The MOST Theological Collection: Catholic Apologetics Today: Answers to Modern Critics
"Chapter 4: Is There a God?"
Is there a God? The scientifically checked miracles of Chapter 3 really answer this question, for as we have seen, God has made Himself known by these miracles as shown His hand, as it were. Even so, it is worthwhile to look at a different kind of proof of His existence. First will come some preliminary proofs, then the "clincher."
There is a story-it may not be true, but it is a good illustration even so-that an atheist came to call on an astronomer friend. While waiting, he admired a clever mechanical model of the solar system. He pushed a button, and each planet, made to scale, revolved at the right proportional rate. When the astronomer came in, the atheist asked, "This is clever; who made it?" The astronomer replied, "No one." "But you are kidding." "No. You think the real thing made itself. Why not this little model?"
Again, a good mathematician could calculate the chances of one perfect human ear being formed merely by chance. The odds against it are astronomical. Consider then the chance of two ears developing at the same time? And, with other working pans of a human too, such as the human brain? Before birth, the brain develops hundreds of thousands of neurons each minute.14 Each neuron makes from 1,000 to 10,000 synapses (connections) to a total of about 100 trillion synapses, and about 100 billion neurons. Yet, no two neurons are identical in form. But they all do develop and all make the right connections, to form one working human brain. Could they do it all on their own, without the help of a higher power?
In addition, as we said, there are really solid proofs of God's existence. We are going to examine the best form of proof twice: first, in technical philosophical form, in which it has maximum power, but is less easy to follow. Later we will repeat it in a looser but easier form and in popular language.
The great Greek philosopher, Aristotle, made some remarkable discoveries. One of them was this-and it is so simple: If I am here and want to go to there I must first have the capacity-then next I must actually go. He named the first of these principles potency or potentiality; the second, act or actualization or perfection (they all mean the same).
This truth is quite obvious. Perhaps we even would have seen it without his help. But now we need to notice something further. Not only when I travel from place to place, but also any time something moves or changes in any way, the same set of conditions must exist, namely: first the capacity or potency for the move or change; second, the fulfillment or act.
We notice, too, that whenever there is a rise from potency to act, new, higher perfection or being appears. Before, there was only a possibility or capacity or potency-afterwards, when that possibility or potency got its fulfillment, there is an improvement-there is new being or higher being, as a result.
But I cannot give myself what I do not have. If I do not have $1,000 I cannot give myself $1,000. I must get it from elsewhere. Therefore, when this rise takes place, from potency to act, where does the extra come from? It might, in some cases, come from a different part of me (if I am the one in which the rise takes place). But if so, where did the other part get the added perfection, or how did it get up from potency to act? It had to come from somewhere; and at least eventually, that means from some being outside me.
As you will see, we have not solved the problem yet for we must still ask another question. Where did that outside being get the perfection; how did it move from potency to act?
Will the problem go away if we suppose there is a long chain of beings, each moving the other from potency to act? No, the problem is still with us, as long as we have beings that need help to get from potency to act. It is only when we come to a being that does not need help that we get an answer. That being is what Aristotle calls the First Cause, or God. And the First Cause is pure Act, with no potency or potentiality mixed in.
Let us use a comparison-no comparison is perfect and neither is this one, but it will help. Suppose we take a playing card and try to stand it on its edge or on a slant on the top of a table. Of course it needs support. So we put another card behind it at the same angle, as a prop. But then that too needs a prop . . . and so on and on. No matter how many cards we put there in the same way, there is no solution to the problem. Instead, the problem gets worse: there are more cards to support. It is only when finally we put in a solid prop (not just a card) that can stand on its own that the whole chain stands.
Similarly, beings that cannot supply their own perfection cannot really explain things. For that we need a being that needs nothing else: the First Cause.
Now let us try a comparison from astronomy. Most astronomers today favor the Big Bang theory of the origin of our universe. There are still some difficulties with it, yet most astronomers favor it. For certain, it will give us an illustration. This theory says that at first there was one great ball of matter. Then it exploded. As the pans flew farther and farther out, some matter joined to form stars, planets, and galaxies.
Is there good evidence for this theory? If we only had a time machine that would let us look back in time for 1 million years first, then for 5 million, then for 10 million, and so on, to observe the state of the universe at these various points, then we could visually check to see if things were as supposed in this theory.
Of course, we do not have a time machine. But, believe it or not, without one we can still look back in time. Think for example of the nearest galaxy to ours, Andromeda. Its distance from us is about 2.2 million light years. Now we know that light races at a speed just over 186,000 miles per second. So when we say Andromeda is 2.2 million light years away, we are really saying it is so far out that even at that staggering speed of over 186,000 miles per second, its light takes 2.2 million years to reach our eyes.
Further, let us notice this: If the light takes that long to reach us, then the way Andromeda looks to us now is not the way it really is now we are seeing Andromeda the way it was 2.2 million years ago. So we can really look back in time. Of course, then, we can also look at other objects in space, and see in each case the state of things many million years back.
Let us come back to the start of the theory. There was a giant ball of matter, and it exploded. What brought that ball of matter into existence? It could not just make itself. What made it "explode"? That could not happen without cause. Therefore the cause that brought it into existence and made it "explode" into a great universe is what we call God.
But it is time to go farther than what even Aristotle could see. When the universe was made out of nothing how great a rise on the scale of being did that require? If we think of a rise from, let us say, three degrees to seven degrees, we seem to be able to measure that-it seems to be a limited rise. But how great is the rise from utter nothing to something-and moreover to something good? Such a rise is actually infinite. What kind of power does it take to cause an infinite rise? Obviously, infinite power. So, God must be infinite. (Aristotle would have really enjoyed this added step in this reasoning process.)
There is still another train of reasoning that brings us face to face again with infinity. Aristotle saw that potency is capacity-but he did not notice that it is also a limit. Think of an eight-ounce and a twelve-ounce glass. Each has a capacity for eight or twelve ounces. But each also has a limit: each can take no more than eight or twelve ounces.
Now we saw above that the First Cause must have no potency-it must be only pure act. (If it had a potency, it would have the problem of getting up from potency to act). Now act without potency is the same as act without limit, for potency is limit. Therefore act without limit is infinite. And, since act is the same as perfection, God is Infinite Perfection.
We can see too that God must be unchangeable. For before anything can change, it must have potency, or capacity for change. But He has no potency-so He cannot change.
We can also see that He must be beyond and outside of time, for time is a restless succession of changes. What was future a moment ago changes to present, and then to past. But He is incapable of change, so He is beyond time. Hence His life is called eternity, in the strict sense: all is present to Him-no past, no future. When someone dies, we say in a loose sense that he goes to eternity. But we really mean that he goes outside of time. Yet he certainly still has had a past, and will also have a future. So the word "eternity" is used loosely about a departed one. In the strict sense, the word eternity applies only to God. Yet, we do say: God made the world-an expression about the past. And Christ will return at the end-an expression about the future. But to the Infinite Mind, these are all present, with no past or future. With these observations, we can begin to suspect the limited capability of our minds compared to the Eternal.
Now that we have expressed these things in somewhat technical language, we can reiterate in common terms. Basically, if anything changes, it must first have the capacity-followed by the fulfillment. And we can see that when something higher appears as a result of an action or when something comes into existence, there must be a higher power behind it. Now, where does the "extra" come from? It might be a pan of the one that changes-but that only postpones the reckoning, for that other pan also has to get the "extra" from somewhere which means from some being outside itself. But that outside being has the same problem-and so on and so on, until we get to a Being with no such problem. That being is the First Cause, the source of all being, or God.
Again, when the first things came into existence, they came from nothing: otherwise they would not be the first. But that ascent from nothing to something is an infinite rise. To cause it takes infinite power. So God has to be infinite.
The "chariots of the gods" theory held by Von Danniken and others15 now seems silly in comparison. They suggest that perhaps long ago astronauts visited our earth, and awed the simple earthlings. Now, we cannot deny that such a thing could have happened-if the spacemen could overcome the problem of staying alive long enough to come from even the nearest heavenly bodies at the speed of light-or could even exceed what seems to be the speed limit in the universe. But even if we could grant the possibility of such visitors, we would still have to ask: Who made the astronauts? Who made their world? Who made ours? So our proofs hold, even if there could have been such space visitors.
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Data from Scientific American, special issue of Sept., 1979, esp. pp. 45-46, 55 and 113.