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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.

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:
1. Ontological:
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.
Objection: You cannot define or imagine a thing into existence.
2. Causal:
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.
3. Design:
Animals, plants and planets show clear signs of being designed for specific ends, therefore there must have been a designer.
Objection: The principles of self-organization and evolution provide complete explanations for apparent design.
3a. Modern design argument:
the Anthropic Cosmological Principle. This is the strongest card in the theist hand. 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.
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. 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.
4. Experiential:
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.
5. Pragmatic:
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.

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 cause 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.

See also: Has Science Found God?: Examining the Evidence from Modern Physics and Cosmology

Copyright© 1997 Principia Cybernetica - Referencing this page

Paul Harrison

Apr 3, 1997


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