Sunday, April 06, 2008

God and Creation (CCC 279-354)

Catechism Class Two

If the question of God is unavoidable, so too is a related question, which is often asked with respect to proofs of the existence of God: Where did the universe and where did we come from?

In Love and in Truth, God created the universe. By His Word, He created it ex nihilo and ab initio temporis (out of nothing and at the beginning of time). We know this from divine (written) revelation, but even without written revelation, God reveals Himself in nature, such that knowledge that the universe was created by God can be attained by reason and observation of the orderly universe. Indeed, the very word "cosmology," meaning the study of the universe, is derived from the Greek cosmos (order) and logos (reason), and non-religious ancient scholars, such as Plato, Aristotle, and Cicero long ago posited reason-based theories for a God-Creator.

But are not faith and science necessarily in conflict with each other? How can reason and observation alone lead to the conclusion that the universe was created by God? Well, the very first premise of science is that truth exists, and that reason exists. It is a premise of science that the universe is ordered, and that it strictly operates according to rational laws, including cause and effect, Newton’s first law of motion (inertia), conservation of energy/matter, and the second law of thermodynamics (entropy).

One cannot get something out of nothing. A thing cannot have itself as its own cause, a thing at rest stays at rest unless moved by another thing, and entropy (disorder) in a closed system tends increase over time. The physical reality that is the universe did not and could not have created itself. It did not and could not have set itself “in motion.” Indeed, a universe of chance and arbitrary randomness – a universe detached from reason -- could not have created the ordered and reasonable universe that exists today. Chance and arbitrary randomness cannot account for matter that exists in a stable, ordered form, or for the fact that some of that matter is alive. Chance and arbitrary randomness cannot account for the infinite complexity of the human organism, much less the capacity for thought, free will, and autonomous action. The universe, order in the universe, and mankind had a cause independent of themselves, and that cause was the First Cause and First Mover of all things – God. (See also, St. Thomas Aquinas, Summa Theologica, I, q. 2, art. 3)

And yet, some insist that the universe and reality itself sprung into existence by an arbitrary and accidental act. Not only did the universe just spring into existence all by itself, it was and is just coincidental that certain sub-atomic particles react with other particles in particular fashion, and that they are thus bound together, so as to permit the existence of atoms, molecules, and compounds, not to mention galaxies, stars, and planets. But the existence of these things, and the fact that they follow rational laws, would dictate as a matter of science that they were caused by something rational and true.

The fact that one of those planets just happened to be so lucky so as to be just the right distance away from the sun, which radiated just the right kind and intensity of light and heat, and the temperature of the planet was just right and that planet had just the right kind of elements in the right proportions so as to be able to form oxygen and water, shows that we are either extra-ordinarily lucky, like hitting the Lotto every single day for 100 years, or we are here because of some rational creative act of reason.

Moreover, some of this matter became animated, that is, alive, which also points to a rational cause; it points to the conclusion that life is not simply the result of haphazard events. Life is not the result of the random collision of molecules and electro-magnetic pulses. And the fact that some of that life actually has the capacity for sentience and thought, an ability to form and create ideas and to exercise independent agency, i.e. free will, which actually transcends the physical, points to the possibility that reality is not limited to the physical universe, but there is a reality beyond it. Indeed, science has repeatedly postulated the existence of realities beyond the known universe, or even the existence of non-corporeal life.

There was a cause to all of these things. That cause was necessarily "Creative Reason," i.e. Logos (God). As we can see, the basis for believing in the existence of God merely from simple observation of the world around us, experience, and reason, is compelling. To be sure, the Big Bang Theory only confirms what revealed scripture has said all along. But as far as reason takes us, it does not take us all the way. Revealed faith, on the other hand, does allow man to reach for and attain the transcendent.

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