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Reasons for Faith

Should anyone ask you the reason for this hope of yours, be ever ready to reply, but speak gently and respectfully. 1 Peter 3:15ff

Some people claim that faith in God is blind. Somehow faith, according to them, has no room for reason or is opposed to intelligent thought. This idea is shared by both believers and non-believers. Non-believers may pride themselves on their reason and lack of "faith", yet they still "hope and believe" that God does not exist. On the other side, believers may hold that faith is beyond reason, perhaps quoting 1 Corinthians 1:21.

Faith can be defined as accepting something as true because you trust the person or source that tells you. Faith is not exclusive to religion, but is a general part of human life. We need faith since human knowledge is imperfect. For example, most people believe that the speed of light is approximately 186,000 miles per second. They usually accept this as true because they trust science and not because they have personally verified it. Most people do not have the technical training, equipment or patience to measure the speed of light. It is only practical to trust the experts. Ironically most people must take Evolution on faith. Faith is also important in personal relationships. We may believe that someone loves us because he told us; and we trust him, even though it is impossible to verify it. A person without faith is not irreligious but inhuman.

Faith in God is not based on reason, yet there can be reasonable evidence. Reason can help us better explain our faith (1 Peter 3:15) and prevents faith from becoming superstition. Blaise Pascal held that reasoning men believe in God. He was a thinker, inventor, scientist and mathematician of the 17th century. Even today, science recognizes Pascal for his work and genius by naming a computer language and a unit of pressure after him. His argument in favor of God is formulated as a wager, known as Pascal's wager. Even though Pascal's wager is not a proof for the existence of God, it is a powerful reason for believing in God.

Pascal’s Wager

For Pascal, God either exists or does not exist. I must bet on one or the other. This wager is unavoidable. Simply ignoring this wager carries the same consequence as betting that God does not exist. If I bet that God exists and am wrong, nothing is lost; but if I am right, the gain could be heavenly. If I bet that God does not exist and am right, nothing is gained. However, if I am wrong, then woe is me.

A reasoning person must consider the gains and risks of this wager. The gain in not believing in God is nothing (except being dead right) while the gain in believing can be eternal happiness. The risk in believing in God is being wrong, but the risk in not believing is the loss of eternal happiness. According to Pascal, a reasoning person would believe and act as if God exists.

The Teleological Argument

The next argument for God is illustrated by the following story. According to one version, there was an atheist who had an astronomer for a friend. While waiting in his friend's office, he was amazed by an intricate, working, model of the solar system. When his friend arrived, he asked who made it. The astronomer replied "no one." The atheist asked again with some irritation. His friend retorted: "You believe the real thing was made by no one, so why not the same for this model!"

The Teleological argument, as illustrated above, recognizes the design of the universe. Firstly the universe and living organisms are orderly and knowable. Our minds can understand them. Science assumes it. The laws of physics are good examples of this order. Secondly in the realm of human activity, it is common experience that order, purpose or design have an intelligent creator as their source. For example, Beethoven's Ninth Symphony was purposely created by a gifted composer; whereas, random, unintentional noise is nonsense. Furthermore buildings have architects; novels have authors and patents have inventors. All have a purpose. These facts naturally lead one to ponder upon the purpose of life, and to recognize God as the Designer. This argument is an obvious extension of natural and human experience.

The ancient origin of this argument is witnessed by an early challenge from Epicurus, a Greek philosopher of the 3rd century B.C. Epicurus claimed that all order and design in the universe arose from accidental joining of atoms, i.e. the Designer of the universe was "blind chance." Cicero retorted: "If anyone supposes that this most beautiful and glorious world was made by the accidental coming together of atoms, I do not understand why he should not suppose that the Annals of Ennius might be produced by pouring out on the earth the twenty-one letters of the alphabets in countless profusion." Similarly if one believes that the universe was created by mere chance, then one must also believe that a biology textbook (or any readable book) can be created by randomly spilling a box of letters upon a table enough times.

In more recent times, Evolutionists have buttressed the "blind chance" of atoms with ideas such as "natural selection" and "inconceivably long periods of time." But Evolution does not explain why the speed of light, mass-charge of the electron, Planck’s Constant and other physical constants have the right values for a stable universe that allows for life. A livable universe is taken for granted. Secondly one must consider how extremely improbable it is for something as complex as a living cell to arise from random chemical processes. Furthermore, is this even possible according to the Law of Entropy? When left alone, things naturally fall apart or go from order to chaos. But most importantly, Evolution does not answer "why" we are here. It cannot explain our ultimate end or the purpose of it all. According to Evolution, we are a cosmic accident. According to Creation, we are created to be loved by God. That is the main difference between Evolution and Creation. The above tends to be the most popular argument for God’s existence.

The Cosmological Proof

A more philosophical argument for the existence of God is the Cosmological Argument. This argument is based on causality, i.e. the cause and effect relationship, to demonstrate the need for a subsistent (self-existent, uncreated) Being as the Initial Cause of all other things. It is evident that the existence of natural things (things which are temporary) depends on another. A pencil depends on the existence of wood and graphite. Now an infinite series (regression) of things depending on dependent things cannot explain their existence. As an analogy, a train with railcars, each depending on the railcar in front to pull it into motion, cannot start moving without an engine, even if there were an infinite number of railcars. Likewise there must be an independent, uncaused Being that is the source of existence. This Initial Cause, whose nature is EXISTENCE itself, is called God.

Let us consider a different but more concrete argument. First I was caused (brought into being) by my parents. My parents were caused by their parents. Their parents had parents, and so on. This chain of parents is not an infinite regression, since the human race had a beginning. So what caused the first human parents? Someone may invoke Evolution and claim that we accidently evolved from the slime of the ocean. This answer merely delays the inevitable question. What caused the ocean? What caused water? What caused atoms? What caused the fundamental particles of matter? These fundamental particles can be annihilated, so they are also temporary in themselves. So what caused the universe? According to the "Big Bang" theory, the universe with all its matter began with a bang. But what caused the "Big Bang"? The answer is unknown.

Even if the "Big Bang" were caused by an implosion of whatever, then what caused the implosion and so on? Ultimately the initial cause is either NOTHING or an independent, self-existing Being, i.e. God. Now it is absurd to hold that NOTHING can produce something. Either one believes in God or accepts the absurd (e.g. nihilism).

Since science appears to currently accept that the universe had a beginning (e.g. the Big Bang, the ever expanding universe & entropy), the above version is based on a series of accidently-related causes to simplify the proof. The original version, as formulated by St. Thomas Aquinas in the 13th century, is based on a series of essentially-related efficient causes (e.g. the train analogy) and remains valid even if the universe were eternal. The interested reader should refer to Summa Theologiae Part I, quest.2, art.3.

St. Thomas' argument can be applied in another way. Some may claim that our universe exists because we observe it. This claim usually assumes infinitely many universes with our universe simply being the one that succeeded in evolving us, who can observe it. This reasoning suffers from circular logic: We observe; therefore the universe exists; therefore we exist; therefore we can observe. It is a metaphysical "lifting oneself up by the bootstraps." Instead of assuming God, we are expected to assume infinitely many universes. But the question remains: Why infinitely many instead of none?

The Cosmological Argument demonstrates the nature of God as EXISTENCE, the ultimate source of all existence. But some people claim that the Cosmological Argument cannot prove a personal God. It does not show God as loving or caring. True or not, the Bible contains interesting evidence for a caring God. This leads us into historical evidence.

A Historical Sign

According to the Bible and ancient Jewish historical tradition, God has a name. In Exodus 3, God calls Moses to be His minister in saving His people from the bondage of slavery. This concern for His people shows Him to be a caring and loving God. This loving God reveals His name:

Then Moses said to God, "Behold, I am going to the sons of Israel, and I shall say to them 'The God of your fathers has sent me to you.' Now they may say to me, 'What is His name?' What shall I say to them?" And God said to Moses, "I AM WHO AM"; and He said, "Thus you shall say to the sons of Israel, 'I AM has sent me to you.'" [Exodus 3:13-14; NASB]

For the ancient Semites, a person's name was more than a label; it actually described that person's nature. For example with the covenant, Abram's name was changed to Abraham, meaning "father of a multitude" (Gen. 17:5). In Hebrew, the divine name is written as, YHWH (Yahweh), known as the Tetragrammaton, being so sacred that it could not be pronounced. It is derived from the Hebrew verb - to be. It is usually translated as "I AM WHO AM" or according to the Septuagint, the 2nd century B.C. Greek translation of the Hebrew Bible, "HE WHO IS." It is uncertain whether the ancient Hebrews actually understood its meaning; however, the Jews of the Diaspora (2nd century B.C.) recognized it as denoting EXISTENCE as witnessed by the Septuagint. Finally the early Church (1st century A.D.) also recognized it as denoting EXISTENCE (John 8:58ff); however, Christians, through the work of St. Thomas Aquinas, realized its fuller significance only after the 13th century A.D. in connection with the Cosmological Proof.

The source of this name is quite curious. Its tradition is very old as witnessed by ancient historical sources. It is at least centuries older than the Greek philosophy of Plato and Aristotle, who were beginning to understand God in terms of self-existence. Even though the Lord's personal name, YHWH, was central to the Hebrew religion, the idea of God as EXISTENCE was not central. The Hebrews knew God in concrete terms, such as Father, Savior, King, Lord and even Rock!(Ps. 89:26) The ancient Hebrews did not have a well-developed abstract philosophy. Even though, some ancient religions may have recognized creator gods, gods with names implying EXISTENCE were not common. Even if the Hebrews heard such a name for God from a more philosophical culture, they still would have been more attracted to a personal name implying power and glory, instead of something as abstract as I AM WHO AM. If the true loving God did not reveal His name to Moses, then how did the Hebrews come to know and accept such a name for their Lord that describes the very nature of God?

For Christians, faith is a grace - a free gift from God. Like any gift though, faith needs to be willfully accepted in order to receive it. This decision to accept can be aided by reason. But since reason is limited and imperfect (e.g. ignorance of the future), it can never replace faith. Faith and reason go hand-in-hand. The above arguments for God are not exhaustive; there are many more. They may not be compelling to everyone; however, they do show that faith in God can be reasonable. Not only that, disbelief can be unreasonable. The temporary pleasures of sin can intice us to unreasonably deny God, as written in Psalm 14: "The fool has said in his heart, ‘There is no God.’" [Ps. 14:1; NASB]

Printed with permission from A Catholic Response, Inc.

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April 20, 2014

EASTER SUNDAY OF THE RESURRECTION OF THE LORD

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Lk 24:13-35

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First Reading:: Acts 10:34a, 37-43
Second Reading:: Col 3:1-4
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Lk 24:13-35

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