National Catholic Register

Commentary

Angels, Part 1

BY Mark Shea

June 24-30, 2007 Issue | Posted 6/19/07 at 10:00 AM

 

As the existence of everything from SETI (Search for Extraterrestrial Intelligence) to “Star Trek” attests, our civilization is fascinated with the question of the existence of non-human intelligences.

The faith says that we already know of at least one such class of creature. It is called an angel. However, our culture’s response to the existence of the angelic is deeply confused.

Materialists have long scoffed at angels in their knee-jerk way, but now are (unwittingly) placing themselves in a bit of a bind in their effort to go on scoffing at God.

It’s like this: The universe science is discovering is fantastically fine-tuned. If the strong nuclear force constant were not just so, either no hydrogen or nothing but hydrogen would form after the Big Bang.

If the gravitational force constant were not just so, stars would be too hot or too cold for life. If the electromagnetic force constant were not just so, chemical bonding for life could not occur. If the expansion rate of the universe were not just so, either no galaxies would form or the universe would collapse back to a singularity.

And on and on this goes for more than 30 variables, all requiring fine tuning of such a degree that expressing the odds of getting them all right would require writing more zeros than I can fit in an 800-word article.

Because of the immense fine-tuning of the universe, sensible theists are rather understandably reminded of Paul’s remarks in Romans 1 that “Ever since the creation of the world, his invisible nature, namely, his eternal power and deity, has been clearly perceived in the things that have been made.”

But fallen man is nothing if not ingenious, so not a few materialists have lately attempted to lick this problem of the fine-tuned universe by positing what is known as the “multiverse” theory.

According to this evidence-free theory, the ultra-super-duper fine tuning of basic physical laws that strongly suggests that You Know Who might have had a hand in the creation is just a statistical illusion. Based on absolutely no facts at all, some materialists insist the reason the universe looks ultra-fine-tuned for life is that we just happen to be lucky enough to live in the one-out-of-an-infinite-number-of-universes where all the physical laws happen to be fine-tuned enough to produce us.

According to this theory, there are, in fact, an infinite number of other universes with other physical laws tuned to other variables. This is not the sort of thing that would keep you from getting shot in Deadwood, S.D., in the 1880s (“Wal, pardner, I cain’t hep it if every hand I’m dealt is four aces. We jes’ happen to live in the multiverse where I always git four aces!”), but it is a consolation to atheist materialists desperate to avoid You Know Who.

The problem for the atheist is this: If, for the special purpose of getting rid of God, you can say there are an infinite number of natures out there, why can’t the Christian say the same thing?

Christianity does not really posit a three-story universe (hell, earth, heaven). It posits a universe with (potentially) any number of natures — and even the possibility that such natures can interact.

In Tradition, “earth” refers to the creation we can see: not just the planet on which we live but the whole field of time, space, matter and energy to the farthest reaches of the farthest galaxy.

Similarly, “heaven” refers, not simply to God (the “highest heaven”), but to the realm(s) of the angels and even of the demonic “powers and principalities.”

Such natures are “higher” than we are in the order of nature and so the angels are traditionally pictured floating around in heaven next to God. But, of course, there is an infinite gulf between the Creator and his angels just as there is an infinite gulf between the Creator and us (in the order of nature).

Revelation speaks of these “in-between” angelic natures only insofar as it concerns us so we know only a little. The angels, which are pure intelligence without corporeal bodies, exist to praise God and to help us in our salvation.

The demons are angels who have refused an affirmative to the fundamental law of existence: to worship the Triune God who is life, love, truth, goodness and beauty. They are the enemies of creation because they are the enemies of the Creator. For the purposes of our salvation, all we need to know is that.

Unfortunately, the devil being a liar, we have been fuddled. So rejecting atheistic materialism is not enough.

Next week, we will look at the opposite problem from atheistic materialism: the New Age tendency to love angels more than angels want to be loved.

Mark Shea is content editor

for CatholicExchange.com.