Atheists can object to proof of God’s existence, but they can’t escape it
March 10, 2020 (LifeSiteNews) — Last week I presented the “teleological argument” that demonstrates God’s existence from the way non-rational things act consistently to achieve certain goods just as rational beings do, even though they lack the intelligence to understand the end for which they are acting and therefore could not be in themselves responsible for that behavior. Such reasoning is often called an “argument from the divine government,” meaning that there must be a sovereign ruler who places in things the “law” of their nature and activities so as to bring about not merely the good of individual species, but also the perfection of the universe as a whole.
In like manner, starting from the evident existence of laws of nature — patterns of action and reaction that enable physical things to move, grow, combine, and dissolve so as to attain order, symmetry, functionality, balance — one can argue to the necessity of a law-giver who has structured the physical universe in an orderly way.
A related argument can be made about the structures of natural things — e.g., the eye or the brain or even a single cell, which display a purposefulness and irreducible complexity impossible to attribute to a random sequence of meandering material causes.
Objections raised against such teleological arguments are numerous. One objection claims that speaking of “the good” is a mere abstraction or a projection of human consciousness onto non-human things. Another objection would claim that one cannot jump from artificial examples (e.g., the fact that a chair requires an intelligent artist, the carpenter) to nature itself. It is commonly asserted that a combination of chance events and material necessity is, after all, sufficient to account for diversity, order, and beauty.
These objections fail to address the very facts that the teleological argument seeks to account for. We can say there are at least three.
First, the good is a fundamental and irreducible aspect of reality, since each thing is seen to preserve itself in existence as long as possible and to resist its own demise. For a wasp, it is good to exist; it is good to reproduce; it is good to promote the species. It is therefore good for the wasp to behave in a certain way or to have certain wisely structured organs, because it is good to attain the end of promoting the species. This would be true whether human beings were observing it or not. Only one who denies that anything whatsoever is good can evade this argument, yet the denial of the concept of good is contrary both to reason and to experience. Moreover, anyone who tries to argue against the good refutes himself, because he would not be able to explain why he thinks he should be arguing for the truth.
Second, nature, far more than art, demands an explanation in terms of design (that is, a directing intelligence). Natural entities wholly lacking in rational intelligence — that is, the ability to cognize the relationship between means and ends and dispose of their affairs with free choices based on that cognition — display behavior astonishing for its intelligibility, its perfect proportion between means and end, which can never be the result of chance. The same may be said of natural organs or systems that reveal a stunning intricacy far exceeding the greatest works of human hands. Truly now, how many monkeys, typewriters, and billions of years would be necessary to produce even a single respectable sentence, much less an entire Shakespeare play?
Third, matter is not capable of designing itself but always presupposes form, the source of matter’s order and functionality. Does rubber turn itself into a ball, an eraser, or a pair of galoshes? Form, in turn, presupposes purpose, as even the most elementary observation of plants and animals demonstrates.
Not for nothing, then, does Sacred Scripture testify that God’s existence may be known from the world He has made — or to speak more precisely, that His existence is evident and can be missed only by one’s own fault:
For all men who were ignorant of God were foolish by nature; and they were unable from the good things that are seen to know him who exists, nor did they recognize the craftsman while paying heed to his works[.] ... For from the greatness and beauty of created things comes a corresponding perception of their Creator. (Wisdom 13:1,5)
Ever since the creation of the world, his invisible nature, namely, his eternal power and deity, has been clearly perceived in the things that have been made. So they are without excuse; for although they knew God they did not honor him as God or give thanks to him, but they became futile in their thinking and their senseless minds were darkened. (Romans 1:20–21)
But ask now the beasts and they will teach you, the birds of the air and they will tell you[.] ... Who does not know that the hand of the Lord has wrought all these things? (Job 12:7, 9)
The heavens declare the glory of God and the firmament proclaims his handiwork. (Psalm 19:1)
Especially in these passages but also in many others, we see that divine revelation and natural reason concur in the evidentness and cogency of the teleological argument. It is one more example of how faith and reason work together for the salvation of human intelligence and the greater glory of Almighty God.
The atheists make a show of sophistication, but they, it turns out, are the irrational ones — and their views imperil the progress of genuine understanding and wisdom. St. Thomas Aquinas offers us a more compelling and comprehensive approach to the study of God and His relationship with the world.