On God’s Responsibility for Atheism

In spite of themselves, atheists can help to remind us of an important truth about God, that is, that he radically transcends the universe. It is God’s very transcendence that makes atheism possible, or at least more likely. If God were an item in the universe open to empirical investigation, presumably, there would be far fewer atheists. You might say, then, that God is, in a sense, responsible for atheism. I am not saying, of course, that God wants people to be atheists, only that his “otherness” with respect to the world can be a condition favorable to the emergence of atheism. To put this in scholastic language: God’s transcendence is not the proper cause of atheism but an accidental cause of it.

If you will permit me to indulge in another paradox, I should also point out that one of the reasons for God’s transcendence—and, hence, for atheism—is also a reason why atheism is without an ultimate rational justification. What I have in mind here is creation. The relationship implied by creation is one reason that God transcends the world, but it is also because of creation that we can know that God exists, by reason at any rate (faith is a somewhat different story).

Now, creation can be understood in two different ways. Quite often when people talk about creation they mean that event described in the book of Genesis with the words: “In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth” (Gen. 1:1). This is an event that took place at some point in the past—exactly when, we don’t really know. Theologians sometimes refer to creation in this sense as creatio ab initio temporis—“creation at the beginning of time.”

But, traditionally speaking, creation has also been understood in another way. Creation is also just God’s giving the world its existence for as long as it exists. Thomas Aquinas, among others, uses the term “creation” in this sense (although he uses it in the previous sense too). Understood in this way, creation is not merely an event of the past but one of the present, of every present so long as there are presents. Creation is, thus, something continuous. And so theologians sometimes call this creatio continua or “continuous creation.” Obviously, it is something distinct in consideration from creatio ab initio temporis.

To bring about the universe, whether in the past or the present or at any time, God simply cannot be a part of the universe. This is so because nothing that does not already exist can cause itself to exist. Here is how Aquinas puts it: “There is no case in which something is its own efficient cause, nor is this possible; for to be so it would have to exist prior to itself, which is impossible.” Because nothing can cause its own existence, God cannot be any part of the universe that he causes to exist. As creator, in other words, God must totally transcend the universe.

Since God is in this way “absent” from the universe, it is no surprise that there are atheists. But it is also precisely because the universe depends on God for its existence—that is, precisely because it is created—that we can know that God exists.

The truth of this last claim may not be self-evident to everyone. But it would be impossible to present adequately the reasoning that supports it without embarking on a somewhat long, technical, and abstract metaphysical discussion, and this is probably not the forum for that. So, I will just summarize that reasoning briefly.

It goes something like this: There are obviously contingent beings since we experience things being destroyed or breaking down all the time—a vase falls and shatters on the floor, a tree is struck by lightning and snaps in two, a family member or friend dies. Now, any contingent being ultimately depends for its existence on an absolutely necessary being, a being that cannot fail to exist. Consequently, a necessary being exists (since contingent beings do). This being must be “pure being,” infinite, and the only one of its kind. All other beings, then, must depend for their existence on it and they must be finite. The necessary being we are talking about here is what we mean by “God” (that is, what those of us who understand God to be a creator mean by “God”). You can find argumentation along similar lines across a dozen or so questions in the prima pars of Aquinas’s Summa theologiae and I am borrowing heavily from this.

The universe that we know and explore through our senses is obviously a finite universe. We can only see things that have a definite shape and color. We can only hear definite vibrations of the air. We can only touch things with surfaces. Etc. All of this implies finitude. But the universe available to the senses is also the only universe that can be methodologically subject to the inquiries of modern natural science. We will not find God—not God as such—in this universe. And yet, as the above argument indicates, this universe is entirely contingent, that is, created, and, therefore, points to God as the ultimate cause of its existence.

The noted atheist and theoretical physicist Stephen Hawking has long been interested in the question about the ultimate cause or reason for the universe’s existence. After recently joining Facebook, Hawking made this clear again in his first post:

I have always wondered what makes the universe exist. Time and space may forever be a mystery, but that has not stopped my pursuit. Our connections to one another have grown infinitely and now that I have the chance, I’m eager to share this journey with you. Be curious, I know I will forever be.

If Hawking is only looking for something in the universe to explain the universe’s existence—and that would appear to be the only place that physics and the other natural sciences could look—then he will be, indeed, forever curious since he will always be looking in the wrong place. Still, if he is going to get to God, Hawking is asking a question that could lead him there. He only has to realize (and this is a big “only”) that he has to go beyond natural science to find his answer.

But not all atheists are willing to ask Hawking’s question. In his famous BBC radio debate with Frederick Copleston in 1948 Bertrand Russell notoriously denied that there is any point to asking about the cause of the universe’s existence. “I should say that the universe is just there, and that’s all,” Russell told Copleston.

But in order to get the argument going that I made above, there is no need to ask about the cause of the universe as a whole. We only need to observe that some contingent thing or things exist, a fact that no reasonable, non-stubborn person could deny. If we thoroughly investigate the reason for the existence of these contingent things, we will come to see that a necessary being exists that is their cause, and only after that, much further on in the argument, will we see that the material universe as a whole—which we can assume is the universe that Russell is referring to—is contingent and requires a cause.

Atheists aside, I suspect that there are probably several objections from a Christian perspective that people might wish to raise against what I have said in this essay.

First, there are some Christian philosophers and theologians who hold that it is only by faith that we can know of the universe’s total dependence on God as creator. These are truths that reason cannot know on its own, or so they would argue. Now, if they mean that we cannot know by unaided reason that the world had a beginning in time (creatio ab initio temporis), then I agree and I think Aquinas has made a good case against this possibility. But if they mean that unaided reason cannot know about creation in the sense of creatio continua, then I believe they are quite mistaken. The argument I summarized above (which is substantially taken from Aquinas) does not rely in any formal way on faith.

Second, someone might object that God is present in the universe as the cause of its total existence. Well, it all depends on what is meant here by “present in.” If we mean that God is present in the universe as a part of it, then I disagree. This is impossible. If we mean that God is present in the universe by his existentially sustaining power, then I agree.

Third, it might be objected that in the Incarnation God does, indeed, become a part of what he causes and that this is true of the Church’s sacraments as well. Regarding the Incarnation, we should recall that, as the Council of Chalcedon teaches, Jesus’s divine nature and human nature, although they are united in him, are entirely “unmixed.” So, insofar as he is human, Jesus belongs to creation but insofar as he is God he continues radically to transcend it. The same can be said of the sacraments: the material aspect is part of creation while the divine aspect transcends it.

Fourth, someone might object that I have been talking mostly about the material universe and have left out the “spiritual universe” of human souls and angels. Admittedly, I have been talking mostly about the material universe. But if everything besides God depends on God for its existence—as I suggested in my argument—then that would include human souls and angels too. Thus, God also transcends the created spiritual universe.

Finally, people might wonder why I have not mentioned other features of the world that manifest God’s existence, such as the phenomena of change, beauty, or order. If I have not mentioned them, it is only because I have chosen to focus on other evidence. I agree that they are also ways to God.

But let me return to my original point. Creation both conceals God (making atheism possible) and reveals him (depriving atheism of ultimate rational justification). This paradox brings to mind the opening lines of Friedrich Hölderlin’s “Patmos”:

Near is
The god, and hard to grasp.
But where danger is
Grows the saving power also.

I am not aware that with these lines Hölderlin intended to refer to the same paradox that I do. In fact, I quite doubt that he did. Nevertheless, they sum up nicely—albeit allusively—what I wish to say. Because of his relationship to creation, God is both “near” and “hard to grasp” and so “where danger is, grows the saving power also.”

Editor’s note: The image above is a detail from “Creation and the Expulsion from Paradise” painted by Giovanni Di Paolo in 1445.

Joseph G. Trabbic

By

Joseph G. Trabbic is Associate Professor of Philosophy at Ave Maria University and is the assistant editor of Thomistica.net, a website for the academic study of St. Thomas Aquinas. Professor Trabbic earned his doctorate from Fordham University in 2008.

  • What atheists and Thomists overlook is the possibility that the universe is a subset of God.

    • Doyle

      If that were true there would be no sin.

      • Because cancer never happens in a human body?

        • R. K. Ich

          God doesn’t have a derived and mutable “body”.

        • St JD George

          Or like the 18 who died when the tower of Siloam fell on them. Death is unavoidable whether when we expect it or not, a reminder of our own mortality, and that each day is a gift. A good message for the invincible and the non-believers not to live thinking I’ll repent someday after I live the way I want now, for each day is not a given.

    • BM

      No. The universe is not a subset of God, and Thomists have demonstrated this in many places. Furthermore, confusing the universe in some way with God, such as Pantheists or Panentheists do, is an error condemned at Vatican I, Session 3, Chapter 1: ” Since he is one, singular, completely simple and unchangeable spiritual substance, he must be declared to be in reality and in essence, distinct from the world, supremely happy in himself and from himself, and inexpressibly loftier than anything besides himself which either exists or can be imagined.”

    • R. K. Ich

      It’s a heretical notion that introduces more problems than it solves.

      David Bentley Hart’s recent book on this very thing is a learned presentation of classical theism.

      http://www.amazon.com/The-Experience-God-Being-Consciousness/dp/0300166842

      • Nick_Palmer3

        RK, I agree. Professor Trabbic’s essay immediately brought Hart’s “The Experience of God” to mind. I’m currently struggling through it (degrees in engineering and economics, and an MBA provide a poor foundation for philosophy and theology). I actually find the essay above a help in grasping some of Hart’s heavier prose.

        • DE-173

          You are already ahead of the people who have it reversed; degrees in philosophy and theology, but don’t seem to understand that such a background provides a poor background in economics.

          • Nick_Palmer3

            Fair point, I think… My challenge is that when reading Hart (or Schall or many others) I can sense that there philosophy and theology have their underlying frameworks and typologies for describing phenomena. One probably picks these up in a (responsible, solid) undergraduate program. They are, however, hard to pick up through even serious reading, and I always feel as if I’m missing some of the nuance. Back-filling for this is a bit impractical in my late 50s, so I guess I’ll just struggle on looking at the cave wall when necessary, while trying to contort myself to look over my shoulder.
            There is probably some benefit to approaching these authors somewhat untainted by too much exposure to “conventional thinking.”

        • R. K. Ich

          I’m a sucker for anyone who has a masterful command of the English language, especially a Christian like Hart. All his stuff is challenging, but I’ll be happy to finish his latest too!

          I heard him lecture on it as well as defend it on a webcast. So he boiled down some of the more salient features for us hoi polloi!

          His “Atheist Delusions” is, on the other hand, a masterful and enjoyable read (and a bit easier) that broaches the same themes however briefly.

          I have an impish enjoyment when he hands god-haters their behinds to them in a debate. He’s always 10 steps ahead of them.

      • St JD George

        Wasn’t on my radar but looks interesting. Easy to read? Looks like Nick thinks not.

        • R. K. Ich

          No! For the love of all that’s good, avoid this book if you’re looking for an easy read. Rewarding? Challenging? Yes.

          Brain surgery is easy. Dr. Hart is not.

          P.S. Most normal human people have not read it all the way through. Dr. Hart is an alien or angel or something. Read “Atheist Delusions” for a softer intro.

          • Nick_Palmer3

            Not easy to read if you want to “get” everything. Absolutely worth the effort. It’s softened me up to read essay’s like Prof. Trabbic’s with more understanding. For me it’s somewhat like downloading a picture using a vintage 1990 phone modem. Some macro details show up on first read, others pop out over time. I have no regrets for the time (and highlighter ink) I’ve invested.

            And, it adds the comfort (per RKI) that there are exceptionally smart people out there — Hart, and even more so Benedict XVI, Pope St. JP II — who can defend religion and Christianity against pretty much any and all comers. While I may not be able to carry the day myself, this provides a bit more stability to and confidence in my own faith. As Benedict so powerfully put forward at Regensburg, Faith and Reason must exist together. Even more than peanut butter and chocolate.

  • NormChouinard

    God replied to Moses: I am who I am.

    • Monika Hug

      Spare me that Babble Nonsens

      • Steve Willy

        Well this article really opened my eyes. I mean, this is powerful stuff. Jesus head on the FSM?Awesome! After all, we are all atheists towards Thor, right? Some people are just enlightened enough to take it one step further. And we all know Darwin has already explained how the entire universe can function without any need for a creator. Except, well … the Kalaam Cosmological Argument, teleological argument, First Cause / Unmoved Mover, the impossibility of infinite causal regress, the necessity of at least one unconditioned reality, the Argument from Reason, Fine Tuning of Universal Constants, irreducible biological complexity, the argument from morality, Plantina’s modal ontological argument, the free will defense to the problem of evil. … Your entire world view lies shattered at your feet. If you truly honor the gods of reason and critical thinking half as much as you claim, you would plant your face firmly into your hand, step away from the device, find a quiet place, and rethink your life. Otherwise, thanks for this steaming nugget of regurgitated, pseudo-intellectual blather, you Hitchens-Dawkins parroting, basement dwelling, faux-analytical, GNU-Reditt obsessed clown.

  • jacobhalo

    What atheists can’t understand. Who or what is the first cause? We believe its God. They do not have an answer.

    • karldisher

      How can you have a first cause? Isn’t that why theists say that the Universe couldn’t just be? Because it couldn’t have created itself? How could God have just come into being?

      You also don’t have an answer, except to have this other dimension where physical things don’t break down and cause and effect do not hold. Yes, it can’t be disproved and there are no contradictions but I can come up with other hypotheses that’s can’t be disproved, like saying the universe just came into being like your God and has always been.

      You say, that’s absurd. I agree, it is absurd. Isn’t it also absurd to say a God just existed out of nowhere for an infinity and that one day poof, he decided to create a universe that is only 10 thousand years old. That is also absurd.

      Even if you say, there was a God that created everything, justifying the current religions with their contradictions and coming up with a logical argument that says Religion X is the right one is obviously impossible. Not to mention all the logical arguments against there being an interventionist God that does anything to prevent evil seems obvious to me.

      The Adam and Eve myth with Cain and then suddenly there are all these people on the planet trying to kill him and you expect me to go, oh okay, I don’t understand the context is all, this makes total sense?

      Fossils were put on the earth by Satan to fool us? Light travels at different speeds so it appears that the Universe is billions of years older than it actually is?

      This is why people think religious people are idiots. Even if you might be right about there being a God that created the universe, your myths are obviously man-made contrived to deify your society and put the force of God behind the ethics of the day.

      So there are two different questions, did a God create the universe?

      Two, did “YOUR GOD” create the universe?

      Does it really make sense that the number one, the very highest good, on the list of all goods is believing, not ‘acts’ or living ethically? Doesn’t that point to religions being man-made since they need you desperately to suspend your disbelief and back it up with a threat and a promise of heaven if you just do that one act?

      • Harry

        Well, it looks like you have settled the question. The overwhelming force of your logic leads one inexorably to just one conclusion and has rendered further discussion pointless. The meaning of life, the Universe and everything, contrary to the calculations of “Deep Thought,” is actually zero. How in the world did D.T. ever come up with 42?

      • Monika Hug

        Hear , hear

      • Steve Willy

        You have, inadvertently, given me the empirical evidence I have been looking for to support my new proof for the existence of God: the argument from douche.
        P1: if a maximally douchy entity exists, there must some transendant, countervailing entity which embodies all that which in not douchy. Otherwise, douchiness would have overwhelmed the universe.
        P2: non-douchy things exist, such as Jesus, America, freedom, baseball, Ronald Reagan, etc.
        P3: a maximally douchy entity exists (proven by your last comment ).
        P4: maximal douchiness does not dominate the universe based on the existence of P2 + sunsets, babies, Chuck Norris, etc.
        P5: the transendant embodiment of maximal non-douchiness, which allows for existence of P2, must be spacess, timeless, immaterial, omnipotent, in order to overcome the maximal douchiness of P3.
        That entity is what classical theists call God.
        Thanks again neck beard boy. In all your pseudo-intellectual, teenage angst ridden butthurt fury, you have proven the existence of God!

    • “GOD?” THE QUESTIONS ARE ENDLESS

      Using the word “God” simply raises more questions since “God” is beyond questions of causality, an uncaused cause. “God” is also beyond questions of time/timeless; beyond questions of space/spaceless; beyond questions involving anything that is measurable, beyond finitude in all ways/infinite. But a string of high sounding negative definitions tells us little about “God.” Such non-knowledge does not equal knowledge, it is just another way of admitting one does not know.

      Philosophers (including theistic ones) can’t untangle their own verbal knots when it comes to trying to define “infinite Beings” either personal, impersonal, semi-personal, super-personal, whatever those terms mean.

      How can a Being with no beginning or end in time or space that underwent no development and no interactions with other such Beings, have what we call a “personality?” Can a Being that is perfect have need of anything? “Personal desires, needs, wants, goals?”

      Christian scholar, Wolterstorff has difficulty with the doctrine of the “impassibility/passionless perfection” of God, since such a doctrine implies that God as God cannot genuinely “suffer,” so in what sense can an infinitely perfect Being suffer for humanity’s sins? One can save the idea of a truly suffering God by denying impassibility, but “Once you pull on the thread of impassibility, a lot of other threads come along… One also has to give up immutability (changelessness) and eternity. If God responds, then God is not metaphysically immutable; and if not metaphysically immutable, then not eternal.” Either admit God as God cannot really suffer or deny the impassibility of God. Or try to come up with a sketchy ingenious combo-explanation?

      If you start off with a Being perfect, then it lacks nothing. And if it lies beyond time then all is accomplished, period.

      And if such a Being is devoid of all evil, how can it create anything in which evil arises naturally–and so soon after creation, per the Eden fable?

      How does that Being’s total lack of evil NOT translate into the absence of evil in whatever comes directly out of the mind and will of that Being? God made all things directly out of His mind, will, and power, and God who is perfectly GOOD remains IN all things. So where does evil come from? Whence its origin? A logical in-coherency. Like the idea of a perfect impassible Being that suffers and has needs and wants.

      Let’s say God can do no evil but He can “imagine” evil, but why would He want to do so if He is a perfectly good God? To answer that question let’s simply hypothesize that evil is necessary in order to achieve a kind of goodness that is greater than any other known forms of goodness. But if God is perfect, weren’t all form of goodness already in God as God? Or is creation merely a play God puts on to act out the greatest form of goodness that already exists inside Himself? In that case creation is not necessary, since God needs nothing and there is no higher goodness than God. Creation is a mere play, mere spectator sport for God. And this world is just a net in which God catches souls for hell, souls that “fell” as soon as they first arrived in creation, just to entertain a Being that is perfect and infinite in all good ways, and hence, needs nothing, suffers nothing, but apparently likes to PLAY ACT as if it is moved by something. At least those are one’s logical options.

      And concerning biblical depictions of God, an allegedly perfect Being, how does such a perfect Being that knows all, “repent?” Why would a perfect Being find “blood sacrifices” necessary? Blood? It’s a perfect Being, it doesn’t need anything, not praises or sacrifices. Why was the blood of so many animals demanded and offered to such a Being if the Christian religion superseded the Jewish religion and only the blood of Jesus cleanses from sin? That’s a lot of blood to spill (like the ancient world wasn’t already awash with the blood of people fighting each other), and priests to spill it ritually, to avoid Yahweh’s “curses and anger.” Angry at what? Can a perfect Being experience anger or just perpetual bliss? It’s perfect by definition. Does such a perfect Being have “free will?” If so, can it do “evil?” If not, then what keeps such a Being from doing evil? I might also ask, not just whether such a Being has free will, but is there free will for the inhabitants of heaven? Can those in heaven do evil? If not, why not? And if there is no evil (and free will) in heaven for eternity, why wasn’t it like that in the original creation that arose just as directly from the mind and will of God as did heaven? The questions are endless.

      ____________________________

      • Monika Hug

        I could live with a ” Force ” which Set everything in Motion , but this personal Gawd from that Bible …….?

        • WallaceLeMay68

          Shut your neck bearded head you preening, pseudo-intellectual, GNU-Reditt obsessed, faux-analytical megadouche.

      • Steve Willy

        Nice wall of text neck beard boy. Your steaming stack of specious, pseudo-intellectual blather has done more to reaffirm my faith than a thousand miracles of the sun ever could.

    • Monika Hug

      What you guys don’t understand you don’t have an answer either

  • s;vbkr0boc,klos;

    As a convert from Judaism, I have had this (amiable) discussion with my Jewish brother. God’s omnipotence is profoundly scandalous to man. It means that God can do anything – become a crucified criminal, an infant, or hide Himself among the light-years, quarks and black holes.

    • St JD George

      Omnipotent yes, but scandalous only to the humanist who sees himself as the center of his own universe.

      • s;vbkr0boc,klos;

        I love when the ardent secularist says what God, if he existed, would or wouldn’t do. The arrogance is breathtaking!

        • St JD George

          Like a Freudian-esque slip.

    • Tom Wilson

      Do anything, except, apparently, be a part of the universe. According to this article, that is impossible, even for God. Who knew?!

  • Perhaps the logic of an atheiest is more sane than the ‘magical’ nonsense spouted by so called christians…. Put more tactfully…

    The greatest single cause of atheism in the world today is Christians who acknowledge Jesus with their lips and walk out the door and deny Him by their lifestyle. That is what an unbelieving world simply finds unbelievable. – Brennan Manning

    • DE-173

      Scandal is never good, but Peter denied Jesus three times.

      • That is an example, not an excuse. Matthew 7:21 is key.

        • DE-173

          I didn’t say it was an excuse, did I?

          I don’t accept that the “greatest single cause of atheism in the world today is Christians who acknowledge Jesus with their lips and walk out the door and deny Him by their lifestyle.”.

          While scandal is the cause of some atheism; the greatest cause is still the finite man imagining he construct his own reality.

          Atheism is a pseudo-intellectual pretense to self-deify that rests on the philosophical errors that our capacity to sense isn’t limited and it is possible to assert nullity.

          If an atheist rejects the existence of God because of the failings of adherents of religion; he or she better not be a baseball fan-where getting it right 1 time out of 5 is required; 1 out 4 is acceptable; 1 out of 3 is accomplished and 2 out of 5 hasn’t been accomplished in 73 years.

          • guest

            I hope it all works out for you. Preach the Gospel always, use words if necessary. – St Thomas of Assisi …. your words make the listener wrong. Doesn’t work very well. The chip on your shoulder gets in the way.alot.

            • jacobhalo

              That was St. Francis of Assisi. Jesus Said, go forth and preach to all nations.

            • DE-173

              I have no chip on my shoulder.

            • DE-173

              You seem to have a pretty big chip of your own. Speck. Log.

          • karldisher

            I don’t self deify, I fail to believe like you do. Let me put it this way. I don’t believe in unicorns.

            For argument sake, If you believed in unicorns, you could fill in the word God with Not believing in Unicorns in your essay above.

            Let me try.

            Not believing in Unicorns is a pseudo-intellectual pretense to turn oneself into a Unicorn that rests on the philosophical errors that our capacity to sense isn’t limited and it is possible to assert the non-existence of Unicorns.

            • DE-173

              There is a difference between failing to believe and believing in nothing.
              The simple reality is that atheism is a statement about God. It asserts nullity, and it is impossible to prove nullity.
              I understand agnosticism, even though I disagree with it.
              The very fact that you keep using the term “unicorn”, obviouslu believing it to be clever, efficacious or persuasive is rather telling.

            • Steve Willy



              Steve Willy
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              Discussion on Crisis Magazine 69 comments
              On God’s Responsibility for Atheism

              Steve Willy jacobhalo 10 minutes ago
              It’s another way of saying I hope the material universe isn’t all there is, but I’m not going to let that hope keep me from doing whatever I want. That, or they truly lack any concept of what God could be apart from a sky man.
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              The Nuclear Option: America Faces Most Dangerous Two Years in 150…

              Steve Willy Glorious_Cause 16 hours ago
              Shut your butt, your teeth are showing.
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              Steve Willy Glorious_Cause 16 hours ago
              Face it, doucho, you mindlessly cut and pasted that list and were too lazy or too stupid to remove McConnell’s name from it, now you’re trying to justify it post hoc. Why should anyone take your views on politics seriously after such a blatant display of trollishness? Or are you a leftist plant posing as a conservative and trying to sow division? Either way I am now firmly for McConnell if mindless a-clowns like you are against him. Oh, and to the 9 sycophants who upvoted you, stfu!
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              Steve Willy Glorious_Cause a day ago
              You listed McConnell as one of the Senators we should call to oppose McConnell. Dipshit.
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              The Top Five Reasons Marriage And Children Benefit Working Women

              Steve Willy Bluedogtalking a day ago
              Shut your pseudo-intellectual head you Godless, abortion mongering, analphile commie.
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              These people were real…was Jesus?

              Steve Willy David 2 days ago
              Thanks for that steaming nugget of regurgitated, pseudo-intellectual, GNU-Reditt obsessed, neck bearded blather, you Hitchens-Dawkins parroting megadouche.
              EditView

              Steve Willy David 3 days ago
              These thoughts you are having are a known side effect of the procedure you underwent to have your gonads permanently affixed to your boyfriend’s backside. Lots of other Brights are experiencing this. There are support groups available. There is no need to suffer alone, even if you don’t feel you can turn to the Author of the Universe.
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              Steve Willy raygsanders01 3 days ago
              These thoughts you are having are a known side effect of the procedure you underwent to have your gonads permanently affixed to your boyfriend’s backside. Lots of other Brights are experiencing this and there are support groups available . There is no need to suffer alone, even if you don’t feel you can turn to the Author of the Universe.
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              These people were real…was Jesus?

              Steve Willy raygsanders01 4 days ago
              Good, good. Let the butthurt flow through you. Let it consume you. It makes you stronger. It gives you focus. It brings you closer to Dawkins.
              2 EditView

              Steve Willy raygsanders01 4 days ago
              On some level you tacitly know that it’s time for you to shut your neck bearded head. Search your feelings, butthurt boy, you know this to be true. Indeed, if you truly honored the gods of reason and logic – if you acknowledged the existence of anything beyond your own hedonistic solipsism – then you would immediately plant your face firmly into your palm, step away from the device, find a quiet place, and rethink your life.
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              Steve Willy raygsanders01 4 days ago
              Thanks for another steaming nugget of regurgitated, pseudo-intellectual, neck bearded blather, you Hitchens-Dawkins parroting, basement dwelling, faux-analytical, GNU-Reditt obsessed clown.
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              Steve Willy 4 days ago
              “When everything is moving at once, nothing appears to be moving, as on board ship. When everyone is moving toward depravity, no one seems to be moving, but if someone stops, he shows up the others who are rushing on, by acting as a fixed point.”
              Blaise Pascal, quoted in The Silence of Adam: Becoming Men of Courage (Page 170)
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              Phlebotinum, young-Earth creationism and the willing suspe…

              Steve Willy AnonymousSam 9 days ago
              These thoughts you are having are a known side effect of the procedure you underwent to have your gonads permanently affixed to your boyfriend’s backside. Lots of other Brights are experiencing this and there are support groups available . There is no need to suffer alone, even if you don’t feel you can turn to the Author of the Universe.
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              Steve Willy AnonymousSam 9 days ago
              Thanks for this steaming nugget of regurgitated, pseudo-intellectual, GNU-Reditt obsessed, Hitchens-Dawkins parroting, neck bearded, basement dwelling butthurt.
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              Steve Willy P J Evans 9 days ago
              If you are offended by this, you have a moral obligation to the gods of reason and logic to place your face firmly into your hand, step away from the device, find a quiet place, and rethink your life.
              Indeed, yours is a worldview so petty, so trivial, so localized, so earth bound, so unworthy of the universe.
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              Discussion on Breitbart News Network 100 comments
              Two Percent of Anglican Clergy Don’t Believe in God

              Steve Willy 9 days ago
              This is exactly what I would expect to see from a denomination that was invented to appease one man’s hedonistic impulses.
              1 EditView
              Discussion on Breitbart News Network 732 comments
              Pope Blesses Work of Exorcists

              Steve Willy Forrest Coyne 9 days ago
              Shut your neck bearded head you Hitchens-Dawkins parroting, basement dwelling, pseudo-intellectual, GNU-Reditt obsessed, faux-analytical assclown.
              3 EditView
              Discussion on Slacktivist on Patheos 1288 comments
              Phlebotinum, young-Earth creationism and the willing suspe…

              Steve Willy Daniel 15 days ago
              You have, inadvertently, given me the empirical evidence I have been looking for to support my new proof for the existence of God: the argument from douche.
              P1: if a maximally douchy entity exists, there must some transendant, countervailing entity which embodies all that which in not douchy. Otherwise, douchiness would have overwhelmed the universe.
              P2: non-douchy things exist, such as Jesus, America, freedom, baseball, Ronald Reagan, etc.
              P3: a maximally douchy entity exists (proven by your last comment ).
              P4: maximal douchiness does not dominate the universe based on the existence of P2 + sunsets, babies, Chuck Norris, etc.
              P5: the transendant embodiment of maximal non-douchiness, which allows for existence of P2, must be spacess, timeless, immaterial, omnipotent, in order to overcome the maximal douchiness of P3.
              That entity is what classical theists call God.
              Thanks again neck beard boy. In all your pseudo-intellectual, teenage angst ridden butthurt fury, you have proven the existence of God!
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              Steve Willy P J Evans 15 days ago
              Thanks for this steaming nugget of regurgitated, pseudo-intellectual, neck bearded blather, you Hitchens-Dawkins parroting, basement dwelling, faux-analytical, GNU-Reditt obsessed clown. Yours is a worldview so petty, so trivial, so localized, so earth bound, so unworthy of the universe.
              see more
              1 EditView

              Steve Willy Warren 16 days ago
              Wow it sounds like you’re pretty smart, AND an atheist too? You must have read a lot of books. I guess God is imaginary then. Check mate, monothesim! Religion flies people into the moon! The Jesus story was stolen from Thor! If only believers just understood evolutionary cosmology better! Aquinas’ Five Ways were disproved by cosmic background radition. Oh, you don’t know about cosmic background radiation, you poor ignorant theist. Something about Zeus, Baal, Apollo… One step further! Dogs and bees can smell fear…. Baah! Allah also died and resurrected. Oh, you say he didn’t, well why should I have to know theology if God is imaginary. Baaah, the emperor has no clothes. Existence is not an attribute. We know now from quantum mechanics that nothing has a cause. The human head weights 8 pounds. Yada yada.
              Did I just pretty much sum up your entire view of reality?

            • Doge of Venice

              Mental images (phantasms) are infallible qua images. Because one is intelligent, he can convert the concept ‘unicorn’ into an image.

              Acts of human understanding are insights into phantasms. Immanently, such an image is intelligible; it resides on the level of understanding sensible data (mental images are material & sensible); it answers the question, “What is it?” One cannot imagine something unintelligible. But all of this is not yet on the level of judgement.

              When we proceed to the question, “Is it?”, THEN we are entering the level of judgment; of the absolute (meaning its reality transcends my mind or yours alone). The real is a compound of experienced data, grasping immanent intelligibility, and making true judgements. We don’t affirm ‘unicorns’ because we don’t have the sensible data component.

              God is affirmed as a pure act of understanding everything about everything. Grasping any number of particular, contingent intelligibilities in sensible data allows one to proceed–by analogy–to a formal, non-contingent intelleligibility: God.

              In short, the idea of ‘unicorn’ does not express what we mean by ‘God.’

    • St JD George

      I struggled with that hypocrisy too earlier in my life. The unbelieving crowd holds us under a lens to expose every fault and to a much higher standard yet never looks in the mirror to see we all have warts. Doesn’t help to act self righteous either creating the environment of two people screaming at each other (figuratively) but not communicated with one another. I believe that atheism is a disordered state of mind, in part because that essence of the whole being is undeveloped. Still, many will go their grave in that state, and many will only be honest at that moment of their final breath.

      • DE-173

        This is a common theme, but that has some variation in application, always producing a judgmental observer.
        An example was Luther, who claimed that humanity was inherently corrupt, (rather than weakened by sin) ; yet despite that leap became incensed when he observed sin, real and imagined, and as that observer, imagined he was exempt from the sin he claimed corrupted everybody else.

        • St JD George

          Is there a name given to that disorder? Pathological narcissist comes to mind, but perhaps that’s not the best fit because messianic delusion seems to be a good description too.

        • R. K. Ich

          In Luther’s defense (I hate doing this, but Reformation history and Luther’s theology has been a long-time passion of mine during my Protestant days), he distinguished between natural goodness and supernatural goodness. Man can exhibit all kinds of natural good that merited nothing before God. So only one Man (Christ) could offer authentic, supernatural good to the Father on our behalf. Heroic, pagan virtues were meaningful only as touching things earthly, but could not leverage divine favor because they fall spectacularly short of the first commandment.

          With that said, it true certain strands or expressions of total depravity tended to undermine even earthly virtues.

          • DE-173

            “I hate doing this, but Reformation history and Luther’s theology has been a long-time passion of mine during my Protestant days.”

            You should hate it, it’s a futile task. Shall I draw up my articles of impeachment?

            • R. K. Ich

              Tell me what you really think. 🙂

              I don’t defend Luther per se, but we certainly don’t want to heap upon him things he never defended. I do agree with you that ideas, even seminally, have great consequences. It’s no accident the Reformation wrought great things, good and evil. Christendom needed reform, not a shattering.

              Hillaire Belloc’s book on the disasterous effects of the Reformation was enlightening to me years ago. People who think the Reformation was an unmitigated good haven’t looked at it honestly or carefully.

        • St JD George

          I can’t help thinking about Luther every time I drive by yet another “church” named Green Tree Spiritual Center or some other detached reference to Christ. In my mind I can only imagine the preaching of the “natural good” like RK describes, like eat your veggies the man above wants you to. Belloc was profoundly prophetic, and Luther was a man self possessed even though rightfully critical but lacking in the good sense to bring about healing.

          • jacobhalo

            i don’t get when people say I’m spiritual but I don’t believe in a God. I can’t separate the two.

            • Steve Willy

              It’s another way of saying I hope the material universe isn’t all there is, but I’m not going to let that hope keep me from doing whatever I want. That, or they truly lack any concept of what God could be apart from a sky man.

  • St JD George

    As one who once dabbled with those thoughts once my perspective is that atheism is not a permanent or ordered state, but rather just a state of not being whole or under developed and not honest with oneself. Some were blessed to walk with Jesus and yet still rejected his identity, how telling is that about the human nature. Atheists lives are so in this world that they can’t or don’t reach out to grasp divinity because they are only focused on what is in front of them today. Others who act sure of themselves and that science can somehow explain away God can’t grasp the most fundamental limits of their ability to reason the finite nature of their life and infinite temporal, spatial and material nature of the universe. I know God calls us all to help bring others into a relationship with him, and it takes the loving patience of a parent of a child to help those develop their spirituality and faith. Not all will, many are called and few are chosen, and many never have anyone to help guide them.

  • NR

    I have always had somewhat of an issue with this argument, mainly for the following reason: the argument depends upon what is, essentially, an assumption. Because all things that we observe in nature are contingent beings, requiring a necessary being as their cause, we assume that the universe is such. To me, this seems like a rather significant assumption. After all, we have know idea how and when the laws of the physical universe as we know it today came into existence, especially considering how long the physical universe existed prior to the creation of man. The bottom line is that I do not see how we CAN know, with certainty, that the universe has always followed the same laws that it does now. The idea that because we have observed things as they are right now, therefore they must have always been that way, seems like a significant assumption to me.

    Now, obviously, as a Catholic, I believe in God. It seems a perfectly reasonable belief, a theory that I believe strongly enough to try to give my entire life to Christ, but if I try to examine the situation outside the lens of faith, it is very difficult for me to see God’s existence as much more than a theory.

    • michael susce

      “The bottom line is that I do not see how we CAN know, with certainty, that the universe has always followed the same laws that it does now”.
      There is absolutely no scientific evidence to assume the contrary. And if, according to Roger Penrose, if there were different laws, that would be irrelevant to the study of physics now. And according to him also, any assertion to other laws contradicting current laws of physics is total speculation (he does not say there are not laws we are not aware of but that they cant be contrary to current physical laws.
      “outside the lens of faith”…. according to this terminology, when you step outside the lens of faith, you step into another lens of faith, faith in reason which according to Chesterton is to enter into insanity. He asserts that the insane man has not lost his reason, but that reason is all he has.
      And according to your complete devotion to God, it is “much more than a theory”
      And is the evil of the Holocaust just a theory?

  • Premjit Talwar

    This argument is utterly futile, if there is no God.

  • JohnE_o

    Well, that gets you to Deism, I guess…

  • M.J.

    Would it not be that the image of Adam and Eve in the picture is revealing – how their first choice to deny God by denying His will for them , thus being expelled from God’s Presence is what makes it harder and one way that those who believe can help those who struggle could be , to use deliverance prayers – ‘in Name of Jesus I take authority over each and every spirit that has come against us and ( name person ) I bind you away; thank You Lord ‘ ; if such prayers could deliver persons from the spirit of pride /rebellion / resenment /fear – all of which can keep persons from wanting to accept God’s love and desire to live in the joy and responsibilty from same , then many of us , including professors, might spend more time doing just that , often enough too !

  • hombre111

    I first heard this argument when I was a sophomore in high school, and I felt a soaring sense of discovery, the feeling that I had set my feet on solid ground. But later, I realized that this the philosopher’s God, a sound conclusion at the end of a good argument. I picked up the discussion again when, as a seminarian, I studied Scholastic Philosophy. This God of reason did not move my heart, and I almost dropped out of the seminary at that point. But it was in theology that I had a better grasp of the God of Love, the God whose Word was made Flesh and dwelt among us. Here, it is a matter of faith. And also trust, as I put my life in the hands of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.

    • R. K. Ich

      Reading the Summa was a mystical experience for me. Much like reading St. Augustine’s “Confessions” or “City of God”.

      The Holy Spirit has his fingerprints all over Aquinas. I felt nothing cold; only fire.

      • hombre111

        I know what you mean by fire. When I was a seminarian, it had that experience when I read Merton, and the experience continues when I do Lectio, and sometimes in the middle of Mass. A few years ago, I put the Summa on my Kindle and read a portion of it every day for months. I also had Augustine’s Confessions and City of God. I decided Augustine moved me much more. I think certain authors touch us, others don’t. For instance, some people are profoundly moved by Pope John Paul, while I consider Pope Benedict’s words much closer to my heart. Rahner and Balthasar were two great theologians of the last century. I found them both instructive, but Balthasar more inspiring.

    • Scott W.

      Feelings are not a reliable guide to the Truth.

      • hombre111

        I think both feelings and logic can lead us to the truth, but we begin with feelings. That involves a whole discussion of how we come to reality.

        • Scott W.

          Irrelevant. Your declaration “This God of reason did not move my heart, and I almost dropped out of the seminary at that point.” is subjectivist drivel and no more points out a flaw in Scholasticism than my preference for vanilla ice cream proves a flaw in chocolate.

          • R. K. Ich

            That’s why I replied to him about my subjective experience with scholasticism — didn’t prove its worth, only that I had a certain experience.

            • hombre111

              First, my feelings definitely opened the way to God. The God of reason is not the God of Scripture. When I celebrate the Mass, or when I pray the office or rosary, it is not with some kind of deductive process, but with the heart lifted up by symbol (not rational) and the Word of God (not a book of theological propositions, but a story and a witness). As Paul said, the Cross is foolishness. The objective thinkers in Athens laughed him out of town.

              Second, as modern philosophy, psychology, and science clearly indicate, there is no such thing as the purely objective. Spend some time with Iain McGilchrist’s “The Master and his Emissary” A psychiatrist and neuroscientist, McGilchrist notes the difference between the right and left hemispheres of the brain, and the different view each hemisphere brings to consciousness.

              Catholics are always falling into the fallacy of reductionism, trying to jam the greatest of all Mysteries into the narrow space of their minds. As members of the modern Western world, they are dominated by the left hemisphere, and the deepest parts of life are passing them by as they surrender to Enlightenment fundamentalism. A left brain approach to the world demolishes the ability to live within mystery, which lies at the heart of religion. For instance, when I receive Communion, I do not get lost in the substance-accident argument that underpins the Scholastic teaching of Transubstantiation. Without waiting for some kind of comfortable explanation, I surrender to the overwhelming mystery of the Risen Christ and let him fill my mind and heart with his love and life.

              St. Thomas had such an experience when he celebrated Mass and looked at all he had written, calling it “straw.” Try the deep prayer of the great saints. I would suggest the ancient Jesus Prayer, or the Rosary. There is a reason we divide it into “mysteries.”

              • papagan

                “The God of reason is not the God of Scripture.”

                You think so? No integration of faith and reason? Is the God of reason a pure fiction? Is there more than one God?

                • hombre111

                  I apologize for not making myself clear. Catholics, in contrast to Protestants, see an integration between faith and reason. Thus, a definition of theology: Faith seeking understanding. But at the same time, even though natural theology and reason can lead us to the God of the Universe and the God of St. Thomas’s arguments for the unmoved mover, only revelation found in Scripture can lead us to God the Father, Jesus Christ his only begotten Son, and the Holy Spirit. Only revelation and faith can convince us that Jesus who died on the cross is Jesus Christ, Messiah, risen from the dead.

                  • papagan

                    That’s more clear. The Creator established via philosophical reason and the God of faith are one in reality, but the perspective of faith is much more rich than that of unaided natural reason, and it is only by means of reason elevated by faith that one grasps the truth that the Creator established via philosophical reason is not in reality other than the God of faith.

                    • hombre111

                      Excellent. And now I am going to bed.

      • papagan

        Truth is apprehended by the intellect, not by feelings. Apart from intellect, human feelings are blind.

  • michael susce

    “It is God’s very transcendence that makes atheism possible”
    No.
    Paul says no man is without excuse. Romans 1:20 states, For since the creation
    of the world, God’s invisible qualities-his eternal power and divine
    nature-have been clearly seen, being understood from what has been made , so
    that men are WITHOUT EXCUSE”.
    Secondly, the logic of this article dictates that God’s very transcendence makes the
    Holocaust, pedophilia and any other mortal sin possible. It’s God’s fault!!????
    No. If God is “in a sense” responsible for atheism then he is “in a sense” responsible
    for sin!!?? What the….
    No, Stephen hawking IS looking in the right place according to Paul, Thomas Aquinas and most of humanity AND the writer of this article, but does not want to admit the truth revealed by inductive, deductive and abductive reasoning based on the discoveries of science, philosophy and 5000 years of human history. This denial is common among some atheists who admit to denying the existence of God in light of the scientific evidence (please refer to Father Jaki’s book, God and the Cosmologists).

    Bertrand Russell stated that there is not enough evidence for the belief in God,
    therefore, it is God’s fault or it is “in a sense” God’s responsibility!!!!
    Finally, if “atheism is without rational justification” it does not follow that God is responsible for atheism because the rational justification is there, therefore, men are without excuse.
    If the fear of God is the beginning of wisdom, then creation is the beginning of belief in God.
    .

  • Doug

    It’s mythology people, religion that is, Christianity is only one of a hundred and fourteen plus on this planet!

    • R. K. Ich

      And secularism leads the pack as the most fantastic form of religion. The God of the Hebrews requires far more intellectual vigour than the navel-gazing hedonism that is secularism.

  • Scott W.

    Lots of religions in the world, therefore none of them can be true? Isn’t there a name for that fallacy?

  • monk_87

    “If we mean that God is present in the universe as a part of it, then I disagree. This is impossible”

    I’m not sure I can agree with this. It is impossible..rationally speaking. But it’s too far beyond us to lay down a proposition as such. With the eyes of faith we see that God is not only above all but through all, and in all (Ephesians 4:6). If the meaning is that God is in and with, but distinct from, then yes..I think that’s right.

  • Harry

    Roger Penrose, a famous British mathematician and friend of Stephen Hawking (they co-authored the book, *The Nature of Space and Time*), in his book, *The Road to Reality: A Complete Guide to the Laws of the Universe,* calculates the odds of the “Big Bang” producing by chance a universe so low in entropy (disorder) that the emergence and development of life was even a possibility to be 1 in 10^10^123. How big is that number? To write it out without using exponential notation would require writing so many zeros after the “1” that even if you wrote a zero for each proton, neutron and electron in the observable universe, and a zero for all the other elementary particles in it as well, you would still fall far short of writing down the figure needed. In other words, it was virtually impossible for the “Big Bang” to have mindlessly and accidentally configured the Universe such that life would be a possibility.

    Atheism requires a huge, irrational, blind faith.

  • Facile1

    Excellent article.

    However, the following statement:

    “God’s transcendence is not the proper cause of atheism but an accidental cause of it.”

    ASSUMES atheism can be ’caused’.

    Are we born believing in GOD or is FAITH nurtured?

  • Neither does it help that the Son of God has gone AWOL for the past two millennia. “I am with you always” [invisibly]. And if not Jesus, then we probably could use at least a few more wonder working inspired prophets (like Moses, Elijah, Elisha) telling us what’s what with God, because the most highly qualified biblical scholars in the world can’t seem to agree even on how best to interpret Scriptures.

  • Paul

    I have one problem : If God transcends the universe and “cannot be any part of the universe that He causes to exist” then where does our Lord , Jesus Christ, fit ?
    Is Christ not God’s beloved son and part of the universe &, more importantly, came down from heaven to save us ?
    We must remember that in our Creed Jesus is “consubstantial” to God the father.

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