Leading atheists like Christopher Hitchens, Richard Dawkins and Sam Harris are convinced they have refuted the traditional idea that the chains of causation in the universe imply the existence of a creator. In his book The God Delusion, Dawkins concedes that the universe is fantastically complex and gives every indication of design. Even so, Dawkins notes that we cannot infer a creator because such a creator would have to be at least as complex as the universe that he has supposedly designed. Therefore Dawkins concludes that “the theist’s answer has utterly failed” because it has only pushed the problem back by one level. “If God created the universe,” Sam Harris writes in his book Letter to a Christian Nation, “what created God?”
Both Dawkins and Harris are very proud of this argument. Harris triumphantly notes that to say the universe must have been created by God “poses an immediate problem of an infinite regress.” Why, in other words, does the chain of causation have to stop with God? Why can’t it go on forever? Harris argues that the Christian answer simply won’t do because “to say that God by definition is uncreated simply begs the question.” Dawkins haughtily concludes that “I see no alternative but to dismiss” the theistic argument. These debunkers of religion think they have, with scientific precision, exposed a thousand years of metaphysical reasoning as irrational. Take that, Aquinas!
In my forthcoming book What’s So Great About Christianity, out from Regnery in October, I take on the arguments of the atheists. Here let’s revisit the traditional Christian argument for a creator in the form that Aquinas presented it. Aquinas begins with two principles that are today at the heart of all scientific reasoning. He argues that every effect requires a cause, and that nothing in the world is the cause of its own existence.
Whenever you encounter A, it has to be caused by some other B. But then B has to be accounted for, and let us say it is caused by C. This tracing of causes, Aquinas says, cannot continue indefinitely, because if it did then nothing would have come into existence. Therefore there must be an original cause that is responsible for the chain of causation in the first place. To this first cause he gives the name God.