Too often in philosophical debates concerning the existence of God I hear atheists smugly ask, “yeah, well, who made God?” The “who made God” move is normally used to resist arguments for the existence of God. The complaint is that by inferring God as the creator of the cosmos we raise the issue of where God came from, and that therefore positing God solves nothing. Is the atheist correct? It seems to me that the atheist objector is incorrect on at least two fronts.
Firstly, we should note that Christians typically believe that God possesses the property of aseity – that is, self-existence. This means that God exists totally independently of anything else. He does not owe his existence to another being, nor does he rely on other beings for his continued existence. As such God did not come into existence. He has always existed. Some atheists think this is simply a case of special pleading – as if the theist is arbitrarily defining God as having some characteristic or other simply out of convenience. But this is not the case. Many theistic arguments make a rational conclusion to the existence of such a being, and thus the attribution of the characteristic of self-existence is far from being an arbitrary one: it’s the conclusion of an argument.
For example, the Kalam Cosmological Argument concludes to a being that is timeless, spaceless, changeless, immaterial, and personal. Self-existence is implied by these characteristics. Alternatively, various species of the Ontological Argument conclude to a being that is “necessary” or “maximally excellent,” and again therefore self-existent. The same goes for other arguments – the argument from contingency also concludes to the existence of a necessary being. This is why the “who made God” question is so tiresome. The atheist simply hasn’t paid nearly enough attention to the kind of being inferred by such arguments. To respond to these arguments with the retort “who made God!?!” is to ask “who created this being that wasn’t created?” It’s simply an incoherent question.
But, secondly, even if this question did arise it still would not invalidate the initial inference to God. For example, if astronauts were to discover a bunch of weird technical equipment on a distant planet they would rightly conclude to the existence of some alien species even if this then raises all sorts of questions as to who they are and where they came from. The question “where did the aliens come from” does not invalidate the inference that some sort of alien species is responsible for all this technical equipment. In short, in order for some given explanation – E – to be valid, we don’t need to have an explanation of E itself. So resisting a theistic argument because you think it raises such a question is a patently flawed move.
I addressed above the atheist charge that attributing self-existence to God is arbitrary or a case of special pleading. It is noteworthy on this point that the atheist usually engages in some special pleading himself, which is smoked-out by asking the question: “who created the universe?” Unless the atheist holds the rationally indefensible position that the universe popped into existence uncaused and out of nothing for no particular reason, he must hold that the universe (or at least whatever pre-cursor he believes it sprang from) is self-existent, (Bertrand Russell once remarked that the universe just exists and that’s that. Carl Sagan once proclaimed that the universe is all there was, all there is, and all there ever will be). The point is that something must be self-existent – theists and atheists simply disagree as to what that is. Theists see a self-existent creator; atheists hold that the universe itself is self-existent. It seems to me that the weight of evidence leans heavily on the side of theism. Everything we know about the universe suggests that it is contingent, that it doesn’t exist by necessity, that it’s possible that it might not have existed. It certainly doesn’t appear to be the sort of thing that has the property of self-existence, and the atheist owes us an argument as to why we should consider it so. On the other hand theists have several streams of evidence all flowing together to show that – probably at least – the universe was created and that whatever created it must also be self-existent. To use the words of Thomas Aquinas: “and this we call God.”