Can we prove that God exists?CHARLES E. RICE
As a full consideration of the proofs from reason for the existence of God will indicate, belief in God is fully reasonable. Even more, it is wholly unreasonable not to believe in God.Can
we know anything about God? Of course, through the gift of faith we know that
God exists. But is that merely a blind faith unsupported by reason?
Obviously, our reason cannot of itself provide us with complete knowledge of God;
if it could we would ourselves be God. Nevertheless, through our reason we are
able to gain some certain knowledge of God.
St. Thomas Aquinas (1225-1274)
spelled out five proofs from reason for the existence of God. Briefly summarized,
- Motion. What is in motion
must be put in motion by another and that by another again. This cannot go on
to infinity. Therefore, there must be at the head of the series of movers, a being
that is itself unmoved and that is the source of all movement. This prime mover
- Causation. This proof
depends on the self-evident principles that nothing can exist without a sufficient
reason for its existence and that every effect must have a cause. It is impossible
for a thing to be the efficient cause of itself for, if it were, it would be prior
to itself which is impossible. Since every effect must have a cause, that cause
in turn must be the effect of another cause, and so on. But the process cannot
go on to infinity. There must be a first cause that is not caused by anything
else and that contains in itself the sufficient reason for its existence. That
first cause is God.
- Necessity or contingency.
This proof, too, depends on the self-evident principle of sufficient reason,
that is, that whatever exists must have a sufficient reason for its existence.
If there was ever a time when there was nothing, there could never be
anything. From nothing, nothing can come. To explain the existence of beings that
are unnecessary, that at one time did not exist, there must have always existed
a necessary being, from whom beings that began to be received their existence.
The existence of all other beings is contingent on the existence of this necessary
being. This necessary being is God.
When we perceive objects or people, we judge that they are more or less
good, beautiful, kind, just, etc. But this presupposes an absolute standard of
perfection with which the less perfect are compared. This absolute standard of
perfection is God.
Whatever exhibits marks of design must be the work of an intelligent being. Nobody
could possibly believe that his wrist watch just "fell together." On the contrary,
it was obviously designed by an intelligent designer. How much more so with the
human body, the world and the universe. They all give evidence of an intelligent
designer. The order of the universe, the workings of the human eye, etc., cannot
be the product of chance or of some blind necessity in the nature of things. Their
intelligent designer is God.
These are the five proofs advanced by
St. Thomas Aquinas to prove the existence of God. Two other proofs for the existence
of God should be mentioned:
- The Argument from
Conscience. The most notable statment of this argument was written
by John Henry Cardinal Newman:
"If, as is the case, we feel responsibility,
are ashamed, are frightened, at transgressing the voice of conscience, this implies
that there is one to whom we are responsible, before whom we are ashamed, whose
claims upon us we fear. If, on doing wrong, we feel the same tearful, broken-hearted
sorrow which overwhelms us in hurting a mother; if, on doing right, we enjoy the
same sunny serenity of mind, the same soothing satisfactory delight which follows
our receiving praise from a father, we certainly have within us the image of some
person, to whom our love.. and veneration look, in whose smile we find our happiness,
for whom we yearn, towards whom we direct our pleadings, in whose anger we are
troubled and waste away. These feelings in us are such as require for their exciting
cause an intelligent being; we are not affectionate towards a stone; we do not
feel shame before a horse or dog; we have no remorse or compunction on breaking
merely human law; yet so it is, conscience excites all these painful emotions:
confusion, foreboding, self-condemnation; and on the other hand it sheds upon
us a deep peace, a sense of security, a resignation and a hope, which there is
no sensible, no earthly, object to elicit. "The wicked flees when no man pursueth."
Then why does he flee? Whence his terror? Who is it that he sees in solitude,
in darkness, in the hidden chambers of his heart? If the cause of these emotions
does not belong to this visible world, the object towards which his perception
is directed must be supernatural and divine; and thus the phenomena of conscience
avail to impress the imagination with the picture of a supreme governor, a judge,
holy, just, powerful, all-seeing, retributive, and is the creative principle of
religion, as the moral sense is the principle of ethics." [Newman, Grammar
of Assent, Chap. 5, Sec. 1]
Argument from Universal Belief. Like the argument from conscience,
this proof is not conclusive. Rather the existence of a practically universal
belief in the existence of God strongly corroborates the conclusion that God exists.
It is generally true that every people or tribe of men has had some kind of belief
in a supreme being. human race as a whole has manifested God, despite wide variances
in those beliefs. prevailing among men of all times and accepted by men of all
degrees of ignorance or knowledge, cannot reasonably be accounted for except on
the supposition that such a belief is a right conclusion of human reason. The
universality of this belief cannot be explained as merely a result of fear, desire
or fraud. Rather, its universality among men is evidence of its reasonableness.
Too often, we tend to assume that our religion is an exercise in
witchcraft and that those who deny God are the reasonable people. In fact, as
a full consideration of the proofs from reason for the existence of God will indicate,
belief in God is fully reasonable. Even more, it is wholly unreasonable not to
believe in God. One who denies the existence of God must be prepared to say that
an endless chain of movers a prime mover; that an infinite chain of causes without
an uncaused first cause; that something can come from absolutely nothing; that
there is no ultimate and absolute standard of perfection; that the marvelous workings
brain, for example, can occur through blind chance without intelligent design;
and that the universal testimony of human conscience is of little or no account.
Charles E. Rice.
"Can we prove that God exists?" Chapter 3 in Truth in Christ: Notes on Teaching
Some Elements of the Catholic Faith (Notre Dame, Indiana: Cashel Institute,
This article reprinted with permission from the author Charles
E. Rice is Professor Emeritus of Law at the University of Notre Dame Law School
and Visiting Professor of Law at Ave Maria School of Law, Ann Arbor, Michigan.
He has served as a consultant to the U.S. Commission on Civil Rights and to various
Congressional committees on constitutional issues and is an editor of the American
Journal of Jurisprudence. Professor Rice is also chairman of the Center for
Law and Justice International in New Hope, Kentucky, and a director of the Thomas
More Center for Law and Justice in Ann Arbor. He is faculty advisor and an assistant
coach of the Notre Dame Boxing Club. He and his wife, Mary, have ten children
and they reside in Mishawaka, Indiana. Professor Rice is the author of many books,
Questions on the Natural Law: What It Is and Why We Need It and most
Winning Side: Questions on Living the Culture of Life.
1983 Cashel Institute