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Essay/Term paper: Ontological argument

Essay, term paper, research paper:  Religion

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Most people have not witnessed or experienced God and
therefore are confused about its existence. In Western
theology, three theories have emerged to demonstrate the
existence of God. These theories are the ontological
argument, the cosmological argument, and the teleological
argument. St. Anselm of eleventh century, and Descartes of
seventeenth century, have used the ontological argument for
proving the existence of God. The God, for them, is
supreme, "needing nothing outside himself, but needful for
the being and well-being of all things." (Pg. 305).

St Anselm"s account of the ontological argument for the
existence of God deals with the "existence in the
understanding" vs. "existence in reality." He defines God as
the greatest conceivable or possible being. He adds that
any person who hears this statement describing God
understands what is meant. His argument is that if God did
not exist, then a being greater than God would be possible.
This being then would be greater than the greatest possible
being, which is impossible. Therefore he proves that there
is no being greater than God and hence God exists. His
argument is also based on the premise that "the idea of an
eternal being who either does not yet exist or no longer
exists is self-contradictory, so that the very idea we have of
such a being requires existence." (Pg. 307).

In his Meditations, Decartes offers the following version of
the ontological argument. He considers the idea of God, a
supremely perfect being, just as real as the idea of the
existence of any shape or a number. His understanding of
God"s existence is no less clear and distinct than his proofs
for the existence of any shape or number. Therefore he
adds, "although all that I concluded in the preceding
Meditations were found to be false, the existence of God
would pass with me as at least as certain as I have ever
held the truths of mathematics." (Pg. 308). Initially, this
might not be all clear, and may have some appearance of
being a sophism. He argues that unlike other things he might
persuade himself that existence can be separated from the
essence of God, and hence that God can be thought of as
not existing. He adds that "when he thinks of it with more
attention, he clearly sees that existence can no more be
separated from the essence of God, than the fact that its
three angles equal two right angles can be separated from
the essence of a triangle, or that the idea of a mountain can
be separated from the idea of a valley" (Pg. 308). Hence, it
is just as much of a contradiction to think of God (that is, a
supremely perfect being) lacking existence (that is, lacking
perfection), as it is to think of a mountain without a valley.
His theory is that he can"t think of God without it existing
and therefore it exists. Also he gives God all kinds of
perfection and because existence is one of the perfection,
"God necessarily exists." (Pg. 309).

Kant"s critique of Anselm"s and Descartes" arguments state
that existence is not a perfection because all perfections are
qualities, and existence is not any kind of characteristic,
quality, attribute, or property. When we say that something
exists, Kant argued, we "add nothing to" our concept of
that thing - we merely say that there is something similar to
that concept. It follows that no matter how many
characteristics of a thing we list; we will still not have
answered the question whether there is something having all
those characteristics. "Being is evidently not a real
predicate, or a concept of something that can be added to
the concept of a thing. It is merely the admission of a thing,
and of certain determinations in it." (Pg. 311). His argument
is that it is all right to say that God has certain
characteristics but it is another to say that such a God

Many contemporary philosophers agree with Kant"s
argument, but many others do not. Furthermore,
contemporary logicians have developed versions of the
ontological argument that can even dispense with the
controversial notion of existence as a property. It is clear
that, considered simply as a logical argument, the
ontological argument does not have the power to convert
nonbelievers into believers. Or if you are a believer, it is
clear that an objection to the "proof" is not going to shake
your faith in any way whatsoever. So the significance of the
proof is ambiguous; as a logical exercise it is brilliant, as an
expression of faith it may be edifying, but as an actual proof
that God exists or as a means of converting atheists it
seems to have no power at all. (Pg.313).

I agree with Anselm's argument that in order for God to be
the Supreme Being, the best, He must exist in both the
understanding as well as in reality. Where did the world
start? Where did everything start? If we believe that one
thing came after another then there has to be a starting
point. The only possible answer to this starting point is
God. Thus, there must have been a creator, the God. From
our experience we know that everything arises from
something else, and therefore God started everything. The
ontological argument does not clearly prove where God is
to show how God started.

What characteristics does God possess? Traditional
theology has believed that God is omnipotent
(all-powerful), omniscient (all knowing), and
omnibenevolent (all good), Omni-present (everywhere),
eternal (with no beginning and no end), etc. In short, God is
the greatest being and none greater is possible. These
characteristics have left people to have faith in the existence
of God. When people can not show cause and effect for
certain happenings they attribute their cause to God. There
must be God to keep order in the world or as some people
say to keep the world going in utter disorder.

Cosmological Argument

The Cosmological Argument: The second "proof" of God's
existence is a set of arguments that date back to the
Aristotle's argument for God"s existence. The basis of these
arguments is the concept of intolerability, and the
unthinkability of an infinite regress and the need for some
ultimate explanation. Together, these arguments are called
the cosmological argument, and their best-known
formulation is by St. Thomas Aquinas, who put forward the
first three of his "five ways" of proving God's existence.

The first part of the argument is based on the concept of
motion. It starts with the idea that it is evident to our senses
and certain that in the world there are things that are in
motion. Now, motion can be also defined as the action that
reduces something from potentiality to actuality. That is
motion leads a thing from being able to go someplace to
actually getting there. Next, it is safe to assume that nothing
can be reduced from potentiality of actuality, except by
something already in a state of actuality. Now it is not
possible that the same thing should be at once in actuality
and potentiality in the same respect, but can only be in
different respects. For example what is "actually hot"
cannot at the same time be also "potentially hot;" but it can
be simultaneously potentially cold. It is therefore impossible
that a thing should be both mover and moved, i.e., that it
should move itself. Therefore, another must move whatever
is being moved. Therefore, it is necessary to arrive at a first
mover, moved by no other; and this everyone understands
to be God.

The second aspect of the cosmological argument for the
existence of God comes from nature of efficient cause.
Here, Aristotle defines efficient cause, as an event or an
agent that brings something about. In our world of sensible
things we also find that there is an order of efficient causes.
Now in efficient causes it is not possible to go on to infinity,
because in all efficient causes following in order, the first is
the cause of the intermediate cause, and the intermediate is
the cause of the ultimate cause, whether the intermediate
cause be several, or one only. But if in efficient causes it is
possible to go on to infinity, there will be no first efficient
cause, neither will there be an ultimate effect, nor any
intermediate efficient causes; all of which is plainly false.
Therefore it is necessary to admit a first efficient cause, to
which everyone gives the name of God. (Pg.314).

The third aspect of the cosmological argument for the
existence of God is taken from possibility and necessity,
and runs as follows. We find in nature things that are
possible to be and also not to be, since they are found to
be generated, and to be corrupted, and consequently, it is
possible for them to be and not to be. Therefore, if
everything can not be, then at one time there was nothing in
existence. Now if this were true, even now there would be
nothing in existence, because that which does not exist
begins to exist only through something already existing.
Therefore, not all beings are merely possible, but there
must exist something the existence of which is necessary for
other things to follow. So we cannot but admit the
existence of some being having of itself its own necessity,
and not receiving it from another, but rather causing in
others their necessity. This all men speak of as God.

The cosmological argument, in all of these versions, is
similar to the ontological argument as an attempt at "proof"
and an expression of one's belief in God. As a logical
argument, two modern objections seem to have
considerable weight. First, even if the argument is formally
valid, it proves only that there is some "first mover" or "first
cause" or "necessary being." It does not prove that this
being has all of the other attributes that allow us to
recognize God. Furthermore, Aristotle, in his Physics,
allows that there might be several prime movers, while
Aquinas is clear that there can be only one. Nevertheless,
one might accept the argument and believe only in a "first
cause" and deny the existence of God. This leads us to the
second objection, which would have been unthinkable to
Aquinas (or Aristotle), but is generally accepted today. The
idea of an "infinite regress," that the universe did not have a
beginning but has always existed, seemed like an obvious
absurdity until the last century. (Pg.315). In fact, Aquinas
admits that there is no valid argument against the claim that
God and universe existed for all eternity, but he has another
argument to help him here. He says that the beginning of the
universe required an act, which means that the universe
could not have been the cause of itself. Therefore, he
concludes, God must exist even if the regress argument by
itself does not prove this.

Humans like the idea of a creator because it gives them
some security that there is some one out there watching out
for them. They do not like to believe that everything is
taking care of itself due to some laws of nature. Therefore
humans like to believe in the cosmological argument that
gives god the stature of first mover, the first cause. The
natural scientific explanation wants to show that the world
evolved from matter governed by certain scientific laws.
These laws would also tend to show that the world could
disappear just like it started. This thought is not comforting
to most humans.

Humans are also not content to accept that something
occurs. They want to explore as to the reasons of its
existence. If they are told that God exists, they want to find
out why and where. They are not satisfied with the answer
that the world came to existence by certain scientific
reasons that are not fully explained. Humans are happier
with a religious explanation because it rests in the idea of a
Supreme Being that people are afraid of, and feel secure in,
like a child is to a parent.

Most humans are religious and generally speaking older
people are more religious than younger people are. Why
do people turn to religion? There are many different
answers given to this question. Some do it for giving
guidance to their lives. For others, it gives them hope, or
gives them rationalization for the lack of justice in this
world. Others turn to religion as a kind of irresponsible
reaction to a world we cannot cope with. This reaction is
similar to a child"s unwillingness to give up an illusion of
security that he or she should have outgrown in
adolescence. Marx, Nietzsche, and Freud were critical of
religion and believed it to be an obstacle to man"s
self-determination and self-realization. Their basic idea was
that humans invented religion to escape their intolerable
social conditions. I do not believe in their premise because
religion gives humans an understanding of their purpose in
this world. Religion keeps people sane and makes them
believe in the order of things.

The basis of Marx"s religious criticism is that man makes
religion; and that religion does not make man. It is the man
that is the human world, a state, society. This state, this
society, produces religion, which is an inverted world
consciousness, because they are an inverted world.
Religion is the general theory of this upside-down world. It
gives the world its logic, its spiritual guidance, its
enthusiasm, its moral sanction, its solemn complement, its
general basis of consolation and justification. The struggle
against religion is, therefore, indirectly a struggle against the
world whose spiritual aroma is religion. According to
Marx, religious suffering is at the same time an expression
of real suffering and protest against real suffering. (Pg.347).
Marx advocated that the abolition of religion as the illusory
happiness of men, is a demand for their real happiness. He
was appalled at the masses flocking to religion. He said, "it
is clear that the arm of criticism cannot replace the criticism
of arms." Material force can only be overthrown by
material force; but theory itself becomes a material force
when it has seized the masses. Theory is capable of seizing
the masses when it demonstrates ad hominem and it is
demonstrate ad hominem as soon as it becomes radical.

Marx"s criticism of religion ends with the thought that man
is the Supreme Being for man. This thought desires to
overthrow all those conditions in which man is an "abased,
enslaved, abandoned, contemptible being - conditions
which can hardly be better described than in the
exclamation of the Frenchman on the occasion of a
proposed tax upon dogs: Wretched dogs! They want to
treat you like men!" (Pg.348).

Friedrich Nietzsche was another critique of religion. He
called the "Bible," the book that is perhaps the greatest
audacity and "sin against the spirit" which literary Europe
has on its conscience. (Pg.348). According to him the
Christian conception of God - God as god of the sick, God
as a spider, God as spirit - is one of the most corrupt
conceptions of the divine ever attained on earth. Not
surprisingly, Nietzsche saw the decline of Christianity and
religion in general, with great enthusiasm. It is Nietzsche
who popularized the old Lutheran phase, "God is dead,"
but with an anti-religious twist and a shout of delight that
declared open war on all remaining forms of religious
"weaknesses." (Pg.349). This call for "God is dead," was
based on the belief that the Christian God had become
unworthy of belief. Many philosophers and "free spirits" felt
redemption in this event.

Another person to attack religion was Sigmund Freud, who
reduced the grand aspirations of religion to, mere illusions,
but, even worse, the illusions of an insecure child who has
never properly grown up. According to him, religious ideas
are given out as teachings, are not precipitates of
experience or end results of thinking; they are illusions,
fulfillment"s of the oldest, strongest and most urgent wishes
of mankind. An illusion is not the same thing as an error;
nor is it necessarily an error. What is characteristic of
illusion is that they are derived from human wishes. In this
respect they come near to psychiatric delusions. He called
a belief an illusion when a wish-fulfillment is a prominent
factor in its motivation, and in doing so we disregard its
relations to reality, just as the illusion itself sets no store by

All three philosophers agree that the only proper concern
of man is humanity. They believe in man and not God.
These philosophers did not outright hate religion. Freud
was fascinated by Jewish mysticism and Nietzsche offered
extravagant praise of Buddhism. But they felt that the
balance is very important. They argue that no one can deny
that there have been thousands of atrocities - to both spirit
and body - in the name of religion.

I believe that religion has taught humans to behave like a
man. The self-determination and self-realization of man is
not hindered by religion. If people did not believe in God,
there might be lessening of good deeds. For some,
realization of god is like self-realization. Many peoples in
the east believe in re-incarnation and believe that soul never
dies. For them this gives continuity to life as a chain of
things. These people want to believe in God and immerse
themselves in God.

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