No one has a final answer to philosophical questions. So we have not heard the last words on the whole idea of change and time. There are other problems that philosophy has to battle with. This time around it is the question of the existence of God. There is no age or generation that the question of God’s existence has not presented itself. But also different generations have always had a way of dealing with it philosophically. Here in this Unit, we shall not involve ourselves with all the polemics. We shall rather present a few philosophical positions on the existence of God. I am sure you have your own reasons to either believe or disbelieve the existence of God.
At the end of this unit, you should be able to:
- discuss some philosophers who have reflected on the existence of the Absolute Being and who have convinced themselves and their followers that such a being actually exists
- distinguish between a doctrine or a dogmatic belief in God through the reasoning of some philosophers about the existence of God.
3.0 MAIN CONTENT
3.1 Existence of God According To the Ancient Minds
The existence of God is not a self-evident truth. It cannot be demonstrated by way of experiment neither can it be proven like a mathematical theory. It can only be derived or inferred or arrived at through the experience of the sensible universe and the general experience of life. According to Plato, the Supreme Being which we call God is nothing else but the “Absolute Beauty” in which all the other beautiful things participate. “It seems to me”, he says, “that whatever else is beautiful apart from the Absolute Beauty is beautiful because it partakes of that Absolute Beauty, and for no other reason” (Phaedo, 100c). Plato did not so much prove the existence of God but rather derived it from the experience of love and beauty. So God is that perfect love and beauty that does not exist in something else but exists in itself and neither has a beginning nor an end. It is that from which all the lovely things derive their loveliness and beautiful things derive their beauty (cf. Symposium 211a-e).
Aristotle approaches the existence of God from another perspective. According to him, the only beings that exist independently of themselves are substances. He divides substance into three (3) categories:
- the perishable sensible substances which is the object of empirical sciences;
- the eternal sensible substances – the objects of mathematical sciences; and
- unmovable non-sensible substances – the pure objects of thought. According to him, thought is the most divine of all things. Evidently therefore, the divine thinks of the most divine and the most precious.
This is to say that the divine thought thinks of nothing else but itself. God is a self-thinking-thought. The Divine thought thinks of itself since it is the most excellent of things, and its thinking is thinking on thinking. To put this in a layman’s language, Aristotle is saying that God is knowledge and the knowledge of God consists in thinking about himself. That was Aristotle, but the existence of God continued to pose a problem to human mind.
3.2 Existence of God According To The
Medieval Minds Anselm of Canterbury (1033-1109) lived in the middle Ages. He was already a Theologian but he set out to give a philosophical argument for the existence of God. He came up with a three- point argument often referred as the ontological argument. “God“, he said, “is that than which nothing greater can be thought.” Such a being cannot only be in the thought but must exists in reality because if he exists only in the thought, he cannot be that than which nothing greater can be thought, but if he exists both in thought and in reality, then he is that than which nothing greater can be thought. Therefore that than which nothing greater can be thought truly exists. Secondly he said God cannot be thought as not existing because to be thought as not existing means that he is not that than which nothing greater can be thought, but if he is thought as existing, then he is truly that than which nothing greater can be thought. Therefore God truly exists. In the third point Anselm wonders how the fool has said in his heart what cannot be thought. According to Anselm, it is possible to think of God as not existing if one is only thinking of the word and not understanding the reality signified
by the word. But if one understands the reality that the word signifies, namely that than which nothing greater can be thought, then it is impossible to think of God as not existing.
Then came Thomas Aquinas (c.1225-1274) with the famous five ways.
He argues that:
- If change is not self-explanatory, it necessitates a first mover which is itself immovable in the sense that it possesses within itself the source of its own activity and has no need of being moved by another. Therefore, God is the Unmoved Mover;
- If efficient causes are now actually operating, there has to be a supreme cause which is itself uncaused and which both produces and sustains these causes in being. Therefore, God is the Uncaused Cause;
- If there are contingent beings, that is, beings which can just as well not be, then there must be a necessary being – a being which cannot not be, which of itself is existence and gives existence to these contingent beings. Therefore, God is a necessary Being;
- If the things of our experience display varying degrees of being and the perfection, which flow from it, this is because these things merely share or participate in these perfections. There must be one being which possesses these perfections in their fullness and from which all the other beings derive them. There must be a being which does not participate in or have existence but which is existence (truth, goodness, beauty, etc);
- If animate and inanimate things display purposefulness in acts – activities directed toward an end, this presupposes an intelligence which produces and sustains these activities. It is to be noted here that the five ways of Thomas Aquinas hinge on the existential dependence of creatures on the creator and this can only be grasped on the level of metaphysical reflection.
3.3 Existence of God According to the Modern Minds
Rene Descartes (1596-1650) was not left out in the search for existence of God. He set out to construct a system of truth in which nothing would be taken for granted except that which is self-evident. According to him the criteria for truth are “clear” and “distinct”. In other words, whatever is known or perceived clearly and distinctly pertaining to something really belong to that thing. The idea of God was so clear and distinct for Descartes that God could not but exist. Just as one cannot think of a mountain without a valley or a triangle without the three sides equal to 180 degrees, so also one cannot think of God without the perfection of existence. “But from the fact that I cannot think of God except as existing, it follows that existence is inseparable from God; for this reason he truly exists.” In other words, God has to be. He exists necessarily and the idea of God is innate or inborn. Descartes argument for God’s existence is also known as ontological argument.
Immanuel Kant (1724-1804) also had something to say regarding the existence of God. According to Kant, the existence of God can neither be proven nor disproved, it is rather a postulate. He argued that as rational beings, there is recognition of a virtue or the highest good. The attainment of this highest good brings about a proportionate happiness. And there is a moral law which is self-imposed in the rational will and which obliges man to strive for the highest good or summum bonum. It is not within the power of man to bring about the harmony between the highest good and the proportionate happiness because man is neither the cause of the world nor of nature. It is beyond man’s power to ensure the happiness that goes with morality. Accordingly, the existence of the cause of all nature, distinct from nature itself and containing the principle of this connection namely, of the exact harmony of happiness with morality is postulated. Therefore, the summum bonum is possible in the world only on the supposition of a supreme being having a causality corresponding to moral character. That is how Kant posits the existence of God. We can go on and on and enumerate different approaches to the question of God’s existence but it will do us no good. What is important is that philosophy speculates on every being and if God is the ultimate being, then he is included in the object of philosophy.
The question here is what does philosophy say about evolution and God whose existence we have tried to demonstrate? Evolutionary, there are two main theories toexplain the origin of living beings in the universe among whom man occupies the prime of place.
- Fixism: This holds that God is the direct creator of all the various species that exist in the universe – simultaneous or at different times;
- Evolution: This claims that all the species, forms of life evolved gradually from one or few original living beings. Scientists favour this latter. In other words, that evolution occurs is a scientifically accepted fact, the point of difference is however on “how”. Philosophically the difference between animal and man is attributed to the First Cause – God whose existence we have tried to establish. This is not to say that God created everything in the universe individually as we know them today once and for all, and only conserves or maintains them in existence. Philosophy rather admits that God created and continues to create the universe throughout time. His creative act is coextensive with the universe. This is consequent upon the philosophical believe that God is a pure act. God however, does not create new realities or substances out of nothing, neither does he simply maintain, but he creates in the sense that he draws the higher out of the lower only gradually and unfolding the master lines or plans of his creation. In this way the creatures themselves participate in the act of creation. God uses them not merely as instruments or tools, but as material and efficient causes.
In other words, the combination of the causality of the First Cause and that of the creatures themselves seems to offer a better explanation of evolution. Neither suffices to explain evolution. The Supreme Cause makes the organism capable of transcending their own virtualities of producing effects whose perfection surpasses theirs. As Donceel expresses it: “…evolution is best explained as a process of creative transformation. This is an activity which, using a pre-existing creature, enlarges it into totally new being. It is both creation and transformation.
Creation, because the resulting reality possesses more being than the reality with which the process started. A transformation too, because this “more being” is not a substance, it is incorporated in a pre-existing subject, within whose potentiality it was not precontained” (J.F.Donceel 1967 p.84).
In this unit we have tried to show you why many philosophers think that God exists. The argument is not conclusive. I am sure you have your own convictions about the existence or the non-existence of God. Follow your convictions. Evolution is another big puzzle for scientists. It is an open- ended question. You can participate in the discussion.
The question of the existence of God is not new in philosophy. It has always existed and probably will continue to exist. We have presented the different views of different philosophers. The conclusion is that the existence of God can be attained by natural reason. The question of evolution is continuous discussion by scientists. You can let your voice be heard as a philosopher.
6.0 TUTOR-MARKED ASSIGNMENT
- How did Anselm demonstrate the existence of God?
- Would you agree with Immanuel Kant that we cannot prove or disprove the existence of God?