Arguments for God's Existence
Arguments for the existence of God come in many different forms; some draw on history, some on science, some on personal experience, and some on philosophy. The primary focus of this site is the philosophical arguments—the ontological argument, the first cause argument, the argument from design, and the moral argument.
Each of these arguments, if successful, supports a certain conception of God: the ontological argument, for instance, is an argument for the existence of a perfect being; the first cause argument is an argument for the existence of an eternal Creator; the argument from design is an argument for the existence of Creator with a special interest in humanity; the moral argument is an argument for a moral authority.
Each of the arguments, if successful, then, so supports a specific religion to the extent that its conception of God matches that supported by the argument.
The Ontological Argument
The first purported proof of the existence of God is the ontological argument. The ontological argument seeks to prove the existence of God from the laws of logic alone. It dates back to St Anselm, an eleventh century philosopher-theologian and archbishop of Canterbury, but was also used by the French philosopher René Descartes. It argues that once we mentally grasp the concept of God we can see that God’s non-existence is impossible. This argument, if it is successful, demonstrates the existence of a perfect being that could not possibly fail to exist.
The First Cause Argument
The second purported proof of the existence of God is the first cause argument, also called “the cosmological argument”. The first cause argument seeks to prove the existence of God from the fact that the universe exists. The universe came into existence at a point in the distant past. Nothing can come into existence, though, unless there is something to bring it into existence; nothing comes from nothing. There must therefore be some being outside of the universe that caused the universe to exist. This argument, if it is successful, demonstrates the existence of a Creator that transcends time, that has neither beginning nor end.
The Argument from Design
The third purported proof of the existence of God is the argument from design, also called “the teleological argument”. The argument from design seeks to prove the existence of God from the fact that the universe is ordered.
The universe could have been different from the way that it is in many ways. It could have had different laws of physics; it could have had a different arrangement of planets and stars; it could have begun with a more powerful or a weaker big bang.
The vast majority of these possible universes would not have allowed for the existence of life, so we are very fortunate indeed to have a universe that does. On an atheistic world-view, there is no way to explain this good fortune; the atheist must put this down to chance. On the view that God exists, though, we can explain why the universe is the way that it is; it is because God created the universe with beings like us in mind. This argument, if it is successful, strongly suggests the existence of a Creator that takes an interest in humanity.
The Moral Argument
The fourth purported proof of the existence of God is the moral argument. The moral argument seeks to prove the existence of God from the fact that there are moral laws.
Moral laws have the form of commands; they tell us what to do. Commands can’t exist without a commander though, so who is it that commands us to behave morally?
To answer this, we only need to look at the authoritative nature of morality. Commands are only as authoritative as is the one that commands them; a command of a ruler carries more authority than a command of a citizen. Moral commands, though, have ultimate authority; they are to be obeyed under all circumstances. Their authority transcends all human authority, and they must therefore have been commanded by a being whose authority transcends all human authority.
The existence of moral laws, the argument concludes, thus demonstrates the existence of a being that is greater than any of us and that rules over all creation.
Together, then, these arguments claim to prove the existence of a perfect, necessary, transcendent being that created the universe, has authority over it, and takes an interest in humanity. This, if it could be accomplished, would be more than enough to show that the Christian conception of God, and those conceptions of God related to it, are close to the truth.
It’s time to examine the arguments. The first is the ontological argument.