, Research Paper
Descartes and the Existence of God. In this paper I will be to examining Descartes argument for the existence of God. Thefirst thing we will do is look at Descartes proof for the existence of God, and then discuss thereasons that Descartes has for proving God s existence. We will also discuss some of theconsequences that appear as a result of God s existence. The last thing we will do is look at somecomplications and problems that exist with Descartes proof. The main problem with most of the religions around the world has always been that theypresuppose faith: that is one cannot be reasoned into believing in one religion, if such was not thecase then we would have seen a huge migration to one religion or another. In any given religion,the main proof of God s existence is the fact that the holy scriptures- whichever ones they believein- inform us of his existence and his power. But, we only believe in these scriptures because wethink that they come from God. This is a circular argument that cannot be used as a proof. Wewould all like to believe that we believe in God and our given religion because of our faith. Butwhat is faith? And how can a Buddhist, a Jew, and a Christian all possess the same certainty abouttheir given religions without there being any doubt in their minds as to the certainty of theirreligions and faith? Descartes sets out to build a set of arguments that are designed to prove to us of God sexistence. On those, he has built all of his other arguments. His goal in proving God s existence istwofold: 1) He wanted to build a foundation on which to base his arguments on, that is that Godexists(that goal will not be discussed in too much depth in this paper). 2) To prove beyond adoubt God s existence to all non-believers, which is the one that will be discussed mainly in this paper. Descartes starts by renouncing all his beliefs, so that he would not be shrouded by anymisconceptions from reaching the truth. He notices that by doubting all of his preconceived ideashe is thinking, he can determine that in order for him to think, he must exist. He says that heknows that to be the case beyond any doubt, and that this is the first principle of the philosophy heis seeking. From that observation he can deduce a rule in which he will base his entire argumenton. Descartes also noticed that the idea of his existence is very clear and distinct in his mind, thatit is based upon this clarity, and the fact that he has just determined his own existence, he infersthat the things that he sees as very clear and distinct are all true. Descartes uses another interesting rule for his logic, or way of thinking. That objectivereality cannot exist without formal reality; that is an idea cannot originate without a cause. Thatideas can be less perfect than their cause but never more so. He also explains that the ideas thatare in us obviously do not have a formal reality, such as a monitor, are merely combinations ofother formal realities- in this case a man and a bull- and thus do not invalidate the rule. Descartes also explains the difference between being an idea and being merely an oppositeof an idea. He uses heat and cold as his example; whereas heat is an idea, cold is merely the lackof heat. That is a very important notion that he uses in his argument to diffuse a potentiallycrippling critique of his argument. Descartes, after establishing his rules, explains that he knows that he is not perfect. Heknows that because he doubts, and he can clearly see that knowing is more perfect than doubting.He determines that within him lies this idea of a perfect being, and that he is incapable of comingto such an idea by himself. He also determines that such an idea must have a formal reality, acause. That cause, he reasons, could not have originated from a less perfect reality or being, sincehe has already established that ideas can be less perfect than their cause but never more perfect.He then determines that this idea could not have been composed of several ideas or causesbecause “composition attests to dependence and that dependence is manifestly a defect”; and sinceGod, or the idea of God, contains within it all perfections, God was not such composed.
Descartes also determines several qualities that God possesses merely by observing himself. Hedetermines that whatever ideas he had, if they contained perfections then God would possessthem, and if they were marred by any imperfections then God would not possess them. The next point that Descartes brings up is that the idea of God contains within itself God sexistence in much the same way that geometrical arguments contain their own proofs andproperties. He explains that although the idea of a triangle contains within itself certain properties,such as having three sides and that the sum of all angles equals one hundred and eighty degreesthat there is nothing within that idea which proves the triangles existence. By using that logic,Descartes determines that since the idea of a God contains within itself existence, in as much asexistence being a perfection, then the existence of God, or the idea of God is at least as certain asgeometrical arguments. When we combine that with his ideas of objective reality in which he determines thatGod s existence is at least as certain as anything else s existence. God s existence, to Descartes isat least as certain as the existence of the sun, moon, and the earth, or indeed, even more thanhaving a body. It is more ambiguous whether he believes God s existence to be more certain thanhis own thinking. Descartes main reason for proving God s existence is that whatever perfections hepossesses are derived from and are sustained by God. From that he can say that his clarity anddistinctness of thought is derived from God such that it is indisputable that whatever he sees veryclearly and distinctly is all true, the fact that Descartes exists is indisputable. What is disputableare the conclusions that can be drawn from that realization, Descartes observed a quality withinthat truth, he observed that his existence is very clear and distinct, and he used that quality as arule: that all things clear and distinct are true. This is no more true than saying that all ideas thatare vague and ambiguous to me are untrue, unconditionally. Also, the existence of God dependson the clarity and distinctness with which we perceive the idea of God, for if it was not clear anddistinct then it would not necessarily be true. But the clarity and distinctness of our thoughtsdepends on the existence of God. That is no less circular an argument than the one used by themore traditional approach mentioned in the second paragraph. Descartes also determined that he does have within him an idea of a perfect being and thathe himself is imperfect, then he then uses his imperfect judgment to observe and examine ideaswithin himself and denies them or removes them from the idea of God. In doing so he is assumingthat his judgment, to what is perfection and what is not, is as perfect as the idea of God is. For ifhe did not think that his judgment was as perfect as the idea of God, he would not have used it todetermine the qualities that God possesses. Descartes declares that he has an idea of a perfectbeing that is not composed, and then he examines his own ideas of perfection to compose an ideaof that perfect being s qualities. There is another problem that I had trouble with while reading Descartes, was his usage ofthe concepts of formal and objective reality. That for me to have an idea, it would have to exist,that is hard to understand, because just as we can think of a God, we can think of a being soabsolutely imperfect that it does not exist, since existence is a perfection. But since it has anobjective reality, according to Descartes, it must have a formal reality, clearly that is impossible. Descartes was obviously a man of great intelligence, who affected the course of progressof Western Civilization. His contributions in the fields of Philosophy, Mathematics, Geometry,and science as a whole are indisputable. In his writings he was very modest, always declaringhimself no more gifted than anyone else, but within his conclusions we can sense that he wasarrogant. That his method is the one that will deliver Humanity from evil, that he will end thedebate of God s existence, and that his judgment is sound enough to ascribe characteristics toGod. He succeeded in some parts, but ultimately failed in proving God s existence from a logicalpoint of view. The fact that there are learned men of all religions proves that beyond a shadow ofa doubt.