Blog Debate: Does God Exist?

My cousin and I decided to have a ‘blog debate’ about the existence of God. He wrote his arguments down first from the perspective of an atheist and you can read them as they originally are here:

https://cnfbannon.wordpress.com/2016/04/25/my-firm-belief/

It is now my turn. We agreed that the second person to write would respond reactively to the content of the first post. I will obviously do so from the point of view of a believer in God’s existence.

I identified six main issues raised by Ciaran in his text, some of which I am more qualified to provide answers to than others. I have prayed for God’s grace in answering the more difficult one’s. I hope that’s not cheating 😉 . Here are the issues raised.

  • There is no evidence for the existence of God. (1)
  • Faith in God’s existence requires unquestioning belief in said existence. (2)
  • Issue of many gods (Small g necessary here). (3)
  • The now popular ‘God of the Gaps.’ The more discovered using the Scientific Method, the more obvious it apparently becomes that God doesn’t exist. (4)
  • Why miracles don’t happen more often and why they are never spectacular- like legs growing back. (5)
  • The problem of evil: Why evils (just generally bad things and obviously the worst types of natural and moral evils.) exist if there is a supremely powerful and good reality- what people take to mean God. (6)

I’m going to post in two parts, as it became apparent to me that one article responding properly to what Ciaran said would be a bit long. This first half will deal with the first three points made by Ciaran.

NO. 1: THERE IS NO EVIDENCE FOR THE EXISTENCE OF GOD.

In very classical philosophical fashion, let us simply proceed in rational thought from what we know (for anyone who has formally studied philosophy, I am not even considering whether it is possible to know or not. I think that question is nonsense. I have senses and a rational mind, thus I can know things) to what we don’t immediately know.

nebula

We all agree that we exist and there is a world called Earth. To make a cosmic leap, Earth is in the Universe. The Universe is in… I don’t know. Regardless, we can ultimately claim that the Universe and anything that may be beyond it was caused to exist by something else. So what caused that cause? Another cause. And that cause? Another one. And th-… You see where this is going. Infinity. The only way to avoid saying that either the Universe or a greater super structure is eternal, is to posit that there is a first uncaused cause to all of it. That cause is, to quote St. Thomas Aquinas (13th C.) ‘what people commonly call God.’

This cause is necessarily uncaused, as it wouldn’t be the first cause if something else caused it. This means that it has to have a will, which means it has consciousness. Let that sink in. If there wasn’t something external to it which caused it to be a cause (which would make it just another caused cause), the only way it could cause is if it could choose to cause. Look at us. We can cause things principally by our wills with internal decision making (maybe a slightly unclean analogy). We are persons. The same is to be said of God as uncaused cause (person not referring to specifically human entities). Either way, you have eternity, as the physical universe we know did not spring out of nothing without a cause. Which possibility is correct, an eternal chain of causes as the Universe or Eternal God as ultimate cause? Note that the first choice raises another issue that would have to be discussed elsewhere: the problem of infinite regression.

In my limited understanding, I would refer to the above argument as suggestive of the existence of God, if not evidence per se. Much smarter and holier people than I (an understatement), including St. Thomas, have made more detailed arguments that they say point definitively to the existence of God. I’ll have to improve my understanding by revising Thomas’ Five Ways.

The second thing I would offer as evidence for God’s existence is the fact that we as humans are unique within nature, as far as we know, in the sense (among other ways) that we are never at peace. Sure, we can experience periods of brief contentment but that wears off sooner or later and we search for the next thing to make us happy. Only we never find it. Eventually, every single thing that we can experience bores us. Meanwhile, consider other animals. They are content in nature. As soon as all their needs are met, like nutrition, security etc, they rest. They just sit there. Never thinking ‘What do I do now?’ They just be. That is because they are fully of this world. We, while risen from nature, seek something that no matter where we look, we cannot find. We constantly move on to the next thing, never satisfied. We search for meaning where other creatures do not, because we were meant for something more than being just animals. God designed us like this so that we would turn to him and eventually find the rest that our hearts seek. Other animals find their rest in nature, we find it above nature in God and that is why you and I are restless creatures. Remember that whenever you’re bored.

st augustine

NO. 2: FAITH IN THE EXISTENCE OF GOD MUST BE UNQUESTIONING

I speak for the Catholic faith here only, but I can give a very easy answer to this one. It is wrong. That’s why there is a study known as theology. It is also the reason there have been bitter arguments throughout the centuries between different parties within the Universal Church regarding questions like ‘Who is Jesus and what is he?’ and ‘What can we say about the Holy Spirit?’ Finally, the same St. Thomas Aquinas mentioned above would not have written the 3 volume, 3500 page long ‘Summa Theologica’ which is composed ENTIRELY of questions (question 2 being on the existence of God and if we can know this by natural reason), if unquestioning belief was a requirement of the rational believer.

NO.3: THE ISSUE OF MANY GODS OR ‘WHICH GOD?’

Here we must get down to what is meant by God. St. Anselm (11th C.), in trying to demonstrate God’s existence, said ‘God is that than which nothing greater can be thought.’ I mention this to ensure that we all understand what is meant by God rather than to explore his interesting argument for the existence of God.

God is unique. As first principle, he is causally before all things. He is necessarily existence itself. If he wasn’t he couldn’t be eternal. Nor could he give existence to other beings, animated or not. As existence itself, he is not a being either. He is being itself. It makes sense to suggest that God, as being itself, is eternal as the nature of being is to be- if it was not in being, it wouldn’t be being. So He simply is. I hope your head is not spinning!

In light of these assertions, one can understand why it is said that God is beyond everything else- he is a level above, not the greatest being among a quantifiable number of other beings. It does not make sense to say that there is more than one existence- something that exists exists. Existence is uncountable and is therefore a general term applied to all that exists. So God, as the source of existence, is unique. We have existence. God is existence. ‘I am who I am,’ he told Moses. Because of that, He is able to give us the gift of His own being, to create us.

i-am-who-i-am

Dawkin’s mistaken view of God is that he is a being among beings, which is why he talks about belief in a being called a ‘flying spaghetti monster.’ Anyone who understands (as far as human reason can) what God is finds this laughable. And even if you don’t accept what I have written in the last paragraph, you will appreciate the distinction between the Catholic understanding of God and Dawkins’ misunderstanding. So, along with him and his friends, I would happily dismiss the gods (which are essentially pagan super humans) of history, but that was actually done a long time before Dawkins said it needed to be done. The Greek and Roman Pantheons are gone, the Norse gods are gone, along with any other god they could make a super hero movie about (looking at both of you, Thor and Loki). The fact that they are super hero characters further illustrates the difference between what God actually is and the totally mistaken belief that the word god denotes a class to which many things belong, like the word animal. God is by definition the one and only and as a result always has a capital G. God is linguistically a proper noun, like Tony.

As for the conception of God in other major world religions, suffice it to say that if Catholicism genuinely holds the truth about God (both philosophically reached truths, which can be reached by anyone with the intellectual capacity and time, and Divinely revealed truth), then objectively speaking, some of the views held by those other religions are inaccurate. They do contain some truths, but are utterly mistaken in other ways. This, again, would require another discussion and I am probably not knowledgable enough to talk about that to a great extent at the moment.

CONCLUSION OF PART 1.

I’m going to stop here as I feel there is enough to consider in what I have written above for the moment. I hope you enjoyed reading it. Let me know what you think and I’ll try to get the second part (Points 4-6) done before too long. That way you can respond if you would like to, Ciaran :).

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5 Comments Add yours

  1. Well written post. If you weren’t already watching it, the 6-part miniseries The Story of God with Morgan Freeman might be of interest to you. It’s a National Geographic program. I’m finding it very intriguing and I’ve learned a lot about other belief systems, and lack there of for that matter. You and your cousin might enjoy it too. Marianne

    1. ajshannon2014 says:

      Thanks for reading Marianne and for your comment. I will certainly look that up, I noticed you posted a few days ago something related to that, I will read it this evening.

  2. Ste J says:

    Okay I have a few points which you may bat aside with superior logic but that is part of the process of learning and finding out about the minutiae of the Catholic faith before I read, Sts Aquinas, Anselm and Augustus.

    I find your argument for a first cause as God, not that I am in a position to dispute the assertion as it would seem to fit on what we know or don’t know and I think that is the point, without any evidence either way it seems like we must wait to see if scientists finds anything in the future.

    I would say that after we banded together and formed civilisation then we had more time to think and invent, this doesn’t necesitate God but rather an original instinct for more security which then allowed more freedom of thought, art so on as a bonus.

    I need to read my selected works of Tommy A. at some point soon…he was a prolific chap.

    On the existence of God, Him being eternal, this isn’t something that can be verified unless we accept that miracles are the proof (although you may be able to point more evidence out to me), it occurs to me that ignoring the papers, very few miracles are verified by the Catholic church (I may be wrong on that but I am sure there is such a strong judging process to weed out the dubious ones) so it could be there was a being who wasn’t eternal and we could just now be on our own.

    1. ajshannon2014 says:

      Thanks for reading Ste J and for the thoughtful response. You raise interesting points.
      As regards your first one, I think I agree with you when you say ‘that is the point.’ I know, you know and everyone knows that the argument for the Unmoved Mover cannot be scientifically verified. It depends on how much you trust human reason. If I can a very simple analogy to it which may help us. If we were to discover a hut in the wilderness, we would logically assert that someone built it. We cannot actually verify that really because we didn’t see it being built. One could argue (even though it would be ridiculous) it just appeared there. Philosophically you could claim that, and at the end of the day, what true refutal is there that could ultimately say ‘I know the hut was built by another.’ We can’t scientifically test for such things but we can make logical inferences. In a very simple way, I mean the Universe (meaning anything that exists) to be like the hut and the maker to be God. Obviously, it goes without saying that a hut and creation are not the same things. I hope that analogy gives some food for thought. At the very least, I hope it shows the necessity of philosophical speculation starting where scientific experimentation ends.
      You’re right whe you say civilisation afforded us more opportunity to think and create art. Forgive me, but I’m not quite sure why you say this doesn’t necessitate God. I can’t remember making that claim. In light of it, though, I would briefly mention Aristotle, who first posited an unmoved mover. He lived in an ancient Greek conglomeration of poleis as you probably know. If Book One of his poltics is anything to go by, the polis was extremely well organised so that the aristocracy could do that which Aristotle saw as the highest act of man: contemplate the Divine- this unmoved mover, the most worthy object of our thought. Aristotle seems to have reached this notion of first mover through what I can only assume was years of reasoning. He would not have done so without material necessities, obviously.
      Your last point is very interesting and I must admit I had not thought of a creator who wasn’t eternal. What I would say to it is that we cannot give what we do not have and for God to give (as per Catholicism) eternal existence to us, He must be eternal. Now I know I stray into theological territory there, in using my faith to back up a point, but even St. Thomas did this- in fact it would be strange if he didn’t. He claimed that there is greater certainty in the things that God has said (which would fit under theology) than the things said by man (philosophy). If something is written in Scripture then, we have greater certainty through faith than through reason. We could actually say we know revealed truths, like the fact that Jesus Christ will come again, for example, but the use of the word ‘know’ is analogical to the use of the word ‘know’ in relation to things like ‘physical things exist.’ Philosophically, I struggle to give you an answer, though, to the idea that a creator created and then ‘died.’ You raised a very interesting point which I shall have to think about and certainly ask someone better qualified than myself to answer. I would reference again, theologically, the name ‘I am.’ It signifies God’s eternal existence.
      I hope my reply was interesting and thanks again for commenting. You’re obviously a deep thinking fellow, I have started to try getting back to reading more consistently, like yourself.

  3. Ste J says:

    Your reply was extremely interesting and had me reading up on quite a few things and that is always a good thing. A good debate always works the grey matter and makes one think of their own argument in a more critical light. Reading really is great and it looks like a lot more philosophy and theology will be added to the reading pile.

    If I assume somebody created the hut, I would also assume somebody created God if he is there. An eternal being who has always been there is a neat answer and It’s a fair point about philosophical speculation but it does not fit in with anything seen in nature, everything comes from something surely?

    Sorry my point was misphrased, or perhaps a tangent I muddled, Logically we are bored because of the lack of life threatening issues we used to face, gathering food, clubbing animals and each other off our territory and so forth, our minds are not built for the modern world so without the fear of our imminent demise then we have a vacuum to be filled by other things. This change in lifestyle could be put down to God giving us curiosity but it could equally be said that we become the dominant species on the planet by the logical need for survival. Boredom being a by product of that and from this need to fill time to create God in our own image to explain such.

    As to your point on Aristotle, I am not so well versed in him yet, only what Sophie’s World taught me.

    I am would seem to signify the eternal (or at least a present tense) but would also be an answer that would be given to somebody not able to understand the concept of what God really is and I believe the argument is that we cannot fully conceive God otherwise we would be either the perfect being like Him or he would be imperfect like us.

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