Thursday, November 12, 2020

High School Youth Group, Sunday, November 1st, The Catholic Response to Atheism - Session 2, Why Do Atheists Reject God's Existence (Father Ryan Erlenbush, Corpus Christi Parish)

Session 2 of our High School Youth Group -- The Catholic Response to Atheism

The two main objections to God's Existence: "The Problem of Evil" and "The God of the gaps"

Listen online [here]!


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

November 1st - Session 2 – Why Do Atheists Reject God’s Existence?

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


I. Review of last class (October 4th – Introduction to the Course)

A. Calendar and Course Structure:

1.Calendar of the year. Important dates: October 18th, Safe Environment Presentation (hand in the opt out form if you weren’t at the presentation); November 29th, No Class, Thanksgiving break; December 20th, Last Class of Fall, resuming January 10th and continuing until May 2nd.

2. Course structure: Class on Sundays between Masses, about 10:40-11:20am. Eucharistic Procession and Adoration with Religious Ed program on the final Sundays of the months.

3. Students are expected to consistently attend classes, and participation in monthly Eucharistic devotions is mandatory.

4. Parents and other adults are welcome to sit in on classes.


B. The Catholic Response to Atheism  (after Christmas, the Dogma of the Trinity)

1. It doesn’t take faith to believe in God. His existence is proved by human reason.

2. We can prove God’s existence as part of the way to help people be open to the faith.

3. The real reason why many people are atheists is that they don’t want to follow God’s law.

4. The best response to atheism is to be saints!



II. Is God’s existence something that is obvious and immediately clear to all?

A. God’s existence is something that can be proved, but it isn’t inherently obvious


B. “We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights…” – Nope, it isn’t self-evident that there is a Creator, let alone that he gave all men rights. But it can be proved through reason.


C. Although it is not self-evident or immediately clear to all that God exists, once it is proved that God exists, this truth cannot rationally be denied.


D. If we could see the Divine Essence clearly, then it would be a tautology that God exists – his very nature is pure existence and it is simply impossible and even irrational to say that God doesn’t exist. However, we do not see God in himself, but only in his works (in the universe he created) – therefore, we must work to prove his existence, showing the cause from the effect.



III. The two main objections to the existence of God

A. The Problem of Evil – If God is all good, there would be no evil or suffering in the world; but there is evil and much suffering, therefore there is no God.

St Thomas, “It seems that God does not exist; because if one of two contraries be infinite, the other would be altogether destroyed. But the word "God" means that He is infinite goodness. If, therefore, God existed, there would be no evil discoverable; but there is evil in the world. Therefore God does not exist.”

1. This sometimes takes the form of: “If there is a God, he must not care about us. Look at all the evil things he allows and all the suffering, and all the prayers that are ignored.”

2. Another aspect of this argument focuses on God’s judgment of sinners: “I just can’t believe in a God who would send someone to hell for all eternity!”

3. Or again, another form of this argument relates more specifically to priests and believers: “I could believe in God if I ever found a Christian that acted like Christ!” or “How can anyone believe in God when so many priests are so terrible?!”

4. What are other versions of this argument you have heard?


B. “God of the Gaps” – New scientific knowledge has answered all the questions about nature, there is no longer any need to appeal to “God” as a creator.

St Thomas, “Further, it is superfluous to suppose that what can be accounted for by a few principles has been produced by many. But it seems that everything we see in the world can be accounted for by other principles, supposing God did not exist. For all natural things can be reduced to one principle which is nature; and all voluntary things can be reduced to one principle which is human reason, or will. Therefore there is no need to suppose God's existence.”

1. “I don’t believe in God, I believe in science!”

2. “In the old days, people thought Zeus was throwing thunderbolts – but now we know what lightning really is. That is why we don’t need God any more.”

3. “The Big Bang explains the beginning of the world and evolution explains the beginning of man, we don’t need God to explain any of it!”



IV. A simple response to these two main objections (we will give a much fuller answer later this year, after examining the proofs for God’s existence)

A. The response to “the problem of evil” – St Thomas, “As Augustine says (Enchiridion xi): "Since God is the highest good, He would not allow any evil to exist in His works, unless His omnipotence and goodness were such as to bring good even out of evil." This is part of the infinite goodness of God, that He should allow evil to exist, and out of it produce good.”


B. The response to “the God of the gaps” – St Thomas, “Since nature works for a determinate end under the direction of a higher agent, whatever is done by nature must needs be traced back to God, as to its first cause. So also whatever is done voluntarily must also be traced back to some higher cause other than human reason or will, since these can change or fail; for all things that are changeable and capable of defect must be traced back to an immovable and self-necessary first principle, as was shown in the body of the Article.” 



V. Something to look forward to: The 5 Ways of Proving God’s Existence!

1. From Motion = The First Unmoved Mover

(if things move, something must have set them in motion, but this can’t go back forever)

2. From Efficient Causes = The Uncaused Cause

(if things cause, something must give them the power to cause, but this can’t go back forever)

3. From Contingency = The Necessary Being

(if things exist, something must make them exist, but this can’t go back forever)

4. From Gradation of Perfection = The Absolutely Perfect Good

(if things are somewhat good, then something which is perfectly good must make others good)

5. From Order = The Intelligent Designer or, more accurately, the Divine Governor

(things act for a purpose, have a design, someone must have designed them)



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