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Mar 25

Common Arguments for God’s Existence

I’ve been inspired recently by a debate between William Lane Craig (theist) and Victor Stenger (atheist). In it, Craig presents the same, tired arguments that have been in use for centuries. Though discounted many times over the years, these arguments still haunt us today. They are a constant reminder that those using the arguments either do not care to research what has already been said on the topic or simply choose to ignore the fallacies of these arguments.

For now, I will cover (briefly) the Cosmological Argument, the Teleological Argument, and the Ontological Argument. Later, I may discuss some new hybrids, but let’s stick to the classics for now.

The Cosmological Argument

Everything that exists was caused, the universe exists and must have a cause, nothing can cause itself. Yes, the old nothing can come from nothing approach.

The most obvious flaw, and one that I assure you can never be overcome, is that God would have to be held to these same restrictions. There is no adequate proof that God should count as an exception to this. You could say that God has always existed, but then you open the possibility of the Universe always existing, and you’re back to square one. God, in this case, acts as a typical deus ex machina. An intersting side point by Stenger during his debate was that, in particle physics, we know of things that exist with no appparent or intelligble cause.

The Teleological Argument

Nature is complex and seems to have a purpose. These complexities seem like they can only have arrived from mind, rather than random chance. This implies a designer, ala Paley’s watchmaker. There is a modern remix of this argument called the Argument from Fine Tuning, but I won’t go that in-depth here.

Darwinian evolution serves as a counterpoint. Basically, our evolutionary history has resulted in only keeping the lifeforms that function relatively well. Many may say here that we must prove evolution. Not true. This logical construction is arguing that it is necessary for us to have been designed. Our only job is to show that it may have come about in other ways. A more obvious retort could also be that there are so many problems with our species, planet, etc. that it would seem to be poorly designed in many areas. This would conflict with the traditional notion of God as perfect, but does not necessarily derail the argument as a whole.

The Ontological Argument

This one is my favorite, as I don’t see how the terrible logic could convince anyone; yet, it remains in use today.

We can conceive of nothing greater than God. To exist is greater than to not exist. If God did not exist, then we would be able to conceive of something greater than God. So, God must exist. Incredible. I’ve always seen this as less of an argument for God’s existence and more of a definition for people who already believed – God is the greatest thing you can possibly conceive.

The problem, and it is a ridiculous one, is that conceiving is not the same as existing. Kant also critiqued this argument by saying that existence is not a property. For example, you wouldn’t logcally treat walking on two legs and existence the same. So, to add existence to the definition of a concept produces numerous fallacies. Go ahead and think of something ridiculous and then also think that it exists. Whatever you think about must, by definition, exist now. It works like magic! More traditionally, we treat existence as something that has to be empirically proven. That is why people don’t believe in unicorns – because no one has ever seen one.

Conclusion

I hope that all makes sense. I assume readers don’t want to digest an entire term paper, so I kept it short. That also means that I had to move through the arguments fairly quickly. If there is something you think I should clarify, feel free to comment.

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  1. Anonymous Moose

    I need some clarification, so you don’t think God exists? But what about beer? How do you explain that?

  2. Mike

    If beer is from god, then beer is also god. There are many beer varieties as in religion. There are some people who take their beer way too seriously.

    Yes, I’m starting to see the comparison. Could you also say god is beer? It’s kind of like the Eucharist.

  3. Anonymous Moose

    Ok so if god isn’t beer, and beer isn’t god, then what does god actually look like?

  4. Mike

    Pretty much just like Santa Claus, but with a bigger sleigh.

  5. Andrew M

    Thanks for the post- really helpful. It’s interesting to hear your thoughts in relation to the Craig/Stenger debate. I too have been thinking my way through these questions.

    Some thoughts on your treatment of the Cosmological argument:

    1. Surely from a neutral, philosophical point of view if there is such a thing as God, then she/it/he is generally accepted to be an eternal, infinite, causeless being. If we don’t accept those preconditions, we are not talking about what philosophers generally refer to as God. But if we do accept those preconditions as to what God is, then God is not held to the restrictions of causality you refer to?

    2. Surely it is both philosophically and scientifically accepted that the universe must be finite in time? From a scientific point of view, the expanding nature of the space/time continuum indicates the existence of a start and of the big bang. From a philosophical point of view, it is incoherent to speak of an actual infinite set of events in time.

    If it is therefore incoherent or non-factual to talk of an infinitely old universe, the counter argument that God is not the cause because the universe might also be infinitely old is not therefore available?

    3. In participle physics, it is accepted that there is quantum fluctuation in which participles come into and out of existence where there is potential for them to exist. Surely that is a different philosophical category to the explanation of the origins of existence, where it is incoherent to speak of any potentiality unless that potentiality is also infinitely old and therefore runs into the same philosophical difficulties as an infinite universe?

    Just some thoughts I’m throwing around. Be really interested to hear your response.

    Cheers!

  6. Mike

    Thanks for the comment, Andrew. I’m pretty tied up for a few days, so I wanted to leave a brief comment to acknowledge that I do want to respond, and I’ll give a fuller answer in a few days. In fact, I think I’d like to create a new post using your questions, if you don’t mind so I can update my position on the Kalam version of the Cosmological Argument.

    This was actually one of the first posts I did when I started the site, and seeing that debate got me thinking about the issues. Unfortunately for me, I wasn’t as well versed in philosophy of religion and related issues when I began. So, I do want to respond to your questions, but I also want to take this opportunity to comment on some issues with this post. The arguments here are not widely used anymore. I wasn’t aware of that at the time because I only spoke to theists who hadn’t studied philosophy. Having become immersed in philosophy of religion since then, I recognize there are newer and better arguments that need to be addressed. The Cosmological Argument has become the Kalam Cosmological Argument, the Teleological Argument has become either the Design Inference Argument or the Fine Tuning Argument, and still no one knows what exactly to make of the Ontological Argument, but the Modal Ontological Argument seems more widely used now. Looking back, I’m actually a bit embarrassed now that I sounded so arrogant and dismissive in this post! But we live and we learn.
    Anyway, I’ll comment here when I have a fuller response – either I’ll make my response within these comments or I’ll write a new post and put a link in the comments here.

  7. Andrew M

    Cheers Mike. Just looking more at your blog – really excellent, well thought out stuff. Looking forward to looking looking at it in more depth.

  8. Mike

    Andrew, I got around to answering your questions. I tried to give pretty thorough answers (at least as thorough as this blog format allows without getting too long). I made it a new post: http://foxholeatheism.com/current-thoughts-on-the-kalam-cosmological-argument/

  1. | Foxhole Atheism

    […] interested me in particular because I invoked the argument in a previous post, Common Arguments for God’s Existence. In it, I provide very brief rebuttals to three classic arguments for the necessary existence of […]

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