Demonstrating The Existence Of

If God is a subject to whom one is related in a subjective rather than objective manner, it goes without saying that God's existence cannot be objectively or rationally proved. In fact, as Kierkegaard sees it:

The idea of proving the existence of God is of all things the most ridiculous. Either he exists, and then one cannot prove it (no more than I can prove that a certain human being exists; the most I can do is to let something testify to it, but then I presuppose existence)—or he does not exist, and then it cannot be proved at all.

There has been a long tradition of attempts to prove the existence of God through the ontological, cosmological, and teleological arguments of Anselm, Aquinas, Descartes, Spinoza, Leibniz, Paley, and others. There have also been numerous critics ofthose attempts, most notably Hume and Kant in the modern age. Kierkegaard belongs to the latter group but faults attempts to demonstrate God's existence on somewhat different grounds than his modern predecessors. The only sustained critique of proofs for the existence of God in his writings comes in Philosophical Fragments, where Johannes Climacus takes up the matter in the context of a discussion of the passionate attempt of human understanding to discover what thought cannot think, namely the unknown or the god (Guden).14 In agreement with Kierkegaard, Climacus states:

It hardly occurs to the understanding to want to demonstrate that this unknown (the god) exists. If, namely, the god does not exist, then of course it is impossible to demonstrate it. But if he does exist, then it is foolishness to want to demonstrate it, since I, in the very moment the demonstration commences, would presuppose it not as doubtful—which a presupposition cannot be, inasmuch as it is a presupposition—but as decided, because otherwise I would not begin, easily perceiving that the whole thing would be impossible if he did not exist. (PF 39)

According to Kierkegaard and Climacus, then, proofs for the existence of God generally beg the question by presupposing what they set out to prove. Pointing out that 'it is generally a difficult matter to want to demonstrate that something exists', Climacus prefers the opposite approach:

Therefore, whether I am moving in the world of sensate palpability or in the world of thought, I always draw conclusions from existence, not to existence. For example, I do not demonstrate that a stone exists but that something which exists

14 The Danish word for god in this text generally contains the definite article as in the German translation of Plato's works by Schleiermacher which Kierkegaard owned and read. On Climacus's critique of proofs for the existence of God, see also Law (1993: 167-73); Evans (1992: 63-71); Roberts (1986: 70-8).

is a stone. The court of law does not demonstrate that a criminal exists but that the accused, who does indeed exist, is a criminal. (PF 40, translation modified)

Alluding to Kant and Schelling, Climacus thus concludes: 'Whether one wants to call existence an accessorium [addition] or the eternal prius [presupposition], it can never be demonstrated' (PF 40).15 In a passage deleted from the final text, however, he notes that 'the connection [between the concept of God and existence] is somewhat different from what Kant meant—that existence is an accessorium (190; cf. JP i. 1057). Kant rejects the ontological proof for the existence of God on the grounds that existence is not a property or attribute contained in the concept of God or anything else for that matter, but is simply the positing of the subject together with its predicates.16 Climacus argues simply that existence is something one already knows or presupposes about a thing, so that 'I would be mad to want to draw a conclusion to what I know' (190, translation modified; cf. CUP i. 545). In the Postscript he further reduces the ontological argument to an absurdity, maintaining that if God is not presupposed, it will run like this:

A supreme being who, please note, does not exist, must be in possession of all perfections, among them also that of existing; ergo, a supreme being who does not exist does exist. This would be a strange conclusion. The highest being must either not be in the beginning of the discourse in order to come into existence in the conclusion, and in that case it cannot come into existence; or the highest being was, and thus, of course, it cannot come into existence, in which case the conclusion is a fraudulent form of developing a predicate, a fraudulent paraphrase of a presupposition. (CUP i. 334)

Standing in the background and undoubtedly influencing Climacus's viewpoint is the Leibnizian distinction, later embraced by Lessing and Hume, between truths of fact and truths of reason, according to which factual or contingent truths are ascertained empirically through experience, since they cannot be known by human beings a priori (on the basis of reason alone) and with certainty as are truths of reason.17 According to Leibniz, only necessary truths can be rationally demonstrated. Since God is a necessary being whose essence necessarily involves existence, God's existence can be demonstrated a priori on the basis of the concept of God's essence or being (the ontological proof). However, in an extended note on Spinoza's ontological proof, in which being is regarded as a perfection of God, Climacus points out that the kind of being involved in the concept

15 According to the translators, Kant does not actually use this term. On God as the eternal prius or ground of existence, see Schelling (2006: 27-8), and Kangas (2007).

17 Leibniz (1965: 13, 154-5); Hume (1988: 71-3); see also Evans (1992: 65-6).

of God in this proof is ideal being, which pertains to God's essence (what God is), not factual being, which pertains to existence (that something is) (PF 41 n.; cf. JP i. 1057). Spinoza's proof lacks this distinction, thus confusing the issue and confounding it even more by introducing the notion of degrees of being, according to which the more perfect a thing is, the more being it has and vice versa. As Climacus sees it: 'With regard to factual being, to speak of more or less being is meaningless. A fly when it is, has just as much being as the god' (PF 41 n.). Strictly speaking, 'God does not exist (existere), he is eternal', as existence belongs to the finite or temporal realm, not to the eternal, which simply is and does not come into existence (CUP i. 332). That is why, on Climacus's view, the entry of the eternal into time as claimed by Christianity constitutes an absolute paradox to the human understanding. This difficulty, however, is completely circumvented by Spinoza's proof inasmuch as the necessary being of God 'cannot become dialectical in the determinants of factual being, because it is; and neither can it be said to have more or less being in relation to something else' (PF 42 n.).

The teleological argument for the existence of God, or the argument from design based on God's works, is also subjected to criticism in Philosophical Fragments (PF 40-2). Noting how curious it would be if someone wanted to demonstrate Napoleon's existence from his works, since one must presuppose Napoleon's existence in order to see them as his works, Climacus applies this analogy, with one qualification, to the relation of the god to his works. Just as proofs for the existence of God in general presuppose the existence of the deity, the argument from design relies on the same presupposition. However, there is an absolute relation between God and his works that does not obtain in the case of human beings, inasmuch as God's works belong only to God, whereas the most one can demonstrate with reference to Napoleon's works is that they are the works of a great general, not necessarily Napoleon. Nevertheless, in order to see God's works as God's works, one must presuppose them as God's works, since it is not immediately apparent from the works themselves that they are works of God. Ergo, one does not demonstrate the existence of God from his works but simply presupposes God's existence in relation to the works that are ideally presupposed to belong to him.

Using the example of a Cartesian doll (a misnomer for the so-called Cartesian devil) that is weighted so as to stand on its head as soon as one lets go of it, Climacus suggests that as long as we try to demonstrate the existence ofthe deity, God's existence does not emerge (PF 42; cf. 291 n. 28). Only when we let go of the demonstration does God's existence become present to us. This moment of letting go thus corresponds to the leap or break with rational thought that is required for faith (PF 42). With an ironic tip of the hat to 'the rare wise man' who wants to demonstrate the existence of God, Climacus concludes:

Therefore, anyone who wants to demonstrate the existence of God (in any other sense than elucidating the God-concept and without the reservatio finalis [ultimate reservation] that we have pointed out—that the existence itself emerges from the demonstration by a leap) proves something else instead, at times something that perhaps did not even need demonstrating, and in any case never anything better. For the fool says in his heart that there is no God, but he who says in his heart or to others: Just wait a little and I shall demonstrate it—ah, what a rare wise man he is! If, at the moment he is supposed to begin the demonstration, it is not totally undecided whether the god exists or not, then, of course, he does not demonstrate it, and if that is the situation at the beginning, then he never does make a beginning—partly for fear that he will not succeed because the god may not exist, and partly because he has nothing with which to begin. (PF 43-4)

But Climacus does not entirely deny the usefulness of proofs, inasmuch as he refers approvingly to the physico-teleological proof for the existence of God advanced by Socrates, who sought 'to infuse nature with the idea of fitness and purposiveness' by constantly presupposing that the god exists (PF 44). On the whole, however, neither Climacus nor his alter ego Kierkegaard finds the preoccupation with demonstrating the existence of God to be efficacious. Not only do the arguments fail, they distract us from focusing on our own personal relationships to God, which is where the existence of God truly becomes present to and is known by us.


If God is infinite subjectivity, a divine spirit or subject encountered and known only in and through the deepening of one's own subjectivity, this means that the deity is not directly present or seen in nature, as believed in paganism, nor is the divine spirit to be conceived and comprehended as the moving spirit of the world-historical process, as claimed in Hegelian speculative thought. Here we reach the heart of Kierkegaard's bone of contention with the speculative theology and philosophy of the ancient and modern world concerning God. As he sees it, God is omnipresent in the world but not immanent in it. What is the difference between these two attributes of the divine and how is God's omnipresence to be perceived? Let us look first at the difference between Christianity and paganism on this issue as presented in the Postscript (CUP i. 243, 245-6). Climacus contends that God is everywhere present (omnipresent) in the creation, but the divine is not there directly (immanently), as the only thing that is directly present is nature, which is the work of God, not the divine itself (243). He thus explicitly rejects the identification of God with nature as found in ancient paganism and its modern forms such as the immanent or pantheistic philosophy of Spinoza, Schelling, Hegel, Martensen, Strauss, and Feuerbach, among others.18 The only way one can have a true God-relationship and see the divine everywhere, Climacus claims, is by turning inward, where the possibility of being awakened to a spiritual relationship to God in inwardness can take place, thereby breaking with the direct relation to God of ancient and modern paganism. Indeed, Climacus contends that God is so elusive, so invisible, so unremarkably present in the world that one might easily go through life without ever discovering the divine in nature, since the divine has chosen not to reveal itself directly in some striking form, such as a 'rare, enormously large green bird, with a red beak' or a twelve foot tall man, which would immediately call attention to itself and amaze everyone (245-6). In fact, such a direct revelation would annul the omnipresence of the divine by its very visibility and would be untrue and deceptive. Since God is not a deceiver, Climacus concludes that 'the spiritual relation in truth specifically requires that there be nothing at all remarkable about his form' (246). The relation between omnipresence and invisibility thus mirrors the relation between revelation and mystery, inasmuch as the latter is 'the one and only mark' by which the former can be known (245; cf. also PC 155).19 This is not to say that God cannot be known or made manifest in nature, as nature itself is a sign of God's greatness for Kierkegaard if not for Climacus also, but the Christian comes to know God 'in a different way, more intimately', Kierkegaard claims, through an inward or spiritual relationship with the divine (UDVS 192-3; CD 291).

For Climacus, however, the immanence of ancient and modern paganism runs deeper than a direct identification of God and nature, for he sees it as underlying the relation to eternal truth in both ancient and

18 See Spinoza (1951: ii. 68-9). On the pantheism controversy in the 18th and 19th centuries, see Beiser (1987: 44-126); Williamson (1984: 231-49); Jaeschke (1990: 361-5); Breckman (1999: 23-7, 101-7, 177-220). Both Schelling and Hegel were accused of pantheism but denied the charge. See Schelling (2006: 11-28, 70-2), and Hegel (1988: 122-8). See also Hodgson (2005: 248-59), who argues that Hegel was a panentheist rather than a pantheist. Martensen recognized pantheism as a 'necessary moment' in the Godhead's historical process, and like Hegel he viewed God's absolute personality as being composed of both substance (in the creation) and subject (in the incarnation). See SKP xiii, II C 26-7, § 5; Martensen (1997: 97-8, 115-16, 129-31). Schleiermacher was also accused of pantheism, especially in On Religion, but he somewhat ambiguously denies the charge in The Christian Faith (1956: 38-9, 173-5, 192).

19 On the apophatic, unknown, or hidden nature of God as transcendent, abysmal ground (Afgrund) in Kierkegaard's theology, see Kangas (2007: 6-11, 126); Law(1993: 162-81).

modern philosophy as expressed in the Platonic doctrine of recollection. To recap this doctrine briefly, all knowledge is recollection, which means that, by virtue of the pre-existence and immortality of the soul, human beings already possess all theoretical and moral knowledge and need only to recollect what has been temporarily forgotten at birth in order to regain a consciousness of the eternal truth within them. In Philosophical Fragments Climacus explicitly associates this doctrine with both ancient and modern speculation:

... this Greek idea is repeated in ancient and modern speculation: an eternal creating, an eternal emanating from the Father, an eternal becoming of the deity, an eternal self-sacrifice, a past resurrection, a judgment over and done with. All these ideas are that Greek idea of recollection, although this is not always noticed, because they have been arrived at by going further. (PF 10 n.)

And in the Postscript he explicitly identifies recollection with immanence and pantheism:

The thesis that all knowing is recollecting belongs to speculative thought, and recollecting is immanence... (CUP i. 206 n.; cf. also 148-9 and 205)

. . . the only consistency outside Christianity is that of pantheism, the taking of oneself out of existence back into the eternal through recollection, whereby all existence-decisions become only shadow play compared with what is eternally decided from behind____The pantheist is eternally reassured backward; the moment that is the moment of existence in time, the seventy years, is something vanishing. (CUP i. 226-7)

While modern speculation purports to have gone further than Greek thought and thus does not explicitly subscribe to the doctrine of recollection in its Platonic formulation, the parallel Climacus sees between ancient and modern speculation is nevertheless apparent in the world-historical viewpoint of Hegelian speculation, which in Climacus's view is 'rooted precisely in immanence' (CUP i. 157; see also 148). In Climacus's view, the Hegelian world-historical perspective is an objective, backward-looking orientation in which the speculative thinker purports to know and comprehend eternal truth by becoming a systematic observer and interpreter of the past. Since world history is unfinished, however, Climacus contends that this perspective, like every historical perspective, is only an approximation that is incomplete and arbitrary in its judgements (149-50). Moreover, by focusing on world history so much, one may be tempted to seek world-historical importance for oneself rather than strive to become ethically developed to the utmost in inwardness (133-7). As Climacus sees it, in Hegelian philosophy the ethical is realized in the world-historical order rather than the individual, and God is seen as the moving spirit of the world-historical process rather than Lord over it (144, 156). In his judgement, therefore, the Hegelian world-historical viewpoint may be faulted on two grounds. (1) It completely skips the ethical in the individual and advances 'something world-historical' as the ethical task for individuals, thereby confusing the ethical with the world-historical. (2) In the Hegelian schema of world history God becomes 'metaphysically laced in a half-metaphysical, half-aesthetic-dramatic, conventional corset, which is immanence', leading Climacus to exclaim: 'What a devil of a thing to be God in that way' (144, 151, 156)! Not only is God's freedom constrained and done away with in immanence, God cannot be seen at all in the world-historical process, since the only way the deity can be seen there is in the role of Lord, which it does not play in immanence. In contrast to the Hegelian world-historical perspective, therefore, Climacus contends that, properly understood, 'God's freedom... will not in all eternity, neither before nor afterward, become immanence' (156-7).

With regard to the ethical, however, Climacus does not deny that it is present in world history, since it is present wherever God is, but he does deny that it can be seen there by a finite individual. 'Wanting to see it there,' he says, 'is a presumptuous and risky undertaking that can easily end with the observer's losing the ethical in himself', which is an original element in every human being and not something abstracted from world-historical experience (CUP i. 141). Only God, who is omniscient as well as omnipresent in world history, possesses eternal knowledge of the commen-surability of the outer and the inner of the ethical in world history, for only God knows 'the innermost secret in the conscience of the greatest and of the lowest human being' (141). The human mind 'cannot see world history in this way', Climacus claims, and anyone who wants to try 'is a fool' (141).

To illustrate the difference between the ethical relation of the individual to God and the relation of the world-historical to God, Climacus employs the metaphor of a royal theatre in which God plays the role of a royal spectator of the drama played out in 'the little private theatre' of the individual's ethical development as well as the 'royal drama' performed on the stage of world history (CUP i. 157-8). Individuals are essentially actors and occasionally spectators like God in the private dramas of their own ethical development, but only God is a spectator in the drama of world history since 'admission to this theatre is not open to any existing spirit' (158). In other words, no human being can see and comprehend world history sub specie aeterni (under the aspect of the eternal). Climacus unmercifully ridicules 'the speculating, honorable Herr Professor', presumably Hegel, who wants to explain all of existence in a system that promises in the final paragraph to discover the ethical in the present generation of world history while absentmindedly forgetting that he is a human being whose ethical task is to understand himself in existence (145).20

Climacus's ridicule of the preoccupation with world history and its confusion with the ethical extends beyond Hegel and his speculative followers to include Grundtvig, who wrote several chronicles of world history before and after making 'the matchless discovery' that launched his long career as a religious leader in Denmark. What Climacus finds particularly ludicrous in Grundtvig's world-historical perspective is the idea that discovery of the ethical in world history requires 'a prophet with a world-historical eye on world history', which Climacus regards as 'a rare, ingeniously comic invention' that is doubly ludicrous inasmuch as it not only confuses the ethical with the world-historical but also requires a seer to discover the ethical, whereas in his view 'the ethical is an ancient discovery' that all human beings are capable of making and comprehending within themselves through a personal relation to God (CUP i. 144-5, 155).

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