Photo Credit: Linda Jabane.

Famous Enlightenment era philosopher, Immanuel Kant was convinced that the ontological proof for God’s existence fails. He takes the argument of the triangle used by Descartes and uses it to argue for his own perception concerning the ontological argument. The argument for Descartes is that because the triangle does exist, we can then, therefore, come to know about the triangle through our reason. The same thing can seemingly be said of God. Kant argues that this is wrong because existence cannot be used as a predicate, therefore we cannot use our reason to prove that God exists.Hence, We can only use our experience when it comes to knowledge of existence, and we have no possible way of ascertaining God exists in this fashion. Kant stated:

[B]ut to suppose the non-existence of both triangle and angles is perfectly admissible. And so is it with the conception of an absolutely necessary being. Annihilate its existence in thought, and you annihilate the thing itself with all its predicates; how then can there be any room for contradiction?[1]

Kant is correct in the fact that existence cannot be used primarily as a predicate in the general sense of the conception of something. But this does not prove that God does not exist. If anything, this should cause the question to be begged as to determine whether or not God—or something—actually exists.[2] Next, he claims that annihilation of the thought of God would mean that God is not necessary. Does this mean that if triangles were annihilated in the experience of someone that it would entail that triangles do not exist? For Kant, if the conception of God has the possibility of being annihilated, then what does this mean for Kant? His experience apparently has him at least postulating the existence of God, for he could not seek to annihilate a concept in which he hadn’t conceived of in the first place? Furthermore, would this not mean, in a sense, the thought of God would make Him necessary? Perhaps that’s a stretch, but Kant gives another example in the form of money. He says that a certain amount of real money forms a “synthetical addition to my conception [of money].” In other words, the conception of money, without actual money adds no synthetical addition. This seems to be the question as to how can he conceive of money that doesn’t exist, unless there is some type of thing as money that can exist? Furthermore, if Kant can’t annihilate the thought of God, but only deny the thought of God, then perhaps God may be necessary after all according to Kant’s view.

While Kant finds it absurd to introduce a “conception of a thing” if only that “thing” is to be deeply thought of with only respect to its possibility of existence, at the same time, Kant claims that the notion of a Supreme Being (i.e. Necessary Being) is a “highly useful idea.” This claim is quite interesting given the fact that even though it is a useful idea, it is “incapable of enlarging our cognition with regard to the existence of things.”[3] It is not even sufficient to instruct us as to the possibility of a being which we do not know to exist.” It seems as though Kant likes the idea of God and even claims it to be useful. At the same time however, he claims it cannot be useful. This line of thinking—while completely challenging—does not appear to be good for the Christian apologist.

 

Footnotes

[1] Immanuel Kant, Critique of Pure Reason – SECTION IV. Of the Impossibility of an Ontological Proof of the Existence of God. http://www.gutenberg.org/files/4280/4280-h/4280-h.htm

[2] Robert. E. Maydole, “The Ontological Argument,” The Blackwell Companion to Natural Theology, eds., William Lane Craig and J.P. Moreland (Oxford: Blackwell Publishing. Co, 2012), 570.

[3] Kant.

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