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Seidensticker Folly #73: Philosophy & “Who Created God?”

Seidensticker Folly #73: Philosophy & “Who Created God?” July 12, 2021

Atheist and anti-theist Bob Seidensticker runs the influential Cross Examined blog. He asked me there, on 8-11-18“I’ve got 1000+ posts here attacking your worldview. You just going to let that stand? Or could you present a helpful new perspective that I’ve ignored on one or two of those posts?” He added in June 2017 in a combox“If I’ve misunderstood the Christian position or Christian arguments, point that out. Show me where I’ve mischaracterized them.” Delighted to oblige his wishes . . .

Bob (for the record) virtually begged and pleaded with me to dialogue with him in May 2018, via email. But by 10-3-18, following massive, childish name-calling attacks against me,  encouraged by Bob on his blog, he banned me from commenting there. I also banned him for violation of my rules for discussion, but (unlike him) provided detailed reasons for why it was justified.

Bob’s cowardly hypocrisy knows no bounds. On 6-30-19, he was chiding someone for something very much like his own behavior: “Spoken like a true weasel trying to run away from a previous argument. You know, you could just say, ‘Let me retract my previous statement of X’ or something like that.” Yeah, Bob could!  He still hasn’t yet uttered one peep in reply to — now — 72 of my critiques of his atrocious reasoning.

Bible-Basher Bob reiterated and rationalized his intellectual cowardice yet again on 12-21-20: “I love people who can make cogent arguments against mine or point out data I hadn’t considered before. What I dislike (and ban) are $#&*%@s who . . . refuse to learn/adapt . . . ignore compelling arguments against their position, and so on.”

Bible-Basher Bob’s words will be in blue. To find these posts, follow this link: “Seidensticker Folly #” or see all of them linked under his own section on my Atheism page.

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I am responding to Bob’s post entitled, “But Who Created God?” an Atheist Fallacy? (7-6-21; recycled from a paper dated 12-10-16). I made a similar response in my article, Seidensticker Folly #38: Eternal Universe vs. an Eternal God (4-16-20). Here I will be applying a different angle: the establishment of the notion of an eternal non-material entity (in some cases very much like God) strictly from non-Christian, and even non-theistic classic philosophy. If we can establish that, then we have a ready non-biblical answer to supply to atheists who are gleefully seeking to embarrass Christians with the (rather silly) “gotcha!” question of “Who created God?! Huh? Tell me!”

And the short answer is: “no one or nothing. And we don’t have to explain (on the spot, under the usual atheist polemical “pressure”) how God can exist eternally if indeed there are respectable philosophical analyses many hundreds of years old that establish the notion of an eternal immaterial entity that always existed. We say that the theistic, biblical God is such an entity and that He has a non-biblical philosophical justification, or at the very least a philosophical rationale that analogically goes a long way towards establishing the existence of such a God.”

In other words, “it ain’t just fairy tales or religion / theology, from the Bible.” It’s secular philosophy. And I would add, this view is significantly more rational, plausible, and sensible than the atheist view of “the universe began from no discernible cause out of nothing, for no known reason.” Now there is a view that is neither scientific, philosophical, plausible, or rational. Christians can easily turn the tables with regard to this sort of discussion. The atheist has far more to explain than we do. And (believe me) they usually take a pass when challenged in this way.

Bob wrote:

Sure, we can define God as “the uncreated creator of the universe” (or indeed anything) but if that definition is supposed to be an argument for this God, then you’re as disconnected from reality as the physicist.

Don’t pretend that you can sit back with your arms crossed as if you’ve justified your position in any way. Your religion may say that God was uncreated, but that is no answer in the real world. If “Who created God?” exposes an unsupported part of your argument, then come back after you have justified the claim that God was uncreated. Make it a conclusion, not a presupposition.

And before you say that the Bible confirms that God is eternal (for example, “The hope of eternal life, which God . . . promised before the beginning of time” from Titus 1:2), remember that “the Bible says so” is theology, not evidence.

Expert on Plato and Neoplatonism Bernard Suzanne described Plato’s religious views:

“God” with a capital G . . . doesn’t exist in Plato, . . . Plato speaks of “the gods (hoi theoi), or “the god (ho theos)”, in some cases of “god”, but then in the same way we would talk of “man”, using the word as a generic name. He also speaks of “the divine (to theion)”.

Thus, if by “God” you mean the god of Christianity, Yahweh, the Holy Trinity and the like, there is none of it in Plato or Aristotle. However, if you are looking for “traces” in Plato and Aristotle of a concept that somehow anticipates this god, or if you want to know what is their stand as regards what we are used to call “religion”, this is another matter. . . .

I think Plato knew perfectly well that on such matters, it is impossible to give complete answers with human words. Thus, he tried to approach the question from different angles and give partial complementary (and not contradictory) answers, both negative (what gods are not, what we should not believe) and positive (what we may safely believe about gods and the divine, and questions of “origins” and “ends”).

In that respect, the answers he gives in the Timæus have to be “qualified” by the purpose of this dialogue: it purports to show man how he should look at the kosmos, that is “theorize” it (from theorein, which means in Greek “contemplate”), to find in it traces of an organizing “intelligence” . . . Plato himself repeats time and again that he does not state definite truths but tells only “likely myths”.

In it, you will find not “God”, but a “demiourgos“, that is a “worker” (etymologically, demiourgos means “one who works for the demos, that is for the people”), which is immortal by nature but works from a model and has to deal with anagkè, necessity. Though he does not seem to be the maker of “place (chôra)” and matter, he is the maker of time, “a moving image of eternity”, and of “lower” gods, that are only immortal by his will. These gods represent the immortal living creatures that are needed to have all sorts of creatures in the kosmos. They are the makers of man as the “host” of a divine soul (the logos) handed them by the demiourgos. But you will also read that the kosmos is often referred to as a “god”, endowed with a soul.

Plato (bet. 423-428-c. 347 BC), the ancient Greek philosopher, was not a theist (at least not in the way philosophers habitually use the term); he’s more like a pantheist or panentheist (in many respects like the view of Einstein and David Hume). R. Hackworth, in his paper, “Plato’s Theism” (The Classical Quarterly, Vol. 30, No. 1 (Jan., 1936), Cambridge University Press) shows why Plato (even if a theist) believes things that Christian theists do not believe:

The problem is complicated at the outset by Plato’s very wide application of Theos [Greek for “God”] . . . many things are called ‘Gods’ or ‘divine’: the Demiurge is a Theos, so is the created Universe (Tim. 34B, 92C), so are the stars and planets (Tim. 40D) and the gods of popular theology (Tim. 40E), and the (possible) plurality of good souls in Laws X; the adjective Theios is commonly applied to the Forms . . .

S. Marc Cohen, Professor Emeritus of Philosophy at the University of Washington, wrote in a course syllabus about Plato’s theory of forms:

  1. Characteristics of Forms

    1. A general metaphysical and epistemological theory. Central to all of Plato’s thought, but nowhere systematically argued for. Not stated in any one dialogue; we must cull from several (but principally Phaedo and Republic).
    2. A theory of postulated abstract objects, deriving from the Socratic “What is X?” question, which presupposes that there is a single correct answer to the “What is X?” question.
      1. The correct answer is not a matter of convention, of what we all (or most of us) think.
      2. What makes such an answer correct: it is an accurate description of an independent entity, a Form.
      3. Forms are thus mind-independent entities: their existence and nature is independent of our beliefs and judgments about them.
    3. The Phaedo contains an extended description of the characteristics and functions of the forms:
      • Unchangeable (78c10-d9)
      • Eternal (79d2)
      • Intelligible, not perceptible (79a1-5)
      • Divine (80a3, b1)
      • Incorporeal (passim)
      • Causes of being (“The one over the many”) (100c)
      • Are unqualifiedly what their instances are only with qualification (75b)
    4. Other dialogues fill out the picture: non-temporal (Tim. 37e-38a); non-spatial (Phaedr. 247c); they do not become, they simply are (Tim. 27d3-28a3).
    5. Phaedo 80b provides a good summary, listing all the attributes of Forms that souls also have: “divine, deathless, intelligible, uniform, indissoluble, always the same as itself.”

Thus, we have the notion of an eternal and unchangeable ideas, forms, immaterial entities (call them what we will) from one of the greatest philosophers of all time, who lived three-and-a-half centuries before Christ. This represents a philosophical basis for many Christian notions about God, but particularly His eternity, which is the topic under immediate consideration.

As a second example of a great philosopher who argues for eternal immaterial entities without reference to either theism per se or Christianity, I submit the founder of Neoplatonism: Plotinus (c. 205-270 AD). He never, by the way, made mention of Christianity in any of his writings. His views (i.e., having to do with our subject) are summed up by atheist and former Catholic Professor of Philosophy John Messerly:

The One – Plotinus taught that there is a supreme, godlike, totally transcendent One containing no division, multiplicity or distinction. The One is beyond all categories of being and non-being. The One isn’t a thing or a person; it isn’t the sum of all things; and it isn’t sentient or self-aware. But the One is the first principle; it is good; and nothing could exist without it. The One is the source of the world, but it doesn’t create the world by willful action. Instead, reality emanates from the One, as an outpouring or overflowing of its nature in an ongoing temporal process. In other words, the One reflects itself onto lower planes, but these reflections represent limits on the One’s perfection.

Nous – The first emanation from the One is Nous (Divine Mind, Logos, Thought, Reason, Intelligence.) This intelligence contemplates both the One, as well as its own thoughts, and Plotinus identifies Nous with the Platonic Forms (eide).

Soul – The second emanation brings soul, the creative power of which is divided into the upper aspect, World Soul, which remains in contact with Nous, and the lower aspect, identified with nature, which allows for individual human souls.

Matter – The third emanation results in matter, the lowest level of being, and is thus the least perfected level of the cosmos.

Mystical Experience – To experience the One is to be in an ecstatic union with it, a union Porphyry says that Plotinus achieved multiple times in his life. This union with the One is probably related to enlightenment and other concepts of mystical union common to many Eastern and Western traditions.

This Metaphysics – The concept of the One is similar to the concept of Brahman in Hinduism. It also has much in common with pantheism, the view that god and reality are identical. The idea that all reality is divine shows up throughout the history of philosophy and religion—most notably in the pantheism of Spinoza. The idea that nous contemplates Platonic ideas finds echoes in St. Augustine. And, no doubt, other parallels could be drawn between Plotinian metaphysics and other thinkers.

Here is another description of Plotinus’ idea of “the One”, from Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy (“Plotinus”): written by Lloyd P. Gerson, Professor of Philosophy at the University of Toronto:

The One is the absolutely simple first principle of all. It is both ‘self-caused’ and the cause of being for everything else in the universe. There are, according to Plotinus, various ways of showing the necessity of positing such a principle. These are all rooted in the Pre-Socratic philosophical/scientific tradition. A central axiom of that tradition was the connecting of explanation with reductionism or the derivation of the complex from the simple. That is, ultimate explanations of phenomena and of contingent entities can only rest in what itself requires no explanation. If what is actually sought is the explanation for something that is in one way or another complex, what grounds the explanation will be simple relative to the observed complexity. Thus, what grounds an explanation must be different from the sorts of things explained by it. According to this line of reasoning, explanantia that are themselves complex, perhaps in some way different from the sort of complexity of the explananda, will be in need of other types of explanation. In addition, a plethora of explanatory principles will themselves be in need of explanation. Taken to its logical conclusion, the explanatory path must finally lead to that which is unique and absolutely uncomplex.

The One is such a principle. Plotinus found it in Plato’s Republic where it is named ‘the Idea of the Good’ and in his Parmenides where it is the subject of a series of deductions (137c ff.). The One or the Good, owing to its simplicity, is indescribable directly. We can only grasp it indirectly by deducing what it is not (see V 3. 14; VI 8; VI 9. 3). Even the names ‘One’ and ‘Good’ are fautes de mieux. Therefore, it is wrong to see the One as a principle of oneness or goodness, in the sense in which these are intelligible attributes. The name ‘One’ is least inappropriate because it best suggests absolute simplicity.

If the One is absolutely simple, how can it be the cause of the being of anything much less the cause of everything? The One is such a cause in the sense that it is virtually everything else (see III 8. 1; V 1. 7, 9; V 3. 15, 33; VI 9. 5, 36). This means that it stands to everything else as, for example, white light stands to the colors of the rainbow, or the way in which a properly functioning calculator may be said to contain all the answers to the questions that can be legitimately put to it. Similarly, an omniscient simple deity may be said to know virtually all that is knowable. In general, if A is virtually B, then A is both simpler in its existence than B and able to produce B.

Now, it’s not my present purpose to present (or even summarize) all the arguments that Plato and Plotinus made for their views under consideration. Readers may follow the “lead” of this article and pursue those as they wish. I’m simply trying to establish that serious, solid (non-Christian / non-theist) philosophical arguments exist — and certainly from many more renowned philosophers than just these two — for both the notion of eternity itself and eternal uncreated immaterial entities (analogous in many ways to the theistic and biblical God).

Some other famous philosophers who may be considered Platonists are Gottlob Frege (1848-1925), Kurt Gödel (1906-1978), Edmund Husserl (1859-1938), and Simone Weil (1909-1943).

Under the category of “Neoplatonist” we might classify the following eminent philosophers: Blaise Pascal (1623-1662), Gottfried Wilhelm Leibniz (1646-1716), Immanuel Kant (1724-1804), Søren Kierkegaard (1813-1855), Henri Bergson (1859-1941), W. V. O. Quine (1908-2000), Saul Kripke (1940- ), Alvin Plantinga (1932- ), Peter van Inwagen (1942- ), Nicholas Wolterstorff (1932- ), Joseph Cardinal Ratzinger (Pope Benedict XVI) (1927- ), Boethius (c. 477-524), St. Augustine (354-430), St. Anselm (c. 1034-1109), Origen (c. 184-c. 253), and St. Bonaventure (1221-1274).

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Photo credit: adonesFAO (8-4-17) [PixabayPixabay License]

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Summary: I construct an argument designed to answer the atheists’ polemical “gotcha!” question, “Who created God?” from secular, non-theist philosophy; in particular: Plato and Plotinus.

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