In his “Third Meditation,” Descartes puts forward two arguments for the existence of God. They are the ‘Proof of God’ argument and the ‘Human Error’ argument. It is interesting that he felt the need for two arguments to prove the existence of God. The main difference appears to be that the first argument is suitable for people who are already believers of God. If, however, an individual is not a believer, the second argument may be more relevant to them.
Descartes claimed that there are three types of ideas. These are Innate, Factitious, and Adventitious (Meditation). Innate ideas, he claims, have always been inside us. However, Factitious, or invented, ideas stem from our imagination. Lastly, Adventitious ideas are born from our experiences of the world. Descartes argues that the idea of God is Innate and is given to us, and put inside us, by God (Meditation). Descartes, therefore, overruled the possibility that the concept of God is Invented or Adventitious.
In the ‘Proof of God’ argument, Descartes contests that something cannot come from nothing. The idea of God has always been in his head and, therefore, God must have put it there. He claims that he cannot have caused this idea as only an infinite being can have put conceptualised such an idea and, therefore, God must exist. He goes on to further the argument by saying that as God is benevolent, God would not allow him to be misled in his thinking without having opportunities to correct his thinking and. Therefore, God must exist (Important).
In the ‘Human Error’ argument, Descartes claims that as he knows that he exists, his existence must have a cause, and that God is the only viable option. He argues that he could not have caused himself as, if he had, he would have made himself perfect, which he is not. He argues that his parents cannot be the cause as this conclusion would lead to an infinite regress. He also says that he cannot have been caused by something less perfect than God as the idea of perfection that exists within him cannot have come from a non-perfect being. Therefore, he concludes that God exists (Important).
The ‘Proof of God’ argument is based on Descartes’ insistence that he has always had the idea of God inside him and, therefore, God must have placed the idea there. The ‘Human Error’ instead claims that there is no feasible cause of human existence, other than that God caused it.
As several philosophers objected at the time of publication of the Meditations, it is, in fact, possible to have an idea of God without God causing the idea (Descartes, p 21). Human beings are capable of imagination. For example, if an individual has never met an alien from space, they could still imagine what one might look and behave like. Obviously, their predictions may be wrong but, nonetheless, they are able to have the concept in the first instance, without an alien having placed the idea into their mind.
Furthermore, the idea of God not allowing Descartes to be misled and to make errors that he cannot correct causes problems. If this concept were true, the problem of evil would need to be explored within the context of this particular argument. If God does not allow people to make such errors, then it is arguable that there should be no evil.
These are just two examples of criticisms that can be problematic for Descartes’ first argument and, therefore, could explain why he felt the need for a second argument to prove the existence of God.
The second argument states that God must exist as He is the only possible cause of Descartes’ existence. However, following this theory that everything in existence must have a cause, it raises the question as to how God exists, and to what caused His existence. If God is somehow exempt from requiring a cause, the whole theory is nullified.
Both of Descartes’ arguments are to prove the existence of God. However, the first relies on an idea of God to already be firmly in place in a person’s mind. For people who do not believe in God, this argument does not apply. Since they do not believe in God, they don’t have an existing idea about Him in their minds. Of course, even non-believers tend to know of the concept of God, even if they don’t believe in His existence. Descartes may argue that this awareness was placed in their minds by God. A way of testing the theory would be to raise a child, from birth, with no access to any media, conversation, or knowledge of God, and to see whether they have an intrinsic awareness of Him. Obviously, this would be unethical for many reasons.
The second argument, however, is relevant to anyone who feels confident about their own existence. A person can be encouraged to question what caused their own existence. As Descartes has covered, and discounted, all potential causes of human existence, his argument leaves the only possible cause as being God.
There have been, and still are, many critiques of Descartes’ arguments concerning the existence of God. However, both are interesting, especially when understood within the full context of the six meditations.
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