God Does Not Necessarily Have to ExistIn Descartes’ Meditations, he makes the strong claim that God must exist. I will first explain what Descartes’s argument for God’s existence is, and then I will attempt to support the argument that God does not need to necessarily exist through objections and replies.Premise 1: “We have an idea of God as an infinite and perfect being.”First, Descartes believes that there are properties that are inherently perfect. For example, being good is a perfection while being bad is an imperfection.
A perfect being has all the perfections as properties. We have an idea of such a being as God.Premise 2: “Our minds are not infinite.”To begin this argument, Descartes entertains the idea that he cannot be certain of anything in the world, that everything known to him could be the result of an evil spirit’s deception. The only assurance he finds is “Cogito Ergo Sum;” I think, therefore I must exist, at the very least, as a thinking thing at this moment in time. With this foundation, he moves on to argue that since his extensions, his imagination, and his senses can deceive him, he is a finite, limited, imperfect being. In other words, his mind is also not perfect.Premise 3: “A cause must have at least as much reality as its effects.
”Descartes believes that things have both Formal Reality as well as Objective Reality. If an entity has Formal Reality, it will exist in the world as a substance. If an object has Objective Reality, it will exist as an idea. However, Descartes believe that things are not just “real” or “unreal.” He thinks that some things are more real or have more Formal Reality than others. Ideas are also “real” by his definition (less than actual material things with material substance), but they exist as a representation of an idea (contains Objective Reality).
So since every idea is a mode and has Objective Reality, it must also have some amount of Formal Reality. He then argues that because we have an idea of God, a perfect and infinite being, God has Objective Reality. Since God has Objective Reality, God must also have Formal Reality because the idea can only be caused by something that has as much (or more) Formal Reality as the idea has Objective Reality. The effect, which is the idea of God, must have as much reality as the cause. In his case, Descartes argues that the cause is God himself, which leads him to his next premise. Premise 4: “We could not have caused our idea of God on our own, since our minds are finite.” Descartes already argued that the human mind is prone to deception, therefore humans are finite.
The idea of a God could not have been the product of the human mind because the human mind is finite and God contains an infinite amount of Objective Reality. A finite being cannot be the creators of an infinite idea. Conclusion: “Therefore, God must exist, as the cause of the idea.”Because the idea of God has more objective reality than we could have given God, it must also have formal reality, therefore having substance and existing. Because we have such an idea of God, he must have been the cause of the idea. The finite mind of a human could not have created an idea of a perfect being by itself.To begin my objections and replies, I will argue against the truth of Premise 4. Descartes wants to argue that the idea of God is of infinite objective reality, which is why humans cannot be the creators of the idea.
However, I would like to argue that the idea of God is not infinite, and it is the result of multiple, smaller ideas. Using Descartes’ example of geometry and mathematics, it is widely accepted that a formal reality of a perfect circle or a perfect triangle or the largest prime number could not exist in nature, yet the ideas of such objects appeared in the minds of human beings. The reason for such a phenomenon is that imperfect circles and imperfect triangles do exist in nature. The human mind is creative and imagined what a perfect circle and what a perfect triangle would process and simply created them with its imagination. I will argue this is the same for God. Many depictions of God is a perfect human being, and it is not uncommon for one to imagine what a perfect person would possess.
The thought is then transformed in an idea of a being whose properties are perfect in every way. This way, the imperfect human would have something to strive for. So the idea of God is simply a collection of ideas, who does not have an infinite amount of objective reality.Therefore, since the objective reality of God is not infinite, humans could have been the creators of the idea, granted that an effect must have as much reality as its cause. Here, Descartes might entertain the idea that God could be a creation of humans, and therefore he does not necessarily have to exist. So God does not exist, but we can agree that God is the idea of a perfect being.
Existence, however, is a perfection. But God now lacks a perfection by non-existence. The perfect being now lacks a perfection. The perfect being is imperfect. Therefore, the argument is a contradiction and God must exist. With this indirect argument, I would like to challenge the premise that existence is a perfection. Descartes grants the idea that God does not necessarily need to exist, and he even says that God does not exist. So, my objection here is that a thing cannot possess a property or characteristic if it does not exist.
Essentially, to have something, one must need to exist in the first place. In other words, the prerequisite for perfection is to first exist, while as existing is not a perfection in itself. God, therefore, remains as an idea and having God not exist is not a contradiction. Descartes disagrees.
He believes that existence is an essence of a perfect being. One cannot simply strip away the essence from something. In Meditation two, he uses a ball of beeswax to show that a wax can change shapes and be alter, but a wax cannot be stripped of its essence, which is the fact that it is wax. To make it broader, the game of basketball would not be basketball if there is no ball.Or a triangle is not a triangle if it does not possess three sides.
God, in the same manner, is a perfect being and cannot be stripped of the essence of existing. In order words, God would not be God if he did not exist. The constitutive rule of God is that he must exist.
My concern here is that the essence of a thing is not clear and distinct. One of the examples Descartes uses for essence is the beeswax that becomes a melted goo. Though the properties of the beeswax changed, he knows it is beeswax through intellect.
Though I will say that intellect typically does not deceive, I can only imagine that an evaporated piece of beeswax is no longer beeswax. The wax has changed chemically into other things like carbon, nitrogen, and oxygen. It would be impossible to point out which chemicals in the air was or was not the beeswax. Actually, I would argue that the essence of the beeswax is gone. I have stripped the essence of the beeswax by simply adding more heat. God in the same way can be stripped of existence.
I argued that the idea of God is a creation by humans, and therefore the essence of God is actually having believers of his existence. This essence can be stripped away if humans choose to not believe in him. Descartes might object saying that if God did exist, then one cannot simply take away his essence using intellect. The metaphysics of God is not simply a matter of epistemology.
Simply forgetting about God would not destroy him.A forgotten apple will continue to exist until it rots. I have examined Descartes argument from the idea of God and considered three objections and replies to the argument.
What I think these considerations show is that the idea of God does not necessarily have infinite objective reality. Instead, the idea of God is a collection of large, but however finite, ideas of perfect properties. Moreover, the existence is not a perfection.
However, I will say that though God does not necessarily have to exist, I cannot say that God does not exist. Descartes argument that the essence of a perfect being is existing is interesting. Though I do not have room in this paper to completely entertain that idea, I wonder what essence really is. Surely it cannot simply be a matter of intellect, because science shows that our theories are wrong all the time and need refining. Perhaps it will be science that can show us the real essence of God one day.