* Paper read at a meeting of the student philosophy club of the Protestant Reformed Seminary.
But as Kant points out the arguments of Anselm and Descarte, as well as those of Leibniz, are based upon assumptions which have yet to be proved. One assumption is: That existence must be regarded as one of the qualities in of the concept of an absolutely perfect Being. And a second assumption in Descarte’s argument is that matters of existence, in this instance at least, can be discovered by a purely analytical examination of conceptions that are clear and distinct, without recourse to empirical evidence. The first assumption asserts that if a person thinks of an absolutely perfect Being, he must also think of that Being as actually existing, since otherwise the Being would not be perfect. This may be questionable and is said by Rev. Hoeksema to be a clear illustration of begging the question. But suppose this assumption granted. Unless the second assumption also be conceded, the first taken alone, might only lead to the conclusion that a person who clearly and distinctly thinks of an absolutely perfect Being must also think of that Being as in existence; which would not be enough to prove that the Being does actually exist outside of the person’s thoughts.
“It is easily perceived,” says Kant in his Critique of Pure Reason, “that the concept of an absolutely necessary Being is a concept of pure reason, the objective reality of which is by no means proved by the fact that reason requires it. That idea does no more than point to a certain but unattainable completeness, and serves rather to limit the understanding, than to extend its sphere. It seems strange and absurd, however, that a conclusion of an absolutely necessary existence from a given existence in general should seem so urgent and correct, and that yet all the conditions under which the understanding can form a concept of such a necessity should be entirely against us.
“The concept of a supreme Being is, in many respects, a very useful idea, but, being an idea only, ii is quite incapable of increasing, by itself alone, our knowledge with regard to what exists. It cannot even do so much as to inform us any further as to its possibility,” (end of quote),
For Kant, all knowledge is operation on material given through the senses, in other words, if there should be reality that cannot manifest itself through our senses, we could never have knowledge of it. Therefore, says Kant, God may be real but we can have no knowledge of God. We cannot prove nor disprove His reality. So too, man may be free (morally) but we cannot prove nor disprove that. And again, the ideals which man seeks may be eternal, but we can neither prove nor disprove that. God, freedom, immortality remain unknowable, they are not phenomenal. A-priori knowledge is limited to the sense world.
Thus we see that Kant’s criticism of the ontological argument is that the argument is based or dependent upon the false assumption that conceived existence and real existence are synonymous. The fact that we have a concept of God as an all-perfect Being does in no way guarantee His existence. His example is that it is not the same to say that I am conscious of a hundred dollars or that I actually possess one hundred dollars. He says, “If I try to conceive a being, as the highest reality, (without any defect), the question still remains, whether it exists or not. For though in my concept there may be wanting nothing of the possible real content of a thing in general, something is wanting in its relation to my whole state of thinking, namely, that the knowledge of that object should be possible a-posteriori also.”
The point of difference, then, between Kant and the proponents of the ontological argument is that the latter think that an all-perfect Being necessarily includes the attribute of existence, while Kant says, no, we can have a concept of a real absolutely all-perfect Being, but that does not necessarily include existence, because existence can be proved only a-posteriori, or through sense perception.
Having discussed the pros and cons of the ontological argument, we will now proceed to the so-called Cosmological Argument.
We will recall that this argument is an attempt to prove the existence of God from the evidence of a First Cause of the world or universe. Everything must have a cause. Therefore, there must be some Being outside the universe who caused it. Briefly stated in the form of a syllogism, we, have as
Major Premise—Every new existence or change in existing things must have had a cause pre-existing and adequate.
Minor Premise—The universe as a whole and in all its parts is a system of changes.
Conclusion—Therefore, the universe must have a cause exterior to itself, and the ultimate or absolute cause must be eternal, uncaused, and unchangeable.
This version of the cosmological argument that proceeds from effects to causes, has as its major premise a causal judgment that is intuitive and absolutely universal and necessary. Even though it is denied by some, as Hume and Mill, it is nevertheless used in all their reasoning as to the origin of the world and all things in the world. The judgment is unavoidable and its opposite is unthinkable. If something exists now, there must have been something existing eternally which is the cause of that which exists now.
Dr. A. A. Hodge in his ‘Outlines of Theology’, says: “We must remember that the cosmological argument is not that everything must have a cause, but that every new thing or change must have been caused. That which is eternal and immutable needs no cause. Therefore, the real cause—that in which the causal judgment can alone absolutely rest—must be neither a change nor a series of changes but something uncaused, eternal, and immutable. All philosophers postulate an eternal, self-existent, and unchangeable cause of the universe and in so doing they merely assume the principles asserted in this argument.” (end of quote).
As to the minor premise, this objective reality is accepted by practically everyone. Common sense recognizes the universe and its parts as a system of changes. This is emphasized by the principle and lesson of modern science.
There is another and more common version of the cosmological argument which is the interpretation given by Kant when he criticizes it in his “Critique of Pure Reason.” Stated in syllogistic form we have:
If there exists anything there must exist an absolutely necessary Being.
For, 1) Everything contingent must have its cause, and 2) This cause—if contingent—must have its cause, till the series of subordinate causes end in an absolutely necessary cause, without which, the series would have no completeness.
Since at least I, exist, an absolutely necessary Being exists.
In analyzing this syllogism we find that it is based on two principles. First, Every limited or contingent reality must have a cause. Secondly, every limited reality must have, not merely a partial, but a complete explanatory, and ultimate cause.
Kant’s criticism of this argument is very nicely stated in the notes of Dr. Stob, as follows:
“It is true that every limited or contingent reality must have a cause.
It is not true that the universality of this causal principle implies an ultimate cause.—All that the causal principle demands is that the causal series of contingent beings never at any particular point come to an end.
A cause is necessarily contingent, i.e., a cause stands in necessary relation both to its effect and to its own cause, and consequently an ultimate being cannot be a cause. For, 1) An ultimate being if it were a cause would need to have a cause, and so would cease being ultimate. (That is, as cause, God would be a member of the temporo-causal series and thus not be ultimate). 2) If God, in the interest of ultimacy, be placed outside this temporo-causal series, then how is He connected with the contingent things of which He is said to be the cause?” (end of quote).
In this argument we have an appeal to experience; it is a fact in experience that I exist. But in the major premise a leap is made beyond experience in the assertion that the existence of anything contingent and dependent, implies the existence of something absolutely necessary and perfect. We do not know that to be true, and this part of the cosmological argument reverts to the ontological argument and is dependent upon it, for it assumes that existence can be deduced from mere ideas, those of contingency and necessity.
The third argument advanced by some philosophers is called the Teleological Argument, or the physico-theological argument, as Kant calls it, because it calls attention to the signs of order, design, and purposiveness that we see about us in nature; evidences which are impressive. This argument is simply a form of the cosmological argument. Whereas the causal argument proceeded from effect to First Cause, this argument proceeds from an orderly effect to a wise cause. The Cosmological argument led us to an eternal, self-existent, First Cause. This argument reveals the First Cause as possessing intelligence and will.
Stated in a syllogism this argument could be presented thus:
Major Premise—Universal harmony and purpose in nature and in all creation, is a matter of fact.
Minor Premise—This effect, or matter of fact, must have a cause adequate and pre-existing.
Conclusion—Therefore, the First Cause of the universe must be an intelligent mind and will.
As a proof of the major premise, it may be stated that the very fact that science is possible, shows that there is design in the order of nature. Science is based and dependent upon the fact that external nature bears out its conclusions. Besides, we have but to look about us, to find evidences of a definite purpose in the laws of nature. As Rev. Hoeksema points out, “How beautifully and perfectly are all things adapted to one another, so that each creature exists and moves, lives and acts, within the sphere of its own law, and all its needs are satisfied! The fish is adapted to the water, the bird to fly in the air, and the beast to roam in the jungle.”
Must we find the cause for this harmony in chance or accident? Or, should we conclude that an intelligent mind and will is the First Cense of the universe. Huxley and Darwin would base their conclusions upon chance, contending that through a long period of time chance can accomplish the work of intelligence. According to Darwin, organisms are like grape-shot of which one hits something and the rest falls wide. But according to Teleology, organisms are like, a rifle bullet fired straight at a target. Just as nobody can believe that any number of throws could cast a font of type into the order of letters in the plays of Shakespeare, so no man can rationally believe that the complicated and significantly intellectual order of the universe sprang from chance.
It is again in Kant that we find a criticism of the Teleological Argument. Although this, of all the proofs, appealed most to Kant, yet he insists that it carries with it no absolute certainty, and is open to all the objections he has given to the Cosmological argument. He says it is simply analogical. Because a human being would need thought and will in order to create objects comparable to the wonders of nature, we have no right to argue that the unknown cause of nature is intelligence and will. And in this argumentation he agrees with David Hume, who argues that our conviction that adaptation implies design is due to experience and cannot go beyond it. That our judgment that natural organisms imply design in their cause, is an inference from the analogy of human contrivance, and its effects. Hume argues further that this analogy is false because the human worker is antecedently known to us as an intelligent contriver, while the author of nature is antecedently unknown, and the very object sought to be verified by the theistic inference. Also the processes of nature are all unlike the processes by which man executes his contrivances, and the formation of the world, and the institution of the processes of nature are peculiar effects of the like of which we have no experience.
We could answer Hume’s arguments by saying that the human contriver, of whom he speaks, the soul of our fellow-man, is not known to us antecedently, nor is ever in any way known except by the character of the works in which he manifests himself. And exactly in the same way and to the same extent is the Author of nature known. And secondly, the analogy of human contrivances is not the ground of the conviction that order and adaptation imply intelligence. It is a universal and necessary judgment of reason that order and adaptation can only spring from an intelligent cause, or from accident, and that the latter supposition is absurd.
There is one, more argument which we can briefly present in this introduction, and that is the Moral Argument. This argument adds to the cosmological and teleological arguments a new element, viz., the attributes of holiness, justice, goodness, and truth. The argument uses as a premise, the fact that man has a moral consciousness. He realizes an obligation to do that which is right and feels a sense of guilt when he does that which is wrong. Man’s conscience tells him constantly that he must perform that which is good, and that happiness will follow upon virtuousness. And on the other hand, that he should not perform that which is evil, for surely sin will be rewarded with evil consequences. Now in order to account for this moral consciousness in man, the existence of God must be postulated. In order that the highest good may be possible, God must exist. For if there were no God, how could we even have a sense of that which is right or that which is wrong? If there were no perfect moral being, as our standard, how could we universally determine good and evil?
It is probably in Kant’s, “Critique of Practical Reason,” that this argument finds its basis. He says, and I quote: “Happiness is the condition of a rational being in the world with whom everything goes according to his wish and will; it rests, therefore, on the harmony of physical nature with his whole end, and likewise with the essential determining principle of his will. Now the moral law as a law of freedom commands by determining principles, which ought to be quite independent on nature and on its harmony with our faculty of desire. But the acting rational being in the world is not the cause of the world and of nature itself. There is not the least ground, therefore, in the moral law for a necessary connection between morality and proportionate happiness in a being that belongs to a world as part of it, and therefore dependent on it, and which for that reason cannot by his will be a cause of this nature, nor by his own power make it thoroughly harmonize, as far as his happiness is concerned, with his practical principles. Nevertheless, in the practical problem of pure reason, i.e., the necessary pursuit of the ‘summum bonum,’ such a connection is postulated as necessary; must contain the principle of the harmony of nature, not merely with a law of the will of rational beings, but with the conception of this law, in so far as they make it the supreme determining principle of the will, and consequently not merely with the form of morals, but with their morality as their motive, that is with their moral character. Therefore, the summum bonum is possible in the world only on the supposition of a supreme being having causality corresponding to moral character. Now a being that is capable of acting on the conception of laws is an intelligence (a rational being), and the causality of such a being according to this conception of laws is his will; therefore, the supreme cause of nature, which must be presupposed as a condition of the summum bonum, is a being which is the cause of nature by intelligence and will, consequently its author, that is God, It follows that the postulate of the possibility of the, highest derived good (the best world) is likewise the postulate of the reality of the highest original good, that is to say, of the existence of God. Now it was seen to be a duty for us to promote the summum bonum; consequently it is not merely allowable, but it is a necessity connected with duty as a requisite, that we should presuppose the possibility of this summum bonum; and as this is possible only on condition of the existence of God, it inseparably connects the supposition of this with duty; that is, it is morally necessary to assume the existence of God” (end of quote).
Criticism of this argument is founded upon several factors. In the first place, this argument does not take into consideration the mechanical invariabilities of natural laws, and their disregard of the welfare of human beings. Then there is the obvious sufferings of irrational animals that cannot be shown to be compatible with the virtue-happiness ratio of this argument. Again there is the presence of moral and physical evils among men; besides, the apparent unequal apportionment of providential favors, and the absence of all proportion between the measures of happiness allotted, and the respective moral characters of those who receive this happiness—these conditions are not easily explained on the basis of the moral argument. John Stewart Mill in his “Essay on Nature” describes it as the characteristic of nature ruthlessly to inflict suffering and death, and affirms that the cause, of nature, if a personal will, must be a monster of cruelty and injustice. In his “Essay on Theism,” he argues that the attempt to maintain that the author of nature, such as we know it, is at once omniscient and omnipotent and absolutely just and benevolent, is abominably immoral.
Thus we could continue to quote from many different philosophers as to their ideas of these different rational proofs for the existence of God, for they all have in their systems of philosophy a slightly different slant on this universal question. They must at one time or another in their logic consider the place of a supreme being.
But because God is God, Incomprehensible, and Invisible. “He dwelleth in a light no man can approach unto.” Therefore we must conclude that the value of these arguments is not in the fact that they compel belief in God, nor do they prove His existence mathematically, but they do strengthen the faith of those who already believe in His existence. The existence of God is a matter of faith. This does not mean that belief in His existence is unreasonable, for it is imminently reasonable, but that reason cannot conclusively demonstrate His existence. Faith does not contradict reason but goes beyond it. It is more reasonable to believe in God than not to. Overagainst unbelievers these proofs do establish a strong possibility of the existence of God, for they are reasonable, and in their very reasonableness they strengthen the faith of those who believe.