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Meditation 13
Plato's Proofs for the Existence of Gods

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Some 2,500 years ago, Plato taught why we should believe in the gods. In The Laws, Book 10, he identified two reasons why we should believe.

  • First, he claimed something must have created the world, the sun, the moon, the stars and the order therein, and that something must have been the gods.
  • Secondly, he said we should believe the gods because most people believed in them and the majority was unlikely to be wrong.

Plato's first argument is flawed in that through using the gods as a primal cause, he does not answer the primal cause issue - he merely places primal cause at one remove from the real world. We are left with the question of the primal cause of the gods.

The second argument is also fundamentally flawed - we should also note that in Plato's time the majority also believed the world was flat. (And remember what just about everyone's mother says when they ask permission to do something because everybody else is doing it.)

The point of this meditation is not to debunk Plato. What I want to point out is that in the two and a half millennia since Plato's day, not one new intellectual argument for the existence of one or more gods has been developed. Every claim of a new logical proof, when stripped down to its fundamentals, reduces to one of Plato's original flawed lines of reasoning. (I now stand corrected on this issue. As covered in the addendum below, there is a third argument.)

So, when someone uses one of these proofs for the existence of god, the appropriate response is "Right! And as that's just a restatement of one of Plato proofs, then logically you are suggesting I accept the Greek Pantheon?"

Meditation 13a

There are, of course a number of non-intellectual arguments for the existence of god. As these arguments are not based on logic, there is no point refuting them. The appropriate response when someone makes such a claim ranges from a bemused smile to rolling on the floor laughing.

Examples are:

I know god exists because he talks to me.

I know god exists because he talks to... (Jerry Fallwell - or fill in your own favourite televangelist here)

I know god exists because I am god.

Addendum

I have been advised by a correspondent that there is indeed a proof for the existence of God which does not reduce to one of Plato's two proofs. This is St. Anselm's ontological proof. Anselm's (1033-1107) argument (extremely simplified here) is that it is possible to think there is something greater than we can possibly conceive of. As we are able to grasp this concept of something beyond the mind's reach, we cannot possibly have invented it on our own. Therefore, it must be based on something real.

For a more detailed discussion of St Anselm's Proof, see Talk Back 12

An interesting argument, I suppose, but not one I can accept. At heart, the conclusion is implicit in the initial assumptions. Because we can think of god, god exists. A similar argument to one which defines god into existence. E.g. For something to be perfect, it must exist. God is perfect, therefore god exists.

Ultimately, what Anselm claims in his basic assumption is that there is a limit to the human imagination. In counter to this, I suggest there is no limit to our imagination. And if we accept the concept of something beyond what we can imagine, we have not accepted the existence of god, we have simply extended our imaginations.

Yes - it is a proof which is not one of Plato's two. But similarly to Plato's arguments, it proves nothing beyond humankind's unlimited capacity to attempt to rationalize the unprovable.