Finally! The Arguments for the Existence of God in Two Pages

Is it reasonable to believe in a god(s)? To be reasonable, a belief must be backed by good reasons, but are there any? Western philosophers through the centuries have advanced 3 basic arguments for the existence of a god; we will consider each of them briefly. 

ARGUMENT #1 - The Argument from Design (a teleological argument)

Version A – “The best explanation argument”

1) There seems to be design in the universe;
2) This design didn’t come about by chance; thus
3) The universe was intelligently designed.

Version B – “The same-evidence argument”

1) Watches have designs and are designed by watchmakers;
2) Similarly, universes have designs and are designed by a universe designers; thus
3) The universe was designed by a universe designer.

Hume’s Objections

  • We infer a designer from a watch because we have background information about watches (we have seen them, can visit watch factories, etc.) But we have no background information about universes or how or if they are created. Thus we can make no inference about their supposed design.
  • Suppose we accept the universe has a design; what would we conclude about its designer? Considered objectively, we wouldn’t conclude that it was designed by an omnipotent, omniscience, omni-benevolent deity. We would conclude it was made by less than perfect beings, intelligent aliens, drunk, child or malicious gods, etc.

Evolution – Hume’s were logical arguments, but in lieu of a definitive replacement for design the situation was at an impasse. This all changed with modern biology. After the fact of evolution was discovered, the design argument was essentially dead. (For more see: http://evolution.berkeley.edu/)**

There is a new kind of teleological argument, known as the “fine tuning” argument. The idea that life in the universe can only occur when certain universal physical constants lie within a very narrow range. This may imply a designer. However, the argument is not generally thought to be successful, and it is undermined if we live in a multiverse.) 

ARGUMENT #2 – The First Cause Argument (a cosmological argument)

Version A –
1) Everything has a cause;
2) Causes can’t go backwards indefinitely; thus
3) There is a first cause, the gods.

Problems – Either everything has a cause or it doesn’t. If everything has a cause, we should ask what caused the gods? If there is something without a cause or self-caused, we might just as well say that thing is the universe as say its some god. In fact, we would do better to say it’s the universe that is self-sufficient since we know the universe exists.

Version B –
1) The universe requires an explanation; thus
2) The best explanation is a god or gods.

Problems – We have no idea of what, if anything, explains universes, and no good reason why such an explanation would be anything like the gods we imagine.  Moreover, with the advent of “quantum cosmologies” in the 1980s, we have scientific ideas that explain how universes can appear spontaneous existence out of nothing. In conclusion, either:

  1. the universe is explained by something else (but we don’t know what this might be);
  2. the universe is explained by itself (it is its own explanation);
  3. the universe has no explanation/cause (it is unintelligible, it just is); or
  4. the universe is eternal (could be part of B or C above)

(You can substitute multiverse for universe in the above, but the choices don’t change. )

ARGUMENT #3God as a Necessary Being  (an ontological argument )

Version A –
1) The universe is contingent (depends on something else); thus
2)That something else is a necessary (not contingent) god.

Version B
1) God is “that than which nothing greater can be conceived”;
2) The greatest thing, to be the greatest thing must exist; thus
3) God exists.

Version C
1) God is perfect;
2) Existence is a perfection;
3) God exists.

Gaunilo’s objection – According to this reasoning a perfect island exists. But this is silly.

Kant’s objection – Whether a thing is perfect depends on its properties. Existence is not a property, but a determination of whether a thing exists. Thus the definition of a perfect being tells us what a perfect being would be like IF it existed;  not that a PB actually exists.

These are the very best arguments ever advanced by theologians and philosophers, and a majority of contemporary philosophers believe these arguments fail. Maybe arguments don’t matter and one should just believe anyway, or maybe personal religious experience gives one a reason to believe, or maybe the gods are just imaginary. But we can say that belief in gods is not simply a matter of reason or logic.

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** If you want to know the truth about evolution you can visit any of these websites:

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Finally! Hinduism in One Page

The Essence of Hinduism

(The single best book on the this topic is Huston Smith’s The World’s Religions.)

Part One: The main practical elements of Hinduism

A. You Can Have What You Want

We begin by wanting pleasure. This is natural, but it doesn’t satisfy our total nature. We also want worldly success, especially wealth, fame, and power. This is a worthy goal, but people whose development is not arrested will outgrow these desires too. Hinduism doesn’t say that everyone will outgrow worldly desires, but at some point in their reincarnations people will renounce ego desires. This is the first great step in religion. In the end all worldly rewards prove insufficient, and in some reincarnation we turn to the Path of Renunciation. This is the moment Hinduism has been waiting for.

B. What People Really Want

People really want infinite being, infinite awareness, and infinite joy. This satisfies their total being. There are four paths to the realization of our total being, and people should focus on the one that best suits them while practicing all of them.

a. The Way to God (enlightenment) through Knowledge (Jnana Yoga) – This path is intended for those who have a strong reflected bent.
b. The Way to God (enlightenment) through Love (Bhakti Yoga) – This path is the most popular of the four, and best for those with a more emotional bent.
c. The Way to God (enlightenment) through Work (Karma Yoga) – The third path is intended for persons of active bent.
d. The Way to God (enlightenment) through Psychophysical Exercises (Raja Yoga) – This yoga is designed for people who are of scientific, meditative bent.

Part Two: The main theoretical ideas of Hinduism

A. The Concept of God (Brahman)

Hinduism encourages devotees to think of Brahman as either personal or transpersonal, depending on which carries the most exalted meaning for the mind in question.

B. Reincarnation

The process by which an individual soul passes through a sequence of bodies is known as reincarnation. In a human body, the soul has self-consciousness, freedom, and responsibility. Each thought and deed sculpts one’s destiny. Everybody gets exactly what is deserved (the law of karma.)

C. The Atman

The soul is called the Atman, the God within. Some say the individual soul  eventually passes into identification with God and loses every trace of its former separateness. Others say that some slight differentiation between the soul and God always remains.

D. The World

We live in: a) a physical and temporal world of galaxies and time;  b) a moral world operating according to the law of karma; c) a world that is maya, deceptively passing off its multiplicity and materiality as real; d) a world where people can develop their capacities; e) a world that is lila, the play of the divine in its cosmic dance—untiring, unending, resistless, yet ultimately beneficent with a grace born of infinite vitality.

E. Many Paths to the Same Summit

That Hinduism has shared her land for centuries with Jains, Buddhists, Parsees, Muslims, Sikhs, and Christians may help explain an idea that comes out more clearly through her than in other religions—her conviction that the various major religions are alternate paths to the same goal. To claim salvation as the monopoly of any one religion is like claiming that God can be found in this room but not the next, in this attire but not another.

The Holocaust

I watched the PBS documentary “Memory of the Camps,” last night. (Watch Memory of the Camps for free on FRONTLINE’s website here, and learn more about the film’s remarkable history here. It turns out that some of the editing of the film was done by Alfred Hitchcock.)

The documentary is composed of film footage taken by Allied forces when they marched into the concentration camps in Germany in 1945. There are simply no words to describe what they found. “The footage was as horrifying as it gets: Gas chambers. Pits full of the bodies of thousands of systematically starved men, women, and children. Crematoria designed to burn large numbers of corpses. And haunted, emaciated survivors.”

The film was originally aired by FRONTLINE in May of 1985. At that time The New York Times said, “Memory of the Camps is a filmed monument that does more than tell the story of what it is recalling. It is the story itself,” and the Boston Globe called it “an uninterrupted silent scream that one can’t turn a deaf ear to or look away from.”

I will refrain from philosophizing about the horror that humans bestow upon each other. But none of it is surprising, as anyone familiar with the Millgram and Zimbardo experiments (or human history) will attest. And the evils of the past continue unabated to this day. In our own time the most powerful country in the world kills, tortures, imprisons, enslaves, humiliates, and starves both its own citizens and people around the world. It is almost as bad to be a citizen of the empire as it is to be its subject.

Do Politicians Have Grandchildren?

I am a grandfather. But when I think of the world into which small children enter, it fills my heart with pain. But I’m also perplexed. Don’t politicians and financiers and industrial tycoons have grandchildren? And if they do, how can they not care about perpetual war and massive incarceration and torture and environmental degradation and climate change? How can they not care about poisoning the water and the earth and the air? How can they have such disregard for the precarious state of the climate and the atmosphere, that miniscule bit of blue that separates us from the unimaginably cold and darkness of space?

Yes I know that politicians better their chances of being elected by supporting torture and war and prisons.  And I understand that oil and gas and factory farming profit from polluting the environment and expediting disastrous climate change. But don’t any of these people have grandchildren?

Titans of Technology Want to Defeat Death

Ariana Eunjung Cha’s recent article in the Washington Post, “Tech Titan’s Latest Project: Defy Death,” discusses the attempts by the wealthy tech elite to defeat death by using their vast resources to fund anti-aging research. These elite include, most notably, PayPal founder Peter Thiel, Google co-founders Larry Page and Sergey Brin,  Oracle’s Larry Ellison and others. As Ellison puts it: “Death makes me very angry.” 

I have written extensively defending my belief that death should be overcome and applaud the wealthy tech elite for the commitment to this most important goal. However many aren’t convinced.

In a 2013 survey conducted by the Pew Research Center, 51 percent said they believed treatments to slow, stop or reverse aging would have a negative impact on society. Two-thirds said they worry that radical life extension would strain natural resources, that only wealthy people would get access to new treatments and that “medical scientists would offer the treatment before they fully understood how it affects people’s health. Fifty-eight percent said treatments that would allow people to live decades longer would be “fundamentally unnatural.”

And of course there is the opposition of Francis Fukuyama, a former member of the President Bush’s Council on Bioethics, who “argues that a large increase in human life spans would take away people’s motivation for the adaptation necessary for survival. In that kind of world, social change comes to a standstill, he said; aging dictators could stay in power for centuries.” What increased lifespans have to do with adaptation I have no idea, nor does the action of the mortal regarding climate change, nuclear annihilation or environmental destruction demonstrate much interest in survival. As for what increased lifespans have to do with stopping social change or more repressive political systems I am also in the dark.(I have responded to Fukuyama’s silly arguments previously.)

And then there is that deathist and opponent of every bit of social change ever proposed, Leon Kass, who asks: “Could life be serious or meaningful without the limit of mortality?” Kass’ arguments are even more absurd that Fukuyama’s. Kass simply hates progress and is a true enemy of the future. (I have replied to Kass previously here.)

But the most interesting objection to radical life-extension comes from a man I admire greatly, the world’s greatest philanthropist, Bill Gates. who says: “It seems pretty egocentric while we still have malaria and TB for rich people to fund things so they can live longer.” I do agree that giving everyone the opportunity to live say an 80 year healthy life probably takes precedence over giving a few the opportunity to live say double that. But the ultimate goal should be to eliminate death altogether. As I’ve said many times in this blog we are not truly free nor can life be ultimately meaningful unless death is optional. (The argument in detail is in my most recent book, The Meaning of Life: Religious, Philosophical, Transhumanist, and Scientific Perspectives.