May 20, 2020
MY CORNER by Boyd Cathey
Does God Exist? Look into the Eyes of a Dog
Last night, after my customary evening prayers and climbing into bed, my cocker spaniel Jasper jumped on the bed with me, as he is apt to do, and, then hovering over me like some special guardian surveying his charge, his legs on my chest, looked directly at me with his two adoring brown eyes. It was as if to say: “It’s bed-time, and I wanted to ‘say’ to you ‘please keep safe,’ ‘good night,’ ‘my love and devotion’ for you.”
I know, I know—dogs don’t speak, but they do communicate in so many other ways…in their movements, in their barking and whining, by wagging their tails or moving their paws, but perhaps most effectively with their eyes. Jasper’s eyes were lit with warmth and contentment, but also with a kind of fealty and intimate comradeship that only a person who has had a close canine companion for any length of time can understand and fathom.
As I looked back into those golden globes, I thought: “Here indeed was one of God’s little creatures, a kind of little barking Guardian Angel, a creature whose ancestors began to faithfully accompany man thousands of years ago, at the very origins of civilization.”
Here in this adoring face was in fact a representation of the goodness of the Creator—in a sense, the Face of God Himself exemplified by this canine, composed of an intricate pattern of muscle, organs and tissue, but far more than the sum of his physical parts. Yes, a creation of Nature, the result of a very long line of other canines, but issuing forth in a living being with a unique personality all his own.
For me—and I realize to those with a scientific bent this may seem a bit naïve—that Jasper exists is, in a very special way, a definite sign that not only does God exist, but that He has taken very special effort in devising His creation.
Consider the essential: here is this animal, this creature who breathes, moves, eats, plays with and accompanies me, has emotions (which on close inspection over time I can detect)…and shows them. Here is a creature of extreme complexity physiologically, less so than humans, but still complex. Millions of minute cells programmed to work in harmony, and over them all a distinct, motivating, life-giving personality, and indeed what St. Thomas Aquinas called a living “animal soul.”
I was put in mind of that superb English film, “Dean Spanley” (2008), starring Jeremy Northam, Sir Peter O’Toole, Sam Neill, Judy Parfit, and Bryan Brown; it’s one of my favorite—perhaps my all-time favorite—movies. Based on a short novella by British writer Baron Dunsany it is both whimsical and deeply moving in its message. And it uses dogs to represent the kind of spiritual bond that exists between mankind and canines, but also, more importantly, between Man and other human beings. That bond is ineffable, it is spiritual, but it exists. And it is something which cannot be created in the most advanced, the most modern scientific laboratory. It is, if I may be so bold, something that cannot be explained fully by evolutionary biology.
Years ago, when I was studying in Spain, one of my professors was Dr. Wolfgang Strobl, without doubt the most brilliant man I’ve ever met or had the privilege to know. Dr. Strobl was born in Bavaria and a shell-shocked veteran of World War II, which gave him a permanent limp (he walked with a cane). After the war he earned his first doctorate at the University of Munich in philosophy, mathematics and physics (1952) “summa cum laude,” with a mammoth work, titled, “The Fundamental Problems of the Philosophy of Nature in the Ontological Sense of the New Physics.” A second earned doctorate came in 1967 (Pontifical University of Navarra): “Scientific Reality and Its Philosophical Criticism.” Fluent in a dozen languages, guest professor at numerous universities in every part of the world, including Columbia, Fordham, and St. John’s in the United States, translator of Werner Heisenberg and other German philosophers into Spanish, he was amazing. In his lectures at Navarra it was if someone just pushed a button and out flowed a perfectly organized (and for me, diagrammed) fifty minutes of brilliance.
I recall back then—in 1973—we took up the work of French scientist/philosopher Jacques Monod, Chance and Necessity (published first as Le Hasard et la Nécessité: Essai sur la philosophie naturelle de la biologie moderne). Monod’s work was all the rage at the time, and not just in France, but also in the United States. Basically, and not to do him an injustice, Monod posited that “the combined effects of chance and necessity, which are amenable to scientific investigation, account for our existence and the universe we inhabit, without the need to invoke mystical, supernatural, or religious explanations. While acknowledging the likely evolutionary origin of a human need for explanatory myths, in the final chapter of Chance and Necessity, Monod advocates for adopting an objective (hence value-free), scientific worldview as our guide to assessing truth. He describes this as an 'ethics of knowledge', which disrupts the older philosophical, mythological and religious ontologies that claimed to provide both ethical values and a standard for judging truth.”
As Monod summed up his work: "...man at last knows he is alone in the unfeeling immensity of the universe, out of which he has emerged only by chance. His destiny is nowhere spelled out, nor is his duty.”
For a number of sessions Strobl lectured about—and profoundly critiqued—Monod’s work and his assertions. And he did so not only from biological science and the standpoint of physics, but also from mathematics and the philosophy of logic.
On various occasions I was privileged to visit him and his wife for lunch and continue those discussions. I recall distinctly him describing the inadequacy of Monod’s (and other’s) theories of human evolution that left out, noticeably and fatally, essential ingredients in the make-up of Man. Like some other critics, Strobl contended that Monod failed in his attempt to banish "mind and purpose from the phenomenon of life" in the name of science.
And, venturing into the foundations and philosophy of mathematics—if I may call it that—Dr. Strobl added that the study of probabilities, alone, made the commonly-held belief in biological evolution, as currently conceived, a practical impossibility. After one reaches a certain level of (im)probability, a happening, an event, an occurrence is considered not just improbable, but, practically speaking, impossible. Distinct and widely disparate amounts of time are required for something to occur depending on the level of probability—the chance, if you will—that it might happen in nature.
The chance that I get stung by a yellow jacket this summer while working in my yard can be calculated roughly using a number of factors: where the yellow jacket nests are, how many of them exists, where exactly I work and step, the care I take, how many times I work in my yard, and so on. Depending on these conditions, I could, if I knew them all, estimate my chances, maybe 5%, maybe more, maybe less.
But let’s take something much more extensive and far more improbable: the example of a monkey sitting in front of key board and pecking out the entire works of William Shakespeare by chance. Of necessity it would require millions—perhaps billions—of years (of trial and error), and then what are the percentages? Would it actually ever come to pass?
As Dr. Strobl explained, after reaching a certain level of improbability, a happening becomes in effect impossible. Despite the billions of years for that monkey to type out Shakespeare by chance, if at all, at a certain point mathematically such a calculation is essentially impossible.
Thus, if we posit that a one cell amoeba somehow evolves and has evolved into my canine companion Jasper, not only does that evolutionary process demand millions, perhaps even billions of years, but from a mathematical viewpoint is dead on arrival, impossible.
Without something more than the cold theories of evolutionary science, stripped of all other considerations and ignoring (or refusing to examine) the insights of other disciplines which offer a more rounded and fuller picture of life, we are left bare, tiny meaningless specks in an inscrutable and unforgiving universe.
I recall an interview with the late Southern novelist and writer, Walker Percy, from Esquire back in 1977. In it Percy was asked why he was a Christian, and he responded: “What else is there?” And the follow-up question:
“Would you exclude, for example, scientific humanism as a rational and honorable alternative?” And he answered: “Yes…It’s not good enough…This life is much too much trouble, far too strange, to arrive at the end of it and then to be asked what you make of it and to have to answer ‘Scientific humanism.’ That won’t do. A poor show. Life is a mystery, love is a delight. Therefore I take it as axiomatic that one should settle for nothing less than the infinite mystery and the infinite delight, i.e., God. In fact I demand it. I refuse to settle for anything less. I don’t see why anyone should settle for less than Jacob, who actually grabbed aholt of God and wouldn’t let go until God identified himself and blessed him.”
So it was when I looked into those two loving orbs, those two golden brown eyes of Jasper last night, and he communicated to me his love and companionship and care, far, far beyond any consideration of what amoeba he might have supposedly come from billions of years ago. And as I reached out and scratched his floppy ears with my returned affection, yes, I stared into the face of one of God’s creatures whose very existence signaled to me, to echo Walker Percy, “What else is there?” Scientific humanism and atheism won’t do. “Life is a mystery, love is a delight. Therefore I take it as axiomatic that one should settle for nothing less than the infinite mystery and the infinite delight”—God. The Creator once more demonstrated His love last night through His little creature on my bed, as I prepared to end the day and take one more step towards eternity.