Existence of god (2007)

 

The existence of God has been a debated topic for many thousands of years. Over the course of this time, there have been arguments which still remain, despite criticism. This essay will cover two of the traditional arguments; the cosmological argument and the ontological argument.

The cosmological argument is a traditional argument for the existence of God. It has several different forms but the basis of the argument remains. Plato and Aristotle put forward versions of this argument, but it has become closely related to Descartes and Aquinas. “Harrison-Barbet, [1], p.302”.

Without going into too much unnecessary detail, the cosmological argument is expressed in various forms of standpoints. The most common would be St. Thomas Aquinas’ three ways; motion, efficient causality and possibility and necessity.

The argument from motion leads to the conclusion that God exists because everything is in motion; motion is dependent on other motions; so there has to be a first mover to start the motion, as it cannot go onto infinity. This is God.

The next argument of Aquinas: efficient causality, states that everything in the universe has a cause. There must have been something prior to cause something to be. If this is the case, the universe too has a cause. This cause must be God, an uncaused cause.

“In the world of sensible things, we find there is an order of efficient causes…it is necessary to admit a first efficient cause, to which everyone gives the name of God.”

                                       “Aquinas, [2].”

 Finally, the argument from possibility and necessity. This states that God is a necessary being because nothing can exist of itself. There must be a God that starts off putting things into existence, otherwise nothing would exist.

Many Philosophers have commented on this traditional argument, including David Hume, Bertrand Russell, Gottfried Leibniz and Benedict Spinoza.

Hume objected to this theory, on the grounds that we cannot assume a connection between cause and effect. According to Hume, when we see a conjunction of events, we tend to link the two together, but in fact they are two separate events. What this means is that if the universe did begin, we cannot conclude that something caused it into existence; it could have just begun:

“How can anything that exists from eternity have a cause, since that relation implies a priority in time and beginning of existence?”

                                     “Hume, [3]”

Russell continues with this line of thinking in his book “Why I am not a Christian”:

“If everything must have a cause, then God must have a cause. If there can be anything without a cause, it may just as well be the world as God...”                      

                                    “Russell, [4], p. 4”

He outlines that God isn’t needed in this line of thinking, because the world could have just been there, that could have been the uncaused cause.

The cosmological argument is an interesting paradox; it says everything that has a beginning has a cause yet leaves reservation for God. It is well written in Mastering Philosophy:

“If it is claimed there are no uncaused causes, then how can there be a first cause? If in reply it is argued that God is a special case… then we might answer that this is a piece of gratuitous special pleading.”

                                 “Harrison-Barbet, [1], p.303”.

And so, listening to Hume’s and Russell’s comments, how come the cosmological argument still stands today? Let us turn to the pros of the argument.

Gottfried Leibniz accepted the cosmological argument. His reasoning was that it is more plausible to believe it has been caused than the universe being infinite. He calls this plausibility a sufficient reason. There must have been a sufficient reason for the universe to exist.  

“If you suppose the world eternal, you will suppose nothing but a succession of states and will not find in any of them a sufficient reason.”

                                “Leibniz, [5].”

We see here that he rules out an eternal, never beginning, never ending universe; it is just random states of occurrences. The quote suggests he is looking for purpose; something that is just randomly put together has no purpose, but this is the universe, we are human inhabitants, we must have a purpose, and so God must have been the sufficient reason to create this universe. If he does not suggest this, one could easily have retorted “why is it more sufficient that a God was the creator as opposed to a random succession of states?”   

Regardless of what he suggests, the criticism still stands. It seems Leibniz is merely showing a preference over God than another alternative explanation.

All this said, Benedict Spinoza seems to give an adequate solution to these problems. Concluding through rationalism, Spinoza’s remark on God is that of one entity; one substance he called “God or Nature”. And so it seems, everything covers this one substance; including the universe. However Spinoza goes one step further; saying the universe is God. It is eternal, uncreated and its own cause. And because of this, no further elaboration is needed. Given this major assumption of one substance, he surely leaves himself open to criticisms; such as the arguments surrounding individualism.

Keeping onto the cosmological argument, it seems that the loopholes in the argument, once uncovered, are irreparable. It seems quite the task to justify the view, especially living in today’s times where God is not emphasised as much as it used to be.

It may be wise to side with possibility the most objective comment, from German philosopher Immanuel Kant, who says it would be impossible for people to have any knowledge of what God created or of God himself. This is because, in this world of sense experience, we have evidence to believe causes and consequence. However, we cannot apply the same rule to something we have no experience of; which is the cause of the universe and God. And so, we cannot give an answer to something that transcends our experience.

I would emphasise this point by Kant. The cosmological argument has been looked at time after time, but we cannot really know if it is correct unless we have experience of it. If someone did have experience of the cosmological argument and so knew it was true (which is not even possible because a human could not have existed before the universe was made, as a human is in the universe) then the next question is would this person be believed?

If this one person thoroughly knew it was true because of his experience, this may not be enough to outweigh the sceptics, as the sceptics would probably be sceptical of him. The person may have to undergo such examinations such as his motive, background, intelligence, presentation of his experience, and so on.

So what alternative can we give for the cosmological argument to be absolutely true? Well, it could be directly experienced by everyone, and now this would be common knowledge, everyone would agree it is truth. The problem we encounter here is that just because everyone believes something, does not mean it is true.

The atheist and critic of Christianity Dr. Michael Newdow gives us the example of Santa Claus:

“We all believed in Santa Claus, until we finally realised that everybody really didn’t believe in it, but we got to the point with God that we don’t have enough people telling us it’s not something that’s true so we continue to believe in it, largely because we see all the other people believing in it.”

                              “Newdow, [6]”

This quote reminds us that we need to be careful of our reasons for believing something, as believing something because many people believe it is not sufficient.

The problem I can see with the cosmological argument is the interchange from logic to fantasy. The change is so subtle that it seems reasonable why people would believe the theory. It starts off with logical propositions; everything in the world has a cause, it is in motion. This seems reasonable.

Next we have, and I quote Aquinas: “it is necessary to admit a first efficient cause,” That seems reasonable also, but it seems bias to a beginner as opposed to infinity, because it contains the word “necessary”. There is no reason why a first cause is necessary, and so I think this issue can be looked upon by Wittgenstein’s word game: having a belief and adapting them words, to sound like a reasonable and worthy truth, by pure persuasion of words.

Now comes the point where I believe the interchange of logic to fantasy lies: concluding that it is God that created the universe. How broad can we give this word “God”? I am sure Aquinas means the God of classical theism, but it may be interpreted in different ways, such as a symbol of a starter, a generalised word covering that shaded area. I don’t think the word God is as strict now. For some people, they are not religious yet they believe in “something”, this “something” could just as well be replaced by the word God, because we do not even know what God is. These slight adaptations in word meaning point towards a changed society; one where religion has a lesser impact, and so it seems, the arguments for God’s existence are getting slowly diminished.

 

 

 

[1] Anthony Harrison- Barbet             Mastering Philosophy Second edition, Palgrave, 2001

[2] St. Thomas Aquinas                      Summa Theologica

[3] David Hume                                  Dialogues Concerning Natural Religion (1779)

[4] Bertrand Russell                            Why I am not a Christian, Routledge Classics Edition, 2004.

 [5] Gottfried Leibniz                          Theodicy (1710)

[6] Dr. Michael Newdow                    Series of Lectures to an audience on February 24th 2003, The University of Arizona.       

[7] Anne Jordan                                  Philosophy of Religion OCR Edition, Nelson Thornes, 2004