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If a person were to take a can of Red Pop, and another can of 7 Up, and pour these two similar liquids into a common container, the outcome would be a homogeneous mixture of sweet, sparkly red soda. However, if the mixture of the two sodas was looked at as a process, and photographed with high speed photographic equipment, the record would capture the different stages of the mixing process. For example, at the initial instant at which the two sodas were poured into the new container, there would not be a homogeneous mixture, but rather the coexistence of two similar liquids, each fighting to preserve their own identity. Only with the passage of time would the red give away to the clear and the clear give away to the read and create an equally pleasant drink.
Descartes lived in such a time when different forces were being mixed for the first time in public, popular thought, and although the mixing process is still at work, Descartes was one of the first to insert a stir stick into the non-homogeneous mixture of science and religious faith in an attempt to combine the two into a consistent study. While that process is still undergoing a stirring and settling today, Descarted Meditations preserved a unique introduction to the struggle which men face when they try to reconcile the world of scientific thought with the life of religious faith.
Unfortunately for Descartes and for modern man, the worlds of science and faith are not as similar to each other as Red Pop and 7 Up. The field of science chooses to believe only in what can be seen, measured, repeated, and verified. While a life based on religious faith holds onto experiences which are just as verifiable as scientific events, the proof for these facts often exist in history books, or in a man's heart. Religious maxims cannot be put into a test tube and verified by what a man can see and measure. So for Descartes, mixing the two was perceived as an attempt to make a pleasing beverage out of oil and water, rather than two equally co-soluble materials.
Descartes turns to God in his philosophical theories in order to build a bridge between the oil and water. For Descartes, the idea that religious fact and scientific fact would exist in separate and distinct worlds was an unacceptable premise. For Descartes, if there was an all powerful God, then his presence in the world should be seen in his creation, and therefore his existence should be able to be equally verified through rational thought and experimental reasoning. For Descartes, God should not be limited to the pages of the Bible and the high alters of the church, only to be visited on Sundays and holidays.
Descartes pursued this line of reasoning because in his world, religious life was thought and understood to be the glue that held together 'modern' society. The Roman Catholic church had long dominated the domain of education. Starting in the middle ages, the church and its monasteries had been the sole source of educational progress. However, with the advent of Luther's challenges to the Roman Catholic religions beliefs, and the introduction of the printing press, the dissemination of information which challenged the churches universal thoughts on science and faith became a widespread influence on the culture. The Greek philosophers were rediscovered. Rational thought that did not begin and end in the halls of religious monasteries began to become a part of the social fabric. And in the areas which the church had said "You just have to believe these things as fact b because we, the church clergy say so" the popular culture began to respond with "No... I don't think so."
So, Descartes work was intended to lay a foundation for the religious beliefs of his day through a thought process which was based in scientific logic rather than in the pages of scripture, or in the halls of Catholic monasteries. His goal was to prove the existence of God outside the subjective roll of faith. In the process, he set about to bring into question the extreme level of scientific rational which was also sweeping his culture at the time.
If we were to keep a child locked inside a house, only able to look outside at the green grass, and the other children playing tag for the first 10 years of his life, this child would undoubtedly develop an all consuming desire to be like the other kids. He would sit and stare out the windows on a spring day, longing for one thing - to be out of his house and running free through the hills and fields like the other kids. The scientific and intellectual community of Descartes' day had 'grown up' in much the same way. Kept locked away by the intellectual iron fist of the Roman catholic church, intellectually had been told that they were not free to think their own thought, and uncover their own reasons for metaphysical realities in the universe. The Church had all the answers, and because the church was basing its authority on the coat tails of the divine, individuals who questioned the church were branded as heretics, who would neither be listened to, nor be accepted in the community at large.
Therefore, the motivation behind the scientific and philosophical community at Descartes' time was like that of the child finally let out of the house. Besides wanting to get as far away from their prison as possible, they sought to find alternate answers to the questions which the church had dominated for so long.
Descartes was unique in his approach, because rather than turn away from God, he turned away from church dogma but to the idea of the existence of God as part of his logical reasoning. Descartes saw no reason to 'throw out the baby with the bathwater' so to speak. For Descartes, the desire within men to come in contact with a supreme being, or rather the inescapable desire of mankind to find a reason for life which was larger than themselves led Descartes to accept the premise of the existence of god. Now his task was proving these things in a rational that would be accepted by the philosophical community.
Descartes recognized that those who had bounded for the far end of philosophical meadows and fields, in a reaction against the church, were loosing their connection to reality. The philosophical limits had been reached by those how suggested that only that which can be seen, measured, and quantified can exist, and nothing else can exist that cannot be seen, measured and quantified. His contemporaries had evolved the line of reasoning which suggest that there may not be a way to prove the existence of that which could be seen, and measured because even those measurements were only perceptions within our own minds. Therefore if the perceptions could not be verified as real through scientific methods, then the objects of the perceptions may also not be real.
Before this argument devolves into higher level of incredulity, Descartes stepped into the fray. His argument that the cosmos and geometrical bodies did exist was based on philosophical thought, and also based on the perception that God also exists and is an important part of the universe. Descartes entered into the philosophical battle for the intellectual culture of his day, and built arguments to 'prove' both the existence of God, and of the material world.
Descartes started his argument on the basis of the existence of god. He was able to separate the abuses of power and authority of the church from the idea of god, and therefore used this as his basis for philosophical argument. Descartes started his argument for the existence of God with a universally accepted idea that men have an idea of, and a universal desire to become connected to the idea that a God of some kind, in some sort of form exists in the form of an idea. He hypothesized that have an idea of God, who is a perfect being.
There must be as much reality or perfection in the cause of any idea as in the effect. In other words, he perceived this thought to be an effect of on outside influence or inner desire. Descartes suggested that this applies not only to the existence of ideas, but also to the reality of what they represent. Thoughts were not only causes of actions and choices, but effects of outside influences. Therefore, not only must the existence of the idea be explained, but also what it represents.
The idea of God represents a being that is perfect. Since that mankind is flawed, hopelessly so, Descarted reasoned that man could not have been the cause of this idea.
Therefore, God must exist because only a being which is perfect could be understood as the only possible cause of the perfection found in my idea of Him.…[continue]
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