Proving God’s existence

Jared Staudt

If someone asked you if you could prove that God exists, what would you say? What would you have to draw upon to answer this question — revelation, science, or philosophy? Revelation gives us knowledge of God as a free gift and does not require us to prove its contents, but to understand them with the help of the Church. Science cannot prove God’s existence, because God is not an object of empirical study that can be measured with earthly means. This leaves us the option of philosophy — making arguments of reason based upon the nature of things and the dynamics of causality.

Thomas Aquinas makes an important distinction about proving God’s existence through reason: we can know naturally that God exists, that there is an infinite and perfect Being who created the universe, but we cannot know who God is by reason alone. The universe may bear the footprint of its Creator, but God is not a being or object within the universe, but BEING itself — he IS the One who IS. Nonetheless, knowing that God exists does help the mind a great deal, recognizing its natural dependence on the Creator and removing a major obstacle in coming to faith.

Edward Feser has become one of the most distinguished Catholic philosophers in the United States and his new book, Five Proofs of the Existence of God (Ignatius, 2017), can help Catholics to be prepared to answer objections to God’s existence and will strengthen our own understanding of the truth. It is significant that of the five thinkers Feser uses for the arguments of the book, two are pagan, Aristotle and Plotinus, and another Protestant, Leibniz. The other two are St. Augustine, one of the greatest Fathers of the Church, and the Common Doctor, Aquinas. The variety of historical and cultural contexts from which these figures come itself proves the point: reason, not simply Christian revelation, can know that God does exist.

A little more than halfway through the book, Feser offers a brief recap of the five arguments:

The Aristotelian proof begins with the fact that there are potentialities that are actualized and argues that we cannot make sense of this unless we affirm the existence of something which can actualize the potential existence of things without itself being actualized, a purely actual actualizer. The Neo-Platonic proof begins with the fact that the things of our experience are composed of parts and argues that such things could not exist unless they have an absolutely simple or noncomposite cause. The Augustinian proof begins with the fact that there are abstract objects like universals, proposition, numbers, and possible worlds, and argues that these must exist as ideas in a divine intellect. The Thomistic proof begins with the real distinction, in each of the things of our experience, between its essence and its existence, and argues that the ultimate cause of such things must be something which is subsistent existence itself. The rationalist proof begins with the principle of sufficient reason and argues that the ultimate explanation of things can only lie in an absolutely necessary being (169).

The book explains each of these proofs at length and details the more technical terms employed. The beginning of chapter six also explores some of the philosophical concepts in more depth and offers a brief primer that helps readers to understand the logic of the arguments.

Feser makes it clear that the book is not a study in the history of philosophy. His arguments refer to key elements of the thought of each of the five thinkers, but he actively constructs a compelling argument that stands on its own terms today. He also spends a considerable amount of time engaging opposing views and objections raised by atheists, both throughout the book and in an entire chapter to conclude the book. The book is not written in scholarly language, but will provide a challenging read. Ultimately, it provides another way of forming our minds in faith.

COMING UP: Seeking justice, transparency and accountability, archdiocese voluntarily enters agreement with Colorado attorney general

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Seeking justice, transparency and accountability, archdiocese voluntarily enters agreement with Colorado attorney general

Initiatives include independent investigation and independent reparations program

Mark Haas

With a desire to “shine the bright light of transparency” on the tragedy of sexual abuse of minors within the Church, Denver Archbishop Samuel J. Aquila has announced that the three Colorado dioceses have voluntarily partnered with Colorado Attorney General Phil Weiser to conduct an independent review of the dioceses’ files and policies related to the sexual abuse of children.

In a joint news conference on February 19 at the attorney general’s office, it was also announced that the three dioceses will voluntarily fund an independent reparations program for survivors of such abuse.

“The damage inflicted upon young people and their families by sexual abuse, especially when it’s committed by a trusted person like a priest, is profound,” said Archbishop Aquila. “While this process will certainly include painful moments and cannot ever fully restore what was lost, we pray that it will at least begin the healing process.”

It is well known that child sexual abuse is a societal problem that demands attention and action,” said Weiser. “I am pleased the Church has recognized the need for transparency and reparations for victims.”

Discussions for these two initiatives began last year with former Colorado Attorney General Cynthia Coffman, and then finalized recently with Weiser. Both Coffman and Weiser praised the dioceses’ willingness to address this issue.

“It is well known that child sexual abuse is a societal problem that demands attention and action,” said Weiser. “I am pleased the Church has recognized the need for transparency and reparations for victims.”

Coffman added: “Childhood sexual abuse is not specific to one institution or to the Catholic Church. The spotlight is on the Catholic Church, but this abuse is indicative of what has happened in other institutions. We want to shine a light on what has happened.

“[The dioceses] demonstrated their commitment to acknowledging past abuse by priests and moving forward with honesty and accountability.”

The independent file review will be handled by Robert Toyer, a former U.S. Attorney for Colorado. His final report is expected to be released in the fall of 2019 and will include a list of diocesan priests with substantiated allegations of sexual abuse of minors, along with a review of the dioceses’ handling of the allegations. The report will also include an evaluation of the dioceses’ current policies and procedures, something that was not included in other states’ reviews, such as the Pennsylvania Grand Jury Report.

“We in Colorado have found our own way in the wake of the Pennsylvania Grand Jury report,” said Weiser. “We have a set of dioceses here who came to the table to develop appropriate solutions that are collaborative, committed to transparency and put victims first.

Colorado Attorney General Phil Weiser, alongside Denver Archbishop Samuel J. Aquila, speaks during a press conference announcing a comprehensive joint agreement with the Colorado Attorney General’s Office to conduct an independent review of the dioceses’ files and policies related to the sexual abuse of children at the Ralph L. Carr Colorado Judicial Center on February 19, 2019, in Denver, Colorado. (Photo by Anya Semenoff/Archdiocese of Denver)

“This is not a criminal investigation. This is an independent inquiry with the full cooperation of the Catholic Church,” said Weiser.

Since 1991, the Archdiocese of Denver has had a policy of mandatory reporting of all allegations to local authorities. The procedures were further strengthened by the 2002 Dallas Charter to include comprehensive background checks, zero-tolerance policies, safe environment training, and training for children as well.

“This independent file review presents an opportunity for an honest and fair evaluation of the Church in Colorado’s historical handling of the sexual abuse of minors by priests,” said Archbishop Aquila.  “We are confident in the steps we have taken to address this issue and that there are no priests in active ministry currently under investigation.”

We have a set of dioceses here who came to the table to develop appropriate solutions that are collaborative, committed to transparency and put victims first.”

The independent reparations program will be run by two nationally recognized claims administration experts, Kenneth R. Feinberg and Camille S. Biros, who will review individual cases and make financial awards to victims who elect to participate. The victims are free to accept or reject the award, but the Colorado dioceses are bound by what the administrators decide.

The program will have oversight provided by an independent committee chaired by former U.S. Senator Hank Brown. More details will be announced in the coming months, and the program will officially open closer to the release of the final report.

This is similar to a program instituted by former Denver Archbishop Charles Chaput in 2006. Archbishop Aquila said it is important for local Catholics to know the program will be funded by archdiocesan reserves, with no money being taken from ministries or charities at parishes, annual diocesan appeals, or Catholic Charities.

“With humility and repentance, we hope the programs announced today offer a path to healing for survivors and their families,” Archbishop Aquila said.

And acknowledging how painful this has been for everyone in the Church, Archbishop Aquila said he hopes this is step towards restoring confidence among the faithful.

“Helping people to restore their trust, to live their faith, that is essential,” said Archbishop Aquila. “And to help them have a deeper encounter with Jesus Christ, so that is my goal in all of this. I know that healing is possible in Jesus Christ.”