God’s Existence through the Eyes of Philosophers
The Philosophy of Religion
Religion may be perceived from two perspectives: either theological or philosophical. The theological perspective of religion argues that faith alone is enough to affirm the existence of God. It studies the nature of God as well as religious beliefs through biblical sources, dogmas, and divine interpretation. In theology, the existence of God and faith are absolute. However, religion, in the philosophical sense, may or may not start from the belief that God exists. Philosophy, by its very nature, aims to explain the phenomenon of everything in a logical, rational manner — even if it may be the existence of a Higher Being so widely believed in many areas of the world. In fact, many philosophers such as Thomas Aquinas have argued that there are both proofs and contradictions to the existence of a God.
Anselm and the Ontological Argument
“For I do not seek to understand in order to believe, but I believe in order to understand. For I believe this: Unless I believe, I will not understand.”
According to Anselm of Canterbury, one exists either in the mind or in the mind and reality. He viewed God as the greatest thing to exist in that no other perceivable thing can surpass his greatness. Anselm also pointed out that the only thing greater than a good thing would be if that thing exists in both our minds and in reality. Being that God exists in the mind and is seen in reality (through creation and various manifestations), God can only exist, thus the proof of his existence.
Although Anselm thought he conjured a fool-proof explanation for God’s existence, many people countered his philosophy. Guanilo, a fellow philospher and monk, argued that Anselm’s reasoning can be an explanation to the existence of anything — even if it were mythical or unreal. To explain simply: One could imagine the very best house one can think of. Because one has the capability to imagine it, then it must be real. If it weren’t real, then there would be a house greater than one has imagined — and that house must be real. He argued that Anselm’s reasoning was only applicable to that of the existence of God and not every other idea, thing, or person. This then proves that Anselm’s philosophy contained fallacies. By Anselm’s definition that God is a necessary being, then His existence is part of the very definition of God, given that a necessary being is one that must exist.
Thomas Aquinas and the Cosmological Arguments
Thomas Aquinas was both a Dominican friar and a philosopher. He believed in God but felt that as a philosopher, it was mandatory to provide rational explanations as to His existence. He created five arguments which prove that God exists, four of which are called the Cosmological Arguments. Cosmological Arguments are derived from already known facts within the cosmos or the universe.
The first argument was the argument of motion. Aquinas lectured that people live in a world of movement, being that they themselves move along with the movement of others. In that sense, if things were moving then there must have been a mover which has set or started the motion, otherwise nothing should have moved in the first place. Thomas Aquinas believed that the static, unmoved mover was God, a Being who is higher than everything in the cosmos.
The second argument was founded in the same logic as the argument of motion. The argument of causation states that something must have caused the present motion in the known universe. If so, then there must be an uncaused causer, one that causes and has caused everything, otherwise there wouldn’t be any results to begin with. The first causer, he believed, was God.
Both motion and causation can’t go back forever. Thus, there must have been a first mover and a first causer, both of whom are God.
The third argument, the argument of contingency, is discussed through the definitions of necessary and contingent beings. Necessary beings are those that have always existed and will never cease. Contingent beings are those that can not have existed and therefore rely on the existence of other things to exist. Aquinas said that we cannot have a world wherein everything was contingent on other beings, considering that continigent beings could have not existed. Therefore, there must be a necessary being which have always existed, one that never not exist. This necessary being was God.
Aquinas also emphasized the existence and perfection of God through the argument of degrees. All things can be measured in degrees. Thus, everything must be based and measured to that which is perfect. The paramount figure of perfection, according to Aquinas, was God and God alone.
Thomas Aquinas attempted to prove God’s existence through the four cosmological arguments. Many philosophers, however, thought that the arguments weren’t able to establish the existence of any particular god because it does not deny the possibility of polytheism — the existence of multiple other gods. Furthermore, these philosophers countered that Aquinas reduced God to that of unmoved movers and uncaused causers rather than a loving, merciful father.
One objection to Aquinas’ arguments was that infinite regression can be possible. Philosophically, infinite regress means that things can occur naturally without any starting point. The first two cosmological arguments are founded upon the irrationality and impossibility of infinite regression. Otherwise, the arguments of motion and causation would not have been valid in the first place.
A more prominent objection to Aquinas’ Cosmological Arguments were that they were self-defeating. Contradictions for the first two arguments are as follows: If things had to be set in motion and caused by other things, then God should have been subject to these conditions as well. If God was not subject to these conditions, then there can be a possibility that other things are not subject to these conditions thus enabling infinite regression. If these things can be moved and caused without God, then God may not be needed to establish these things in the first place.
A Resolution of Ideas
Beings are given the capacity to think, assess, and analyze. Given that one objective of philosophy is to rethink and argue that which is commonly accepted in society, people have the right to either believe or disbelieve the higher being they initially choose to follow. The works of Anselm and Thomas Aquinas are testiments to the importance of defending ones’ belief systems and engaging in constructive discourse.