Ontological And Cosmological Arguments Essay, Research Paper
Most people have not witnessed or experienced God and therefore are confused about its existence. In Western theology, three theories have emerged to demonstrate the existence of God. These theories are the ontological argument, the cosmological argument, and the teleological argument. St. Anselm of eleventh century, and Descartes of seventeenth century, have used the ontological argument for proving the existence of God. The God, for them, is supreme, “needing nothing outside himself, but needful for the being and well-being of all things.” (Pg. 305).
St Anselm’s account of the ontological argument for the existence of God deals with the ‘existence in the understanding’ vs. ‘existence in reality.’ He defines God as the greatest conceivable or possible being. He adds that any person who hears this statement describing God understands what is meant. His argument is that if God did not exist, then a being greater than God would be possible. This being then would be greater than the greatest possible being, which is impossible. Therefore he proves that there is no being greater than God and hence God exists. His argument is also based on the premise that “the idea of an eternal being who either does not yet exist or no longer exists is self-contradictory, so that the very idea we have of such a being requires existence.” (Pg. 307).
In his Meditations, Decartes offers the following version of the ontological argument. He considers the idea of God, a supremely perfect being, just as real as the idea of the existence of any shape or a number. His understanding of God’s existence is no less clear and distinct than his proofs for the existence of any shape or number. Therefore he adds, “although all that I concluded in the preceding Meditations were found to be false, the existence of God would pass with me as at least as certain as I have ever held the truths of mathematics.” (Pg. 308). Initially, this might not be all clear, and may have some appearance of being a sophism. He argues that unlike other things he might persuade himself that existence can be separated from the essence of God, and hence that God can be thought of as not existing. He adds that ‘when he thinks of it with more attention, he clearly sees that existence can no more be separated from the essence of God, than the fact that its three angles equal two right angles can be separated from the essence of a triangle, or that the idea of a mountain can be separated from the idea of a valley’ (Pg. 308). Hence, it is just as much of a contradiction to think of God (that is, a supremely perfect being) lacking existence (that is, lacking perfection), as it is to think of a mountain without a valley. His theory is that he can’t think of God without it existing and therefore it exists. Also he gives God all kinds of perfection and because existence is one of the perfection, “God necessarily exists.” (Pg. 309).
Kant’s critique of Anselm’s and Descartes’ arguments state that existence is not a perfection because all perfections are qualities, and existence is not any kind of characteristic, quality, attribute, or property. When we say that something exists, Kant argued, we “add nothing to” our concept of that thing – we merely say that there is something similar to that concept. It follows that no matter how many characteristics of a thing we list; we will still not have answered the question whether there is something having all those characteristics. “Being is evidently not a real predicate, or a concept of something that can be added to the concept of a thing. It is merely the admission of a thing, and of certain determinations in it.” (Pg. 311). His argument is that it is all right to say that God has certain characteristics but it is another to say that such a God exists.
Many contemporary philosophers agree with Kant’s argument, but many others do not. Furthermore, contemporary logicians have developed versions of the ontological argument that can even dispense with the controversial notion of existence as a property. It is clear that, considered simply as a logical argument, the ontological argument does not have the power to convert nonbelievers into believers. Or if you are a believer, it is clear that an objection to the “proof” is not going to shake your faith in any way whatsoever. So the significance of the proof is ambiguous; as a logical exercise it is brilliant, as an expression of faith it may be edifying, but as an actual proof that God exists or as a means of converting atheists it seems to have no power at all. (Pg.313).
I agree with Anselm’s argument that in order for God to be the Supreme Being, the best, He must exist in both the understanding as well as in reality. Where did the world start? Where did everything start? If we believe that one thing came after another then there has to be a starting point. The only possible answer to this starting point is God. Thus, there must have been a creator, the God. From our experience we know that everything arises from something else, and therefore God started everything. The ontological argument does not clearly prove where God is to show how God started.
What characteristics does God possess? Traditional theology has believed that God is omnipotent (all-powerful), omniscient (all knowing), and omnibenevolent (all good), Omni-present (everywhere), eternal (with no beginning and no end), etc. In short, God is the greatest being and none greater is possible. These characteristics have left people to have faith in the existence of God. When people can not show cause and effect for certain happenings they attribute their cause to God. There must be God to keep order in the world or as some people say to keep the world going in utter disorder.
The Cosmological Argument: The second “proof” of God’s existence is a set of arguments that date back to the Aristotle’s argument for God’s existence. The basis of these arguments is the concept of intolerability, and the unthinkability of an infinite regress and the need for some ultimate explanation. Together, these arguments are called the cosmological argument, and their best-known formulation is by St. Thomas Aquinas, who put forward the first three of his “five ways” of proving God’s existence. (Pg.313)
The first part of the argument is based on the concept of motion. It starts with the idea that it is evident to our senses and certain that in the world there are things that are in motion. Now, motion can be also defined as the action that reduces something from potentiality to actuality. That is motion leads a thing from being able to go someplace to actually getting there. Next, it is safe to assume that nothing can be reduced from potentiality of actuality, except by something already in a state of actuality. Now it is not possible that the same thing should be at once in actuality and potentiality in the same respect, but can only be in different respects. For example what is ‘actually hot’ cannot at the same time be also ‘potentially hot;’ but it can be simultaneously potentially cold. It is therefore impossible that a thing should be both mover and moved, i.e., that it should move itself. Therefore, another must move whatever is being moved. Therefore, it is necessary to arrive at a first mover, moved by no other; and this everyone understands to be God.
The second aspect of the cosmological argument for the existence of God comes from nature of efficient cause. Here, Aristotle defines efficient cause, as an event or an agent that brings something about. In our world of sensible things we also find that there is an order of efficient causes. Now in efficient causes it is not possible to go on to infinity, because in all efficient causes following in order, the first is the cause of the intermediate cause, and the intermediate is the cause of the ultimate cause, whether the intermediate cause be several, or one only. But if in efficient causes it is possible to go on to infinity, there will be no first efficient cause, neither will there be an ultimate effect, nor any intermediate efficient causes; all of which is plainly false. Therefore it is necessary to admit a first efficient cause, to which everyone gives the name of God. (Pg.314).
The third aspect of the cosmological argument for the existence of God is taken from possibility and necessity, and runs as follows. We find in nature things that are possible to be and also not to be, since they are found to be generated, and to be corrupted, and consequently, it is possible for them to be and not to be. Therefore, if everything can not be, then at one time there was nothing in existence. Now if this were true, even now there would be nothing in existence, because that which does not exist begins to exist only through something already existing. Therefore, not all beings are merely possible, but there must exist something the existence of which is necessary for other things to follow. So we cannot but admit the existence of some being having of itself its own necessity, and not receiving it from another, but rather causing in others their necessity. This all men speak of as God. (Pg.314)
The cosmological argument, in all of these versions, is similar to the ontological argument as an attempt at “proof” and an expression of one’s belief in God. As a logical argument, two modern objections seem to have considerable weight. First, even if the argument is formally valid, it proves only that there is some “first mover” or “first cause” or “necessary being.” It does not prove that this being has all of the other attributes that allow us to recognize God. Furthermore, Aristotle, in his Physics, allows that there might be several prime movers, while Aquinas is clear that there can be only one. Nevertheless, one might accept the argument and believe only in a “first cause” and deny the existence of God. This leads us to the second objection, which would have been unthinkable to Aquinas (or Aristotle), but is generally accepted today. The idea of an “infinite regress,” that the universe did not have a beginning but has always existed, seemed like an obvious absurdity until the last century. (Pg.315). In fact, Aquinas admits that there is no valid argument against the claim that God and universe existed for all eternity, but he has another argument to help him here. He says that the beginning of the universe required an act, which means that the universe could not have been the cause of itself. Therefore, he concludes, God must exist even if the regress argument by itself does not prove this.
Humans like the idea of a creator because it gives them some security that there is some one out there watching out for them. They do not like to believe that everything is taking care of itself due to some laws of nature. Therefore humans like to believe in the cosmological argument that gives god the stature of first mover, the first cause. The natural scientific explanation wants to show that the world evolved from matter governed by certain scientific laws. These laws would also tend to show that the world could disappear just like it started. This thought is not comforting to most humans.
Humans are also not content to accept that something occurs. They want to explore as to the reasons of its existence. If they are told that God exists, they want to find out why and where. They are not satisfied with the answer that the world came to existence by certain scientific reasons that are not fully explained. Humans are happier with a religious explanation because it rests in the idea of a Supreme Being that people are afraid of, and feel secure in, like a child is to a parent.
Most humans are religious and generally speaking older people are more religious than younger people are. Why do people turn to religion? There are many different answers given to this question. Some do it for giving guidance to their lives. For others, it gives them hope, or gives them rationalization for the lack of justice in this world. Others turn to religion as a kind of irresponsible reaction to a world we cannot cope with. This reaction is similar to a child’s unwillingness to give up an illusion of security that he or she should have outgrown in adolescence. Marx, Nietzsche, and Freud were critical of religion and believed it to be an obstacle to man’s self-determination and self-realization. Their basic idea was that humans invented religion to escape their intolerable social conditions. I do not believe in their premise because religion gives humans an understanding of their purpose in this world. Religion keeps people sane and makes them believe in the order of things.
The basis of Marx’s religious criticism is that man makes religion; and that religion does not make man. It is the man that is the human world, a state, society. This state, this society, produces religion, which is an inverted world consciousness, because they are an inverted world. Religion is the general theory of this upside-down world. It gives the world its logic, its spiritual guidance, its enthusiasm, its moral sanction, its solemn complement, its general basis of consolation and justification. The struggle against religion is, therefore, indirectly a struggle against the world whose spiritual aroma is religion. According to Marx, religious suffering is at the same time an expression of real suffering and protest against real suffering. (Pg.347). Marx advocated that the abolition of religion as the illusory happiness of men, is a demand for their real happiness. He was appalled at the masses flocking to religion. He said, “it is clear that the arm of criticism cannot replace the criticism of arms.” Material force can only be overthrown by material force; but theory itself becomes a material force when it has seized the masses. Theory is capable of seizing the masses when it demonstrates ad hominem and it is demonstrate ad hominem as soon as it becomes radical. (Pg.348).
Marx’s criticism of religion ends with the thought that man is the Supreme Being for man. This thought desires to overthrow all those conditions in which man is an “abased, enslaved, abandoned, contemptible being – conditions which can hardly be better described than in the exclamation of the Frenchman on the occasion of a proposed tax upon dogs: Wretched dogs! They want to treat you like men!” (Pg.348).
Friedrich Nietzsche was another critique of religion. He called the “Bible,” the book that is perhaps the greatest audacity and “sin against the spirit” which literary Europe has on its conscience. (Pg.348). According to him the Christian conception of God – God as god of the sick, God as a spider, God as spirit – is one of the most corrupt conceptions of the divine ever attained on earth. Not surprisingly, Nietzsche saw the decline of Christianity and religion in general, with great enthusiasm. It is Nietzsche who popularized the old Lutheran phase, “God is dead,” but with an anti-religious twist and a shout of delight that declared open war on all remaining forms of religious “weaknesses.” (Pg.349). This call for “God is dead,” was based on the belief that the Christian God had become unworthy of belief. Many philosophers and “free spirits” felt redemption in this event.
Another person to attack religion was Sigmund Freud, who reduced the grand aspirations of religion to, mere illusions, but, even worse, the illusions of an insecure child who has never properly grown up. According to him, religious ideas are given out as teachings, are not precipitates of experience or end results of thinking; they are illusions, fulfillment’s of the oldest, strongest and most urgent wishes of mankind. An illusion is not the same thing as an error; nor is it necessarily an error. What is characteristic of illusion is that they are derived from human wishes. In this respect they come near to psychiatric delusions. He called a belief an illusion when a wish-fulfillment is a prominent factor in its motivation, and in doing so we disregard its relations to reality, just as the illusion itself sets no store by verification.
All three philosophers agree that the only proper concern of man is humanity. They believe in man and not God. These philosophers did not outright hate religion. Freud was fascinated by Jewish mysticism and Nietzsche offered extravagant praise of Buddhism. But they felt that the balance is very important. They argue that no one can deny that there have been thousands of atrocities – to both spirit and body – in the name of religion.
I believe that religion has taught humans to behave like a man. The self-determination and self-realization of man is not hindered by religion. If people did not believe in God, there might be lessening of good deeds. For some, realization of god is like self-realization. Many peoples in the east believe in re-incarnation and believe that soul never dies. For them this gives continuity to life as a chain of things. These people want to believe in God and immerse themselves in God.