Wednesday, August 8, 2012

God and philosophy: does God exist?

Saint Anselm of Canterbury
(c. 1033-1109)

Theists seek the proof that God exists while atheists seek the proof that God doesn’t exist. You’re probably wondering if there is any evidence that God exists (or that he does not)? Philosophy of religion is perhaps one of the oldest yet still interesting and controversial branches of philosophy. Philosophers struggle to find new arguments and proofs for or against God’s existence – therefore the question arises: who is right? Philosophy of religion gives many solutions including the classical ontological argument and more powerful cosmological argument. I’ll briefly explain them and show you their flaws – and as you probably suppose I’ll share with you my point of view and the argument I find to be the most convincing.

Saint Anselm of Canterbury (c. 1033-1109) is usually regarded as the author of the ontological argument for the existence of God. He defines God as “being than which no greater can be conceived”. Take your time to think it over – such statement is really tricky and as you’re about to see it leaves us only with one possible conclusion.

Whether you believe that a being than which no greater can be conceived exists or not you probably understand the concept. And since you understand it (the idea), it exists in your mind. However, a being which exists not only in your mind but also in the outer world (let’s leave solipsism aside and suppose there is an outer world) is greater than a being which exists merely in your mind. That would mean that if God existed in your mind only, you could conceive of a greater being – that would exist in the outer world as well. And since, according to St Anselm’s definition of God we can’t conceive of a greater being than God, God does exist. I don’t know what you think of this argumentation but it might seem to be a bit suspicious and personally nobody would ever convince me that God exists with this sort of argument mainly because it does not really refer to the reality – it simply concentrates on your mind and is in fact a philosophical trick.

So what’s the cosmological argument all about? Cosmological argument, which is also known as argument from first cause (primum movens) is connected with determinism, and uses the following argumentation: every infinite being has its cause, and causal chain cannot be infinite therefore primum movens must exist. I don’t know if you find genealogy to be interesting but most people (without any research) are able to give names of their great-grandparents. You know that you came to life probably because your parents fell in love, you know that your more distant ancestors came to life in the same way (though their marriages might be arranged). Suppose you have all the needed documents to trace back your roots – regardless of what your beliefs about the beginning of humankind are you will either end up with grandpa Adam or grandma Lucy. At some point you will get stuck and there will be no earthly cause of Adam (and no earthly cause of Big Bang either). Something (or rather somebody) must have created the first cause otherwise the infinite chain of events couldn’t have even started. And God seems to be the one who could be the source of primum movens.

I believe that philosophical arguments which are designed to prove or disprove God’s existence are not much of use really. St Anselm defined God as being than which no greater can be conceived. However, what is very often left unnoticed is that such definition suggests that God may be conceived by a human being – and with all due respect to St Anselm I think that people’s minds lack God’s perfection and while being God’s creations surely they cannot exceed God’s mental skills and fully imagine his nature; and since human minds were created by God they are not as complex as the mind of their creator. Consider the following example. A housefly is not able to prove that human brains are built of neurons. It’s not only for the lack of accessibility to the data (a housefly cannot fully examine a human body) but also for limitations of mental and language skills. Minds of houseflies’ are highly limited (in comparison to ours) and therefore are not able to fully conceive the idea of a human brain and neurons. And if we define God as a being infinitely wise then the difference between mind of a housefly and mind of a human being is infinitely smaller than the difference between mind of a human being and God. And this would mean that if God exists no human philosopher is able to prove that God exists and such inability to prove God’s existence would in fact prove that he does exist. It means that the only person who is able to prove that God exists is God himself because he is the only one who can fully understand God’s nature. Note that inability to prove that God exists is not the same as ability to prove that God does not exist.

1 comment:

  1. Great atheist philosophers are few in this world. Nevertheless, people are gonna believe if they want to. There is nothing to prove to them. I have read a book called, "conversation with God". In that book it is said that if you think God exists then it does, otherwise not, for it is in your power to create anything you want.


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