It happens that this is one of the most famous and elementary objections of the materialists. More clearly, they say, "If God created everything, then who created God?" It is not clear to us how long Russell encountered this objection, but since this question occurs to many youths, it must be accurately studied.
There are several fundamental points that exist here, and by paying attention to them, the answer to this objection will become clear:
First, if we accept the materialist belief and also claim what Russell has claimed, will we be free from this objection? Clearly not, because the materialists also believe in the principle of causality. They consider everything in the natural world to be the effect of another thing. Therefore, we can ask them the same question about matter. If everything is the effect of matter, then what is matter the effect of?
Based on this, and keeping in mind that the chain of cause and effect cannot go on forever, all the philosophers of the world, including materialist and religious philosophers, believe in an eternal being, a being that always existed. However, the materialists say that the eternal being of the universe is matter or the combination of matter and energy. And theists say the central source is God. In this manner, it becomes clear that Russell has no choice but to believe in an eternal being, even if it is matter.
Secondly, can this eternal being have a cause? Certainly not. Why? Because an eternal being always existed, and a thing that always existed does not need a cause. Only that being is in need of a cause which did not exist at one time and then came to existence. Ponder over this.
As a result, everyone is in agreement about the existence of an eternal source. And the firm proofs for the invalidity of an infinite series of cause and effect has obliged all philosophers to admit that there is an eternal origin. Therefore, contrary to what Russell has imagined, the disagreement among theist and materialist philosophers isn't that one accepts the cause of all causes and the other does not. Rather, both equally believe in the first cause and cause of all causes.
So where is the disagreement then? It must clearly be stated that the only difference is that theists believe that the first cause has knowledge and willpower, and they name him God. But the materialists imagine it to be without knowledge and willpower, and they name it matter.
Now how did a matter so clear remain unknown to Russell? We can only say that he was an expert in mathematics, natural sciences, and social science, not in primary philosophy, such as recognition of existence and its source and effects.
From what was stated, we also come to the conclusion that religious philosophers do not only use the proof of "cause of all causes" to prove the existence of God, because this only proves the existence of a primary cause. In other words, it proves the existence of an eternal being in whom the materialists also believe. The important issue for the religious philosophers after proving the existence of the first cause is to prove that He has endless knowledge. This matter can easily be proved by studying the order of creation, its secret wonders, and the calculated laws which govern over the skies, Earth, and various living beings. Ponder over this.
This was the first necessary discussion in answer to this objection. The other necessary matter is that this objection is based on the belief that every being is in need of a cause and creator. This law is not universal and is only true in those cases where a thing previously did not exist and later came to existence. Ponder over this.
To shed further light on this point, we say that there are beings that exist now which previously did not exist, such as the solar system and living beings, both plants and animals. Their history shows that their existence is not eternal. Based on their differences, they did not exist a few million or a few billion years ago, and then they came into existence. Evidently, for the coming about of such beings, a cause or causes are necessary. Clearly, the separation of the Earth from the sun, based on Laplace's hypothesis and others formed after him, was due to particular causes, whether we are completely aware of them or not. Similarly, the coming about of the first sprout of plant life, then animal, and then human life are all indebted to causes. Therefore, scientists are continuously striving to find these causes. If their existence was not due to causes, there is no reason for them to come about a million or billion years ago. Why didn't they come about in twice as much time or half as much? The selection of these particular times is the best proof for the fact that the conditions and causes of their coming into being were only certain at those times.
But if a being is eternal, whether we call that eternal being God or matter, it does not need any causes. It does not need a creator or a god, because there is no history of His coming about, and so that the place of cause and creator is empty in this history. The existence of an eternal thing takes rise from its essence, not from outside its essence so that it will be in need of a creator. Think over this.
You, I, the Earth, the sky, the solar system, and so forth are in need of a creator, because our existence is not eternal and not from within ourselves. The first cause and cause of all causes is not such, because His existence is from His self.
A Clear Example
Philosophers have mentioned examples to explain this philosophical statement and make it more understandable. For instance, they say, "When we look inside our work room or living room, we see that it is illuminated." We ask ourselves, is the illumination from the room itself?
Then we immediately say no, because if the illumination came about from the room itself, the room would never get dark. But sometimes it is illuminated, and sometimes it is dark. Therefore, its illumination is not from itself. And we quickly come to the conclusion that the brightness of our room or house is from the light particles that shine in it.
Then we immediately ask ourselves: where does the brightness of light particles come from?
With a little thought, we come to the conclusion that the brightness of a light particle is of itself and comes about from within its essence. Light particles have not borrowed their property of brightness. Nowhere in the world can you find light particles that are dark and then take brightness from something else. No matter where light particles are, they are bright. The brightness is a part of their essence, and it is not borrowed. It is perhaps possible for light particles to be destroyed, but it is not possible for them to exist but be dark. Contemplate this.
Therefore, if someone says that the brightness of every area and locale in the world is an effect of light, and then asks where the brightness of light is from, we immediately say that the brightness of light is a part of its essence. Similarly, when it is said the existence of everything is God's, and then someone wonders whose the existence of God is, we immediately answer it is His own and from within His essence.
The author of over a hundred books and articles on religious and social topics, including a commentary on the Holy Qur'an, Ayatollah Nasir Makarem Shirazi is followed as a Religious Authority by millions of Shias around the world today. He lives and teaches in the holy city of Qom, Iran.
EDITOR'S NOTE: Islamic Insights would like to thank Sayyid Baqir Imrani for translating this article from Farsi into English.