Proofs for the Existence of God

One of the most famous of these was Thomas Aquinas who produced five different logical ‘proofs’. For example, this is the algebra of one of his arguments: imagine walking down a road and finding a stone.

Jan 17, 2020

By Fr Ron Rolheiser
Can anyone prove that God exists? Well, many have tried. Some of the greatest philosophers and intellectuals in history have tried to prove that God exists.

One of the most famous of these was Thomas Aquinas who produced five different logical ‘proofs’. For example, this is the algebra of one of his arguments: imagine walking down a road and finding a stone. Given the brute, simple reality of a stone you needn’t ask who put it there. It could always have been there. Its existence doesn’t provoke much thought.

But now imagine walking down a road and seeing a watch lying on the ground, ticking, keeping perfect time. Two things make this very different from the stone. The watch has obviously been intelligently designed by someone and the fact that it’s ticking means could not have been there forever.  Someone with intelligence must have made it and put it there at some point in time.

Thomas simply extends this image to the world itself: within it, not least inside the central nervous system and brain structure of the human person we see an intelligent design that dwarfs all intelligence. Also, we know that we and the world have not always been here, we had a beginning – and science today, in fact, can date that beginning.

Draw out the logical consequences of this and it should lead you to postulate that there exists somewhere an Intelligent Creator, God, who is the author of all of this.

Equally as famous is an argument first put forth by St Anselm in the 11th Century. Anselm argued this way:

-- God is that of which nothing greater can be thought of.

-- But that of which nothing greater can be thought of must exist, otherwise something greater could be thought of.

-- Therefore God exists.

Some philosophers recast the argument even more simply: if God is possible than God exists because it’s impossible to have a possible God.

At first glance this kind of argument can seem silly; except that great minds the likes of Rene Descartes, Gottfried Leibnitz, Alfred North Whitehead and Charles Hartshorne have believed it.  When intellectuals of that sort see merit here then perhaps those of us who consider it silly may be missing something.

More importantly perhaps, millions of people have their own ‘proofs’ for God’s existence stemming from their private experience of faith, their intuitive knowledge, their moral and aesthetic sensibility, and sometimes from the experience of actual ‘miracles’ within their own lives.

Today too there’s a huge, ever-growing body of literature which chronicles the experience of literally hundreds of persons who died and then were resuscitated. In almost every such case, the testimony of the person is the same, namely, there is another world and there is a God… and the further news is that this world and this God are unconditionally loving and powerfully invitational.

What’s to be said about all of this? Can we prove that God exists?

Sixty years ago there was a famous public debate in England between two intellectuals, Bertrand Russell and Frederick Copleston; Russell an atheist, Copleston a believer. They ultimately agreed on one point: If the world makes sense then God exists! Of course, that question can be answered either way, depending upon one’s faith and experience. But it still establishes an important truth. Our lives and our existence really only have meaning if God exists. As Soren Kierkegaard puts it: “If there is no eternal consciousness in a human being, if underlying everything there is only a wild, fermenting force writhing in dark passions that produced everything great and insignificant, if a bottomless, insatiable emptiness lurked beneath everything, what would life be then but despair?”

So what’s the value of any ‘proof’ for the existence of God, beyond perhaps establishing that without a God to underwrite us we cannot ever fully make sense of our lives?

I wrote my doctoral thesis mostly on this question and at the end came to this conclusion: you cannot logically, mathematically, mystically or from things inside your own experience prove God’s existence to an honest sceptic.

You can tease with logic and you can lure from graced experience, but you cannot finally ‘prove’ that God exists.

But, and this is the point, God isn’t meant to be proven. At the end of the day, God isn’t found at the end of a syllogism, equation, or empirical miracle that no one can deny; that’s not the way faith works or the way Jesus reveals the reality of God. God isn’t proven. God is met and experienced through a certain way of living.

What the various proofs for the existence of God do is invite us to a certain openness of mind within which we are more receptive to recognising God’s presence.

What Jesus and the saints do is invite us to live our lives in a certain way so that in living in that way we will begin already to live inside of God’s life, whether we believe in God or not.

Total Comments:2

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A watch needs a watchmaker because it lacks any mechanism to reproduce or to change. Living things do reproduce, they do undergo changes in their DNA and they are under selective environmental pressures. So comparing watches to organisms seems insightful at first, but is an apples and oranges argument that is an exercise in ignorance. It also begs the question, what is more likely, that life (complex chemistry) gradually evolved from simple chemical origins, or that a fully formed complex creative God suddenly popped out of nothing and then created life. Strange to me how so many people laugh at the more probable explanation and embrace the more improbable explanation.