Blog

10 Arguments for God's Existence

1. Cosmological Argument: Also called the argument from universal causation or the argument from contingency, the cosmological argument is probably the most well know and well loved among theistic apologists. The basic argument is that all effects have an efficient cause. The universe and all that is in it, due to its contingent (dependent) nature, is an effect. Therefore, the universe has an cause. But that  cause cannot be an effect or one would have to explain its cause. Therefore, there must be an ultimate cause, an unmoved mover, an uncaused cause that began the process. This cause must transcend time and space in order to transcend the law of cause and effect. This transcendent entity must be personal in order to willfully cause the effect. This ultimate cause is God.

2. Teleological Argument: (Gr. telos, “end” or “purpose”) This is also know as the argument from design. This argument moves from complexity to a necessary explanatory cause for such complexity. The universe has definite design, order, and arrangement which cannot be sufficiently explained outside a theistic worldview. From the complexities of the human eye to the order and arrangement of the cosmology, the voice of God is heard. Therefore, God’s existence is the best explanation for such design. God is the undesigned designer.

3. Moral Argument: This argument argues from the reality of moral laws to the existence of a necessary moral law giver. The idea here is that if there are moral laws (murder is wrong, selfishness is wrong, self-sacrifice is noble, torturing innocent babies for fun is evil), then there must be a transcendent explanation and justification for such laws. Otherwise, they are merely conventions that are not morally binding on anyone. Since there are moral laws, then there must be a moral law giver who transcends space and time. This moral law giver is God.

4. sensus divinitatus (“sense of the divine”): While this argument goes by many names, the sensus divinitatus argues for the existence of God from the innate sense of the divine that exists within all people. This sense of the divine, it can be argued, is the “God shaped void” within all people. This explains why people, societies, and cultures of all time have been, by nature, those who sense a need to worship something greater than themselves.

5. The Argument from Aesthetic Experience: This is the argument from universal beauty and pleasure. Beauty and pleasure are universally recognized as such. Even subjective variation in one’s definition of what is beautiful are not distinct enough to relativize this principle. From the beauty or the sunset over the Rockies to the pleasure of eating certain foods, there is a common aesthetic experience that transcends the individual. This transcendence must have a ultimate source. This ultimate source is God.

6. Argument from the Existence of Arguments: The idea here is that there is no such thing as an argument without order and rationality. In the absence of God, all that exists is chaos. Chaos does not give birth to order. Arguments assume order. Order assumes purpose and design which in turn requires a transcendent being for its genesis. To even argue against the existence of God assumes his existence and is therefore self-referentially absurd. Therefore, there is no such thing as an “argument” against Transcendence (God).

7. Argument from the Existence of Free-will Arguments: If there is no God, then all we have is a meaningless series of cause and effect stretching back into eternity. This series of cause and effects is necessary and determined, being the result of the previous cause and effect. As a billiard ball is hit by another and has no self-motivated movements of its own, so all of human existence exists under the same attributes. All things are determined, not self-motivated, including beliefs. Therefore, if someone does not believe in God, it is not the result of self-motivated free-will beliefs, but because of a determined and fatalistic series of causes and effects stretching back into eternity. To argue against the existence of God would not be the result of looking at the evidence and making a more reasoned decision to not believe in God, but because that is what people were fatalistically determined to do. Therefore, all arguments are absurd and unjustified without God.

8. Argument from the Existence of Evil: Like the moral argument, this argument assumes the existence of a universal characteristic that is meaningless without God. Some argue that the existence of evil disproves God (or at least a good God), but to argue such is formally absurd since one would have to have an ultimate and transcendent standard of good in order to define evil. If evil exists, goodness exists. If both exist, there must be a transcendent norm from which they get their meaning. Since evil does exist, God exists.

9. Argument from Miracles: There are events in human history which cannot be explained outside of the existence of God. Many people have their subjective stories that bend them in the direction of theism, but there are also historical events such as the resurrection of Christ and predictive prophecy which cannot be explained without an acknowledgment of God. In short, from the Christians standpoint, if Christ rose from the grave, then God exists. There is no alternative reasonable explanation which accounts for such an event outside a belief in God. History convincingly demonstrates that Christ did rise from the grave. Therefore, God exists.

10. Pascal’s Wager:
Popularize by French philosopher Blaise Pascal, Pascal’s Wager argues that belief in God is the most rational choice due to the consequences of being wrong. If one were to believe in God and be wrong, there are no consequences. However, if one were to deny God and be wrong, the consequences are eternally tragic. Therefore, the most rational choice, considering the absence of absolute certainty, is not agnosticism or atheism, but a belief in God.

11. Ontological Argument: Save for another time

What do you think. Put these in the order of the most persuasive to the least.

64 Responses to “10 Arguments for God's Existence”

  1. It seems that #10 is the one easiest to make with a non-believer because it talks to logic (seemingly more secular in approach) as opposed to God but the least desirable because it talks to logic and not faith.

  2. I like this order.

    8. Evil, everyone acknowledges it… Christus Victor [problem + solution]
    3. Moral breach … Christus Victor [theodicy]
    5. Natural law … All Religions testify to something else
    4. Natural law … || appeals to mystery
    6. Unique creation bears the Imago Dei
    7. Image bearer reasonable
    9. More than naturalism
    10. philosophy helps
    1. Fire-hose approach works after you got them thinking [they hate when we begin with this one & we lose them]
    2. Purpose to life

    This is the order I’d use when dialoging with postmodern agnostics.

  3. I think that the Argument from the Existence of Evil is implied in the Moral Argument. The former is just a negative statement of the latter.

    I would rank them, from most convincing to least,

    1. Cosmological Argument
    2. Moral Argument
    3. Teleological Argument
    4. Argument from the Existence of Arguments
    5. Argument from Miracles
    6. Argument from Aesthetic Experience
    7. Argument from the Existence of Free-Will Arguments (too complex)
    8. Sensus divinitatus (I think that this is true, but I find it too abstract and subjective to be able to effectively communicate it)
    9. Pascal’s wager (it’s not an argument)

  4. 4/9
    10
    1

    4 and 9 in equal measures.

    4 tends to hit at a nagging feeling almost everyone I’ve ever known has had. 9 offers up, not usually the only explanation but, the best/most probable explanation. Actually it’s only with those 2 as a basis that I can even entertain any of the others (10 and 1 excepted). Unfortunately I have discounted all the other ones as unique arguments for God through one method or another (mainly a sort of over the last 25 or so years.

    10 is a last, ‘conversation is pretty much over and you are about to leave it’, plea to logic.

    1 is really just a parting ‘god of the gaps’ wedge to keep the door of possibility open for discussion back towards 4 and 9.

    Oh, and I have agnostics in mind when doing this… PoMo postive agnosticism, ambivalent paralysis, etc

  5. C Michael Patton November 12, 2008 at 4:05 pm

    I agree about Pascal’s Wager. It is more a concession than an argument. I have never liked it much. But, to be fair, I think that Pascal would use it as a cumulative case decision making push when all the arguments are considered and one is not completely convinced. He was dealing with a modern world with the assumption indubibility.

  6. C Michael Patton November 12, 2008 at 4:07 pm

    What about the “Ghost Huner Argument”? We have live audio and video proof of the probability of God’s existence via the existence of a spiritual world :)

    Ghost Hunters tonight at 8pm CST on SciFi. Oh yeah!

  7. No ontological? Haha yea, most people aren’t going to use that one.

    1. moral argument and existence of evil
    2. argument from the existence of arguments (the transcendental argument)
    3. teleological
    4. cosmological
    5. pascal’s wager
    6. sensus divinitatus
    7. argument from aesthetic experience
    8. miracles
    9. free-will

  8. Hi Michael,

    I’ve now made my 2nd reply to your sola Scriptura series:

    http://socrates58.blogspot.com/2008/11/reply-to-c-michael-patton-on-sola.html

    Many more to come!

    God bless,

    Dave

  9. I’d put Pascal’s wager as an appendix. It’s not an argument, more of a last-ditch plea. It’s not bad for what it is… but an argument it is not.

  10. I’m not sure why folks are classifying Pascal’s wager as a non-argument. It can be modeled with premises and a conclusion that follow can it not?

    http://www.iep.utm.edu/p/pasc-wag.htm

  11. But Pascal’s Wager is not evidence that God exists. It’s a plea to follow Christ.

  12. Regardless of what it accomplishes, I think it is an argument. The conclusion is just “you should be a Christian theist” instead of “God exists.”

  13. 9. Argument from Miracles. This is the only argument that I think can stand. Miracles require an explanation and that explanation will point to the supernatural and quite possibly God (assuming an actual miracle took place of course). As noted, the best explanation for Jesus’ miraculous career is that the God he preached does exist.

    Here’s why I don’t care for the other arguments:

    1. Cosmological Argument. I don’t see why the ultimate cause must be personal. Moreover, the ultimate cause could be something that is not God.

    2. Teleological Argument. Design is rather subjective. The only way this argument could work is if the world were perfect.

    3. Moral Argument. No transcendent explanation or justification for morality is necessary. Moral laws are the result of human reasoning.

    4. sensus divinitatus (”sense of the divine”). This is woefully inadequate when someone declares they have no sense of the divine.

    5. The Argument from Aesthetic Experience. This glosses over the differences in human likes, namely that some likes and dislikes contradict each other. Moreover, the experience of pleasure can be explained naturally so no appeal to the supernatural is necessary.

    6. Argument from the Existence of Arguments. This argument seems to assume that without God there would be chaos.

    7. Argument from the Existence of Free-will Arguments. This argument assumes that free will exists and that free will could not exist without God.

    8. Argument from the Existence of Evil. This is just a rehash of the Moral Argument.

    10. Pascal’s Wager. This is not an argument. Plus it assumes that people choose their beliefs. By and large, I find that the evidence compels me to hold a belief. It is not a conscious decision.

  14. The real problem with Pascal’s wager is that it assumes a false dilemma – that Christianity and atheism are the only choices. If the Hindus are right, then the correct answer wasn’t even an option.

  15. This goes to David and Jayman. These are arguments for the existence of God.

    David, I’m not trying to quibble. I don’t think that us reaching agreement on whether or not Pascal’s Wager is an argument is all that important. It probably will have zero impact on how we do evangelism. But it’s an interesting discussion.

    My dispute with Pascal’s Wager being an argument is that it is more of a sentimental warning, and less of a rational appeal (e.g., “If you’re wrong, you burn,” if received properly, will evoke fear, not conviction of God’s existence).

    Jayman, I agree that the Cosmological Argument is not a Christian argument. to illustrate that, the argument was originally formulated by Muslim theologians, long before Thomas Aquinas. It’s just an argument for a creator apart from our existence. But I don’t think that negates its value. I think that it’s great for suggesting that God does exist, nothing more, but certainly nothing less.

  16. In my mind, none of these is persuasive for the existence of God, so it’s impossible to rank them. If existence could be proven, God would not be transcendent but simply a feature of the universe. We must know Him only by faith.

    Cosmological (#1) fails because it assumes that the universe is an effect. If, however, nothingness is impossible, then the universe must exist. In other words, nothingness would be an unstable condition; there must be something.

    Teleological (#2) fails because it assumes that a specific complex design was intended—our present world and all the stages it has and will go through. The same argument would be attempted for the infinity of other possible designs that the universe might have taken.

    Moral, Divine sense, Aesthetic, and Existence of evil (#3,4,5,8) all fail because we are all descended from a common ancestry. We live on the same earth under the same natural laws in the wake of Adam’s disobedience. It would be fascinating to hear what an extraterrestrial intelligence would have to say about these areas.

    Order or Arguments (#6) fails because it assumes that chaos is the default condition. No way to prove that. This assumption is unfounded similar to the nothingness assumption of #1.

    Free will (#7) fails because there is not a proven connection between free will and God.

    Miracles and prophecies (#9) fail to convince as soon as one can propose a reasonable natural explanation. It may be that our limited knowledge causes us to believe something is a supernatural miracle. Christ’s resurrection is perhaps the strongest—yes, well documented, but could have been even more so if He had appeared to the authorities.

    Pascal’s wager (#10) isn’t a proof, as others have stated.

    Ironically, although these arguments fail as proof, people can and do find comfort in them, and Bible authors have used them as such.

  17. But Peter, we do have to recognize that getting people to accept the probability of god does not automatically lead to Christ. Too many times I see Christians use one of these arguments and then act as if the argument is over and we should all accompany him to his church and accept Christ as our personal Savior. This may work in America or the West where we are preconditioned to think that the only alternative is the Judeo-Christian God (See Pascal) but what about the rest of the world – not to mention intellectual honesty.

  18. These arguments will not bring us to the Triune God, but are only signposts. I think we all agree on that. Apart from special revelation and ultimately (for me) the resurrection, one cannot come to know the Triune God.

    With that said, I think the best signpost in this list is the moral argument. Jayman mentions that you could argue against this by saying that morality is a human construct based on reasoning. I’d disagree and suggest that even our reasoning presupposes morality.

    On a non-scholarly level, it seems like the most common retort to the cosmological argument is that it only “proves” a god or gods, and it often inspires the ignorant question, “Well who created God?” That is why we must always use the Argument from Contingency alongside the cosmological argument. Father Copleston does such a great job in this regard in his debate with Bertrand Russell. In the end, Russell comes off looking silly by having to deny that anything is contingent or necessary at all in order to maintain his argument.

    Also, I think the Teleological Argument still appeals to people. Francis Collins seriously critiques the Intelligent Design movement in his book, but he also heavily relies on the teleological argument throughout. Even the name, “The Language of God” suggests the teleological argument. Sure, there are ways to object to the argument, but I still think it has strong appeal to many.

    I think two of the best arguments not mentioned on this list are the Argument from Reason and the Argument from Desire. Stewart Goetz and Charles Talieffero recently released an outstanding critique of naturalism titled “Naturalism” which gave a compact, yet powerful presentation of the Argument from Reason in an appendix. I would suggest everyone read this book because it is outstanding. Also, the best recent presentation of the Argument from Desire IMO is NT Wright’s “Simply Christian” where he focuses on our desire for eternal justice and our desire for God. Since Wright’s book owes a great deal to C.S. Lewis, its no surprise that the argument from desire was also one of Lewis’ favorites. I think this latter argument most appeals to postmoderns who value desire over reason.

  19. Rayner,
    I’m someone who naturally wants to shout “Nein!” alongside Karl Barth whenever I hear arguments for God’s existence, yet at the same time I understand how they can be an encouragement to faith and even a signpost that might lead someone to the revelation of the Triune God.

    Thanks for your wonderful thoughts. I’ve never considered the argument against the possibility of nothingness in order to argue against the cosmological argument. Outstanding!

    You are also correct in your argument against the argument from miracles. As long as we interpret reality through a hermeneutic of suspicion we can always say, “Well, what about…?” and those questions will serve as a defeater, although often unjustifiably so. As you suggest, the evidence can always be stronger. If Jesus could have shown himself to the Jewish authorities, we would question, “Well why didn’t he show himself to the Roman authorities since they were the ultimate world power?” “Why didn’t he reveal himself to those in China or India as well?” As someone who believes I have both experienced and seen the miraculous, I agree that we can always ask another question which leads to doubt. Yet, in the end, I stand by Riceour in saying that things clear up (not fall back into ignorance, but fall forward into a post-critical second naivety) when we move beyond the hermeneutic of suspicion and into the hermeneutic of faith.

  20. Ranger, I would disagree that the “who designed God” argument is silly. It seems to me that taking this question off the table by saying God is in the Category-of-Uncaused-Things is arbitrary and special pleading.

    My argument against the Aesthetic Experience and Existence of Evil is that human beings all evolved under the same conditions. Therefore ingrained thought patterns with regards to experiencing the environment (AE) and regulating social behavior (EoE) would be shared across all of mankind – no transcendence needed.

    Will we ever stop debating these things? Has a single such point ever been settled one way of the other between Christians and “the rest of us”?

  21. Ranger, what do you mean when you say our reasoning presupposed morality?

  22. Scott,
    I agree with you, the cosmological argument often leaves a lot to be desired. My problem with the question, “Well, who created God?” is that it doesn’t understand the cosmological argument. If someone created “God” then that “God” is not the god of the cosmological argument. The whole argument is that there is an uncaused cause, and that is god…whatever that may be. That’s why it fails as a Christian argument because we are ignorant of what this uncaused cause actually is.

    Jayman,
    I would argue (I don’t have much time now…I’m sorry!) that making any reasoned decision requires value judgments. In this regard, I would suggest the works of Hermann Doyeweerd and Roy Clouser. Both argue that neutrality in reasoning is a myth. Hope that helps!

  23. “Will we ever stop debating these things? Has a single such point ever been settled one way of the other between Christians and “the rest of us”?”

    It is true that we will never stop debating these things, but to suggest that the points not being settled does not mean that these debates do not influence people quite a bit. It may not be universally settled, but for a lot of people, including myself, such arguments serve to strengthen us individually. In this sense, the arguements are worthwhile and edifying.

  24. Ranger,

    “That’s why it fails as a Christian argument because we are ignorant of what this uncaused cause actually is.”

    I agree, but for the Classical Apologist, this is exactly the first move. Create common ground (some sort of theism), then establish the Christian God from there.

  25. The word “argument” is being used as the word “apologetic,” ie. defence of the existence of God. Thus 10 and 7 are not arguments, 10 is a wager as per the name, and 7 states, assuming determinism, people cannot help what they believe. Perhaps the existence of free-will points to the existence of a free will giver. Further 8 is a variant of the moral argument. That leaves 7 arguments.

    I think 2 and 3 and the best, and probably would rate 2 higher than 3.

    Teleology points to God’s existence, moral argument shows we miss God’s expectation. I wonder whether God intends teleology and morality to be the predominant general defences of his existence, and I think this because of Romans 1.

    The cosmological/ kalam argument is valid but I don’t think one can appeal to most people with this. It requires a basic understanding of logic/ philosophy and most people don’t get it. Even Dawkins (who may not be that far above average) makes the foolish appeal to: “Who made God.” In the God delusion. It may be good for philosophers and theologians but is less useful for most.

    Of the last 4 I think miracles would probably be the most convincing.

  26. Rayner,

    “If existence could be proven, God would not be transcendent but simply a feature of the universe.”

    I really have no idea why that should be the case. I can’t follow you from your “if” to your “then”.

    Why do you think that follows?

  27. Okay. Viewing these as apologetics rather than proofs, do they work? Let me say that 4-10% of Americans who describe themselves as Atheists are not moved by these “tactics”. I guess we are too hardcore and obstinate :( . What about the great unwashed masses, the “No Religion” people? Are these points scoring in the evangelism game? Are they moving people toward conversion? Anyone have an anecdote (firsthand preferred over FOAF)?

  28. Ranger, I see your point. It is what scientists sometimes call an “uninteresting” claim.

    “Let us say that there is an ultimate, uncaused cause. Let’s call it God.” Riiiight. Then what?

  29. My personal favourites:

    1. The Cosmological Argument.

    I think this is basically the reason why most people believe in some sort of God. Housewives do not believe that cakes make themselves, nor do working men believe that houses build themselves. Of course, philosophers pussy-foot evasively round this sort of argument, but that is because they are abnormal people best described by Romans 1:22.

    The atheistic objection (who made God, then?) is frequently offered even by schoolchildren and barely shows even that level of intelligence. That is because the options only amount to three: the universe is eternal (sorry, it ain’t), there is an infinite regress (which is again absurd: ‘the earth is a flat plate resting on the back of an elephant, which stands on the back of a giant turtle, after which it is turtles all the way down), or lastly, there is an ultimate cause.

    The idea that the ultimate cause might not somehow be an eternal, all-powerful creator (ie. the God of a standard monotheistic religion) is difficult to follow. The idea that it might not be personal is again, back to front: can the One who created the ear not hear?

    2. The Moral Argument (or argument from the existence of evil).

    If we are simply ‘slime on a planet’ (Atkins, Professor of Chemistry at Oxford, Atheist), then what is there to cry about if a few million people get killed by Hitler? No one cries when they clean the slime off their bathroom floor. Stalin compared killing millions of Russians to mowing the lawn. There is no morality in nature or in naturalism: tsunamis are not compassionate, lions are not charitable, nor are thunderstorms chivalrous. If we are just jumped up apes, what is wrong with living by the law of the jungle? Murder, adultery, rape, cannibalism – you name it – its game on!

    In other words, if there is no God, all we have is naturalism, and naturalism means there is no such thing as morality. Even the seemingly-clever ‘I won’t poke you in the eye lest you should poke me back’ view of morality is just a jungle-law negotiating tactic for wimps, because if I was a big enough bully (like Hitler was) I would not have to worry about you poking me back.

    3. The teleological argument. I was talking with a Christian today and he was telling me that he had been recently talking to his elderly uncle (not a Christian), who once used to be a game-keeper. He asked my friend if he still believed his religious ideas, and my friend said, more than ever. Then my friend asked him what he believed. He paused and said, ‘Well, I know this, an accident isn’t responsible for it’ (referring to some of the things that some animals are capable of doing). Again, this is a layman’s sort of proof, but you really have to be either ignorant, stupid or insane (or wicked) to believe that lizards stumbled accidentally upon the secret of flight (thus becoming birds), or that bats just bumped into echo-location, or that a whale evolved from a land-roaming creature somewhere between a wolf and a hippo (imagine, if you can, how a fly-swatter of a tail became a tail-fin the size of a Jumbo-Jet’s and the main means of propulsion). As the great Dawkins himself said, ‘Biology is the study of complicated things that give the appearance of having been designed for a purpose’.

    The argument that an imperfect world disproves design is again spurious. The Venus de Milo has a broken-off arm, but it was designed all right. Just because a car has broken down does not prove that there was no designer.

    4. I have never heard it used as a formal proof of God before, but I also like the Argument from Arguments included here. As Darwin put it, ‘With me the horrid doubt always arises whether the convictions of man’s mind, which has been developed from the mind of lower animals, are of any value at all or trustworthy’.

    One of Darwin’s successors, J.B.S. Haldane, put it even better: ‘If my mental processes are determined wholly by motions of atoms in my brain, I have no reason to suppose that my beliefs are true – and hence I have no reason for believing that my brain is composed of atoms’

    The bottom line here is this: if there is no God, we have a purely materialistic world – just atoms in motion, and if that is true, there is no such thing as a reliable or trustworthy thought. We could, for all we know, be living inside a computer simulation.

    This leads on to the Free Will Argument. I once heard Dawkins, under pressure in a radio debate, respond to this problem by saying: ‘I have absolutely no interest in the question of Free Will’ – the most brilliant example of intellectual evasion that I have ever heard.

  30. The problem with the arguments from morality/evil is that it assumes a false dichotomy between transcendent moral standards and purely relative moral standards. There is a middle ground of objective standards that are not transcendent, and it includes some secular philosophies of morality.

    For instance, consider a group of 10 kids playing football in a field. They all have some idea of how football should be played, ever though high school, college, and NFL rules are all a bit different, and even though none of those sets of rules really works for 5 on 5 kid football. Agreeing on rules ahead of time is a good idea, but even without writing their own rulebook, or deciding which forms of blocking are acceptable, there still is some basis for one kid to object that the manner in which he was chop blocked could have hurt him and was against the rules – and not just something that he didn’t like.

    Furthermore, one of them could suggest a rule changes so that the game will work better, such as flag football v. two hand touch, even if these changes do not correspond to any external standard such as NFL rules. It might be that everyone agrees that this is an improvement. There doesn’t need to be some “transcendent” set of the ultimate standard of rules to justify talk of an action being objectively inconsistent with “the” unwritten rules, or for one set of rules to be judged as better than another set of rules.

    The best the argument from morality can do is say that morality is not purely relative. This leaves moral options open that are consistent with atheism.

    The moral argument for the existence of a god should be viewed together with the moral argument against the Christian God. Whatever it is, our intuitive sense of morality is appalled by hell and by the genocide of the OT that killed even the children, even when keeping in mind the punishment for sin. Yet somehow God is still supposed to be good and just, and this appears to be neither. The only biblical defense for this is that if God is real, we don’t have the right to judge him. Together with the moral argument for God, this means that skeptics are being asked to trust their moral instincts to help them reach the conclusion that they shouldn’t trust their moral instincts.

    Even if atheism offered no objective moral standards, I would find it less paradoxical to not know why or if Hitler was absolutely wrong, than to be compelled by a moral argument to say what Moses and Joshua did was absolutely right.

  31. Jeffrey,

    Agreeing on rules ahead of time is a good idea, but even without writing their own rulebook, or deciding which forms of blocking are acceptable, there still is some basis for one kid to object that the manner in which he was chop blocked could have hurt him and was against the rules – and not just something that he didn’t like.

    The group of kids playing football are forming a democratic set of rules for how they should play football. Should all groups of kids on all fields use those rules? If not, then they are not objective in the sense that the moral argument intends to establish. A majority opinion is not an objective standard, its just a majority opinion.

    Moral Argument:
    1. If God doesn’t exist, objective moral values don’t exist
    2. Objective moral values exist
    3. Therefore, God exists

    If premise 2 is true, then that means murder is wrong for all people of all times. Even if 99% of the earth’s population decided otherwise, it wouldn’t change the truth value of the proposition, “murder is morally wrong.”

    Together with the moral argument for God, this means that skeptics are being asked to trust their moral instincts to help them reach the conclusion that they shouldn’t trust their moral instincts.

    The very notion of thinking God’s actions are wrong supports the moral argument, and doesn’t support any argument against the Christian God, since His nature is the definition of morality in the Christian worldview.

    Even if atheism offered no objective moral standards, I would find it less paradoxical to not know why or if Hitler was absolutely wrong, than to be compelled by a moral argument to say what Moses and Joshua did was absolutely right.

    Could you expand on this?

  32. Jugulum,

    “If existence could be proven, God would not be transcendent but simply a feature of the universe.” I mean that transcendence is not reachable by us (except by faith). Anything that we can prove, is part of the universe and is not the transcendent God. We cannot look on God, for example; this could be a figurative way of saying we cannot verify Him by human means. God has no name; He said ‘I am what I am,’ showing that there’s no way to identify Himself in human terms. That must be the case if we believe that God and creation are two different things.

    clearblue,

    ‘you really have to be either ignorant, stupid or insane (or wicked) to believe that lizards stumbled accidentally upon the secret of flight (thus becoming birds), or that bats just bumped into echo-location…’
    Well, count me in. Nature takes a lot of dead ends and makes a lot of false starts. Doesn’t get it right the first time. If the teleological argument were true, I would expect no mistakes along the way.

  33. David,

    >A majority opinion is not an objective standard, its just a majority opinion.

    You are equating the words objective, absolute, and transcendent.

    I’m suggesting that more is going on than democracy, and less is going on than a higher power telling them how to play. Plenty of the details will be purely democratic, although it will still be objective whether or not this non-absolute standard has been broken. But some details will be absolute. Allowing poking in the eyes or other actions that could likely result in permanent damage is not going to work for any group of kids anywhere. This detail of the rules is absolute due to the similar circumstance of the mortality of all kids playing football anywhere.

    >1. If God doesn’t exist, objective moral values don’t exist
    >2. Objective moral values exist
    >3. Therefore, God exists

    This only follows if you presuppose a theistic concept of the reason for morality. If moral values are a set of sometimes unwritten rules that help society to function better [or at all], then I disagree with 1. Theists often think along these lines. For instance, a strong argument against the ethics of passificism is that it doesn’t work.

    If by moral values, you mean the fact that humans do behave in certain ways (rather than the rational basis for morality), then the argument has all the uncertainties of cognitive science – our intuitive sense could be purely a result of the similarity of all instances of the brains of homo sapians.

    Objective standards only mean we can objectively state that a particular set of rules has been violated or that one set of rules works better than another set. Absolute standards mean that a portion of the rules would make the game/society work better in all circumstances. Transcendent standards mean they come from an external entity and not from the circumstances in which they are applied.

    For instance, suppose it is the case that murder is damaging to any society, but this is all the moral certainty we posses. This is a basis for “murder is wrong” being objective and absolute but not transcendent. Its absoluteness is just a function of the inherent similarity of human societies everywhere, and would not be compromised by differing opinions of where murder leads.

    The moral argument requires the argument that all absolute standards must be transcendent. I do not think this argument can be made.

    >The very notion of thinking God’s actions are wrong supports the moral argument, and doesn’t support any argument against the Christian God, since His nature is the definition of morality in the Christian worldview.

    The fact that some of God’s actions look exactly like the kind of actions we call “wrong” suggests our concept of “wrong” is something other than misalignment with God. I wrote much more about how God goes against our moral intuitions awhile back on my blog.

    http://failingtheinsidertest.blogspot.com/2008/08/genocide-vessels-of-wrath-and-bible.html

  34. If you define objective differently than the moral argument does than you can’t argue against it.

    This only follows if you presuppose a theistic concept of the reason for morality. If moral values are a set of sometimes unwritten rules that help society to function better [or at all], then I disagree with 1.

    Please explain what you mean by “presuppose a theistic concept of the reason for morality.”

    For instance, a strong argument against the ethics of passificism is that it doesn’t work.
    This only follows if you presuppose a pragmatic concept of the purposes of morality ;)


    If by moral values, you mean the fact that humans do behave in certain ways (rather than the rational basis for morality), then the argument has all the uncertainties of cognitive science – our intuitive sense could be purely a result of the similarity of all instances of the brains of homo sapians.

    If this is true it is false (self-referentially). Just think about it, if our intuitive sense was purely a result of brain composition then there is no use arguing further. Truth is just a mechanical process, and the notion of reaching it as opposed to any other end is futile given the above statement.

    Objective standards only mean we can objectively state that a particular set of rules has been violated or that one set of rules works better than another set.

    Right so saying Hitler was objectively wrong in his actions just means more than 50% of the people agree on it?

    Absolute standards mean that a portion of the rules would make the game/society work better in all circumstances.

    If a standard isn’t vague, then it should automatically be absolute.

    Transcendent standards mean they come from an external entity and not from the circumstances in which they are applied.

    How could a standard come from “the circumstances in which they are applied?” How does that work? Seems to me like it comes from a mind, and not a circumstance.

    For instance, suppose it is the case that murder is damaging to any society, but this is all the moral certainty we posses. This is a basis for “murder is wrong” being objective and absolute but not transcendent. Its absoluteness is just a function of the inherent similarity of human societies everywhere, and would not be compromised by differing opinions of where murder leads.

    How could you establish that murder is absolutely wrong? What level of objectivity would allow one society to enter another and enforce this rule?

    The moral argument requires the argument that all absolute standards must be transcendent. I do not think this argument can be made.

    I would want to see an argument for why the moral argument requires the argument that all absolute standards must be transcendent. :-)

    Epistemically, I am unconvinced that man can pronounce something as absolute.

    Murder is wrong claims to be absolute…but who says it is? Only upon pragmatic grounds could you claim so, but then right/wrong has been redefined as useful/non-useful (at least in some sense).

  35. >Please explain what you mean by “presuppose a theistic concept of the reason for morality.”

    The idea that moral standards are objective only to the extend that they are commands from God.

    >I would want to see an argument for why the moral argument requires the argument that all absolute standards must be transcendent.

    The point of an argument for the existence of God is to show how someone could reach that conclusion. Requesting that the argument be judged according to a moral view that presupposes God is circular reasoning.

    The most you could ever say about morality via observation is that standards/opinions are absolute in the sense that all people share some moral intuitions. The moral argument is that these absolute standards are also transcendent. Thus, to proceed further without circularity you must argue that we cannot have absolute standards without transcendent standards.

    >Murder is wrong claims to be absolute…but who says it is? Only upon pragmatic grounds could you claim so, but then right/wrong has been redefined as useful/non-useful (at least in some sense).

    There is a difference between the ontological basis (why is it wrong) and epistemological basis (how we know.) How we know comes from the mind, and whatever is going on with the mind does not effect the ontological basis. Where the standards comes from ontologically, is, well, it just doesn’t work when people kill each other and start blood feuds. (This is not exactly a nuanced argument…)

    The fact that (nearly) everyone thinks Hitler was wrong is strong empirical evidence that he was wrong. But the majority can be wrong, and arguments can be given against the majority. Also, the opinions of the majority or even a unanimous opinion is irrelevant to the ontological basis for why he was wrong, namely the fact that genocidal racism is actually damaging.

    >Epistemically, I am unconvinced that man can pronounce something as absolute.

    That actually defeats you own argument. If we can’t call our morality absolute, how can you then say it points to God?

    Pronounced absolute and being absolute are different things. I’m not absolutely sure Hitler was wrong just like I’m not absolutely sure gravity will work tomorrow – I live as if 99.9999% certainty is absolute, and that’s enough for me to say I “know.” But it still can be the case that ontological speaking, Hitler was absolutely wrong, and gravity is absolutely true. Human inability to know for certain does not undermine the existence of absolute truth.

  36. David said: “Please explain what you mean by “presuppose a theistic concept of the reason for morality.”

    Jeff said: The idea that moral standards are objective only to the extend that they are commands from God.

    Is there a particular source for the moral argument you are deriving your definition of objective from?

    The point of an argument for the existence of God is to show how someone could reach that conclusion. Requesting that the argument be judged according to a moral view that presupposes God is circular reasoning.

    You’ve twiced asserted that the moral argument presupposes theistic concepts, but you haven’t demonstrated how. At any rate, if a moral view must presuppose something about the existence of God then obviously it would either be circular or self-defeating (if a premise implies God doesn’t exist, then you won’t be concluding He does). You have already stated that you don’t agree with this (you think the moral argument can accomplish something), so it seems inconsistent on your part to make this claim.

    The most you could ever say about morality via observation is that standards/opinions are absolute in the sense that all people share some moral intuitions. The moral argument is that these absolute standards are also transcendent. Thus, to proceed further without circularity you must argue that we cannot have absolute standards without transcendent standards.

    >Murder is wrong claims to be absolute…but who says it is? Only upon pragmatic grounds could you claim so, but then right/wrong has been redefined as useful/non-useful (at least in some sense).

    There is a difference between the ontological basis (why is it wrong) and epistemological basis (how we know.) How we know comes from the mind, and whatever is going on with the mind does not effect the ontological basis. Where it comes from, is, well, it just doesn’t work when people kill each other and start blood feuds. (This is not exactly a nuanced argument…)

    Sorry but I would rate this as a non-argument. Obviously, the epistemic status of any moral imperative would somehow relate to the mind knowing it; but, you really think something can ahve an ontologic basis for being wrong that doesn’t involve the mind? Hmm, so something can “not work” without a mind to think that it doesn’t work. Never before have I seen someone try to give pragmatism a metaphysical independence such as this.

    Based on your moral system, why is it bad for me to not have oil in my car? Is that so even if there is no “me” in the equation?

    The fact that (nearly) everyone thinks Hitler was wrong is strong empirical evidence that he was wrong. But the majority can be wrong, and arguments can be given against the majority. Also, the opinions of the majority or even a unanimous opinion is irrelevant to the ontological basis for why he was wrong, namely the fact that genocidal racism is actually damaging.

    Your ontological basis relies on something subjective…not objective if it requires some vague adjective like “damaging.”

    >Epistemically, I am unconvinced that man can pronounce something as absolute.

    That actually defeats you own argument. If we can’t call our morality absolute, how can you then say it points to God?

    Because the 2nd premise doesn’t rely on whether I think they exist or not.

    Pronounced absolute and being absolute are different things. I’m not absolutely sure Hitler was wrong just like I’m not absolutely sure gravity will work tomorrow – I live as if 99.9999% certainty is absolute, and that’s enough for me to say I “know.” But it still can be the case that ontological speaking, Hitler was absolutely wrong, and gravity is absolutely true. Human inability to know for certain does not undermine the existence of absolute truth.

    You can pronounce whatever you like, but you have yet to show how something can actually be absolute

  37. Do you have an example of an absolute standard that isn’t transcendent?

  38. Was God’s command to destroy the Amalekites unreasonable?

    Not when considering that the Amalekites had gone out of their way to attack Israel when they were fresh out of Egypt and effectively sitting ducks.

    Were God’s commands concerning the destruction of the Canaanites unreasonable?

    Not when considering that [1] the Canaanites had engaged in a variety of charming practices including child sacrifice (very much like atheists support abortion), bestiality (although I understand atheists like Peter Singer support it, perhaps that’s the cause of their indignation), and ritual prostitution for about 400 years and [2] God knew that leaving them around would entice Israel to following foreign gods (and there’s ample evidence that they did) necessitating His judgment on Israel. Of course the sanction only applied to those who stayed in Canaan, people who packed up and left before the Israelites arrived would have escaped destruction. Children unfortunately were a drain on scarce resources, better for them to die quickly than starve to death.

    The problem with the “argument from outrage” is that’s it’s purely emotional and only has force with those weak minded people who rely on emotions.

  39. Jeffrey,
    In the end, all reasoning is circular to an extent, because we all work within an immanent frame. We presuppose worldviews and make value judgments leading to our rational decisions and when taken to their logical end they can all be shown circular. I mentioned the philosopher Roy Clouser above, because I think he has shown this better than anyone else in recent years. This is not a theistic argument by any means, and has received wide acceptance through Thomas Kuhn’s work. When you are dealing with big worldviews and paradigm questions we all fall into circular reasoning. A comment is not the place to flesh this out, but I’d suggest Clouser’s “Myth of Neutrality” or Kuhn’s “Structure of Scientific Revolutions.”

    Now, for a few other points. If morals have actual ontological status (as you argue above), then they are not pragmatic. The two ideas necessarily contradict.

    You say: ” How we know comes from the mind, and whatever is going on with the mind does not effect the ontological basis.”

    You seem to be suggesting that epistemic recognition of morality does not affect the ontological reality of morality. I agree, Jeffrey Dahmer was wrong whether or not he epistemically realized it. He was wrong whether or not society as a whole thought he was wrong. The necessary question then is what is the source of the ontological reality of morals? A recent book with theist and non-theist contributors that you might enjoy is called, “Is Goodness Without God Good Enough?” It has a wide range of responses to the question from pragmatic, realist, nominalist, etc. positions by some of the top philosophers nationwide. I think it could help clarify your argument and also challenge it at some points.

    I would also note that your arguments thus far have relied both on pragmatism (i.e. Hitler was obviously wrong, because humanity as a whole agrees he is wrong) and also have included non-pragmatic arguments (i.e. Whether or not humanity disagreed with Hitler’s actions they were wrong). Since the two arguments are opposing in regards to the source of the morality, then I think you be wise to revise your argument further. Atheist ethicists go both ways in this regard. Louise Anthony (and a few others) goes with the latter, while most go with the pragmatic view. Since you seem to want to give ontological reality to morality, then I would suggest you listen to William Lane Craig’s debate with Louise Anthony so you can get a good idea of how she is presenting her argument. It’s available at Bill Craig’s website.

    I would also question your argument about the definition of objective, absolute and transcendent. You say about transcendence “Transcendent standards mean they come from an external entity and not from the circumstances in which they are applied.” This statement implies that if something is transcendent it does not arise from circumstance. I agree. Therefore, stated negatively, if morality arises from circumstance, evolutionary preference, societal construction, etc. then it is not transcendent. I also agree. The problem then arises with your statement that I quote above concerning epistemology and ontological reality. If something is ontologically real, and exists outside of our epistemic recognition of it, then:
    1. It is not the result of human evolution because “whatever is going on with the mind does not effect the ontological basis.”
    2. It is not a societal convention, because “whatever is going on with the mind does not effect the ontological basis.”
    3. It does not arise from circumstance, but is applied to circumstance as you state above.

    The only way I think that this can be held is if you do as Louise Anthony does and hold that there are ontologically real morals (you seem to imply this throughout your argument). They exist just as the chair I’m sitting in exists. We are therefore able to tap into them to better our society. I personally find this argument intellectually and philosophically untenable and simply do not accept the reality of a Platonic world of ideals, where morality positively exists. Furthermore, I think that one holding this position must resign from a postively atheistic position into an agnostic one, because the position admits that morality positively exists outside of the natural order that we give adherence to, but do not know the origin of.

    Of course, since you argue from a pragmatic position elsewhere in your overall argument, you may find it more tenable to reject your argument for the ontological reality of morals and simply argue that morality is a social or evolutionary construction.

    Thanks to everyone for a fine discussion from various interesting viewpoints. I don’t have time to continue in it, but hope others will.

  40. To [most] theists, moral are binding because God says so. Other moral ideas are relative.

    If other ideas are not seen as necessarily relative, this defeats at least this form of the moral argument, as it produces an example of objective standards not from God. If other ideas are seen as necessarily relative, then my statement about theists assuming non-relative [=objective] standards must be from God [=transcendent] was correct.

    >Never before have I seen someone try to give pragmatism a metaphysical independence such as this.

    Thanks … I think :-)

    >Your ontological basis relies on something subjective…not objective if it requires some vague adjective like “damaging.”

    An ontologically objective definition of “damaging” rests on the presupposition that promoting happiness is good and promoting suffering is bad, and conversely with opposing them. At this point I’m down to an axiom and couldn’t answer why. It’s arbitrariness/intuitiveness mirrors that of just accepting that we should care about God’s glory, or that he should care about us.

    >Do you have an example of an absolute standard that isn’t transcendent?

    I would say “genocidal racism is wrong” except that would merely assume that which I wanted to show: that this standard is valid apart from God.

    But I will say that it is an example of an absolute standard which can be objectively valid apart from God. The burden of proof is on you to show that it can’t be.

    However, if genocidal racism cannot be justified as damaging to happiness, then both my position and the moral argument fail. This would imply the possible consistency of genocidal racism with the moral intuitions of average people, and undermine the claim that objective moral values exist.

  41. >Children unfortunately were a drain on scarce resources, better for them to die quickly than starve to death.

    In Numbers 31:17-18, the Israelite soldiers had the resources to save the virgin girls “for themselves.” To say the alternative was starvation because they lack the resources is not justified by the text.

    >The problem with the “argument from outrage” is that’s it’s purely emotional

    To some degree, I agree. Unlike Dawkins, I don’t use it as a positive argument. I use it as a rebuttal to the argument from the divine and the moral argument. These two arguments for God deal with our intuitive knowledge of morality and a desire for God. So I counter with the part of Christianity which conflicts with our intuitive knowledge of morality, and clashes with what we desire.

  42. >A recent book with theist and non-theist contributors that you might enjoy is called, “Is Goodness Without God Good Enough?”

    Thanks for the suggestion and input. I’ll have to check it out.

  43. Jeff,

    I think we’re losing communication a bit here.

    But I will say that it is an example of an absolute standard which can be objectively valid apart from God. The burden of proof is on you to show that it can’t be.

    So you concede that no such example is available, and then toss the burden over to me to show that absolutes must be transcendent. HELLO, thats the whole point of the moral argument. Sheesh.

    There is simply no justifying an absolute moral truth without reference to a transcendent moral source..AKA the moral argument.

    However, if genocidal racism cannot be justified as damaging to happiness, then both my position and the moral argument fail. This would imply the possible consistency of genocidal racism with the moral intuitions of average people, and undermine the claim that objective moral values exist.

    Not sure what your argument is here, but apparently if its true it undermines objective moral values.

  44. In Numbers 31:17-18, the Israelite soldiers had the resources to save the virgin girls “for themselves.” To say the alternative was starvation because they lack the resources is not justified by the text.

    Resources which were available because God had done a judgment on Israel killing people who had transgressed with a plague, 24,000 in total.

    Reading comprehension… zero.

    Of course young men would have carried the risk that at some point they would seek to avenge/reestablish their people. Young women could be absorbed through marriage.

    You’d survive less than a week in an agonistic world of limited good methinks.

  45. No ontological argument? Or is that the “sensus divinitatus”? According to William Lane Craig this argument is gaining new levels of traction in philosophical circles.

  46. Eric,

    I think Van Inwagen has done some work with it, but historically the problem has been that one of the premises seems to implicity contain “God exists.”

  47. Jeff said,
    An ontologically objective definition of “damaging” rests on the presupposition that promoting happiness is good and promoting suffering is bad, and conversely with opposing them. At this point I’m down to an axiom and couldn’t answer why. It’s arbitrariness/intuitiveness mirrors that of just accepting that we should care about God’s glory, or that he should care about us

    You cannot deem a proposition axiomatic just because you can’t justify it. At minimum, it must be self-evident and universally true. Therefore, it should be safe to say that “one should promote happiness and not promote suffering” is held as an absolute in your view, which still begs the question of how it can be absolute and not transcendent.

    As to the comparision to God’s glory and concerns between God and man:

    I’m glad to see that you hold the intuitiveness of God’s glory as mirror to promoting happiness. However, if you’re declaring your axiom as arbitary, I would not agree with regards to God. There are plenty of reasons to believe the infinite personal God of the Bible exists. Those arguments, whether they seek to establish certainty or probability, all point to the Pascalian Wager in the form of a conditional:

    If the God of the Bible exists, you should follow Him.

    You see a conditional imperative is not arbitrary. Its the only way you can state an imperative that doesn’t rely on another imperative!

  48. If our moral sense comes from God, why are we outraged by some of God’s moral actions? So, God is sometimes outraged by our morals and other times we are at His. It shows that God is in the same bind as we are: we cannot avoid evil whichever choice we take. It’s also distressing that God had no better way to protect the Israelites from Canaanite influences than by extermination.
    By the way, the notion that the captured children should be killed because they might starve sounds similar to justifying abortion because the child could not be taken care of properly.

  49. raynor wrote

    By the way, the notion that the captured children should be killed because they might starve sounds similar to justifying abortion because the child could not be taken care of properly.

    Similar? It’s identical. And damning.

Trackbacks/Pingbacks

  1. Ten Arguments for the Existence of God — Cranach: The Blog of Veith - November 17, 2008

    […] to Rich Shipe for alerting me to this listing of Ten Arguments for the Existence of God. Some of them I had never heard of before (e.g., the argument from aesthetics; the argument from […]

  2. Ten arguments for God’s existence « The GeoChristian - November 17, 2008

    […] are 10 Arguments for God’s Existence from Parchment and […]

Leave a Reply