NEW PROOFS FOR THE EXISTENCE OF GOD: CONTRIBUTIONS OF CONTEMPORARY PHYSICS AND PHILOSOPHY
By Robert J. Spitzer
Published by Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Co., $28
Jesuit Fr. Robert Spitzer believes in a “Big Bang” God. Others do not, have not and probably never will. Dietrich Bonhoeffer once warned us that a God who let us prove his existence would be an idol. Immanuel Kant would seem to share that sentiment when he declared that human reason, as mighty as it is, can neither prove nor disprove God’s existence. Perhaps Pascal said it best of all with his sage epigram: “The heart has reasons that reason knows not.”
Obviously, Spitzer, author of New Proofs for the Existence of God, does not share their convictions. Standing four-square in the tradition of Aristotle and Aquinas, his marshaling of new proofs for God’s existence is a bold affirmation of the power of human reason to demonstrate precisely what others reject as impossible. Situating his arguments at the contemporary scene of the attack dogs of aggressive atheism, he pleads a convincing case that the Hutchins and Dawkins of this world are still bogged down in a stale 19th-century positivistic notion of science.
Spitzer’s clear presentation of cutting-edge physics and cosmology give new heft to what has been known as natural theology and the arguments for God as first mover, first cause and super-intelligent designer. With arguments culled from philosophy and science, he robustly advocates that many discoveries of contemporary physics clearly support the existence of what he describes as a transcendent, supernatural, creative power, identifiable as the origin of our universe. Right out of the starting gate, he informs us that the purpose of his book is to present this new evidence from astrophysics and cosmology as “the strongest rational foundation for faith that has come to light in human history.”
Why does he call his proofs for the existence of God “new”? Simply because it is only over the past 70 years that physics has discovered the data he now mobilizes to buttress his philosophical arguments. Evidently this is not a book designed for sunny beach browsing or for the idle chatter of the cocktail circuit. Aside from the complexity of the philosophical arguments, the physics alone will have the reader reaching for the Excedrin. Spitzer plays the full keyboard of contemporary physics to make his case: big bang theory, string theory and quantum theory, as well as infinite time. Still, it is encouraging to find a theologian so conversant with state-of-the-art physics seriously trying to integrate its data into the theological debate about the divine existence.
Spitzer does not rely solely on his own expertise, but turns to a number of physicists to supply the research for the physical evidence presented in Chapters 1 and 2. He also includes a section by Dr. Bruce Gordon, senior fellow at the Seattle-based Discovery Institute, who confidently asserts that the discoveries of contemporary physics lead inexorably to the most plausible conclusion, and maybe even the only reasonable one, that there must be a transcendent intelligent agency to account for the existence of our universe.
Now we should never judge an author’s thought by the company he keeps, but in fairness to the reader it must be noted that the Discovery Institute is renowned for its advocacy of “intelligent design creationism.” In this context, the only essential question is: Do the data of astrophysics and cosmology robustly support the philosophical claims for God’s existence?
There is no doubt that much evidence of contemporary physics points in that direction. It is also true that even some of the most highly respected physicists twist and turn to evade looking at these pointers to the transcendental.
When Stephen Hawking pontificates that physics can explain why there is something rather than nothing, any philosopher worth her salt knows he is talking beyond his pay scale. Still, does Spitzer give too much weight to the power of physics to provide “new proofs” of God’s existence? There are a number of reasons to ask this question. The meaning of words used by physicists often radically diverges from our everyday use. Physicist Stephen Barr has pointed out that when physicists use the word universe, they do not mean, as we do, “the totality of all that is,” but rather “ a single, self-contained physical structure, comprising a ‘space-time manifold’ and particles and other things moving around in that space time.”
How can we mere mortals wrap our minds around that? Even the word nothing means something quite different to them than to us.
The final model of the universe is far from settled and we still need to clarify the relationship between scientific models and the world in which we live our daily lives. May not even the words rational proof be far too large a claim? Hans Küng certainly thinks so. In his book The Beginning of All Things, after reviewing much the same evidence from physics as Spitzer, he concludes that the whole proof for a singularity (big bang) at the beginning and a designer God “hardly convinces me.”
He shares the reservations of many physicists that in principle no physical law can imply the existence of an actual infinity. Spitzer obviously thinks otherwise. As the medieval theologians were wont to say of themselves, “Doctors will dispute as it is the business of doctors to do.”
[Redemptorist Fr. David L. Smith is professor emeritus at Duquesne University in Pittsburgh.]