John Locke’s Argument for the Existence of God.

John Locke

Locke’s critiques of Descartes’ ontological argument are included in “Deus: Des Cartes’s Proof of a God from the Idea of Necessary Existence Examined,” an unpublished work written after the Essay’s publication (1696). In the Essay, Locke presents his interpretation of the cosmological argument (4.10). Summarizing his objections to Descartes, then analyze and critique Locke’s argument. One significant critique against Locke’s argument is that he fails to establish God’s uniqueness or oneness. Locke offers much evidence for God’s oneness in his communication with van Limborch, which we shall explore. Locke claimed in the Essay that there are no inherent concepts. He argues in “Deus” that Descartes’ ontological argument, which starts with our inherent conception of God as the ideal Being, is a failure. Locke raises three primary objections to the reasoning. To begin, it is not true that everyone has a concept of an ideal God. That is to say, and there is no inherent concept of God. Second, even if one has an idealized image of God, this does not imply that such an entity exists in reality. Finally, the concept of essential existence raises the following question: Locke argues that Descartes’ reasoning does not adequately address the materialist atheist. Locke believes that no one can deny that anything has been for all eternity. Rather than that, the primary point of contention between atheists and theists is the nature of the everlasting initial cause. According to Locke, an atheist believes that the ultimate source of the world and its order is “senseless matter,” while a theist believes it is “an immaterial, eternal knowing spirit.” In Essay 4.10, Locke makes similar assertions. He thinks that Descartes’ argument for God’s existence fails because his assertion that the first Being must have necessary existence is one that both theists and atheists assert in support of their contradictory theses. Therefore, he writes: The issue is which of these two is the eternal Being that has always been. Now, asserting that whoever uses the concept of necessary existence to prove the existence of God, i.e., an immaterial, eternal knowing spirit, will have no more to say for it than an Atheist has for his eternal, all-doing, senseless Matter; for whatever is eternal must inevitably include the concept of necessary existence. Hence, who has a chance to demonstrate it by adding the concept of essential existence to his concept of the first Being?

The reality is that what should be proven, namely existence, is assumed, so the issue is just presented on both sides. (314-15) (“Deus”), Locke argues here that adding essential existence in our complicated concept of God does not benefit the theist over the materialist atheist. For the atheist may assert that his elaborate concept of everlasting Matter encompasses the concept of essential existence, Locke then argues that our conceptions of things cannot be used to infer actual reality. He writes: “However, any concept, simple or complicated, just by being in our brains, does not imply the actual reality of anything outside our minds that responds to that thought.” Actual existence can be established only via real existence; therefore, the real existence of God can be established only through the real existence of other things. (315; “Deus”). Locke says that we cannot establish the reality of something just by having a notion of it. We can only demonstrate that something exists by establishing a causal connection between it and other things that exist. We can only learn about the causes of things by studying their existence and characteristics. Locke believes that we may learn about objects external to us via our senses but that this knowledge is merely probabilistic. Thus, any design argument that begins with our knowledge of the exterior world and concludes with an intelligent Creator would be purely probabilistic. To establish God’s existence, we must begin with intuitively and unambiguously understood premises. According to Locke, knowledge of one’s existence is possible via “a flawless inward vision.” Awareness of God’s existence starts with a certain knowledge of oneself as a knowing perceptive being and ends with the need that the source of our being be equally knowing and perceptive.


At 4.10.2-6 of the Essay, Locke presents his cosmological argument. The following summarises the argument. Locke starts with the intuitively self-evident assertion that every man is aware of his existence. Locke deduces from this that some genuine entity exists. He then asserts that every individual is aware that he came into being at some point and that everything with a beginning must have a reason. According to Locke, if there were no initial cause of creation, there would be nothing in existence at the moment. Thus, something must have existed from the beginning of time. Whichever everlasting initial cause, it must be the cause of all other existents and their characteristics. Given that vision and knowledge are inherent in humans, we may deduce that the eternal initial cause must be a very strong, perceptive, and knowing entity.

Locke’s thesis has received much criticism, both from Locke’s contemporaries and by philosopher historians. (For discussing some of these objections, see Leibniz 1996, 435-6; Bennett 2005, 162. Ayers 1991, 182 and Wolterstorf 1994, 189 provide further modern critiques of Locke’s evidence.) Locke has been accused of making several errors in his argument. The most serious of these are two logical errors: (1) the fallacious transition from asserting that something has existed for all eternity to asserting that one thing has existed for all eternity; and (2) the fallacious transition from asserting that one thing has existed for all eternity to asserting that one thing is the cause of everything that has existed for all eternity.

Locke’s seeming fallacies may be addressed in part by recognizing that he is not concerned with a person but with a category of Being. That is, Locke is attempting to demonstrate that all people must have a cause – one that is “cogitative” rather than “in-cogitative.” Bear in mind that Locke is arguing against an atheistic materialist. He believes that the question is not whether something has always been, but rather what kind of entity – in- cogitative Matter or cogitative Being – has existed for all eternity. According to Locke, if a cogitative entity has a beginning, it must also have a cause. To prevent an endless regress of causes, we must eventually resort to something without a cause. Therefore, this leads us to conclude that there has always been some cognizant entity in existence. One issue is that Locke never explains why an endless chain of cognizant creatures could not have existed from eternity. Another issue is that even if Locke argues for the existence of a certain kind of eternal Being, we are still left with the issue of many individuals of this type being the “first” cause. In this scenario, Locke would be unable to establish the Judeo-Christian God’s existence. In the Essay, Locke starts his argument of God’s unity by claiming that no finite individual being is strong enough to be the first cause. Thus, whatever is the first eternal Being must necessarily be cogitative, and whatever is the first of all Things must necessarily contain and possess, at the very least, all the Perfections that can ever exist; nor can it ever impart to another any perfection that it does not possess. Alternatively, at the very least, to a greater degree, logically, the first everlasting Being cannot be Matter. (4) 10.10.10) He then argues that there cannot be an “infinite number of everlasting finite cogitative creatures, autonomous from one another, with limited power and separate ideas,” since they would be unable of producing the “order, harmony, and beauty seen in Nature” (4.10.10). Philippus van Limborch wrote to Locke in 169 7 seeking reasons demonstrating God’s uniqueness. Limborch submitted the request on behalf of Johannes Hudde. Hudde was a Cartesian, although Locke was unaware of Hudde’s position until after he had submitted his arguments to Limborch. Locke bases his arguments for God’s unity on God’s perfections. Locke begins by defining God as an “infinite eternal incorporeal being perfectly perfect,” and argues that “a perfectly perfect being cannot desire any of the attributes, perfections, or degrees of perfection that it is preferable to have over being without, for he would then desire an infinite amount of being perfectly perfect” (Corr., 2395, English Draft Appendix II).

Locke makes three reasons for God’s oneness based on one of God’s perfections or characteristics: omnipotence, omniscience, and omnipresence. Beginning, with Locke’s omnipotence argument, according to Locke, “having power is an even more perfect state than having none; having more power is an even more perfect state than having less power; and having all power (which is to be omnipotent) is an even more perfect state than not having power” (Corr., 2395, English Draft Appendix II). However, two omnipotent beings are incompatible. Because it must be assumed that one must will what the other wills, he – of the two whose will is inevitably decided by the other’s will – is not free; and therefore he desires that perfection; it being preferable to be free than to be determined by another’s will. If they are not both compelled to desire the same thing at all times, then one may will the doing of anything that the other may not be done, and then the one’s will must triumph over the other’s, and then he of the two whose power is not unlimited. If they are not both compelled to desire the same thing at all times, one may want the doing of anything that the other may wish should not be done, and then the one’s will must triumph over the other’s, and he of the two whose might is incapable of seconding his will is not omnipotent. If he cannot do as much as the other, then one of them is not omnipotent, and therefore there cannot be two omnipotent, and thus no two gods. (Corr., 2395, Appendix II to the English Draft)

The following reductio ad absurdum may be used to express Locke’s argument.


(1) Assume the existence of two almighty gods.
(2) Then each God always ‘wills’ under the will of the other, or each God does not always will by the will of the other.
(3) If one God constantly wills following the will of the other, then the God whose will is dictated by the other is not free to will as he wishes.
(4) A deity who cannot will as he pleases lacks the capacity for freedom and therefore is not almighty.
(5) If one God does not always act by the will of the other, one God may act contrary to the will of the other.
(6) If a god cannot carry out his will (since he cannot prevent the other God from carrying out his will), he is not omnipotent.
(7) Whether each God always wills following the will of the other God or whether each God does not always will by the will of the other God, one God is not omnipotent.
(8) As a result, the existence of two almighty gods is ruled out.
(9) God is, by definition, omnipotent (as per the definition of “God”).
(10) As a result, two gods are impossible.

The second argument that Locke makes is based on God’s omniscience. He contends that if two or more different individuals with unique will exist, one of them will have the flaw of being unable to hide her thoughts from the other. If one of the creatures can conceal her thoughts, the other cannot be omniscient since she cannot know what the first thinks or knows as much as the first.

Finally, Locke makes many arguments in support of omnipresence. He believes that it is preferable – a higher perfection – to be everywhere rather than excluded from some areas. If a person is “banned” from specific locations, he or she cannot function in those locations or learn about what occurs there (Corr., 239 5, English Draft in Appendix II). Thus, being omnipresent does not imply being omnipotent or omniscient. Locke’s argument is predicated on his view of God as both immaterial and extended. To possess the perfections of omnipotence and omniscience, God must possess the ability to act everywhere and know everything. However, since Locke thinks that power and knowledge are inherent in anything actual to be exhibited, he argues that God must be physically present in every location.


Locke then advances an argument for the impossibility of two omnipresent gods based on what seems to be the Identity of Indiscernible (for every pair of people x and y, for any attribute P, if x has P and y has P, then x Equals y). Therefore, to avoid the arguments above, it is asserted that these two (or two hundred thousand) gods (for the same reason that there can be two, there can be two million, for there can be no reason to limit their number) all possess precisely the same power, knowledge, and will, and exist equally in the same individual place, this is only to multiply sounds, but in reality to multiply. Supposing two sentient creatures that continuously know, will, and act the same way and do not have a distinct existence amounts to supposing a plurality in language but creating just one in actuality. For to be inseparably linked in thought, volition, action, and location is to be as united to oneself as any intelligent creature can be. … to believe that there may be two entities in such a union is to believe in a division without a division and a thing split from itself. (Corr., 2 3 9 5, Appendix II English Draft) Here. Locke’s thesis is that two identical creatures with identical characteristics cannot exist in the same location since there would be no difference to distinguish them as distinct entities. Locke returns to the argument concerning God’s omnipresence after demonstrating
that a creature of the same type with the same characteristics cannot be colocated with God. If God is omnipresent, then no other creature of the same type can exist wherever God exists since two beings of the same kind would be mutually exclusive. Thus, Locke demonstrates that not only is it impossible for two gods to share all of their qualities and abilities but also that two gods of the same type cannot share just part of their attributes.

Limborch and Le Clerc examined Locke’s arguments and wrote to Locke requesting that he make specific changes to avoid offending Hudde’s Cartesian beliefs on God’s omnipresence. Locke decided to exclude the argument based on God’s omnipresence because, as he was informed, the Cartesians believed that God is where He acts – that is, He is everywhere in the sense that He may act anywhere; He is practically present in every place but is not physically present in space. As previously stated, Locke, like Newton, believed that God was substantially present everywhere (one might compare Locke’s discussion of God in Essay 2.13 to Newton’s discussion of God in Queries 2 8 and 31 of the 1718 edition of the Op ticks and the debate that ensued in the Leibniz-Clark correspondence over the definition of Newton’s term “sensorium.”) If God were not present everywhere, He would be unable to act and know everything. Locke says in his response to Limborch, “If the Cartesians are to be interpreted about Spirit, that it is Thought [ Cogitatio] and not a thinking substance, then they undoubtedly affirm God in words [ and] annul Him. For thought is an activity that does not exist in and of itself but is the result of another substance’s action ” (Corr., 2413).



Categories: Behold The Man, christianity, english

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