National Catholic Register

Education

The Search for God

Father Robert Spitzer Connects Modern Physics and Philosophy

BY Elenor K. Schoen

August 29-September 11, 2010 Issue | Posted 8/20/10 at 5:09 PM

 

SEATTLE — Jesuit Father Robert Spitzer wants to challenge the minds of college students who “are being bombarded with specious arguments that attempt to dissuade them from belief in God.”

But he is not limiting this outreach to students. The whole culture, he believes, has been inundated by misinformation. With recent discoveries providing “implications of transcendence in astrophysics, philosophy of mathematics and metaphysics,” Father Spitzer hopes to intrigue the minds of those who have been so disillusioned.

“No other decade in history has revealed more or better evidence for God,” he says.

Father Spitzer, who retired in 2009 as president of Gonzaga University in Spokane, Wash., has taught philosophy and metaphysics for 28 years. He founded the Magis Center for Faith and Reason in Irvine, Calif., and just published New Proofs for the Existence of God: Contributions of Contemporary Physics and Philosophy.

The book is a response, in part, to the appearance of several new books in the popular press “championing agnosticism or atheism,” he says, which are adding to that confusion.

New Proofs presents “a brief synopsis of the considerable evidence for theism, provided by physics and philosophy during the last few decades, [creating for] readers … the strongest, rational foundation for faith that has come to light in human history,” he says.

The Magis Center is also producing a documentary, God and Modern Physics. The film will interview prominent astrophysicists who “will reveal their research pointing to a beginning of the universe and supernatural design of its cosmological constants,” according to a recent Magis publication. The Magis Center also will offer Web-accessible videos, a high-school curriculum on the subject and Web-based college courses.

At a July 12 Seattle presentation, hosted by the Discovery Institute, Father Spitzer emphasized that his talk was specifically about “what contemporary astrophysics and cosmology is saying about God, creation and the superintelligence of God.” The book is not limited to that, though.

“What can science do, and what can it not do?” Father Spitzer asked. “Science is not like metaphysics. It is not like philosophy. It does not approach things deductively, but rather inductively from empirical facts.”


Big Bang and Our Beginnings

Science is open to new discoveries, scientific models and differences in worldview, Father Spitzer says. For example, the Big Bang theory, dealing with the beginning of the universe, has been through 14 modifications.

Some have suggested that there might have been a pre-Big Bang period. But Father Spitzer emphasizes that “it still would have needed an ultimate beginning.’’

And if there were an ultimate beginning, “then at one point, the universe was nothing, and then, it came into being,” Father Spitzer proposes.

“So, if at one time the universe was nothing, it didn’t cause itself to exist. There has to be something. And that something is not part of this universe. It is a transcending cause,” he says.

The hour-long presentation by both Father Spitzer and Bruce Gordon, a contributor to New Proofs for the Existence of God, continued with Father Spitzer discussing theories on what followed the Big Bang event.

Gordon, a senior fellow at the Discovery Institute and associate professor of science and mathematics at New York City’s King’s College, analyzed and critiqued some of those physicists who still doubt, according to Father Spitzer, “the preponderance of evidence for intelligent, transcendent, universal design.”


Physics and Philosophy

Father Spitzer, in the book, begins an exploratory journey through the discoveries and writings of many of the great minds in physics and philosophy.

“I offer my rendition of a formulation of the proofs [hoping] to provide a staging area to assemble the work of great astrophysicists, cosmologists and philosophers who have contributed so much to this field,” he states.

In the first chapters, Father Spitzer presents the discoveries of mathematicians and physicists, like David Hilbert, the father of finite mathematics who explored “the finitude of past time (implying a timeless Creator),” quantum theory that provides “new evidence for non-materialistic dimensions of physical reality,” Einstein’s general theory of relativity which has allowed us to understand the universe “as a dynamically integrated finite whole,” and Borde, Guth and Vilenkin, who helped “devise a proof for a singularity (a beginning of the universe) with respect to inflationary cosmology.”

In the second part of the book, Father Spitzer explores the contributions of metaphysics, presenting three philosophical proofs for God’s existence using metaphysical methods.

Father Spitzer studies the classical and medieval philosophical proofs of Plato, Aristotle, Augustine and Aquinas, who all “lost credibility during the era of Newtonian mechanics,” according to Father Spitzer. An entire chapter is devoted to Father Bernard Lonergan, a 20th-century Jesuit and philosopher who portrayed the Creator as “the knower,” with “his pure, unrestricted desire to know.”

The final section of his book discusses the neo-Platonic dimensions of the Creator: “Love itself, Goodness itself, and Beauty itself.”

Father Spitzer writes, “If God is present to human consciousness as its fulfillment in truth, love, goodness, beauty and being (home), then human reason can go beyond confirming the existence of God … to unveiling the nature of God.”

Father Spitzer suggests that “such a God would not be disinterested in us, but intensely interested in fulfilling us through the highest use of our freedom … bringing it to fruition.”

He quotes St. Augustine, who prayed, “You have made us for yourself, and our hearts are restless until they rest in you.”


Effective Presentation

Michael Behe, professor of biological sciences at Lehigh University in Pennsylvania, Discovery Institute senior fellow and author of Darwin’s Black Box, remarked that: “The untold story of modern 20th- and 21st-century science [demonstrates] how strongly [this history] points to something outside of itself to explain the universe.”

“With books and films, Father Spitzer is bringing the findings of modern astronomy and physics to a much wider audience, [illustrating] how — despite the incessant drone of many in scientific and media communities — [such discoveries] show that our universe [has been] designed for life,” Behe said. “Unlike those on the other side, Father also has the deep philosophical training and wisdom to take the argument beyond bare-bones science.”

Andrew Tadie, professor of English at Seattle University, was struck by a post-presentation question from a student who was having difficulty with the concept of “nothing existing” before the universe came into being. Tadie said, “To think of nothing existing is almost more difficult than trying to think of God. Our imagination has difficulty comprehending ‘nothing.’ We can’t see the air, but it is still something.”

“Even though Father Spitzer answered by saying that ‘Nothing is not something,’” Tadie said, “we give it a name, leading us to think of it as a thing.”

Elenor Schoen writes from Shoreline, Washington.

INFORMATION

Magis Center for Faith and Reason: MagisReasonFaith.org