Daily Archives: April 18, 2015

Summary of the Arguments for the Existence of God

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 universe designers; thus
3) The universe was designed by one or more universe designers.

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 on the fact of evolution see: http://evolution.berkeley.edu/)**

[There is a new kind of teleological argument, known as the “fine tuning” argument. The idea is 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 definitively 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 backward 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 or self-sufficient, it makes more sense to say that thing is the universe instead of some god because we know the universe exists whereas we don’t know gods exist.

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 2 or 3 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) Something else is necessary (a non-contingent god.)

Version B – (St. Anselm’s argument)
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 for certain that belief in a god or gods is not simply a matter of reason or logic.

(For the record I believe that the god of classical theism is almost certainly imaginary.)

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