Our friend Dr. Michael Egnor, the philosophical neurosurgeon, is truly indispensable. After reading his post yesterday, “Jerry Coyne on Our ‘Divinity Sense Organs,’” I had a question for him. He described the useful role that atheists played in his own evolution as a Christian:
The arguments against God’s existence were weak, vague, and dubious. Richard Dawkins and his coterie of Darwinists and materialists recycled sophomoric tropes (“Who made God?!,” “Why don’t we see God in our telescopes?”) and the like.
Others have said much the same in the context of the evolution debate, where opponents of intelligent design theory very often refuse to grapple with ID itself, limiting themselves to denouncing a cartoon parody. Plenty of thoughtful people have been persuaded in favor of ID in part by the “weak, vague, and dubious” responses from supposedly top critics (like Jerry Coyne or Richard Dawkins). In still another context, a political one, I was turned off leftism as a youthful leftist, a college freshman, by meeting other campus leftists and listening to what they had to say and how they said it.
How often does this kind of thing happen, an unintended consequence of hearing people make an asinine case for their position? Probably pretty often.
My question for Egnor was about the “Who made God?!” complaint. While it may be sophomoric, no doubt there are more cogent ways to frame the challenge. That very question was put to me by one of my sons, age 12. I wasn’t entirely satisfied by my response, and neither was he.
On the Way to 7-Eleven
I put the concern before Dr. Egnor, and he was generous in responding. The purposeful agent behind the design in biology may or may not be God, as far as ID is concerned. But let’s say that it is:
My youngest daughter asked “Who made God?” one day when we were driving to 7-Eleven. She was 4.
There are two groups of people for whom the question is excusable: kids and ordinary folks who make no pretense to philosophical insight.
Coyne and Dawkins fall into neither category. They claim insight — arrogantly claim it, in fact. They are highly educated men who have at their disposal books and colleagues who can provide the answer to that question anytime. They proclaim their ignorant atheism to millions of people who (foolishly) take their word for it.
The answer to the question is simple. God is not “made.” He is not a “thing” in the collection of things we call nature. If He were a thing, He wouldn’t be God.
God is the Unmoved Mover, the Uncaused Cause, the Necessary Existence. He is the necessary prerequisite for making, causing, and existing.
How so, one might ask? Succinctly, all change in nature consists of three steps: the existence of potentiality, the process of change, the final actuality. By the law of non-contradiction, a thing may not exist and not exist at the same moment in the same way. Applied to change, this means that a thing may not be potential and actual in the same respect at the same time. That is, a thing may not be the cause of its own change. Everything that is changed is changed by another.
If everything has potentiality (i.e., can be “made”), then the process of change — steps 1, 2, and 3 — could not get started, because if everything is potential, nothing is actual. If nothing is actual, nothing can change or be made or even exist.
To account for change or causation or even existence itself, there must be Someone Who is unchanged, uncaused, and Who necessarily exists. This is the cosmological argument, which is the framework for Aquinas’ first three ways.
This argument, and its consequences, fills books that fill libraries. There are millions of people — theologians, professors, interested laypeople — who can explain it in simple terms to Coyne and Attenborough. Heck, we’ve explained it in simple terms several times on Evolution News. Coyne and company have no excuse.
“Who caused God?” is, as I said, a fair question for a kid or a person who makes no claim to philosophical knowledge. It is culpable error of a very serious degree for people who have a public voice and who claim insight into such matters.
That is helpful. Many thanks to Mike Egnor as always. As he mentions, we have indeed explained this before here at Evolution News. See most recently a post by mathematician Granville Sewell, “Once Again: Who Designed the Designer?” But because the challenge is perennial, and because we’re not all philosophers, it’s good to come back to it from time to time.
Photo: The moon from the International Space Station, via NASA.