THE EXISTENCE OF GOD NOTE PAGES. The fundamental question is: Does God exist? Whatever answer we give will affect the way we live and behave in the world we find ourselves born into. The answer we give will also affect how as we grow and develop and are educated, we interpret the world and what we may expect from the future. Believing God exists means that life has a purpose, and that there is a hope for eternal life. Believing God does not exist means that human beings must create a purpose for life themselves, and that death is probably final. Philosophical attention when studying religion has its starting point in the general doctrine about the nature of God known as Theism: the view that one God exists and is omnipotent (all powerful), omniscient (all knowing) and benevolent (all good). Christians, Jews, and Muslims hold this view of God. While the focus here will be on the Christian view, most of the philosophical arguments for the existence of God will apply to other Theistic religions.
THE TELEOLOGICAL ARGUMENT. Those who argue the existence of God from design claim that the complexity and efficiency of natural objects such as the eye are evidence that they must have been designed by a creator God. Just as when we look at a watch we can tell that it was designed by a watchmaker. The eye was designed by a Divine Watchmaker. All natural things are God’s trademark. This is an argument from an effect to a cause: we look at the eye, the effect and from examination of it we try to tell what caused it. This argument based on a similarity between two things: the eye and the watch, is known as an argument from analogy. Such an argument relies on the principle that if two things are similar in some respects they will likely be similar in others. The Design Argument tells us that everywhere we look in the natural world, at trees, at cliffs, animals, stars we find confirmation of God’s existence, and because all these things are more ingeniously constructed than a watch, the Divine Watchmaker must have been more intelligent than the human one, and much more powerful. Psalm 19:1: God’s glory is on tour in the skies, God-craft on exhibition across the horizon, Madam Day holds classes every morning, Professor Night lectures each evening.
CRITICISM OF THE DESIGN ARGUMENT. There are three main arguments against the Teleological Argument for the existence of God. Weakness of Analogy: The argument relies on a weak analogy when it takes for granted that there is a significant resemblance between natural objects and objects which we know have been designed. The human eye is not like a watch in any important respect. Arguments from analogy depend upon there being a strong similarity between the two things being compared. Weak similarity then correspondingly, the conclusions are weak. A wrist watch and a pocket watch are strongly similar - enough to conclude that they were designed by a watchmaker. A watch and a human eye are vaguely similar. Evolution: A Divine Watchmaker is not the only explanation of how animals and plants are so well adapted to their functions. Darwin’s Theory of Evolution is a widely accepted explanation. The Theory of Evolution does not disprove God’s existence, and there are Christians who have accepted his findings believing that God created the mechanism of evolution itself. The Theory does weaken the Teleological Argument since it explains the same effects without any mention of God being their cause. Limitations of the Conclusion: This criticism states that the Design Argument fails to support monotheism. Why shouldn’t the world and all of its nature have been created by a group of gods working together, just as men work together to build complex human constructions. Nor does it support the view that the designer was all powerful. The earth has a number of design faults. The question of whether the designer is all knowing and all good arises because of the question of evil in the world which an all powerful, all knowing and benevolent God would be able to prevent.
THE COSMOLOGICAL ARGUMENT. The Teleological Argument is based on direct observation of the world and is what philosophers call an empirical argument. In contrast the Cosmological Argument also known as The First Cause Argument relies only on the empirical fact that the universe exists and not on any particular facts about what the universe is like. The Cosmological Argument states that absolutely everything has been caused by something else to it: nothing has just sprung into existence without a cause. The Universe exists therefore a whole series of causes and effects led to its being as it is. Follow this series back and there will be an original cause: the first cause. This first cause according to the Cosmological Argument is God. Job 38: 1-11. And now finally, God answered Job from the eye of a violent storm. He said: Why do you confuse the issue? Why do you talk without knowing what you are talking about? Pull yourself together Job! Up on your feet! Stand tall! I have some questions for you and I want straight answers. Where were you when I created the earth? Tell me since you know so much! Who decided on its size? Certainly you’ll know that! Who came up with the blueprints and measurements? How was the foundation poured, and who set the cornerstone, while the morning stars sang in
3 chorus and all the angels shouted praise? And who took charge of the ocean when it gushed forth like a baby from the womb? That was me! I wrapped it in soft clouds and tucked it in safely at night. Then I made a playpen for it, a strong playpen so it couldn’t run loose, and said: ‘Stay here, this is your place. Your wild tantrums are confined to this place.’
CRITICISM OF THE COSMOLOGICAL ARGUMENT. There are a number of Criticisms of the Cosmological Argument: 1 Self-contradictory: The First Cause Argument assumes that every single thing was caused by something else, but then proceeds to contradict this by saying that God was the very first cause. It argues both that there can be no uncaused cause, and that there is one uncaused cause: God. And what caused God? Someone convinced by the Cosmological Argument might say that they did not mean that everything had a cause, only that everything except God had a cause. If the series of effects and causes is going to stop somewhere, why must it stop at God? Why not earlier with the appearance of the Universe? 2 Not Proven: The Cosmological Argument assumes that effects and causes could not go back for ever in an infinite regress: a never-ending series going back in time. It assumes that there was a first cause that gave rise to all other things. If a similar argument was used regarding the future it would suppose that there would be some final effect one which would not be the cause of anything after it. It seems plausible to think of causes and effects going on into the future to infinity, but if it is possible to have an infinite series at all why shouldn’t the effects and causes extend backwards into the past to infinity? 3 Limitations on the Conclusion. There are serious limitations on what can be concluded from the argument (a) the first cause was extremely powerful to set in motion the series of causes and effects which brought the universe into being giving justification for claiming that the argument shows the existence of a very powerful if not an all-powerful God. But nowhere in the argument is evidence for an omniscient, and benevolent God. Neither of these attributes would be needed by a first cause.
THE ONTOLOGICAL ARGUMENT. Ontology is that branch of metaphysics that deals with the nature of being. Derived from the Greek: ont = being + logy. The Teleological Argument depends upon evidence about the nature of the world and the objects and organisms in it. The Cosmological Argument requires less evidence, and is based on the observation that something rather than nothing exists. The Ontological Argument however depends upon showing that the existence of God necessarily follows from the definition of God as the supreme being. Because this conclusion can be drawn prior to experience, it is known as an a priori argument.
4 God is defined as the most perfect being imaginable and one of the aspects of this perfection is existence. A perfect being would not be perfect if it did not exist and consequently from the definition of God it follows that God necessarily exists. It is important to distinguish between logical necessity and factual necessity. If “God exists” is a logical necessity (an analytic statement) then “God does not exist” would be self-contradictory. If “God exists” is a factual necessity, it implies that it is impossible for things to be as they are if God did not exist, and therefore that it is actually not possible for there to be no God. The Ontological Argument is about logical necessity. The question remains whether its unique definition of God means that his existence is also a factual necessity.
CRITICISM OF THE ONTOLOGICAL ARGUMENT. Absurd Consequences: A common criticism is that the Ontological Argument allows us to define all sorts of things into existence. Anselem’s fellow monk Gaunilo used the example of the perfect island saying that if Anselem’s argument were true then the perfect island would also have to exist. So because the ontological argument seems to justify such a ridiculous conclusion, it is a bad argument. Anselem replied: that because an island is a limited thing one can always imagine better and better islands, but ‘that than which a greater cannot be conceived’ is unique. If it could be thought of as nonexistent, it could also be thought of as having a beginning and an end, but then it would not be the greatest that can be thought. Existence is not a Property: This criticism comes from Immanuel Kant. His argument can be set out like this. Kant divided all statements into two categories – analytic and synthetic. Analytic statements are true by definition. Synthetic statements can only be proved true or false with reference to experience. Statements about existence are synthetic, definitions are analytic, therefore the angles and sides of a triangle are necessary because they are part of the definition of a triangle, but it says nothing about the actual existence of a triangle. If you describe something completely one adds nothing to that description by saying ‘and it has existence’. Existence is not an extra property or quality – it is just a way of saying that there is the thing itself with all the qualities already given. It has been pointed out that there is a difference between ‘existence’ and ‘necessary existence’ Norman Malcolm states that the necessity of a triangle having three angles is a logical necessity; but it is not factually necessary for there to be a triangle at all. Even if existence is not a necessary property of God, ‘necessary existence’ logically is, because God cannot be something that just happens to either exist or not. God’s existence is necessary. Evil: The Problem of Evil will be dealt with separately. But let us return to Anselem. by way of Plato.
FROM PLATO TO ANSELM. Plato was concerned with the nature of ultimate reality and with the possibility of gaining universal knowledge which for him was knowledge that was certain for all people, in all places, and at all times. In The Republic Plato uses the allegory of a cave in which a group of prisoners are chained facing the back wall. Behind them is a fire, and a walkway along which walk men and animals the shadows of which the fire casts on the wall. The prisoners take these shadows for reality since they have known nothing else. One prisoner is released and turns round and sees first the objects casting the shadows and then the fire. He is then taken to the mouth of the cave and at first is blinded by the sunlight. He now sees reality itself, and recognizes that which he had seen on the wall were merely shadows. We like the shadows in the cave are but imperfect copies of the chief Form which is the Form of Good. We know trees because they share in the qualities of the Form of the Tree. 1Corinthians 13:12: We don’t see things clearly. We’re squinting in a fog, peering through a mist. But it won’t be long until the weather clears and the sun shines bright. We’ll see it all then, we’ll see it all as clearly as God sees us, knowing him directly as he knows us! So how does this affect Anselm’s Argument: In Chapter 4 of Proslogion he underlines the fact that the existence of God is not like the existence of other things. God is a unique and necessary concept. The word ‘God’ may be dismissed but the reality which that word signifies cannot be denied. God is not a limited object and does not exist in the way that other objects exist. Anselm’s idea of God springs from his awareness of degrees of goodness in the world. Anselm’s God has simplicity – three indistinguishable parts within the Form which he knows as Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, un-generated and indestructible, immutable, timeless having an independent existence, and with no spatial location.
THE ARGUMENT FROM MIRACLES. A miracle is some kind of divine intervention in the normal course of events which involves breaking an established law of nature. Religions claim that God has performed miracles and that reports of these miracles should be treated as confirmation that God exists. Luke 24: 1-8: At the crack of dawn on Sunday the women came to the tomb carrying the burial spices they had prepared. They found the entrance stone rolled back from the tomb so they walked in. But once inside they couldn’t find the body of the Master Jesus. They were puzzled wondering what to make of this then out of nowhere it seemed, two men, light cascading over them, stood there. The women were awestruck and bowed down in worship. The men said: ‘Why are you looking for the Living One in a cemetary? He is not here but raised up. Remember how he told you when you were still back in Galilee that he had to be handed over to sinners, be killed on a cross and in three days rise up?’ Then they remembered Jesus’ words. John 20: 24-25: But Thomas, sometimes called the twin, one of the twelve was not with them when Jesus came. The other disciples told him: ‘We saw the master.’ But he said:
6 ‘Unless I see the nail holes in his hands, put my finger in the nail holes, and stick my hand in his side, I won’t believe.’ However, there is an argument against basing a belief in God on reported miracles.
CRITICISM OF THE ARGUMENT FROM MIRACLES. David Hume, whose definition of a miracle we used seems to contradict his views on scepticism when it comes to considering miracles. He was critical of inductive reasoning which is the attempt to draw inferences from examples to establish general laws when it comes to establishing what counts as true knowledge. Take for example a turkey, who every morning is greeted by a friendly farmer with a bucket of grain. By inductive reasoning the turkey determined that the more often this happened the more secure it would feel that it would happen again. Until Christmas when the turkey gets its neck wrung. Which demonstrates the drawback of inductive reasoning. Concerning miracles, Hume says to reason on the basis of experience and to reconcile these opposing views he came up with something he called Mitigated Scepticism where one should act on the basis of past experience while remaining open to revising our views in the light of new experience. He does not argue that miracles are impossible, but says that on the basis of testimony alone we can never be justified in believing that a miracle has occurred. There are people who exercising mitigated scepticism and have not seen a miracle themselves will have better reasons for not believing reports of miracles than for believing them. That is until they become sceptical of their scepticism.
THE GAMBLER’S ARGUMENT. Pascal’s wager can be seen as an attempt to ground faith in rationality. The aim is not to provide proof that God exists or does not exist, but rather to show that a sensible gambler would be well advised to bet that God does exist. The gambler’s argument is this: Since we do not know whether or not God exists we are in much the same position as a gambler before a card is turned. Suppose one gambles on the existence of a Christian God and lives one’s life as if there is such a God. There are two possibilities: 1. One could be mistaken; and if one is what has one lost? One life of three score and ten years or more nowadays. 2. One is not mistaken; and it turns out that there is such a God, then one gains eternity. What are three score and ten years when pitted against eternity? They are nothing of any significance. There is much to gain and little to lose. Therefore the rational option is to live the life of faith. This gambler’s argument has appeal but there are problems with it.
CRITICISM OF THE GAMBLERâ€™S ARGUMENT. 1
Not really a rational option: If all one has is one life and there is no God then one has lost everything. One has gambled all that one has and some would say that was more reckless than rational. 2 Trivializes belief in God: Many believers would not be comfortable with comparing faith and a bet. Some would argue that this trivializes belief in God. Others argue that it is a gross over-simplification. Pascal provided an easy way into faith for people, but an appeal to a possible social dimension does not avoid philosophical issues. 3 The claim for rationality should be based on evidence for the outcome: The rationality of the bet should be related to evidence. The promise of eternal life is the outcome not the evidence. The claim for rationality should be based on evidence for the outcome, not just on the outcome. 4 The bet appeals to self-interest: as the primary motive. Christians should not be satisfied with this as a motive for their belief. Commitment to Christ is not best characterized in terms of what one can get out of it for oneself. Rather, such faith involves seeing the interests and needs of others. It is not clear how self-interest can bring this about and it is not clear that one can simply decide this through a consideration of what is best for oneself, thought of in terms of future benefits. The philosopher and psychologist William James (1842-1910) went so far as to say that if he were in Godâ€™s position, he would take great delight in preventing people who believed in him on the basis of this bet, from going to heaven.
Explanations of the Arguments for the Existence of God