An Overview of the Classic Arguments for God's Existence
These are the classic arguments for the existence of God
Over time, certain tried and true arguments have been used to "prove" the existence of God. These can be seen primarily as arguments for monotheism, but they can be adapted somewhat to certain other theistic views as well.
The Ontological Argument. Credit: Anselm of Canterbury, circa 1033-1109 CE. "The fool hath said in his heart there is no God." (Psalm 14:1). To even deny God's existence, a person must grasp the concept of a supreme deity. A supreme deity is the greatest possible being; nothing greater can be conceived. Logical points:
Premise 1: God is the greatest possible being.
Premise 2: At the very least, God exists in the minds of people.
Premise 3: A being who exists only in the mind is not as great as one who exists both in the mind and in reality.
Premise 4: If God exists only in the mind, he is not the greatest possible being.
Initial Conclusion: Therefore, since he can be conceived in the mind, God must exist in both the mind and in reality.
Possible Refutation: To conceive of God only tells us what he would be like if he existed, not whether he exists.
Overall Conclusion: Though not a completely convincing proof, the Ontological Argument may show that belief in God is at least reasonable.
The Cosmological Argument infers the existence of God from the existence of the Cosmos (either as a whole or from specific objects). It has also been called the First Cause Argument. Credit: Greek philosophers such as Plato and Aristotle; In the medieval era Thomas Aquinas 1225-74 CE used this argument in his Summa Theologica. In brief, the Cosmological Argument argues that the Cosmos appears to be contingent. That is, it exists, but could have just as easily not existed. Since it requires something outside itself to bring it into existence, it appears to have been caused by something that is self-existent.
Premise 1: Certain contingent beings and objects exist (the Cosmos).
Premise 2: If any contingent things exist, then a self-existent thing (First Cause) must exist.
Initial Conclusion: Therefore a self-existent thing (or Being) must exist. (If we call this thing “God”, then the argument is successful.)
Possible Refutation 1: Perhaps the Cosmos itself is eternal. Reply: If that is true, it is still contingent and would require a First Cause.
Possible Refutation 2: Perhaps the Cosmos is not contingent. The French existentialist author Albert Camus believed the Cosmos to be absurd. That is, it exists as a necessary cause but with no apparent explanation as to how or why. Reply: If this is true, then, by definition, the Cosmos is itself the First Cause, which does not appear to fit the discoveries of science.
Possible Refutation 3: Perhaps the Cosmos is infinitely contingent. Reply: An infinite series of contingent things is an incomplete series.
Overall Conclusion: This argument seems compelling to many. It does not necessarily require a Monotheistic God as First Cause, but could also allow for Deism and even Pantheism.
The Teleological Argument. This point of view is related to the Cosmological Argument, but focuses on the Cosmos as an orderly system. It is also called the Argument from Design. Credit: Various Greek philosophers; Aquinas.
Premise 1: The Cosmos contains many instances of design. For example, the order of heavenly bodies, chemistry, physics and the biological world.
Premise 2: Evidence of design implies a Designer.
Initial Conclusion: The Cosmos is the result of a Designer.
Possible Refutation: Order and progress may happen by pure chance. This is essentially the reasoning behind the theory of Materialistic Evolution (given the existence of raw matter, huge lengths of time and random chance, order and benefit can be produced). Reply: Even Evolution requires some sort of constructive force driving the process.
Overall Conclusion: The Teleological and Cosmological arguments are probably are complementary. Their defects are each cancelled out by the other. The Cosmological Argument argues for a First Cause, the Teleological for that cause being personal, intelligent and beneficial.
The Moral Argument has also been called the Argument from Conscience. Credit: Plato talked about "the form of the good". Immanuel Kant said that the idea of moral order makes the postulation of God necessary. C.S. Lewis discusses the Moral Argument at length in his book, Mere Christianity. This argument is not popular among most contemporary philosophers, but is often used by average people.
Premise 1: Basic concepts such as love and justice are universally understood in world cultures. In other words, the concept of a set of universally binding moral values seems to exist and be accepted in every culture.
Premise 2: Without a God, there cannot be absolute (universally binding) moral values. Teodor Dostoevsky wrote in The Brothers Karamozov, "..if there is no God, then everything is permitted.."
Premise 3: Since Absolute Values can only come from a source outside the human race, there mkust be a source for these things either hard-wired into the Cosmos or outside it altogether.
Initial Conclusion: Therefore, as the source of a universal morality, God exists.
Possible Refutation 1: Could not universal morality originate from some cause besides God? Perhaps moral obligations are grounded in self interest or natural instinct. Reply: People seem to conceive of moral absolutes even when they do not appear to involve self-interest or natural instinct. For instance, the case of a soldier falling on a hand grenade to save his comrades.
Possible Refutation 2: Right and wrong are not universally binding, but are products of human culture. Reply: The variance in human morality is exaggerated. There seems to be a basic trans-cultural understanding of morality with only the details and circumstances in question. Also, just because cultural variance in morality exists, it does not logically follow that no absolute morality exists. It is entirely possible that some cultures may be mistaken in their understanding of moral details. For example, Adolph Hitler's extermination of the Jews was largely condemned by the world and the Nazis held responsible for atrocities regardless of their own logic supporting their actions.
Overall Conclusion: The existence of concept of universal moral obligations makes more sense in a Cosmos designed by a moral being than it does in a Cosmos where moral beings are a product of impersonal and amoral forces. Together with the Cosmological and Teleological Arguments, the Moral Argument adds the dimension of holiness to a personal Creator.
Summary: These arguments depend on the individual accepting or rejecting each of the premises as true. All of the premises seem to be true to some, but not absolutely proven to everyone. The best that can be said is that, taken together, these avenues of logic make a very plausible case for the existence of God to many rational people.
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