Many arguments claiming to prove the existence of God have been proposed throughout the centuries.  The response to many of these arguments, however, is:  “If God created the world, what created God?”  It suggests that certain arguments for God’s existence only push the question of beginnings one step farther back.   The Bible and Christian doctrine address this question by defining God as eternal and uncreated, but such answers rarely satisfy nonbelievers.   A philosophical response is that God is the ultimate first cause; the atheist is left with a dilemma of what or who that first cause might have been.  In the end, an uncaused creator may simply be a more plausible explanation for the universe we live in.  Our universe appears to have had a beginning, to be finely tuned for life, and to have a place for love and purpose. These appearances affirm as plausible a prior belief in 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 arecontingent; 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.

BioLogos has built an impressive and still-growing network of small-“o” orthodox Christians from the sciences, arts & humanities, theology, biblical studies, and pastoral ministry. What unites us is a shared passion for persuading all faithful Christians to see the consensus results of the sciences not as part of some rival worldview but as a divinely-blessed means to deepen our understanding of God’s creation.

- Tim O'Connor, Professor of Philosophy, Indiana University