October 19, 2012

From the Editor Emeritus / John F. Fink

Year of Faith: I believe in one God

John F. FinkIt seems important—at least to me—to start this series of columns about our faith with the first words of our Creed.

Obviously, Catholics believe in God. It is appropriate, therefore, that the first sentence of the Catechism of the Catholic Church’s explanation of the creed says, “The desire for God is written in the human heart, because man is created by God and for God” (#27).

Of course, Catholics are hardly alone in that belief. Polls show consistently that more than nine out of 10 Americans share that belief. Throughout the history of humanity, people have believed in God—the ancient Egyptians, Greeks, Romans, Asians, Arabs, Native Americans and others.

Who is God? St. Anselm defined God in his Proslogion as “a being than whom nothing greater can be conceived.”

And God revealed himself to Moses in the Bible’s Book of Exodus as “I am who am” (Ex 3:14).

Today, however, atheism is making inroads in Western Europe and in certain circles in the United States. Among the most prominent recent atheists have been Richard Dawkins, Daniel Dennett, Christopher Hitchens and Sam Harris.

In refuting their denial of God’s existence, can we prove that God exists? That depends upon what we mean by “prove.” Science can neither prove nor disprove God’s existence. No one can produce God and say, “There he is.”

However, as important as science is, it is not the sole authority on truth. We cannot scientifically prove that something happened in history, but we accept what historical documents tell us.

Philosophers and theologians have produced enough evidence to satisfy them of God’s existence. In the 13th century, St. Thomas Aquinas offered his famous five proofs for the existence of God:

  1. Everything that is in motion must have been set in motion. But there must be a first mover, and that is God.
  2. There is a cause for all things and nothing can cause itself to exist. The first cause is God.
  3. Things in nature are transitory. At one time, nothing would have existed. As explained in the second proof, there had to be a first cause.
  4. There is a gradation in all things and the maximum gradation must have God as its source.
  5. We cannot say that chance created the order we see in the universe. Natural laws require a divine intelligence.

Obviously, I have greatly simplified Thomas’ proofs. He wrote extensively about each of them. I think that, for most people, the order, harmony and beauty of the world are reason enough to believe in an intelligent Creator.

Unlike the ancients, though, Catholics join with Jews, Muslims and other Christians to profess belief in one God. In this, we differ from the Hindus, for example, who worship many gods.

We believe that God had no beginning and will have no end. He always was and always will be. He says that he is almighty, meaning that he can do everything that isn’t contradictory—like making a square circle. He is omniscient, all-knowing. He is perfect goodness and, as St. John’s First Letter tells us, he is love. †

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