The Religious A priori

Arguments for the Existnece of God


Existential Argument
(Gabriel Marcle's)


A. Personal encounter.

"...God is discovered by the individual in the movement towards the free realization and appropriation of rather than as the terms of impersonal objective argument. To say this is not to say this is not to say that the act of self relating to God as 'my truth' is for them an irrational act or a purely capricious choice. Keirkegaard indeed may tend to give this impression on occassion. But Jaspers emphaizes the insecurity and evancent charter of finite existence and what may be called the experience or apprehension of the comprehensive, of the evolving being provided that one does not understand 'experinece' here as meaning privilaged mystical experience or anything approaching direct contact with God....IN his eyes (Marcel) exploration of those forms of experience which involve us as a person leads one to God..."[Frederich Copleston, Contemporary Philosophies, Westminster Maryland: Newman press, 1956,173.]

B. Existential Thinkers.

1) Soren Keirkegaard and objective uncertainty.

SK's theory of truth is that of "objective uncertianty." For him, scientific demonstration, and mathematics, is merely hypothetical turth. It has no real bearing on our situation as humans, it does not involve us in an understanding the meaning of our being, and without that we are not truely ourselves. He traces three stages in the development of the self: The aesthetic, the moral, and finally, blief.

"We are left with the leap of faith The passionate appropriation by the individual of an 'objective uncertainty.' The truth that matters is my truth...the truth which I have chosen, to which I have committed myself, for which I venture all, and by which I choose to live, rather than public property truth achieved as the conclusion of logical argument."[Copleston, 153.]

This may sound totally subjective and it might lead some to charge that it is a mere pretense. But SK Was totally committed to his faith and clearly believed that was real. He hated Descartes and felt that his doubt was phony. But if one could actually prove the existence of God who would need faith? The proof of God for Sartre is at the other end of the leap of faith, where one unities with one's source in God and becomes truely oneself, and for SK this was a reality that really works.

2) Paul Tillich and the object of ultimate concern.

Tillich believed that everyone shares the same basic ultimate concerns--death, justice, meaning and significance to life. When we confront our ultimate concerns truely we realize that there is an object of our ultimate concerns, which is God.

3) Karl Jaspers and apprehension of the transcendent.

Jaspers was trained as a psychiatrist and came to philosophy while already invovled in a flurishing career in psychotherapy. His argument begins with a discussion about the limitations of scientific study. Any particular science is limited in and by itself in that is bounded by its own subject matter. Science is negated from every yeilding an understanding of being, since to study being science would have to objectify it. Science could study beings, and does, but being is not merely study of beings, and cannot be objectified because to be is to be a subject and not an object. Being inherently contains its own subjective dimensions.

To understand being is to understand our own limits in finitude. We also move toward the transcending of this limit when we confront our own being--death for example--but not just death in generl, rather, my own death. At such a moment I become aware of myself as grounded in being and the presence of being as the grounding of all beings. I become aware of the transcendent as the negatively apprehended compliment of limits. I cannot obtain scientific assurence of the transcendent but I affirm it in the exercise of liberty. Jaspers emphasizes the symbolic character of the world and of all events. the passing of the finite triggers the realization of the lasting value of the transcendent. (Copeleston, 162-165)

4) Gabriel Marcel and the mystery of being.

Marcel views two levels of conscious thougth. One can think about another person and objectify that person. But one cannot objectify oneself. The personal consciousness cannot be penitrated by scientific study because to attempt it would always necessitate objectification and ruling out of the subjective elements Which make up the meaning of human experience. He calls this awareness of personal consciusness "second level thought." My place as empistemologial questioner might be taken by a machine, but as a subject I apprehend a certain mystery to being which cannot but be objectified and therefore lost in any kind of scientific analysis. If I am ask 'what am I?' I can approach this as a psychologist or scientist, but must always leave out the view point of the questioner. But if I ask about myself I must consider the view point of the questioner which asks the question; which is always a subjective viewpoint, the quetioner who asks the question. I cannot objectify myself in that sense.

My fundamental sitaution however is to be present in the world, not as an ego in a particualr sitaution, but as a subject being in the world. My relation in being is to be in relation open to the other; the intersubjective.

"I aspire to an absolute committment, to absolute loyalty. I may first aspire to this within the sphere of human relations. But reflection shows me that this involves the invocation of the absolute. 'Thou' who is the ground of all being and value and who alone makes eternal fidelity possible. Thus in the exploration of the relationships which arise on the plane of intersubjectivity I 'discover' as the personal transcendent absolute and I become conscious of the orientation of my personality toward the absolute Thou, God. I am open to being from the start; and the conscious appropriation of this openness leads form the transcending of egoism in communion with others to personal self relating, in adoration and prayer, to God...I come to see the [relationships of intersubjectivity] their metaphysical significance within the context of my existence as a person. I see that I become a human person only thorugh self-transcendence, only with actual communication with other human beings and with God." --Copleston, 171.

[In that argument we can find analogues with Schleiermacher's feeling of utter dependence and Martin Bubber's I and Thou]

C. Objections.

1) This argument doesn't prove anything. Answer: Got me there.

2) This is just fantasy time, wishful thinking, that doens't prove God exists.

Answer: That's right, and it's also wrong. It's not a demonstrative proof, that's for sure. And it is very akin to the religious experience argument. It's a rationale, a personal proof for those who find it convincing. But why should anyone find it conviencing? The more philosophical types among us will note immediately that it takes seriously the problem of being at its most fundamental level; it does not objectify being or dismiss it as an aray of sese data or a scientific problem to be studied and disected. IT is by its very nature something that only the individual can choose to affirm in his own experience of being human, this is what is meant by the existentialist when they speak of "self authentication." And only in self authentication can one affirm the nature of what it is to be who i am and to be human. It is also on this level that we find God, the level of personal faith. There is a strong indication in these four thinkers that to seriously come to grips with this understanding palces us very close to experiencing God on an existential level.

It's not a demonstrative proof but it is a proof of sorts, at least form the standpoint that one is offered a rationale for the logic of having faith. Skeptics are alwys asking me on the net "why should anyone believe?" Or "why have faith?" The answer is faith is self validating in a way that "demonstrative proofs" cannot be. Scientific information is always changing, and "facts" of science are limited to the nature of the inquarry and the methods of investigation. They invovle an exclusion of the dimension which means the most to us; that of what it is to be human in the world. Logical demonstration is always arguable, and both leave room for doubt. If it could be proven beyond a doubt that God exists, it would still leave the quetion of God's nature, and wheather or not God even knows we exist. But an existential apprehension leaves no room for doubt. To validate faith in this way, to committ to faith removes doubt.

Now, I have failed by a long shot to do justice to these thinkers. Each of the four is a profound figure and deserves the fullest attention of the reader. I urge everyone to read their books and consider their ideas. In three of the four (all but Jaspers) we find some of the greatest intellects of the Christian tradition, and in the four, including Jaspers, some of the greatest of the greats of existentialism.

The Religious A priori