The 17c. Russian theologian Mikola Mandelstahm offered the following strange proof for the existence of God. I myself do not find the reasoning valid or sound, however I cannot but feel that the argument is still compelling, weak as its form may be. The argument is given in Mandelstahm's rare manuscript entitled God's Thinking (Ðàçìûøëåíèå Áîãà is the Russian title, if your browser will display it). The book shows an awareness of the work of philosophers such as Rene Descartes and Baruch Spinoza, though Mandelstahm does not necessarily find their proofs of God's existence all that convincing. Even still, Mandelstahm's proof appears to be some version of the ontological argument also proferred by Spinoza. Mandelstahm's proof is, greatly reduced, this:
First, Mandelstahm asks us to propose our reason of doubt. "Why do you believe in God?", Mandelstahm puts the question to the reader. His proof of God, then, appears to be pragmatic in that it is aimed towards the satisfaction of some doubt. Or, it might be taken as a teleological argument insofar as Mandelstahm is assuming that the question "Does God exist?" is only a means to an end, the end being, as will be seen, the comfort of the soul. Mandelstahm assumes that the only important reason one would have for believing in God is to secure for themselves the comfort of their soul, i.e., Mandelstahm assumes that the only important aspect of God is the care he provides for our souls: ("God's care for our souls" is Mandelstahms phrase; in Russian it is "Áîã áåñïîêîèòñÿ î íàøåé äóøå"). This may be a difficult assumption for many readers, but if we remove the notion of God from a philosophical context, perhaps this psychological argument for belief is as compelling as Mandelstahm took it to be.
Second, Mandelstahm postulates that God does not exist. If God does not exist, writes Mandelstahm, then our soul is uncared for. However, if God does not exist then our soul does not deserve nor desire the care of God. For if there is no God, then our life on Earth is our only life, and if this is our only life and there is no real principle in the universe (earlier in the text Mandelstahm defines "objective principle in the universe" as one of the attributes, or features, of God), then we are licensed to do whatever we want in this world. In this case, life is easy and we desire no comfort, for we can take and give as we please. Mandelstahm, himself rich and connected to the Russian royalty, was probably not aware of some of the economic problems of his people, and this is definitely a point of contention that many Marxists offer against his argument.
Third, Mandelstahm states that if there is no God, we cannot want to prove the existence of God, and therefore there can be no use troubling ourselves with the proof of God's existence. We can only want to prove the existence of God as a comfort to our souls. If there is no God, our souls desire no comfort for we already have what we want. Therefore, there is no need for the proof of the existence of God. If there is a God, the alternative to there being no God, then that God is great and shall comfort our souls (Mandelstahm's arguments for this point are interesting, lengthy, and complex so I shall pass over them here).
In short, this is Mandelstahm's argument:
- 1. We can only desire God as a comfort to our souls.
- 2. If there is no God, we do not desire comfort to our souls.
- 2b. Therefore, we cannot desire a proof for God (by 1 and 2).
- 2c. Therefore, our souls are already comforted.
- 3. If there is a God, our souls are comforted.
- 4. Our souls are comforted (by 2c and 3).
- 5. Therefore, either God exists (by 3) or we do not care if God exists (by 1 and 4).
A corrolary argument given by Mandelstahm is essentially this: if there is no God and no reality principle directing the universe, then we have no souls. If we have no souls, we cannot desire God as a comfort for our souls. Therefore, we should not want to prove the existence of God. Yet, we do want to prove the existence of God. Therefore we must have souls. If we have souls, there must be a God, for without God, or a real principle and an objective feature in the universe, there can be no soul (or real feature of our experience of the world). Mandelstahm's argument here is complex, but essentially it relies on the assumption that our souls are real in the same sense that God is, and that God is necessary for the existence of that which is real. It has been argued that Mandelstahm begs the question by conflating the concepts of "reality" and "God".