Must God Exist? Part II

Rev Fr Jonathan Patrick Steele

The previous segment discussed the possibility of proving the existence of God and then proceeded to use the idea of motion or change to do so. In this part, the dialogue continues with a new proof of God's existence, again, solely from reason.

A few days later, Sapius was walking outside of the little school where he taught, contemplating the approaching storm clouds weighing heavily upon the horizon, when Aretos joined him once more. The young man's brow, like the heavens, was furled, weighed down by doubt and questions.

ARETOS: Boy am I glad to see you, sir! I've been trying to find you for the last few days now to continue our little discussion. My mind still struggles to accept the possibility that God's existence can be proven by reason alone. There are so many difficulties and objections! You said that there were more ways to show that it's true, though. So, do you have time to help me work through this now?

SAPIUS: Well, I have about an hour before the next lesson. We could continue a little further, though we will most likely be unable to finish it entirely. Does that work?

ARETOS: Anything is better than nothing! I haven't been sleeping well for the past two days. Questions and possible solutions are continually popping into my head making sleep light and fitful at best.

SAPIUS: Very well, then. Where exactly were we?

ARETOS: We had discussed the idea of motion and change, how everything moves and changes but only because something or someone outside of it moves it. The whole point was that not everything can be moving or changing — at least one must always be the same, which you call God — otherwise the change would never happen at all.

SAPIUS: Ah, yes! I remember now. My brain is growing forgetful in its old age. Pardon me! We had just finished with the first proof and were moving to the second when I had to leave for my next lesson.

The next argument is what philosophers will generally call a proof from efficient causality. Now, before you run away, frightened by the language, we will be seeing the four causes a little later on in our studies this year. For the sake of a basic understanding in this discussion, however, there is only one notion that you must grasp about an efficient cause: he, she, or it is the one who does something. The idea is that we begin to look at creation, and therefore God, not from the view of the doing or creating of it — as in the first proof by examining movement and change — but from the perspective of the one who does or creates.

An easy example will help you to look past the complex philosophical language. Let's say we return to the stone from a few days back. When we talked about that stone which I threw, we were focusing upon the movement of the rock and the fact that it could not start to move all by itself. In this argument, however, our focal point is different. We want to look, not at the movement, but at what makes the movement happen in the first place. Thus, the reason for the movement—or, in other words, what causes the rock to change its place by flying through the air — is me, the agent, the so-called 'efficient cause'. To put the same thing into sentence format, 'I throw the stone' is the same as, 'I am the efficient cause of the stone's being thrown.' The efficient cause is little more than a fancy way of naming the subject of a transitive sentence—the one doing the action.

ARETOS: Wow! That's not difficult to understand at all! I would have certainly tripped up if I had tried to figure all of that out myself. So, how does that help us to prove the existence of God?

SAPIUS: Well, that is what we are trying to figure out.

As they were speaking together, our two friends walked past a quaint local grocer's shop. The shopkeeper was out front trying to sweep the pavement clean since it was littered with thousands of glass shards. Seemingly, the poor man's storefront window had suffered damage during the previous evening, though what was the reason for the shattered glass was not yet obvious. The incident gave Sapius an idea.

SAPIUS: Let me ask you something: What is the first question that comes to mind when you see that broken window?

ARETOS: That's easy! Who or what broke it?

SAPIUS: The answer may seem obvious to you, but why is that answer so obvious? That's what we have to understand.

ARETOS: Interesting question. I suppose I never really thought about it before.

SAPIUS: Well, try thinking about it now. See what you can discover.

ARETOS: That's hard! I think, if I were forced to express what comes to mind immediately, I would say that we have noticed something that is usually in a different form. Glass is usually in a whole pane, as in a full window. So, since this particular example of glass in a thousand different pieces is unusual, my mind immediately asks what makes this one different from all of the others that I have seen previously?

SAPIUS: So, your mind is seeing effects and looking for a cause?

ARETOS: Yes. That's it exactly!

SAPIUS: But is there not a further step than merely positing a cause of this effect?

ARETOS: What do you mean?

SAPIUS: Is your mind not noticing something else as an even more basic step in its chain of reasoning, such that there is a statement that is implied before coming to cause and effect?

ARETOS: I have no idea. I am afraid you have lost me completely.

SAPIUS: Well, that just goes to show you how very basic and fundamental the notion is so obvious, in fact, that we completely forget that it is even true. What I mean is simple: There is an order of actions in the line of efficient causality. Said another way, if we are discussing any action, one step must come before another. If we take the window example, our mind immediately recognises that the fragments are not meant to be that way; therefore, at one point in time, the window was whole and unfragmented. This leads us to ask the question, 'What happened first such that later we ended up with these pieces lying on the ground? Was it a man throwing a ball, a car driving off the road, or even the window simply bursting into pieces without any apparent reason? What is the order of events which has led us, step by step, to the present situation?' One question that no one would ever ask is, 'Did the window break itself?' This is a sign that we know there is an order of efficient causes."

ARETOS: Of course! That is extremely basic. Why didn't it occur to me?

SAPIUS: Because it is so fundamental that we don't even have to think about it. We base all of our questions about efficient causes on the assumption that nothing can cause itself, meaning that there must be an order of causes — first, middle, and final effect. A child cannot give birth to itself; a stone cannot throw itself; a window cannot break itself. Even if the window seems to have broken without external forces being applied, upon closer examination this is never the case. Such is the universal experience of men.

Now, we saw in our discussion of motion there can be no infinite regress or chain of movements — a first domino is needed to start the chain reaction. Since motion and efficient causality are so closely linked, we can apply the same principle to efficient causes. There must be a first cause which is the reason for any intermediate ones, which in their turn lead to an effect. To return to our example, there must have been a man who threw a stone, which then flew through the air and, in the course of its flight, encountered a pane of glass, causing it to shatter and leaving us with a tremendous mess of broken glass shards to avoid on our walk. If there were no first cause, i.e. a man, the stone would not have flown; if the stone had not flown, it would not have struck the glass; and if it had not struck the window pane, you and I would not be standing here using this poor shopkeeper's misfortune as an example in our discussion.

The important thing to notice, though, is that for any of the middle steps to happen, and therefore for the final effect to come about, there must be a first cause, a first step in the chain of agency. Can you see that?"

ARETOS: Yes, indeed! There is no way that the stone could have flung itself through the air and broken the window. Someone had to start the chain of effects. That makes sense.

SAPIUS: Good! Then you should be able to deduce the next step of my argument on your own.

ARETOS: Wait a minute. How?

SAPIUS: Think about it this way: All of creation can be compared to an effect. We would never say, 'Creation created itself' would we? Everything comes from somewhere. Is that not correct?

ARETOS: I suppose so?

SAPIUS: Well, then where do those effects come from? If there is not some efficient cause that is itself not caused, in other words, if there is no beginning to the chain of effects, then you are left with a stone that cannot fly, but with that image now applied to all of creation. Said another way, if an Uncaused Cause, which we call God, did not exist, then how could anything exist?

ARETOS: Wow! That is so true! I never thought of creation like that before. So, in a way, creation is the living and breathing proof that God exists because it is an effect of His causality. That is incredible!

SAPIUS: Exactly!

ARETOS: This discussion is so fascinating! I cannot wait to hear the other ways that we can prove God exists. I never dreamed such a thing was even remotely possible. Perhaps tomorrow we can carry on? I fear I may have made you a little late to your class.

SAPIUS: Of course! I am happy to discuss this with you at any time.

View all articles from Ite Missa Est.