How Far Can Reason Take Us?

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We have already seen that, while human beings don’t simply think their way to God, our minds do have a role.  Since God exceeds what we on our own can know, his existence cannot be proved, at least here in our lives as they are, creaturely and flawed. While faith may indeed be a “leap,” it is one whose ground we have surveyed, or which has a kind of running start! 

Here we do well to consider what have sometimes been called “proofs for the existence of God” (but aren’t actually).  St. Thomas Aquinas, the great theologian of the High Middles Ages, called them “viae,”  ways toward God. One might translate this as inkling, pointer or breadcrumb.

The important thing to note in these mental pathways is that they speak only of what God is not.  He is “eternal, immortal, invisible, only wise,” (I Timothy 1:17). In other words, at the edges of thought is suggested to us one who isn’t bound by time or death, who isn’t perceived empirically, and who isn’t limited in knowledge.  But what it would be like to be such, and how we who are temporal, mortal, sensate, and limited, would know such a One, is beyond us.  In theology this was called the “negative way,” since it can only speak of what such a One isn’t.

It is an odd kind of knowledge, but it is not nothing.  It is suggestive.  There is an analogy here to what some modern thinkers have called “boundary situations” (for e.g. Karl Jaspers, Gabriel Marcel), in which we come to the limits of our strength - we all have had some experience of such situations.  Again, God is not there proven, but at the very least the question about Him is raised more urgently, “for keeps,” in which circumstance, if there were an answer, we would be more ready to hear it. 

Youtube link to ‘Immortal, Invisible, God Only Wise’   

Thomas, the Summa:

First Way: In the world, we can see that at least some things are changing. Whatever is changing is being changed by something else. If that by which it is changing is itself changed, then it too is being changed by something else. But this chain cannot be infinitely long, so there must be something that causes change without itself changing. This everyone understands to be God.[7][13]

Second Way: In the world, we can see that things are caused. But it is not possible for something to be the cause of itself because this would entail that it exists prior to itself, which is a contradiction. If that by which it is caused is itself caused, then it too must have a cause. But this cannot be an infinitely long chain, so, therefore, there must be a cause which is not itself caused by anything further. This everyone understands to be God.

From AA:

  • "Came to believe that a power greater than ourselves could restore us to sanity."[8]
  • "The alcoholic at certain times has no effective mental defense against the first drink. Except in a few cases, neither he nor any other human being can provide such a defense. His defense must come from a Higher Power."[9]
  • "Follow the dictates of a Higher Power and you will presently live in a new and wonderful world, no matter what your present circumstances!"[10]

Creation

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Our understanding of ourselves as creatures is inseparable from our being a part of the created order around us.  Now our responses to that surrounding world are many: awe at its’ beauty, a desire to dominate it, the sense that we could speak on its behalf, a wistfulness at its wholeness, and shock at its brutality. We, like it, are contingent, fragile, passing. We, embodied, are blessed with fruitfulness in bearing children.  So we are a part of it, yet these reactions themselves set us apart.  Each description mentioned impinges somehow on the question of faith.

We humans have been tempted to worship the creation, to mistake it, and so us, with the Creator, in idolatry, as we mentioned above.  Though we should identify with and, ideally, steward creation, Christians have had a major role in ‘desacralizing’ the natural order.  When we note the corruption of creation, we ought, in this age of ecological awareness, to see our own guilt.  We also realize that the realms of creation and redemption imply one another. Creation cannot save, but it can whisper to us of the Creator. 

If we consider the first chapter of Genesis, we can see the rich pluriformity of creation,  the diversity and distinctiveness of its forms.  This bespeaks the generosity and endless creativity of the Creator.  There is a side of creation which reveals in sheer ‘difference,’ though the believer can perceive them all inarticulately praising the one Creator. (e.g. Psalm 148)    

Is a belief in creation something then we share with those who follow Eastern or indigenous faiths and with secular people?  In part, for they and we appreciate its beauty and should have a concern for its protection.  This ‘overlap’ in commitments is valuable: ‘who is not against us is for us.’  However, in light of the question of faith, the things that we as monotheists believe also come to stand out.

Romans 8:22-24

22 We know that the whole creation has been groaning as in the pains of childbirth right up to the present time. 23 Not only so, but we ourselves, who have the first fruits of the Spirit, groan inwardly as we wait eagerly for our adoption to son-ship, the redemption of our bodies. 24 For in this hope we were saved. But hope that is seen is no hope at all. Who hopes for what they already have?

Augustine’s Confessions

And what is this? I asked the earth; and it answered, "I am not He;" and whatsoever are therein made the same confession. I asked the sea and the deeps, and the creeping things that lived, and they replied, "We are not thy God, seek higher than we." I asked the breezy air, and the universal air with its inhabitants answered, Anaximenes was deceived, I am not God." I asked the heavens, the sun, moon, and stars: "Neither," say they, "are we the God whom thou seekest." And I answered unto all these things which stand about the door of my flesh, "Ye have told me concerning my God, that ye are not He; tell me something about Him." And with a loud voice they exclaimed, "He made us.”

Robert Browning, ‘In Memoriam’

Who trusted God was love indeed
And love Creation's final law
Tho' Nature, red in tooth and claw
With ravine, shriek'd against his creed

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