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Reflection on the Catholic Catechism: Searching for God in the World

By Michael Terheyden
July 25th, 2013
Catholic Online (www.catholic.org)

In The Book of Wisdom, we read, "Foolish by nature were all who were in ignorance of God, and who from the good things seen did not succeed in knowing the one who is, and from studying the works did not discern the artisan; . . ."

KNOXVILLE, TN (Catholic Online) - When we begin to search for God in earnest, we quickly find that there are two main ways of coming to know Him or discovering His existence. The first is through the physical world, and the second is through the human person. In this article, I will reflect on the first.

The Catechism of the Catholic Church mentions the following ways of knowing God from the physical world: rational arguments such as movement, becoming and contingency, followed by order in the universe and beauty (32). Although the Catechism mentions these three ways, it does not explain what they are, but they are important, so we will take a brief look at them with the help of other sources.

The rational arguments tend to focus on the nature of the physical world or being. They are also called metaphysical arguments. I will discuss the argument based on first cause and the argument based on contingency.

The first-cause argument stems from the Principle of Sufficient Reason, which says that everything has a reason or cause. But if everything has a cause, then at some point there must be something that is not caused by anything, a first cause. In one respect, this is self evident because an infinite string of causes without end does not provide an adequate explanation of the world. The first cause is understood to be God.

The second argument is based on contingency. It is similar to the first-cause argument, but in this case, the point is not the reason for things, but the essence of things. When we look at the universe, we realize that all things are contingent upon something else for their existence. Their existence does not originate from within them. They exist, but they might not have existed. In other words, there is no necessity for their existence. Everything is a receiver of existence.

But if everything receives existence, then how can there be anything? Nothing comes from nothing, so there has to be something that is different from everything else, something that is not contingent, that originates its own existence. This thing would not receive existence. It would simply have existence. This thing would be God.

In his book, Theology and Sanity, Frank Sheed says it is the nature of other things to be able to exist. It is God's nature to exist. Other things can have existence. God is existence. "All the receivers of existence," Sheed tells us, "exist because there is one who does not have to receive existence. He does not have to receive existence because He is existence."

According to the Catechism, another way that we can come to know God is through order in the physical world. Saint Paul writes, "Ever since the creation of the world [God's] invisible nature, namely, his eternal power and deity, has been clearly perceived in the things that have been made" (Rom 1:20).

The Big Bang theory, which was proposed by Georges Lemaître, a Catholic priest and scientist and which scientists almost universally accept as the beginning of the universe, supports the idea of a creator and offers many examples of order in the universe. Father Robert J. Spitzer discusses the Big Bang in a wonderful 12-part video series called God and Modern Physics.

He says there are 20 constants with very specific values which control all the equations in physics and describe the laws of physics. These constants, he says, are responsible for order in the universe. It is because of them that an orderly universe emerged out of the Big Bang capable of sustaining life.

However, he also notes that there is no necessity for the values of these constants to be what they are. In other words, they could have been higher or lower. If the constant for the gravitational force or the constant for the weak nuclear force that controls particle decay had been off by even an infinitesimal amount, the universe would have collapsed or exploded in its expansion making life impossible.

The constant for the strong nuclear force that binds the protons and neutrons within the nucleus of an atom is another example. Father Spitzer says if this force had been slightly larger, there would be no hydrogen in the universe. If this force had been a little smaller, no elements heavier than hydrogen would exist. In either case, life would not be possible. 

The universe not only displays intricate detail and order at all levels, but many people believe it reveals intelligent design and power beyond the visible world. Paul Davies, a British astrophysicist and prolific science writer said, "There is for me powerful evidence that there is something going on behind it all. . . . It seems as though somebody has fine-tuned nature's numbers to make the Universe. . . . The impression of design is overwhelming."

The Catechism also mentions beauty in the physical world as a way that we can come to know God. Men have always seen beauty in creation. Now modern science has uncovered an underlying beauty within the universe never before imagined. Perhaps Albert Einstein was responding to this underlying beauty when he said, "I have deep faith that the principle of the universe will be beautiful and simple."

In the Book of Wisdom, we read, "Foolish by nature were all who were in ignorance of God, and who from the good things seen did not succeed in knowing the one who is, and from studying the works did not discern the artisan; instead either fire, or wind, or the swift air, or the circuit of the stars, or the mighty water, or the luminaries of heaven, the governors of the world, they considered gods.

"Now if out of joy in their beauty they thought them gods, let them know how far more excellent is the Lord than these; for the original source of beauty fashioned them. Or if they were struck by their might and energy, let them realize from these things how much more powerful is the one who made them. For from the greatness and the beauty of created things their original author, by analogy, is seen" (13:1-5).
 

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Michael Terheyden was born into a Catholic family, but that is not why he is a Catholic. He is a Catholic because he believes that truth is real, that it is beautiful and good, and that the fullness of truth is in the Catholic Church. He is greatly blessed to share his faith and his life with his beautiful wife, Dorothy. They have four grown children and three grandchildren.

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