As I had written in my last post, the inability of a nun to answer his questions is what set Ebert on the road to disbelief. It should serve as a warning to parents, pastors, and Sunday School teachers that it's never too early to inject apologetics into childhood instruction. There are good answers to questions such as these, and they can be couched in such a way that even young children can understand.
Let's take the idea of a God without beginning or without end. In his article, Ebert writes, "I'm still struggling with the question of how anything could have no beginning and no end." If I was instructing the young Roger Ebert I would have simply pointed to a drawing of a circle and I imagine a conversation going something like this:
Roger: "But there is no corner."
Lenny: "Why not? Why isn't there a corner."
Roger: "Because it's a circle. Circles don't have corners!"
Lenny: "You're right! As soon as you have any shape that has a corner, it is no longer a circle. A circle must by definition not have corners, right?"
Lenny: "OK then. Can you also see since there is no corner to the circle that every point on the circle is exactly like every other point?
Roger: "Um. Yes, I guess that's true."
Lenny: "Good. So if every point is equal with every other point, then the circle really has no starting point. Lines have starting and stopping points, but lines are also broken. They can be in many different shapes. Unlike a line, a circle must have all points equally connected to be a circle. That's what makes it a circle and not an arc. A circle is a shape without a beginning point or an end point, yet the shape still exists.
"God has properties which define him in the same way a circle has properties which define it. A circle cannot have corners and a circle cannot have a starting or stopping point and be a true circle. In the same way, God is defined as someone who can exist outside of time; He is someone who has no starting or stopping point because you must be limited by time in order to have that. But it no more illogical to believe in a God who has no beginning or end than to believe in a circle that has no beginning or end."
In his first paragraph, Ebert says he has figured out the answer to his question of a last star, writing "I know there cannot be a Last Star, because we know the universe to be curved. At least, that's what mathematicians tell us. I can't form the concept of a curved universe in my mind, but I think I know what they're trying to say." If Ebert can recognize a curvature of space-time makes a last star implausible, then why can't he by that same token acknowledge a First Cause that begins all events? This concept is not "something that falls outside all categories of thought and must be unknowable and irrelevant to knowledge" but can be known to have at least the following properties:
- It must be outside of space, for it is the reason space exists.
- It must be outside of time, for it is the reason time exists.
- It must be immaterial, since all matter is created by it.
- It must be self-existent.
- It must have a will in order to will the creation event to begin.
Those properties are specific and most of humanity across history would recognize that description as only fitting God.
I hope Roger Ebert keeps seeking. I would love to expose him to some of the incredible advancements in natural theology that have occurred in recent years, so that he can see the belief in God rests on strong intellectual grounds. But I hope more that other kids who have similar questions would not be shut down with a pat answer of "You just have to believe. Pray to have faith" for that is no answer at all.