’s Ontological argument which neither WLC (in this context) nor myself put forward. It certainly has no resemblance to the Cosmological argument that WLC is famous for. Personally, I do not use the Ontological argument precisely because I share your concern; I’m not entirely convinced it holds water. Therefore I will not defend it contra your objections.

      You also state, “”God” carries particular connotations, so this feels almost like trying to trick me into accepting those connotations as true simply by accepting the frankly unrelated point that the universe, as far as we can tell, had an origin.” The fact that the universe had a beginning (central to WLC’s version of the Cosmological argument) is hardly “unrelated” to the point that it had a cause. This is precisely the intent of his version of the Cosmological argument; those two things ARE related. Things with beginnings need causes. If the universe had a beginning then it is absolutely NOT unrelated that there is a cause to it because ALL things that have beginnings necessarily need causes. To claim the universe itself began to exist without a cause is indistinguishable from magic; hardly a route an Atheist would be comfortable taking. I have no idea why this would be seen as a “trick” but I assure you that’s certainly not the intent.

      You comment, “Deducing the origin of an object that is ACTUALLY unfamiliar is REALLY difficult. Are those lights in the sky UFOs? Meteorites? Military jets? Weather balloons? Balls of gas? To say nothing of an object that is truly 1 of its kind–IE the universe.” Two observations. First, if we just throw our hands in the air and say, “I don’t know, beats me” we have taken the very spirit of inquiry which has been such an incredible force for progress in human history – indeed, this spirit of inquiry is central to the very essence of human nature – and flushed it down the toilet. Somehow I do not think you are endorsing this attitude of ‘it’s tough so just give up now’ but I want to make sure other readers also avoid that.

      Second, you assume that the lights are caused by something; the question is whether the cause is a UFO, meteorite, military jet, etc. Even when we posit various explanations you will notice that the only causes that ‘make the cut’ are plausible causes. If I see a light in the sky in Western Canada some time in late 2014 it would be rather implausible to believe that the light was caused by Mount Everest, the number 7 or the winner of the Academy Award for best actress in the year 2208. Based on what it is that is being explained, certain explanations can be ruled out and certain other explanations retain plausibility. When it comes to the universe itself, again, certain explanations can be ruled out but God remains on that rather short list of live options.

      Thanks for stopping by.

      • Lithp says:

        Thanks. I’m unsure of how clear I’m being, since I’ve been up for many hours. As you said, the best I could do was go through my thought process.

        I wasn’t making the sort of inverted Pascal’s Wager argument, though I certainly would if the context called for it. I think everyone pretty much realizes that if A God exists, atheism is wrong. That’s kind of the point, that given a bunch of positions, if X is true, then all positions mutually exclusive to X are false. What I was actually calling into question was why we’re assuming that “the first cause is God.” Either way, I don’t think that any of this concedes anything, because it is all conjecture & hypothetical.

        To put that “why is the first cause ‘God’?” question another way, I’m basically saying that it is not necessary to consider God & the First Cause to be synonymous. It is possible to believe in a God that is not the First Cause, to believe in a First Cause but not a God, or to not inherently believe or disbelieve in either of those things. I would fit somewhere between the latter 2 options, leaning more towards “First Cause but no God.”

        See, to me, the word “God” (or any equivalent word in another language) implies, at the bare minimum, a conscious & intent-driven entity of supernatural origin, which is more specifically what I don’t believe in. So, where I was trying to go with that “lights in the sky” analogy is that the light certainly comes from something, but that specific something needs specific information in order to deduce. I’m not about to say that it is or even is conceivably an alien ship unless I have good reason to believe that alien ships both exist & enter the solar system, though other information about them may not be necessary.

        Lastly, looking back, the Ontological argument seems to have just been something I imagined seeing after seeing the words “unimaginably powerful entity” a couple of times. Sorry about that.

        • Paul Buller says:

          “I’m unsure of how clear I’m being, since I’ve been up for many hours.” Then go to bed! Take a good rest. I don’t know about you, but I much prefer quality conversation over immediate conversation. There is no need to rush this; take your time, take a day or two to get back on your feet, and drop us a line when you’re at the top of your game.

          About the First Cause VS God comparison, I guess I would need reason to believe in a First Cause that did not sound a whole lot like God in the end anyway. As a minimum this First Cause needs to be outside of nature (the cause cannot be part of the effect) it must have existed eternally, without origin (for time began with the universe) and it must be unimaginably more powerful than we are (for it was able to produce this effect we call the universe). If not God, what’s your alternative? Show me plan B; I’m interested!

          • Lithp says:

            I have an almost compulsive need to answer any messages the instant I get them. I get the feeling that, if I don’t, they’ll pile up, or I’ll forget, or both. Actually, there is an ongoing debate in cosmology over whether time originated with or preceded the universe. I, personally, do not believe any cause of the universe, because none of the various theories* put forward have been adequately tested. Essentially, this universe exists, & this universe had a beginning, but I don’t know what that was, & I don’t know what, if anything, came before that. I say it probably wasn’t conscious because this is an unnecessary assumption that introduces various problems regarding an intellect so advanced as to literally know everything. It would be absolute child’s play for such an entity to communicate through SETI or do any number of things to demonstrate its existence & intent. This is where many would say, “Well, God’s thought processes are unknowable,” but that’s precisely the point, if one can’t show a thought process, then one can’t establish that there’s any conscious being there.

            *=http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Origin_of_the_universe

            • Paul Buller says:

              “I have an almost compulsive need to answer any messages the instant I get them. I get the feeling that, if I don’t, they’ll pile up, or I’ll forget, or both.”

              With all due respect, and I do not mean this as an insult, you have a problem. Don’t get me wrong though, many – MANY – people these days have exactly the same problem.

              Take a deep breath, take a break, let some conversations slide if needed, and sort through what is really worthy of your time and what is not. Here’s a little shameless plug, I wrote a book called “Arguing with Friends” (www.arguingwithfriends.com) that gives a few pieces of advice on how to have these conversations. In AWF I talk (a bit) about thinking not only about the subject of the conversations you are having, but also about the big picture of the conversation itself. Sometimes it really isn’t worth it; internet conversations in particular have a habit of sucking every last moment of spare time out of life.

              I share that as a friendly suggestion, nothing more. Please don’t take it the wrong way. Unplug and smell the roses!

              With that in mind, and because the conversation is now steering quite wide of the focus of the original article, I will leave your most recent comments as the “last word.” Many fascinating questions come out of what you wrote but those are not related to the original article. We’re clearly on a tangent.

              Thanks for stopping by, drop us a line again in the future.

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