This is the weekly Q & A blog post by our Research Professor in Philosophy, Dr. William Lane Craig.
Dr Craig. Thank you for your series on Defending Your Faith, which I have been viewing. During a recent lecture on the Doctrine of God, you spoke about aseity. I have tried to find evidence of this concept prior to the scientific realisation that the universe has a start point, which led to the question about the pre-existence of God. Theists state that God is self-existent and did not need to be created. But is this just a man-made construct to explain a difficult problem raised by atheists, namely if God created the universe, who created God? How can seekers feel confident in this concept, without resorting to the bible?
Dr. William Lane Craig’s Response
Oh, my goodness, Ralph, you must be looking in all the wrong places! For abundant biblical and patristic testimony to the concept of divine aseity, you need go no farther than chapter 2 of my book God Over All (2016). Not only do the biblical authors affirm God to be the sole ultimate reality, the Creator of all things apart from Himself, but the Church Fathers held God to be the sole agenētos (unoriginated being). The idea that the concept of divine aseity did not exist until the advent of Big Bang cosmology (and as a response to it!) in the 1920s is ludicrous.
The doctrine of divine aseity is not “just a man-made construct to explain a difficult problem raised by atheists, namely if God created the universe, who created God?” In the first place, that’s not a difficult problem. If causes must be postulated in order to explain why things come into being, why think that they must be postulated to explain something that never came into being, that is eternal? Indeed, how is it even possible for a being that is past eternal to have a prior cause? Second, I think you can see from the first point that divine aseity doesn’t even enter the picture. God’s eternity suffices to dispense with the question. No appeal to divine aseity need be made at all. And, of course, it hardly needs to be said that divine eternity is an ancient biblical doctrine that long preceded the rise of atheism.
It also deserves to be said that a doctrine which originates in an effort to provide a solution to a problem is not thereby shown to be “just a man-made construct,” lacking any objective reality. That would make it impossible to ever discover some new solution to any problem, which would bring science as well as philosophy to a standstill. Of course, we want our new, proposed solutions to not be ad hoc and in line with the evidence, but that’s O.K. We just don’t want to be dismissive of a new insight because it is proposed in response to a perceived difficulty. That’s the way science often advances.
Your final question, “How can seekers feel confident in this concept, without resorting to the bible?” seems to come out of left field. The concern of your question up to this point was whether the concept of divine aseity was a modern concoction in response to the discovery that the universe had a beginning. The best way to show the silliness of such an allegation is precisely to point to the ancient biblical roots of the doctrine far before the advent of modern science. But if you’re looking as well for powerful philosophico-theological reasons for affirming divine aseity, then see the final section of the same chapter of God Over All mentioned above.