Religion has been around for as long as we can remember. Many people have different beliefs and try to explain those beliefs through their faith or rationally through their knowledge. Most religions are based on a belief of a higher power (singular or plural), God, creator of the universe whose existence had been revealed through religious texts. Some philosophers and theologists have raised some questions and tried to answer them in order to prove or disprove the existence of God. In order to demonstrate God’s existence, philosophers developed arguments using logic to provide a rational explanation. One of the most influential proofs that are still being debated upon today is Descartes’ ontological arguments. Descartes’ deductive proof of God is logically valid, but it is full of fallacies that raises some questions to its soundness.
Descartes ontological argument as a proof of God is a continuation of Anselm’s original argument. Based on his existing belief in God, Descartes uses logic to draw a conclusion to demonstrate God’s existence. He states in his argument that he already believes in God and that God’s conception of existence is equivalent to his nature (Solomon, Higgins & Martin, 2016). He deducts that God’s nature is ‘perfection’ in itself and that ‘existence’ is also a ‘perfection’. Therefore, he concludes with the reasoning that ‘God exists’ (Solomon et al., 2016).
This ontological proof depicts God’s existence as being a necessity (Solomon et al., 2016). However, his argument is distinct from Anselm’s as he based it on his doctrine of “innate ideas, clear and distinct perception” (Murray & Rea, 2016). His idea of God was based on his innatism inferring that God is an immaculate being. He formulates his premises by concluding his argument not as a proper proof but rather as an obvious maxim (Murray et al., 2016). His argument is valid since it forms a simple syllogism with a conclusion deducted with reasoning from the premises.
Even though Descartes’ argument is valid, it had been the subject of many criticisms and objections because of its fallacies. First, many philosophers believe that Descartes’ proof isn’t definitive hence it should not be considered logical (Murray et al., 2016). The reproach of the argument’s structure is that it is it can easily be applicated to any other argument that could be logical even if the premises used are untrue (Solomon et al., 2016). For example, the authors of Introduction to philosophy, considered explaining the analogy by replacing it with words like “‘grenlin’ as ‘the greener imaginable creature’. …which creature exist… obviously, the one that exists… Therefore at least one gremlin exists” (Solomon et al., 2016). This example explained how Descartes premises were questionable and even absurd. Although his argument was not discarded because it is not primarily based on an assumption, it rather is deductive and based on logic which gives it its validity. Secondly, his argument contains a sort of vicious circle. In one of the premises, Descartes states, “His existence cannot be separated from his essence…. Existence is perfection. Therefore, God exists” (Solomon et al., 2016). In his statement, he uses two ideas, existence and perfection, that have never been proven to conclude his argument that God exists. It has never been shown rationally that existence is equal to perfection, or that existence is a property of God’s nature (Murray et al., 2016). This possible use of inference in Descartes’ argument was one of the focus of Immanuel Kant’s criticism of the ontological argument.
Descartes’ first premises, “I cannot conceive God without the property of existence. My conception of God is such that he has every sort of perfection” (Solomon et al., 2016), already sets the tone of the argument. These premises are contradictory to logic in the sense that it can be considered as pre-assuming that existence and perfection are equal properties of God. Therefore, this ambiguity of presupposition makes the argument sound to some and unsound to others (Abbruzzese, 2007). For example, if someone believes that God is perfect, then the argument would be sound, but if someone else believes that God is imperfect, then the argument becomes untrue. Descartes omits the possibility that if God is not perfect, he does not exist (Murray et al., 2016). Which creates a contradiction based on the interpretation of the premises.
The ontological argument has its flaws and had been the subject of many critics. However, it uses philosophical logic to support theological proofs of God’s existence. Descartes’ proof is based on his faith and he used his reasoning to provide a philosophically logic, valid and sound conclusion. This argument even though logical, valid and sound, is not persuasive in any way. It rather serves as a reinforcement of faith in a preexisting religious belief in God.