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Voices Online Edition
VOICES - Vol. XX No. 2 - Michaelmas 2005
Voices Young Writers Award Winner
Can the Existence of God Be Proven?
by Derek Remus
Derek Remus is a fifteen-year-old, home-schooled, eldest child of three. His interests are writing, philosophy, music, and public speaking. He plays piano weekly for the residents in a long-term-care facility. He is active in his parish, leading the Rosary at daily Mass and leading the music once a week at Mass. He writes letters to editors of newspapers on euthanasia and the legal extermination of already-conceived-yet-unborn persons. He has formed a Catholic apologetics group and meets with a small group of young men weekly. He presently has a weblog entitled Milites veritatis http://militesveritatis.blogspot.com/.
He is a great joy to his family as he is always ready to help his parents, brother and sister (Joseph, 10 and Bernadette, 4 pictured with Derek at right). Derek thinks that he is called to the priesthood and plans to visit Rome at Easter in 2006.
He wrote this essay for a great books course he took on-line through Wisdom Homeschooling.
[Details about the Young Writers Award.]
In accordance with Christian doctrine, we firmly believe without doubt that God exists; with unwavering faith we know that the judgment “God exists” is a true judgment. Yet true judgments can be divided into different kinds according as our knowledge of them proceeds from different sources. Some truths are perceived by the senses; some are self-evident; some are demonstrated, or proven; others are known only by divine revelation. To what category, then, does the truth that God exists belong?
The answer is that it belongs to the category of truths that can be demonstrated. But a one-line answer is not sufficient for an essay; therefore, I shall devote the rest of this essay to explaining the one-line answer.
That the existence of God is not perceived by the senses is obvious, for God is a pure spirit who entirely transcends the material universe.
Nor is the existence of God self-evident, for a self-evident truth (e.g., “A statement cannot be both true and false”) cannot be mentally denied, that is, no man can truly acknowledge the contrary of it, the knowledge of such truths being naturally in us. But, as the Angelic Doctor says, the proposition “God is” can be mentally denied, for it is written: “The fool said in his heart, There is no God”.1 But to deny a truth in one’s heart is to truly acknowledge the contrary of that truth, i.e., to mentally deny that truth; therefore, the existence of God is not self-evident.
In saying that God’s existence is not self-evident we mean that is not self-evident to us, for a proposition can be either self-evident in itself and not to us, or self-evident in itself and to us, and it is this latter sense of which we are speaking.
A proposition is self-evident in itself if “the predicate is included in the essence of the subject”,2 in other words, if the essence of the subject cannot be understood apart from the essence of the predicate. For instance, in the statement, “Man is a creature”, the essence of man cannot be understood apart from the essence of creature; therefore creature is included in the essence of man.
On the other hand, in the statement, “Julius Caesar was a general”, which is the same as to say, “A man was a general” (for the essence of Julius Caesar is humanity), the essence of Julius Caesar (that is, of man) can be understood apart from the essence of general; therefore general is not included in the essence of Julius Caesar.
Now if the essence of the subject and the predicate is understood by all, then the statement is self-evident not only in itself but to us (for instance, “The whole is greater than its part”, in which the terms whole and part are understood by all), but if the essence of the subject and the predicate is not understood by all, then although the predicate may in reality be contained in the essence of the subject, we do not know that, and so the proposition is self-evident in itself but not to us. Now because God is infinite and all-perfect and the human intellect finite and imperfect, the essence of God is unknown to us, and thus the truth that existence is contained in the essence of God is also unknown to us, that is, it is unknown to us if we do not prove it. Whence the existence of God, though self-evident in itself, is not self-evident to us but must be proven by us.
But perhaps the existence of God is a truth that can be known by faith alone, one might object. Indeed, this opinion is not without its proponents. Blaise Pascal asked, “Who then will blame Christians for not being able to give a reason for their belief, since they profess a religion for which they cannot give a reason?” And concerning God’s existence, he wrote, “Reason can decide nothing here”. He gave us this assurance, however: “By faith we know His existence; in glory we shall know His nature”.3 (For those without faith, Pascal has his famous wager, but the possibility of proving God’s existence by reason is shall we say? unreasonable.)
In contrast to the fideism of Pascal, the First Vatican Council declared: “Our holy mother, the Church, holds and teaches that God, the first principle and last end of all things, can be known with certainty from the created world by the natural light of human reason”.4 For the infinite truth, goodness, and beauty of God are, albeit in a finite way, imprinted on the entire creation which was created to “show forth … and to communicate”5 the glory of God and in a special way on man, who alone of all corporeal creatures is made to God’s image and likeness because he alone of all corporeal creatures possesses an immortal soul with an understanding and will and is created to know, love, and serve God. And this imprint of God’s truth, goodness, and beauty on creation is only natural, for every effect bears on it some imprint of its cause, and God is the Supreme and First Cause, the Cause of all that is.
Therefore, although, being finite, they cannot give us a perfect knowledge of Him who is infinite (and indeed we have already said that we do not know the essence of God), the natural universe and the human soul can at least give us some knowledge of Him, and the very first knowledge they must give of Him is that He exists, “for the first thing we must know of anything is, whether it exists”.6
Hence, the existence of God, the ultimate cause of the entire universe, can be proven with certainty by the natural light of human reason from His effects, and so, that God exists is a demonstration quia (a demonstration that argues from what is prior relatively to us, i.e., the effects, to what is prior absolutely, i.e., the cause). For this reason, Sacred Scripture says: “Ever since the creation of the world His invisible nature, namely, His eternal power and deity, has been clearly perceived in the things that have been made”.7
Thus, Saint Thomas says: “The existence of God and other like truths about God, which can be known by natural reason, are not articles of faith but preambles to the articles; for faith presupposes natural knowledge, even as grace presupposes nature and perfection the perfectible”.8 Though faith is above reason, the two can never contradict each other because God grants both to men, reason as a natural faculty and faith as a supernatural gift. Without man’s natural capacity to know some truths about God (which capacity results from man’s being created in God’s image), it would be impossible for him to respond to the divine revelation that reaches its fullness in the person of Jesus Christ.
“Nevertheless”, Aquinas says, “there is nothing to prevent a man, who cannot grasp a proof, from accepting, as a matter of faith, something which in itself is capable of being scientifically known and demonstrated”.9 For through His Grace, God can make a man believe a truth even without understanding it. And as Saint Augustine says, “We must not want to solve all the difficulties against the Faith before we believe in order that our life may not come to an end without faith…. Simple faith gives us an ever deeper understanding of the things of faith”.10 Saint Anselm says, “For I do not seek to understand that I may believe, but I believe in order to understand”.11
At the same time, one must believe that there are proofs for the existence of God, even if he cannot understand those proofs, so that he knows that his faith is in accordance with reason and not based on mere emotional whim. Faith that is no more than emotion is inauthentic because true faith is an act of the will to which one holds regardless of how one feels.
At this point, the reader may well be saying to himself: “I have heard a great deal about proving the existence of God, and I admit that there must be some way of doing it, but I should very much like to know what that way is”. Let us actually do, then, what we have been at great length talking about the possibility of doing. Let us actually prove that God exists.
Many proofs can be given for the existence of God, but, as may have been already implied, they can all be grouped into two categories: those based on the external world, and those based on the human person. We shall give one proof of each kind.
1. From the external world. In the natural universe, it is obvious that there is an order of cause and effect. Now nothing can cause itself, for every cause is prior to its effect, so that something which causes itself it would have to be prior to itself; it would have to exist before it exists, which is nonsense. Every effect receives its existence from some cause outside of itself, so that every effect is, considered in itself, non-existent; existence does not belong to its nature. But we cannot say that the order of cause and effect goes on infinitely because the existence of things in themselves non-existent must be traced back to something in itself existent, something whose very nature it is to exist, something which does not get its existence from anything else, something which is its own existence. And this self-existent, necessary Being is He whom they call God.
One might ask why this self-existent Being cannot be part of the universe. But in order for it to be self-existent, it must be eternal, unchanging, and thus unbound by the limits of time and space, attributes that do not belong to any part of the universe.
2. From the human person. In the very core of man’s being, there is a desire for something higher than himself. All men naturally desire happiness, and many men have sought it in the things of this world in money, in power, in fame, in the glorification of one’s intellect and have not found it. For the things of this world are subject to change and can easily be lost, and even those who have not lost these things and have more of them than they could imagine, have at long last cried out in dismay: “Alas! I have all I thought I ever wanted, but I have been deceived! According to all my former speculations, I should now be happy, but I am more miserable than ever! And further, one day I shall die, and all my pleasures and honors, on which I have spent my whole life, shall be gone!”
Therefore, man’s natural desire for happiness is a natural desire for a good that is infinite, perfect, unchangeable, and imperishable. But only God is a good that is infinite, perfect, unchangeable, and imperishable. Therefore, man’s natural desire for happiness is a natural desire for God, even though he may not always realize this. “The desire for God is written in the human heart”.12 Man possesses a spiritual soul, “the seed of eternity we bear in ourselves, irreducible to the merely material”.13
But, some will say, this does not prove that God exists; it only proves that if God exists, then He is the true Good. However, man has no natural desire for some real object that does not satisfy that desire, for nature makes nothing in vain. Man desires food because food exists, drink because drink exists, heat because heat exists, cold because cold exists, etc. If, then, even the lowest of man’s desires have real, existent objects, then surely the greatest of his desires, and indeed the desire definitive of man as man (for it is this desire that distinguishes man from other corporeal creatures), must have a real, existent object! If man desires God, then this can only be because God really exists!
There are some who will deny all of this, saying that they do not acknowledge anything higher than themselves but are still happy. We can only reply that these objectors are dishonest and contradict the universal experience of mankind, which has found that happiness does not consist in anything earthly. We must treat these objectors as we must treat those who deny such plain truths as that things exist or that the whole is greater than its parts: we cannot argue with them, we must snap them out of their madness.
Though proofs, these arguments are simple proofs. Though the existence of God is not self-evident, it is quite easy to deduce, so easy that it seems that all men should be able to deduce it. Why, then, do not all men believe in God?
The answer is original sin fallen nature. Although man possesses not only a natural capacity to attain intellectual knowledge of God’s existence but also a natural desire for union with God, nevertheless, because of sin and ignorance, the double darkness in which he is born,14 man is easily blinded to proofs in themselves simple and easy.
Man is at war within himself; one army longs for God, one army hates Him. In believing in God, man has not simply to persuade his intellect but to conquer his will. For the truths about God transcend the entire order of visible existence, so that if man is to attain to these truths, he must have no inordinate attachment to the things of this world, of visible existence.
This calls “for self-surrender and abnegation”,15 for mortification of the senses, imagination, and intellect. The more one is detached from the creature, the more he is attached to the Creator. Further, if God does exist, then man is not free to do whatever he wants but is subject to a universal, objective, absolute law of good and evil that he must obey or else suffer everlasting damnation. Therefore, it would be quite convenient for fallen nature if God did not exist, and so men, giving into their concupiscence, their natural inclination to evil, “easily persuade themselves that what they would not like to be true is false or at least doubtful”.16 Thus, Saint Augustine says, “He who denies the existence of God has some reason for wishing He did not exist”.17
And so, for these reasons God became man:
1) that men, being so often blinded to the Creator because of their fallen nature, might know God by seeing Him with a body like their own, seeing Him in all things human but sin, and so be enlightened both with regard to those truths above the comprehension of reason and to those truths in themselves knowable by reason alone but unknown to men enslaved by their evil desires;
2) that this very fallen nature of man might be conquered, and grace made accessible to all and the gates of heaven reopened, by the passion, death, and resurrection of Jesus Christ, the Second Person of the Blessed Trinity.
Therefore, rejoice gaudete! For in the midst of man’s great misery wrought by the fall, in his internal battle between his innate longing for God and the inclination of his nature toward that which is foreign to God, Redemption has come, and the God whom men so often reject in the darkness of their sin has Himself become a man to save man from this darkness and to make attainable to him the perfect felicity of the beatific vision in life everlasting!
To conclude, the existence of God is neither perceived by the senses nor self-evident nor known by faith alone but proven, and proven very easily at that. Men do not accept the proofs for God’s existence, however, because of fallen nature, and to triumph over man’s fallen nature, it was necessary that God become man. And so the discussion of the category to which the truth “God exists” belongs has led to a discussion of the Paschal Mystery, which lies at the heart of our faith. And this is indeed fitting: for from Christ, the Redeemer of the world, all true enlightenment comes, for He is the Truth itself: “I am the way, and the truth, and the life”. Having thus conducted this discourse by the grace of God, with profound gratitude I conclude: Deo gratias. Amen.
1 Psalm 14:1.
2 Saint Thomas Aquinas, Summa Theologica, I, 2, 1.
3 Blaise Pascal, Pensees (1660).
4 Vatican Council I, Dei Filius 2.
5 Saint Bonaventure, In II Sent. I, 2, 2, 1.
6 Aquinas, I, 2, 2.
7 Romans 1:20.
10 Quoted by Father John Laux, Catholic Apologetics (Rockford, Illinois: TAN Books and Publishers, Inc. 1990), p. xviii.
11 Saint Anselm, Proslogion, Chapter I.
12 The Catechism of the Catholic Church, 27.
13 Vatican Council II, Gaudium et Spes, 18.
14 Cf. Saint Thomas Aquinas, “A Student’s Prayer”.
15 Pius XII, Humani Generis, 561.
17 Quoted by Laux, Chief Truths of the Faith (Rockford, Illinois: TAN Books and Publishers, Inc. 1990), p. 2.
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