BY: DR. GREGORY E. GANSSLE
DEPARTMENT OF PHILOSOPHY
RIVENDELL INSTITUTE AT YALE UNIVERSITY
You Cannot Prove God’s Existence
Ever since Immanuel Kant wrote his Critique of Pure Reason, it has been common for thinking people to insist that it is impossible to prove the existence of God. In fact this claim has been elevated to the level of dogma in American intellectual culture. The reason I know this is considered unquestionable dogma is the reaction I get when I call it into question. When someone says “You cannot prove the existence of God.” I want to ask “How do you know? You just met me! How do you know what I can do?”
What do most people mean when they recite this claim? Most people mean that I cannot provide a philosophical argument for the existence of God which will convince all thinking people. It is impossible, so the story goes, to provide an argument which will compel assent. If my argument will not convince the most ardent atheist, I have not proven God’s existence. Since I cannot convince such an atheist to believe, my arguments do not count as proof. If they do not count as proof, what good are they?
I agree that I cannot provide an argument that will convince all thinking people. But what does this tell me? Does this tell me anything about God? No. This tells me more about the nature of proof than it does about whether God exists. I cannot provide an argument which will convince everyone, without a possibility of doubt, that God exists. That is no problem. You see, I cannot provide an argument for any interesting philosophical conclusion which will be accepted by everyone without possibility of doubt.
I cannot prove beyond the possibility of doubt — in a way that will convince all philosophers that the Rocky Mountains are really here as a mind-independent object. I cannot prove that the entire universe did not pop into existence five minutes ago and that all of our apparent memories are not illusions. I cannot prove that the other people you see on campus have minds. Perhaps they are very clever robots.
There is no interesting philosophical conclusion that can be proven beyond the possibility of doubt. So the fact that arguments for the existence of God do not produce mathematical certainty does not by itself weaken the case for God’s existence. It simply places the question of God’s existence in the same category as other questions such as that of the existence of the external, mind-independent world and the question of how we know other people have minds.
Does this mean that arguments for the existence of God are useless? Not at all. Sure, I cannot provide an argument which will convince all thinking people but this does not mean I don’t have good reason to believe in God. In fact some of my reasons for believing in God may be persuasive to you. Even if you aren’t persuaded to believe that God exists, my arguments may not be useless. It is reasonable to believe that the mountains are real and our memories are generally reliable and that other minds exist. It is reasonable to believe these things even though they cannot be proven. Maybe some argument for God’s existence will persuade you that belief in God is reasonable.
So how can we know that God exists? Instead of looking for undoubtable conclusions, we weigh evidence and consider alternatives. Which alternative best fits the evidence? We will choose one alternative or another. There is no neutral ground.
Where Can we Find Information about God?
When you get to thinking about it, it seems that there are only two basic sources of information about God, if such a being exists. They are the following:
We can infer what might be true about God from what we observe in the universe. We look at the physical universe, human nature and culture and we observe things which may be clues to the existence or nature of the supernatural.
God may have entered the Universe and told us true things about himself, morality, meaning and how to have a relationship with him. This is called Revelation.
Let me explain each of these. One year my wife and I drove from Los Angeles to Rhode Island. It took a long time. The country is pretty big. From this observation it makes sense to think that if there is some person or being who is responsible for making the physical universe, this being has a lot more power than we do. Now this is a rather simplistic example. Another observation we can make is that every culture we know anything about has a deep sense that certain things are morally permissible and certain things are morally prohibited. This leads us to infer that if there is some supernatural being responsible for human nature, that being is personal. He has a moral aspect to his nature.
The second source of information is that God may have taken the initiative and stepped into the universe to reveal himself. He may tell us true things about his nature and purposes and about human meaning and morality.
Christianity holds that both of these are good sources of information. We have clues to God’s existence which can be observed and God has entered the physical universe through the life and teaching of Jesus of Nazareth in History and told us about himself.
Now in this article I am concentrating on the first source. Can we know anything about God from what we observe? Are there good reasons to believe in God based on these observations? I think there are.
Reasons to Believe in God
I want to pick up two observations which I think give us good reason to think there is a God. First, the existence of the universe is better explained by the existence of God. Second, the existence of objective moral values is better explained by the existence of God.
The Existence of the Universe is Better Explained by The Existence of God.
I will begin by laying out the argument:
1. There are things which come into existence.
Everything which comes into existence is caused to exist by something else.
There cannot be an infinite series of past causes.
Therefore, there exists a first cause which did not come into existence. In other words, the first cause always existed.
Let us look at each of the steps in the argument:
Premise 1. “There are things which come into existence.”
Many things have come into existence. This article is coming into existence as I write it. You came into existence and so did I. This premise is not uncontroversial.
Premise 2. “Everything which comes into existence is caused to exist by something else.”
It is obvious that Nothing can cause itself to come into existence. Anything that causes itself to come into existence has to exist before it exists. This is impossible. Perhaps something can come into existence from Nothing without any cause whatsoever. Can a thing just pop into existence with absolutely no cause? This also does not seem reasonable.
I have three children. If I walk into the dining room and see a picture of Pinky and the Brain which is drawn on the wall in Permanent Magic Marker I will ask “Where did this picture come from?” My daughter Elizabeth (who is almost five) might say “It came from nothing, Dad. Nothing caused it. It just popped there. I think it is quite strange — don’t you?” Will I accept this? No! Things do not come into existence from Nothing without cause. So, we have good reason to think that premise two is true. Everything which comes into existence is caused to exist by something else.
Premise 3. “There cannot be an infinite series of past causes.”
Is the series of past causes infinite? Can the universe have an infinite past? The answer is that it cannot. First, there are philosophical reasons to think the past cannot be infinite. Second, there are scientific reasons which support this view.
Why can’t the past be infinite? The answer is that it is impossible to complete an infinite series by addition. The series of past events is complete. Think of this mathematical fact. Why is it impossible to count to infinity? It is impossible because, no matter how long you count, you will always be at a finite number. It is impossible to complete an actual infinite by successive addition.
The past is complete. This claim means that the entire series of past events ends now. It ends today. Tomorrow is not part of the series of past events. The series of past events does not extend into the future. It is complete at the present. If it is impossible to complete an infinite series by successive addition (as it is impossible to count to infinity) the past cannot be infinite. If the past is finite., that is, if it had a beginning, then the universe had a beginning. We have strong philosophical reason to reject the claim that the universe has always existed.
I will not develop these. Rather, I will simply point them out.
Big Bang theory does not prove that the universe had a beginning, but it supports this claim.
The second law of thermodynamics does not prove that the universe had a beginning but it also supports this claim.
We can see that we have good philosophical and Scientific reasons to reject the idea that the Universe has always existed.
About the Universe, there are only three alternatives:
1. The universe has always existed. It has an infinite past.
2. The universe was popped into existence from nothing with absolutely no cause.
3. The universe was caused to exist by something outside it.
We have strong reason to reject the first two alternatives.
Alternative Three is the most reasonable. There was a first cause. This cause existed eternally. It initiated the big bang and created the universe. Now what can we know about this cause? Why think the cause is God? I will briefly sketch a few implications.
First, the first cause is not a part of the space-time physical universe because it caused the space time universe to begin. Therefore it is outside of space and time. It is not physical. Second, it has a great deal of power. Third, it is a personal agent. This means it is not an inert force but it must have aspects of person hood; namely, that it wills. How do we know this? This is because it is the best answer to the question of why the Big Bang happened when it did. Why not sooner? Why not later? All of the conditions for producing the Big Bang existed from eternity. The only kind of cause we know of that can initiate an effect when all of the conditions are already present is the will of a personal agent.
I have not argued that it is logically impossible that the universe popped into existence from nothing without cause. I have argued that it is more reasonable to hold that it has a cause and that this cause is a non-physical personal agent — God.
So it seems that the first argument is fairly strong. The existence of the universe is better explained by the existence of God.
The Existence of Objective Moral Values is Better Explained by the Existence of God.
People experience a sense of morality that leads them to hold strongly that certain things are right or wrong for all people in all cultures. For example, it is wrong to torture another person just for fun. It is wrong for me today. It is wrong for a citizen of the Philippines and it was wrong for someone living in 500 BC. Our moral sense provides strong reason to believe in a personal God.
It will help clarify what I am saying if we put it into the form of an argument.
If there is no God, there are no objective moral values.
There are moral values which are objective.
Therefore, God exists.
Before I discuss this argument, I must make it clear that I am not claiming that one must believe in God in order to be moral. I am not claiming that statistically those who believe in God are more moral than those who do not. I am also not claiming that our knowledge of morality depends upon God. This argument is to the effect that objective moral values themselves are foreign to a universe without God. They do not fit.
Defending Premise 1. “If there is no God, there are no objective moral values.”
I have to admit that this claim is quite controversial and many philosophers disagree with me. I think, however, that objective moral values are not sufficiently explained in a universe without God. Many have agreed with this claim. For example, Dostoevski had Ivan Karamazov claim, “If there is no God, everything is permitted.” Sartre wrote of Dostoevski’s statement, “That is the very starting point of existentialism. Indeed, everything is permissible if God does not exist, and as a result man is forlorn, because neither within him nor without does he find anything to cling to.” [see his essay Existentialism] John Mackie — probably the best philosophical atheist of the twentieth century recognizes this: “[Objective moral values] constitute so odd a cluster of qualities and relations that they are most unlikely to have arisen in the ordinary course of events, without an all-powerful god to create them. If, then, there are such intrinsically prescriptive objective values, they make the existence of a god more probable than it would have been without them [The Miracle of Theism, pp 115-116.]
Mackie recognizes that these objective values do not fit in the universe if there is no God. His answer, since he rejects God, is to claim that there are no objective moral values. His book on ethics is appropriately titled Ethics: Inventing Right and Wrong. I agree with Dostoevski, Sartre and Mackie. If there is no God, there are no objective moral values.
Defending Premise 2. “There are objective moral values.”
We know there are objective moral values. By this I mean that the content of morality is not determined by the individual, or by culture. Rather some things are objectively wrong. Other things are objectively obligatory. Actions such as rape, racist discrimination and torturing an innocent baby to death for no reason are really wrong. Furthermore, It is wrong for me to do these no matter when I live and no matter from what culture I come.
Now many people believe that morality is not objective. This view comes in three basic varieties.
1. The individual determines morality.
If the individual determines morality, then if I believe it is morally permissible to steal your stereo and beat up your girlfriend, it is permissible for me to do it. But it is not permissible for me to beat up your girlfriend. Therefore, the individual does not determine morality.
2. Society determines morality.
If I lived in a completely racist society, would racism be right for me? Not at all. When an American university student protests against South Africa’s policy of apartheid, he is assuming that morality is not determined by society. It is transcendent of cultures. All of our greatest heroes have been men and women who have stood up to society’s wrongs and appealed to a morality that is transcendent to society in order to demand change. If society determines morality, it is always morally wrong to criticize society. There is no morality outside of society which can form the basis of a moral critique.
3. Morality has survival value.
Some people claim that the reason we have this moral sense is that it helped the human race survive. Those individuals with moral sense grouped together for mutual protection and these did better than those without the moral sense. This is a kind of prehistoric social contract theory of morality. The problem with this is that we do not need morality to survive today. In fact, if you and I know that morality has no objective validity and the rest of our culture still thinks it is valid, we can take advantage of this to get the most we can. There is no moral reason to refrain from rape, robbery and murder.
These inadequate objections show that our sense is that there is a morality that is trans-personal, trans-cultural and trans-temporal The existence of a personal God is the best explanation for this. It is not up to the individual or the culture whether it is permissible to rape simply for fun. Any individual who believes it is morally permissible to rape for fun has a false belief. Any culture whose moral guidelines include the claim that it is permissible to rape for fun has simply got it wrong.
If it is true that Hitler was morally wrong, it is true that there are objective moral truths which are trans-cultural. If it is true that it was wrong for Romans to leave baby girls to die on the trash heaps — simply because they were girls, then morality is not determined by culture. If it is true that Martin Luther King was a moral hero because he criticized his own culture by appealing to objective morality, then it is true that morality is not determined by culture.
Now, It is true that Hitler was wrong. It is true that the Romans were wrong. It is true that Martin Luther King was right — heroically right. So, we know there are objective moral truths. But objective morality makes no sense in the Universe if there is no God. Objective moral values point to the existence of a moral being who created the universe. His moral character is the standard for objective right and wrong.
I have briefly presented two arguments for the existence of God. These show that it is more reasonable to believe that God exists than that He does not exist.
A. The Existence of the Universe is Better Explained by The Existence of God.
B. The Existence of Objective Moral Values is Better Explained by the Existence of God.
So we see that some of the things we observe about the natural world ground a strong inference to the claim that God does exist. This gives us reason to consider with renewed openness the possibility that God has entered the space-time universe and revealed Himself through the person and life and death of Jesus of Nazareth.
I have not claimed to prove with mathematical certainty that God exists. I have, however, provided good reasons to think that He does. If someone wishes to argue successfully that God does not exist. He must first, provide an answer for each of my arguments and second, he must offer arguments that God does not exist. Until He does this, we can conclude that we have good reason to claim that God does exist.
Greg Ganssle has been thinking about the intersection of Christian faith and contemporary scholarship for over thirty years. He began as an undergraduate by skipping his classes and reading C.S. Lewis. After graduating from the University of Maryland in 1978, he worked in campus ministry on a variety of campuses. Hundreds of conversations with students from a wide variety of religious and philosophical perspectives drove him to a sustained self-study program. Eventually it occurred to him that he was reading philosophy. Since he had escaped college without taking a philosophy course, he decided to begin with Philosophy 101 at the age of 25. Within weeks he was hooked. Continuing to juggle his full time campus ministry responsibilities, he earned a Masters of Arts in philosophy from the University of Rhode Island (1990). He then went full time and earned his Ph.D. from Syracuse University (1995), where his dissertation on God’s relation to time won a Syracuse University Dissertation Award. In addition to publishing nearly three dozen articles, chapters and reviews, Greg has edited two books, and is the author of Thinking about God: First Steps in Philosophy (Inter Varsity Press, 2004) and A Reasonable God: Engaging the New Face of Atheism (Baylor University Press, fall of 2009). Greg was part-time lecturer in the philosophy department at Yale for nine years, and has been married to Jeanie since 1985. They have three children, none of whom are philosophers. Although happily married, Greg has a secret crush on Jane Austen.
The existence of God is a subject of debate in the philosophy of religion and popular culture.
A wide variety of arguments for and against the existence of God can be categorized as metaphysical, logical, empirical, or subjective. In philosophical terms, the question of the existence of God involves the disciplines of epistemology (the nature and scope of knowledge) and ontology (study of the nature of being, existence, or reality) and the theory of value (since some definitions of God include "perfection").
The Western tradition of philosophical discussion of the existence of God began with Plato and Aristotle, who made arguments that would now be categorized as cosmological. Other arguments for the existence of God have been proposed by St. Anselm, who formulated the first ontological argument; Ibn Rushd (Averroes) and Thomas Aquinas, who presented their own versions of the cosmological argument (the kalam argument and the first way, respectively); René Descartes, who said that the existence of a benevolent God is logically necessary for the evidence of the senses to be meaningful; and Immanuel Kant, who argued that the existence of God can be deduced from the existence of good. John Calvin argued for a sensus divinitatis, which gives each human a knowledge of God's existence.
Philosophers who have provided arguments against the existence of God include the aforementioned Kant, David Hume, Friedrich Nietzsche and Bertrand Russell. In modern culture, the question of God's existence has been discussed by scientists such as Stephen Hawking, Francis Collins, Lawrence M. Krauss, Richard Dawkins, Carl Sagan, Neil deGrasse Tyson and John Lennox, as well as philosophers including Richard Swinburne, Alvin Plantinga, William Lane Craig, Rebecca Goldstein, A. C. Grayling, Daniel Dennett, Edward Feser, David Bentley Hart, Reza Aslan and Sam Harris.
Scientists follow the scientific method, within which theories must be verifiable by physical experiment. The majority of prominent conceptions of God explicitly or effectively posit a being which is not testable either by proof or disproof. On these bases, the question regarding the existence of God, one for which evidence cannot be tested, may lie outside the purview of modern science by definition. The Catholic Church maintains that knowledge of the existence of God is the "natural light of human reason".Fideists acknowledge that belief in the existence of God may not be amenable to demonstration or refutation, but rests on faith alone.
Atheists view arguments for the existence of God as insufficient, mistaken or weighing less in comparison to arguments against whereas some religions, such as Buddhism, are not concerned with the existence of gods at all and yet other religions, such as Jainism, reject the possibility of a creator deity.
Positions on the existence of God can be divided along numerous axes, producing a variety of orthogonal classifications. Theism and atheism are positions of belief (or lack of it), while gnosticism and agnosticism are positions of knowledge (or the lack of it). Ignosticism concerns belief regarding God's conceptual coherence. Apatheism concerns belief regarding the practical importance of whether God exists.
For the purposes of discussion, Richard Dawkins described seven "milestones" on his spectrum of theistic probability:
- Strong theist. 100% probability of God. In the words of C.G. Jung: "I do not believe, I know."
- De factotheist. Very high probability but short of 100%. "I don't know for certain, but I strongly believe in God and live my life on the assumption that he is there."
- Leaning towards theism. Higher than 50% but not very high. "I am very uncertain, but I am inclined to believe in God."
- Completely impartial. Exactly 50%. "God's existence and non-existence are exactly equiprobable."
- Leaning towards atheism. Lower than 50% but not very low. "I do not know whether God exists but I'm inclined to be skeptical."
- De facto atheist. Very low probability, but short of zero. "I don't know for certain but I think God is very improbable, and I live my life on the assumption that he is not there."
- Strong atheist. "I know there is no God, with the same conviction as Jung knows there is one."
Main article: Theism
The theistic conclusion is that there is sufficient reason to believe that God or gods exists, or that arguments do not matter as much as the "personal witness of the Holy Spirit", as argued by preeminent apologist William Lane Craig. The Catholic Church, following the teachings of Saint Paul the Apostle, Saint Thomas Aquinas, and the First Vatican Council, affirms that God's existence "can be known with certainty from the created world by the natural light of human reason".
Traditional religious definition of God: personal, omnipotent, benevolent, transcendent
In classical theism, God is characterized as the metaphysically ultimate being (the first, timeless, absolutely simple and sovereign being, who is devoid of any anthropomorphic qualities), in distinction to other conceptions such as theistic personalism, open theism, and process theism. Classical theists do not believe that God can be completely defined. They believe it would contradict the transcendent nature of God for mere humans to define him. Robert Barron explains by analogy that it seems impossible for a two-dimensional object to conceive of three-dimensional humans.
In modern Western societies, the concepts of God typically entail a monotheistic, supreme, ultimate, and personal being, as found in the Islamic, Christian and Jewish traditions. In monotheistic religions outside the Abrahamic traditions, the existence of God is discussed in similar terms. In these traditions, God is also identified as the author (either directly or by inspiration) of certain texts, or that certain texts describe specific historical events caused by or communications from (whether in direct speech or dreams or omens) the God in question. Some traditions also believe that God is the entity which is currently answering prayers for intervention or information or opinions.
In the Advaita Vedanta school of Hinduism, reality is ultimately seen as a single, qualityless, changeless nirguna Brahman. Advaitin philosophy introduces the concept of saguna Brahman or Ishvara as a way of talking about Brahman to people. Ishvara, in turn, is ascribed such qualities as omniscience, omnipotence, and benevolence.
Non-personal definitions of God
In pantheism, God and the universe are considered to be the same thing. In this view, the natural sciences are essentially studying the nature of God. This definition of God creates the philosophical problem that a universe with God and one without God are the same, other than the words used to describe it.
Deism and panentheism assert that there is a God distinct from, or which extends beyond (either in time or in space or in some other way) the universe. These positions deny that God intervenes in the operation of the universe, including communicating with humans personally. The notion that God never intervenes or communicates with the universe, or may have evolved into the universe, makes it difficult, if not by definition impossible, to distinguish between a universe with God and one without.
Debate about how theism should be argued
In Christian faith, theologians and philosophers make a distinction between: (a) preambles of faith and (b) articles of faith. The preambles include alleged truths contained in revelation which are nevertheless demonstrable by reason, e.g., the immortality of the soul, the existence of God. The articles of faith, on the other hand, contain truths that cannot be proven or reached by reason alone and presuppose the truths of the preambles, e.g., the Holy Trinity, is not demonstrable and presupposes the existence of God.
The argument that the existence of God can be known to all, even prior to exposure to any divine revelation, predates Christianity. St. Paul made this argument when he said that pagans were without excuse because "since the creation of the world [God's] invisible nature, namely, his eternal power and deity, has been clearly perceived in the things that have been made". In this Paul alludes to the proofs for a creator, later enunciated by St. Thomas and others, but that had also been explored by the Greek philosophers.
Another apologetical school of thought, including Dutch and American Reformed thinkers (such as Abraham Kuyper, Benjamin Warfield, Herman Dooyeweerd), emerged in the late 1920s. This school was instituted by Cornelius Van Til, and came to be popularly called Presuppositional apologetics (though Van Til himself felt "transcendental" would be a more accurate title). The main distinction between this approach and the more classical evidentialist approach is that the presuppositionalist denies any common ground between the believer and the non-believer, except that which the non-believer denies, namely, the assumption of the truth of the theistic worldview. In other words, presuppositionalists do not believe that the existence of God can be proven by appeal to raw, uninterpreted, or "brute" facts, which have the same (theoretical) meaning to people with fundamentally different worldviews, because they deny that such a condition is even possible. They claim that the only possible proof for the existence of God is that the very same belief is the necessary condition to the intelligibility of all other human experience and action. They attempt to prove the existence of God by means of appeal to the transcendental necessity of the belief—indirectly (by appeal to the unavowed presuppositions of the non-believer's worldview) rather than directly (by appeal to some form of common factuality). In practice this school utilizes what have come to be known as transcendental arguments. In these arguments they claim to demonstrate that all human experience and action (even the condition of unbelief, itself) is a proof for the existence of God, because God's existence is the necessary condition of their intelligibility.
Alvin Plantinga presents an argument for the existence of God using modal logic. Others have said that the logical and philosophical arguments for and against the existence of God miss the point. The word God has a meaning in human culture and history that does not correspond to the beings whose existence is supported by such arguments, assuming they are valid. The real question is not whether a "most perfect being" or an "uncaused first cause" exist. The real question is whether Jehovah, Zeus, Ra, Krishna, or any gods of any religion exist, and if so, which gods? On the other hand, many theists equate all monotheistic or henotheistic "most perfect Beings", no matter what name is assigned to them/him, as the one monotheistic God (one example would be understanding the Muslim Allah, Christian Yhwh, and Chinese Shangdi as different names for the same Being). Most of these arguments do not resolve the issue of which of these figures is more likely to exist. These arguments fail to make the distinction between immanent gods and a Transcendent God.
Some[who?] Christians note that the Christian faith teaches "salvation is by faith", and that faith is reliance upon the faithfulness of God. The most extreme example of this position is called fideism, which holds that faith is simply the will to believe, and argues that if God's existence were rationally demonstrable, faith in its existence would become superfluous. Søren Kierkegaard argued that objective knowledge, such as 1+1=2, is unimportant to existence. If God could rationally be proven, his existence would be unimportant to humans. It is because God cannot rationally be proven that his existence is important to us. In The Justification of Knowledge, the Calvinist theologian Robert L. Reymond argues that believers should not attempt to prove the existence of God. Since he believes all such proofs are fundamentally unsound, believers should not place their confidence in them, much less resort to them in discussions with non-believers; rather, they should accept the content of revelation by faith. Reymond's position is similar to that of his mentor Gordon Clark, which holds that all worldviews are based on certain unprovable first premises (or, axioms), and therefore are ultimately unprovable. The Christian theist therefore must simply choose to start with Christianity rather than anything else, by a "leap of faith". This position is also sometimes called presuppositional apologetics, but should not be confused with the Van Tillian variety.
Main article: Atheism
The atheistic conclusion is that the arguments and evidence both indicate there is insufficient reason to believe that any gods exist, and that personal subjective religious experiences say something about the human experience rather than the nature of reality itself; therefore, one has no reason to believe that a god exists.
Main article: Negative and positive atheism
Positive atheism (also called "strong atheism" and "hard atheism") is a form of atheism that asserts that no deities exist. The strong atheist explicitly asserts the non-existence of gods. Some[who?] strong atheists further assert that the existence of gods is logically impossible, stating that the combination of attributes which God may be asserted to have (omnipotence, omniscience, omnipresence, transcendence, omnibenevolence) are logically contradictory, incomprehensible, or absurd, and therefore the existence of such a god is a priori false. Metaphysical naturalism is a common worldview associated with strong atheism.
Negative atheism (also called "weak atheism" and "soft atheism") is any type of atheism other than positive, wherein a person does not believe in the existence of any deities, but does not explicitly assert there to be none.
Main article: Agnosticism
Agnosticism is the view that the truth value of certain claims—especially claims about the existence of any deity, but also other religious and metaphysical claims—is unknown or unknowable. Agnosticism as a broad umbrella term does not define one's belief or disbelief in gods; agnostics may still identify themselves as theists or atheists.
Strong agnosticism is the belief that it is impossible for humans to know whether or not any deities exist.
Main article: Weak agnosticism
Weak agnosticism is the belief that the existence or nonexistence of deities is unknown but not necessarily unknowable.
Main article: Agnostic theism
Agnostic theism is the philosophical view that encompasses both theism and agnosticism. An agnostic theist believes in the existence of a god or God, but regards the basis of this proposition as unknown or inherently unknowable. Agnostic theists may also insist on ignorance regarding the properties of the gods they believe in.
Main article: Agnostic atheism
Agnostic atheism is a philosophical position that encompasses both atheism and agnosticism. Agnostic atheists are atheistic because they do not hold a belief in the existence of any deity and agnostic because they claim that the existence of a deity is either unknowable in principle or currently unknown in fact.
The theologian Robert Flint explains:
If a man have failed to find any good reason for believing that there is a God, it is perfectly natural and rational that he should not believe that there is a God; and if so, he is an atheist, although he assume no superhuman knowledge, but merely the ordinary human power of judging of evidence. If he go farther, and, after an investigation into the nature and reach of human knowledge, ending in the conclusion that the existence of God is incapable of proof, cease to believe in it on the ground that he cannot know it to be true, he is an agnostic and also an atheist, an agnostic-atheist—an atheist because an agnostic."
Main article: Apatheism
An apatheist is someone who is not interested in accepting or denying any claims that gods exist or do not exist. An apatheist lives as if there are no gods and explains natural phenomena without reference to any deities. The existence of gods is not rejected, but may be designated unnecessary or useless; gods neither provide purpose to life, nor influence everyday life, according to this view.
Main article: Ignosticism
The ignostic (or igtheist) usually concludes that the question of God's existence or nonexistence is usually not worth discussing because concepts like "God" are usually not sufficiently clearly defined.
Ignosticism or igtheism is the theological position that every other theological position (including agnosticism and atheism) assume too much about the concept of God and many other theological concepts. It can be defined as encompassing two related views about the existence of God. The view that a coherent definition of God must be presented before the question of the existence of God can be meaningfully discussed. Furthermore, if that definition is unfalsifiable, the ignostic takes the theological noncognitivist position that the question of the existence of God (per that definition) is meaningless. In this case, the concept of God is not considered meaningless; the term "God" is considered meaningless. The second view is synonymous with theological noncognitivism, and skips the step of first asking "What is meant by 'God'?" before proclaiming the original question "Does God exist?" as meaningless.
Some philosophers have seen ignosticism as a variation of agnosticism or atheism, while others[who?] have considered it to be distinct. An ignostic maintains that he cannot even say whether he is a theist or an atheist until a sufficient definition of theism is put forth.
The term "ignosticism" was coined in the 1960s by Sherwin Wine, a rabbi and a founding figure of Humanistic Judaism. The term "igtheism" was coined by the secular humanistPaul Kurtz in his 1992 book The New Skepticism.
The problem of the supernatural
One problem posed by the question of the existence of God is that traditional beliefs usually ascribe to God various supernatural powers. Supernatural beings may be able to conceal and reveal themselves for their own purposes, as for example in the tale of Baucis and Philemon. In addition, according to concepts of God, God is not part of the natural order, but the ultimate creator of nature and of the scientific laws. Thus in Aristotelian philosophy, God is viewed as part of the explanatory structure needed to support scientific conclusions and any powers God possesses are—strictly speaking—of the natural order that is derived from God's place as originator of nature (see also Monadology).
In Karl Popper's philosophy of science, belief in a supernatural God is outside the natural domain of scientific investigation because all scientific hypotheses must be falsifiable in the natural world. The non-overlapping magisteria view proposed by Stephen Jay Gould also holds that the existence (or otherwise) of God is irrelevant to and beyond the domain of science.
Logical positivists such as Rudolf Carnap and A. J. Ayer viewed any talk of gods as literal nonsense. For the logical positivists and adherents of similar schools of thought, statements about religious or other transcendent experiences can not have a truth value, and are deemed to be without meaning, because such statements do not have any clear verification criteria. As the Christian biologist Scott C. Todd put it "Even if all the data pointed to an intelligent designer, such a hypothesis is excluded from science because it is not naturalistic." This argument limits the domain of science to the empirically observable and limits the domain of God to the unprovable.
Nature of relevant proofs and arguments
John Polkinghorne suggests that the nearest analogy to the existence of God in physics is the ideas of quantum mechanics which are seemingly paradoxical but make sense of a great deal of disparate data.
Alvin Plantinga compares the question of the existence of God to the question of the existence of other minds, claiming both are notoriously impossible to "prove" against a determined skeptic.
One approach, suggested by writers such as Stephen D. Unwin, is to treat (particular versions of) theism and naturalism as though they were two hypotheses in the Bayesian sense, to list certain data (or alleged data), about the world, and to suggest that the likelihoods of these data are significantly higher under one hypothesis than the other. Most of the arguments for, or against, the existence of God can be seen as pointing to particular aspects of the universe in this way. In almost all cases it is not seriously suggested by proponents of the arguments that they are irrefutable, merely that they make one worldview seem significantly more likely than the other. However, since an assessment of the weight of evidence depends on the prior probability that is assigned to each worldview, arguments that a theist finds convincing may seem thin to an atheist and vice versa.
Philosophers, such as Wittgenstein, take a view that is considered anti-realist and oppose philosophical arguments related to God's existence. For instance, Charles Taylor contends that the real is whatever will not go away. If we cannot reduce talk about God to anything else, or replace it, or prove it false, then perhaps God is as real as anything else.
In George Berkeley's A Treatise Concerning the Principles of Human Knowledge of 1710, he argued that a "naked thought" cannot exist, and that a perception is a thought; therefore only minds can be proven to exist, since all else is merely an idea conveyed by a perception. From this Berkeley argued that the universe is based upon observation and is non-objective. However, he noted that the universe includes "ideas" not perceptible to humankind, and that there must, therefore, exist an omniscient superobserver, which perceives such things. Berkeley considered this proof of the existence of the Christian god.
C.S. Lewis, in Mere Christianity and elsewhere, raised the argument from desire. He posed that all natural desires have a natural object. One thirsts, and there exists water to quench this thirst; One hungers, and there exists food to satisfy this hunger. He then argued that the human desire for perfect justice, perfect peace, perfect happiness, and other intangibles strongly implies the existence of such things, though they seem unobtainable on earth. He further posed that the unquenchable desires of this life strongly imply that we are intended for a different life, necessarily governed by a God who can provide the desired intangibles.
Existence in absolute truth is central to Vedanta epistemology. Traditional sense perception based approaches were put into question as possibly misleading due to preconceived or superimposed ideas. But though all object-cognition can be doubted, the existence of the doubter remains a fact even in nastika traditions of mayavada schools following Adi Shankara. The five eternal principles to be discussed under ontology, beginning with God or Isvara, the Ultimate Reality cannot be established by the means of logic alone, and often require superior proof. In VaisnavismVishnu, or his intimate ontological form of Krishna, is equated to personal absolute God of the Western traditions. Aspects of Krishna as svayam bhagavan in original Absolute Truth, sat chit ananda, are understood originating from three essential attributes of Krishna's form, i.e., "eternal existence" or sat, related to the brahman aspect; "knowledge" or chit, to the paramatman; and "bliss" or ananda in Sanskrit, to bhagavan.