Sunday, October 27, 2013

Prepared to Make a Defense

An atheist’s favorite weapon is science.  They gleefully shout that science disproves religion and belief in God is irrational.  But is this true?  Some of the world’s greatest scientists were devout Catholics.  Gregor Mendel, the founder of modern genetics, was a religious priest, and Georges Lemaître, a Jesuit priest, was the first to theorize the big bang.  Neither of these brilliant men thought that science disproved religion.  Many atheists have fallen victim to an error called scientism.  Scientism is the belief that we only know truth through science.  They would say that if it’s not scientific knowledge, it is not knowledge.  Operating out of this perspective, they conclude that God does not exist.  Science studies changes in material things, but God isn’t material and doesn’t change.  He can’t be investigated by science.  Therefore, they conclude, God doesn’t exist.  However, scientism is a false perspective.  If we only know truth through science, how do we know that scientism is true?  We certainly couldn’t prove it by doing scientific experiments.  What kind of experiment would we conduct?

Instead, our culture needs to rediscover an appreciation for philosophy.  Philosophy is not merely one’s opinion about life or the world, but it is the rational investigation of our basic beliefs about reality.  It requires logic and critical thinking.  It asks questions about what does it mean to know, the existence of the soul, morality, and the existence of God.  The Catholic Church is convinced that the human person can reason to the existence of God.  Bl. John Paul II wrote an encyclical to this effect entitled Fides et Ratio (Faith and Reason), but it has even more ancient roots in St. Paul who wrote, “Ever since the creation of the world, his invisible attributes of eternal power and divinity have been able to be understood and perceived in what he has made” (Rom 1:20).

In order to understand how we might prove God’s existence, we need to refine our understanding of causation.  Suppose you drove towards some train tracks, and to your dismay, there was a single train car blocking the whole road.  You would be frustrated because you that the train car is not going to move on its own, it does not have the power to move itself.  It requires a train engine.  In philosophy we call this a “first cause.”  First, here, does not mean first in time but first in priority.  Without a first cause which has within itself the power to change, nothing else in a chain of causes can happen.  It doesn’t matter if there is one train car or an infinite number of train cars.  When there is no train engine, not a single train car can move.

The whole universe is like this in regards to being.  Things come to be and then cease to be, yet nothing is the cause of its own being.  My existence is not something I chose; it is caused by something outside of me.  Even fundamental particles undergo change; otherwise, we couldn’t observe them scientifically.  The question then arises, what is the underlying cause of all this change and of existence itself?  There must be something which is at their origin.  The creator of all change and existence is what Christians and other religious peoples have called God.

If God is the origin of all that happens in the world, the world is not a place of chance and uncontrollable forces, but we can trust that God is at work even in the midst of our suffering.  The reason for suffering might not be perceptible to us, yet God is in control.    This is the beginning an answer to the problem of evil.  God allows evils so that we might gain some other good by them just as a good author allows some evils to befall his or her characters so that they might grow, develop, demonstrate bravery, and other virtues.  If we only look at one scene in a story, it might seem cruel and tragic.  However, if we look at the entire narrative, something beautiful emerges.  This doesn’t mean that God has created evil, because evil doesn’t have its own existence.  Evil is more like a hole in a sock and darkness.  It is the absence of a good whether it be love, self-control, or justice.  Death is the absence of life.  Disease is the absence of health.  Evils are little holes in the world that God permits creatures like us to make for the sake of the beauty of His story.

The full answer to the problem of evil is found in Jesus the Christ who enters into the human story, shoulders our suffering, and makes the cross the cause of salvation.  His death becomes the occasion of life for the human race.  As Christians, we don’t need to be afraid of objections from unbelievers.  Objections need to become opportunities to deepen our understanding of the faith.  Only then will we “always be ready to give an explanation to anyone who asks you for a reason for your hope” (1 Pt 3:15).

No comments:

Post a Comment