God the Designer: Yes or No?
Two weeks ago we saw how Fr. Robert Spitzer explored the nature of human happiness as a means of opening others to both the presence of God and a relationship with Him. I reviewed his book in Fr. Robert Spitzer on happiness: An effective approach to God? Today I will examine a different way to God set forth in a new book by Michael Augros. It’s title? Who Designed the Designer? A Rediscovered Path to God’s Existence.
Augros is a philosopher who teaches at Thomas Aquinas College, and his book is a sustained philosophical argument proving that (a) there must be a First Cause, (b) the First Cause must be a singular spiritual being without beginning or end; and (c) the First Cause must already possess in itself all the perfections which it imparts to all the contingent things it causes. Fortunately, Augros writes well and uses many entertaining examples, making a potentially dry topic extraordinarily readable. For reference, he also provides an appendix entitled “Naked Proofs” which repeats the entire argument of the book in a strict syllogistic form.
It is important to recognize that Who Designed the Designer? is not “designed” to provide a spiritual experience. Its purpose is not to draw us into a personal relationship with God (or at least not directly). Rather, Augros’ main interest is to refute the many atheists who, especially in modern times, think they have successfully demolished the traditional arguments for the existence of God based on the necessity of a first cause or a prime mover.
Such debunking has become more frequent since the 19th century, and has risen to a higher pitch with the so-called New Atheism. But it is philosophically naïve. The new atheists do not seem to understand how to do philosophy, and they constantly make category mistakes and false assumptions about how the proofs work. Augros sees the popularity of these mistakes in the modern world, and understands them to be a serious obstacle to taking the God question seriously. Accordingly, he has written a sustained and very rich argument about the necessity and the nature of a First Cause.
A Resounding Success
And a very good argument it is, too. Augros knows it is not enough to prove the existence of a First Cause. The New Atheists also accept a First Cause, a simple kind of matter which they believe develops in constantly new and astonishing ways. So the mere existence of a First Cause, which has troubled no few thinkers over the centuries, does not appear to be the key problem today. Instead, it is necessary to place the emphasis on what characteristics a first cause must inescapably possess.
Thus in the second chapter Augros proves that there can be one and only one First Cause, and that all other things necessarily depend upon the First Cause. Similarly, in the third chapter he demonstrates that the First Cause cannot be a change; in fact, it cannot change at all, but all changes depend upon it. And since the First Cause cannot change, it cannot be matter. In the fourth chapter, he further establishes that the First Cause cannot be bodily or dimensional in any way.
In the fifth chapter, Augros argues that the First Cause contains, in a simpler and superior way, all the actualities it causes in other things, and that the First Cause has nothing merely “potential” about it, but is pure Act. In the sixth, he proves that the First Cause must be intelligent. Finally, in the seventh chapter, Augros draws the obvious conclusion that, since “god” is typically defined as “a supernatural intelligence who deliberately designed and created the universe and everything in it”, the arguments for the First Cause prove that God exists.
More Interesting Still
After completing the proof, Augros goes on to deal with what makes the opposition tick. Chapter eight discusses the problem of “the will to atheism”, the rather obvious reasons why some people prefer to cling to atheism despite the faulty arguments used to sustain it. Then, in chapter nine, he takes up the question of evil, and how it can be understood in ways which do not undermine our understanding of an all-knowing, all-powerful, and all-perfect Creator. Augros points out, for example, that to be willing to create material things, which operate through all kinds of secondary causes, is to be willing to tolerate imperfection and failure, even though the First Cause is perfect. He also takes up the existence of beauty as an indicator of the incredible aptness of the First Cause’s supreme Intelligence.
Then, in the final chapter (“Hecklers”), Augros lists fourteen common objections to any proof for the existence of God, drawn both from specific thinkers and from widespread opinions. I was especially glad to see the author’s response to the ridiculous arguments of Bertrand Russell, whom many consider to have successfully demonstrated the bankruptcy of the argument for God from the idea of the First Cause. Of course Russell did no such thing; he mostly caricatured the argument with consummate dishonesty.
As if all this is not enough, Augros includes three more appendices, one on the challenge of the philosopher David Hume; another on philosophers, such as William of Ockham and Friedrich Nietzsche, who fairly thoroughly confused the question of how we understand the nature of things; and a third explaining that Newton’s First Law—and the consequent theory and practice of modern Physics—do not, when properly understood in their own context, undermine the proofs in the book.
An Argument for Everyone?
The problem with God arguments is that they may not really address the particular obstacles any given person is experiencing when thinking about God. For this reason, Michael Augros freely admits that a person’s faith may not be enhanced by his arguments. Hidden hurts or masked motives may be standing in the way of God’s approach to any given soul. Such problems go far toward explaining why Fr. Spitzer decided to take up the question of happiness, as something every man and woman must inescapably consider.
But Augros understands the power of the popular myth that the argument for the First Cause has been disproved. This myth offers one of the most widespread excuses today for refusing to take the God question seriously. By devoting an entire book to a thorough and often entertaining proof of the First Cause, the author clearly hopes to disrupt the rationalizations common to our era. Everyone can learn from Who Designed the Designer?. But the main point, I would say, is to dramatically reduce the ease with which our contemporaries can, in effect, use their lack of personal experience with reality to hide from it.
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Posted by: feedback -
Jul. 29, 2015 1:46 AM ET USA
In the end Faith is always a gift from above. Clinging to atheism despite the faulty arguments used to sustain it is what the Sacred Scripture calls "hardness of heart." That clinging may have moral rather than philosophical grounds because Faith always compels to charity and to conversion. St. James gives example of faith without conversion, "The evil spirits also believe [in God] and tremble."