08 September, 2010

Arguments for the existence of God

Here I will list arguments for the existence of God and my responses. If you have an argument that I missing please post it as a comment and I will add it to the list. The description of each argument is taken from Wiki or here. I don't claim that any of my responses are novel and I haven't read any deep philosophical thoughts on these issues. They are just my thoughts. If you disagree with anything, feel free to let me know.


1) The cosmological argument argues that there was a "first cause", or "prime mover" who is identified as God. It starts with a claim about the world, like its containing entities or motion.

Response:

-This argument depends on the idea that everything and anything that happens must have a cause. The trouble is that if this is asserted, then it must necessarily also apply to God - what caused God? If the argument is that God does not need a cause then it is inconsistent to apply that criterion to everything else - a fallacy called 'special pleading'. If God does not need a cause, then perhaps energy/matter does not need a cause and might have existed in some form prior to the big bang. Indeed, I have posted before about the possibility that energy/matter has always existed.



2) The teleological argument argues that the universe's order and complexity are best explained by reference to a creator God. It starts with a rather more complicated claim about the world, i.e. that it exhibits order and design.

Response:

-This is the classic argument from design and has been brought to the fore in recent times due to the Intelligent Design movement. There are many flaws to this argument (which I discussed in detail with Casey Luskin here) but the simplest is that it is simply an argument from ignorance. The proponent can't think of how a complex system could have come about and so concludes that it must have been designed by God - 'Goddidit'. Of course, we do know how complexity comes about in many cases, such as in a snowflake or a crystal lattice - through purely natural processes. Computer simulations like Avida have shown that, given enough time, a simple program can generate incredible complexity.

-Also, there are many examples of bad design in biology, which is at odds with the concept of a perfect creation by an omnipotent designer.

-A further issue with this argument is that it results in an infinite regress. If God is capable of designing the universe, it stands to reason that he is of sufficient complexity to require design. So who designed God? Perhaps another God - but then who designed him? Etc.



3) The ontological argument is based on arguments about a "being greater than which cannot be conceived". It starts simply with a concept of God. Avicenna St. Anselm of Canterbury and Alvin Plantinga formulated this argument to show that if it is logically possible for God (a necessary being) to exist, then God exists.

Response:

-This is a very weak argument - essentially that if God is perfect, then he must exist as to not exist would be considered 'less' than perfect. Firstly it is begging the question since the existence of God is already assumed in the first place.

-Also, this 'proof' can be used to 'prove' the existence of anything, as famously shown for Gaunilno's Perfect Island. If you can conceive of anything that you consider to be perfect, then it must exist. This clearly shows the failings of this particular argument.

-It is similar to using Curry's paradox to prove the existence of something, i.e. "If this sentence is true, then God exists". They are nothing more than word games.



4) Arguments that a non-physical quality observed in the universe is of fundamental importance and not an epiphenomenon, such as beauty (Argument from beauty), love (Argument from love), or religious experience (Argument from religious experience), are arguments for theism as against materialism.

Response:

-These types of arguments have no solid foundation as they are completely subjective. Beauty and love are fuzzy concepts that mean different things to different people, while religious experience, by definition, is a personal phenomenon. These arguments might, therefore, be considered compelling to an individual, but they are not persuasive as all-encompassing reasons to believe in the existence of God. If beauty is evidence for God, does this mean ugliness is evidence against God? Similarly, if the sudden recovery of a terminally ill patient is evidence for God, then a healthy person dropping dead is surely evidence against God? It doesn't work only one way.

-The claim that beauty and love are transcendental is also weak, as different degrees of 'love' are known to be simulated in people on recreational drugs, strongly suggesting that they are products of purely physical processes involving hormones.

-Furthermore, religious experience cannot be trusted for the simple fact that most testable declarations based on revelation turn out to be false - most notably end-of-the-world predictions.



5) The anthropic argument suggests that basic facts, such as our existence, are best explained by the existence of God. The conditions that allow life in the Universe can only occur when certain universal fundamental physical constants lie within a very narrow range, so that if any of several fundamental constants were only slightly different the universe would be empty, or even non-existent.

Response:

-This is also known as the fine-tuning argument or the Goldilocks argument. Firstly, according to some scientists the properties that are spoken of as being fine-tuned do not necessarily have to be as they are. But even if we grant that they must be as they are for this particular universe, it is conceivable that different parameters would simply result in a different universe (whether we can comprehend this universe or not).

-To take the example of life, we have adapted to live in the conditions that exist - not the other way around. An analogy is to imagine pouring water into a glass. The water fills the glass according to whatever shape the glass is. However, an anthropic glass proponent might suggest that the glass was perfectly designed to hold the shape the water assumes in the glass - no other shaped glass could accommodate it in that specific shape. So everything in the universe, including life, has adapted to the conditions inherent to the universe.

-Perhaps there are (or have been) many universes and this is the only one we can exist in. If so, it is not surprising that we find ourselves in this universe asking these questions.




6) The moral argument argues that the existence of objective morality depends on the existence of God.

Response:

-Proponents of this argument contend that an absolute standard of morality, God, is needed in order to know what is right and wrong. This fails on several levels. Firstly, there is Euthyphro's dilemma: "Is what is morally good commanded by God because it is morally good (meaning it is independent of God), or is it morally good because it is commanded by God (meaning it is arbitrary as God could make anything good)?"

-Secondly, it is only assumed that there is an absolute moral standard, not actually demonstrated. Different cultures have had different morals over the years, so moral relativism is an alternative. A typical counter to this is that this means that child rape is not absolutely morally wrong, putting the moral relativist in the awkward position of having to agree as they believe in no absolute moral standards. This is simply an attempt to insert an emotionally-charged subject into the debate. It can also work in reverse - if God decided tomorrow that child rape was morally good, would all Christians embrace it and actively engage in it? I doubt that they would - this shows that morality exists apart from God.

-So if morality doesn't come from God, where does it come from? The obvious answer is through the evolution of a social species in which the majority live by the Golden Rule (treat others as you would like to be treated). How else could we survive? A society in which lying, murder, rape, etc are considered morally good by the majority would never thrive. This doesn't mean that the reverse society (i.e. our society) cannot harbour individuals with bad morals, but just that the majority need to be morally good.

-Finally, there are many thought experiments on morality which show the inconsistency of claiming that there is an absolute moral standard.



7) The transcendental argument for the existence of God (TAG) suggests that logic, science, ethics, and other things we take seriously do not make sense in the absence of God, and that atheistic arguments must ultimately refute themselves if pressed with rigorous consistency.

Response:

-This is probably the argument I have the most experience in dealing with, mainly through my discussions with Sye TenB. This approach, also known as presuppositional apologetics, is fundamentally flawed because it is dependent on the idea of absolutes and certainty - two things that the proponent demonstrably does not have. Indeed, despite making claims of certainty, the proponent cannot even prove that they exist for certain.

-This approach is simply a device in order to 'win' debates by pointing out inconsistencies in a non-Christian's 'worldview' using engineered circular arguments. The proponent will resist all attempts to critically examine the problems with their own 'worldview' because this would be putting God on trial. Convenient!

-For further reading on the failings of TAG see Presuppositionalist Nonsense Parts I, II and III.


8) The will to believe doctrine was pragmatist philosopher William James' attempt to prove God by showing that the adoption of theism as a hypothesis "works" in a believer's life. This doctrine depended heavily on James' pragmatic theory of truth where beliefs are proven by how they work when adopted rather than by proofs before they are believed (a form of the hypothetico-deductive method).

Response:

-This argument is completely subjective and is in no way an argument for the existence of God. There are many 'believers' who find that their belief or religion doesn't work out and leave their faith. So if this argument has any merit, then these reconverts have to be accepted as evidence against God. This contradiction highlights the failings of this approach.




9) The argument from reason holds that if, as thoroughgoing naturalism entails, all of our thoughts are the effect of a physical cause, then we have no reason for assuming that they are also the consequent of a reasonable ground. Knowledge, however, is apprehended by reasoning from ground to consequent. Therefore, if naturalism were true, there would be no way of knowing it—or anything else not the direct result of a physical cause—and we could not even suppose it, except by a fluke.

Response:

-The fact that humans can reason is self-evident. Any attempt to disprove that humans can reason must use reason in the disproof. It can be said to be axiomatic, as I have argued here for other concepts such as perception and truth. Since we must use reason to make any argument, this means it is pointless to try and argue that God is the necessary precondition for reason. If this was so, one should be able explain this without using reason. To put it simply, reason is not contingent on God, but the very concept of God is contingent on reason.



10) The modal cosmological argument, the argument from contingency, suggests that because the universe might not have existed (i.e. is contingent), we need some explanation of why it does. Wherever there are two possibilities, it suggests, something must determine which of those possibilities is realised. As the universe is contingent, then, there must be some reason for its existence; it must have a cause. In fact, the only kind of being whose existence requires no explanation is a necessary being, a being that could not have failed to exist. The ultimate cause of everything must therefore be a necessary being, such as God.

Response:

-This fails for many of the same reasons that the cosmological argument fails. Also, on what basis can it be asserted that the universe might not have existed? This is an unjustified premise for this argument. I have argued before that there is no reason to suspect that nothingness ever existed (so to speak).



11) Pascal’s Wager is an argument for belief in God based not on an appeal to evidence that God exists but rather based on an appeal to self-interest. It is in our interests to believe in God, the argument suggests, and it is therefore rational for us to do so.

Response:

-Pascal's wager is the eternal hedge bet. The idea that you are better off believing in God just in case he does exist is a bit of a 'last resort' approach. If God is omniscient, he will know that you don't really believe in him and you are just hedging your bets.

-Plus, I don't see it as being as simple as just believing in God. According to most Christians you have to dedicate your whole life to him. Screw that - that's no hedge bet, that's a life sentence.



12) The argument from improbability explains that it is mathematically virtually impossible for the chain of events to have happened, that must have happened, in order for us to be here. This impossibility points to an omnipotent creator.

Response:

-This argument, made famous by Fred Hoyle's flawed 747 and junkyard analogy, suffers from a lack of understanding of probability and large numbers in general. I agree completely that it is virtually impossible for this reality, including biological life, to have *poofed* into existence almost exactly as it is now. But this is not what most nonbelievers believe happened - this is actually what many theists believe! The error here is that the proponent of the argument is predicting in advance what the outcome will be. It is also virtually impossible to win the lottery, but people win it all the time. Is this a miracle, or is it just inevitable given the large numbers of people who buy tickets? So the thing that is actually virtually impossible is to predict who will win the lottery in advance, not whether or not someone will win it.

-Another good analogy is that of a sequence of 52 cards. Imagine the odds of a particular sequence of 52 cards coming up (8.06582E+67 to 1 apparently). That is virtually impossible! Now deal out a deck of cards. Is the sequence that appeared impossible? No, of course not - the cards had to be dealt in some order, just as the universe (and life, once it appeared) had to evolve in some way.



[This is my 100th blog post. Hurrah!]

15 comments:

Ryk said...

Excellent 100th post. I have also addressed most of those arguments at one time or another and I think I will bookmark this post as a quick reference.

rhiggs said...

Thanks Ryk,

Feel free to give your thoughts on any of the responses as I would like to update them with other angles I may have missed. Hopefully, the post will continue to evolve and provide a useful resource.

PaulJ said...

Nice summation of the most common arguments.

One way the cosmological argument is sometimes formulated is: "Everything that begins to exist has a cause..." But since God has always existed (didn't begin to exist), he doesn't need a cause. But this variation is answered by your point that matter/energy might have always existed.

rhiggs said...

Hi Paul,

Cheers!

Yes I thought of the 'begins to exist' point when I was writing it and, as you mention, that is exactly what I hoped to address with the energy/matter counterpoint.

Anonymous said...

Hi Iam Prabhu from chennai,joined today in this forum... :)

Andrew Louis said...

I'd tend to agree with you for the most part. Although, "These arguments are both bullshit" would have done just as nicely.

AL

uzza said...

None of these are arguments for god, they're only arguments about certain characteristics that god is presupposed to be or have. The only way they can be arguments for a thing called “god” is if that thing is presupposed to have all these attributes.

Eg disproving #6, an absolute moral code, has no bearing on any god that is amoral or immoral. Cthulhu is unimpressed.

Nor does it have any bearing on the cosmological argument, which only presupposes non-causality as an attribute. Or, I think, any of the others.

Pvblivs said...

Uzza:

     Well, the various arguments are intended to be arguments that there must exist a being with certain characteristics. The people are then just calling such a being "god." For that matter, most of the counterpoints are not arguments that this god does not exist but only that the arguments presented for his existence are flawed and uncompelling.

uzza said...

Hmmm. You must be meaning philosophers intend this.
What I see is people advance one of these arguments to show that god must have a certain characteristic, then
proceed as if they've just proved not only that god exists, but that it has every one of the characteristics the 12th Street Holy Rollers say, and I read the KJV or burn in hell. You do it yourself too, when you refer to 'a being', since not a single one of these arguments stipulates that characteristic. The putative “god” would more reasonably be some kind of abstract force, natural law or whatever.

Cosmological Argument = (a)something exists which is uncaused. That is the only characteristic mentioned, and you need an additional argument if you want to also add in a stipulation that that uncaused thing is a being. Rhiggs agrees with (a) and goes further to add that the uncaused thing is matter/energy.

Part (b) of the CA goes on to nonclemature and claims this uncaused whatsit should be named “god”. Personally I prefer “Matilda”, but Rhiggs suggests “matter/energy”. He's not refuted the argument or even disagreed with it, we're only discussing terminology.

Presumably Rhiggs attributes to Matilda all the characteristics physicists usually give matter/energy, but that's outside the scope of the argument, just as it's beyond the scope of the argument to attribute to the label “god” all the characteristics usually given it.

He also seems to add in the unwarranted assumption that those names “god” and “matter/energy” cannot refer to the same thing, but there's no reason to do this unless you're like the 12 Street Holy Rollers and presume that using the label “god” unavoidably adds the characteristic “hates fags” or whatever.

Pvblivs said...

     "You do it yourself too, when you refer to 'a being', since not a single one of these arguments stipulates that characteristic."
     I simply note that those who advance the arguments claim a being. The arguments do not actually justify a being, true. But that only goes into why they are uncompelling. At this point, your argument that I "do it too" is about equally compelling. I do not actually advance such arguments. I spake only of the motives of those who do.

uzza said...

Fair enough. Though what then is the problem with the Cosmological argument?

rhiggs said...

Uzza,

What you are saying is more or less correct but I think you are just being overly pedantic.

I could stoop to that level of pedantry and rename the post "Arguments for the existence of a being with specific presupposed characteristics that may or may not be God". But I won't.


"Eg disproving #6, an absolute moral code, has no bearing on any god that is amoral or immoral."

Correct, but it is not intended to, so why would it? Many people present the argument that an absolute moral code is proof of God's existence and so I gave a response. Simple as that. I'm not trying to disprove God, but instead point out the flaws in these particular arguments that are commonly used.


"Cosmological Argument = (a)something exists which is uncaused. That is the only characteristic mentioned, and you need an additional argument if you want to also add in a stipulation that that uncaused thing is a being. Rhiggs agrees with (a) and goes further to add that the uncaused thing is matter/energy."

Nope. You have redefined the CA. My response was to the definition I gave (taken from Wiki) in which the first cause is identified as God. Plus, I don't necessarily agree with the CA. I simply assert that, if there is something that is uncaused, it could just as easily be energy/matter.


"Presumably Rhiggs attributes to Matilda all the characteristics physicists usually give matter/energy, but that's outside the scope of the argument, just as it's beyond the scope of the argument to attribute to the label “god” all the characteristics usually given it."

Again you have redefined the argument as you see it and then bemoaned my response, which was clearly not written with your definition in mind. Plenty of people do attribute the label 'God' to these characteristics. My point is that this is flawed. You seem to agree.


"He also seems to add in the unwarranted assumption that those names “god” and “matter/energy” cannot refer to the same thing"

If 'God' and 'energy/matter' are to be defined as the same thing, then I believe in God but I just call him 'energy/matter'. I have no problem with pantheism in a poetic sense. My responses have a more traditional view of 'God' in mind though.


"Fair enough. Though what then is the problem with the Cosmological argument?"

I gave the problems with the common version of it in the post. It is special pleading to say that 'everything must need a cause, except X'. But even if we ignore this, it does not appear necessary that X is God.

Atheism vs Theism said...

Adapted Cosmological Argument

1) Time is infinite in the past (support: time could not have been "caused" to begin - as causation yielding a change of state is a temporal phenonemum)
2) Our universe/multiverse of interacting forces, energy and matter is not infinately old (support: our universe has not reached completion yet - the deep freeze, per modern scientific perspective.
3) There was therefore a delay from an eternity past to allow provision, or at least first interaction of said forces, energy and matter to begin the universe/multiverse as we know it.
4) The delay mechanism must have
4i) traversed an infinite time a priori hence exhibiting a characteristic of transcendence over time, and
4 ii) demonstrated a property of selectivity, which implies intelligence and/or purpose.
5) The delay mechanism can be postulated as the creator of our physical universe/multiverse, with a characteristic of agency transcendent of time with suggested intelligence or purpose.
6) The creator of our physical universe has characteristics highly consistent with a theist deity - or God.
7) If a substantially non-equivalent scientific or philosphic alternative cannot be postulated or even imagined to explain the delay mechanism posited in (3 - 4), it is reasonalble to believe in a God until/if such alternative can be imagined or hypothesized (support: it is reasonable to place belief in a best, or only reasonable hypothesis/ theory in explanation of a phenonemum).

Any logical fallacies?

Andrew

Atheism vs Theism said...

Proof for God's existence. derived by 666!!

1) All things in existence require an explanation for their existence.
2) I exist (support, I think therefore I am - Descartes 1644)
3) I began to exist (I was born, June 6, 1966 - just kidding)
4) The ultimate cause of my existence, was either
4i) An infinite set of cause and events, or
4ii) An uncaused, eternal causal entity invoking a finite set of cause and events, or
4ii) An uncaused, eternal causal enttity co-existing with an infinite set of cause and events in an instantenous co-existing asymetric causitive relationship.
5) Therefore there is a 66.6% chance an uncasued, eternal causal entity exists - vs. a 33.3% an uncaused causal entity does not exist, in explanation of "I".
6) It is more reasonalbe to posit existence of an uncaused, eternal creator than not.
7) No.. my appologies - posit 4i violates premise 1!!, as the proposed infinite set of cause and events has no supplied explanation.
8) There is a 100% chance an uncaused, eternal causal entity exists - in explanation for existance of "I"
9) My condolances for those routing for 666!

This argument is mostly for fun - to promote levity and brothership between Atheists and Theists - regardless of whether God exists or not, we are all in this togethor!

Andrew

rhiggs said...

Andrew,

Re: Adapted Cosmological Argument

1) Time is infinite in the past (support: time could not have been "caused" to begin - as causation yielding a change of state is a temporal phenonemum)

I'm not sure that I agree with this. If time 'existed' before the big bang, it is unknown whether it was the same type of time (i.e. spacetime) as exists now - you might be comparing apples and oranges. Also, as Einstein showed, time is a relative concept and not actually an objective entity. Although this has little bearing on everyday life, it raises intersting philosophical questions about the very nature and existence of time.


2) Our universe/multiverse of interacting forces, energy and matter is not infinately old (support: our universe has not reached completion yet - the deep freeze, per modern scientific perspective.

This assumes that the universe has a 'completion' state which it has not yet reached. You also seem to dismiss another modern scientific perspective - that a continuous cycle of inflation and deflation might be occuring. The latter hypothesis would not require our universe/multiverse of interacting forces, energy and matter to be finite.


3) There was therefore a delay...

4) The delay mechanism must have
4i) traversed an infinite time a priori hence exhibiting a characteristic of transcendence over time, and
4 ii) demonstrated a property of selectivity, which implies intelligence and/or purpose.


I don't accept 4i or 4ii.

4i) Why must the delay have tranversed an infinite amount of time? What reason do you have to suggest that the delay did not transverse only one second of 'time' prior to the creation of our universe? Why can't there have been another 'cause' which initiated the delay? And another cause which initiated that?. Can you rule out an infinite regress of causes?

4ii) The 'choice' between creating a universe or not creating a universe is not a complex demonstration of selectivity. It is simply a choice between two options. In essence, a deistic God had only this choice to make. He created the universe and did nothing else. Randomness can easily account for this one 'choice'.

An analogy... Radioactive decay occurs randomly, in that according to quantum theory it is impossible to predict when a given atom will decay. And yet it does decay and so must be making the 'choice' to do so each time. Similarly to a creator creating the universe, this is a simple choice between two options - to decay or not to decay. Would you say that each time radioactive material decays it is demonstating selectivity and hence implying intelligence and/or purpose?


5) The delay mechanism can be postulated as the creator...

6) The creator of our physical universe has characteristics highly consistent with a theist deity - or God.


It also has characteristics highly consistent with the 'orange fluffy delay mechanism that is certainly not a god' that I have just imagined. As I explained above, a deistic God is simply a being who made one simple choice. He flicked the switch to create the universe and hasn't intervened since. Randomness can easily account for this switch-flicking.


7) If a substantially non-equivalent scientific or philosphic alternative cannot be postulated or even imagined to explain the delay mechanism posited in (3 - 4), it is reasonalble to believe in a God until/if such alternative can be imagined or hypothesized (support: it is reasonable to place belief in a best, or only reasonable hypothesis/ theory in explanation of a phenonemum).

Even if I accepted all of your points up until this stage, alternative hypotheses do exist. I only need present one - an infinite cycle of inflation/deflation.