Descartes presents an intriguing argument for the presence of God. He suggests that by the mere fact we are imperfect beings, and as imperfect beings have an idea of a perfect God, that therefore God exists. I donít discount the existence of God, but I do question the ludicrous methodology of Descartes and his assertions of proof.
Letís look at his so-called "proof," and I shall use the quick notes of the Philosophy professor in summarizing Descartesí arguments as they are more concise than mine and I tend to be long-winded. Yet, the responses following the summarizations are mine and mine alone:
1) "Everything that comes into existence is caused"~Of course it is. Thatís called "cause and effect." Every action has an opposite and equal reaction. This by no means proves anything. Itís merely a statement of obvious fact.
2) "The cause of a thing must have at least as much reality as its effect."~Maybe. Maybe not. That depends on our definition of "reality." It has come to be speculated that the "Big Bang" is verifiable fact. If this is taken as truth, then from what "reality" did the universe spring? We know for a fact that the universe presents a physical force yet came from an undefined source. That "reality" is beyond our current level of comprehension.
3) "Therefore something cannot come from nothing and the more perfect cannot come from the less perfect."~Again I can utilize the universe itself as my example against this line of reasoning as something truly did come from nothing, providing that nothing adheres to our definition of "reality." Of course, modern scientific accomplishments werenít around at the time of Descartes, and thusly in his defense he could not have been privy to the knowledge of the Big Bang. Even so, his assertion that the more perfect cannot come from the less perfect is absurd because even to the time of the Greeks the idea of achieving perfection was shown to be an achievable endeavor. However, perfection has now been shown to be a false perception and therefore remains only in the eye of the beholder. The point in this statement being that the ideology of achieving perfection was already ancient long before Descartes, invalidating his claim that the less perfect being cannot understand the more perfect.
4) "An idea of a being with infinite formal reality."~I fail to understand how he thought this thought would prove anything. The human imagination has existed since man first learned to walk and is only limited by his inability to see past his own inhibitions. Weíve seen great art from the Egyptians and the Sumerians, to the Greeks and Romans. And even during the so-called "Dark Ages," forms of art flourished and the pursuit of knowledge remained. Without which we would have no perceptions of the ancient world. Therefore, just because we can "imagine" an infinite being is inconclusive proof of anything in light of humanityís accomplishments. I wonder how Descartes would feel now with the knowledge man has walked on the moon?
5) "Therefore something must be the cause of this idea."~Yes. Our desire to see beyond the pain and misery that warring societies have brought. The Dark Ages brought this into a new light and is more accurately the root cause of monotheistic thinking in modern times. Of course, monotheism flourished before, but the dynamics of those singular religions didnít receive headway until the collapse of ancient civilization.
6) "But this something must have formally all the reality that is contained objectively in the idea."~Itís amusing Descartes would use this as proof given the task he gave himself. Of course, this is highly determinate on what "reality" is and who is "objectively" presenting it. This is just repeating everything heís already said.
7) "Therefore the cause of my idea must have intimate formal reality."~Not necessarily. A lunatic could think God told him to murder dozens of people. Does that imply that Godís formal reality led him into this truth? Not likely. And again perception is key. Many thought Joan of Arc crazy when she said God instructed her to lead the French to victory. Reality is whatís at issue here since there are two realities at play in my example. Joanís, that God told her to do what she did, and Englandís, who accused Joan of Arc of heresy. But thatís just an example.
8) "Therefore God exists"~This is just like the arguments politicians make to "prove" their case before a group of people. The individual trying to persuade enlightens his/her audience to the "undeniable" proof of what they are saying when in "reality" they are merely playing a game of semantics. I get what Descartes is trying to suggest, that perfection of God does not exist in the human mind therefore the idea of a God of infinite perfection proves he exists. However, thatís an arrogant thought as it suggests the person is perfect for having had the thought. Thusly, if a less perfect being cannot fathom a more perfect being, then the less perfect being will never understand the concept of God. Therefore the thought and idea cannot exist within the less perfect being. Yet this is precisely what Descartes suggests, that the thought does exist while being imperfect. It is a cyclical argument that like the ancient dragon Oroboros, continues to devour itself with its own failed logic.
Regardless, Descartesí argument was dead in the water before he ever began. Oh there are those who follow the thought, donít get me wrong. However, what made his argument flawed was the very reason for Descartes to take on the argument to begin with; notably his own belief in God.
Descartes had set out to prove God existed. So no matter what the argument postulated, it would invariably wind up proving the existence of God. He was biased in his meditations and eager to please the church. He didnít even realize his biased opinions, which can be easily noted in his Letter of Dedication To The Sorbonne on page 10 of his meditations (round abouts at least in the book I read), to which the line reads,
"In a similar way, although the arguments I use here compare with or surpass in certainty and evidence the proofs of geometry, I fear that they may not be understood adequately by many readers, both because they are rather long, some depend on others, and especially because they require a mind that is completely free from prejudices and can easily withdraw itself from dependence on the senses."Itís an arrogant statement setting himself up as an enlightened scholar "free from prejudices." Unfortunately, he demonstrates his bias and prejudices by setting himself apart from the populace in general. He suggests one must be removed from their senses, yet the brain is one big sensory organ and a person cannot remove themselves from it (unless they of course found a way to remove their emotions, judgments, and thoughts, in which case, God becomes an irrelevant and moot point). Not to mention he himself was emotionally connected to the idea of God and therefore could not really remove himself from his own dependence on the senses.
I personally believe in God, but do not follow a religion. There just is no way to prove God exists; or disprove. God is beyond our understanding and exceeds our limited perceptions of reality. We can imagine this "perfect" being, but given our inability to be perfect, we cannot grasp the scope of what such perfection exhibits, let alone entails. There is no frame of reference for us to fall back on. Descartes never acknowledged this.
This is where his arguments fall flat. He couldnít see beyond his own prejudices, biases, self-serving agendas, and limited knowledge of his existence to be able to make a logical argument that would withstand serious debate. Every argument is flawed (I recognize that mine is just as flawed) because there are no absolutes in life and we are no where near knowing what secrets the universe holds. Were he truthful with himself, he would have acknowledged that one element of monotheistic belief, to which he was so proud to follow, that is so prevalent in society, you have to have faith.