Voices February 06, 2018
Knowing God’s existence like winning Super Bowl
Knowing that God is real is like experiencing an amazing win of the Super Bowl. Take, for example, the victory of the Eagles over the Patriots in last week's Super Bowl.
People usually take miracles as evidence of God’s existence. But let’s face it, when an unexpected team wins the Super Bowl, it’s not really a miracle.
To call it a “miracle” is simply a hyperbolic way of describing the unlikely. What was thought to be highly improbable is now known, in fact, to be a reality.
Philosophers have sought to demonstrate that God’s existence can be known with certainty. For them, it’s more a matter of science and causality than wild guesses and beliefs.
Concerning this philosophical quest, the Catholic Church teaches that human reason can know God’s existence with certainty. But it does not explicitly endorse any particular line of reasoning.
This has always struck me as an eminently sane teaching, since it’s like saying, “Okay, the Super Bowl is winnable, but it’s up to you and your team to win it the best way you can.”
How many ways are there to win the Super Bowl?
So, how many ways are there to win the Super Bowl? I think that if reality has a definite, knowable structure, then there are a finite number of basic answers to this question.
There may be an infinite variety of ways, including many highly unexpected ways. But when you look past the details, there are only a few basic strategies for victory one can pursue.
The same goes with the philosophers’ rational proofs for the existence of God. There may indeed be a variety of ways of pulling off the proof. And Catholic teaching leaves room for them.
But there can only be a very limited number of basic strategies that will work. At least, this must be the case if the reality of the universe is knowable.
There has to be a finite set of laws and principles, from which the infinite variety of happenings in the actual universe can be derived. Physical science is itself founded on this very premise.
Reality is knowable, and God made it that way.
Reality is knowable, and God made it that way. Knowing it is good, because he wants us to know it, in order that we can see it as a reflection of his own divine nature — i.e., rational and good.
I mentioned Edward Feser’s terrific new book, Five Proofs of the Existence of God, in The B.C. Catholic when it first came out, but in a recent review for Catholic World Report, I opine that Feser’s five strategies actually align with the famous Five Ways of Thomas Aquinas for proving God’s existence.
This is due to the knowable structures of reality. If the universe is intelligible (as in fact it is), these fundamental structures can only be limited in number. Otherwise, our finite intellects would be unable to intellectually know anything at all.
If the Five Ways of Aquinas are indeed derived from the fundamental causal structure of reality, as I think they do, then any other proofs are also going to have to follow similar routes.
When the Eagles win 41-33, by putting those points on the board, they attain their purpose
Similarly, when the Eagles win 41-33, by putting those points on the board, they attain their purpose, or what Aquinas calls the “final cause.” Anything that gets those points works to that end, like the late field goal that put the Eagles ahead by eight points.
But when a coach calls a play, like coach Doug Pederson and his trick play at the goal line, we have an example of what Aquinas calls the “formal cause.”
The “material cause” of a win simply involves having possession of the football, which makes things like Brandon Graham stripping the ball from Tom Brady highly memorable.
When a quarterback, like Nick Foles, propels the ball into the hands of a player, we have the quarterback performing his main function as what Aquinas calls the “efficient cause” of victory.
But when Zach Ertz not only catches the ball, but successfully moves it into the end zone, we have a perfect illustration of the prime way to win a football game: you take the potential of the football to be in the end zone, and you actualize it.
Aquinas uses all of these basic causal structures of reality (which we can find everywhere in the universe, especially in football games) to prove God’s existence.
But just as Ertz caught the pass thrown by Foles, so too did Aquinas receive his prime proof from the philosopher Aristotle.
I guess there are many ways to win, but the greats are great by reminding us about the nature of reality. The more in tune with reality you are, the more you are unbeatable.