The Existence of God (Problems of Philosophy) Paperback – 1 Dec 1964
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The principal philosophical arguments on the existence of God are brought together here. From the ancient Greeks and Anselm to the present-day and Bertrand Russell, both sides are represented. First come the contributions of Western philosophers to the five arguments traditionally used to-prove that God exists; then come the basic challenges to them; and finally the recent writings that probe what it means to assertl that God exists.
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The first argument for the existence of the monotheist god is the ontological one, by Saint Anselm. Anselm argued that perfection entails existence. Since the monotheistic god is perfect, it exists. But Saint Thomas Aquinas rejects this argument. Descartes and Liebniz restate and expand on Anselm's argument, but then Kant argues that existence is not really a predicate. And Norman Malcolm provides further discussion. I think the whole argument is silly given that no being can be perfect, and that even if a being could be perfect in some respect, no such being might exist. But I do think it applies far better to the real Goddesses and Gods than to the monotheist god.
We then get to the "first cause" argument. Plato, Aquinas, and Copelston explain the basis for this argument. But David Hume argues that there is no contradiction in omitting a "first cause." I think that a complex first cause simply violates Occam's Razor. Whatever the Gods and Goddesses may be, they are not first causes. Perhaps existence can come from nothing, but there is no reason to assume that it starts with impossibly infinite complexity.
After that we have the argument from Design. A watch needs a watchmaker. Paley states this argument, unaware of Hume's strong criticism of it from 23 years earlier. I think this argument does suffer from one of the same problems as the First Cause Argument, namely "who made god?"
We then get to the problem of evil (which appears to make hash out of the hypothesis that there is an omnipotent and benevolent god). And arguments from morality, and from religious experience.
There's an interesting debate between Copelston and Bertrand Russell. After this, there is an article that discusses the validity of biblical arguments, and another about whether theistic proofs make sense even from a religious point of view.
We then get to a powerful argument, namely falsification. This is stated powerfully by A. J. Ayer and Anthony Flew. Namely, what would have to happen (or have to have happened) to convince one that god does not love us or does not exist? The answer to that question helps define what one means when one discusses god (if in fact there is any cognitive meaning at all). Braithwaite concedes this argument, but explains that religious statements have ethical significance, while John Hick asserts that the claim of god's existence is of a factual nature.
I recommend this book to those interested in the subject.
For me, the debate between Catholic historian of philosophy Copleston (see his monumental multi-volume A History of Philosophy, Vol. 1: Greece and Rome From the Pre-Socratics to Plotinus) and Bertrand Russell would alone be worth the price of the book. (This debate used to be printed in editions of Why I Am Not a Christian and Other Essays on Religion and Related Subjects, but has since been taken out; perhaps because Russell did not fare as well in the debate as his supporters---including me---might have hoped.) The debate was originally broadcast on the BBC in 1948.
To give you a brief idea of the interchange, here are some excerpts: "BR: ... what I'm saying is that the concept of cause is not applicable to the total... I should say that the universe is just there, and that's all. FC: Well, I can't see how you can rule out the legitimacy of asking the question how the total, or anything at all, comes to be there. Why something rather than nothing, that is the question?... BR: That's always assuming that not only every particular thing in the world, but the world as a whole must have a cause. For that assumption I see no ground whatever. If you'll give me a ground I'll listen to it. FC: Well, the series of events is either caused or it's not caused. If it is caused, there must obviously be a cause outside the series. If it's not caused then it's sufficient to itself, and... it is what I call necessary. But it can't be necessary since each member is contingent, and we've agreed that the total is not reality apart from its members, therefore it can't be necessary. Therefore it can't be ... uncaused---therefore it must have a cause... BR: I don't want to seem arrogant, but it does seem to me that I can conceive things that you say the human mind can't conceive. As for things not having a cause, the physicists assure us that individual quantum transition in atoms have no cause. FC: Well, I wonder, now whether that isn't simply a temporary inference. BR: It may be, but it does show that physicists' minds can conceive it." (Pg. 175-176)
With excerpts from Plato, Anselm, Aquinas, Descartes, Paley, Hume, Kant, Mill, A.J. Ayer, and many others, this collection gets right to the heart of the various arguments, and will be of considerable interest to anyone studying the philosophy of religion.