This is a page that focuses on religious and theological issues, as well as providing comprehensive teaching from a classic Catholic perspective. As you read the articles, it is my hope they will educate and bless you.

Thursday, October 16, 2014

Philosophical Reflections on Reasons for God's Existence

This will be the last deep theological post I will be doing for 2014, and it is something I felt like I needed to do based on what my first year at Franciscan University has taught me, as I have a new appreciation now for the relationship between Philosophy and Theology, and that is what I wanted to talk about.  As I am writing this, I am midway through a Metaphysics class I am taking, and one thing we are discussing is how the idea for the existence of God can be proven philosophically.  It is this idea I want to share some thoughts on, so let us begin.

First, it must be understood that there is even a certain amount of truth within pre-Christian schools of thought, including the Greek philosophers.  This is one proof, I truly believe, for the validity of God's literal creation of the universe, in that many people have a certain amount of truth, although over many generations it has become corrupted - mythology, for instance, has at its foundation some fact, but through both corrupt limited human nature and the deceptions of demonic forces, the story has gotten twisted over the centuries.  And, it still happens today - for instance, I watched a documentary recently about a scientist named Juris Zarins, who (rightly) believes the Garden of Eden was a real place, although his theories on its location are limited.  While Zarins correctly noted the Flood stories, etc., and their universal significance, he also made a grave error - Zarins believes the Biblical account was hijacked by the Jews from the Babylonians and Sumerians.  Problem is, Zarins has it backwards - it is in reality the Biblical account that is correct, while the other mythologies have corrupted it.  This same fallacy is also evident in many Greek philosophers, such as Aristotle, regarding the fact that an ultimate "Good," which Aristotle correctly identifies as God, exists and that all things emanate from it, but unfortunately Aristotle's "God" is also a corruption of the facts, based on much of what he derived from Plato, who in his Republic presents a very monistic idea of God.  We'll be discussing that more at length shortly, but I first wanted to make another point before we proceed.  The fact about Greek philosophy and its values to civilization is that it actually was on the right track - it asks the right questions, and it explores the answers.  However, it falls far short of the truth in many aspects as well because it is incomplete knowledge, and it took Christian theologians and philosophers such as St. Anselm, St. Thomas Aquinas, and in recent times Romano Guardini and others to sort of fill in the missing pieces.  And, that is what we are going to be talking about here.  My spiritual mentor, Fr. Eusebius Stephanou, correctly noted in one of his writings that both Jews and Greeks were greatly blessed of God, and noted that the Greeks were equipped with both a language and a philosophical system that was best suited for expressing ultimate metaphysical reality (Stephanou, Eusebius, "The Orthodox Church and Israel," at http://www.stsymeon.org/articles/28-the-orthodox-church-and-israel {accessed 10/16/2014).  In short, God in his infinite wisdom orchestrated things in such a way that according to Romans 8:28 and the principle it embodies the Greek language and culture were in place at just the right time to aid in the propagation of the Gospel.  It doesn't mean that Greek philosophers were perfect by any means (which is quite obvious!) but it does mean that just maybe God gave the Greek people of the time that desire to know higher truth and thus they gave a foundation upon which the theology of the Church could be built.  This therefore lays the foundation for my discourse now I wish to share with you here.

We start first with Plato, and the Republic.  In this classic philosophical text, Plato spends a lot of time writing about what he called "the Good," and in Book II he describes this "good" as a beneficial cause of all good things - this "good," he elaborates, is a "god" who alone is responsible for the minimal amount of good things that happen but not the bad (Plato, The Republic Book II in Grube, p. 55 {Indianapolis: Hackett Publishing, 1992}, 379c).  This would substantiate a Biblical premise in Genesis 1;31 - "Then God saw everything that he had made, and indeed it was very good."  However, let us keep in mind that Plato was also a pre-Christian pagan philosopher too, and although he was on the right track, his premise in the Republic has two flaws.  First, by asserting that only "the Good" can only create good and that bad things come fron another source, Plato espouses a radically dualistic cosmology.  Second, Plato has a monistic view of the universe in that his theory of forms and substance involves a central mobilizing factor (formal causality) and that all substance emanates from it and is part of the form.  This is classic pantheism unfortunately in that Plato believes that all is "god" and although there is a core "form" to this "god", all else emanates like apendages from that "form" as substance.  Again, this is where some corruption happened in the original truth, for indeed everything does have a single creative force (or person, whom we as Christians know as God) but at the same time the creation is distinct from the Creator.  Also, the good and bad in reality happen in life, and sometimes bad things are used by God to accomplish his purpose too, although sin and wickedness are not something that are part of his attributes.  Therefore, the radical dualism factor present in Plato's idea - which itself evolves from what I would theorize is a root Indo-European concept that shows up also in both Zoroastrian and Hindu belief systems as well - would not be compatible with the Christian message in that Plato equates good and evil as somehow coexisting equal forces with different origins - evil is never equal to good in classic orthodox Christian soteriology.  However, Plato does have some rudiment of a truth that probably goes back to mankind's creation - that an ultimate source exists that was the cause of all that exists.  As Christianity began to come onto the scene, many Church Fathers were used of God to build upon the basic premise of Plato in completing the missing parts of Plato's premise, and what we have then is the beginning of what is called the ontological argument for God's existence.  Now, let us talk about some of that a little bit.

Over the centuries, there have been two basic arguments proposed for establishing God does exist, and they are these:

      1.  Ontological - begins with a single idea (God in this case), and establishes that God exists as a              real being from beginning.

      2. Cosmological - Establishing God exists from evidence of effect (meaning the order of the                   natural world authenticates God's existence).

The first was an idea that was first articulated by St. Anselm in the 12th century, based on this Platonic premise of the "good" that was ultimate source of good things, which he developed into a doctrinal truth based on sound theological premise.  St. Anselm, in his Monologion, notes this idea by filling in Plato's gaps and clarifying some things when he says this: "Furthermore, not only are good things good through the same thing, and all great things great through the same thing, but it seems that all existing things exist through some one thing." (Williams, Thomas, trans.  St. Anselm: The Monologion and Proslogion {Indianapolis:  Hackett Publishing, 1996} p. 12).  He also notes further down the chapter that nothing exists through nothing, but rather that the logical conclusion is that all things exist through one thing that exists through himself (God).  God, therefore, for St. Anselm, is the Good.  Albrecht Ritschl develops this further by saying that the Good and the Holy are in fact synonymous, as Jaroslav Pelikan notes in a book I don't really agree with yet does have a value in this premise - Ritschl's theory of the Holy and the Good is based on the premise that moral dimension exists to confront a dead orthodoxy and make it vigorous by applying it to one's life of faith in a practical way (Pelikan, Jaroslav. Fools for Christ {Eugene, OR: Wipf and Stock Publishers, 1955} pp. 60-61).  Although I don't agree with where Pelikan goes with this (he almost canonizes Nietzsche as a saint, as does Merold Westphal and similar postmodernist writers like him) an important point is made - the "Good," by virtue of our assumption that it signifies God, is by nature also the "Holy" too, and although not in the monistic sense Plato subscribes, we as creatures of this ultimate "Good" source contain within us some attributes of that ultimate "Good" (God) and we live them out in a practical way by our behavior, etc.  This is where we start getting into more cosmological argument, because then if we look at it that way, our reflection of the root nature God gave us - in particular the moral aspects of it - authenticates where it comes from.  So, what then do we do with this?   Let me now give my perspective on it.

I want to explain the proof of God's existence by reconciling what normally would be two different schools of thought - by causality, God exists, but by effect his existence can be authenticated.  What on earth does that mean??   Well, in Genesis, God is affirmed as the ultimate source of the universe - it is he who created it with a mere word (rhema) he imagined and spoke forth - that is ontological in the truest sense.  But, at the same time, the order of creation has the imprint of its creation upon it in so many ways, which is also cosmological.   Therefore, the case for God's existence is for me ontological cause with cosmological effect, simple as that; they are both right!  And, that is exactly what orthodox Christian teaching affirms, and again we go back to von Balthasar's Three-Fold Cord of Catholicity - the Word Celebrated (the Holy Eucharist), the Word Proclaimed (Holy Scriptures), and the Office which authenticates both (the One, Holy, Catholic and Apostolic Church).   The microcosm of the Church reflects as well the order of creation in a cosmological sense too - the spoken word of God (ontological cause) is authenticated in the order of His creation (cosmological effect).   And thus, we have a basis for a doctrine of creation!

This short teaching was unfortunately more brief than I wanted it to be, but I hope to develop it further later, as this only serves as both a summary of what I have learned in reflection, as well as an introduction to a bigger subject.  May God bless us all as we continue to grow and comprehend the immeasurable riches of God's Word, for as again St. Anselm would say, "We don't understand to believe, but rather believe to understand."  And, coming from that direction, it will begin to come together and make sense as we grow in our spiritual walk.  Thanks again for allowing me to share, and will see you all again soon.