Tuesday, December 11, 2007

Article 3: Whether God Exists

Every time such a profound and difficult, though not entirely novel, question is asked, three people easily pop into my mind as the current default authorities who will argue for the negative.

First, I bring the name of Richard Dawkins, British and venerable chairperson at the University of Oxford. Then comes Sam Harris, a forty-something American, who had some kind of an epiphany after an experience with ecstasy, whether it was the real ecstasy mystics aspire for, it was anyway an altered state induced by the drug MDMA popularly known by the same name. And lastly but not least, I think about Christopher Hitchens, a British-American writer/journalist who prefers to refer to himself as antitheist and antireligious. All three are the most visible proponents and believers of atheism, which in common parlance means the non-existence of any god. I am a bit familiar only with Mr. Hitchens because he maintains a frequent and unavoidable presence in American politics and select social circles writing regularly for the magazine, Vanity Fair. And I find core portions of his politics very reasonable and palatable, for my taste. But he still is an avowed atheist, and will not miss any public forum he is invited to advance his belief, or non-belief.

Now, let it be said that atheists as a group are still quite an insignificant minority, with most people still fervently believing that there is God, or a god of various stripes and manifestations. Most if not all religions are predicated on the existence of a Supreme Being that their devotees profess loyalty and fealty to.

But for the majority of us, how many times have we been asked personally how we come to a belief in God? Of course, many of us hide between the catch-all shield of faith to explain away all our esoteric beliefs and dogmas. But believe it or not, belief in the existence of a god does travel beyond, way beyond, just believing because somebody in authority said so. Belief held in faith has or should have some bases of proof, whether scientific or rational and logical.

The three renowned atheists above have their own well-thought and highly-intelligent rationalizations and justifications why to them a god does not exist. And most of us would be awed with their extraordinary intelligence and perspectives as to render many of us unable to completely grasp and discern their erudite narratives. Their gifts of intelligence and insights can at times blind many of us with our simple minds and so-so levels of discernment of things beyond matter and physical reality.

Thus, for many of us, Catholic especially, we seek our understanding of and discernment to the answer to this eternally critical question from a humble source, who lived many centuries ago, in the 1200s, but whose equally-enlightening brilliance and simple grace continue to peal strong, resolute, and still inadequately challenged over the tumultuous ages.

We seek our answers and reliance from a portly Italian Dominican monk who went by the name of Thomas Aquinas, and now suitably honored as the most eminent Father of the Church. From a gratefully enduring Church sustained by his whole body of Thomist philosophy and theology.

Though having lived only for some 50 years, Aquinas was by most standards a very prolific thinker and writer, capping his life-long work with his best known Summa Theologica.

Counted among his seminal work then was his proof of the existence of God, succinctly laid out in his the Five Ways (quinquae viae).

Though hindered by great personal inadequacies, I shall nevertheless try to lay out as simplistically as to be easily understandable and in the least amount of words possible, the 5 proofs presented by Aquinas for the existence of God.

First, his argument of motion. Aquinas, and one is paraphrasing here, observed that some things were in motion and others were not (now we know even better, because everything in nature is in constant motion, from the tiny atom to the entire cosmos). Thus, things have the potentiality for motion and the actuality of motion. Now, to attain the actuality of motion, somebody has to effect that motion, from potentiality to actuality. That something has to first be an actuality before it can effect actuality. If that something is still in potentiality, somebody has to cause it to move. But God is the First Mover because nobody caused him to move.

Second, the nature of efficient cause. Each effect has a cause. Nothing is possible without a cause, an efficient cause. For our very own existence, we cannot attribute it to ourselves since that would imply that we had existed a priori, before we were created to be responsible (as the efficient cause)for our existence. Thus, everything in this world was created by an efficient cause that has not of itself been caused by another efficient cause, or we could go on until infinity assigning efficient causes, until we accept an Uncaused Cause.

Third, possibility and necessity. We find that in nature things are either possible or not. Those that are possible exist for a time, corrupt, and die. Quoting from the translated archaic words of the thinker, “Therefore, not all things are merely possible, but there must exist something already existing. 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.”

Fourth, from the gradation or degrees found in things. Among things and beings we speak about whether they are better, nobler, hotter, heavier, etc. And these gradations are predicated on their resemblance or divergence to something that is the maximum, highest, best, etc. So there must be some highest ideal, standard, great truth, goodness, and every other perfection which must pre-exist everything else.

And finally, the governance and order of the world. This stupendous order must not have come fortuitously, but must have been consciously designed. Especially with regard to things that lack intelligence, something with knowledge and intelligence must have and continue to direct them to their proper ends.

Thus, we spoke in the beginning that even faith in the existence of a god must have some bases in either science or reason and logic, because as Aquinas pondered the existence of God is not self-evident, but can be creditably demonstrated a posteriori. Demonstrated not completely as God knows himself, but to certain demonstrable extent through the “effects” which can be known by us.

2 comments:

  1. hmm.. no comments for this one.

    reminds me once again of my philosophy class. i remember that aquinas found it ridiculous for the chain of cause and effect to extend indefinitely to the past.

    i guess, while the western concept of infinity is linear, the oriental concept would be circular.

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  2. Dave:

    I find enlightening this blog of Robert Godwin, where he tries to expose and integrate the best of both Western and Eastern religions, and to learn from them.

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