Q: I can’t help but look at things as if it was a line. Before man on the line is God. Who is before him? If it is a super-God then who is before the super-God? You see my dilemma? I can’t put a point as to where the line starts. – W
A: Congratulations dear W! In your spiritual musings you have stumbled upon the Cosmological Proof for the existence of God. Thomas Aquinas and other medieval scholastics believed that faith could be proven by reason alone; without any need to depend upon divine revelation, which they of course also believed was true. Rational proofs for the existence of God took a few basic forms. I will summarize them with brutal brevity.
There is, first of all, your question and the Cosmological Proof. This proof depends upon the rational idea that an infinite series of events in time could never be completed. So if the time before this present moment was infinite, we could never have gotten to now. Therefore, the proof concludes, there must have been a first cause of everything. A cause that was not itself caused. This is what Aristotle called an unmoved mover. This is rationally true and therefore God, the unmoved mover, has been rationally proven to exist.
The Teleological Proof for the existence of God begins with the rational observation that the universe displays order. The laws of the universe operate everywhere and without variation. Here on Earth, living organisms display an astounding level of order and integration that allows them to live and adapt. Because things simply work beautifully in the universe and display such exquisite order, the conclusion is deduced that such order requires an order-er whom we call God. Thus the rational existence of God as the Creator of the universe has been proven.
Then there is the Ontological Proof for the existence of God. This rational proof does not require an ordered world. It is a logical proof. As St. Anselm and others articulated it, a being greater than which nothing can be conceived is the best definition of God. We understand that definition. Now, such a being could either exist or not exist. If it did not exist it would not really be such a being because it would be inferior to a being greater than which nothing could be conceived that also existed. Therefore, because we understand that definition of God we must also logically be forced to conclude that such a being exists. Thus the existence of a perfect being rationally demands that it also exists.
What have been the critiques of these medieval rational proofs for the existence of God?
Philosophers have challenged the Cosmological Proof by stating that an uncaused cause is a contradiction in terms. It is like a married bachelor. Everything has a cause and we in this world, at this time are just somewhere along the infinite series of causes. Another critique is that time did in fact begin with the Big Bang that created the universe, but there is no need to posit God as the Banger for the Bang.
The Teleological Proof has been critiqued by pointing out all the chaos in the universe. Planets do indeed go crashing into other planets and human beings do die of cancers and others diseases that prove how unteleological our supposedly perfect bodies actually are.
Philosophers who point out that existence is not a predicate have criticized the Ontological Proof for the existence of God. I understand the definition of what constitutes a unicorn but this does not in any way logically require that unicorns exist. I can conceive of having a million dollars but this does not mean that I actually have a million dollars.
I think these proofs are better than their critics suppose and weaker than many of their supporters wish. More fundamentally, I do not like the effort to make the act of faith just like the act of all rational thinking.
I believe that faith is about trust and hope. Faith is about moral virtue and compassion. The rational processes of nature, “so bloody in hoof and claw,” crush the weak in favor of the strong. The spiritual forces of faith protect the weak against the strong. Reason teaches us that life is nasty, brutish, and short and then we die. Faith teaches us that we are all made in the image of God and that death is not the end of us.
The only rational statement about faith that reaches the part of me where my faith actually resides is from philosopher Albert Camus’ wisdom: “I would rather live my life as if there is a God and die to find out there isn’t, than live my life as if there isn’t and die to find out there is.”
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