Converging and Convincing Proof of God: From Fragile Life to Eternal Life in God
Life appears to have been given to us, sometimes by the most fortuitous circumstances
And we go from one contingent life, yonder to another, yonder to another, yonder, yonder, yonder. And yet we cannot simply go yonder to infinity. An infinity of lives, each of which is possible not to have been or not to be, even if all chained together never get above and beyond their contingency.
We have started with experiences common to men and women-desire, truth, perfection--and then used the illative sense--a broader reason than the mere single-dimensioned reason of the empirical or physical sciences-to come to a reasonable conclusion that God exists.
In prior articles, we started with desire, with truth, and with the experience of perfection. The insights of St. Gregory of Nyssa, St. Augustine of Hippo, and St. Anselm of Canterbury were our guides. In this article, we shall focus on life, on being, and our experience that it is contingent. Our guide will be St. Thomas Aquinas.
In his Summa Theologiae, St. Thomas offers five "proofs of God," the famous Quinque viae. His third proof, the one we shall focus on in this article, is based upon contingency.
The proof starts from our experience regarding life, regarding being. We experience life or being as something that is contingent, that is not necessary, that it is possible not to have been or not to be.
Humans experience life as fragile, tenuous. Life, as G. M. Hopkins puts it in his poem "Binsey Poplars," is like the nature of which it is a part; and it can so easily be felled, felled, and felled.
Since country is so tender
To touch, her being so slender,
That, like this sleek and seeing ball
But a prick will make no eye at all.
The smallest things can end life, like the prick of eye that makes the eye unable to see, a pin prick can make life not to be. We might recall that Lord Carnarvon--who funded the archeological expeditions of Howard Carter at the Valley of the Kings in Egypt and discovered Tutankhamun's tomb--died from the simple act of shaving.
It is possible for life not to be.
Not only is life contingent because it is fragile. It is contingent in the sense that we have done nothing to give it to ourselves. The German philosopher Schleiermacher coined a great word which sums up this experience: We experience ourselves as Sichselbsnichtsogesetzhaben, "not-having-put-oneself-forth," or Irgendwiegewordensein, as "somehow-having-come-to be." As Aidan Nichols puts this phenomenon in his book A Grammar of Consent, life is "non-self-explanatory and non-self-existent."
Life appears to have been given to us, sometimes by the most fortuitous circumstances.
If my mother had not fled to Venezuela to escape the communists taking over Czechoslovakia after WWII, and my father not having decided to leave Oklahoma as a young man to find adventure the oil industry in that foreign land, and had my mother's jeep not gotten stuck in a muddy rut one Saturday after an earlier rain, and my father not helped her, I would not have been here, and this article would never have been written.
All of us have stories like this. How extraordinary that I exist! How extraordinary that anything should exist!
It is possible for life not to have been.
This experience is what started St. Thomas thinking. In the terse words of St. Thomas:
"The third way is taken from possibility and necessity, and runs thus. We find in nature things that are possible to be and not to be, since they are found to be generated, and to corrupt, and consequently, they are possible to be and not to be."
From whence does this fragile, tenuous, contingent life come?
I suppose we could be entirely incurious, and respond, "It just is." But this is to say that there is Nothing behind it all. This is hardly satisfactory. It is intellectually cowardly, and in fact clearly false since it is plain that nothing comes from nothing. Ex nihilo nihil fit!
And not only is this sort of philosophy stupid and obtuse: its psychological effect upon us is devastating. Oh, yes, we avoid the God question, but at what price!
If we believe that ...
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