For those dogmatic atheists out there, one thing that has kept me from accepting this idea -- even though I sympathize that there is not a shred of evidence that much of what organized religion posits is true, and much of the Bible strikes me as absurd -- is this:
If there is no "Creator" and only the material world is true, how did time-space, matter and energy come into existence? Would it not follow that if there is no Creator then nothing -- no reality -- would exist?
Note when I use the word "Creator" I am not speaking of a singular personal intelligence, certainly not of a male. For all I know God could be one big cosmic computer program that not only has no Gender but also has no number. I believe the figure of God as a Male and Father obviously to be of human creation.
Update: I got two responses and both say virtually the same thing.
It seems that if you approach the problem this way, by focusing on the need for a Creator to have made anything that exists, that the Creator would need a creator. It then appears that you would need an infinite chain of creators, because how did the Creator come to be? Would the Creator be exempt for the need to be created? If so, why?
My response is not meant to be glib or dismissive in any way. I read your posts regularly and enjoy your reasoning so I find your structuring of this question unnerving. Perhaps I am missing something but it appears that you have decided that for anything to exist it must be made by a Creator. If this is true, then the Creator must have been made. A recursive loop.
I have thought long and hard about this over the past few years, during which I have read a good number of books about the "scientific" proof of God, the credibility of the Gospels, things like that. To me, this "proof" is bogus, consisting of arguments more fit for a Dan Brown novel than any intellectual discussion. With that in mind, your question is the one question that gives me pause when I have this sort of discussion with people.
A similar question can be put to the Creationists. That is, if there is a Creator, who created the Creator, and the follow-up who created the Creator's creator, ad nauseum. This question works regardless of the form of the creator, whether a computer program or a more anthropomorphic form. I am unsatisfied by the stock answer that it had to be supernatural -- that is, some force or energy beyond our comprehension -- or, it had to be created somewhere by someone(something). A similar question is "Prove that God exists?" I don't know that it can be done.
In my experience, there are unanswerable or more accurately, unprovable questions/issues on both sides. There is no answer to your question, and the proof that God exists is non-existent. There are unanswerable questions that have stumped even the greatest minds. For example, there is Schrodinger's Cat. This stumped all of the great minds in physics. Then take that and change it a little. You have a live cat, whom you cover with an opaque box for one minute; you then remove the box and the cat is still there (looking at you skeptically, of course). Can you prove the cat was under the box for the entire minute? No. Deductively, since you covered the cat with the box and you saw no disturbance -- from outside or within -- during that minute and then removed the box, you could say that you have proved that the cat was there the whole time. But have you? Maybe that isn't the best example, but there are many unanswerable questions.
For centuries people believed the Sun revolved around the Earth, until Copernicus et al. showed that it was the other way around. Time was always considered to be static until Einstein theorized (and it was later proven) that it is relative. Presently, physicists are wrestling with whether String Theory is the long-sought Universal Theory of Everything. While many aspects of String Theory are appealing, it requires a belief that there are more dimensions beyond the four that we presently recognize. It's anybody's guess whether there are these other dimensions, but they may well be discovered. How or what created the universe (and whatever lies outside of the universe) may well be a question that Mankind has yet to answer but may prove someday. That answer may not satisfy many creationists, or atheists for that matter, but for me, it provides an intellectual basis for my belief that there is an explanation which we have yet to uncover.
Absent a scientific breakthrough or the Rapture actually occurring, I don't believe an answer is forthcoming to your question or any of these fundamental questions. Hopefully a more lucid atheist than I will provide you with a better explanation or argument.
When I hear the fundamentalists try to rebut this argument they say: God is the uncreated Creator. I know, it's not a very satisfying answer.
My first emailer stated that "it appears that you have decided that for anything to exist it must be made by a Creator." Well I'm not sure. It seems as though the rules of this universe say matter & energy cannot be created or destroyed. So they've always been here? I know this is a bit of a loophole response, but if time space-matter-energy ultimately derive from another dimension, who is to say that this other dimension is bound by the rules of this one?
But yes, I agree, the concept of an uncreated Creator boggles the mind almost as much as the concept of uncreated time-space-matter-and energy always existing. And I ultimately agree with the second emailer that in the future, as knowledge increases, this mystery might perhaps not be solved, but better understood.
More updates: Another Emailer writes:
Matter does not need a creator to occur. All matter is the result of quantum fluctuations of probability fields that have the potential to create a "snow ball" effect that could produce something like a Big Bang out of nothing. I guess the religious people would consider that a snow ball's chance in hell and for those people a universe with a "creator" would be hell.
I find the fact of time and space without a "creator" and how we have come to be is an even more inspiring and positive story of how wonderful and good life can be rather than some pedestrian story of an old lonely guy who equally wants adoration, retribution and have his "kids" following too many useless rules like some alcoholic.... ""If you kids don't do what I say I am going to whip the bejesus out of one of you to show you what I mean!!!!""
No wonder his wife left him alone. Maybe she ran off with Satan and it's the family secret that you don't find out till you are an adult and compare your family stories with your cousins!?!?!?
And the first emailer wrote back:
I see that your other respondent was much more communicative than I.
As I thought about your question further last night, I came to the same extended conclusion: That there is simply not enough information and/or knowledge at this time to explain how all this mass/energy got here in the beginning.
Using the uncreated Creator is an redundant step. If you can accept the concept of a creator popping out of nothingness, then just eliminate this unnecessary step and accept that the universe popped out of nothingness....
However, as I read in your post, you don't really embrace the uncreated Creator anyway. So this is inconsequential.
One thing to consider is how the laws of physics break down at the point of singularity. If you accept the Big Bang theory that our universe sprang forth from a singularity then look at what that does to your math. The infinitely small point containing the entire mass/energy of the universe? It becomes evident that the laws that govern mass/energy are inadequate to explain the behavior of this point and subsequently there may be ways around the Law of Conservation of Mass/Energy (which, I'm inferring, is the source of your dissatisfaction with the uncreated universe).
Unfortunately, I lack the skill with which your other respondent wrote and explained his/her view. I hope what I've written make some sense. It is pretty much the same as the other writer's view but I think that focusing on the singularity will show that at some point (bad pun) the laws of physics that work in an expanded universe cannot be applied to the very start. A quantum physicist would be good to have around right now to explain this better. ; )
Of course, this all hinges on the acceptance of the Big Bang theory or some very close relative of it....
And blogger Danny Noonan wrote me this:
This is a question I have posed many times before. Many people assume that I am an atheist because I am often very condescending towards religion. I am actually more of an agnostic. My big problem with any religion is that religious people believe in things without proof. I don't really care what those things are, as long as there is no evidence for them, it makes no sense to me to hold any sort of belief about the subject at all. I've been in conversations with groups of religious folk and atheists together and the atheists often expect me to take their side. But to me, atheists are the same as religious (maybe a little less scary). They believe in something. They believe that there is no god. There is no evidence that there is no god (or that there is a god). I'm perfectly comfortable not believing either way on the subject.
The "who created the creator?" argument reminds me of a conversation I had in college. Some ID proponent spoke at the University as part of a series sponsored by one of the religious goofball groups. His name escapes me but he is sort of prominant in the field. He basically centered his presentation around the argument that the universe is so complex that it could not have happened by chance so there must have been a creator. Durring the Q&A at the end I asked him, "If there is a being that is able to create the universe, as complex as it is, how complex must this being be? How could this being have come into existance? If the probability of the universe happening by chance is so small, isn't the probability of a being complex enough to create such a universe coming into existance by chance even smaller?" He was obviously flustered and totally broke stride from his "scientific" argument. He talked about faith and the uncreated creator. To me it was an obvious cop out but, sadly, the religious goofball audience seemed to buy it.
Finally check out these two excellent posts discussing my post from Ed Brayton and Jason Kuznicki.