by Nick Peters
Many a Sunday School student has asked the question, “If God created everything, then who created God?” Of course, we expect a small child or your average layman to wonder how we explain the existence of God. One does not expect such from an Oxford Professor however.
Yet that is the argument Richard Dawkins and other new atheists have put forward, as if it were a new one (Hume also did the same kind of argument in his Dialogues put in the mouth of Philo). Now this argument is all the rage, and many an atheist thinks he has stumped the Christian and eliminated theism altogether.
How Things Are Made
To begin with, let’s clarify how things are made. If you are a cook, you are not making something new in the sense of making a whole material object ex nihilo. You are taking various ingredients and putting them together and the result is a food. A builder takes various ingredients and puts them together and makes a house. An artist takes various ingredients and makes a painting.
All of these can be considered creations. In evolutionary thought, this is the kind of creation that would be taking place. New matter is not being created. Matter is just being put together in new ways. (This article is not meant to be an argument against evolutionary theory. For the sake of argument, I am willing to grant Dawkins and the new atheists macroevolutionary theory, an eternal universe, or a multiverse if need be.)
The other way to make something would be an ex nihilo type creation. This is the kind of creation that is typically ascribed to the God of Christianity, in that He created the world out of nothing. For the sake of argument, I would be willing to grant a God who shaped the world out of matter that was always existing. I will expand on this later on.
In what sense is it meant to ask, “Who created God"? It would seem that Dawkins would want to go with the former. However, can this really apply to God? No. God is not described in Christian theology as a material being, meaning there are not material origins of God. If all we are going with is natural theology, all of the Abrahamic faiths deny materiality as being in God.
So in what sense can God be said to have been made? Is God made the latter way, ex nihilo out of nothing? Of course, if we go this route then the question simply gets pushed back further. “Well who made that god?" Can we Christians say God is exempt because He is immaterial? Then we can hear the skeptic say, “But in Christian thought, are angels not immaterial? Do you believe that they have eternally existed?”
Such a concept would not necessarily be heretical in itself. We could allow it for the sake of argument. It would not explain why it is that God is seen as the main one who is distinct. What is it about God that makes the question “Who made God?” a nonsense question?
To explain that, we can ask the question about what it means to make again. In both cases, we are dealing with existence. When the baker bakes the cake, the cake did not exist as a cake before. When the builder builds a house, the house did not exist as a house before. When the artist paints a painting, the painting did not exist as a painting before. The only exception is that these existed as ideas in the minds of their creators.
The same can be said to ex nihilo creation. If the universe is created ex nihilo, then that means there was a time when the universe did not exist, and then it was brought into existence. With each of these points, we are considering existence to be an attribute. When something is made its existence is, what we would say, actualized. It is made a reality.
God's Relation to Existence
So what is God’s relation to existence? This is the question. Dawkins claims to deal with the arguments of Aquinas in his book, but to anyone who is familiar with them, it is evident that if there is any resource Dawkins used to study Aquinas, it was not the works of Aquinas themselves as the Boeing 747 argument reveals.
The chapter that discusses the Five Ways of Aquinas which Dawkins attempts to refute, though he does not do so and rather horribly botches them, is followed by a chapter on God’s simplicity. This is a concept not readily grasped in churches today as most people say, “God cannot be simple! Think of how awesome and amazing He is! How can you say a God like that is simple?”
That is not what is meant by simple, as God is definitely beyond our comprehension. Simplicity is not about God’s relation to us, but about God’s nature in Himself. What it means is that God is not composed. He is not made of parts. To this, Christians should agree. God is distinct from all creation in that He does not need a creator.
Well, are angels simple since they are not material? Not really. Angels are simple in their nature, their “form.” However, angels are not simple in the sense that they do have a composition. Their forms do not contain existence. Rather, angels exist because they have a form plus existence. Their natures exist in the mind of God, and are then made realities by Him.
God's Nature is Existence
God alone has it as the case that His form IS existence. What it means to be is found in God. There cannot be any differences in nature when your nature is only one thing, existence. Am I advocating pantheism? Not by any means! God’s nature is existence, but existence is not God’s nature. Other things that exist do so by the will of God contingently. Even if something existed eternally, it would still be dependent on God in the sense that its existence is not its own. There are different ways things can be, and nothing is the same way God is.
The question then of “Who made God?” is like asking “What made existence?” If it was an existent thing, we have a contradiction as that which existed, existed, and then made existence. If it was a non-existent thing, we also have a huge problem because that which is not cannot do anything.
Why is evolution and an eternal universe or a multi-verse not a problem then? These are all ways of existing. An eternal universe is not its own existence. Neither is a multiverse. Evolution talks about the ways existence can change. It cannot explain existence itself. This is the fundamental question they need to answer. How do you explain existence itself?
The Christian has an answer and we can be thankful for the new atheists bringing out this kind of question. We can be more thankful when Christians start applying the right answer.