Reasoning to God – Mind – 5

Movers and motion

If you have been following closely, or if you are sensitive to italics, you likely noticed a new word:  Mover.

As you might have guessed, St. Thomas did not use this word exactly the way we do (of course, speaking Latin, he would not have used “mover” at all).  What is meant here is, yes, physical motion – locomotion – and still more.

What St. Thomas meant was any kind of change.  This could be a change in physical location (I move a table) and change in accidents (I paint the table blue).  This could even be change in development (an apple ripens; a child grows).  In each case, the object in question moves from potency to act.

See again:  The rock, to be moved from one position to another, requires a mover.  But even if its physical location does not change, the rock still requires a mover to go from gray to blue.

The sun acts on an apple and causes a chemical reaction; the sun is the mover.  The child is fed, sparking chemical reactions within his body, and he grows.

One could probably use “changer” to be more precise, in contemporary English, but deference to St. Thomas seems preferable here.

Regresses which must be finite

Hold fast, my friend, and struggle with me.  Let us reduce the potential of our understanding to actuality.

Consider again the rock – unpainted, speckled, oblong.  Four ounces.

Now, you have a stick in your hand, and you take the stick and move the rock – not a strike, like a golf club, but push…like a hockey stick.  Make it a hockey stick.

What the hell, make it a puck instead of a rock.

As any Canadian worth his syrup knows, a puck does not move itself.  No, the puck depends on the stick for its movement.

What about the stick?  Can it move itself?

No, we shall need hands.  But the hands – can they move the stick, all by themselves?

(You must imagine, here, severed hands.  Hands actually existing “by themselves,” apart from a body.  Can those hands do anything?)

No, we shall need arms, with tendons and bones and muscles.  And even those are motionless until electrical signals from the brain cause them to contract just so.

And whence come the electrical signals?  Well, from the firing of synapses in the brain, which are themselves triggered by…

You get the idea.  This chain continues back, possibly a long way.  Could it continue forever, into oblivion?

Well, imagine this all taking place in a story.  A character is playing in a hockey game, and he handles a puck.  As he does, you break from the story and consider – in a manner surpassing all philosophical zeal – this chain of motion in the story.

Does it have a beginning?  If you trace all of the movers back far enough – the stick acting on the puck, the hands acting on the stick, the tendons and muscles acting on the hand, etc. – does it ever come to an end?

Of course, it must.  It the whole sequence did not have a definite beginning, that means it would never have happened.  We need a first, unmoved mover, in order to avoid the infinite regress.

Consider:  If a chandelier was hung by a chain, one link supporting the other, it must necessarily end in a ceiling.  This “end” is not optional.  If it was only more links, all the way up, we would have a chandelier in freefall, not one suspended in the air.

Consider again, a freight train.  You pull up to some railroad tracks, and you see cargo cars rolling by, but the whole train seems to extend forever in both directions.  Even though you cannot see the beginning or the end of the train, you automatically assume there is an engine pulling the train along.  If there wasn’t, the train would not be in motion right now.

In our story, everything is moved by the author.  She is the “first mover,” the one who acts, thereby causing all kinds of potentialities to be actualized.  Nothing (within the story) acts on her, and so she is, in that sense, an “Unmoved Mover.”

If she ceased to act – if she just stopped writing the story, at the moment before the puck was pushed – the puck would never move.  The hands would never move, the tendons would never move, the electrical signals would never move…

And in reality?  Where does our real hockey player, handling his real puck, derive his ability to act at all?  What set all of this in motion?

There must be an Unmoved Mover, which makes it possible for the table to move, or the rock to be painted blue, or the apple to ripen, or the child to grow.

And this we call God, says St. Thomas.  

God, in reality, is the Unmoved Mover, and without Him, nothing at all would be in motion.

Reasoning to God – Mind – 4

The First Mover

Find yourself a comfortable chair.

St. Thomas Aquinas

St. Thomas, you recall, said that God is being itself.  This would be greater than Zeus; it would even be greater than the author, relative to her story (the author, after all, eventually dies).  But can it be true?  Is there any way of demonstrating “being itself”?

Now, I am not Thomas; I am hardly a Thomist.  What follows is elementary and therefore incomplete.  Still, taste and see, and maybe you will also wish to pursue the genius of St. Thomas at length.

Act and Potency

St. Thomas followed in the tradition of Aristotle, who believed that all knowledge began with the senses.  From observation, one could apprehend universals, which tell us the ideal pattern which forms each kind of thing in reality.  Following the rules of logic, one could contemplate the world and come to conclusions about the nature of things.  (Does this sound similar to the scientific enterprise?  It is not a coincidence).

One of Aristotle’s observations was that all things are combinations of act and potency, and St. Thomas agreed.  First, what does this mean?

By act, we mean what a thing is “right now.”  Take the example of a rock – pick one up if you can.  The rock I’m looking at is grayish, lightly speckled, a bit like an oblong golf ball.  Let’s say it weighs 4 oz.

Those properties I’ve listed – grayish, oblong, 4 oz in weight – are properties that this rock has actualized.  You can think of act as what a thing actually is, right in front of you.

By potency, we mean the way a thing could potentially be.  My rock, for example, could be painted blue.  It could be sharpened, or smashed to bits.  These are potencies of the rock.  It is within the nature of a rock to take on these various properties, but the rock does not manifest them at this moment.  (If they are potential, then they are not actual right now).

Now, Thomas said all things are combinations of act and potency.  We have seen this in the rock – actually gray, potentially blue – and no matter how many potencies are actualized, there remain some other potencies which cannot be actualized at the same time.  The rock cannot be completely gray and completely blue at the same time (nevermind completely green, yellow, mauve…).

Reducing potency to act

The transition from potency to act is called a reduction – i.e. The potency of a thing is reduced to act.  The actually gray rock may be reduced to a blue rock.  One supposes it may be reduced again, back to being a gray rock.

If my approach is accommodating, our thoughts will be of one accord.  To this point, we have simply taken an everyday object – a rock – and tried to grasp the underlying reality behind it.  Behold, metaphysics at work.

This differs from science, in the sense that science would continue to explore the accidents of the rock – what minerals is it composed of?  How old is it?  If it has any practical uses, what uses are those?

But God is not an object of scientific inquiry.  He has no mass, no color or odor.  He is utterly beyond all of that, just as an author is beyond the “physics” of her story.  If we are to consider such a claim, then we must study whatever is “behind” physics, whatever is outside the scope of science, but nevertheless real.

What governs the reality of a rock?  In short, the interplay of potency and act governs the reality of a rock.  (Notice, we are not assuming either the existence or the non-existence of God – we are not “begging the question” either way).

This is important because Thomas now gives us a rule, a law of metaphysics:  Nothing can reduce its own potency to act.  In other words, something independent of an object must act on it, thereby reducing the potentiality to an actuality.

In order for the gray rock to be reduced to a blue one, a mover is needed.  The gray rock does not paint itself blue.  A paintbrush could, and it acts on the rock and causes the transition from potency (potential to be a blue rock) to act (actually a blue rock).

This is no arbitrary rule, of course, but one borne out by reality, like a law of nature, like gravity.  Another example:  A newspaper is potentially hot, but it does not set itself on fire.  In order for this potency (potential to be hot) to be actualized (actually hot), we must light a match, or something similar.

Reasoning to God – Mind – 3

The Moral Argument

Here is one that I have loosely tied into the proof of the soul, but which really presents itself as a logical proof.

  1. If God does not exist, then there are no objective moral values and duties.
  2. There are objective moral values and duties.
  3. Therefore, God exists.

Let us begin with premise 2, since it gives us a base for discussing premise 1.

  1.  There are objective moral values and duties.

There was a paper written entitled, “Is Rape Wrong on Andromeda?”  The Andromeda Galaxy, of course, is neighbor to the Milky Way, though still hopelessly far away given our current technology.

The point of the question, of course, is to challenge the idea of objective morality.  The question itself is neutral, not leading one way or another.  It is so provocative though!  While the modern mind leans toward saying that morality is relative, the very same mind finds rape to be reprehensible.  It can scarcely think of a context in which rape is a moral good, in and of itself.

To answer the question is to address Premise 2.  So, which is it?  Is rape wrong, everywhere?  Or is your distaste for rape just that – a subjective dislike, a scruple – which, perhaps, not everyone will share?

For that matter, what about theft or murder?  Genocide?  Child sexual abuse?

If you want to deny the premise, then you are, by definition, ruling out all moral judgments of every kind.  You may never chastise or praise my moral actions, nor anyone else’s, anywhere, ever.

But I think we understand the world better when we say rape is wrong, full stop.  I think we should never say that “Genocide is just their way; if you don’t like it, don’t do it!”  And these are just the negatives.

I think – and I suspect that you agree – that Premise 2 is unquestionably true.

  1.  If God does not exist, then there are no objective moral values and duties.

This is where the resistance mounts.  See the word “God” in the sentence, and hear the heels digging in.  The militant atheist is already committed to his conclusion, and so there is absolutely no way he will accept Premise 1.

Could you accept it?  Not just on its face, but if there are good reasons for thinking it true?  If you can resist the resistance, and if you will be open to this premise, we can have a look.

What are we really saying here?

First, if objective morality exists, it either exists on its own or has a source.  In the first case, this is exactly what Plato suggested – that there was some Good which was the form of all things, and this Good is the thing we are referring to when we say something is morally good or evil.

Indeed, certain atheist philosophers have regarded this as being the case, since they did not admit a God.  

But there are obstacles to this.  Consider:  The Good seems to be inert.  That is, it doesn’t do anything, it doesn’t react to anything, and it doesn’t cause anything.  It just exists as a model, after which things are patterned.  If that’s the case, then we still need something which caused the Universe to exist in the first place (and thus things which we call “good” and “evil”).  In other words, perhaps the Good exists, but we still need a First Cause.

At worst, if the Good is not identical to the First Cause (ie God), then it is either co-eternal with Him, or it was created by Him.  If it was co-eternal with him, we still have a God who exists and creates according to the Good.  If it was created by Him, we still have a God that exists – and moreover, who creates and defines the Good.

So much for the Good, qua the Good.  What we have in Christianity in particular is the notion that God is the Good.  He is both First Cause and the source of all good things.  Indeed, the Good is co-eternal with God because the Good is God.

This would satisfy our investigation, at any rate.  A God who is the Good would certainly give us a ground for objective morality; about this, there is no dispute.  The question behind this premise really is, is there anything else which could be the ground of objective morality?  If not, we must admit that Premise 1 is probably true.

  1.  Therefore, God exists.

At any rate, if Premise 1 and Premise 2 are more probably true than not, then the conclusion follows.  And again, as with the Kalam Cosmological Argument, we cannot claim (or demand) absolute certainty.  It just isn’t possible.  

However, there is one more argument I would like to share with you, which really does approach logical certainty.  It will take more time, more background, and more effort, but the result is – to my mind – truly astonishing.

Reasoning to God – Mind – 2

The Kalam Cosmological Argument

Let us start with something simple and strong.

  1. Whatever begins to exist has a cause.
  2. The Universe began to exist.
  3. Therefore, the Universe has a cause.

What do you make of this?  Let us walk through it.

  1. Whatever begins to exist has a cause.

Another way of saying this is, “Nothing comes from nothing.”  If I asked you to imagine “nothing” – actually nothing, not one thing – you would seek to do this by emptying your mind.

But your mind is still there.  Thinking of nothing at all, not even a mind emptying itself of its contents, may be an impossible task.  It is only possible to think of it “in principle,” imagining by logic a scenario where there is nothing at all, not even a reality (since that would be something).

Try anyway.  Now, can anything come from nothing?

Of course not.  There’s nothing there from which “something” could come, since there’s not anything.

The first premise of this argument, then, says that if anything begins to exist – a human being, a flower, a Universe – it has a cause for its existence.  We’re not saying, yet, that the Universe has a cause.  Only that, if the Universe began to exist (rather than existing for all eternity), then it must have had a cause for its existence.

  1. The Universe began to exist.

Ok, that didn’t take long.  Yes, the Universe began to exist – this is the conclusion, the fact arrived at, from the Big Bang Theory and modern science.

Science, to the defense of faith?  It would appear so, but it is only a modern illusion that they were ever enemies.  In other words, this is not surprising to reflective Christians, to historically literate thinkers, and a sufficiently impartial observer would, I think, conclude as much.

If you want to argue the science, take it up with Lemaitre, Eddington, Einstein (who had to admit he was wrong about this), Hawking, Penrose, Vilenkin, Ellis…

Moreover, strictly speaking, science may not be necessary to complete the proof.  Consider infinity.

You’ll forgive me for rehashing this, and as such, we’ll only review one demonstration.  Consider, this moment, beginning at negative infinity and counting up to zero.  You start, “Negative infinity…”  And then what?

Not knowing the next number demonstrates the impossibility of this task.  That is, there is no next number – you can’t do it.  But if the Universe did not have a beginning, there would be an infinity of days stretching back into the past.  If today is Day Zero, then there must be some day, Day Negative Infinity, from which time has counted down to reach today.

But we can’t count down from negative infinity.  It’s not only absurd, it’s impossible.

This can be framed another, similar way.  Imagine you walk along the road and you meet someone saying, “Negative three, negative two, negative one, zero!”

You ask, “What are you doing?”

He responds, “I’ve just finished counting up to zero from negative infinity!”

Now, aside from the difficulties above, think to yourself:  Why didn’t he finish yesterday, or tomorrow?  If infinity truly stretches forever into the past, he should never have reached the number zero!

Reflect on it:  If there’s nowhere in the past to begin, there’s no way to reach today.  It is like you’ve fallen into a deep hole and, before you’ve landed, you try to jump out.  You just can’t – you’re always falling down faster than you’re propelling yourself up, because there’s not anything to push off of.  If the hole is bottomless – analogous to a Universe which is beginningless – then you will never emerge, not by climbing or jumping or anything else.

No, to get out of the hole, there must be a bottom; to get to today, there must have been a beginning.

  1. Therefore, the Universe has a cause for its existence.

This is the logically necessary conclusion.  If the premises are true, the conclusion follows.  Now, what could possibly qualify as the cause of the Universe?

Consider that what is meant by “Universe” is all time, matter, space, and energy.  So we need something which is not made of matter, not confined in space, not constrained by energy, and outside of time – since all of these things came into existence at the beginning of the Universe.

And this we call God.

Think on it if you like; for all I know, the only suitable answer here is God.  I will move on from here, but let us set things in a context.

That is, while this argument is persuasive to me, it does not grant me absolute certainty.  Truth be told, this argument is more of a logical shield for my belief than anything.  My faith truly rests on the proof of the soul, on my more-or-less direct experiences of God.

If a logically sound argument points to the existence of God, though, we ought at least to be open to the existence of God.

Reasoning to God – Mind – 1

The atheist-par-resistance will not be content with this talk of the heart and mind.  As to the heart, he assumes a moralistic tone, and we will let him fall on his sword soon.  As to the soul – well, there is no soul, he says, and anyway he certainly does not sense the presence of God.  That is simply a case of people deluding themselves.

No, he thinks logic will settle the matter, and he has home-field advantage.  Indeed, he is even convinced of victory before the contest has begun, and will often beg the question to get the answer he wants.

Instead, let us have someone honestly seeking, genuinely open to the evidence.  Perhaps they can understand how – if not directly – a person might respond to these proofs of the heart and soul.  Perhaps such a person respects those who are taken over by episodes of spiritual ecstasy, or who find peace in beliefs soberly and sublimed recited.  Maybe such a person can’t really tell whether he also experiences these things, or can simply imagine it, and at any rate, none of it goes far enough to give him confidence or change his mind.

This, at least, sounds like a mind at work.  And the mind is where we find some of the most compelling proofs.

Secularism is impossible…

…just like Libertarianism.

Now, before showing why this is so, let us just say that both have their merits as concepts.  The merits, however, are exceedingly superficial.

Libertarianism, for example, is the idea that government should leave people alone to the fullest extent possible.  In fact, a thoroughgoing Libertarian might well say that there ought be no government at all (anarchy).

It is readily abundant to any thinking person that government is a problem humanity has never properly solved.  Moreover, those especially under the government’s thumb at any given time are keen to be out of it.  But the only thing worse than government is no government.

What is government, after all, but concentrated power?  So, fine, eliminate it:  What is left?

Towns?  But what defines the town?  Without a centralizing influence of some kind, and an authority (here is the key) to enforce it, there is no town.  There are just families and individuals living near each other.

Clans, families?  But these are also governed.  (To be fair, I have not heard a Libertarian say that even families should be dissolved in deference to his politics, but I’m sure they’re out there).

So the individual is the basic unit of society, the locus of power which cannot be further dissolved – at least not without degenerative biological consequences.  The idea behind Libertarianism is that individuals may rule themselves, and no one should rule over them.

But is this really possible?  Let us take one example.

It is clear to all that no one is completely self-sufficient.  Leaving aside the vulnerability of childhood, few have the skills to survive completely unaided by another human being, and fewer still want to.  There is a social instinct and need in human beings which must be satisfied for sustained health.  (Remember, we are regarding Libertarianism as optimal, not merely bestowing the possibility of survival).

Some interaction will be required among the individuals in a Libertarian society.  There will be bartering, for example.  Still more, there will be agreements – promises to perform, contracts – which make possible the advancement of human well-being.

Now, as the basic unit of power, I may decide that it is in my interest to make a contract with you, and then break it once you have delivered on your promise.  This is obviously bad for you, and it is also bad – tangibly and in principle – for our society.  But I am a locus of power.  Who can stop me?

And this is only one kind of treachery.  I might also choose – in my own interest, you understand – to harm you for amusement, or to steal all you have, or even to murder you.  Who can stop me?

Someone or something stronger.  And that will likely happen.  But see – if it does, now you either have government, or you have might-makes-right.  The former we are trying to avoid by definition; the latter is functionally the same, though the slope slides toward tyranny.

Now a similar thing happens with Secularism.

First, a note:  Secularism has often been conceived as a compromise among sects of a single religion – usually Christianity – and not as the complete absence of religion in public life.  Indeed, it would be fair to say the Founders of the United States had exactly that frame of mind, particularly when you read men like John Adams.

Certainly, others have conceived of Secularism as the absence of all religion, and among the undiscerning, this seems to provide the same societal goods.  Let us have this, then.

The idea is that the state will not adopt or favor any religion, but will govern in the common interest in a pluralistic society.  The citizens may be adherents of any number of religions, or no religion.  The assumption is that they will all benefit if the state does not show any deference whatsoever to any religion at all.

After all, Christians might not like living in a Hindu society, if the government there enforced Hindu doctrine.  Likewise, Muslims may not appreciate living under Christian rule, and Buddhists might like to be free of Muslim oversight.

A funny thing happens here, though:  Those of no religion win.  They don’t like to admit this, of course, but it’s logically guaranteed.

In a society where Christianity is the official religion, Christians win.

In a society where Hinduism is the official religion, Hindus win.

In a society where no religion is state sponsored, those with no religion win.

The counterpoint is that, somehow, a state with no religion is a state where every religion wins.  I don’t know…how did the Orthodox fare in Stalin’s Russia?

Moreover, when you’re talking about governing in the common interest, you have to appreciate that a perfect consensus is as mythical as …atheism.  (Just as interesting, too.)

And so, whenever you do not have a consensus – say, on whether to go to war with a given country – you are violating the spirit of Secularism.  And notice that you are violating it both ways.

In other words, if you go to war against the will of some – then they no longer perceive that you are governing in the common interest (whether or not they are guided by religious conviction).

And if you don’t go to war, you are also governing against the common interest – whether or not they are guided by religious conviction.

Indeed, as I’ve pointed out before, in the context of Secularism it is better to think of religions as worldviews, and atheism as a worldview, and then it all becomes obvious:  SOME worldview must dominate.

But if you get tired of living in a Secular society, perhaps a Libertarian society will do.  Maybe you can get there on your Hydra.

Politics and Religion

Found this in a group where I am more observer than participant…

“This political season has created a deeply painful crisis of faith for me. I’ve seen so-called Christian after Christian support the hateful policies of men like Trump and Cruz. I’ve seen my Christian friends, especially (but not exclusively) the white ones, grow more and more bigoted and intolerant. I’ve seen pastors and other faith leaders endorse a man that openly preaches hatred.

The day Falwell endorsed Trump was the last straw for me. I renounced the faith that day and haven’t considered myself a Christian since. But it hurts me profoundly.

What I always felt made Christianity real was the transformation of a person’s character catalyzed by the experience of God’s grace. I don’t see that anymore. I don’t see Jesus in most Christians any more. I just see people clinging to religion because they are afraid of hell, and then using that religion to condemn others to the hell they fear. This is not a religion of love. It is a cult of fear and I feel completely alienated from it.”

…and felt compelled to say something.

First, let us take this man in the best possible light.  This, to me, means that he was exaggerating when describing certain policies as “hateful,” that his notation of “white” Christians is ideological residue (after all, he also noted this wasn’t categorically true – so why mention it?), and that such word choices as “bigoted,” “hatred,” and “cult” are there for effect.

In other words, this is a rant, an emotive outburst.


Now, let us challenge some of his assumptions.

He refers to the “so-called Christian” who supports Cruz or Trump – but seems not to consider that both of those men are Christians, too.  I submit that this does not even enter his mind, but that he considers the Christianity of these men to be ploys to curry favor with voters.

Just what does it take to be a Christian?  And is this man the arbiter of Christianity?  Interesting that he would, ostensibly, be so much against discrimination, and yet discriminate as to what someone holds as his deep-seated belief.

(See – you never, ever escape the reality of discrimination.  It is a basic fact of the human condition.  You simply choose which forms of discrimination to participate in.)

The climax of his post, of course, is that he renounced Christianity after the political endorsement of a major Christian leader.  His assumption – I have to guess – is that Falwell’s endorsement made any difference at all to his own faith, or to Christianity in general, or to the Truth at all.

Would you renounce arithmetic if a mathematician endorsed Trump?  Would you renounce southern food if Paula Dean endorsed Trump?

Obviously not.  The connection is not tenuous; it is entirely imagined.  I am a Christian, and I could barely recall that Falwell endorsed Trump.  I have not renounced my Christian faith.

But it’s easy to get lost in the political rhetoric.  There’s a reason people can get jobs as pundits – the stuff is highly engrossing.  People watch on with great expectation, in astonishing numbers.

(Enough about Trump being a reality star, and that being disqualifying.  That fact is exactly why he’s so good at this.  He’s been training for it all of his public life.)

Our man does make one reasonably good assumption:  That Christianity is about the transformation of a person’s life by God’s grace.  (Though the ambiguity here confirms that he is not the best arbiter of a Christian’s sincerity).

Christianity is articulated in the Creed, and reduces to this:  The God of all creation came down to earth and was made flesh; He suffered and died for our sins; He rose again to new life, giving us the hope of an eternity in His presence.

Your life may be transformed by accepting this, and inviting God’s grace into your life.  It may also be that you continue to struggle, but your hope will empower you to endure the struggle.  You now believe that God will redeem even the worst of your suffering, and that does change things.


So where does that leave our guest?

He laments that Christianity has devolved into a kind of bludgeon, useful for the fearful, and that there is nothing left which resembles his expectation of the Church.  Indeed, his own act of renunciation, which accomplishes nothing relative to its catalysts, causes him pain, because he really did harbor the hope of Christ in his heart.  He thought that same light, the light of faith, might have had greater effect on the world around him, which he projects onto the world as a whole.

I would begin by telling him to turn off his television, unplug his computer.  But just before he does that, he should look into the persecution of Christians around the world.

American Christianity is not the entirety of Christianity.  It is only one sliver.  This is taken entirely for granted in the new Testament, as St. Paul addresses the Church in each location, and as the same happens in Revelation.  Christians in every time and place are going to have their particular virtues and vices, and the character of one is foolishly projected onto the character of the whole.

Then I would cut to the quick:  Where is your spine, man?

Do you follow the Truth as it is fashionable, as you have sufficient social approval for it?  Are your beliefs so deeply sincere when you are comfortable, then complicated and tenuous when you are distressed?  (This is about as good as we have for a Christian litmus test:  When circumstances become difficult, genuine Christian faith will grow stronger, not weaker).

Or is it only that you are being lumped in with the wrong kind of Christians, who support “hateful policies” and are ever fearful?

What a terrible reason to apostatize.  No, you find your courage and choose from two options.

One, you call yourself a different kind of Christian.  This is the Protestant option.

Two, you renew the Church, by the grace of God.  This is the Catholic option.

But to make an excuse for yourself, to relieve yourself of the burdens of faith because you can’t stomach the association with Christians of differing opinions, vices, and virtues – that is hateful.  That is bigoted, and as is the case with bigotry:  That is cowardly.

Lift yourself up, man.  Force yourself up off the ground, take stock of your surroundings.  God is abounding in mercy, so make a fresh start.

This time, return to Him with all your heart.

Reasoning to God – Soul – 6

Receive and profess

Say someone wants to resist this.  He thinks, for example, he may go as far as believing that his child exists, but not so far as to believe anything beyond the immediately obvious exists.

Notice – this man still does not understand Plantinga.  It’s not that God is another, or a higher kind of belief.  Plantinga is saying that just as you know who your children are – just so can we know God lives.  

And I say:  This is how I believe in God.  It is just immediately obvious to me, just as my environment is because it resides in my field of vision.  I am not blind – I can see.

Nevertheless, let us indulge this objection.  Say that such a man stops short of believing in God because he has got the idea that God cannot be believed in such an immediate and obvious way.  His sensus divinitatis is broken.

In this case, we will need to persuade him in another way.  We must proceed to the mind.

Reasoning to God – Soul – 5

The Great Things of the Gospel

The argument proceeds thus:  You see a truck coming down the road, and you immediately and unreflectively believe there is a truck coming down the road.  You do not have to debate it with yourself, you do not furnish an argument or even a single intermediate thought.  You go straight from seeing to believing, because this is a properly basic belief, delivered by your senses.

Similarly, when one hears of the greatness of God, detects a purpose behind certain occurrences, or learns of salvation by the suffering and death of Jesus Christ, he might (quite rationally) go straight from hearing to believing, because this is a properly basic belief, delivered by the sensus divinitatis.  

Now, the objection is that many do not reach this conclusion, therefore it is not an authentic way of knowing God.

First, the objection assumes that God would not or could not, nevertheless, instill a sensus divinitatis.  But we have already seen that God could; as to whether He would, that may be more than we can claim without some higher testimony.

Very well, but it may be a faulty function, some cognitive faculty is broken.  

This, of course, assumes that the claims of the Gospel are false, rather than true.  They may be false – but then it is astonishing how many people, across the globe and throughout time, have accepted them as true.  There develops a stark line over which people sort themselves, between those who think rightly (not believing) and those who are delusional (believing).

Or, if they really are true, and the opposite conclusion is reached.  That is, those who believe are the rational ones, whose sensus divinitatis is working properly.  And it would turn out that those who do not believe are lacking, that they are cognitively deficient.  Of course this is not an epithet – it must be applied to one side or the other, depending on the truth of the matter.

The appeal to the soul is this:  What is your honest, naked response to the Creed?  What does your soul say, when you hear such things as…

I believe in one God, the Father Almighty, maker of Heaven and Earth…

I believe in Jesus Christ, the only begotten son of God…God from God, light from light, true God from true God…

For us men* and our salvation, he came down from Heaven…for our sake he was crucified under Pontius Pilate, suffered death, and was buried.  On the third day, he rose again…

I confess one baptism for the forgiveness of sins, and I look forward to the resurrection of the dead, and the life of the world to come.

Perhaps nothing.  We do not need to put on as though something is true when it does not seem so.

But if your soul whispers, or says something; if you notice a tremor of hope, a first pang of joy; if, though weary, your soul nevertheless is roused by such simple, unadorned sentences – well maybe your sense of the divine is delivering properly basic beliefs after all.

I confess, I am more reliably moved to tears by the Creed than by any song, than by any direct appeal to my emotions.  Any given Sunday I will begin reciting the Creed and be unable to finish.  Consider the conjunction of “…born of the Father before all ages…” and “…he was conceived of the Holy Spirit, born of the Virgin Mary, and became man.”  

You and I are men.  Think how maligned masculinity is, our very nature is, in our days.  Think how awful some men have been; think what flaws and evils we ourselves are guilty of.

Why would a perfect God deign to join us?  Why would he take on this corruptible nature, doomed to derision and failure, capable of inflicting pain and being afflicted?  Why come down from a high place, from glory, and offer up His life for humiliation and death?

Of course the heart and the soul are distinct but not unconnected.  And so my soul delivers these beliefs to my heart, and my heart is crushed.  This is the measure of His love, that God would become man, that He would give up the perfection of all things to know our imperfection, our vulnerability, our miserable condition.  He could have spoken redemption, but he let it be bled out of him instead.

And like a stone of great worth, it is only one way to look at the love of God; turn it just a little, and another brilliant facet casts a new light.


*This, of course, is meant to refer to men and women.  The ancients did not share our scruples with language.

Reasoning to God – Soul – 4

The Sense of the Divine

Here, Plantinga makes an unusual move, and it will seem all the more suspect because we are skimming over his argument.  Still, I will attempt to explain and keep my steps in full view.

He first proposes that we assume God exists.  (Some would object, but this objection is juvenile.  It is a hypothetical, not something which must be accepted after the argument is over).

He then draws on a classical understanding of God, which says that God is omniscient, all-powerful, and all the rest.  This is really all one statement (“Assume God exists”), but I amplify it in order to make the next point clearer.

If God exists, then He could reasonably have put within us a cognitive faculty (like memory, like our senses) which delivers knowledge of the divine.   That is, of Himself.

The point is easily made with an author and her story.  An author – in the context of her story – is much like God, who knows everything that can be known and is powerful enough to do anything that can be done.  She, almost by default, makes it so that her characters learn about the world through their senses and through their memories, and so on.  She could easily put within them another cognitive faculty:  The ability to recognize her, as she affects the story or decides to appear within it.

Now, this may or may not be good storytelling, but that doesn’t matter.  It is plain to see that it can be done.  Likewise for God, in our world.

This faculty Plantinga calls the sensus divinitatis, or the sense of the divine.  

This is the all-too-brief, painfully truncated version of Plantinga’s argument:  While we can offer arguments for God’s existence, they are not necessary.  As it turns out, our minds can have direct knowledge of God, and of the truth of the Gospels, through our sense of the divine.

What, exactly, is our appeal to the soul?