Q: I can’t help but look at things as if they were a line. Before man on the line is God. Who is before God? 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
A: Congratulations! 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; with no need for divine revelation, which they, of course, also believed was true.
Rational proofs for the existence of God took a few basic forms. There is, first of all, the cosmological proof. This proof depends on 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.
Q: What have been the critiques of these medieval rational proofs for the existence of God?
A: 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 began with the Big Bang that created the universe, but there is no need to posit God as the cause.
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 un-teleological our supposedly perfect bodies are.
I think these proofs are better than their critics suppose and weaker than many of their supporters wish. Faith is about trust and hope and about moral virtue and compassion. 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 French 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.”