Many people go to churches, mosques, and synagogs each week to worship God and to pray. But does God hear those prayers? Does he exist? The debate over God's existence has gone on for centuries and is alive and well in our time. Philosophers, theologians, scientists, and ordinary people have weighed in on the argument. Theologians such as Aquinas and Anselm argued for the existence of God in the Middle Ages, but even in that time, others disputed their contentions. Even some who believe in God argue that proving God's existence through logic, science, or reasoning is impossible because even hard evidence has nothing more than faith behind it. Are the people who worship God wasting their time then? Does God impact their lives? That question can be difficult to answer. But an examination of the arguments may bring us some information.
II. The Case for God's Existence
A. Saint Anselm
One of the first and most powerful arguments for the existence of God was advanced by Saint Anselm (1033-1109) who served as Archbishop of Canterbury. His argument, known as the ontological argument is as follows: 1.) The term "God" is defined as the greatest conceivable being, 2.) Real existence, i.e. existence in reality, is greater than mere existence in the understanding, i.e. The mind, 3.) Therefore, God must exist in reality, not just in the understanding ("Anselm of Canterbury"). In essence, St. Anselm is saying that God is the most perfect and greatest thing that a human mind can possibly think of. To accept this proof one must accept St. Anselm's definition of God. One cannot think of anything greater than God. God is all-powerful, all-knowing, and all-present; in short, God is perfection. One must also accept that it is greater and more perfect for something to exist than it is for it not to exist. St. Anselm discusses a painter to illustrate this point. A painter conceives a painting in his mind. He then puts the painting on canvass. The thing that he thought of in his mind now exists in reality and the actual painting is superior to the mental image of the painting. Thus, if one can conceive of God, God must exist because existence in reality is greater than existence in the mind. We can conceive of inferior things that actually exist. Therefore, the greatest thing that we can conceive of must exist (Burr).
B. St. Thomas Aquinas
Another Medieval theologian who argued for the existence of God was Saint Thomas Aquinas, who did so in his work, Summa Theologica written in 1270. St. Thomas put forth five proofs for the existence of God (Weiss). They are:
The proof from motion in the universe.
The proof from efficient cause.
The proof from a necessary vs. A possible being.
The proof from degrees of perfection
The proof from design in the universe
In the proof from motion, St. Thomas states that the existence of motion in the universe indicates the existence of God. By the term "motion" St. Thomas doesn't mean movement, rather he means change. Nothing moves or changes on its own. There must have been a first, original or prime mover. The prime mover is God. The second proof says that everything has a cause. Nothing can cause itself. Therefore, there must have been an original first cause that led to every other cause and effect. That first cause was God. The third proof is based on the idea that things can exist and not exist. Therefore, it is possible for everything to not exist simultaneously, and this is absurd. Something must always exist, and that is God. The forth proof is that there is a hierarchy of things, i.e. good, better, and best. The best possible thing is God. The fifth proof is that the universe has order and was designed to be as it is. The designer is God. The first and second proofs are related. In effect, they are saying that if the universe exists, then God must exist. Obviously, something caused everything, including motion and existence itself. The being or thing that was the ultimate cause is God. The third proof is based on existence as well. We exist and the universe exists. But, we know that is possible for us not to exist. The same is true of everything else. Therefore, it should be possible for nothing to exist. But that is not possible. The question becomes why is there something instead of nothing? The reason is God. There is something that absolutely must exist and that something is God. The forth proof takes the approach that some things are superior in form and function to others. Animals are superior to plants. We are superior in intellect to animals. That which is superior to all else is God. The fifth proof is based on the fact that there is order to the universe. There is a maximum speed limit for light. Gravity behaves in a predictable fashion. Evolution produces new species to respond to change. The value of pi is the same no matter how many times you calculate it. In other words, nature and the universe were formed by design with fixed natural laws and properties. The designer was God (Burr). In summary, St. Thomas says that whatever is in motion had to be put in motion by a first or prime mover. No effect can cause itself. Therefore there must have been a first cause. Things can exist and not exist. It is possible for all things to not exist simultaneously. It is possible then for nothing at all to exist. This is an absurd notion. Something must exist and this is God. St. Thomas argues that the five proof demonstrate that the existence of God is an inescapable fact (Weiss; Burr).
C. Other Arguments
Muslims, too, have considered the question of the existence of God. They advance the Kalam or Time Argument. Essentially, it states that if the universe had a beginning, then the being responsible for it is God. If the universe and time are infinite, then it is impossible to have arrived at the present moment. There must be a definite starting point for time to make sense as a concept. Their illustration is that if the universe is infinite, trying to define a particular moment in time is like trying to jump out of a pit (Knutzen).
The debate about the existence of God is not just a religious and scientific debate. Scientists have weighed in on the subject as well. Some of their arguments reflect the reasoning of St. Anselm and St. Thomas Aquinas, but from different perspectives. Bradley notes that the properties of the universe can be described in a few set laws, such as Maxwell's Equations, Einstein's Theories of Relativity, and Newton's Laws of Motion. The universe must have been mad by design. Consider that if the strong nuclear force that binds the nucleus of atoms was only five percent weaker, the only stable element would be hydrogen. If these forces were just two percent stronger, the elements that support life would not exist. Furthermore, if the electromagnetic forces were to vary only slightly, the universe would be radically different. For example, there would be little carbon, a necessary component of life. The universe has to be just so to support life. Only a very specific set of conditions make our existence possible. It is extremely unlikely that all of these things would happen without design. Therefore, since the evidence of design is overwhelming, there must have been a designer. The designer was God (Bradley).
III. The Case Against the Existence of God
Those who argue that God does not exist take the position that they do not have to prove that the concept of God is untrue, but that believers must prove God's existence. They contend that this has not been done. In order to prove that God does not exist, critics simply have to knock holes into the proofs of God's existence. St. Anselm's proof was attacked in his own day by a monk, Gaunilo. In essence Gaunilo said that conceiving of something in the mind did not mean that it could exist. As an illustration, he says that one can conceive in the mind a perfect island with riches and delights superior to all other islands. But, just because someone tells him of this island, and he is able to understand their description of it and thus, perceive it in his mind, does not mean that the island exists. St. Anselm's argument is that because we can conceive God, God must exist. But we can conceive of many things that demonstrably do not exist. Therefore, being able to envision the concept of God in the mind is not proof or evidence that God exists. Others argue that St. Anselm uses terms in his proof…