THE INCOMPREHENSIBLE OBVIOUS
Fr Rodney Kissinger, S.J
Table of Contents
There have always been those who claim that our knowledge of the existence of God is intuitive, instinctive and spontaneous. St. John Chrysostom says, “Belief in God is an instinct, natural as breathing.” John Cardinal Newman says that “There are two, and only two, luminously self-evident beings, myself and my Creator.” The writers of the Declaration of Independence profess, “We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain inalienable rights...”
This is also the position of the Bible. The Bible does not begin by trying to prove that there is a God. It assumes that there is a God, and that we know that there is. The Biblical question is not about the existence of God, but about the presence and action of God. “Where is God here and now and what is God doing for us?” The God of the Bible is a living God, known by His actions.
This is also the position of the Church. The First Vatican Council teaches that we can know the existence of God by the natural light of reason and quotes the Epistle to the Romans, “Ever since the creation of the world, His invisible attributes of eternal power and divinity have been able to be understood and perceived in what he has made.”
In a similar way, the intellectual arguments for the existence of God proceed from the visible to the invisible, from the creature to the Creator. We look at the universe and like the fabled Robinson Crusoe we conclude from these “footprints of God” that there is a God. In fact, nature speaks of God in exclamation points. “Every bush is burning.” “The hills are mute but how they speak of God. There are tongues in trees, books in running brooks, sermons in stone, and good and God in everything.” “The heavens declare the glory of God and the firmament proclaims his handiwork.” “I see his blood upon the rose and in the stars the glory of his eyes.” “Poems are made by fools like me but only God can make a tree.”
From the visible to the invisible, from the creature to the Creator, this is also the course of St. Thomas’ five ways of demonstrating the existence of God. Two of the most powerful of these arguments are from the order in the universe and from contingency.
ORDER IN THE UNIVERSE
The argument from the order in the universe goes something like this. The closest star is some 4.3 light years away. Light travels at the speed of 186,000 miles a second. A light year is the distance that light will travel in the course of a year. Something like about 5.9 trillion miles. Multiply 5.9 trillion miles by 4.3 and that will be the distance to our closest star, some 25 trillion miles. On a clear night count the number of stars in our galaxy we call the Milky Way. Scientists estimate the number to be between 100 and 200 billion. And they tell us that there are a billion other galaxies far greater than this one. It will blow your mind!
The order in the universe demands an intellect. If you see a pile of rocks it means nothing. But if you see a pile of rocks in the form of a beautiful cathedral this is quite different. This demands intelligence. The universe is a magnificent work of art. Is there no artist to praise for it? The universe is a mystery to us. Is there no one who knows the mystery?
The argument from contingency goes like this. Contingent means dependent. Dependent beings demand a necessary being. We are dependent beings, we are not necessary. We did not have to be. Some 30, 40, 50 years ago I did not exist. Now I do exist. I have a heart that yearns for perfect happiness, a mind that transcends the concepts of space and time, and a conscience that tells me what I ought to do and what I ought not to do. Who gave me all of these things? Where did I come from? Am I the result to chance? The odds that I am the result of chance would be astronomical. My body has about 75 trillion cells. Did they all come together by chance to form my cardiovascular system, my nervous system, my reproductive system and all of my other complex systems? And what would be the odds that the other six billion people in the world today also happened by chance?
How anyone who knows anything about the human body could be an atheist is beyond me. The great mystery is not sickness. The great mystery is health. The great mystery is how all of these glands and organs work together in perfect balance without our even thinking about it. When we think about it we mess it up. An even greater mystery is how the body can repair itself. The body seems to have its own resident physician and built-in pharmacy. As Cardinal Newman said, “Myself and my Creator are self-evident.”
It is important to define our terms. Often people are using the same word to mean different things. What do you mean by evolution and what do you mean by creation. Am I the product of evolution? Evolved from what? And where did the “what” come from? Contrary to what many people think, evolution and creation are not mutually exclusive. They are complementary. They go together to give us a complete picture of reality. Evolution deals with proximate causes, creation deals with the first cause. Religion tells us that the universe was created, by whom and why. Science tells us how the universe developed over time. In theistic evolution revealed truth and scientific truth are intermingled and are mutually illuminating.
Science today is discovering that matter is “irreducibly complex” and is promoting an “intelligent design theory” which holds that God started the evolutionary ball rolling and keeps it rolling by principles designed by Him.
Godless science is a contradiction in terms. Science is possible only because there are physical, chemical and biological laws. Laws demand a law giver. Scientists do not make the laws they discover the laws made by God. “Science with all of its brilliance lights only a middle chapter of creation, a chapter with both ends bordering on the infinite, one which can be forever expanded but never completed.” (C. Linberg)
Yet, a hundred and fifty years after Charles Darwin first introduced the idea that man evolved from primordial matter, he continues to wield enormous influence, not just in science but across the spectrum of human behavior. Evolution is no longer simply a scientific theory; it is a worldview, a way of understanding all of life, which entirely excludes God. It has brought with it a flood of immorality. If we are on earth by chance, there is no purpose to life, and therefore no meaning, no moral absolutes. It is a small wonder then that suicide is the third leading cause of death among young people in the United States.
Where did I come from? My parents? They would be the first to admit how little they had to do with my existence. They didn’t know how to make the brain, the heart, the lungs, the nervous system. They only passed on to me what they themselves had received. They were the receivers and transmitters of life, not the source. I am absolutely certain that I am not the adequate cause of myself. And I am equally certain that my parents are not either. How do I explain myself without God?
“Men go abroad to wonder at the height of the mountains, at the huge waves of the sea, at the long course of the rivers, at the vast compass of the ocean, at the circular motion of the stars, and they pass by themselves without wondering.” St. Augustine.
The most basic question of all is not why do I exist? The question is why does anything exist? Why isn’t there just nothing? And why do we always want to know why?
St. Thomas’ five ways of demonstrating the existence of God are not strictly proofs; they simply formalize what we already know. It is not so much proving that there is a God as discovering God by intuition and experience. As someone has said trying to prove the existence of God is like trying to prove the existence of someone in your presence.
This is the age of experience. We don’t want to know the existence of God in cold, abstract, intellectual concepts, we want to experience God. We want to have an intimate, personal relationship with God. And this is something of which we all have an abundance. The experience of God is not the hallmark of the mystic but the birthright of every human being.
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