Philosophical arguments: the existence of God

This page last updated February 26th, 2020

For millennia, people have tried to formulate arguments to prove that God exists. Some arguments have fallen by the wayside, but others have been honed by centuries of discussion, updated by the latests scientific discoveries, and are still discussed today. Here are some of the best.

The arguments

SOMBRERO GALAXY (M104) PHOTOGRAPHED BY HUBBLE SPACE TELESCOPE (HST)The cosmological argument

The universe exists, but how can we explain this? What caused it? The cosmological argument argues that the universe could not cause itself or explain its own existence; neither could it have had an infinite life. The only logical conclusion, it is argued, is that it must, like everything else we know, have an external cause, and this external cause looks like God. The counter arguments try to show that an infinite or causeless universe is possible.

spiral galaxy NGC2841The teleological argument

The shape and characteristics of our universe are determined by a bunch of fundamental universal laws and the values of constants within those laws. Cosmologists have calculated that if these values had been even slightly different, life could not have formed and perhaps the universe would not exist at all after this time, or would be more like soup than the galaxies that we see. This argument looks at possible explanations to explain this ‘fine-tuning’, and concludes that the universe must have been designed. The counter arguments try to offer alternative explanations (e.g. that perhaps the underlying physics made our universe inevitable) or try to undermine the calculations of the improbability of our universe occurring by chance.

stopThe moral argument

People all over the world instinctively ‘know’ that some things are truly right and wrong, although they may disagree about some of the details. This apparent ‘fact’ is the basis for an argument that only God can explain objective ethics. But the objection known as ‘Euthyphro’s Dilemma (which asks whether something is wrong because God condemns it, or God condemns it because it was wrong?) is a major difficulty for the argument. For we must choose between making ethics arbitrary (if God commanded differently) or independent of God (if God subjects himself to an external standard). But a second form of the argument, based on how we know right and wrong, seems to avoid the problem and present a strong case.

hidingThe hiddenness of God

If you love someone, you generally want to be close to them, to please them, to be in relationship with them. So, it would seem, if there’s a God and if he loves us, wouldn’t he want to do the same with all of us? But there are some people who don’t experience God that way, so doesn’t this show that a loving God doesn’t exist after all? Except maybe God has other reasons, which we might guess at, or may have no idea about. So does this constitute a strong argument against the existence of God?

Still to come

The argument from reason
The ontological argument
The argument from religious experience and miracles
The argument from the historical Jesus
The argument (against the existence of God) from evil

What do these arguments prove?

Few people these days see these arguments as proofs, and few who oppose them see their counter arguments as disproofs. Instead, we may hope that the arguments show that one or the other view about God is reasonable, and hopefully more reasonable than the alternative view. If several arguments point in the same direction, the probability increases that their cumulative conclusion is correct.

Photo: Wikimedia Commons.

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