Origin Of Our Idea Of God’s Existence

God is the infinite and perfect Spirit in whom all things have their source, support, and end.

On the definition of the term God, see Hodge, Syst. Theol., 1:366. Other definitions are those of:

Calovius: “Essentia spiritualis infinita”;

Ebrard: “The eternal source of all that is temporal”;

Kahnis: “The infinite Spirit”;

John Howe: “An eternal, uncaused, independent, necessary Being, that hath active power, life, wisdom, goodness, and whatsoever other supposable excellency, in the highest perfection, in and of itself”;

Westminster Catechism: “A Spirit infinite, eternal and unchangeable in his being, wisdom, power, holiness, justice, goodness and truth”; Andrew Fuller: “The first cause and last end of all things.”

The existence of God is a first truth; in other words, the knowledge of God’s existence is a rational intuition. Logically, it precedes and conditions all observation and reasoning. Chronologically, only reflection upon the phenomena of nature and of mind occasions its rise in consciousness.

The term intuition means simply direct knowledge. Lowndes (Philos. of Primary Beliefs, 78) and Mansel (Metaphysics, 52) would use the term only of our direct knowledge of substances, as self and body; Porter applies it by preference to our cognition of first truths, such as have been already mentioned. Harris (Philos. Basis of Theism, 44–151, but esp. 45, 46) makes it include both. He divides intuitions into two classes:

  1. Preesentative intuitions, as self-consciousness (in virtue of which I perceive the existence of spirit and already come in contact with the supernatural), and sense-perception (in virtue of which I perceive the existence of matter, at least in my own organism, and come in contact with nature);
  2. Rational intuitions, as space, time, substance, cause, final cause, right, absolute being.  We may accept this nomenclature, using the terms “first truths” and “rational intuitions” as equivalent to each other, and classifying rational intuitions under the heads of

(1) intuitions of relations, as space and time;

(2) intuitions of principles, as substance, cause, final cause, right; and

(3) intuition of absolute Being, Power, Reason, Perfection, Personality, as God.

We hold that, as upon occasion of the senses cognizing (a) extended matter, (b) succession, (c) qualities, (d) change, (e) order, (f) action, respectively, the mind cognizes (a) space, (b) time, (c) substance, (d) cause, (e) design, (f) obligation, so upon occasion of our cognizing our finiteness, dependence and responsibility, the mind directly cognizes the existence of an Infinite and Absolute Authority, Perfection, Personality, upon whom we are dependent and to whom we are responsible.

Bowne, Theory of Thought and Knowledge, 60—“As we walk in entire ignorance of our muscles, so we often think in entire ignorance of the principles which underlie and determine thinking. But as anatomy reveals that the apparently simple act of walking involves a highly complex muscular activity, so analysis reveals that the apparently simple act of thinking involves a system of mental principles.”

Dewey, Psychology, 238, 244—“Perception, memory, imagination, conception—each of these is an act of intuition.…Every concrete act of knowledge involves an intuition of God.”

Martineau, Types, 1:459—The attempt to divest experience of either percepts or intuitions is “like the attempt to peel a bubble in search for its colors and contents: in tenuem ex oculis evanuit auram”;  Study, 1:199—“Try with all your might to do something difficult, e. g., to shut a door against a furious wind, and you recognize Self and Nature—causal will, over against external causality”; 201—“Hence our fellow-feeling with Nature”; 65—“As Perception gives us Will in the shape of Causality over against us in the non-ego, so Conscience gives us Will in the shape of Authority over against us in the non-ego”; Types, 2:5—“In perception it is self and nature, in morals it is self and God, that stand face to face in the subjective and objective antithesis”; Study, 2:2, 3—“In volitional experience we meet with objective causality; in moral experience we meet with objective authority,—both being objects of immediate knowledge, on the same footing of certainty with the apprehension of the external material world. I know of no logical advantage which the belief in finite objects around us can boast over the belief in the infinite and righteous Cause of all”; 51—“In recognition of God as Cause, we raise the University; in recognition of God as Authority, we raise the Church.”

Kant declares that the idea of freedom is the source of our idea of personality,—personality consists in the freedom of the whole soul from the mechanism of nature.

Lotze, Metaphysics, § 244—“So far as, and so long as, the soul knows itself as the identical subject of inward experience, it is, and is named simply for that reason, substance.”

Illingworth, Personality, Human and Divine, 32—“Our conception of substance is derived, not from the physical, but from the mental world. Substance is first of all that which underlies our mental affections and manifestations.”

James, Will to Believe, 80—“Substance, as Kant says, means ‘das Beharrliche,’ the abiding, that which will be as it has been, because its being is essential and eternal.” In this sense we have an intuitive belief in an abiding substance which underlies our own thoughts and volitions, and this we call the soul. But we also have an intuitive belief in an abiding substance which underlies all natural phenomena and all the events of history, and this we call God. Among those who hold to this general view of an intuitive knowledge of God may be mentioned the following:

  • Calvin, Institutes, book I, chap. 3;
  • Nitzsch, System of Christian Doctrine, 15–26, 133–140;
  • Julius Müller, Doctrine of Sin, 1:78–84;
  • Ulrici, Leib und Seele, 688–725;
  • Porter, Human Intellect, 497;
  • Hickok, Rational Cosmology, 58–89;
  • Farrar, Science in Theology, 27–29;
  • Bib. Sac, July, 1872:533, and January, 1873:204;
  • Miller, Fetich in Theology, 110–122;
  • Fisher, Essays, 565–572;
  • Tulloch, Theism, 314–336;
  • Hodge, Systematic Theology, 1:191–203;
  • Christlieb, Mod. Doubt and Christian Belief, 75, 76;
  • Raymond, Syst. Theology, 1:247–262;
  • Bascom, Science of Mind, 246, 247;
  • Knight, Studies in Philos. and Lit., 155–224;
  • A. H. Strong, Philosophy and Religion, 76–89.