Steven Hemler’s The Reality Of God is a fantastic book for any lay person who wishes to hone their ability to defend the reality of God’s existence. Looking at evidence from multiple angles, Hemler offers evidence from cosmology, astrophysics, geology and biology that point toward a transcendent Cause of the universe. Also weaved throughout this work are philosophical arguments for the existence of God, making the book a nicely-written, cohesive resource for the lay apologist.
In the first section of his book, Steven draws the mind of the reader towards the gravity of the question of the origin of the universe. Modern discoveries in cosmology and astrophysics, as he points out, suggest quite convincingly the likelihood of an absolute beginning to the universe. If this is so (and it appears that it is), what—or who—caused the universe? Things do not come into existence from nothing because—of course—out of nothing, nothing comes. There must be, as proponents of the Kalam cosmological argument conclude, a timeless, spaceless, immaterial being of tremendous creative power and intelligence behind the origin of the universe. Rolling from cosmological proofs to evidence from the fine-tuning of the universe, Hemler cites experts on both side of the debate, including Oxford physicist Stephen Hawking, who writes:
“The laws of science, as we know them at present, contain many fundamental numbers, like the size of the electric charge of the electron and the ratio of the masses of the proton and the electron. … The remarkable fact is that the values of these numbers seem to have been very finely adjusted to make possible the development of life.” (A Brief History of Time, p. 125)
In the second part of The Reality of God, Hemler looks at biological evidence for God—including the controversial topic of evolution.
He lays the groundwork of the second part by examining the Book of Genesis, pointing consistently to the Catechism to emphasize the Catholic position on the first book of the Bible. Though, at this point, the Church has left it open for the faithful to believe creation took place over a few days (literal, chronological interpretation of Genesis) or a much larger period of time (symbolic, topical interpretation of Genesis), he quotes Cardinal Schönborn, the General Editor of the Catechism of the Catholic Church:
“The first page of the Bible is not a cosmological treatise about the development of the world in six days. The Bible does not teach us “how the heavens go, but how to go to heaven.”
He also quotes Pope Benedict XVI, who stated in a General Audience:
“The Bible isn’t meant to be a manual of natural science.” (February 6, 2013)
In regards to evolution, Hemler reminds the reader that the Catechism teaches that “God is the first cause who operates in and through secondary causes”. Therefore the scientific theory of evolution—that living beings could evolve from a lower form— is acceptable for the Catholic as long as the biological theory accepted coincides with current scientific proof, and most essentially, as long as it is concedes that God is the First Cause of all secondary causes.
Though the Catholic faith does not endorse a comprehensive acceptance of evolution, Hemler shows that it can indeed be compatible with Christianity when understood as a scientific principle. As Pope Pius XII’s taught in his encyclical, Humani Generis:
“the teaching authority of the Church does not forbid that, in conformity with the present state of human sciences and sacred theology, research and discussions . . . take place with regard to the doctrine of evolution, in as far as it inquires into the origin of the human body as coming from pre-existent and living matter—[but] the Catholic faith obliges us to hold that souls are immediately created by God” (Pius XII, Humani Generis 36)
In the third and final part of The Reality of God, Hemler takes a detour from the sciences and discusses, in basic form, some metaphysical proofs for the existence of God. He draws largely from the work of Fr. Robert Spitzer in his section on human consciousness, where he introduces the “five transcendental desires”. He argues in unison with Fr. Spitzer, that since our deep-seated human desire for perfect knowledge, justice, beauty, and being cannot be satisfied in this life, this implies the existence of a transcendent God who is the fulfillment of all our desires. As C.S. Lewis—who developed this argument in his 20th century writings, wrote—”Creatures are not born with desires unless satisfaction for those desires exists…” (Mere Christianity, p. 136-137).
Hemler goes on to discuss human conscience—what Blessed Henry Newman called the “aboriginal vicar of Christ”. All humans have an inherent sense of right and wrong, as well as a conscience to guide them along the “right” path. Hemler sides with the position that this infused human awareness of objective right and wrong, as well as the apparent authority of the human conscience, point towards a divine lawgiver who is personal and as such, has orchestrated a best way to live (AKA a morally upright life). These are interesting concepts and Hemler gives just enough of an introduction to stimulate curiousity and the desire for further research regarding these metaphysical arguments.
In the final chapter, Steven introduces the reader to several famous metaphysical arguments for the existence of God. He describes Pascal’s wager which is not so much a proof for God’s existence as it is a practical reason to believe in God. From there, he touches on the “Five Ways” of St. Thomas Aquinas to end the book.
Overall, I enjoyed The Reality of God and found it to be an engaging defense of the existence of God. Further, I would recommend this book to anyone getting started in Christian apologetics. Today, most lay apologists have ordinary day jobs: farmers, accountants, teachers, doctors, stay-at-home-moms and so on. They are in the world, at arms with a culture of indifference and skepticism; and often, good books are their primary training grounds. Thus, The Reality Of God: The Layman’s Guide to Scientific Evidence for the Creator is both timely and necessary for our times, offering an introductory landscape of scientific and philosophical arguments for the existence of God.