← continued from part 1 where I explain the argument itself
In the previous installment I walked through a simple kind of cosmological argument. The conclusion was that the explanation for why stuff exists must be that something else made it exist.
Btw, if you read the comments of the previous post, you’ll see an atheist named Steven who prefers to say that physical stuff just must exist in some way or other. So he avoids the conclusion of our argument—and he is within his rights to do so. But as I said in the last post, his alternative is a self-evidently poorer option than our conclusion.
To give an illustration, imagine if we found an obelisk on Mars whose proportions conformed perfectly to the golden ratio. It would just seem absurd to claim that it exists inexplicably, out of necessity, with no other explanation for its existence besides its being a well-proportioned obelisk on Mars. That’s obviously a terrible explanation—indeed, it is a science-stopper. It would remain a terrible explanation if we imagine the obelisk were much longer, or more massive, or even if we imagine that the laws describing its physical characteristics were different entirely—indeed, even if the obelisk were the only thing that existed. But in that case, there’s no significant difference between claiming that the obelisk must exist necessarily, and claiming that any physical state of affairs must exist necessarily. It’s obviously a non-explanation—especially when we have the alternative that something else made physical stuff.
But what would such a maker look like?
It’s all very well to say that physical stuff was made by something—but what? Well, let’s see what conclusions we can draw about the maker’s attributes, based on what is made. I see 10 major characteristics we can infer very reasonably. There may be more, but these are the ones I’ve been able to spot. So, the maker must be…
After all, if it were physical it would be a part of all physical things, and couldn’t therefore have made them. So the maker exists, but is non-material. This seems to be, by definition, the same thing that Christians call spirit. Indeed, the very reason we are not to make any kind of image of God (Exodus 20:4) is that God doesn’t have a physical form.
2. Unimaginably powerful
The maker was able to bring the entire, incomprehensibly vast physical universe into existence from nothing. It didn’t simply rearrange existing physical stuff (although that would, in itself, require unimaginable power). Rather, it gave the stuff existence in the first place. This is a distinctive hallmark of what Christians call omnipotence.
3. Supremely intelligent and imaginative
The maker made a staggering variety of things, many of which are so complex we’ve only just started to discover that we know virtually nothing about their intricacies. They, in turn, work according to rules that our brightest minds have been stumped for decades on decoding. This kind of intelligence and imagination are obvious hallmarks of omniscience. They also show that the creator is personal: a mind of some kind—not just an “it”, but, as Christianity would claim, a “he”.
The maker must have its explanation within itself; something that cannot not exist. If it weren’t necessary, it wouldn’t be the explanation of why physical stuff exists after all. Necessity is what Christians refer to as God’s aseity—his existing “a se”, or “from himself”. He simply is. In his own words to Moses, “I am that I am” (Exodus 3:14).
5. Unimaginably beautiful
It’s hard to find anything in the physical world that isn’t beautiful in some way, or to someone. If such beauty exists in what is made, how much more must it exist in the maker? And beauty is one of the hallmarks of goodness—or in Christian parlance, omnibenevolence.
Is the maker just beautiful, or actually beauty itself?
I think we can reasonably suggest that the maker is the actual standard by which we measure beauty. This is because if he is just beautiful according to some outside yardstick, this adds another necessary being into the mix, with all the attributes associated with beauty: moral goodness, creativity etc. This violates Occam’s Razor, which is a principle saying, in essence, that simpler explanations tend to be the right ones. We already know that the maker is necessary, intelligent, creative etc; so it makes more sense to think that he is also the standard of beauty, rather than that he merely conforms to some other standard outside himself.
6. Continually involved in the world
This is a particularly interesting implication of our argument: because physical things do not exist out of necessity, they do not exist out of necessity now any more than when they were first made. But this means the maker must be continually causing everything to exist. This is one of the hallmarks of sovereignty, and in Christianity relates back to the Word of God, who is “sustaining all things by the word of his power” (Hebrews 1:3). Or, as Paul puts it,
Because all things in the heavens and on the earth were created by him, things visible and things invisible, whether thrones or dominions or rulers or powers, all things were created through him and for him, and he himself is before all things, and in him all things are held together (Colossians 1:16-17)
7. Possessed of complete knowledge of, and power over, what he has made
This follows logically from the maker’s continual involvement in the world. If everything exists only because he makes it so, then he must know and control everything which exists down to the last possible detail. After all, how could he make something to exist without knowing exhaustively what he was making? Again, these are hallmarks of sovereignty, omniscience and omnipotence:
He determines the number of the stars; he gives to each their name. Great is our Lord, and abundant in power; his understanding is without limit. (Psalm 147:4-5)
If the maker made physical things for no reason, then we once again have no explanation of why there are physical things. His intelligence, imagination, beauty, and continual involvement in the world all point to his having a purpose in making it. To deny that the maker intends to achieve something through what he has made just seems to deny the obvious. Christianity ascribes the best possible purpose to the maker: namely, the manifestation of his perfections, including his creativity, goodness, beauty and so on. In Christian terms, God created the universe for his glory. Look at Psalm 19:1-4 for example:
The heavens are telling the glory of God, and the firmament proclaims the work of his hands. Day to day they pour forth speech; night to night they tell knowledge. There is no speech and there are no words; their sound is inaudible. Yet in all the world their line goes out, and their words to the end of the world.
Goodness seems to be a fundamental part of the world. It cannot be explained in terms of something other than itself—good just is good. When we try to explain it in terms of something else, we actually end up explaining it away, because it is no longer good, but something else entirely (like an evolved instinct, in the case of evolutionary psychology).
If goodness is so basic to reality, then presumably it must issue from the maker. As with beauty, we can infer that the maker just is good. (He cannot be evil because we can only explain evil by reference to goodness. A good maker can be the explanation of both good and evil; but an evil maker can be the explanation of neither.) In Christian language, God is holy:
But Yahweh of hosts is exalted by justice, and the holy God shows himself holy by righteousness. (Isaiah 5:16)
I saw the Lord sitting on a high and raised throne, and the hem of his robe was filling the temple. Seraphs were standing above him. Each had six wings: with two he covered his face, and with two he covered his feet, and with two he flew. And the one called to the other and said, “Holy, holy, holy is Yahweh of hosts! The whole earth is full of his glory.” And the pivots of the thresholds shook from the sound of those who called, and the house was filled with smoke. And I said, “Woe to me! For I am destroyed! For I am a man of unclean lips, and I am living among a people of unclean lips, for my eyes have seen the king, Yahweh of hosts!”
Since the creator is both good and purposeful, and since we are part of his creation, we can reasonably conclude that he has a good purpose for us. You might say he has an attitude aimed at what is best for us. More colloquially, he loves us. Again, Christianity claims in 1 John 4:16 that God is love.
Could the maker be some other God?
Possibly. He could be a god very like the Christian God in the attributes we’ve identified. He could perhaps be Krishna or Allah. But the list is rather short. And I think it’s unreasonable to imagine that he is some other, unknown deity—because we know he is loving and has a purpose for us, and therefore would presumably have revealed this to us in some way.
So while this is a very simple argument, its conclusion gives us a lot to work with in terms of showing that God, as we understand him to be, exists. But it is by no means the only such argument; and in the next installment I’ll walk through another.