The problem with Descartes ‘Cogito ergo sum’

Is there a problem with Descartes ‘Cogito’ ? Didn’t Descartes elsewhere

  • argue for the existence of God ?
  • identify God as the ultimate point of reference ?
  • say that we conceive of God because God placed that awareness in us in the first place ?


So what’s the problem ? 

“I think, therefore I am”.

My existence is proved by my perception of existence; by my being a self aware being.  

If God exists, then we must be able to perceive it.  But, if we don’t perceive it,  does God still exist ? The idea God  notion becomes merely a contrivance of imagination. In today’s Materialistic, sensory based world, God has become a mere figment of imagination; a residual, primeval superstition. 

But, if God does exist, then

  • his actual, objective existence can hardly be predicated on mere perception, and
  • our existence cannot be based on our perception but on God’s existence

The superiority given to perception and reason lies at the heart of today’s misconception that human beings exist without God; that everything depends on human perception – not on an objective reality. 

Descartes lived in a world which assumed the existence of God, but today we live with the assumption that God does NOT exist. Instead, self or “I” is at the centre of everything. My perception matters, regardless of all other factors. This mentality lies at the heart of today’s obsession with individuality – a sense of individual importance which translates philosophically, politically and legally into the demand for Rights – a “Rights Fundamentalism” which trumps all other considerations, however legitimate or necessary those other considerations may be

By definition, however, God’s existence cannot be predicated on the perception of existence in the mind of his creatures. That denies the the concept of God. It denies the very meaning of the word, “GOD”. 

Now, if God does actually exist, his existence must necessarily be manifest.  By definition, an all present, all knowing and all powerful, God must be ever present and ever active – and it must show

Evidence of this inevitable manifestation includes the finely tuned balance and the extreme complexity of planet Earth.  It includes the existence of developed and higher life forms. It includes too the point Descartes himself repeats that our ability to conceive of God must itself derive from God. 

If all this evidence for God is actually evidence of God’s existence, then those who deny God’s existence are exalting their perception and their reason above the perception and reason of their Creator. They are denying the truth of their situation; they are denying their actual place in the scheme of things; they are denying the Rights of God over their lives. They necessarily warp their perception of reality and of how our world works; they therefore act on false assumptions which lead to inappropriate actions which in turn create problems, not solutions.

This can be illustrated with one critical example today which has serious consequences for our existence and for the survival of our planet. 

The Environment. 

If God is Creator, then this world, this universe must be God’s personal property – and that property includes human beings. We are therefore not the owners of this planet with the right to dispose of it as we please. Instead, we are mere stewards of this planet, responsible for that stewardship to the Owner. If we took that view and so took up that responsibility, we would treat this planet correctly.

But because we do not believe that we are God’s creatures and therefore stewards, we treat the planet totally irresponsibly ! The requirements and restraints imposed by God and by the realities of how God’s creation operates, do not really concern us. Believing ourselves the masters of this world – we do as we please, not as we should.

It is evident from the state of the planet today that we account only to our own human desires. We act as if we were god, as if planet Earth belongs to us. 

It is patently obvious that our greed is out of control and so we fail to consider our long term needs. We stand condemned as selfish and as morally inadequate stewards of God’s world.  Instead, we deceive ourselves by the presumption that we own the planet and so we mortgage our children’s future to pay for today’s excesses. We fail to recognise the need for restraint, for harmony, for sustainability. Instead we rape the planet, totally negligent as to consequences. Why ? Because we refuse to recognise we must answer to the Owner

We are locked into our selfcentred desires, in rebellion against the true owner, God.  We are locked into the deception that we are masters of our destiny – we foolishly deceive ourselves that man is god.  In reality, however,  we are mere creatures absorbed with ourselves and our wants

Therefore we fail to observe the essential moral injunctions issued by our Creator: we fail to show respect, patience, self discipline, and consideration for others – all of which would prevent our ecological suicide. Instead we obey our own self centred desires and values. The result is the devastation of our planet; the result is the persistent inhumanity of powerful human beings and nations towards the weak and vulnerable. 

The outcome of our rejection of our Maker is in evidence everywhere. The refusal to live by God’s standards and injunctions results in living just as we please, regardless of the consequences across every domain of life

By contrast, God our Maker is the ultimate morally responsible Being. That is evident in the harmony of Creation and in the caring provision God has made to sustain our lives. That provision is evident in the manifest design of the natural world. And God’s morality is communicated to us in our conscience – in our awareness of moral obligation.

We think it depends on how we think and perceive. Indeed it does ! But that depends on perceiving and behaving correctly – as stewards of God, responsible to God. Not by deluding ourselves that we are our own reference point !