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Traditional Arguments for the Existence of God

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When people say Unicorns don't exist they mean that if you could look at all the things in the world you would not find something we understand as a 'Unicorn'. If God is not one of the 'things in the world, but something different entirely, what does it mean to say that God does or does not exist?

Arguments for the existence of God have been mounted by theists despite the fact God is not available to the senses. Multiple attempts of proving God's existence have been made by theists, the most prominent of which are listed below:

The Ontological ArgumentEdit

Ontology is the branch of Philosophy that explores the concept of existence. There are several forms of existence, for example our existence in a physical sense -- we take up space, we can be seen and heard, but Prime numbers also exist in the real of mathematical concepts even though they are not available to be perceived by the senses.

Saint Anselm (1033-1109) was an Archbishop of Canterbury and Benedictine Monk and created the Ontological Argument from the perspective of 'faith seeking understanding' rather than an attempt to convert unbelievers. Anselm in his book Proslogion argues first by defining God as 'that than which nothing greater can be thought'. God is understood by some to be the highest sum of all perfections, where absolutely nothing could surpass God in any way.

Anselm argued that if we have an idea of a God who is perfect in every way, where nothing could be greater, then this God must exist in reality- because a God who just exists in our heads, as something we imagined to be great but did not actually exist, would be inferior to a real God. So God must exist to fit our definition of 'that than which nothing greater can be thought.

Gaunilo of Marmoutiers, another Benedectine Monk believed in God but thought the logic by Anselm was faulty. Gaunilo used the analogy of an island as a replacement for God. In his writings On Behalf of the Fool he explained we can all imagine the most perfect Lost Island; we all understand the implications of the phrase 'the most perfect Lost Island' and there this notion exists as a concept in our understanding. We might then, using Anselm's logic, go on to say that for such an island to exist in our minds means it is inferior to the same island existing in reality. If our island is the truly the the most perfect, it cannot have the inferiority from being a concept only -- it must therefore exist in reality. However there is no such island in reality. Gaunilo's point was we cannot bring something into existence just by defining it as a superlative (Most perfect, most excellent etc).

Counter argumentsEdit

This whole argument is full of complications, philosophers argue whether it's valid or not, the consensus is that it's invalid. One fact we do know is that the God of the Bible is not the greatest entity imaginable.

Examples of limitations in the God of the bible:-

  1. In the story of Original sin, God walked in the garden in the cool of the evening, earlier he would have been uncomfortably hot. God noticed that Adam and Eve were no longer naked and interrogated them to find out what they had done, which implies God wasn't Omniscient and needed to ask questions.
  2. When the Tower of Babel was built, a 3 story Bronze Age tower was a serious threat to god. God needed to scatter the people and confound their languages to protect himself.
  3. Later, in the Old Testament, iron chariots turned out to be more powerful than God, see Judges 1:19

To the extent that it's valid the Ontological Argument looks like an argument for Deism and against the limited God of the Bible.

The Cosmological ArgumentEdit

The basis of the Cosmological argument is that the universe cannot account for its own existence. There must be a reason, the argument says, for the existence of the universe, and this reason has to be something which is not part of the physical world of time and space.

Saint Thomas Aquinas (1225-1274) was heavily influenced by the work of Aristotle and he used many Aristotlian concepts to show how he and the Roman Catholic Church believed faith and reason could work alongside each other. Aquinas presented five ways which he hoped showed that God exists through logical thought. He wrote in his book Summa Theologica the 'Five Ways' to realize the existence of God, of Aquinas' Five Ways the first three are different variations of the Cosmological argument. Aquinas based his argument on two assumptions:

  • The universe exists.
  • There must be a reason why.

The First Way is that of the Unmoved Mover where Aquinas considered the way in which everything is in motion or changes. The argument closely followed Aristotle where he argued everything in motion or under change in the world has to have been put in motion or changed by something. (Aristotle and Aquinas both lived before Isaac Newton and before the invention of Telescopes. Scientists before telescopes were heavily dependent on observations of what happens on Earth and on Earth unless a force continually operates on a moving object friction tends to slow that object down. Scientists at the time of Aristotle through to Aquinas and after Aquinas assumed the whole universe was like the Earth in this respect.) Things stayed the same unless a force acted upon them and Aquinas thought this sequence of one thing moving another could not be infinite, but that there must have been an unmoved mover to set the whole thing off.

The Second Way is very similar to the first but replaces the idea of change and motion with the concept of cause. Every 'effect' has a 'cause', Aquinas argued infinite regress is impossibly therefore there must be a First Cause which Aquinas called God. Aquinas used the Aristotelian concept of the 'Efficient Cause' to aid his argument, which is the process that caused things to exist, for example a baker kneading the dough is the efficient cause of bread.

The Third Way is the argument of Contingency, which states that the world consists of contingent beings, which are beings that begin and end, and which are dependent on something else for their existence. All things in the world are contingent in two ways: they depend on something to bring them into existence (for example, volcanic rock depends on their being the right minerals and conditions of temperature) and they also depend on outside factors for the continuation of their existence (for example, plants depend on sunlight from the Sun). Since the time of Aquinas we have become more aware of the existence of 'Eco-Systems' and learned how animals depend on the existence of others and resources. Aquinas then argued that all contingent beings need something to bring them into existence, it would have to be a being which is not caused, and which depends on nothing else to continue to exist- Aquinas thought this was God.

Counter ArgumentsEdit

The Cosmological argument has been criticized heavily by Philosophers with the following arguments:

  • Many have argued that that there is no reason why the cause and effect cannot be infinite. Leibniz responded in defence that even if everything move in an infinite chain, there would still need to be an explanation for all existence.
  • The idea of God as an uncaused causer depends on the idea that nothing can cause itself, then it is self-contradictory by saying that God does exactly what is just claimed was impossible.
  • There is evidence to suggest that everything in the universe is contingent, but this does not necessarily mean that the universe as a whole is contingent. Some theories of science suggest that some matter may be eternal. However these suggestions are still being explored by scientists, the question about the possible eternity of matter remains unanswered.
  • There is the argument that some writers, such as David Hume, have pointed out that the Cosmological argument may not necessarily lead to the Christian God as the cause. Hume suggested instead a group of gods, like the ones from Norse, Greek or other mythology, are equally as likely as the Abrahamic concept of God.

Is there any reason why an uncaused cause has to be a conscious reasoning entity?

The Teleogical (Design) Argument Edit

Design arguments are often known as 'teleological' arguments. 'Teleological' comes from the Greek word for 'tail' or 'end'- the end results are important. They are the goal or purpose and are used in order to draw one's conclusions. These arguments look at experiences of the world around us and draw inferences from it. Because of this they reach conclusions which are probabilities rather than conclusive proofs. It is up to the individual whether we agree with the premise and whether we think the argument is sufficient to persuade.

Design arguments follow a pattern like this:

  1. Whenever we see things made by people, which are ordered in a pattern or are beautiful or particularly complex, which work particularly well to achieve a goal we can infer that it must have been designed by an intelligent designer.
  2. Order, beauty, complexity and/or purpose do not arise by blind chance.
  3. We can see in the natural world there is order, complexity and beauty in which things work particularly well to perform a function.
  4. Therefore the natural world, like machines, must have been created by an intelligent being.
  5. God is that intelligent being, therefore God exists.

Paley's Watch Edit

William Paley (1743-1805) who was Archdeacon of Carlisle, put forward what is probably the most famous version of the design argument in his book Natural Theology. To illustrate his argument he used the analogy of someone coming across a watch on a heath (this was probably not Paley's own analogy, but one which was popular and which he chose to repeat). He argued that if someone looked down at the watch on the ground he person would notice how well the watch worked in order to tell the time, and would conclude that someone must have made made the watch, rather that the watch just happened there by chance or by some random selection.

Paley said looking at the watch was similar to looking at the world, or the human body, and noticing how well it worked meant a divine being must have been involved in its design and creation.

Counter Arguments Edit

In his dialogues, David Hume made many criticisms of Design arguments:

  • Hume claimed the analogy between a watch and the world is very weak. It cannot be assumed that it is obvious to everyone how the world, like a watch, formed regularly and for a purpose, Characteristics of purpose and design are obvious in a watch, but no so much in the world. We only makes watches because the world is not like a watch; we would only stop and pick up the watch on the heath because it is so unlike the objects which occur in nature. We could conclude instead that the watch was designed because we would think it could not have come about naturally, as such design is not seen in nature.
  • Hume also argued that order in the world does not necessarily mean that someone must have had the idea of design, as seeing order in the world does not mean we should leap to the idea of a Divine Orderer. Without other worlds to compare however, we can only say we have order relative to our planet, it is quite possible in comparison to other planets that have life on them we are in a chaotic state.

John Stuart Mill (1806-1873), famous for being one of the leading thinkers of Utilitarianism, criticized the Teleological argument. Instead of targeting the logic of the argument Mill instead looked at the world and the rules that govern it and found it to be cruel, violent and full of unnecessary suffering. In his book From Nature (1874), he argued that if the world has been deliberately designed, then it indicates something very different from a loving creator God. Mill pointed out that many animals, including humans, inflict cruelty on each other and seem to be designed for that purpose. Many animals have special features to enable them as efficient killers- fangs, claws and excellent eyesight etc. The word, if is designed at all, is designed so that some species can only exist by destroying others and we ourselves can only exist by destroying animals and/or plants.

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