“There is no place in the Humanist worldview for either immortality or God
In his groundbreaking work, Meditations on First Philosophy, the French philosopher Rene Descartes lays the groundwork for many philosophical principles by attempting to “establish a bold and lasting knowledge” (171)1.
The foundations for knowledge Descartes established would go on to influence a plethora of other philosophers and philosophical works. Descartes argues in his meditations first from the point of view of complete skepticism, using skepticism as a tool in order to discover what is real.
Through this method, Descartes explains the existence of man as a “thinking thing,” the capacity for human error, the overall trustworthiness of our senses, the existence of a physical world, the mind and body as separate entities, and the existence of an infinitely perfect God. Descartes uses a variety of premises to help back up his idea of a prefect God.
The main idea concluded from these premises is that man alone could not have come up with the idea of infinite perfection, so the idea of God comes from God himself, thus proving his existence. Although his argument for the existence of God is the least strong of his philosophical arguments, I agree with Descartes because humans alone could not grasp the idea of infinity or an infinitely perfect being.
I intend examine and defend Descartes’ explanation of the existence of God, propose valid counter-arguments and my own answers to those objections. Descartes uses the entire third and most of the fifth meditations of Meditations on First Philosophy to delve into his idea of and explanation of existence of God. From his point of view of skepticism earlier in the meditations, Descartes examined the possible existence of God as a supreme “evil demon” bent on deceiving humanity and causing mankind to err.
Descartes drifts away from this idea and defines his idea of God as “eternal, infinite, omniscient, omnipotent, and the creator of all things” (178). Descartes then uses several different premises to prove not only that God exists, but also that he displays the traits ascribed to him in Descartes’ idea of God. Descartes first uses a scientific cause-and-effect principle to claim that his clear idea of God is proof of God’s existence. Descartes claims that the “light of nature has reveled that there is at least as much in a complete efficient cause as in its effect” (178).
By using this principle, Descartes claims that since his clear perception of God is a supremely perfect being, and since there is as much reality in his idea of God as in its cause, then God must exist as the only being with as much reality as his idea of God. Since Descartes has just proven God is the pinnacle of complete perfection and “deception always contain(s) imperfection,” then God cannot be an evil deceiver as Descartes earlier hypothesized (183).
Descartes also delves into how the idea of God must come from God himself. Since God cannot be “taken in through senses,” and since Descartes himself didn’t create the idea of God, Descartes claims that the idea of God must be “innate…like my idea of myself” (182). Descartes uses this argument to claim that God “put this idea into me…like a craftsman’s mark on his work” (182).
Descartes now sees himself and mankind created in God’s own image, and since he has proven God is perfect, God wouldn’t have created man specifically deceive them or to give them the capacity to err. According to this premise, Descartes infers that our senses aren’t made to err and will deliver truths when used correctly. Descartes deduces man’s ability to err stems from his God-given free will. In his fifth meditation Descartes again tries to explain the existence of God. This time, Descartes uses mathematics to back up his case.
Descartes brings up the example of a triangle. Although he cannot see the triangle physically, Descartes can “demonstrate various propositions about the triangle”, such as the fact that “its angles equal two right angles” (186). Although Descartes’ triangle is not tangible, he claims that the “truths of arithmetic geometry, or pure mathematics” are “more certain than any others” (186). Descartes knows these mathematic principles are “clearly and distinctly true”, the same way he feels about his idea of God. Thusly, Descartes idea of God is as secure as the principles of Geometry and arithmetic.
By ingeniously relating the intangible principles of geometry and the existence of an ethereal God, it is no longer necessary to expect any physical proof of God’s existence from Descartes. There are several potential objections to Descartes’ proof of the existence and perfection of God. Descartes’ argument for the existence of God relies almost solely on his own distinct perception of God as “eternal, infinite, omniscient, omnipotent, and the creator of all things” (178).
This is an idea vast amounts of people do not share. Descartes claims that the idea of God is “self-evident” and “innate” (182, 187) Descartes made these claims at a time in France at a time where church controlled many aspects of life, money, and power.
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