Catholic Apologetics



Can we know without supernatural help that God exists?

The Catholic Church rejects each so-called philosophical system that thinks it should restrict the scope of natural reason within the narrow bounds of the world we can experience.
It does so, and must do so, because the supernatural Revelation of God's Word presupposes the natural recognizability of the existence of God, and the sacred Books of holy Scripture testify very explicitly in favour of the ability of human reason to conclude on its own strength that God exists and we can determine some properties of the Creator.
The Book of Wisdom already calls people dumb and vain if they say there is no God (Wisdom XIII, 1-9). And Saint Paul can't find an excuse for the excessive arrogance of the godless who think they are wise but are big fools in reality because all their speculations lead to nothing and their hearts are clouded (Romans I, 18-32).
Therefore, the Vatican Council has made the following statement in its dogmatical constitution about Revelation:
"The same holy mother the Church confesses and teaches that we can know with certainty God, the Beginning and End of all things, by the natural light of human reason, from creation; because we can clearly know after a bit of thinking his invisible Essence from the created things ever since the creation of the world (Romans I,20). However, God's wisdom and goodness has seen fit to reveal Himself and his eternal will to mankind via yet another way, which is a supernatural way."
Furthermore, the same Council framed also this canon:
"The Church excommunicates whomever says we can't know with certainty the one and true God, our Creator and Lord, by the natural light of reason from the things created."

{{The systems that fall directly under this ecclesiastical condemnation all have an anti-metaphysical character. They are the following:

I) Positivism

We give the name positivism to the philosophies of Hume, Comte, Stuart-Mill, Vaihinger and others. These reject each non-empirical knowledge, deny each value to general notions and concepts, and think that logical laws of thought are only habits of intellectual instinct which we can't scientifically account for. In the external world, only a complex of phenomenons we can perceive with our senses is corresponding to the intellectual imagination which, indeed, almost completely coincides with this sensory perception. Our intellect can't know anything about the underlying substances. So much the less can we know anything about immaterial substances like the human soul or the God of scholasticism.

II) Criticism by Kant

Kant's criticism isn't as thoroughly empiristical as positivism. Although it is hostile to metaphysics' void play of concepts, yet it accepts in the postulates of the practical intellect truths a complete empirist can't ever accept.
According to Kant, one of the three postulates he needs is the existence of God. Experience can't teach us anything about it, because things divine are in every respect above the world we experience. But the maxim of human will can. Because the law of morality doesn't find its origin in the authority of a will outside man, but is an autonomous morality, and based on the categorical imperative "du sollst". Because man knows he has ethical duties that bind him, he also knows he must be free to fulfil them. However, freedom presupposes virtue, and virtue presupposes that highest perfection in complete happiness is attainable. Now, when it's certain that man can't attain his happiness on his own strength, because this world and this life are too small to find the perfect condition of paradise in it, then God shall have to come from his throne outside cosmos and time as the lord and master of all nature to help him.
This practical proof of God's existence has nothing in common with the demonstration the Church has given its high authorization to.
Kant doesn't start from the things created and rejects very explicitly each possibility to climb from the world of experience via intellectual speculation to the first Cause.
For the rest, he is hostile to all metaphysics, including even the metaphysics of Descartes, whose proof for the existence of God from "the clear and plain idea" kept sufficiently in touch with experience to allow the Vatican Council to tolerate it.

III) Traditionalism

Traditionalism, at least in its most rigorous form, makes all knowledge of truth dependent on one original divine revelation that should bring to all people in all times the religious and moral knowledge they need, by an uninterrupted tradition.
Bautain accepted the Revelation in the holy Scriptures and the ecclesiastical Tradition as the only source of sure knowledge, but had to subscribe in Rome, in 1835 and once again in 1840, some anti-traditionalistic theses. And the Church condemned, already before the Vatican Council, the doctrine of Bonnetty who did affirm that material reality is accessible to human reason, but supposed all metaphysical and moral knowledge depends on divine Revelation and human tradition.}}

About 1900, when the false doctrine of Modernism wished to detract from the right conception of almost all Catholic truths, and to understand the concepts of God, Revelation, dogma and belief in a subjectivistic sense, Rome for the second time felt it was necessary to formally oppose the attacks on the natural proofs of God's existence.
Pope Pius X blamed in his encyclical Pascendi Dominici Gregis the fundamentally agnostical attitude of modernistic philosophy, which denied natural reason any right and power to exceed the restricted domain of sensory perception. He also reproached the modernists who called themselves believers with trying to find all natural certainty about the existence and the essence of God in a non-intellectual intuition or an emotion of the heart, even though Vaticanum explicitly declared the opposite.
Meanwhile, the spread of the new false doctrine became quite alarming. It threatened to infect almost all branches of Catholic scholarship. The study of dogmatics and the bible adapted as easily as apologetics and natural theory of God to the needs of modern man. And it weren't only the laymen who turned out to be accesible to infection with modernism.
To prevent the worst evil, Pius X composed an anti-modernistic oath formula, and asked all Catholic priests and graduated of theology to solemnly acknowledge the dogma that is inchangeable in eternity.
The oath begins with confessing that we can know God as the first Cause of visible creation:
"I confess in the first place that we can know with certainty and, thus, prove the existence of God, the beginning and the End of all things, as the cause deducted from the effects, using only the natural light of reason, by means of the things made (Romans I, 20), that is to say: by the visible works of creation."

{{The most prominent modernists who saw their opinions concerning the value of natural knowledge about God condemned by the encyclical Pascendi, were Edouard Le Roy and Lucien Laberthonnière.
Le Roy was clearly influenced by Bergson's Evolution Créatrice. In his philosophical explanations about religion as a phenomenon, he propagated a doctrinal immanentism which was standing dangerously close by pantheism:
"Si nous déclarons Dieu immanent, c'est que nous connaissons de Lui ce qui est devenu en nous et tout le monde; mais pour le monde et pour nous il reste toujours un infini à devenir, un infini qui sera création proprement dite, non simple développement, et de ce point de vue Dieu apparaît comme transcendant."
Laberthonnière isn't perhaps as convinced an immanentist as Le Roy, but in his Essais de Philosophie Religieuse which pleaded a knowledge about God from outside the intellect, referring not quite unjustly to an existing tradition, he did declare that the classical proof by natural reason is not sufficient at all.
Blondel didn't credit the intellectualistical proof of God's existence with any value, either. In his dissertation we find the following disputable passage:
"Une preuve qui n'est qu'un argument logique demeure toujours abstraite et partielle; elle ne conduit pas à l'être; elle n'accule pas nécessairement la pensée à la nécessité réelle."
Nowadays, Blondel does accept the scholastical proof, but he maintains that these proofs are presupposing in man a certain predisposition which, on the one side, may be seen as a call from God, but, on the other, can only come about by the cooperation of free will.}}

So, the Church teaches God exists. Furthermore, it teaches that the existence of God isn't a supernatural secret, which natural intellect without divine enlightenment can't say anything about.
This is a splendid weapon for the Catholic apologist to defend the reasonableness of his belief.
Because, if the Church refers to the personal word of God and represents to its children that reason is strong enough to uplift itself on its own strength to the acknowledgement of the true God, then natural reason can also test whether this ecclesiastical word is true.
Catholic believers can't think his Church could teach he can know on the strength of his own natural intellect that God exists, if it were not given to human reason to independently arrive at sure knowledge about the first Cause under its own natural light via its own natural object of knowledge.
However, this harmony between the knowledge of faith and natural scholarship isn't evident for anybody who's thinking otherwise. Such a person will ask himself - and he has a full right to do so - whether the Catholic doctrine is "human", whether it doesn't throw up problems that turn out to be absurdities afterwards. He'll be most critical to natural Theology, which Saint Thomas Aquinas and all Catholic theologists think is the most solid base for scholarly defence of belief.
Catholic scholarship can't better meet this critical interest than by giving the proof itself of God's existence.
Indeed, the Church says the natural proof of God's existence is possible. And we can't better demonstrate the possibility of a proof than by performing the actual proof. So, the natural demonstration of God's existence is throwing a splendid light upon the truth of the word of Revelation, which taught we can find a natural proof of God's existence before there was any talk whatsoever about an apologetical scholarship.
It may seem a bit strange that man can acquire sure knowledge about God's existence both by supernatural Revelation and by natural reasoning.
Isn't this twofold certainty a bit superabundant? Is it necessary that belief should expressly teach what we can already know with certainty by natural reasoning?
Saint Thomas gives a satisfying answer to this question. He first refers to the great cogency of Catholic doctrine, which doesn't contradict the natural sciences at any point and, moreover, has much in common with philosophy, especially in the fields of rational psychology and natural Theology. Then he explains the Gospel doesn't only serve man by revealing the secrets that are strictly divine, but also by communicating those divine truths that, strictly speaking, lay open to natural reason, but which people in reality catch only slowly and with difficulty.
There is another obvious question as to the existence of God, about which the faithful has both a natural and a supernatural certainty.
Consentius already put this question to Saint Augustine, when he remarked, it should be sufficient for a theologist that God himself had informed him about His existence and essence. What sense could philosophical considerations have, now that preaching had revealed to the simple what stayed hidden to the wise?
"If we would accept the belief of the holy Church on the base of intellectual research only, and not on the base of confident devotion, nobody could attain beatitude except the philosophers and the orators. However, because God has been pleased to choose the weak in order to shame the strong, and to sanctify the faithful by the folly of preaching, it is more subservient to submit to the authority of the Saints than to investigate the reasonableness of faith."
Saint Augustine gives the following answer:
"When you call me or any other teacher to account, and you want to know what you believe, you should revise what you say. Of course, you shouldn't despise belief. But it's necessary to understand with the light of reason what you already accept with the certainty of faith. It be far from us to suppose God would despise in us the very properties by which he lifted us in creation above the animal that is void of reason. So I say we shouldn't believe without understanding, and we should show interest in the reasonableness, too. In fact, we would be unable to believe, if we couldn't rejoyce in the possession of a reasonable soul."

The common base of the proofs of God's existence

The tragical thing in human intellectual life is we have to experience matter with our senses to find any natural insight and certainty, while this very matter is standing in the way to clear and concrete knowledge.
On the strength of its original potency, our intellect has no bounds; because it is essentially incorporeal, it can form an image and, thus, become anything else, without losing its own essence. But whatever our incorporeal and reasonable intellect could be in potency, is actually bounded and restricted, during our lifetime, by the conditions of our existence which is both spiritual and corporeal. We are no spirits, because we are in everything, even in the highest and noblest activity of our souls, dependent on our bodies. This body has, so to speak, at the same time something of a lens and something of a bandage before the eyes. Or, if we use a metaphor of Plato, the spirit is imprisoned in the body as in a jail, and it perceives through the window of the senses only shadow graphs. The sensory organs of the body surely have the function of a necessary entrance gate, through which reality is coming inside, but if the spirit were loose from the body, it wouldn't even need the passage of the senses, because the very matter is hindering our spiritual freedom of thinking and acting.
Because our mind is bounded to the conditions of this our life, we need for every knowledge, even of the first evident principles, the co-operation of our senses. It may be ever so evident that the circle is round or that the whole is greater than the part, yet these naturally known truths become only clear to us under the light of our active intellectual power, which gives the actual recognizability to the sensory images. And, because the sensory images come in their turn from the corporeal reality we experience, the origin of every knowledge, even the natural knowledge of the first principles, is lying in the sensory perception of the corporeal world.
Since all deduced knowledge originates in the natural insight in the first principles, and the certainty of each natural reasoning, conclusion or learning has to be reduced to the first certainty we possess about things immediately clear, our intellect, which finds all its knowledge from the natural revelation of the reality we perceive with our senses, unless God intervenes personally, can't attain an insight of full value in the concrete essence of things perfectly incorporeal. Because the incorporeal substance stays, by its own character, hidden for our minds, even though we can via metaphysical reasoning establish their existence and determine some of their qualities.
Now God is the highest incorporeality itself. Each corporeal thing is lying so far and so completely outside Him, that we can't accept in divine Essence any dependence or relation over against the visible and tangible world we live in.
Because God is absolutely incorporeal, He is in Himself the most knowable, because the knowability of a thing is inversely proportionate to the extent in which the shadow of matter is darkening its formal properties. But to us, the divine Essence is the least knowable. In fact, the whole arsenal of our concrete and speculative knowledge has eventually come about by the fruitful but also necessary co-operation of our corporeal senses, which did open our minds for the beautiful riches of visible nature, but couldn't allow an appropriate insight in the higher reality of a transcendent world.
"We know about God that He is, but not what He is", testifies Saint Thomas every time he speaks of our natural knowledge about God. And this stereotyped testification is resting on the well founded conviction that the divine light is in fact so deep and sharp that our human intellect, which is used to the dark, can't bear it.

{{Ontologism got its name and independent form from Gioberti, but had its predecessors in the theses about natural knowledge of God's Essence given by Hendrik van Gent, Gerson, Malebranche and others. It teaches that man already knows the infinite Essence of God during his life on earth.
There were ontologists who thought we can contemplate God's Essence in a created image. Common opinion, however, didn't want to hear anything about a means of knowledge in the brain, since each similarity in an image would make something finite out of God, because such an image has the very character of being created. Therefore, most ontologists wanted to consider natural knowledge of God as an immediate, intuitive knowledge of divine ideas.
Ontologism starts from the untenable thesis that the psychological development of human knowledge runs parallel with the ontological development of all things existing. Therefore, it thought that God, the Beginning of all things, was the very first thing we ever knew.
The church repeatedly condemned ontologism.}}

The prominents of scholastical scholarship give an unanimous answer to the question how natural knowledge of God, which is essentially imperfect, comes about in man. This answer fully agrees with both the words of Saint Paul and the principles of scholastical theory of knowledge: through the world we experience.
If it's true we need experience for every natural knowledge, then the natural knowledge we possess about God, must necessarily presuppose the co-operation of our senses. We'll have to come to the acknowledgement that God exists through the world we experience with our senses. We can't prove God's existence a priori, because, if the a priori argument were sufficient, then we should know the inner base of existence of the divine Essence without any revelation. So the world we experience and the things created will have to testify about the existence and some properties of its first Cause.
"However", says Saint Thomas, "we can know a cause from its consequences in several ways. First, when we use the consequence as a means to know the existence and character of the cause, as in the sciences. Second, when we see the cause in the consequence itself, which expresses the likeness of the cause, like when man beholds his likeness in a mirror. Third, when the likeness of the cause in the consequence is the image whereby the consequence itself knows its cause." We can accept the last two forms of knowledge about God only for angels, but not for ourselves.
Why not?
Because experience doesn't confirm it, and even contradicts it. Man's way of knowing is in fact very imperfect. We have to make abstractions, construct prolix combinations, compose proofs and deduce consequences. This cumbersome method of thinking and knowing is only superfluous when we're dealing with the first principles. These are evident in themselves. But God isn't evident. And how could we ever explain the errors about the existence and the general properties of God, if people could behold God by His likeness in the things of the visible world and by the very substance of man himself?
The only way to arrive at natural certainty about God's existence is by reasoning. This reasoning doesn't differ in any respect from other human reasoning, unless perhaps in this one respect: that it always and invariably starts from the same base of our experience of nature, which must have a Cause.

{{Among the Protestants, people don't generally appreciate the scholastical proofs of God's existence.
From the weak Protestant apologetics, which is clearly suffering from anaemia, it becomes quite obvious to which extent Kant's Criticism with its "Verneinung irgendwelcher auf transzendentaler Höhe existierenden Ursache" is still resounding in the modern Protestant theology. It doesn't bother about any praeambula fidei, and, furthermore, it is strongly inclined to empiricism.
The wellknown Protestant theologist JJ van Oosterzee wished to give a scholarly explanation of the thesis of Jacobi: "Ein Gott der bewiesen werden kann, ist kein Gott". He did so by means of a dissertation which many Protestant theologians are convinced is decisive, but is in reality nothing but an unconscious sophism, because it identifies the base for man's certainty about God with the inner base of God's existence itself:
"A thesis is proved when it turns out to follow necessarily and without contradiction from an other indisputable thesis. So, any demonstration appeals to some higher truth which fortifies the firm base of what has to be decided by this very appeal. So, to prove God's existence, would mean in fact: demonstrate the base of God's existence. However, because God is the most perfect and absolute essence, the base of his existence isn't outside or above him, but in himself: he is, because he can't but be. We can't demonstrate the infinite, but only suppose and adore it. We can only prove what's within the range of finite concepts. From God's infinity and unpenetrability we deduce He is unprovable. We don't prove God's existence, but He proves himself to us as the base of all things existing."}}

How do we arrive at the concept of causality?
And, when we try to explain the consequences we perceive, where do we find a right to refer to a first Cause, which is completely transcendent above any reality we perceive with our senses?
The succession in space and time of the things we experience doesn't say anything to a perfect empiricist about any essential influence from the former things on the later things in the sequence. Furthermore, the modern criticist, who is more or less inclined to Kant, accepts only causes inside the cosmos, and doesn't attach any scholarly value to the methaphysics of the au-delà. However, scholastical philosophy always explained and defended the common opinion of man about causes and consequences, on the base of Aristotelism, starting from the sober and understandable consideration that whatever we have to admit is contingent in a thing, is by its very presence necessarily presupposing outside this thing an influencing factor or cause.
People do usually have a rather clearly defined idea about causality. It doesn't matter, now, whether they accept it because of its evidence or deny it because they can't experience it.
In the conscious mind of man, a cause is always more than a mere condition or arbitrary circumstance that has to be present to allow the cause to bring about its consequence. It's more than a mere inducement which is the condition that brings forth the causal movement, without essentially influencing the character of the consequence. It's also more than a mere principle, because a principle is indeed influencing the consequence, but this influence may be only local and temporary and, thus, lacking the essential influence we ascribe to a cause.
Therefore, the common opinion about the concept cause is: "a cause is a principle which has an essential influence on something else".

The empiricists have a certain right to say we can only experience the links in space and time between former and later events, but not the causal relation between them, because we can't perceive causality as such with our senses. Only metaphysics itself will be able to eventually answer the question of what causal efficacy is, and where we can find it.
Now metaphysics is something quite different from arbitrary speculation or dialectics without principles. As a general theory about essence, it has to keep in touch with the concrete reality we perceive with our senses. To be able to prosper, it must necessarily presuppose experience.
Metaphysics of causality, too, starts from a datum we perceive with our senses, which everybody has to accept on the strenght of its universal and indisputable character, even if he doesn't want it or isn't aware of it.
The reality we experience and base our theory of causality on, is the following:
Visible nature has something contingent in the manifold and multifarious revelations of its riches as a whole and as a multitude of parts. This contingent thing is as it is, but could have been different as well. Day and night, ebb and flow, odorous flowers and shy deer, flying birds and crying kids, all these things we perceive, are showing that their properties aren't inalienable possessions, which coincide with their own essences. They aren't identical with their properties. They have something which accidentally falls to their share. It may fall to them on the strength of some necessity outside themselves, or according to an existing regularity, but it is still accidentally falling to them.
Which thing in the world is beautiful without comment? Which carriage is riding without more ado? And which man is good without further preface?
We do speak, for example, of an ideal house or somebody who is friendliness itself, but is that fully correct? To be sure, every house is more or less livable, and everybody is showing some friendliness; but when we credit some datum of experience with something absolute, we're not calling things by their own names. In the cosmos, nothing is absolute in the true sense of the word. Tangible reality around us and before us and in ourselves is contingent, and we can't credit it anyway with a necessary existence. We're used to understand each other, talking metaphorically about many things. However, this doesn't release us from the duty to realise that no entity we experience is something absolute, but we should say that all things are sharing their properties with something greater than themselves rather than that they are possessing them as their very own properties.
We base our reasoning on this aspect of the reality we experience and perceive, and not on the experience of former and later things, as Hume and others thought. Thus, human reason is able to climb to its certainty about the first Cause. Its means and palier d'argumentation is the law of causality.

Saint Thomas gives the principle of causality in very simple wordings:
"Whatever is falling to the share of a thing but doesn't belong to its essence, comes from some cause."
"Whatever we find in a thing outside its essence, must be caused."
In this formulation, the law of causality speaks about some cause without specifying it. When we simply see an arbitrary property that some object is sharing with something greater, we can't immediately decide which is the cause, nor where we can find it.
But there must always be a cause! - Why?
Because, otherwise, we're facing an unsolvable riddle, nay, an impossible mystery.
It's true there are many possibilities we don't understand, but it's absolutely impossible there could be truths we can't understand while they are revealing their very essence. We would accept an impossible truth, and grant truth to a fabrication, when we wouldn't explain a property we see falling to the share of a thing by referring to some cause from outside.
When I see a rosary blooming in summer, which was without leaves and flowers some months before, then I know this rose bed isn't blooming by its essence - per essentiam -, but it has this property of blooming at the moment, so it has the capacity of blooming. Should it bloom by its very essence, then it couldn't but bloom and should always and invariably wear roses. Certainly, the rose bed has in itself some natural ability to wear roses. But it only has this ability. Furthermore, apart from the fact that this natural tendency is in its turn presupposing another external cause, how come there are roses at the moment, and not before or later on? We have to explain that by referring to some cause. Seek this cause wherever you want. Say it must be the fruitful soil or the mild rain or the soft temperature or the sunny season or all these circumstances together. But acknowledge there must be some external cause.

Does this general law of causality loose its power and does it deny human reason every view there where the cosmos has its frontiers?
Is the imperative reference to the external cause suddenly not ever so imperative when we have learnt to see with certainty it ain't only the cosmic parts that don't wear in their own essences a full explanation for their actual compositions, but also the cosmos as a whole? Because the cosmos, too, must have its properties by participation, sharing them with something greater than itself.
The great error of the English empiricists and the German criticists and the French scientists was they wished to find a scholarly explanation of causality from the causes we experience, whilst it is only the very consequence we experience that can give scholarly certainty about the necessary existence of causes. That's why they continued to seek all scholarly certainty about causes and consequences within the narrow bounds of visible and tangible nature. Apparently, they are convinced we should only accept any causality from above the cosmos when we could point at it.
But such an opinion is a principal mistake.
It's true that, speaking about the essence of things, cause precedes consequence. But in thought, the perceived consequence comes first, and metaphysics leads us from the perceived consequence to the acknowledgement of the cause.
We have to consider all nature one great consequence, because we can't dispute that its existence is contingent and sharing its properties with something greater than itself. We can't ever attain to a sufficiently clear explanation for the existence of the world if we only point at causes within the cosmos. So, can we ever decide we should stop searching for a cause above and outside the cosmos, only because we can't directly experience such a cause?
Scholastic philosophy has a clear answer to this.
It credits the principle of causality with a transcendental value, and not without a good reason. The five ways for the scholastic proof of God's existence, build five bridges, so to speak, between cosmology and theodicy. They begin with the caused cosmos and lead us via the principle of causality to the essentially transcendent first Cause above the cosmos.

{{The distrust of the reliability of the five ways we find with many contemporary philosophers, is mostly dating back to Kant's criticism, which considered any speculative knowledge about things we can't directly experience impossible.
The "Zermalmer" of the scholastic proofs for God's existence, which Kant took only slightly note of by means of a very tendentious Protestant theodicy, gives in his Kritik der reinen Vernunft the following contemplation:
"Wenn man nun vom Dasein der Dinge in der Welt auf ihre Ursache schlieszt, so gehört dieses nicht zum natürlichen sondern zum spekulativen Vernunftsgebrauch, weil jeder nicht die Dinge selbst (Substanzen), sondern nur das was geschieht, also ihre Zustände, als empirisch zufällig auf irgend eine Ursache bezieht; dasz die Substanz selbst (die Materie) dem Dasein nach zufällig sei, würde ein blosz spekulativen Vernunfterkenntnis sein müssen. Wenn aber auch nur von der Form der Welt, der Art ihrer Verbindung und den Wechsel derselben die Rede wäre, ich wollte aber daraus auf eine Ursache schlieszen die von der Welt gänzlich unterschieden ist, so würde dieses wiederum ein Urteil der blosz spekulativen Vernunft sein, weil der Gegenstand hier gar kein Objekt einer möglichen Erfahrung ist. Aber alsdenn würde der Grundsatz der Kausalität, der nur innerhalb dem Felde der Erfahrungen gilt, und auszer demselben ohne Gebrauch, ja selbst ohne Bedeutung ist, von seiner Bestimmung gänzlich abgebracht ...
Soll das empirischgültige Gesetz der Kausalität zu den Urwesen führen, so müszte dieses in die Kette der Gegenstände der Erfahrung mitgehören; alsdenn wäre es aber, wie alle Erscheinungen, selbst wiederum bedingt. Erlaubte man aber auch den Sprung über die Grenze der Erfahrung hinaus vermittels des dynamischen Gesetzes der Beziehung der Wirkungen auf ihre Ursachen, welchen Begriff kann uns dieses Verfahren verschaffen? Bei weitem keinen Begriff von einem höchsten Wesen, weil uns die Erfahrung niemals die gröszte aller möglichen Wirkungen (als welche das Zeugnis von ihre Ursachen ablegen soll) darreicht. Soll es uns erlaubt sein, blosz um uns in unserer Vernunft nichts leeres über zu lassen, diesen Mangel der völligen Bestimmung durch eine blosze Idee der höchsten Volkommenheit und ursprünglichen Notwendigkeit auszufüllen, so kann dieses zwar als Gunst eingeräumt, aber nicht aus dem Rechte eines unwiderstehliches Beweises gefordert werden."
We find the same objection against a transcendental value of the principle of causality with the most important representative of Critical Idealism in France: Léon Brunschvicg:
"En tout évidence, lorsqu'on s'appuie sur la causalité pour inférer du monde tel qu'il est donné dans l'expérience l'existence d'une cause transcendante à ce monde, on commet sophisme sur sophisme. On feint de ne pas s'apercevoir qu'on s'est rendu coupable d'une extrapolation arbitraire, en passant de faits intracosmiques entre lesquels la science établit des liens de causalité, à l'idée du tout en tant que tout, consideré lui-même comme un effet un et indivisible, qui réclamerait une cause extracosmique, elle-même totale, une et indivisible ...
Si l'on acceptait que, même déformé par son application finaliste, l'instinct de causalité correspondît à une exigence rationelle, il ne s'en suivrait pas qu'on fût quitte à aussi bon compte. Disons que l'horloge cosmique ne s'est faite toute seule, que son mécanisme interne ne suffit pas à la justifier, nous serons obligés à convenir qu'il en sera de même pour l'horloger, qui ne pourra pas, lui non plus, être ce que nous ne veuillons pas que fût le monde: une cause sans causalité. L'existence d'un Créateur incréé sera en contradiction flagrante avec le principe au nom duquel nous nous flattons d'avoir réussi à faire surgir du néant la cause prémière."}}

We could ask ourselves whether the first Cause whose existence we proved must necessarily be God. We have to admit the cause of the world must exist without doubt, because the things in the world are sharing their properties with something greater than themselves and can't exist without a factor of influence from outside. But perhaps we could imagine this cause only exceeds nature by its higher place and power, without being the highest essence in the transcendent sense we reserve for the God of Christianity.
Many people consider this question the decisive difficulty when we try to turn the scale in favour of our proofs for God's existence. In reality, only the short-sighted can stick to this difficulty. It is a product of a rich imagination rather than a revelation of a penetrating intellect.
The truth is our proofs for God's existence don't start from one single phenomenon or change or cause, but from phenomenons, changes and causes in general and tout-court. We could accept the possibility of ten or hundred intermediate causes or wish to explain the origin of the world in accordance with a very old religious concept: the demiourgos who should have made the world and be a creature himself. But in the final end we have to answer this question: "Doesn't visible nature with its ten or hundred higher causes and with its demiourgos, need a highest cause, which doesn't stay within the circle of the caused things, because it doesn't have its existence by participation, but exists as a perfectly transcendent essence which bears its explanation in itself?" Whoever thinks that the cluster of all things existing by participation, as a whole, doesn't need an external cause, can't find a reason and has no right to seek a cause for some particular part of it.
"Non est procedere in infinitum", says Saint Thomas in imitation of Aristoteles, when he speaks about motion in this our world, and concludes we can't in the final end account for each particular motion and all motions together without presupposing a very first term which explains all other terms but is absolutely immovable itself and therefore doesn't need any higher cause of motion.
"We can't proceed till infinity."
Does Saint Thomas want to say with these words that the world must necessarily have had a beginning in time? That there must have been a first push which gave motion to all things moving, and that the whole sequence of movers can only be finite and limited from two sides in space and time?
Whoever starts from this supposition, doesn't directly base his proof of God's existence on the reality of our experience but on a hypothesis, which does start from experience itself but is a hypothesis none the less.
We could imagine somebody would think the world has its origin in time, without reference to supernatural Revelation. It even seems possible science is going to prove the fact of an origin in time. In such a case, the proof of God's existence is, as Saint Thomas puts it, "efficacissima", strongest possible. "Because, if world and motion have their origins in time, it's clear we have to accept a cause that did generate world and motion in time." It's easier to imagine the world with a beginning in time than the world without a beginning in time, and therefore we have a clearer insight in a proof of God's existence that starts from a world caused in time than in a proof of God's existence presupposing an eternal world.
Yet, the hypothesis of eternal matter and world - Saint Thomas certainly doesn't want to preclude the possibility - doesn't undo the conclusive force of the five ways. The arguments (or the one argument) are staying as strong, even though it lies in the character of the case that there will arise more difficulties. Because imagination doesn't come to our aid in as strong a measure; the intellect stands before this case almost all alone, and doesn't find support in an "easy representation". But this doesn't diminish the truth or certainty of the proofs for God's existence. Because the shortage of phantasy can't damage the logical deduction from a clear datum of experience.
So we're free to suppose the world has always been there. However, is there no need, then, for reason to acknowledge there must be a first cause? When a certain phenomenon can't explain itself, is an infinite sequence of such phenomenons more able to do so?
No! An infinite sequence of caused causes must be caused as well as an arbitrary term from the sequence. An infinite sequence of caused causes is a caused infinite sequence of causes. And because it has been caused of necessity, it's irrefutable it demands a first principle, which is something different from a beginning in time. This first principle and first cause can't have been caused itself, but is the cause of all other things.
The first cause must necessarily be transcendent above all things that find in it their final explanation for their existence in reality. It is not the beginning of the world but the world's perfect principle that is standing above it. It is not a unity within a certain kind of things, and not the first in a sequence, either; it is hors de série and doesn't need an external base of existence, for, as contrasted with all other things, it is essence without further preface.
Whether it is above all other things in space or before all other things in time, doesn't depend on the possibility of an infinite sequence or an unlimited cosmos, because we can't measure the infinity and eternity of the first cause with the extent and the duration of what is possessing a composed existence only.

So, the common base of the classical proofs for God's existence is: they all start from the reality we experience, to conclude that a first cause must exist, which first cause must find the base of its entire existence in itself. For this reality that we experience, both as a whole and as a multitude of parts, has a characteristic composed constitution, so it must have been brought about by an external cause.
This first cause really is the God of Christianity. It lies in the nature of the case, that we achieve more knowledge and scholarship about God's essence through the word of divine Revelation than through the much obscurer language of visible nature. However, visible nature has something to say about God, too, in so far as the imperfect effect can say something about its perfect Cause.
Saint Thomas concludes: "From the things God brings forth we can prove God exists, even though we can't entirely know his perfect Essence."

(second part of meijerartone)