Does God exist?

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Questions about the nature of ultimate reality have been asked as long as humans have been conscious. For thousands of years, across thousands of cultures, belief in a supreme being has been more or less common but some have always called into question whether or not God exists or can even be known.

By "God" we mean the metaphysically ultimate being, all-knowing, all-powerful, all-good, timeless, simple and devoid of any anthropomorphic qualities. We do not necessarily mean the Abrahamic God, although these ideas may share some overlap.

So is there a God?

Arguments for[edit]

  • Absence of evidence is not evidence of absence.
    • Absence of evidence is not evidence of presence either, so the lack of evidence doesn't imply that God exists.
      • Correct, but it cannot be dismissed merely on that regard, so doing so isn't a valid argument against.
    • Absence of evidence is weak evidence of absence. A belief in a thing should always be weaker without evidence than with evidence.
      • This is not true. There is an absence of evidence pointing to the existence of aliens, but this does not mean aliens do not exist.
  • For the Universe to exist, there must be an uncaused cause, God, or the Universe must be eternal. So either there's no explanation for God, or there's no explanation for the Universe. The Big Bang is not an explanation, it's a description with no explanation for why it came to be. We then have to rely on chance and happenstance. God fits the picture better.
    • This assumes the need for an explanation. This is just a false equivalency. Things within the Universe require an explanation. The Universe itself does not require an explanation.
      • Why would the Universe NOT require an explanation? Asserting is not arguing. The existence of the Universe is certainly mysterious to many, who would definitely appreciate an explanation. Isn't the fact that some people want an explanation enough to make it a legitimate question? And if the question isn't answerable, then that's the answer, which doesn't make it any less of a legitimate question. It's like asking what particular group of atoms made up the first self-replicating organism on Earth. It's a legitimate question, even though the answer is that it can't be answered.
        • The Universe doesn't require an explanation because we explain things inside the Universe based on the assumption that there is an external factor already explained. This does not apply to the Universe itself because there is nothing external to the Universe by definition. Either the Universe "caused itself" or simply has no cause. This might strike many as nonsensical but that is simply because they are unconsciously extending the logic of parts to the whole, inappropriately.
          • The universe cannot cause itself, nor can anything cause itself. Can anyone provide an example of something that is causeless? Surely not. As such, one must pursue the rule (everything has an external cause) to its natural end: the universe has a cause, until evidence can be provided. You can't merely assume that the universe is all there is and write in an exception into the definition of the universe.
    • If God doesn't require a cause, why does the Universe require a cause?
      • Because somewhere along the chain, there has to be an uncaused cause. Otherwise we have an infinite regress. The only way this can be solved is outside of the boundaries of space and time, namely, through God.
  • If God doesn't exist, how did the atoms for the Big Bang exist?
    • At this time we do not know how the Big Bang came about. Not knowing that detail is not proof of a God nor evidence that it may exist. If the assumption of the argument is than need a God to create the initial singularity then you end up in the circular argument of "who created God?". If one does not need a cause then neither does the other. This also pushes the role of God back to before the beginning of time as we know it i.e. outside our present universe.
      • Rationally, God must be pushed before time to avoid the fallacious infinite regress. Furthermore, asking "who created God?" is not valid question--as God must exist outside of the confines of space and time, unlike the universe and the particles therein, God must be an uncaused cause.
        • Well, you see, the Big Bang was the beginning of both space and time. As such, we cannot say that the particles that cause the Big Bang pertain to natural rules.
  • Supposing there was no intelligence behind the Universe, no creative mind. In that case, nobody designed my brain for the purpose of thinking. It is merely that when the atoms inside my skull happen, for physical or chemical reasons, to arrange themselves in a certain way, this gives me, as a by-product, the sensation I call thought. But, if so, how can I trust my own thinking to be true? It's like upsetting a milk jug and hoping that the way it splashes itself will give you a map of London. But if I can't trust my own thinking, of course I can't trust the arguments leading to Atheism, and therefore have no reason to be an Atheist, or anything else. Unless I believe in God, I cannot believe in thought: so I can never use thought to disbelieve in God.[1]
    • If God designed our minds, then why is our reasoning ability so imperfect? Why is it that people confuse correlation with causation? Why do people believe in astrology and other obvious nonsense?
      • Intelligence is a gift endowned to humans--one which cannot be explained through evolution. However, we also have animal qualities--urges which override our senses. It is a gift, but humans are not perfect--if so, they would be divine. How you choose to believe this happened is a matter of faith.
    • The same argument applies to the theist. Suppose an intelligence designed our brains. This could mean that our brains were designed for thinking rationally, or it could mean that our brains were designed to come to the wrong conclusions. How do we know which is true? We can't. If I can't trust my own thinking, I can't trust the arguments leading to theism. Assuming God exists does not lead to knowledge that we think rationally.
      • If you trust your own thinking, which we do for this argument, you must have an absolute perfection against which to measure your thoughts, or a highest logic. This cannot come from it's own.
        • Why must that vision of perfection actually exist? Is it not merely a measure in our minds against an imaginary height of perfection? Thought does not imply existence
    • Nobody designed the stomach for digesting food either, yet with modern biology, we know through a process of evolution over millions of years that the digestive system evolved naturally through an accumulation of beneficial steps. Just like the eye, just like the mind. In short, nature provides a better explanation than God.
      • Not really. How do the mathematical laws of physics apply themselves so perfectly just by chance? It is highly improbable.
  • God is the greatest conceivable being. But it's greater to exist than not to exist. Therefore, God exists.[2]
    • The definition of God at the beginning of this debate doesn't say or imply that God is the greatest conceivable being.
      • According to the definition, God is an all-powerful being. Therefore, if there were some being greater than God, God could become greater (per being all-powerful). So the definition of God as an all-powerful being does imply that God is the greatest conceivable being.
        • God could not become even greater than another conceived being if God does not exist, God could only do this if God does exist. Thus your argument only works if you assume God exists beforehand, and does not work as an argument in favor of the existence of God if the question of whether or not God exists has not yet been resolved. If it turns out that God does not exist, then I, as a being who does exist, am a greater being than some nonexistent God, and in that case the greatest conceivable being is certainly not God.
    • I define an exicorn as an existent horselike creature with a horn and magical properties. Therefore, exicorns exist?
      • No, because an exicorn is not the greatest conceivable thing. God is, and because it is more perfect to exist than not. An exicorn is not perfect, so this all falls apart.
    • Existence is not a property.
      • A statement is not an argument. Why isn't existence a property?
        • Something cannot be defined as existing and have this cause it to exist. Otherwise, I could define a "unicorn that exists", a "centaur that exists", a "fairy that exists", a "Hindu pantheon of gods and goddesses that all exist", and so on, and bring things into existence simply by specifying that they exist in their definitions.
  • A huge number of humans, throughout centuries, have reported all sorts of encounters with God, from the personal internal type to shared apparitions and public miracles. So many reports cannot all be false or misled, there must be a God causing at least some of them.
    • Pretty much all of the testimonies will differ in some way, and as such will not support a common cause.
      • Testimonies differ in many ways, yes, but they all support a common cause: the existence of God. Else they wouldn't be testimonies of the existence of God, wouldn't they?
        • To know that all these testimonies are testimonies about the same thing, we should know their object (God) independently from these testimonies. I mean: we should first know the object we are talking about (God) in order to be able to recognize that all opinions about it deal with the same object.
          • All knowledge ultimately reduces to the testimony of one or more people. Objects cannot be known independently of all testimony.
            • Eyewitness testimony is notoriously unreliable. Many people have testified that they saw thousands of people celebrating the 9/11 attacks in New Jersey, even though this event never took place. If you put an idea in people's minds, some people will believe that they personally saw whatever that idea is, even if the idea turns out to be false.
              • But eyewitness testimony from millions is stronger, considering the powers of corroboration in appearances of Christ, for instance
    • Personal experiences can't be accounted as evidence because there's no evidence to support these reports. How would one prove that these encounters were not a trick of the mind, such as mirages or sleep paralysis, or completely fictional?
      • Personal experience can be accounted as evidence. Otherwise it would not be reasonable to believe (unless you personally experience it yourself) that all humans are conscious, certain drugs induce hallucinations or certain psychological phenomena exist, such as dreams, sleep paralysis, Alice in Wonderland syndrome, phantom limb etc.
        • Experiences of God's existence could easily all be hallucinations, delusions, or attributions of a supernatural cause to natural phenomena that can be explained scientifically without resorting to supernatural explanations.
          • When corroborated by so many people, they cannot be so handily dismissed, though
    • Attributing some encounter with nature, or some unusual phenomenon to the existence of God is a speculative conclusion based on a subjective assessment of the available information. Is contemplation of the beauty of a flower an encounter with God, or simply an appreciation of the fractile nature of the cellular structure that has evolved over millions of years? Are reports of a virgin birth evidence of a miracle, or simply a translation error, a misunderstanding of the mechanisms of conception, or marketing hype?
      • Trying to prove the existence of miracles scientifically is like trying to prove that Ghandi was Indian linguistically--it is the wrong outlet, as we can never reexperience what they did, along with millions of others. These miracles are a matter of faith to them.
  • It is possible that God exists, so God exists in some possible worlds. But if God exists in some possible worlds, then by being omnipotent and omnipresent, He will exist in all possible worlds. Therefore, God exists in our possible world too, the actual world.
    • The fact that God is conceivable doesn't imply that He is possible. God's possibility must be argued, not just stated. God's existence seems to imply some contradictions, and contradictions are impossible, so it may even be impossible that God exists.
      • What contradictions exist? Perhaps the clarification ought to be made that God is best defined as a "being than which no greater may be conceived." God is so beyond our understanding, then, that omnipotence doesn't even scratch the surface of God's power.
    • This argument assumes that possible worlds are like other Universes in a Multiverse. It assumes that possible worlds are somehow actual worlds far away. But they are not actual worlds, they are just possible worlds.
      • But you haven't addressed the point. The existence of God in possible worlds must imply the existence of God in every world, including real ones. It seems to be an all-or-nothing--you haven't proved that it matters whether it is merely possible or actual
  • If God doesn't exist, how did the Universe come to be?
    • We don't know. If God exists how did God come to be?
      • The whole premise is that God must be an uncaused cause, or the end to a chain of infinite regressions. That this is God is inherent in that the universe may, because of its own rules and nature, not exist of its own accord. Everything that we know in the universe, by rule, has a cause, so by extending this to its rational end until the burden of proof is otherwise filled, we must determine that the universe must have an external cause. Not so for God, as it is not bound to the rules that bind our universe.

Arguments against[edit]

  • Every time there is a debate on the legitimacy of a God, I always ask: since there are many religions in the world, all of which have their own idea of God and their own ideas of an afterlife (i.e. heaven/hell, reincarnation, etc.), then which God is real, and which afterlife is real?
    • This does not exclude the possibility that one of those religions might turn out to be the correct one, with the correct idea of God and an afterlife, even if that religion contradicts all other religions and this means all religions except for one of them turn out to be wrong.
      • If at most one religion can be correct, out of the many thousands that exist, and it is possible that they are all wrong, there is no rational basis to believe in any one religion over all the others. Most people who believe in a religion do so because of social reasons, for instance being raised in that religion, or falling in love with and marrying a follower of that religion, rather than any rational basis to believe that their particular religion is any more likely to be true than all the other religions it contradicts. No one religion is obviously superior to all of the others enough to persuade all the followers of the other religions to convert.
        • We aren't debating over the merits of Christianity or Islam for example--these are matters of faith. We are debating whether a God of some sort exists as a starting ground
        • All monotheistic religions basically have the same main idea, which is worship of a higher power, a God. The religion itself is a set of values or ideas that one certain group "binds" to a higher power. This may be meant in a way of pleasing or satisfying the higher power, which we as humans often feel the need to do. Take away these values and traditions, which is most likely human made. What we have left is the acknowledgement of a higher power. Monotheistic religions are just different ways of saying the same thing.
  • God's existence would imply that he can change the past. This would imply that some things happened and didn't happen at the same time and in the same sense. But contradictions are impossible, so not only God doesn't exist: his existence is impossible.
    • This is not a contradiction--only the edited one actually happened. If God, an omnipotent being, changed the path of history, history is changed--as odd as it seemed, the older scenario never happened.
    • That wouldn't be a contradiction, because God would know that He changed the past (per being all-knowing). So things that He changed would have happened at the same time, but not in the same sense. He would be able to distinguish them.
      • As Harry Frankfurt pointed out regarding the omnipotence paradox, doing one impossible thing is no more difficult than doing two impossible things.[3]
    • God's omnipotence is often described as "can do anything that is not logically impossible", or similarly defined so as to rule out paradoxes deriving from His omnipotence.
      • If God's omnipotence is limited by "can do anything that is not logically impossible", then the fact that God is also defined as omniscient and knowing everything would mean God possesses complete knowledge ahead of time of all things that He will do, and is bound by logic to do what He predicted He would do. This would reduce his omnipotence to complete powerlessness since he would never have any choice at all other than to do what he predicted he would do, and thus he would not have any power at all.
        • By omnipotence and omniscience, which theists usually refer to, we are speaking of something vastly beyond our understanding and quantifying it in human terms. Omnipotence implies that he has the choice to exercise his omnipotence in any particular way, which he knows what his choice will be. Knowing what you plan to do in a circumstance beforehand by no means makes one powerless
  • There is no hard evidence supporting the existence of God.
    • Evidence is not proof. We're not talking whether it SEEMS true or false, we're talking about what it is.
      • Evidence is necessary for proof of an empirical statement.
        • Saying that God exists is not an empirical statement. It's clearly a metaphysical statement. Therefore empirical proof is not necessary or even possible.
          • It is an empirical statement if we are talking about a God which affects the physical world in some way. I would argue that existence is meaningless outside of an empirical context. What is metaphysical existence?
            • Existence outside of the confines of our physical world. Whether or not God is actively involved in this world is not a matter that we are debating
  • If God existed, then evil would not exist, as God is conceived as all-good, all-knowing and all-powerful. But evil clearly exists. Therefore, God does not exist.
    • Evil is poorly defined here
      • Under any widely-believed definition of evil, including any one might find in a dictionary, evil refers to something which exists according to that definition. Which specific definition of evil we use is not relevant to the argument here, as long as we are not using a strange definition invented for the purposes of this argument.
    • God could have given humans the power to do evil. If humans can do evil, then evil can exist despite there being an all-powerful, all-knowing and all-good God.
      • This would still make God responsible for evil, albeit indirectly.
        • Moral responsibility is not hereditary. If my (grownup) child commits a crime, no society will (or should) blame me for it. Similarly, if a human does evil, we shouldn't blame God for it. Giving the power to do evil is not the same as doing it. God may even be the (metaphysical) cause of evil, while not being morally responsible for it.
          • Moral responsibility is partially hereditary. If I knowingly raise my child in a way that makes it highly likely they will commit a crime when grown up that makes me responsible for that crime and subject to blame.
            • But no one contends that God raised us that way--he merely gave us the freedom to choose. In fact, because we turned away from his omnibenevolence, evil arose, according to theists.
      • Even if God gave humans free will and the power to do evil, this doesn't imply that there should be evil. A world where free will exists but evil does not is logically possible. God can create any world that is logically possible, so God chose a world where there is unnecessary evil. This contradicts the all-powerful and all-good nature of God.
        • Should we not live with the consequences of our actions and disobedience, then?
          • Is cancer then the consequence of human disobedience? We haven't dealt with the problem of natural evil.
  • In order to exist, an entity must exist as something. To exist as something, the entity must have positive primary attributes (ex. I'm a material entity, made up of atoms). All of God's attributes are either negatively defined (ex. omniscience can be reduced to 'without limits of knowledge'), secondary (ex. good) or relational (ex. creator). If a god is Creator, then it must be immaterial, as nothing can cause itself. But “immaterial” is a negatively defined term. Therefore a god’s substance is undefined. All of this is to say that the god concept is incoherent. If this indeed turns out to be the case, then positive belief in such a concept is not possible.
    • Positive and negative properties are vague notions, often interchangeable. 'Closed' can be reduced to 'not open', just as 'open' can be reduced to 'not closed'. Similarly, 'omniscience' can be reduced to positive terms, like 'with total knowledge' just as it can be reduced to negative ones, like 'without limits of knowledge' or 'without ignorance'. Other properties of God, such as 'all-powerful', can also be thought as either positive or negative: 'with complete power' or 'without limits to its power'.
      • Even so, saying that something is omniscient is a secondary characteristic - it's telling us what something can do, NOT what it is. If I said humans were an IQ of 120, that doesn't really tell me much of anything about what a human IS (as opposed to saying something like an entity in space/time made up of matter, etc).
        • Yes, it does. Intelligence is an attribute of humans, is it not?
    • Dark matter and dark energy are entities whose existence is generally accepted by the scientific community, despite the fact that we don't know what they are made of. The fact that we don't know what something is made of doesn't imply that it's made of nothing, or that it doesn't exist.
      • Dark matter and energy are theoretical.
        • Global warming, evolution, the Theory of Relativity, and even gravity are also theoretical. This does not mean they are wrong. The scientific community can have almost complete certainty in something but still classify something as "just a theory".
          • This is irrelevant to the primary point of the original argument: "All of God's attributes are either negatively defined (ex. omniscience can be reduced to 'without limits of knowledge'), secondary (ex. good) or relational (ex. creator)." The part of the original argument stating that God's substance is undefined is not necessary for the original argument to be correct... if the unnecessary sentence "Therefore a god’s substance is undefined." were left out of the original argument it would be a perfectly valid argument and this objection against it would not work. The main point of the original argument is that in order to exist, that entity must has positive primary attributes, of which there still are none for God. This is a red herring, if we remove that unnecessary sentence from the original argument.
  • God doesn't exist because of Theophagus, the god-eater. Since Theophagus is god-eating by definition, he has no choice but to eat God. So if God exists, He would immediately cease to exist as a result of being eaten. Unless it's proven that Theophagus doesn't exist, then God doesn't exist.
    • Without any evidence or logical argument for the existence of such a being, there's no reason to believe Theophagus exists.
      • The same argument against Theophagus works on God: Without any evidence or logical argument for the existence of such a being, there's no reason to believe God exists. So either the argument you raised against Theophagus is valid, in which case it is also valid against God, and thus there is no reason to believe God exists, or the argument you raised against Theophagus is invalid, in which case Theophagus has eaten God and God no longer exists.
        • If you've read the entire "Arguments for" section, one would see that there are arguments for God's existence
    • God is omnipotent and omnipresent, so even if Theophagus exists, God can't be eaten by him.
      • By its definition, Theophagus eats omnipotent and omnipresent beings.
      • Nothing about omniscience and omnipotence precludes being eaten.
      • If God is the most powerful being, and Theophagus can eat God, then Theophagus is more powerful than God, so Theophagus is God, therefore Theophagus/God eats itself and Theophagus/God cease to exist.
    • If Theophagus can eat God, who cannot be eaten, his existence creates a contradiction. Therefore, Theophagus cannot exist
  • Particles don't have a position until their wave function collapses, and wave functions collapse when observed. Now, from experiments such as the double-slit experiment, we infer that there are uncollapsed wave functions. Therefore, there is no being observing all particles, no omniscient being, no God.
    • We don't really understand how observation causes superposition to collapse nor how a being who is outside of spacetime (or alternately who exists in all of spacetime) would even affect superposition. As George Berkeley argued in his version of Idealism, all of the physical universe exists because God is perceiving it.
      • God of the gaps fallacy.
        • Incorrect. He was merely pointing out that the original statement need not be always true, nor has any true weight because God exists outside of the physical world.
    • The wave function collapse does not happen because of observation per se, but when a wave function interacts with a classical environment. If God is all-powerful, he can observe a wave function without interacting with it.
      • Being all-powerful is self-contradictory. This is because an all-powerful God would be able to predict the future, but also be able to take actions which would contradict His predictions of the future. Since knowing things is a power, being all-powerful implies being all-knowing. And then, since an all-knowing God would know all of the actions He would take ahead of time, an all-knowing God would know in advance all actions He would ever take, and, in order to prevent any paradoxes and allow God to exist, God's "all-powerful" powers would have to be reduced to just doing what God predicted He would do ahead of time. Thus the whole idea of being all-powerful is nonsense.
        • This has already been addressed in above arguments, but I'll reiterate--knowing what you will do beforehand does not take away from your freedom of choice. His knowledge is his choice.
    • If God is all-knowing, he does not need to observe particles to know their position.
      • When a particle exists in a quantum superposition that can be described using a wave function, prior to wave function collapse, that particle does not actually have any definite position, but just probabilities of being in different locations. This has been experimentally verified in the aforementioned double-slit experiment. So talking about the positionof a particle whose wavefunction has not yet collapsed as if it is something definite makes no sense, since such particles can and do exist in multiple locations at the same time, which is what produces the interference fringes in the double-slit experiment, from a particle in different locations interfering with itself in other locations, meaning, it really has no one location. So if God were to perceive such a particle as being at one specific location, God would be incorrect.
  • Some infinite traits, such as "omniscience", have a computational complexity equal to infinity, thus the Kolmogorov complexity of a God defined with these attributes is infinite, the prior probability for his existence is epsilon, and "P(X exists) is epsilon" is the statistically literate way of saying "X does not exist".

See also[edit]

Notes and references[edit]

  1. The original version of this argument was brought forth by C. S. Lewis.
  2. This is a version of Anselm's ontological argument.
  3. "For why should God not be able to perform the task in question? To be sure, it is a task—the task of lifting a stone which He cannot lift—whose description is self-contradictory. But if God is supposed capable of performing one task whose description is self-contradictory—that of creating the problematic stone in the first place—why should He not be supposed capable of performing another—that of lifting the stone? After all, is there any greater trick in performing two logically impossible tasks than there is in performing one?" Frankfurt, Harry. "The Logic of Omnipotence" first published in 1964 in Philosophical Review and now in Necessity, Volition, and Love. Cambridge University Press November 28, 1998 pp.1–2