“Since besides the physico-theological proof, the cosmological proof, and the ontological proof of the existence of a highest being no other road is open to speculative reason, the ontological proof, of pure concepts or reason alone, is the only proof possible, if indeed a proof is possible at all of a proposition towering so high above all emperical use of the understanding.” Immanuel Kant Critique of Pure Reason
Have you ever noticed the Bible does not provide an argument for God’s existance? “In the beginning God…”. That’s all we get. While many philosophers through out church history have offered certain proofs for God’s existence it is curious that the Bible never provides such a proof.
Kant (1724-1804) says that such proofs are not even possible. The reason he gives is that in so doing he is making room for faith. Kant believed that all knowledge is a construct of the human senses. Spiritual questions like “does God exist” Kant says are not the same kind of questions and therefore cannot be seen as knowledge. However Paul in his letter to the Romans says that all that we experience in the world demonstrates God’s attributes and by virtue His existance. So how do we resolve this?
One thing I would like to point out. People do look at the physical world every day and don’t attribute it to God (Paul explains they surpress the truth about Him). Other’s can’t help but see God in everything (Big wave surfer Laird Hamilton says “anyone that can look at this [monster waves in Maui]and say there is no God needs to sit under a palm tree and think about it for a little while). In this respect I think Kant has overstated his claim.
Today’s meditation comes from the pen of none other than the Archbishop of Hippo Saint Augustine (354 – 430 AD).
…I have no fear of the arguments of the Academics. They say, “Suppose you are mistaken?” I reply, “If I am mistaken, I exist.” A non-existent being cannot be mistaken; therefore I must exist, if I am mistaken. Then since my being mistaken proves that I exist, how can I be mistaken in thinking that I exist, seeing that my mistake establishes my existence? Since therefore I must exist in order to be mistaken, then even if I am mistaken, there can be no doubt that I am not mistaken in my knowledge that I exist. It follows that I am not mistaken in knowing that I know. For just as I know that I exist, I also know that I know. And when I am glad of those two facts, I can add the fact of that gladness to the things I know, as a fact of equal worth. For I am not mistaken about the fact of my gladness, since I am not mistaken about the things which I love. Even if there were illusory, it would still be a fact that I love the illusions. (CG 11.27)
“Suppose you are mistaken?” is what we have called the “Skeptical Thesis” (ST) in other posts. For those with a skeptical outlook the ST represents the universal trump card. The reason is we have all experienced instances where we have been mistaken about certain beliefs. The problem with ST is because I have been wrong about some things ST assumes that I can be wrong of all things. It follows the argument:
I am sometimes wrong
Therefore I am always wrong
Or to put it another way:
X is sometimes Y
Therefore X is always Y
We can model this argument:
The Seahawks sometimes win the Super Bowl
Therefore the Seahawks always win the Super Bowl
The problem with the ST is it wants to doubt whether we can have knowledge at all. What Augustine is demonstrating is because I have been wrong about some things doesn’t mean I’m always wrong about all things. Moreover, for Augustine it is important for him to be able to say with certainty that he exists, that he knows he exists, and that he is glad of it. To know is important to Augustine because at the end of the day Augustine’s ultimate desire is to know God and the soul (SO 2.7). This is important for Augustine as he refers to the Septuagint translation of Isaiah “Unless you believe, you shall not understand.”
Today’s meditation comes from the pen of none other than the Augustinian Archbishop of Canterbury Saint Anselm (1033 – 1109).
“Teach me to seek thee, and reveal thyself to me, when I seek thee, for I cannot seek thee, except thou teach me, nor find thee, except thou reveal thyself.”
“I long to understand in some degree thy truth, which my heart believers and loves. For I do not seek to understand that I may believe, but I believe in order to understand.” (Proslogium 1)
“Ah ha!” we say. “Anselm has a pre-commitment in his belief in God.” Yes, that is very true and we should be quite impressed that he is so open and candid about it. If we are candid with ourselves in the same way that Anselm is, we will find that we all have a pre-commitment to some “ultimate authority”.
“For his invisible attributes, namely, his eternal power and divine nature,have been clearly perceived, ever since the creation of the world, in the things that have been made. So they are without excuse. For although they knew God, they did not honor him as God or give thanks to him, but they became futile in their thinking, and their foolish hearts were darkened. Claiming to be wise, they became fools, and exchanged the glory of the immortal God for images resembling mortal man and birds and animals and creeping things. (Romans 1:20-23, ESV)”