Jesuit author makes atheist arguments against God look silly

By  Brian Welter, Catholic Register Special
  • December 2, 2010
New ProofsNew Proofs for the Existence of God: Contributions of Contemporary Physics and Philosophy, by Robert J. Spitzer, (Wm. B. Eerdmans, 319 pages, softcover, $30.99).

Post-Newtonian physics has put philosophy and theology in the curious position of having to turn back to the Middle Ages. Suddenly what the scholastic theologians had to say about metaphysics and ontology is au courant.

When the apple fell on Newton’s head he came up with laws of physics which described a fully functioning closed system. Those laws could keep the whole thing going forever and had no absolute need for God. St. Thomas Aquinas’ “uncaused cause” argument thereby fell into disfavour. Metaphysics lost credence and was replaced at the centre of philosophy by epistemology — the question of how we know what we know. Ontology, the study of being, which had been the main preoccupation of medieval Western metaphysics, was bypassed.

Throughout New Proofs, Jesuit Father Robert Spitzer reminds his readers of the newfound importance of metaphysics and ontology, given the discoveries of physics in the past century. He contrasts the methods of science with those of metaphysics, showing the absurdity of atheists’ claims when they use science to discuss metaphysics. Science, contrary to the arguments of atheists, can’t be used to make metaphysical claims.

Spitzer’s eloquent, precise discussion reveals atheist writers such as Christopher Hitchens, Sam Harris and Richard Dawkins as uneducated plebians. Their reasoning looks childish compared to that of Spitzer, whose own style evokes traditional Catholic emphasis on right philosophical method and the correct relationship between theology and philosophy.

Yet the book is not stuffy or outdated. In fact, it follows Pope John Paul II’s encyclical Fides et Ratio and calls for a more mature, yet traditional, relationship between faith and reason, theology and philosophy.

{sa 0802863833}Metaphysics takes up where science finds its limits of reasoning. The apparently unsolvable formulations concerning the mathematical makeup of the universe leads to deeper questioning. How we can proceed to and through this questioning forms the basis of the discussion of New Proofs.

Spitzer shows that reason and philosophy are theology’s handmaidens, something even theologians sometimes forget.

New Proofs accords readers great respect by demanding they understand, through clear, short explanations, the major findings and puzzles experienced by physics since the end of Newtonian thinking. The big bang theory, first proposed by Belgian priest Fr. Georges Lemaitre, is discussed in detail, and returned to often. Ironically, scientists originally opposed this theory, fearing it would open the way to the possibility for a creator and a renewed place for Aquinas’ uncaused cause.

This leads to a discussion of the nature of time, and how before the big bang, time didn’t exist. Readers get a sense of the historical debate surrounding this idea, with Spitzer noting: “Time is a feature of the physical universe. It is something physical, just like atoms or light.” He fearlessly connects this kind of thought with the deposit of faith.

In this instance, he turns to St. Augustine: “His argument was theological, but parallels the argument of the modern cosmologists. Time, noted Augustine, is something created — it is not God, so it must be something created by God.” If time had existed before creation, “that meant something (namely time) had already been created.” It is therefore meaningless to ask what God was doing before creation.

The extensive proofs Spitzer uses for the existence of God form the heart of the book. He borrows from John Henry Newman the idea of a “network of evidence.”

He uses the network of advances in physics and philosophical reasoning to discuss the nature of God and the reality of His existence — no small task in any era and provocative nowadays. His fearlessness, lack of apology or defensiveness, and simplicity of argument set an authoritative tone throughout, something badly needed in a Christianity awash in sentimental-anecdotal nonsense.

His definition of God as “unconditioned reality” proceeds from quantum theory, since this theory “gives very lucid examples of the traditional notion of ontological simplicity.”

In his unconditioned reality argument, Spitzer shows that a cat depends on cells and the structure of cells, and that cells in turn depend on molecules and the structure of molecules. One must, he reasons, be able to climb the ladder of dependency until one reaches something that depends on nothing, on something self-sufficient. The atheists have argued that this ladder can go on infinitely, and that God could therefore Himself be created. Yet, again fearlessly and without the propaganda of the other side, Spitzer shows the nonsense of this argument. An infinite ladder of dependency would ultimately yield nothing.

And so it goes, proof after proof. Religion can live harmoniously with science. As Fides et Ratio claimed, such a relationship does not limit either science or religion, but gives a new freedom and fresh perspective to each.

(Welter is a freelance writer currently based in Taiwan.)

Please support The Catholic Register

Unlike many media companies, The Catholic Register has never charged readers for access to the news and information on our website. We want to keep our award-winning journalism as widely available as possible. But we need your help.

For more than 125 years, The Register has been a trusted source of faith-based journalism. By making even a small donation you help ensure our future as an important voice in the Catholic Church. If you support the mission of Catholic journalism, please donate today. Thank you.