The Online Encyclopedia and Dictionary






Arguments for the existence of God

Many arguments for the existence of God exist.


Arguments for the necessity of God

These arguments can be classified under two headings. First are the strictly logical or metaphysical arguments; these arguments seek to prove that the existence of a being with at least one attribute that only God could have is logically necessary.

Metaphysical arguments

Arguments include:

Empirical arguments

Other arguments avail themselves of data beyond definitions and axioms. Some of these arguments require only that one assume that a non-random universe able to support life exists. Others are more strongly tied to the testimony of certain witnesses or the propositions of a specific revealed religion. These arguments include:

Subjective arguments for the belief in God

Inductive arguments for belief in God

  • Another class of philosophers asserts that the proofs for the existence of God present a fairly large probability but no absolute certainty. A number of obscure points, they say, always remain. In order to overcome these difficulties there is necessary either an act of the will, a religious experience, or the discernment of the misery of the world without God, so that finally the heart makes the decision. This view is maintained, among others, by the English statesman Arthur Balfour in his book The Foundations of Belief (1895). The opinions set forth in this work were adopted in France by Brunetiére , the editor of the Revue des deux Mondes. Many orthodox Protestants express themselves in the same manner, as, for instance, Dr. E. Dennert , President of the Kepler Society , in his work Ist Gott tot? (Stuttgart, 1908).

Arguments for belief in God grounded in subjective experience

  • The Scotch School led by Thomas Reid taught that the fact of the existence of God is accepted by us without knowledge of reasons but simply by a natural impulse. That God exists, this school said, is one of the chief metaphysical principles that we accept not because they are evident in themselves or because they can be proved, but because common sense obliges us to accept them.
  • The Argument from a Proper Basis argues that belief in God is "properly basic"--that is, similar to statements such as "I see a chair" or "I feel pain." Such beliefs are non-falsifiable and, thus, neither able to be proved nor disproved; they concern perceptual beliefs or indisputable mental states.
  • In Germany, the School of Friedrich Heinrich Jacobi taught that our reason is able to perceive the suprasensible. Jacobi distinguished three faculties: sense, reason, and understanding. Just as sense has immediate perception of the material so has reason immediate perception of the immaterial, while the understanding brings these perceptions to our consciousness and unites them to one another (Stöckl, Geschichte der neueren Philosophie, II, 82 sqq.). God's existence, then, cannot be proved--Jacobi, like Kant, rejected the absolute value of the principle of causality--it must be felt by the mind.
  • In his Emile, Jean-Jacques Rousseau asserted that when our understanding ponders over the existence of God it encounters nothing but contradictions; the impulses of our hearts, however, are of more value than the understanding, and these proclaim clearly to us the truths of natural religion, namely, the existence of God and the immortality of the soul.
  • The same theory was advocated in Germany by Friedrich Schleiermacher (d. 1834), who assumed an inner religious sense by means of which we feel religious truths. According to Schleiermacher, religion consists solely in this inner perception, and dogmatic doctrines are unessential (Stöckl, loc. cit., 199 sqq.).
  • Many modern Protestant theologians follow in Schleiermacher's footsteps, and teach that the existence of God cannot be demonstrated; certainty as to this truth is only furnished us by inner experience, feeling, and perception.
  • Modernist Christianity also denies the demonstrability of the existence of God. According to them we can only know something of God by means of the vital immanence, that is, under favorable circumstances the need of the Divine dormant in our subconsciousness becomes conscious and arouses that religious feeling or experience in which God reveals himself to us. In condemnation of this view the oath against Modernism formulated by Pius X says: "Deum ... naturali rationis lumine per ea quae facta sunt, hoc est per visibilia creationis opera, tanquam causam per effectus certo cognosci adeoque demostrari etiam posse, profiteor." ("I declare that by the natural light of reason, God can be certainly known and therefore His existence demonstrated through the things that are made, i.e., through the visible works of Creation, as the cause is known through its effects.")

Pragmatic arguments for belief in the existence of God

  • Pascal's Wager holds that, whether or not God's existence can be proved, belief in God is the most prudentially rational choice, because one has everything to gain if God exists, and nothing to lose if he does not.

The relationship among the arguments

A dispute arose as to whether there are a number of proofs of the existence of God or whether all are not merely parts of one and the same proof (cf. Dr. C. Braig , Gottesbeweis oder Gottesbeweise?, Stuttgart, 1889). While all such proofs would end in the same way, by asserting the existence of God, they do not all start at the same place. St. Thomas calls them aptly (Summ. theol., I, Q. ii, a.3) Viæ; roads to the apprehension of God which all open on the same highway.

The theological status of the arguments

Christian views

The theological standing of arguments for the existence of God is also subject to some debate among believers. Within the Christian tradition there are two sharply opposed viewpoints. The Catechism of the Catholic Church, following the Thomist tradition of St Thomas Aquinas and the dogmatic definition of the First Vatican Council, affirms that it is a doctrine of the Roman Catholic Church that God's existence can in fact be rationally demonstrated. Some other Christians in different denominations hold similar views. On this view, a distinction is to be drawn between (1) doctrines that belong essentially to faith and cannot be proved, such as the doctrine of the Trinity or the Incarnation, and (2) doctrines that can be accepted by faith but can also be known by reason. The existence of God is said to be one of the latter. As a theological defense of this view, one might cite Paul's claim that pagans were without excuse because "since the creation of the world [God's] invisible nature, namely, his eternal power and deity, has been clearly perceived in the things that have been made" (Rom. 1:20).

On the other hand, some Christians hold a contrary position. These believers note that the Christian faith teaches salvation is by faith, and that faith is reliance upon the faithfulness of God, which has little to do with the believer's ability to comprehend that in which he trusts. In other words, if Christian theology is true, then God's existence can never be demonstrated, either by empirical means or by philosophical argument. The most extreme example of this position is called fideism, which holds that faith is simply the will to believe, and argues that if God's existence were rationally demonstrable, faith in His existence would become superfluous. In The Justification of Knowledge, the Calvinist theologian Robert S. Reymond argues that believers should not attempt to prove the existence of God. Since he believes all such proofs are fundamentally unsound, believers should not place their confidence in them, much less resort to them in discussions with non-believers; rather, they should accept the content of revelation by faith. Reymond's position is similar to that of presuppositional apologetics, which holds that faith-based world views and non-faith-based world views are both essentially circular belief systems that have no common grounds to debate such a proposition.

An intermediate position is that of Alvin Plantinga who holds that belief in the existence of God can be rational and indeed a species of knowledge, even though the existence of God cannot be demonstrated. After all, there are kinds of knowledge that are rational but do not proceed through demonstration: sensory knowledge, for instance.

Arguments against the existence of God

There are also arguments against the existence of God.

See also

External links

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