Arguments for the existence of God
- 1 Overview
- 2 Cosmological arguments
- 3 Teleological argument
- 4 Anthropological argument
- 5 Ontological argument
- 6 Free will argument
- 7 Consciousness
- 8 Argument from beauty
- 9 Resources
- 10 See also
- 11 References
- 12 External links
See also: Common arguments against atheism
Also known as proofs for God's existence, these arguments have not always come with full acceptance. Those opposed to natural theology claim that God's existence cannot be proven by human reason or the natural world, and that any attempt to do so runs the risk of becoming a God of the Gaps argument. However, Oxford scholar Roger Penrose states that materialism is now the faith of the gaps (see: Atheism of the gaps).
Viewpoints vary, but responses tend to conclude that God can only be known by supernatural revelation or Scripture alone. Karl Barth is a classic example of this as he believed that God is exclusively revealed in Jesus Christ, and Jesus is only revealed in the Bible. Proponents of natural theology vary as well, but most conclude that the existence of God can be known through human reason although it is not salvific (not a saving knowledge of God). Thomas Aquinas is characteristic of this view, holding to the understanding that the created world reflects aspects of its creator that are apparent to all. Nonetheless, arguments for the existence of God have been formed throughout church history and continue to be used today, namely in the area of Christian apologetics.
These arguments do not generally tell us much about God, and certainly not the details that is revealed in the Bible. Rather, they argue for the basics, such that God exists, although some characteristics of God can be deduced from the nature of His creation.
See also: Atheism and the origin of the universe
Kalam cosmological argument
The aim of this argument is to show that the universe had a beginning in the finite past. The argument battles against the existence of an infinite regression of past events which implies a universe that has infinitely existed. This argument implies the existence of a First Cause.
The form of the argument is:
- Whatever begins to exist has a cause.
- The universe began to exist.
- Therefore, the universe has a cause.
Note that the key phrase here is "begins to exist". The question is not "whatever exists".
The atheistic counter argument has traditionally been to point 2, taking the position that the universe has always existed. It should also be noted that the Kalam argument removes one of the knee jerk reactions to any discussion on creation involving God which is "Then who created God?" Since God has no beginning, the question becomes meaningless. The Bible makes clear that God exists outside of our construct of time in many locations, including 1 Corinthians 2:7, 2 Timothy 1:9, and Titus 1:2.
Thomistic cosmological argument
- What we observe in this universe is contingent (i.e. dependent, or conditional)
- A sequence of causally related contingent things cannot be infinite
- The sequence of causally dependent contingent things must be finite
Conclusion: There must be a first cause in the sequence of contingent causes
Leibnizian cosmological argument
The argument comes from a German polymath, Gottfriend Wilhelm Leibniz. Leibniz wrote, "The first question which should rightly be asked is this: why is there something rather than nothing?"
The argument runs as follows:
- Every existing thing has an explanation of its existence, either in the necessity of its own nature or in an external cause.
- If the universe has an explanation of its existence, that explanation is God.
- The universe is an existing thing.
- Therefore the explanation of the universe is God.
Some atheists object to premise 2 in that God does not have to be the explanation, but that the universe can be what is called a necessary being (one which exists of its own nature and have no external cause). This was a suggestion of David Hume who demanded, "Why may not the material universe be the necessarily existent being?" (Dialogues Concerning Natural Religion, part 9). The Kalam Cosmological Argument is helpful. If Hume (and other atheists) is right in saying that the universe is a necessary being/thing, then this implies that the universe is eternal. This is exactly what the Kalam argument seeks to disprove. Thus, the Kalam is a valuable supplement to the Leibnizian argument.
Probably the most popular argument for God's existence is the teleological argument. Derived from the Greek word telos, which refers to purpose or end, this argument hinges on the idea that the world gives evidence of being designed, and concludes that a divine designer must be posited to account for the orderly world we encounter. Although the teleological argument dates at least as far back as Plato, it is perhaps most memorable today from the work of William Paley (1743-1805), in his Natural Theology (1802). Recently, the teleological argument has gained renewed interest as a core element of the theory of Intelligent Design and the related efforts to reconcile science and faith. This was predicted by Kelvin who pointed out that in the 19th century the argument of design has been greatly too much lost sight of in contemporary zoological speculations and that reaction against frivolities of teleology by 'learned Commentators' on Paley's "Natural Theology" should have had only a temporary effect in turning attention from "the solid and irrefragable argument so well put forward in that excellent old book".
Although there are variations, the basic argument goes something like this:
- X is too complex to have occurred randomly or naturally.
- Therefore, X must have been created by an intelligent being, Y.
- God is that intelligent being.
- Therefore, God exists.
Often, X is life, but there are other values for which the argument works. For example, scientists have found that if the universal constants (such as the speed of light or the Planck constant) were only a tiny bit different life could not exist.
A significant portion of atheists see their lives and the world being the product of design
Comments on the teleological argument
The first and second premises assume that one can infer the existence of intelligent design merely by examining an object. This is the same principle that archaeology uses to determine if, for example, a piece of stone is a stone tool.
The teleological argument assumes that because life is complex, it must have been designed. This is based on observations that complexity is not the outcome of random processes. Some object that life or objects are described as, “orderly” or “ordered”, and that this implies that an intelligent designer has ordered them. These objector claim that a system can be non-random or ordered simply because it is following impersonal physical processes, for example diamonds or snowflakes. However, such "ordered" systems do not have complexity, which life has.
The third premise is rejected by some even if the first and second premises are accepted, as the implied designer (Y) might be an unknown force or mere demiurge, not God as God is commonly understood. It is argued in defense that the outside force through which Y came into being might then be explained as a more powerful being resulting in either an omnipotent being or infinite regression.
Critics often argue that the teleological argument would apply to the designer, arguing any designer must be at least as complex and purposeful as the designed object. This, they say, would create the absurdity of an infinite series of designers. However, the counter-argument of an "undesigned designer," akin to Aristotle's uncaused causer, is common. Furthermore, it has been argued that God is not complex, that is, He is not composed of many interrelated parts, so the complexity argument does not apply. However, such a response would refute itself, for how could something simple create something complex, intelligently?
The anthropological (anthropos meaning "man") argument is made on the basis of the condition of humanity, of mankind's basic moral standards and the thread a search for a higher being. It is related to the cosmological and teleological arguments in that it if man has a yearning for God and a conscience when offending him, ostensibly these have their origin and cause in God and not in man. The argument was perhaps most famously posited by Blaise Pascal, who reasoned that it was better "bet" to believe in God than not to do so.
The ontological argument attempts to prove God's existence through abstract reasoning alone. The argument is entirely a priori, i.e. it involves no empirical evidence at all. Rather, the argument begins with an explication of the concept of God, and seeks to demonstrate that God exists on the basis of that concept alone.
|“||"The argument is ingenious. It has the appearance of a linguistic trick, but it is a difficult task to say precisely what, if anything, is wrong with it. All forms of the argument make some association between three concepts: the concepts of God, of perfection, and of existence. Very roughly, they state that perfection is a part of the concept of God, and that perfection entails existence, and so that the concept of God entails God's existence." ||”|
The ontological argument was first formulated by Anselm of Canterbury (1033-1109), one of the great medieval philosopher-theologians, in his Proslogium, Chapter 2. Anselm’s ontological argument rests on the identification of God as “that than which no greater can be conceived”. Once it is understood that God is that of which no greater can be conceived, Anselm suggests, it becomes evident that God must exist.
A problem with this argument is that it merely defines God into existence. It is unclear if the concept of being able to conceive of a perfect being has any connection to actual existence. Without being able to make this connection, the merit of the argument can become questionable.
Descartes' ontological argument
We have the idea of an infinitely perfect Being. Since we are finite, and everything around us is finite, the idea of an infinitely perfect Being could not have originated with us or with the nature around us. Therefore the idea of an infinitely perfect Being must have come from such a being - God.  Of course, such a idea, is shoehorning the idea that something must be infinite.
Free will argument
- There can be no free will in a totally naturalistic system
- Free will exists
- Therefore God exists
Oxygen and hydrogen don't 'choose' to combine, they do so due to natural laws. In a naturalistic system every component that makes us up obeys similar natural laws. The concept of freewill or choice would therefore not exist.
Some challenge this argument on the basis that premises one and two have not been proven. They argue:
- In challenging premise 1, those ascribing to compatibilism believe that our experience of free will is still compatible with naturalistic causes even if the mechanism that causes this to be is not yet known and no viable explanation can be postulated apart from acting as if it is so. Since this can not be disproven, it is possible that free will exists in a naturalistic system.
- In challenging premise 2, those ascribing to determinism simply believe that free will does not exist and no one has free will. Therefore there is no importance to the concept of God.
- Nature consists of a finite number of elements.
- We (our physical bodies) consist of those elements.
- The elements themselves which we consist of, and nature itself, have no consciousness.
- Despite our elements themselves having no consciousness, we do.
- Consciousness can not happen by chance, therefore there must be a being who supply that to us.
- Infinite regress of beings is illogical, therefore a single, uncaused causer must be the causer of consciousness.
- This uncaused causer of the conscience is God
- This argument fails to address gestalt consciousness.
- Evolutionists typically argue that consciousness may happen by chance. However, this is highly illogical and unlikely, so is yet another weak argument for atheism (see: Atheism and irrationality).
- Infinite regress is allowable both in modern mathematics and physics.
- The last point (that the uncaused causer is God) is unsupported unless it is taken as a statement of definition. If this is the case, the prior arguments are unnecessary.
Argument from beauty
- God, Are you There? Five Reasons God Exists and Three Reasons it Makes a Difference, by William Lane Craig (from the RZIM Critical Questions Booklet Series)
- Does God Exist? The Debate between Theists and Atheists, by J.P. Moreland (theist) and Kai Nielsen (atheist). Prometheus Books, 1993.
- 22 arguments for the existence of God
- Rebuttals to atheist arguments
- Christian apologetics
- Creation science
- Thomas Aquinas
- Argument from miracles
- Argument from desire
- This article is based off the Theopedia.com article which is in the public domain.
- The term "God" is a reference to the ultimate being, not necessarily the Christian God. There term is here capitalised as it is a reference to the ultimate being, not a counterfeit or lesser "god-like" being.
- W. Thomson (Lord Kelvin) (1871). On the Origin of Life. Transactions of the Geological Society of Glasgow. Retrieved on 6 June 2015. “I feel profoundly convinced that the argument of design has been greatly too much lost sight of in recent zoological speculations. Reaction against frivolities of teleology, such as are to be found, not rarely, in the notes of learned Commentators on Paley's "Natural Theology," has I believe had a temporary effect in turning attention from the solid and irrefragable argument so well put forward in that excellent old book. But overpoweringly strong proofs of intelligent and benevolent design lie all round us, and if ever perplexities, whether metaphysical or scientific, turn us away from them for a time, they come back upon us with irresistible force, showing to us through nature the influence of a free will, and teaching us that all living beings depend on one ever-acting Creator and Ruler.”
- Does everything happen for a reason?, New York Times, October 17, 2014
- Children see the world as designed by David Catchpoole, Creation Ministries International, Published: 16 July 2009
- Atheist Jean-Paul Sartre made the candid confession: "As for me, I don’t see myself as so much dust that has appeared in the world but as a being that was expected, prefigured, called forth. In short, as a being that could, it seems, come only from a creator; and this idea of a creating hand that created me refers me back to God. Naturally this is not a clear, exact idea that I set in motion every time I think of myself. It contradicts many of my other ideas; but it is there, floating vaguely. And when I think of myself I often think rather in this way, for wont of being able to think otherwise." Source: Escape from God: The Use of Religion and Philosophy to Evade Responsibility By Dean Turner, page 109
- The Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy declares: "In 1885, the Duke of Argyll recounted a conversation he had had with Charles Darwin the year before Darwin's death: In the course of that conversation I said to Mr. Darwin, with reference to some of his own remarkable works on the Fertilization of Orchids, and upon The Earthworms, and various other observations he made of the wonderful contrivances for certain purposes in nature — I said it was impossible to look at these without seeing that they were the effect and the expression of Mind. I shall never forget Mr. Darwin's answer. He looked at me very hard and said, 'Well, that often comes over me with overwhelming force; but at other times,' and he shook his head vaguely, adding, 'it seems to go away.'(Argyll 1885, 244)Notes to Teleological Arguments for God's Existence
- "The Astonishing Hypothesis is that "You," your joys and your sorrows, your memories and your ambitions, your sense of personal identity and free will, are in fact no more than the behavior of a vast assembly of nerve cells and their associated molecules ... Free Will is located in or near the anterior cingulate sulcus." Francis Crick, The Astonishing Hypothesis: The Scientific Search for the Soul, Charles Scribner's Sons, New York, NY, 1993, p. 3, 268.
- Twenty Arguments For The Existence Of God, by Peter Kreeft & Ronald K. Tacelli
- Two Dozen (or so) Theistic Arguments by Alvin Plantinga; Lecture presented at the 33rd Annual Philosophy Converence, Wheaton College, Oct 23-25, 1986
- The Cosmological Argument: A Current Bibliographical Appraisal, by W. David Beck
- Evil as Evidence for God, by Justin Taylor
- The 4 Primary Arguments for God's Existence, by Michael J. Vlach
- "Thomas Aquinas's Proof of God" by Robert Barron, October 8, 2014
- Theism; Proof of God's existence, by Bruce Ware (MP3)
- Does God Exist? (MP3), by William Lane Craig
- Existence of God Audio Lectures (The Veritas Forum)
- Is There a Supreme Being?, or the Existence of God (MP3), by S. Lewis Johnson
- Cosmological Argument (QuickTime), by Ronald Nash