Historical Introduction to Philosophy/Arguments for God

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If we are going to argue that something exists, such as "God", it would make sense, in the logical form, to first define what God is. Naturally, depending on who you ask, you could acquire more than one definition. The debate concerning the existence of God raises many philosophical issues. One basic problem is there's no universally accepted definition of God. Many of the definitions of God in existence are so vague, it is certain that something exists that meets the definition, but in a striking difference, many are self-contradicting. So for the sake of argument, I will provide the dictionary based definition just to provide a basis from which to begin.

Views on God[edit | edit source]

  1. The Supreme Being, creator and master of all
  2. Any being considered as divine
  3. An Idol
  4. A person or thing made the object of supreme devotion

Common Questions[edit | edit source]

While pursuing the answer to the questions, "does God exist?" or, "can we prove that God exists?", it might help to clear some confusion by answering some common questions that are sometimes asked when debating these arguments.

First, there is the question of whether something does exist or not. In answering this question, it could be understood that something can exist and us not know it. In other words, a thing can exist whether we know it or not.

Second, there is the question of whether we know that it exists. To be affirmative in answering this question, we must presuppose that the first question is answered affirmatively. For example, we can say something does exist without knowing it, but we cannot know it exists until we know it exists.

Third, we have to question whether there is a reason for our knowledge? We may not be able to convince others of knowledge we feel we have, even by using reason. God's existence in many Christian environments is viewed as like this.

Fourth, "If this reason does exist, can this reason amount to a proof? In many cases, what we believe and the reasons for believing it, can be based in probabilities, not the existence of proof. An example of this may be in the case of O.J. Simpson. It is commonly believed his actions were what led to the demise of his ex-wife and her boyfriend, based on the use of reason, BUT we do not really know. We were not there when it happened, there was no eye-witness account, and even if there was, how would you know that they were being truthful? They could have disliked Mr. Simpson and would have said they saw him do it whether he did or not. To observe things from this requires a great willingness to avoid bias, and not be driven to decision based on your emotional thought, or what you believe to be true.

Finally, if a proof does exists, is it based on a scientific proof, such as measurement, observation, etc.? Sound or valid proofs can exist in philosophy, but these proofs are not necessarily scientific proofs.

Arguments[edit | edit source]

In the course of asking to present arguments for the existence of God, one must presuppose that in return, for the sake of objectivity, there will be a need to present arguments that also argue against the existence of God. In this course we will present the arguments for both. There are many different arguments both for the existence of God, as well as the arguments against the existence of God. Now, there are many different arguments for the existence of God, and most of them seem to follow the same logical structure. This structure is the basic structure of a deductive argument. First, there is a major premise (P1) or a general principle. Next, a minor premise (P2) will state infomation particular to our experience that comes under that principle. Finally, the (C) conclusion will follow by applying the general principle to a particular case. Although in these arguments the conclusion states that God does exist, the premises of the different arguments are different. The arguments are like roads, from different starting points, all leading to reach the same goal, God.

Due to the overwhelming number of these arguments we will limit this study to many of the most substantial. These arguments will be based and described in the following context.

Metaphysical Arguments (For the existence)

  1. Cosmological
  2. Ontological
  3. Pantheistic

Empirical Arguments (For the existence)

  1. Teleological
  2. Moral
  3. Trancendental

David Hume was one of the great empiricists, especially in the area of the philosophy of religion. The ability for empiricism to produce sceptic conclusions that concern our knowledge of God was greatly apparent in the work of Hobbes in which he holds on to similar empiricist principles concerning the foundations of human knowledge. One of the most apparent aspects of the position that Hobbes takes on this subject is his claim that we have no idea of God and this can make our comprehension of him difficult. In his writing "Leviathan" he states:

"Whatever we imagine is finite. Therefore there is no idea or conception of anything we call infinite. No man can have in his mind an image of infinite magnitude, nor concieve infinite swiftness, infinitie time, or infinite force, or infinite power... And therefore the name of God is used, not to make us concieve him (for he is incomprehensible, and his greatness and power are inconcievable)but that we may honor him. Also because whatsoever... we concieve has been percieved first by sense, either all at once or by parts, a man can have no thought representing anything not subject to sense"... (Hobbes Leviathan, 3.12)

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What is fundamental to Hume's entire empircist idea in "A Treatise of Human Nature" is his "copy principle", or the claim that"all our ideas, or weak perceptions, are derived from our impressions, or strong perceptions, and that we can never think of any thing which we have not seen without us, or felt in our minds" Hume goes on to observe that this discovery is one of considerable importance for "deciding all controversies concerning ideas""whenever any idea is ambiguious, he continues" we always have "recourse to the impression, which must render it clear and precise" Humes goes on to say that if any philosophical term has no idea annexed to it, Hume suggests that we can always ask "from what impression that pretended idea is derived? If no impression can be produced, we must conclude that the term altogether is therefore deemed insignificant. Given the significance of the "copy-principle" in the phylosophical system that Hume presents, and it clear revelance to the debate of the idea of God that we have, it is suprising to find that in the Treatise, Hume rarely mentions our idea of God, or even provides any kind of a detailed account of the nature and the origin of this idea. It would be a grave mistake though, to assume that that these problems of theology as they concern our idea of God, are not in Humes mind, but to neglect this topic in the face of the continuing debate and the clear revelance to Hume's philosophy in the writing of the Treatise, which clearly conveeys a sceptical idea or message. It may be argued that Hume's delivery or presentation of his theory of ideas in his writings of the Enquiry shows that the sceptical reading is not as obvious maybe as it appears. In this context Hume seems to use the idea of God to describe or illustrate his copy- principle. Hume states:

...When we analyze our thoughts or ideas, however compounded or sublime, we always find that they resolve themselves into such simple ideas as were copied from precedent feeling or sentiment. Even those ideas, which at first view, seem the most wide of this origin, are found, upon a nearer scrutinty to be derived from it. The idea of God, as meaning an infinitely intelligent, wise, and Good Being, arises from the reflecting on the operations of our own mind, and augmenting, without limit, those qualities of goodness and wisdom.(EU 2.6/19).

Hume feels the account of our idea of God, as has been presented in this passage, follws simply Locke's line of reasoning. Our idea of the existence of God is very complex and comes from very simple ideas steeped in the reflections on the way of operations of our own mind which upon we argue without limit. These remarks given in the Enguiry about the very nature and the origins of our ideas of God could be construed to show that the theory of ideas that Hume presents, such as the ideas in the Treatise, has no clear sceptical implications( this seems to follow alog Hobbeisan lines)but contrary to these views, there is a good reasonto conclude that Hume's Lockean description of our idea of God appears to really be less that sincere.

Hume continues on to show that the "optimists" of God in trying to deal with these difficulties actually are degrading God with the implication that God resembles them in any way to strive to make him more understandable or "comprehensible". What is more important than this, is that in the Enquiry XI Hume presents a critique of our conjectures about the nature of God and the attribute he may have, based in the evidence of design in the world. Hume stresses the point that God's being is "so different, and so much superior" to our human nature that we are not capable to form a distinct or precise idea of his nature and/or his attributes, much less in any way one based in our own percieved qualities or our characteristics. Hume states:

...The Diety is known to us only by his productions, and is a single being in the universe, not comprehended under any species or genus, from whose experienced attributes or qualities, we can, by analogy, infer any attribute or quality in him...(EU, 11.26) Hume later on goes on to remark that God is "a Being, so remote and incomprehencible, who bears such less analogy to any other being in the universe that the sun to a waxen paper, and who discovers himself only by some faint traces of outlines, beyond which we have no authority to ascribe to him any attribute or perfection"(EU11.27)If no impression can be produced, then we must conclude " the term altogether insignificant". Clearly then, there is a closely knit connection between the sceptical implications of Hume's empiricists theory of ideas, as based in his copy-principle, and then with his related critique of of the argument for God's existence from design. A basic or fundamental point trhat seems to emerge from all of this , is that Hume seems to agree with Hobbes that in our idea of God tends to follow the same path of that of a blind man trying to obtain the idea of fire.

Hume continues his critques of arguments for God's existence. One of Hume's more explicit assaults is in his writings in the Dialogues Part IX, in these writings he mentions Clarke and reduces his argument to a mere few sentences.

...Whatever exists must have a cause or reason of its existence, it being absolutely impossible for anything to produce itself, or to be the cause of its own existence. In mounting up, therefore, from effects to causes, we must either go on in tracing an infinite sucession, without any ultimate cause at all, or must have recourse to some ultimate cause, that is necessarily existent...(D,90) It is also essential to his argument to prove that the necessarily-existen being cannot be of unintelligent inactive matter matter. Clarke's argument that is being expressed by Hume, is rooted on the contingency for the existence of matter and a particular form of the world.

Clarke writes: Ant particle of matter, it is said, "may be concieved to be annihilated; and any form may be concieve to be altered. Such an annihilation or alteration, therefore is not impossible.(D91)

Clarke provides another argument that is not mentioned by Hume in the Dialogues to show that it is quite impossible for matter to truly be"the final and original being" it states that we cannot explain the origin of motion and intelligence in the world if matter is the first, original self existing being. The basic principle idea that Clarke is relying on to come to this conclusionis,once again that "nothing can come from nothing". The principle in this case is seems to be interpreted that it is inplying "in order of causes and effects, the cause must always be more excellent that the effect"(Demonstrations,38) On this account, it is virtually impossible that "any effect could have such perfection, which was not in the cause" Clarke and other like-minded thinkers, using the basis of this principle(described as the causal-adequacy principle) these thinkers attempt to maintain that it is possible to demonstrate for certain that matter and motion are not able to produce thought and intelligence. So therefore, the self-existent being must be intellectually, immaterial being, they claimed that to suppose the contrary would be just plain contradiction.

Hume on Miracles- Miracles are an essential and even a fundamental part of many of the monotheistic religions (i.e. Judaism, Christianity, Islam etc.) The observance or the account of miracles as presented in the scriptures of elsewhere in religious writings, are supposed to confirm the authenticity and even the authority of scripture and the prophets, but most importantly, establish that God has revealed himself to humans beings through the demonstration of these special acts or events. From Christianity's point of view there is one miracle that is particulary of significance, and that being the resurrection of Christ. To doubt or question the validity or truth of this event is fundamentally to doubt the very core and distinct meaning and the doctrine of the Christian religion. It would be to cast doubt on the claim that Christ is God and the saviour of human kind. A major concern that Hume has, as is presented in SectionX of the first Enquiry, was to discredit these miracle claims if this kind. According to Hume's description "a miracle is a violation of a law of nature"(EU,11.12/114)More specifically Hume states it is "a transgression of a law of nature by a particular volition of the Diety, or by the interposition of some invisible agent(EU, 11.12) As defined, amiracle may occur without any person observing it, in other words, it may be completely unknown. Hume adds that a miracle is not only a violation law of nature,but also requires the direct activity of God or some "invisible agent" is a significant requirement.Nevertheless, the key issuefor Hume's critique of miracles, is whether or not we ever have reason to believe on the basis of testimony that a law of nature has been violated. Hume's arguments lead to the conclusion that we never have reason to believe miracle reports are passed on to us.

Hume seems to interpret a law of nature must involve a uniform regularity of events. We discover or "experience" laws of nature on the basis of our "experience on constant conjunctions of events or objects.

Empirical Arguments (Against the existence)[edit | edit source]

  1. The problem of evil.
  2. Argument from Inconsistent Revelations
  3. Argument from Poor Design
  4. Argument from Non Belief

Deductive Arguments (Against the existence)[edit | edit source]

  1. The Omnipotence Paradox
  2. Argument from free-will
  3. Transcendental argument for non-existence
  4. Theological Non-Cognition

Inductive Arguments (Against the existence)[edit | edit source]

  1. Atheist- Existentialist

Let us first look at the Metaphysical arguments. Metaphysics(Metaphysical) by definition is the branch of philosophy that investigates questions concerning the nature of reality and that moves beyond scientific inquiry to exploring questions about self, God, free will, and the origins of the universe. Named after a book by Aristotle for the study of questions left over after the study of this world, "physica" or nature.

The Cosmological Argument (for existence of God)[edit | edit source]

The Cosmological Argument is an argument that uses reason (logos) to make an inference of alleged facts about the world (cosmos) to imply the existence of a unique or "Supreme Being", particularly, God. One adherent to the cosmological argument was Leibniz, who argued that the world was filled with beings that depended on another being for their existence, and that the necessary being for all other being's existence was God.(1)

The Ontological Argument (for existence of God)[edit | edit source]

This argument attempts to support God's existence from a source based other than the mere observation or existence of the world. Basically, these basis come from a priori, analytical premises that reach a conclusion that God exists. Leibniz also employed an ontological argument for God's existence: He argued that God existed because it was possible for God to exist. In Leibniz's words, "Since nothing can prevent the possibility of what is without limits, without negation, and consequently without contradiction, this by itself is sufficient for us to know the existence of God a priori."(1)

The Pantheistic Argument[edit | edit source]

This view broadly defines God's existence by making the claim, "God is everything, and everything is God". It bases that everything purports a certian unity, and that unity is all inclusive and in some sense "divine" and exists from only one "Being" (God).

Now we will cover empirical arguments for the existence of God. The word "empirical" by textbook definition is "that which can be proven or disproved by sensory experience".

Teleological Argument[edit | edit source]

Teleological, from the Greek word "telos" meaning "purpose" or "goal". There are a few classical versions of the design argument. One is those of St. Thomas Aquinas and his "five ways". The fifth argument is the argument from design, the other four are first-cause arguments. The argument starts with a major premise; there must be a designer, The minor premise is the existence of design throughout the universe. The conclusion is that there must be a "universal designer".

The Moral Argument for God's existence[edit | edit source]

Moral arguments for the existence of God may be defined as a group of arguments in the history of western philosophical theology that possess ideas of the character of moral thought. They tend to cite facts that are evident to the human experience, and they will argue that such facts are best explained by the hypothesis that there is a God with the attributes ascribed to him by tradition.

Transcendental Argument[edit | edit source]

This argument attempts to prove that the Christian God is the precondition of all human experience and knowledge, by trying to demonstrate the impossibility of the contrary. Robert Lewis Dabney attempts to explain the impossibility of the contrary stating, "A truth is not necessary, because we negatively are not able to conceive the actual existence of the opposite thereof;but a truth is necessary when we positively are able to apprehend that the negation thereof includes an inevitable contradiction. It is not that that we can see how the opposite comes to be true, but it is that the opposite can not possibly be true(Systematic Theology).

Conclusion[edit | edit source]


  • Read Thomas Aquinas' Five Ways
  • Define how the concept of faith relates to the ideas of the Christian philosophers and how they use it to affirm their arguments for the existence of God.
  • To the best of your ability, write a 3-5 page paper outlining the development of the idea of God from the Greeks to the early Christians, and how the arguments for his existence developed and changed over the centuries.

Bonus Question: Based on your current knowledge concerning arguments for and against the existence of God, develop your own argument for God's existence; Then develop an argument against it. Good Luck!

See also[edit | edit source]

References[edit | edit source]

1) Encyclopedia of Philosophy, 2nd ed., vol. 3, editor in chief: Donald M. Borchert, copyright 2006 Thomson Gale

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