How Do We Know God Exists Essay Format
The existence of God is a subject of debate in the philosophy of religion and popular culture.
A wide variety of arguments for and against the existence of God can be categorized as metaphysical, logical, empirical, or subjective. In philosophical terms, the question of the existence of God involves the disciplines of epistemology (the nature and scope of knowledge) and ontology (study of the nature of being, existence, or reality) and the theory of value (since some definitions of God include "perfection").
The Western tradition of philosophical discussion of the existence of God began with Plato and Aristotle, who made arguments that would now be categorized as cosmological. Other arguments for the existence of God have been proposed by St. Anselm, who formulated the first ontological argument; Ibn Rushd (Averroes) and Thomas Aquinas, who presented their own versions of the cosmological argument (the kalam argument and the first way, respectively); René Descartes, who said that the existence of a benevolent God is logically necessary for the evidence of the senses to be meaningful; and Immanuel Kant, who argued that the existence of God can be deduced from the existence of good. John Calvin argued for a sensus divinitatis, which gives each human a knowledge of God's existence.
Philosophers who have provided arguments against the existence of God include the aforementioned Kant, David Hume, Friedrich Nietzsche and Bertrand Russell. In modern culture, the question of God's existence has been discussed by scientists such as Stephen Hawking, Francis Collins, Lawrence M. Krauss, Richard Dawkins, Carl Sagan, Neil deGrasse Tyson and John Lennox, as well as philosophers including Richard Swinburne, Alvin Plantinga, William Lane Craig, Rebecca Goldstein, A. C. Grayling, Daniel Dennett, Edward Feser, David Bentley Hart, Reza Aslan and Sam Harris.
Scientists follow the scientific method, within which theories must be verifiable by physical experiment. The majority of prominent conceptions of God explicitly or effectively posit a being which is not testable either by proof or disproof. On these bases, the question regarding the existence of God, one for which evidence cannot be tested, may lie outside the purview of modern science by definition. The Catholic Church maintains that knowledge of the existence of God is the "natural light of human reason".Fideists acknowledge that belief in the existence of God may not be amenable to demonstration or refutation, but rests on faith alone.
Atheists view arguments for the existence of God as insufficient, mistaken or weighing less in comparison to arguments against whereas some religions, such as Buddhism, are not concerned with the existence of gods at all and yet other religions, such as Jainism, reject the possibility of a creator deity.
Positions on the existence of God can be divided along numerous axes, producing a variety of orthogonal classifications. Theism and atheism are positions of belief (or lack of it), while gnosticism and agnosticism are positions of knowledge (or the lack of it). Ignosticism concerns belief regarding God's conceptual coherence. Apatheism concerns belief regarding the practical importance of whether God exists.
For the purposes of discussion, Richard Dawkins described seven "milestones" on his spectrum of theistic probability:
- Strong theist. 100% probability of God. In the words of C.G. Jung: "I do not believe, I know."
- De factotheist. Very high probability but short of 100%. "I don't know for certain, but I strongly believe in God and live my life on the assumption that he is there."
- Leaning towards theism. Higher than 50% but not very high. "I am very uncertain, but I am inclined to believe in God."
- Completely impartial. Exactly 50%. "God's existence and non-existence are exactly equiprobable."
- Leaning towards atheism. Lower than 50% but not very low. "I do not know whether God exists but I'm inclined to be skeptical."
- De facto atheist. Very low probability, but short of zero. "I don't know for certain but I think God is very improbable, and I live my life on the assumption that he is not there."
- Strong atheist. "I know there is no God, with the same conviction as Jung knows there is one."
Main article: Theism
The theistic conclusion is that there is sufficient reason to believe that God or gods exists, or that arguments do not matter as much as the "personal witness of the Holy Spirit", as argued by preeminent apologist William Lane Craig. The Catholic Church, following the teachings of Saint Paul the Apostle, Saint Thomas Aquinas, and the First Vatican Council, affirms that God's existence "can be known with certainty from the created world by the natural light of human reason".
Traditional religious definition of God: personal, omnipotent, benevolent, transcendent
In classical theism, God is characterized as the metaphysically ultimate being (the first, timeless, absolutely simple and sovereign being, who is devoid of any anthropomorphic qualities), in distinction to other conceptions such as theistic personalism, open theism, and process theism. Classical theists do not believe that God can be completely defined. They believe it would contradict the transcendent nature of God for mere humans to define him. Robert Barron explains by analogy that it seems impossible for a two-dimensional object to conceive of three-dimensional humans.
In modern Western societies, the concepts of God typically entail a monotheistic, supreme, ultimate, and personal being, as found in the Islamic, Christian and Jewish traditions. In monotheistic religions outside the Abrahamic traditions, the existence of God is discussed in similar terms. In these traditions, God is also identified as the author (either directly or by inspiration) of certain texts, or that certain texts describe specific historical events caused by or communications from (whether in direct speech or dreams or omens) the God in question. Some traditions also believe that God is the entity which is currently answering prayers for intervention or information or opinions.
In the Advaita Vedanta school of Hinduism, reality is ultimately seen as a single, qualityless, changeless nirguna Brahman. Advaitin philosophy introduces the concept of saguna Brahman or Ishvara as a way of talking about Brahman to people. Ishvara, in turn, is ascribed such qualities as omniscience, omnipotence, and benevolence.
Non-personal definitions of God
In pantheism, God and the universe are considered to be the same thing. In this view, the natural sciences are essentially studying the nature of God. This definition of God creates the philosophical problem that a universe with God and one without God are the same, other than the words used to describe it.
Deism and panentheism assert that there is a God distinct from, or which extends beyond (either in time or in space or in some other way) the universe. These positions deny that God intervenes in the operation of the universe, including communicating with humans personally. The notion that God never intervenes or communicates with the universe, or may have evolved into the universe, makes it difficult, if not by definition impossible, to distinguish between a universe with God and one without.
Debate about how theism should be argued
In Christian faith, theologians and philosophers make a distinction between: (a) preambles of faith and (b) articles of faith. The preambles include alleged truths contained in revelation which are nevertheless demonstrable by reason, e.g., the immortality of the soul, the existence of God. The articles of faith, on the other hand, contain truths that cannot be proven or reached by reason alone and presuppose the truths of the preambles, e.g., the Holy Trinity, is not demonstrable and presupposes the existence of God.
The argument that the existence of God can be known to all, even prior to exposure to any divine revelation, predates Christianity. St. Paul made this argument when he said that pagans were without excuse because "since the creation of the world [God's] invisible nature, namely, his eternal power and deity, has been clearly perceived in the things that have been made". In this Paul alludes to the proofs for a creator, later enunciated by St. Thomas and others, but that had also been explored by the Greek philosophers.
Another apologetical school of thought, including Dutch and American Reformed thinkers (such as Abraham Kuyper, Benjamin Warfield, Herman Dooyeweerd), emerged in the late 1920s. This school was instituted by Cornelius Van Til, and came to be popularly called Presuppositional apologetics (though Van Til himself felt "transcendental" would be a more accurate title). The main distinction between this approach and the more classical evidentialist approach is that the presuppositionalist denies any common ground between the believer and the non-believer, except that which the non-believer denies, namely, the assumption of the truth of the theistic worldview. In other words, presuppositionalists do not believe that the existence of God can be proven by appeal to raw, uninterpreted, or "brute" facts, which have the same (theoretical) meaning to people with fundamentally different worldviews, because they deny that such a condition is even possible. They claim that the only possible proof for the existence of God is that the very same belief is the necessary condition to the intelligibility of all other human experience and action. They attempt to prove the existence of God by means of appeal to the transcendental necessity of the belief—indirectly (by appeal to the unavowed presuppositions of the non-believer's worldview) rather than directly (by appeal to some form of common factuality). In practice this school utilizes what have come to be known as transcendental arguments. In these arguments they claim to demonstrate that all human experience and action (even the condition of unbelief, itself) is a proof for the existence of God, because God's existence is the necessary condition of their intelligibility.
Alvin Plantinga presents an argument for the existence of God using modal logic. Others have said that the logical and philosophical arguments for and against the existence of God miss the point. The word God has a meaning in human culture and history that does not correspond to the beings whose existence is supported by such arguments, assuming they are valid. The real question is not whether a "most perfect being" or an "uncaused first cause" exist. The real question is whether Jehovah, Zeus, Ra, Krishna, or any gods of any religion exist, and if so, which gods? On the other hand, many theists equate all monotheistic or henotheistic "most perfect Beings", no matter what name is assigned to them/him, as the one monotheistic God (one example would be understanding the Muslim Allah, Christian Yhwh, and Chinese Shangdi as different names for the same Being). Most of these arguments do not resolve the issue of which of these figures is more likely to exist. These arguments fail to make the distinction between immanent gods and a Transcendent God.
Some[who?] Christians note that the Christian faith teaches "salvation is by faith", and that faith is reliance upon the faithfulness of God. The most extreme example of this position is called fideism, which holds that faith is simply the will to believe, and argues that if God's existence were rationally demonstrable, faith in its existence would become superfluous. Søren Kierkegaard argued that objective knowledge, such as 1+1=2, is unimportant to existence. If God could rationally be proven, his existence would be unimportant to humans. It is because God cannot rationally be proven that his existence is important to us. In The Justification of Knowledge, the Calvinist theologian Robert L. Reymond argues that believers should not attempt to prove the existence of God. Since he believes all such proofs are fundamentally unsound, believers should not place their confidence in them, much less resort to them in discussions with non-believers; rather, they should accept the content of revelation by faith. Reymond's position is similar to that of his mentor Gordon Clark, which holds that all worldviews are based on certain unprovable first premises (or, axioms), and therefore are ultimately unprovable. The Christian theist therefore must simply choose to start with Christianity rather than anything else, by a "leap of faith". This position is also sometimes called presuppositional apologetics, but should not be confused with the Van Tillian variety.
Main article: Atheism
The atheistic conclusion is that the arguments and evidence both indicate there is insufficient reason to believe that any gods exist, and that personal subjective religious experiences say something about the human experience rather than the nature of reality itself; therefore, one has no reason to believe that a god exists.
Main article: Negative and positive atheism
Positive atheism (also called "strong atheism" and "hard atheism") is a form of atheism that asserts that no deities exist. The strong atheist explicitly asserts the non-existence of gods. Some[who?] strong atheists further assert that the existence of gods is logically impossible, stating that the combination of attributes which God may be asserted to have (omnipotence, omniscience, omnipresence, transcendence, omnibenevolence) are logically contradictory, incomprehensible, or absurd, and therefore the existence of such a god is a priori false. Metaphysical naturalism is a common worldview associated with strong atheism.
Negative atheism (also called "weak atheism" and "soft atheism") is any type of atheism other than positive, wherein a person does not believe in the existence of any deities, but does not explicitly assert there to be none.
Main article: Agnosticism
Agnosticism is the view that the truth value of certain claims—especially claims about the existence of any deity, but also other religious and metaphysical claims—is unknown or unknowable. Agnosticism as a broad umbrella term does not define one's belief or disbelief in gods; agnostics may still identify themselves as theists or atheists.
Strong agnosticism is the belief that it is impossible for humans to know whether or not any deities exist.
Main article: Weak agnosticism
Weak agnosticism is the belief that the existence or nonexistence of deities is unknown but not necessarily unknowable.
Main article: Agnostic theism
Agnostic theism is the philosophical view that encompasses both theism and agnosticism. An agnostic theist believes in the existence of a god or God, but regards the basis of this proposition as unknown or inherently unknowable. Agnostic theists may also insist on ignorance regarding the properties of the gods they believe in.
Main article: Agnostic atheism
Agnostic atheism is a philosophical position that encompasses both atheism and agnosticism. Agnostic atheists are atheistic because they do not hold a belief in the existence of any deity and agnostic because they claim that the existence of a deity is either unknowable in principle or currently unknown in fact.
The theologian Robert Flint explains:
If a man have failed to find any good reason for believing that there is a God, it is perfectly natural and rational that he should not believe that there is a God; and if so, he is an atheist, although he assume no superhuman knowledge, but merely the ordinary human power of judging of evidence. If he go farther, and, after an investigation into the nature and reach of human knowledge, ending in the conclusion that the existence of God is incapable of proof, cease to believe in it on the ground that he cannot know it to be true, he is an agnostic and also an atheist, an agnostic-atheist—an atheist because an agnostic."
Main article: Apatheism
An apatheist is someone who is not interested in accepting or denying any claims that gods exist or do not exist. An apatheist lives as if there are no gods and explains natural phenomena without reference to any deities. The existence of gods is not rejected, but may be designated unnecessary or useless; gods neither provide purpose to life, nor influence everyday life, according to this view.
Main article: Ignosticism
The ignostic (or igtheist) usually concludes that the question of God's existence or nonexistence is usually not worth discussing because concepts like "God" are usually not sufficiently clearly defined.
Ignosticism or igtheism is the theological position that every other theological position (including agnosticism and atheism) assume too much about the concept of God and many other theological concepts. It can be defined as encompassing two related views about the existence of God. The view that a coherent definition of God must be presented before the question of the existence of God can be meaningfully discussed. Furthermore, if that definition is unfalsifiable, the ignostic takes the theological noncognitivist position that the question of the existence of God (per that definition) is meaningless. In this case, the concept of God is not considered meaningless; the term "God" is considered meaningless. The second view is synonymous with theological noncognitivism, and skips the step of first asking "What is meant by 'God'?" before proclaiming the original question "Does God exist?" as meaningless.
Some philosophers have seen ignosticism as a variation of agnosticism or atheism, while others[who?] have considered it to be distinct. An ignostic maintains that he cannot even say whether he is a theist or an atheist until a sufficient definition of theism is put forth.
The term "ignosticism" was coined in the 1960s by Sherwin Wine, a rabbi and a founding figure of Humanistic Judaism. The term "igtheism" was coined by the secular humanistPaul Kurtz in his 1992 book The New Skepticism.
The problem of the supernatural
One problem posed by the question of the existence of God is that traditional beliefs usually ascribe to God various supernatural powers. Supernatural beings may be able to conceal and reveal themselves for their own purposes, as for example in the tale of Baucis and Philemon. In addition, according to concepts of God, God is not part of the natural order, but the ultimate creator of nature and of the scientific laws. Thus in Aristotelian philosophy, God is viewed as part of the explanatory structure needed to support scientific conclusions and any powers God possesses are—strictly speaking—of the natural order that is derived from God's place as originator of nature (see also Monadology).
In Karl Popper's philosophy of science, belief in a supernatural God is outside the natural domain of scientific investigation because all scientific hypotheses must be falsifiable in the natural world. The non-overlapping magisteria view proposed by Stephen Jay Gould also holds that the existence (or otherwise) of God is irrelevant to and beyond the domain of science.
Logical positivists such as Rudolf Carnap and A. J. Ayer viewed any talk of gods as literal nonsense. For the logical positivists and adherents of similar schools of thought, statements about religious or other transcendent experiences can not have a truth value, and are deemed to be without meaning, because such statements do not have any clear verification criteria. As the Christian biologist Scott C. Todd put it "Even if all the data pointed to an intelligent designer, such a hypothesis is excluded from science because it is not naturalistic." This argument limits the domain of science to the empirically observable and limits the domain of God to the unprovable.
Nature of relevant proofs and arguments
John Polkinghorne suggests that the nearest analogy to the existence of God in physics is the ideas of quantum mechanics which are seemingly paradoxical but make sense of a great deal of disparate data.
Alvin Plantinga compares the question of the existence of God to the question of the existence of other minds, claiming both are notoriously impossible to "prove" against a determined skeptic.
One approach, suggested by writers such as Stephen D. Unwin, is to treat (particular versions of) theism and naturalism as though they were two hypotheses in the Bayesian sense, to list certain data (or alleged data), about the world, and to suggest that the likelihoods of these data are significantly higher under one hypothesis than the other. Most of the arguments for, or against, the existence of God can be seen as pointing to particular aspects of the universe in this way. In almost all cases it is not seriously suggested by proponents of the arguments that they are irrefutable, merely that they make one worldview seem significantly more likely than the other. However, since an assessment of the weight of evidence depends on the prior probability that is assigned to each worldview, arguments that a theist finds convincing may seem thin to an atheist and vice versa.
Philosophers, such as Wittgenstein, take a view that is considered anti-realist and oppose philosophical arguments related to God's existence. For instance, Charles Taylor contends that the real is whatever will not go away. If we cannot reduce talk about God to anything else, or replace it, or prove it false, then perhaps God is as real as anything else.
In George Berkeley's A Treatise Concerning the Principles of Human Knowledge of 1710, he argued that a "naked thought" cannot exist, and that a perception is a thought; therefore only minds can be proven to exist, since all else is merely an idea conveyed by a perception. From this Berkeley argued that the universe is based upon observation and is non-objective. However, he noted that the universe includes "ideas" not perceptible to humankind, and that there must, therefore, exist an omniscient superobserver, which perceives such things. Berkeley considered this proof of the existence of the Christian god.
C.S. Lewis, in Mere Christianity and elsewhere, raised the argument from desire. He posed that all natural desires have a natural object. One thirsts, and there exists water to quench this thirst; One hungers, and there exists food to satisfy this hunger. He then argued that the human desire for perfect justice, perfect peace, perfect happiness, and other intangibles strongly implies the existence of such things, though they seem unobtainable on earth. He further posed that the unquenchable desires of this life strongly imply that we are intended for a different life, necessarily governed by a God who can provide the desired intangibles.
Existence in absolute truth is central to Vedanta epistemology. Traditional sense perception based approaches were put into question as possibly misleading due to preconceived or superimposed ideas. But though all object-cognition can be doubted, the existence of the doubter remains a fact even in nastika traditions of mayavada schools following Adi Shankara. The five eternal principles to be discussed under ontology, beginning with God or Isvara, the Ultimate Reality cannot be established by the means of logic alone, and often require superior proof. In VaisnavismVishnu, or his intimate ontological form of Krishna, is equated to personal absolute God of the Western traditions. Aspects of Krishna as svayam bhagavan in original Absolute Truth, sat chit ananda, are understood originating from three essential attributes of Krishna's form, i.e., "eternal existence" or sat, related to the brahman aspect; "knowledge" or chit, to the paramatman; and "bliss" or ananda in Sanskrit, to bhagavan.
Arguments for the existence of God
Dr. Jamal Badawi
Even on a very fundamental level we find that throughout history there is a very strange phenomenon that people of different backgrounds, living in so many different parts of the world at different points in time, have always had this strong urge within themselves to look and to yearn for the Creator. They see that there is some power, a magnificent and merciful power that is sometimes interpreted in a mistaken way by materializing that in some form or other (i.e. idols). The basic yearning has always been there. Even in places where there is no recorded history of a particular prophet, people have yearned for a Creator. That’s what I’m referring to as an innate nature. The Arabic term is ‘fitra.’ Fitra literally translates to: something that one is created with or created in accordance with: this innate nature.
Is the intellect an enemy to faith?
All human faculties such as the senses including also the intellect are part and parcel of the whole process of seeking the truth. None of these by themselves will be sufficient, but on a whole they are not really in contradiction. In fact I would say, even more positively, that from a Muslim point of view one of the main things that make the human being distinct, one of the basic blessings that he is given by God to make him different from animals since animals can think as well, is intellect. So the intellect is a God given gift or blessing. How could we interpret that as a challenge or antithesis of faith? This doesn’t really stand.
On the personal or individual level, one doesn’t have to venture far to realize that God does exist. Just look into yourself, you don’t have to be a scientist but if you are then you’ll appreciate more the construction of the body; how it is made up of many cells. One cell becomes a cell for sight and the other for hearing; it’s amazing. How does the brain operate? The circulatory system? The digestive system? The nervous system? Such coordination and beauty [is shown through their functioning]. This shows that these things didn’t come to be in a haphazard way, there must have been a deliberate design behind them. So if you want to find God then look into yourself. The Quran says, “By looking into yourselves, you will find evidence to the presence and powers of God.”
In another verse it even says, “Do they not reflect in their own minds?” (30:8) In fact, if one really divorces himself from any prejudice caused by societal pressures one way or the other, or the worship of science as the ultimate thing, if one utilizes science in the proper way, you wouldn’t have to look at the body as a whole, just start analyzing one single organ and see how it works. Like some scientists would tell you that in order to duplicate the digestive system you’d need a huge laboratory and still it wouldn’t operate as efficiently as a naturally created organ would such as the stomach. We have acids in our stomachs that can erode metal but it doesn’t hurt us. How could that be haphazard? If one aspect of that was developed by chance would everything else falling in line and falling together also happen by chance? (Learn more: Quran and Science)
The Environment and Cosmic Order
Let’s move on to beyond ourselves, to find further evidence, the Quran also implores people to consider and to think. Take one aspect that many people think about today as very fashionable, like the ecological balance for example. Many people would take that as very clear evidence again that there is a design in this universe; vegetation as it relates to animal life and to human life; and the various atmospheric layers that we have. Everything is put together to sustain human life. If you look into the Quran, you find this mentioned. In one verse, in the Quran, it says, “God created everything in exact proportion.” (16:25) This is a very important term “in exact proportion” it’s not just that He created but that there is a deliberate design behind putting all of these things together.
In another verse, when people look at the whole scheme of creation, it says, “Were they created from nothing or are they themselves the creators?” No one claims that he’s created from nothing nor can he claim that he is the creator [of the heavens and earth]. Then the verse continues, “Or did they create the heavens and earth?” No one claims that. Then it says, “Nay but they see not.” (52: 35-36) So the science is there. It’s whether we apply it in the right place and in the proper way or not that makes the difference.
Finally, if you move into what I would call the third circle, not just looking into ourselves or the environment around us but looking into the whole cosmic order, again there is a design. The planets. The solar system. The way everything is coordinated. The distance between the sun and the earth, which if decreased may burn everything and if decreased everything would freeze. This is all deliberate. The succession of day and night, the circulation or changes of seasons, which has very important relevance to the lives of the people, to vegetation, and to animal life; all of these beautiful things that we are in awe at in the universe, we look at them with great admiration, definitely show that there is a design behind them and as is obvious any design needs a designer or creator it. (Read more: Environment and Islam)
One verse in the Quran implores us in particular to this area and says, “Have they not reflected on the domain of the heavens and earth and what God created therein?”
In another verse it also says, in the general sense of the meaning: in the creation of the heavens and earth and in the succession of day and night there are certainly signs for those who reflect. Those who remember God while standing, sitting, and laying down and ponder on the creation of the heavens and the earth, saying: Our Lord you have not created this in vain. Glory be to You. Give us salvation from the penalty of the Fire. (3: 190-191)
Our Own Limitations
In talking about the senses and the intellect or knowledge, I think anyone, even a person who does not believe in God, would admit readily that our senses are limited. Our perceptions are limited. Our sight, hearing, etc- we know that. Also, we know that our perceptions could also be deceived or they can deceive us. If you put a spoon in a glass of water, it looks crooked. A very well known phenomenon is of people traveling in the desert or in hot areas and would see in front of them a lake or a puddle of water- the mirage- but it actually does not exist. At the time it’s seen it is a reality to the person seeing it. So our perception is very useful, but it still falls short of getting to know everything.
On the other hand, science is fine. Science can resolve many issues and problems that are purely scientific- that are purely technical. Science can tell you for sure how to use technology for example to communicate sounds and pictures; this can be determined fully by science. However, there are many aspects in lives of people that are beyond science also. There is the moral aspect, there are the ethical standards, and there is the application of the fundamental principal of good and bad. As we said the [principle of good and bad] is instinctive but still needs some modifications and limitations. And we know throughout history that people have always had differences as to what exactly defines the proper ethical or moral standards. In order to resolve that problem, there must be a higher authority, God, Himself, telling us and providing us with stable standards of ethics and morality within which you can interpret various details.
Finally, and perhaps this is in my mind the most important reason, is that we know that knowledge is not only limited to science or books or perception. We know that there are certain aspects of knowledge, legitimate knowledge, which does not lend itself to any of those tools. For example, take the knowledge of the unseen. What happened in the past before history was recorded? If you wanted to get any information on that there is no recorded history. Or at least there is dispute about the recorded history. Revelation can tell you what, for example, the stories of previous prophets and what they said and what their message was. (Click here to read The Need for Revelation.)
There are issues that no matter how much you use your mind you will not be able to arrive at a final conclusion. An example of that would be the knowledge about God. You can’t feel the presence of God. You can feel the attributes of God but you can’t have full knowledge without having a prophet or messenger in receiving that revelation from God and the communication from Him to us. So, in essence, I don’t see contradiction. Actually, they all supplement each other. They have to be simply used in the proper context.
Adapted, with permission, from transcribed audio lectures on www.jamalbadawi.org