Monday, November 16, 2020

High School Youth Group, November 15th -- The Catholic Response to Atheism -- Session 4, Proofs for God's Existence, From Order (Father Ryan Erlenbush, Corpus Christi Parish)

 We discuss the Fifth Way of proving God's existence, from St Thomas Aquinas. We see a certain order in the natural world, in which even irrational things seem to act for an end. God' must be the divine governor who orders all these things. 

We explain how St Thomas' argument is different from the modern intelligent design theory and, even though St Thomas' way is more difficult to fully grasp and takes more reflection to understand than modern intelligent design theory, why St Thomas' proof from order is significantly more convincing and much more difficult to disprove. Specifically, we show that modern recourse to Darwin, evolution, natural selection or big bang really does not in any way hurt St Thomas' argument (even though, some would argue, these scientific theories could undermine aspects of the modern intelligent design theory).

Listen online [here]!


High School Youth Group – Fall 2020 – The Catholic Response to Atheism

November 15th  - Session 4 – Proofs of God’s Existence, From Order

“The fool hath said in his heart: There is no God.”  -Psalm 13:1



I. Review of last class (November 1st – Why Do Atheists Reject God’s Existence)

A. Calendar: November 29th, No Class, Thanksgiving break; December 20th, Last Class of Fall, resuming January 10th and continuing until May 2nd.

B. God is the uncaused cause – he didn’t “create” himself, but exists necessarily

C. Proof from “contingency”

1. The universe exists but didn’t have to exist, something must cause it to exist.

2. This isn’t a proof from a beginning in time, but of a first cause here and now



II.  The Fifth Way: From the Governance of the World, From Order

A. St Thomas Aquinas: “The fifth way is taken from the governance of the world. We see that things which lack intelligence, such as natural bodies, act for an end, and this is evident from their acting always, or nearly always, in the same way, so as to obtain the best result. Hence it is plain that not fortuitously, but designedly, do they achieve their end. Now whatever lacks intelligence cannot move towards an end, unless it be directed by some being endowed with knowledge and intelligence; as the arrow is shot to its mark by the archer. Therefore some intelligent being exists by whom all natural things are directed to their end; and this being we call God.”


B. Even irrational animals/plants/things in the universe “act for an end,” they have a specific goal for which they strive.  A silly example: Acorns generally develop into oak trees, but never sea lions.


C. The difference between external finality and internal finality:  Men take wheat and make it into bread, but this doesn’t mean that wheat is ordered to becoming flour.  Wheat doesn’t grow so as to become bread, but man makes bread because there is such a thing as wheat.  However, consider the wings of a bird which are clearly formed so that the bird might fly. It is not rational to think that a bird flies because it happens to have wings, clearly the bird has wings that it might fly (penguins and ostriches not withstanding).  It is this internal finality of irrational creatures that seems to indicate an intelligent divine governor who orders all things.

(this is where Thomas’ proof differs from modern intelligent design theory – a watch/clock is more like wheat becoming bread, than wings allowing flight)


D. The type of order and governance about which St Thomas is speaking cannot be accounted for by appeal to evolution or natural selection. We are not saying that the complexity of the universe requires a creator, or even that the existence of life or higher forms of life requires a creator – rather, even the most simple marks of order indicate a divine governor.  Even if natural selection and evolution could explain how the ear developed, there is still the question of why certain animals have ears – and the obvious answer is “to hear” (not simply, “because of genetic mutations over many thousands of years, etc”). Why does an acorn develop into an oak? Because acorns are meant to become oak trees.

The Fifth Way of St Thomas answers a philosophical question which science cannot possibly answer.

The order of the universe cannot be explained simply by appeal to natural laws, because we further ask why there are such laws among irrational creatures! Only God could govern and establish these laws.



III.  The Argument for an Intelligent Designer

A. Another Divine Watchmaker:

“In crossing a heath, suppose I pitched my foot against a stone, and were asked how the stone came to be there; I might possibly answer, that, for anything I knew to the contrary, it had lain there forever: nor would it perhaps be very easy to show the absurdity of this answer. But suppose I had found a watch upon the ground, and it should be inquired how the watch happened to be in that place; I should hardly think of the answer I had before given, that for anything I knew, the watch might have always been there. ... There must have existed, at some time, and at some place or other, an artificer or artificers, who formed [the watch] for the purpose which we find it actually to answer; who comprehended its construction, and designed its use. ... Every indication of contrivance, every manifestation of design, which existed in the watch, exists in the works of nature; with the difference, on the side of nature, of being greater or more, and that in a degree which exceeds all computation.”

William Paley, Natural Theology (1802)


B. Darwin’s Response:

“Although I did not think much about the existence of a personal God until a considerably later period of my life, I will here give the vague conclusions to which I have been driven. The old argument of design in nature, as given by Paley, which formerly seemed to me so conclusive, fails, now that the law of natural selection has been discovered. We can no longer argue that, for instance, the beautiful hinge of a bivalve shell must have been made by an intelligent being, like the hinge of a door by man. There seems to be no more design in the variability of organic beings and in the action of natural selection, than in the course which the wind blows. Everything in nature is the result of fixed laws.”

Charles Darwin, The Autobiography of Charles Darwin 18091882.


C. The Junkyard Tornado:

According to scientific analysis, the probability of cellular life's arising from non-living matter is about one-in-1040,000.Therefore: The chance that higher life forms might have emerged in this way is comparable to the chance that a tornado sweeping through a junkyard might assemble a Boeing 747 from the materials therein.


Another version of the argument:

The probability of all the factors necessarily for life to emerge is so low, that it would be more likely for monkeys hitting keys of a typewriter to produce the complete works of Shakespeare randomly.


D. While the modern intelligent design argument has some points in its favor (most notably, that it is easier for the modern person to grasp and has a certain immediately compelling appeal), it is not as strong a philosophical proof as St Thomas’ fifth way.  The Intelligent design theory argues based on probability rather than on more fundamental philosophical principles. Further, the intelligent design theory may fall more easily to the “God of the gaps” objections presented by modern scientific theories like the big bang and evolution. 







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