Cite Entry

November 24 2017 12:10 PST

A drawing by Niels Christian Kierkegaard, Thoemmes

Søren Kierkegaard

SITE SEARCH ENGINE




since 01.01.06


Introduction to Philosophy

Søren Kierkegaard, "God's Existence Cannot Be Proved"

Abstract: Søren Kierkegaard explains why the existence of something cannot be proved. He argues that the use of logic merely develops the content of a conception and concludes the existence of God can only be known through a leap of faith.

  1. What is Kierkegaard's argument relating God's existence to proof?
  2. Explain: “I reason from existence, not towards existence.” Is the example of Napoleon and his deeds a good one?
  3. According to Kierkegaard, where are the works of God?
  4. Why doesn't the existence of God come out of proof?
  5. How could the proof of God's existence be discredited?
  6. What is “the leap”?
  7. Explain the statement, “The Reason has brought God as near as possible, and yet he is as far away as ever.”
  1. Kierkegaard wrote during the decade of the 1840's—historically, the same decade as Marx and Engels's Manifesto, August Comte's Cours de Philosophie Positive, Ludwig Feuerbach's The Essence of Christianity, John Stuart Mill's A System of Logic, and Charles Darwin's Zoology of the Voyage of H.M.S. Beagle.
    1. Kierkegaard's motto was “I had perished, had I not perished.”; The disintegration of the inauthentic life makes the life of the single individual possible.
    2. He writes, “Alas, I was never young” and [the important thing is] “What I am to do or be, not what I am to know.”
    3. Kierkegaard's resolution was to become a Christian writer in Christendom. He considered “the question of questions” to be “How can I become a Christian?” His life was spent “in service of the Idea.”
    4. Christianity, according to S.K., has two enemies: the Hegelian and the unreflective church-goer.
  2. The study questions above are taken from James A. Gould and Robert J. Mulvaney, “Faith, Not Logic Is the Basis of Belief.” [1] A brief outline of Kierkegaard's life and philosophy is provided in Søren Kierkegaard, "Truth as Subjectivity".
    1. Notes below are arranged in response to the questions stated above pertaining to Kierkegaard's Philosophical Fragments. [2]

      This reading selection is available in many introductory philosophy readers and is also online as
      Philosophical Fragments at D. Anthony Strom's Commentary on Kierkegaard
      and as
      “The Absolute Paradox: A Metaphysical Crotchet” at religion-online.org.
      1. What is Kierkegaard's argument relating God's existence to proof?
        1. Let us look at a generalized standard-form categorical syllogism purporting to be proof for God's existence.
          • An [unknown thing] is an existent thing.
          • God is an [unknown thing].
            __________________________
          • Therefore, God is an existent thing.
        2. The syllogism appears to be of the valid form:
          • All B's are C's.
          • All A's are B's.
            ______________________________
          • Therefore, all A's are C's.
        3. Nevertheless, notice how we have assumed in the premises of this syllogism the very point we wish to prove. As Kierkegaard says, all we have done is to develop the content of a conception. I.e., the existence of the reference of terms does not suddenly emerge in the conclusion since those the reference of those terms is already present in the premises of the argument.
        4. Arguing in this manner is similarly reflected in the following jest:
          If we ask who most people voted for in the past U.S. Presidential election, and also we ask who can increase spending for the military, education, social security, and so on, as well as balance the budget and not increase taxes, then the answer is clearly that “Nobody” could do all this. Hence, it would seem reasonable to conclude that “Nobody” should be President.
          Since “nobody” does not have existential import in the premises expressed in questions, ”nobody“ would, as well, have no existential import in the conclusion.
      2. Explain: “I reason from existence, not towards existence.” Is the example of Napoleon and his deeds a good one?
        1. In an argument, one gives reasons, grounds, and evidence for the acceptance of a conclusion. Existence must be assumed in the premises; it cannot be proved. Occasionally, this point is expressed as in Immanuel Kant's words as “Existence is not a predicate.”
        2. Consider the following inferences from the Square of Opposition:
          1. All philosophy students are awake —[subalternation]—> Therefore, least one philosophy student is awake.
          2. All unicorns have horns —[subalternation]—> Therefore, at least one unicorn has a horn.
        3. If the subject of the conclusion exists and the conclusion is true, then we must have assumed the existence of that subject in the premisses of the argument.
        4. For example, one cannot prove Napoleon's existence from his deeds by arguing …
          • An [unknown] invaded Russia, lost the Waterloo campaign, was exiled to Elba, and so on.
          • Napoleon is the [unknown].
            __________________________
          • Therefore, Napoleon exists.
          • The truth of the conclusion “Napoleon exists,” only logically follows if the [unknown] in the presises is already presumed to exist.
      3. According to Kierkegaard, where are the works of God?
        1. The works or deeds of God are not immediately given in experience and understanding. It could be a serious philosophical mistake to identify the deeds of God with the works or nature, the governance of the world, or natural law because of plague, pestilence, earthquakes, and other natural disasters (I.e., the existence of nonmoral evil presumably would not qualify as works or deeds of God.)
        2. One would have to take an ideal interpretation of natural occurrences—that only good things in the world are done by God—the same kind of ideal interpretation is implicit in many attempts to rectify the problem of evil.
      4. Why doesn't the existence of God come out of proof?
        1. If we tried to prove the existence of God by a posteriori means, then we could never finish listing all of the events in the natural order of things. Thus, the proof would be incomplete—we would be anxiously awaiting future events.
        2. Again, existence explains the deeds, but deeds do not prove existence .
        3. Thus, Kierkegaard says we would be living in suspense until the proof is complete. The proof would hang on future occurrences.
      5. How could the proof of God's existence be discredited?
        1. If we use the facts of nature for proof, a tragic disaster or new discovery could change our mind about what we heretofore thought were the acts of God.
        2. For example, many persons say upon the birth of a newborn baby, “How could one not believe in the miracles of God?” Yet, the future tragic occurrence of deformity or crib death might alter the belief. Often the defense of God's existence as exemplified in such occurrences is ultimately a fixed, often circular, belief where no counter-example is admitted.
        3. E.g., consider Edmund Gosse's account of his father's struggle to reconcile Charles Lyell's Principles of Geology with the biblical creation story. (Lyell's paleontology greatly influenced Charles Darwin.) Edmund's father claimed that God created the complete fossil record on earth at the time of the creation of the universe as a test of man's faith. [3]
      6. What is “the leap”?
        1. The “leap” is a metaphor for the “Aha!” phenomenon of suddenly seeing the point of something—a flash of insight revealing a solution or answer to a complex problem.
        2. In a word, God's existence or nonexistence does not hinge on our ability to see the point of an argument.
      7. Explain the statement, “The Reason has brought God as near as possible, and yet he is as far away as ever.”
        1. Reason and intellect attempt to prove God's existence. But God is absolutely different and totally beyond our comprehension and beyond our language to describe.
        2. The qualities of God cannot be captured in the predicates of language. Blaise Pascal makes a similar point when introducing his Wager in the Pensées.
Notes
  • 1. James A. Gould and Robert J. Mulvaney, “Faith, Not Logic Is the Basis of Belief,” Classic Philosophical Questions, 11th ed. (Upper Saddle River, N.J.: Prentice Hall, 2004) 261.
  • 2. from Søren Kierkegaard, “Chapter Three: The Absolute Paradox: A Metaphysical Crotchet, ” Philosophical Fragments trans. David F. Swenson (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1962) 31-36.
  • 3. Edmund Gosse writes, “My father, after long reflection, prepared a theory of his own, which, as he fondly hoped, would take the wind out of Lyell's sails, and justify geology to godly readers of ‘Genesis.’ … God hid the fossils in the rocks in order to tempt geologists into infidelity.” Edmund Gosse, Father and Son: Biographical Recollections (New York: Charles Scribner's Sons, 1908), 114-5.
Further Reading:
Top of Page

“An existential system cannot be formulated. Does this mean that no such system exists? By no means; nor is this implied in our assertion. Reality is a system—for God; but it cannot be a system for any existing spirit. System and finality correspond to one another, but existence is precisely the opposite of finality. It may be seen, from a purely abstract point of view, that system and existence are incapable of being thought together; because in order to think existence at all, systematic thought must think it as abrogated, and hence not existing.” Søren Kierkegaard, Concluding Unscientific Postscript, trans. David F. Swenson and Walter Lowrie (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1941), 107.

Relay corrections, suggestions or questions to
larchie at lander.edu
Please see the disclaimer concerning this page.
This page last updated March 21, 2015
Licensed under the GFDL

Valid XHTML 1.1!    Valid CSS!