Descartes on the Comprehension of God

From Descartes’ response to Father Mersenne’s letter regarding “Meditation III”

“…I know that God is Author of all things, and these truths are something; and consequently, that God is their Author.  I say that I know this, but not that I conceive or comprehend it; for we can know that God is infinite and almighty, even though our soul, being finite, cannot comprehend or conceive him.  This is like our being able to touch a mountain with our hands, although we cannot embrace it as we could a tree or any other object not too big for our arms; for comprehension means that our thought embraces a thing, but for knowledge it is enough that our thought touches the thing.”

Descartes concedes that he cannot truly comprehend God due to the limit of man’s mind.  Man is finite, and suggesting that man can truly comprehend the infinite is too arrogant.  Because mortal man has not, and will not, experience the infinite, it is impossible for man to fully comprehend the infinite nature of God.  Descartes had previously likened this struggle for comprehension to this:  describing the nature of sound, to someone that has never encountered sound, through the use of color.  It would be an exercise of futility.  Many intellectuals, this day in age, have simply given up on trying to comprehend the nature of God.  Because they cannot fully comprehend it, they write off God’s potential existence as impossible.  Although we lack the cognitive ability to perceive the full, infinite nature of God, we are presented with enough to be aware of His presence.

Descartes’ analogy of the mountain, although simple, does an excellent job of putting things into perspective.  God’s existence cannot be contained within man’s limited mind, but a small taste of it can be observed in the finite world around us.  Man has continually set out to limit the universe to what can be observed or quantified.   The true nature of the infinite is a scary proposition that must be denied at all costs.  A creator that fully encompasses that nature is even more terrifying and incomprehensible.  Ignorance is bliss, so it is important to limit our attempt to understand to the finite.  Man is obsessed with deriving how everything works, but is too afraid to ask what has set these things into motion.  The “why” is never address because it is not something that cannot be answered through science, which is limited to man’s finite observation and understanding.

“20 For ever since the world was created, people have seen the earth and sky.  Through everything God made, they can clearly see his invisible qualities – his eternal power and divine nature.  So they have no excuse for not knowing God.” Romans 1:20 NLT

Although we cannot observe God directly, His fingerprints are all over the finite realm which we are able to observe.  Man’s futile attempt to confine God to the finite has led many to abandon Him altogether.  If God could be fully comprehended by man’s feeble mind, what would that say about His infinite power?  Man undermines God’s power any time he believes he can fully comprehend said power.  This may be the hardest part to grasp; God’s power is infinite and incomprehensible.  Man, in his arrogance, will simply dismiss that which he cannot understand.  Man must humble himself if he wishes to begin to know God.

Humble yourself.  Be aware and open to God, and He will reveal Himself within the finite nature you live in, but do not expect to fully comprehend God’s own infinite nature, for man is incapable of such a feat.





Author: Free Thought Blog

Sharing ideas should not be feared

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