What is a “Proof” of God?

March 6, 2018

Wolfgang Smith

Editor’s Note:  In response to Richard Carrier’s recent review of Edward Feser’s Five Proofs for the Existence of God,  Dr. Smith presents his own observations on this question, which represents an ongoing discussion of issues — first addressed last month by Professor Bruno Bérard in the context of artificial intelligence — in light of the distinction, so often lost in our time, between the cognitive faculties of intellection and ratiocination.

The first thing I would point out is that the classical or traditional “proofs of God” must not be construed as “logical arguments” in the contemporary sense: to do so is to misconceive the nature of these so-called “proofs.” It is in fact to denigrate God to the status of a mere concept: a finite entity specified by its conceptual bounds. To prove the existence of something, call it X, from a set of premises P, is after all to show that X is logically necessitated  by P — even as the premises “Socrates is a man” and “every man is mortal” necessitate the mortality of Socrates. It would however be childish to suppose that the “existence of God,” no less, can be established by such ordinary means; in the words of Meister Eckhart: “They speak of God as if He were a cow!”  I realize, of course, that God has often enough been thus denigrated, even at times by theologians of repute. Yet let me say it once more: to the extent that a so-called proof of God is in fact comprehensible to a mere logician, it is all about “cows.”

How then, let us ask, does a bona fide  “proof” for the existence of God establish its conclusion, given that it cannot do so by purely logical means? It does so, I submit, in those who possess the gift of faith and a hunger for theological truth by awakening a supra-rational intuition of God. It is not, as I have said, a question of “logical proof,” but of a light, if you will, by which we see  what previously we did not. And let me emphasize that the faculty of sight which stands at issue is precisely the Intellect, properly so called, the very existence of which has for us faded into oblivion since the onset of the Enlightenment.

Yet the fact remains that from ancient times right through the golden age of Scholasticism, the difference between reason  and intellect ratio  and intellectus — was well understood by the educated elite. And I cannot doubt that every schoolman worthy of his keep knew well enough that the so-called “arguments for the existence of God” were addressed precisely to the higher of the twain: how indeed could anyone be so simple as to suppose that the existence of God — who exceeds every conception to which the human mind can attain — should come within reach of a second-rate  faculty!

And finally, looking in upon our brave new civilization, that schoolman would no doubt be surprised to discover that, with us, the denial of Intellect has in fact become the very hallmark of a so-called “intellectual.”