Essay, Research Paper
The quandary of the existence of God has troubled mankind for thousands of years. The existence of God was once never denied, as His presence, His existence was evident in miracles and the people s faith. But time and the advancement of modern science have called God and His very nature into question. The Perfect Being has become the source of much doubt and controversy. What was once certain and surely unquestionable has become the most questioned. The faithful, believing people have become unsure. Often called the father of modern philosophy the father of modern thought, Rene Descartes chose to take up the proof of the existence of God in his Meditations on First Philosophy. Descartes proves the existence of God using an ontological argument, one aimed at understanding the existence, the essence, the being of God. Saint Anselm of Canterbury also makes the existence of God evident using the ontological proof. Following the natural flow of both arguments, Descartes philosophical theory on the existence of God is clearly connected to and based upon Anselm’s theory. At times, it is difficult to tell where one ends and the other begins. Descartes makes the same logical constructions, albeit in a different order, to arrive at Anselm’s argument the God exists.
Saint Anselm approaches the existence of God using the mind and thought. He supposes that God is something-than-which-nothing-greater-can-be-thought. This something is the highest possible object of thought; nothing is greater or more perfect. Anselm then quickly moves to the possibility that this something may or may not exist. He quotes Psalm 13:1, the Fool has said in his heart, There is no God. But Anselm does not reference sacred scripture to deny the existence of God. Instead, Anselm makes the argument that God must exist. For when the Fool hears and takes in the concept of something than which nothing greater can be thought, he surely must understand what this concept means. The Fool understands what he hears, and what he understands is in his mind. But the man is a fool because he does not make the connection that the something must then exist. Anselm illustrates this point with the painter who envisions a picture in his mind and then implements the vision to make it become reality. It is in the doing that the painter realizes existence. The painter has taken the idea and transformed it into something greater. Anselm argues that the same thing can be said about God. In our minds, we have the understanding that God is something than which a greater cannot be thought. But if this something is truly the highest object of thought, it must exist in reality also. There is absolutely no doubt that something-than-which-a-greater-cannot-be-thought exists both in the mind and in reality. Just as the painter brings an idea into its highest form when he creates a picture, God must be in His highest form when He exists.
Rene Descartes follows a similar pattern to prove the existence of God. Because Descartes has doubted everything he knows, he can only contemplate God s existence using knowledge to which he has previously assented. This is, namely, that Descartes is a rational being who thinks and understands. He cannot use elements of the physical world to prove the existence of God. And so Descartes begins his second proof for the existence of God in Meditation Five.
Descartes examines the concept of ideas. When a person thinks of an idea, they perceive countless particulars concerning shapes, number, movement, and the like. In our minds, there is the understanding of what an idea is we understand the idea s attributes. Sometimes, this understanding is fundamentally basic. Descartes uses the triangle to prove his point. When we think of a triangle, we know that it has three sides, three angles and that the sides and angles interact with each other to form the shape known as triangle. All that I clearly and distinctly perceive to belong to that thing really does belong to it, then cannot this too be a basis for an argument proving the existence of God? Because Descartes can clearly understand the properties of a triangle that make it a triangle, he can understand the properties of God that make up God. Descartes believes the properties of God are just as concrete as the properties of a mathematical number or geometrical shape.
One of the inherent properties of this supremely perfect being called God is that He exists. Just as the three sides and three angles cannot be separated from the triangle, so existence cannot be separated from God. If you take a side away from the triangle, it is no longer a triangle. Similarly, if you take existence away from God, He cannot be God, and this is a contradiction. Descartes summarizes his findings:
But from the fact that I cannot think of God except as existing, it follows that existence is inseparable from God, and that for this reason he really exists. Not that my thought brings this about or imposes any necessity on anything; but rather the necessity of the thing itself, namely of the existence of God, forces me to think this. For I am not free to think of God without existence, that is, a supremely perfect being without a supreme perfection
“God is a supremely perfect being, and in this perfection must reside existence. The very concept of God as a perfect being implies that God must exist in reality. If God only existed in the mind or in thought, then God could be more perfect in reality. But if God is perfect already, then he must already exist.”
The similarities between Anselm and Descartes proofs are astounding. Both thinkers supposed the existence of something of which nothing is greater. Both concluded that this great Being was perfect, was God and must exist in reality. Descartes and Anselm both use the non-believer to show the contradiction between the man who understands the concept of God but cannot connect God with existence. While Descartes moves from the implications and characteristics of a perfect God to prove He exists, Descartes maintains Anselm s established position of a perfect Being who must exist to achieve perfection.
There are several objections that can be made about Descartes proof of the existence of God. First, the move from the concept of I think to God exists is rather profound. While Descartes reasoning is somewhat sound, it can be argued that perfection does not require existence in reality. The mere idea of a triangle with three equal sides generates an image in our minds: a perfect triangle with three equal angles. This perfect triangle does not need to physically exist in order for us to understand its perfection. In a similar way, a perfect God does not need anything. He does not need a people to worship Him; He does not need to physically exist. This is also evident in Christianity today. God did not take on human form, that is, physically exist in the earthly sense, until many years after He created the world. And God took on a human form to show His love for His people and to redeem them. He did not come to the earth as Jesus to prove His existence.
Descartes was also not complete in his rejection of past knowledge. He would surely have been taught about Anselm s proof for the existence of God. This is evident in the almost exact replication of Anselm s proof. While Descartes takes a slightly different route to achieve the proof, the common threads that run between both proofs is undeniably evident. Descartes thought process about the existence of God is riddled with nomenclature giving God the masculine gender. If Descartes truly rejected all past experience of God, all of his past knowledge about God, Descartes would be forced to refer to God in the neuter gender. He would not know if God was either man, woman or both without remembering past experience and teachings. The proper treatment of God s existence would first be to establish existence, and then determine other qualities and characteristics of God. And the physical characteristics of God could only be identified based upon tradition and prior knowledge. Instead, Descartes applies a certain personality to the God he is trying to prove exists. There is also an objectionable proof used to establish God s existence. Descartes refers to the mountains and valleys and their inseparableness. Descartes cannot use mountains and valleys, physical things, to prove God exists, because he has not first proved the mountains and valleys exist. Again, this clearly shows that Descartes had not put all previous physical knowledge aside for this proof.
As one of the fathers of modern thought, Rene Descartes radically changed the direction of philosophy in a new world. Modern science was able to explain things that were once left to divine providence. This new ability to explain, to heal, to understand arose doubts about the existence of a perfect God who exists in reality. Descartes, in a strong effort to prove everything he experienced in life and thought sought to prove the existence of God. While he has some errors in critical thought, namely the inability to completely put aside old knowledge and previous experience, Descartes reiterates a sound proof for the existence of God God exists and is a very real part of the world, humanity and life.