The conditions of proof

If in any way the preceding arguments have succeeded in removing reasons for doubting - whether of philosophical or theological provenance -that a rational proof of the existence of God is in principle possible, where do those arguments leave us as to the 'shape' of such a proof, as to its 'argument-strategy'? From what has been established, so far, as to Thomas's mind on this question, we know something of the conditions which any such proof must meet. First, of course, any such argument must meet the ordinary, secular, conditions for inferential validity, and at least that it trades in no equivocation of terms. Second, such a proof will need to demonstrate that there is something which answers to the description 'God', the minimum for which description being, as we shall shortly see, that something answers to 'Creator of all things out of nothing'. Thirdly, the description 'Creator of all things' must be shown to be quod omnes dicunt Deum. This third condition requires that even if what is shown to exist does not, as proved, bear the names of the God of faith, the names of him whom Christians worship and pray to, love and submit their wills to, nonetheless, the God thus shown must also demonstrably be none other than that of Christian faith and practice and prayer. The God of proof must be 'extensionally equivalent' to the God of faith.

But if that third condition is to be met, then the God thus demonstrated to exist must be unknowably beyond the descriptions shown to be true of her, a condition which yields the paradox that, if a proof proves God to exist, it also proves that the meaning of existence, as predicated of God, has passed beyond our understanding in a very simple sense: we do not know what we have proved the existence of, for we do not know what God is otherwise than in terms, inevitably falling short of God, drawn from what we describe creatures to be. Thereby it follows, negatively, that there can be no univocity of terms predicated of God and of creatures and that no proof of the existence of God can rely upon any such univocity obtaining. Hence, if general conditions of inferential validity are to be met by a proof of God's existence, this will be because the argument-strategy of such a proof succeeds in 'crossing the gap' (which is not a gap) from creatures to a God who is unknowably incommensurable with any creaturely existence, a God who is thus at once 'wholly other' (as Derrida would say) and 'not-other' (as Nicholas of Cusa would say), or (as the pseudo-Denys says) is 'beyond both similarity and difference'. And from this paradoxical conjunction of conditions follows another; that a rational proof of the existence of God is constrained by the constraints which, quite generally, govern the 'grammar' of all theological language, namely of a complex interplay and dialectic of the affirmative and negative, the 'cataphatic' and the 'apophatic' - constraints of which Christian believers know simply from within their attempts to articulate their own central doctrines; above all, the doctrinal formulations of their Christology. In short, the 'shape' of a proof of God's existence must be the 'shape' of faith itself; shorter still, it must have the 'shape' of Christ. A rational proof of the existence of God is thus incarnational in both source and form. Between them, such would appear to be the formal, that is strictly logical, and the substantive theological conditions which any proof of God's existence must meet.

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