Arguments for and against the Existence of God
The polytheistic conceptions of God were criticized and derided by the monotheistic religions. Since the Enlightenment, monotheistic concepts have also come under criticism from atheism and pantheism.
Definition of God
For our use here, we mean by the term “God” that entity written about in the holy books of monotheistic religions, which generally includes the properties of omniscience, omnipresence, omnipotence, and omnislash.
Arguments for the Existence of God
Philosophers have tried to provide rational proofs of God’s existence that go beyond dogmatic assertion or appeal to ancient scripture. The major proofs, with their corresponding objections, are as follows:
- Ontological Argument:
It is possible to imagine a perfect being. Such a being could not be perfect unless its essence included existence. Therefore a perfect being must exist. That perfect being is God.
Objection: You cannot define or imagine a thing into existence. Existence is not a predicate.
- Cosmological Argument:
Everything must have a cause. It is impossible to continue backwards to infinity with causes, therefore there must have been a first cause which was not conditioned by any other cause. That cause must be God.
Objections: If you allow one thing to exist without cause, you contradict your own premise. And if you do, there is no reason why the universe should not be the one thing that exists or originates without cause. Also, proof of an “unmoved mover” or a first cause tells us nothing about that cause, be it God or King Kong.
- Teleological Argument:
Animals, plants and planets show clear signs of being designed for specific ends, therefore there must have been a designer. Therefore, God exists.
Objection: The principles of self-organization and evolution provide complete explanations for apparent design. Once again, even if this argument is accepted as valid it would tell us nothing about this universal architect, be it God or King Kong.
3a. Modern Design Argument:
The Anthropic Cosmological Principle: The laws of the universe seem to have been framed in such a way that stars and planets will form and life can emerge. Many constants of nature appear to be very finely tuned for this, and the odds against this happening by chance are astronomical. Therefore, God exists.
Objections: The odds against all possible universes are equally astronomical, yet one of them must be the actual universe. Moreover, if there are very many universes, then some of these will contain the possibility of life. Kant argued that any form of the cosmological argument is in fact the ontological argument in disguise. Even if valid, the anthropic cosmological principle guarantees only that stars and planets and life will emerge – not intelligent life. In its weak form, the anthropic cosmological principle merely states that if we are here to observe the universe, it follows that the universe must have properties that permit intelligent life to emerge.
A very large number of people claim to have personal religious experiences of God.
Objections: We cannot assume that everything imagined in mental experiences (which include dreams, hallucinations etc.) actually exists. Such experiences cannot be repeated, tested or publicly verified. Mystical and other personal experiences can be explained by other causes.
Human societies require ethics to survive. Ethics are more effectively enforced if people fear God and Hell and hope for Heaven (cf. the origin of ethical systems).
Objections: The usefulness of a belief does not prove its truth. In any case, many societies have thrived without these beliefs, while crime has thrived in theistic societies believing in heaven and hell. Moreover, ethics can be completely seperated from religion (e.g. virtue ethics).
General objection against all the rational proofs for God:
Each of the above arguments is independent of the others and cannot logically be used to reinforce the others.
The cosmological argument – even if it were valid – would prove only a first cause. It would tell us nothing about the nature of that cause, nor whether the cause was mental or physical. It would not prove that the first cause was the personal, judging, forgiving God of Judaism, Christianity, or Islam. It would not prove the existence of a designer or of a perfect being. Equally, the design argument would prove only a designer, the ontological argument would prove only the existence of a perfect being, and so on. None of these arguments individually can prove that the cause, designer or perfect being were one and the same – they could be three different beings.
Arguments against the existence of God
The major philosophical criticisms of God as viewed by Judaism, Christianity and Islam are as follows:
- 1. Evil:
- Because evil exists, God cannot be all-powerful. all-knowing and loving and good at the same time.
- 2. Pain:
- Because God allows pain, disease and natural disasters to exist, he cannot be all-powerful and also loving and good in the human sense of these words.
- 3. Injustice:
- Destinies are not allocated on the basis of merit or equality. They are allocated either arbitrarily, or on the principle of “to him who has, shall be given, and from him who has not shall be taken even that which he has.” It follows that God cannot be all-powerful and all-knowing and also just in the human sense of the word.
- 4. Multiplicity:
- Since the Gods of various religions differ widely in their characteristics, only one of these religions, or none, can be right about God.
- 5. Simplicity:
- Since God is invisible, and the universe is no different than if he did not exist, it is simpler to assume he does not exist (see Occam’s Razor).None of these criticisms apply to the God of pantheism, which is identical with the universe and nature.
Source: Principia Cybernetica Web
“When one man investigates objectively the problem of immortality, and another embraces an uncertainty with the passion of the infinite: where is there most truth, and who has the greater certainty? The one has entered upon a never-ending approximation, for the certainty of immortality lies precisely in the subjectivity of the individual; the other is immortal, and fights for his immortality by struggling with the uncertainty. Let us consider Socrates. Nowadays everyone dabbles in a few proofs; some have several such proofs, others fewer. But Socrates! He puts the question objectively in a problematic manner: if there is an immortality. He must therefore be accounted a doubter in comparison with one of our modern thinkers with the three proofs? By no means. On this “if” he risks his entire life, he has the courage to meet death, and he has with the passion of the infinite so determined the pattern of his life that it must be found acceptable – if there is an immortality. Is any better proof capable of being given for the immortality of the soul? But those who have the three proofs do not at all determine their lives in conformity therewith; if there is an immortality it must feel disgust over their manner of life: can any better refutation be given of the three proofs? The bit of uncertainty that Socrates had, helped him because he himself contributed the passion of the infinite; the three proofs that the others have do not profit them at all, because they are dead to spirit and enthusiasm, and their three proofs, in lieu of proving anything else, prove just this. A young girl may enjoy all the sweetness of love on the basis of what is merely a weak hope that she is beloved, because she rests everything on this weak hope; but many a wedded matron more than once subjected to the strongest expressions of love, has in so far indeed had proofs, but strangely enough has not enjoyed quod erat demonstrandum.”
“If these glad tidings of your Bible were written on your faces, you would not need to insist so obstinately on the authority of that book… As things are, however, all your apologies for Christianity have their roots in your lack of Christianity; with your defence plea you inscribe your own bill of indictment.”
“In former times, one sought to prove that there is no God – today one indicates how the belief that there is a God arose and how this belief acquired its weight and importance: a counter-proof that there is no God thereby becomes superfluous.- When in former times one had refuted the ‘proofs of the existence of God’ put forward, there always remained the doubt whether better proofs might not be adduced than those just refuted: in those days atheists did not know how to make a clean sweep.”
“After Buddha was dead, his shadow was still shown for centuries in a cave – a tremendous, gruesome shadow. God is dead; but given the way of men, there may still be caves for thousands of years in which his shadow will be shown. -And we- we still have to vanquish his shadow, too.”
Natural Theology & Classical Apologetics
Christian Apologetics and Research Ministry
Christian Apologetics by Norman Geisler
The God Delusion by Richard Dawkins
And of course: Nietzsche and Kierkegaard