Disproving the Existence of God?

On Annunciation Day, the New York Times published an attempted philosophical demonstration that our idea of God is incoherent.

God cannot be all-powerful, because He cannot create an unliftable stone. If He can lift it, it’s not unliftable. And if He can’t lift it, He’s not omnipotent.

Also: God can’t be all-pure and all-knowing, because He would know what we know. And we know sins–like lust, envy, or even cold-blooded malice. Being human means knowing sin. If God is morally perfect, then He doesn’t know about being human.

egg…Challenge accepted, sir.

The Stone

God has certainly created plenty of stones that no human being can lift–even with the help of a backhoe or crane. But things like earthquakes and volcanic eruptions can move some of those “unliftable stones.” And, according to plate tectonics, the earth has long-term forces within her that produce mountains out of mole hills–by moving “unliftable” stones.

So maybe we have to say that the only “stone” that no force on earth can lift is: the Earth itself.

But the Earth does move, as we deduce from astronomical observations. (Plus the few people who have visited outer space have seen this with their own eyes.) A force exists which moves even our entire planet.

So maybe the sun is “the unliftable stone?” Well, no. Apparently, the solar system moves; galaxies move.

So the only “unliftable stone” is: the entire universe.

But hold on. Yes, the universe does not have another location to which it can be moved, so it cannot be moved from place to place. But it has “moved” in another way. Its existence is not absolute. It could not exist. Therefore, something–some force–moves the universe to exist, as opposed to not existing.

That is God. The only “unliftable stone” is: God Himself.

Therefore, the argument “God cannot be all-powerful, because He cannot create an unliftable stone” actually means “God cannot be all powerful, because He cannot create another all-powerful God.”

But this is no argument against God’s omnipotence. Create means: produce a creature. Creatures and the Creator are not commensurate things; God is infinite, while creatures are finite. Among finite things, there can be multiple instances of the same type of being. You can have one, two, or a dozen eggs. But there cannot be multiple instances of infinity; that makes no sense. God not being able to double His own infinite power doesn’t make Him anything less than infinitely powerful. The unity and indivisibility of the infinite God pertains to His omnipotence.

God’s “Morality”

“One cannot know lust and envy unless one has experienced them,” writes the philosopher.

Ok. But even we limited human beings regularly experience lust, envy, and other sins, without committing those sins. We can know lust, envy, or malice by falling victim to acts of lust, envy, or malice by someone else. Or we can experience temptations to lust, envy, malice–but not actually sin. We can resist such temptations.

So even limited, human experience shows that the argument against divine omniscience–on the ground that moral purity means ignorance of sin–doesn’t hold water.

But there’s an even deeper problem with this argument against God’s omniscience. It presumes that God’s “moral” perfection–his sinlessness–involves moral choices like the moral choices we make. That He would achieve moral purity by avoiding sin–like we try to do.

We make moral choices–either for good, or against the good–because we finite creatures grow over time (hopefully towards a good goal.) But God does not grow; He does not change. His unchanging, pure goodness is the good goal of the human moral life.

God knows that we defect from Him, and how we do, and why we do; He knows our sins much better than we know them ourselves. But that does not make Him guilty of them.



Hopeless Hubris vs. Humble Reason

(c) The Glynn Vivian Art Gallery; Supplied by The Public Catalogue Foundation

Last week, Dr. Gary Gutting published an essay, “Should Pope Francis Re-think Abortion?” To my mind, the professor makes an honest, respectable effort to engage the issue. I have read many counter-arguments, and I don’t think any of them responds charitably and fairly.

Dr. Gutting makes some important points. Spontaneous abortions (i.e. miscarriages) do frequently occur, resulting in loss of unborn life. The Church, in her solemn magisterium, does not (and, in fact, may never be able to) take a position on the metaphysical question of when exactly human life begins. We human beings do not, at this point in time, possess knowledge adequate to offer a definitive statement on that subject, and it hardly seems likely that we ever will. People of good will sympathize with the sacrifices a mother makes in carrying a child, so any argument that asserts a right to life without due attention to the interests of the mother will not convince. To my mind, these are good and important points about abortion that Dr. Gutting’s essay brings rather eloquently to light.

His lack of focus lies in a couple crucial areas. First, Dr. Gutting refers to a “ban” on abortion which does not exist. Neither the Pope, nor Mother Church entire, can “ban” abortion. Women, in fact, have millions of abortions every year. The Church solemnly taught, at Vatican II (!), that procured abortion is an unconscionable crime. Ergo, there ought to be laws against it (as there were, at one time). But the Church does not make civil criminal laws.

Continue reading “Hopeless Hubris vs. Humble Reason”

Light Out at NYT? The White House?

I admit that sometimes I read the New York Times. Have I ever wondered: If a tree falls in the forest, does it make a sound?

I may have. But I have never wondered if the light in the refrigerator stays on while the door is closed.

Ever since I was three, I have known that the closing door presses a switch that turns the light off. For decades, I have thought of this as “common knowledge.”

Until today. Today I enjoyed reading Ms. Jo Becker’s “The Other Power in the West Wing,” about presidential advisor Valerie Jarrett.

Like many such articles, this one offers extensive quotes from an unnamed insider. The secret source wonders aloud about who makes the decisions, Ms. Jarrett or the President?

An interesting question. In the words of the insider, quoted verbatim in the article:

The question that is hard to get inside of, the black box, is whether she is really influencing him or merely executing decisions he’s made. That’s like asking, ‘Is the light on in the refrigerator when the door is closed?’

Now, over the years, I have ready many, many sentences which make no sense.

This one, though, takes the cake. Which I will leave, for the anonymous prize-winner, in the refrigerator. In the impenetrable darkness.

Let’s Circumcise “Religious Freedom”

Before we get too excited about jumping on the “Ross Douthat Speaks My Mind!” bandwagon, let’s consider the flip side of the essay he published yesterday.

First of all: Yes. Who could disagree with his points…

1. A thesis in favor of sexual libertinism underlies current goverment attempts to compel religions to abandon their religion.

(We have to abandon our religion by paying for other people’s contraceptives, abortifacients, and sterilizations; German Jews have to abandon their religion by waiting till their boys grow up before circumcizing them; certain chicken joints have to abandon their religion by giving the all-the-cool-people-are-doing-it thumbs-up to ‘gay marriage’…)

2. Why don’t the government agents in question just admit what they really want to accomplish–and quit pretending that they believe in religious freedom, when in fact they obviously don’t? They have their agenda; it makes sense to them; let them just say it, including the (currently unspoken) part: “Your religion is evil because it deprives people of the sexual freedom to which they have a right. Your evilness has no rights. You must be compelled to abandon it. You must concede that everyone has the right to sodomy/fruitless sex at will.”

Okay. Good point, Mr. Douthat. I agree. Truth would be served better if those trying to compel us just admitted all this.

BUT, amigos: I think this knife cuts with both edges. Let advocates of artificial contraception and sodomy speak honestly regarding what they favor.

But let us do likewise. The Lord did not consecrate us as apostles of ‘religious freedom.’ He consecrated us as apostles of His Gospel.

We do not propose “religious freedom.” We propose chastity; we propose that Catholics and non-Catholics alike should abide by our teachings regarding human sexuality. We propose that the one true God has revealed Himself in one Christ, Who founded one Church.

Douthat has it altogether right: The strife we face arises from particular disputed points of morality. Let the other side engage the disputed points forthrightly. But let us engage them forthrightly, too, and not play the lame religious-freedom “victim card.”

If we don’t believe that we are right on the issues themselves, then what are we doing? Why would anyone want to join a church that only asks for space to have a subculture where we ourselves follow our teachings in the privacy of our own ghetto?

The teachings of the Catholic Church are the way to freedom, life, and salvation for every human being. That’s our position. And if we suffer for holding it, it is also our position that such suffering helps our cause more than anything else ever could.

BUT: What about using whatever arguments are politically expedient, in order to save our institutions, which serve so many people?

Okay. If a court case making religious-freedom arguments keeps a hospital from having to close or sell itself to the highest non-Catholic bidder, I am all for it.

But can we sacrifice our mission to propose the imitation of Christ as the true way of life for man–can we sacrifice this, for the sake of political expediency? We happen to have perfectly good and convincing arguments to support all our positions, and none of these arguments require an appeal to the great nebula called “religious freedom.”

Why don’t we just make those arguments? That way, we would actually play to win, rather than just playing defense, hoping for a scoreless tie. (And it would also take us off the hook for defending the practice of cutting the penises of screaming little boys. Let the mohels defend that.)

Making Yourself Make Sophie’s Choice

The New York Times gave us an Assumption-Eve present by publishing a primer on baby-making morals in their Sunday magazine.

(Click through the link only if you are made of stern stuff.)

“The Two-Minus-One Pregnancy” concerns the business of ‘fetal reduction’ when in vitro fertilization proves too successful. Once, doctors generally drew the line at killing one of two twins. Now ethics must ‘evolve with technology’ yet again.

Suffice it to say that pretty much everything mentioned in the article is strictly forbidden by God in the strongest terms.

…We were all little embryos once; we all needed to nuzzle into the endometrium bed. We live to tell the tale. Fortune was on our side. Thank you, God. Thank you, mom…

William Styron produced one of the more wrenching literary conceits of the second half of the 20th century. He imagined a Polish mother, a Nazi’s pistol in her face, having to choose between her two children. One would live; the other would be gassed.

Now, as the Times reports, these poor souls–who have emptied their savings accounts to pay fertility doctors–make Sophie’s choice, even when no one holds a gun pointed at them.

Oh, God: The Nazi death-camp Obersturmbannführers live. They live on, in the twisted consciences that would rationalize killing one baby in order to have more ‘quality time’ with the other.

…All the unborn children we have wantonly killed lay in their hidden graves; the Lord knows where they lie. On the last day, when the little ones rise again, will we be able to withstand their gaze? Or will the purity of their guileless stare pierce us so deeply that we despair?

Have mercy on us, little ones. Forgive our generation our murderous selfishness. We promise we will do all we can to make things right.


I enjoyed reading this little essay about New York City doormen.

–Not just because I would have been perfectly happy to live out my earthly life as a doorman, if God willed.

–Not just because the essay’s line of argument recalls King Lear’s ‘reason not the need’ speech, my favorite speech of all time.

But also because my humble little lot as parish priest at 11th and K Streets, N.E., is not too far removed from the social niche the doormen of New York occupy. I am proud to be their confrere.

God Asks Permission His Way

annunciationI am ashamed to admit that I am just now getting around to reading all the homilies and speeches our Holy Father gave when he was in the Israel in May.

When he was preaching in the Basilica of the Annunciation in Nazareth, the Pope made a remarkable observation.

He was recounting what happened at that spot, when the Archangel Gabriel awaited the Blessed Virgin’s response:

The narrative of the Annunciation illustrates God’s extraordinary courtesy. He does not impose himself, he does not simply pre-determine the part that Mary will play in his plan for our salvation: he first seeks her consent.

In the original Creation there was clearly no question of God seeking the consent of his creatures, but in this new Creation he does so.

Of course it is a beautiful thing to see the Archangel waiting on Our Lady’s free response–to see the Lord waiting on it, all creation waiting on it.

Pope in Nazareth
Pope meditating during Vespers in Nazareth
What struck me here the most, though, is the way the Pope blithely contrasts this with the way God created us in the first place.

In the original Creation there was clearly no question of God seeking the consent of his creatures.

Of course there wasn’t. He created us out of nothing. You can’t ask nothing permission to create it, because there is nothing to ask.

You can only seek the permission of a free person who already exists. Existing is a given–literally. God gave us ourselves.

Then, He asks us to give ourselves back. Freely giving ourselves back is the one and only way for us to deal with having ourselves in the first place.

It is pointless and absurd to fuss about existing, because it never was, and never could have been, a matter for advice and consent.

But offering oneself back to God as an oblation of love–now that is something to fuss about…

My brother Ben
Speaking of which, a friend asked me to mention that The Bethlehem Monastery of Colettine Poor Clare nuns in Barhamsville, VA is having a “Come and See” day on November 14 for women 18-35.

…P.S. Just in case you were looking for White in the Grey Lady recently, Ben White has moved on from the NYT and is now contributing to a daily briefing on politico.com called “Morning Money.”

Guest Contributors

nytWe welcome guest contributors to the on-going discussion and debate on Preacher and Big Daddy.

First of all, don’t miss Loeb Award-nominated Ben White’s exposé on the front page of today’s New York Times. He will discuss this on MSNBC this evening! (Between 6:00 and 6:45.)

Continue reading “Guest Contributors”

NYSE Bell Rung

Celebrities on the New York Stock Exchange Opening Bell platform last year
Celebrities on the New York Stock Exchange Opening Bell platform last year
Just in case you missed it in the last Wednesday’s New York Times, here is my brother’s scoop on who rings the bell to start the bloodbath.

Perhaps today will be better.

May the good Lord deliver us.

May our Lady watch over us and protect us.

St. Jude Thaddeus, pray for us!

White in the Gray Lady

My brother Ben with lovely wife Robin
My brother Ben with lovely wife Robin



The New York Times has published my brother’s first story. He just started working there on Tuesday after successful tenures at the Washington Post and the Financial Times. Many more hard-hitting articles will shortly follow. Then he will win a Pulitzer, and then a Nobel Prize.