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Theology and Apologetics

One of my recent interests in the last few years has been apologetics and theology. At first glance, asking whether some deity exists seems like a simple, straightforward question: either he does, or he doesn't (or so our society would lead us to believe). But that kind of mindset oversimplifies the issue: how could the sheer number of sects that we see in our society exist if it were that easy? If Voltaire was pleased at the diversity he saw in England's "30 sects", then he'd be astounded today at the sheer variety of theists, pantheists, atheists, agnostics, etc. in all their wonderful (and sometimes odd) manifestations. Clearly, such a cacophany of competing voices demands an answer.

But, if only to explain a major sociological phenomenon, how? There are some who dismiss the question outright, claiming that discussion of the question is academic, that asking such a question really doesn't apply to our own lives down here, on Earth, that it is at base unscientific. They think we must use the scientific method, or some ethico-ontological equivalent of it, to come up with "derived truth" (as Hegel would say) - to show what really is out there.

Demanding such a methodology, however, begs some serious questions. It seems to disregard the fact that science does not exist in a methodological vacuum, that it is founded on certain epistemological presuppositions about the way the universe works (for example, that you can actually trust what you see, feel, taste, and so on) which valid as they might be for practical affairs, are still presuppositions. There is still a certain tendency on the part of the scientific establishment to think that the whole world is knowable, that everything can be reduced to these sorts of epistemological atoms. The fact that within the context of scientific enquiry some things have been proven not to be knowable -- the Heisenberg Uncertainty Principle being the paradigmatic example -- doesn't usually phase these people. The universe is still deterministic, still a fine piece of clockwork to be picked apart and deciphered. Everything, ultimately, must make some sort of sense - it just must (whether or not we know why it must).

So, what then does this have to do with God? The answer is that analysis of this sort is inherently biased against one side of the argument. What if God is simply unknowable (in an absolute sense)? What if He -- like the rest of the universe -- follows probabilistic paths rather than rigid laws etched in the proverbial stone? These questions are not comforting to a great many people, because it's a matter of mindset: at some level, you just want to know what's really going on; you don't want to believe that there is in fact no reality of which you can speak, that there is something which you cannot, at some level, comprehend (both in the modern and in the etymological senses of the word). All this points to the fact that the question of whether a creator -- God, Necessary Being, First Principle, what have you -- exists is thus intimately wrapped up in the way we go about trying to understand the universe around us.

The question of whether God exists is important for a second, subsidiary, reason. If some sort of Necessary Being a la Avicenna, say, exists, do you owe Him/Her/It any particular obligations or fealty? Does the way you run your life have anything to do with a principle of reciprocity towards God for creating you? These questions show an important point, that Camus was in fact wrong: the question of metaphysics is an important question, of very practical import. If, on the one hand, no one exists but yourself (which is to say, speaking pragmatically, if you cannot prove they exist, questions of belief notwithstanding), then you have no responsibilities but to yourself. If, on the other hand, other people exist, or you are in some sort of metaphysical debt with beings existing before you, then you might be obliged to operate your life in a given way. Metaphysics then precedes, and is a guide to, ethics, the study of how to lead your life.

Below are some examples of people's attempts to prove the existence of God. By no means should this be considered exhaustive, nor correct. Each makes its own fundamental assumptions about existence, and can thus be attacked on those grounds.

Avicenna's "On the Nature of God"

This here is an extract from the Arabic philosopher Avicenna's philosophical reasoning for the existance of God. (Taken from Avicenna on Theology trans. by Arthur J. Aiberry)

That there is a Necessary Being

Whatever has being must either have a reason for its being, or have no reason for it. If it has reason, then it is contigent [upon something else existing], equally before it comes into being (if we make this mental hypothesis) and when it is in the state of being -- for in the case of a thing whose being is contingent the mere fact of its entering upon being does not remove from it the contingent nature of it being. If on the other hand it has no reason for its being in any way whatsoever, then it is necessary in its being. This rule having been confirmed, I shall now proceed to prove that there is in being a being who has no reason for its being. [Note from Ed. : I think here he could have expanded his vocabulary a bit...]

Such a being is either contingent or necessary. If it is necessary, then the point we sought to prove is established. If on the other hand it is contingent, that which is contingent cannot enter upon being except for some reason which sways the scales in favor of its being and its not-being. If the reason is also contingent, there is then a chain of contingents linked one to another, and there is no being at all; for this being which is the subject of our hypothesis cannot enter into being so long as it is not preceded by an infinite succession of beings, which is absurd. Therefore contingent beings end in a Necessary Being.

For those of you who like me find the above somewhat contorted, his basic jist goes something like this:

1.  Everything is either necessary (must exist in and of itself) or 
    contingent upon something else which is necessary.
2.  Contingent things have a cause outside themselves.
3.  A cause must itself be either necessary or contingent.
4.  If that cause is necessary, then there is a necessary being.
5.  If contingent, then it must have a cause, which will also be either 
    necessary or contingent. This will lead to an infinite regress.
6.  If there is an infinite regress, then nothing can exist.
7.  Assume there is no necessary being.
8.  Nothing could then exist, because there is no beginning.
9.  But something does exist. 
10. Therefore, there is a Necessary Being.

Of the Unicity of God

It is not possible in any way that the Necessary Being be two. Demonstration: Let us suppose there is another necessary being: one must be distinguishable from the other, so that the terms "this" and "that" may be used with reference to them. This distinction must be either essential or accidental.If the distinction between them is accidental, this accidental element cannot but be present in each of them, or in one and not the other. If each of them has an accidental element by which it is distinguished from the other, both of them must be caused; for an accident is what is adjoined to a thing after its essence is realized. If the accidental element is regarded as adhering to its being, and is present in one of the two and not the other, then the one which has no accidental element is a necessary being and the other is not a necessary being.

If, however, the distinction is essential, the element of essentiality is that whereby the essence as such subsists; and if this element of essentiality is different in each and the two are distinguishable by virtue of it, then each of the two must be a compound; and compound are caused; so that neither of them is a necessary being.

If the element of essentiality belongs to one only, and the other is one in every respect and there is no compounding of any kind in it, then the one which has no element of essentiality is a necessary being.

Since it is thus established that the Necessary Being cannot be two, but is all Truth, then by virtue of His Essential Reality, in respect of which He is a Truth, He is United and One, and no other shares with Him in that Unity: however, the All-Truth attains existence, it is through Himself.

Five Arguments taken from Aquinas's Summa Theologica

The First

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.

Proof Two

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.

[This argument is very similar to that of Avicenna above ]

Proof Three

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.

Proof Four

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 [by Aristotle]. 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.

Proof Five

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.

Arguments from Handbook of Christian Apologetics

Pascal's Wager

Nota Bene: Of course, this isn't exactly a proof, but I feel it worthy of the page, for rather obvious reasons.
1. If God does not exist, then an atheist and a theist have the same fate: nothing.
2. Thus there is no eternal advantage to being correct in atheism. In addition, 
   there is no temporal advantage either since atheists do not seem to be happier
   than theists, in fact they seem much less so in most cases.
3. Also, the atheist can never know he was correct, and the theist can never know
   he was wrong.
4. If God does exist, then atheist will likely suffer eternally for rejecting belief 
   in God; at least his atheism will not help him. The theist, however, will likely
   live in eternal happiness with God; at least his theism will not hurt him.
5. Thus there is an eternal advantage in being correct in theism.
6. Also, the theist will know forever his is correct, and the atheist will always
   know and regret that he was wrong.
7. Therefore it is more reasonable to believe in God.


"Cogito, ergo sum, sed credo ergo ero."