Why do atheists often ask the question 'who made God?'

1) There is good evidence to suggest that time and space were created in the Big Bang

2) Therefore, whatever caused the Big Bang must exist outside of time and space

3) To be created something needs to exist within time and space (creation implies it had a beginning, and to have a beginning it must exist within time)

4) Therefore to ask who made God is logically an invalid question because logically God cannot have been created.

Moreover, the question 'who made God?’ is also exactly the same as asking 'what caused whatever caused the Big Bang?’ and so something atheists don’t have the upper-hand over.

Some atheists (mainly Richard Dawkins) argue that the cause of something must be simpler than the something it explains. This is demonstrably false as there are lots of examples in life where the explanation of something is more complex than the thing it is explaining.

There are so many ways that the question, 'who made God?’ has been answered and dismissed by philosophers from all backgrounds, why do atheists still use it?

Posted: December 14th 2007

bitbutter www

When an atheist asks “Who made God?” I see it as shorthand for a couple of related points. Neither of these points is a direct challenge to the idea of a god’s existence, instead they comment on the explanatory power of the god hypothesis.

1. Squeezing a god into the gap presented by any absent explanation tends to increase the number of questions we’re left with. “Who made God?” can usually be accompanied by:

  • Why does your god exist?
  • Why did your god create the universe?
  • Why does your god want us to do X?

If your objective is to reduce the number of open questions, inserting any god as a solution usually runs counter to that.

2. If a god is somehow exempt from the need to be explained by a prior cause then we’re also justified in terminating the recess one step sooner with what we know to exist, by identifying the 'uncaused cause’ as the universe itself.

Posted: December 18th 2007

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flagellant www

I am neither a cosmologist nor a theoretical physicist so my knowledge of the Big Bang is insufficient to discuss theories of the Universe. However, 'causation’ has always been an interesting and problematical philosophical topic. Thus, when you talk about the 'cause’ of the Big Bang, you are presuming too much: the most you can claim is that there are things associated with it – radiation for example. (Moreover, if there is causation, did the Big Bang cause the radiation or did the radiation cause the Big Bang?). You cannot therefore talk meaningfully about 'whatever caused the Big Bang’, and go on, as you do, to infer some agency.

You further use unwarranted assumptions in trying to make an argument about something being created. It sounds as though you know something of modern physics and that you are using irrelevancies as a distraction. Implicitly, you then go on to lead one towards a traditional theist interpretation: 'God must have done it’.

The question ''Who made God’ has not been answered properly, partly because it is rhetorical. The question is an attack on the notion of God as first cause.

Look at it this way: we like to think that things are made – we have difficulty in accepting that things are just simply 'there’. It’s the machine problem again: you see a machine and you know that someone made it. I’ve watched cars coming off the production line and I’ve seen people assembling them. It’s a fair assumption that any car I see was made in the same way. We know how people are made, so we can work backwards in time through ancestors and evolution to primordial slime. So far in this regression, it’s all a matter of resolvable detail. As for the nature of the Universe and the Big Bang, scientists are trying to work it all out.

Has anyone seen God making something? No, I thought not. Well, just as you feel compelled to introduce God as a manufacturer, to put s/he/it at the beginning of the chain, I feel compelled to ask, not only ''Where’s your evidence?’ but ''Where did 'God’ come from? Who made 'God’?’, too. It’s no more than another element in the regression.

Although I would differ with my fellow atheists on many things, the one thing we can agree on is that we want evidence for what we accept. There is not the slightest evidence for God, no matter how much you muddy the waters. You may want to believe in God, but hoping that something is true does not make it so. Your elaboration of the question reminds me of nothing so much as the apocryphal story about Euler’s demand of Denis Diderot: “Sir, (a+bⁿ)/n = x, hence God exists – reply!’

Posted: December 18th 2007

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John Sargeant www

Reading the question reminded me of Douglas Adams’ book “Mostly Harmless” where it states the gods as coming into existence shortly after the big bang – and not as most commonly believed before. They therefore have some explaining to do.

The reference “who made god” is based on the reduced reductionism where creationists keep saying that nature implies a designer. When an atheist says who made god – the reply is you do not need a designer for god.

The logic you use fails because once again you are caught in the language of creation – and there is no evidence that the special hoops jumped through actually solves the issue of a god with no beginning, the most complex entity imaginable just happening to exist – yet no need for a designer unlike a complex bacterium that needs one.

In a discourse sense it does indicate an absurdity because evolution has evidence supporting and validating the theory – unlike certain other gods I could mention.

Though I could tell you who made god, but again quoting Douglas Adams, you are not going to like it.

Posted: December 18th 2007

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George Locke

First, atheists usually make the claim, “the cause of something must be simpler than the something it explains,” when theists argue that the universe (or the eye, or the flagella, etc) is so complicated that it must have been designed. If we look at the theist’s argument, we see that it poses a problem, “the universe is complicated”, and then proposes to solve that problem by proposing a designer. But the designer is necessarily more complicated than whatever it is designing. This doesn’t mean no designer exists, but it certainly does mean that the designer explanation doesn’t solve the complexity problem. Thus, this particular theist argument is flawed.

More generally, atheists often make use of Occam’s razor, which says that in general, when faced with two alternative explanations for X, we expect that the simpler answer is right. This is not a hard and fast rule, as you point out. When defendants try to show that the evidence against them is part of a conspiracy to implicate them, they have a hard time of it in general: the simpler explantion for the evidence is that the defendant is the perpetrator. Nevertheless, some people are framed. So Occam’s razor is not an absolute prescription, just a guide.

Your second and third bullet point attempts to speak about entities existing 'outside of time and space’. Well, how would you know anything about such entities? Have you ever seen something outside of time or space? You assert that for things 'to be created’ they must exist within time and space, but how could you possibly know that things outside of space and time can’t be created?

I think you’re right that the term 'create’ doesn’t have a clear meaning without time, so you can’t say anything about creation without time. It seems that 'exist’ doesn’t have a clear meaning either. When you say that the 'cause’ exists outside of time, it seems to me you’re talking nonsense. There is nothing we can say with any validity about things outside of space and time, including whether or not they exist, and especially how they might affect us.

Also, in bullet point four the word God appears rather inexplicably. Just because the cause might somehow exist outside of time, you can’t just call it God. I mean, you can call it whatever you want, but by calling it God you bring to mind 'divine’ qualities when none have been demonstrated beyond status as 'prime mover’. This is something theist arguments often do. They attempt to show that something must exist outside of science and then call it God. The 'cause’ could be something more along the lines of a ball falling into a well and making a splash.

Now on to the Big Bang.

The question, “what caused the big bang,” is in fact the area of considerable scientific research, and there are many plausible explanations that don’t require a creator. The absence of a consensus as to which explanation is right does not create a need for a non-scientific explanation!

The theory that most clearly invalidates your comparison with the 'who made god’ dilemma is the cyclic universe theory. This is actually a class of theories in which the big bang was (essentially) preceded by another universe. Either a 'big crunch’ caused previous universe to collapse into a point or that universe expanded forever into nothingness and somehow a point in that nothingess formed a big bang spontaneously. (Although it is improper to speak in unqualified language about anything that comes before the big bang, if we can show that our universe could produce another big bang then it follows that the universe resulting from that one could do the same and so on. This line of reasoning makes it plausible that our universe was preceded by such an infinite string.)

You might think that this just pushes the problem back, since still there is the universe and it must have come from somewhere. So we might think, but the laws of physics are not always intuitive. The problem that atheists raise about the God hypothesis is that once accepted, there is no reason to exclude an infinite hierarchy of Gods. However this is certainly not a problem in this case. An infinite chain of universes is exactly what is desired. Also, this theory does not require the added existence of something marvelously elaborate as a deity, it simply states that what there is is enough. Every scientific theory shares this advantage over every theistic theory.

For me, the fact that the cyclic universe pushes the problem back infinitely in time alleviates my difficlties with the theory (literal infinity is a very powerful concept – note that there is no beginning in this scenario). There is another kind of explanation that sidesteps this problem in a very interesting and non-intuitive manner. In this kind of explanation, there was only one big bang, but it didn’t have a beginning.

This isn’t very easy to understand. It’s actually pretty dang complicated. The explanation relies on multiple 'time-like’ dimensions. What does this mean? Well, it’s easy to extrapolate from a line to a plane in space. On a line, you are either further or back from another point on the line, but on the plane, there’s less of a clear way to decide which are the forward and back vs side to side axes.

We can also consider geometry on a circle, where there really isn’t a way to decide which is forward and back, since everything just circles back onto itself in both directions. The problem is further compounded when we go from circle to geometry on the surface of the sphere, where you can go around and around in circles, never end up where you started, but never go too far from there. We say that the circular geometry is 'compact’ as opposed to the line, or the sphere is compact as compared with the plane.

What does this have to do with the big bang? Well, the universe we experience clearly has one time-dimension: events either already happened or they haven’t happened yet. If there were more than one time dimension, then the 'arrow of time’ becomes less clear. If the extra dimensions of time are 'compact’, then the arrow of time becomes even more wacked out.

What we know from general relativity is that massive bodies distort time and space, and since the big bang contained all the mass and energy in the whole universe (100%) we can expect that the space-time it happened in was very very warped. It could be so warped that the linear time we experience was a poor description for the events taking place on this scale.

What this boils down to is that there is no one point in time during the big bang which can be said to have been before all other points. Put another way, there were events during the big bang that cannot be said to have come before or after other events. Linear time does not describe the reality of the big bang, at least according to certain theories. Your statement that things without beginnings can’t be created comes to mind, although I’ve already challenged it, so it would be dishonest of me to stress the point.

Ok, now I’ve talked a bunch of scientific BS that ought to be confusing for non-experts (like me), but suppose the universe might not have had a beginning. Does this mean that no cause for the big bang is required? Again the problem arises: where did the non-beginning comes from? I would argue that the question is meaningless.

As a final point, I should point out that your assertion that time and space “were created” at the big bang is sloppy language. What we know is that the big bang marks an event that caused a non-reversible change in space and time. To say that time and space began at the big bang is saying more than our best science permits us to say.

(What I’ve written here is my best attempt at communicating what I know about this kind of physics. With any luck, someone who actually works in this field will send us an angry email about how I bollocksed it up, but I’m sure the basic point that the big bang didn’t have to have a beginning is sound.)

Posted: December 17th 2007

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SmartLX www

“Who made God?” is a reductio ad absurdum argument, and therefore a straw man if attacked directly. It’s an ultra-simplified version of the real problem. It’s usually quipped back to a believer who’s just said God made everything else. Nobody actually thinks God exists and had a creator. It’s just a way of demonstrating the uselessness of positing a creator in the first place. A god explains everything except itself, which means we’re none the wiser.

Whatever resulted in the Big Bang self-evidently did exist outside any time and space that resulted from the Big Bang. They’re not necessarily the only time and space there are. The universe is all there is by definition, but perhaps what we think of as the universe isn’t the whole thing. A precursor could have existed in another system of time and space, just not ours. And that certainly doesn’t exempt it from questions of origin.

Richard Dawkins does not argue that any cause must be simpler than its effect. He cites objects which were actually created, like bicycles and watches. His point is that since complex objects appeared designed and some of them really were, humans generalised this into the idea that everything was designed. That was incorrect. A gradual shift towards complexity may happen instead.

(I’ll add that if you think a scientist like Richard Dawkins has said something demonstrably or self-evidently false, you should immediately ask yourself how he didn’t spot that himself and check whether, in fact, he said what you think he said.)

As far as we know, any line of increasingly complex creators terminates in a creator which resulted instead from a gradual increase in complexity. For example, a plastic toy was assembled by an advanced factory robot which was designed and built by humans, who evolved from simple organisms.

Therefore if something caused the Big Bang, I look at the likelihood of an eternal intelligence versus the likelihood of something simpler, that is, anything else. If there was something eternal, I’m content with the idea that it was inorganic matter and energy because I know life and intelligence can develop later. I don’t have to assume such an exotic, unlikely thing as an eternal supreme intelligence with no precursor, no education and no good reason not to make the universe friendlier to humans.

Philosophers from all backgrounds have indeed dismissed the question, “Who made God?” but mostly as an exercise in futility. The equivalent question I would actually ask of believers is, “If you believe in an eternal, uncreated god, why is it harder to believe in simpler eternal, uncreated things?”

Posted: December 17th 2007

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brian thomson www

Your basic question is a good one, though I would not say we often ask it. However, your following statements are trying to lead the readers in direction you want them to go.

1) “Created” is the wrong word: “started” is a better word. To say something was created assumes a creator.

2) “Caused” is another assumption word: it assumes there was a causator.

Both of those are “begging the question”, and neither are assumptions you are justified in making, in the absence of evidence for them. I’m not a cosmologist, so I’m not going to get in to the details of current Big Bang theory – but when scientists put forward ideas about what happened, or not, they do so on the basis of what they observe: evidence. They don’t need to make any of this up – the reality is more interesting than we could have imagined.

If I ask “who made God?”, I mean “who came up with the idea?”. Since we know people have been involved in codifying and propagating these ideas, every step of the way, it’s not hard to conclude that people created them. After all, people have long been able to create great fantasies on their own, before your religions were written down. Would you say that the ancient Greek tales of Zeus and Apollo are less “real” than your Judeo-Christian mythology?

So I agree that your point #4 makes it a logically invalid question, on the basis of your other points. I would never even ask it, because what’s the point of wondering about the creator of something that does not exist?

Some atheists (mainly Richard Dawkins) argue that the cause of something must be simpler than the something it explains.

must? Where does he say that? The idea of a complex creator is at the heart of the “Intelligent Design” hypothesis, but what Dawkins has been doing was not to make the dogmatic assertion “that can never be”, but rather “there’s a simpler explanation that is far more likely”. By explaining (in detail) how natural selection works, and how it accounts for every living thing we see (including things that appear irreducibly complex to some), Dawkins & co. don’t need to assert “there could never be a complex creator”. Simply put, the idea of one becomes unnecessarily complex (!) and redundant, and there is no evidence to support it.

The fossil record shows a clear evolution of species, from simple to complex as time went by. Wouldn’t a complex creator leave some evidence, in the very oldest rocks? Oh, wait, I forgot that you don’t accept scientific dating of fossils etc.

In short, your questions, and the assumptions behind them, are based on a warped view of what Dawkins and other atheists actually say. Recap: to me, the question “who made God” is about people and their creation mythologies, not about cosmology, which has no place for such supernatural ideas.

Posted: December 17th 2007

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