What Is The Ultimate?

To search or not to search? That is the question. Socrates said, “A life unexamined is not worth living.” Surely, the search for knowledge, purpose, meaning, direction, identity and reality as a whole is quite the task. The question to ask then is: What is the Ultimate Reality? It would be found in Transcendence where all reality finds its meaning and purpose. It is the final end of this search. This metaphysical quest for ultimate reality is as old as man is that which seeks to define and discuss being or reality. “One of the tasks of general ontology is to formulate a categorical classification of reality and study the features of each ultimate category that makes it unique.”[1] According to Aristotle there are ten categories of reality: “substance, quantity, quality, relation, place, time, posture, state, action and passivity,” substance being the most fundamental. Categorizing the substance of man is the bottom rung of the ladder, which leads to the next logical question: Is there a substance beyond man that is responsible for all other beings? Can man climb this ladder to discover an Ultimate reality responsible for all of reality?

With that said, is anyone truly beyond this search? Whether one realizes it or not, there is a search for purpose and meaning that goes beyond mankind of which many seek to rest their hope on, live in accordance with, and even worship. Whether one views the Transcendent as backward, upward, outward, downward, within, forward, or in a circle, “Man seems to be by his very nature inclined toward transcendence. There are many ways to transcend—at least seven—but there is apparently no way to avoid transcendence,”[2] as Norman Geisler and Paul Feinberg state. It is undeniable that the universality of man’s need to find the Transcendent is part of the evidence that there is an Ultimate, and Transcendence that can fill that void. And in the end, the Ultimate Reality of this Transcendent being is called God. In light of this quest for Ultimate Reality, I will begin by demonstrating how faith and reason are complementary, and then briefly discuss various arguments for the existence of this Ultimate Reality we refer to as God, and then seek to explain what is meant by deity. Lastly, I will discuss how to process the problem of evil in relation to this Ultimate Reality.

The Relationship between Faith and Reason

First, knowing that there is a relationship between faith and reason is of utmost importance. Unfortunately, it does not take long to realize that faith is looked down upon in the scientific and atheistic communities, which marginalize those who have faith as unintelligent. Sitting in the first five minutes of a science class at the local community college proves this reality; at least such was my experience. Conversely, even in various Christian circles reason is deemed incompatible with faith and reason can even be thought of as an offense to God. But perhaps there is a middle ground where both faith and reason meet. Recalling 119:97-99; 104a, “Oh how I love Your law! It is my meditation all the day. Your commandment makes me wiser than my enemies, for it is ever with me. I have more understanding than all my teachers, for Your testimonies are my meditation…. Through Your precepts I get understanding” (emphasis mine). This portion of Scripture is but one of many verses that clearly demonstrate how special revelation and reason go together. Perhaps then, the reader can learn from Augustine who argued, “‘Authority demands belief and prepares man for reason…. But reason is not entirely absent from authority, for we have got to consider whom we have to believe, and the highest authority belongs to truth when it is clearly known.’”[3] It is apparent, after simple reflection that faith and reason are complimentary.

A critical distinction that needs to be made, then, is between belief in and belief that. Herein lies the confusion amongst many. Belief in is rooted in the ontological argument for God; belief that is rooted in epistemology (how we know). Every day experience reveals that man employs his mind to reason through many daily activities—what to wear for the day, which route to take to work, what task needs to be done first, etc. This is the most simple and basic form of reasoning. Furthermore, he uses reason to philosophize about life which, in turn, forms his worldview. He may ask questions such as, how did the universe come to be? What are the arguments for or against God’s existence? Is truth objective, or is it relative? The Christian needs be aware of the vital role that reason plays in not only day-to-day activities, but also in how it points to the existence of God.

Reason then, is the essential category of mind to knowing how and believing that God exists. This epistemological approach is the tool to show belief that God exists is both credible and intelligible and is a beautiful segue into leading someone to believing in God. Thus, ontologically speaking, many Christians presuppose God’s existence and that is all that is needed for them to believe in God and all that He says. Rightly so. However, this “top down” approach (revelation coming down from God to man) can be more convincing to the skeptic once he is walked through the “bottom up” arguments for God’s existence (starting with man up to God). When the theist can think through and articulate in this way, then perhaps the secular world will lend the respectful ear due to him. What then are some of these reasonable arguments for God’s existence?

Does God Exist?

Of all the avenues one can take to argue for the existence of God, whether that be the cosmological, teleological, ontological, or even axiological arguments, a simple common sense approach to the relationship of cause and effect, each can help provide needed evidence for the existence of an infinite Transcendent being. Take, for example, a syllogism from Thomas Aquinas’ Cosmological argument, which says:

(1) Finite, changing things exist.

(2) Every finite, changing thing must be caused by another.

(3) There cannot be an infinite regress of these causes.

(4) Therefore, there must be a first uncaused cause of every finite, changing thing that exists.[4]

 

This argument simply points out that something cannot come from nothing and since an infinite regress of causes is highly improbable, if not impossible, then there must be an Uncaused first cause that set into motion every finite contingent being. In other words, there was a starting point by which all other finite things came into existence. Dr. Norman Geisler assesses Aquinas’ discourse by saying,

“Beginning with the undeniable fact that some changing finite being exists, Aquinas argues convincingly that there must be an Infinite, Eternal, Unchanging Cause of this finite being. For if something comes to be, then Something must always have been. Nothing cannot cause something, so Something must always have been. This proof of an eternal Necessary Cause of all contingent being still stands as a monument among rational arguments for God’s existence”[5]

Aquinas’ argument is further validated with the second law of thermodynamics: “processes taking place in a closed system always tend toward a state of equilibrium.”[6] Current scientific discovery demonstrates that the universe is a closed system and is currently expanding and developing. The second law of thermodynamics shows that the universe will come to a stagnation known as the heat death. “Once the universe reaches this state, no further change(s) is possible. The universe is dead.” In other words, the universe is winding down, indicating that it must have been wound up some finite time ago. And if the universe is winding down then it must have had a definite starting point, and therefore cannot be eternal. The point is made more so by asking If the universe were eternal then why is it not at the point of heat death now? It should have burned up an actual infinity ago. Most certainly, an eternal slowdown would cause the universe to be a perpetual black hole and state of equilibrium from which it would not reemerge. Where, then, would that then leave the universe? Square one: “Why is there something rather than nothing?” to quote Gottfried Wilhelm Leibniz. Something to leave the skeptic to ponder.

How Is God Defined?          

Since man can adequately employ his mental capacities to argue for the existence of God (the above is only one argument of many), then how can God, or the Ultimate Reality, be defined? What is His nature like? Is God a He or a She or an It? Is God in everything as the pantheist claims, or is God separate and uninvolved in the affairs of Creation as the deist claims? Does God inhabit the universe much like a soul does a body as the panentheist claims? Is the transcendent, Trinitarian God of the Christians the one true God? Or are the Muslims correct in claiming Allah is God, who is seemingly unknowable and distant? Or are there multiple gods? Many, many questions as to who this God is are raised when one surveys the landscape of world religions. All cannot be right because truth by definition excludes all that is contrary to it. The law of non-contradiction states “that no two contradictory statements can both be true at the same time and in the same sense.”[7] Either A is or it is not, but A is not non-A. The same is applied to God—for example, either He is in everything and everything in Him (pantheism) or He is separate and distinct from creation and transcendent (Christianity); He cannot be both or that would be a logical contradiction. Therefore, one of these claims has to be the right one, and unfortunately it is outside of the scope of this post to discuss in depth who is right. However, some things are worth noting.

Considering the different arguments for God’s existence—arguments from design, being, creation, moral law, etc.—one can see that by process of elimination a composite of what kind of God must exist begins to takes shape. From Creation it is obvious that this God must be omnipotent to be able to create the universe from nothing and keep it intact and operating within His sphere of sovereignty. Teleologically, God must be extremely intelligent to design such a universe to function seamlessly. Axiologically, in order for Him to be God He must be morally perfect, omni-benevolent, and just; God must be a maximally great being in every way. Logically and ontologically, God must be eternal and necessary since all finite beings need a cause and there cannot be an infinite regression of causality. Is there a religion in this world that claims to know this kind of God? The short answer is Yes, the Judeo-Christian Old and New Testaments describe such a Being.

A survey from Scripture will prove this and the reader can agree with Geisler in his summary of these biblical references:

“At the burning bush, God told Moses His name and said, ‘I AM WHO I AM’ (Exodus 3:14). This signifies that the central characteristic of the God of the Bible is existence. His very nature is existence….The Bible also calls God eternal (Colossians 1:17; Hebrews 1:2), unchanging (Malachi 3:6; Hebrews 6:18), infinite (1 Kings 8:27; Isaiah 66:1), all-good (Psalm 86:5; Luke 18:19), and all-powerful (Hebrews 1:3; Matthew 19:26). Since these beings are the same in all these respects, and there can’t be two infinite beings, then this God that the arguments point us to is the God of the Bible.”[8]

These few Scripture references, out of which there are many, show that the God of the Bible is identical to the God composited by mere reasoning and philosophy.

The Problem of Evil

The question remains for many that if such an omnipotent, omniscient, omni-benevolent God exists then why is there evil in this world? This is a very valid question. Epicurus (341-270 B.C.) raised this similar question and concluded that if God is willing to destroy evil but unable then He is impotent; if He is not willing but able then He is malevolent; but if He is both willing and able, whence evil?[9] Still there are those who argue that the existence of evil proves God cannot exist. The argument goes something like this:

  • If God exists then evil does not exist.
  • Evil does exist.
  • Therefore, God does not exist.

Yet, this confuses contradiction and contrariety. This argument assumes the contradiction that since evil exists then God cannot exist, implying that the two are mutually exclusive. Contrariety, on the other hand, says, “the truth of one involves the falsity of the other, but the falsity of one doesn’t necessarily involve the truth of the other.”[10] God and evil are contrary to each other and the existence of both of them is not a contradiction. And to quote Norman Geisler, “Some times what is logical is very unpersuasive and what is illogical is very persuasive.”[11]

When confronted with the problem of evil, it is prudent to step back and consider the whole context of evidence and plausibility, as opposed to having tunnel vision that singles out evil. As discussed above, there are various arguments for God’s existence, including but not limited to, versions of the cosmological, ontological, and teleological arguments assist us to zoom out and critically evaluate the bigger picture. Evil is not the only part of the equation. In fact, it often can help prove God’s existence by showing there is a feeling in the air, if you would, that there is an “ought-ness” to this world; that things are not what they ought to be. The skeptic is then left with explaining how evil is measured. At this point, one can show how there are objective moral values which originate from the moral Lawgiver—God—and that this world is falling short of those morals.

A look at the logical problem of evil will appear to further complicate this difficulty by this Ad Hominem attack on God’s character:

  • God created everything.
  • Evil is something.
  • Therefore God created evil.

On the surface this sounds like a valid argument but it is not sound because it calls evil a thing. Evil is not a physical thing, it is a privation of good and a departure from the way things ought to be.[12] When God created the universe He deemed it good. After all, it is expected that an all-perfect being would produce only perfection. In this sense, God is the primary essential cause for all being. With the problem of evil, it is His free will creatures who are the secondary essential cause of evil.[13] In other words, God is not the one responsible for evil, man is because he has freely chosen to act in that way. Consider Alvin Plantinga’s explanation:

To create creatures capable of moral good, therefore, he must create creatures capable of moral evil; and he cannot leave these creatures free to perform evil and at the same time prevent them from doing so. God did in fact create significantly free creatures; but some of them went wrong in the exercise of their freedom: this is the source of moral evil. The fact that these creatures sometimes go wrong, however, counts neither against God’s omnipotence nor against his goodness; for he could have forestalled the occurrence of moral evil only by exercising the possibility of moral good. (The Nature of Necessity. Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1974, p. 167).[14]

Then why does God, an all-powerful and all-good being, not destroy evil and be done with it? Yet, consider this question: What if God chooses not to destroy evil at this time simply because in doing so He would also need to destroy what is good, also? Think about it. To destroy evil would mean to destroy the free will humans enjoy since free will carries with it the potential of evil. There are many human beings who are inherently evil (or at least carry the potential to do evil) but desire for the most part to do good. Equally there are normally good people who premeditate doing evil things. If God were to destroy evil now, then the human race would be obliterated, and perhaps that is not what God wants. In fact, God wants all to be saved (2 Peter 3:9). Reflecting on this reality reveals there may be a time which evil will be destroyed forever. In fact, the Judeo-Christian Scriptures declare that God will destroy evil at some point in time (Revelation 21:4). So then, the key is that He has not yet destroyed evil but will at a later time when He judges at the end of the age.

Then there is the emotional problem of evil where none of these arguments seem to really matter to some persons who are genuinely hurting from some kind of evil. It is possible that later on in life these answers will help him or her, yet for now no answer will cure the bitterness or anger they feel towards God or towards life in general. In these instances sympathetic and empathetic friendship can be the solution. Some people simply are in need of counseling. In this respect, counseling and friendship can be a sort of prolegomena to helping them solve the intellectual problem of evil. Through this, then, they can be counseled and guided from the Scriptures to show how God really is a comforting Father who cares deeply for the welfare of His creatures and is grieved over pain and suffering. The chief example is the pain and suffering of His Son on the cross. Indeed, when faithfully reflected upon, the reality of the cross, which displays God’s immeasurable love, diminishes pain and suffering to its proper place. People can be assured that God is not the One who is first handedly inflicting evil on them, but that He allows it for morally justified reasons that are not always comprehendible. It is not illogical to conclude that an all-powerful, good, and loving God can and does exist. But for the purpose for which He allows evil to exist may just be a matter of faith since no one ultimately knows for sure why God allows evil to exist. The matter of faith lies in trusting in God’s good character.

The objection has also been raised why God did not simply create a world where evil is not extant. Yet this overlooks the fact that if God created such a world, then He would, to some degree or another, consequently annul the freewill of humans created in His image. His creatures, then, would no longer be free and love would not be genuine, for love involves the choice to accept or reject. The question is then posed: What happens to those who freely reject God and freely accept Him? Why not save all who are evil? It is evident then that, “In a free world, God has limited Himself to work within (not contrary to) human freedom. And whatever is the highest number of person who will freely respond, it may be assumed that God will save that number. Thus, the final world will be ‘the best world achievable.’”[15] Perhaps this current world is the process needed in order to get to the ultimate good and best world when God finally destroys evil at the last judgment. That world will exist once every person is judged according to his or her final decision to accept or reject this Ultimate Reality—God.

In conclusion, while much, much more can be discussed on this topic it is important to take away that man is not all there is in this universe; there is something beyond him. At the very least, philosophy and logic provide convincing probabilities of an existing Ultimate Reality, and at best prove God’s existence as seen in the arguments briefly put forth in this post. Recall the analogy in the introduction of the ladder by which man begins with himself at the bottom rung and climbs to the top rung where the Ultimate is discovered. The same analogy is seen in the Scriptures.

In Genesis chapter twenty-eight, Jacob was fleeing from his brother Esau after stealing the blessing of the inheritance of his father Isaac. On his way to his uncle’s house he camped at a place formally called Luz, modern day Bethel. While he was sleeping he saw a vision of a ladder that reached to the heavens, and he saw angels ascending and descending on it. It was there God appeared to him to promise that He would be with Jacob and bless him and his descendants. Now in the Gospel of John, Jesus displayed special knowledge of the previous whereabouts of His soon-to-be disciple Philip whom He hadn’t formally met. Philip was astonished at this and at that moment Jesus alluded to this very same passage in Genesis twenty-eight saying that soon the people would “see heaven opened and the angels ascending and descending upon the Son of God.” In effect Jesus was saying He is the “ladder,” the access to heaven through which man can know the Ultimate—God. Furthermore, Jesus also said, “I am the way, and the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through Me.”[16] All this to say, that the Ultimate can be known and has been revealed exclusively through Jesus Christ; and it is through Him that the Creator can be known. All of reality is found and rooted in Him and the search for knowledge, purpose, meaning, direction, identity, and reality as a whole, rests in Him.

References

[1]Craig and Moreland, Philosophical Foundations For A Christian Worldview, page 176.

[2]Geisler and Feinberg, Introduction to Philosophy, A Christian Perspective, page 341.

[3] Ibid, 265.

[4] Ibid, 267.

[5] Norman Geisler, Thomas Aquinas: An Evangelical Appraisal, page 135.

[6] Craig and Moreland, Philosophical Foundations For A Christian Worldview, page 478.

[7] Geisler and Brooks, Come Let Us Reason, An Introduction to Logical Thinking, page 16.

[8] Geisler and Brooks, When Skeptics Ask, page 29.

[9] Keehus, Symposium of Problems of Evil, class notes from 6/29/15.

[10] Geisler and Brooks, Come Let Us Reason, page 50.

[11] Geisler, Dallas Evangelical Seminary, Mp3 Logic Lecture 10.

[12] Keehus, Symposium of Problems of Evil, class notes from 6/29/15.

[13] One of the six causes of Thomas Aquinas.

[14] Keehus, Symposium of Problems of Evil, class notes from 6/29/15.

[15] Geisler and Feinberg, Introduction to Philosophy, A Christian Perspective, page 328.

[16] John 14:6.

*Featured photo retrieved from http://thebarnabascenter.org/jacobs-ladder/

Advertisements

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: