The Existence of God / Concept of God
Arguments About God’s Existence:
Theism is depicted as believing in a God with unique attributes. The concept of God is fundamental to theism since the viability of theism must begin with the tradition of God’s concept. Most views about God fall into one of a relatively small number of types. Polytheism is the belief that there exists a plurality of personal gods. Polytheism is common among tribal peoples and is present in Greek and Nordic mythology. Henotheism recognizes a plurality of gods, but the henotheist restricts his allegiance to one God. Monotheism holds that only one God exists. God is understood as a personal Being, Supreme in power, knowledge, and moral worth; the creator of all existing beings.
Pantheism is often associated with some Hinduism varieties and other Eastern religions but is also common in the West. Pantheism holds that it is not proper to think of God as a personal being or a being of any kind. Panentheism says God is not identical to the universe but should be seen as including the universe. Dualism is a variation of polytheism; the dualist holds to a plurality of only two gods opposed to each other (One God is seen as good, and the other God is evil). Deism is a variation of monotheism (theism). Like the theist, the deist believes in one God but believes that this God does not involve himself in his creation. Absolute monism is a variation of pantheism or panentheism. The absolute monist holds that God is an absolute unity manifested in a less-than-fully-real world of plurality. Other views about God include the views that reject belief in God. Agnosticism holds that the truth about God cannot be or is not known.
Atheism denies the existence of God. Naturalism is a worldview that entails atheism. The naturalist does not believe in any supernatural realm behind nature. The theistic concept of God is the dominant view of God.
The three world’s Great Religions: Christianity, Judaism, and Islam uphold this concept of God. In the Judeo-Christian tradition, there is a well-defined list of characteristics seen as essential to God. The theistic God is conceived as a Supreme Being worthy of worship and the supreme object of religious devotion. Sorting through the difficulties surrounding the traditional attributes of the theistic God is such a fundamental problem that Richard Swinburne devotes approximately two-thirds of what many consider his seminal work, The Coherence of Theism, to explanation and defense of the coherence of His attributes. Although many disagreements among theists need to be explored, Swinburne’s view is typical of the traditional theistic concept of God, namely: “that there exists eternally an omnipresent spirit, free, creator of the universe, omnipotent, omniscient, perfectly good, and a source of moral obligation.” [i]
The Classical Ontological Argument – Saint Anselm[ii]
Saint Anselm (1033-1109) argues that if we understand God as a being, we cannot conceive a greater one. Yet, if we conceive of such a being as existing only in the understanding, a greater being could be conceived, namely one that also exists in reality. But this would be contradictory. Hence, God must exist as the being we cannot conceive of a greater. Anselm’s strategy is to move from the admission that we have the concept of the being that we cannot conceive a greater to the conclusion that we cannot understand God not to exist. Those who already believe that God exists now better understand God’s existence. In summary, Anselm says:
- That God Truly Exists
- That He cannot Be Thought Not To Exist, and
- How The Fool said In His Heart What Cannot be Thought.
A Contemporary Modal Version of the Ontological Argument – Alvin Plantinga[iii]
Alvin Plantinga (b.1932) first reviews and rejects Gaunilo’s objections to Anselm’s ontological argument. Gaunilo’s argument would work only with properties with an intrinsic maximum, but Gaunilo’s island’s unsurpassable properties have no intrinsic maximum: there could always be a greater. He then evaluates several versions of the ontological argument before developing his version. According to Plantinga, it is possible that some being has maximal greatness.
However, if a being has this property, it has it in every possible world. So, reasons Plantinga, if God may exist with this property, it is necessary that God exist. However, in the end, Plantinga remains skeptical of the ontological argument, for it requires that one accept the premise that a being with maximal greatness is possible.
The Classical Cosmological Argument – Thomas Aquinas[iv]
Thomas Aquinas (1224-1274) offers a deductive version of the cosmological argument. He states that we witness things in motion. For something to move, it must be moved by something else. That which moves things either is moved by another thing in motion or is itself unmoved (in which case an unmoved mover exists). The former option invokes an infinite regress of movers, which is impossible.
For one thing, it would involve moving an infinite number of things in a finite time. For another, if one removes the cause, one removes the effect. But an infinite series has no first cause and thus can have no effect. Finally, if all the causes are instrumental causes, there is no first cause to bring about the effect. Hence, there must be an unmoved mover, which religious believers understand to be God.
The Cosmological Argument from Contingency – Bruce R. Reichenbach[v]
Some theists claim that God’s existence best explains the existence of our contingent universe. Bruce Reichenbach (b.1943) explores the need for explanation, noting the defenses for versions of the Principles of Sufficient Reason and Causation. Whatever is contingent or comes into needs an explanation; the moderate version of the Principle of Sufficient Reason is what the cosmological argument must invoke to succeed.
After distinguishing scientific from personal explanation in terms of intention, he notes that theists have held that various things, including individual contingent things and the universe, require an explanation. He then presents a version of the cosmological argument from contingency and defends it against three serious objections. The first is that the universe is, the second is that one explains the whole by explaining the parts, and the third is that the argument’s conclusion is contradictory. In the end, Reichenbach suggests that a necessary being or God, to whom the Principle of Sufficient Reason is inapplicable, provides the best explanation in the cases he considers.
The Kalam Cosmological Argument – William Lane Craig[vi]
According to the Kalam cosmological argument developed by medieval Arabic philosophers, the universe had a cause for its existence because it had a beginning, and whatever has a beginning must have a cause. William Lane Craig (b. 1949) presents four arguments, two from philosophy and two from physics, to support the claim that the universe had a beginning. One philosophical argument shows that an actual infinite cannot exist because it leads to the absurdity that the whole is not greater than its part.
The other shows that if an actual infinite could exist, one could not traverse it, which would mean that one could not reach this particular point in time; in an infinite time, one would have already reached it. The dual supporting arguments from physics appeal to the Big Bang model of the universe’s origin to confirm the universe’s beginning. And according to the second law of thermodynamics, the universe has existed infinitely; by now, we should have already been gobbled up by black holes or suffered a “heat death.” In the end, Craig concludes that since the universe had a beginning, it was caused and that the cause had to be personal, not natural.
The Analogical Teleological Argument – William Paley[vii]
William Paley (1743-1805) notes that one would react differently to finding a watch than a stone. One would note its intricate means-ends structure on finding a watch, which suggests that it had an intelligent maker. Paley then notes that human and animal eyes also have means-ends ordering, indicating that nature also had an intelligent creator. That we have not seen watches or eyes made, that sometimes they do not work, that we do not know the functions of all their parts, or even that we can invoke laws governing them does not mitigate the argument’s force. Paley also notes that as we would reject mere natural explanations for the watch, so should we reject mere natural explanations for organs like eyes. Granted, there are defects in nature, but these are due to the causes of which we are ignorant, not God’s lack of knowledge.
The Anthropic Teleological Argument – Robin Collins[viii]
Robin Collins (b.1961) notes that there are many fine-tuning cosmic conditions, each of which is highly unlikely in and of itself, yet all are necessary to be conscious, knowing beings like ourselves. He also notes the beauty and elegance of natural laws. And the intelligibility and discoverability of the universe’s structure. One may appeal to either theistic or a naturalistic explanation in attempting to account for these features. Collins introduces the likelihood principle of confirmation, according to which observations are more probable under that hypothesis. Collins argues that since fine-tuning is much more probable under theism than under the naturalistic single-universe hypothesis, the principle implies that the evidence from fine-tuning supports the theistic rather than a naturalistic account of the origin of the universe. Even on the many universes model, which holds that it is likely that a significant number of habitable universes could exist, the existence of God provides a more probable explanation.
Not only are the many-universes models highly speculative, but even if such is possible, what generates the many universes has to be well designed to produce universes capable of harboring life. Again, theism provides a better explanation of the apparent design found in the resulting universes’ beauty and elegance than atheism does. The argument from fine-tuning, beauty, and discoverability is not intended to prove God’s existence. Or even show that God’s existence is likely; rather, it is intended to show that this universe’s features count as substantial evidence for God’s existence, making it considerably more plausible than naturalism.
A Moral Argument for God’s Existence – C. S. Lewis[ix]
C. S. Lewis (1898-1963) argues that we all know the difference between right and wrong and accordingly acknowledge that there is an objective Moral Law, a Law of (Human) Nature. We are all called to obey it, but we are not successful in keeping it. We have unique access to ourselves, and when we look within ourselves, we not only see that there is a law of Human Nature but that it indicates that someone or something wants and commands us to behave in a certain way. This somebody or something, which urges us to do right and makes us uncomfortable when we do wrong, is best understood as a Power that directs the universe.
- [i] Richard Swinburne, The Coherence of Theism, Revised Edition (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1993) 99.
- [ii] Philosophy of Religion, fifth edition-Selected Readings, edited by Michael Peterson et al., (New York: Oxford University Press, 2014, 133
- [iii] Philosophy of Religion, 138
- [iv] Philosophy of Religion, 148
- [v] Philosophy of Religion, 151
- [vi] Philosophy of Religion, 161
- [vii] Philosophy of Religion, 177
- [viii] Philosophy of Religion, 187
- [ix] Philosophy of Religion, 197