Researched Argument: Descartes and Anselm’s Ideas about the Existence of God

The scholars, Anselm and Descartes each present a different version of an ontological argument for the existence of God. They try to link the universe to a Supreme Being that is unseen but yet omnipotent and omnipresent. Descartes is a medieval philosopher born in France in the year 1596, while Anselm was born in Aosta in the year 1033.  An ontological argument as presented by the two philosophical scholars refers to a way of thinking where reason and analysis are invoked in the explanation of the existence of God. The paper, therefore, seeks to prove the existence of God using the ontological arguments presented by both Descartes and Anselm.

Descartes’ Ontological View about the Existence of God

Descartes sets up his path in uncovering the mystery behind God’s existence by choosing to put reasoning to test as opposed to scientific experimentation. He looks at how perfect the whole universe was created and concludes that there is no way such kind of state could exist without a perfect Supreme Being. Descartes, therefore, notes that just like the universe is perfect, so is the Supreme Being that has created it. The existence of the universe and God is, therefore, two inseparable concepts.

Descartes views the world from an orderly fashion where he believes that orderliness in which the universe was created represents the order of the Supreme Being responsible for its creation. Through his book known as the Meditations, Descartes aspires not only to establish the cause of the orderly nature of the universe but also tries to make his argumentation a trustworthy one. According to him, the reality of the existence of God exists only within himself and therefore, his ideas are a result of reasoning. Therefore, in his book, Descartes proposes three methods that prove God’s existence. He refers to the idea that every effect must at least have a cause. So the effect of the perfection of the universe must, therefore, have a cause, which is revealed in the perfection of the Supreme Being.

The first proof is what he refers to as the Cosmological-Ontological argument. By presenting this proof, Rene Descartes puts forth several premises which all lead towards God’s existence. Under his first premise, he says that in life, it is a must for everything to have a cause. He adds that the fact that God is a perfect being means there must be a cause for the perfection which is certainly infinite. Descartes, however, further indicates that he is not infinitely perfect and therefore concludes that the perfect Supreme Being exists outside the scope of human beings. Descartes, therefore, concludes that he could never have conceived the idea of infinite perfection of God if it never existed outside the scope of human beings. From these premises, therefore, the only logical inference is that God exists and that his perfection is infinite.

The second proof of the existence of God according to Descartes is what he refers to as the Conservation of Existence Theory where he argues that his existence is an idea of God. Based on this idea, therefore, everything existing in the universe traces its cause from God, and God is the cause. He proves my stating that if he had the power to preserve his existence today, tomorrow and infinitely, he would do so, but he cannot because he lacks the power. From this argument, therefore, Descartes contemplates that he is not the reason for his existence and preservation. From the premises highlighted above, Descartes indicates that the only logical conclusion is that something responsible for his own preservation of life is based on the idea of God which is God Himself. As such, the existence of God is inevitable.

The third and last proof of God’s existence by Rene Descartes is his argument of the Existence as perfection. Descartes begins by saying that his idea of the contemplation of the nature of God is that he is endowed with all forms of perfection. He adds that when looking at the universe, it becomes clear that the existence of the universe is perfect. From the premises, it is, therefore, absurd to conclude that God does not exist. He wraps up his argument by saying that God must exist.

From the discussion, it becomes clear that the existence of God according to Descartes arises out of his thoughts and contemplation of ideas concerning certain subjects. His idea is therefore based on objects and thus gives rise to the use of epistemology; God’s existence is proven through the existence of certain objects in the universe. The philosopher, therefore, tries to emulate the cause and effect idea that was first put to practice by Plato, one of the ancient philosophers.

St. Anselm’s Concept of the Existence of God

There is certainly a slight deviation from Rene Descartes’ idea of the existence of God and St. Anselm’s idea. The difference is in the manner in which they present their arguments. St. Anselm, for example, uses an apriori kind of argument where he appeals to reasoning rather than science in uncovering the existence of God. His conceptions take the form of deductive reasoning where he follows the format if A then B. If all the premises are true, then certainly the conclusion must be true. St. Anselm begins his argument by defining God as a being beyond the conception of any supreme being. This argument is commonly referred to as the proslogioum argument. He makes a suggestion before his first premise by noting that the existence of God is based on the understanding of human beings but not on reality. In his first premise, St. Anselm puts forth the idea that understanding alone cannot be conceived as being greater than the existence of reality. Secondly, he says it is conceivable of the existence of God in reality. He however further moves on under his forth premise stating that, if the existence of God were a reality then certainly he would have been greater than he is. But the existence of a greater God than he is today is also conceivable; then it follows that it is necessary and inevitable to conceive a greater God than the one that exists today. Thus far, St. Anselm notes that it is false to conceive that a greater God that exists today may exist. Due to the contradiction, it obviously follows that it would be false to conceive the existence of God based only on the understanding but not the reality. The conclusion, therefore, is that God exists in reality as he does in understanding, as whatever is possible to contemplate in understanding must exist in reality.

 
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In his second argument about the existence of God, St. Anselm comes up with a new form. This time round, he makes the suggestion through the mind of God. He points out that if God himself had the understanding that he is greater, then he can be conceived as greater by the human beings. His first premise here is based on the argument that there is a possibility of conception of a being that cannot be considered as non-existent. Under his second premise, therefore, he argues that the conception of a being that does not exist cannot be greater than the conception of a being that exists. He, therefore, concludes that if we say that something is greater than a greater being, then it can be perceived as a contradiction of the whole argument leading to only one conclusion that a greater being exists. This being is, therefore, God and it cannot be said that he does not exist. From this kind of argument, St. Anselm leaves out the possibility that there can exist any other being but that God is certainly the Supreme Being, and his existence is necessary.

The third argument by St. Anselm is based on a hypothesis that God’s existence is derived from the perfection and the order in which the world has been created. In this sense, therefore, St. Anselm deviates from accepting that God is the cause of being but rather accepts that he is only responsible for the qualities of being. He therefore notes that the existence on earth has qualities. He further says that the quality of the existence is unmatched with any other quality. The manner in which the quality is conceived is certainly the manner in which the cause of the quality of existence is revealed as stated by St. Anselm. He says that the world is full of justice and goodness which is a reflection of perfection conceived of the Supreme Being that has created it. From the above premises, therefore, it is logical to infer that, a perfect being of all perfections exists in the name of God. God must, therefore, exist as the perfection and the cause for perfection.

The last argument by St. Anselm for the existence of God is called the Teleological argument, which connotes that, God is an intelligent being and exists so as to direct the human beings because they lack knowledge. To reach this argument, he makes a hypothesis that all things that are unknowledgeable act in the same manner. Their actions are, therefore, destined to a similar end. Things that lack knowledge must just have a common end. It, therefore, only takes the mind and actions of the intelligent being to control the unintelligent ones towards the common end of the unintelligence. From these premises, it is clear that God exists as an intelligent being whose purpose is to control the unintelligent beings towards his desired end.

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My View about the Existence of God

Despite the argument by the two philosophers about the existence of God, I am convinced that God actually exists but not in the manner in which they try to trace his existence. I subscribe to the Biblical existence of God as a creator of all beings and a Supreme Being. I reject the argument by Descartes because it gives room for the existence of other gods rather than a single Supreme God. According to the book of John, no man has ever seen God but God reveals himself through his works of Creation. The Bible makes it clear that there only exists one God as opposed to the proposition by St. Anselm and Descartes, who leave room for the presumption of the existence of other gods.

I further criticize the views of the two authors that the world is full of perfection. First, the world is composed of all manners of evil such as poverty, diseases, murder and prostitution, which all happen under God’s control. Such state of affairs cannot reflect the perfection of God. Secondly, I only understand God to be good and just from the Biblical point of view taking into account that all things that God created were all good in his eyes. The fact that evil exists in the world is the choice of human beings made through the exercise of free will granted by God. Evil began from the Garden of Eden as a result of Adam’s disobedience. The Biblical account is very clear about the same. St. Anselm and Rene Descartes however, are not honest in their suggestions, because they do not accept evil in the world and explain why it exists but rather only see perfections and attribute the same to God. It, therefore, means that since imperfection exists to the world as a result of immorality, diseases and poverty, then it also follows that God is imperfect which contradicts the Biblical perception of God.

Conclusion

The ontological argument aimed at espousing the existence of God uses the cause-effect analogy proposed by Plato. St. Anselm and Descartes, therefore, seek to use this method to explain the cause behind the perfection of today’s world. The bottom line of their arguments is that there cannot be a perfect world without a perfect being controlling it. Personally I, however, do not find the arguments convincing because they ignore the existence of evil in the world.

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