"Handout" on the Existence of God:
ARGUMENTS ABOUT THE EXISTENCE OF GOD AND RELIGIOUS BELIEF
I. Arguments for the Existence of God
A. Cosmological Arguments
1. Prime Mover (Aquinas's "first way")
Things are in motion.
Whatever is in motion was caused to be in motion by something else (nothing is self-moved).
There must be a first mover, for without it, there could not be a second, nor a third, etc. and, hence, nothing would move at all.
God is (by definition) the first mover.
2. First Cause (Aquinas's "second way")
Everything has a cause.
Whatever is caused is caused by something else (nothing is self-caused).
Without a first cause, there could not be a second, nor a third, etc., and, hence, nothing would have a cause.
God is (by definition) the first cause.
3. Necessary Being (Aquinas's "third way")
There exist things which exist contingently (that is, they could fail to exist).
For it to be possible for a thing not to exist, there must be some time when the thing actually does not exist (contingently existing things do not exist for all time).
If everything were like this, then there would be a time that everything did not exist.
If there were a time that everything did not exist, nothing could come into existence, since something begins to exist only by something already existing.
Since things do exist, there must be something having necessary existence (i.e. exists for all time).
God is (by definition) the thing that has necessary existence.
4. Source of soul (Berkeley)
Souls and bodies are distinct substances.
Distinct substances cannot cause one another to exist.
Hence, no physical thing could cause souls to exist.
Neither human nor animal souls cause other souls to come into existence, but it must be some (non-physical) soul that does so.
God is (by definition) the creator of souls.
B. Teleological Arguments
5. Design (Aquinas's "fifth way")
Natural objects act so as to attain the best end.
Objects act so as to attain the best end only if they are following some purposeful design.
God is (by definition) the designer of the universe.
6. Analogy (William Paley)
There are characteristics that indicate that something is an artifact (i.e., created by an intelligence--not by random natural processes)--these characteristics include: (1) non-random organization of parts, (2) efficient use of materials, and especially (orderly functioning of the parts to serve some overall end.
Everything or at least most things in the universe exhibit these characteristics.
Hence, everything (or at least most things) is/are (an) artifact(s).
7. Probability (David Hume, Brother Juniper)
The complex order of natural things could not have resulted from mere chance.
Whatever does not result from mere chance must be the product of an intelligent design.
God is (by definition) the designer of the universe.
C. Ontological (Conceptual) Arguments
8. Comparatives (Aquinas's "fourth
Anything which has a quality in some degree has it in virtue of a comparison to an ideal standard--especially those things which are good.
Some things are, to some degree, good.
There must exist something perfectly good--the ideal standard of goodness to which all good things must be compared.
God is (by definition) the perfect standard of good.
9. The greatest being (Anselm)
God is (by definition) that than which no greater can be conceived.
Things that exist in reality are greater than things that exist only in imagination.
Hence, that than which no greater can be conceived must exist in reality--otherwise, anything that really existed would be greater.
10. Source of perfection (Descartes)
The more perfect cannot be created by the less perfect.
Our idea of God is an idea of perfection.
This idea is a perfect thing.
Hence, this idea must be caused by something which is at least as perfect or more perfect than our idea of perfection.
It cannot be caused by human beings, which are imperfect in every way.
God is (by definition) the one perfect being.
Our idea of perfection must be caused by God.
D. Epistemological Arguments
11. Clear and distinct ideas (Descartes)
All knowledge relies on clear and distinct ideas.
Unless there is a God (who is not a deceiver), clear and distinct ideas might be fallacious.
If clear and distinct ideas were fallacious, there would be no knowledge.
We do have knowledge.
12. God as the source of perception
Everything perceived is an idea in someone's mind.
Perceptions cohere from one moment to the next, and from perceiver to perceiver.
Unless there is a God who controls our perceptions, there could be no such coherence of perception.
13. Complete explanations (Yandell,
The adequacy of explanation requires the possibility of complete explanation.
No explanation is complete if it is rationally appropriate to explain its explanans.
Whenever the explanans of an existence explanation is a contingent being, it is rationally appropriate to explain the explanans.
Therefore, if any existence explanation is adequate, there must be some necessary being which is its ultimate explanation.
Some existence explanations are adequate.
Hence, there must be a necessary being.
God is (by definition) the necessary being.
14. Mind-Body Parallelism (Leibniz,
There is parallelism--i.e. strong correlation--between mental events and physical events (e.g. between perception and things perceived).
Mind and body are distinct substances, and cannot interact causally.
Therefore, mental-physical parallelism cannot be due to causal interaction.
But mental-physical parallelism cannot be coincidental.
Hence it must be arranged by a higher power.
God is (by definition) this higher power.
E. Meaning of Life Arguments
15. Basis for Morality
If there is no God, there would be no basis for morality.
There is a basis for morality.
16. Meaning of life
If there is no God, life would have no meaning.
Life does have meaning.
17. Source of Conscience
If there were no God, we would have no conscience (no moral instincts).
We do have conscience (moral instincts).
F. Wager Arguments
18. Costs versus benefits (Pascal's Wager)
If you believe in God, and there is no God, it costs little.
If you believe in God, and there is a God, the benefits are eternal salvation.
If you don't believe in God, and there is no God, the benefits are slight.
If you don't believe in God, and there is a God, the costs are eternal damnation.
Where the costs versus benefits of belief are so much better than the costs versus benefits of disbelief, it is rational to believe in God.
19. Making life better (James)
If you believe in God, it will probably make you happier and it will make you a better person.
It does little harm to believe, even if there is no God.
20. You will believe sooner or later
"There are no atheists in foxholes."
Someday, you'll be in a "foxhole."
21. The benefits of faith (Exupery, Buber)
All true happiness requires commitment, a leap of faith in another.
The more important the other, the greater the happiness in having faith in the other.
God is the greatest possible other.
G. Experiential Arguments
22. Religious experiences of others.
It would be irrational to deny what others have experienced, merely because we have not experienced it ourselves.
Some have had experiences of God.
23. Special experiences
Certain special experiences can only be experiences of God:
(a) mystical and religious experiences (St. Paul, St. Theresa, St. John; Huxley, Timothy Leary)
(b) miracles (the Apostles)
(c) feelings of the presence of the "Holy Other" (R. Otto)
(d) feelings of dependence and guilt (Kierkegaard, J. Edward, Loyola)
(e) feelings of an "Eternal Thou" (Buber)
Many people have had such experiences.
H. Testimonial Accounts
24. Eye-witness accounts of the disciples, Saints, etc.
Scriptural accounts (or papal authority, or other important religious figures), The Bible (Pope, Jimmy Swaggart, et al.) testify to the existence of God.
The Bible (Pope, Jimmy Swaggart, et al.) wouldn't lie.
26. Vox populii
Many wise and good people have believed in God.
They can't all be wrong.
I. Arguments from the Human Condition
Unless there is a God, there would be no afterlife.
There is an afterlife.
28. Soul of man
Unless there is a God, man would have no soul and would be no better than a brute.
Man does have a soul and is better than a brute.
29. What a waste!
Unless there is a God, all the pain and suffering in the world would be for nothing.
But it can't be all for nothing.
Unless there is a God, the evil and injustice in the world would never be redressed.
But that can't be.
31. Original Sin
Unless there is a God, there could be no original sin.
Unless there is original sin, we cannot account for the enormity of human evil.
We must account for the enormity of human evil.
J. Arguments from Faith
32. God wants faith, not proofs
If God does exist, he would prefer people to have faith in His existence.
But people wouldn't have faith if there were clear proofs of His existence--for faith is belief without proof.
Therefore, if God does exist (as conceived by most forms of theism--asp. Christianity), God would not want proof of his existence to be available.
33. No proof of atheism (James)
It cannot be proved that there is no God.
Where there is no proof to the contrary, faith is not irrational.
34. Who are we to know?
God is beyond human understanding.
35. What's needed
If you have faith, you don't need proof.
If you don't have faith, proof won't help.
II. Arguments against the existence of God
A. Anti-cosmological arguments
36. God is not in space and time
By definition, God is eternal (not in space and time)
That which is eternal cannot have any causal effect on the spatio-temporal realm.
37. God is not physical
By definition, God is purely spiritual (not physical).
Nothing which is purely spiritual can have any causal effect on the spatio-temporal realm.
38. God is outside the world (Wittgenstein)
Since, by definition, the world is whatever exists, there can be nothing outside the world.
God is (by definition) outside the world.
B. Anti-Teleological Argument
39. The argument from evil
God is, by definition, omniscient, omnipotent, and omnibenevolent.
If an omniscient God existed, He would know that evil existed, and would know how to eliminate it.
If an omnipotent God existed, He would be able to eliminate whatever evil he knew of.
If an omnibenevolent God existed, he would want to eliminate any evil that he could, and that he knew of.
If God knew that evil existed, could eliminate it, and would want to eliminate it, there would be no evil in the world.
But there is evil in the world.
C. Anti-Ontological Argument
40. Nothing that exists is necessary
God is (by definition) a necessary being.
Nothing that is necessary exists, for everything that exists can be conceived not to exist.
D. Moral Arguments
41. Morality without God (Aristotle, Kant, Bentham, et
Ultimate moral principles are rationally necessary.
God is not rationally necessary.
42. God is incompatible with human freedom (see section on
If there were a God, we could not be truly free:
(a) because then God would decide what is good for us--we could not really decide for ourselves (Nietzsche, Sartre)
(b) because then God would know in advance what we would do, and, hence, we could not really do anything different from the way God foresaw things (Aristotle, Pike)
We are free.
43. The dark side of religion
Historically, religion has led to the worst excesses:
(a) the Spanish inquisition
(b) "holy" wars, jihads, terrorism
Politically, religion is a conservative barrier against reform:
(c) Franco, the Vatican, Islamic fundamentalism, the "moral majority"
Psychologically, religious belief is unhealthy:
(d) it leads to intolerance, inhibition, and guilt
(e) it leads to a refusal to accept responsibility or to be independent of authority
Intellectually, religion is a vehicle of superstition, repression, and ignorance
(f) Bruno, Galileo
(g) Darwin and evolutionary theory
(h) birth control
(i) metaphysical and philosophical over-reliance on dogmas and the clergy.
(j) reliance on faith vs. reason
44. Religion is contrary to genuine morality
Religious people do not love morality for its own sake, but are moral because of external authority.
45. Religion does not prevent immorality
Most criminals sincerely profess to have religious belief, and atheists are statistically less likely to commit crimes than theists.
E. Anti-Wager Argument
46. The world is a mess (Mill, Twain)
The world is filled with so much evil and suffering, any God who created it could not be worth worshipping.
F. Anti-Experiential Arguments
47. Religious experience does not cohere with other
knowledge (Locke, Hume)
The probability that an experience is accurate is a function of its coherence with other experiences.
Religious experiences do not cohere with other experiences.
48. Ad hominem (Hume)
People who say they have had religious experiences, or have witnessed miracles are typically uneducated, superstitious, hysterical, and/or predisposed to interpret unusual experiences in a religious way.
What such people report is in principle implausible.
G. Arguments Against The Origins Of Belief
49. Pre-scientific understanding (Voltaire, Mill, Twain,
Belief in God is a primitive way of explaining the unknown.
Increase in scientific knowledge routinely shows the falsehood of religious beliefs.
50. Hopes for the afterlife (Sartre)
Religious belief is based on a desire for immortality.
The fact of death can be accepted without belief in God.
51. Refusal to accept responsibility (Sartre)
Belief in God derives from a refusal to accept responsibility for our own actions and judgments.
We are responsible, whether we accept this or not.
52. Refusal to accept reality
Belief in God derives from a refusal to accept that the world is a harsh place, in which we count for little or nothing.
The world is a harsh place, but one can learn to accept this without belief in God.
53. "Opiate of the masses" (Marx, Darrow)
The belief in God permits people who think that justice will be achieved without social and political reform--or that justice is achieved by promoting the interests of those who espouse certain religious points of view (e.g. Moslem or politically active Christian fundamentalists).
This is just a mythology to keep the oppressed and underprivileged content, or to promote the interests of religious figures.
54. Father knows best? (Freud)
The belief in God derives from a psychological urge to continue to have an authoritative father-figure even after one has outgrown childhood.
One can learn to accept that one is truly grown up with no ultimate authority over one; moreover, one would be healthier and more mature if one learned to do this.