In his published article Jesus And The Identity Of God, the eminent New Testament scholar and a former chaplain at Oxford, N.T. Wright, remembers how he would often meet with the new undergraduates to introduce himself and get acquainted. Naturally as chaplain he would inquire about their personal religious beliefs. Many were atheists. Wright recalls, “I developed a stock response: “Oh, that’s interesting; which god is it you don’t believe in?” Then after they stumbled out a few phrases in response the chaplain would reply, “Well, I’m not surprised you don’t believe in that god. I don’t believe in that god either.”
“What most people mean by ‘god’ in late-modern western culture”, writes Wright, “simply is not the mainstream Christian meaning.” Indeed this seems to be true; and not just among college undergraduates but even among some of the most prominent (and influential) atheists of today.
It should be an obvious fact that if an atheist really wants to defeat and discredit the notion of the Christian God, he has to come at the Christian God; not some distorted caricature of the real thing (and it is not my contention that all atheists do this). The skeptic can take out as many dopplegangers of the divine as he pleases; but if that’s all he’s taking out, then—whether he likes it or not—the God we are really defending will remain firmly standing without wound or blemish.
Christians, as a matter of orthodoxy, defend the Creator who is the self-existent, pure act of infinite being itself; and thus it is more precise to say, not that he exists, but that he is existence. But due to the finite limitations of human reason, it is more profitable (and more possible) for us to speak about what God is not; or to speak about this infinitely perfect Being by using analogy. Thus we might say that God who necessarily contains all perfections within himself is all-knowing, all-loving, all-present, and all-powerful (even though it is more precise to say that his infinite power is his infinite love which is his infinite knowledge, and so on).
All this is to say that God is the uncaused infinitely perfect act of being itself.
To ask “who designed the Designer?” is a misfire. To insist that God needs a designer in order to exist is akin to saying that a triangle needs a fourth side in order to exist; it’s a meaningless and unhelpful statement. No Christian who has his theology right is going to be defending a created Creator; that is precisely the opposite of who we are defending; and even if a “designed” God was possible that would still mean God exists; and that atheism is false.
Fuethermore, to ask “who designed the Designer?” and thus to insist that God requires an explanation outside of himself in order to be reasonably posited as an explanation of the universe creates a problem for science itself.
Science is in the business of discovering explanations for physical events. What is required in order to settle on a best explanation? I would say just a reasonable explanation—perhaps the explanation with the best explanatory scope, power, and plausibility, and the least contrived. These are all important considerations.
But according to the reasoning of the “Who Designed The Designer”” argument an explanation may only be considered acceptable if it itself can be explained. But the logic that all explanations require an explanation is faulty. If every explanation requires an explanation in order to be valid and accepted, then you wind up with an infinite regress of explanation-seeking; and no explanation can be valid nor accepted. In fact science relies on the basic principle that an explanation does not require an explanation of itself in order to be valid. We do not need to know anything about the watchmaker in order to know that the watch is designed; nor do we need to know anything about the watchmaker to know that the gears in the watch are fine-tuned.
It is possible that the blind assertion that God necessarily requires a designer himself is based on a misrepresentation of the Kalam cosmological argument. The caricature goes like this:
1. Everything that exists must have a cause.
2. The universe exists.
3. Therefore the universe has a cause.
But that is not the Kalam argument; nor is it an argument that any Christian philosopher or theologian defends (for obvious reasons). The actual argument goes like this:
1. Everything that begins to exist has a cause.
2. The universe began to exist.
3. Therefore the universe has a cause.
God by definition did not begin to exist and thus is exempt from this category of caused things. The logical problems that arise with an infinite regress of caused things—or more precisely caused causes—necessitates a first Uncaused Cause whether the universe has existed eternally or not (just as even an infinite number of train boxcars will not move without an engine car to initiate and sustain their movement—a primary self-moving “prime mover” is needed to have any motion or change in the train’s location).
St. Thomas Aquinas was able to illustrate, while drawing from the work of classical philosophers such as Plato and Aristotle, that God is a necessary being, existing eternally because he must for that is of the essence of God (just as it is of the essence of a bachelor to have no wives). It could not be otherwise; God could not be designed for that is not what God is. Such a cosmological argument as that of the Prime Mover made sense to the pagans; and it makes sense to the Christians. Its universal appeal is remarkable and worthy of respect, just as Christians ought to (and often do) give due respect to the argument from the problem of evil; although the problem of evil is philosophically a stronger argument for a divine lawgiver than it is for a non-existent God.
Undoubtedly skeptics and believers alike are guilty of making mistakes in the God debate. The human intellect is a powerful thing; and it is all that stands behind seeing reality as it really is and not. Perhaps there are some skeptics that believe “Who Designed The Designer?” really has some logical force. Ultimately the question of God’s existence is a philosophical question. The reason is simple: God is immaterial and outside of physical space and time. Whether or not God exists is not—nor will it ever be—a strictly scientific question. If an atheist wants to positively disprove God’s existence he will have to do it philosophically; and that is what is admittedly refreshing about this decidedly bad argument for a created God. It is an actual attempt to disprove God in the forum where it will have to be done; if it can, in fact, be done.
For the sake of a healthy intellect—and likewise healthy thinking—it is good practice to let go of bad arguments. It is also good practice to let go of bad rhetoric. It cannot be said that there is no evidence for God quite simply because there is; and it cannot be said that science has disproven God quite simply because it can’t.