Phil’s Day Off
Does a god exist? Can it be proven? These are the questions which I’ve been looking into, and what I attempted to answer for my Phil’s day off. Last Sunday, I went to my local church, to find some people who could potentially add some insight, or challenge the arguments provided by Descartes. Not being religious myself, the goal was to find some new points of view, from people who already believe in God’s existence, and find out if and how that affects their stance on the argument. I was also curious to after hearing Descartes, what they thought of the argument proposed by Kant or Sartes.
To refresh, Descartes came up with the initial argument being,
- I have an idea of a perfect God
- Perfection requires existence
- The perfect god exists
This argument rests on the idea that something cannot come from nothing. Based on that, just the idea of a perfect God that we are conceiving, is an idea that we could not have created ourselves, but placed in us by something just as perfect. Additionally, one character of this perfection, must be existent, arguing one cannot be perfect and non-existent (then it would not be perfect). Therefore proving something perfect(a God) exists.
Kant refutes this argument, by challenging the factual correctness of the second point. Kant argues that existence isn’t a characteristic of one thing, but a ‘state’ where it is either present or not present in the physical world. He gives an example of two boxes, and gives a list of descriptions for each: tall, red, soft. One now has the idea of two boxes, which comparatively or equal. Now, he states one exists and one doesn’t. The idea of these two boxes are still the same, and Kant uses this reasoning to show how existence is not a distinctive characteristic of an object, because whether or not it exists does not change the idea of the object. This logic contradicts the idea of existence being a necessary trait of perfection, and challenges Descarte’s theory.
Sartes also challenges Descartes, but in a different way than Kant. Sartes challenges one of the assumptions that Descartes’ argument is built on, which is the idea that essence comes before existence. Sartes argues that humans have inherit identity or purpose, and through experience and consciousness, humans create their own meaning of life and values.
Alvin, a recent graduate from SFU, was the only person willing to talk. After explaining each philosopher’s position, Alvin’s initial reaction was of complete confusion. Despite that, after some further consideration, he found himself accepting Descartes(or not accepting the other two). His reasoning came from the fact there are some ideas that humans are innately born with, like a sense of morality or knowing 1+1=2. Because of this, Alvin believes that essence precedes existence (Like how the idea of a tool that we want comes before the actual tool). He also didn’t fully agree with Kant, saying that there is a intangible difference between two things that exists and doesn’t exist. Afterwards, when I asked for any other thoughts he had about this topics, he said that despite the fact that Descartes made the most sense to him, at the end of the day no one can say with certainty of the existence of a God, nor recognize if it did exist. At the end of the day, it is about one’s belief that determines the truth for that person.
This was an interesting idea that I never empathized with before. For my whole life, I defined the truth as an objective view of the world, that cannot be argued with. An unchanging constant. No one could dispute 2+2=4, or the fact that the apple WILL fall if dropped. However, Alvin suggests the idea of the truth becoming subjective. Subjective truth: is that possible? When does truth become belief? Anyways, by pointing some of the holes in both arguments, the only truth I can logically deduce is that we cannot objectively prove God’s existence/nonexistence.