(Taken from Ray Fontaine’s book My Life With God IN and OUT of the Church)
During the next two years at Catholic seminary, philosophy would teach me what the mind can know about the basic principles of being without using telescopes, microscopes and divine revelation. Later during theology, I would acquire knowledge based entirely upon revelations reputedly from God. For the moment, however, I must rely solely upon reason.
In his opening class, the professor reviewed what humans believed about the origin of the
world for thousands of years before the first philosophers appeared in Greece during the fourth century BC. Over a million years ago, humans expressed their thoughts and feelings in spoken language. Their descendants communicated their beliefs and achievements to future generations - all by word of mouth.
Around 3000 BC the Sumerians, who lived along the Euphrates and Tigris rivers, invented
the art of writing which spread to other cultures and races. Now humans could record in stone and clay or on parchment and papyrus their thoughts including those about the origin of the world.
Without scientific instruments, just from visual observation, humans found no explanation
for the world: lightning and thunder, earthquakes and typhoons, floods and drought. In society, things happened when rulers gave orders and when craftspeople got to work. In nature, beings that were smarter and more powerful than humans must be directing the elements and forces. To explain the mysteries of the world, the Sumerians created thousands of deities. So did the Egyptians, the Babylonians, the Assyrians and most civilizations for thousands of years.
The first people to seek non-divine explanations for natural phenomena were Greek
thinkers, such as Thales (547 BCE), Anaximander (547 BCE), Plato (348 BCE), and Aristotle (322 BCE). According to Plato, the universe reveals design, purpose, and therefore a supreme architect.
Aristotle observed that nothing starts to exist by itself. Its existence depends on something or someone else. An infinite series of beings, each depending on another for existence, could never get started except by a being who needs no one or nothing for existence. We call that self-sufficient being God. Plato and Aristotle blazed a new trail for the pursuit of knowledge. Instead of running to the temple for answers about the world, humans should examine nature's elements and forces relying on intellect rather than on deities. During the next two years, I would follow the lead of Plato and Aristotle and probe the basic principles of being with my mind.
After much reflection, I reached the certitude that a powerful, intelligent and good being,
who always existed, created the universe in which we live. This conviction is the foundation of my philosophy of life: my overall vision of and attitude towards life and the purpose of life. My life makes sense only because my belief in God is based not on revelations reputedly from God but on rational reflections upon the wonders of nature. Let me explain.
Walking through the woods one day, I picked up an acorn - a lowly nut with a lofty lesson. In the soil, the nut pops its cover. A tender stem emerges and evolves into a stately oak: trunk, branches and leaves. The acorn is an organism that, with common plant nutrients, develops not into a maple or birch or elm but into an oak - nothing else. The acorn is formed and fashioned that way. By what? Mindless matter or an intelligent force? By chance or design?
Later I examined a magnificent monarch butterfly. At first the original cell develops as a
lowly caterpillar. After several weeks, the insect covers itself with a shell, becoming a pupa hanging by a thread from a branch. Later the insect breaks through its shell and emerges fully developed with exquisite black and golden wings. These paper-thin wings carry the butterfly from Texas to Canada every autumn and back again every spring. This amazing metamorphosis from seed-caterpillar-pupa to butterfly occurs without fail because the seed is made that way. Again the question: what or who fashioned the seed? Mindless matter or an intelligent agent? By chance or design?
I asked myself this question many times. Finally I found the answer not in universities or
libraries, not in observatories or laboratories, not in synagogues or cathedrals but in a crib. Better than scholars and scientists, better than preachers and teachers, a baby answered my question definitively.
A baby originates from a single cell which measures 0.00004 of an inch. Soon the zygote
divides into two complete cells, each of which again separates, and these 4 subdivide into 8 and so on until the process systematically produces more than 10 trillion cells, of which 500 average-sized cells can fit within the following period. If each cell measured 1 cubic inch, a human adult would be as big as a building 1800 feet wide, 1800 feet deep, and 1800 feet tall.
Early in the cell-producing process, certain genes call for organ-forming proteins. These
specialists soon fashion a heart that can pump blood, carrying nutrients and oxygen, to each of the baby's trillion cells. A fresh supply is critical. Without renewed oxygen, brain cells suffer damage within 4-6 minutes and certain death within 10. With a lifetime guarantee, this marvel of bioengineering beats about 72 times a minute or 103,680 times a day. And since each heartbeat delivers 2.5 ounces of blood into the arteries, the heart pumps 2025 gallons each day.
Keeping pace with the heart, the baby's lungs develop, not for immediate use, but for a
surefire start when the newborn gasps for his first breath. Another masterpiece of engineering, the lungs inhale and store oxygen in 300,000,000 tiny sacs. Blood rushing from the heart passes through these sacs to collect fresh oxygen and distribute it to the body's multi-trillion cells. As the blood courses through the body, it also collects waste from every cell, flushing solids into the intestines and liquids into the kidneys, and depositing carbon dioxide in the lungs for exhalation.
But the most amazing and distinctively human organ is the brain. Only three weeks after
conception, a brain appears as a tiny sheet of nerve cells, called neurons, and grows at a feverish pace creating millions of new cells each day. At birth they number 14 billion.
Since one neuron may form 5,000-50,000 connections with its neighbor neurons, the
number of possible communication-points in the brain reaches 20,000,000,000,000. Through this system, the brain operates an integrated network reaching every organ and every cell deep inside our bowels, down to our fingertips and toes. The communication systems of AT&T worldwide cannot compare with the complexities and activities of one human brain. The brain can communicate not only sound, shapes and color but also smell, taste, pain, thoughts, love, and especially awareness and consciousness of them all.
Scientists have discovered that brain activity depends on chemical reactions and
electrochemical energy. Since neurons receive and send signals not over wires but through organic matter, the messages are encoded in chemicals. But if a finger touching a hot stove had to wait until chemical reactions worked their way to the brain and back before receiving the pull-away command, the whole finger would fry to a frizzle. To speed up transmission, the first neuron to receive the alarm charges the signal with electrochemical energy. From that moment on, the message speeds along at 120 miles per hour.
Whoever admires a baby smiling and gurgling in his crib, whoever feels his heart beat and
his lungs breathe, whoever foresees that this little guy will someday reason and love, whoever looks into his eyes has to believe that this baby's existence was planned, set in motion and guided by a supreme, intelligent being whom we call God.