What is the relationship between faith and reason? Can God’s existence be proved – and can such proofs bring someone to God?
Two major theologians have provided the foundation of some form of rational argument that is still used today is some form or another.
Anselm’s Ontological argument (which actually not an argument but a meditation) or Proslogian, says that if we can conceive the idea of a God, then the reality of God must be far greater than the idea.
Thomas Aquinas used his five ways for proof of the existence of God. For Aquinas, the world mirrors God, as its creator. God has stamped a divine signature within the very essence of creation.
- Things in the world are in motion or change (i.e. rain, sun, moon). The world is not static. Something causes this movement. For Aquinas, unless there is an infinite number of causes, there must be an unmoved mover – one from whom all movement comes = God.
- Similarly, cause and effect in the world. There must be one cause = God.
- Existence of contingent beings (that is beings who are not a matter of necessity.) So human beings are NOT necessary for the creation to exist. But there must be a NECESSARY being = God
- Where does values come from such as truth, goodness, nobility and love. There must be something which truth, noble, and good = God
- The world shows traces of intelligent design. Creation has seasons, flowers know when to flower, birds know when to migrate. There must be a designer = God (This is also known as the Teleological Argument, or Argument from Design.)
Of course, as with all suggestions, there are criticisms of Aquinas’ thoughts:
- Arguments from motion only work if you can prove that the cause and effects actually stop somewhere. Why not have infinite causes and effects
- These arguments do not point to the Christian God – it could prove many gods exist
- It does not prove that God continues to exist. God may have created the world and no longer exists now.
For both Anselm and Aquinas, they began their arguments with the foundation that God already exists.
Also, trying to describe God, the incomprehensible and indescribable shows the limitation of human language. We use analogies and metaphors to describe him i.e. father, shepherd, son, king, judge, wise, good strong. All these analogies could have negative connotations for some people. Jesus gave his life as a ransom. What does this mean? To whom was the ransomed paid? The Devil, God?
Also John Calvin came up with the idea of Accommodation. That is, God spoke to us as an adult would to a little child, appreciating that we would have limited intellectual resources. He adapted his language to our capabilities. So for Calvin, the creation story is God adapting to us and giving us something we could understand.
However, at the last resort, arguments and reason do not work. There is no argument to prove the existence of God. So how do we know if God exists?
An Eastern Orthodox Monk from Cyprus says that:
Christ himself revealed to us the method. He told us that not only are we capable of exploring God but we can also live with him. And the organ by which we can achieve that is neither our senses nor our logic but our hearts.
Those who wish to investigate whether God exists must employ the appropriate methodology which is none other than the purification of the heart from egotistical passions and impurities.
Most believers are blind believers or religious ideologists. To know God exists is to fully experience him in our hearts.
But to finish with, I think that an Australian theologian, Ludwig Wittenstien, says it all. Can we use reason to bring people to faith?
A proof of God’s existence ought really to be something by means of which one could convince oneself that God exists. But I think that what believers who have furnished such proofs have wanted to do is to give their belief an intellectual analysis and foundation, although they themselves would never have come to believe as a result of such proof.
A brilliant and I think most relevant point. A rational argument for God’s existence is a personal thing. It effects you and you only. Reason is for the individual not for mass polemic.
After all how can you reason the moment that God, through Christ and the Holy Spirit met you?