Cause & effect & all of us
Jan. 18, 2012
That God is the uncaused cause has long been one of the principal arguments for a supernatural, all-powerful being. Some unexplainable, mysterious force must have begun the creative process, otherwise there would be nothing, or so the argument goes.
To use a CSI analogy: The immediate cause of the victim’s death was a head wound caused by a projectile that was fired from a weapon in the hands of an assailant, the proximate cause, who was paid by the victim’s business partner who discovered the victim was having an affair with his wife.
The string of remote cause spins out endlessly, each one further removed from the murder but each necessary for the crime itself. The confluence of all those events that ended in the murder was the existence of the persons involved, their relationships, their psychological profiles, values and motivations, to identify a few.
So, too, with science, as the web of life and the objects that surround us are better understood. With each discovery, a door is opened to a new mystery, a revelation that upon exploration and analysis leads to new and even more complicated discoveries, linked one to another.
As our knowledge deepens, we discover a vast ocean of cause and effect. Each new cause we discover is itself an effect caused by something else. Where does this great unraveling take us?
Some say science will eventually be able to explain it all; others say there is no explanation. Most believe that effects must have a cause. If the world and its creatures had a more direct and immediate cause – the Genesis description – the source would be more apparent.
However, it is now obvious that creation was an extended process occurring over billions of years. But who or what started the process and who or what sustains it? Does the fact it was so remote render the idea of a creator obsolete?
I would argue that time itself is an effect and thus caused by a force outside of time. Thus, what we see as an extended process measured over time may be different apart from time. That may sound like so much science fiction but it is a plausible, albeit not provable, explanation for evolution.
I do not see existence as an infinite series of incoherent coincidences. That hypothesis, in my view, would be more preposterous than belief in an Intelligent Being that created and in some mysterious way guides it. Without that belief, we are the product of some cataclysmic accident that by chance set the process in motion. Reducing it to those bare essentials gives rise to the question: Where did the “stuff” that generated the cataclysmic accident come from?
Religion and revelation are vehicles by which we reach out to the unknowable. There are believers, frustrated with the obvious failings of religions, who prefer to deal direct. There are others who believe it is all a fantasy.
At least for me, religion provides a more satisfactory answer to who what and why we are. The acceptance of an Almighty also provides a foundation that supports belief in truth, justice, and love as absolutes that transcend man’s capacity to distort them.
God exists at the end of causes -- the unexplainable and unknowable source. It all comes down to a leap of faith. Believers leap toward God; atheists leap toward science; and agnostics are reluctant to leap.
While acknowledging the deficiencies in all the worlds’ great religions, including my own, I need the sense of purpose, structure, guidance, and comfort that my faith provides on this journey. I am not strong enough to travel this road without it.
James W. Dolan is a retired Dorchester District Court judge who now practices law.