“Who created God?” isn’t a meaningful question

December 3, 2013
William Lane Craig

William Lane Craig

I recently watched this debate between Christian apologist and philosopher William Lane Craig and a British biologist and outspoken atheist, Lewis Wolpert. If we score the debate as objectively as possible, then it’s hard to imagine anyone saying that Dr. Wolpert “won.” It’s disappointing how lazy Wolpert comes across—as if wit and sarcasm count for actual arguments.

And if you know Bill Craig, you know he was as square, earnest, and intellectually rigorous as always, God bless him. What did you expect? This is supposed to be an actual debate, not Prime Minister’s Question Time.

One philosophical point that Craig made several times—which neither the moderator nor Wolpert seemed to grasp at all—is that if we assume that God is who Christianity says he is, then it’s meaningless—indeed, a category mistake—to demand an answer to the question, “Who or what created God?”

Unlike all physical realities in the material universe, God isn’t the kind of thing that requires a creator or cause. This isn’t a sleight of hand or debater’s trick: Christian theology has always maintained that God is absolute, eternal, infinite, without beginning. As Dr. Craig argued, only things that have a beginning—like our universe, for instance—are contingent, which means their existence isn’t necessary, and so require a cause. If God is who Christians say he is, then he is necessary and therefore uncaused.

How convenient! the skeptic might reply: We Christians have insulated our faith from requiring an answer to the most demanding question.

Well, as Dr. Craig correctly points out, God isn’t the only thing in the universe that’s like that. Abstract realities like mathematics and logic are also absolute, non-contingent, uncaused, and necessary. Two plus two equals four, for instance, would be true whether or not the universe existed. Its truth doesn’t depend on anything else for its existence. God is more like that—although God is personal rather than abstract.

I don’t say this to prove that God exists, obviously. I’m only saying that if God exists, he’s like that kind of thing and not the other. Feel free not to believe in Christianity’s non-contingent God all you want, but don’t act indignant (as Dr. Wolpert does repeatedly) because you think we’re avoiding the question, “Who or what created God?” The question, according to Christian theology at least (as opposed to, say, Greek mythology), is only unanswerable because it’s meaningless.

I’ve touched on this idea before, or at least I’ve let David Bentley Hart do it for me.

43 Responses to ““Who created God?” isn’t a meaningful question”

  1. “Who created god?” is a response to the claim that ‘everything requires a creator’ or some variation thereof. If you make that claim, but then claim that your god has no creator, then clearly at least one of your claims is wrong.

    • brentwhite Says:

      Yes, but I’m not claiming that “everything requires a creator,” which was the point of my blog post. To make such a claim is incorrect—just as two plus two equals four doesn’t depend on a cause to be true.

      • Right. But my point is, people who ask the question ‘who created god’ are asking it of people who make that claim. Not of people who don’t.

  2. Tom Harkins Says:

    I think the scenario is rather like this. Which is more likely as the genesis of the universe? “Nothing,” or “God”? Given the incredible nature of the universe in every respect, God is far more likely. This leads to the second question. Which is more likely, that God always existed, or that he was created by or from nothing? (“Earlier Gods” is meaningless as a possibility, because ultimately there would have to have been an “initial” God, and he would have to have been eternal or else caused by “nothing.”) Obviously, if it borders on the absurd to suggest that the universe could have “sprung” from nothing because of the nature of the universe, it is even more absurd to suppose that an even more amazing thing, God, could have so “sprung.”

    So, it is not a “cop-out” to say God is in a different “class” of things which could always exist, whereas the contents of the universe do not fall in such a “category.” The universe itself, even accordingly to athiestic scientists, “began” at “some point.” Therefore, it is logical to ask, “from what,” or “how”? Whereas, no such question makes sense as to God, given “who God is.”

  3. Morbert Says:

    I meant to reply to this a long time ago but completely forgot about it. This probably means next to nobody will see this, but I’ll reply for posterity’s sake.

    Craig is right about “Who created God?” being a meaningless question. (As an aside, his example of 2+2 always being 4 has to be qualified. There are plenty of valid number systems where 2+2 does not equal 4, and he invites criticism from non-Platonist mathematicians). For argument’s sake, I will also agree that the more general question “Why is there a God, rather than nothing?” might also be meaningless.

    Where Craig and I differ is in his refusal to admit that the same might be true for the universe, and his “unorthodox” interpretation of modern cosmology.

    • brentwhite Says:

      Can you say a bit more here?

      • Morbert Says:

        Craig argues that it is metaphysically and physically impossible for the universe to have existed eternally in the past, or to have had some atemporal but impersonal, beginning. He argues his case exhaustively on his blog “Reasonable Faith” ( http://www.reasonablefaith.org/scholarly-articles/the-existence-of-god ).

        I.e. He is not simply arguing that God is a consistent and coherent idea. He actively argues that the universe cannot have a similar “eternal” (in an atemporal sense) existence.

        In a nutshell, he has no problem accepting the existence of a supernatural, personal creator that we cannot fundamentally understand, but balks at the idea of the strangeness of quantum gravity reflecting some deeper atemporal ontology we cannot understand.

        He also regularly cites the opinions of some cosmologists as gospel when it suits him (The possibility of a past-eternal universe is still very much an open question, despite his frequent references to the cosmologist Vilenkin).

        This blog post does a good job summarising some of my objections to Craig’s positions.


      • brentwhite Says:

        You can’t blame him for making the argument. He’s a Christian. He’s not a disinterested bystander. I hope Craig doesn’t imagine that on the basis of his arguments there is no longer any need for faith. We have to have to take that leap no matter what side we land on.

        As for quantum gravity, I’m sure I’m unqualified to say much except, first, it’s highly speculative. And, philosophically, isn’t it still some contingent thing that need not exist? It’s not nothing, right? There must be some milieu in which this quantum mechanism does its amazing work. How to account for the mechanism or the milieu seems like an interesting question.

      • Morbert Says:

        He is certainly free to make such arguments. I merely bring it up to better describe where I disagree (I.e. I have no problem with the concept of God, but I don’t believe His existence must follow from what we know about cosmology).

        You’re correct, the millieu of quantum gravity is not nothing, but nor is it necessarily contingent. I.e. It does not exist in space or time, it instead is an atemporal structure that generates space and time.

        To Craig’s credit, he is aware of this. His objection lies with the normative interpretation of it. I.e. He objects to any metaphysical inference from it, and insists it is nothing but nifty maths. At the same time, he will happily interpret classical cosmological models normatively to support his metaphysics. To me, it seems like he is arbitrarily picking and choosing his ontology.

        Also, yes, it is very much speculative. And even if it is true, it does not rule out the existence of God. But my purpose isn’t to argue that “God doesn’t exist because quantum gravity is true”. Instead, I am simply arguing that modern cosmology per se is not a compelling reason to start believing in God.

  4. Tom Harkins Says:

    Wasn’t the question here whether it is a meaningful question to ask, “Who created God?” That’s not meaningful because, if God exists, necessarily there would have been no antecedent (I believe that is the correct term) to him given the very nature of what God is.

    The real question that you raise, Morbert, as I see it, is whether the universe could have “self-existed” without any “creator” based on the highly speculative theory of “quantum gravity.” Morbert, are you saying that “quantum gravity” is something that could have “always existed”? And that it can “create” things such as time and space and all space’s contents (like God, except without any “personality” or “purpose”; just, “look what got spit out here”)? One must wonder, I would think, how it is that “quantum gravity” got to the “spit out” stage, and why. God, as an all-powerful creative being, could say, “let there be,” and it was, but it is hard to see how some gravitational “field,” or whatever “quantum” gravity is supposed to be, could get “triggered” to start “spitting out” all on its unconcious and undirected own, and the entire universe at that. Why in the universe did quantum gravity all of a sudden, and entirely on its own, “spit”?

    • Morbert Says:

      Yes, that is why “Who created God?” is a bad question to ask, as it assumes God must have been created, as opposed to having some higher, transcendent nature. The more relevant, general question “Why is there a God rather than nothing?” is presumably similarly answered by stating God is not an entity obliged to fit into our metaphysical paradigms. My ultimate point is simply that the same consideration should be afforded to nature.

      “Always existed” would be a bad way of describing nature (just as God would not have been waiting around for an eternity before deciding to start the universe). Instead, nature would have an “atemporal existence”. The process by which space and time would emerge would be the same process by which particles emerge in quantum field theory. In the same way that photons are a quantum excitation of the electromagnetic field, or that electrons are a quantum excitation of a dirac field, the early universe (space and time) would have been a quantum excitation. This supposition follows from the fact that, according to general relativity, spacetime is a dynamical variable, and according to quantum physics, dynamical variables are quantised and described using field operators..

      I always include this disclaimer: The quantisation of gravity proposed by Hawking (the one we are talking about) is indeed speculative. I don’t tender it as true, I merely tender it as a coherent possible alternative and counter to the claim that God is the only explanation for the existence of the universe. To be honest, my point stands even if we forget quantum gravity for the moment. It is simply possible that the universe in its entirety might not be fully comprehensible by our feeble human brains.

      If you want to believe in God, it should not be because you are dying for a tidy explanation to something we don’t understand.

      • Tom Harkins Says:

        Morbert, thank you for your informative response. I think the issue therefore becomes, as I see it, that just as is the case where “electrons are a quantum excitation of a dirac field,” as you say, there has to be something akin to a “dirac field” which already exists before the universe can be “excited” into beginning to exist from that “field.” Therefore, the question of origins of the universe is simply taken a further step back; which is, what is the origin of the “field” which could have a “quantum excitation” to “originate” the universe (in the same fasion as an electron is “originated” from the preexisting field).

        Thus, the question becomes whether a “quantum gravitational field” is the type of thing which could “aways exist” on its own, as opposed to being “brought into existence” (if it was) by God. Nothing in the nature of any type of “field” suggests it is “inherently” the type of thing which “always existed.” Whereas, the nature of God is inherently the type of thing that would always exist if it ever did exist. Since something exists now physically, and what exists now is derived from what existed physically theretofore, we must come to either a “start point” or conclude there was no “start point.” Arguing there was no “start point” for the physical universe is, at best, counter-intuitive, if not impossible. Whereas, the physical universe could be “started” by an eternally preexistent God. Something had to exist because things do now exist. So, the question is, what the “something” a “field,” which for some uknown reason got “excited” into doing something, all on its own, or what the something God, who, given who he would be if he is, could be “preexistent” of the universe. I think God is at a minimum the far more “plausible” possibility.

      • Morbert Says:

        What would be unique about quantum gravity is its treatment of time.

        The description of photons and electrons as quantum excitations all take place under a defined “spacetime metric”. This means the equations are written in the context of space and time. The fields responsible for electrons and photons reside in space and time.

        General relativity says space and time itself is a field (namely, the gravitational field), so when we “quantise” it, we do so without a spacetime background, as spacetime is the very thing that is being quantised. (This is one of the things that makes quantum gravity so challenging.) So the part of nature responsible for our spacetime would be “outside” space and time. It would “always” exist in the sense that there would be no temporal tense or succession. This is comparable to God’s relationship with time as described by the majority of theologians and philosophers. ( http://www.iep.utm.edu/god-time/ )

        Does this mean the natural ontology implied by our preliminary understanding of quantum gravity would not be a “contingent” truth? No. It could still be valid to ask why there is something rather than nothing. It simply implies time and space are a part of nature, rather than the other way around, and so the question “Who created nature?” might be as meaningless as “Who created God?”

      • Tom Harkins Says:

        I think it is a little bit misleading to say anything “physical” is outside of “space and time.” Time may be “affected” by relativity, but it is still meaningful to consider what may have been “before” the Big Bang started thrusting everything “out.” Was there quantum gravity “before” the Big Bang, or not? There either was or there was not. If there was not, then the universe was either created by something else (i.e., God), or it “created itself” (“popped” into being out of nothing). If there was quantum gravity “before” the Big Bang, then the question would be whether quantum gravity itself is the type of thing which can be “self-existent.” And even if it could be “self-existent,” arguendo, why did it “excite” the universe into “action” at some specific juncture (i.e., 13+ billion years ago, as the evolutionary scientists themselves maintain) and not just continue to “exist” as it always had. There would have to be some “triggering event” beyond the quantum gravity “field” itself for it to suddenly “morph” into the Big Bang.

        So, I don’t think the universe is the type of thing that can “create itself.” if it could, then, among many other things, why would such episodes not continue to happen? There is no evidence that they do. So, there is no evidence (or logic) behind the idea that the universe (or quantum gravity either) is a “creating”-type thing (meaning, out of “nothing”). Whereas, if God exists, then he is precisely such a “creating thing” out of “nothing” in the physical realm. “Let there be,” and “there was,” as the Bible puts it. And, assuming God exists, then obviously there is no logic in asking how he could be created (indeed, there would simply be an “regression” back to “other gods” until one got to the “original” one, so there is no difference). Therefore, we still come back to the ultimate question–is there any reasonable basis to believe the “universe” is “self-creating” (which means, simply “popping” into existence), or is it instead only reasonable to assume that there is an all-powerful “self-existent” Creator who “was, is, and ever shall be,” as again described in the Bible (the primary source of information about him).

        Consequently, I don’t think it is “meaningless” to ask, “Who created nature?” Nature either “created itself” (which is to say, it “popped into existence” out of “nothing”), or it was created by something else, something which inherently is “self-existing” and capable of “creating” nature, which is God.

        (Again, to say that quantum gravity “created” is inexplicable because it would never have had any “reason,” i.e., “occasion,” to do so, even if it were the type of thing that could do that, arguendo, which is entirely speculative, at the very least, and really explains nothing about the ultimate “origin” of our universe; i.e., the existence of quantum gravity itself, or quantum gravity “creating.”)

      • Morbert Says:

        I wouldn’t agree with any phrase like “The universe created itself”, as it is far too vague and open to misinterpretation.

        To keep it simple, I do not believe it is misleading to say physical truths can exist “outside” of space and time. Especially since we know space and time are dynamical things, subject to physical relations that are timeless themselves. Surely you must admit that, if you are willing to believe in a personal, intelligent being that transcends space and time, it is not unreasonable to suppose there might exist impersonal things that transcend space and time.

        You raise objections to an impersonal cause with terms like “suddenly” and “trigger” and “occasion”. These all presuppose time in the background. It would be meaningless to say God “suddenly” created the universe – that God was waiting around for an eternity before an “occasion” arose that “triggered” a decision to create the universe – because it implies God did not create time. Similarly, it would be meaningless to talk about occasions or events if the cause of the universe is impersonal and natural.

      • Tom Harkins Says:

        Wouldn’t quantum gravity, if it existed, be “static” until such time as it got “excited” to create the Big Bang? What else would have been “happening” with quantum gravity to that point? If nothing, then it is correct to say there must have been some kind of “trigger” to get quantum gravity to move from its “static” state to its “creative” state (i.e., originating the “Big Bang”). Thus, if quantum gravity did “nothing” until the Big Bang occurred, isn’t that tantamount to saying it did not “exist” until then?

        Furthermore, if quantum gravity ever “existed,” why would you not consider that to be the “universe” as it “existed” until such time as it “erupted” into the Big Bang? If it is an “impersonal THING,” as you refer to it, surely it must have had SOME qualities, such as expanse or duration. If it had no qualities at all, why would you want to claim it “existed” at all? I believe, if memory serves me right, it was the philosopher William James who said that if a claim makes no practical difference at all, then it has no content at all (as I would say, a “meaningless concatenation of words”).

        The same things cannot be said of the personal God. As a Trinity, he existed in loving and personal union and communion between the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. Also, it appears that he created other things before the physical universe, i.e., the angels (some of whom became demons), and Heaven and Hell. I realize that “eternal existence” of any type is a difficult thing to grasp, but it is no harder than, I would think, to say things just “started” to exist as some “point.” However, if something could “always exist,” certainly God is a better candidate than a totally latent quantum gravity which literally did “nothing,” existed “nowhere,” etc., until it got “excited” into the Big Bang. Consequently, I would agree with Brent (hopefully I am not misrepresenting him) that, assuming there was any God, it would be meaningless to ask what created him, whereas the opposite is true of the physical universe.

      • brentwhite Says:

        I agree with you, Tom, that quantum gravity, if it’s something at all, is something that exists in a milieu or environment that is not NOTHING. So I also agree that even if quantum gravity could cause a Big Bang, then it’s correct to say that this environment is the universe that existed prior to the Big Bang, and the Big Bang is something in addition to something that was already there.

        How that something got there remains an interesting question. As long as that something isn’t necessary but contingent, then there must be, as far as I can see, something that brought it into existence.

      • Morbert Says:

        You are both still implicitly assuming time is a fundamental background with which to describe nature.

        For example: Brent, it would not be correct to say quantum gravity existed prior to the big bang, because “prior” is a temporal phrase. By saying something exists prior to the big bang, you are assuming a time exists to give meaning to “prior”. This assumption is fine when the universe is smooth, but not in the regime of the big bang. Tom, the same goes for the phrases you use (“static”,”until such a time”,”duration”).

        The question of what qualities such a timeless state is a very good one, and would take us deeper into the subject of quantum gravity. I am not sure how easy it would be to explore in blog comments, however, and it is a very technical topic that has plenty of potential for misinterpretation. Essentially, we are talking about a geometry functional, which is a term that needs serious unpacking.(Here is the original paper http://prd.aps.org/abstract/PRD/v28/i12/p2960_1 ). I can try and go into it in more detail, but you would probably be better of googling “Hartle-Hawking state” ( http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Hartle%E2%80%93Hawking_state )

      • brentwhite Says:

        You’re right: if quantum gravity is outside of time, it makes no sense to talk about a “before.” I know that from theology school.

        So, is Hawking saying that quantum gravity is something abstract and timeless like math? And this mathematical something causes the Big Bang?

  5. Tom Harkins Says:

    Morbert, I am about “argued out” here. I did, however, read the “original paper” which you referenced, and, besides being totally incomprehensible, it nonetheless does not appear to say anything about “pre-time/space” or anything of that sort that I can fathom. Here it is:

    “The quantum state of a spatially closed universe can be described by a wave function which is a functional on the geometries of compact three-manifolds and on the values of the matter fields on these manifolds. The wave function obeys the Wheeler-DeWitt second-order functional differential equation. We put forward a proposal for the wave function of the “ground state” or state of minimum excitation: the ground-state amplitude for a three-geometry is given by a path integral over all compact positive-definite four-geometries which have the three-geometry as a boundary. The requirement that the Hamiltonian be Hermitian then defines the boundary conditions for the Wheeler-DeWitt equation and the spectrum of possible excited states. To illustrate the above, we calculate the ground and excited states in a simple minisuperspace model in which the scale factor is the only gravitational degree of freedom, a conformally invariant scalar field is the only matter degree of freedom and Λ>0 . The ground state corresponds to de Sitter space in the classical limit. There are excited states which represent universes which expand from zero volume, reach a maximum size, and then recollapse but which have a finite (though very small) probability of tunneling through a potential barrier to a de Sitter-type state of continual expansion. The path-integral approach allows us to handle situations in which the topology of the three-manifold changes. We estimate the probability that the ground state in our minisuperspace model contains more than one connected component of the spacelike surface.”

    The article refer to a “wave function of the ‘ground state’ or state of minimum excitation.” This sounds like something that exists in a certain “state.” Also: “The ground state corresponds to de Sitter space in the classical limit.” Again, something that exists in a “certain state.” Also: “MINISUPERSPACE.” Consequently, it does appear that Hawking’s model that you reference is something which does have a “physical existence,” even though it may be precedent to “our universe” (assuming those things can be “distinct” from each other).

    Therefore, we still come back to the question whether it makes any sense to say such a “state” always existed, or whether it, like “our universe,” had a “cause” or “start.” Again, why did the “state” get “excited”? And did the “state” just “pop” into existence (a la the Big Bang)?

    • brentwhite Says:

      I’m with you, Tom: Is this phenomenon something physical (even if it exists outside of time) or is it just math… just numbers? I think (and have thought) that it’s something physical—in which case, we still await some literally metaphysical cause. Or is the argument that math and equations alone produce universes?

      • Morbert Says:

        For clarification: It is very much physical. But the question “Who created nature?” only demands an answer if nature is something that “begins to exist”, it is at the very core of the Kalam cosmological argument used by Craig.

      • Tom Harkins Says:

        Morbert, it seems you are trying to have it both ways. The universe (including quantum gravity) either began to exist or it always existed. If it began to exist, the question is whether the universe is the type of thing which could create itself (including quantum gravity); meaning, could it “pop into existence” all on its own; meaning, could “nothing” just become “something,” whether quantum gravity or the Big Bang and its aftermath. It seems incredible to argue that.

        Whereas, if quantum gravity is hypothesized (which is all it is) to always have existed (never “began”), then the question is why it would have moved from the stasis of simply always existing to an “excitement” stage (Big Bang) all on its own. It seems incredible to argue that.

        Consequently, it does seem that there must have been some “outside influence” to either bring the universe (including quantum gravity) into existence, or conversely to “excite” quantum gravity into triggering the Big Bang. The only likely candidate for such a creator or “trigger-er” is something which could exist on its own AND have the capacity to create other things. This candidate would most likely be the God that the Bible and Christians attest to.

      • brentwhite Says:

        I assume you’ve read this, Morbert: http://www.reasonablefaith.org/stephen-hawking-and-god

        Inasmuch as I understand what Craig is saying (I don’t have the time or commitment yet to read it carefully), Hawking’s argument is circular.

        Of course, David Berlinski, in a much more smart-alecky way, says the same thing about “A Brief History of Time”: If the argument circular, it’s at least an oblated spheroid.

      • Morbert Says:

        Tom, you are still tacitly assuming a background time in your phrasing. Nature was not in “stasis” because “stasis” implies a background time. Was God in stasis until He created the universe? It makes no sense to ask “when” God decided to create the universe because time, a prerequisite for “when”, would have been created by God as well. Similarly, it makes no sense to ask “when” the universe emerged because time emerged with it.

        Brent, that piece pertains to the question of “Why there is something, rather than nothing?” which is a very different question to “Who created nature?”

        With the former question, Craig is right and Hawking is wrong. His theory does not answer the question of why there is something rather than nothing. But in considering this question, the “theory of God” is no longer immune to similar criticisms.

        God did not begin to exist, so it makes no sense to ask who or what created God. However, it is still a contingent answer insofar as we can ask “Why is there a God rather than nothing?”. Similarly we can ask why is there a God that is kind and benevolent rather than vindictive and cruel? Theologians get around such ontological and “fine-tuning” criticisms by declaring (ironically) by fiat that that’s the nature of God, and such a nature transcends these criticisms. This is no more circular than declaring by fiat that nature exists.and transcends these criticisms. Craig calls Hawking’s proposal “gratuitous metaphysics”, but he engages in similar gratuity when declaring the similarly transcendant (but also intelligent and personal) entity..

        Incidentally, I would take anything Berlinski says with a pinch of salt. Berlinski uses arguments that Craig has referred to as “an embarrassment to Christianity”.

      • Tom Harkins Says:

        Morbert, I don’t think I am “assuming” a “background time.” The point is whether there was any “quantum gravity” before the Big Bang. You can’t just “define” time as “starting” when the Big Bang exploded–if there was ANYTHING (i.e., quantum gravity) that EXISTED antecedently to Big Bang, then necessarily “time” has some validity as a concept (and reality) before Big Bang occurred. If there was no “time” before Big Bang, then necessarily quantum gravity did not “exist” prior to Big Bang. Again, you can’t have it both ways–quantum gravity existed “before” Big Bang, but nevertheless there was no “time” at which quantum gravity existed before Big Bang did. Also, it is not correct to say there was no time before Big Bang because of relativity. Relativity notes a correlation between time and space and expansion–it cannot possibly mean that it is meaningless to say nothing could “exist” for any “duration” “before” Big Bang exploded. Again, your argument is self-refuting: i.e., quantum gravity could exist “prior to” being “excited” into producing Big Bang, but it is meaningless to talk about quantum gravity existing “before” Big Bang. You just can’t have it both ways.

        Also, your argument attempts to “rule out” any concept of a durational period before Big Bang “by definition,” as though even God could not exist “before” Big Bang based on relativity. God, being supernatural, is obviously not governed by some supposed “physical” definitional or even actual constraint such as relativity (or anything else). God says he existed before “Let there be light,” even on the assumption that this instituted Big Bang (which I don’t even believe in Big Bang, but for purposes of argument). God cannot conceivably have “popped” into being as scientists evidently believe happened with the natural universe with Big Bang. We are talking apples and oranges.

        It is simply much more logical to believe the supernatural God “instituted” physical reality and its own “time table” than that natural reality “created” itself by the Big Bang “blow-out.” Assuming highly speculative quantum gravity does not change that at all.

      • brentwhite Says:

        It’s hard to generalize what theologians do or don’t declare about God’s goodness. Most of the ones I’ve read don’t argue that God is good because he says so. That’s not the most important question anyway: if there is a “good” that isn’t hopelessly relative and subjective, there had better be a God—whether we even agree on what that the good is or looks like.

        Regardless, one important difference is that we Christians say up front (I hope!) that believing or disbelieving in a good and loving God is a question of faith. It takes faith to believe that nothing lies behind the universe takes faith, just as it takes faith to believe that something—or Someone—lies behind it.

        While it takes faith, I strongly believe it’s reasonable to infer the existence of a good and loving God.

        I obviously have a problem with a philosophical materialism that pretends that “science” and reason are on its side—that we’ve now disproven God or moved beyond faith.

      • Morbert Says:

        Tom, I am not trying to rule out anything. I simply trying to explain that the metaphysical suppositions you are using to insist God must have created the universe do not necessarily follow from our current knowledge of cosmology.

        The Big Bang theory (which, incidentally, is a horrible misnomer) says nothing about any beginning of the universe. It only makes statements about the expansion of an existing universe. It says nothing because, as a model, it breaks down when the universe is very dense. Relativity says space and time are coupled to mass and energy. When matter and energy are very dense, space and time become ill-defined, and require a quantum description. When theoreticians like Hawking apply the rules of quantum mechanics to spacetime, they get a description of the universe in the context of atemporal physical structures that don’t exist “before” the universe, but rather “outside” time or “independent” from time or “timeless”.

        William Lane Craig has written a lot about this, and his objection ultimately boils down to the fact that quantum gravity rattles some of his metaphysical commitments. Similarly, you might not like the idea, and you are certainly not compelled to accept it as true, but you cannot declare it must be false simply because it contradicts your metaphysical ideas about time. Similarly, I could not declare “God doesn’t exist because that would contradict materialism.”.

        “There are more things in heaven and earth, Horatio,
        Than are dreamt of in your philosophy. ” –Hamlet

      • Tom Harkins Says:

        Morbert, it seems to me your latest comment makes part of my case to some extent. You say Big Bang theory “says nothing about any beginning of the universe.” You also say that the “rules of quantum mechanics” are “timeless.” This suggests to me that “quantum mechanics” is in the order of “rules of physics,” somewhat like the laws of mathematics that Brent has referenced before, as opposed to some sort of “physical structure” or “field” or the like that “preceded” the Big Bang. Am I right about that? If not, please explain further.

        The significance of this point is that there was, if I am reading you correctly, a point when “space/time” did not “exist” as a matter of the PHYSICAL reality of the universe. If that is correct, then there must be some explanation for how it came into being. Thus, it is entirely legitimate to ask, “Did it birth itself?” (which I continue to maintain is tantamount to saying it popped into being out of “nothing”), or “Did something else birth it?” The idea of something like the entirety of the universe (as it developed in keeping with the laws of physics, chemistry, etc.) just “suddenly appearing” seems preposterous. Whereas, the idea that some preexisting being, who is all powerful and all knowing, gave birth to it seems fairly logical and probable by contrast. This is exactly what the Bible says happened (leaving aside whether it happened via the Big Bang or not). Maybe the scripture writers were not ignorant brute savages after all!

      • Morbert Says:

        I think some clarifications are needed. Even Hawking’s proposal does not postulate the universe emerging from “nothing” in the Heideggerian sense. That is a very classical picture, and classical physics is wrong on a fundamental level.

        There is no moment of creation. Instead, Hawking says the “beginning” of the universe (including space and time) becomes as well defined as the “beginning” of Earth’s surface. You lose the ability to classically define the state of the universe using an objective classical timeline of “before” and “after”. It is here that the atemporal relational statements of quantum gravity (quantum excitation, vacuum fields etc.) become important, and more fundamental than our classical metaphysical commitments to ideas like “suddenly arising from nothing”.

        Mathematical statements are not “real”, but they become our only means of describing things for which our brain cannot construct ontological descriptions. This is ultimately where I feel Craig goes astray.

  6. Morbert Says:

    Tom: I was very hesitant in posting the paper. It is indeed full of jargon, and while that jargon is necessary for efficient communication between scientists who know the jargon, it is useless for communication with people in general, so I do not at all expect you to be convinced by the paper. I only tender it to show that the concepts are, at the very least, well defined and not merely a contrivance motivated by a need to explain away God.

    Brent: It would be timeless, but not abstract or mathematical. The laws themselves are mere expressions that describe observations reliably. The part of nature in question is quantum mechanical, and so defies our common, intuitive “realism”, but it is not platonic.

    The next time I get a chance I will try and describe Hawking’s proposal in an easy to digest manner. If you both ever have a few hours to spare, I would highly recommend watching this talk by Richard Feynmann “The Character of Physical Law”. It is entirely irrelevant to the question of the existence of God, but it is a fantastic talk on the nature of statements made by physicists, and about the difficulty in interpreting physics in an conceptual manner. The target audience is the general public.

  7. Tom Harkins Says:

    Morbert, your “clarifications” are not very “clarifying” to me. I think the pertinent issue here is a lot simpler and more basic than you are making it out to be. Either the universe always existed or it began to exist. There are no other options. Thus, to say that the universe is 13.5 billion years old (as most evolutionary scientists do say nowadays) means that it “began to exist.” In fact, we even know how long ago it began to exist, if we know enough facts/physics. To me, this is totally straightforward.

    It seems to me that it is you, rather than me, who is “clouding” the picture by suggesting there was something “underlying” or “preexisting” the “Big Bang” “beginning” of the space/time continuum. You refer to this as “quantum physics.” So, the question still remains: Did this “predecessor,” quantum physics, exist prior to the “space/time continuum” which most scientists reference as initiating with the “Big Bang,” or not? If it did not “exist” prior to the “continuum,” then the universe “began” to exist when the “Big Bang” occurred. Quantum physics therefore “began” to exist at the same “point.” Or, if you continue to maintain that there is some “underlying” reality which then “excited” the universe into beginning, you must acknowledge that this “underlying” reality either began to exist (just as the Big Bang did, but “earlier”), or it “always existed.” This is not complicated. Using specialized language, mathematical formulas, etc. simply cannot avoid this basic issue.

    If quantum physics is supposed to have “preexisted” the Big Bang, we must ask if you are simply positing some eternal “laws” or “rules” or “formulas”–or whatever jargon you want to use–in which case there is no reason really to say they “preexisted” in any “temporal sense,” so the universe (i.e., physical reality–call it whatever you like) still “began to exist” (per most scientists, around 13.5 billion years ago). If, however, you are positing something “more than” such formulas, etc., i.e., some “physical reality,” then that physical reality itself must have either “begun to exist” or have “always existed.” Was there some “physical reality” before the “space time continuum” which began with the “Big Bang” (to use the standard reference), or was there not? There is nothing difficult about that question, and it has a simple “yes” or “no” answer. Again, if the answer is “yes,” then that “physical reality” must have begun to exist or always existed.

    Therefore, we again some back to the point that if it is a “physical reality,” as opposed to formulas, etc., or whatever you want to refer to them as, is it not curious that it “began” to “excite” the “Big Bang” continuum? Can’t we ask (since we are presuming “underlying existence”) what “gave rise” to this “excitement? Certainly we can. Because quantum physics, as a physical reality, either always existed, or it did not. So it either began to exist when Big Bang did, or else it “excited” Big Bang at some instance.

    Such an “excitement” is not very satisfying as an “origin.” It is very much less “likely,” as giving rise to the incredible universe we see before us, than a preexisting “Creator” such as God. And, as I think you also have acknowledged, it really does not make sense to ask, “What caused God to exist?” Therefore, I elect to go with God than a “popped into being” universe, or some “underlying but inactive” physical reality, referenced as “quantum physics” or otherwise, which for a totally inexplicable reason “excited” the space/time Big Bang continuum. Isn’t this issue really that simple? I believe it is. All jargon aside.

    • Morbert Says:

      Tom, you are persistently glossing over the important parts of my responses. Classical cosmology does not say the universe began to exist 13+ billion years ago. Classical cosmology fails to describe the universe 13+ billion years ago, so it cannot say the universe began to exist.

      Hawking’s proposal for quantum cosmology does not say the universe began to exist 13+ billion years ago insofar as it does not say something prior to the universe created it. The traditional Minkowskian description of cause and effect gives way to a Euclidean quantum description, and the “singular beginning” of space and time in classical physics is replaced by a “Hartle-Hawking state”, a quantum excitation, with no singular beginning. That this is strange and impossible to “picture” intuitively does not mean it is untrue. That is the nature of quantum mechanics. Its strangeness has resulted in great technological advances. If you have a modern smartphone, or have ever gotten an MRI scan, or have any LED lights, you are benefiting from quantum strangeness.

      Also, your use of the phrase “likely” needs to be qualified. Why is it unlikely? Quantum mechanics played a very important role in the early universe. That much is not speculation. The WMAP image of the universe, spanning billions upon billions of lightyears shows the imprint of fluctuations consistent with quantum fluctuations. While these are not the same fluctuations Hawking talks about, they still reveal the quantum nature of the early universe.

      • Morbert Says:

        A quick addendum, perhaps confusion is arising over the term “quantum excitation”. Unlike in classical physics, quantum excitations do not need to be caused or induced. They are an intrinsic facet of quantum systems. See: “Zero point energy” for example.


      • Tom Harkins Says:

        Morbert, I may be “glossing,” but it seems to me by like token you are basically ignoring my objection, and also ignoring at least the “popular” view among most scientists about the Big Bang. I read in the newspaper only a few days ago that scientists said the Hubble Telescope was seeing the “cosmic dawn” because it was seeing galaxies 13.2 billion years ago. It also stated that the scientists knew this to be the case (this age) because they were calculating the age based on the distance these galaxies were away from earth, i.e., by how far light had been travelling from those galaxies at the speed of light (in other words, 13.2 billion “light-years” away from earth). Your “billions upon billions” may or may not be true, but it is not the common theory among most scientists. Most scientists (at least as they are being reported in the popular media) believe the universe to have a radius (or diameter?) to be approximately the same number of light-years “across” as the universe is old (approximately 13.3 billion years old because approximately 13.3 billion light years across–I think it is entirely problematic whether it is the radius versus the diameter that is in view; the articles do not make this very clear). You may not believe that, and Hawking may or may not (I have no idea), but you are believing or arguing contrary to the scientific consensus. The scientific consensus is that the universe “began to exist” approximately 13.3 billion years ago. As one Cambridge astrophysicist I read said, “In the beginning there was nothing at all.” Then “Big Bang” occurred (i.e., the rapid expansion of the universe from a singularity). So–take it up with him!

        Meanwhile, you studiously avoid the question of the origin of quantum mechanics. In fact, it seems to me you avoid even what the “nature” of quantum mechanics IS. You won’t say whether it is a “physical reality” as opposed to “physics equations” which “calculate” or “describe” or “explain” or “chart” physical realities. Why can’t you say that one way or the other? Curiously enough, you say: “While these are not the same fluctuations Hawking talks about, they still reveal the quantum nature of the early universe.” So, I can’t even tell whether you agree with Hawking nor not! Much less what you claim quantum mechanics to be.

        With respect to “likelihood,” how can something that can hardly be “defined,” or have any clue how it “originated,” be a “more likely” explanation for the universe than God? As far as LED lights are concerned, quantum mechanics may or may not be able to “define” or “explain” or even “cause” them, but that is a far cry from doing the same for the universe! And you are curiously quiet about the “how” of that (as to the universe, at least), it seems to me.

      • Morbert Says:

        The WMAP image spans approximately half a trillion light years of sky. The diameter of the observable universe is approximately 47 billion lightyears.

        Traditional Big Bang cosmology does not say the universe began 13+ billion years ago. It only describes physics after the Planck epoch. Relevant link and quote:

        ” Traditional big bang cosmology predicts a gravitational singularity before [the Planck epoch], but this theory relies on general relativity and is expected to break down due to quantum effects. Physicists hope that such proposed theories of quantum gravitation as string theory, loop quantum gravity, and causal sets, will eventually provide a better understanding of this epoch.”

        Regarding the nature of quantum mechanics: I have repeatedly said an intuitive, ontological description is impossible. It is simply too different from what our brains normally process. Relational statements are the best we can do. This means we can’t carry over our classical metaphysical baggge when trying to understand quantum cosmology. A video of Feynman, one of the founders of modern quantum physics, describing the strangeness of quantum physics.


        I don’t agree with Hawking insofar as I believe his quantum gravity is a possibility, and raises interesting lines of investigation, but is ultimately incomplete and speculative. But I don’t need to agree with him. I only need to argue that it is not necessarily true that nature has a fundamental beginning.

      • Tom Harkins Says:

        Morbert, I have to disagree with your statement that: “Traditional Big Bang cosmology does not say the universe began 13+ billion years ago.” You give a quote, but I don’t think it makes your point, and in any event I don’t think you are correct as to what most “professors” of Big Bang teach. Again, what I said is precisely what the British astrophysicist said.

        “Regarding the nature of quantum mechanics: I have repeatedly said an intuitive, ontological description is impossible. It is simply too different from what our brains normally process.” I will agree with you that I find what YOU say “too different from what my brain processes”! However, I also don’t think that is a point in your favor. It is almost an invocation of “mysticism,” albeit in a pseudo-scientific garb. If we TOTALLY can’t say anything specific about something, then I would agree with William James that the discussion really has no “content.”

        All that aside, you yet still evade the ultimate issue, which is whether quantum mechanics “exists,” or whether it is an amorphous effort to “describe” what exists. And if it is something that “exists,” whether it always existed, or whether it began to exist. Why can’t you answer those two simple questions?

      • Morbert Says:

        I think it is a bit of a contrivance to argue against what I have said about classical Big Bang cosmology based on a quote from a professor, when my statements can be corroborated by the publicly available research documents, which can easily be found with a google search. My point is entirely uncontroversial.

        Regarding quantum mechanics: We absolutely can say very specific, content-rich things about quantum mechanics. The statements we make about quantum mechanics are incredibly precise. They so precise, they have been used to successfully make predictions with an accuracy equivalent to measuring the width of the united states to within a hair’s width. As mentioned earlier, plenty of things wouldn’t exist if the statements made about quantum physics were untrue.

        What you mean to say is we can’t make any statements that fit a classical ontology or intuitive “everyday” framework. This doesn’t mean the physical statements are void of content. It doesn’t mean I am evading the question. It means our intuition and classical ontology is wrong. Our easily graspable metaphysical suppositions are wrong. As I said before, the universe is not obliged to be understandable on a conceptual level by us. We must instead be content to understand the relations, behavior, and phenomena of nature. Trying to build a metaphysical argument for the existence of God on top of metaphysical suppositions that no longer apply will not lead anywhere productive.

        Matthew 7:27
        ” The rain came down, the streams rose, and the winds blew and beat against that house, and it fell with a great crash.”

      • Tom Harkins Says:

        (1) Is quantum mechanics “reality,” or “analysis” of reality?
        (2) Did quantum mechanics always exist, or begin to exist?

  8. Tom Harkins Says:

    I like your quote though. To whom does it apply, I wonder?

    • Morbert Says:

      (1) Quantum mechanics is a mathematical framework that describes reality.
      (2) Quantum mechanics is a human construct insofar as it is a collection of statements about observations. So it began to exist. The underlying reality it describes, however, might not have ever begun to exist.

      • Tom Harkins Says:

        Thank you very much for this specific, succinct, and entirely explanatory response! The only question that remains from what you say is, “The underlying reality it describes, however, might not have ever begun to exist.” That is really the question we have been addressing, right? Whether nature is “contingent,” as Brent terms it, or “independent,” capable of existing in its own right (like God)?

        Here is where we ultimately differ, then, as I see it. Nature is the type of thing that “runs down” (Second Law of Thermodynamics, entropy, etc.) Also, every “action” that we see has a prior cause (Newtonian physics, and, I believe, Aristotle). So, ultimately, it seems that there must have been “something” of some nature which “got the ball rolling,” to use the colloquial phrase. That something was the divine intervention, in my view, whether to “begin” nature, or to “activate” that something which is argued to always exist into “action” (such as the Big Bang, but any other “activity” is fine as well). At least, that scenario makes far better sense to be than any other option.

      • Morbert Says:

        The 2nd law of thermodynamics is a whole other kettle of fish. Though at the very least, statements about the 2nd law are not speculative like statements about quantum gravity.

        I think the discussion has begun converging on an impasse. My last comment on the matter will be that to believe nature had no beginning doesn’t mean it is eternal in the strict sense of the word (Though there are recent inflationary models that speculate on an eternal universe). Instead, nature might be “atemporal” or “extend beyond our finite time” as opposed “existing forever in our infinite timeline”.

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