JMC : Logic and Mental Philosophy / by Charles Coppens, S.J.

Book IV.
Natural Theology

218. Natural Theology is our study of God by the light of reason, without the direct influence of supernatural Revelation. We exclude the direct, but not the indirect, guidance of Revelation; for no earnest investigator of truth will close his eyes to the bright light of Divine teaching, and prefer to grope his way by the faint glimmer of unaided reason. We live in the full blaze of Christian civilization, which it were folly to ignore. We set out, therefore, in the pursuit of wisdom, not as pagan sceptics in quest of the unknown cause of this world, if perhaps there be such a cause, but as enlightened Christians, who wish reverently to investigate what our reason can understand about a matter so far above us, viz.: the nature and the perfections of the Creator, and the relations in which He stands to His creatures.

We shall consider: 1. The existence of God. 2. His essence. 3. His quiescent attributes. 4. His operative attributes.

Chapter I.
The Existence of God.

219. We shall begin by considering God as He is most obviously conceived by man, viz., as the first and intelligent Cause of the universe, and the Supreme Lord to whom we are all responsible for our moral conduct. Those who refuse to acknowledge the existence of God are called Atheists: practical Atheists deny Him by their conduct, and theoretical Atheists in their speculations. Unfortunately there have been many practical Atheists; but those of the theoretic kind have been comparatively few, and none of them conspicuous for virtue. The Agnostics are a very recent school of physical scientists, rather than of intellectual philosophers, who do not deny that God exists, but pretend that His existence cannot be validly demonstrated.

We are to prove in this chapter that the existence of God, such as He is most obviously conceived by man, is absolutely certain. Various proofs may be given; we select the following, which we present in bare outline:

220. Thesis I. The existence of God can be demonstrated by metaphysical, physical, and moral arguments.

Proof 1. The metaphysical argument considers God as the first efficient cause of this world; it may be thus proposed: the world is a system of contingent beings; but no contingent being can exist without a necessary being which is its first efficient cause; therefore a necessary being exists which is the first efficient cause of the world.

We prove the major: A contingent being is one that may exist or not exist as far as its own nature is concerned -- in other words, a being that is not self-existent. But the world is not self-existent, as was proved in Cosmology (No. 103). Therefore the world is a contingent being.

We prove the minor: There can be nothing without a sufficient reason; hence a contingent being must have a reason for its existence. But that reason is not in the contingent being itself; therefore it must be in another being. This is its cause; for a cause is a being that influences the existence of another being. Now, if that cause is a necessary being, then our proposition is proved; if it be not a necessary being, then it is contingent, and therefore must have a cause, as we have just proved. Thus we must go on reasoning, till we come to a first cause which is not contingent but necessary; or we must suppose that there has been an infinite series of contingent causes without any necessary cause. But besides the fact that such a series is absurd (because an infinite series in the past could never have come to a particular effect, since the infinite can never be passed through or left behind), even if it were not absurd, it would be inadequate to produce such an effect. For a multitude of contingent beings without a necessary cause could not have a sufficient reason for existence; since contingency is the want of an intrinsic reason for existence. Therefore no contingent being can exist unless there exists a necessary being which is its first cause.

221. Proof 2. The physical argument, supposing it proved that the world is contingent (No. 103), views God as its intelligent cause, and proves His existence from the physical order conspicuous in the world; it is this: There exists in the world a most wonderful order, or adaptation of means to ends: (a) to particular ends, as of the eyes to see, of the ears to hear, of the tongue to suit various purposes, etc.; (b) of all the parts to a common end, viz., to the preservation of the whole. Now, such adaptation, visible in the worlI, requires intelligence in its cause, and even an amount of intelligence proportionate to the vastness, the variety, and the perfection of the order produced; therefore the first Cause of the world must be intelligent beyond all our conception.

The minor, viz. order in the effect requires intelligence in the cause : (a) It is analytically certain; for a disposing of means for an end implies the intellectual perception of the relation existing between means and end, and therefore it requires intellect in the cause. (b) It is attested by the common consent of mankind; for no one could believe, e.g., that letters or type put down at random would produce a grand poem. (c) It is always insisted on as a certain truth, even by the Agnostics in their scientific researches; for, when they find any fossil which has a regular shape or mark, they claim it as an undoubted proof of human, i.e., intelligent, workmanship. Therefore order in the effect supposes intelligence in the cause.

222. Proof 3. The moral argument proves that there is a supreme Lord to whom all men are responsible for their moral conduct. It is as follows All men when in the full possession of reason, in any part of the world, in all stages of society, among all races, even among newly discovered tribes, agree in the firm conviction, which acts as a constant check on their passions, that there exists a supreme Lord and Master to whom they are responsible for their moral conduct. Now, this firm and universal judgment cannot be erroneous; else it would show that it is natural for man to judge falsely, and the human intellect, instead of being the faculty of knowing truth, would be the source of a universal deception.

223. Objections: I. Against the metaphysical argument. 1. This argument is too abstruse to be reliable. Answer. It is, on the contrary, an obvious application of the analytical and common-sense principle of causality: everybody judges as readily that the world must have had a first cause as that a house must have had a builder.

2. Science must confine itself to the tracing of physical effects to physical causes. Answer. Physical science may do so, but philosophy most investigate the highest causes.

3 Evolution can account for all things physical. Answer. Evolution does not even touch upon the real origin of the world, but only on its development; even if the theory of evolution were true, there would still have to be a Creator of matter before that matter could begin to change its forms.

4. A self-evolving world might be a necessary being. Answer. Impossible. The series of evolutions must have had a beginning, first stage; if that stage were necessary, then it could not change; besides, the world is proved in Cosmology (Thesis I.) not to be self-existent.

5. Although every single being in the world were contingent, the whole collection might be necessary. Answer. There can be nothing in the collection which is not supplied by the parts, especially when it is essentially excluded from the parts. Besides, the collection is both finite and mutable, and a necessary being is not such. (No. 203.)

6. From the existence of a contingent being we cannot conclude to that of a necessary being; for we should thus have more in the conclusion than in the premises, viz., the necessary in the conclusion and only the contingent in the premises. Answer. We have the necessary being in the premises; for we have in the major that everything existing most have a sufficient reason, and in the minor that only a necessary being can truly be the ultimately sufficient reason of contingent beings.

7. There is no proportion between a contingent and a necessary being. Answer. There is no proportion of entity, but one of necessary dependence.

224. Objections: II. Against the physical argument. 1. Not every thing in this world exhibits the disposition of means to an end. Answer. It is enough for our argument that many things do.

2. But many things are evidently out of order; therefore it is clear that the Creator is not very wise. Answer. More than enough order is conspicuous in the universe to prove the Creator immensely wise, beyond all our conception. Besides, it cannot be proved that anything is out of order: a thing may not be arranged in the way that we might prefer; and yet it may, for all we know, be excellently arranged. Similarly, an ignorant man may not see the use of all the tools found in an artist's studio, but it would be foolish for him to say that they were useless.

3. But a world created by an infinitely wise and good God should be perfect. Answer. It should be relatively but not absolutely perfect. (No. 117.)

4. But the order of the world proceeds from the physical laws, and these result from the natures of the bodies; thus there is no need of an intelligent Ordainer. Answer. The natures of bodies proceed from the Maker of them : if they are well suited to their ends, it is because the Creator has so suited them.

5. All the order of nature may be a mere accident. Answer. This would mean, in other words, that the most wonderful effect may be without a sufficient cause; for blind chance is not a sufficient cause or order.

6. The order of nature results from evolution by means of natural selection, the survival of the fittest, etc. Answer. If it were true that such evolution had taken place, it would only make the order displayed in the world more admirable; for he who would make a machine of such a nature that it should evolve a number of other machines in wonderful variety, and in an ever-increasing perfection of details, would thereby exhibit far more intelligence than if he were to make all these machines separately. Therefore this objection, whether true or false, is not against our thesis.

7. An adaptation of means to an end does not require intelligence; e.g., the bee without intelligence builds its honey-comb most symmetrically. Answer. The bee and all brute animals, in following irresistibly the promptings of their instincts, display the wisdom of their Maker, just as a machine displays the skill of the inventor.

225. Objections: III. Against the moral argument. Our judgments concerning our moral duties and responsibilities are due to education. Answer. They may be developed and perfected by education; but they are so essential to man that they are known even without education and amid all varieties of education.

2. This sense of responsibility comes from some passion or other, e.g., from an idle fear of punishment. Answer. The passions would rather prompt a man to throw off restraint, to do what he likes, while it is our moral judgment that is a constant check upon our passions. As to the fear of punishment, it is a consequence, not a cause of our sense of responsibility.

3. The sense of responsibility simply results from the intellectual apprehension of right and wrong. Answer. It also implies the judgment that there is a law obliging us to do the right and avoid the wrong, and that there is a Law-giver who enforces this law, for there can be no law without a law-giver.

4. There have always been atheists; therefore the judgments in question are not universal nor essential to man. Answer. We grant that there have been in many ages practical atheists; there have also been a comparatively small number of theoretical atheists, who maintained for a portion of their lives that there is no God. Some of these may, perhaps, have convinced themselves, or may have been convinced by others, that the existence of God was doubtful; but history does not tell of any sensible and sincere man who felt an habitual conviction through life that he was not responsible for his moral conduct to a supreme Being.

We find learned men who are really convinced that man is only matter, and therefore irresponsible for his acts. Answer. From the fact that such men as Pyrrho, Hume, Fichte, Berkeley, etc., argued against the certain existence of bodies, it does not follow that they firmly believed in their own theories; so, likewise, it does not follow from all the theorizing of materialists that they bona fide consider themselves as irresponsible heaps of matter, unless it be that abnormal surroundings, or abnormal conditions of mind or heart, have extinguished in them the ordinary light of conscience. We do not know whether such a case is possible; but if it be, it is not from abnormal states that the judgments of man's common sense can be gathered.

226. Some pretend to prove the existence of God a priori. Now, to reason a priori means to reason from a cause to an effect; and as God has no cause, His existence cannot possibly be proved by such a process. But such theorists confound an a priori argument with an a priori judgment; they really mean that the judgment 'God exists' is a priori, or analytical. This is called the ontological argument, because it pretends to prove the existence from the very essence of God. This argument is specious but fallacious, and the more to be reprobated because the matter is so important. For those who see through the fallacy may be led to suspect that the existence of God is incapable of solid proof.

227. The ontological argument has been variously proposed by well-meaning men, such as Descartes, Leibnitz, and even by St. Anselm; it always comes to this: "God is the infinitely perfect Being; but the infinitely perfect Being exists, else He would not be infinitely perfect; therefore God exists." The middle term 'infinitely perfect Being' is ambiguous; in the major it is taken abstractedly -- i.e., it is a mere definition of the abstract term 'God'; the existence is not meant to be asserted even implicitly, but only referred to conditionally, i.e., if He exists. In the minor the same middle term is used with a new meaning, i.e., concretely and, as including existence, unconditionally. It is a trick of logic, which may escape the detection of many, but it is nevertheless a sophism. It is true that the existence of God is immediately knowable in itself; it is even the first truth in the ontological order; but it is not immediately known to us, i.e., in the logical order, but it becomes known to us by means of an obvious process of reasoning a posteriori -- i.e., from the effects to the first Cause.

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