On the light of reason and the search for truth

You suggested that no one can prove the existence of God anyway, and so belief in God must ultimately be an act of faith, rather than rational certainty. I think that all depends upon what you mean by “prove.” 

Dr. Robert Stackpole’s popular introduction to philosophy, Letters to a College Student: On the Light of Reason and the Search for Truth, has been re-issued in revised and expanded edition, with all proceeds benefitting the Marian Fathers.

In September 2012,  Stackpole, emeritus director of the John Paul II Institute of Divine Mercy, began receiving letters from his niece Krystal, who had just started college in New England. He wrote back to her on a regular basis throughout the year, helping keep her mind and heart open to belief in God in the midst of a secular university in which the truths of the faith were being questioned and challenged every day. 

Questions and answers
If you have ever wanted to take a basic course in the Western heritage of philosophy, but never had the chance to do so in school or in college — or you just find the whole subject too daunting even to try! —then this book may be just the book you need. As the back cover tells us:

Join Krystal on a fascinating tour of the essential wisdom of western civilization, from Boethius, Thomas Aquinas, and Leo Tolstoy to C.S. Lewis, Albert Einstein, and John Paul II. Along the way her uncle tackles the New Atheism, the New Age movement, and other contemporary streams of thought, and he addresses the questions that every mind, your or old, sincerely wants answered:

Can we really know anything with confidence? Is there a God who made the universe?

What is a human being anyway — do human beings have souls as well as bodies?

Is there life after death?

Why do innocent people suffer so much?

And most of all, what is my heart’s desire, and how can I find it?

Here is an ideal introduction to Western philosophy, and its continuing relevance to the questions we ask today. Discover how reason can still light the way in our search for the truth of who we are — and who we are meant to be.

Can you prove the existence of God?
Online shoppers often like to read a sample passage from a book before deciding to take the plunge and purchase it. To that end, here is a sample taken from chapter 8, titled “The New Age, and Other Options.”

Dear Krystal, 

Finally, some good “push-back.” Over the last few months I have shared with you many of my own philosophical reflections and ramblings, all of which you have graciously received. But I know how bright you are, and I wondered if, all the while, some tough questions were brewing in your mind. Now I see that they were! 

Be assured that your questions are excellent ones (anyway, I expected nothing less from my brilliant niece, who is an honest seeker of the truth). I will do my best to respond to them. I wish I had a quick and easy answer for everything, but, alas, you are in dialogue with me, I’m afraid, and not with a Thomas Aquinas or an Albert Einstein! … 

You suggested that no one can prove the existence of God anyway, and so belief in God must ultimately be an act of faith, rather than rational certainty. 

I think that all depends upon what you mean by “prove.” 

Perhaps philosophers cannot “prove” that God exists in quite the same way that we can prove something in mathematics. For example, proving that two plus two equals four gives you absolute, mathematical certainty. But there is another kind of “proof” which justifies another kind of certainty. Philosophers traditionally call this “moral certainty.” We reach it when we have a number of arguments and evidences that converge, that all point in the same direction. Put together enough of these converging arguments and you can come to a conclusion that something is “true beyond a reasonable doubt.”

That is how a court of law works. A jury usually does not convict someone of a crime based on absolute, mathematical certainty of his guilt — which would be almost impossible to attain anyway — but on the basis of the overwhelming strength of the converging evidence. The fingerprints on the gun, a motive, an opportunity, a faked alibi —none of these things on their own would convince a jury to convict a man, but put them all together and they all point in the same direction: a cumulative case for a guilty verdict “beyond a reasonable doubt.” 

Moral certainty, at least, is what Philosophy can offer us about God, I think. Over the last few months, Krystal, I have shared with you several philosophical pathways to the existence of God. Perhaps no single one of them, on its own, would be entirely convincing, but put them together and you have converging arguments that all point to the same Reality. 

Think back to our previous letters. Our longing for something that nothing on this earth can ever satisfy, we said, is most likely a longing for a God who really exists: the perfect, boundless, infinite Good. Then we saw that it is more likely that the intricate, stable, pervasive, and purpose-achieving order that we find in nature is the product of a supernatural Intelligent Designer than the product of mere chance. And later we said that the best explanation for the Inner Light of conscience that beckons us all to do good and avoid evil, and puts an absolute claim upon us, is that it was placed within us by an Absolute Being who made us. 

Perhaps you have noticed that each of these pathways to God also points to the others. For example, if it is likely that a God who is “perfect, boundless Good” really exists, then among His boundless perfections would be infinite Power and infinite Wisdom, in other words, a boundless capacity for intelligent design. If an Intelligent Designer of the universe really exists, then it is likely that He would have designed free and rational creatures like us with an inner compass, an inner Light, to help us live in harmony with His design, to discern right from wrong. And the God whose character is manifested in that inner Light is evidently one who is totally committed to Good. In short, since all of these mysteries point in the same direction, I think we can be confident of His existence “beyond a reasonable doubt.” 

It certainly takes faith to live out that truth, Krystal: to put your complete trust in Him, to let Him be your inner Strength, and guiding Light. But it doesn’t take faith just to know that He is there. He gave each one of us the light of reason, and the light of reason leads us back to Him. 

Love always, 
Uncle Robert


You might also like...

A weekly web series by Fr. Thaddaeus Lancton, MIC, introduces us to the meditations for the Fifteenth Sunday in Ordinary Time by the Marian Founder. The goal is to allow Jesus to gaze into your heart and teach you self-examination, leading you to a more fruitful reception of Holy Communion at Sunday Mass, where there is a true encounter of our hearts with His Sacred Heart – especially fitting during this period of National Eucharistic Revival.

More than just a retreat or conference, the National Eucharistic Congress, July 17-21 in Indianapolis, Indiana, will be a pivotal moment in both American history and the legacy of the Catholic Church. And the Marian Fathers will be there!

Are the parish closings and consolidations occurring regularly in archdioceses and dioceses of the United States, a simple function of the absence of material resources?  And, if so, is this not directly attributable to the dwindling number of Catholics who regularly attend Mass and receive the Sacraments? Father Kenneth Dos Santos, MIC, explains in his latest column for CatholicStand.com.