Existence of God and Religion Term Paper

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Anselm, Aquinas, and Hume (Word Count: 1185)

The central argument made by Anselm in his Proslogion is that the ability to conceptualize the existence of God is sufficient to prove God's existence. In his Summa Theologica (written in response to Anselm), Thomas Aquinas also endeavors to prove God's existence. This paper compares the two canonical religious authors, placing them in dialogue with each other (addressing whether they are mutually compatible) and with David Hume's Dialogues Concerning Natural Religion.

Although Anselm's theory is considered to be less scientifically grounded than that of Thomas Aquinas, it is important to acknowledge that Anselm's beliefs were still borne out of an early skepticism toward whether God existed, as well as a need to attempt to prove his existence. Accordingly, if a person had read the first several chapters of Anselm's Proslogium, he would be convinced that God is real, although his conviction would be borne out of a complex process of intellectual reasoning and skepticism. Indeed, Anselm's initial skepticism toward God manifests through his positing a number of contradictions surrounding God's existence, including how He is able to affect so many people without having any corporeal presence.

To answer his central question, Anselm argues that a being can be considered to be living if he is conceivable:

"In the former sense, then, God can be conceived not to exist; but in the latter, not at all. For no one who understands what fire and water are can conceive fire to be water, in accordance with the nature of the facts themselves, although this is possible according to the words. So, then, no one who understands what God is can conceive that God does not exist; although he says these words in his heart, either without any or with some foreign, signification…Therefore, he who understands that God so exists, cannot conceive that he does not exist." (Ch.4)

Anselm's need to prove God's existence reflects the Aristotelian scientific method, which stipulates that proving a hypothesis necessitates a lengthy process from an initial question to an answer. Accordingly, it is no accident that Anselm's rhetoric invokes geometry, particularly the transitive property. Someone who was convinced by Anselm's argument would believe that because God is greater than anything that can be conceived, He exist. This belief operates under the assumption that one's thoughts can effectively guarantee the existence of an object or idea, even though it has been argued (based on newer translations) that Anselm in fact believes that God's existence is not ontological (Hopkins).

In contrast with Anselm, Aquinas argues that defining an object as real does not guarantee its existence. He states that there is a need to apply scientific theology to the issue. While Aquinas is often credited with being more scientific than Anselm, one must recognize that Anselm is also scientific, yet in a less empirical manner. The procedure employed by both writers is similar in its scientific, step-by-step sequence, yet Aquinas is more concerned with the need to provide physical evidence (rather than conceptual) of God's existence. To this end, Aquinas states that in science, all theories are based on accepted ideas, and that religion has its own irrefutable dictums -- the writings found in the Bible and Christian tradition. If someone had read the first of Aquinas' five ways, he would be convinced of God's existence. In order to prove this belief, Aquinas states that the existence of something is predicated on another object giving birth to it; he contends that the world is in a fluid state of evolution, but that something must have initiated this evolutionary chain since an object cannot simply give birth to itself. Accordingly, Aquinas argued that God was the progenitor of the human race:

"Therefore, it is impossible for anything, in relation to the same thing in the same sense, to be both mover and moved -- or to move itself. Therefore, everything that is moved must be moved by another. Hence, if what moves something is moved, it too must be moved by another, and that in turn by another. But this cannot go on to infinity because then there would be no first mover, and consequently there would be no other mover because subsequent movers do not move except when moved by a first mover, just as a stick does not move except when moved by a hand. Therefore, one must arrive at some first mover which is moved by nothing, and everyone understands that this is God" (3)

Aquinas' theory suggests that mankind was made in God's own name, such that humans are the privileged species. Although his rhetoric is steeped in skepticism, his proofs do argue that God exists: "Aquinas's attitude toward the question of whether God exists is entirely positive" (Owens, 19). While it is true that humans possess superior mental faculties to other animals, Aquinas still reflects an anthropomorphic chauvinism that is unacknowledged in his purportedly scientific reasoning. Moreover, Aquinas disregards the possibility for humans having evolved over time from other species; to this end, he views the human race in a vacuum, as though it had little or no relation to other animal life forms.

Anselm's theory (a) and Aquinas' theory (T) are both equivalent to the conviction that God exists (G), yet the two theories are incompatible since one relies on proving the empirical, corporeal existence of God (Aquinas) while the other asserts that God's existence can be proven through purely intellectual, cognitive reasoning (Anselm). Indeed, "it is notorious that the famous ontological argument, which St. Anselm believed to be his supreme contribution to Christian thought, was emphatically and repeatedly believed to be rejected by St. Thomas as demonstrably invalid" (Mascall, 67). The common reasoning for God's existence is similar to Aquinas' conviction -- that some presence must have set the world into motion, and that this presence is God. Most people would not feel that a (Anselm's theory) suffices since one can conceive of anything that one desires, religious or otherwise.

In his Dialogues Concerning Natural Religion, David Hume offers the possibility for a "natural theology," predicated on the assumption that much of the global order does reflect elements of human thought (H). However, Hume's statement does not about to a belief in God's existence, and he states that "If the universe bears a greater likeness to animal bodies and to vegetables, than to the works of human art, it is more probable, that its cause resembles the cause of the former than that of the latter" (129). Hume's argument is not equivalent to a or T; where Anselm and Aquinas attempt to fit the scientific method to prove their preexisting beliefs, Hume's assertion is built out of observation.

Additionally, Hume's arguments do not reflect what people take "God to mean, since Hume is very much a skeptic with regard to the existence of God. Moreover, Hume's text is structured in a discursive way that does not actively promote a single religious perspective; indeed, it has been argued that it is a commentary on the social order of friendship that merges with the discursive commentary on natural religion" (Prince, 283). Thus, Hume captures less than what people typically take God to mean.

Part II: Anselm and Perry (Word Count: 1197)

In John Perry's Dialogue on Good, Evil, and the Existence of God, the topic of God's existence represents the central issue discussed. The book is similar to Hume's Dialogues Concerning Natural Religion in that it does not offer a single argument advocating whether God exists, but instead evinces a more discursive and relational structure. The two main characters, Sam Miller and Gretchen Weirob, hold antithetical views concerning God, with Sam defending religion and Gretchen supplanted with skepticism. The central problem (P) for Sam involves how God can exist in what often appears to be an unjust universe.

Sam's initial premise takes the existence of God to be self-evident, without requiring any empirical proof. He tells Gretchen (who suffers from a cold) that "The true value of God would be its effect on us, not any effect on God. It would remind us that no matter how bad you feel…we are in the hands of a loving, beneficent God" (2). As the book progresses, Gretchen forces Sam to elaborate and justify his beliefs. Sam argues that just because there is evil in the world, this does not preclude the existence of God. Indeed, he states that a good God would condone evil if the evil were necessary for freedom to exist. Sam does not acknowledge the possibility that people are not free if they have any responsibility to God's moralistic dictums, although his statement does apply Hegelian dialectical logic to the issue, arguing that the status quo is a sort of synthesis between good and evil, in which the tremendous amount of good in the world necessarily entails a certain amount of evil. Moreover, implicit in Sam's statement is the belief that there is at least as much good as evil in the world, or the balance… [END OF PREVIEW]

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