One of the most simplistic and easy to dismiss philosophical arguments against the existence of God was raised famously by Richard Dawkins in the God Delusion, but has probably been around for much longer. It essentially states, that if the universe was designed, then who designed the designer? At a quick glance, it appears like a real “gotcha” question, but this ignores the fact that virtually all understandings of God, across all time, places and culture have held the view that God is uncreated and eternal, entirely negating any need for God to have a creator.
This idea is found in numerous holy scriptures of most of the world’s religions, so it’s a bit strange or perhaps even ignorant that this argument ever rose. In Christianity and Judaism, there are references to an eternal, unchanging creator scattered throughout (Psalms 90 is a beautiful and poetic example, as well as Genesis of course). The Qur’an also has numerous quotes of a creator and its eternal nature. The Arabic term badi means a creator with nothing necessary to pre-exist but itself in order to create. The first chapter of the Tao Te Ching, the primary text of Taoism, in it’s first few lines speaks of the universe being created by the unvarying, unchanging Tao. And in Hinduism, it’s a little bit more complicated due to the diversity of belief within the religious system. The Upanishads – among Hinduism’s most ancient and sacred texts – is relatively vague about the creation of the universe. But in the Bhagavad Gita, an incredibly important scriptural text, it can be explicitly found: “Brahman (a term for the ground of all existence) is that which is immutable, and independent of any cause but itself”.
So basically, a very quick look at some of the sacred texts of the world’s religions makes the “who created God?” question appear a little ridiculous. But to me, it raises a much more interesting and challenging question, “who created the concept of God and what does this mean for God’s existence?”
Undoubtedly, every religion approaches the idea of God in different ways, and even within religions, the understanding varies rather significantly. Without going into too much detail, there are concepts of a personal and impersonal God. One that is pure Love, one that is vengeful. One that is maternal, or one that is paternal. A God that is one single, undivided entity or a God that manifests into others gods and avatars. A God that is separate from the universe, a God that is the universe, or one that is both. There’s an endless list of differences and they can’t all be correct. So without much scientific evidence that one idea is more true than any other, should we just accept that God was just made up in the heads of people thousands of years ago to help them explain the world or cope with suffering?
Not necessarily. Since the palaeolithic age, humanity has had an awareness of an ever present sacred reality, which later became known as God, Tao, Brahman etc. Though there is little evidence from the period, by looking at hunter-gatherer societies such as in Australia, Africa and South America, some glimpses into the past can be ascertained.
Our ancestors were perhaps pantheistic, believing in a World Soul of sorts where each animal was part of that divine reality. Being much closer and connected to the earth and the cycle of life and death than we are today, to me it isn’t inconceivable that they were more able to intuit or experience something greater to the universe than what we can perceive with senses. Some sort of inexplicable Mystery linking all things. To read this idea in detail, please have a look at Karen Armstrong’s The Case for God.
Moreover, those who have the mystical experience across all genuine religions and spiritual traditions return reporting this same mystery. The Ultimate Reality is utterly incomprehensible, infinite, intangible, beyond all thought and concepts. Something that brought us into being and connects us all together. Whether it is a monk in divine union, a Buddhist experiencing Nirvana, or a Hindu who has undergone complete Self-realisation, all suggest the same Mystery albeit using different language according to the tradition and culture in which they were raised. What many mystics have often described this experience of God is by saying “neti, neti, not this, not this”, essentially meaning that words and thoughts are useless and too limiting to conceptualise the divine (this is part of what is known as apophatic theology).
But regardless, efforts have been made to understand the mystical experience as well as what layman experience in their everyday interactions with the divine. And these attempts of explaining – whether it is a God of love, wrath, impersonal, or that there are multiple gods – are how many differing conceptions have emerged across time and religion. It’s not that differing religions’ conceptions of God are entirely false or untrue, but rather the people who have witnessed an act of God or experienced God in a certain way, attribute words and ideas to the divine and subsequently theorise about its nature. A hint of truth is there, but their words ultimately fall short of truly grasping it.
Nevertheless, this is why I believe there are truths behind each of the religions. Each can shed insight on the nature of God, and it is also why each conception appears to have similarities. In most religions, the divine is eternal, infinite, omnipresent, and is what brought the universe into being as well as what sustains it. In addition, love is also generally considered a key attribute to God, being a binding factor of the universe as well as the core teaching of all the major world religions.
But in the end, all of our theorising of God’s nature are just indicators which point towards that inexpressible, infinite mystery that seems to give us meaning in the universe and has been with us throughout our entire journey on this planet. Perhaps the most accurate conception is one that makes God as grand as possible with the limited tools of language we have, not one that restricts the Ground of All Being to any one attribute. So to answer my own question, we created God, the concept of God I mean. But we use our creation to try to explain and understand something greater than this universe that since time immemorial, we as humans have always intuitively and experientially known was there.
Karen Armstrong, The Case for God