The Miracle of Theism: Arguments for and against the Existence of God

By J. L. Mackie | Go to book overview

2
Descartes and the Idea of God

(a) The Argument of the Third Meditation -- Exposition

ALTHOUGH Hume was joking when he said that religious belief is self-certifying, that the believing itself is a miracle which requires, for its explanation, the truth of what is believed, similar views have been held seriously by other philosophers. Some versions of the ontological proof (which will be the subject of Chapter 3) show one way of developing this view; here we shall consider a simpler and more direct argument, that anyone who has in his mind the idea or notion or concept of God is thereby in possession of something that could have come from no source other than God himself; for anyone who has this idea, therefore, no other proof of the reality of its object is required. Descartes presents, in his Third Meditation, an argument of this sort.1 He also offers, in the Fifth Meditation, a quite distinct argument which is a form of the ontological proof.

God's existence is not, for Descartes, an optional extra: it plays a central part in his system of knowledge. Being dissatisfied with the state of what passed for learning in his time, he wanted to eliminate doctrines that purported to be knowledge but that had no good claim to this title, and to re-establish what was genuine knowledge on a secure foundation. To this end he pursued his method of doubt, initially calling in question and rejecting anything that could be doubted at all, but hoping eventually to reach some proposition that was proof against scepticism. This he found in his thesis cogito ergo sum: 'I think, therefore I exist'. He built on this foundation in several ways. First, from the fact that it was only in thinking that he established his own existence, and that he could coherently doubt the existence of his body whereas he could not coherently doubt the

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1
R. Descartes, Meditations on the First Philosophy (published in many editions).

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The Miracle of Theism: Arguments for and against the Existence of God
Table of contents

Table of contents

  • Title Page iii
  • Preface vii
  • Contents ix
  • Introduction 1
  • 1 - Miracles and Testimony 13
  • 2 - Descartes and the Idea of God 30
  • 3 - Ontological Arguments 41
  • 4 - Berkeley's God and Immaterial Realism 64
  • 5 - Cosmological Arguments 81
  • 6 - Moral Arguments for the Existence of a God 102
  • 7 - The Argument from Consciousness 119
  • 8 - Arguments for Design 133
  • 9 - The Problem of Evil 150
  • 10 - Religious Experience and Natural Histories of Religion 177
  • 11 - Belief Without Reason 199
  • 12 - Religion Without Belief? 217
  • 13 - Replacements for God 230
  • 14 - Conclusions and Implications 240
  • Index 263
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