Tuesday, October 01, 2013

Why Descartes' "Proof" of the Existence of God is Fallacious

by Len Hart, the Existentialist Cowboy

In a nutshell Descartes' "proof" is derived from a definition of God! Simply, God must exist by definition. But that assumes his existence. If it were true, then "God" is the only thing proven to exist by definition.

There are various versions of the Ontological argument. Descartes' version differs from that of St Anselm which was, interestingly, referred to in one of the Indiana Jones movies. Descartes' latter version, indeed, proceeds from the definition of the word "God" and is, therefore, problematic from the outset! How, for example, can the existence of something not already known to exist become an argument for its existence?

For that matter, if the entity (God, in this case) is already KNOWN to exist the 'argument' is superfluous as well as fallacious. What if I imagined or conceived of a 'Big Blue Meanie' and attributed to it the property of existence? I could simply assert that 'big blue meanies' exist by my definition. Someone similarly conceived and defined 'God'. It was left to Descartes to provide the process with an imprimatur of legitimacy and 'logic'.
Descartes often compares the ontological argument to a geometric demonstration, arguing that necessary existence cannot be excluded from idea of God anymore than the fact that its angles equal two right angles, for example, can be excluded from the idea of a triangle. The analogy underscores once again the argument's supreme simplicity. God's existence is purported to be as obvious and self-evident as the most basic mathematical truth. It also attempts to show how the “logic” of the demonstration is rooted in our ordinary reasoning practices.
--Stanford University Encyclopedia of Philosophy
Descartes believed the ontological argument to be a "proof" that followed from the "essence" of "God"! But that assumes the existence of 'God'; or --as lawyers would put it to a judge --it assumes 'facts not in evidence'. If God's existence is in doubt, if it is in "need" of proof, then how may we know that "God" possesses an essence?

It's a circular argument: God exists because God exists! There is much more that can be written about this but, alas, it will not dissuade those who want to believe and who will tolerate fallacies in order to do so. I write this short essay not because I am an 'atheist'. "Atheism" is as irrational as is religion. One cannot prove that God does not exist because nothing meaningful can be said of anything which does not exist. For example: "Blue Meanies do not exist" is meaningless.


Unknown said...

I've encountered plenty of atheists online that don't want to hear about how arguing about atheism is logically identical to arguing the religious position. The entire argument is an artifact of language.

Unknown said...

This article is more about the structure of formal logic than it is about whether or nor 'GOD'(whatever that is) exists or not. Frankly --until God is defined the entire debate is BS. And GOD cannot be 'defined' until he is known to exist. My position is: IT'S ALL BULLSHIT and utterly meaningless.

LanceThruster said...

I consider myself an atheist (without a belief in any god or gods) and an agnostic (sees no evidence of god's existence or proof of non-existence).

From: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Agnostic_atheism

One of the earliest definitions of agnostic atheism is that of Robert Flint, in his Croall Lecture of 1887–1888 (published in 1903 under the title Agnosticism).

The atheist may however be, and not unfrequently is, an agnostic. There is an agnostic atheism or atheistic agnosticism, and the combination of atheism with agnosticism which may be so named is not an uncommon one.[4]

If a man has failed to find any good reason for believing that there is a God, it is perfectly natural and rational that he should not believe that there is a God; and if so, he is an atheist... if he goes farther, and, after an investigation into the nature and reach of human knowledge, ending in the conclusion that the existence of God is incapable of proof, cease to believe in it on the ground that he cannot know it to be true, he is an agnostic and also an atheist – an agnostic-atheist – an atheist because an agnostic... while, then, it is erroneous to identify agnosticism and atheism, it is equally erroneous so to separate them as if the one were exclusive of the other...

see also - http://atheism.about.com/od/atheismquestions/a/strong_weak.htm