One of the frequent themes that surfaces in the confirmation letters, which I have been privileged to read over these 30-plus years, is that of the existence of God.
A family tragedy or injury, serious illness or death can leave a young adult reeling in sorrow and seriously questioning the very existence of God.
“How could a good God,” they ask, “cause my Nana so much pain and then take her from us at such an early age? I couldn’t believe in such a God!” they say, as they describe the faith journey of their young lives.
Usually the letter concludes with a new sense of trust in God’s inscrutable wisdom or the hope that Nana is finally in a better place, surrounded by the family members who had gone before her.
Sometimes a young scientist or budding mathematician seeks the same type of tight, irrefutable logic and certitude for the existence of God as might be found in the theorems of a textbook or the conclusions of experiments. In a world where what the philosophers call “secondary causes,” namely the more immediate events which affect the changes we sense in the cosmos around us, are verifiable and tangible, it may seem that any ultimate Cause is not necessary. At least, the letters opine, the existence of such a Cause can’t be proven scientifically; so how could one ever know for sure?
Early Christian apologists facing a pagan world and medieval scholars learned in the finest thinking of the ancient Greek sages have developed what we call the five classical proofs for the existence of God.
These five ways by which our human reason can conclude to the existence of God are not strictly scientific proofs, but rather converging and convincing arguments which have been honed and sharpened over the centuries. They come together to form a conclusion which makes human belief in God reasonable, wise and understandable. They preclude the objection that it’s all merely wishful thinking on our part.
The Unmoved Mover. We live in a world of endless actions and reactions, of freeway accidents and objects which create motion by their impact on one another. Thomas Aquinas noted that every impact is explained sequentially by what in turn caused that action. Eventually one must arrive at something / Some One unmoved by anything else. We can call that first mover “God.”
The Uncaused Cause. Broaden out the picture for a moment beyond colliding automobiles or asteroids to human emotions, ideas or nerve responses. This argument is similar to the first, but wider in scope. In a universe filled with the repeated impact of causes and effects, one can eventually trace creation back to something which remains a “first Cause” for everything else that exists.
Follow the energy back as far as one may wish, there finally exists the “Uncaused” Source and Origin of everything else. We call that ultimate cause “God.”
The One thing Necessary. Virtually everything around us, even our very self, could possibly not have existed. This tree, this cloud, this person, this ocean could not have existed. If anything exists, even though it could not have existed, it must ultimately and eventually be the result of the only absolutely necessary reality. We call that single necessary being amid all the possibles “God.”
The true, good and beautiful. Everything is more or less good or noble. The very fact that degrees of all fine qualities can be found within and around us should lead to our recognition that something perfectly true, perfectly good and perfectly beautiful exists in which all the lesser good participates and from which they emanate or flow. We call that single, perfectly true, good and beautiful being “God.’
Intelligent design. Like our own, the ancient world was enthralled by the intricate and exquisitely detailed design of everything. Modern science has extended the astonishing order into the tiniest of particles or out to the farthest expanses of the cosmos. To conclude that all the infinite detail of material creation is mere random accident seems almost absurd. The more one learns, the more one is reduced to wonder and awe. We call the master planner of the universe, however the laws may be worded in a complex world, “God.”
Granted, none of these five “proofs” can produce the level of irrefutable certitude required for mathematical or scientific study. The arguments leave the inquiring human mind with a sense, however, that the existence of God is reasonable. We are free to enter that world of God or to remain in human darkness. Catholic faith respects the human mind and remains reasonable.
There are also arguments from the constant human desire for something ever more than whatever we may have or experience at any given moment. Everything we may experience can be projected to infinite levels. Human beings can say that whatever we may call God remains completely beyond anything we can ever know or control. The transforming experiences of the sunset’s incredible beauty or the finest of music also signal the human heart’s yearning for the infinite which we call “God.”
Moreover, we believe that God wishes our response to be free, not forced. Any argument for God’s existence, therefore, can never be compellingly scientific. When we are free, however, we can become partners in the work of guiding the natural world around us. We can become God’s instruments in harnessing the world for good.