Does God Exist?

Can it be proven?

Monday, May 05, 2003



Here's a rare post that even the most conservative Catholic bloggers might like - and I'm not going to use Kung.

The Catholic Church teaches that God can be known in limited way through the light of natural reason. Following are some classic evidences for the existence of God:

Proofs of God's Existence

The method of Thomas Aquinas in Article 3 of the Summa Theologiae taken from the Catholic Encyclopedia at the following link: New Adevent

Thomas follows a method of stating objections to his own position first, then making an argument, then replying to each objection.

Objection 1. It seems that God does not exist; because if one of two contraries are infinite, the other would be altogether destroyed. But the word "God" means that He is infinite goodness. If, therefore, God existed, there would be no evil discoverable; but there is evil in the world. Therefore God does not exist.

Objection 2. Further, it is superfluous to suppose that what can be accounted for by a few principles has been produced by many. But it seems that everything we see in the world can be accounted for by other principles, supposing God did not exist. For all natural things can be reduced to one principle which is nature; and all voluntary things can be reduced to one principle, which is human reason, or will. Therefore there is no need to suppose God's existence.

On the contrary, It is said in the person of God: "I am Who am." (Exodus 3:14)

Note by J. Cecil: Thomas Aquinas does not expect the quoting of Scripture to prove anything to an atheist. His audience was primarily Christians, and he wanted to demonstrate that the God he is proving is the same God of the Bible.

I answer that, The existence of God can be proved in five ways.

Note by J Cecil: The word usually translated as "prove" is actually "probare". It is actually the etymological root of "probe". If we think of the following arguments as a probing into the question of God's existence, rather than a proof, per se, it may be a little easier to digest...

The first and more manifest way is the argument from motion. It is certain, and evident to our senses, that in the world some things are in motion. Now whatever is in motion is put in motion by another, for nothing can be in motion except it is in potentiality to that towards which it is in motion; whereas a thing moves inasmuch as it is in act. For motion is nothing else than the reduction of something from potentiality to actuality. But nothing can be reduced from potentiality to actuality, except by something in a state of actuality. Thus that which is actually hot, as fire, makes wood, which is potentially hot, to be actually hot, and thereby moves and changes it. Now it is not possible that the same thing should be at once in actuality and potentiality in the same respect, but only in different respects. For what is actually hot cannot simultaneously be potentially hot; but it is simultaneously potentially cold. It is therefore impossible that in the same respect and in the same way a thing should be both mover and moved, i.e. that it should move itself. Therefore, whatever is in motion must be put in motion by another. If that by which it is put in motion be itself put in motion, then this also must needs be put in motion by another, and that by another again. But this cannot go on to infinity, because then there would be no first mover, and, consequently, no other mover; seeing that subsequent movers move only inasmuch as they are put in motion by the first mover; as the staff moves only because it is put in motion by the hand. Therefore it is necessary to arrive at a first mover, put in motion by no other; and this everyone understands to be God.

The second way is from the nature of the efficient cause. In the world of sense we find there is an order of efficient causes. There is no case known (neither is it, indeed, possible) in which a thing is found to be the efficient cause of itself; for so it would be prior to itself, which is impossible. Now in efficient causes it is not possible to go on to infinity, because in all efficient causes following in order, the first is the cause of the intermediate cause, and the intermediate is the cause of the ultimate cause, whether the intermediate cause be several, or only one. Now to take away the cause is to take away the effect. Therefore, if there be no first cause among efficient causes, there will be no ultimate, nor any intermediate cause. But if in efficient causes it is possible to go on to infinity, there will be no first efficient cause, neither will there be an ultimate effect, nor any intermediate efficient causes; all of which is plainly false. Therefore it is necessary to admit a first efficient cause, to which everyone gives the name of God.

The third way is taken from possibility and necessity, and runs thus. We find in nature things that are possible to be and not to be, since they are found to be generated, and to corrupt, and consequently, they are possible to be and not to be. But it is impossible for these always to exist, for that which is possible not to be at some time is not. Therefore, if everything is possible not to be, then at one time there could have been nothing in existence. Now if this were true, even now there would be nothing in existence, because that which does not exist only begins to exist by something already existing. Therefore, if at one time nothing was in existence, it would have been impossible for anything to have begun to exist; and thus even now nothing would be in existence--which is absurd. Therefore, not all beings are merely possible, but there must exist something the existence of which is necessary. But every necessary thing either has its necessity caused by another, or not. Now it is impossible to go on to infinity in necessary things which have their necessity caused by another, as has been already proved in regard to efficient causes. Therefore we cannot but postulate the existence of some being having of itself its own necessity, and not receiving it from another, but rather causing in others their necessity. This all men speak of as God.

The fourth way is taken from the gradation to be found in things. Among beings there are some more and some less good, true, noble and the like. But "more" and "less" are predicated of different things, according as they resemble in their different ways something which is the maximum, as a thing is said to be hotter according as it more nearly resembles that which is hottest; so that there is something which is truest, something best, something noblest and, consequently, something which is uttermost being; for those things that are greatest in truth are greatest in being, as it is written in Metaph. ii. Now the maximum in any genus is the cause of all in that genus; as fire, which is the maximum heat, is the cause of all hot things. Therefore there must also be something which is to all beings the cause of their being, goodness, and every other perfection; and this we call God.

The fifth way is taken from the governance of the world. We see that things which lack intelligence, such as natural bodies, act for an end, and this is evident from their acting always, or nearly always, in the same way, so as to obtain the best result. Hence it is plain that not fortuitously, but designedly, do they achieve their end. Now whatever lacks intelligence cannot move towards an end, unless it be directed by some being endowed with knowledge and intelligence; as the arrow is shot to its mark by the archer. Therefore some intelligent being exists by whom all natural things are directed to their end; and this being we call God.

Reply to Objection 1. As Augustine says (Enchiridion xi): "Since God is the highest good, He would not allow any evil to exist in His works, unless His omnipotence and goodness were such as to bring good even out of evil." This is part of the infinite goodness of God, that He should allow evil to exist, and out of it produce good.

Reply to Objection 2. Since nature works for a determinate end under the direction of a higher agent, whatever is done by nature must needs be traced back to God, as to its first cause. So also whatever is done voluntarily must also be traced back to some higher cause other than human reason or will, since these can change or fail; for all things that are changeable and capable of defect must be traced back to an immovable and self-necessary first principle, as was shown in the body of the Article.

Other evidences:

1. Many people argue that if science says there was a "big-bang", what caused this bang? What was before it? The weakness of this argument is that it is a "god of the gaps" argument. However, it is a thought-provoking question.

2. Paschal's famous wager states that when you are gambling, you weigh your odds against the potential gains and losses. With the issue of God's existence, if we assume equal evidence on both sides of the debate, you have a 50/50 chance of being right.

-- If you wager there is no God, and you are wrong, you stand to potentially loose everything.
-- If you wager there is a God, and you are wrong, you really loose nothing, except perhaps a few fleeting physical pleasures.
-- If you wager there is a God, and you win, you stand to gain everlasting bliss.
-- You wager there is no God, and you win, you still gain nothing but perhaps a license for a few momentary physical pleasures.
-- Therefore, the wisest wager is to wager there is God, since you loose little if you are wrong, avoid a huge loss, and stand much to gain if you are right.

The weakness of this argument is that it assumes there is equal evidence on either side of the debate, and makes certain presumptions about the nature of God and the necessity of faith to win his favor. Nevertheless, the wager highlights the importance of at least considering religious claims.

Then there are these little gems:

Think of all the strange coincidences that are necessary for the existence of life on earth (Quoted/paraphrased from God: The Evidence p. 29, by Patrick Glynn)

1) Gravity is 10 to 39th power times weaker than electromagnetism. If gravity had only 10 to 33rd power times weaker than electromagnetism, stars would be a billion times less massive and would burn a million times faster.

2) The nuclear weak force is 10 to the 28th power times the strength of gravity. Had the weak force been slightly weaker, all the hydrogen in the universe would have turned to helium, making water impossible.

3) A stronger nuclear strong force (by as little as 2 percent) would have prevented the formation of protons, yielding a universe without atoms. Decreasing it by 5 percent would have yielded a universe without stars.

4) If the difference in mass between a proton and neutron were not exactly as it is (roughly twice the mass of an electron) then all neutrons would have become protons or vice versa. Say goodbye to Chemistry as we know it, and to life.

5) The very nature of water is unique. It is the only known molecule that is lighter in its solid state than its liquid state. If this were not the case, oceans would freeze form the bottom up, and the earth would be covered with solid ice, eliminating all chance of life.

6) I won't quote in depth, but Glynn points out that the synthesis of carbon involves 'astonishing' coincidence in the ratio of strong force to electromagnetism.

All these coincidences seem to Carter to have been 'decided' within the first 10 to the -43rd power seconds of the so-called "big-bang".

Then there's Michael Behe's argument for intelligent design due to the irreducible complexity of a single living cell. Apparently, the simplest cell requires a combination of 8 molecular structures that do not seem to occur naturally under any known circumstances.

Intelligent design is controversial, because theologically, it implies a sort of deism - that God acts more like a distant watchmaker than an active and personal power we can experience. Scientifically, it some close to a "god of the gaps" theory. Yet, it is considered thought provoking to many people.

But my all time favorite is even simpler. Karl Rahner asks the atheist to clarify what he means when he says he doesn't believe in God.

How is the sentence, "I don't believe in God" different from saying "I don't believe in fysilgrock." ?

Ponder the meaning of the word, the mystery it invokes. What Rahner is trying to point out is that we are born with a prethematic, non-verbal, "fuzzy awareness" of divine holy mystery.

Saint Augustine wrote of the beauty of the world leading him to knowledge that God exists.

Religion is a concrete culturally and historically conditioned response to this preconscious experience. Yet, the experience of divine holy mystery is real and available to everyone!

Does all that is written above absolutely prove the existence of God beyond any shadow of doubt?

I think not. The First Vatican Council proclaimed that natural reason can lead us to a certainty that God exists, but even if we are intellectually convinced that a position is rational, questions can linger. Many people are more agnostic than outright atheists.

As to agnosticism - I accept in faith that there is a God and that God is revealed in a unique way in Jesus Christ. I, myself, am agnostic about two things:

1) I am in doubt about the ability of reason to lead all the way to God: the Councils speak of revealed mysteries beyond reason (ie - the Trinity), and even in the classic "proofs", if we say reason leads to certainty of God's existence, the athiest could still ask "Why believe in reason?" Reason may be a human trait of imposing order on a chaotic world. Reason is to some extent merely a function of the imagination - a highly useful function, but not necessarily a reflection of "Truth" with a capitol "T". In faith, I clutch on to reason, but I can imagine the possibility that it is false or misleading, and there's no way to prove reason itself is true, because any proof leads to a circular argument (reason proving reason)....

2) Assuming I am following and studying revelation for all it is worth, there remains the question that my own mind is interpreting every piece of data it absorbs. The subject acts on the object in the act of knowing! Even an infallible document is interpreted by a non-infallible subject! Thus, even after coming to a certainty that there is a God, one must ask if his or her own mental construct of the meaning of the word "God" reflects the reality of the true God. We can never reach absolute intellectual certainty of this, but must reach out in trusting faith - which is what prayer is....

By the way, the goal of formal prayer is to lead us to pray without ceasing.

Faith is not the absence of doubt or questions. Rather, faith is trusting even in the darkeness of doubts of questions.

There comes a time for each of us when we must choose to make Kierkegaard's leap of faith, or continue to walk on the edge of a cliff looking at the great abyss. The Christian should not deny the depth or width of the abyss in discussion with the unbeliever. What we say in faith is that having leaped out into the unkown, we sense being caught in the arms of a loving being who is love itself!

Peace and Blessings!
J. Cecil

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