A New Proof for God’s Existence?

I want to offer an a posteriori argument for God’s existence. (An a posteriori argument is “dependent on experience or empirical evidence.”) This may seem odd, because the usual purpose of arguing for God’s existence is to argue that there is a God to experience in the first place. But I want to begin the other way round, as a thought experiment. Specifically, I want to argue from the Christian experience of God’s existence, because this is the experience I have. (Whether starting from the experience “I” have poisons this whole argument from the beginning I leave aside for now.)

Things can be known in two ways. They can be known as fact (e.g., Germany invaded Poland on Sept. 1, 1939) or they can be known as something one is familiar with (e.g., in the sentence, “Greg knows that part of the city.”). This is preserved in other languages, such as French (savoir, connaitre) and Spanish (saber, conocer), but lost in English. I’m dealing here with the second kind, what I will call “familiar knowledge.”

Now, when someone becomes familiar with something–comes to know something, in this sense–they are aware of its characteristics. Say I have a favourite bench in the park: I know this bench’s location, its colour, its supportiveness and comfort. But there is also something else–slightly more difficult to consider–I know about the bench: I know it could potentially not exist. I know that there was a time before this bench was assembled and there will be a time after it has fallen apart. I know it did not have to be–the fancy philosophical term for this is the bench’s “contingency.”

The same is true, in a darker way, of our familiar knowledge of persons. I know, for example, a certain close friend. I know her appearance, her personality, her loves, her quirks and habits. And on a certain, perhaps inarticulable level, I also know she is contingent. Not despite my familiarity with her, but precisely because of my familiarity with her–this being the crux of my argument–I know she did not have to exist. I also experience, on the edges of my conscious knowledge, that she will one day again come to not exist (in a certain sense. I leave that argument aside for the moment.).

Now I come to my argument proper: this sense of contingency, the not-having-to-be-ness which we experience of things, of places and sadly even of persons, is just what is not experienced in the familiar knowledge of God. The same knowledge of characteristics present in our familiar knowledge of things and persons is present in our knowledge of God: we know God’s power, God’s proximity and God’s care. But there is no sense of God’s contingency; to the contrary, we experience God as mercifully necessary–“necessity” being the philosophical opposite of “contingency.” There is no sense in our familiar knowing of God that God might not be.

And from what the Christian faith has always taught, this makes sense. For God is not another “thing” in the universe, perhaps an extra large or hidden or mysterious item. As Sarah Coakley writes, “God is, rather, that-without-which-there-would-be-nothing-at-all” (p.5). And so, one would not be able to experience the could-not-be-ness of God, as we are some of the things which would not be at all without God. God is, instead, the Source of all of this, the one without which there really would be nothing–the Necessary Being. But further, in our Christian experience, we find that this Source is a personal Source–a something who is actually a Someone. A Someone who, in fact, loves.

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7 thoughts on “A New Proof for God’s Existence?

  1. Hi Steve,

    Interesting thoughts. I hope you won’t mind if I offer a little interaction, as this sort of thing is something I am interested in as well.

    I understand your argument from a Christian perspective, but from an atheist or unbeliever’s perspective I think it would be unconvincing. I’ll step into their shoes for part of this thought-experiment. There is no reason for me, the hypothetical unbeliever, to grant that there is any familiar knowledge of God whatsoever to experience to begin with. My view, in fact, is antithetical to yours: God has not at all been something familiar to me, and if he has, it is not the god of Christianity.

    Now it seems, when you quote Coakley, that you are assuming other apologetic arguments in conjunction with this one (i.e. that God is the first cause). But I do not necessarily have to grant that a Being is the first cause. Even if he is, I do not have to grant that he is not extra large or hidden or mysterious.

    It is also possible that this argument is intended to benefit Christians by bolstering their confidence in their faith, however, it only helps insofar as it may, in conjunction with other arguments, prove a general concept of theism.

    That is how I assume an atheist or nonbeliever might respond. It may be though that I am misinterpreting your post at points; I just thought I’d bounce a few ideas back.

    Peace in Christ,
    Shep

    http://www.theknightblog.com

  2. I think that, like most predominant philosophers and theologians of our time, you need to begin creating your own words to further confusion the general public. We both know you’ve done this in your undergrad, so I hereby declare and encourage you to do this. If creativity is a problem, I am here to help! For instance, you could replace “that-without-which-there-would-be-nothing-at-all” with “macaroons”, and “could-not-be-ness” with “pistachioness”. Just some food for thought.

    Very cool though. I have trusted that your poison is good poison, like kemo, and not bad..

  3. Good question! I guess I’m trying to do a bit of phenomenology: describing the experience of coming to know things or persons familiarly, rather than facts or critical reflection (philosophical “savoir”?).

    I think that part of what we experience when we get to know people is their “contingency,” that at some point they will cease to be. We don’t know this a priori, I think, and then bring this to our experience of persons, but out of our coming to know them we experience this. Whereas for God, I argue, this is not part of our experience. When we come to know God, we know him as having-to-be, as “necessary.”

    Helpful?

  4. a little bit. i might be starting to grasp what you mean by learning someone’s contingency. however, is the contingency we notice in learning someone’s features, etc., not a contingency of that configuration, rather than the contingency of their entire existence? it’s the latter we’re talking about in relation to God, right?

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