Does God Exist
Can Philosophy Prove the Existence of God?
Every culture has had its gods. The ancient agrarian cultures had their fertility gods; the Greeks and Romans had their pantheon; Judaism, Christianity, and Islam have their one god of all. At all times and in all places people have thought that there is more to life than the material world around us.
Belief in a god or gods, it seems, arises naturally the world over. It seems that there is some element common to all human experience that causes us to look for something transcendent on which to build our lives, to ask the question Does God exist? and to affirm, at least in some sense, that he does.
That so many societies have independently come to religious belief requires an explanation. Is this just a coincidence? Or is religious belief a natural psychological defence-mechanism against the difficulties that life inevitably throws at us? Or is there some truth that this widespread instinct to look beyond the physical world leads us towards?
Some people have thought that answering such questions as these is and will always be beyond us. Others have thought not only that they have the answers to these questions but also that they can prove to others that their answers are the correct ones. This site explains some of the philosophical arguments that are offered as proofs that there is a God, and some of the historical arguments that are offered as proofs that God came to earth in the person of Jesus.
None of these arguments is uncontroversially successful, of course; many philosophers have considered and rejected each of them. Neither, though, is any of them obviously a failure. The arguments that are described here have been defended by some of the greatest thinkers that have ever lived—Plato, Aquinas, Anselm, Leibniz, and Descartes, for example—and each of them is still defended in some form by leading philosophers today. What this site aims to do is to explain what these arguments are, and what conclusions they would establish if successful. Whether you ultimately accept either the arguments or their conclusions I leave to you.
As a preface to the arguments, it is worth noting an argument that the claim that God exists is made more plausible by the fact of wide-spread religious belief. This argument is called the “argument from desire”. It begins with the observation that our natural instincts generally serve us well; every creature is born with an instinct for food because food sustains us, and each of us longs for meaningful relationships because community and friendship allow us to flourish. Generally speaking, if we have an innate desire for a thing then that thing both exists and is good for us. The natural instinct to look to the transcendent, therefore, which is made evident by the fact remarked upon above that every culture of every time has had some form of religion, suggests that there might well be something transcendent out there to be found. This instinct, according to the argument from desire, hints at the existence of God. (For more on this, see Peter Kreeft’s discussion of the argument from desire.)
Hints aside, though, how could the existence of God be proven? Arguments for the existence of God come in many different forms; some draw on history, some on science, some on personal experience, and some on philosophy. As has already been said, the primary focus of this site is the philosophical arguments—the ontological argument, the first cause argument, the argument from design, and the moral argument—though some of the historical arguments will also be explored. If the existence of God can be proven, I think, then it is by arguments such as these.
Even if the existence of God can be proven, though, then how can any of the various conceptions of God be shown to be the right one? If we are persuaded that God exists, then how can we decide which of the fertility gods, the Roman pantheon, the Judaeo-Christian God, and the many other alternatives to believe in?
One answer to this is that if any of the philosophical arguments is successful then it supports a specific conception of God. The ontological argument, for instance, is an argument for the existence of a perfect being; the cosmological argument is an argument for the existence of a Creator.
Each of the philosophical arguments, then, if successful, supports any given religion to the extent that that religion’s conception of God matches that supported by the argument. If several, or even all, of the arguments were successful, then this would give us a detailed picture of the nature of God, which could then be compared to the picture painted by each competing religion. The philosophical arguments, then, might tell us not only that some religion is true, but also which religion is true, or at least which religions are closest to the truth.
In addition to the philosophical arguments for the existence of God, of course, there are also the historical arguments, which might offer a more straightforward way of confirming or disconfirming specific religions. If the historical evidence indicates, for instance, that the Bible contains accurate prophecies, or that the Book of Mormon was handed down to Joseph Smith by angels, or that Jesus was raised from the dead, then this would help us to move from a general belief in God to acceptance of a particular religion. My primary interest is in Christianity, and so the historical arguments that I have included concern Jesus. The first is an argument that we must not treat Jesus as merely a great human teacher, that he was either a liar, a lunatic, or God incarnate. The second is an argument that only the third of these possibilities allows us to make sense of the historical evidence for the Resurrection.
Also included on the site are several arguments for atheism. Even if some or all of the arguments for the existence of God were judged to be plausible, if there were also convincing arguments against the existence of God then this would be reason to question whether those arguments for God’s existence really are as successful as they seem to be.
Included in this section are two indirect arguments against traditional Christianity, the argument that faith is just an emotional crutch for the weak and the argument that Christianity is offensively exclusive, that tolerance requires religious pluralism.
The strongest of all the arguments against God’s existence is surely the problem of evil: how can the existence of God be reconciled with the widespread suffering that we see in the world around us?
Also disquieting for those who believe in God is the paradox introduced by the question, “Can God create a stone so heavy that he cannot lift it?” Whatever answer to this question is given appears to be in tension with the idea that God is omnipotent; does this show that there can be no such thing as an omnipotent God?
Before all of that, however, come the philosophical arguments for the existence of God. To read a summary of the arguments, begin with the overview of the four proofs of the existence of God. To skip the overview and jump right in, go straight to the ontological argument, the first cause argument, the argument from design, or the moral argument. Each explanation of an argument is followed by a survey of objections to it, along with some thoughts about whether or not those objections are successful.