Faith and Fallacy
Who made Hashem?
“I want it because…because…because…because…I want it.”
-Naomi, my 2-year-old daughter
I love watching my kids discover that things have reasons, and then, slowly figure out how to use their own power of reasoning.
I relish seeing them stumble through ad hoc theories as to why certain things happened, and cook up over-confident predictions about what’s going to happen in the future based on their mental models of cause and effect.
Naomi, for instance, has entered her “because”-stage, in which she uses the word “because” as much as she can, well before she’s decided what reason she wants to insert after the “because.” This usually leads her to resort to tautology (e.g. “I want it because…I want it”).
The essence of human intelligence is our ability to think through cause and effect.
Unsurprisingly, this is why the logical faculty of the mind is called “reason.”
Kids are infamous for relentlessly asking, “….but why?” to matters that adults take for granted.
Why is the sky blue?
Why do I have to go to sleep?
Why can YOU be on your phone, then?
Adults, in turn, are infamous for getting infuriated, and either making up answers, or responding with the dogmatic “because that’s just the way it is!” The hope here being that if they say this forcefully enough, it will put an end to the inquisition by the wide-eyed, little humans staring them down.
The truth is, though, that the animating soul of all human inquiry and intellectual advancement is the tenacious curiosity about the reasons behind the phenomena of the world.
All of our achievements in science and technology — and Torah study for this matter — have been the fruit of hard-fought research by people who did not allow themselves to stop asking “why?” — no matter how many adults answered them “because that’s just the way it is.”
This is what makes the question of my 8-year-old daughter Leah so compelling:
“Who made Hashem?”
If everything has a reason, why doesn’t God?
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I can justify the occasional “because I said so” when I have to get my kids to bed, or to brush their teeth 80-minutes past so-called “bedtime,” but when they ask these profound, holy questions, looking to me with pure curiosity, how can I brush them off?
These are earnest questions whose answers make a big difference. They deserve earnest answers.
What IS the answer to Who created God?
Is there an answer to this question??
Let’s think this through together, resisting the urge to reply with dogma.
We can start with a simpler question and see where it takes us:
Who created my iPhone?
A company called Apple in California designed it, and had it manufactured overseas.
Well, because that’s how they make money.
Why do they need money?
So that the people who work there can buy stuff they need.
Why do people need stuff?
Well, to stay alive a person needs food, clean water, clothing, a roof over their head…
Why can’t people give people what they need for free if they need it to live??
That’s a good question. Because those people also need money to buy the stuff they need to live.
Ohhh…ok….well, who created people with these needs?
Every person is alive because his or her mother gave birth to them after carrying them in their wombs. And just because I know you’re going to ask me: they got there in the first place because one of the tens of millions of sperm from his or her father made it there to fertilize one of his or her mother’s eggs.
OK. And I suppose that goes all the way back to the first father and mother?
And why do mothers and fathers know to get together for this purpose?
Well, the most primordial answer is because they are attracted to each other due to their biological make-ups.
I see. And why is human biology like that?
Well, the DNA molecule contained in every single cell of the human body codes proteins and hormones for this.
Because the DNA molecules that failed to code for physiological attraction that led to reproduction disappeared from the gene pool.
That makes sense. And why is it that our universe naturally facilitates the development of such an elegant molecule as DNA that is so essential to life?
That’s just the way our universe is.
The fundamental forces of the universe are shockingly attuned to one another so as to yield a coherent, harmonious physical reality.
And WHY are the fundamental forces of the universe so shockingly attuned to one another so as to facilitate a coherent, harmonious physical reality???
At this point we should pause to appreciate that we’ve nearly reached the frontier of scientific explanation. Science explains how things IN the universe function using replicable predictive models of cause and effect.
Science, however, never purported to explain science itself.
Asking why the universe itself is the way it is — is a categorically different question than asking about any given phenomenon in the universe. (You can read more here about the limits of science).
There are 3 basic options for how to go about answering this question. I will list them from most absurd to most plausible:
Everything that exists inexplicably emerged with the Big Bang from utter nothingness. The universe is the way it is for no reason at all.
The universe is an infinite, causal chain that just keeps going and going forever and ever and ever, without an ultimate cause...
The universe, including all of its matter & energy, space-time itself, and the laws of nature themselves exist because of a Singular, Higher Order Being that is the Source of All Existence, and there is no cause higher than It.
Without getting too lost in philosophical mumbo jumbo, let’s discuss why Approach #1 gets the gold medal in logical absurdity.
If nothingness is true nothing, then nothing can be said about it.
It can’t even be called “it” because it is no thing. “It,” therefore, cannot possess any properties that cause anything else to happen — certainly not the emergence of an exquisitely elegant universe like ours.
In short, there is literally no reason why nothing can become something.
You might respond, “well, the universe is a mysterious place,” which it is, but to give up on reasons altogether just before arriving at the Ultimate Reason is disingenuous. Insofar as we can use our reasoning to investigate the reasons for everything in the world, and, in theory, prefer to believe the most reasonable of the explanations at our disposal, there is nothing more unreasonable than to say that the universe itself has no reason for its existence.
Now you know why approach #1 is absurd, but feel free to adopt it for no good reason whatsoever.
(I did manage to write something about nothing here, if you’re interested!)
Approach #2 is more attractive precisely because it preserves reasonability. It states that everything has a reason, and therefore, no matter how far back you go, you can keep asking “why?” — with the assumption that you will eventually find a cause that caused it.
Your business, for example, is governed by the forces of behavioral economics, which can be explained by sociology and psychology, which are functions of neuroscience, which, of course, depend on the inner workings of biology that are moved at their foundations by organic and physical chemistry, which ultimately can be reduced to the four fundamental forces of physics, and described by the theorems and postulates of mathematics.
The laws of physics are the way they are because of quantum mechanics. Quantum mechanics is a function of some meta-quantum mechanics that has yet to be discovered, which emerged from some meta-meta-quantum mechanics, and so on…forever.
This theory presumes that the universe came from the Big Bang, but the singularity that banged actually came from a Big Crunch of a universe that came before it, which itself had a Big Bang at some point that was also recycled from the previous universe…
Is this possible?
Maybe. Let’s keep exploring with a parable.
Imagine you go for a walk one day and encounter a massive metal chain rising up to the sky. You instinctively look up to see where it’s hanging from. Some guy next to the chain says to you, “I guess you’re wondering what it’s hanging from, aren’t you?”
“Yes, I am. What’s it hanging from?”
“Nothing,” he answers.
“What do you mean ‘nothing’?”
“I mean nothing,” he replies. “It just keeps going and going.”
“How’s that possible?”
“Every link in the chain is hanging on the link above it.”
You close your eyes to ponder this. After nearly getting a migraine thinking about it, you realize that if the chain didn’t have an anchor somewhere — even if the chain were indeed infinitely long — it wouldn’t be stationary…
It would be falling…
This is reminiscent of the World Turtle myth that occurs in Hindu, Chinese and some Native American mythologies, which sought to answer the important question of what was sustaining the Earth.
The answer, of course, was the backs of five elephants.
Oh, that makes sense!
But wait! What sustains those elephants???
The back of a giant turtle.
Oh…phew. Otherwise, those elephants would be falling in the cosmic ether, which incidentally would be terrible for us on Earth…
…but hold on!
…what is the turtle resting on?!?
Yeah, that’s a fair question, but it’s actually turtles all the way down.
While Approach #2 appears to be more rational than Approach #1, it merely punts the same problem infinitely down the field, making you feel like you don’t have to think about it anymore.
Until you do.
Which brings us to Approach #3, which states that there must be an Existential Anchor that holds the causal chain. Some use the term “Ground of Being.” Aristotle and Maimonides used “Prime Mover” and “Unmoved Mover.” I like “Source of Existence” or “Ultimate Reality,” but it doesn’t matter so much. These are semantic nuances.
To keep it simple: reasoning brings us to the conclusion that there must be an Entity/Being/Reality that is not like everything else.
Everything else depends on It, and It does not depend on them.
Last week, we used the metaphor of the human imagination. If all figments of a person’s imagination were to be wiped out, her imagination would still be there, but if her imagination were to disappear, all the figments in it would disappear with it.
It is this Uncaused Ultimate Cause Who we are referring to when we say “Hashem.”
This is not unquestioned dogma; rather, it is the logical conclusion of skeptical questioning that discards the other approaches as unreasonable.
Because it comes as a result of our questioning, and we were forced by reasoning to posit that there must be an Ultimate Cause that is not caused by anything or anyone else — this is precisely why the answer to Leah’s question as to “Who created Hashem?” is no one created Hashem. Hashem is the Only One or thing Who was not created.
Again, we don’t believe this because we don’t question, we know it precisely because we do question.
It just happens to lead us to the next doozy of a question:
If God doesn’t need any of us and exists essentially, why would He create us?
He’s not the mystery.
Stay tuned to the next XL for answers…and more questions.
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