HE WHO IS
The mystery and difficulty of beginnings
The woman who gives birth to a child is not only a cause of a wondrous effect, she herself has become what she was not before, a mother. It is not only the marble under the sculptor’s chisel that has become something new; the sculptor has undergone a process of becoming in producing his masterpiece, he has fulfilled a formerly unfulfilled capacity within himself. For in these human beginnings the process of becoming wraps its arms around both cause and effect to pile wonder on wonder and yet leave the mystery intact, the mystery of the beginning of that which becomes both in the cause and the effect, the mystery of the beginning not of becoming but of being itself.
Difficulty for Beginners
Beginnings are not only mysterious, they are also difficult. Perhaps it is because they are mysterious that beginnings are so hard; at least, it is a fact that it is always difficult to begin at the beginning. That is a divine way of doing things, the divine way that made the Son of God start human life as an infant. For divinity itself is the Beginning and is naturally careful of beginnings, even of human beginnings which are but fragments gathered up from the feasts of the past. Surely the Catholic Doctor must be careful, even exhaustively careful, of beginnings: so careful that his works must be aimed, not merely at the learned or saintly, but at those humble beginners who are his particular care as an exponent of the things that pertain to God.
Reasons for a Beginning
Beginnings are hard for us even when we ourselves are capable, the material on which we work is apt, and the work we have to do is no more than to coax to full bloom hidden beauties in the material and in ourselves. To our minds, the uncreated beginning faced the extreme difficulty, not of drawing out hidden powers, but of establishing that which is. Beginners in the way of God, which is to say beginners in the way of human living, face a man-made difficulty that springs from the reluctance of their teachers to begin at the beginning, a difficulty that is only hinted at when we call it a lack of order in the presentation of truth. That reluctance is not difficult to understand: there is an attractive, though completely false, air of excitement in dodging difficulty, shutting one’s eyes to mystery and plunging into the middle of things.
That excitement has so gripped the modern mind that the beginning of things has become irritating to the point of consuming much of modern energy just in the elimination of it. These reasons for a beginning, which are sometimes called the proofs for the existence of God, have been excluded on thee grounds that the human intellect cannot be trusted outside the boundaries of direct sense experience. Of course, many other objections have been made to them: scientific objections, such as their pitiful dependence on an Aristotelian science long since defunct; they are not the product of scientific investigation; they are in evident conflict with the history of religion and the theory of evolution, both of which show that the Christian God is a very modern luxury.
If the philosopher’s patience is worn thin enough, he may protest that the results of such proofs are meaningless, devoid of qualitative content; which means this philosopher has been much too lazy to think. In desperation, the philosopher may simply toss the proofs out the window regardless of their truth or falsehood; the God they speak of is of no value or service to humanity. And this will be a philosopher who takes all the important things for granted.
Their Perennial Strength
These proofs may be a nuisance to one who tries, philosophically, to keep up with the times at whatever cost; but they cannot be denied modernity if by modern we mean to occupy a place in the minds and words of men of our day. They are strong enough, independent enough to live through this age and all ages. They ask no favors. They ask only what cannot be denied — and then make the most of it.
Specifically these proofs for the existence of God start with a simplicity worthy of the divinity they demonstrate, demanding just two things: a fact evident to the senses and the first principles of the intellect. Understand, now, this sensible fact is not carefully selected, difficult to see or subject to controversy; but an obvious, tangible reality of experience, such a fact as the wink of an eye, the birth of a child, the withering of a leaf, the beauty of a face or the smooth flight of a bird. The first principles of knowledge demanded are only those fundamentals without which intellectual operation of any kind is impossible, the principles which are the rock bottom of being as well as of thought and without which science itself is invalid, nay unthinkable. In thoroughly modern fashion, these reasons proceed carefully, cautiously, adhering strictly to the evidence in hand. They are not dependent on a system of science, a weight of tradition or subjective dispositions to make their way in the world. They are genuine.
The proofs for the existence of God do not belong on the dubious fringe of philosophy but in a place of honor; they have fought a bitter battle in defense of the intellect of man. A complete treatment of the existence of a beginning of things must always be a three-sided fight which must be won on all fronts or the intellect is lost. On one side are the champions of the ineptitude of man who insist that man’s one distinctive power of intellect has no intrinsic value; of course it cannot prove the existence of God. At the opposite extreme is the camp of optimists and emotionalists, one group insisting the existence of God needs no proof since it is self-evident, the other tacitly admitting the intellectual incapacity of man but holding for an emotional assurance of the Supreme Being. In the middle, carrying the brunt of the offensive today, are those who champion man by destroying God, claiming there is no God, at least no such God as the Christians worship.
The fight is bitter. Because not all men and women have the appetite for fighting, or the time and ability to carry on the fight to the end, and because so very much hangs on the outcome of the battle, infallible authority has come forth to protect those who by force of circumstance are non-combatants. By that authority, the man who cannot follow the intricacies of proof, either by reason of inability or lack of leisured time, knows beyond question that the reason of man, by its own power, can certainly know the existence of God and that God, the supreme Being, certainly exists.
The gesture of authority is necessary, not because the truth it defends is beyond the range of the guns of reason, but because it is essential that every man know of God’s existence for his individual life, just as it is essential for the world about man that God exist. The thinker who has seen and grasped the proof has no need of authority; he holds that truth by a clear insight into a natural truth. This man can prove the existence of God; by that proof he has also shown that the existence of God is not self-evident, it does not rest on an emotional assurance, it does not escape the powers of the mind of man. It is a proved fact.
Of course this man did not arrive at the proof of the existence of God effortlessly, as he might come to the point of raising a beard. The proof demands hard work, the hard work of thinking; certainly this man would have to have some preliminary notions accurately in mind before he could take a step towards the proof itself.
Potentiality and Actuality
There is, for instance, the simple, but decidedly abstract notion of potentiality and actuality, a notion that is perhaps grasped more easily by seeing it in the complex notion of change. Let us look at these notions in a rather clumsy example. Let us take a large, perfectly plain block of marble; then put a sculptor to work on it and have him make a statue of that block of marble. We say, rightly, that in the original marble block there is the potentiality of becoming a statue, the principle or aptitude for receiving this further perfection, the quality of being changed. It may be worth noting that by “perfection” here we mean any respect in which a thing can be completed or become more determinate in its being. When the process is complete, that potentiality has been realized, the marble block has become a statue.
Change: Potential, Process and Product
We call this process of realizing potentialities “becoming,” and whole philosophies have been built upon it. More simply, we call it “change;” in its positive form we give it the name of “development.” Whatever we call it, it is nothing more or less than the motion from potentiality to actuality, from the mere capability of receiving perfection to the perfection received. This is motion in its widest sense; it takes place in every change, of canvas and tubes of paint into a masterpiece, of a farmhand into a doctor of medicine, of an acorn into an oak, as well as in a journey from Chicago to New York. Obviously, this process of change involves three things: (1) a potential or starting point which is prior to the change and contains the potentiality, a thing which is already something but with the capacity for becoming something else, for receiving an added perfection; (2) the reality of the process or movement of change which proceeds from the potential to the actual; (3) the product of the change, the actual needed perfection. It is essential that we hold fast to the obvious fact of a distinct difference between the potentiality and its goal of realization. If this difference be denied, we are forced into a denial of both ends of a change, potentialities and actualities, or into an identification of these two. In either case we are in the impossible position of holding to a motion as eerie as a faceless smile, a motion that has come from nowhere and goes nowhere, or of holding to the absurdity that contradictories are identical, that there is no distinction between the undeveloped and the developed, between farmhands and doctors, marble blocks and statues.
The particular value of clarity in this notion of change lies in the fact that it brings out the complete necessity of explaining every realized potentiality, every perfection, by an explanation external to the realized potentiality itself. It makes more obvious the truth that a developed perfection is not its own explanation, it has not developed itself, nor is it explained by the potentiality which it perfected.
Another value, for our purpose of proving the existence of God, is had from the difference this process of becoming, or change, brings out between the action of God and of creatures. It is on the basis of this process of becoming that we argue from effects to causes in created causes and their effects. Where the cause is divine, the fundamental question remains the same, that is, the explanation of a perfection that is not self-explanatory, that has not produced itself. In this latter case, however, it is not a question of a cause drawing a potentiality to perfection, but of a cause producing that which possesses the potentialities. In a word, the question in this case is not of the cause of becoming (or change) but of the cause of being itself; the transition is not from potentiality to actualization of potentiality, but from non-being to being.
One other preliminary notion that must be clarified before proceeding to the actual proofs for the existence of God is the limitation of all proofs for existence. As a matter of fact, there are only two possibilities for proof of the existence of anything: the direct proof offered by sense experience, such as a man has of the existence of a door by ramming his nose against it; and the inferential or a posteriori proof, such as a detective might have of the existence of a murderer when he finds an armless paralytic dangling on a four-foot rope from a rafter fifteen feet above the floor. The detective, by his type of proof, may never come to more than an extremely great probability because it may be impossible to rule out all possibilities other than murder. Where it is possible to rule out all other possibilities, this proof by inference, the a posteriori proof, gives complete certitude.
No other proof of existence is possible, no a priori proof is valid, because existence in no way enters into the very nature of created things; we cannot argue from the nature of things to their existence, as we can argue from the nature of man to the spirituality of his soul. As we shall see, when the proof for God’s existence is completed, existence does enter into the very nature of God; but we cannot presuppose that when starting off on the task of proving God does exist. In other words, a conclusion about existence cannot be drawn from premises which do not assert the existence of anything; to assert the existence of something in the conclusion of a line of reasoning, you must assert the existence of something somewhere among the premises.
The contrary is the sophism inherent in all a priori or ontological proofs for God’s existence, the sophism which Kant attributed to all proofs for God’s existence. He argued that some concept of God is essential at the start of any proof for the existence of God and such a concept includes the notion of God’s existence. Kant is right, of course, in maintaining that some concept of God is necessary from the very beginning of these proofs; after all, the proofs are trying to prove something. But it is quite enough, for the purpose of the proofs, that that concept be no more than a statement of the absence of contradiction between God and existence; in other words, that concept, required to begin the proofs, need be no more than a construct which demands only the possibility of the union of the subject and predicate in the proposition “God exists.”
Experience assures us emphatically that we do not have a direct sense knowledge of God’s existence. When, in the course of this volume, we learn more about the divine nature, we shall see why we cannot have a sense knowledge of God. For the present, it is sufficient to accept the dictum of experience and concentrate our efforts along the only line of proof left open to us, the inferential or a posteriori proof, the proof of the cause from the effects.
The Five Proofs: The First Proof from Passivity — Motion
The first proof proceeds from the fact of motion or, to put the same thing in another way, from the fact of the passivity of things. Its extremely simple formulation can be made in these terms: because nothing that is moved moves or changes itself, the unquestionable fact of movement or change in the world about us, forces us to conclude to the existence of a first mover who is not himself moved. That is all of the proof. Its very brevity is reason enough for a somewhat lengthy explanation of it.
The phrase, “nothing moves or changes itself,” means only that a thing cannot be, relative to the same goal, merely movable and already moved, merely changeable and already changed; for the starting point and the goal of the process of becoming are necessarily different. The mere aptitude for receiving motion is not its own completion. The common sense fundamental back of this phrase, then, is simply that what is not possessed cannot be bestowed; and the very notion of potentiality is the absence of perfection that can be possessed but so far is not, for, unless we maintain that contraries are identical, a potentiality is not its actualization.
Actually this argument goes back a step farther, beyond the cause of change to the cause of that which is changed, back of the cause of becoming to the cause of being. For the immediate cause of change alone is itself in the process of becoming by its very causality; the mover of a potentially movable thing is himself moved by the very movement by which he moves this thing, he becomes something other than he was. The peddler does something to himself as well as to his pushcart when he bends his strength to its movement. Unless we come to a cause that produces that which is subject to change, to a cause that does not itself become something other than it was, the process of becoming or change cannot start. Briefly, what is in question here is not the process of motion, but the existence of that perfection which is motion.
It is obvious, then, that the term “mover” is used of the first and of secondary movers not in an identical, but only in a proportional, sense; for the first mover is the cause of being and is himself unchanged, while secondary movers are causes of change and are themselves changed in their action. It is to this unique first mover that the argument concludes.
A not uncommon fallacy today is to suppose that since this particular movement is caused by another, this latter by another, and so on, there is no need for further explanation since it is taken for granted that the world is eternal. From this point of view, since you can never come to thc end of the chain of movers, there is no mystery about the present movement. The fallacy lies in the fact that without a beginning the whole thing could not start; no one of these previous movers is sufficient explanation of itself and its effect on others, yet a sufficient explanation must be found if the fact of movement is to be intelligible, if we are not to have something coming from nothing. The haze of distance or the weight of time do not do away with the necessity of explanation any more than they offer a positive explanation. To be satisfied with this is to be satisfied with the removal of the question to more obscure quarters, comforted by its consequent vagueness. The plain fact is that unless we come to a mover that is in no way dependent we have not explained the existence of the movers who are undoubtedly dependent either for their actual movement or for the power to move; where the effects are patently present the cause ultimately explaining them is not to be denied.
Two things are to be particularly noted about this first proof for the existence of God: the narrowness of the conclusion and the independence of the argument from the element of time. The argument adheres rigidly to the limits of its premises; it concludes to a first mover unmoved — and to nothing more. There is nothing more which can be concluded from the sensible fact of motion with which the argument started. Because there is movement, there is a cause of cosmic movement which is itself unmoved. The argument is not a sputtering flame to be extinguished by the simple expedient of blanketing it with centuries. There is no question here of movement beginning in time. It is not a question of a present reality demanding a cause in the past. It is simply a question of the universe as given, movement or change as experienced, and the conclusion that such a movement or change is unintelligible without a first mover communicating movement to all things. Time makes no difference. If the eternity of the world were to be proved tomorrow beyond all doubt, this proof would be in no way affected; the fact of change is there, the effect is with us, its cause cannot be denied.
The background for the other four proofs is exactly the same as for this first one. Keeping the preliminary notions, explained above, well in mind and holding to the detailed explanation of this first proof, the others can be seen readily. The. point at issue is always the same: the existence of perfection that did not previously exist.
The Second Proof: from Activity — Causality
The second proof proceeds from causality or the activity of things. Here it is a question of the existence of an efficient cause, the external agent by whose operation a thing exists, the question of the existence of the hen that laid an egg, of the thunderbolt which struck a man dead, the storm that has battered a ship into helplessness. The starting point is again the sensible world.
We see in that sensible world an order of efficient causes dependent one on the other for their causality — the powder which propels the shell, which in turn crashes into a storage tank of gasoline, and this throwing out a sheet of flame in the heart of a city, and so on. We find nothing that is the cause of itself. Precisely because of this impossibility of a cause causing itself, the efficient causes of the sensible world force the conclusion upon us that a first efficient cause exists which is itself uncaused.
Here it is said that it is impossible for a cause to cause itself for the same fundamental reason as was exposed in the first argument, namely, because the starting point and the goal of change, the potentiality and its realization, cannot be identical. Otherwise we are identifying opposites, saying that the potentiality is the actuality. Here again, as in the first proof, the argument is really stronger than it looks; for the only alternative is not merely identifying opposites, it is identifying non-reality with reality, non-being with being, for the transition is not from potentiality to actuality but from the purely privative condition of nothingness to existence. Here again it must be noted that the term “cause” is used, not identically, but proportionally, of the first and secondary causes.
A difficulty may be offered to this argument, the difficulty of living causes where the dependence is not so immediately obvious. And the answer is that no one living cause explains the efficacy of the species to which it belongs and from which it derives its power to cause. Yet that efficacy must have its explanation. Infinite regress get us nowhere: without the first uncaused cause there will be no effects produced by any cause no matter how many eons are placed between the beginning of things and the world of today. It is not a question of time, nor is the question made more difficult by adding on a few million years to the age of the world. Again attention must be called to the strict adherence of the conclusion to the evidence in hand: the argument concludes to the existence of a cause that is itself uncaused, nothing more. Either of these two arguments is sufficient to demonstrate the existence of God; their effectiveness is not a matter of accumulative evidence. They are merely different angles, shafts of light focusing on the same spectacle of divinity but taking their rise from different starting points in the sensible world.
The Third Proof: from Defectibility — Contingency
The third proof proceeds from our experience of the contingency or defectibility of things. It can be stated briefly like this: if any beings exist whose essence is not one with their existence (that is, which are contingent), then a being exists whose essence is its existence (that is, an absolutely necessary being). The fact is that in the world about us we see things that can have or lose existence, that begin to exist and cease to exist, that are born and that die. If everything were of this nature, that is if existence is not essentially natural to anything, then nothing would ever exist; which is patently false in view of the existing world. The argument proceeds as do the preceding ones: if things are capable of beginning to exist or of ceasing to exist, then, since they do in fact exist and cease to exist, that capability is fulfilled, that potentiality is realized, and a potentiality cannot realize itself. Much less can nothingness produce that which is the subject of realized potentialities.
The objection of physically necessary substances is answered as was the fundamental objection to the preceding arguments. No such physically necessary being explains its own necessity but receives it (an actualized potentiality). So the necessity of the species is not explained by the species itself; “a multitude of contingent things do not make a necessary thing any more than a multitude of idiots make one intelligent man.” This necessity must be explained by a necessary being that does not receive necessity, but that is its necessity. Again the element of time makes no difference. An infinite chain of beings that receive their necessity, or of beings which are not necessary, neither complicates nor explains the difficulty; it merely attempts to dodge the problem by hiding under the accumulation of immediate causes or the accumulation of the years.
These first three proofs have argued to the existence of God from the passivity, the activity and the contingency of things. The fourth proof argues from the perfection of things. But the argument still proceeds from the world of reality, not necessarily the world of sense experience, sense impressions, but nonetheless from the world of reality. For the real world also includes the things we understand as well as the things we feel, such things as love, justice, friendship, things that we can never grow in the garden or meet on the street but which are, for all that, decidedly realities.
The perfections in question here are only the absolute perfections that carry the note of perfection in themselves, not the relative which are perfections only because of their order to something else. Examples of such absolute perfections are animality, rationality, life, existence. And these can be roughly classified by stressing the point that they are in themselves either strictly limited or completely limitless.
As examples of the strictly limited, we may mention animality or humanity. A man is no less an animal than a lion; nor has a sickly boy less humanity than a strapping giant. These things imply definitely fixed limits. They either are or are not fully possessed; there is never any question of having a little or a great deal of them. To exceed or to fall away from the fixed limit means the complete loss of that perfection. As examples of the limitless perfections, there are life, goodness, existence, and so on. If there are limits to these perfections in this or that individual or species, the limitation does not come from the perfection itself. We note the source of the limitation in our very manner of speech when we speak of human life and animallife, though it never occurs to us to speak of human rationality or animal animality.
Since it is precisely from these unlimited perfections that the proof of the existence of God proceeds, it may be worth while pointing out some of their characteristics. Perhaps the most noticeable is that these perfections are possessed by different kinds of being in an analogous, not an identical, way; thus, for instance, we speak of a good stone, a good fruit, a good horse or a good professor according as each has its due perfection. Obviously the goodness of the professor is not identically the same as the goodness of fruit. There is proportionality there, but not identity. The second particularly noteworthy characteristic is that these perfections are realizable in different degrees; thus, in the course of one lifetime a man may be bad, of mediocre virtue, of more than average virtue, and ultimately a saint.
The Fourth Proof: from Perfection — Participation
The fourth proof for the existence of God can be stated succinctly. In the world about us we see these perfections existing in things in greater and lesser degrees: that is, we see things that are more and less good, more and less true, and so on; we see life within human limits, animal limits, plant limits. Now these limited degrees of limitless perfections can be explained only by the existence of something to which these perfections pertain in their fullness, something which does not possess this or that degree of goodness, truth, life, but which is, by its very nature, limitless goodness, limitless truth, limitless life.
Certainly these limited degrees of limitless perfections are not explained by the natures which possess them. For what flows from the essential principles of a nature is had in its fullness; humanity is not something a man achieves after a long struggle. Moreover, perfections which flow from nature do not vary: the spoiled lapdog is not less animal as the days pass, the puppy does not grow into his animality. Yet, as a matter of fact, in the world about us these limitless perfections of goodness, life and the rest are not had in their fullness and they vary with an infinite variety.
The explanation, then, must be sought outside of the natures which possess a limited edition of a limitless virtue, that is, in some extrinsic source which has the perfection perfectly. Otherwise we meet the fundamental obstacle erected by an identification of contraries, of a potentiality bringing about its own realization, indeed, of the absence of perfection bringing about the presence of perfection. In a word, these limited editions of limitless virtues are received virtues; in the ultimate analysis, they are explicable only by some being who has not received them but to whom they belong, in their limitlessness, by the very nature of that being. Nor is this a question of a jump from the ideal to the real order. These effects — human life, the goodness of a man — are decidedly in the real order. It is not a matter of having an ideal rule by which we may measure these perfections; but of having a real, existing cause by whose action these realities have been brought into being.
This fourth proof proceeded from multiplicity to unity, from the multiplicity of shared or received perfections to the unity of essentially possessed perfection. The fifth proof proceeds from an ordered multiplicity to an ordering unity. The order of the world, which is at the starting point of this proof, furnished one of the most constant evidences of the existence of God to men through the ages. It appealed to Greek poets and philosophers; in un-philosophic form it was preserved in the Sacred Writings of the Jews; primitive peoples appealed to it in their origin myths. It has been not only one of the most ancient of the proofs but one of the most popular. It has been accepted as genuine by the uneducated who were unable to follow its philosophical implications; and, at the same time, was the only proof given a measure of respect by the great Kant.
It was perhaps to be expected that modern philosophy, with its contempt for the past should most strenuously assail this particular proof. Some will say that it was destroyed by the theory of evolution which, telling a tale of the process of development, made unnecessary all explanation of the beginning of that process. Again, the facts of reality are said to be adequately explained by blind chance or by necessity. We shall look at these last two modern (and ancient) objections more closely after we have seen the proof itself.
The Fifth Proof: from Order — Finality
The fifth proof for the existence of God proceeds just as did the other four, demanding no more, resting on just as solid a foundation. It has the same starting point of facts in the world in which we live; it makes use of the same fundamental principle of reason and of things, namely, that opposites are not identical. Here the point in question is the existence of an order; the search for its explanation leads us to a supreme intelligence.
The argument might be phrased briefly like this. In thc world about us we see things devoid of intelligence acting for an end, a fact which is evident from their always, or generally, acting in thc same orderly way to attain that which is best for them. Evidently these actions are placed, not by accident, but on purpose. As things devoid of intelligence do not act for an end unless they be directed by some intelligence, we must conclude that a supreme intelligence exists which directs all natural things to their end.
An immediately obvious difficulty against this argument seems to be that it presumes the order of the world; this order is by no means a fact of experience. If there is such an order in the world, we have not discovered it yet. As a matter of fact, this objection has its roots in the lush soil of confusion, the confusion of external and internal finality. To solve the mystery of external finality we would have to know all the answers to such questions as the external reason for the bite of a mosquito, the existence of a snake, the destruction wrought by a hurricane. We simply do not know these things; certainly we do not know all of them and probably we never shall. It is asking a good deal to demand an exhaustive measurement of divine plans by such an instrument as the mind of a man. As a matter of fact, we do not have to plumb the mystery of external finality for the purposes of this argument.
It is quite sufficient that we establish the fact of internal finality. That we can and do know without doubt. We do know that the eye is constructed for purposes of seeing, the car for hearing; that a mosquito bites for purposes of nourishment, that the snake’s fangs are weapons of defense, and so on. Knowledge such as this is sufficient for the starting point of this fifth proof for the existence of God. Indeed, only one such instance of internal finality would give grounds enough for the proof. This fact of internal finality is quite sufficient to absolve this argument from the charge of anthropomorphism which some philosophers have levelled against it. The argument does not demand that we search the soul of a snake or a mosquito to unearth motives, intentions or plans; it asks merely that we recognize the fact of a constant order of cause to effect.
This internal order is not to be explained by chance. Such an explanation is an insult to common sense: my ear might just as well have turned out to be an organ of smell; on such grounds, is it not surprising that so many animals have ears? The ratio of the chances for a simultaneous chance development of the thirteen conditions immediately necessary for sight has been figured out as 9,999,985 to 15; yet the thing happens every day!
Putting aside the appeal of common sense, which is strangely suspect by the modern philosopher, the explanation of the order of the world by chance is philosophically unsound. Certainly chance exists. It is just chance that a bald-headed man is caught in a thunder-shower without his hat; but obviously if there were no reason for his being out, no reason for the shower, the heavy drops would not now be smacking off the smooth surface of his head. In other words, the very existence of chance presupposes the existence of the essential; chance is no more than the clash of two causes attempting to pursue their own purposive ways; it is an accident which happens to the essential, not which explains or does away with the essential. If everything happens by chance, then all nature is reduced to the level of the accidental; things are not essentially what they are, but only accidentally so, the mirage may melt away before the groping fingers of our mind.
Such an explanation is no explanation at all; it is a contradiction. It is the by now familiar absurdity of explaining the perfect by the imperfect, the greater by the less, order by the lack of order. Or, to put it bluntly, it identifies opposites potentiality with its realization or potentiality with the lack of all being. And we are faced with the old dilemma of denying the potentialities of the medical student and the perfections of the doctor or of denying the difference between the two; that is, we are back to the impossible attempt to deny facts.
The modern, intent on dodging the infinite, is not at all dashed by the breakdown of an explanation which he will confidently use again as soon as the thunder of reason’s guns has died down. For the moment he solves the problem by denying it: the order of the world is explained by the necessity of nature; God is unnecessary because the world is self-sufficient. In plain language, this means that order is discernible in the world, science can continue with its investigation of this order, because things are what they are; this is their nature, they are determined by necessary physical laws to this way of being and of acting, nature itself supplies the necessary determination.
No real question is solved by pretending it does not exist: and this is a real question. The solution offered on the grounds of necessity merely pushes the question back. Whence comes this determination, this necessary inclination to determined action? What is the source of the necessity of nature and of physical laws? Obviously it does not explain itself; chance will not do as an explanation; the only possible solution is a cause above nature, an intelligence that is supreme. Not any intelligcnce will do. For if that intelligence is not supreme, then it is not intelligence but a nature which has intelligence, that is, a nature determined, inclined, ordered to know; and we have the same problem all over again — whence comes this determination, this inclination, this order? This ultimately explanatory intelligence must be, not have, intelligence; it must not be ordered to knowing but must be its own knowledge.
A Posteriori Arguments
Such are the proofs for the existence of God. They have their foundations deep in the solid earth while their superstructure sweeps up to the heights of divinity. These proofs are not airy abstractions, they are not vague constructs made to substitute, in the dim light of argumentation, for solid reality. They are inferential proofs, a posteriori proofs, inductions based on the facts of the sensible world and the first principles of reason. The facts upon which they are based are in no sense disputed facts; given the movement of an eyelash, the perfection of a stone or the contingency of a sigh, these proofs hold. Surely, in all common sense, the foundation asked from the senses for these proofs cannot be denied.
On the other hand, the principle of reason involved in these proofs is no less indisputable. It cannot be denied without the denial of all intellectual activities, without the denial of the world of reality; indeed, it cannot be denied without being affirmed. For this principle is simply that a thing is what it is, a thing cannot be and not be at the same time, it cannot be itself and something else; in other words, the principle insists that differences are not identities, that potentialities are not their actualizations, that non-being is not identical with being.
The philosopher who, for reasons best known to himself, decides to challenge these proofs has entered a war of cosmic proportions; fortunately for himself, he cannot win. Such a victory would be his own annihilation. These proofs are not aimed at a cumulative effect; they are totally different from the mass of arguments gathered in support of the hypothesis of evolution, they are not the frail threads woven into the strong cloth of a prosecuting attorney’s circumstantial argument. From all of them, or from any one of them, the existence of God is established; from any one of them as a starting point, it can be shown that God is existence itself, the perfect being, ens a se.
Strictly Limited to Evidence
No fault can be found with their procedure, for they adhere rigidly to the evidence in hand and conclude within the proper limits of this evidence. The knowledge they give is not that of probability, not even of very high probability; rather it is knowledge of metaphysical certitude, excluding every other possibility, leaving only the first mover, the first cause, the necessary being and so on as the ultimate answer to the facts of the world of reality.
That these proofs have been shrugged off as meaningless to men, devoid of qualitative content, is something the thinking man will always be unable to understand; and for the very good reason that such an attitude is unintelligible. The following chapters will bring out at length the implications of these notions; but without further elaboration these arguments bow down under the weight of the ripe fruit of profound significance. Thus, for instance, the fact of the existence of a first unmoved mover means that there is no movement, from the crushing force of a tidal wave to the rise and fall of a breast in sleep which does not depend every instant on God; there is no change, from the imperceptible coloring of a leaf in autumn to the upheaval of a social revolution in which God does not play a major part. The existence of a first uncaused cause means that in the swaying struggle of men’s lives, the triumphs of their greatest thoughts and works, their masterpieces, their literature, their architecture, the soarings of the poet or the crisp command of the soldier, there is no instant from which God can be excluded. No walls are thick enough, no wastes lonely enough, no army powerful enough, no governmental edict sweeping enough, no hatred bitter enough to exclude the action of the first cause.
Significance of the Proofs
The existence of an absolutely necessary being means there is a divine sustaining hand whose withdrawal means annihilation; it means that we cannot contact anything of reality without confronting divinity; that God is closer to us than we are to ourselves, that every moment of life, every particle of dust, every stitch of a garment is permeated with divinity or it could not continue to be. That there is an all perfect being means that all the beauty, the love, the goodness that lift the heart of a man out of himself are but shadows of the infinite on the pool of life, vague hints of the ineffable that lies at the beginning and end of life. That a supreme intelligence exists makes it plain that the hairs of our head are indeed numbered; that there is no step, no breath, no success or failure that is without its meaning, without its place in a divine plan, a supreme order, that necessarily goes beyond the human mind’s power of assimilation.
Real Mystery of Beginnings
These proofs may be attacked as wild abstractions of reason without solid foundation or as cold reasonings that have no meaning, no interest to men. Both accusations are completely false: these are scientific proofs based on the world of reality; they are of an inexhaustible significance and interest to men. If the truth were honestly faced, it would be evident that the real grounds for the modern unease in their presence is the fact that they lead the mind of men to the ultimate mystery. Every beginning is mysterious because every beginning has a drop of the exotic perfume of divinity on its garments. Every beginning is a bridge spanning the chasm between what can be and what is, by its very existence proclaiming the perfection and the mystery of its builder, the ultimate Beginning who laid the foundations upon which every such bridge must be built. The most prosaic beginning intrigues our mind. for the humblest beginning poses a question that only divinity answers and only divinity can fully understand that answer. By a beginning something has come into being that did not exist before; it is a sleight of hand trick, a bit of magic that cannot be true, a mouse giving birth to a mountain unless we come to the Beginning that never began and always is, to the limitlessness that explains the limited, to the utterly independent which is the sole support of the dependent. When we have arrived at that ultimate answer, we are face to face with the incomprehensible precisely because we are in the presence of the limitless.
To the man who confusedly identifies human excellence with absolute supremacy, this sort of thing is intolerable; what overflows the measure of the human mind simply cannot exist, for this would be a refutation of the excellence of man. Some other solution must be had, something not mysterious, something that can be weighed, measured and put in its place by the human god of the universe. It may be this man will try to satisfy his mind, and his heart, by the absurdities of order explained by chance, by the blindness of necessity that has no source, or the deceit of substituting a process for an explanation. But such things can satisfy the mind of a man only by destroying it; they do not solve the problem of a beginning, they dodge it, deny it, destroy it, whereas the mind of man can be satisfied only with an answer. If we are to have that answer, we must face the fact of mystery, for mystery can be eliminated only at the cost of eliminating the beginning and so eliminating all that follows from that beginning. Perhaps, some day, the modern man will learn that mystery is not the prison of the mind of man, it is his home.