A Philoshpical Approach to the Finding of God?
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The question of God’s existence has been debated through the history of man, with every philosopher from Socrates to Immanuel Kant weighing in on the debate. So great has this topic become that numerous proofs have been invented and utilized to prove or disprove God’s existence. Yet no answer still has been reached, leaving me to wonder if any answer at all is possible. So I will try in this paper to see if it is possible to philosophically prove God’s existence. Before I start the paper there are a few points that must be established.
First is a clear definition of Philosophy of Religion, which is the area of philosophy that applies philosophical methods to study a wide variety of religious issues including the existence of God. The use of the philosophical method makes Philosophy of Religion distinct from theology, which is the study of God and any type of issues that relate to the divine. Now there are two types of theology, Revealed and Natural Theology. Revealed Theology claims that our knowledge of God comes through special revelations such as the Bible, the Holy Spirit, and the Koran.
Saint Thomas Aquinas indicates that Revealed Theology provides what he calls “Saving Knowledge”, which is knowledge that will result in our salvation. Now Natural Theology is our knowledge of God that one ascertains through natural reasoning, or reasoning that is unaided by special revelations. Saint Thomas noted that this type of reasoning can provide knowledge of God’s nature, or even prove his existence, but can never result in the person attaining salvation for as he states, even demons know that God exists.
A note must be made before we press on; as one might notice Natural Theology is akin to philosophy of religion in the sense that both use human reasoning in their attempts to explain the divine. The main difference between them of course is the range of the topics considered. Ontological Argument The Ontological Argument, which argues from a definition of God’s being to his existence, is the first type of argument we are going to examine. Since this argument was founded by Saint Anslem, we will be examining his writings. Saint Anslem starts by defining God as an all-perfect being, or rather as a being containing all conceivable perfections.
Now if in addition of possessing all conceivable perfections this being did not possess existence, it would then be considered less perfect from a being that does exist. Since by definition God is all-perfect, and a being that does not exist is less perfect than one that did, it must be deemed that God exists. As one can see, Anslem explains God’s existence just by utilizing our concept of God as an all-perfect being. Simply put, the definition of God guarantees his existence just as the definition of a triangle guarantees that all triangles have three sides.
This argument is a hard one to follow due to the fact that it utilizes Reductio Ad Abusdum form. This is when you support your conclusion by showing that the negation of the said conclusion will lead to a logical paradox. Numerous Philosophers, Immanuel Kant being one, have refuted Saint Anslems assertion. Kant’s main objection is that the argument rests on the idea that existence is a quality or property. He asserts that the word “exist” has a different meaning from property-words such as “green”, or “pleased”.
He then goes on to state that only characteristics or qualities can clarify or describe a concept, and since existence is neither it cannot be utilized in the argument. Kant then points out that the concept of God existing cannot be derived from the definition of him being all perfect, just as the concept of a leprechaun or unicorn’s existence cannot be derived from it’s definition. Another problem with the Ontological Argument is the belief that existence is a real predicate. A predicate is something that adds some type of description to a subject.
To say that something exists is to merely state that there is something in our reality that correlates with the description we have. It answers the question of “Is there any”, but not the one “What is it”. It can also be pointed out that if the Ontological Argument was valid then one could prove the existence of a perfect singer, perfect scientist, or any other perfect beings. This alone should make it clear that there is something drastically wrong with this argument. Lastly this final note must be made, the Ontological may prove God’s existence but the question of his nature is never dealt with.
Teleological Argument The next type of argument is called the Teleological Argument, or the argument from design. This argument starts by saying that the universe exhibits some type of purpose or order, and draws the conclusion that a supreme, intelligent being, must be responsible for this order. One of the most popular supporters of this argument goes under the name of William Paley. Paley starts by examining a watch, marveling on how all it’s pieces from the hand to its sprockets move in Harmony. Each of these pieces has a specific purpose, the hand tells the time, the sprockets move the gears, and so on.
This watch, or as Paley calls it “a well adjusted machine”, would not demonstrate it’s purpose of telling time if one of it’s components were slightly perturbed. This precision, in Paley’s eyes, show that there must be a watchmaker who created the watch for the purpose of telling time. He believes that it is just not possible for the watch to have been created by chance. It indicates that it is irrelevant whether anyone knows the maker of the watch, or actually witnessed its creation. He defends this by pointing out how we know that an eyepiece exists even though the vast majority of people do not know how, or who created it.
Paley next declares that it would not invalidate his conclusion if the watch sometimes went astray or was seldom right. The purpose of the machine would still be evident, and that it is not relevant for the machine to be perfect to prove that it has a creator. He concludes the watch analogy with the assumption, that no intelligent person would assume that the pieces of the watch were just a random combination of nature. The next concept Paley addresses is the idea of the watch being able to reproduce itself. Just because it can do this does not eliminate the fact that there must be a designer to establish the first in the line.
We know that the watch has a designer because it demonstrates an end, a sort of purpose. Therefore there must be some artificer who understood its mechanism and designed its use. Paley in his final analysis compares the complexities of the human body to the watch to demonstrate that they both have a creator. The first disagreement against the Teleological Argument comes to us from David Hume, who actually lived 100 years before William Paley. Hume looked at the idea that the universe is completely like the human designed objects being utilized in this type of argument.
He concluded that although they both may share some similar features the two are ultimately different. Second, Hume indicates that we need to compare this universe to another to see if it was created. The last argument denotes that an effect must be proportionate to its cause, and since the universe is imperfect with evil and suffering, then its creator also must be imperfect. We will now examine Clarence Darrow objection to the Teleological Argument. He starts by claiming that what the hypothetical man would observe and conclude by finding the watch depends on the man.
Men who would believe that the watch shows a design or purpose would reach this conclusion because they are familiar with tools and their use to man. While one must wonder if a bushman or even a wolf happened onto the watch would they derive the same conclusion? The obvious answer would be no, because they are not able to draw an interference between the object and its meaning. This unfamiliarly of the object would lead to confusion and can cause the bushman or wolf to assume the watch has a different purpose. Before I present the rebuttal for the argument, I must first bring you up to date with the argument.
Paley’s interpretation of the Teleological Argument withstood all criticisms until Charles Darwin published “The Origin of Species”. Darwin showed that ordered exhibited in nature is the result of an evolutionary process. This theory now refuted the claim that only a divine intelligence is a sufficient explanation for order found in nature. This discovery caused defenders of the Teleological argument to reform their argument focusing now on probability. They claim that the evolutionary explanation of man’s existence rests mainly upon chance. They point to the tremendous odds against the complexity of life evolving by chance.
An example of life on this planet evolving to its present form by chance is like the possibility of a tornado picking up all the scattered pieces of a 747 and putting it together. With this in mind they claim that if your choice was between chance and an intelligent designer, and the odds are against chance and in favor for a maker, whom would you pick? Richard Dawkin claims that the critics of evolution have misunderstood the concept. Life, he states, did not evolve by chance but rather through a nonrandom process he calls cumulative selection.
The critics of evolution are viewing it as a single step process that sorts and filters items only once. Cumulative repeatedly does this sorting, thus passing some of the first results to the second, and so on. He goes on to explain that an automated process that produces order can be found. He points to the ocean, were the pebbles on the beach are ordered, arranged, and sorted. This arrangement has been done by the blind forces of physics, which, as Dawkin puts it, has no mind of its own. The waves simply throw the pebbles around, and they become sorted by there own weight.
He goes on to critique the concept of guided evolution. This is the idea that God had some sort of supervisory role over the course evolution has taken. While we cannot disprove this idea, it’s reasoning implies that God must have taken care to masquerade his interventions so that they would always match we what would expect from evolution. One must keep this in mind, to assume guided evolution is to assume the existence of the main thing we want to explain, namely organized complexity. It simply postulates an already existing being of prodigious intelligence and complexity.
Cosmological Argument The next argument is probably the most debated of all the ones we will be examining. The Cosmological argument reasons from the existence of the universe to the existence of God as its cause, creator, or explanation. While there are numerous variations on the argument, Saint Thomas Aquinas is the most used. While his whole argument consisted of 5 proofs, only two of these are really relevant today. The first one is the causal or efficient cause. He starts by saying we find that things around us come into being as the result of activity of other things.
These causes are in fact the result of yet other activities. Yet this causal series cannot go back to infinity, hence there must be a first member. This first member is not caused by any preceding member, and hence labeled God. What frequently gets pointed out about the causal premise is that even if it were valid it would not establish the existence of God. It does not show that the first cause is all-powerful or good. Defenders of the cosmological point out that the argument is not meant to prove God’s existence, and that supplementary arguments are needed to ascertain the first causes qualities.
The causal argument is only meant to be an important step in proving God’s existence. The main disagreement about the causal argument centers on the infinite series paradox. Aquinas states that to imply an infinite series is not only illogical, it also implies that nothing exists. Yet we know that things do exist, hence the infinite series is wrong. Let me explain a little better, Aquinas reasoned that whenever we take away the cause the effect is sequentially removed. By maintaining that the series is infinite we are denying that the series has a first cause.
Like on the alphabet, if you are denying the existence of the first cause, which is A, we are also denying the existence of Z. Since without A, Z cannot exist. Critics respond to Aquinas reasoning by stating that he did not sufficiently distinguish between 1) A does not exist, and 2) A is not uncaused When you are stating that a series is infinite you are implying statement one, not two. The critics go on to say that they are not at all refuting the existence of A, but merely stripping it of its privileged status of first cause.
Since they are stripping A of its first causeness, but allowing it to exist, they are in no way committing themselves to the absurdity that nothing exists. John Locke tries to counter this by saying that anyone who denies the conclusion of an eternal being, is committed to the absurdity that things came into existence from nothing. Philosophers answer this question by pointing out that an infinite series of causes always allow for something to exist. They then indicate that Locke failed to distinguish between
1. ) There was a time at which nothing existed, and 2. ) There is nothing, which did not have a beginning The existence of an eternal source is committed to the second cause not the first. Another way of saying it is that they are committed to the idea that no matter how far back one goes in a causal series one will never find a thing without a beginning. Critics of the causal argument criticize it on other points as well. The argument does not show that all various causal series in the universe ultimately merge, thus they never really rule out the notion of a plurality of first causes. Nor do they establish the present existence of the first cause.
We know that an effect may exist long after its cause has been destroyed. From here defenders of the argument insist that some of the criticism rest on a misunderstanding of the argument itself. They go on to distinguish between two types of causes “In Fieri” and “In Esse”. In Fieri is the cause that brought or helped bring an effect into existence; In Esse is the cause that sustains the effect. Now here we see some type of consensus, the defenders say that it is logical to have an infinite series of in fieri causes but not of in esse.
This reorganization of causes eliminates one of the previously mentioned objections, proving the present and not merely the past experience of a first cause. For if Y is the in esse of an effect, then it must exist as long as Z exists. So to maintain that all natural and phenomenal objects require a cause in fieri is not implausible. John Stuart Mills and other philosophers state that to claim that all natural objects require a cause in esse is illogical. Forces such as gravity, or particles, show no causes in esse.
While most will grant particles did not cause themselves, it is not evident that these particles cannot be uncaused. Professor Philips admits that there is nothing self-evident about the proposition that everything must have a cause in esse. From this comment I am reminded about a snide remark Schopenhauer made about how the cosmological arguments treats the law of causation “like a hired cab which we dismiss when we reach our destination”(1). Back to the subject at hand, opponents of the argument state that after it’s restructuring, the argument still does not address the difficulties in which I have already pointed out.