The Existence of God

Key Definitions

Theist: a person who believes God exists

Athiest: a person who believes God does not exist

Agnostic: a person who believes there is no definite evidence either way

Miracles: things that happen which go against the laws of nature and cannot be explained by reason or science

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Anselm's Ontological Argument (11th century)

  • Some things are clearly better than others
  • This means there must be something that is the best thing: God
  • Although we can imagine something to be the greatest, a mere picture cannot be the best thing in the universe
  • This means the best thing in the universe would be even better if it existed beyond our imagination
  • The greatest thing in the universe has to be something that actually exists
  • Therefore, God exists

HOWEVER, if you do not believe in God or another source of all goodness in the first place then this argument means nothing. Therefore, this argument only works for those who already believe in God.

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Aquinas' First Cause Argument (13th century)

  • Everything in the universe has been brought into being by something else: something cannot come from nothing.
  • When we trace everything back, the universe must have had a first cause
  • The first cause must be eternal, or it would have needed something to cause it. This is known as the uncaused cause.
  • This uncaused cause is God.

HOWEVER, if the first cause can be eternal, why can't the whole chain of cause and effect be eternal?

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William Paley's Design Argument (18th century)

The Design Argument is the idea that the world is so complicated and intricate that it must have had a designer, and could not have come about by chance. 

  • Paley compared the universe to a watch lying in a field: despite its surroundings, you would likely wonder who made the watch due to the fact that it has a clear purpose which is it designed to achieve. 
  • The same is true of the universe: God created the universe in such an intricate way that it could not have come about by chance.
  • Therefore, God exists.

This argument is also linked to the anthropic principle, the idea that the chances of the earth being able to exist are so slim that there must be a god who designed it carefully.

HOWEVER, the world isn't perfectly designed. There is also the possibility of there being multiple designers who created the universe over time. 

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Arguments for the Design Argument

  • The earth spins on its axis to achieve day and night, summer and winter so plants can grow and produce food
  • How animals can adapt to survive
  • How the world provides us with all the oxygen we need
  • All the necessary conditions we require are catered for by the earth
  • The availability of water on the earth when alternative conditions could have caused it to freeze or evaporate
  • The complexity of the human mind
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Arguments Against the Design Argument

  • Illness
  • Death
  • Poisonous natural items, e.g. mushrooms
  • How we need food to survive
  • The possibility of multiple designers
  • The presence of evil
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The Argument from Religious Experience

Miracles are things that happen which go against the laws of nature and cannot be explained by logic or reason. Religious believers consider these to be acts of God which prove his existence. 

Examples of religious experiences include visions, answered prayers, seeing God in a dream and feeling his presence during worship.

  • If someone experiences something, that means it exists
  • Some people have experienced God
  • Therefore, God exists. 

HOWEVER, there are a number of arguments against this theory:

  • What if these people are just imagining things/hallucinating?
  • There is no proof that what they experienced was God - it may have been another phenomenon
  • If God does exist, why does he choose to communicate with some people and not others?
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Religious Experiences

  • Achievements
  • Hymns
  • Near-death experiences
  • Religious holidays
  • Dreams
  • Senses
  • Speaking in tongues
  • Gifts/talents
  • Prayer
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Sir Alastair Hardy's Research (1969)

Hardy believed that some awareness of the sarcred spread across the whole of humanity in a way as biologically real as being in love.

He set up a 'Religious Experience Research Unit', inviting those who had 'been conscious of' a higher power to write about their experiences. 

  • This prompted David Hay to carry out a poll across the UK in the 1970s, in which 62% of people said they had been conscious of a higher power.
  • Similar research in the USA indicated that religious experiences are life-changing events, as many reported that they had become more tolerant of others, or more humble and sensitive. 
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Types of Religious Experiences

In his book 'The Existence of God', Richard Swinburne organises religious experiences into five groups:

PUBLIC EXPERIENCES:

  • God is seen to be at work in the everyday world, e.g. in the beauty of a snowflake.
  • God is felt to be responsible for an event seen as a miracle, involving a break in the natural law. e.g someone suddenly being healed of a terminal disease. 

PRIVATE EXPERIENCES:

  • God is felt to be involved in a particular experience of a believer's life that the person can decribe using ordinary language (a non-believer may argue a psychological explanation of such an experience)
  • God is felt to be involved in a particular experience of a believer's life that the person cannot describe using ordinary language, e.g. the mystical experience that Alastair Hardy had when walking in the country.
  • God is felt to be acting on and guiding the believer's life in a general sense.
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