Caveat: I was invited to offer a lesson or make a presentation of some sort during an apologetics course at a local church, but that plan was scratched at the last moment. Still, since I’d put some time and effort into the project, and since I also truly cannot remember if I’ve published this elsewhere… Well, I’m putting on my blog! I’ve done a little light editing, of course, because you are reading rather than sitting and listening. (Or hopefully you’re reading! LOL) Hope it benefits … or is, at least an enjoyable, stimulating consideration on the whole question of the existence of God. (Note: the above-mentioned apologetics course was just taking off; of course, apologetics carries on much, much further than the existence of God.)
The group Kansas once crooned, and I’m sure you’ve heard the song, “Dust in the wind; all we are is dust in the wind… Everything is dust in the wind.” And the modern physicist Steven Weinberg seems to agree. In his book, The First Three Minutes, this scientist laments that although “it is almost irresistible for humans to believe that we have some special relation to the universe, that human life is not just a more-or-less farcical outcome of a chain of accidents,” we are in fact only “a tiny part of an overwhelmingly hostile universe,” which all “seems pointless.”
Ah, but is it all pointless? Are we only an insignificant part of an overwhelmingly antagonistic universe? Just so much dust in the wind? In their very readable and compelling book, A Meaningful World, Drs. Benjamin Wiker and Jonathan Witt say, “No!” We humans are unique and valuable, and we live in an intentional and purpose-filled world, and to prove this there have been and continue to be plenty of compelling arguments to prove the point.
Now, doubtless you have heard most (or at least some) or these arguments, or proofs – the ontological, teleological, efficient causality and whatnot – but here I’d like to begin by following Wiker and Witt’s lead in examining the idea of God and what is, in fact, the beautiful, purpose-filled world God created. Point in fact, I’d like to begin by looking at creativity and beauty, and then proceed from there to make two further, important points (hopefully) worth your consideration.
You see, one important idea in approaching the subject of the existence of God is the innate creativity of humanity – that is, the desire and ability of people to creatively create, which is more than pragmatic engineering, of course. Atheistic, or naturalistic, evolution can account for engineering, for better and sounder construction. After all, this would be necessary in both adaptation to the surrounding environment as well for sheer survival. But why creativity?
Why the creative works of Michelangelo and Leonardo da Vinci, of Tolstoy and Andrei Rublev, of Mozart and Beethoven? Why the Colossus, the Pyramids, Herodotus and Tacitus and the Mona Lisa? Why Gregorian chants, symphonies and sonatas, jazz and the blues and Baroque? Why the magnificent Taj Mahal, the Hagia Sophia, the Sistine Chapel and the famed Hanging Gardens of Babylon?
Why, in other words, has humanity seemingly desired to tell interesting, captivating stories? To draw and to paint pictures that have no pragmatic value, no strictly practical benefit to the community? Why has humanity, at least from the beginnings of recorded history, always made music and engaged in singing? And yet all of this is part and parcel of the “humanness” of humanity. In other words, creativity is fundamentally part of what makes us human.
As the Twentieth century Russian philosopher, Nicholas Berdyaev, observed:
Man is a being capable of rising up above himself, and this rising up above himself, this transcending of himself, this going out beyond the encircling limitations of his own self — is a creative act of man. In creativity, especially, man surmounts himself; creativity is not a self-affirmation, but rather a self-overcoming; it is ecstatic. [i]
How is this possible? Or, perhaps more appropriately, why is this possible? Or we should actually say, why is this true, because Berdyaev is quite right. And he answers the question in his book, The Meaning of the Creative Act, very clearly and (I believe) convincingly:
If there had not been a divine creative act, in which something which had never been before was created, then the creative act (or creativity) in our world would be quite impossible… The very idea of creativity is possible only because there is a Creator and because He carried out an original creative act… [ii]
Humans are, in other words, creative because humanity was created in the image and likeness of the Creator. As we read in Genesis, God said, “Let us make humans in our image, in our likeness… So God created humankind in his image, in the image of God he created them; male and female he created them.”[iii] Hence, we are creative or, if you will, miniature creators; not merely constructionists or engineers, but … artistic in the broadest sense of the word.
And this idea of creativity flows very smoothly, almost seamlessly, into our apprehension and appreciation of beauty, neither of which can be adequately explained apart from theism – that is, belief in the divine or, more importantly, the existence of the very personal, Creator God. After all, the idea of beauty and appreciation of the beautiful simply does not fit into the scheme of atheistic evolution and philosophical naturalism.
Why? Well, because beauty in and of itself has no intrinsic value in environmental adaptation or survival of the fittest. Some would argue that beauty has no practical value at all, which probably goes a long way in explaining why our increasingly anti-religious educational system continues cutting funding for art, literature, music and the like … but that is, perhaps, another topic for another time.
Nevertheless, it remains true that humanity is intrinsically creative, and that fundamental to creativity in our innate apprehension and appreciation of beauty, which seems to rather convincingly point to something more, something higher, something or someone beyond our mere biological existence within this physical world. As Anthony O’Hear, professor of philosophy at the University of Buckingham, points out:
Through art, particularly the great masterpieces of the past, we … have intimations of beauty, of order, of divinity … beyond the biological… In appreciating the beauty of the world … we are seeing the world as endowed with value and meaning… In responding to our experience of the world in moral and aesthetic ways, we are implying that there is something to be responded to… We are seeing the world and our own existence as created … seeing the world as animated by some higher … purpose, operating (in and) through and behind the material process revealed and studied by natural science. [iv]
Beauty creates in us an almost nostalgic longing for something more, higher and better. Almost like a road sign, beauty points us to something, or someone, beyond this natural world; in fact, to that which this natural world cannot provide with complete satisfaction. Or as the Christian philosopher and apologist, Peter Williams, observes, “It is as if … finite beauty is a derived quality that draws our aesthetic attention into the heaven of un-derived and absolute beauty.” [v]
No wonder, then, that countless numbers of people down through the ages and in our own day and time have been moved, even inspired, by beauty. Whether the majestic mountains, lush and serene valleys, peaceful lake; whether by sun, moon and stars, or the smiling face of the newborn infant; whether by great works of art and architecture, riveting novel or heartrending poetry; people the world over, in all times and in all places have been passionately stirred into spontaneous doxology, to lift their hands and laugh and dance … yes, to praise and worship.
For example, in the Adi Granth of Sikhism, we read:
This earth is a garden, the Lord its gardener, cherishing all, none neglected. [vi]
And in the Orient, from the Shinto religion:
Even in a single leaf of a tree, or a tender blade of grass, the awe-inspiring Deity manifests itself. [vii]
But, of course, our own Sacred Scriptures make the same point very vividly, very poignantly, in completely unadulterated praise and worship of God the Creator:
Look at the rainbow, and praise him who made it; it is exceedingly beautiful in its brightness. It encircles the sky with its glorious arc; the hands of the Most High have stretched it out. [viii]
Let the sea roar, and all its fullness, the world and those who dwell in it. Let the rivers clap their hands; let the hills be joyful together before the Lord. [ix]
The heavens proclaim the glory of God. The skies display his craftsmanship. Day after day they continue to speak; night after night they make him known. They speak without a sound or word; their voice is never heard. [x]
I praise you, for I am fearfully and wonderfully made. Wonderful are your works;
that I know very well. [xi]
Again, thousands upon thousands – no, even millions – of people in every age, in every culture, in every part of the world have in some sense or other stood or, perhaps more appropriately, bowed in reverent awe of the divine, or supernatural. In this delicately balanced, finely tuned world of ours, filled with such variety of creative beauty, generations upon generations have testified to having experienced God, or at least something very much spiritual.
And this is really rather astounding, actually. While not, perhaps, fully convincing as an argument, still one must wonder if so many down through the centuries and in our own day and time could be so very wrong about the nature of their experiences. Would it not be more reasonable to conclude that all of these different people, living in different ages and in different parts of the world have encountered the same divine reality? [xii]
On the other hand, these spiritual-religious experiences may be, after all, only emotional-psychological reactions to aesthetical, environmental stimuli. You know, someone feels overwhelmed by an astonishingly beautiful view from the top of some mountain, and so they interpret (or misinterpret, as the case may be) the experience as being spiritual or supernatural, an encounter with the divine, as it were.
I reject this hypothesis and my answer would be that offered by Peter Kreeft, that is: “No. Given this vast number of claims, and the quality of life of those who made them, it seems incredible that those who made the claims could have been so wrong about them, or that insanity or brain disease could cause such profound goodness and beauty.” [xiii] But this leads us to a rather thorny but fundamentally important consideration, I believe, especially this bit about “quality of life … profound goodness and beauty.”
You see, eventually and invariably, the vitally significant question necessarily comes to the fore: What God? Or for that matter, what Goddess? Or what pantheon of gods and goddesses? When we talk about the spiritual, the supernatural or divine, of what or whom are we speaking? Precisely whose existence are we attempting to prove?
And here is the crux of the matter, really. One might justly suppose that in any assembly of professing Christians, we are talking about the God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob; the God who “so loved the world that he gave his only-begotten Son that whomever believes in him might not perish but have everlasting life;” [xiv] that is, the God of the Patriarchs and Apostles, of the Prophets and Martyrs: the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit, ever one God, world without end. Amen. Right?
So now we come to what is doubtless the greatest apologetic of all, for Christians at least, and it really ties in rather neatly with creativity and the appreciation of beauty. And this is the Novitate Vitae Argument (if we want to sound fancy about it) or, in plainer language, proof from the newness of life, which is what the Latin novitate vitae means. You see, you can plausibly argue from creativity to Creator, and from beauty to the Source of Beauty … but not so much so from there to the God of Christianity.
This is precisely where novitate vitae, the newness of life in Christ, becomes so vitally important in apologetics, specifically Christian apologetics. After all, was it not Jesus himself who said, “Let your light shine before others, so that they may see your good works and give glory to God in heaven…[xv] so that the world may know,” as the Christ later prayed, “that God … sent me and loves you even as God has loved me.”[xvi]
This Jesus of Nazareth claimed that he came from heaven, from God the Father, “that we might have life, and have it abundantly,” [xvii] and apparently he had an awful lot to say about the nature, the constitution of this abundant life; after all, “a good tree does not bear bad fruit, nor does a bad tree bear good fruit. For every tree is known by its own fruit.” [xviii] Right? And so what is the fruit of this “tree,” this novitate vitae, the newness of life in Christ?
The Apostle St. Paul tells us “the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control…” [xix] because, as he says elsewhere, “although you were once the personification of darkness, you are now light in the Lord. So act like children of the light For the fruit of the light is all that is good, right, and true. So make it your aim to learn what pleases our Lord,” [xx] living in goodness and truth, bearing the fruits of the Spirit.
Do we want to convince the non-believer, the skeptic, of the existence of God? All of the classical arguments, and even some of the not-so-classical, are all well and fine. When I see creativity in others and even myself, my heart more than my mind almost instinctively reaches out toward the Creator. The phenomenal beauty of the world around me as well as the beauty created by so many gifted, talented men and women lifts my spirit to the Source of Beauty.
This is good, as are all of the other so-called proofs, but being drawn to the Creator and somehow spiritually “lifted,” as it were, to the Source of Beauty is not quite the same as actually, genuinely believing in God, much less the God of the Patriarchs and Prophets, Apostles and Martyrs; the God conceived in the womb of the Blessed Virgin, who lived and suffered, died and rose again that those who believe might die no more, but live an unending and most blessed life.
Is this the God whose existence we want to prove? If so, then may I submit to you that the most convincing proof will ultimately be the testimony of the life we live as Christians, the newness of life in Christ. And may I also submit to you that this is the very proof for which so much of the world is waiting; the very proof for which so many are hungering and thirsting? This is the proof for which this world is quite literally dying to be offered? So it would seem the only question that remains for us to ask ourselves tonight is, above and beyond all of the intellectually convincing arguments, are we each willing to offer this proof for the existence of the living, loving God whom we rightly praise and worship?
[ii] Nicholas Berdyaev, The Meaning of the Creative Act, 128 (Parenthetical Mine)
[iii] Gen. 1.26a, 27 (vs. 26a from GW, vs. from NRSV)
[v] Ibid (Emphasis Mine); Note: Not wanting to be unnecessarily repetitive, still the pseudo-philosopher, Ludwig Feuerbach, arrogantly pronounced (as if he were some unique repository of special insight and wisdom) that “God did not … make man in his image; on the contrary man … made God in his image.” Yet the supramundane idea and appeal of beauty, with the attendant ability and desire to create beauty do not fit this dogmatic, atheistic pronouncement, for one is still left with the question of the origin of beauty qua beauty. It stands as a question that atheistic evolution, anthropology, and secular psychology are utterly unable to answer. If, however, I am wrong, then I gladly invite correction!
[vi] Adi Granth, Majh Ashtpadi 1, M3, 118, as cited in World Scripture: A Comparative Anthology of Sacred Texts, 204
[vii] Urabe-no-Kanekuni, as cited in World Scripture: A Comparative Anthology of Sacred Texts, 204
[xv] Mt. 5.16, NRSV (Parenthetical Mine)
[xvi] Cf. Jn. 17.23b, NRSV (Emendations Mine)
[xvii] Jn. 10.10b, NRSV (Emendations Mine)