Chapter  3: Philosophy of Religion

Proofs for the Existence of God 

SUMMARY VIEW

In the end what can be made of all the proofs and arguments for and against the existence of god.  It appears that each and every one of them has strong points and weak points as well.  It appears as if no one argument is definitive.  No one argument is powerful enough to convince everyone to accept it.

Bertrand Russell’s Critique of all the Arguments based upon reason

JJC Smart’s critique of all the arguments:

What should be the position of a rational person in the absence of convincing argumentation?   Finally, just what good are the proofs?

What should be the position of a rational person in the absence of convincing argumentation? Michael Scriven offer his answer.

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“The Presumption of Atheism” by Michael Scriven 

Summary by Meghan Ramsay (QCC, 2004)

Scriven asserts that normally, the word faith is interchangeable with the word confidence, and that confidence and reason must go hand in hand.  For instance, we have faith in a person because we have reason to be confident.  Normally, if we have faith (confidence) in something without reason to, the results can lead to calamity.  However, he points out that when it comes to religious beliefs, faith is looked upon as a substitute for reason rather than something that should have its foundation in reason.  Scriven argues that faith alone is not an adequate way to prove the truth of beliefs.  Doing so, he asserts, is like saying that you won a game just by playing and by referring to playing as “winning.”  Simply because you call it winning doesn’t mean that you won.  He goes on to say that in order to prove something that one has faith in, s/he must provide evidence that justifies the belief.  In doing so, one would no longer need to believe based upon faith, as s/he would have solid proof.  Scriven also argues that the mere possibility that a person with faith in religious beliefs might turn out to be correct does not mean that the beliefs are automatically true.  He also points out that mere agreement is not enough to prove that a belief is true, as the agreement of either religious persons or atheists could very well be a shared mistake.  Unlike scientific beliefs which are constantly verified by our daily experiences, religious beliefs are not repeatedly verified by constant, common religious experiences.  In fact, he argues, many fundamental religious beliefs vary widely between various denominations and are open to much criticism by others.  Scriven points out that the criteria for religious truth must be connected with our everyday truths, or else these religious criteria for truths do not have any connection with our lives.  Therefore, they would prove completely useless as a method for explanation of our world or guidance for our lives.   

Scriven argues that if there are no arguments that point to even a slight chance of the existence of God, the only alternative is atheism.  Scriven uses the analogy of the belief in Santa Clause to illustrate his point.  When we are children, we find it plausible to believe in Santa Clause.  However, as we grow older we realize that there is not the least bit of evidence in favor of the possibility of his existence.  We do not, however, attempt to prove the inexistence of Santa.  Instead we simply come to realize that there is not the slightest reason to believe in his existence.  In fact, belief in his supernatural powers goes directly against the evidence.  Thus, the proper alternative to belief in Santa is disbelief rather than deferment of belief.   

Scriven maintains that beliefs are either well founded (“there is evidence which is best explained by this claim), provable (“the evidence is indubitable and the claim is very clearly required), wholly unfounded or unsupported (“there is no evidence for it and no general considerations in its favor”), or disprovable (“it implies that something would be the case that definitely is not the case”).  He asserts that it is ridiculous to believe in either a disproved belief or a wholly unfounded one.  Additionally, he argues that it is irrational to treat such a wholly unfounded belief as one that merits serious consideration.  Although a claim for which there is some support cannot be dismissed, but without undoubted evidence such a claim cannot be wholly believed either.  In order for one to maintain agnosticism, the belief must not be provable or disprovable.  However, since there is not even a slight bit of evidence to prove the existence of a supernatural being, one cannot accept agnosticism.  Scriven argues that regardless of how many supposed proofs for the existence of a God exists, if they are all defective, they are worthless.  Additionally, Scriven points out that although the various proofs for the existence of God attempt to support each other, one must take a closer look.  He argues that in reality, these varied proofs are often referring to many different entities who seemingly share the same name.  In order for these supposedly connected proofs to work, there must also be proof that they each refer to the same entity, which monotheism does not provide.   

Scriven, Michael.  Primary Philosophy.  New York:  McGraw-Hill, 1966.

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If one accepts that the burden of proof is on the person making the positive claim that X does exist then that burden has not been met by any of the arguments developed over the centuries to provide a compelling and convincing case that there is a supernatural being with supernatural powers, etc...

If there is an appeal to science then can science be used to find a deity?

Has Science Found God? By Victor J. Stenger The following article is from Free Inquiry magazine, Volume 19, Number 1.

Can science be used to disprove that there is a deity?

Can Science Prove that God Does Not Exist?  by Theodore Schick, Jr. The following article is from Free Inquiry magazine, Volume 21, Number 1  

For those who arrive at beliefs based on reason and evidence many would argue that such humans can not conclude and hold the position that there is a supernatural being or deity.

So then and finally , just what good are the proofs?  Well, concerning these proofs it has been said that: 

  • Believers do not need them

  • Unbelievers will not heed them

The following Philosophers have offered these views.

Stephen Cahn has noted of the arguments or proofs for the existence of a deity:

  • they are irrelevant to believers and non-believers

  • morality can exist without a belief in or a proof of God’s existence

  • they are of use to philosophers

S.T. Davis  has made these points about the arguments:

    1. the proofs do not succeed

    2. Proofs are unpersuasive to skeptics

    3. Proofs are irrelevant to believers

    4. The "God" of the proofs is not the "God" of the faithful: it is a philosophical abstraction

    5. Proofs deny divine transcendence

Paul Tillich has observed that the "god" of the proofs is a being similar to other beings and conceived of within the experience of humans.   The "god" of the proofs is not the "Ground of Being"  

So then in the end just what good are the proofs? What is their value?

These arguments or proofs are philosophically and religiously valuable.   They have several benefits (purposes):

 

    Theists can make use of them and develop their rational faculties

 

    Belief in a deity is shown to be rational in as much as such a being is logically possible

 

    They help to confirm faith in a deity for those who already had a belief in a deity.

So in the end the proofs remain optional for theists!!!  Most believe or disbelieve not due to any rational exercise but due to experiences!!    It is not the rational or logical arguments that persuade people to believe.  Most do so because of experiences they have had that they believe support them in their faith or have led them to their faith in a deity or because of experiences when growing through which they learned of a certain way of viewing the world and their existence and place within the world.  They know of no other and do not want to seriously examine alternative views.  They have been brought up in a belief system that affords them an identity and a sense of belonging to a group and a sense of comfort in the face of uncertainty and adversity.  They believe because they believe and they believe because it provides them with a hope.

It is significant to note that most believers do not believe in any orthodox notions of a deity within their religious tradition but they depart form the tradition in both the conception of the supernatural and in many other ways while claiming to remain within the tradition. Many will claim to believe in a deity but will have quite different views  of what that deity has as characteristics.   Some will even claim that all conceptions of a single deity are true no matter how inconsistent or contradictory they may be and at the same time claim to be monotheists. The average religious believer appears less concerned with reason and logic than with a religious faith needed for hope. Average believers in a deity are not theologians nor educated in theology nor even in the richness of their own religious traditions.

If belief is to be based on logic and reasoning and evidence then there is little to compel people to accept the conclusion that there is a supernatural being of any type at all.  Using the Burden of Proof principle the only acceptable position with regard to a supernatural deity would be atheism.  If the concept of deity were to be altered to identify it with the existence and processes of the universe itself then that would be pantheism and as such not the conclusion being argued in all cases of the traditional arguments covered in this text.  Such a concept is in keeping with the use of the word "god" by naturalists such as Einstein.  It is not a deity of the western religions nor a personal deity nor a deity that is aware of humans or that cares about any events.  

What then is the basis for belief in supernatural beings and will such beliefs continue?  See further  Final Thoughts on Religion.

Proceed to the next section

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