God exists – as this Christmas letter demonstrates
You want me to prove God’s existence in four pages? But what about the full book I have written on the topic? What exactly are you trying to say to me?
OK! I concede that it may be an impossible ask to get some people to read a book. You think brevity is a fundamental requirement, and you want me to acknowledge that reality. Well, if you are going to tie my hands with a word count, I too must propose some stipulations, which I hope you will concede are reasonable.
If someone is not open to accept the possibility of God’s existence, then that person will never believe in him. Such openness – to follow the evidence wherever it leads – is a personal conscious decision. Some may be unable to make that decision due to perceived unwelcome costs attached to it. Yet, humility is a fundamental requirement for belief – the ability to accept that there might be someone absolutely greater than oneself, someone so far beyond humanity that our human minds struggle to conceptualise that someone. It is not unusual in many lesser circumstances in life to witness individuals turning their back on truth.
This required openness to God’s existence is an exercise of freedom, this being a gift which, as we shall see later, is linked intrinsically with the reality of God. Freedom is a fruit of God’s existence. No matter how clear God is to your intellect, you, in your will, can still decide to reject his existence.
Also, so as not to get bogged down in endless philosophical debate, I ask you to accept that the world you and I live in, and describe to each other, is real. A real world, with real people who have a past, a present and a future, really engaging with each other – not a matrix or a hologram or an extension of consciousness. Things are what they are.
Before you argue that any of the above sounds like special pleading, it actually reflects the best the unaided human mind can do. Even with scientific facts, our certainty is never absolute. For example, to accept that the Webb telescope now sees galaxies which were formed within 500 million years of the Big Bang, requires some leaps of the mind: to accept as truth the findings of many previous scientists, to believe in laws of continuity in the universe, and to have faith in today’s scientists despite strong, vested financial interests in their claims being true.
Finally, as will become clear near the end, the God I wish to propose to you is he of whom St John speaks when he says: ‘The Word became flesh’. So, he is not a concept which satisfies some rational tests nor an answer to, or conclusion of a mind puzzle, but a living God, one who engages with us. A God who exists from all eternity, who has entered, in history, our material world, and who has a real relationship with humankind.
No Clinching argument
Now, within the frame of reality, no argument will clinch the truth of God’s existence, because we are not made that way. The human mind on its own cannot achieve absolute certainty. Sure, there are circumstances or conclusions which follow on from other actions – if I toss a coin, I can be sure it will come down either heads or tails. But will it? Generally, it will, but if looking for a guarantee that it will always be so, then no, as there are many, perhaps extremely improbable, happenstances that can prevent this from happening.
You say: but if A=B and B=C then we are sure that A=C. That is true, but another observer still can deny it, can refuse to accept it, because he/she has rejected some of your first principles or does not want it to be true. Your absolute certainty may not be shared by the other person, and he may remain stubbornly unpersuaded.
Scientists wants to know the truth of things in our universe, yet the certainty they arrive at often unravels, as more knowledge is uncovered. In many ways science can be seen as a subset of the religious search for truth, thus seeking natural certainty on God’s existence suffers similar difficulties. An additional problem faces the religious search. Leaving aside God’s entry into history in the person of Jesus Christ, God is totally outside material reality. Thus, he is not subject to scientific measurement or enquiry, and no practical experiment can reveal him to us.
It could be said that in our search for truth, the more mundane the truth is, the more force it has for us. Lesser truths don’t challenge our freedom, so we readily allow them to impose their power on us. The more noble or higher the truth, the more it depends on our acceptance of it, in freedom, and the greater likelihood that we might choose to reject it. To maximise our freedom, higher truths lay aside power, and so it is with truths about God.
All that said, I will now do the best I can.
At one stage, around two hundred years ago, science seemed to be pointing us away from the need for a creator God. Things have very much changed since then. We are currently presented with a universe which began in time from a very tiny something, (which sounds uncannily like the ‘nothing’ of Genesis), and will have an end – a far cry from the static, eternal universe which kept the need for a God at bay in the 19th century. This universe obeys simple laws, which suggest a lawmaker. Our minds can largely comprehend it, which begs the question as to why we could have that ‘evolutionary’ capacity, unless it were because the universe was made in some way for us. Such human exceptionalism is reinforced by our seeming to be the only rational creatures around, as confirmed to date by our highly advanced communications capacity. Surprisingly, mitochondrial DNA now confirms we humans are all intimately related to one another, all having the same mother, seemingly corroborating another aspect of the three-thousand-year-old creation story in Genesis.
At the level at which we humans function, the universe is accessible to our minds, following accessible rational laws, which through sense knowledge and scientific method we can prove, thus suggesting that the universe itself might be the product of a rational mind. Otherwise, one must explain how cosmic irrationality can produce a rational mind. How is it that irrationality could accidently produce something that is the measure of it? And whereas the claims being made here might seem time bound as the fruits of modern science, a rational person in previous ages could come to the same conclusion (and did too) about the existence of God by looking around them and asking, ‘where has all this come from?’ and ‘who am I?’ After all, the Greeks of over two millennia ago, calculated the circumference of the earth to within 1% of its correct value!
Our practical experience tells us that our reason on its own is limited and that it needs some moral guide, to tell us right from wrong, in our search for what is true. Undertaking this noble search implies that we have a sense of purpose, which in turn suggests a God to instil that purpose. Exploring our internal motivation further, we recognise desires for happiness, for justice, and for eternity – all of which obviously will require a future life in which these can be satisfied. Are these simply fruitless urges or do they have a meaning? If we search for meaning in everything else, then why should we not expect these desires to be meaningful as well.
Our experience of some wonderful systems that we have established for ourselves confirms the importance of morality. Science without morality excuses anything – if we can do it (even if it means human self-destruction) then why not do so? Capitalism without morality produces enormous wealth disparities which lead to its collapse. The free market without regulation leads to the survival of the fittest and the failure of the market. Consumerism without morality leads to planetary destruction. Democracy without its fundamental freedoms deteriorates into totalitarian rule. But to have morality we need a measuring stick, which at the top end is graduated by supreme good, which is God. It is clear that if this God didn’t exist, then we would have to invent him.
We experience freedom, we have a hunger to be free, to choose our future next steps for ourselves. In a purposeless, blind, unthinking universe, where humans are simply aggregates of molecules, such freedom is meaningless as everything is atomically deterministic. Yet if we really believed that to be true, then why do we make such a fuss about freedom? The logic of freedom – which distinguishes us humans from the rest of the known universe – requires that we have an in-built purpose, which requires a giver of purpose, which can only be God.
We also experience feelings of guilt and shame in regard to bad choices we make, similar to those feelings we have in the face of others whom we have let down in some way. These experiences suggest an invisible witness to whom we see ourselves answerable, or as was once explained, our conscience is ‘God’s voice within us’.
Scientists and mathematicians enjoy posing thought experiments to establish the truth of things, depending more on conceptual ideas than on experimental proof. To fully appreciate St Thomas Aquinas’s thought experiments to demonstrate God’s existence requires an in-depth discussion of philosophical definitions. Nonetheless, these ideas can at least be succinctly outlined.
St Thomas points out that everything moves or changes because it is moved by another. An infinite chain of movers does not explain the motion here and now, so there must be a first Mover. Likewise, every effect has a cause, but we cannot have an infinite regress of causes, ergo, there is an uncaused first cause. His third way highlights the fact that everything is contingent, that is, it receives its being from something else. Then to explain existence there must exist an ultimate being that is not transitory nor contingent, but necessary. This unmoved mover, uncaused cause and necessary being we call God.
He also states that we judge all qualities, such as beauty, against some standard. This requires that there exists some fullness of perfection against which we can judge other things – that fullness of perfection being God. Finally, in his fifth ‘Way’ he argues from design: the existence of patterns and laws in our universe reflects an ordered purpose, with this design requiring a designer.
You may find any one of these rational arguments more or less convincing, yet taken together they form a tapestry of common sense. There is no doubt that our reason gives us a panoramic view of the world, yet to explain it fully requires something more. Life mysteries, including ideas of freedom and justice and human interdependence, are only comprehensible through understanding who the creator God is.
The Christian God is captured in St John’s phrase ‘God is love’. Our creation is an overflow of God’s love. We fulfil ourselves in learning and living the rules of love – love of ourselves, of others and of God. We find meaning and purpose in loving others – personal survival in the extreme circumstances of death camps being strongly linked to living for the sake of loved others, while on the other hand, deathbed regrets often centre on not having loved enough.
Understanding love is the interpretive key to unlock the mystery of creation. It explains its vast bountifulness and our intellectual receptivity towards all of its dimensions. Love identifies freedom as the greatest gift God has given us – a freedom to acknowledge or not his greatness, a freedom which we appreciate by seeing and responding to the beauty in all of his creation. Love, properly understood, directs our focus towards the good of others – the most precious elements in all his creation – and from there leads us to God himself.
Our exemplar in love is God himself – in carrying out his work of creation, in his sending his Son into human history for our salvation, in his patience with us. Many who publicly identify with him confess to the reality of his love: for example, Damian among the leper colonies; Maximilian in Auschwitz, and Teresa in the Calcutta slums. Love heals, love repairs – love is our universal salve. His genuine followers continue today to carry out his mission, to support life at all stages, to fight for life, and do not confuse misplaced compassion with charity.
Yes, it is still possible to believe that we are complex, constantly collapsing wave functions governed by probability. But is more fulfilling to believe in that which is obvious – that we are creatures of a loving God. We are choosing between a cold, empty universe or one filled with the light and warmth of Christ. God entered history so that ‘the people who have walked in darkness have seen a great light.’
So, there you are, dear reader. If all this is still too long for you, then let me have one final, brief try.
If one wants to explain how initial chaotic randomness has come together to make sense, then a designer is required. For that sense to be intuited by the mind of a creature arising from that chaotic randomness, suggests that this creature must be of value, at least in the eyes of the designer. For the human creature to appreciate freedom as a key constituent of one’s being suggests purpose and meaning (that can be freely chosen) – which makes no sense if everything really is chaotic randomness. That the human seeks what is true and works to bring about the good, implies that there is a moral standard which must be anchored somewhere. That the human can freely find the highest goodness in loving fellow humans as if they were himself, suggests that knowing and loving are essential elements in the design. That a designer would take all this trouble, and that, ultimately, we might never know him, makes no sense. That he would enter history to sort us out provides us with a standard of love, the key to unlocking the mystery of creation.
So, if you want this world of ours to make sense, then there is a God, whom we can strive to know and love in this life, and who will reveal himself fully to us in the life to come. Meanwhile, without God, man is meaningless.