Chapter 8

Proofs for God's existence

Having said that, I suppose I should mention a few of the arguments for and against God's existence, because it is very easy to say, "Well, why didn't you just . . . (for instance ask 'Where did you come from?' and go back from that to the 'first cause'?)", or "But your argument has the obvious refutation that . . ." These are based on the assumption that the argument I have given is a kind of "reworking" of past arguments, when in fact, though there is a superficial relation to them, what it is doing is very different.

[For a rather more detailed look at the traditional arguments for and against God's existence, see The Finite and the Infinite, chapter 2 and chapter 3]

First of all, there is the temptation to say, "Oh, well, another 'proof' for God's existence. In every age somebody finds something inexplicable and drags God in; and then somebody else finds a perfectly natural this-worldly explanation."

The answer to this is that in this case, the problem (the in-itself-impossibility) lies in the mere fact that something is finite. And what I tried to show is that no this-worldly explanation can be the cause, since it (as also a finite existence) is bound to be the effect it is supposed to be the cause of.

"Well, but what about the causal chain, where B causes A and C causes B and D causes C and so on to infinity? No one cause can do the job, but who says that you have to go outside the chain, if it's got an infinite number of links?"

That is a legitimate riposte to a totally different argument that is usually given for God's existence: the "Where did you come from?" argument. Your parents caused you, and their parents caused them, and so on back through the first living being and the "primordial soup," and so on and so on and so on.

But the problem there (the effect in question) is the fact that you began to exist, not that your existence now is finite. And your parents are the causers of your beginning to exist, and their parents were the causers of their beginning to exist and so on; and there is no necessary reason why there has to be a non-infinite string here, if the universe didn't have a beginning (as is conceivable if Einstein is right and there is a certain total mass in the universe, which then might alternately expand and collapse for ever and ever).

But first of all, the "chain" can't account for the finiteness of any finite existence, because the B (which needs accounting for) which was supposed to cause A can't do it whether or not it is "caused," because as a finite existence it is identically the same effect, and if it could (whether "caused" or not) cause A it would while it was doing it make sense by itself, and there would be something which was finite that made sense by itself. So B can't be the cause of A, whether it is the "effect" of C or not. Secondly, even an infinite set of things which "caused" any finite existence would still be a single (complex) finite existence, as we said.

In other words, this alternative "solves" the problem simply by ignoring what the problem is. It is like "solving" the problem of falling bodies by solving what makes magnets attract iron.

Nor do the "refutations" of Kant address the issue. First of all, if you say that this is just an example of Kant's "cosmological argument," where the contingency of the world is supposed to demand a non-contingent being, Kant refutes this by "proving" that it is the definition of "contingency" as "dependent on something else" that means that if you say that "there is something that is contingent (dependent)" you must logically get to something that isn't. But this is the "passage from the logical to the ontological order."

But as we saw when discussing consciousness as finite, the "contradiction" involved in finiteness is not a logical contradiction, but two facts which render the reality positively impossible as it is known. And as Kant's own philosophy exhibits again and again (as does every other one), when you have this kind of "impossibility," then you know that the "conditions for the possibility" (what I call the "cause") are given (such as, for Kant, the a priori forms of sensation, the categories, etc., etc.).

So it isn't because the notion "dependence" implies "that on which something depends" that we call finite existence "unintelligible" without God; it is because finite existence as it exists contradicts itself if it is "on its own"; but it exists nonetheless. Hence something makes it exist this way. This is no more Kant's "cosmological argument" than Newton was using a "cosmological argument" when he asserted that there was an unseen force which he called "gravity," or one is using a "cosmological argument" when one asserts that there is something about a magnet that pulls iron towards it.

And I would point out that if you deny my argument above for the existence of God, you have no reason for saying that anything at all is real, because we do dream and have hallucinations, and while we're having these experiences they seem to deal with reality; and on what grounds are you going to say that not everything is a dream, except something like the inadequacy-in-themselves of our perceptions? But what it is about them that can't be explained internally is their finiteness; which is just what is the problem about the real objects which they "talk about" by this(1).



1. As to St. Thomas's arguments, first of all, each of the "five ways" is a fallacy as it stands, which would take too long to go into (I wrote a whole article in the International Philosophical Quarterly on just the First Way), though of course each Way reveals a defect in reality which is an example of existence as finite (though it is not used as such). As to his argument from the "real distinction" between essence and existence, I think his argument for such a real distinction is shaky, and as such, as I said in a previous footnote, it implies "essences" that don't exist. Hence, though my argument is in a sense based on the distinction between essence and existence, the problem I see is that this distinction is also an identity; and so my argument is not really a "reworking" of St. Thomas--though I would say that St. Thomas's is a kind of Hegelian "moment" suspended in it.