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Proving God

By Dr. Jeff Mirus (bio - articles ) | Feb 29, 2012

Robert J. Spitzer, SJ wrote an impressive book in 2010 entitled New Proofs for the Existence of God. It was impressive because Fr. Spitzer sought to update both the physical and the philosophical proofs for the existence of God, taking into account the kinds of problems which have been introduced by modern scientists and philosophers, problems which have shed doubt on the reliability of the traditional proofs. This is a task that could only be performed by someone well-educated in both science and philosophy, and Fr. Spitzer—former president of Gonzaga University and founder the Magis Center of Reason and Faith—is such a man.

I've completed the scientific portion of the book, which is based on the contributions of contemporary physics. I'll very likely return to the book again in this space when I've digested the philosophical portions. But before delving into modern physics, I'd like to make some important preliminary observations.

The Nature of Human Knowing

First, I am convinced that the human person interacts with reality in a manner so profound that individual disciplines, such as physics and philosophy, cannot exhaust or supplant it. The human person naturally perceives reality in its wholeness, including the natures and ends of things (though not, of course, all at once or infallibly). He can look at the wonders of nature and conclude, quite rightly, that there must be a creator. A scientist, who by definition can only work with the physically-measurable manifestations of being (not being itself), may develop theories of how things work that are very useful in their own way, but he can never exhaust the problem of causation, for he cannot plumb the ultimate mystery of being.

Similarly, a philosopher may develop a system to explain many aspects of reality, and his insights and deductions may help us to perceive the truth of many matters otherwise obscure. But the system will never perfectly mirror the reality, and to the degree that its principles are purely abstract, to that same degree there is a risk of departing from the essential nature of the real, which the human person is clearly constituted—by God or nature I have not yet said—to apprehend both immediately and whole.

A person already apprehends and knows reality in a deeper and more perceptive way before he becomes a scientist or a philosopher, a historian or a sociologist, a theologian or a literary critic. And his fundamental understanding of reality does not increase by virtue of specialization (which, by its nature, tends toward what is incomplete and lopsided) except insofar as whatever he learns in specialized studies leads him to refine and enhance, rather than supplant, that whole and human perception of reality which is his birthright.

For these reasons, the ordinary man need not be ashamed to look out at the world and make the connections native to his own mind and heart concerning the existence of God. Indeed, he will have to be trained very carefully not to make these connections, or perhaps be driven to sever them by his own distaste for moral constraints. Though scientists and philosophers may swirl around us in their hordes, the fundamental reliability of human perception, in its broad strokes and universal experiences, remains the best possible foundation for the recognition of the existence of God.

Alternative Arguments

Second, our knowledge of the existence of God is not limited to formal proofs, and indeed no formal proof is likely to be completely conclusive in itself, which is perhaps why St. Thomas Aquinas referred to his own proofs sometimes as “ways”. Blessed John Henry Newman thought the strongest single argument for the existence of God came from conscience—the universal apprehension on the part of the human person that he has a moral duty and is somehow under judgment, that there is a law and so there must also be a law-giver (see The Argument from Conscience). Of course, other supernatural manifestations apart from a revelation would be sufficient to establish God's existence. Once we have a revelation, we are already considerably farther along. But one minor way in which Revelation for Christians serves to confirm a merely natural theology is found in St. Paul's emphasis on one of the points with which I began, namely that we are right to trust the normal human way of appreciating the universe—indeed, that we have no excuse if we fail to perceive God in the things He has made (Rom 1:18-20).

Finally, as Newman pointed out in his landmark work An Essay in Adi of a Grammar of Assent (see The Meaning of Newman's Grammar of Assent), the normal manner in which a human person comes to a careful certitude is not only ordinary but extremely reliable in its method. Certitude comes through a series of converging probabilities, all pointing in the same direction. Thus a man may naturally perceive that there must be a Creator, he may naturally sense that there must be a Judge, he may accept a philosophical argument for a transcendent First Cause, he may be convinced of the veracity of the arguments in favor of Christian revelation, he may have experienced something of God in prayer or perhaps even a miracle, he may notice that the people he most respects and admires speak eloquently of God, and he may be deeply impressed by the holiness of those who devote themselves to His service—those who seem somehow to live a life which is human yet beyond the human mode.

Clearly, neither philosophy nor science can exhaust the possibilities for becoming legitimately convinced of the existence of God. And having said all this, I can also say that Fr. Spitzer agrees.

Yet the quest for a more formal proof is a valid one as well. The genius of New Proofs for the Existence of God, in addition to bringing a number of arguments up to date, is that Fr. Spitzer keeps in mind what it takes to make a “reasonable and responsible” decision to believe something. He specifically alludes to Newman's “staggering probability”, and the whole point of his book is to take a number of arguments drawn from both physics and philosophy and show not only how each one suggests the existence of God as the simplest and most believable conclusion, but also how all of them together make a corroborative and therefore extraordinarily strong case.

New Scientific Proofs

But, as I said at the outset, I wish to explore briefly only Fr. Spitzer's scientific material in this essay, since I have not yet completed my study of the philosophical arguments. Let me summarize the science now. An exhaustive presentation of the evidence is not necessary to grasp the main points. Though Fr. Spitzer provides considerable detail, a mere overview of the case is sufficient for us here.

Modern physics, explains Fr. Spitzer, has learned two extremely important things about the universe which revitalize the old cosmological arguments for the existence of God, arguments which some earlier modern scientists and philosophers had thought to discard when the nature of things was not so fully known. For example, it was thought that the universe might have always existed (infinite in prior time) and therefore there would have been plenty of opportunity for random events to coalesce into a situation hospitable to life, and for various life forms to have evolved, all without postulating the existence of a Creator. But based on contemporary science, this is simply not true.

The first reason it is not true is that all modern theories of the universe show that its operations can be traced back to a specific beginning. Everyone is probably familiar with the Big Bang theory (or various modified Big Bang theories). This is the reigning science, well substantiated by both theoretical consistency and repeatable experiments, and it places the age of the universe at slightly over 13.7 billion years. Now of course if the entire universe had a beginning, then there was a “time” when it was not. Manifestly, it would then require a transcendent cause to bring it into existence, to precipitate the Big Bang.

Some scientists have posited alternative theories, of course, presumably motivated by something they have observed in the evidence, or by an attraction to the beautiful mathematics such theories sometimes produce, or by mere whimsy, or surely in some cases simply because they do not like theories which suggest that God really does exist. Thus there have been theories of a bouncing universe, in which there is a Big Bang, and then a Big Collapse, and then a Big Bang, and then a Big Collapse, and then…well, you get the idea. But it turns out that the scientific/mathematical equations necessary to describe such ideas in relationship to existing evidence always prove that the universe cannot have been “bouncing” forever.

No matter what theory is used, including things like String Theory, everybody runs up against the same issue: The universe began at a certain fixed point. It is not chronologically infinite.

There are also some theories that the universe is really a “multiverse”, in which innumerable possibilities are played out in a huge number of related “universes”. The conceptual difficulties underlying this way of thinking are rather severe, but some version of the idea seems to be attractive to those who wish to find infinite chances for development despite the demonstrated finitude of time. Thus, if someone posits a high order number of universes (in a multiverse), he can argue that every possibility is played out somewhere, and so the universe we ourselves inhabit could have been expected to happen.

The reason such theories (we might more realistically call them fancies) need the multiverse crutch is because modern science grasps with exceeding clarity how astonishing it is that the universe we know and experience is hospitable to life. This is called our “anthropic condition”. Modern scientists know that the constants necessary to support life occupy a very limited range of values, values which are such an infinitesimally small sample of all the possible values that it is impossible that they could have happened by chance in the available time. This is the second great scientific contribution to the renewal of the cosmological arguments for God.

These constants include constants of space and of time, energy constants (e.g., gravitational attraction, weak force coupling, and strong force coupling), individuating constants such as the rest mass of a proton and an electron or the unit charge of a proton or an electron, and large-scale and fine-structure constants (relating to such things as the relationship between photons and protons and electromagnetic fields). It is beyond my capacity to explain all these constants, though Fr. Spitzer discusses them in some detail, giving examples of how they work together. But the point is that they can have only a very small range of values if things are to hold together and if life is to exist. Fr. Spitzer enumerates twenty of these constants in the book, all of which, to sustain our anthropic universe, need to be spot-on.

Conclusion

In other words, the odds against our anthropic universe are what we commonly call astronomical, and that is why those who hate so much to resort to the idea of God (which admittedly is outside the scope of science to prove or disprove) sometimes reach out to embrace an infinite number of universes. Perhaps they hope to avoid the God-trap into which they feel they are being drawn by…the inescapable evidence all around them. Unfortunately, multiverse arguments have significant problems of their own, not the least of which is that they violate the standard scientific “canon of parsimony” (Occam's Razor) on a gigantic scale, postulating an infinite number of universes in a vain effort to explain just one. Surely this requires an even greater leap of faith!

In conclusion, we can say based entirely on the accepted science of the twenty-first century that (a) The universe can be traced back to a starting point and so apparently required a transcendent cause to bring it into existence; and (b) Our anthropic universe cannot possibly have developed by chance in the time allotted, and so apparently it required a designer. This evidence is so striking that not only is it reasonable and responsible to believe that God exists, but it is both unreasonable and irresponsible, on scientific grounds, to disbelieve it. And when we consider that the findings of science are just one tool in a veritable arsenal of human modes of perception, the case for God grows stronger still.


Next in series: God: Philosophical Proofs and the Transcendentals

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Show 5 Comments? (Hidden)Hide Comments
  • Posted by: dt.dean9713 - Mar. 06, 2012 4:53 PM ET USA

    There is an abundance and varity of life in this world. How could it have possibly gotten here except by divine creation? It is common sense that life would not be here and could not be here, except it being put here by God. It is no doubt likewise true that the universe would not be here as well, if not put here by divine creation. It is as well, that the love of God and God's love, would go to show this all as well. God loves, so there is the uninverse. This is real common sense.

  • Posted by: John J Plick - Mar. 04, 2012 1:04 PM ET USA

    Unfortunately, the simplest and most effective way "to prove God" is quite repulsive to us...; DIE for Him.... as a "spectacle," before others...

  • Posted by: dagbat - Mar. 03, 2012 1:10 AM ET USA

    Another very good book is Life After Death - The Evidence, by Dinesh D'Souza

  • Posted by: bkmajer3729 - Mar. 01, 2012 12:31 AM ET USA

    This is a fantastic and incredibly interesting book! Father Spitzer makes his points clear and this is not an "intelligent design" argument. The facts are before us - all we have to do is open our eyes and trust the reality presented to our senses and intellect. Prayer helps too...

  • Posted by: wolfdavef3415 - Feb. 29, 2012 9:12 PM ET USA

    "...and that is why those who hate so much to resort to the idea of God (which admittedly is outside the scope of science to prove or disprove) sometimes reach out to embrace an infinite number of universes..." Or, in other words, these men discovered that the universe is finite, but still feel that this is not enough explanation, and require something infinite to satisfy their curiosities. Let's sign them up for RCIA. :-) Good summary, Dr. Mirus, I'll have to check out the book.

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