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Wednesday, April 9, 2014

The Fool Says in his Heart: There is no God

by Lawrence Fox
Inquiring minds like to ask, "Does God exist?"  A recurring argument made by atheists against the existence of God is the observed effects of evil in the world. “It would seem there is no God,” so goes the argument, “For if one of two mutually exclusive things were to exist unbounded, the other would be totally destroyed. But the word God implies some unbounded good. So, if God existed, no evil would ever be encountered. Evil is, however, encountered in the world. So God does not exist.”[1] 
My intention is to respond to this argument against the existence of God as a result of observed effects of evil in the world and demonstrate by way of faith and reason the following points: 1) the atheistic argument is notionally and subjectively shaped by an incomplete form of knowledge, 2) the Christian message provides an objective alternative to the atheistic argument,  3) God responds to and takes responsibility for the problem of evil, and 4) Evil is limited by the God’s providence.   
The Atheistic Response 
to the Problem of Evil
Evil is a scandal to many; especially when manifested in the form of human suffering caused by natural disasters, genetic imperfections, parasitical viruses, mistakes in human judgment, and irrational behavior perpetrated by persons who identify themselves as theists.[2] It can be safely said that if the admonitions of the prophet Isaiah were faithfully put into practice by God’s rational creatures, the problem of evil would be less scandalizing.[3]
“Wash yourselves clean, take your wrong doing out of my sight. Cease to do evil. Learn to do good, search for justice, help the oppressed, be just to the orphan and plead for the widow.” (Isa.1:16-18) Still, no quick answer to the problem of evil is sufficient.[4] In fact the systematic application of the atheistic “either-or” and “crisis of faith” response to the problem of evil epitomized by “there is no God” and “all things are random” unleashed upon the 20th century a level of devastation un-equaled in human history. Within Atheism there exists this “either-or” and “crisis of faith” tension that limits the ability to know how two truths are to be fitted together such as the presence of evil and the existence of God side by side so to speak.[5] This “either-or” and “crisis of faith” is rooted in a difficulty of perception.
 A Difficulty of Perception - 
Evil Side by Side with God
For the atheist, evil side by side with God is argued to be irrational, capricious, wasteful, unjust, simply an expression of selfish gene, with all arguments coalescing into the straw man rebuke, “It is pathological to believe in an Omnipotent Creator capable of all things good, while acting so impotently towards evil?” 
Fr. Thomas Dubay S.J. observes there does not seem to be the problem of evil until someone admits the existence of God which brings into the equation an inherently moral difficulty.[6]  Atheism as an expression of the subjective will, finds difficulties with any dependence upon God. The difficulty is one of reconciling human freedom with moral laws instituted by God in Nature and Divine Revelation. It is a “crisis of faith” in opposition to the promises made by Jesus Christ to his disciples: “If you keep my commands, you will know the truth, and the truth will set you free.” (John 8:31, 32) The difficulty also stems from the decision to embrace a form of knowledge that limits an Atheist’s perception of the world around them.
 Perceptions Limited by the Theory of Phenomena
Atheism embraces a system of thought which states that only the phenomena of things can be known with certainty. The phenomena would be those things capable of being observed and measured by the senses (accidentals, particulars).  
How does someone quantitatively 
measure good and evil? 
Atheism as a system of thought embraces a notion which quantifies “goodness” and “power” as the efficient removal of evil. God is notionally inefficient in the matter; notions about the existence of God are completely subjective, human reason cannot know with certainty that God exists. Since God does not notionally exist, it is up to humans (non theists) to remove evil (subjectively defined) by the use of “power.”
Prior systems of thought which attempted to answer the question, “How shall I live?” have been replaced by the form “Might makes right.” In contradistinction, a system of thought which seeks to know the noumena of things in themselves - a reasoned knowledge built upon the philosophical and metaphysical principles of non-contradiction, “cause and effect,” “actualization and potency,” “participation,” “exitus & reditus ” and “the whole being greater than the sum of the parts” - is brushed aside when approaching the problem of evil, good, and the existence of God.
Applying the Art of Limited Perception
Science is the art of quantifying things. Flaws in human genetic material -- “the parts” -- are quantifiably observed. This observation convinces the atheist to conclude that inefficiency exists in the order of created things.[7] Therefore notions of God guiding creation are not reasonable; since inefficiency would not exist if “man was God.” The atheist demonstrates that “the parts” exceed the grandeur of “the whole.” 
The highly tuned cosmos - out of which living things come forth and are sustained - is not tuned and no longer perceived to be good. Since the cosmos is not good, the life which springs forth from the cosmos is not intrinsically good. The Aristotelian perception identifying evil as a defect in either the agent (cause) or in the effect (receiver of that cause) preventing perfect participation in the good is strictly directed by the atheist to the agent (cause) God.[8]
Since God cannot exist, the atheist is compelled to conclude that randomness governs and answers the cause of genetic flaws. The atheist is then compelled to put forth multiplied assumptions, conditions, causes, and events necessary to bring forth complex forms of life in contradiction to the principle of parsimony.[9]  The simpler explanation that God acts perfectly as the primary cause, but needs nature’s activity as secondary cause, is not considered. God could, of course, produce the effects of nature without nature, but nevertheless wills them to be done through nature so that “order” be and remain preserved in all things.[10]
In essence, God wills to respect created freedom in nature and the free will of man and woman; both goods which have the potential of expressing diminished goodness (evil). Evil as such is incidental to the good which is creation. Instead, the atheistic response to the problem of evil is similar to those of the Sophists, to whom Aristotle responded, “Sophistic thought is nothing by apparent wisdom and in no wise real…”[11]  Sacred Scripture identifies such a perceptive condition as foolish. “The fool says in his heart there is no God.” (Ps.14:1) The alternative and preferred approach to the problem of evil is one which embraces a noumenal approach integrating both faith and reason.
Noumenal Approach to the Problem of Evil – Christian Faith and Reason
Knowledge of a thing requires pursuing a basis for understanding the causes of that thing.[12] A limited knowledge of something is no knowledge at all. Aristotle reasoned that the proper knowledge of something requires a systematic review of the material, formal, efficient, and final cause of that thing. This systematic pursuit is integral to the science of metaphysics. Material cause is the matter from which the thing is made. The formal cause is the image and plan upon which the material is formed. The efficient cause is that which actualizes the change in the thing. The final cause is the intended purpose of that thing.[13] As such an atheistic inquiry into problem of evil - limited to material random causes alone - is no knowledge at all.
In a remarkable way, the 1st and 2nd chapters of Sacred Scripture describe in both metaphysical and sacred terms the origins, material, formal, efficient, and final cause of the cosmos and humanity as well as the ill-mannered pursuit of “the knowledge of good and evil” and the consequences of that pursuit. Sacred Scripture - a written dialogue between God and man in inspired and inerrant form - provides a more complete knowledge of “that thing.” 
In the beginning, God creates both the visible and invisible from nothing (ex nihilo). God actualizes the created potent material and shapes the various non-living and living things (suns, stars, planets, air, water, plants, fish, birds, animals, and humans). What God shapes into “being” is identified by God as “good” since created “being(ness)” participates in His “being” and His goodness.[14] The summit of this visible creation is man and woman made in God’s image and likeness; possessing an intellect to know the truth, the power of the will to choose the good, and bodies to physically express love, to be fruitful, and experience happiness with all their perceptive and spiritual senses. 
God blesses man and woman with the command to be fruitful and multiply and have dominion over the earth. God rests from His works on the 7th day and identifies everything as “very good.” The expression “very good” identifies the philosophical principle that “the whole” is greater than “the parts.”[15]  God’s rest on the 7th day identifies a covenantal bond of love between God and His creation. Man and woman were created with the animals on the 6th day and created for eternal communion with God on the 7th day, provided the intellect and the will respond in love.
Man and woman called to live in truth, goodness, and love, put their hand to the tree of “the knowledge of good and evil.” Man and woman - who possessed the natural powers to love God freely - chose instead to love themselves more than their Creator. Man and woman judged they can “know good and evil” apart from God’s Word and Wisdom. 
The immediate fruit of their actions was a loss of integrity; the power of intellect and will began to serve their passions, a condition similarly described by Socrates and Plato identifying evil within the human condition as being the result of innate man forgetting the “forms of the good” and through this ignorance, man's intellect and spirit irrationally serves the appetite (body). 
Thus the rational order of things is lost leading to grave forms of injustice.[16]  As a result, man and woman observed they were naked and hid in fear and shame. This fallen condition was passed on to their descendants -- genetically, socially, and spiritually.  Evil in the form of sin (to miss the mark) entered into the world. “God did not make death, and he does not delight in the death of the living…But by the envy of the adversary (devil), death entered the world, and they who are allied with him experience it.” [17] (Wisd. of Sol. 2:24)
This evil does not impact man and woman alone but material creation over which they were to have dominion. Jesus said, “The servant is not above the master.” (Matt. 1:24)  In essence, “the whole of creation groans and suffers the pains of childbirth together until now… even we ourselves groan within ourselves, waiting eagerly for our adoption as sons, the redemption of our body.” (Rom. 8:22) Sacred Scripture in this manner identifies sickness, corruption, and natural upheavals as creation’s  inability to perfectly participate in the goodness of God as a result of sin. “O wretched man that I am! Who will deliver me from this body of death? I thank God—through Jesus Christ our Lord.” (Rom.7:24-25) Sacred Scripture states that God takes the initiative and deals with this problem of evil.
God’s Responsibility and Response to the Problem of Evil
God promises a remedy to this bleak condition; one which greatly exceeds sin and its temporal consequence. A redeemer is promised. God’s responsibility and response towards the problem of evil is humbly manifested with the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus Christ. St. Paul writes: “Where sin abounds, God’s grace abounds even more.” (Rom. 5:20) God promises in and through the person of Jesus Christ a solution which greatly exceeds the original sin. “For just as through the disobedience of the one man many were made sinners, so also through the obedience of one man many will be made righteous.” (Rom. 5:19) Jesus, before ascending into heaven, made this promised to his followers: “If I go and prepare a place for you, I will come again and receive you to myself, so that where I am, there you may be also, I will come back and take you where I am.” (John 14:3) 
God takes on the responsibility since He is the 1st cause of all things which exist. This Christian message of redemption, sanctification, and parousia (return) of Jesus Christ enabled St. Augustine to understand: “Since God is the highest good, He would not allow any evil to exist in his own works, unless His omnipotence and goodness where such as to bring good even out of evil.”[18] This reality is a demonstration of the infinite goodness of God, that he should allow evil to exist (which does not possess power in itself), and out of it produce good (which does possess power in itself). God does exist and in the pages of Sacred Scripture, and Human History evil is shown to be limited by the God’s Providence.
God’s Providence and 
Limits Placed on Evil

“I have told you these things, so that in me you may have peace. In this world you will have trouble. But take heart! I have overcome the world."(John 16:3)
There is a limit imposed upon evil because all things fall within the providence of God. The term providence means the ordered intervention by God - who is omniscient and omnipotent - within the whole of human history. Omniscience means that all things are present within the mind of God.
 There is not a linear past, present, and future sequence of events in the mind of God; all things are present to the mind of God in a timeless manner.[19] Jesus identified this omniscience by stating the following: “Your heavenly Father knows what you need even before you ask him.” (Matt. 6:8) Omnipotence means the ability to perform all things possible.[20] With infinite power God could always create something better. But with infinite wisdom and goodness, God freely willed to a create world “in a state of journeying” towards ultimate perfection.[21] As such, nothing escapes the wisdom of God as He guides all things toward their final end, including the end of evil. 
Susie Waldstein captures this observation from within Sacred Scripture, writing, “God has created all things by his wisdom. ‘O Lord, how manifest are your works! In wisdom you have made them all.’ (Ps. 104: 24). God has ordered all things by his wisdom. ‘Against wisdom evil does not prevail. She reaches mightily from one end of the world to the other, and she orders all things well.’”[22]  (Wisd. of Sol. 7:30- 8:1)
In recent human history, the evil system of Nazism with all its progressive and materialist wisdom and military might came to an end in 12 years.[23] Socialist communism -- erected upon the similar foundations of power and cruelty --ended in 50 years. In both cases, in spite of all the horror, both divine and human goodness prevailed; instigating their demise.[24] 
Human virtues of courage, truth, goodness, mercy, and justice (forms of the good) persevered. Consider the absolute irony; both systems (Nazism and Communism) sought to end the existence of Judaism and Christianity within Europe, Russia and eventually the World. Both powers occupied the Catholic country of Poland. In spite of such intent and evil, the Jewish nation of Israel, after 2000 years, was established and a Polish pope was elected to the Chair of St. Peter in Rome. This Polish pope visited his native homeland Poland and publicly supported the Solidarity Movement which contributed to the end of Communist occupation and repression in Poland and Eastern Europe. Only the blind would miss the irony of these two events.
St. Paul, a disciple of Jesus Christ who was beaten, abused, shipwrecked, imprisoned and eventually decapitated for the Christian message knew objectively (not subjectively) through experience the providence of God in the midst of such evil. “We know God causes all things to work together for good to those who love Him.” (Rom. 8:28) 
The key was to embrace with humility the revelation of God, in Jesus Christ crucified. In Christ Jesus, the redeemed participate in God’s Divine Nature (2 Pet. 1:4) and become temples of God’s Holy Spirit (1 Cor. 6:19-20) and become sons and daughter of God by adoption. (Rom.8:14)  Within God’s providence, evil comes to an end. “Now the dwelling of God will be with men, and his will live with them. They will be his people and God will be their God. He will wipe away every tear from their eyes and there will be not more death, or morning or crying or pain for the old order will pass away.” (Rev. 21: 3-5)  
Conclusion
My intent was  to respond to the atheistic argument against the existence of God as a result of observed effects of evil in the world, and demonstrate by way of faith and reason the following points: 1) the atheistic argument is notionally and subjectively shaped by an incomplete form of knowledge, 2) the Christian message provides an objective alternative to the atheistic argument, 3) God responds to and takes responsibility for the problem of evil, and 4) Evil is limited by God’s providence.



BIBLIOGRAPHY

Augustine. The Confessions, Translated by E.B. Pusey. New York: The Modern Library, 1998.

Bakewell, Charles, M. Source Book in Ancient Philosophy. New York: Charles Scribner’s Sons, 1907.

Catechism of the Catholic Church 2nd Edition. Washington: United States Catholic Conference, 1997.

Dubay, Fr. Thomas, S.M. Faith and Certitude. San Francisco: Ignatius Press, 1985.

John Paul II, Encyclical Letter Fides Et Ratio of the Supreme Pontiff John Paul the II to the Bishops of the Catholic Church on the Relationship between Faith and Reason. Boston: Books & Media, 1998.

John Paul II, Memory and Identity.  New York: Rizzoli International Publications Inc., 2005.

McDermott, Timothy. Thomas Aquinas, Selected Philosophical Writings. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2008.

Proclus. Selection from Elements of Theology. Translation by E.R. Dodds. London: Clarendon Paperbacks, 1992.

Ratzinger, Joseph. Principle of Catholic Theology; Building Stones for a Fundamental Theology. Translated by Sister Mary Frances McCarthy, S.N.D. San Francisco: Ignatius Press, 1987.

Schonborn, Christoph Cardinal. Chance of Purpose; Creation, Evolution and A Rational Faith. Translated by Hubert Philip Weber. San Francisco: Ignatius Press, 2007.

Spitzer, Robert, S.J. “Evidence of Creation and Supernatural Intelligence in Big-Bang Cosmology.” Gregorian Article Vol1/No.3 Benedictine College Publications. (August 2011): 5.

Walter M. Abbot, S. J. General Editor. The Documents of Vatican II. New York: Herder and Herder New York Association Press, 1966.

Waldstein, Susan. The Theological Significance of Natural Hierarchy, A Thesis Submitted to the International Theological Institute. Gaming Austria: Self Published, 2005.




[1] Timothy McDermott, Thomas Aquinas, Selected Philosophical Writings. (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2008), 199.
[2]  Catechism of the Catholic Church, 2124.
[3] Abbot, M Walter S. J. General Editor The Documents of Vatican II. (New York: Herder and Herder New York Association Press, 1966), 207.
[4] John Paul II, Encyclical Letter Fides Et Ratio of the Supreme Pontiff John Paul the II to the Bishops of the Catholic Church on the Relationship between Faith and Reason, (Boston: Books & Media 1998), 31.
[5]  Fr. Thomas Dubay, S.M. Faith and Certitude. (San Francisco: Ignatius Press, 1985), 243. Fr. Joseph Ratzinger, Principle of Catholic Theology; Building Stones for a Fundamental Theology. Translated by Sister Mary Frances McCarthy, S.N.D. (San Francisco: Ignatius Press, 1987), 153, 157.
[6]  Dubay, Faith and Certitude, 243.
[7] Christoph Cardinal Schonborn, Chance of Purpose; Creation, Evolution and A Rational Faith, Translated by Hubert Philip Weber. (San Francisco: Ignatius Press, 2007), 92.
[8] Timothy McDermott, Thomas Aquinas, Selected Philosophical Writings. (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2008), 286.
[9] Father Robert Spitzer, S.J. Evidence of Creation and Supernatural Intelligence in Big-Bang Cosmology; (Atchison Kansas: Benedictine College Publications Gregorian Article Vol1/No.3 August 2011), 5.
[10] McDermott, Thomas Aquinas, Selected Philosophical Writings. 305.
[11] Bakewell. Source Book in Ancient Philosophy. (New York: Charles Scribner’s Sons, 1907), 69.
[12] Bakewell, Source Book in Ancient Philosophy, 225-227.
[13] Bakewell, Source Book in Ancient Philosophy, 225-227.
[14] McDermott, Thomas Aquinas, Selected Philosophical Writings, 61.
[15] Augustine. The Confessions, Translated by E.B. Pusey (New York: The Modern Library, 1998), 134-135.
[16] Bakewell, Source Book in Ancient Philosophy,173.
[17] John Paul II, Encyclical Letter Evangelium Vitae, The Gospel of Life.  (Boston: Books & Media 1998), 19.
[18] McDermott, Thomas Aquinas, Selected Philosophical Writings, 202.
[19] McDermott, Thomas Aquinas, Selected Philosophical Writings, 249, 282.
[20] McDermott, Thomas Aquinas, Selected Philosophical Writings, 249, 281.
[21] Catholic Catechism of the Catholic Church, 310.
[22] Susan Waldstein, The Theological Significance of Natural Hierarchy, A Thesis Submitted to the International Theological Institute. (Gaming Austria: Self Published, 2005), 5.
[23] John Paul II, Memory and Identity.  (New York: Rizzoli International Publications Inc. 2005), 14-15
[24] John Paul II, Memory and Identity, 14-15.

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