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If God created the universe, what created God?

Many arguments claiming to prove the existence of God have been proposed throughout the centuries. A popular argument is that, since all effects come from causes, there must have been a “first cause” that is outside the material world—an “uncaused cause”. The response to many of these arguments, however, is:

“If God created the world, what created God?

In other words, if everything in the universe has a cause, why does God get a free pass? Don’t we need an explanation for his origin as well?

In order to answer such questions, we first need to clarify what we mean by “God.” If God is just another one of the causes within the system of causes that science explains, then we would need to search for a cause for God as well. But if God is something fundamentally different from the created order (what theologians call "transcendent"), then our demand for a cause of God's being is confused and misapplied.

Modern conceptions of God are often strongly influenced by the “deism” movement of the Enlightenment, which portrayed God as an explanation for the origin of the universe, the moral law, and not much else. The deist God is the gray-haired old man in the “attic”, who doesn’t bother much with us on the lower floors.

But this is wildly at odds with both Scripture and historical Christian theology, which see God as intimately involved with his creation as both creator and sustainer. As Colossians 1:15-17 says of Christ,

“He is the image of the invisible God, the firstborn of all creation; for in him all things in heaven and on earth were created, things visible and invisible, whether thrones or dominions or rulers or powers—all things have been created through him and for him. He himself is before all things, and in him all things hold together.”

God, as revealed in the person of Jesus Christ, is not just the explanation for the beginning of the universe, but for the existence of anything at all—whether past, present, or future. All time, space, and matter depend on God’s sustaining power for their existence, in every moment. These things are contingent; that is to say, they don’t have to exist, and so because they do exist, we are right to ask for the causes of their existence. But Christian theologians have understood God to be a necessary being. Asking for a cause of a necessary being is like asking how much the color blue weighs—it is a category mistake.

The discovery in the past 100 years of strong evidence for a point of beginning for our universe (the “Big Bang”) has had a tremendous impact on this discussion. Many Christians have seen the “Big Bang” as proof that time, space, and matter are temporal, and not eternal—which indeed point to the need for a creator. But we advise Christians to be cautious. God would still be the creator even if the universe did not have an empirically discernible beginning as some current theories (such as those concerning the “multiverse”) suggest.

We should not feel threatened as Christians by any of these theories, because none of them can ever explain why anything exists in the first place. Science is powerless to answer that question, because it can only speak in terms of cause and effect. Every worldview must believe in a cause that itself is uncaused, and Christians understand this uncaused cause as the creator God, maker of heaven and earth.

Learn More

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Blog article: Doubting Thomas (Aquinas)

By Ted Davis
Once we have placed God in the causal chain, there is no escape from the inevitable question: what caused God?
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Blog article: Recovering the Doctrine of Creation: A Theological View of Science, Part 1

By Robert C. Bishop
The theological significance of ex nihilo creation is hard to overestimate. For one thing, it protects God’s sovereignty, showing us that all things in creation are subject to Him.
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Blog article: BioLogos Basics Video #2: Don’t You Believe God is the Creator?

By Jim Stump and Andrew DeSelm
Does BioLogos believe that God is the creator? Yes, all Christians believe this; the question is, how did God create?
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Blog article: Getting Some-thing From No-thing

By Ted Davis
If we explore the notion of eternity a bit further, we note how the concept of eternity need not necessarily imply that creation from nothing must occur in a single instant, in a single moment or all in a flash. To say so would presuppose that eternity is subject to measurement by a temporal continuum, which is just what we tried to avoid by introducing the concept of eternity in the first place.
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Blog article: Is Creation from Nothing Obsolete?

By Ted Davis
We must ask: does creatio ex nihilo help make the Gospel intelligible today? It is my own position that it does. However, not everyone agrees.
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Blog article: It All Started with a Bang

By Ted Davis
What we can say is this: the universe as we know it has not always existed in the past. It has come to be. Discussions of creatio ex nihilo make sense.