More and more these days, Christians are being accused of foolishness for their belief in God. One of the most well known atheists making this accusation is Richard Dawkins, scientist and author of the book, The God Delusion. He makes the accusation that faith is “belief in spite of, even perhaps because of, the lack of evidence.” So, I would like to ask the question, do we really lack evidence for God’s existence, as Dawkins claims? In other words, is it foolish to believe in God?
I. Why do we believe in God?
Lets start with what the Church says about belief in God. The Catechism reads that God “can be known with certainty from the created world by the natural light of human reason.” (CCC 36). So, clearly the Church thinks there is evidence for belief in God. Let’s see if we can make a case for the Church’s position.
The argument is very simple. Why is there something rather than nothing? Think about it. When you come across a delicious brownie, is your first thought “Wow, I wonder how this got here? Perhaps it fell out of the sky, or perhaps over millions of years it formed from the dust of the earth into a delicious, caramel-covered brownie, simply by chance. How marvelous is the evolutionary world we live in!” Of course that’s not your first thought! Rather, your intuition is that surely someone must have wanted a brownie, and so he or she made it. Moreover, if you happen to be particularly fond of brownies, then you might even convince yourself that the brownie was made specifically for your personal enjoyment.
Now think about that example in comparison with our existence. Do you have any idea how improbable your existence is from a scientific standpoint? According to NASA’s “Planet Quest” website, we have discovered 905 confirmed Exoplanets (planets outside our solar system) and 3,588 more which are waiting to be confirmed (http://planetquest.jpl.nasa.gov). Yet, not one of these planets shows conclusive evidence of life. Furthermore, Earth not only has life, but intelligent life, that is to say, you and me. Our existence is so much more complex than a silly brownie! John O’Keefe, an astronomer at NASA summed it up well when he said: “We are, by astronomical standards, a pampered, cosseted, cherished group of creatures… If the Universe had not been made with the most exacting precision we could never have come into existence. It is my view that these circumstances indicate the universe was created for man to live in” (Heeren, Show Me God 226).
II. Why do many not believe in God?
Now you might be thinking to yourself, “If God’s existence is common sense, then why do so many people not believe in God, including many scientists?” Well, before we can discuss the objections to God’s existence we need to clarify what we mean by God, because when we hear the word “God” a lot of different ideas come into our head. The Creator God, which I am speaking of, has two specific attributes that bear mentioning. First, he is pure spirit. What does that mean? Well, our universe is made out of matter; that is to say, stuff that can be measured, observed, and touched. Yet, there are some things that can’t be measured, observed, or touched. For example, your soul. One of the ways to describe these things that can’t be measured, observed, or touched is spirit (as opposed to matter). Thus, when I say that God is pure spirit, I mean that there is nothing about him that can be measured, observed, or touched. The other attribute of this Creator God is that he is not a supreme being among other beings. Rather, he is Being itself, from which all beings have their existence. The importance of this will be clear later. Note: None of these attributes contradict the God of Christianity, but you do not have to be a Christian to assent to these attributes (I don’t say anything here about a Trinity, or about God Incarnate, a.k.a. Jesus).
III. The Scientific Objection To God
The first common objection we hear to God’s existence is the scientific argument. This argument goes something like this, ‘I don’t believe in God, because I believe in science.’ This seems to assume that science contradicts God’s existence. Yet, the Church emphatically denies this. For example, Pope John Paul II wrote, “Both the light of reason and the light of faith come from God…hence there can be no contradiction between them” (Fides et Ratio 43). Furthermore, science can’t possibly contradict God’s existence, because by its very nature, science is the study of material things. However, God is not a material thing, but pure spirit. So, by the very nature of its study, it is categorically impossible for science to disprove or contradict God’s existence.
So, why would people believe the scientific argument? Well, one reason could be that people think religion has suppressed science throughout history. However, this is a false belief. Yes, there have been times when religion has got in the way of scientific advancement (particularly religions outside of Roman Catholicism). Yet, one of the greatest contributors, if not the foremost contributor, to science throughout history has been the Roman Catholic Church. For more information on this matter, read How the Catholic Church Built Western Civilization, by Thomas E. Woods.
Perhaps another reason why some people think science contradicts Christianity is because many non-Catholic Christians (particularly in recent times) have tried to argue against certain scientific theories by using a literalistic reading of the bible. Yet, for a Catholic, that is silly. After all, the Bible is not a science book. Take for example, the discussion of the book of Genesis from the third century by Origen, an early Church Father:
“To what person of intelligence, I ask, will the account seem logically consistent that says there was a ‘first day’ and a ‘second day’ and a ‘third day’ in which also ‘evening’ and ‘morning’ are named, without a sun, without a moon, and without stars, and even in the case of the first day without a heaven?… Surely, I think no one doubts that these statements are made by Scripture in the form of a figure by which they point toward certain mysteries” (Origen, On First Principles).
IV. The Distance of God Objection
The second objection to God’s existence is that it seems foolish to believe in God because he can’t be seen. Some radical atheists even go so far as to claim that it is just as probable to believe in the existence of some sort of ‘flying spaghetti monster’ floating out in space somewhere as it is to believe in God’s existence (see venganza.org). This objection is not simply posited by atheists, but is also a struggle for many faithful Christians. Why? Because it is difficult for us to believe in a God who seems so distant from us. Nevertheless, this argument makes a categorical mistake: God is not just a being among beings (like a make believe flying spaghetti monster would be). Rather, God is Being itself, from which all beings receive their existence. In fact, if God were to cease willing our existence, we would cease to exist (CCC 295-301). Thus, even though God seems distant from us, he is actually more present to us than we can even fathom. That is why the Church describes God as omnipresent.
V. The Problem of Evil Objection To God
The last and perhaps most compelling argument against the existence of God is the problem of evil. In other words, it seems improbable that a good God could let so much evil happen in the world. Now let’s ignore the fact that our attributes of God make no claim about God being good, even though we certainly believe that He is. In essence, this argument comes down to free will. What I mean by free will is that man at every moment has the power to act or not act in such a way that is not dictated by some external force. Why is it the case that God would create man with free will? Think about it, if God created man in such a way that he was forced to love God, then could we really call it love of God? I think not. In order for love to actually be love, then it must be freely given. After all, if love is not freely given, then it is not really love, but slavery. However, once you allow for someone to have free will, then immediately the possibility for evil comes into play, because man is also free to choose evil actions. Thus, the fact that evil takes place by no means disproves God’s existence; it only shows that God has given man free will. To sum it up, the reason why there is evil in the world is that God has given man the opportunity to love. Not only that, but as Christians we have an added hope, because we know that Jesus died for us on the cross. In this act, he proved that no matter how much evil happens all around us, Christ has always gone deeper and has triumphed. Though he may not take away our suffering, he is there with us, and can bring some good out it.
VI. Where do we go from here?
In this article, I have tried to show that it is common sense to believe in God. Yet, where does that leave us as Catholic men? The poison of atheism is all around us, and it is one of the most damaging aspects of our culture. Not only that, but society is becoming increasingly more hostile to Christianity. Up until the Enlightenment, it was ordinary to be a Christian and to live by Christian beliefs (even for the highly educated). Yet, now we are seen by many as radical, out of date, moral bigots. However, this need not disturb us. Throughout the ages, Satan, the Father of Lies, has been active, and the heroic men of ages past, through the power of Christ, have conquered him in battle. Even today we read headlines of courageous Christian martyrs in the Middle East and Africa. As we move forward in this fight, let us recall the convicting words of one of our greatest fathers in faith, St. Paul:
“Preach the word, be urgent in season and out of season, convince, rebuke, and exhort, be unfailing in patience and in teaching. For the time is coming when people will not endure sound teaching, but having itching ears they will accumulate for themselves teachers to suit their own likings, and will turn away from listening to the truth and wander into myths. As for you, always be steady, endure suffering do the work of an evangelist fulfill your ministry.” 2 Tim 4:2-4.
For more information, check out:
The Five Ways of Aquinas: Summa Theologiae, Prima Pars, Quaestio 2
Mere Christianity, by C.S. Lewis, specifically chapter One
How the Catholic Church Built Western Civilization, by Thomas E. Woods
The Catechism of the Catholic Church (Paragraphs 25-49)