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For starter, I'm not a student in philosophy, but mathematics. I only have a general knowledge in logic and set theory, all in the context of mathematics. My question comes from a doubt I got while discussing arguments for the existence of God.

The discussion based around the argument that God exists because everything needs a creator, then someone asked the obvious question:

If everything has a creator, who created God?

To which someone responded that that is as nonsensical as asking

If every painting has a painter, who painted the painter?

My response was that the "every" in the second question only quantifies over painting and since a painter is not a painting, the question "who painted the painter" is meaningless, as the premise "every painter has a painter" is false. On the other hand, the "every" in "everything" means, at least to me and Wikipedia, "all things" or "all that exists". In particular, if we presume God exists, it falls within the range of the quantifier and so to ask "who created God" is reasonable.

The person then replies by stating:

God is not a thing, he's a being and exempt from the statement "Everything has a creator"

which made me wonder about the meaning of "everything". According to the definition I used, to say that God falls outside the range of "everything" means that it doesn't exist.

As expressed here, if I understand correctly, to define "everything" as "all that exists" is naive, since it transfers the discussion to what "existence" means. I would then say that:

If we start with the premise "God exists", we mean that whatever definition of "existence" we're using, we assume God falls within the class of all existing things according to such definition. In particular, it still falls within the range of the quantifier "everything" and the question "who created God?" is justified

At this point, I don't care about the discussion anymore, but I'd like to know if the last argument is valid or too naive. Sorry if the question is overly basic, as I said, I never studied philosophy, so there's always a chance I'm missing something that undermines my argument.

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    Basic, yet sadly, without an answer.
    – Scott Rowe
    Dec 2, 2023 at 21:42
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    Your ref to the universal quantifier is a good one. In logig "everything" means every element in the domain of discourse. But the domains are many, also in natural language use. Dec 3, 2023 at 9:23
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    "God is not a thing, he's a being and exempt from the statement 'Everthing has a creator'" this is a very classic theist trick called "special pleading". a.k.a. "you have to play by my rules but I don't". Have the person demonstrate that God is a being or admit it's merely an axiom. When they inevitably fall back on some arbitrary and undemonstrated axiom reject it.
    – armand
    Dec 3, 2023 at 12:00
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    "God created all things that didn't create themselves, and only those things."
    – Stef
    Dec 3, 2023 at 12:22
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    @SystemTheory: Sets of all sets don't exist, by Russell's paradox.
    – Corbin
    Dec 3, 2023 at 17:36

7 Answers 7

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Just extend the painter analogy. There is a set of things that need a painter, and the painter is excluded from that set. Likewise there is a set of things that need an ultimate creator and the ultimate creator can be excluded from that set.

If you define 'everything' as meaning the set of all things including god, then the statement 'everything needs a creator' claims that even god needs a creator. If you define 'everything' as meaning 'all things excluding god' then the statement 'everything needs a creator' does not require god to have a creator. The analysis gets you nowhere. Either you claim that god does not need a creator, or you claim god does. You can't prove anything either way, since the question boils down to a belief in one or other of the two alternative premises.

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  • There can only be a meaningful discussion, if premises are agreed upon. In this case, the premise is, "what definition of 'everything' is used" and the two parties have not agreed. Just like you said, the analysis will get nowhere, because from the point of view of "everything" referring to things and God not being a "thing", God would not have to be created and so the other person is right, while from OP's perspective "everything" refers to any kind of entity and thus, God would have to be created and OP is right. Dec 4, 2023 at 14:25
  • From a philosophical point of view there is no reason not to ask, where God "came from", but there must be a shared set of premises for a meaningful discussion. Dec 4, 2023 at 14:26
  • In old gangster films I understood the phrase, "I'm gonna rub you out", meant the gangster pointing his gun expressed his intention to fire and kill the other man. I wondered about this phrase as a boy. Decades later I read Black Elk Speaks. I learn the Lakota would draw colorful pictures in the sand. Black Elk spoke of the Battle of the Hundred Slain (Fetterman Fight). The blue coat soldiers built a fort in Lakota territory with the intention to rub the Lakota out of the picture. Instead the Lakota rubbed the soldiers out. An ultimate (supernatural) source of human drama exists! The Painter? Dec 5, 2023 at 0:29
  • @Koenigsberg That confusion is exactly why I asked the question. After the second time the other person responded with "God is not a thing", I started to question my idea of what "everthing" means, because in my mind "beings" or "individuals" are definitely within the range of "everthing". As you said, premises should have been agreed upon before the discussion, so it's my mistake for not asking immediately what the domain was for "everything" in "everthing has a cause". Dec 5, 2023 at 9:19
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I agree completely with your reasoning.

Extending the answer due to @MarcoOcram, the deeper question is not a question of linguistics. IMO there is the following dilemma:

  • On one hand, the attempt from cosmology to explain the cause of the world by the existence of a god: It prompts the question about the cause of god and bans further questioning by an ad-hoc decision. See the previous question the root cause of the universe.
  • On the other hand: If one does not accept the existence of god as a cause in cosmology, then we have to leave open the question about the cause of the universe. Possibly this question reaches beyond the limit of our present understanding. It seems that today we do not have the right concepts to deal with the question.
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    I see. I think linguistic was a problem in my discussion because the other person kept replying things like "God is not a thing" and that it is an exception to "everthing need a creator", so I started to think we might be working with different interpretations of the word "everthing". I'm inclined to accept the existence of a first cause to the universe, but my issue is more "why can we assign the name "God" to such first cause, when it is such a loaded term?", because I don't see why this first cause should have any intelligence, purpose and morality, like God is described. Dec 3, 2023 at 22:23
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    It doesn't sound like much of a dilemma. There's generally nothing wrong with saying "I don't know", especially when one does not, in fact, know.
    – NotThatGuy
    Dec 4, 2023 at 3:31
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    @AlessandroNanto "I don't see why this first cause should have any intelligence, purpose and morality" - that is a common criticism that atheists raise when theists try to make first-cause-type arguments to try to prove God's existence. Some theists bite the bullet and admit that the argument doesn't get them very far, while others try to squeeze God into their conclusion.
    – NotThatGuy
    Dec 4, 2023 at 3:34
  • @NotThatGuy I guess it's a dilemma when the other person can't accept that we don't know. Some theist would be quick to take that ignorance and place their God there. Dec 5, 2023 at 9:34
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Sometimes we use the word "everything" with an implicit restriction. As the SEP article on quantification notes in a section on unrestricted quantification:

Take a typical use of a quantifier expression in English as exemplified in a typical utterance of the sentence:

(11) Everything is on sale.

In a typical context, the use of the quantifier “everything” is tacitly restricted to a domain of contextually salient objects. In particular, it would be inappropriate for another participant in the conversation to point out that the Moon is not on sale. The Moon is not an exception to the statement made by my utterance of (11) because the Moon does not lie in the domain of quantification associated to my use of the quantifier.

There are even wonky phrases like "absolute, but relative to a domain" or "relatively absolute" occurrent throughout the literature. And some deny that it is possible to refer without restriction to all things whatsoever, or rather they assert that phrases like "the set of all things whatsoever" lead to contradiction:

At the core of the problem lies the assumption that the set-theoretic paradoxes cast doubt upon the existence of a comprehensive domain of all objects. What they reveal, according to Dummett (1991, 1993), is the existence of indefinitely extensible concepts like set, ordinal, and object. For Dummett, the indefinite extensibility of set is incompatible with the existence of a comprehensive domain of all sets, since no matter what putative domain of all sets we isolate, we find that we can employ Russell’s reasoning to characterize further sets that lie beyond the putative domain of all sets with which we began. The set of all non-self-membered sets in the initial domain cannot, on pain of contradiction, be in that domain, which means that it must lie in a more comprehensive domain of all sets. If there is no domain of all sets, there is, the thought continues, no hope for a domain of all objects.

I should emphasize very strongly that Russell's paradox rules out a universal set only under specific "circumstances," circumstances in which a truly universal set would not find itself. So it is that W. V. O. Quine and Olivier Esser have proper universal sets in their theories (or Zach Weber has one in his paraconsistent theory).

Now, theology-wise, the qualification of the relevant domain of discourse is usually to all contingent things. This is ambiguous: do we mean things that are logically contingent, or metaphysically? (How much difference is there between those conditions?) Per Anselm or Descartes, or simple piety in general, one might hold that God is so ultimate that Its being is not even logically contingent. But otherwise, we will want to advert to if-inchoate talk of metaphysical modality instead, and say that even though the existences of God and beings in the world can both be denied "without contradiction," yet there is something metaphysically weaker about in-world beings such that they are contingent in the required (intended) sense, and so it is their existence, and not God's, that calls for the relevant kind of explanation (by creation). QED, as they say...


Further reading (selected SEP articles):

  1. God and Other Necessary Beings
  2. God and Other Ultimates
  3. The Epistemology of Modality
  4. Nothingness
  5. Possible Objects
  6. Impossible Worlds
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  • Sorry, when you say one could argue that God's existence is not logically contingent, you mean that a truth value cannot be assigned? (I'm going off the definition of "logically contingent" I found). Also, if I understand correctly, because the existence of in-world being is contingent, that requires an explaination, rather than God's existence, is that right? But if we assume God interacts with the world in some way, for example by creating humans after the beginning of the universe, does God became a in-world being? Dec 3, 2023 at 22:02
  • P.S. Thank you for the links, I'll be sure to read them when I have some time. Dec 3, 2023 at 22:05
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    @AlessandroNanto for more on the topic of whether God becomes intraworldly upon the creation, see about divine immutability or in a related vein this section of the SEP article on divine simplicity. But as for God not being logically contingent: I was thinking of the ontological argument for God's existence, which would mean assigning "true" to "God exists" as it were "by definition," or collapsing the existence/nonexistence distinction in Its case. Dec 3, 2023 at 22:23
  • If I assign by definition that "God exists" is "true", couldn't I also assign "false" as definition? I'm asking outside the ontological argument, just as a matter of definitions. Because it seems in such a situation, one can just assign their prefered truth value to "God exists" and the discussion would stop there. Dec 3, 2023 at 23:02
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    @AlessandroNanto the theist would prefer to start from the general idea of a being that existed by definition, and proceed to find out what kind of abilities such an entity would have, etc. and "hopefully" we would find out that such a being would count as divine. For example, if a being's existence and essence are one, its power would be as such too, which sounds like ultimate power (esp. if there is only one being whose essence and existence are one). Dec 3, 2023 at 23:11
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To avoid the infinite regress of things determining things it is necessary that the determining ground be not a thing. So what is a thing? In Kantian phenomenology a thing simply exists in the cognitive judgement that joins concept with predicate, e.g. in the copula of the concept "the coffee" is "hot" (predicate). The "is" denotes existence. From The Critique of Pure Reason A598/B626:

[the] Being [of things] ... is merely the copula of a judgement.

For the determining ground to not be a thing it should not avail itself of judgement. It should be prior to words (logos), which of course it must be if it facilitates words. An analogy would be consciousness arising from the unconscious, where 'the unconscious' is just a placeholder because, as unconscious, we cannot become conscious of it. In Kant's terminology consciousness and the things in consciousness are tangible and phenomenal; The determining ground is intangible and noumenal. Without scientific or psychological speculation Heidegger formulates the determining ground thusly, in Being & Time, H.38

[foundational] Being, as the basic theme of philosophy, is no class or genus of entities; yet it pertains to every entity. Its 'universality' is to be sought higher up. Being and the structure of Being lie beyond every entity [thing] and every possible character which an entity may possess. Being is the transcendens pure and simple.

To emphasise its intangibility, undefineability and placeholderness Heidegger would come to write Being crossed out, under erasure.

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With this non-thing as the determining ground the foundation is excluded from the set of every-thing. However there are two more difficulties: The person who makes the judgements—the Dasein—may or may not be wholly objectifiable to include in the set of every-thing. And finally, can nothing be included in the set of every-thing? Nothing has a concept: the most simple one, but when it is reified, nothing is found. Does this satisfy its existence or has it rightly excluded itself from the set of every-thing?

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  • Why is an infinite recess of things something to avoid? This whole argument, if I understand correctly, reminds me of how in ZFC set theory, the empty set acts as the "base" for all other sets and infinite recesses of sets within sets are not allowed. Howeve, there's Quine's New Foundations that allows such infinite recesses. So, a being is something on which a judgment can be made, is that right? So when you say this "determining ground" is not a thing, do you mean it is not a being? What is its relationship with the first cause of the universe? Dec 3, 2023 at 22:35
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    Not just avoidance of infinite regress. After Kant observes the contradictions e.g. of time & space in his antinomies he proceeds to base his phenomenology on one's process of understanding. "This unity [of apperception], which à priori precedes all conceptions of conjunction, is not the category of unity (§ 6); for all the categories are based upon logical functions of judgement, ... We must therefore look still higher for this unity (as qualitative, § 8)" Critique B129 Dec 4, 2023 at 11:17
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    @AlessandroNanto Yes, a being is a thing that is as a result of a judgement. The faculty that facilitates that judgement is not founded on a judgement, so it is not 'a thing' in that precise manner of definition. / For first cause of the universe, can we know exactly what 'the universe' is? This is the kind of problem Kant encountered with his antinomies. The idea of 'the universe' seems to have an element of the noumenal: A necessary word for something not rigorously understood. The determining ground is also noumenal and I could speculate to say they are connected through nature. Dec 4, 2023 at 11:22
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In logic, we take special steps to set out the domain of quantification, that is, we are careful to specify what "everything" means. In common speech, people seldom take this step and instead rely on the reasoning powers of the person they are speaking with to figure out what they mean. This is far more common in natural language than many people realize. In fact, communication would be impossible without this feature. Every time you use a metaphor or other non-literal speech, for example, you are relying on people who hear you to understand that you do not intend to be taken literally. And pretty much every time one uses a quantifier analog in common speech, one expect the listener to infer the qualification intended. For example, if you are throwing a party and your co-host says "Everyone has a drink", you understand that he probably means "everyone who is attending the party as a guest and wants a drink" and not "everyone in the world" or even necessarily "everyone in the room". If your co-host doesn't know you are about to have a toast and want to make sure even the non-drinkers and other co-hosts have a glass of something in their hand, you need to clarify.

Young people often take advantage of this characteristic of language in order to annoy people and to demonstrate how clever they are. I know I did:

Mom: Don't be so rough with your brother, David!

Me: He likes it!

Mom: He is going to get hurt. No one like to get hurt.

Me: What about masochists, Mom? They like to get hurt.

Mom: Your brother is not a masochist and don't talk about stuff like that!

Brother: What's a masochist?

Mom: See what you did?

When someone says that everything needs a cause and you ask what caused God, whether this is a bad faith (i.e.: snotty) reply like in the example above or a legitimate argument depends on the exact argument being made. For example, suppose I'm trying to explain to someone how hot air balloons work and they don't understand how air can weigh anything. If I say, "Everything has weight", it would be a bad faith response for you to interject that photons don't weigh anything because when I say "everything" you have to understand from the context and the point I'm making that I mean macroscopic matter.

What is their grounds for saying that everything needs a cause? Whatever those grounds are, they probably have some sort of obvious restriction. If they are arguing based on science and our intuitions and experience of the material universe then, assuming you understand the modern notion that God is not a part of the material universe, it would be a bad faith response to ask about the cause of God. If you are unaware of the nature of God as he appears in modern thought or if the argument the other person made about why everything has a cause seems general enough to include God, then it may be a good faith response.

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  • I actually didn't ask if they where arguing based on science or experience of the material world. I must have implicitly assumed they where using the premise "nothing comes from nothing", hence "everything has a cause". Also, I'm not sure how God is presented in moder thought, do you have references in mind on the topic? Finally, usually God is assumed to have some degree of interaction with the world, would that make it a part of the material world? Or something else? Dec 3, 2023 at 22:48
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    @AlessandroNanto, in most western thought, God is considered to exist outside of time and space, that is, outside the material universe. That's how he can serve as a first cause. Theists say that although God is not a material being, he can interact with the universe. Deists often claim that God does not interact with the material universe. Dec 3, 2023 at 23:57
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If everything has a creator, who created God?

If every painting has a painter, who painted the painter?

These are wrong questionings, simply nonsense. No need to think about further. The correct expression is: Everything created, has a creator.

God is not a thing, he's a being and exempt from the statement "Everything has a creator"

You can call God "a thing" or "a being", doesn't matter in this context, it stands for existence.

"everything" is only useable for things whose existence is not singular, it's not applicable to God because of singularity. unique in person, existence and attributes. Not dividable. if we say "everything" we mean "everything created"

If we start with the premise "God exists", we mean that whatever definition of "existence" we're using, we assume God falls within the class of all existing things according to such definition. In particular, it still falls within the range of the quantifier "everything" and the question "who created God?" is justified

We cannot start at the point "God exists". Why should we? You don't need God's perspective to see God. We can only start at the point we are standing, with the limited information of our senses e.g. I exist, the world around me exists, time and location... imagine a bacterium starting to ask about the forest, whereas it doesn't even know much about the cell, the organ, the animal where it lives. How would you explain to it the continent, planet... ?

We cannot directly think about the person/essence of God. We can only experience him through his works, creations, everything happening in and around us. And yes, believe is also a logical, matematical question, just like matematics is also a question of faith (for those who are asking why we landed in religion). everything is connected to eveything

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  • Sorry, how is mathematics a question of faith? Also, I started from "God exists" because my argument is that, if we can derive that God exists because "everthing has a cause", then God falls within the range of "everthing" (as in "all that exists") and so "God has a cause". Dec 5, 2023 at 9:48
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"Everything" in the context of 'creation' allows one to well-define God (or any singular diety) rather than the reverse. (def= all things in space plus on earth) things taken as well defined, same as in common context.

In the sense of Set Theory, 'everything' is a tricky notion, which allows Recursion in its definition - or preferably not: i.e. God is not in the set of 'everything' in the sense that the mere definition of capability (creation) is not a thing. *Also be wary of negative or indefinite statements, as they are the gateway to Russell's paradox (..the confusion in the above discussion).

SECONDLY: "Everything" is NOT thusly defined in the sense of a (speculated!) 'Theory Of Everything'. The ToE allows infinitely small non-mathematical elements called "particles". The mere inclusion of point-like "infinitary" representations of real particles includes Infinity in the Theory, which invokes Goedel... the speculation cannot achieve its alleged goal of Completeness.

Neither does the Physical 'Everything' include every thing, far from it in the common sense, but just a unification of four known Quantum or scalar Field Theories.

"ToE is a hopeless endeavor, another word, like alchemy, for something poorly Understand."

So, in conclusion wrt well-defining "everything"; to achieve a "self-consistent formulation", one merely requires a Finitary Particle Representation in the theory.

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