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The Proofs of God's Existence: Some Preliminary Groundwork

Grigory Gagarin. The Alexander Column in Scaffolding.
"It's coming! It's coming!"
(Grigory Gagarin. The Alexander Column in Scaffolding. Source)

Some people (including all Catholics) claim that Science can prove God's existence. I cannot demonstrate God's existence in the following brief essay, but I can perform some preliminary groundwork which is almost always sorely lacking.

1) What these proofs are not

One of the major obstacles encountered by people who want to examine the proofs of God's existence are the many misconceptions surrounding them. Let's try to debunk a few:

1.1) They are not some kind of purely rational deduction of the existence of Jesus Christ, or the Trinity, etc. The Catholic dogmas are not absurd or irrational, but they are above our reason [Denzinger, #2776, etc.].  Reason can validate the authenticity of the Revelation [Denzinger #2756, etc.], but it can't "manufacture" this Revelation by itself.

1.2) They are not some kind of "Second Bible". It is not as if you could either believe in the Bible, or believe in Philosophy. By definition, if you "believe in Science", you're not doing Science. See among others: "Isn't believing in Science anti-scientific?".

1.3) There are all kinds of false and useless "proofs" of God's existence out there. If you've ever had to prove anything in a Math exam, you know that it's not because somebody attempts to prove something, that they actually succeed!

1.4) They are not accessible to everybody. If you don't have sufficient mental capacity, or many years of spare time, or enough money to go to university, then you can't seriously study these proofs. Yes it is unfair, but this is Science, not religion. The idea that everybody can be saved if they repent and believe is an idea that comes from our Judeo-Christian culture, not Science.

1.5) They are neither miraculous in their process nor their outcome. In the Bible, Saul the persecutor of the Church falls off his horse, and by the time he hits the ground, he has become a Christian. Such miracles don't occur in Science, although many students wish they could go to bed at night completely ignorant, and wake up the morning of the exam filled with knowledge!

2) What these proofs require, intrinsically

In order for these proofs to prove anything, many "intrinsic" prerequisites must be satisfied, i.e. things that are required by the very nature of the problem at hand. Let's try to list some of them:

2.1) To do something scientific, you must first know what Science is. If you can't clearly explain what Science is, what are the main Sciences, and why Philosophy is also a Science, you're wasting your time fiddling around with scientific proofs of the existence of God.

2.2) To prove anything, you need to know what a proof is. You need to know what Logic is, what is induction, deduction, what are the various types of demonstrations, etc.

2.3) You can't prove God by His effects, if you don't know His effects. The proofs of God's existence proceed a posteriori, not a priori, i.e. they proceed from effects to the cause [Denzinger, #3622]. But if you haven't studied Philosophy of Nature (change, potentiality and act, causality, time, space, matter, life, finality, etc.), you won't have anything to base your proofs on.

2.4) You can't be certain of God's existence, if you're not certain of anything else. At some point of time in your scientific training, you have to ask yourself the question: "Can we really know truth?" In other words, you have to study that part of Philosophy called Criteriology.

Etc., etc.

Another way of saying the same thing is that "a chain is only as strong as its weakest link". If you want a proof of God's existence to "work" for you, you need to have all these links clearly in your mind. If one is missing, or fragile, you might have many Science books on your bookshelves, but you won't have the very essence of the proof, i.e. your reason won't be necessarily drawn to the conclusion.

3) What these proofs require, extrinsically

Already with what we've found so far, we're looking at several years of hard mental labor. But we're not finished! Several years of hard work is in the ideal case, where your reason and will are in good condition. In other words, if you have been preserved of all the intellectual errors and moral perversions floating out there, then you can just pick up a good philosophy book and start learning.

Let's start with the reason. Unfortunately, most people have been "contaminated" more or less consciously with serious philosophical errors. These errors need to be eliminated, otherwise trying to prove God's existence is a waste of time. The list of these errors is endless, but here are a few:

3.1) Materialism. If you are convinced that only matter can exist, obviously we can forget about God! Mind you, you can also forget about yourself, since your thoughts are only an epiphenomena of matter!

3.2) Skepticism. If you've been trapped by the corrupt philosophers who teach that "our senses deceive us", and that "we can never know anything with any certainty", then we all know with an absolute certainty that you won't be able to prove God's existence!

3.3) Positivism. If you are convinced that Philosophy is not a Science, then you are not doing whatever you're doing now, since what you are doing is Philosophy, and Philosophy doesn't exist.

Etc., etc.

Of course, a serious rebuttal of these and other philosophical errors takes time, and professional help. For the time being, my recommendation is Thonnard's Overview of the History of Philosophy.

Secondly, there are moral perversions. These are even more difficult to cure than errors in the reason. See among others "None More Blind Than He Who Doesn't Want To See".

4) Let's steal the thunder right away: the wording of the proofs

If you are seriously interested in the proofs of God's existence, you will need access to serious Philosophy books. My current favorite is Thonnard's Overview of Philosophy (Unfortunately currently only in French. Also, note that this book is not the same as his Overview of the History of Philosophy, even though that one is good too). I'm also attempting to find something better, with the "OSThoPhiT" Project.

In the meantime, studying a scientific proof is not like going to the movies. There is no such thing as "ruining the effect" by telling somebody how the movie ends. So here is a short version of some of these proofs:

4.1) The first and more manifest way is the argument from motion. It is certain, and evident to our senses, that in the world some things are in motion. Now whatever is in motion is put in motion by another, for nothing can be in motion except it is in potentiality to that towards which it is in motion; whereas a thing moves inasmuch as it is in act. For motion is nothing else than the reduction of something from potentiality to actuality. But nothing can be reduced from potentiality to actuality, except by something in a state of actuality. Thus that which is actually hot, as fire, makes wood, which is potentially hot, to be actually hot, and thereby moves and changes it. Now it is not possible that the same thing should be at once in actuality and potentiality in the same respect, but only in different respects. For what is actually hot cannot simultaneously be potentially hot; but it is simultaneously potentially cold. It is therefore impossible that in the same respect and in the same way a thing should be both mover and moved, i.e. that it should move itself. Therefore, whatever is in motion must be put in motion by another. If that by which it is put in motion be itself put in motion, then this also must needs be put in motion by another, and that by another again. But this cannot go on to infinity, because then there would be no first mover, and, consequently, no other mover; seeing that subsequent movers move only inasmuch as they are put in motion by the first mover; as the staff moves only because it is put in motion by the hand. Therefore it is necessary to arrive at a first mover, put in motion by no other; and this everyone understands to be God.

4.2) The second way is from the nature of the efficient cause. In the world of sense we find there is an order of efficient causes. There is no case known (neither is it, indeed, possible) in which a thing is found to be the efficient cause of itself; for so it would be prior to itself, which is impossible. Now in efficient causes it is not possible to go on to infinity, because in all efficient causes following in order, the first is the cause of the intermediate cause, and the intermediate is the cause of the ultimate cause, whether the intermediate cause be several, or only one. Now to take away the cause is to take away the effect. Therefore, if there be no first cause among efficient causes, there will be no ultimate, nor any intermediate cause. But if in efficient causes it is possible to go on to infinity, there will be no first efficient cause, neither will there be an ultimate effect, nor any intermediate efficient causes; all of which is plainly false. Therefore it is necessary to admit a first efficient cause, to which everyone gives the name of God.

4.3) The third way is taken from possibility and necessity, and runs thus. We find in nature things that are possible to be and not to be, since they are found to be generated, and to corrupt, and consequently, they are possible to be and not to be. But it is impossible for these always to exist, for that which is possible not to be at some time is not. Therefore, if everything is possible not to be, then at one time there could have been nothing in existence. Now if this were true, even now there would be nothing in existence, because that which does not exist only begins to exist by something already existing. Therefore, if at one time nothing was in existence, it would have been impossible for anything to have begun to exist; and thus even now nothing would be in existence--which is absurd. Therefore, not all beings are merely possible, but there must exist something the existence of which is necessary. But every necessary thing either has its necessity caused by another, or not. Now it is impossible to go on to infinity in necessary things which have their necessity caused by another, as has been already proved in regard to efficient causes. Therefore we cannot but postulate the existence of some being having of itself its own necessity, and not receiving it from another, but rather causing in others their necessity. This all men speak of as God.

4.4) The fourth way is taken from the gradation to be found in things. Among beings there are some more and some less good, true, noble and the like. But "more" and "less" are predicated of different things, according as they resemble in their different ways something which is the maximum, as a thing is said to be hotter according as it more nearly resembles that which is hottest; so that there is something which is truest, something best, something noblest and, consequently, something which is uttermost being; for those things that are greatest in truth are greatest in being, as it is written in Metaph. ii. Now the maximum in any genus is the cause of all in that genus; as fire, which is the maximum heat, is the cause of all hot things. Therefore there must also be something which is to all beings the cause of their being, goodness, and every other perfection; and this we call God.

4.5) The fifth way is taken from the governance of the world. We see that things which lack intelligence, such as natural bodies, act for an end, and this is evident from their acting always, or nearly always, in the same way, so as to obtain the best result. Hence it is plain that not fortuitously, but designedly, do they achieve their end. Now whatever lacks intelligence cannot move towards an end, unless it be directed by some being endowed with knowledge and intelligence; as the arrow is shot to its mark by the archer. Therefore some intelligent being exists by whom all natural things are directed to their end; and this being we call God.
[Summa Theologica, Ia, q. 2, a. 3]

5) Conclusion

Theodicy (the part of Philosophy which studies God) doesn't stop there. After proving the existence of God, it deduces some "attributes", like Simplicity, Goodness, Infinity, Ubiquity, Eternity, Unity, Justice, Wisdom, Personality (the fact that God is somebody), etc.

But it's not wise to try to accomplish too much in a little essay concerning preliminary groundwork!

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