Does God Exist? - Three Positions

John Christy
August 4, 2014
Articles
Does God Exist? - Three Positions
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Position 1: Theism

Theism is the belief in the existence of God or gods. Most commonly the monotheistic view of one creator God. Not just belief in an impersonal entity but a being that is present within its creation. To defend this position, theism proposes four initial arguments: 1) Ontological, 2) Cosmological, 3) Teleological, and 4) Moral. These combined arguments present a compelling case found in human reasoning and in physical evidence that there is a necessity of God’s existence and the conclusion that God does exist.

1) The Ontological Argument: Ontology is the study of being. The fact that we exist and are aware that we exist is the first point to understand God’s existence. We all posses a consciousness of our own existence, but not just of our existence, we are also aware of that which exists around us. In this metaphysical understanding, called ontology, we can only be aware of that which is real. Not merely real in the physical sense but real in the nature of being. Something exists because we are aware of its existence. Anselm first proposed this theory in defining God as “that than which nothing greater can be conceived”[1] and further reasoned that, as a perfect concept, if God “exists even in the mind alone, cannot [God] be thought to exist also in reality?”.[2] As a simple explanation, I can know God exists because I can conceive of God existing. Therefore, the ontological argument claims that because we are capable of conceiving of God he must exist otherwise we would not be able to conceive of him.

2) The Cosmological Argument: Based on the previous argument, that God must exist because we can conceive of God existing then there should be logical evidence to a perfect beings existence. The cosmological argument proposes that God does not exist within the universe but outside of the universe and is the cause of the universe. William Lane Craig explains it in this way, “Whatever begins to exist has a cause. The universe began to exist. Therefore, the universe has a cause”.[3] In this deduction, Craig establishes that there is a necessity for a greater transcendent cause than the universe. When this argument is built upon the previous ontological argument it becomes evident that God is the most reasonable conclusion for a perfect cause that is transcendent and created the universe.

3) The Teleological Argument: Teleology is the belief that there is design and purpose in the universe. This argument, also known as Intelligent Design, asserts that the order and fine tuned balance in the universe is calibrated perfectly for life to exist and could only be the product of an intelligent source. This source is considered an active agent who has designed the universe for a purpose. The most convincing proof for this argument comes in the form of genetics. Our human DNA contains 3.5 billion characters of coded information that is unique to each individual and contains a blueprint for reproducing our body. According to all available known experiences, there is only one source that is capable of creating a complex communication such as DNA. That source is an intelligent agent, and when this intelligence is considered with the previous two arguments it becomes apparent that the perfect, transcendent God is also the intelligent designer of the universe.

4) The Moral Argument: The argument based on morality is an argument that God exists due to the fact that we all understand there to be good and bad. If we determine something to be bad, then there must be a standard by which we judge. This standard of good is evidence that there is an absolute moral standard in the universe. C.S. Lewis explains, “A man does not call a line crooked unless he has some idea of a straight line. What was I comparing this universe with when I called it unjust?”.[4] The moral argument asserts that the perfect, transcendent, intelligent agent of the universe is also the creator of the standard by which we base morality in determining the difference between good and bad. When these four arguments are joined together they collectively create a persuasive case that God does exist.

Position 2: Atheism

Atheism is the lack of belief in any proposed God or gods based on rationalism and empiricism. The claim against the existence of God is that it is neither rational to believe in a supernatural entity nor able to prove with scientific evidence that a deity exists. The logical conclusion then proceeds that there is no God. These two arguments along with the problem of suffering in the world create a compelling case that there is no governing power in control of events known as God.

Rationalism asserts that all belief and behavior should be based on reasoning and verifiable knowledge. While theism may reason to metaphysical conclusions, such as ontology, these are not realistic because they are not verifiable. In order for knowledge to be accepted it must be something that is testable and demonstrable. Since we cannot prove the ontological argument but only presume it to be true based on human reasoning alone then it is not a testable hypothesis and therefore not acceptable. David Hume explains, “It is pretended that the Deity is a necessarily existent being; and this necessity of his existence is attempted to be explained by asserting, that if we knew his whole essence or nature, we should perceive it to be as impossible for him not to exist, as for twice two not to be four”.[5] Rationalism does not allow for speculation, however compelling it may be, to be submitted as evidence of God’s existence and therefore until proof is given the atheist’s default position of non-belief is upheld.

Empiricism claims that in addition to rationalism, all knowledge can only be derived by sensory experience. In order to know something to be true we must be able to experience it with our senses otherwise there is no factual basis in reality. Empiricism is heavily driven by scientific experimentation and it is only by this method that there can be verifiable evidence in proving God to exist. Atheism claims that, since God has not been proven by empirical evidence, there can be no confirmation as to its existence and therefore there is no basis to believe in God. Assertions that there must be an intelligent agent because there is evidence of intelligent functions within the universe are equally based on speculation of how we understand the universe and are not founded in facts. The appearance of design, within the universe, is only because we look for design but in reality the design is nothing more than evidence of how things are and not of how things are intended. If the situation was any different within the universe it would similarly have the same appearance of design but this does not equate to purpose. Hume comments, “Look round the world: contemplate the whole and every part of it: You will find it to be nothing but one great machine, subdivided into an infinite number of lesser machines, which again admit of subdivisions to a degree beyond what human senses and faculties can trace and explain”.[6] Empiricism can only reveal the world as it exists and functions, and as such this is the only way to be certain of the reality we live in. There is no God found empirically within the universe and therefore it becomes safe to conclude that there is no God.

The amount of injustice and suffering in the world creates a compelling case for the atheist argument. Known as the Problem of Suffering, this argument adds a logical conclusion to the evidence of rationalism and empiricism. If God does exist as the perfect being as defined by Anselm’s ontology then it is logical to deduce that in his perfection he is good and caring for his creation. The fact that there is much suffering in the world contradicts the existence of a presently caring God and so it becomes logical to conclude that God does not exist. Bart Ehrman states, “The God that I once believed in was a God who was active in this world…[b]ut I can’t believe in that God anymore, because from what I now see around the world, he doesn’t intervene”.[7] Theism does not suppose an absentee God in the universe; it directly asserts a present creator, caringly and actively involved in its creation. Atheism denies that this God exists based on the lack of rationalistic empirical evidence and its absence in human suffering.

Position 3: Agnosticism

Agnosticism is “a denial of ultimate knowledge of the existence of God”.[8] In short, the agnostic will neither deny nor affirm the existence of God based on the recognition of incomplete evidence. Many atheists, while denying the existence of God, have made the statement that it is really not possible to know either way whether God exists. Famed Philosopher, and Mathematician, Bertrand Russell, has commented, “I do not think that there is a conclusive argument by which one can prove that there is not a God”.[9] While explicitly declaring himself an atheist, Russell was quick to concede that when pressed he would take the position of agnostic on the proof of God’s existence. For reasons much like this, many atheists have chosen to claim agnosticism on their side in the debate for God’s existence. While the atheist asserts probabilistically that God does not exist and the theist determines conclusively that God does exist, both can only logically deduce that neither has satisfied a burden of proof. In fact, when pressed as Russell was, both must honestly concede that there is not enough proof to verify factually to the existence or non-existence of God. In effect, this makes both sides of the argument agnostic on a sliding scale.

On the argument of God being a perfect transcendent being and one in which if we can conceive of him then he must exist, the agnostic position is clear. In contrast to the theists assumption that perfection would equate to a God the agnostic would argue that we cannot conceive of certain concepts like infinity so there is no way to conceive of perfection. According to the agnostic we could never conceive of God if we tried. In disagreement with the atheist, the agnostic would argue that if God did exist he would by necessity be transcendent and beyond our universe. As such then God would not be testable by our sensory experiences because our experiences are limited to our universe. Attempting to find God within our universe would be useless and it must be conceded that being greater, God is beyond the universe and therefore beyond the realm of rationalism and empiricism.

The further arguments for and against God regarding morality and suffering would also fail according to agnosticism. The agnostic would reason, in dealing specifically with Judeo-Christianity, that if God is the basis of morality then why are there immoral acts committed within the Bible itself. Slavery as example would be a situation that God would command immediately to end. If concerns were made for types of meat to eat and garments to wear then this same God would surpass cultural boundaries and declare unfair treatment of humans in slavery as wrong. If morality was based in the existence of this God then the Bible would be more reflective of timeless morality. Against the atheist assumption that if God existed there would be no suffering, the agnostic would acknowledge that often suffering is a direct cause of our human nature. We tend to be most responsible as humans for the majority of suffering in the world. No person is going to live forever so we all must come to peace with death, as it is a major part of life. Death is then not the issue but the lacking in quality of life that we have becomes the relevant issue and this can be altered, whether good or bad by each other. When altered for the good, we as humans grow closer together and live in a much more fulfilling way. The agnostic could easily argue that this purpose is why God would allow suffering. In God’s plan, suffering could have the end goal of teaching and propagating love for fellow humanity, yet to the agnostic, God is not necessary for this humanism.

Agnosticism does not claim to have an answer to the question of God’s existence. Agnosticism finds truth in the problems of the world but also comfort in the purpose behind life. While it may not know how to define that purpose and whether or not God created it, agnosticism does recognize there is meaning and that life is more than just random chance.

[1] Evans, G. R.; Davies, Brian; Anselm, St. (1998-09-10). Anselm of Canterbury: The Major Works (Oxford World's Classics) (p. 89). Oxford University Press.

[2] Ibid, 114.

[3] Groothuis, Douglas. Christian Apologetics: A Comprehensive Case for Biblical Faith (Kindle Locations 2258-2259). Kindle Edition.

[4] Lewis, C. S. (2009-05-28). Mere Christianity (C.S. Lewis Signature Classics) (p. 38). Harper Collins, Inc.. Kindle Edition.<o:p></o:p>

[5] Hume, David. Some Objections to the Cosmological Argument. PDF Handout.

[6] Hume. Design and the Teleological Argument. PDF Handout.

[7] Ehrman, Bart D. (2009-10-13). God's Problem (Kindle Locations 306-309). HarperCollins. Kindle Edition.

[8] WordNet: A Lexical Database for English. Princeton University. 2010. <http://wordnet.princeton.edu>

[9] Russell, Bertrand, and Al Seckel. Bertrand Russell on God and Religion. Buffalo, NY: Prometheus, 1986. Print.