I first experienced this doubt when I met two individuals at a place I was staying in Switzerland. It was a cold fall evening; most of our friends had gone out for a night on the town, but I had already been spending copious amounts of money and wanted a quiet night with not too much adventure.
Well, adventure found me, because the conversation I had with those two people lead me on almost a year long journey of doubt and discovery. Both of them struggled with this question of existence. How can we know we exist?
This doubt is not a new one. During my time in Switzerland, I learned about Buddhism, a religion that is centered on the belief that we don’t exist. They claim that by ridding ourselves of all desire it will alleviate suffering, and if we can come to the realization that we don’t exist, life will cease to exist. Nirvana is the goal; a transcendent state in which there is no suffering, desire, self, and it results in being released from Karma and reincarnation.
Over the last year, this question of my own existence started to eat away at me. I would find myself having surreal moments that felt as though I were this outsider, watching myself. I would see myself living and breathing, walking, talking, but it felt fake, somehow.
During the original conversation that started this whole thing, Descartes philosophical approach was brought up. Descartes was a Catholic philosopher who set out to prove his own existence. His argument was that the act of doubting proves the reality of thought, or a mind. “I think, therefore I am.”
This argument has never really sat right with me, and I could never really figure out why until recently.
At Millar, the Bible School I have been attending, we take a mod, a whole college course in one week. It’s fairly intense, especially since one of the mods I took was World Religions. Honestly, I left the classroom with a headache every day from all the information!
This leads me to the epiphany of why Descartes’ philosophical proposition didn’t sit right with me and the answer to the question that has plagued my mind for so long.
Descartes claimed to doubt everything, but the very phrase “I think, therefore I am” is laden with certainties. He is certain that he exists distinctly apart from other beings (“I think, therefore I am”). He is assuming the laws of logic exist and that they correspond to reality. He is taking uniformity for granted, that the logic he uses will be constant in time and not change by the time he expresses it. He is certain that he can know this, which begs the question. How can thinking prove existence? It only proves the existence of thought. But before all this is the important question… how can we know anything? Where does knowledge come from?
If you say that you know A, the reason you might give is B. But if you are asked to give a reason you know B, you will have to give C. This goes on to infinity, with the result being that you don’t actually know anything. Therefore, all thinking has to start somewhere and rests upon some measure of faith.
Something that my World Religions professor has helped me to see is that this works perfectly with my Christian worldview!
Christianity provides the conditions or presuppositions of rational inquiry… the foundation of knowledge. We would say that we can have knowledge because we have God, who created knowledge. Logic exists because God is logical. Knowledge exists because God is all knowing. Uniformity exists because God does not change, and has promised certain laws and principles won’t change.
Without God in the picture, we are left with nothing. No reason for logic, no reason for the laws of nature, no reason for existence, no reason for reason.
So how do we know we exist?
We can know by trusting the Bible which tells us that we are created in the image of God. Without God, we can not know anything.
Alright, there’s your philosophical thoughts for the day! If you are interested in learning from my professor John Feakes, he has a lot of great lectures online at this website… http://newlifesanctuarychurch.com/audio/lectures/