PHILOSOPHY OF GOD :
THE QUESTION OF THE IDEA AND EXISTENCE OF GOD
The Experiential Approach and the Rational Approach
Rev. Dr. J.H.Rapar, Th.D,, Ph.D.
I. The Question of God
Man lives under the shadow of a gigantic question mark. Is there a God? What is the definition of God? How can anyone know anything about God? Does God really exist? Can we demonstrate the existence of God? Slowly, but with persistent courage, we have been pushing this question mark further and further toward that distant line, beyond the horizon, where we hope to find our answer. But actually, we have not gone very far. We still know very little but we have reached the point where we guess at many things.
The questions of God revolve around the root question of God's existence which has been a center of debate since the time of Plato. And the subject of the existence of God, as a problem in philosophy, revolves around the attempts to prove that God exists. To prove that God really exist, there are "two different approaches: the argumentative and the experiential, the approach that seeks to establish the existence of God on rational evidence and the approach that grounds the knowledge of God in religious experience of some kind or other."
There is an insight inherent in man that God exists. In other words we can say that all men have some knowledge of God. The insight inherent in man is clearly seen in the following World Religions' data :
Total World Population ................... 3,178,155,000
Total Christians ......................... 950,550,000
Roman Catholic ...................... 584,493,000
Eastern Orthodox .................... 142,055,000
Protestant .......................... 224,065,000
Jewish ................................... 13.121,000
Muslim ................................... 455,785,000
Confucian ................................ 350.835,000
Buddhist ................................. 161,856,000
Hindu .................................... 395,191,000
Shinto ................................... 67,155,000
Taoist ................................... 51,305,000
Zoroastrian .............................. 147,000
Others, Including Primitive or None ...... 732,210,000
Source: Britannica Book of the Year, 1965.
It is because nearly all men believe in God in some sense that the question of the idea of God takes logical precedence over the question of the existence of God.
II. The Idea of God
Actually, there are many ideas of God in world religions, but in this paper we will divide them into five forms: Pantheism, Polytheism, Panentheism, Emanationism, and theism.
Pantheism is the belief that God and the whole universe are one and the same thing and that God does not exist as a separate spirit. The fundamental proposition of pantheism is that everything is God and God is everything. When confined within the world of nature this means that God is nature and nature is God. Pantheism teaches that God is the whole wide universe, the human mind, the seasons, and all things and ideas that exist. Pantheism rules out a personal God as a being above and beyond the universe:
The world is the existence‑form of God. God is everything, good and evil; and everything is God, but in very different degrees. There is more of Being (i.e., of God) in a plant than in unorganized matter; more in animal than in the plant; more in man than in either; more in one man, or race of men, than in another. Such a God cannot be known easily in personal experience.
Actually, there are varying types of pantheists ranging from those that attribute consciousness to nature taken as whole to those that do not. Although Buddha’s views are not entirely clear, they may properly be designated as a form of pantheism.
Spinoza (1632‑1677) formulated what is perhaps the most impressive pantheistic system in Western philosophy. He insisted that (according to Wolfson's interpretation of Spinoza):
all things are in God as the less universal is in the more universal .....
He is their internal cause as the genus is the internal cause of the species or the species of the particulars and as the whole is the internal cause of its parts. Now the universal, even though it does not exist separately from the particulars, is not logically identical with the sum of the particulars.
Polytheism is a belief and worship of more gods than one. Charles Hodge says that "polytheism is the theory which assumes the existence of many gods." Polytheism believes that there are many finite gods, each with his own sphere of activity. Man very early learned to fear the powers of nature. He regarded big trees, storms, seasons, the sun, the moon, and other forces as personal beings, and then he worshiped them as spirits and gods. Later they believe that there are many finite gods with one who is supreme among them (henotheism). In time this led to monotheism.
Panentheism insists that the world is included in God's being as parts of a building in a building. Just as a person is both the sum of all his experiences and parts and yet more than they, so God has all of finite being as part of his being and experience but transcends it. This outlook necessarily rejects the view of God's complete independence from the world and modifies the classical attributes of "impassibility"' "omniscience"' and "eternity". Although elements on panentheism are to be found throughout the history of Western thought, it has been most systematically elaborated by the philosopher Whitehead (1861‑1947). Actually, panentheism is an attempts to reconcile the insights of pantheism, on the one hand, and of theism on the other.
Emanationism is a belief that finite beings are derived or flow from substance of the one divine reality. A central analogy that has often been used to illustrate the teaching emanationism has been that of fire and its sparks. The fire is the one ultimate being that casts the "creaturely" sparks out of its very being. These creaturely sparks are essentially divine, although they have a kind of independence. The idea of emanation played an important role in neo‑platonism.
Theism is the religious and philosophical conception of God as a personal entity. It is the belief in the existence of a God who, by supernatural revelation, has made Himself known to men. This conception is clearly seen in Judaism, Christianity, and Islam. Theism is usually contrasted with pantheism, in which, God is a name for the unity of the world taken as a whole, and deism, in which God is regarded as the creator of the cosmos and the establisher of its physical and moral order though exercising no continuing providential guidance over it. In other words it is said that in pantheism the deity is wholly immanent, in deism that it is wholly tarnscendent, and in theism that it is both transcendent and immanent. Theism does not preclude the intervention of God in the natural and historical order.
III. The Existence of God
A. Religious Experience
Now, we will examine the attempts to prove that God exists. It was said before that in the traditional approaches to God, there are two quite different approaches: the approaches that grounds the knowledge of God in religious experience and the approach that seeks to establish the existence of God on rational evidence. We will return later to the question of rational evidence; for the moment let us focus our attention on what we may call: the non‑rational way of religious experience". Miller says that "such a knowledge of God is direct, immediate, and self‑authenticating".
The belief that God exists, which we may call "faith", cannot be separated from man and his life. That is the reason why the belief is influenced by experiences. Certain experiences are able to form the belief. The experiences that are able to form the belief is called religious experiences. And there are varieties of religious experiences.
There are, to be sure, "varieties of religious experience" as William James has suitably emphasized in the title of his classic work. What in Bacchic frenzy, to absorption in the divine disclosure of a tree leaf, to seeing visions and hearing voices, to Christian conversion, to mystical transports, to eerie feelings of the supernatural, and so on.
In this paper we will consider only two kinds of religious experiences; the existential and the mystical.
Actually, there are many different kinds of existential experiences.
According to Paul Tillich, the existential experience is based on the experience of fear. Because of his fear, man lost all the grounds for life. If he can get over this terrible situation, this means that man has a final ground for life as a power that transcend man. This experience brings man to God. For Tillich, "man is bound to the categories of finitude,' and "it is the finitude of being which drives us to the question of God." Tillich regards God as the ground of being. God "is the ground of the structure of being." But he objects to speak of the existence of God. He says :
... the question of the existence of God can be neither asked nor answered. If asked, it is a question about that which by its very nature is above existence, and therefore the answer ‑ whether negative or affirmative ‑ implicitly denies the nature of God. It is as atheistic to affirm the existence of God as it is to deny it. God is being‑itself, not a being.
There is another existential experience as represented by Romano Guardini. He says that the principal religious existential experience is the experience of uncertainty. The shaking question is: what is the final goal of life? They who live in the consciousness of this question will arrive to God by faith.
Guardini's view is similar to Rudolf Bultmann's. Bultmann says that the existential experience is the experience of self as an uncertain creature. This existential experience is necessary as pre‑view to belief. But man will not arrive to the live of faith because of the existential experience. The life of faith will only possible because of God's revelation.
According to Rudolf Otto, in religion, man is confronted with "mysterium tremendum", tremendous mystery, and "mysterium fascinans" or fascinating mystery.
Concerning Otto's view, Ed.L. Miller says:
Otto, disenchanted with the prevailing and one‑sided intellectualist interpretation of religion, sought to recover what he took to be the non‑rational essence of religion: the feeling or sense of the divine, or, as Otto calls it, the feeling of the "numinous", experienced by almost everyone at one time or another. Though variously manifested, this universal feeling of "mysterium tremendum" (which includes the elements of Awfulness, Overpoweringness, Urgency, Wholly Other, and Fascination), this revelatory sense of the divine presence engulfing all things is, according to Otto, the real stuff of all religious worthy of the name.
There are another experiences where the existential experiences are not necessary, because in these experiences, man is united wholly and perfectly with God. These experiences are called mystical experiences.
For the mysticist, the final goal of life is the union of the soul with God. According to St. John of the Cross, "to understand ... the nature of this union, it must be known that God dwells or is present substantially in every soul, even in the soul of the greatest sinner." In order to attain the union with God who dwells substantially in every soul, St. John of the Cross says that :
... the soul must first become empty and poor in spirit and purged from all natural support, so that, in total poverty of spirit and liberated from the old man, it may be able to live that new and blessed life which is attained by means of this night and which is the state of union with God ....
Concerning the mystical religious experiences, Bergson says that they are the most convincing argument to prove that God exists. According to Bergson , the saint are the most reliable people in this world, because they show a healthy spiritual attitude toward the whole event of life.
We have seen the approach that grounds the knowledge of God in religious experiences. Now, we will examine the approach that seeks to establish the existence of God on rational evidence.
B. Rational Evidence
The rational arguments are commonly distinguished as being either : a priori" or "a posteriori." A priori argument, arguing from the idea of God. This kind of arguments "are thought to deduce God's existence independently of, or
prior to, experience." In other words, the a priori argument operates from a basis which is logically independent of, and prior to experience. Richard Taylor's definition is well worth repeating: A priori argument is "one that does not appeal to any facts of experience but is concerned solely with the implications of concepts in this case, the concept of God."
The a posteriori argument, arguing from effect to cause. A posteriori knowledge is empirical knowledge, knowledge which is possible only through experience. This means that the a posteriori arguments for the existence of God are derived from evidences within our human experience.
In this paper, the rational evidence will be organized under four basic kinds of arguments: the ontological, the cosmological, the teleological and the moral argument.
a. The Ontological Argument
Ontological argument is the only one genuinely a priori theistic argument has been offered. The argument is associated with the name of St. Anselm of Canterbury (1033‑1109), although variants of it are found in the writings of Rene Descartes (1596‑1650), Benedict de Spinoza (1632‑1677), and Gottfried Wilhelm Leibniz (1646‑1716).
Concerning the ontological argument, Richard Taylor says:
This argument has held a profound fascination for men since it was first so thoroughly and beautifully formulated by St. Anselm of Canterbury in the eleventh century. Few philosophical arguments have been the target of more attacks, and yet it finds new defenders among the ablest thinkers in every generation. Some critics have considered it hardly more than a plan upon words and are apt to agree with Schopenhauer, who dismissed it as nothing but a "charming joke"." Others, while rejecting the argument, have nevertheless treated it with the profoundest respect, considering it a credit to the wisdom and philosophical penetration of its inventor even though it does not, in their view, suply any rational basis for religious belief. Such was Immanuel Kant's opinion, for this philosopher, thought he found in it the basis of all metaphysical argument for God's existence, all of which he thought were inconclusive. At the other extreme are
those philosophers, always in the minority but nonetheless sure of their insight, who consider it true not only that God, conceived as the supreme being, does indeed exist but that St. Anselm has rationally proved it.
Actually, "St. Anselm did not use the expression 'ontological argument.' It was apparently first applied to his formulation by Immanuel Kant." So, since Kant's day this argument has been known as the "ontological argument." There are at least two versions of the ontological argument.
In the first form, St. Anselm argues that only a fool would say "God does not exist," since "even the fool is convinced that something exists in the understanding, at least, than which nothing greater can be conceived." St. Anselm concluded that God by definition must be the most perfect Being conceivable.
To St. Anselm, as to Descartes much later, it appeared that a being so described could not fail to exist. If such a being happened not to exist, then it would not be the greatest one could conceive, for one can conceive of such a being as possessing existence, and the existent is plainly greater than the non‑existent. Indeed, a God devoid of existence would have even less worth or significance than any real thing, however trifling. A crude and inadequate but perhaps graphic way of expressing this idea would be to say that no non‑existent thing is in the least worthy of worship and could not possibly be considered the supreme being. God, whatever else He may be, must be a reality as the very minimum condition of being thought of as God.
This first version has come under two criticisms. First, the criticism of his contemporary Gaunilo, who argues that "the fact that he could conceive of a perfect island did not mean such an island actually existed." Gaunilo said:
For example: it is said that somewhere in the ocean is an island, which, because of the difficulty, or rather the impossibility, of discovering what does not exist, is called the lost island. And they say that this island has an inestimable wealth of all manner of riches and delicacies in greater abundance than is told of the Islands of the Blest; and that having no owner or inhabitant it is more excellent than all other countries, which are inhabited by mankind, in the abundance with which it is stored. Now if someone should tell me that there is such and island, I should easily understand his words, in which there is no difficulty. But suppose that he went on to say, as if by a logical inference: "you can no longer doubt this island which is more excellent than all lands exists somewhere, since you have no doubt that it is in your understanding. And since it is more excellent not to be in the understanding alone, but to exist both in the understanding and in reality, for this reason it must exist. For if it does not exist, any land which really exists will be more excellent than it; and so the island already understood by you to be more excellent will not be more excellent." If a man should try to prove to me by such reasoning that this island truly exists, and that its existence should no longer be doubted, either I should believe that he was jesting, or I know not which I ought to regard as the greater fool: myself, supposing that I should allow this proof; or him, if he should suppose that he had established with any certainty the existence of
this island. For he ought to show first that the hypothetical excellence of this island exists as a real and indubitable fact, and in no wise as any unreal object, or one whose existence is uncertain, in my understanding.
In replying to the criticisms, St. Anselm said that:
an island by definition need not be absolutely perfect in the same sense that God by definition must be absolutely perfect. Therefore a "perfect" island might exist in the mind but not in reality, but God, to be perfect, must exist in reality.
The second criticism is the criticisms of the German thinker Immanuel Kant (1724‑1804). Kant's criticism of it is that it treats existence as if it were a predicate. Kant insisted that "existence is no predicate."
Norman L. Geisler and Paul D. Feinberg explain,
Immanuel Kant insisted that Anselm wrongly assumed that existence is not a property of perfection. On the contrary, said Kant, existence is not a predicate or attribute of a concept. Anselm assumed that the concept must be instantiated, that is, that an example of it had to be found in experience or reality. But since existence is not a property of perfection, then positing God's non‑existence takes nothing away from the absolute perfection of the idea in one's mind. In short, it is possible that God does not exist. And if this is so, then it is not rationally necessary that God exists. No one, therefore, can use this argument to claim that God exists for certain.
The second form of the ontological argument is not as easily criticized, because it turns on the point that the idea of perfection involves necessary existence. Concerning the second argument, Richard Taylor's explanation is well worth repeating:
It seemed to St. Anselm that the idea of impossible non‑existence, or better, necessary existence, is also perfectly comprehensible. It is but the corollary of the foregoing, though he did not put it in these terms. We can apply this notion to anything that exists by its very nature, in case the clear conception of such a thing can be formed. One can form a clear conception of God, conceived as the supreme being, or a being of such greatness that none greater can either be or be conceived. St. Anselm had no doubt that such a being exists "in intellectu", for anyone but a fool can understand a clear description of God, though of course no one can comprehend such a being any more than he can comprehend the idea of a square circle. And from one's understanding of it one can, it was clear to St. Anselm, be certain that such a being exists "in re". It is eternally and ubiquitously existent, and cannot fail to exist anywhere or at any time. For the proof of this, St. Anselm maintained, one need not find such a being; one need not go beyond the conception of it. God is not thereby defined into existence, any more than square circles are defined out of existence, for He can no more "gain" existence than a square circle can lose it. Nor does one need, in proving the existence of such a being, surreptitiously to slip into one's proof the premise that it exists. Its existence is perfectly evident to anyone who really understands what is being described, and only a fool, St. Anselm said, or one who has no clear understanding of what is meant by God can fall to believe in Him.
b. The Cosmological Argument
The second argument of the rational evidence is the Cosmological Argumnet. The Cosmological Argument is the argument for the existence of God that is based on the law of causality.
Concerning the Cosmological Argument, Ed.L. Miller says:
Very different from the Ontological Argument are the "a posteriori" (or empirical) argument which, drawing their evidence from sense‑experience, attempt to establish a knowledge of God from nature. The Cosmological Argument (often called the First‑cause Argument) attempts to prove the existence of God as the ultimate cause of some empirical reality or other, usually the world or universe itself.
The most famous and classical exposition of the Cosmological Argument is to be found in the writings of St. Thomas Aquinas (1224/5‑1274). In his "Summa Theologica" he offers five proofs, the first three of which are forms of the Cosmological Argument.
According to Norman L. Geisler and Paul D. Feinberg, the heart of Thomas Aquinas reasoning is as follows :
1. Every effect, by its very nature, needs a cause.
2. Every contingent being is an effect.
3. Hence, every contingent being is caused.
4. Therefore, it follows that the cause of every contingent being is not contingent, but Necessary (that is, God).
It is clearly seen that the principle of the Cosmological Argument is that every effect and event must have an adequate cause. The world is here and we cannot deny its existence. The world is contingent, for it is made up of parts, each of which is dependent on other parts; hence as a whole it must be dependent on something outside of itself that must be independent, infinite and absolute.
This world is also an orderly world, a cosmos and not a chaos. The only adequate cause of an orderly world is an ordering Intelligence (that is, God).
c. The Teleological Argument
The third argument is The Teleological Argument. The Teleological Argument is the argument for the existence of God that is based on the evidences of design, purpose and adaptation in the world. Teleological Argument is also known as the argument from design or the argument from final cause.
This Teleological Argument is the most popular because it can be easily understood. There are many proofs of design in man himself, and of adaptation of means to ends: the ear for hearing; the eye for sight; the head, the brain, the foot, the whole human organism, each part functioning specifically and all working together in a common purpose. Design connotes intelligence, and intelligence connotes personality, and that means God.
Charles Hodge said that "this argument also admits of being stated in a syllogistic form. Design supposes a designer. The world anywhere exhibits marks of design. Therefore the world owes its existence to an intelligence author."
d. The Moral Argument
The fourth argument of the rational evidence is the Moral Argument. The German thinker Immanuel Kant rejected the Ontological, Cosmological and Teleological Argument. Having removed religious belief from the sphere of theoretical reason Kant "formulated a new argument for God: the Moral Argument."
Ed. L.Miller says:
Kant's reasoning is not easily reproduced in few words, but the central idea is that in a truly moral universe virtuous conduct must be rewarded by a due proportion of happiness and wrongdoing must be punished, and that a supreme power must therefore exist to insure that such justice is recompensed.
Moral Argument for the existence of God is based upon the moral nature of man and the moral order of the world. Man is moral being for he perceives or judges some things to be right, and others to be wrong. When he does right, his conscience approves, and when he does wrong, his conscience condemns. Man is also placed in the midst of an environment that integrates with his moral nature, giving him a change to choose between right and wrong and to develop and discipline moral character.
The moral could not evolve merely by means of resident forces from the non‑moral. Therefore, the source of the moral regime of the world must be moral, which leads to God as the Ultimate Ground or Source of morality.
To prove that God exists means that we need the approach that seeks to establish the existence of God on rational evidence. But many philosophers think that the rational argument is not the real evidences.
Man is actually not reach the truth if he is apart from experience. Human experience is the only door to the reality. Without religious experiences, the rational proofs have no ground to be believed. We should not think of God as an inferred entity but as an experienced reality.
The living God is actually at work in and through the events of human history. The God whose existence each of the rational arguments professes to establish is only a pale shadow of the living God.
So, it is clearly seen that the rational approach is not valid without the experiential approach.
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