Depth of Being and Tillich's Implied Ontological Argument


Realization of God and The Depth of Being

My approach now days is not to prove the existence of God, and to be continent with merely a rational warrant for belief, but go around the problem of proof and demonstrate a way that the inquirer after truth can become a believer by tapping into our place in being as humans. If we learn how to make the link between God and being we can realize that God is being itself and our place in being is as contingent creatures of God. Making this realization will be true heart felt belief. To get we have to clear away the clutter and part of that clutter is created by materialism, reductionism, scinentism and atheism. Clearing all of this away is a matter of understanding the nature of Being. Those aforementioned minions of doubt view being as surface only, it's just empirical and it's just a matter of the surface fact of existence. This is why the atheists clamour for empircal proof and harp on their mantra "there's not a shred of proof for
God." Of course when you tell them you have to look at things in a deeper way, no no I'm only interested in the surface if you can't give that then forget it. that's just the atheist template. the ideology of atheism gives them a template to hold up to the world that screens out depth.

Tillich says that if We know being has depth we can't be atheists:

"The name of infinite and inexhaustible depth and ground of our being is God. That depth is what the word God means. And if that word has not much meaning for you, translate it, and speak of the depths of your life, of the source of your being, of your ultimate concern, of what you take seriously without any reservation. Perhaps, in order to do so, you must forget everything traditional that you have learned about God, perhaps even that word itself. For if you know that God means depth, you know much about Him. You cannot then call yourself an atheist or unbeliever. For you cannot think or say: Life has no depth! Life itself is shallow. Being itself is surface only. If you could say this in complete seriousness, you would be an atheist; but otherwise you are not."

--Paul Tillich, The Shaking of The Foundations

What this means this depth of being is that there's more to being than just the fact of things existing. Part of that is modes of existing, such as necessity and contingent, part of it is the existential dimension and the phenomenological dimension. One such aspect is transcendent truth. IF we could know there is a transcendent truth we could know there's depth tha would give us a handle on the kind of depth that is a clue toward realization of the divine. Tillich did not make a formal argument stating "here is my ontological argument." Many see implicit in Tillich's work a new approach to the ontological.

Tillich’s implied OA

What follows are examples of my own attempts and the attempts of others at making God arguments based upon Tillich’s ideas and implicit arguments. The first one is based upon Duane Olson’s idea of Tilich’s implied ontological argument. The second and third arguments are based upon my own first understanding of what Tillich was saying about God and being itself. This is the crude understanding I had leavening seminary. These are supposed to examples of “talking points” not “proofs” of God’s existence. They are demonstrations of aspects of the depth of being, indications that being has depth. We can use this concept, indications that being has depth, as the orientation for God arguments, rather than “proofs” of “God’s existence.” Tillich never put these ideas together in this way to call them “arguments” but these are ideas I take from Tillich, although without being put over as “arguments.” In fact here they are not so much arguments as “points of embarkation” to move into the realization process. That is the process that leads to “realizing God.”

Several authors have tired to demonstrate that Tillich’s understanding implies a ready made ontological argument:

Paul Tillich’s name is not ordinarily included in a list of thinkers who have made a significant contribution to the ontological argument. Those who find affinity with Tillich’s thought have tended to overlook what he says about the arguments for God’s existence, influenced perhaps by Tillich’s sometime statements about the improper nature of such arguments.[i] Those who work with the arguments for God’s existence have tended to avoid Tillich’s ideas, perhaps for the same reason, or perhaps because his critique of the “existence of God” seems to belie a connection with arguments attempting to prove God’s existence. Despite this overlooking, I contend that Tillich made a significant contribution to the ontological argument and that it is important to examine this contribution for several reasons. 1) Tillich sought to reconceive the argument from its traditional interpretation in which the argument is understood as attempting to prove the existence of a theistic deity on the basis of an idea of this deity. [ii]

In addition to Olson’s version there Is also John M. Russell at Methodist Theological School in Ohio.[iii] I am only able to obtain the Olson article so that’s the one I’ll deal with. Olson argues that Tillich works with the classical correspondence theory of epistemology. Truth is correspondence between subject and object. “The focus of Tillich’s main argument is not on concrete judgments, or any truths in any field of knowledge, but on the fact that the subject has the capacity to make judgments about reality. This capacity involves applying a correspondence-norm, or a norm of truth, to a concrete subject-object interaction.”[iv]

The indubitability of the norm of truth is shown by a reductio argument regarding the process of knowing. In different places and in different ways Tillich points out that denial and doubt in knowing presuppose the norm of truth.[xvii] I want to systematize Tillich’s reductio argument at this point to show that all major theoretical postures presuppose this norm.

We can imagine four major postures taken by a subject to any theoretical judgment. One could affirm the judgment, claiming it corresponds with reality; one could deny the judgment, claiming it does not correspond; one could doubt, question, and debate the judgment; or one could claim a decision cannot be made about the judgment. All of the options presuppose the subject’s ability to apply a correspondence-norm, or norm of truth. Certainly one must apply a norm to affirm a judgment. One must also apply a norm, however, to deny a judgment. Any negative judgment presupposes and lives from the positive bearing of a norm of truth by the subject. One cannot deny that a judgment corresponds to reality without presupposing the subject’s ability to make judgments about reality. Doubting, questioning, or debating a judgment presuppose a norm of truth as well. One could not debate the veracity of a judgment without presupposing the capacity in the debaters to determine that veracity. Doubting or questioning a judgment is only meaningful under the presupposition of a norm that gives validity to that questioning and doubting. Finally, the claim that one cannot know whether a judgment is true presupposes the bearing of a norm to determine how or why a decision cannot be made.

It is important to note that the argument for a correspondence-norm, or norm of truth, is on a different level than arguments about the specific nature of the correspondence between subject and object. The correspondence itself may be conceived in terms of naïve realism, idealism, or a multitude of positions in between. Every theory about the nature of the correspondence, however, relies on the presupposition of a correspondence-norm that would make it possible to formulate, and affirm, deny, debate, or declare uncertain that theory. Put differently, the theory of the specific nature of the correspondence between subject and object is another field of knowledge that is subject to the ultimate criterion of knowledge, which is what is disclosed in the idea of a correspondence-norm.

To claim that the capacity to apply a norm is indubitable is the same thing as saying the subject bears an indubitable awareness of truth. In other words, when one analyzes the major postures toward judgments and shows how a norm of truth is presupposed as something borne by the subject in every posture, one is pointing out an awareness of truth the subject has, though it is something the subject may overlook, especially in doubting or denying particular truths. Through the reductio argument, one focuses attention on the fact that the subject bears a norm of truth, thus raising it to conscious awareness. I speak more below about the character of this awareness, but for now I simply affirm something Tillich presupposes, which is the identity between the affirmation that the subject bears a norm of truth and the subject’s awareness of this norm.[v]

The awareness of the norm of truth is the awareness of something transcendent and unconditioned, beyond the dichotomy of subject/object. This transcendent unconditioned is beyond both subjectivity and objectivity. But subject and object participate in the unconditioned, and it is a transcendent unity that makes possible all concrete affirmation, denial, down and uncertainty in the process of knowing. It is being itself appearing in the theoretical function as that which transcends subject and object. The norm of truth is not limited to subjectivity because it is used to judge the correspondence with objects. Since the subject bears it, it is not merely objective. It is not an object at all in the sense of being anything with which the subject can have a synthesis.

The subject cannot condition the norm of truth, but is conditioned by it. The subject can deny or debate or doubt any particular truth but cannot deny either her own capacity to apply a norm of truth itself. Nor can the subject down the concept of truth. The certainty about the norm of truth is different from any other contents of knowledge. The norm is grounded in necessary truth. One could not challenge the concept of truth except in terms of the untruth of truth, which implies a truth; the notion of truth, to be meaningful, but also contain the assumption that it’s opposite is untrue, and vice versa.[vi]

As supplementary arguments Tillich asserts that the quest to know drives the seeker on toward an end goal of total knowing. The unconditioned nature of the norm of truth is implicit in all knowing and in the desire to know.

Let’s try to summarize what this argument is really saying by isolating and enumerating it’s most basic and necessary points. This is not an attempt at a formal presentation of logic, but merely a way of summarizing, a thumbnail sketch.

Remember from chapter 4 that Tillich identified God with truth based upon God’s eternally necessary nature and the eternal and transcendent nature of the Platonic forms and God’s self revelation in Exodus 3:

(1) Tillich understand’s God to be the unconditioned, eternal, transcendent, ground of all being;

(2) Truth is an unconditioned norm based upon the correspondence theory; truth is correspondence between subject and object.

(3) The norm of truth is self verifying sense; truth as a concept cannot be untrue unless the concept of truth is affirmed in contrast to the possibility of untruth. Any particular truth can be doubted but not the concept of truth itself.

(4) Due to this unconditioned, necessary, and indubitable nature the norm of truth is understood to be transcendent of subject and object, and transcendent of any particulars of nature.

(5) The transcendent unconditioned is equated with God in Tilich’s understanding of being itself (from 1); the existence of such a norm is demonstrated in the nature of the norm of truth.

(6) Therefore, we have a rational warrant for understanding the ground of being as synonymous with Tillich’s understanding of “the divine.”

Tillich basically makes the argument himself, in Theology of Culture where he talks about God construed as truth (see chapter 4, Augustine on Being itself). Then he says:

Augustine, after he had experienced all the implications of ancient skepticism, gave a classical answer to the problem of the two absolutes: they coincide in the nature of truth. Veritas is presupposed in ever philosophical argument; and veritas is God. You cannot deny truth as such because you could do it only in the name of truth, thus establishing truth. And if you establish truth you affirm God. “Where I have found the truth there I have found my God, the truth itself,” Augustine says. The question of the two Ultimates is solved in such a way that the religious Ultimate is presupposed in every philosophical question, including the question of God. God is the presupposition of the question of God. This is the ontological solution of the problem of the philosophy of religion. God can never be reached if he is the object of a question and not its basis.[vii]

This is the part not quoted in previous chapter:

The Truth which is presupposed in every question and in every doubt precedes the cleavage into subject and object. Neither of them Is an ultimate power, but they participate in the ultimate power above them, in Being itself, in primum esse. “Being is what first appears in the intellect…” this being (which is not a being) is pure actuality and therefore Divine. We always see it but we do not always notice it; as we see everything in the light without always noticing the light as such.

According to Augustine and his followers the verum ipsum is also the bonum ipsum because nothing which is less than the ultimate power of being can be the ultimate power of good.[viii]

Tillich never calls this “my ontological argument.” He may or may not hint that it is somewhere but I have not see that. He does not, to my knowledge, put this over as a version of the OA. Yet I feel that it is and it’s essentially what Olson is talking about.

[ii] Duane Olson, “Pual Tiillich and the Ontological Argument,” Quodlibet Journal vol. 6, no 3, July-sep 2004, online journal, URL: visited 8/4/10

Olson has two foot notes in this quotation which are important to examine:

1) “In one of the more significant recent monographs on Tillich’s thought, Langdon Gilkey flatly states “[Tillich] denied that an argument for the transcendent power and ground of being was possible” (Gilkey on Tillich (Wipf and Stock Publishers, 2000), 105). Gilkey never discusses Tillich’s use of the traditional arguments.” (2) “In his detailed and extensive volume on the ontological argument, Graham Oppy mentions Tillich’s name only once in the literature review, and he never analyzes any of Tillich’s statements (Ontological Arguments and Belief in God (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1995), 275). To Oppy’s credit, he discusses a type of argument to which Tillich’s is related. I comment on Oppy’s analysis of this argument in the final section of this paper.”

[iii] John M. Russell, “Tillich’s Implicit Ontological Argument” Sophia, Netherlands: Springer. Vol.2 No. July 1993, 1-16. Online: URL

visited 8/4/10

[iv] Olson, Ibid.

[v] Ibid.

[vi] Ibid, Olsen foot notes two sources at this point, in thinking of the indubitable nature of the norm. He sites Tillich’s Theology of Culture, 23, and the same source page 13, for the latter: This explains Tillich’s somewhat obscure statements that “God is the presupposition of the question of God,” and “God can never be reached if he is the object of a question and not its basis (Theology of Culture, 13).”

[vii] Paul Tillich, Theology of Culture, 12-13

[viii] Paul Tillich, Theology of Culture, op cit, 14


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