Proof of God from Mysticism

Here’s a fun argument for the existence of (something resembling) God from mysticism, inspired by something about Alexander R. Pruss I read on wikipedia (“Ontological Argument”).  Basically I’m using a lot of the logic from “maximally great being”-type ontological arguments from Planting et al. and turning them into a kind of empirical argument instead. I don’t think it really works as it stands but it’s an interesting start.

The gist of the argument: If someone experiences God, it is possible that God exists. The nature of God is such that if it is possible that God exists, then God exists. There is someone who experiences God. Therefore, it is possible that God exists. Therefore, God exists.

Full argument:

(1)` If someone has a perception of p, then it is the case that possibly p.
(2)` Some mystics have a perception of a maximally great being.
(3) Therefore, it is possible that a maximally great being exists.

(4)` No being can be greater than a maximally great being.
(5)` A being that possesses necessary existence is greater than a being that does not possess necessary existence.
(6)` It is possible for a being to possess necessary existence.
(7) Suppose q is a maximally great being that does not possess necessary existence.
(8) Suppose r possesses necessary existence.
(9) Therefore, r is greater than q.
(10) But according to step 4, r is not greater than q.
(11) Therefore, since the suppositions in steps 7 and 8 contradict each other, it is impossible for at least one of them to be true.
(12) The supposition in step 8 is possible purely on the grounds of the premise in step 6.
(13) Therefore, it is possible for the supposition on step 8 to be true.
(14) Therefore, it is impossible for the supposition on step 7 to be true.
(15) Therefore, it is impossible for a maximally great being not to possess necessary existence.
(16) Therefore, a maximally great being possesses necessary existence.

(17)` If s possesses necessary existence, and it is possible that s, then s.
(18) A maximally great being possesses necessary existence (step 16).
(19) It is possible that a maximally great being exists (step 3).
(20) Therefore, a maximally great being exists.


-Since I split the argument into three parts, the premises have been marked with a `.

-I came up with this argument just now, but most of it is probably ripped off of vague memories St. Anselm, Malcolm, and Plantinga’s ontological arguments. But this is not an ontological argument because one of its premises (step 2) is a contingent truth.

-“Mysticism” is a scary word, but all it means is “a person’s relationship with / experience of the Divine.” Anyone who claims who have a “personal relationship with Jesus Christ” is a “mystic” in at least a rudimentary sense. The fact that that word has exotic or “cultic” connotations nowadays is unfortunate but not essential to the meaning of the word itself.

-As far as I can see, this argument is valid, ie the conclusion proceeds inevitably from the premises (14-15 could probably be done more clearly). But I don’t know if it’s sound, ie I’m not sure if the premises are true. Particularly I see problems in steps 2 (how do you know mystics have a perception of a maximally great being?), 5 (why is necessary being greater than non-necessary being? That seems intuitively true to me, but can it be proven?), and 6 (maybe the concept of necessity itself is incoherent, therefore everything is contingent). And, of course, premise 1, but I don’t see how that can’t be true (you can’t perceive a square circle, for instance).

-The concept of a “maximally great being” is troublesome, but step 4 is analytically true. The burden is on step 2. But if step 2 can be shown to be true, then we don’t need to exhaustively define “greatness”- the possibility of a maximally great being is true by fiat, as it were (though we could question whether what the mystics mean by “maximally great being” is the same as what the philosophers mean).

-This does not prove the existence of the Christian God or any kind of religious God at all. That would require further proof (e.g. persons are greater than non-persons, therefore a maximally great being is a person- arguments along those lines). But it’s a start, and I’m willing to hedge my bets on it working pretty well in the final analysis as a proof for God.

-Even though this may not be (but I suspect it is) a perfectly sound proof, even of a maximally great being apart from religious concepts of God, the upshot for me is that it at opens up the possibility of making justifiable truth claims based on religious experience. Also the possibility of intellectual intuition, beings that are both empirical and intelligible, faith as a means to actual knowledge (“you will know the truth, and the truth will set you free”), etc. Religious knowledge in general is a fascinating topic for me- how can I say that I *know* God exists, through my experience of God without my knowledge being reducible to experience? I’d be a liar if I said I didn’t have that kind of knowledge. But I’ll be darned if I could tell you where it came from, except as a gift of faith from the Holy Spirit. It’s certainly not something I can use to coerce other people, verbally or otherwise, into belief. But it’s still there.

-Leaving pure philosophy behind, for “Pastor Jacob” the upshot is this: your “relationship with God” can actually lead you to objective truth (it can also lead you astray). So a person’s relationship with and experience of God (which is all that “mysticism” is) is not merely a private, subjective experience they can keep to themselves or compartmentalize into one corner of their life, or keep it separate from, say, the way they vote, or what they do on Friday nights. And one need not be afraid to find real truth in one’s “subjective” experiences of God (you shouldn’t be over-eager to do that, either).


One thought on “Proof of God from Mysticism

  1. Kathy McCready says:

    Now I can pray intelligently for you! We are missing you at Marquette Grad InterVarsity. May God richly bless this year of study for you. (BTW, I am still in Milwaukee for an undetermined amount of time).

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