A Look into Ourselves

[Editor's note: today we have an excerpt from a classic argument by John Locke, the seventeenth century philosopher, to shake things up a bit]

I think that it is beyond question, that man has a clear idea of his own being; he knows certainly he exists, and that he is something. He can doubt whether he be anything or no, I speak not to; no more than I would argue with pure nothing, or endeavor to convince nonentity that it were something. If one pretends to be so skeptical as to deny his own existence (for really to doubt of it is manifestly impossible,) let him for me enjoy his beloved happiness of being nothing, until hunger or some other pain convinces him of the contrary. This then I may take for a truth, beyond the liberty of doubting, that he is something that actually exists.

In the next place, man knows, by an intuitive certainty, that bare nothing can no more produce any real being, than it can be equal to two right angles. If, therefore, we know there is some real being, and that nonentity cannot produce any real being, it is an evident demonstration, that from eternity there has been something; since what was not from eternity had a beginning; and what had a beginning must be produced by something else.  This eternal source, then, of all being must also be the source and original of all power; and so this eternal Being must also be the most powerful. 

Again, a man finds in himself perception and knowledge. We have then got one step further; and we are certain now that there is not only some being, but some knowing, intelligent being in the world. Thus, from the consideration of ourselves, and what we infallibly find in our own constitutions, our reason leads us to the knowledge of this certain and evident truth, – That there is an eternal, most powerful, and most knowing Being; which whether any one will please call God, it matters not.

If, therefore, it be evident, that something necessarily must exist from eternity, it is also as evident, that that something must necessarily be a cogitative being: for it is as impossible that incogitative matter should produce a cogitative being, as that nothing, or the negation of all being, should produce a positive being or matter.

John Locke

This excerpt is slightly abridged, from Francis Collins, Belief: Readings on the Reasons for Faith (New York: HarperOne, 2011), 53-54, 57,

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