IS THERE A GOD?

 

Proving or disproving the existence of God is within the purview

of ontology or a theory of being. There are as many philosophical

arguments that prove as well as disprove the existence of God.

 

Against a backdrop of the harsh realities of life characterized by

famines, plagues and wars, the Middle Ages was a god-fixated

period. Atheism was not a popular belief especially in Europe because

atheism was considered heresy and this probably discouraged

unbelievers who risked being burned at the stake by agents of

the Grand Inquisition. Thus most philosophers who championed

theism or belief in God came up with philosophical treatises that

validated God’s existence more as finger exercises rather than

a serious ontological quest. At the forefront of theism during

the medieval period were Anselm of Canterbury (1033-1109),

who provided an ontological proof that God exists; and St. Thomas

Aquinas (1225-1274), who subsequently came up with a

consmological proof in support of theism.

 

According to Anselm in Proslogium, in Anne Fremantle’s, The Age

of Belief (New York: New American Library, 1954), pp. 88-89):

 

  …For it is possible to conceive of a being which cannot

be conceived not to exist. Hence, if that than which nothing

is greater can be conceived not to exist, it is not that than

which nothing greater can be conceived. But this is an

irreconcilable contradiction. There is then, so truly a being

than which nothing greater can be conceived to exist, than

it cannot even be conceived not to exist: and this being thou

art, O Lord our God.

 

Anselm’s ontological proof is based on the following premises: 1) It is

possible to conceive of a being than which nothing greater can be

conceived, 2) If such a being as described in the first premise exists, it

must not only exist in the mind but in reality or outside the mind, 3) that

being which nothing is greater can be conceived is the being we call God.

 

Five hundred years later, the French philosopher Rene Descartes made

the following simpler version of Anselm’s argument: Granted that a being

which is absolutely perfect can be conceived, then such a being must

necessarily exist; and therefore to say that God does not exist is

self-contradictory; therefore the proposition that God exists must

necessarily be true.

In the book Dialogues Concerning Natural Religion, the Scottish philosopher

David Hume (1711-1776) refuted Anselm’s ontological proof:

 

I shall begin with observing that there is an evident

absurdity in pretending to demonstrate a matter of fact,

or to prove it by any arguments a priori. Nothing is

demonstrable unless the contrary implies a contradiction.

Whatever we conceive as existent, we can also conceive as

non-existent. There is no being, therefore, whose  non-existence

implies a contradiction. Consequently there no being whose

existence is demonstrable. I propose this argument as

entirely decisive and am willing to rest the whole controversy

upon it. Dialogues Concerning Natural Religion (New York:

Hafner,1960), p.58.

 

Hume’s point is simple: it is not logical and valid to use a pure definition

as a basis for a statement of fact about reality. Definitions are just linguistic

conventions that consist of the relation between meanings; whereas

statements of fact about reality are always based on observation.

Since Anselm’s proof progresses from the realm of ideas to factual reality,

this makes his ontological argument that God exists philosophically invalid

because it violates the basic principles of logic.

 

Another noteworthy criticism is the one which was expounded by the

German philosopher, Immanuel Kant(1724-1804), in his tour de force Critique

of Pure Reason where he pointed out that there is something wrong with the

grammar of Anselm’s ontological argument:

 

Being (existence) is evidently not a real predicate, 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.

Logically, it is merely the copula of a judgment…A hundred

real dollars do not contain a penny more than a hundred

possible dollars.

 

Aquinas’s cosmological proof is based on the following premises:

1) Every event in the observable world is caused by some event prior to it,

2) Either a) the series of causes is infinite, or b) the series of causes goes back to a

first cause, which is itself without a cause,

3) But an infinite series of causes is impossible,

4)  Therefore, a first cause exists outside the observable

world; this first cause is God.

 

Hume also criticized the cosmological proof of the existence of God. He

rejected the first premise of Aquinas and reasoned out that it cannot be

proved a priori  that every event has a cause and it cannot also be proven

a posteriori or based upon actual observation.  Hume also claimed that

the third premise, which states that an infinite series of causes is

impossible, is false. There is no way to prove this, Hume argued. There is

no contradiction in the concept of an infinite series of causes.

 

A third argument in favor of God’s existence is the so-called teleological

proof. A teleological explanation is based on goals, purposes, motives and

intentions. It was the English naturalist Charles Darwin and the philsopher

David Hume who objected against the teleological approach. Darwin

contended that there is a difference between the  concept of ‘design’ and

the concept of ‘order.’ Although it is true that everything that has been

designed had a designer, it does not necessarily follow that everything

that shows order has been designed by somebody.

 

From his end Hume questioned the validity of the of the analogy between

a watch and a watchmaker, and the world and a world maker. The existence

of God cannot be inferred from the existence of a watchmaker. The second

argument of Hume against design is the idea that the human mind has a

tendency to impose order on the chaotic world of nature, and then deduce

the existence of God from this mind construct, this artifically

created notion of order.

 

The philosophical basis in support of atheism rests on the following four

arguments:

 

1. God’s omniscience is inconsistent with the freedom he endowed upon

his creatures.

 

2. God is defined as omnipotent, but nothing can be defined as omnipotent

because the concept of omnipotence doesn’t make sense.

 

3. God’s all-loving and compassionate nature is incompatible with his creation

of the devil and that of hell or eternal damnation.

 

4. God’s omnipotence, omniscience, and all-loving and compassionate nature

is inconsistent with the overwhelming evil that is happening in the world

whether caused by nature or perpetuated by man.

 

Since the eighteenth century, the philosophical arguments against the existence

of God have not been focused on the ontological, cosmological, and teleological

issues, but rather on the very motives of religious belief itself. Ludwig Feuerbach

(1804-1872) and his follower, Karl Marx (1818-1883), shared the observation

that religious faith is fallacious, one based on mere illusion. According to

Feuerbach the great dialectical irony of history happened when religion

itself came into being and which eventually crushed mankind to the ground.

 

In his political and philosophical writings Marx declared:

 

Religious distress is the same time the expression of real

distress and the protest against real distress. Religion is

the sigh of the oppressed creature, the heart of a heartless

world, just as it is the spirit of an unspiritual situation. It is

the opium of the people.

The psychologist Sigmund Freud (1856-1939) is one of the most notable

atheists of the twentieth century. In his work The Future of an Illusion,

Freud psychoanalyzes religion itself:

 

A special importance attaches to the case in which this

attempt to procure a certainty of happiness and protection

against the suffering through a delusional remoulding of

reality is made by a considerable number of people in

common. The religions of mankind must be classed among

the mass-delusions of this kind. No one, needless to say,

who shares a delusion ever recognizes it as such…(Religion’s)

technique consists in depressing the value of life and distorting

the picture of the real world in a delusional manner–which

presupposes an intimidation of the intelligence. At this price,

by forcibly fixing them in a state of psychical infantilism

and by drawing them into a mass-delusion, religion succeeds

in sparing many people an individual neurosis.

 

Pragmatism is a school of philosophy which subscribes to the idea that

philosophy should be practical and applied in man’s daily life. The American

philosopher, William James, (1842-1910), buttressed his argument for

the existence of God on his pragmatic theory of truth in which he affirmed

that a thing is true if it works in the real world and provides some positive

outcome or benefit to the one who has faith in it and applies it in his

personal life.

 

In his book Varieties of Religious Experience, James wrote:

 

On pragmatic principles, if the hypothesis of God works

satisfactorily in the widest sense of the word, it is true.

Now whatever the residual difficulties may be, experience

shows that it certainly does work, and the only problem

is to build it out and determine it so that it will combine

satisfactorily with all the other workings of truths.

 

The majority of modern philosophers rejected James’s position that

Truth is relative and practical; more importantly, they complained

that his argument does not prove the premise that God exists in actuality

and not just in theory.

 

In his major work Fear and Trembling, which he wrote under the pseudonym

Juan de Silencio (John the Silent), the Danish philosopher, Soren Kierkegaard

(1813-1855), analyzed the biblical story of Abraham and came to the conclusion

that the Jewish patriarch suffered from divine madness and acted irrationally

by following the command of God to kill his son Isaac, thus implying that

philosophy–which is a mental discipline whose business is to search and prove

objective truths–is totally incompatible with religion which, in stark contrast,

hinges its tenets on subjective belief or faith.

 

Kierkegaard protested:

 

How is one to explain the contradiction illustrated by

that orator? Is it because Abraham had a prescriptive

right tobe a great man, so that what he did is great,

and when another does the same it is sin, a heinous sin?

In that case I do not wish to participate in such thoughtless

eulogy. If faith does not make it a holy act to be willing to

murder one’s son, then let the same condemnation be

pronounced upon Abraham as upon every other man.

 

Because of his incisive aand profound argument, Kierkegaard gave

birth to a new school of philosophy called existentialism whose main

proponents are Jean Paul Sartre, Martin Heidegger, Karl Jaspers, and

Albert Camus, among others. Existentialism is based on Kierkegaard’s

philosophical stance that ultimately every man is responsible for all his

beliefs and actions–a philosophy that completely rejects the existence

of God as well as the role of religion as a source of authority for man’s deeds.

 

At this point we come to the conclusion that philosophy neither proves nor

refutes the existence of God. Why? Because philosophy is a mental tool which

man is attempting to use way beyond its utilitarian function by relying on

it to measure the supernatural, divine qualities of God and prove his existence.

Ergo, one is left with three and only three possible philosophical convictions:

one, believe in God a priori and affirm that God is a self-evident truth; two,

become an atheist; and three, become an agnostic or someone who neither

believes nor denies the existence of God.

 

The oxymoron or extreme case of paradox here is we must annihilate all

possible concepts of God before we can experience God. In effect the mind,

with its vast reasoning powers, fails as a philosophical instrument for measuring

the existence or non-existence of God, an entity who lends himself to many

conflicting attributes and descriptions. The crux of the matter is that God is

a supernatural, spiritual being that is beyond the philosophical and scientific

powers of the human mind to observe, probe and analyze.

 

Perhaps the argument that will end all arguments is that it requires a

superconsciousness to prove the existence or non-existence of God. Perhaps

if a particular human being is able to develop the power to detach himself from

his physical body, escape from that cage of flesh, and enter the spiritual world

and merge his consciousness with divine consciousness as some saints and yogis

confess they can do, then he will put the case to rest and finally solve the enigma

of God’s existence.

 

Los Angeles

Jan. 31, 2012

Advertisements