Dear Father, a friend recently tried to convince me that the existence of the human person is a proof for the existence of God. I am not sure I understood everything he said, but it sounded convincing. Can you enlighten me on this?
Your friend makes a very good point, one often overlooked in books and articles which give arguments for the existence of God.
We should begin by explaining what is unique about the human person that makes our very existence an argument for the existence of God. What is unique is precisely our spiritual soul, with its rational intellect and free will.
It takes us back to the creation of man by God in the “image” and “likeness” of God (cf. Gen 1:26). This image and likeness are not in our body, for God does not have a body. They are in our soul – our spiritual, immortal soul.
This spiritual soul makes us radically different from all other creatures on earth. The highest apes, while having much in common with us, especially the affective life of nurturing their young and relishing the company of other apes, do not have a spiritual soul. They cannot think, plan what to do the following day, choose freely between alternative courses of action. They simply follow their instincts. A good sign of their lack of rational intelligence is their inability to make progress. Over the centuries animals of all sorts continue to live as their ancestors did for thousands or even millions of years. They are incapable of progress.
We humans, on the contrary, have a rational intellect which allows us to think, to plan, to invent tools and new ways of doing things.
The result is that over time we have progressed from making fire, the wheel and weapons with which to hunt, to a state where we have jet aircraft, skyscrapers, computers and rockets capable of sending people to the moon and back.
We are clearly radically different from the highest apes.
This rational intelligence is, as it were, a spark of the divine intelligence, a tiny share in God’s own intellect.
Moreover, as a result of our rational intelligence we can weigh up various courses of action, consider the pros and cons of each, and freely decide what to do.
We are not bound by our instincts, even though we have them as do higher animals.
We have free will, like God, and can make free choices, after deliberating on them.
Where did we get this extraordinary power? Did apes gradually evolve over hundreds of thousands of years to a point where they became human, capable of thinking and choosing?
No, there is a radical break between the highest apes and humans.
We are not just a little more intelligent than apes, we are radically different from them, as we have just seen.
We have a spiritual element, a spiritual soul which allows us to perform these actions. And no matter for how long bodies evolve they can never become spiritual. Matter and spirit are two different realities. Spirit does not arise out of matter. It is created separately. Angels, who are pure spirits with intelligence and free will, were created directly by God. So were humans.
We accept of course the possibility that the human body evolved from some other living thing.
Pope Pius XII, in his encyclical Humani generis (1950), said as much: “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, on the part of men experienced in both fields, take place with regard to the doctrine of evolution, insofar as it inquires into the origin of the human body as coming from pre-existent and living matter – for the Catholic faith obliges us to hold that souls are immediately created by God” (n. 36). In other words, the Pope accepts the possibility, only the possibility, that the human body evolved from some other living thing. But the soul, he says, was created immediately by God.
This has to be the case. Being spiritual, the human soul must come from some other spirit.
But from which spirit?
It does not come from our parents. They each have their own soul, as each one of us does.
We cannot give our soul to another, or share it with another. It is ours for all eternity.
Our soul can only come from the infinite spirit who is God.
Therefore, if humans exist with a spiritual soul, there must be a spiritual being who gave them that soul. That Being is God.