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Religion

Cause and Effect – and the Very First Cause

David Langness | Apr 26, 2015

PART 2 IN SERIES Some Answered Questions about God

The views expressed in our content reflect individual perspectives and do not represent the official views of the Baha'i Faith.

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David Langness | Apr 26, 2015

PART 2 IN SERIES Some Answered Questions about God

The views expressed in our content reflect individual perspectives and do not represent the official views of the Baha'i Faith.

All that is created, however, is preceded by a cause. This fact, in itself, establisheth, beyond the shadow of a doubt, the unity of the Creator. – Baha’u’llah, Gleanings from the Writings of Baha’u’llah, p. 162.

Know of a certainty that every visible thing has a cause. – Abdu’l-Baha, Divine Philosophy, p. 107.

“To me, God just isn’t sensible,” a very rational friend told me once.

“I agree,” I said.

“But I thought you believed in God?” she asked.

“I do,” I told her. “But I don’t believe God is sensible—using the old definition of the word. We can’t see or touch or hear our Creator—which means we can’t use our senses to know God.”

“How can you be sure that God exists, then?”

“The same way we know lots of things exist that our senses can’t perceive–logic and reason,” I said.

“Okay, prove it,” my rationalist friend said. “Convince me.”

So here, in these next few essays, I’ll try to reproduce the main elements of the longer conversation my friend and I had, which continued for some time and ultimately resulted in my friend finding a way to believe in that Supreme Being she couldn’t sense.

I doubt our discussion was unique, because people have talked intensely about this subject for thousands of years. Ultimately, those conversations led most of history’s great thinkers to the conclusion that they could only address the existence of a Creator through philosophical proofs—and not by relying solely on scripture. After a few centuries of discourse on the subject, we wound up with some very persuasive and penetrating philosophical arguments for God’s existence—generally called cosmological, moral, ontological and teleological–not to mention several creative new philosophical proofs (which we’ll address in a later series). Let’s take a look, one by one, at these philosophical explanations for the existence of God, and see what the Baha’i teachings have to say about them.

Aristotle

Aristotle

To truly understand the cosmological argument, you need to know three major “A’s” of philosophy: Aristotle, Avicenna and Aquinas. They all had reasoned, logical rationales for the existence of what Aristotle called “the unmoved mover”—the First Cause or prime mover of all creation. Both Thomas Aquinas and the Islamic philosopher Avicenna generally agreed with Aristotle when he said that something must explain the existence of the Universe. Aristotle basically argued—and I’m oversimplifying his very powerful rationale here—that everything which exists must have a cause.

Essentially, Aristotle’s argument preceded and predicted the scientific law of causality—each effect is preceded by a cause—which forms the basis for the scientific method. Here’s how that logic path works:

  • If something exists, it had a cause

  • The cosmos and everything in it exists

  • Therefore it had a First Cause—an “Unmoved Mover,” a Supreme Being.

The cosmological argument, you’ve got to admit, has a pretty air-tight rationale behind it. Einstein’s version is famous: “When I see a piece of toast, I know that somewhere there’s a toaster.” The universal law of cause and effect must have a First Cause, in other words. Philosophers and theologians have grappled with this argument for centuries, and it continues to fascinate and challenge them today.

The Baha’i teachings explain the cosmological argument this way:

Science teaches us that all forms of creation are the result of composition; for example, certain single atoms are brought together through the inherent law of affinity and the result is the human being… If we declare that construction is accidental, this is logically a false theory, because then we have to believe in an effect without a cause; our reason refuses to think of an effect without a primal cause. …the constituent elements of life enter neither involuntarily nor  accidentally, but voluntarily into composition–and this means that the infinite forms of organisms are composed through the superior will, the eternal will, the will of the living and self-subsistent Lord.

This is a rational proof that the will of the Creator is effected through the process of composition. Ponder over this and strive to comprehend its significance, that you may be enabled to convey it to others; the more you think it over, the greater will be your degree of comprehension. Praise be to God that he has endowed you with a power through which you can penetrate mysteries. Verily, as you reflect deeply, ponder deliberately and think continually, the doors of knowledge will be opened unto you. – Abdu’l-Baha, Divine Philosophy, pp. 103-106.

When my friend and I went over the cosmological argument and the Baha’i writings on the subject, she said “I’m going to have to reflect deeply and ponder deliberately over this one…”

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Comments

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  • Apr 28, 2015
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    Perhaps it's just the stubborn skeptic in me (I discovered the Baha'i Faith at a disenfranchised time in my life -- when I was an ex-Christian considering myself to be an agnostic/soft atheist), but I don't care for the term "belief in God." To that question -- do you believe? I sometimes give the somewhat snarky answer: "Belief is for Santa Claus, the Easter Bunny and honest used car salesmen. I don't believe in a damn thing. But I do think God exists." And perhaps that's where this stage of humanity's spiritual development is taking us -- to a place ...where we can move past merely believing, and to start analyzing and actually thinking things. "Belief" to me, also has emotional implications. And to be honest, there are days when I'm still very much an atheist on that emotional level. That's when the rational side of me reminds myself, again, that there is every reason to think God exists -- even if I'm just not feeling it right then.
    Read more...
  • Apr 27, 2015
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    Just what our team needs as we continue our friendship with many Chinese seekers who sincerely search their hearts to see if they can come to believe in a Creator. The Party and school taught them so well and strongly for decades that religion is idle superstition.
  • Apr 26, 2015
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    wonderful stuff, David. I talk to an old friend last night who said he has become an atheist so I sent him this piece after a long talk with no pushing.
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