Fr. David LeFort has been asked by various folks (including his college students) to lay out the following for regular, thoughtful & prayerful reference and reflection. He happily provides it here:
Belief in—and three philosophical demonstrations for—the existence of God
Whenever I begin a college course in theology, so many of the students are very serious and curious in their search for knowledge of God. This should come as no great surprise since, from my personal and professional experience, so too are many of the adults in our Church. From the faithful in our parishes to those who have either drifted away or chosen to stay away from our communities of faith. For the latter, I’ve heard many of their reasons: “I don’t care about God or faith or any of it” (put bluntly, a self-centered approach without, sadly, the real virtue of fortitude and the Holy Spirit’s gift of wonder and awe); “I asked God for something and I didn’t get it” (again, a ‘me-centered’, ATM approach to God); “I’ve been hurt in the Church” (this one is very delicate and oftentimes very painful, but it would be best to address the hurt rather than run away from it); and there are others. I don’t propose a condemnation of those who find themselves outside of the Church for I honestly feel for them and hope desperately for their return to Love itself, God Himself, and so I do propose a re-awakening of the inner soul of each person, to find what is so beautifully divine within each of God’s human creatures.
And so, I share with my students one of the many explanations of why people might long to believe in God (utilizing our faith’s Sacred Scriptures), and then I present three philosophical (reasoned) demonstrations for the existence of God. Naturally, I could seek to use theological demonstrations for God’s existence, but those would unfortunately pale in comparison since some simply do not believe to begin with. Moreover, when faced with the Public Square of our globalized world, most often, and again most unfortunately, people can more easily share wisdom and reason under the influence of pure philosophical debate (since it is perceived as less personal and thus experienced as less threatening) rather than relying on what I, personally, would prefer: a co-mingling of faith and reason, theological and philosophical disciplines. That having been said, I offer the following question (from within a faith perspective) and demonstrations (from outside a faith perspective), hoping that they will, in all of us, encourage a deepening of desire & longing for closeness with God:
Why do we (and so many, many other people) believe in God?
From Sacred Scripture we have a sense as to why we long to believe in God: because God is so passionately involved in the world, involved in His creation (including each one of us)…ordering all things sweetly (according to the Book of Wisdom). God’s providence is God’s steady involvement as the governor and director of all things of the world…He intimately knows, involves, governs and directs all things. Gratitude for our being, gifts, etc reaches out beyond our selves to someone to whom we can thank…God is the source and summit of all that is…and our gratitude can thus be given to Him.
We can demonstrate the existence of God using three philosophical arguments:
The Argument from Desire
As human beings, we all desire, long, seek. We desire and seek truth. And whatever we get in this world—goods, justice, truth—it’s just not enough. It’s not that we want more of what we have, but we see that there is more behind the experience of a good that makes it good. So, for example, if I play for you a glorious organ prelude, you will say (hopefully) that it was ‘good’. But if I ask you whether or not that is finally what “Goodness” is, you will undoubtedly say, “it is not”. So, I would suggest that what makes the prelude “good” is that it somehow participates in, or demonstrates, and is an instance of, what we know “Goodness” to be. If I were to defend another who is being bullied and I appropriately punish the bullies, you might say that you have witnessed “justice being done”. But if I ask you whether or not that is finally what “Justice” is, you will again undoubtedly say, “it is not”. Again, I would then suggest that what makes the experience “just” is that it somehow participates in, or demonstrates, and is an instance of, what we know “Justice” to be. And if I were to ask you to state a “truth” of any science, and you do, again, you would not say that it is “Truth” itself, but rather it somehow participates in, or demonstrates, and is an instance of, what we know “Truth” to be. And so, from these, we find that we cannot be fully satisfied within the boundaries of this existence with particular instances, but rather we are propelled by our desires into the realms of the universal.
There is this desire that is in us that pushes us beyond this world of knowing, into another realm that is beyond us, that we also say, in a different albeit rational way, we know. We know what “Goodness” itself is, what “Justice” itself is, what “Truth” itself is…and from this knowledge we also know that we cannot contain them, direct them, order them for they simply and grandly “are”. So, in some way we must already know Truth itself, Goodness itself, Justice itself. And that is what we call God. God is not one truth in the world, not one good thing in the world, nor a justice in the world…those are particular expressions of or participations in God Himself (in other words, God is Truth itself, Goodness itself, Justice itself). If you are seeking God, realize that you’ve already been found by God through our living participation in Him. From this philosophical argument from desire, then, we demonstrate that God exists.
The Argument from Contingency (of Thomas Aquinas)
Our human experiences from an early age onward demonstrate (often sadly) that everything of creation is, ultimately fleeting. A favorite pet, a glorious exotic flower, mountains of grandeur, even loving grandparents…all of creation and created things come into being and they pass out of being. In other words, things of time and space exist, but they don’t necessarily exist. They don’t have to exist in order for creation to be. And so we say that all of creation is contingent (dependent upon something outside of itself), there is nothing in creation that possesses in itself the reason for its being; every created thing thus necessarily relies on something outside of creation to be the reason for the thing’s being. And so, there is a need for a necessary being whose nature itself is “to Be”. Yes, if there is contingency, there must also be that which is necessary, and for that, we must go outside of contingent realities in order to see that necessary reality…and that is what we call God. From this philosophical argument from contingency, we demonstrate that God exists.
The Argument from the Objective Intelligibility of the World (of Joseph Ratzinger)
When we go to sleep at night, we expect the sun will rise the next morning and it does; when the temperature falls below freezing, we can rightly predict that most precipitation will be of the frozen variety; when we feel terribly ill, we go to a doctor’s office expecting that help is at hand, and oftentimes it is. And so many other examples demonstrate that the world and our existence is imbued with meaning and reason. Every science holds this to be true: psychology holds that it can map, understand and manipulate the human psyche; scientists rightly believe that energy can be fully understood, harnessed, created and manipulated as we choose; genetic engineers demonstrate time and time again that human DNA and all kinds of individual genes can be understood, mapped, duplicated and manipulated…and all this increases daily as science progresses.
If you think about it, every one of us also holds that there is some intelligibility in the world that seems to transcend us. When we acknowledge that we know something, we often say that we “recognize” it. In “re-cognizing” something, we hint that we are re-thinking a thing, thinking a thing again after it has already been thought into being. Scientists assume—rightly—that being is intelligible. But if being is intelligible throughout all time and space, from generation to generation, eon to eon, what is this “intelligibility” and where does it reside? What is this intelligens that has thought all into being? That intelligens, that intelligibility we experience is what we call God. From this philosophical argument from the objective intelligibility of the world, we demonstrate that God exists.
From these arguments, we ought now return—in earnest—to the question of whether or not we will believe in God. Sadly, a response for each of us cannot be developed here, but happily and solemnly, a response can be developed within the deep recesses of each one of us who ponder these great mysteries.