Category Archives: Proofs for the Existence of God

And He’s Back!

Hello, girls! We’ve missed you, and we know you’ve missed us here at The God Project Dot Net. We’ve been formulating our blueprint for becoming a weapon of mass instruction, emerged from the caves of hermetic introspection and limned the cave paintings of destiny. You’re welcome. Air kisses.

Last night we decided to think like the wretched Millennials with whom we work and type our most pressing existential question into Google. So we fired up the H.P. laptop and typed these four words: “IS THERE A GOD”

And God answered! Hah … kidding. Although I couldn’t help but notice the first two letters of the most popular search engine on the planet are “G” and “O” — which you might say spell “GO” and you might say spell two-thirds of you-know-who. (“Seek and you will find” – Matt. 7:7)

What comes up? A lot of interesting stuff, actually. There’s a paid link to a guy who’s taken it upon himself to evangelize former atheists like himself (GodEvidence.com), apparently giving his own money to Google for the privilege (every click on a sponsored link costs the advertiser money). There’s a link to an interesting article by the late genius philosopher and professional atheist Bertrand Russell we’ll get to later.

And there’s a helpful guide at the innocuous-sounding EveryStudent.com  by a woman named Marilyn Adamson, laying out “six straight-forward reasons to believe that God is there.” Since these are pretty much the six go-to reasons cited by Evangelical apologists these days, I’ll share them here (sans snarky commentary, which we have outgrown):

  1. Complexity of the planet and of life — this is the usual argument that the Earth is the perfect distance from the sun to sustain life, water has key qualities like floating when it freezes, etc. Adamson also points to the complexity of the human brain with an inadvertently humorous sentence: “The brain functions differently than other organs. There is an intelligence to it.”
  2. Universe started somehow — even if we accept the Big Bang, who was the Big Banger? She quotes Robert Jastrow: “The universe flashed into being, and we cannot find out what caused that to happen.” (“Message from Robert Jastrow,” LeaderU.com 2002)
  3. Uniform laws of nature – again, quoting an eminent scientist out of context, as Evangelicals often do: “The fact that there are rules at all is a kind of miracle” – Richard Feynman (“The Meaning of It All,” p43)
  4. DNA as a kind of programmed map of instructions for life – “You cannot find instruction, precise information like this, without someone intentionally constructing it,” says Adamson.
  5. Personal argument about the yearning some feel in their hearts for God — what C. S. Lewis in “Surprised by Joy” called “the steady, unrelenting approach of Him whom I so earnestly desired not to meet.” By this argument, the God Project Dot Net itself can be seen as proof of God’s existence … which may well be true.
  6. Jesus as a “specific picture” — miracles, proclamation, etc.
By number (6) she’s run out of steam. But the other points are interesting — particularly, I think, number (5).

20 Arguments for God

We were going to talk about Sigmund “Ziggy” Freud‘s great howl of derision directed at belief in God, “The Future of an Illusion,” but, well, it’s Sunday. Our infantile, neurotic belief in Something just will not let us disrespect Maybe-It today.

So to balance out last Thursday’s well-received “20 Arguments for Atheism,” here is Professor Peter Kreeft‘s assembly of counter-balancing arguments for the existence of God. A number of these have appeared before in The God Project Dot Net, of course. The first five you’ll recognize as Aquinas’ “Five Ways,” and #10 as Anselm’s ontological proof.

  1. Change — everything changes, and every change is caused by something else; there must be something that caused the first change
  2. Existence — everything that exists was caused by something else; something must have existed first without a cause
  3. Death — usually called “contingency,” but “death” is more dramatic: since everything dies or stops, given enough time there would be nothing at all, unless there is something that is eternal
  4. Degrees of Perfection — comparative scales of qualities like goodness, beauty, wisdom, heat imply a “perfect” something
  5. Design — there is too much natural order in the universe to be accounted for by self-ordering or chance
  6. Miracles — there are enough historical accounts of miracles occurring to make it likely some actually did
  7. Time — if there was no creator, there was no moment of creation and so no first moment in time; therefore, the past is infinite, which is a logical impossibility (the “Kalaam” argument)
  8. Timeless Truths — certain concepts such as numbers and mathematics appear to be eternal and unchanging, implying the existence of an eternal mind to contain them
  9. Descartes’ “Idea of God” — every idea has a cause; even atheists know what the idea of God means; so, this idea must point to something that is real
  10. Ontological argument — the existence of God is self-evident from Its definition as the being that “lacks no conceivable perfection,” including existence

And 10 arguments from human psychology:

  1. Common Consent — God is very likely to exist because most people for most of human history have thought It did
  2. Religious Experience — it’s difficult to believe that so many otherwise sane people who claim religious experience were all deluded
  3. Desire — “No one has ever discovered a single case of an innate desire for a nonexistent object”
  4. Natural Moral Law — assuming moral laws are just as real and consistent as physical laws, what created them?
  5. Conscience — most people respect their conscience; but it can’t be relative or it would have no meaning; so respecting conscience implies eternal standards
  6. Saints — “If there are saints [and a multitude of wannabes] there is a saint-maker”
  7. Beauty — some forms of beauty in nature, art and the works of Amy Adams are so awe-inspiring as to imply a supernatural source
  8. Search for Meaning — as Viktor Frankl said, our greatest truth appears to be a search for meaning in our lives, which implies we have a purpose
  9. Love — love seems to see intrinsic value in things that can not be accounted for by materialism
  10. Pascal’s Wager — in a paragraph of his “Pensees” headed “Infinity–Nothing,” Pascal argued that it is more logical to believe than not to believe because you lose nothing but (potentially) gain everything

A Note: I’ve found it helps not to reject these arguments without mulling on them a bit. Rational belief is neither easy nor intuitive. Personally, having thought about #3 above (“Desire”) for a day or two, I like it very much.

Which Way Is Up?

Welcome to Sunday, the day after the day we are supposed to “keep holy” according to the Third Commandment – and a good day, still, to pause and reflect. What do we think of Aquinas’ first four Ways to prove the existence of you-know-who?

They’re not what I expected. My memory of Aquinas led me to believe he’d be easy to ridicule, and I was wrong. As a body of work, Aquinas’ various “Summas” and “Replies” and opinion pieces are towering, meticulous and clever. He’s also quite easy to read – he had no interest in showing off, just communicating. He dictated to four scribes at once, reciting quotations from memory. On his deathbed he said he was most grateful for the fact that he immediately understood everything he read. In short: a genius.

But did he prove God exists? He presented the best arguments there are that don’t rely on revelation, scripture or subjective experience, that are solely derivable by reason from first premises and observation. Ways #1-3 notice things that happen through time in our world – change, causation and creation – and ask the perfectly reasonable question: What got them started?

Pre-moderns didn’t waste much time “proving” God exists because they had no alternative explanation beyond chaos. We moderns feel that we do. Ask somebody walking down Hennepin Avenue or the Nicolette Mall “How did the universe start?” and, if they’re a good Scandinavian graduate of “The U,” they’ll say, “The Big Bang.”

The God Project Street Team: “What happened before the Big Bang?”

BLOND PERSON: “Whassup?”

TGPST: “Exactly! What happened before that?”

BP: “I don’t know. But I’m sure some physicist at The U knows.”

TGPST: “What if they don’t?”

BP: “Try MIT – the Minnesota Institute of Technology.”

TGPST: “And what if they don’t know?”

BP: (fake smile) “Excuse me, I have to get to my ice fishing class. Have a great day now!”

My point here is not that Minnesotans have a self-satisfied way of referring to their pointedly average state school as “The U,” as though there aren’t any others, but that we make as many assumptions as pre-moderns did, just in a different direction. We assume science has it covered. Pre-moderns assumed God did. We both have faith in something we do not quite understand.

I still don’t know what got change, causation and creation started. I have to admit my ignorance and put my faith in something I can call “God” or I can call “Physicists at the U” (aka “Science”).

The most common logical objection to Aquinas’ Ways #1-4 is that he assumes no series can go on to infinity; there must be something first. Logicians say he doesn’t prove this, just asserts it. Well, okay, but it’s not a very satisfying objection. How can you explain infinity? We simply open up another thing – as Aquinas does in Ways #1-4 – that is beyond human understanding.

A better objection is that it’s a very long highway from this mysterious changer, causer and creator to the Hebrew Bible and the Calvary Pentecostal Ministry. Very true. All Aquinas succeeds in doing – and I think he does succeed – is draw our attention to an obvious fact: There is much about this Universe of ours, and about our own hearts, that’s like a Q&A without the A.

What do you think?

Counting the Ways

As we were saying about Aquinas’ Five Ways to prove the existence of God, before we were so rudely interrupted by the necessity of work, upon which our glamorous Nanook-like Minnesota existence is contingent. And speaking of necessary and contingent existence:

The God Project Dot Net HQ

Way #3: Everything we see is born, falls apart and dies. Even The God Project Dot Net will someday — once we have answered the Ultimate Question — stop. The most ardent cosmologist will tell you the Earth itself will grind to a halt, pick up its toolbox, and go. Turning probability theorist for a moment, Aquinas says: “If everything is possible not to be, then at one time there could have been nothing in existence.” With nothing, nothing happens.

I couldn’t help but notice Karen Armstrong’s recent “The Case for God” covers all our topics here at TGPDN with greater confidence. (It’s a very good book. Once you’re done here, you have our permission to pounce.) She says, with her usual combo of insight and elegance: “All the five ‘ways’ argue in one way or another that nothing can come from nothing.” (p144)

There are two parts to the Third Way, the first of which is this weird little probability equation which seems to say that, given an infinite amount of time, and a universe in which all things that exist sometimes don’t, you will have a moment when there is nothing. From which no-thing can come. Calling God.

Imagine a cosmic slot machine eventually rocking all zeroes. Even Armstrong ignores this part. It’s odd. The second part, from Avicenna (aka Ibn Sena), builds on the difference between “necessary” and “contingent” beings. All of us are “contingent” – we required another being (or two) to exist. But in our zero-slot universe, there must be some “necessary” being that does not require another being to exist. And even if this “necessary” being is caused by another “necessary” being, says Aquinas, “it is impossible to go on to infinity ….” There must be something whose being comes from itself, aka, God.

Way #4: Take these adjectives – good, true, noble, hot. No, it’s not a description of Angelina Jolie. These are the qualities Aquinas uses as examples of “things” that come in shades. They are more or less present as they are more or less close to the “maximum.” The sliding scale itself implies a maximum, as we call something “hotter” as it gets closer to perfect hotness. This perfect hotness everyone agrees is named Salma Hayek, I mean, God.

Way #5: Is the coolest, hottest Way of all – and the favorite of contemporary Evangelicals. It’s the so-called Argument from Design. Caliente filosofia, amigos!

Proof-istotle

Yikes, kids! I’m in danger of turning into a Thomist – as loose-limbed groupies of Thomas Aquinas are called – and I must be strong. He was a great and nuanced philosopher of religion but was not primarily interested in proving God’s existence. That was a preliminary, the step out the door into sunlight, before he even got into his car.

"Yes, but who's holding the cue?"

“God transcends all sensible things and sense itself,” he says. So how can we know him? We can’t – not his essence. But we can catch a glimpse of him based on “His effects” which are “sensible things.” It’s like looking at a footprint of the Abominable Snowman: it’s evidence of something, alright, but it ain’t the real Snowman.

In the lesser-known “Summa Contra Gentiles,” Aquinas is straight up about parroting Aristotle: “We shall first set forth the arguments by which Aristotle proceeds to prove that God exists.” He isn’t even trying to be original! If you don’t like the First Way, blame The Philosopher, not the Saint.

Way #1 in Plain English (and Pig-Latin): Called the “Unmoved Mover” or “First Mover” argument, it’s oversimplified as saying everything that moves was put in motion by something else. So who moved the first thing? God. We have, ahem, studied some Latin here at The God Project Dot Net, and Aquinas’ word “motus” means “change,” not just motion. Change is a journey from potential to actual. Like: You’re potentially wise but actually ignorant. Potential gets actual all the time, but it can’t get there on its own. You don’t get wise without help. Only one thing can get actual on its own without outside help. What? It-ay is-ay Od-Gay.

Way #2: Effects need a cause, and the first cause is You-Know-Who. Aquinas uses the phrase “efficient cause” 10 times in his short definition. It comes — big surprise, not — from Aristotle. An “efficient cause” is something that happens before the effect. (As opposed to “final” causes which happen after, which sounds weird unless you believe things can have a built-in goal that moves them. Newton killed this idea.)

Way #2 sounds identical to Way #1 unless you remember Way #1 wasn’t about motion; it was about how things can’t change themselves. Way #2 is about how effects can’t cause themselves.

All the Ways are related because they are different definitions of the same word: God. Now can you wait for Ways #3-5? Didn’t think so.

Five Alive

Thomas Aquinas was so fat, the story goes, his Dominican brothers had to cut a place for him into the communal table so he could sit closer to the food bowls he so obviously didn’t need. He was Italian, second son of nobility, and a mondo-maxi-zoom-dweeby genius whose career coincided with the rediscovery of Aristotle, known only to Muslim philosophers for 600 years after the fall of the Roman Empire.

Thomas Aquinas

"I've taken the liberty of preparing my own dinner menu"

My revered father, Dr. Ronald, was a Catholic boy in Cape Town, South Africa, in the days when the mass was said in Latin. He met Pope Pius XII in Rome after Italy surrendered in World War II. And when I mentioned The God Project Dot Net to him, his response was rat-a-tat: “You have to talk about Aquinas.”

To Catholics, Aquinas is the philosopher, a voice louder than Augustine’s, more comprehensive than Paul’s, second only to that of Christ himself (as explained by the Holy See). Non-Catholics are less impressed: following Luther, Protestants have caricatured Aquinas as a crypto-Pelagian hypnotized by a pagan pseudo-atheist who believed the universe was eternal, God didn’t care much about us, and the human soul could die.

Aquinas wrote even more than he ate, and his big book was the Summa Theologica, a 4000-page masterpiece of meticulous step-by-step argument on all things Christian. Of these many, many Latin pages, only two (2!) are devoted to proving the existence of God. That’s 0.05% — a solid click-through rate for an online display ad but hardly a ringing indication of what’s really on Aquinas’ mind.

So let’s say it again: Pre-modern “proofs” for the existence of God were not written to convince modern atheists, and they won’t. They were written because philosophers like Anselm and Aquinas had enormous respect for Greek wisdom — Sophia, or “Reason” with a capital “R” — and they wanted to convince believing Christians that their faith was rational. It’s like Aquinas heard the scientific train wreck a-coming and slapped on his goggles to weld up a fortress of faith.

He even admits (ST PI Q1 A8): “If our opponent [i.e., atheist] believes nothing of divine revelation there is no longer any means of proving the articles of faith by reasoning.”

So Aquinas breezes through an answer to questions he poses himself: “Whether it can be demonstrated that God exists?” (Article 2) and “Whether God Exists?” (Article 3). In good dialectical fashion, he first raises some contraries that sound remarkably modern:

  • A “demonstration produces scientific knowledge; whereas faith is of the unseen”
  • We “cannot know in what God’s essence consists” because humans aren’t smart enough
  • We can know God only “from His effects,” which are “not proportionate” — meaning, nowhere near enough
  • “There is evil in the world. Therefore God does not exist.”

His response: “I answer that, The existence of God can be proved in five ways” — leading into his famous so-called “Five Ways” to show that God exists.

Can you wait?

Mulla Garda Da Vida, Baby

Ready, girls? I thought not. Here’s our best swipe at describing the Big Cat Mulla Sadra’s spooky philosophical argument for the existence of God, yowling at you from the 17th century. Breathe in, breathe out. Meow:

"Only one thing is purr-fect"

Philosophers are careful about words, much more careful than writers. Why? Because they’re not just playing games. (At least, we hope not.)

Since the Pre-Socratics, whom the Shiite Muslims of Sadra’s day revered, there was a lot of discussion about a “contingent” vs. a “necessary” being. Contingent means it relies on something else – it is not self-sufficient.

So, you are contingent on your sainted mother, Heather, and the yoga instructor. (I’m kidding.) The squalid tundra of Minneapolis is contingent on a wagon-load of clinically insane Scandinavians, who were themselves contingent on your sainted mother, Heather, and … kidding again. You get the point.
Everything is contingent. Except one thing.

To spoil the ending: Sadra says the only thing that is not a contingent being is Existence itself. And he equates Existence with God.

See what he’s done here? It’s quite breathtaking, across the centuries, poorly understood, in bad translation, butchered by a man who will probably never go to Iran. I mean it: breathtaking.

If Sadra can convince us that Existence is the only necessary thing … and that Existence actually exists … he seems to have proved God exists. It’s a long road from here to Jentezen Franklin or the Episcopal Synod, of course, but that’s a different problem.

Pause tape. Rewind. We can imagine something in our minds, like a “Lost Island,” says Sadra, and it can have all kinds of super-amazing properties and still not exist. (Gaunilo: 1.) But we cannot imagine “Existence” itself as not existing. (Anselm: TKO.)

We invite you to try it. Think about “Existence.” Got it? Now try to conceive of a world – any world – where “Existence” does not exist. Hmmm. Awkward. We may have found it: One It-ness that MUST exist: Existence itself.

One more step. Existence is the essence of everything that exists. It’s not an accidental, or predicate. It’s required. Necessary. And Sadra equates this “Existence” with ….

“Nothing is more perfect than Him. And in Him there is no room for non-existence or imperfection.” (Asfar, Vol 6: 14-16)

Toodles.