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God. A Priori Arguments. Classical Theism. Classical conception of God: God is Omnipotent Omnipresent Omniscient Eternal Transcendent Compassionate. Dissident conceptions. Via negativa-- the “negative way” We can only what God is not Deism

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A Priori Arguments

Classical theism
Classical Theism

  • Classical conception of God: God is

    • Omnipotent

    • Omnipresent

    • Omniscient

    • Eternal

    • Transcendent

    • Compassionate

Dissident conceptions
Dissident conceptions

  • Via negativa-- the “negative way”

    • We can only what God is not

  • Deism

    • God created the world, but has no further interaction with it; no miracles

  • Pantheism

    • God is everything

  • Panentheism

    • God includes everything

Argument from thought
Argument from Thought

  • Where do we get our concept of God?

  • It’s the concept of something perfect

  • We never experience perfection

  • So, the concept of God is innate

  • It must come from something perfect

  • So, God must exist

Descartes s premise
Descartes’s Premise

  • “Now it is manifest by the natural light that there must at least be as much reality in the efficient and total cause as in its effect. For, pray, whence can the effect derive its reality, if not from its cause? And in what way can this cause communicate this reality to it, unless it possessed it in itself? And from this it follows, not only that something cannot proceed from nothing, but likewise that what is more perfect -- that is to say, which has more reality within itself -- cannot proceed from the less perfect.”

Descartes s argument
Descartes’s Argument

  • The cause of the idea of X must have at least as much reality as X

    • We get the idea of fire from fire

    • We get the idea of red from red things

  • The cause of our idea of God must have at least as much reality as God

  • Only God has as much reality as God

  • So, our idea of God must come from God

The ontological argument
The Ontological Argument

  • Augustine: God is “something than which nothing more excellent or sublime exists”

  • Anselm (1033-1109): God is “that the greater than which cannot be conceived”-- the greatest conceivable being

Anselm s argument
Anselm’s Argument

  • “Even the Fool ... is forced to agree that something, the greater than which cannot be thought, exists in the intellect, since he understands this when he hears it, and whatever is understood is in the intellect. And surely that, the greater than which cannot be thought, cannot exist in the intellect alone. For if it exists solely in the intellect, it can be thought to exist in reality, which is greater. If, then, that, the greater than which cannot be thought, exists in the intellect alone, this same being, than which a greater cannot be thought, is that than which a greater can be thought. But surely this is impossible. Therefore, there can be absolutely no doubt that something, the greater than which cannot be thought, exists both in the intellect and in reality.”

Anselm in outline
Anselm in outline

  • Suppose you could conceive of God’s nonexistence

  • Then you could think of something greater than God-- something just like God, but existing

  • But nothing can be conceived as greater than God

  • So, God’s nonexistence is inconceivable

Descartes s ontological argument
Descartes’s Ontological Argument

  • God has all perfections

  • Existence is a perfection

  • So, God has existence

The cosmological argument
The Cosmological Argument

  • Aristotle: God is the prime mover of the universe

  • Udayana (1000):

    • “1. Argument from effectsThings like the earth must have a cause.Because they are effects.Like a pot.”

Aquinas s argument
Aquinas’s Argument

  • “The second way is based on the nature of causation. In the observable world, causes are to be found ordered in series; we never observe, or even could observe, something causing itself, for this would mean it preceded itself, and this is impossible. Such a series of causes, however, must stop somewhere. For in all series of causes, an earlier member causes an intermediate, and the intermediate a last (whether the intermediate be one or many). If you eliminate a cause you also eliminate its effects. Therefore there can be neither a last nor an intermediate cause unless there is a first. But if the series of causes goes on to infinity, and there is no first cause, there would be neither intermediate causes nor a final effect, which is patently false. It is therefore necessary to posit a first cause, which all call 'God'.”

Aquinas s argument1
Aquinas’s Argument

  • Let a be the current state of the world

  • It was caused, as was its cause, etc.

  • . . . <— e <— d <— c <— b <— a

  • This can’t go on to infinity, or we’d never have reached a

  • So, there must be a first cause, God

  • God <— . . . <— c <— b <— a

Avicenna s argument
Avicenna’s Argument

  • Contingent: has a reason for its being

  • Necessary: has no reason for its being

  • God = the necessary being

Avicenna s argument1
Avicenna’s Argument

  • Suppose there were no necessary being

  • Everything, including the current state of the world, a, would be contingent

  • There would be an infinite series:

  • . . . . <— e <— d <— c <— b <—a

  • But then the conditions for a’s existence would never be satisfied

  • So, there is a necessary being, God

Al ghazali s objections
Al-Ghazali’s Objections

  • Al-Ghazali (1058-1111), The Incoherence of the Philosophers: scepticism

  • Why not an infinite regress of reasons or causes?

Infinite regress
Infinite Regress

  • It’s not self-evident that the world could not extend back infinitely far

  • Plato, Aristotle, al-Farabi, and Avicenna thought of some things other than God as eternal

  • Is there an argument?

A possible argument
A Possible Argument

  • Imagine the series

  • . . . . <— b <— a

  • It would have to be necessary or contingent

  • It consists of contingent beings, so it can’t be necessary

  • But it doesn’t depend on anything outside itself

Al ghazali s reply
Al-Ghazali’s Reply

  • But the series could be necessary, even though every event in it is contingent


  • Averroes (ibn Rushd, 1126-1198)

  • Harmonizes religion and philosophy, and refutes al-Ghazali, in The Incoherence of the Incoherence

Two kinds of causes
Two Kinds of Causes

  • Efficient cause: once caused, result is independent of cause

  • Dependence: result continues to depend on cause— cause and effect are inseparable

Contingent necessary
‘Contingent’, ‘Necessary’

  • Ambiguous

  • Contingent = having an efficient cause = having a causal explanation OR

  • Contingent = depending on something else

  • Necessary = having no causal explanation OR

  • Necessary = independent, self-sufficient

Averroes s argument
Averroes’s Argument

  • The world of efficient causes:

  • . . . <— c <— b <— a







Leibniz 1646 1716
Leibniz (1646-1716)

  • Principle of Sufficient Reason: “Nothing happens without a sufficient reason.”

  • So the universe— the series of contingent causes— must have a sufficient reason for its existence:

  • Something which is its own sufficient reason for existing: God

Aquinas s design argument
Aquinas’s Design Argument

  • All bodies obey natural laws.

  • All bodies obeying natural laws act toward an end.

  • Therefore, all bodies act toward an end. (Including those that lack awareness.)

  • Things lacking awareness act toward a goal only under the direction of someone aware and intelligent.

  • Therefore, all things lacking awareness act under the direction of someone aware and intelligent: God

Aquinas s design argument1
Aquinas’s Design Argument

  • All things lacking awareness act under the direction of someone aware and intelligent.

  • The universe as a whole lacks awareness.

  • Therefore, the universe as a whole acts under the direction of someone aware and intelligent- namely, God.

William paley 1743 1805
William Paley (1743-1805)

  • Suppose you find a watch

    • Intricate

    • Successful

  • You’d infer that it had an intelligent maker

  • Similarly, you find the universe

    • Intricate

    • Successful

  • You shoud infer it had an intelligent maker, God

Hume s criticisms
Hume’s Criticisms

  • Analogy isn’t strong

  • Universe may be self-organizing

  • Taking analogy seriously:

    • God not infinite

    • God not perfect

      • Difficulties in nature

      • Can’t compare to other universes

      • Maybe earlier, botched universes

      • Maybe made by committee

  • Why machine, rather than animal or vegetable?

Hume s scepticism
Hume’s Scepticism

  • Variability: Many hypotheses are possible

  • Undecidability: We have no evidence that would let us select the most probable

  • So, we cannot establish God’s existence

Blaise pascal 1623 1662
Blaise Pascal (1623-1662)

  • Does God exist?

  • Place your bet

  • Total uncertainty— no data

  • What should you do?

Pascal s wager
Pascal’s Wager

  • “Let us weigh the gain and the loss in wagering that God is. Let us estimate these two chances. If you gain, you gain all; if you lose, you lose nothing. Wager, then, without hesitation that He is.”

Pascal s wager1
Pascal’s Wager

  • You believe You don’t believe

  • God Heaven Hell

  • No God Virtue Nothing

  • A bet on God can’t lose; a bet against God can’t win

Kant s moral argument
Kant’s Moral Argument

  • We can’t prove God’s existence rationally

  • But we can’t live and act except by assuming that God exists

  • Bad things happen to good people; the wicked prosper

  • Why, then, be good?

Kant s moral argument1
Kant’s Moral Argument

  • It’s rational to be moral only if it’s rewarded

  • That doesn’t happen in this life

  • It must happen in another life

  • There must be an afterlife, and a just God

The problem of evil
The Problem of Evil

  • If God exists, He is all good, all knowing, and all powerful

  • If He is all good, He is willing to prevent evil

  • If He is all knowing, He knows how to prevent it

  • If He is all powerful, He can prevent it

  • But evil exists

  • So, God does not exist

Augustine general providence
Augustine: General Providence

  • We must judge universe as a whole, not part by part

  • Analogy: the best life is not one with no adversity, but with adversity overcome

  • It is good that there is some evil

  • General providence of God: system of natural law underlies everything good

Augustine evil as privation
Augustine: Evil as privation

  • Plotinus (204-270): Evil is not a thing; it is the absence of good

  • God didn’t create evil; he simply created things with differing degrees of goodness

  • But that variety is itself good

  • Whatever is, is good

Augustine corruptibility
Augustine: Corruptibility

  • Only God is perfect

  • To create, God had to create things that were imperfect, corruptible

  • Humans in particular are corruptible

  • We have the freedom to choose evil

Augustine free will
Augustine: Free Will

  • Free will can’t explain natural evils

  • Punishment for original sin?

  • Who gave us the capacity and sometime inclination to do wrong? God

  • In the end, the problem is insoluble

  • We cannot understand God

Possible solutions
Possible Solutions








Plato Gnostics Mani Avicenna

Plotinus Augustine Hinduism