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How to Answer Protestants Forum: Answering an "atheist"

by Catherine Frakas 01 Aug 2002

Answering an atheist QUESTION from Luis on August 26, 2002 Mr. Martz:
First of all, I want to tell you I've been following this website for quite some time now, and I love the work that all of you are doing! I'm a cradle catholic, and it has been through this website that I've been able to fill many voids I had in my religious education, and learn many things I didn't even know I ignored!
The reason of my question is this: I had a conversation with one of my relatives, who unfortunately seems to have drifted away from religion. The set of ideas that he presented to me left me confused on how to answer them (partly because some of them are simply obvious errors to me).
Basically he said that God doesn't exist, the Universe has always existed, and there are/might be spiritual beings.
This kind of position confused me because is not completely materialistic (since it acknowledges at least the possibility of spiritual beings). Could you advise me how to tackle such notions?
I remember that St. Thomas Aquinas, in his Summa theologica, presented a set of proofs of the existence of God, but the only one that comes to my mind (and I understand!) is the one stating Him as the creator of everything there is. Could you remind me of the others? and if you could also attach a brief explanation, I'd be grateful.
May God bless your works and make them fruitful, for his greater glory, and protect and help you all, so that you'll be able to continue, every day with renewed enthusiasm.
P.S. Please help me pray for this person, that he may soon see the Truth.
ANSWER by Mr. Troy Martz on October 9, 2002 Dear Luis:
Thank you so much for your kind words. Knowing that we can help others continue their Christian education and mature in their understanding of the faith is the greatest reward (on this side of Heaven) for the efforts we put in here.
First, here is a summary of Thomas' five proofs for the existence of God. Remember that we are looking not for scientific proof like you would get in a lab since we don't have scientific instruments that can measure God. What we are looking for are philosophical proofs. That doesn't mean that they are less true, just that reason proves many things are true that cannot be measured.

Prime Mover Proof: The chain of movers must have a first mover because nothing can move itself. Here moving is not limited to location but means any kind of change. Basically this is the kernel of Newton's Theory on Inertia: An object in motion (or at rest) remains in motion (or at rest) unless acted upon by an outside force. If something is moving, we reasonably assume that it is being acted upon by something else. Follow these causes back until you find a mover that is not acted on by an outside force and you have God -- the source for all motion. Efficient Cause: For every effect, there is a cause. If there were no first efficient cause, or cause of the universe coming into being, then there could be no second causes because second causes (i.e. caused causes) are dependant on (i.e. caused by) a first cause (i.e. an uncaused cause). But there are second causes all around us. Therefore there must be a first cause.
Necessary Being: This one can be difficult to follow. If there were no eternal, necessary, and immortal being, if everything had a possibility of not being, of ceasing to be, then eventually this possibility of ceasing to be would be realized for everything. We would have universal death (not the eternal existence of the universe that your friend envisions). If there is no God, then there must have been infinite time, the universe must have always been here, with no beginning, no first cause. But since universal death has not happened as would happen given no eternal being and infinite time, there must be a necessary being. A being that cannot not be and cannot possibly cease to be. That is God.
Greatest Perfection: This one appeals to our sense of taste and value -- all of our value judgements of perfection and goodness imply an ultimate perfection and goodness. [Note that judgements about imperfection and evil do NOT require an evil god -- they are merely furthest removed from the ultimate good.] Without a real ideal standard of perfection, all of our value judgements are meaningless.
Proof by Design: This is the most powerful since it is the easiest for our reason to grasp. Everywhere in our daily life we encounter artifacts that intrigue us. When something is obviously man-made, we automatically assume that there was a designer. You would never dream that your computer just happened by a random combination of silica and plastic. Nor would you assume that the programming was accomplished by dropping marbles on a keyboard. Yet, even my hamster's brain is more complicated then the most sophisticated computers. To assume that hamster brains are no more than a random mix of chemicals is considerably less reasonable than the dropping of marbles. This proof also includes an important twist: if you believe that your brain is the result of random combinations of chemicals, how can you trust your reasoning? Since there is no design to your brain you cannot assume that it is capable of determining the truth.

Of course, your relative's denial of God has little to do with reason. He knows that if he accepts that there is a God, and that that God has given certain precepts for living life on this earth, then he will be responsible for his actions at the end of his life. Many find it easier to deny that God exists than to change their lifestyles. Spiritual beings don't give the Ten Commandments. People like that want God to be a doting Grandfather rather than Our Father, Who art in Heaven.
I heard a saying that is apt for these type of people: Rather than making yourself into God's image, you have made God into your image and your God is boring!
That boring image of God may not be challenging, but it also cannot give you the peace needed to survive the trials of this life.
Pax Christi, Troy
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