Anselm's Discovery: A Re-Examination of the Ontological Proof for God's Existence

By Charles Hartshorne | Go to book overview

12. The Role of Faith

Koyré, Karl Barth, and others remind us that Anselm was arguing not with infidels but with believers. Barth admits that the Saint at times seems to forget or deny that there are or can be any true infidels, and to talk as though his argument should convince anyone. Insofar as it does not convince, it follows--even, I think, from Barth's own exposition--that either the argument has been poorly understood, or the lack of conviction means retreat into the positivistic position, the denial that there is, strictly speaking, an idea of God or a cognitive meaning for 'God'. To dispel doubt on this score an element of faith is perhaps needed.

Before Barth, Koyré had put into full relief the precise sense in which Anselm's argument appeals to faith, and is inconclusive against unbelievers.8 The atheist, the man who says that we can conceive God but cannot know that He exists, will be "silenced" by the argument, if he attends carefully to its structure. For--as Anselm discovered, to his lasting glory--to conceive divinity and know that we do so is logically equivalent to knowing that divinity or God exists. But, though the atheist as such is silenced, the unbeliever as such need not be. He has only to shift his ground to the positivistic position: "I do not know that I--or anyone--can conceive God (without falling into contradiction or nonsense)." The moment this happens, the theist must either himself lapse into silence or else enlarge his procedure; he must give some reason other than his faith for supposing that divinity is conceivable. Anselm's other theistic proofs (in the Monologium) can be used for this purpose, but none too cogently. Like his

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8
Koyré, op. cit., pp. 210 ff.

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