The Existence of God
The Existence of God
Periodically someone will say to me, "I don't understand how anyone can be an atheist. How else could one account for the origin of the universe itself?" The Christian apologist, Hugh Ross, makes an argument much like this. He argues first for the thesis that the universe had a beginning, the moment of the big bang. Second he assumes that there must be a cause for the big bang. Next, if all physical reality, including time and space, arise out of the big bang, then, whatever the cause may be for the big bang, it must be something that transcends the physical universe. Coupling this consideration with the apparent fine tuning of natural law which makes life possible and the claim that it would take a super intelligent being to so arrange natural law, Ross concludes that this transcendent cause is God.
Those familiar with the traditional arguments for the existence of God will recognize that Ross' argument is a combination of the design argument (here from apparent fine-tuning) and the first-cause argument (the argument that the universe could not be its own cause). At a later time I will mention and discuss the hypotheses that atheistic scientists have been advancing to account for the origin of the universe—they do not accept the assumption that one must postulate a transcendent cause—but in what follows I will restrict my comments to an older objection to the first-cause argument, an objection which may be given the label "What caused God?" It is an objection that one often encounters in introduction to philosophy classes and one which the instructor usually takes to be persuasive.
The philosopher Bertrand Russell is one of the many who have voiced the what-caused-God objection. In his essay, "Why I Am Not a Christian?"1 he states the first-cause argument as follows: "everything we see in this world has a cause, and as you go back in the chain of causes further and further you must come to a First Cause, and to that First Cause you give the name of God."2 According to Russell, the fallacy in the argument is that "If everything must have a cause, then God must have a cause." What's more, "If there can be anything without a cause, it may just as well be the world as God."3
Russell's argument can alternatively be stated as follows. The principle that everything must have a cause...