Argument from the origin of the idea of God

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Portrait of René Descartes

The argument from the origin of the idea of God, also referred to as the trademark argument or the cosmological-ontological argument (COA), is based on finding the origin of mental concepts and is a variant of the argument from degree and the ontological argument.

The argument was proposed by Descartes and claimed that mental concepts originate either internally, from the mind, or externally:

"Among these ideas, some appear to me to be innate, some adventitious, and some produced by me. For I understand what a thing is, what truth is, what thought is, and I appear to have derived this exclusively from my very own nature[1]"

He discounts internal sources and the sensations of our senses but still believes the concept of God had an external origin:

"All that remains for me to ask is how I received this idea of God. For I did not draw it from the senses; it never came upon me unexpectedly, as is usually the case with ideas of sensible things when these things present themselves [...] to the external organs[1]"

The conclusion is that this external origin is actually God.

Formal argument[edit]

The argument runs as follows:[2]

  1. Mental concepts exist in our minds, including the concept of "God"
  2. Some are produced internally and some originate externally
  3. The concept of "God" did not originate internally from the mind
  4. Therefore the concept has an external cause
  5. The concept "God" can only have arisen from something that resembles the concept "God"
  6. Nothing exists with qualities similar to God, except God
  7. Therefore the concept "God" originated from God
  8. God exists

Counter arguments[edit]

Concepts might be innate or invented[edit]

Main Article: Humans are predisposed to believe in gods

Dispositions to believe certain concepts are innate. We interpret our sensory experience somewhat imperfectly based on our cognitive biases and the belief in a particular concept is the result. We can see examples of an generally positive experience with more or less negative qualities, or human design with more or less flaws. It is easy to extrapolate these instances to believe in a perfect design or experience with no flaws. We do not need an example of perfection to imagine it but it does not demonstrate that perfection is possible.

A counter argument:[2]

"But is that really enough? How can we think away limitation or imperfection unless we first recognize it as such? And how can we recognize it as such unless we already have some notion of infinite perfection? To recognize things as imperfect or finite involves the possession of a standard in thought that makes the recognition possible."

Noticing imperfections is probably an innate ability in humans which is necessary to solve practical problem. If we attempt a task and fail because of our approach or our tools, the imperfections are all too obvious.

There are many examples of objects being compared based on imaginary concepts, such as their magical properties. This does not imply the concept "magic" is coherent or it was based on actual examples of the concept. The concept can be a fiction invented by humans.

Things with perfect attributes don't exist[edit]

Main Article: Argument from the attributes of God

There are no other examples of objects that have a concrete and perfect attributes. We have a concept of a perfect circle but no perfect circle has a concrete existence. Therefore, the argument implies the non-existence of God.

Argument from ignorance[edit]

While religious beliefs occur in many cultures, humans may have an innate disposition to belief in God. This naturalistic hypothesis is arbitrarily ignored by the argument.

What process occurs by which we become aware of God and form a concept of "God"? Without these being known, this is an argument from ignorance.

Theologians say God is unknowable[edit]

Many theologians have claimed that God is unknowable.[3] Therefore our concept of God is either undefined or mistaken. If God had attempted to establish the concept in our minds, he failed.

Proof by logic[edit]

Main Article: Proof by logic

This argument is an attempt to define God into existence, calling for explanations for things that either might be explained by natural processes or do not require any explanation at all.

Which God?[edit]

Main Article: Which God?

The argument supports no particular God or theology.

Variant: knowledge of infinity[edit]

In the physical world, we only experience finite phenomena. However, humans have knowledge of infinity. René Descartes argued that knowledge of infinity must have originated in an infinite entity.[4] Similar criticisms would apply to this idea though. Can we really conceive "infinity"? Does such a thing exist outside our imagination? Is this really the only way we could get such an idea, assuming it does exist? Etc.


  1. 1.0 1.1 René Descartes, Discourse on Method and Meditations on First Philosophy (Fourth Edition), tr. Donald A. Cress
  2. 2.0 2.1 [1]
  3. Brian Morley, Western Concepts of God [2]
  4. [3]

See also[edit]

v · d Arguments for the existence of god
Anthropic arguments   Anthropic principle · Natural-law argument
Arguments for belief   Pascal's Wager · Argument from faith · Just hit your knees
Christological arguments   Argument from scriptural miracles · Would someone die for a lie? · Liar, Lunatic or Lord
Cosmological arguments   Argument from aesthetic experience · Argument from contingency · Cosmological argument · Fine-tuning argument · Kalam · Leibniz cosmological argument · Principle of sufficient reason · Unmoved mover · Why is there something rather than nothing?
Majority arguments   Argument from admired religious scientists
Moral arguments   Argument from justice · Divine command theory
Ontological argument   Argument from degree · Argument from desire · Origin of the idea of God
Dogmatic arguments   Argument from divine sense · Argument from uniqueness
Teleological arguments   Argument from design · Banana argument · 747 Junkyard argument · Laminin argument · Argument from natural disasters
Testimonial arguments   Argument from observed miracles · Personal experience · Argument from consciousness · Emotional pleas · Efficacy of prayer
Transcendental arguments   God created numbers · Argument from the meaning of life
Scriptural arguments   Scriptural inerrancy · Scriptural scientific foreknowledge · Scriptural codes