The following conversation and ensuing discussion took place on a train in 1930s Poland. Saint Maxilmilian Kolbe – his words are noted in bold type – talks with other passengers about the existence of God. I am sceptical but of scientism and many of the claims made on behalf of science which may actually depend upon faith. A definition of faith might help to clarify matters but this is not the point of this blog – I merely wish to make public a conversation that once took place on a train in Poland. But to explain my thoughts a little further I will add that science tells us how the world works but cannot say anything remotely comprehensible about why we exist.
Many have read not a sentence of Charles Darwin yet maintain that Darwinism has clinched the atheist argument. The evidence, however, is not as compelling as some might wish to believe. One would have thought 150 years was enough time (since the theory of evolution was first made public) for transitional fossil forms to have been found. Yet they do not appear to exist. There have been many claims and then, decades later, these claims have been debunked.
More recently a bird type fossil is argued as proof of a transitional form, but after further investigation the claim appears far from conclusive. Besides, one would have expected the appearance of millions of transitional fossil forms given the amount of animals that have lived and died on Earth. The lack of transitional fossil forms would have concerned Darwin. Indeed, he suggested that evidence to support his theory of natural selection would be available in fossil form underneath the oceans; but so far science has failed to come up with this evidence except for the beforementioned bird. Another approach to advance the authority of science over any other form of knowledge is with reference to carbon dating and that the Earth existed billions of years ago. Anyway carbon dating can only date matter up to 50,000 years ago!
This may or may not be true but this does not disprove the existence of God. God as Prime Mover is a concept derived from Aristotle. No matter how old the Earth is the Big Bang theory points to a first cause. And there is no better answer to that first cause than the existence of God. Anyway, on to that discussion on a train… .
‘We had left Przemysl and the train was taking us at high speed in the direction of Cracow. Two youths were sitting near the railway window, facing each other. One of them was an artist and portrait painter and, as the conversation brought out, Jewish. We talked about the destiny of humankind and agreed in affirming that its purpose is to become like God, and that only this purpose constitutes the complete happiness of the human being. At one station, among the passengers who had entered our compartment was a cultured person who sat down right opposite me and immediately joined our company.’
“But can we know whether God exists? ” he began by asking.
“We can surely only believe that God exists; in fact nobody is in a position to demonstrate it.”
“Be so kind as to listen to me and I will clearly demonstrate it to you.”
“On that point no one will ever succeed in convincing me.”
“Probably you refute all arguments by principle, before you even examine them.”
“Of course not!”
“I’m also interested in hearing a clear demonstration of this matter,” a lady sitting by intervened.
“I beg you to forgive me,” I said, turning to those seated by the window, “later I shall return to the point we were discussing, to answer the questions of those who have just got on the train.”
“We shall be very pleased.”
“First of all, excuse my asking, but what is your educational background?”
“I went to college. I studied Law.”
“Perhaps philosophy too?”
“No, not philosophy. On the other hand, what does philosophy have to do with faith?”
“Faith should harmonize with reason, and such a harmony is reached precisely through philosophy, above all on the question about the existence of God. But now I must know what it is we all agree on, since I had better start from there, otherwise we would be building on a shaky foundation.”
“So, let’s start. Do you exist?”
“Yes, but I am only a small part of the world.”
“Please, let us leave the discussion of what we are for later; for the time being, I am only asking you if you exist.”
“And you, Ma’am?”
“I say I exist too.”
“Does anyone among you, by any chance, believe differently?
They all agree.
“Then we can say that our existence is a fact.” “I wouldn’t say that.”
“Because, in general we cannot know something for sure; there are things that some people affirm to be true and that others deny.”
“Then you are not sure that you exist?”
“I am just a small part of the matter that exists in the universe.”
“I insist that I do not want to discuss here what you are, but rather the more general fact of whether you exist, that is, the fact that you are something, otherwise you are nothing.”
“Evidently, I am not nothing.”
“Is that true?”
“Let’s see now, do you have a watch?”
“Yes.” He produces a watch from his pocket.
“Does it belong to you?”
“Yes, it’s mine.”
“Are you sure?”
“I have no doubts about it.”
“Excuse me, if you had any doubt about it, I would ask you to give it to me and I would put it into my pocket.” Everybody laughs. “Therefore, your theory according to which we cannot know anything for sure is false, since you consider your own existence to be an axiom, and you are not prepared to question the fact that you are the owner of the watch. So, isn’t it true that I exist?”
“And what about this lady, and this man, and all of us here present?”
“Are you sure?”
“Yes, I am sure.”
“But, why are you so sure?”
“Because my eyes clearly show it to me.”
“And what about those fields and meadows we see passing by the windows of our carriage, and the whole world and the stars that shine above our heads; do they exist?”
“They exist too, so you see, I have come to acknowledge the existence of what we can see, but as far as God is concerned, we do not see Him.”
“Excuse me, is the locomotive that pulls this train moving right now?”
“Of course it is.”
“Are you sure?”
“Yes, I am.”
“But, can you see it?”
“Well, certainly not, but if the locomotive weren’t moving, then our carriage would not be moving forward either.”
“So then, you admit now that some things can be known not only because we can see them directly, but because we can see the effects caused by them, which lead us to that knowledge.”
“Is that so?”
“What would you say about a man who, referring to his watch reasoned in the following way: This metallic case came out of a mine by pure coincidence, it melted by itself in a peculiar way, and then purified itself before taking the shape it now has. Even the inscription was engraved by pure chance. Also the glass was melted and ground just by chance. The very cog-wheels were made by themselves. And the other parts that make up this watch were shaped by themselves by pure coincidence and, finally, they were all put together by themselves, as we now see them, without requiring a human mind in the process, and now they point to the hours without any help whatsoever: all happened by chance. If such a man affirmed this in all earnest, what would you say?”
“That perhaps he’s crazy.”
“Well then, in nature there are organisms that are formed still more mysteriously. I am sure you are amazed just by observing how a human eye is formed, in studying the many different parts that make it up, how delicate they are and how magnificently they serve for seeing! The whole of nature is composed of millions and billions of organisms that live, develop and reproduce themselves. Therefore, could we believe that these marvels of nature are just the product of pure chance?”
“One could say: All this does not happen without a cause, that’s true, but these causes have in turn a cause of their own, and those have still other causes, and so on and so forth. Still, in this series of causes, perhaps driven to the infinite, shouldn’t we acknowledge the existence of a first cause? In fact, by itself a cause does not confer any perfection, but only communicates what it has received, whereas we are interested in the artificer of that perfection. There must be then a first cause, and … and that is God.”
The face of that man glowed with wonder, for he had probably never before been able to reach such a conclusion; probably he had never before reflected on that truth.