The philosophical questions I will try to answer and why they are of particular interest to me. Opinions that ordinary people tend to have on the issue
The great monotheistic religions of Judaism, Christianity, and Islam profoundly influenced Western philosophy. In all of these religions, the existence of God is a central claim. For nearly a millennium from 500 S.D to about 1500 A.D., Western philosophy was the handmaiden of Christian theology. (Jordan, 567) During this period, the issue of existence of God seemed to be of paramount importance. Proofs were needed to convince infidels and beretics and to retain the faithful. In the more secular world since the Renaissance, these arguments for the existence of God have been severely challenged.
The current essay will discuss the arguments for and against the existence of God. The author has in particular discussed the views of Bertrand Russell on this issue. The author has also covered the general main arguments on these issues as well as self.
What I learned about this issue from research on the writings of Bertrand Russell
In 1948, Bertrand Russell and Frederick c.Copleston debated the existence of God. Copleston argued for the affirmative. He presented three classic arguments for the existence of God. His main argument was a version of the argument from contingency. He also relied heavily on an argument from morality. Finally, he touched on an argument from religious experience.
Russell did not argue that there was no God or that in principle the issue could never be settled. His primary rebuttal was "thesis not proved." He viewed propositions essential to the argument from contingency as meaningless. He answered the argument from morality by pointing to the personal and cultural relativity of moral values and by explaining feelings of obligation as behavioral conditioning. Finally, he argued that religious experiences could be explained in natural terms without any need for the transcendental.
Bertrand Russell was one of the outstanding philosophers of the century. Although he was not primarily a philosopher of religion, he wrote extensively on religion and was very influential in this area. His Why I am not A Christian is still in print and on bookstore shelves today over eighty years after its title essay was first published. Russell was on of the clearest, most able, and best known spokespersons for the modern agnostic position. Father Copleston was a member of the Socieyt of Jesus, a professor of metaphysics at the Gregorian University in Rome and a professor of philosophy at Oxford. At the time of the debate, some regarded him as the leading Catholic philosopher in the Anglo-Saxon world. Even today, his History of Western Philosophy remains one of the best histories of philosophy in English.
Russel's main weapons were the arguments to meaninglessness and reduction to naturalistic explanation. An argument to meaninglessness holds that some apparent proposition is not really a proposition. That is, a sentence that seems to be grammatically acceptable, that seems to be sensible, and that seems to state something that can be true or false is not really stating anything meaningful. Hence, it is neither true nor false. An argument of this kind obviously can be a very powerful reputtal. If one believes that someone is stating an apparent proposition that is really meaningless, then it would be the argument of first choice, for there is no point in discussing the truth or falsity of something that cannot be either true of false.
A "reduction to naturalistic explanation" simply holds that some state of affairs that allegedly can be explained only by (or best by) something supernatural can also be explained in terms of natural phenomena. In the modern, scientific world this kind of argument is also very powerful, for the general maxim for science is that if something cannot be explained as natural it need not and should not be explained any other way. If this maxim is accepted and if one can show that a reported experiencing of God, for example, can be explained in terms of natural phenomena, then one effectively has rebutted the report.
The transcript of the debate itself has been reproduced in numerous textbooks of philosophy. Debates on the existence of God continue to be held. For example, in February 1998, William Craig and Anthony Flew held one at the University of Wisconsin in honor of the fiftieth anniversary of the Copleston-Russell face-off.
The many arguments for the existence of God can be classified into types and further sub-types. The general types include the following: the ontological, the cosmological, the teleological, the argument from morality, the argument from the common consent of mankind, the argument from religious experience, the argument from consciousness, the pragmatic argument, and the argument from intuition. It should be noted that different writers use different names for these arguments.
The ontological argument argues from the very definition of God as a perfect being to his necessarily existing. The argument was first developed by St. Anselm (1033-1109) in his Proslogium and used by Rene Descartes (1596-1650) in his Meditations. The argument was rejected by Thomas Aquinas (1225-74) and virtually dealt a deathblow by Immanuel Kant (1724-1804). Kant argued that existence is not a property or quality. Any definition-including that of God-specifies the properties or qualities belonging to something. Since existence is not a property, it cannot be included in the definition of God. (Edwards, 20) The ontological argument is the only one that is a priori; that is, it argues from premises that are all independent of experience. Copleston chose not to use the ontological argument and his decision seems to have been a wise one. To the layperson, the argument seems sophistical and unconvincing. (Smart, 500) To the philosophically aware, it seems to have been decisively defeated by Kant.
The cosmological argument is really a family of arguments. There are three main types, comprising the first three of Aquinas's "Five Ways" of proving the existence of God (Aquinas, Part 1, Q, II, and A.3). The first way is an argument from the presence of motion in the world to a first mover. The second way argues from the presence of efficient causes in world to a first cause. The third way argues from the existence of contingent beings in the world to a necessary being that causes all the contingent beings. All of these arguments of Aquinas involve the denial of the possibility of an infinite regress. This denial causes problems for many philosophers who simply do not accept the axiom that there cannot be an infinite regress of motion, causes, or contingent beings. Modern science, for example, seems to accept these infinite regresses. Thus, these arguments would be a "hard sell" to any contemporary person who reverses modern science. However, the argument from contingency can be put in a form that does not have this defect. For example, Gottfried Wilhelm Leibniz (1646-1716) and Samuel Clarks (1675-1729) devised forms of the argument from contingency that do not involve the denial of an infinite regress. (5) In the debate, Copleston uses his version of Leibnez's argument. In doing so, he selected one of the most highly regarded of cosmological arguments.
The teleological argument essentially argues from the way parts of the world seem to fit and work well together to the existence of a design and hence to a divine designer. Fittingly, this argument is also known as the argument from design. The argument was used by Plato (c.428-c. 347 BC), Aquinas (his "Fifth way"), and especially by William Paley (1743-1805). The teleological argument is an argument from analogy. It holds that the world is like a watch, and just as the existence of a watch implies a watchmaker, so the world implies a world maker. For the layperson, this argument is perhaps the most popular. (Hick, 1971)
However, the argument's simplicity is deceptive. As Rowe noted, "The fact about the world from which the Teleological Argument begins is vastly more complicated and therefore, more difficult to establish by experience than is the fact from which the Cosmological Argument proceeds" (Smart 505). The cosmological argument begins simply with noting the existence of contingent beings. The teleological argument begins with observing marvelously complex phenomena. These phenomena seem too intricately fitted together to happen by accident or by the blind forces of nature. However, Darwin's theories of evolution and modern studies in ecology have done much to explain phenomena that previously were in the realm of mystery. Further, some assert that the argument from design really depends on the conclusions of the cosmological argument (Williamson, 196). Thus, in a debate, one could find oneself either arguing the cosmological argument anyway or arguing that the teleological argument is not dependent on it. Moreover, as we have noted, the argument is based on an analogy. To be effective, arguments from analogy require initial assent by the person to be persuaded to the closeness and relevance of the comparison. Finally, it is even possible to turn the argument against its proponent…