Wednesday, May 20, 2009

4 Arguments for God's Existence


1: Cosmological Argument
 "The cosmological argument for God’s existence goes like this: The world could not exist on its own so there must have been a first cause that brought it into being. This first cause is God. Or put another way, the universe could not just exist on its own—someone or something must have made it. This cause of the universe is God."

If you assume a first cause, then the concept of God or a creator isn't very farfetched. My worldview is one that Vlach (the author of the article) mentions that can contradict this: that matter is eternal. If we assume an expanding universe, then we can hypothesize an origin - the Big Bang, for instance. I also believe that the universe is expanding continuously slower, due to the forces of gravity. Eventually, this will result in the expanding coming to a stop - and eventually the universe will contract, and eventually all matter will be pulled into a single point - from which, due to all the energy of all matter coming together at the same point, could result in another 'big bang.' 

In a nutshell, this is why I, personally, reject the cosmological argument - because the universe need not originate from anywhere or anything, if it is eternal.

2: Teleological argument
"The teleological argument is also known as “the argument from design” (The Greek word “telos” means “purpose” or “design.”). The argument goes like this: The universe evidences great complexity or design; thus, it must have been designed by a great Designer or God.

The argument from design can be likened to a watch. A watch is obviously made by a watchmaker. The world, which is much more complex than a watch, must also have been designed by a great Designer or Divine Watchmaker (God).

In sum, the teleological argument asserts that the universe evidences too much complexity to be the product of random chance. We know that the celestial bodies move with perfect accuracy in their orbits. Our bodies, too, are incredibly complex. According to the teleological argument, there’s just no way all this complexity could “just happen.” God must have created it all."

I just simply don't believe that the universe is so complex that it must have been created.

3: Ontological Argument

"The third argument for God’s existence is the ontological argument. This argument is unlike the cosmological and teleological arguments in that it does not argue from evidence in the natural world. Thus, it is not a “cause and effect” argument.

The ontological argument can be stated in this way: “God is the greatest being imaginable. One of the aspects of perfection or greatness is existence. Thus, God exists.” Or put another way—“The fact that God can be conceived means that he must exist.”

This argument for God’s existence was developed by the twelfth century theologian and philosopher, Anselm. It is based on Anselm’s declaration that God is “that which nothing greater can be conceived.”"

This is the weakest argument of the four, by far, because it just begs the question: If something can be conceived, it must not necessarily exist. If you imagine perfection, and one of the aspects of perfection is existence, the leap between imagining perfection and stating that perfection exists is very unreasonable.

4: Moral Law Argument

"Another argument for the existence of God is the moral law argument. It goes like this: Without God morality would be impossible. There must be a Lawgiver (God) who originates and stands by moral law. A universal moral law cannot exist accidentally. There must be a basis behind it—God.

According to this view, every person is born with an inherent understanding of right and wrong. Everyone, for instance, understands that killing an innocent person is wrong. Everyone understands that helping a drowning person is right. Where did this internal understanding of right and wrong come from? According to adherents of the moral law argument, this understanding comes from God. He put it into the hearts of every person."

Vlach goes on to mention that there are two reactions to this - relatavism, or that objective good/evil does not exist, and that if God is all good, then why would there be evil in the world?

Of course, then, there is Rand's argument, that there does exist an objective good/evil inherent in human nature, but it is not from any external means. She claims that good is that which enables humans to flourish, and it is not relative from culture to culture or person to person. As Drew mentioned to me once, it seems that there must have been a "fall" at some point, for if everyone, acting in their own rational self interest was creating the best possible society, why would anyone act against this?

Still, to me, this argument seems to carry the most water, but the argument "Objective good/evil therefore God" hasn't won me over yet.

Vlach ends, most helpfully, with:

"It should be noted that most Christian theologians and philosophers believe that God never intended for his existence to be something that could be proven with 100% certainty. They point out that faith is an important component in understanding God and his existence."


1 comment:

Wildflower said...

I'm excited to see your comments on some of the more famous arguments for God. I, as a theist, actually think they are fairly crummy (a technical term, I believe) as well. If any "argument" is compelling, it is an emotive one. We can talk about that some time, if you are interested.

1) The only thing I wanted to point out about what you say about the cosmological argument (besides a, yeah, the argument is terrible), is that nearly all physicists today agree that the universe will not compact again. They say this because the universe is not decelerating in its expansion, but rather accelerating. And the acceleration is actually increasing, as the gravitational force is increasingly decreasing as well (since matter is becoming more and more spread out). Gravity simply isn't enough to get the universe to contract before it spreads itself infinitely thin. In other words, the ultimate fate of this universe is heat death. Kind of depressing, if you think about it, actually. Regardless, there are still very good reasons to reject the cosmological argument.

2) While I disagree with your claim that the universe isn't complex (it seems complex to me! ;) ), I too think the teleological argument is fairly lousy - mostly because humans appear to have an innate ability to "recognize" design in things that clearly weren't designed. What can I say, humans like to see themselves in everything.

3) Ontological argument - while in the end, I'm not convinced this is a good argument, I have talked to many well-read scholars that think it is one, and I'm not sure your argument does it justice. The claim here is that the argument only works for one kind of entity - the entity that is perfect in all respects. Start with the being that no greater can be conceived - part of that conception is existence, and if the conception of that being is greater than all that can be conceived that includes existence in reality.

From what I can tell, your objection is similar to Kant's - that existence isn't a predicate, not something that an entity can or cannot have (since if it is an entity, it exists). That is plausible, but I think there are other readings of the argument that escape that problem (one of the popular things to do with the ontological argument today is to assume God's existence (or prove it another way) and then to use the ontological argument to "give" God other perfections, since, for example, the design argument doesn't tell us what that designer might be like. The ontological arguments can ascribe God as a perfect being in all respects).

So my problem? Well, quite frankly, I think that the human mind is finite, and I cannot make sense of the phrase "greatest that can be conceived." Ultimately, I think the human mind can constantly come up with "greater" beings in mind, and that "greatness" is always subjective, i.e. dependent on what I value. If I value hot dogs a lot, one of the qualities of my perfect God would be a being that gives everyone as many hot dogs as I desire, for example.

4)The moral argument is an interesting one. Ultimately, it doesn't do what it strives to do (as you acknowledge). However, it does do an interesting spin of it - that we do have to acknowledge values. Without values, morality doesn't function. That alone can reveal some interesting things. However, the question remains whether God must necessarily exist if values do. And that, depends on our view of God. The "traditional" interpretation of God? Nope. The ghostly God(s) of our values? Perhaps...

We should talk about all of this more! All very interesting stuff! Oh, and when we do, remind me to talk about the emotive stuff - Vlach's last statement will make more sense (and less offending sense), hopefully. I guess it would be amusing for me to dismiss his argument but defend his final statement on faith, but oh well...that is what I do. ;)