Thursday, May 05, 2011

On the Existence of God

Adult Confirmation Class One
May 4, 2011

The existence of God is not an irrational proposition. To be sure, one can come to know the existence of a Creator-God -- to prove His existence -- by observation and reason, including the observation of the existence and nature of the universe.

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). (Technically, cosmology is the study of the universe, while cosmogony answers the question as to how the universe first came to be, and that word is derived from the Greek cosmos (universe) and gonia (come about)).

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?

The existence of a Creator is not a purely religious question, as demonstrated by the fact that, since ancient times, non-religious scholars, such as Plato, Aristotle, and Cicero have posited reason-based theories for a Creator-God. Historically, such theories based on reason and observation, leading to the conclusion that the universe was made by a Creator, have included the cosmological argument, the teleological argument, and the anthropic principle.

The cosmological argument is a metaphysical argument for the existence of God as a first cause or first mover of the universe. The teleological argument, or argument from design, is an argument for the existence of God or a creator based on order or perceived purpose. The more modern anthropic principle is a variation of the teleological argument, and it examines the extreme complexity of the human organism and the highly delicate balance of conditions necessary for human life, and posits that it is infinitely unlikely that such conditions could have happened randomly.

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. Rather, 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.

Variations of the cosmological argument were advanced by the Greeks Plato and Aristotle. Plato argued that motion in the world and in the cosmos was "imparted motion" that would have required some kind of "self-originated motion" to set it in motion and to maintain the motion. Aristotle also put forth the idea of a first cause, often referred to as the "Prime Mover" or "Unmoved Mover" in his work Metaphysics. Meanwhile, variations of the teleological argument were advanced by the Roman Cicero, who utilized the familiar "clock in the wilderness" scenario. "When you see a sundial or a water-clock, you see that it tells the time by design and not by chance. How then can you imagine that the universe as a whole is devoid of purpose and intelligence, when it embraces everything, including these artifacts themselves and their artificers?" (Cicero, De Natura Deorum, ii. 34)

St. Thomas Aquinas wrote that, with respect to the universe and its origin, the existence of God can be proved in five ways. The first and more manifest way is the argument from motion -- whatever is in motion is put in motion by another. The second way is from the nature of the efficient cause. 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. The third way is taken from possibility and necessity. The fourth way is taken from the gradation of perfection to be found in things. The fifth way is taken from the governance and design of the world. (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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