Existence of God  

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"If God did not exist, it would be necessary to invent him" --Voltaire

"God is an infinite sphere whose center everywhere and whose circumference is nowhere"

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Train wreck at Montparnasse (October 22, 1895) by Studio Lévy and Sons.
Train wreck at Montparnasse (October 22, 1895) by Studio Lévy and Sons.

The debate concerning the existence of God is one of the oldest and most discussed in human history. Arguments for and against the existence of God have been proposed by philosophers, theologians, scientists, and others for thousands of years. In philosophical terms, such arguments involve primarily the disciplines of epistemology (the nature and scope of knowledge) and ontology (study of the nature of being, existence, or reality) and also the theory of value, since concepts of perfection are connected to notions of God. A wide variety of arguments exist which can be categorized as metaphysical, logical, empirical, or subjective. The existence of God is subject to lively debate in philosophy, the philosophy of religion, and popular culture.

The Western tradition of philosophical discussion of the existence of God began with Plato and Aristotle, who made arguments that would now be categorized as cosmological. Later, Epicurus formulated the problem of evil: If God is omnipotent, omniscient and omnibenevolent, why does evil exist? The field of theodicy arose from attempts to answer this question. Other arguments for the existence of God have been proposed by St. Anselm, who formulated the first ontological argument; Ibn Rushd (Averroes) and Aquinas, who presented their own versions of the cosmological argument (the kalam argument and the first way, respectively); Descartes, who said that the existence of a benevolent God was logically necessary for the evidence of the senses to be meaningful; and Immanuel Kant, who argued that the existence of God can be deduced from the existence of good. Thinkers who have provided arguments against the existence of God include David Hume, Kant, Nietzsche, and Bertrand Russell. In modern culture, the question of God's existence has been discussed by scientists such as Stephen Hawking and Richard Dawkins, as well as philosophers including Daniel Dennett.

Atheists maintain that arguments for the existence of God provide insufficient reason to believe. Additionally, some contend that it is possible to affirmatively disprove the existence of God, or of certain characteristics traditionally attributed to God such as perfection.

Fideists acknowledge that belief in the existence of God may not be amenable to demonstration or refutation, but rests on faith alone. The Catholic Church maintains that knowledge of the existence of God is available in the "natural light of human reason" alone. Other religions, such as Buddhism, do not concern themselves with the existence of gods at all.


Arguments for the existence of God

Empirical arguments

Aquinas' Five Ways

Quinque viae, unmoved mover, first cause, argument from contingency, argument from degree, or teleological argument.

In the first part of his Summa Theologica, Thomas Aquinas developed his five arguments for God's existence. These arguments are grounded in an Aristotelian ontology and make use of the infinite regression argument. Aquinas' Five Ways argued from the unmoved mover, first cause, necessary being, argument from degree, and the teleological argument.

  • The unmoved mover argument asserts that, from our experience of motion in the universe (motion being the transition from potentiality to actuality) we can see that there must have been an initial mover. Aquinas argued that whatever is in motion must be put in motion by another thing, so there must be an unmoved mover.
  • Aquinas' argument from first cause started with the premise that it is impossible for a being to cause itself (because it would have to exist before it caused itself) and that it is impossible for there to be an infinite chain of causes, which would result in infinite regress. Therefore, there must be a first cause, itself uncaused.
  • The argument from necessary being asserts that all beings are contingent, meaning that it is possible for them not to exist. Aquinas argued that if everything can possibly not exist, there must have been a time when nothing existed; as things exist now, there must exist a being with necessary existence, regarded as God.
  • Aquinas argued from degree, considering the occurrence of degrees of goodness. He believed that things which are called good, must be called good in relation to a standard of good—a maximum. There must be a maximum goodness that which causes all goodness.
  • The teleological argument asserts the view that things without intelligence are ordered towards a purpose. Aquinas argued that unintelligent objects cannot be ordered unless they are done so by an intelligent being, which means that there must be an intelligent being to move objects to their ends: God.

Rational Warrant

Philosopher Stephen Toulmin, notable for his work in the history of ideas that features the (Rational) Warrant: a statement that connects the premises to a conclusion.

Joseph Hinman applied Toulmin's approach in his argument for the existence of God, particularly in his book The Trace of God: A Rational Warrant for Belief. [link] Instead of attempting to prove the existence of God, Hinman argues you can "demonstrate the rationally warranted nature of belief".

Hinman uses a wide range of studies, including ones by Robert Wuthnow, Andrew Greeley, Mathes and Kathleen Nobel to establish that mystical experiences are life-transformative in a way that is significant, positive and lasting. He draws on additional work to add several additional major points to his argument. First, the people who have these experiences not only do not exhibit traditional signs of mental illness but, often, are in better mental and physical health than the general population due to the experience. Second, the experiences work. In other words, they provide a framework for navigating life that is useful and effective. All of the evidence of the positive effect's of the experience upon people's lives he, adapting a term from Derida, terms "The Trace of God": the footprints left behind that point to the impact

Finally, he discusses how both religious experience and belief in God is, and has always been, normative among humans: people do not need to prove the existence of God. If there is no need to prove, Hinman argues, and the Trace of God (for instance, the impact of mystical experiences on them), belief in God is rationally warranted.

Deductive arguments

Ontological argument

Ontological argument

The ontological argument has been formulated by philosophers including St. Anselm and René Descartes. The argument proposes that God's existence is self-evident. The logic, depending on the formulation, reads roughly as follows:

  1. God is the greatest conceivable being.
  2. It is greater to exist than not to exist.
  3. Therefore, God exists.

Thomas Aquinas criticized the argument for proposing a definition of God which, if God is transcendent, should be impossible for humans. Immanuel Kant criticized the proof from a logical standpoint: he stated that the term "God" really signifies two different terms: both idea of God, and God. Kant concluded that the proof is equivocation, based on the ambiguity of the word God. Kant also challenged the argument's assumption that existence is a predicate (of perfection) because it does not add anything to the essence of a being. If existence is not a predicate, then it is not necessarily true that the greatest possible being exists. A common rebuttal to Kant's critique is that, although "existence" does add something to both the concept and the reality of God, the concept would be vastly different if its referent was an unreal Being. Another response to Kant is attributed to Alvin Plantinga who explains that even if one were to grant Kant that "existence" is not a real predicate, "Necessary Existence", which is the correct formulation of an understanding of God, is a real predicate, thus according to Plantinga Kant's argument is refuted.

Other arguments

These two arguments follow from possible deductions, i.e., they can be set up as deductions and therefore are placed here.

  • Argument from Meaning.
  • Argument from Ethics, being one type of view by ontologically considered intelligence.

Inductive arguments

Inductive arguments argue their conclusions through inductive reasoning.

  • Another class of philosophers asserts that the proofs for the existence of God present a fairly large probability though not absolute certainty. A number of obscure points, they say, always remain; an act of faith is required to dismiss these difficulties. This view is maintained, among others, by the Scottish statesman Arthur Balfour in his book The Foundations of Belief (1895). The opinions set forth in this work were adopted in France by Ferdinand Brunetière, 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?

Other arguments

  • The hypothesis of Intelligent design proposes that certain features of the universe and of living things are the product of an intelligent cause. Its proponents are mainly Christians.
  • Argument from belief in God being properly basic as presented by Alvin Plantinga.
  • Argument from the confluence of proper function and reliability and the evolutionary argument against naturalism, which demonstrate how naturalism is incapable of providing humans with the cognitive apparatus necessary for their knowledge to have positive epistemic status.
  • Argument from Personal Identity.
  • Argument from the "divine attributes of scientific law".

Subjective arguments

Arguments from historical events or personages

Arguments from testimony

Arguments from testimony rely on the testimony or experience of witnesses, possibly embodying the propositions of a specific revealed religion. Swinburne argues that it is a principle of rationality that one should accept testimony unless there are strong reasons for not doing so.

  • The witness argument gives credibility to personal witnesses, contemporary and throughout the ages. A variation of this is the argument from miracles (also referred to as "the priest stories") which relies on testimony of supernatural events to establish the existence of God.
  • The majority argument argues that the theism of people throughout most of recorded history and in many different places provides prima facie demonstration of God's existence.
Arguments grounded in personal experiences
  • An argument for God is often made from an unlikely complete reversal in lifestyle by an individual towards God. Paul of Tarsus, a persecutor of the early Church, became a pillar of the Church after his conversion on the road to Damascus. Modern day examples in Evangelical Protestantism are sometimes called "Born-Again Christians".
  • The Scottish School of Common Sense led by Thomas Reid taught that the fact of the existence of God is accepted by people without knowledge of reasons but simply by a natural impulse. That God exists, this school said, is one of the chief metaphysical principles that people accept not because they are evident in themselves or because they can be proved, but because common sense obliges people to accept them.
  • The Argument from a Proper Basis argues that belief in God is "properly basic"; that it is similar to statements like "I see a chair" or "I feel pain". Such beliefs are non-falsifiable and, thus, neither provable nor disprovable; they concern perceptual beliefs or indisputable mental states.
  • In Germany, the School of Friedrich Heinrich Jacobi taught that human 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 a person's consciousness and unites them to one another. God's existence, then, cannot be proven (Jacobi, like Immanuel Kant, rejected the absolute value of the principle of causality), it must be felt by the mind.
  • In Emile, Jean-Jacques Rousseau asserted that when a person's understanding ponders over the existence of God it encounters nothing but contradictions; the impulses of people's hearts, however, are of more value than the understanding, and these proclaim clearly 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, who assumed an inner religious sense by means of which people feel religious truths. According to Schleiermacher, religion consists solely in this inner perception, and dogmatic doctrines are inessential.
  • 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 to people by inner experience, feeling, and perception.
  • Modernist Christianity also denies the demonstrability of the existence of God. According to them, one can only know something of God by means of the vital immanence, that is, under favorable circumstances the need of the divine dormant in one's subconsciousness becomes conscious and arouses that religious feeling or experience in which God reveals himself. In condemnation of this view the Oath Against Modernism formulated by Pius X, a Pope of the Catholic Church, 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.")
  • Brahma Kumaris religion was established in 1936, when God was said to enter the body of diamond merchant Lekhraj Kripalani (1876–1969) in Hyderabad, Sindh and started to speak through him.

See also

Unless indicated otherwise, the text in this article is either based on Wikipedia article "Existence of God" or another language Wikipedia page thereof used under the terms of the GNU Free Documentation License; or on original research by Jahsonic and friends. See Art and Popular Culture's copyright notice.

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