Existence of God

From Academic Kids

Many arguments about the existence of God have been proposed over time. This article lists some of the more common ones. In philosophical terminology this article introduces schools of thought on the epistemology of the ontology of God.


What is God? (Definition of God's existence)

See main articles: Definition, God, Ontology

What does it mean to assert "God exists"? Does it say something about the words we use, the universe we live in, the results we can expect from experiments, the choices we should make, or does it assert nothing at all? Schools of thought vary.

In this context, the term "God" has typically been used to mean the monotheistic concept of a singular Supreme Being. The common definition of God assumes some combination of qualities such as omnipotence, omniscience and benevolence. Typically, proofs will define God as one such quality, show something must exist with that quality, assert therefore "God" exists, then imbue that God with all manner of qualities not neccesitated by the definition by which he was proved. The exact definition must be followed carefully in any such argument so that what is declared as proven to exist at the end of the proof is the same thing the proof starts with in its definition of what it is to be proven that exists. Further if by one argument something with quality A exists, and by another argument something with the quality B exists, it is not yet proved that anything with both qualities exists.

This definition is not the only possible definition of "god." Many polytheistic religions have given the name "god" to several beings, all of whose existence is posited by these faiths. Reported mythologies affirm that these gods have various agendas, can trick one another, and sometimes oppose each other, all attributes that would appear to contradict omnipotence, omniscience, or benevolence. Still, all of them count as Gods in ordinary language.

In terms of the philosophy of language, one Wittgensteinian approach to the problem would be to extract a working definition of "God" from the various literatures and traditions that speak of Gods and their activities. How do people use the word "God?" What do they mean when they speak of "Gods?" In order to assess the validity of any attempted argument for the existence of a God, we must first satisfy ourselves of what would fulfil those criteria.

The problem of the supernatural

One problem immediately posed by the question of the existence of a God is that human traditional beliefs usually grant God various supernatural powers, including the power to work miracles. Gods can supernaturally conceal themselves and reveal themselves for their own purposes, as for example in the tale of Baucis and Philemon.

The supernatural abilities of God are often believed to rule out any attempt to use empirical methods to investigate God's existence. In Karl Popper's philosophy of science, the existence of a supernatural God is a non-falsifiable hypothesis, not susceptible to scientific investigation. By contrast, adherents of the intelligent design hypothesis believe that empirical or mathematical evidence that shows the existence of an intelligent creator does in fact exist, and make the hypothesis of a God's existence more likely.

Logical positivists, such as Rudolph Carnap and A. J. Ayer view any talk of gods as literally nonsense. For the logical positivists and adherents of similar schools of thought, statements about religious or other transcendent experiences could not have a truth value, and were deemed to be without meaning.

Confusing talk about talk with talk about existence

Semantics is distinguished from ontology (knowledge of existence) in being about the use of a word more than the nature of the entity referenced by the word. This is reflected in the argument, "That's only semantics" when someone tries to draw conclusions about what is true about the world based on what is true about a word.

How do we know?

See main article: Epistemology

One can not be said to "know" something just because one believes it. Knowledge is distinguished from belief by justification.

Positions on the Existence of God and the Possibility of Proof

Postions on the existence of God can be roughly divided into two camps: Theist and Atheist. Both of these camps can be further divided into two groups each, based on the belief of whether or not their position can be conclusively proven.

God exists, and this can be proven

The Catechism of the Catholic Church, following the Thomist tradition of St. Thomas Aquinas and the dogmatic definition of the First Vatican Council, affirms that it is a doctrine of the Roman Catholic Church that God's existence can in fact be rationally demonstrated. Some other Christians in different denominations hold similar views. On this view, a distinction is to be drawn between (1) doctrines that belong essentially to faith and cannot be proved, such as the doctrine of the Trinity or the Incarnation, and (2) doctrines that can be accepted by faith but can also be known by reason. The existence of God is said to be one of the latter. As a theological defense of this view, one might cite Paul's claim that pagans were without excuse because "since the creation of the world [God's] invisible nature, namely, his eternal power and deity, has been clearly perceived in the things that have been made" (Rom. 1:20).

Another apologetical school of thought, a sort of synthesis of various existing Dutch and American Reformed thinkers (such as, Abraham Kuyper, Benjamin Warfield, Herman Dooyeweerd), emerged in the late 1920's. This school was instituted by Cornelius Van Til, and came to be popularly called Presuppositional apologetics (though Van Til himself felt "Transcendental" would be a more accurate title). The main distinction between this approach and the more classical evidentialist approach mentioned above is that the Presuppositionalist denies any common ground between the believer and the non-believer, except that which the non-believer denies, namely, the assumption of the truth of the theistic worldview. In other words, Presuppositionalists don't believe that the existence of God can be proven by appeal to raw, uninterpreted (or, "brute") facts, which have the same (theoretical) meaning to people with fundimentally different worldviews, because they deny that such a condition is even possible. They claim that the only possible proof for the existence of God is that the very same belief is the necessary condition to the intelligibility of all other human experience and action. In other words, they attempt to prove the existence of God by means of appeal to the alleged transcendental necessity of the belief -- indirectly (by appeal to the allegedly unavowed presuppositions of the non-believer's worldview) rather than directly (by appeal to some form of common factuality). In practice this school utilizes what have come to be known as Transcendental Arguments for the Existence of God. In these arguments they claim to demonstrate that all human experience and action (even the condition of unbelief, itself) is a proof for the existence of God, because God's existence is the necessary condition of their intelligibility.

God exists, but this can't be proven

Others have suggested that the several logical and philosophical arguments for the existence of God miss the point. The word god has a meaning in human culture and history that does not correspond to the beings whose necessity is proven by such arguments, assuming they are valid proofs. The real question is not whether a "most perfect being" or an "uncaused first cause" exist; the real question is whether Yahweh or Vishnu or Zeus, or some other deity of attested human religion, exists, and if so which deity. The proofs do not resolve that issue. Blaise Pascal suggested this objection in his Pensées when he wrote "The God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob — not the god of the philosophers!"

Some Christians note that the Christian faith teaches salvation is by faith, and that faith is reliance upon the faithfulness of God, which has little to do with the believer's ability to comprehend that in which he trusts. In other words, if Christian theology is true, then God's existence can never be demonstrated, either by empirical means or by philosophical argument. The most extreme example of this position is called fideism, which holds that faith is simply the will to believe, and argues that if God's existence were rationally demonstrable, faith in His existence would become superfluous. In The Justification of Knowledge, the Calvinist theologian Robert L. Reymond argues that believers should not attempt to prove the existence of God. Since he believes all such proofs are fundamentally unsound, believers should not place their confidence in them, much less resort to them in discussions with non-believers; rather, they should accept the content of revelation by faith. Reymond's position is similar to that of his mentor, Gordon Clark, which holds that all worldviews are based on certain unproovable first premises (or, axioms), and therefore are ultimately unprovable. The Christian theist therefore must simply choose to start with Christianity rather than anything else, by an unreasoned "leap of faith". This position is also sometimes called Presuppositional apologetics, but should not be confused with the Van Tillian variety discussed above.

An intermediate position is that of Alvin Plantinga who holds that belief in the existence of God can be rational and indeed a species of knowledge, even though the existence of God cannot be demonstrated. After all, there are kinds of knowledge that are rational but do not proceed through demonstration: sensory knowledge, for instance.

God does not exist, and this can be proven

Strong atheism or positive atheism is the philosophical position that God or gods do not exist. It is contrasted with weak atheism, which is the lack or absence of belief in God or gods, without the claim that God or gods do not exist. The strong atheist positively asserts, at least, that no God or gods exist, and may go further and claim that the existence of some or all gods is logically impossible. For example, strong atheists commonly claim that the combination of attributes which the Christian God is asserted to have (e.g., omnipotence, omniscience, omnipresence, transcendence, omnibenevolence, etc) is logically contradictory, incomprehensible, or absurd, and therefore that the existence of the Christian God is a priori impossible.

God has not been shown to exist

Weak atheism argues that merely pointing out the flaws or lack of soundness in all arguments for the existence of God is sufficient to show that God's existence is less probable than his nonexistence; by Occam's Razor (principle of parsimony), the burden of proof lies on the advocate of that alternative which is less probable. By this reasoning, an atheist who is able to refute any argument for the existence of God encountered is justified in taking an atheist view; atheism is thus the "default" position, though some argue that it is more proper to consider agnosticism as the default. This objection is often stated in terms that relate it to the burden of proof; it is incumbent upon advocates of a God's existence to establish that fact, and they have not done so.

Arguments for the existence of God

Main article: Arguments for the existence of God

These arguments can be classified under two headings. First are the strictly logical or metaphysical arguments; these arguments seek to prove that the existence of a being with at least one attribute that only God could have is logically necessary.

A dispute arose as to whether there are a number of proofs of the existence of God or whether all are not merely parts of one and the same proof (cf. Dr. C. Braig, Gottesbeweis oder Gottesbeweise?, Stuttgart, 1889). While all such proofs would end in the same way, by asserting the existence of God, they do not all start at the same place. St. Thomas calls them aptly (Summ. theol., I, Q. ii, a.3) Viæ; roads to the apprehension of God which all open on the same highway.

Metaphysical arguments

History of Metaphysical Arguments

  • 1078: St. Anselm, Proslogion.
  • 1264: St. Thomas Aquinas, Summa.
  • 1637: Descartes, Meditations.
  • 1680: Spinoza, Ethics.
  • 1709: Leibniz, New Essays Concerning Human Understanding.
  • 1776: Hume, Dialogues Concerning Natural Religion. Part IX
  • 1787: Kant, Critique of Pure Reason.
  • 1831: Hegel, Lectures of 1831.
  • 1884: Frege, Foundations of Arithmetic.
  • 1941: Hartshorne, Man's Vision of God.
  • 1960: Malcolm, "Anselm's Ontological Argument".
  • 1970: Lewis, "Anselm and Actuality".
  • 1974: Plantinga, The Nature of Necessity.
  • 1995: Gödel, Collected Works Volume III.

[1] (http://plato.stanford.edu/entries/ontological-arguments/)

Taxonomy (kinds of Metaphysical Arguments)

Arguments include:

Empirical arguments

Other arguments avail themselves of data beyond definitions and axioms. Some of these arguments require only that one assume that a non-random universe able to support life exists. Others are more strongly tied to the testimony of certain witnesses or the propositions of a specific revealed religion. These arguments include:

Subjective arguments for the belief in God

Inductive arguments for belief in God

  • Another class of philosophers asserts that the proofs for the existence of God present a fairly large probability but no absolute certainty. A number of obscure points, they say, always remain. In order to overcome these difficulties there is necessary either an act of the will, a religious experience, or the discernment of the misery of the world without God, so that finally the heart makes the decision. This view is maintained, among others, by the English statesman Arthur Balfour in his book The Foundations of Belief (1895). The opinions set forth in this work were adopted in France by Brunetiére, the editor of the Revue des deux Mondes. Many orthodox Protestants express themselves in the same manner, as, for instance, Dr. E. Dennert, President of the Kepler Society, in his work Ist Gott tot? (Stuttgart, 1908).

Arguments for belief in God grounded in subjective experience

  • The Scotch School led by Thomas Reid taught that the fact of the existence of God is accepted by us without knowledge of reasons but simply by a natural impulse. That God exists, this school said, is one of the chief metaphysical principles that we accept not because they are evident in themselves or because they can be proved, but because common sense obliges us to accept them.
  • The Argument from a Proper Basis argues that belief in God is "properly basic"--that is, similar to statements such as "I see a chair" or "I feel pain." Such beliefs are non-falsifiable and, thus, neither able to be proved nor disproved; they concern perceptual beliefs or indisputable mental states.
  • In Germany, the School of Friedrich Heinrich Jacobi taught that our reason is able to perceive the suprasensible. Jacobi distinguished three faculties: sense, reason, and understanding. Just as sense has immediate perception of the material so has reason immediate perception of the immaterial, while the understanding brings these perceptions to our consciousness and unites them to one another (Stöckl, Geschichte der neueren Philosophie, II, 82 sqq.). God's existence, then, cannot be proved--Jacobi, like Kant, rejected the absolute value of the principle of causality--it must be felt by the mind.
  • In his Emile, Jean-Jacques Rousseau asserted that when our understanding ponders over the existence of God it encounters nothing but contradictions; the impulses of our hearts, however, are of more value than the understanding, and these proclaim clearly to us the truths of natural religion, namely, the existence of God and the immortality of the soul.
  • The same theory was advocated in Germany by Friedrich Schleiermacher (d. 1834), who assumed an inner religious sense by means of which we feel religious truths. According to Schleiermacher, religion consists solely in this inner perception, and dogmatic doctrines are unessential (Stöckl, loc. cit., 199 sqq.).
  • Many modern Protestant theologians follow in Schleiermacher's footsteps, and teach that the existence of God cannot be demonstrated; certainty as to this truth is only furnished us by inner experience, feeling, and perception.
  • Modernist Christianity also denies the demonstrability of the existence of God. According to them we can only know something of God by means of the vital immanence, that is, under favorable circumstances the need of the Divine dormant in our subconsciousness becomes conscious and arouses that religious feeling or experience in which God reveals himself to us. In condemnation of this view the oath against Modernism formulated by Pius X says: "Deum ... naturali rationis lumine per ea quae facta sunt, hoc est per visibilia creationis opera, tanquam causam per effectus certo cognosci adeoque demostrari etiam posse, profiteor." ("I declare that by the natural light of reason, God can be certainly known and therefore His existence demonstrated through the things that are made, i.e., through the visible works of Creation, as the cause is known through its effects.")

Arguments against the existence of God

Main article: Arguments against the existence of God

While some theists argue that a god entirely transcends logic and that logical discourse about him is therefore meaningless, others would disagree with the assertion that a god has incompatible or incoherent properties. Each of the following arguments aims at proving that some particular conception of a god either is inherently meaningless, contradictory or contradicts known scientific and historical facts, and that therefore a god thus described cannot exist.

Deductive arguments against the existence of God

  • Logically contradictory definitions show that the object so defined can not exist. A God who can do "anything" is logically contradictory because by logic he can't both cause a thing to be both True and False. This is often expressed as: Can God create a rock too big for himself to lift? Whether the answer is yes or no, God therefore can't do "anything". Responses to the self contradictory argument range from God is not limited to logic, to God can do "anything logic allows", to God has powers beyond our understanding but whether limited to logic or others things is unknowable, to God is "most powerful", to God has as least these powers (A, B, etc). The argument is a simple proof that a mindlessly broad brush definition of God is unhelpful in proving anything.
  • The argument from free will contests the existence of an omniscient god who has free will by arguing that the two properties are contradictory.
  • The Transcendental Argument for the Non-existence of God contests the existence of an intelligent Creator God by demonstrating that such a being would make logic and morality contingent, which is incompatible with the presuppositionalist assertion that they are necessary, and contradicts the efficacy of science. A more general line of argument based on TANG, materialist apologetics (http://www.strongatheism.net/atheology/materialist.html), seeks to generalize this argument to all necessary features of the universe and all god-concepts.
  • The "chicken or the egg" argument states that if the Universe had to be created by God because it must have a creator, then God, in turn would have had to be created by some other God, and so on.
  • Theological noncognitivism, as used in the literature, usually seeks to disprove the god-concept by showing that it is meaningless in some way.

Subjective arguments against the existence of God

  • The argument from inconsistent revelations contests the existence of the middle eastern, biblical deity called God as described in holy scriptures, such as the Jewish Tanakh, the Christian Bible, or the Muslim Qur'an, by identifying contradictions between different scriptures, contradictions within a single scripture, or contradictions between scripture and known facts.
  • The problem of evil (or theodicy) in general, and the logical and evidential arguments from evil in particular contest the existence of a god who is both omnipotent and omnibenevolent by arguing that such a god would not permit the existence of evil, which can easily be shown to exist.
  • The argument from nonbelief contests the existence of an omnipotent god who wants humans to believe in him by arguing that such a god would do a better job of gathering believers.
  • The argument from poor design contests the existence of an intelligent Creator God by arguing that much of nature is poorly designed.
  • The atheist-existentialist argument for the non-existence of God, if God is supposed to be a perfect sentient being: As presented by Jean-Paul Sartre in Being and Nothingness, it states that since existence precedes essence, it follows from the meaning of the term sentient that a sentient being cannot be complete or perfect. Sartre's phrasing is that God would be a pour-soi [a being-for-itself; a consciousness] who is also an en-soi [a being-in-itself; a thing]: which is a contradiction in terms. The argument is echoed thus in Salman Rushdie's novel Grimus: "That which is complete is also dead."
  • The "no motivation" argument states that if god is omnipotent, then he would not be motivated to act in any way, specifically creating the universe, since God would have anything God wanted in infinite amounts and would have no desires since there is no reason for God to have any. Since the universe exists, there is a contradiction and an omnipotent God cannot exist.

See also

External links and references

pt:Argumentos contra a existência de Deus de:Gottesbeweis et:Jumalatõestus fr:Arguments pour l'existence de Dieu nl:godsbewijs pt:Argumentos pela existência de Deus


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