This is the weekly Q & A blog post by our Research Professor in Philosophy, Dr. William Lane Craig.
Dear Dr. Craig,
I am currently a high school student extremely interested in both philosophy and theology. My question is one that has puzzled me for a long time, and I believe that if there is anyone who could explain the answer in an understandable way, that person would be you. To be clear, I am a Christian and affirm the existence of God.
In a theistic view, why does God exist? Did He choose to exist, and to have the attributes that He does? For example, did He choose to exist in a Trinitarian form? If He chose to exist, that seems to contradict His eternal nature, and to be logically impossible as it presupposes His existence, and if He didn't choose to exist, that seems to contradict His absolute freedom. To say that He is the reason for His own existence seems to be circular reasoning. I understand that because we are finite beings, our ability to properly understand an infinite God is considerably limited, and that this question might be one that is quite difficult for anyone to answer.
Thank you for your time and attention, and for all the excellent work that you do.
Dr. William Lane Craig’s Response
Obviously, God cannot have an explanation of His existence which is external to Him, Christina, for then He would depend for His existence on whatever thing it is that explains His existence, which is incompatible with God’s being the ultimate reality. So the explanation of God’s existence must be internal to Him, that is to say, God exists by a necessity of His own nature. He is a metaphysically necessary being, a being whose nature is such that if He is possible, then He exists.
So we should not say that God chose to exist or to have the essential properties He does. As you discern, that would be viciously circular, since in order to choose to exist, He would already have to exist! If, on the other hand, saying that God exists by a necessity of His own nature “seems to contradict His absolute freedom,” there is no theological reason to affirm that God has the freedom to act contrary to His own nature. On the contrary, Christian theologians have typically asserted that God does not have the freedom (we may be thankful!) to act contrary to His nature. So the absolute freedom of which you speak is a chimaera, which we ought to reject.
Nor is it “circular reasoning” to hold that God exists by a necessity of His own nature. It would, indeed, be circular to hold that God is self-caused, since He would then have to be causally prior to Himself. But Christian theologians have typically denied that God is self-caused. Rather He is an uncaused being which exists metaphysically necessarily. That this is a coherent notion is evident by the widespread opinion that mathematical entities like numbers, sets, and functions are metaphysically necessary and uncaused. If they can be such, why not God?
Your question is helpful, Christina, in giving us a richer, more adequate concept of God.
This post and other resources are available on Dr. William Lane Craig's website: www.reasonablefaith.org