Introducing the philosophy of religion
Introducing the philosophy of religion

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Introducing the philosophy of religion

Collecting arguments for God’s existence

What kind of evidence is there for God’s existence? What kinds of arguments are available? (Remember the definitions of ‘evidence’ and ‘argument’ that we saw earlier.)

We’ll begin with a ‘brain-storming’ survey, and try to collect up as many types of argument and evidence for or against God’s existence as we can think of.

Activity 5

Start with yourself. Ask yourself this question, and think as hard and as honestly about it as you can.

  • What is my main reason for my current view about whether God exists or not?

Write down your answer to this question (or answers – there might be more than one). If possible, discuss your response with a friend, and ask that friend how he or she would answer it.

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Discussion

What answers did you come up with? In the table below are some things that you, or your friend, might have said. Some of them, admittedly, are only things that you are likely to say if you realise you haven’t thought all this through properly, and are being really honest about it.

What is my main reason for my current view about whether God exists or not?

If you believe that God exists(the theist view) If you believe that God doesn’t exist(the atheist view) If you don’t know whether God exists or not (the agnostic view)
(1) I don’t have any reasons. I just do think that. I don’t have any reasons. I just do think that. I don’t have any reasons. I just do think that.
(2) I want God to exist. I want God not to exist. I don’t care whether God exists or not.
(3) Lots of clever people, or people whose authority I accept, think God exists. Lots of clever people, or people whose authority I accept, think God doesn’t exist. Lots of clever people, or people whose authority I accept, don’t know whether God exists.
(4) I don’t need reasons for thinking God exists. It’s the other side who need reasons, for thinking he doesn’t. I don’t need reasons for thinking God doesn’t exist. It’s the other side who need reasons, for thinking he does. I don’t need reasons for not claiming to know whether God exists. It’s those who claim to know, theists or atheists, who need reasons.

Irrespective of whether it is used to support a theist, atheist or agnostic viewpoint – and irrespective of whether you yourself gave any of them – none of the four kinds of answer in the discussion above ought to impress you very much. But why not?

Activity 6

Part 1

Pause to reflect on the answers offered in the table in Activty 5. Then write down a reason why each of the four kinds of answer is not very impressive.

  • (1) Having no reasons for your beliefs.
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Discussion

Having no reasons for your beliefs creates obvious problems if we want to apply philosophy to assess those beliefs. (Compare some of the criticisms of fideism that we considered earlier.) If our beliefs don’t depend on any reasons, it is very hard to argue philosophically either for or against them – because philosophical argument, as we have seen, is all about reasons and evidence.

Part 2

  • (2) Believing whatever you believe because you want to.
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Discussion

Believing whatever you believe because you want to faces problems that we have also seen already. You can’t just choose to believe that custard is really spaghetti, or that God exists. Besides, wanting something to be true is not enough to make it true, so that even if you could make yourself believe whatever you want, those beliefs would run the risk of being wildly inaccurate. Suppose Jane asks you what time the bus comes. ‘Six o’clock,’ you say. ‘Why do you think it comes at six?’ asks Jane. ‘Because I want it to come at six o’clock,’ you reply. Jane can reasonably infer from your answer that you don’t know what time the bus is due.

Part 3

  • (3) Believing what you believe because clever people (or people whose authority you accept) believe it.
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Discussion

Believing whatever you believe because clever people (or people whose authority you accept) believe it is also philosophically unsatisfactory. Of course it’s not possible for each of us to investigate everything – we all have to take some things on trust. But borrowing others’ opinions on everything is intellectual laziness. And it is risky, too, because even clever people and people in authority get things wrong. (Sometimes, the cleverer they are and the more authority they have, the more they get wrong.) Moreover, clever and authoritative people reach different conclusions about all sorts of things; including whether God exists or not.

Part 4

  • (4) Forcing the other side to prove their belief.
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Discussion

Forcing the other side to prove their belief is the first answer that is remotely satisfactory. Forcing the other side of the argument to accept the onus of proof, instead of accepting the onus yourself, at least shows low cunning. The trouble is that the other side can pull the same trick: they can hit back with ‘No, I don’t have to prove anything, you’re the one who has to prove what you believe.’ Of course, this can easily get a bit sterile. It is not very interesting, and not very fruitful, to just sit back and wait for a chance to catch your opponent out. Good philosophers are much more interested in understanding the world than in winning the argument. They are even prepared to risk losing the argument if, in the end, that will help them to understand the world better.

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