Rational arguments concerning the existence of God are quite fascinating since they try to establish the existence of the `Wholly Other’ from things we see every day and from known attributes that we fasten to God.
The first part of essay discusses whether we can do this through the `just about ageless processes’ of induction and deduction. It presents a `general’ theists definition of God and looks at the a posteriori and a priori arguments which arise from this definition before going onto a critical examination of the rational processes of induction and deduction. This is followed by the issues raised by atheists in light of the insufficiency of rational arguments for God’s existence.
The second part of the essay involves a presentation and evaluation of the, ontological, cosmological, and teleological arguments; arguments which are implied in the theist’s general definition of God and which the theist claims as adequate inferences to prove the existence of the `Wholly Other’.
Last century Thomas Huxley (1825-1895) remarked that `not a solitary problem
presents itself to the philosophical theist at the present day which has not existed from the time that philosophers began to think out the logical grounds and the logical consequences of Theism. The fact that the belief in God’s existence had withstood repeated assaults during so many ages in the past is the best guarantee of its permanency in the future’. 1 Today this last inference can not be advanced with as much confidence considering that `postmodernism’ is described as `rejecting teleology’, `denying ontology’ and as challenging `the rationalistic idea of the discovering truth by pure reason.’ 2
Nevertheless, Christians still draw on the arguments of `philosophical theism’ mainly in apologetic discussion with sceptics. Usually, holding to the notion that truths about God either cannot be established nor falsified by natural reason or like Thomas Aquinas that `the existence of God and other like truths about God, which can be known by naturalreason are not articles of faith, but preambles to articles of faith.’3
Intention of this Essay:
This essay discusses whether the existence of God can be proven by way of the rational arguments implied in a general definition of theism. And evaluates these arguments in light of this definition, since theists mostly restrict their premises to the characteristics of God as stated in the definition. Of course this presumes an agreement on God’s characteristics and also suggests a certain circularity between the definition and the evaluation. But circularity tends to be the nature of speculative arguments about God, since in some sense the arguments presuppose the characteristics of God by looking for them in what they investigate.4
Can the Existence of God be Proven?
General definition of theism and the arguments for God’s existence:
`Theism is the view that all limited, or finite, things, though fully real in their own right, are dependent on some way, yet distinct from, one supreme or ultimate being, of which one may also speak in personal terms. And this being is called God, who is regarded as beyond human comprehension, perfect, and self-sustained but also peculiarly involved in the world and its events.’ 5
This definition is given in two propositions. The first affirms a dependent relationship holds between two or more objects, those which are finite, material and self-aware and that which is absolute and personal. Pailin describes this relationship as `contingent existence’ or `a mode of existence which belongs to an object that happens to exist but whose non-existence is coherently conceivable’ and whose existence is dependent on factors beyond it.6 It is from this experience of `contingent existence’ in the universe that `theists’ either infer `something’ which is the initial cause of everything finite and therefore absolute or infer `something’ which is the final cause of everything finite and
therefore personal or intelligent.
The second proposition calls this `something’ God and affirms that God has certain properties or characteristics, namely, that God is beyond human comprehension, perfect, and both self-sustained and involved in the world. From certain of these properties or predicates the theist deduces God’s existence and can do so `a priori’, without reference to the world or personal feeling: since the idea of God’s existence is contained in the predicates themselves, i.e.`the idea of a `perfect being’ contains the notion of actual existence’.
The Burden of Proof :
According to principle that `the burden of proof lies with someone who takes a positive position on an issue,’ 7 it is up to the theist to provide the sufficient evidence or the negative position of the sceptic prevails. The question of whether induction and deduction provide sufficient evidence for `God’s existence’ needs to be dealt with on two levels.
The first level relates to the adequacy of induction and deduction as a vehicle for truth and is linked to the question `Can the existence of God be proven?’ . The second relates to the uniformity and soundness of the theist’s claim: whether the premises are certain or whether objections to the theists claims are valid. This is linked to the evaluation of the arguments.
Is Induction an adequate vehicle for truth?:
The basic principle of induction can be stated as `if your data consists of evidence that a series of objects of some kind has some property or characteristic and you know of no object of that kind that does not have that property, then conclude that all objects of that kind have that property.’ 8 Ideally the patterns in the evidence will give us beliefs about the world that we can have confidence in and from which we can infer God’s existence. For example:
A series of non-sentient beings has the characteristic of order
I have not seen orderliness and excellence that does not have the property of design
But induction is not without its problems. Firstly, `the value of the evidence which supports the conclusion can be discredited by the production of a single contrary instance.’9 A problem which also applies to those arguments where the universal has been inferred from observation, such as the following `first cause’ argument:10
Every event has a cause
: So there is a God.
Can we think of instances where some event does not have a cause or where order is not evident in the world? 11 And even if no instances can be found does this prove that there is a `Designer’ or a `First Cause’ ? This latter question is a major objection to the causal arguments claiming God’s existence.12
In some respects the first question relates to a second objection raised by David Hume. Hume believed that in `causal reasoning about matters of fact’ there is no necessary connection between cause and effect instead the idea of a necessary connection is derived from an internal idea and mistaken for something objective. `It is a belief that exits in our minds not in the objects.’ 13 Morton describes it like this:
Knowledge of correlation is all that is needed to establish conclusions
about cause and effect
Many of our beliefs are about cause and effect
Therefore: Many of our beliefs are based only on inductive reasoning. 14
A third problem is raised by `Goodman’s puzzle’ and is related to the choice of
concepts, terms and properties which describe data and formulate generalisations.15 According to Goodman the confirmation of `predictions`, i.e. `Every event in the past had a cause so every event in the future will have a cause’ can be defined in terms of past success by suitably devising a `strange predicate’. This means that anything can be made to conform to anything else.16
These problems at best throw doubt on induction as a trustworthy vehicle for truth. They tend to conclude that induction is only as good as its observational data yet true data does not necessarily guarantee a true conclusion and that induction is no more than a belief which at times can be manipulated.
Is Deduction an adequate vehicle for truth?:
Deduction argues from `the more knowable in its own nature’; the simpler principles implied in the facts to `the more familiar to us; highly complex facts:17 from the general to the specific, and come in the form of syllogisms. For example:
Premise: All As are Bs God is perfect Premise: All Bs are Cs Perfect implies existence
Conclusion: All As are Cs God exists
Aristotle defines `syllogism’ as `a discourse wherein certain things (vis. the premises) being admitted, something else, different from what has been admitted, follows of necessity because the admissions are what they are.’ 18 The last clause points to the all-important thing in an inference; that the conclusion should be proved or demonstrated. In other words, we may already known `God exists’; but to know why this is true a `middle term’ has to be found to connect the truth `God exists’ with the less complex truths which appears as the premises from which `God existence’ is draw. The middle term as we can see from the examples above is the idea of `perfection’ or `B’, which must be taken universally at least once in the premises.
The strength of deduction as a vehicle for truth regarding arguments for God’s
existence can be considered on two levels: The first is evident from the discussion above and involves formal structure and true premises, and can be stated as `a deductive argument is sound with respect to the meaning of its words if only true sentences are derivable under the inference rules from premises which are themselves all true.’19
The other level concerns problems of epistemology. For example, `How have we come by our knowledge that `God is perfect’?’ Theists who rely on deduction consider it an analytic truth apprehended intuitively; an idea. Aristotle on the other hand, would consider `perfection’ to be known to us as a result of induction.20 Aquinas, sees `perfection’ as being indirectly and analogically deduced from creation.21
One more problem concerns the terms that figure in the premises. For example the
term `perfect`. Is it indicating something that exists or not and in what way is it related to the real world? Immanuel Kant gives heed to this issue with regards to Anslem’s deduction regarding God’s existence. Kant believes that Anselm confuses `the order of things with order of ideas’ when he tries to establish the existential proposition `God exists’, on the basis of an `idea’ of perfection.22
All told these issues tend to convey the `feeling’ that the strength of deductive reasoning as a vehicle of truth is correlated to the bias of your presuppositions; whether you are an idealist, a realist, a nominalist or an empiricist. This is inclined to open the door for the `atheists’.
Are Atheists’ objections valid? :
Alvin Plantinga takes issue with atheists who hold that `a person who believed without sufficient evidence that there are an even number of ducks would be believing foolishly or irrationally; the same goes for the person who believes in God without sufficient evidence’. Accordingly this person has either violated an intellectual or cognitive duty of some sort, is somehow intellectually flawed or disfigured, or believes as a matter of
Plantinga’s rejoiner is to refer to the notion of a person’s presuppositions. `What you take to be rational depends upon your metaphysical and religious stance. Your view as to what sort of creature a human being is will determine, in whole or in part, your views as to what is rational or irrational for human beings to believe in.’ 24 At a glance the thrust of Plantinga’s rejoiner seems to be reduced to the following statements:
2) If you believe that God does not exist then your belief in God’s non-existence is
But Plantinga ties to qualify the first statement as the better position. Accordingly, the atheist may prefer it if people didn’t believe in God without sufficient evidence but it is more reasonable to believe in God since our cognitive equipment functions properly when it functions in the way God designed it to function.25 This seems to indicate that theism is rationally acceptable only if you believe that theism is rationally acceptable. Perhaps this best indicates where many claims to objective truth stand in this present
Evaluate the various kinds of arguments advanced for the existence of God.
The Ontological Argument:
This argument aims to deduce the existence of God from a concept or idea of God. It maintains that a proper idea of God entails that it is self-contradictory to hold that God does not exist. The most celebrated arguments are by Anslem, Descarte, Leibniz and Hartshorne. Two are presented below.
Anslem: (11th. cent)
God is that that which no greater can be thought
Existence is greater than non-existence
: God exists
Hartshorne (20th. cent)
The divine mode of being is a state of `necessary existence’
It is in principle a mode of being which cannot be conceived as either
coming into being or ceasing to be
It is universal and omnitolerant in that it is present to and compatible
with whatever else may happen to come to be or not come to be
and which is its own intrinsic ground. 26
That `God is perfect’ or `necessary existence’ is consistent with the theist definition of God. Regarding a formal sense the arguments seems quite sound but run into trouble on the epistemological and semantic level. The main objections raised are:
1) Existence is not a quality!
2) How does a definition of existence relate to reality?
3) God exists is not a self-evident truth!
Kant objects to the idea that `God is that in which existence coincides with essence’. Instead he holds that `existence is not a predicate like `perfect’ therefore cannot be included in the concept of a perfect being’.27 The second issue is raised by Evans and Teichman who believe that infering the existence of God from a definition of existence is unconvincing.28 And thirdly, Aquinas insists that `knowledge of God is natural from the order of the world’ 29
Kant’s objection is hard to argue against, one just gets the `feeling’ that existence is a state of being, either in the mind or concretely, and not an attribute, like perfection. Anslem tries to quell the second issue with the idea that: `there is existence in the mind and in reality and since existing in the mind is a less perfect kind of existence than existing in reality, then for God to only exist in the mind would mean that we could concieve of a being greater than God; one that existed in reality as well and this being would be God.’30 The third issue is a matter of presuppositions.
The Cosmological or First Cause Argument:
This argument either assumes the validity of the principle of causality or sufficient reason and appeals to the beginning of the universe or only appeals to the former. The following two versions best illustrate this:31
1) Thomas Aquinas: (13th. cent)
`There is no case known (nor indeed is it possible) in which a thing is found to be an efficent cause of itself , because in that case it would be prior to itself, which is impossible. Now in efficent causes it is impossible to go onto infinity. Now to take away the cause is to take away the effect. Therefore, if there is no first cause, there will be no ultimate, nor any intermediate cause. Therefore it is necessary to admit a first efficent cause, to which everyone gives the name God.’ 32
2) Leibniz: (17th. cent.)
Everything in the world is contingent
We can suppose that the whole universe has always existed
Therefore: The universe as a whole must have a sufficent reason
This sufficeint reason must be outside the universe
This sufficent reason is God.
These are both `a posteriori’ arguments since they move from the experience of the effect to an `efficient cause’ or `sufficient reason’; something which has necessary existence.33 The `principle of sufficient reason’ has raised a few problems. At heart it means that there must always be a reason that suffices to explain anything that is. The trouble is that Leibniz reduces the principle of sufficient reason to the principle of contradiction thus taking causal relations out of the realm of time and space and into the realm of relations between concepts.34 Kant criticed this on the basis that it carries the principle of causality beyond the world of sense experince where alone it is valid. 35
This is possibly why Aquinus can assumes a first term (duration) for every species while Leibniz does not. The notion of duration raises the most objections. For example: `How do we know that there is not an infinite regression of causes; a fortiori arguments imply an infinite number of causes ?’ Is God’s eternity non-temporal such that contingent things are dependent on a self -existing cause? If God is a self-caused cause then how does a being which does not exist bring itself into existence? Maybe it is the world itself which exists of absolute necessity and is infinite in every kind of perfection?’ For all of these counter-arguments there are plausible negations.
With both arguments there is an inconsistency with regards to the theist definition since there seems to be an abrupt leap with regards to the last point `to which everyone gives the name God’ and `is God’ yet there is no indication of the `personal’ God of the theist in the premises. Although there is a counterargument to this position one on the basis that `the cause must contain somehow in itself every perfection of being that is realised in the effect.’36 Finally Hume may have the last say since `How do we know that their
is not more than one necessary being? 37
The Teleological Argument and the Argument form Design:
Often a distinction is made between the Design and teleological arguments38 both of which try to demonstate that an understanding of the orderly character of the universe suggests an intelligent creator or Final Cause. The Deisgn argument can be illustrated as such:
Aquinas: (13th. cent.)
Non sentient beings behave in orderly ways that produce the best results
This ordliness and excellence indicates the presence of design
The presence of a design indicates the presence of a designer.39
Paley: (19th. cent.):
Nature displays beneficent order
Beneficial purpose in mechanical aparatus point to a designer.40
And the teleological:
Swineburne: (20th. cent)
Orderly design in the universe is logically possible to be merely the product of chance but unlikely It is more likely that the cosmos is the product of an infinite theistic God.41
These arguments all reflect empirical premises. They are consistent with the theist’s idea of a personal or intelligent creator who is perfect 42 and instills meaning into the world by His involvment yet don’t really prove if this creator is self-sufficient or exits necessarily. The analogical argument of Paley and the probabilty argument of Swineburne also tell against any accustation that beneficial order could be just blind chance. They do this by the sheer weight of numbers; greater logical possiblity 43 and analogy to the numerous examples in nature.
Yet the chief critic of the design argument, David Hume, raises other objections which need to be mentioned and answered. For example: `Other analogies from nature, like a plant from a seed, seem to reflect an immanent system.’ Yes! But what about the design element in DNA? Also, `Since we have no analogies to reflect the totality of creation then how do we know that design is reflected in the universe as a whole, we could just be imaging design?’ As above, the answer to this and to induction as a whole process is basically `science puts faith in analogies without all the empirical evidence so why can’t the theist?’
Natural theologcians or theists put forth many speculative arguments which make
claims to prove God’s existence. Yet the three presented in this essay best represent the history of `western mans’ rational contemplation about God since the time of Plato and Aristotle and whether they remain as the pivots about which to draw other theories and thiesm from either in agreement or a reactionary mode remains to be seen. All of them in some respect fail to come up
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