Who Created God?

HALORD,” the psalmist declares, “thou hast been our dwelling place in all generations. Before the mountains were brought forth, or ever thou hadst formed the earth and the world, from everlasting to everlasting thou art God. Thou turnest man back to the dust, and sayest, Turn back, O children of men! For a thousand years in thy sight are but as yesterday when it is past, or as a watch in the night” (Ps. 90:1-4). Here the psalmist confirms the familiar idea of God’s everlasting duration from eternity past into eternity future. But while passages involving God’s eternity are familiar, perhaps even commonplace to those of us who are Christians, it still deserves recognition that there are non-Christians who fail to grasp our worldview at the comprehensional level.

In particular, confusion is often evidenced in the form of the question ‘Who created God?’. This question is often presented by non-theists as a sort of conversation stopper, intended to demonstrate that the theistic account of something is explanatorily inadequate in some way. However, the question itself betrays a lack of understanding of what Christian’s mean by “God”. For if God is past eternal, as the Psalmist declares, then He couldn’t, by definition, have been created. Given this, the question of ‘Who Created God’ is therefore an incoherent one, akin to asking ‘What created the uncreated creator?’.[1]

Moreover, if the question arises within the context of the unbeliever (erroneously) thinking that God must have been self-created (an incoherent notion)[2] since God is said to be the creator of all things, the theist can clarify that the domain of all things of which God is creator which he/she means to refer to only includes created reality.

Furthermore, notice that the grammatical shift from saying that God is the creator of all things to now saying that He is only responsible for created reality isn’t a contrived move either. One is not changing their view about God in light of the gripes of the unbeliever, rather the Christian is merely providing a more philosophically nuanced account of their view.[3]

Does God Need A Creator? – The Question In the Context Of The Kalam Cosmological Argument

Also deserving of our attention is the relevant question when it is raised within the context of natural theology. For the question of “Who created God?” is typically not raised in a vacuum, divorced from one having given an argument for God’s existence.

Within the context of the Kalam Cosmological Argument, for example, the question, when it is given in response to the arguments first premise, usually presents itself as “If everything that exists requires a cause, then why doesn’t God?”. The question, in its present form, however, simply misrepresents the argument’s first premise. The kalam cosmological argument, in its most traditional forms, does not state that everything that exists has a cause, rather it says that ‘Everything that begins to exist has a cause’.[4] But, if something is eternal, then clearly, it cannot have a cause which brought it in to being because there was never a moment in which that thing didn’t exist.

And notice that for the proponent of the Kalam Argument to further suggest that the universe had a beginning, but that God didn’t isn’t special pleading for God. The argument in question doesn’t just arbitrarily stipulate the duration of the relevant entities, rather, this is one of the many points that the argument sets out to prove.

Does God Need A Creator? – The Question In The Context of the Teleological Argument

Within the context of the Teleological Argument, Richard Dawkins has objected to it in that he believes that “the attribution of design to a designer . . . immediately raises the larger problem of who designed the designer”.[5] This question, however, founders in so far as it assumes that in order to recognize that an inference, or more narrowly, a design inference is the best explanation, that one must also have an explanation of the explanation.

As philosopher William Lane Craig explains, “If archaeologists digging in the earth were to discover things looking like arrowheads and hatchet heads and pottery shards, they would be justified in inferring that these artifacts are not the chance result of sedimentation and metamorphosis, but products of some unknown group of people, even though they had no explanation of who these people were or where they came from. Similarly, if astronauts were to come upon a pile of machinery on the back side of the moon, they would be justified in inferring that it was the product of intelligent, extra-terrestrial agents, even if they had no idea whatsoever who these extra-terrestrial agents were or how they got there.”[6, 7]

Further, Craig goes on to note that requiring us to first be able to explain an explanation in order to accept it as the best would lead to an infinite regress of explanations.[8] For in order to be able to accept an explanation as the best one would first need to provide an explanation of the explanation, but then this would require an explanation of the explanation of the explanation, and so on, ad infinitum so that nothing could ever be accepted as the best explanation and science would be destroyed.[9]

Commenting on the inadequacy of Dawkins’ appraisal of explanation, Gregory Dawes, an atheist philosopher of science responds, “Many of our most successful explanations raise new puzzles and present us with new questions to be answered.”[10] The question of whether one can offer an explanation of the intelligent designer can therefore be left an unanswered question, left to future investigation.[11]

Must God Have A Creator? – A Final Appraisal

In summary, the question of who created God, in the various contexts in which we have addressed it unequivocally arises out of a failure to understand certain rudimentary concepts and principles. The question, in its most basic form, divorced from the project of natural theology, is simply raised out of comprehensional ignorance, while, within the context of certain arguments for God’s existence, it is raised out of both comprehensional ignorance and a failure to understand the philosophy of science.

That said, if the motivation behind the relevant question is for the atheist to try to undercut or rebut the adequacy of a particular conception of God, more appropriate questions to ask would be those such as, “Why think God exists?”, or “Why think God exists in the way Christians ascribe to Him?”. Alternatively, the atheist could even offer an argument in favor of why they think God cannot exist in the way He is traditionally conceived of being. Recall that, in raising the question of who created God, atheists are typically seeking to challenge the explanatoral adequacy of the God hypothesis, if that endeavor is intended to yield a fruitful conversation amongst informed persons, that is simply more likely to occur as a result of a well thought out argument or query rather than a single, misguided, ignorant question.

Notes

[1] Further, the question becomes doubly incoherent in light of God’s metaphysical necessity. Given this property, God, if He exists, is not merely an eternal entity which just so happens to exist in this particular set of circumstances, rather, He exists eternally in all possible worlds and therefore couldn’t have had a creator, even in principle.

[2] It is an incoherent notion since in order for God to have been self-created, He would have had to create Himself while not existing, thereby pre-existing His own existence, which is self-contradictory.

[3] To clarify the point, imagine you were to comment that “there’s nothing in the fridge”. Upon hearing that remark, your friend responds to you by saying “Ha, there exists air, shelves, and fundamental particles inside of it!”. In response to this, you then go on to clarify that your initial comment was in reference to there being any food inside of the refrigerator. Now, clearly, your friends remark here was completely wrong-headed. This is because we recognize that your initial comment was intended to be understood informally, lacking in technical precision. It would therefore simply be unsympathetic of your friend to insist, in light of your clarifying statement, that you were simply attempting to rationalize your initial comment. Similarly, the atheist  needs to respect the fact that when Christian’s typically make statements like ‘God is the creator of everything’, that they are speaking colloquially and that it is simply no part of orthodox Christian belief to think that God is self-caused.

 [4] In fact, if the atheist were to go on to arrogate that everything that exists requires a cause, in response to the Kalam Cosmological Argument, then this would beg the question against theism since it would assume that eternal entities, like God, don’t exist. In contrast, the premise ‘Whatever begins to exist has a cause’ is completely neutral on the question as to whether or not eternal entities exist.

[5] Dawkins, Richard “The God Delusion” pp. 157-8

[6] http://www.reasonablefaith.org/dawkins-delusion

[7] One could try to circumvent the first illustration by saying that we can infer an unknown designer for these artifacts because of our prior familiarity with the production of such artifacts by human beings. However, Craig had the prescience to forestall this objection by giving the second illustration involving astronauts discovering machinery on the back side of the moon. Craig has gone on to explain that these astronauts know that only the United States has successfully carried out moon landings and that we didn’t leave that stuff there. Further, we might not have even the slightest idea as to the function of these devices. Notwithstanding, although such machinery is not the product of familiar human intelligent design, it is still clearly the product of intelligent design. (Craig, “Design Inferences and Familiarity,” http://www.reasonablefaith.org/design-inferences-and-familiarity)

[8] http://www.reasonablefaith.org/dawkins-delusion

[9] Notice that this isn’t an argument against the possibility of an infinite regress, rather it’s an argument against the formation of an actual infinite by successive addition. With each explanation in the infinite chain of explanations successively accounted for by us, there would always be another explanation that we would first have to explain for before reaching the ever-elusive “infinitieth” explanation. So it would simply be impossible to provide an infinite number of explanations. For further reading, see William Lane Craig, “The Kalam Cosmological Argument”, pp. 102-110

[10] Dawes, Gregory “Theism and Explanation” pp 15-16

[11] In any case, the theist can provide an explanation for God’s existence, namely, that He is metaphysically necessary and therefore does not require an external cause. The theist could then provide arguments in favor of thinking that God exists in this way such as the Contingency and the Modal Ontological Argument.

How Can I Combat Apologetic Apathy Within The Church?

HA

Becoming a Christian apologist proficient at the popular, much less, the academic level, requires dozens of hours, even years of intellectual involvement depending on how deep one is willing to study. I remember when first reading “Time and Eternity”, a popular-level book by Dr. William Lane Craig. It took me two entire days to get a full recognition of just what was being said on the first page of that book alone! This kind of intellectual rigor is of the type Christian apologetics often requires and many Christians find this unpalatable. The untoward result of this negative perception is that Christians derelict their intellectual responsibilities thereby abdicating that realm of thought to the enemy.

If that weren’t enough, apologetics also often requires engagement with certain areas of study which may fall in opposition to one’s natural interests. Just as certain fields of trade attract certain demographics, so does apologetics attract a certain type of individual. Speaking from experience, it tends to be a certain type of white male. And so that taken in to consideration, along with ones genetic dispositions, cultural upbringing, and so forth, certain Christian demographics may be more difficult to reach in terms of taking their apologetic duties seriously in the same way one might, in general, find it difficult to get football players interested in knitting.

So then, how can those of us who are involved in apologetics, combat this apathy? The answer may lie in the recognition of exactly what we’re confronting. What needs to be understood here is that apathy is not a philosophical position. It’s not as if the person who is characterized by it is saying that Christians shouldn’t be involved in apologetics, rather apathy essentially amounts to a psychological state. It is an attitude an individual exemplifies. Therefore, the challenge involved in reaching those who are afflicted by it is primarily psychological and not intellectual. The question then is, “How do we get these folks interested in apologetics?”

Unfortunately, there doesn’t seem to be any all-encompassing answer to that question that can guarantee a change in a persons disposition. This is because apathy runs deeper in some individuals than others. It could very well be the case that a person be so indifferent towards something such that nothing can be said or done by us to change that persons attitude. However, to those people to whom psychological change is functionally possible, one solution that might motivate them to take apologetics seriously, is to relate their neglect of it as being destructive towards things which they do care about, such as their religious freedom, the cultural perception of Christians, the effectiveness of their own evangelism, or more appropriately, their pleasing of God. Just as being informed concerning the deleterious effects of unhealthy food products might motivate a person to change their eating habits, so might informing a person of the injurious effects of apologetic apathy might motivate them to rethink their attitude.

But what if that doesn’t work? What if a person is so obstinate such that no intellectual answer could ever motivate them to take their apologetic responsibilities seriously? In that case a relational approach to the situation might be helpful. Robert Cialdini, a prominent social psychologist, in his book “Influence: The Psychology of Persuasion”, identified six universal features underlying persuasion. These include: reciprocity, social proof, commitment (and consistency), liking someone, authority, and scarcity. For brevity’s sake, we shall only concern ourselves with two of these principles, namely the features of reciprocity and liking someone.

Concerning the first principle, it states that we tend to feel indebted to those who do something for us and we naturally want to return the favor in some way. This would explain why marketing techniques involving free samples can be so effective; because there is an unspoken quid pro quo which we unconsciously apprehend. Something similar might apply to our apologetic situation. Perhaps doing something nice for the apathetic individual, or more preferably, getting them to reflect upon what Christ has done for them will motivate them to reciprocate the kindness displayed towards them in the form of taking their apologetic responsibilities to heart.

With respect to the feature of liking someone, it’s the idea that people are generally more receptive towards those whom they like. Believe it or not, combating a person’s apathy may be as simple as just getting them to be your close friend or getting them to like you more than they already do. Recall, the situation at hand involves getting a person to simply care about apologetics and that is more likely to occur as a result of your genuine friendship. Whatever the case, one will be in a better position to influence a person’s attitude once they are able to apply the underlying principles governing persuasion.

Finally, we mustn’t forget that our prayers have a tremendous impact on the world. Were we not to pray for certain circumstances to obtain, then perhaps God would never actualize them. Therefore, if our goal as Christian apologists is that more Christians come to love the Lord with their minds as they ought to, our efforts will be most efficacious when coupled with prayer. Do that and perhaps, in time, the person who is neglecting their intellectual duties will come to think differently.

What Are Some Of The Problems With “Philosophy-Free” Theology?

HA“I only need the Bible, not man’s philosophy!”, “We don’t need to use philosophy since we have the Holy Spirit!”, “My beliefs are exegetically driven, yours are philosophical!” Many statements like the ones just mentioned sound reverential and benign to the religious ear, but these statements need to be refined. Often when one presses these types of statements for technical precision one will find in them the pervasive attitude of anti-intellectualism, more specifically, the unconscious implication that one can engage in good theological practices having divorced any antecedent philosophical commitments, or else, having no need to understand the underlying philosophical assumptions or implications that these religious doctrines are imbued with.

What the proponents of these “Philosophy-Free” views primarily fail to grasp is that philosophy is an indispensable feature underpinning virtually all rational practice. The cosmologist, for example, won’t be able to infer an era of inflation without making certain philosophical assumptions (e.g., that the world is a rational place susceptible to discovery, that our best cosmogonic theories actually approximate reality, etc.) . Similarly, the theologian simply cannot make any type of rational theological inferences without being first committed to certain ancillary beliefs which enable them to do theology in the first place. At least five difficulties with the “Philosophy-Free” view immediately come to mind:

What Are Some Of The Problems With “Philosophy-Free” Theology? – Five Difficulties

1. “Philosophy-Free” theology is self-refuting. What “Philosophy-Free” proponents fail to realize is that the belief that one can engage in theological practice having divorced all of their philosophical presuppositions is itself a philosophical presupposition, namely, an interpretive philosophy. How is it, that we know, for example, that when we see God saying “Let there be light” that the author isn’t teaching that, lay aside the incarnation, God is actually a biological organism? It is through a philosophy of interpretation through which these conclusions are to be arrived at. In short, without philosophy it is simply impossible to come to these types of theological conclusions.

2. “Philosophy-Free” theology is, by definition, irrational. This becomes most evident when one realizes that the wordphilosophy” is just an academic locution for reasoning. To say that we should do our theology without philosophy, really just is to say that we should interpret scripture without reasoning about it or else having not reasoned about how we are to apply the interpretation ascribed to it. But to do theology without thinking about it just is, by definition, to give oneself to irrationality. Instead, the relevant question before us which needs to be addressed is this, what is the criteria to which we can determine the truth-value of a given theological proposition?

3. “Philosophy-Free” theology cannot help to adjudicate between competing theological viewpoints. If we are aiming at truth, then it won’t be enough to just point to a set of teachings that are, in fact, exemplified in scripture and automatically assume their truth by virtue of them being in the Bible – that only begs the question. Rather, if truth is our end goal, we still need to exercise our God-given cognitive abilities to determine whether or not these various theological teachings are, in fact, coherent. Look at it this way, if our reasoning tells us that a particular doctrine taught in scripture is actually false, we shouldn’t jettison our reasoning in favor scripture since, that is, by definition, to prefer irrationality – surely that isn’t God-honoring! Instead, if such were the case, as uncomfortable as it might make some of us, we should actually derelict our own views with respect to inerrancy, at least so far as we are to remain rational. That in mind, given the preclusion of philosophy that the “Philosophy-Free” view assumes, there simply remains no other resources available to the theologian, inferential or otherwise, that can be used to evaluate the truth-value of a theological claim since any resource given to the theologian will be, at it’s root, philosophical. So even if it were the case that one could exegete a text divorced from any type of philosophical presuppositions, it would still be the case that you couldn’t derive any theological truths, much less adjudicate between competing theories.

4. “Philosophy-Free” theology leaves one apt to be fooled by false doctrines. William Lane Craig has, I think, quite rightly pointed out that “the man who claims to have no need for philosophy is the one most apt to be fooled by it”.[1] Given this, it’s not surprising then that we will often find these introspectively callow ilk being drawn in to false beliefs themselves or else objecting to other viewpoints in such a way that suggests that they don’t even really understand the the view that they’re criticizing. Quite simply, it is through reflection upon the antecedent philosophical commitments underpinning a doctrine that helps serve to weigh its plausibility. To do theology without this feature leaves one at an epistemic standoff, that is, it leaves a symmetry of ignorance regarding competing viewpoints. For the interlocutor this means preferring one doctrine over another, not as a result of rational reflection, but of subjective feelings or perhaps, even blind faith. Thus, the individual that is sensitive to their own presuppositions has a considerable advantage over the person who does not, with respect to coming to true beliefs.

5. “Philosophy-Free” theology further perpetuates the stereotype that Christians are uncritical of their own beliefs. American culture has already become post-Christian. In media it’s not uncommon to see Christians caricatured as intellectually uninformed persons who believe what they do blindly. Now, you may ask yourself, why can’t we Christians just ignore what the culture believes about us at large? The answer is, because a culture that sees Christians as a group of intellectually thoughtful people, sensitive to their own assumptions, will be open to their beliefs in such a way that a culture influenced by stereotypes will not be. If Christians exemplified more thoughtfulness in their beliefs in terms of being able to recognize ones own presuppositions, the cultural perception of them will change.

What Are Some of the Problems With “Philosophy-Free” Theology? – Informing Christians may help ameliorate their hostility towards philosophy

So why do so many Christians seem to make statements implying they believe in “Philosophy-Free” theology? One possibility, which, perhaps, is the most charitable is that these Christians really are just speaking colloquially, lacking in technical precision and as a result of this they inevitably end up making statements that entail beliefs they don’t actually hold to. In cases like these we should simply gently press these folks for technical precision. Another possible explanation is that these Christians simply lack the appropriate philosophical training necessary for them to realize the implications of what they are actually saying; phrases like “I only need the Holy Spirit”, “I don’t need man’s philosophy”, “I’m a Bible guy”, and so forth sound like pious statements, have rhetorical force, and so are uncritically espoused to by otherwise well-meaning people. The solution? Inform them about the ubiquity of philosophy and hope they will eventually come to embrace it.

Notes

[1] http://www.reasonablefaith.org/hawking-and-mlodinow-philosophical-undertakers

CARM on Molinism

HAThe Christian Apologetics Research Ministry (CARM) is an outstanding resource for Christian’s who have a general interest in defending their faith. Notwithstanding, there are a number of comprehension-type errors in their article entitled “What is Molinism” which I brought to their attention via e-mail. I take it on the testimony of others, including Randy Everist that there have been at least two other instances of persons bringing this to CARM’s attention. However, for reasons unbeknownst to us CARM has refused to correct the relevant errors. Read my full message to CARM here.