Robert J. Spitzer, New Proofs for the Existence of God: Contributions of contemporary physics and philosophy, Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans, 2010, 319pp + xiii.
Dr Spitzer is a philosopher, a Jesuit priest, and a former president of Gonzala University. His (5) proofs are not really new. Rather, they are updated versions of old proofs going back to Thomas Aquinas (1224-1274) and earlier.
The first two proofs draw upon recent developments in physics. Applying the latest results in big bang cosmology, quantum physics and string theory, Spitzer argues that any feasible big bang cosmology must start off as an expansion from nothing a finite time ago. Nothing can come from nothing. Thus Spitzer concludes that it is reasonable to infer the physical universe had a non-physical, transcendent cause--a creator.
The next proof concerns the implications of design in big bang cosmology. Spitzer examines the values of twenty physical constants such as the speed of light and the mass of the electron. Had these been only slightly different, Spitzer argues, the universe would have been hostile to life. Hence the physical constants appear to be fine-tuned for life. Spitzer infers that the extremely small likelihood of a livable universe such as ours arising by chance points to a supernatural Designer.
The second part of the book presents three philosophical proofs. The first proof argues that, underlying physical reality, there must be an “unconditioned reality”—something that upholds everything else but is itself independent of anything else for its existence. Spitzer contends that this “unconditioned reality” must be unique, absolutely simple, and unrestricted. It is the continuous Creator of all else that exists. A further proof builds on this to show that the “unconditioned reality” must also have unique, unrestricted intelligibility.
The final philosophical proof aims to demonstrate the impossibility of infinite past time. From this it follows that time must have been created a finite time ago, by a Creator who is not dependent on time.
One chapter is devoted to proving the impossibility of disproving the existence of God. The next chapter aims to show that the Creator would be perfect in being, truth, love, goodness and beauty. The final chapter argues that humans possess five desires (i.e., home, truth, love, goodness, beauty) that can be satisfied only by the “unconditioned reality”.
This book certainly succeeds in presenting profound arguments for the existence of God. It challenges those who would deny God’s existence to argue at a deeper rational level. This comes, however, at the price of making this a difficult read for the average person. The first two chapters require a rather advanced grasp of physics; the rest involves intricate philosophical argumentation. Of course, the reader who perseveres will learn much in those disciplines.
The book has a number of shortcomings. One problem is that the scientific arguments are based on the presumed correctness of modern physics, including big bang cosmology, general relativity, quantum mechanics and string theory. Much of this is, however, highly speculative. Big bang cosmology has numerous deficiencies; there is as yet no viable theory of quantum gravity; string theory is not yet well established and is currently untestable.
Moreover, Spitzer's evidentialist apologetics assumes more neutral ground between Christians and unbelievers than is warranted. He does not sufficiently take into account the fact that observational data can be interpreted within various worldview schemes. Consider, for example, big bang cosmology, which Spitzer accepts as true. Since this cosmological model contradicts the Biblical account of creation, it undermines Biblical authority. Hence it would have been more prudent for Spitzer to avoid such commitment and to simply argue that modern naturalist cosmology, based on the current most popular scientific theories, has theoretical implications that contradict the naturalist worldview.
The philosophical arguments, while interesting and complex, are ultimately not compelling. The recalcitrant atheist can always find logical loopholes and alternative explanations.
For example, I believe that Spitzer’s argument against an actual infinity is fallacious. Actual infinities are used in modern mathematics; they are not incoherent. Moreover, Spitzer’s argument against an actual infinity of past time proves too much; it would count equally against an actual infinity of future time. According to Spitzer, this is not the case, since the future is not a completed infinity but only an endless growth. But surely God comprehends all of time as complete: God sees the past and future with equal clarity. God is “from everlasting to everlasting” (Ps.90), “whose years shall have no end” (Ps.102), which suggests that God’s eternity encompasses both past and future infinite time.
Finally, one might wonder, how well do these proofs work? Do they ever really convert anyone? Ultimately, of course, only the Holy Spirit can change rebellious hearts. Yet He works through various means, however imperfect—even, presumably, flawed proofs.
Nevertheless, there is still a huge gap between the God of the philosophers—the First Cause, Designer, Unconditioned Reality—and the living God of the Bible. In this regard it is interesting to recall the 2004 conversion of the prominent atheist Anthony Flew (1923-2010). Flew was not convinced by any profound proof via physics or philosophy. Rather, it was the obviously immense complexity of even the simplest cell that convicted Flew of the need of a supernatural Designer. Unfortunately, however, this led Flew only as far as deism—he never became a Christian.
It is noteworthy that nowhere in his book does Spitzer ever refer to the Bible. There is no mention of sin or Jesus Christ. He does end with a plea to the reader to seek the God of mercy, kindness, humility, love. Yet, where can we find out about this God other than in His revealed Word?