Experiencing “Arguments” for God’s Existence

“God exists.” Does this need an argument? Some think that it does. Some think that it doesn’t. Some can’t make up their minds. In fact, to make matters worse, there are people who think “God exists” is true but that it needs no argument. The Bible makes no prior rationalization for God’s existence and then moves forward. Instead, it is clear from the first verse: “In the beginning God…” Therefore, if the Bible makes no rationalization for God but instead simply presupposes it, we can to. That’s one view.

There is another view which says “God exists” is false and that either (a) this needs argument for supposed lack of evidence or (b) needs no argument because this would be superfluous. Let’s say that those who deny that “God exists” is true are known as a-theists. There are a-theists who are often associated with camp (a) which we can more or less dub as “evidentialists.” These can be broken down into maybe different types of evidentialist, for example hard and soft.

A Hard Evidentialist might suppose that there are only some legitimate types of evidence that can be accepted on usually untenably high and unnecessary epistemological grounds. This is a formal way of saying that the bar is too high. A mistake is often made within this camp by treating questions of existence like other matters of fact. Richard Dawkins makes something of this mistake in his God Delusion (2006), suggesting that the “God hypothesis” is a scientific hypothesis like any other.

A Soft Evidentialist might say something a little more modest. He is open to various types of historical, philosophical and scientific arguments for God’s existence, while perhaps nonetheless assessing them as still giving low credence to the belief that God exists.

Perhaps a third category:

A Humble Evidentialist takes the lesson learned from both Hard and Soft evidentialism and assesses that he personally finds the arguments for God’s existence to still be of low credence, but nonetheless admits that the question is not closed but still open-ended.

Now there is camp (b): “God exists” needs no argument because it is superfluous. These sorts of a-theists can also be subcategorized so as to mean that (i) our epistemological situation is such that we can cast doubt on all metaphysical objects/concepts, or (ii) Divine reality is unknowable. We can generally both call these groups (i and ii) as skeptics. Let’s start with (ii).

Hard Skeptics. To say that divine reality is unknowable is a bold claim indeed. I can’t know whether “God exists” is true because I have no reference to the reality which the proposition attempts to describe. In other words, “God exists” refers to nothing. Furthermore, while it might be said that divine reality is unknowable, there is also the view that divine reality or our language about the divine is meaningless. We may say “God exists,” but what exactly are we saying when “God is love,” or “God is not finite,” or “God is eternal”?

Soft Skeptics. There is a view mentioned in (i) that needs to be better explained. This is another formal way of saying that we know things only in a strict and certain kind of way. Given that we obtain knowledge in this structured but limited way, we can’t have direct or rational access to God. “God-talk” may not be necessarily meaningless, and “God exists” may actually refer something concrete or actual. However, at least in this life, we can never penetrate this veil.

We have described four different positions a-theists have on the question of God’s existence. There is also a view which admits that on the truth or falsehood of “God exists” they are ignorant by (i) personal admission, undecided or (ii) skeptical attitude of religious claims generally. We can dub this group as a-gnostics (Greek, “no knowledge). Let’s start with (i).

Soft Agnostics. This is a position regarding more a judgement on the proposition “God exists”: ‘I don’t know.’ They have made no attempts to explore the question because they are uninterested, rebellious, opposed or ignorant on the issue. They genuinely don’t know what to think.

Hard Agnostics. This view is similar to some of the views mentioned above, but differs in there skepticism of religious claims. Consider the arguments from divine hiddenness: God created the universe. Why did He do this? Perhaps to instantiate the delight of creating, which we all to some measure have experienced. You love what you create. However, we don’t typically say that God creates for the sake of creating, but probably rather “creativity exercised in the pursuit of value.” We say this because I don’t think it is sensible to say that God is perfect and personal, and yet exercises creativity with the intention of abandoning that work, not caring about whether the results are good or bad. However, given the existence of a perfect and all-loving God who is relational-personal, why are there some people not in a conscious relationship with Him? Wouldn’t a perfectly all-loving God – if these words have meaning – bring all capable and nonresistant persons into relationship with Himself? These are questions that religious skeptics bring up.


Section II, “Theists”

There is our final and probably most expansive group. They are expansive because there are only two respective positions: (a) “God exists” is true and requires rational support or (b) “God exists” is true and requires no rational support. Camp (a) differs unanimously in terms of procedure. Person A and Person B can both agree that “God exists” is true, but the credence/evidence both give in favor for the truth of that proposition may differ. Person A may be a soft

Camp (b) as I see it takes “God exists” for granted; there is no argument to be made. Hence, notice they agree with skeptics in terms of their conclusion but not their procedure. Christians for example may agree that on account of God’s authority through Revelation, faith or trust in God merits allegiance with Him at the point His voice is heard to them. Abraham did not rationalize with God for this very reason. Skeptics by contrast lack this trust in divine authority – and sometimes human authority in general – by adopting an attitude that doesn’t relate trust and knowledge together. Hence, there exists a distrust with the proper objects of propositions – people.

Hard Evidentialist/Empiricist. There is a view which says that we are not born with any innate ideas or knowledge. Here is the formal phrasing: As humans grow and develop, ideas are supplied to the mind through experience or the senses. Therefore, belief dispositions about innate cognitive equipment are purely conditioned or later developed throughout life. Hence, “God exists” may be innate in us humans in the sense that it belongs to us. In other words, the truth of “God exists” perhaps comes along with maturation. As I understand it, this person would concede that “All human knowledge arises from sense experience.”

Soft Evidentialist/Rationalist. There is a view which attributes significance to sense experience but nonetheless views knowledge and beliefs more dynamically than merely ideas brought to the mind through experience. For example, one may have a foundation of beliefs where some are more “basic” than others. At the very foundation of one’s cognitive or “noetic” structure are “properly basic beliefs,” the truth of which are not dependent on other beliefs. “Nonbasic beliefs” can be described by contrast as beliefs that are accepted on the basis of others. As I understand it, this person would concede that “Some human knowledge does not arise from sense experience” since there is a possibility of innate ideas.

Let there be one point of clarification. In the empiricist-rationalist distinction, I see philosophers as falling under either categories or perhaps some combination thereof: (a) All human knowledge arises from sense experience (ex. Locke); (b) Some human knowledge arises from sense experience (ex. Aristotle); (c) No human knowledge arises from sense experience (ex. Plato); (d) Some human knowledge does not arise from sense experience. (a) and (b) are empiricst positions while (c) and (d) are rationalist positions. Of course, it must be understood this is too simplistic given, for example, modern developments of the “logical positivists” who find logical and mathematical truths as tautological. An important lesson in philosophy: there’s always more to the story. We won’t get into this now; I’m sure a separate post or additional research would suffice.

Soft Hypothesis – Presuppositionalists. Presuppositionalism is broadly speaking an apologetic approach; a unique Christian-philosophical outlook on the world and defending the truth of the Christian faith. Pressupositionalists, best put, presuppose the Christian worldview in order to not necessariy show the truth of it but rather show the logical inadequacy of its opponents. Furthermore, participating in a “proof” for the existence of God enables one to a rational mindset apart from a Scripture-based theory of knowledge. Hence, human rationalization includes secularization. This is what presuppositionalists reject. Surely there are deductive or even inductive arguments that presuppositionalists can make (ex. Transcendental Argument), but they are based on the absurdity of phenonemon existing apart from God – such as morality, logic, science, and so on.

Hard Hypothesis – Revelation (Only) Establishes Our Connection to the Ultimate.  There is another view which says that “God exists” is true and needs no rational support because it is only known through revelation. For Karl Barth, the imago dei (image of God) was not a point of contact in man but a point of conflict, given his fallen state. Hence there is no possibility of a natural theology because man’s sin has distorted and obscured God’s revelation in nature. Human reason is even obscured such that God must suppernaturally endow us with the understanding to receive revelation in the first place.

These positions all mentioned above don’t exhaust what can be said towards the proposition “God exists.” This is my best attempt to map all sensible positions towards viewing God as existing or not existing. Hence my project here was not necessarily to be polemic or divisive but to organize and provoke. Hard topics are better had with organized and clear thought. There are many examples of denying God’s existence and many example affirming.



3 thoughts on “Experiencing “Arguments” for God’s Existence

  1. Philosophy of Religion blog (Does God Exist?) says:

    I’m trying to decipher what Richard Swinburne’s stance is. He seems to think that the evidence points to (at least) a 51% probability that God exists. However, that confidence level in a proposition is obviously not enough for outright belief. Perhaps, one could combine this with prudential reasoning like Pascal’s Wager?

    1. Steven Dunn says:

      Swinburne in several places mentions the value of what are known as “C-inductive arguments” for God’s existence. The value lies with the atheist’s assertion “God does not exist.” Now, since the atheist has not made a formal logical contradiction in denying God’s existence, we can rule out the appeal to arguments in which the conclusion is reached independently of sense experience.

      In other words, says Swinburne, because we are relying on empirical premises – premises which are readily available for our experience – the atheist cannot be contradicting himself but is instead probably mistaken, or at best being irrational.

      Rather than read the 3-part series of his philosophical-theological epitome, his book Is There a God? (Oxford 2010) summarizes his overall approach to the question of arguments, proofs, God and our knowledge of Him, etc.

      I think Swinburne would say it is probably likely that God exists, although he may not give a numerical subscription for that claim (he might if you ask him).

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