Introduction: Why Argue for God?
The fool says in his heart,
‘There is no God.’
Psalm 14:1, 53:1
Arguing for the existence of God does not have nearly as long of history as many might suppose. Modern and recognizable discussions do not extend further back than the early middle ages. It is primarily because Christianity developed a theology that placed its central focus on belief-action — the idea that adopting a belief is the most important thing you can do regarding God — that the modern tradition of argumentation exists today.
Socrates was wont to give pensive yet oddly disinterested ruminations on the gods (i.e. Phaedrus, Timaeus, and Republic). His attitude seems to have been typical of polytheism; in which belief was not paramount to one’s relationship to a god. You chose those gods that were relevant to one’s life and praised them as you saw fit. For those gods that were said to be of importance outside of your local sphere (i.e. Isis to an Athenian) your attitude would not have been one of disbelief but rather irrelevance. A typical low-brow polytheist would, more or less, accept the existence of all professed gods but find most to be irrelevant to his daily life and thus not requiring praise.
But we now live in the paradigm of ethical monotheism. Ethical monotheists are those professing a single God from which emanates ethical imperatives of belief, action, and belief-action. These break down as follows: Belief — the imperative to adopt certain factual conclusions (i.e. the Godhead); Action — the imperative to behave according to certain rules (i.e the Commandments, the Five Pillars); Belief-action — the imperative to put oneself in a disposition towards certain ideas and this disposing of oneself constituting an action (i.e. being faithful). Although dry and clinical, it is vitally important that we elucidate such distinctions within theism. Christianity and the other “great” ethical monotheistic religions have essentially co-opted our conceptions of God and limited them to their narrow definitions. Letting myopic theists hogtie us in their own attitudes — attitudes that they believe are the sole reasonable possibility — can only impoverish the scope of the debate.
Ethical monotheism distinguishes itself from practical monotheism, practical polytheism, or ethical polytheism. Although both versions of theism, ethical and practical, clearly bleed into one another they are also distinguishable. Those in the “practical” theistic standpoint conclude that believing in and acting towards god(s) has immense practical benefit (i.e. crops growing, babies surviving, rain coming etc.) but that there is not necessarily an overriding ethical mandate — much less the most important ethical mandate — concerning your beliefs about the god(s). Also, there isn’t a dominating ethical mandate to simply believe in the god(s).
Practical theists often do not praise god(s) because they are worthy of praise. Praise is not given because the god is thought to be particularly worthy but rather because the god is thought to be powerful with regard to important quotidian details. Fear may also play a factor. But with ethical monotheism came the “innovation” that, because He deserves it, it is right to praise God. Saying that something is “worthy” of worship is to claim that no other justification is needed other than the worshiped item’s intrinsic worth. Also, claiming something is worthy is to claim that worship is deserved and, to some extent, imperative. Thus another moral dimension is added to the ethical monotheist’s theology. Furthermore, according to most ethical monotheists, God wants you to believe in Him and to praise Him. He wants this so much so that His favor is dependent upon this kowtowing. While it does seem extremely bizarre that God would care so much that we simply believe in Him — a disposition I like to call “God’s Tinkerbell complex” (clap your hands if you believe in faeries!) — we are nevertheless left with this odd premise. Thus the ethical monotheists (mostly Christians) have muscled up scores of arguments to browbeat us apostates into becoming additions to God’s ceaseless ego-trip.
Such was the path that we took to get to the point that arguing for God’s existence is a vital and important task. With such carefully worked discourses before us it would behoove us to take a look at some of the “greatest hits” of theistic arguments and find their strengths and weaknesses.
Some of these arguments have proven to be better than others. So here are the five best arguments for God’s existence and why they fail to make the case.
The Argument from Morality
One of the primary philosophical problems, perhaps the primary philosophical problem, concerns the grounding of moral truths. To put it simply; the statement “I am currently writing this essay” is true because I am currently writing this essay viz. the statement corresponds with reality. This sense of the word “truth” is the mundane one; what philosophers call the “correspondence theory of truth.”
Other types of statements, however, do not follow the same pattern. The statement “I ought to be out fighting against global warming” cannot be brought under the same analysis. The central question becomes “what makes these types of statements — ‘ought’ statements — true, or “what could make these types of statements true?”
This problem encapsulates much of the angst and misgivings of mankind. With our moral convictions often carrying a sense of “trueness” that exceeds that of mere facts we desire a corresponding level of validation for our convictions. For many this is as far as the argument need go. If the moral sense feels so true, if ethical imperatives implore us so strongly, then there must be an explanation that validates our deepest held attitudes. In other words, these attitudes must be as true as facts of the world and, if possible, more true.
For C.S. Lewis this line of reasoning was sufficient to demonstrate God’s existence. As he writes in Mere Christianity; “for the behaviour we call bad or unfair is not exactly the same as the behaviour we find inconvenient, and may even be the opposite. Consequently the Rule of Right and Wrong, or Law of Human Nature, or whatever you call it, must somehow or other be a real thing — a thing that is really there, not made up by ourselves.”
For centuries this argument has held powerful sway over scores of theists. This is particularly true of ethical monotheists who, as previously discussed, treat God as a source of imperatives. But, even if its ability to demonstrate God’s existence is tenuous, the argument does carry immense practical weight for believers. Believing that one’s actions are ultimately right and approved of by the highest powers goes a long way towards enabling happiness and purpose.
But why does this argument fail to show that God exists? Well, the first obvious objection is that, even if true, the argument only establishes the existence of an external moral law. From this it does not follow that a God, or some sort of Godlike being, must be responsible for the creation and maintenance of that law. There are numerous other ontological possibilities that cannot be ignored in good faith, and good philosophy. Imagine a vast network of computers (or computer-like things) to which we are all unknowingly linked that feed our minds with imperatives and convictions. Although this may be highly fanciful (although perhaps no more fanciful than God), the moral argument does as much to establish this possibility as any other. Furthermore, it does not follow that our moral convictions must be “good” in some absolute sense. It only follows that we have such convictions and that they were not made up by us.
There is also a resemblance between the moral argument and classic Cartesian bafflegab. When philosophy 101 students first encounter Descartes’s “clear and distinct” methodology they often snort in laughter. And this derision is deserved. Only a philosopher could come up with a doctrine as absurd as this. Almost intuitively we seem to know that how strongly, or how clearly, we are able to hold an idea has absolutely no bearing upon whether or not that idea is true. And, if we don’t realize this intuitively, we will soon realize it in the course of a lifetime of discarded “clear and distinct” beliefs. It seems to be the height of human folly and over-confidence to believe that clarity of thought leads to clarity of reality. This same pattern is found in the argument from morality.
But, in the end, C.S. Lewis puts the nails in his own coffin. Early in Mere Christianity, during a discussion of something he calls the “Life-Force” theory, Lewis asks this question, “what is the sense in saying that something without a mind ‘strives’ or has ‘purposes’?” The question is a good one. Minds are the only things that “strive” and have “purposes.” However, Lewis has only demonstrated that minds carry with them their own imperatives. What is a purpose but the desire to pursue “x” over “y?” What is it to strive if not to feel convictions and imperatives? To be mindfull (to have a mind) is to be a directed and purposeful entity which feels the constant pull of imperatives.
Now the clear objection is to claim that all things with minds are imbued with God’s moral law. However, all things with minds clearly do not feel the same duties. Predators, apes, dogs, and sociopaths follow a different set of injunctions. And, while humans may indeed be mentally aligned with God’s moral law, we have simply shown that it is possible to have convictions — to feel the domineering pull of an inescapable sense of duty — without receiving them from God’s law. It is also worth mentioning that this problem — the problem of the source of duty — would also be God’s problem. As a mindfull thing that strives and has purposes, God would feel the pull of imperatives from “a thing that is really there, not made up by [Himself.]”
Although there is a way out of most of these objections (i.e. God has a different moral law for all creatures with minds and he makes his own moral law) the path gets difficult. These objections, combined with plausible and convincing alternatives for the origin of morality (i.e. evolutionary theory’s very convincing account, put very simply; animals that develop a sense of duty about doing and not doing certain things have a survival advantage. And, the deeper the conviction; the better the advantage.), make it advisable for the theist to abandon this argument and move on to another.
Next: The Cosmological Argument
The more you know about Native American religions the better you may be able to understand the culture that existed in the Americas before other religions and peoples came in to influence the people who lived there. The religions that started in the Americas were based on different cultures than the spiritualities that developed in other places of the world.