Gallup: ’32% of Americans are Nonreligious’ -Hermant Mehta.
Morriston’s Paper on Plantinga’s EAAN-Ex-Apologist.
What Ehrman actually says – Ophelia Benson.
Is there Nothing Wrong with Being Religious? -John Shook.
Tripping Balls -Matt McCormick.
How to make something from nothing - Eric MacDonald.
Answering Some of My Critics -John Loftus.
Let’s Keep New Atheism Strident – Eric MacDonald.
How Unnatural Is Religion? -John Shook.
“Good” Philosophy and Apologetics -Philostroll.
The Biblical Historicity Argument: An Analysis -Philosotroll.
Discussing the Reason Rally and Atheism on NPR -Hermant Mehta.
Richard Dawkins’ Speech at the American Atheists Convention -Hermant Mehta.
‘Woodstock For Atheists’: A Moment For Nonbelievers -Barbara Bradley Hagerty.
Atheists, others gather at Reason Rally – Lori Aratani.
Young atheists come online -Hermant Mehta.
Militant is the new neo -Ophelia Benson.
Reason Rally/American Atheists wrap up -JT Eberhard.
Richard Dawkins – Agnostic -Steven Novella.
Melting Ice Waiting for Delivery-J.P Holding.
Are indexicals a threat to materialism- Victor Reppert.
The Modal Ontological Argument-Randy Everist.
Do Atheists Know God Exists? -Randy Everist.
Naturalis Historia: Is Young Earth Creationism True? -J.W Wartick.
In which I stick my nose into someone else’s business-Lydia McGrew.
Trust in testimony and miracles -Helen De Cruz.
Book Snap: Bart Ehrman’s “Did Jesus Exist?” -J.P Holding.
“Reason Rally”: Doubleplusgood newspeak for groupthink! -Edward Feser.
Another crime for which faith is culpable -JT Eberhard.
We have ways of making you silent -Ophelia Benson.
School officials ordered to apologize in prayer case -Guillermo Contreras.
Tribal woman shot for refusing to withdraw daughter’s rape case -Milind Ghatwai.
Say prayer works or we will squash you -Ophelia Benson.
Do You Know How Many Slaves Work for You? -Beth Scott.
Contraception, Again… -Mike Labossiere.
Contraception, Once Again -Mike Labossiere.
Is Eating Meat Ethical? -Mark Sisson.
Of Limbaugh & Maher -Mike Labossiere.
Why women need secularism – R. Elisabeth Cornwell.
Now, let us have a look at Descartes first argument for the existence of God, which is located in the Third Meditations of his First Philosophy. We do not have enough room to exhaustively explore the entire nuance of Descartes’ first argument for the existence of God, so it is enough for our purposes to simply follow through the argument as presented on The Internet Encyclopaedia of Philosophy and then comment on it. We might tentatively entitle Descartes’ first argument for the existence of God as “The Causal Argument”, and it is one in which once the CAP is established, he can turn those notions to the question of God’s existence.
Firstly let us define our main term; Descartes defines God as “a substance that is infinite <eternal, immutable>, independent, supremely intelligent, supremely powerful and which created both myself and everything else” (Descartes, 1985, Meditations on First Philosophy, trans John Cottingham, p. 31). In looking for an idea that he cannot be the cause of; as the CAP suggests he can be the cause of any idea he has either formally or eminently, Descartes reasons that he is formally a finite substance, hence he can be the cause of any idea with the objective reality of a finite substance. Since finite substances require another party to subsist, namely God, and modes (remember modes = properties) require a finite substance require as well as God, finite substances are more real than modes. Since a finite substance cannot be formally, but rather eminently a property/mode Descartes reasons, therefore he can be the cause of all of his ideas of properties/modes. The problem lies however in the idea of God being an infinite substance; which is more real due to its absolute independence “it follows that Descartes, a finite substance, cannot be the cause of his idea of an infinite substance. This is because a finite substance does not have enough reality to be the cause of this idea, for if a finite substance were the cause of this idea, then where would it have gotten the extra reality? But the idea must have come from something. So something that is actually an infinite substance, namely God, must be the cause of the idea of an infinite substance. Therefore, God exists as the only possible cause of this idea. ” (Skirry, 2008, Rene Descartes (1596-1650): Overview)
Now that we have stated the argument we may begin to discuss it from Descartes perspective, so we might see why he thought this argument worked. What might be our first task is to find out, is if Descartes’ idea of God, is a fabrication or not, or rather, if Descartes explained how his idea of God was not a fabrication, if we discover his notion of God to be, simply a fabrication, this will be a serious flaw in his argument. It would appear from the above outline of Descartes’ argument that he would reason the objective idea of God in his mind to be adventitious or innate. The key to understanding Descartes’ view of God is in understanding his definition of ‘eminent reality’, for it is on this definition that ‘properties’ and ‘substances’ are defined. Descartes views properties (remember our ‘blue, wet, smelly’ example) to be less real, or perhaps more aptly stated less independent, than substances (recall ‘the ocean’ example) which posses greater independence. God being defined as an infinite substance means he has a total state of independence from all other substances (and properties), this would preclude Descartes from being the cause of the objective reality of the idea of God, as Descartes does not contain as much eminent reality as the idea of God contains. Therefore we can rule out Descartes’ objective idea of God as a fabrication, moreover as we see above, a fabrication can be “controlled, examined and cast aside at will.” And we see from the above argument, that God cannot be redefined as, for example, a finite being, or a material being, hence it follows that this being cannot be invented by him (which is consistent with the reasoning he used to come to his conclusions about the sun). It would appear his idea of God is closer to being innate, as he defines the term.
Another possible objection, expressed on The Internet Encyclopaedia of Philosophy by Skirry, 2008 we may like to explore from Descartes’ point of view is the objection that could not a finite substance with an idea of God, such as Descartes, not have been given the idea of God, by another substance, with the idea of God? Would it not be a category error to reason from an idea of an infinite substance (God), to that infinite substance actually existing? We may presume that Descartes might argue that this would lead to an ultimate regress, for whence does the other finite cause get its idea of God? From another finite substance? But where does that finite substance get its idea of God? From another finite substance? And so on, and so on. The answer lies in there needing to be, as the argument goes, an eminent cause of that first idea of God, which can only be found in an infinite, independent substance (that which we call God), this halts the infinite regress. This is explained adequately by the CAP, and is the reason it is not a category error for Descartes to reason from the idea of an infinite substance, to the existence of said infinite substance. (Skirry, 2008, Rene Descartes (1596-1650): Overview)
The next argument for the existence of God that we will consider appears in Descartes’ Fifth Meditations of his First Philosophy, and it can aptly be titled “The Ontological Argument”. Descartes provides this argument in a strict geometrical fashion (but it should not be mistaken for an axiomatic or Euclidian proof), indeed referencing it to the likeness of a shape.
“But if the mere fact that I can produce from my thought the idea of something entails that everything which I clearly and distinctly perceive to belong to that thing really does belong to it, is not this a possible basis for another argument to prove the existence of God? Certainly, the idea of God, or a supremely perfect being, is one that I find within me just as surely as the idea of any shape or number. And my understanding that it belongs to his nature that he always exists is no less clear and distinct than is the case when I prove of any shape or number that some property belongs to its nature.” (Descartes, 1985, Meditations on First Philosophy, trans John Cottingham, p. 45)
The common scholarly objection to this argument that would seem to be decisive is Kant’s criticism of existence being a predicate (for an in-depth analysis see Himma, 2005, or Nolan 2011). For our purposes however, instead of engaging the discussion on whether Descartes was right, or not, let us instead look at what Descartes thought of this argument, at why it was convincing to him. Perhaps, as we have mentioned Kant’s criticisms of predication, we may like to muse on what Descartes’ response to such a criticism might have been. Banach, 1982 states that Kant’s (and others) criticism boils down to the fact that we cannot define a being into existence, in that we cannot come to a proof for God’s existence, by simply contemplating concepts. This charge is that the definition of God that Descartes is using is question begging, for if we define God as existing, we beg the question in favour of God’s existence, it becomes a circular argument. How did Descartes address this view? Descartes’ “Ontological Argument” is arguing for an essence of God that is based implicitly on the traditional view held by the medieval scholastics that there is a distinction between a thing’s essence and existence. Nolan, 2011 states that according to this tradition then one can separate, and discuss the issue of essence from existence. This view seems integral to Descartes being able to avoid the charge of circularity. The confusion would seem to come when we talk of a supremely perfect being necessarily existing, under the banner of its essence. (Nolan, 2011, “Descartes’ Ontological Argument”)
As Banach, 1982 has stated there have been some philosophers who have used a straw man in stating Descartes’ argument as: “I have an idea of God as a supremely perfect being. Existence is a perfection. God must exist in reality or else the supremely perfect being would lack a perfection, and this is absurd. God’s essence or nature contains existence just as the essence of a triangle contains it having three sides. The emphasis in these types of interpretations is on the use of existence as a predicate and a perfection which one must attribute to the nature of the supremely perfect being.” (Banach, 1982) To understand Descartes’ argument we need to understand in what context he is discussing the term existence. He differentiates between “existence” which could be defined as part of anything conceivable, and “necessary existence” in which he does not mean logical necessity in the way philosophers use the term now, but rather, he is using the term to describe ontological necessity. To Descartes God’s essence contains necessary, ontological existence or as Banach also states “eternal and unconditioned existence”. (Banach, 1982) There also appears to be discussion that the term necessary existence is tied up in the idea of God necessarily existing, and God necessarily existing in reality. Banach claims Descartes’ response might have been that we know certain characteristics of the essences of things, in “normal cases”, and that what we reasonably know in those circumstances is that certain characteristics belong to the thing as a “possible existent”. “That is, if it exists then what we have clearly and distinctly perceived as belonging to the nature of a thing, will belong to it in most normal cases the essence of a thing contains only contingent or possible existence.” (Banach, 1982) In God’s case we have the characteristic of a perfect being who by definition must include necessary existence, then according to our previously stated “axiom” whatever we “clearly and distinctly perceive as belonging to the nature of the thing” really does belong to it, hence we can derive his existence from his nature. (Banach, 1982)
What of the objection that Descartes is simply saying something to the effect of “thinking it makes it so”? Descartes counters stating: “…just as I cannot think of a mountain without a valley, it certainly does not follow from the fact that I think of a mountain without a valley that there is any mountain in the world: and similarly, it does not follow from the fact that I think of God as existing that he does exist. For my thought does not impose any necessity on things… “(Descartes, 1985, Meditations on First Philosophy, trans John Cottingham, p. 46) As Lacewing, 2008 states, it is not as if thinking about God’s existence brings about his existence, all that would bring about are ideas, no we have it the wrong way around; it is because God’s existence is (ontologically) necessary that we can think of him as existing. Reality determines our thought, not the other way around. (Lacewing, 2008, Descartes’ Ontological Argument)
As we have seen Descartes’ new theory of ideas is a complex novel idea about the intentionality of consciousness, how we perceive external realities, which was a radical departure from the medieval scholastics view. His theory relates ideas, as ‘objects’ in the mind, based on some ‘formal’ or ‘eminent’ reality, this relationship is demonstrated by the example of the sun in the sky, and the object in our mind of said sun, the sun can be said to be the ‘formal’ cause of the ‘objective’ reality that is the sun in our mind.
This causal process was important to Descartes, and important to his notion of the external world, its existence and grounding that existence in the final cause, God. In fact, Descartes’ first argument was based upon the notion of working from his causal ideas: since all substances rely on God to subsist, and all properties rely on substances and God to exist it follows then that properties contain less reality than substances. God is defined as an infinite substance, which Descartes could not eminently be responsible for, as he is only a finite substance and does not present with the formal prerequisites to create such an idea objectively in his mind. Therefore Descartes reasons, God exists. Descartes has another proof for the existence of God’s, just as God is defined as an infinite substance, which could not be produced in Descartes’ mind, he is also defined as necessarily existing, which is essential to his nature, his essence, just as. For example, a triangle has 3 sides is essential to its nature. Descartes’ other proof for the existence of God relies upon the medieval tradition of separating essence from existence, and existence from necessary existence. All things conceivably contain existence, but only one thing contains necessary or ontological existence, and that is God.
Banach, D. (1982). Descartes’ Ontological Argument. Saint Anselm College. Retrieved from http://www.anselm.edu/homepage/dbanach/Descartes%20Ontological%20Argument.htm
Descartes, R. (1985). Meditations of First Philosophy trans John Cottingham. Cambridge. Pp. 24, 25, 26, 28-9, 31, 45, 46.
MacDonald, P.S. (2012). PHL218 Unit Information and Learning Guide. Perth, Western Australia. Murdoch University. P. 31.
Lacewing. M. (2008). Descartes’ Ontological Argument. Retrieved from http://cw.routledge.com/textbooks/philosophy/downloads/a2/unit4/descartes/DescartesOntological.pdf
Nolan, L. (2011). “Descartes’ Ontological Argument”. The Stanford Encyclopaedia of Philosophy (Summer 2011 Edition), Edward N. Zalta (ed.). Reterieved from http://plato.stanford.edu/archives/sum2011/entries/descartes-ontological/
Pessin, A. (2008). “Descartes’s Theory of Ideas”. The Stanford Encyclopaedia of Philosophy (Fall 2008 Edition), Edward N. Zalta (ed.). Retrieved from http://plato.stanford.edu/archives/fall2008/entries/descartes-ideas/>
Skirry, J. (2008). Rene Descartes (1596-1650): Overview. The Internet Encyclopaedia of Philosophy. Retrieved from http://www.iep.utm.edu/descarte/#SH4b
Due to the length of the assignment, I will split it into 2 parts, the first focusing on the background knowledge we need to view his Descartes’ arguments, and the second post will deal with the arguments themselves.
Rene Descartes was a hugely influential 17th century philosopher and a central figure in the scientific revolution of that time. Any discussion of Descartes and God must ultimately begin with the backdrop from which Descartes discussed these ideas. It is not enough for us to very simply deconstruct his two arguments; we must look at several principles, or methods Descartes used to put forward these notions. Central to our understanding of Descartes two arguments for the existence of God are two principles (1) Descartes’ “new theory of ideas”, and (2) the “Causal Adequacy Principle (CAP)”. We shall begin by discussing each of these in turn. We will then look at “The Causal Argument” for the existence of God, the first proof Descartes offers in the Third Meditations of his First Philosophy, then we will look at his “Ontological Argument” as it is put forth in the Fifth Meditations of his First Philosophy. We will be looking at these arguments from a unique perspective, instead of challenging Descartes and his views, what may be more interesting, and within the scope of this limited paper, is instead to try and see these arguments from Descartes’ perspective, and attempt to explain why he, as immensely smart as he was, thought they were valid.
(1) Descartes new theory of ideas
Descartes new theory of ideas is brought to us in the third meditations of his First Philosophy, and is a result of his systematic doubt put forward in the preceding two mediations. Descartes’ system of doubt did not allow him to use the common usage of the word ‘idea’ used by the medieval scholastics, which is to say an idea is a mental image that resembled and was caused by the object it was representing. His method forced him to rejected modes of thinking which were taught to him; the only thing that had epistemic justification was that he was a thing that thinks, and by this he means: a thing that” affirms, denies understands a few things, is ignorant of many things, is willing, is unwilling, and also imagines and has sensory perceptions” (Descartes, 1985, Meditations on First Philosophy, trans John Cottingham, p. 24).
Let us begin by first teasing out what Descartes meant by the term ‘idea’ then we’ll move onto his new theory of ideas. When we investigate Descartes’ definition of the word ‘idea’ we can easily become confused, there is much discussion about what the term means, separate from its common usage, for example: “Some of my thoughts are as it were the images of things, and it is only in these cases that the term ‘idea’ is strictly appropriate — for example, when I think of a man, or a chimera, or the sky, or an angel, or God.” (Descartes, 1985, Meditations on First Philosophy, trans John Cottingham, p. 25). The Stanford dictionary of Philosophy provides a lengthy discussion on how this definition conflicts with others Descartes used (Pessin 2008), but for our purposes let us focus on this one definition. It seems the Cartesian concept of ‘idea’ equates the image in our thoughts of the ‘objective’ reality it is relating but as Pessin, 2008 states this is not the medieval concept. Under Descartes’ view the term ‘images’ is not meant to be taken literally as he lists God, and God is not something which can be viewed as an image. It is possible Descartes takes an idea to be, that there is an ‘object’ of his thought, and this ‘object’ is more of a likeness to the ‘formal’ reality rather than a strict mental image. All of these terms are used in a special sense, one we will define and elaborate on when we get to the CAP.
We should note, that according to Descartes, there are three modes (or ways) in which ideas exist: innate, adventitious (external) and invented by him, which derive from his own nature. (Descartes, 1985, Meditations on First Philosophy, trans John Cottingham, p. 26). According to The Internet Encyclopaedia of Philosophy (Skirry, 2008) “innate” ideas are placed in us by God at creation and can be viewed, but cannot be altered – such as ideas of geometry. “Adventitious” ideas are the product of sensations produced by material objects existing externally to the mind. “Invented by him” (or “fabrications”) are as the name suggests inventions of the mind, and can be controlled, examined and cast aside at will.
The issue, which Descartes’ new theory of ideas attempts to solve, is (to paraphrase Descartes): which ideas does he take to be derived from outside him, and what is his reason for thinking they resemble things that exist? This will be integral to our discussion on Descartes arguments for the existence of God (and will lead us into the CAP).
Let us look at an example Descartes provides to discuss the difference between ideas in our mind (the ‘objective’), and the cause of them in reality (the ‘formal’ factor) – the sun. Descartes finds within himself two distinct ideas of the sun, one acquired from the senses, and one acquired from ‘astronomical reasoning’. The idea (‘object’) that Descartes has in his mind of the sun, derived from his senses is, according to him, an example of a ‘formal’ reality with an ‘eminent’ adventitious source. Although the senses would tell him the sun is very small, many times smaller than the Earth in fact. The other idea (‘object’) he has of the sun, which comes from ‘astronomical reasoning’ based innately (or constructed by him in some other way), reveals the sun to be many times larger than the Earth. We see this leads us to a contradiction in Descartes’ object-idea of the sun, as both ideas cannot resemble the sun that exists outside his mind. What Descartes can do though, is use the different versions of his ‘objective’ ideas of the sun, and the fact that his idea of the sun does not depend on his will, to conclude that the sun must have a ‘formal’ reality for its ‘objective’ status in his mind , which exists adventitious and ‘eminently’ to him, in reality. At this stage however, Descartes is still working under the assumption that the existence of the external world is under the highest level of doubt, it is not until the proofs for God’s existence are given, can he ground them in an external reality. At this point in time his maligning demon holds reign over his external perceptions. To talk of the sun is an example of Descartes employing reason to determine the idea-content in his mind that must have as much objective reality, as its cause (i.e. – the sun existing in reality, to cause the idea-content in Descartes’ mind). What we can reasonably take away from this exercise is that different cognitive modes of discovery are being employed by Descartes to investigate the ‘formal’ and ‘eminent’ reality of an idea (these terms will be explained in the CAP) and its cause.
(2) The Causal Adequacy Principle (CAP)
Central to Descartes’ ‘new theory of ideas’ is what is known as the “Casual Adequacy Principle” which is brought to us in the Third Meditations of Descartes’ First Philosophy. It is integral to our understanding of the two arguments for the existence of God and to our previous discussion on Descartes’ new theory of ideas. Why? We have been using several terms to discuss Descartes’ theory of ideas that need unpacking, and in this unpacking we should see how the above discussion on the interaction between ‘formal’ cause, and ‘objective’ reality becomes a coherent description of the intentionality of consciousness. Let us allow Paul MacDonald, 2012 to demonstrate and elaborate these terms for us:
““formal” – pertains to the cause of you having an idea (its occurrence)
“objective” pertains to the intention of the idea you have (its about-ness)
“eminent” pertains to the degree of reality of an idea’s cause (its ontological independence).” (MacDonald, 2012, PHL218 Unit Information and Learning Guide, p. 31)
To further tease out what these terms mean, let us take a look at each of them in turn. “Formal”: simply put this term is the cause of an idea, to use our previous example – the sun in the sky, would be a ‘formal’ cause of our having an idea of the sun. “Objective” – this term follows from ‘formal’ in the sense that it is the ‘object’ in our mind of the ‘formal’ cause. So, the formal cause (the sun) would exist as an ‘object’ (a representation) in the mind. It is important to note that this is a special use of the word ‘objective’ that does not refer to the objective fact that is the sun existing in reality, apart from our subjective interpretation of its existence. Rather is it taken to mean, literally an object (representation) in our mind of a ‘formal’ source. “Eminent” – this term refers to a substance (an independent, autonomous thing), which has greater reality than a property (a dependent thing which cannot exist autonomously), or we could word it as a substance is that which has a greater degree of independence. For example you cannot have simply ‘blue, wet, smelly’ (properties), you need to have a substance that contains those properties, such as – the ocean (substance). Properties are dependent on substances for their existence and it’s important to note that in his discussion of God, Descartes believes God to be an infinite substance.
If we go back and look at our analysis of Descartes discussion of the sun, as well as our definitions of his use of the word ‘idea’, we can begin to see Descartes’ method of investigation and how it yielded a map to understanding the link between the mind, brain, and the external world. Now we may begin to look at Descartes’ view of intentionality in regards to the CAP. As MacDonald 2012 states, to Descartes the CAP operates in three directions:
“1. Cause and effect which governs the interaction between material things;
2. Cause and effect governs the interaction between the material thing and having an idea about it,
3. But cause-and-effect does not govern the relation between the idea-act and its ‘object’, this relation is explained by representation or (as he says elsewhere) signification.” (MacDonald, 2012, PHL218 Unit Information and Learning Guide, p. 31)
From this notion of causal mechanisms we can begin to understand, by way of looking at another example, how Descartes explained modes of consciousness, to tease out some clarity from these concepts. Descartes uses the example of the stone: a stone which did not previously exist, cannot begin to exist, unless it has a sufficient cause for its existence – in this sense ‘cause’ refers to something which contains either formally, or eminently everything that is contained within the stone. Likewise Descartes’ explains, the ‘idea’ of said stone cannot exist in Descartes mind, unless it is put there by some cause that contains as much (formal) reality as he conceives to be in the stone. We need to be clear about what Descartes is, and is not saying here; he is not saying that the stone that exists in reality also exists in his mind, physically. He is saying, however that there is a representational ‘object’ in his mind of the stone. This representation is caused by the eminent or existing stone.
Now we can look at how Descartes worded the CAP:
“The nature of an idea is such that of itself it requires no formal reality except what it derives from my thought, of which it is a mode. But in order for a given idea to contain such and such objective reality, it must surely derive it from cause which contains at least as much formal reality in the idea. For if we suppose that an idea contains something which was not in its cause, it must have got this from nothing, yet the mode of being by which a thing exists objectively <or representatively> in the intellect by way of an idea, imperfect though it may be, is certainly not nothing and so it cannot come from nothing.” (Descartes, 1985, Meditations on First Philosophy, trans John Cottingham, pp. 28-9).
At this point the only clarification we will need in regards to the above, is the use of the word ‘mode’, this simply refers to a ‘property’.