When talking with many non-believers today, a common question is raised that I thought I would comment on. Note that this entry is a bit longer and more detailed than some of the others I've posted. Hopefully it won't be too difficult to follow, since I think it's an important point to understand. In my time talking with non-believers, this question is perhaps the most common one that I've heard. It's such a common objection to belief in God that I think it's important to be prepared to answer it.
First, let's look at a statement of the question from Richard Dawkins' book "The God Delusion". From page 188 of that book, here is what it says:
"One of the greatest challenges to the human intellect, over the centuries, has been to explain how the complex, improbable appearance of design in the universe arises.
"The natural temptation is to attribute the appearance of design to actual design itself. In the case of a man-made artefact such as a watch, the designer really was an intellgent engineer. It is tempting to apply the same logic to an eye or a wing, a spider or a person.
"The temptation is a false one, because the designer hypothesis immediately raises the larger problem of who designed the designer."
Another way of understanding this would be to imagine a conversation between a Christian and a non-believer, as follows:
N: Don't talk to me about your faith, you know I don't believe in God.
C: I know that's what you say, but I wonder if I can ask you a question?
N: Of course
C: If you don't believe in God, where did the universe come from? We have good evidence it came into existence and hasn't existed eternally. What caused the universe to come into existence?
N: I agree that the universe came into existence, but are you saying God created it?
C: Yes, that's exactly what I'm saying
N: Well, if that's the case, where did God come from? In other words, who designed the designer?
How would you answer the non-believer in this scenario? On the surface, it can seem a difficult challenge, but there is a very simple and satisfying answer. Let me offer a solution that I think will help. For the purposes of this discussion, I'll be using the term "being" to mean "something that exists".
First, we need to establish that there are two types of possible beings. These are contingent beings and necessary beings. A contingent being is caused to exist by something outside itself. You and I, for example, are contingent beings. We don't have to exist, and in order for us to exist, we had to have something that caused us to exist (in our case, parents). A necessary being, on the other hand, must exist. And because it must exist, it can have no cause of its existence (if it was caused, then that means there was a time when it didn't exist, thus it is not truly necessary).
Now, with these concepts in mind, consider the following...
1. A, B, C, and D are all contingent beings. A is caused by B, B is caused by C, and C is caused by D.
2. For A to begin to exist, it must be brought into existence by B
3. In order for B to bring A into existence, B must first exist
4. But in order for B to begin to exist, it must be brought into existence by C
5. In order for C to bring B into existence, C must first exist
6. But in order for C to begin to exist, it must be brought into existence by D
7. In order for D to bring C into existence, D must first exist
8. But in order for D to begin to exist, something must cause D to exist
In other words, B can never cause A to exist because C never exists to cause B to exist. C never exists because D never exists to cause C to exist, etc. This is the definition of an infinite regression...you can never get started because everything is contingent upon something else for its own existence before it can begin bringing anything else into existence.
Now, how does this apply to the question posed by the non-believer? Consider that for our universe to exist, something must exist to cause bring the universe into being. Christians believe that God caused the universe to come into existence. But if our non-believing friend is right, this doesn't solve anything because before God can exist to cause the universe, something else must bring God into existence (in other word, our friend thinks of God as just another contingent being...we begin to see his confusion when we realize this).
The solution is relatively simple...God is not a contingent being. He is a necessary being (in fact, He is THE necessary being). It's critical to realize that if there were no such thing as a necessary being, nothing could exist because there would be no "first cause" that would start the whole process going. In other words, if we get into an infinite regression, as we did with A, B, C, and D above, then we never reach a starting point for any of these objects to begin to exist. And if nothing ever starts the whole process off, then nothing can possibly exist!
In order to escape this problem and start the whole process off, we need a necessary being that is not, itself, created by anything. This necessary being MUST exist in order for any contingent beings to exist. We can look around us and see lots of contingent beings (everything in the natural world is a contingent being, in fact). And simply by knowing that contingent beings exist, we know that a necessary being must also exist. This necessary being is what we call God.
And as soon as we grasp this fact, it solves the question of our non-believing friend. Not only is it necessary for God to exist in order for anything else to exist, it is also necessary that God be uncaused. Therefore, the question "who designed the designer", upon further scrutiny, is shown to be a meaningless question.
Sorry if this was longer or more complex than some of the other posts on here. I felt it was important enough to try and explain. If anyone has any confusion, please feel free to call or email me and I'll be happy to help explain further.
Posted on Tue, June 22, 2010