* Paper read at a meeting of the student philosophy club of the Protestant Reformed Seminary.
It might be well to state at the outset of this paper that the thoughts and ideas conveyed subsequently have been borrowed from and in many phrases quoted literally from far superior minds than the author’s, and are not interpretation from original sources as much as from other commentator’s views of the philosopher’s ideas. Any personal opinions will be expressly stated and will in the main be found in the conclusion of this paper. However, as this paper is meant merely to serve as an introduction to the discussion for this evening’s subject, and as the subject matter at times went far beyond the author’s comprehension and logical powers, the few personal ideas that are given, are done so more with the thought in mind to provoke discussion and to figuratively, ‘stick my neck out,’ than to attempt a definite, conclusive, and correct view point relative to the subject.
This introduction will then, first of all, list the different rational proofs usually given for the existence of God. Secondly, it will treat each proof or argument separately, calling attention to the argumentation of some of its leading proponents as well as the argumentation used in the refutation of their views by other philosophers. And thirdly, it will attempt to point out the value of these formal arguments and propose a doctrinally as well as rationally sound conclusion from the surface that has been scratched of the subject assigned.
To my mind the subject given me, does not interest itself in the first place with Scriptural evidence adduced to prove the existence of God, for Scripture assumes that God exists, and nowhere in Scripture can we find a syllogistic statement to prove the reality of God. But the subject is interested mainly with the rational or formal arguments advanced by philosophers throughout the ages, with which they attempted to prove, apart from faith as the believer possesses it, that there is a God that very really exists. By God we mean the eternal, self-existent, and absolutely perfect free personal Spirit, distinct from and sovereign over the world He has created. This definition, I believe, the majority of philosophers mentioned in the introduction had in mind when they included in their system of philosophy proofs for or against the existence of God.
To list then the arguments usually advanced in the proof of God’s existence. There are some four or five, beginning with what is usually called the Ontological Argument, or being Argument. This argument simply and briefly stated might be said to infer the existence of God from the idea of God that is in the human mind. In other words, if there were no God, no one would have thought of God. The second argument to be considered is the Cosmological Argument, or the evidence for God’s existence as First Cause. The World or Universe argument it is sometimes called. The point is that everything must have a cause. The universe must have a cause, and therefore, there must be some being outside of the universe who caused it. It explains where the world came from, if we believe in the existence of God. Thirdly, the Teleological Argument, or the evidence afforded by the presence of order and adaptation of the universe. The argument runs like this: the order, the harmony, and the apparent purpose in the universe suggests an intelligent Creator. The universe seems to be headed m a certain direction, or that somebody is guiding the universe. From this we conclude the existence of God. The fourth argument is the Moral Argument. The moral order in the universe points to a moral being as ruler of the universe. Everybody has conscience, or a sense of right and wrong. Where do they get it? From a moral being as guider of the universe. Lastly, the Historical Argument is sometimes used to prove God’s existence. The argument is that every race believes in some God. (Consensus gentium). All men everywhere live on the belief of the existence of God.
There is perhaps sufficient material for discussion in the first four named arguments, so that we will not attempt to introduce a discussion on the last one.
The Ontological or Being argument distinguishes itself from the other arguments in that it is based upon a priori knowledge, whereas the Cosmological, Teleological, and Moral arguments logically ascend from facts of experience to causes or principles. An a priori argument is one which proceeds from the necessary ideas of reason to the consequences necessarily deduced from them, or the truths necessarily involved in them. This distinction is important to bear in mind for it plays an important role in the refutations to the ontological argument advanced by both Thomas Aquinas and Kant.
Although St. Augustine concludes to the existence of God from the undeniable existence and possession by man of some truth, it is in Anselm that we find the first philosophic attempt to prove the existence of God. In fact, the fame of Anselm is connected chiefly with his ontological argument as he gives it in his work, “Proslogium.” A summarized statement of his argument as recorded by Ueberweg, is as follows: I quote, “The ontological argument is an attempt to prove the existence of God, as following from the very idea we have of Him. By the word, God, we understand, by definition, the greatest object or being that can be conceived. This conception exists in the intellect of all such as have the idea of God, and in the intellect of the atheist as well, for the atheist understands what is expressed by the words: the absolutely greatest. But the greatest cannot be in the intellect alone, for then it would be possible to conceive something still greater, which should exist not only in the intellect but also in external reality. Hence, the greatest must exist at the same time in the intellect and in the sphere of objective reality. God, therefore, is not simply conceived by us; He also really exists.” (end of quote).
From Dr. Stob’s notes we get the following syllogistic statement of Anselm’s ontological argument:
“All men have, or can have, the idea of God.
The idea of God is the idea of something than which a greater cannot be conceived.
But that than which a greater cannot be conceived cannot exist in the mind alone. (If it did, a greater, namely, one which existed in reality as well could be conceived).
Hence, since God (as something than which a greater cannot be conceived) exists in the understanding, He must exist also in reality, since that is a superior existence.” (end of quote).
Thus we see that according to Anselm, man has the idea of a perfect being. Perfection involves among other qualities that of existence. (Otherwise we could think of a more perfect being, one who did possess existence). Therefore, God exists.
This argumentation we can readily see involves no sense perception or fact based on experience, but is entirely a priori. For this reason, Thomas Aquinas can find no place in his system of thought for the ontological argument of Anselm. For, according to Thomas, our rational knowledge must always begin with sensation. Says he, and I quote Ueberweg, “God’s being is not immediately certain for us, because we do not know what God is. God’s existence, so far as our knowledge is concerned, is something to be proved, and the grounds for this proof are to be sought in that which is more knowable to us. . . . The system of faith which presupposes the existence of God, proceeds from the consideration of God to the consideration of the created world: but in philosophy we must advance from the knowledge of creature to the knowledge of God. . . a certain sense, man has naturally the knowledge of God. He has it in so far as God is for him the happiness for which he naturally seeks: for seeking implies a kind of knowledge. But for certain and clear knowledge, proof is necessary.” (end of quote).
Thus we see that the ontological argument of St. Anselm has no validity for Thomas Aquinas.
However, in Descarte we have a revival, slightly modified, of the ontological argument of St. Anselm. According to Descarte, the very conception of an infinite and absolutely perfect Being logically implies the existence of such a Being. For a being that did not exist could not be infinite and perfect, since it would lack one essential quality of infinitude and perfection, viz., existence. Existence is as definitely implied in the existence of God as the consequence that its three interior angles are equal to two right angles follows from the definition of a triangle. Descarte says, and I quote from Rand’s, “Modern Classical Philosophers,” “By the name God, I understand a substance, infinite, eternal, and immutable, independent, all-knowing, all-powerful, and by which I myself and everything that exists, if any such there be, were created. But these properties are so great and excellent, that the more attentively I consider them the less I feel persuaded that the idea I have of them owes its origin to myself alone. And thus it is absolutely necessary to conclude, from all that I have before said, that God exists: for though the idea of substance be in my mind owing to this, that I myself am a substance, I should not, however, have the idea of an infinite substance, seeing that I am a finite being, unless it were given me by some substance in reality infinite.
“And I must not imagine that I do not apprehend the infinite by a true idea, but only by the negation of the finite, in the same way that I comprehend repose and darkness by the negation of motion and light; since on the contrary I clearly perceive that there is more reality in the infinite substance than in the finite, and therefore that in some way I possess the perception of God before that of myself; for how could I know that I doubt, desire, or that something is wanting to me, and that I am not wholly perfect, if I possessed no idea of a being that is more perfect than myself, by comparison of which I know the deficiencies of my nature?” (end of quote).
If we are given the reality of self we can logically infer the reality of God, and from that the reality of nature and other cells. Of course, these are inferences, and they are not as the self is for Descarte, directly necessarily implied as the precondition of the possibility of thinking. Dr. Jellema in his classroom notes states: “We have here a contrast between two kinds of logic, viz the transcendental logic of Kant is implicit in Decafie’s proof of self. The proof of God and nature is by means of traditional deductive logic. God is not for Descarte a precondition of thinking. (Here is where Descarte differs from Augustine). Abstract reasoning was for Descarte the criterion for certainty. If we accept the criterion we can be sure of: 1) Our own existence, and 2) the existence of God. God’s reality is inferred from our own self- existence.” (end of quote).
Now in this paper we cannot delve into the processes of thought employed by Descarte to prove the existence of self. But it must be stated that he concludes to the existence of self from the fact that he is a conscious, thinking, substance. He can in his mind form a clear and distinct idea of his body and its attributes, as well as of his soul and its attributes. In his logic he clearly and distinctly defines these attributes and comes to the conclusion of his owe existence.
Now Descarte says that we can form a clear and distinct idea of God, also. If we have this idea of God such that we can clearly define Him and sharply distinguish Him from other beings, Descarte says that proves the existence of God, because we must assume that just as the cell exists, and I exist, so anything of which I have a clear and distinct idea must exist.
From this discussion of Descarte’s ontological argument we realize that two different formulations of syllogism are possible. And this Dr. Stob very nicely compiles in his notes on Descarte. They follow, and I quote:
That of which I have a consciousness as clear as my consciousness of myself, must exist. I am as clearly conscious of God, as of myself. Hence, God exists.
The idea of God is the idea of an all-perfect being. To a perfect being, the attribute of existence necessarily belongs. Hence, God of necessity exists.” (end of quote).
Commenting upon the arguments or proofs advanced by these famous philosophers, it seems to me that we must conclude that Descarte’s arguments for God follow logically enough from his premises. If clearness and distinctness of ideas is a sufficient proof of the existence of corresponding objects in any case at all, the idea of God is assuredly such a case. If a finite mind could not of itself conceive the infinite, and yet as a matter of fact does conceive it, God must actually exist in order to make any such idea possible. If for example we see a certain picture in Beacon Lights, we are compelled to assume the existence of a cut with the same characteristics as the picture. If the positive idea of an infinite Being has been imprinted upon the infinite mind, an infinite Being must exist to have produced the idea.
(to be continued)
D. Vander Wal