“Who Made God?”, Part 2

Richard DawkinsLast week, we looked at how famed British atheist philosopher Bertrand Russell objected to God by asking the question “Who made God?” Then we saw why this is a fundamental misunderstanding of the nature of God, and actually does nothing to invalidate the concept of God. But Russell wasn’t the only one to get stuck on that question. So, this week, I’d like to review Richard Dawkins’ similar objection. Let’s work through that today by jumping straight into the relevant quotes from Richard’s book “The God Delusion”.

“The whole argument turns on the familiar question ‘Who made God?’, which most thinking people discover for themselves. A designer God cannot be used to explain organized complexity because any God capable of designing anything would have to be complex enough to demand the same kind of explanation in his own right. God presents an infinite regress from which he cannot help us escape.”[1]

“Seen clearly, intelligent design will turn out to be a redoubling of the problem. Once again, this is because the designer himself (/herself/itself) immediately raises the bigger problem of his own origin. Any entity capable of intelligently designing something as improbable as a Dutchman’s Pipe [a plant Dawkins was using as an example] (or a universe) would have to be even more improbable than a Dutchman’s Pipe. Far from terminating the vicious regress, God aggravates it with a vengeance…. Design is not the only alternative to chance. Natural selection is a better alternative. Indeed, design is not a real alternative at all because it raises an even bigger problem than it solves: who designed the designer?” [2]

“In any case, even though genuinely irreducible complexity would wreck Darwin’s theory if it were ever found, who is to say that it wouldn’t wreck the intelligent design theory as well? Indeed, it already has wrecked the intelligent design theory, for, as I keep saying and will say again, however little we know about God, the one thing we can be sure of is that he would have to be very very complex and presumably irreducibly so!” [3]

Dawkins’ fundamental objection here is that he believes God would have to be “complex”, and that this would require a prior cause that leads to an infinite regress, like your kids asking “Why?” after every answer you give.  Now, I see two issues here.

First, he seems to be thinking of God as some kind of cosmic machine. For instance, even a simple plastic gadget might require a very complex, carefully controlled machine to manufacture it. That machine, itself composed of gears and pistons and electronics and whatnot, had to be produced by something prior. The machine’s complexity – i.e. it’s composition of multiple interrelated parts – requires explanation by a prior cause, like another machine that produced the gears, a designer, and so forth.  But the gadget and the machine that produced it are both contingent and not self-existent. Self-existence is what ends the infinite regress that Dawkins stumbles over. Of course, a materialist might opt for a self-existent universe, but even if that were possible, it can’t ever cause anything to change. You might as well wait for your pet rock to do some tricks. That need for a free agent to initiate anything drives us toward God, but that is the one place Dawkins can never let himself be taken.

A second issue is that he confuses the complexity of the brain with the simplicity (or unity) of mind. Hardly surprising for an materialist evolutionary biologist to only see the neurons of the brain at work during design, but this is an important distinction. While mind and brain are typically paired, it is mind that is essential to design. A dead brain perfectly preserved in a jar in the lab will never design anything, even though it is still quite complex. Why is that? Because design necessarily requires 2 things: purpose and choice. These two essential characteristics of design entail 1) a mind to plan out a purpose, and 2) agency to make a choice between competing alternatives so as to achieve that purpose. Therefore, rationality and consciousness are the key attributes of a mind that make design possible. God is immaterial mind, while the brain is a contingent, physical object; it is hardware that can form, develop during our lives, atrophy, and eventually cease to function. While the brain is a complex system of interconnected neurons, all of the aforementioned stages confirm that brains are also contingent; they begin to exist and cease existing at some point. Mind, however, is not complex, but simple. Now, what does it mean to speak of the simplicity of mind (not to be confused with being simple-minded)? Namely this: that mind cannot be subdivided. A mind is simple as opposed to complex; it is a unitary whole not composed of parts. In fact, if Dawkins were to open any of several systematic theology texts [4] and read the opposing side, he would find that “simplicity”, or “unity of being”, or “noncomposition”, or “indivisibility”, has been an attribute of God recognized by Christians for nearly 2000 years. If he were to argue his case for a “complex designer” because he objected to the traditional formulation of divine simplicity, I could be more sympathetic to his objection. But I’ve yet to see any indication that he has even engaged with that issue. So for him to object to God because of his complexity is to object to a god of his own making, and not to the God of Christianity.

 


[1] Richard Dawkins, The God Delusion (Boston: Mariner Books, 2008), p.136.
[2] ibid, pp. 146-7.
[3] ibid. p. 151.
[4] For example:
Geisler (2011), Systematic Theology in One Volume, Chapter 30 – “God’s Pure Actuality and Simplicity”;
Grudem (2000), Systematic Theology: An Introduction to Biblical Doctrine, Chapter 11 – “Incommunicable Attributes of God”;
Berkhof (1938), Systematic Theology, Part 1, Ch. VI., Section D – “The Unity of God”.
Boyce (1887), Abstract of Systematic Theology, Section 2 – “The Simplicity of God”;
Hodge (1872), Systematic Theology, Vol 2;  Ch. 5, Section 4 – “Spirituality of God”;
Thomas Aquinas, 1274, Summa Theologica, Vol. 1, Question 3 – “Of the Simplicity of God (in 8 Articles)”;

“Who Made God?”, Part 1

Bertrand Russell in 1924

Have you ever heard the objection, “Oh yeah? But who made God?” The answer, of course, is that nobody made God, but this has still been a stumbling block to a lot of people, so let’s work through that today.

Let’s start by looking at this question as famed atheist Bertrand Russell posed it in 1927 in his “Why I Am Not a Christian” speech. Next week, we’ll take a look at Richard Dawkins’ recycling of the question in 2006. First, let’s hear from Russell, considered by some to be the greatest philosopher of the 20th century, in his own words:

“I for a long time accepted the argument of the First Cause, until one day, at the age of eighteen, I read John Stuart Mill’s Autobiography,  and I there found this sentence: ‘My father taught me that the  question, “Who made me?” cannot be answered, since it immediately suggests the further question, “Who made God?” ’ That very simple sentence showed me, as I still think, the fallacy in the argument of the First Cause. If everything must have a cause, then God must have a cause. If there can be anything without a cause, it may just as well be the world as God, so that there cannot be any validity in that argument.”[1]

To speak of God (at least, in the Christian understanding of the title) as needing a cause, is to speak irrationally. That is like asking “Who moved this unmovable object?” Or ” When did this beginningless entity begin to exist?” If the terms are correctly understood, they are understood to be contradictory and the question invalid. For part of being “God” is being eternal and possessing necessary existence (i.e. He always existed, and He has to exist for anything else to exist). If you’re thinking of any entity that could be “made”, you’re simply not thinking of God.

Consider the following scenario. A clever young man gets an idea for a truly useful gadget that everyone will want. He starts making them in his garage, but quickly outgrows that, and soon he is forming a company and building a factory. More hiring, more expanding, and soon the company has grown and has to have several layers of management at multiple factories. Now several years after that humble beginning in a garage, Billy, a new worker at the newest factory is going through employee training. He learns who will be his Line Foreman, and Shift Supervisor, and Department Manager, on up the chain of command until finally, it stops at President and Owner. Now, young Billy raises his hand, and asks, “Who’s his boss?” Nobody… he’s the owner,” comes the answer. But Billy persists, “Yeah, but who appointed him owner?” The trainer responds, “Nobody appointed him owner; he’s the original owner… he founded the company. It wouldn’t even exist without him.”

Now, was the company trainer trying to trick Billy when he said nobody needed to appoint John as president because he founded the company? No, of course not. Founding a company necessarily means you exist before the company you found. But what if the “company” is, instead, all of reality? And the founder is God? His pre-existence means there can be no other entity around to appoint Him or “make” Him, and this stops the infinite regress of the causal chain that concerned Russell.

The fact that people ask “Who made God?” is actually a testament to the self-evident nature of the law of causality; we instinctively recognize the relation of cause and effect and look for it everywhere. But this also demonstrates the common misunderstanding of it that Russell also fell prey to: people tend to think that this principle states that every effect has a cause. If that really were the case, then “Who made God?” might be a legitimate question. But here’s the problem: it’s a sloppy sentence – a shortcut that doesn’t always work. While we can be intellectually sloppy like that in our day-to-day observations, applying any statement universally requires more intellectual rigor. To correct the statement, we need to say, “everything that begins to exist has a cause.” Something without beginning would not require a cause, nor could it have a cause. Russell does acknowledge this as a possibility in the last sentence quoted above, but then assumes that the eternality of the physical world (or universe) is just as adequate an explanation as God, which is his second mistake.

Most people can be excused for thinking “everything must have a cause” because everything we observe did begin to exist at some point, so the shorter wording appears to apply universally; but a philosopher of his stature should not be caught by such careless wording. Granted, he fell for this when he was young, learning it from an author he respected, but to continue to believe that confirms something observed elsewhere about the skeptic: though portrayed as intellectual rejection of God, their reasons are very often emotional or volitional instead [2]. The tragedy here is that John Stuart Mill would come to such a bad conclusion, not seek out a better explanation, promulgate his error, and that it would be picked up by someone like Russell and passed on to succeeding generations. Folks, I don’t mind if you question Christianity, and you’re certainly not going to come up with a question that’s going to stump God; so by all means, test everything and hold on to what’s good, as Paul would say [1Thes 5:21]. But don’t forget to question your skepticism too.


[1] Bertrand Russell, “Why I Am Not A Christian”, speech delivered 3/6/1927 at Battersea Town Hall, England.
[2] J. Warner Wallace, Cold Case Christianity, (Colorado Springs: David C Cook, 2013), p. 132.  Also online here.

The Right Answer… for the Right Reason

Know why you picked “A”…

If you’ve read this blog much this year, you know I’m hoping to take and pass a 16-hour engineering exam later this year. Needless to say, it’s on my mind a lot as I’ve been doing a lot of studying this year. Working through some practice problems the other day, I got the answer right, but for the wrong reason, and it got me thinking. In the actual test, I might not mind if I get an answer right in spite of a mistake in my calculations, or misreading the question. But when preparing for the test, the importance of understanding the why behind the answer is critical. If I get the answer right on the test by accident, then I may still get credit (at least in the multiple-choice morning session of the exam). But if I get the answer right by accident when I’m practicing for the test, and don’t verify my reasoning against a worked-out solution, then I’ll go into the real exam with a false confidence, thinking I know how to solve a problem type that I really don’t. Besides the potential repercussions at the test, there are consequences in my daily work, since the SE exam is, after all, a test of an engineer’s competence in actual structural design. For instance, suppose I find a clever shortcut for masonry shearwall design that will save me time on the exam, but I don’t realize that it only works for the particular scenario in the practice problem, and not for all cases. If I don’t understand why it worked there, then I may not understand why it doesn’t work on the exam, or why it doesn’t the next time I’m trying to meet a deadline and have a real-life shearwall to design. It’s all fun and games until real people’s lives are depending on your work being right. But… what does any of this have to do with the Christian faith? Let’s work through that today.

Don’t be content that you know the right answer; study to understand why it’s the right answer. Did you come to Christ because your parents were Christians and that’s what you grew up with? I’m glad for the end result of salvation, but, honestly, that’s a terrible reason for believing in Jesus. That’s no different than a Hindu in India, a Muslim in Saudi Arabia, or an atheist in China. Did you become a Christian because it makes you feel good? Again, if genuinely saved and that was your entry point, I rejoice at the end result, but believing anything because of how it makes you feel is also a terrible reason to believe it. Did you become a Christian because you’d hit rock-bottom and needed rescue? If that’s what it took for God to get your attention, then I’m thankful you turned to Him before it was too late. As Spurgeon said, “Happy storm that wrecks a man on such a rock as this! O blessed hurricane that drives a man to God and God alone!”[1] However, we all need rescue, whether we’re a homeless drug addict or a billionaire with a dozen mansions, and Christianity isn’t merely a self-help program for the down and out.

What is a good reason to become a Christian? Simply this: because Christianity is true. No amount of cultural acceptance or warm fuzzy feelings or self-improvement can make up for its falsity if it’s not true. But likewise, no amount of opposition can overcome it if it is true. But supposing it’s true, why should you repent of sin and confess Jesus as your Lord and Savior [Ro 10:9-10]? Is it because you need a little “helping hand”, a crutch, a nudge in the right direction? Hardly! That is like the pilot of a plane telling the passengers, as they hurtle earthward in a steep dive, on fire, the plane breaking apart from the speed of the descent, with seconds left to live before the inevitable crater and fireball, that they are experiencing some engine difficulties, and to make sure their seat belts are fastened and that they… “breathe normally”. The situation for them and us is far more dire!

You see, we are sinners. We tend to not like the condemnation that comes with that title, but it’s true, even if you were a “good kid” who’s grown up to be a model adult. Even on your best day, you still can’t say you’re perfect; none of us can. But it gets worse: when the Bible says we have all “fallen short of the glory of God” [Ro 3:23], it’s not just talking about what we’ve actively done against God, but what we haven’t done for Him. For instance, a child can be disobedient to his parents both by doing what they told him not to do, and by not doing what they told him to do. But God is the perfectly just judge who can’t be bribed, who won’t play favorites, and who will enforce a requirement for perfection in order to pass His exam. That’s pretty bad news for all of us. Can you see why a “little help” doesn’t cut it? This is why the Bible repeatedly explains that our good works won’t save us – can’t save us [Ep 2:8-9, Ti 3:5-7, Ro 11:5-6, Ga 2:16, 2Ti 1:9]. Salvation is a one-sided deal that has to come from God if it’s going to succeed.

Is it then just “fire insurance”? A “Get Out of-Hell Free” card in this Monopoly game of life? Hardly! The situation is far better than that simplistic (and frankly, selfish) view can even recognize. You see – incredibly – God actually loves us [Jn 3:16, Ro 5:8], and desires that no one perish [Ezk 33:11, 2Pe 3:9], such that He would send His Son to pay the penalty for our sins. That God would lavish such kindness and love and mercy on me is staggering! How could I reject that? And having accepted the free gift [Ro 6:23], how then could I see His gift as something to take advantage of and move on like nothing happened? No, thankfulness and worship of God are the only legitimate responses. And in fact, He created us to glorify Him, the only one truly and self-sufficiently worthy of glory [Is 43:7, 11, 48:11]. And from that gratitude and love to Him who first loved us, we give our lives in humble service to Him as our Lord [Jn 14:15].

As Christians, we are told to share what we know with a world in dire need of the Good News we have received, but may we never share false information that steers people down the wrong path. There have been far too many cases of people rejecting Christianity in response to a mere caricature of it, and often a poor one at that! As Christians who are “ambassadors for Christ, as though God were making an appeal through us” [2Co 5:20], we need to take that responsibility seriously. As C.H. Spurgeon once said, “Salvation is a theme for which I would fain enlist every holy tongue. I am greedy after witnesses for the glorious gospel of the blessed God. Oh, that Christ crucified were the universal burden of men of God.”[2] May we be faithful to our calling.


[1] C.H. Spurgeon, “Morning & Evening”, Aug 31.
[2] Spurgeon, “Lectures to my Students” (Hendrickson: Peabody, MA, 2014), Vol 1, Lecture 5, p.83.