Précis of epistemology/What is reason?
(currently being rewritten)
The proof of Anselm[edit | edit source]
We do not know very well what God is, but we know we can not give him any blemishes. If he had an imperfection he would not be God. He brings together in him all the perfections. His wisdom is perfect. He always chooses the best possible. His power is not limited by any opponent. It is the same for all the qualities that one can think of attributing to him. He is always the best, or the sum of all perfections.
A fictitious being is suffering from an imperfection, precisely because it is only fictitious, that it is nothing more than a product of the imagination. Since God has all the perfections in him, he can not be fictitious, hence he exists.
Such is the argument (Anselm of Aosta 1078) of Saint Anselm, Archbishop of Canterbury, to prove the existence of God.
Anselm is sometimes accused of committing a fault of logic, especially since Kant (1781). But if we understand it well, the proof of Anselm is quite logical and rational.
For a rationalist free thinker, the initial affirmation, that no fault can be attributed to God, is simply a hypothesis with which one can reason, as with any hypothesis. Nothing prevents us from making assumptions and seeing, by reasoning, whether they can teach us anything.
Anselm's argument proves with impeccable, perfectly rigorous logic that to think of a fictitious God is like thinking of a square circle. We reason badly about God, about being flawless, if we conceive it only as a product of our imagination. A faultless being can not be purely imaginary, because being only imaginary is a defect. Logic, our natural faculty of reasoning, is enough to prove it.
Like all mathematical proofs, Anselm's proof reveals a tautological truth. The conclusion, that God exists, is already asserted in the premise, since it makes the assumption that there exists a being without defect. But this tautological character does not invalidate the proof, on the contrary. All reasonings reveal tautological truths unless they commit logical errors.
The proof of Anselm is not enough to convince a skeptic. It only shows that one can reason correctly about a being without flaws, and that it must be more than a fiction to be truly flawless. But this is not enough to prove that this flawless being is not a fiction, since one can reason correctly on fiction.
That we can reason correctly about a being without defect is the important point. Natural light is enough to know the best. It is as if God had given us the faculty of reasoning and the idea of a flawless being so that we could know him. A skeptic can always answer that such knowledge is hypothetical, what it is, but that does not prevent us from developing it. If it is really a good knowledge, we only have to discover by reasoning all that it can teach us to realize it. Good knowledge bears fruit.
Anselm proves the existence of God from the idea of a flawless being, but to say that God exists is only to know very little of Him. The premise, that God is without blemish, the best, the sum of all perfections, is much more important than the conclusion, that He exists, because it is much richer in consequences, because it teaches us everything we need to know about God.
There are many ways to exist. When one affirms the existence of God, one does not speak of any way of existing, one wants to say above all that he exists as Creator, that he has proven his existence by creating the Universe, that Creation is the revelation of his truth. The existence of God is Creation, it is the matter and the light in which we live.
Since God is the best, he has the best existence. To be the best and not to give us the benefits of it is weakness or selfishness and so can not be the best. God created the world because he is generous. He would not be the best without this generosity.
Anselm is the saint of rationalist thinkers (Descartes, Spinoza, Leibniz, Hegel ... but not Kant, because he had illusions about reason) and of all believers, Christians or not, who believe that science is a gift from God.
The affirmation that God is the sum of all perfections is an open hypothesis. It alone is very indeterminate. It invites us to reason. We must complete it by affirming what are the perfections we can attribute to God. When we say that he is the best we do not know in advance what it is to be the best, we have to learn it.
Rational theology is the rational knowledge of God. But how can God be known rationally? From his work, including reason. All creation, without exception, can be interpreted as the word of God. Everything speaks, everything says the word of God. In giving creation, God gave his word and the beings able to hear it. Reason is the knowledge and the wisdom that he makes us share.
Epidemics, famine, misery, torture, massacres and all the horrors, are part of the creation. If God is the best, why does he allow all the horrors to exist? Is the existence of evil not a proof that all the discourses on divine perfections are vain and foolish? (Voltaire 1759)
We can not always reason about divine perfections as on human perfections (Spinoza 1677). For a human being, letting evil exist in one's home is surely not perfection. But transposing this reasoning to the Universe and its creator does not seem legitimate. We do not know what could be a universe that would not allow evil to exist, because it would deprive us of our freedom, and because the deprivation of freedom is an evil. But above all we are not in a position to judge what God should have done and what he did not do. To believe that we can know better than God what he should have done is vain and foolish. Obviously we can not teach him what it is to be the best, he is the one who teaches it to us.
From the point of view of some atheists (not all) the term rational theology is contradictory, like a square circle. They do not make the difference between religion and superstition and consider that religious beliefs are just fantasies. The development of science and reason is supposed to open our eyes and rid us of these vain illusions. But this alleged opposition between reason and religions is contradicted by the history of the development of knowledge. Many scientists have advanced science by seeking to know God from his work. And the very existence of reason, of our capacity to develop it, can be interpreted as a proof of divine generosity. Atheists or believers, we do not know in advance what reason is, we discover it every day, and we must learn it. Atheists are not the only ones to oppose unreason, believers too. And one does not have to be an atheist to be a scientist. If atheism leads to ignoring all that religions teach about reason, it becomes blinding.
- Oh, you do not know that God exists?
- I never saw it. Why would I believe he exists?
- We can not see him. To recognize him in his creation, one must know him by thought. If you seek him in your mind, and if you want to find him, you will find him. He never abandons anyone, especially not those who seek him.
« No man has seen God at any time. If we love one another, God dwells in us, and his love is perfected in us. Hereby know we that we dwell in him, and he in us, because he has given us of his Spirit. » (1 John 4: 12-13)
The wedding ring between God and life (Genesis 9, 8-17):