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Philosophical Arguments for and Against the Existence of God

Updated on December 21, 2016

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Philosophers on God


Thomas Aquinas

Thomas Aquinas uses the first cause argument to prove the existence of God. In his argument, he uses the word "move" to mean "change" when he says that whenever something moves (changes) then it is being moved (changed) or caused to change by something else. This, to Aquinas, is because nothing can cause itself to be changed/moved. Although he is of the opinion that change in one thing is caused by another, and so on, Aquinas also explains that this does not go on to infinity because it would then mean that there is no first mover. However, there is a first mover, who causes the changes, but is not itself change. According to this argument, the absence of the first mover or cause would mean that the universe as it is cannot be explained. As a result, we would be violating our own principle of sufficient reason for everything. This is a cause and effect argument, where Aquinas strives to explain that using reason; humans can acknowledge the fact that a change in one thing must have a cause. According to the argument, God is the origin of all changes or the cause of changes, but does not himself change.

Samuel Clarke

According to Clarke's argument of contingency, each being that exists or every being that has ever existed is a contingent (dependent) being. On the other hand, not every being at any time in existence can be dependent. For this reason, a self-existent being must exist. For Clarke, the independent being, which is self-existent is the "necessary being," which causes the dependent being to exist because the dependent being cannot exist without a cause. According to Clarke, the entire series of the dependent beings (beings that are not self- existent) must have an explanation/origin. Although Clarke does not come out to strongly oppose the idea of an infinite succession, he concludes that considered as a single unit, the entire series of the dependent beings is dependent on a necessary being that self-exists, which is necessary for the dependent being to exist. From this argument, the dependent beings are the beings that require a creator/designer or a being that causes them to exist. For this reason, they (dependent beings) cannot exist without the self-existing being (God) who causes them to be in existence.

David Hume on a Supreme Designer

Hume thinks that it is too early to conclude that God is the designer because the universe as it had been discovered then was a small sample from which such conclusions could be made. On the other hand, he pointed out that like animals and plants, the universe is capable of reproducing itself. He explains that in the same way that a tree produces seeds, and produce new trees in nearby lands, the world/universe can be produced from other seeds being scattered in the universe.

St. Anselm

According to St. Anselm, God has been described as the greatest being. This proves that there is a God (the greatest being). If this is not the case, then it is possible that something greater exists - the greatest being. However, even if this is the case, then the greatest being would still be God. According to his argument, God can be defined by everyone (even those who do not believe in god) as the greatest being that can be conceived. For this reason, even a person who says he/she does not believe in God would be contradicting him/herself since there is a conception that there is a "greatest being". Since there is a being that is conceived to exist, and then nothing greater can be conceived, it exists both in mind and reality (God). The conclusion therefore concludes that a God that exists (can be conceived in the mind and reality) is greater than one that does not exist, or cannot be conceived in reality.

Immanuel Kant on the Ontological Argument

However, Kant points out that existence is not a predicate -that is, a property that a given thing can either have or lack. For Kant, saying that a thing exists means that the concept of the thing in question is exemplified in the world. This is to mean that existence is not a matter of something possessing a given property, but rather of a concept that corresponds to something in the world. From this perspective, then it becomes difficult to compare a God that exists and one that does not, which would mean that the ontological argument would fail given that it would not be possible differentiating between a god that can be conceived and one that cannot.

John Hick


John Leslie Mackie

According to Mackie, evil is evidence that God does not exist. This, according to Mackie is due to the proposition that the existence of evil and existence of an all-good, all-powerful and omnipotent God are logically incompatible. However, since it is generally agreed that evil exists, God cannot exist since he if he did, he would not allow evil to exist. If God exists on the other hand, he cannot be perfectly good and all powerful. In Dostoyevsky's Brothers Karamazov, evil is not used as an idea of rejecting the existence of evil. Although Ivan does not argue that there is no God due to the existing problem or evil in the world, he simply refuses anything to do with the Christian God, who he blames for allowing evil to exist, and chooses to suffer with the suffering, who have not been avenged. Whether he is wrong or right, he chooses to be an atheist. Ivan therefore has a problem with God, who has allowed evil to exist.

The premises: God is all powerful; God is omniscient and that evil exist makes up the logical problem. This is because of the fact that they try to imply that such a good God co- exists with evil. Since Christians hold that God is all three, then it follows that evil should not exist because He should want to remove evil, He has the power to remove evil and being omniscient, knows how to remove evil. However, according to the quasi-logical rule, evil still exists, which means God cannot possibly exist.

Gottfried Wilhelm Leibniz

Leibniz attempted to solve the problem of evil by explaining how the existence of the current world is actually consistent with the omnipotent and a benevolent God. Therefore, he sought to show how a good God can allow the world to exist as it is. In his opinion, the world we live in is the best possible world, which works because of all the possible arrangement of parts. The actual world we live in is the creation of a good God, who thought of creating it as it is, and not any other way. This therefore makes the actual world perfect since it was selected from all other alternatives. It is also governed by various mathematical and physical laws, which govern what is possible and what is not. However, God is not limited to these laws. An example of these laws is the law of gravity. Assuming that an individual throws another person from a bridge, God, with his power has the power to suspend the individual. However, doing so would be creating a world where the law of gravity is non-existent, and thus the actual world we live in would not exist. God has created the world with various parts and laws that work together to ensure the world works perfectly. For instance, gravity allows rain water to fall onto the earth. In the event that one or some parts are interfered with, the then world fails to work as it was designed to.
Leibniz also explains that the world is good because human beings have free will. This, in his opinion, is better than if human beings were all- morally goods. With free, human get to choose right over wrong. The world, being good, allows human beings to have choices, which is better than having n choices. Although evil exists, it also comes with a greater good. For instance, it allows people to choose right over wrong. For instance, by assisting another who needs help, one demonstrates a greater good rather than allowing the evil to exist. This therefore distinguishes good from evil and shows the goodness of God over evil.

Evil Leading to Good?

The idea of evil leading to a great good can also be seen in the Augustinian story in the idea of Felix Culpa. According to the writings of St. Augustine, although man fell when he decided to eat of the fruit he was not supposed to, he is allows some good to come out of it in that Adam and Eve get children and their relationship with God is ultimately reconciled. This shows God's goodness even following the fall of man, when he committed evil. Through free will, man falls in to evil, but God takes this opportunity to bring some goodness, which shows that evil also brings in some goodness in the process.

John Hick

John Hick agrees with Irenaeus that free will was necessary, and as he points out, the love of a robot has no value. Human beings according to Hick were therefore created with a capacity for spiritual growth, which can also be achieved through their free will. However, in his argument, the process of soul making/spiritual growth or seeking goodness is largely sought as a response to evil that exists in the world. Without these evils, there would be no need to develop spiritually. On the other hand, he argues that we should admit that we cannot fully understand God's plans or reasons for doing what He does. Given that there is a lot of evil that exist in the world, we cannot say we understand God's reasons/plans. This is different from the Augustinian "Felix Culpa" theodicy that Leibniz gives where he suggests that God uses evil to bring about goodness. According to Hick's view, a human is represented as somewhat being distant from God and only gets to create the idea of God and the possibility of an afterlife as a result of the evil that he faces. Because of suffering from the evils, humans are forced to seek God, and grow spiritually. Without evil however, they would have no reason of spiritual growth. According to Hick, human beings are like children, their father being God, who also punishes them when they are evil. He goes on to distinguish evil as moral and natural. This is different from Irenaen, who does not mention natural evil. However, the natural evil of this life according to Hick is necessary for divine purposes. His argument also seems to be forward-looking rather than causal or backward looking given that evil is brought in to the argument as essential for divine purposes in his life. Therefore, the natural evil has been permitted, rather than caused as a means of allowing this growth among human beings.

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