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The Cumulative Case for a Personal, Infinite God

Our focus thus far has been to answer the challenges we've collected over this past year.  Over the next month, we will be populating the "Proof God Exists" side of the equation.  In the meantime, the following list will provide a general definition of terms:

Arguments for the existence of God


  • The cosmological argument argues that there was a "first cause", or "prime mover" who is identified as God. It starts with a claim about the world, like its containing entities or motion.
  • The teleological argument argues that the universe's order and complexity are best explained by reference to a creator God. It starts with a rather more complicated claim about the world, i.e. that it exhibits order and design. This argument has two versions: One based on the analogy of design and designer, the other arguing that goals can only occur in minds.
  • The ontological argument is based on arguments about a "being greater than which cannot be conceived". It starts simply with a concept of God. St. Anselm of Canterbury and Alvin Plantinga formulate this argument to show that if it is logically possible for God (a necessary being) to exist, then God exists.
  • The argument from degree, a version of the ontological argument posited by Aquinas, states that there must exist a being which possesses all properties to the maximum possible degree.
  • The mind-body problem argument suggests that the relation of consciousness to materiality is best understood in terms of the existence of God.
  • Arguments that a non-physical quality observed in the universe is of fundamental importance and not an epiphenomenon, such as Morality (Argument from morality), Beauty (Argument from beauty), Love (Argument from love), or religious experience (Argument from religious experience), are arguments for theism as against materialism.
  • The anthropic argument suggests that basic facts, such as our existence, are best explained by the existence of God.
  • The moral argument argues that the existence of objective morality depends on the existence of God.
  • The transcendental argument suggests that logic, science, ethics, and other things we take seriously do not make sense in the absence of God, and that atheistic arguments must ultimately refute themselves if pressed with rigorous consistency.
  • The will to believe doctrine was pragmatist philosopher William James' attempt to prove God by showing that the adoption of theism as a hypothesis "works" in a believer's life. This doctrine depended heavily on James' pragmatic theory of truth where beliefs are proven by how they work when adopted rather than by proofs before they are believed (a form of the hypothetico-deductive method).
  • The Argument from Reason holds that if, as thoroughgoing naturalism entails, all of our thoughts are the effect of a physical cause, then we have no reason for assuming that they are also the consequent of a reasonable ground. Knowledge, however, is apprehended by reasoning from ground to consequent. Therefore, if naturalism were true, there would be no way of knowing it—or anything else not the direct result of a physical cause—and we could not even suppose it, except by a fluke.
  • Frank J. Tipler's Omega Point Theory holds that the universe is bound to ultimately end in a Big Crunch, which will create a gravitational singularity that can be exploited to obtain practically infinite computational capacity; Tipler equates this final singularity and its state of infinite information capacity to God.

Arguments from historical events or personages

  • Judaism asserts that God intervened in key specific moments in history, especially at the Exodus and the giving of the Ten Commandments, thus demonstrating his existence.
  • The argument from the Resurrection of Jesus. This asserts that there is sufficient historical evidence for Jesus's resurrection to support his claim to be the son of God and indicates, a fortiori, God's existence. This is one of several arguments known as the Christological argument.

Inductive arguments

Inductive arguments argue their conclusions through inductive reasoning.

  • Another class of philosophers asserts that the proofs for the existence of God present a fairly large probability though not absolute certainty. A number of obscure points, they say, always remain; an act of faith is required to dismiss these difficulties. This view is maintained, among others, by the Scottish statesman Arthur Balfour in his book The Foundations of Belief (1895).

Arguments from testimony

Arguments from testimony rely on the testimony or experience of certain witnesses, possibly embodying the propositions of a specific revealed religion. Swinburne argues that it is a principle of rationality that one should accept testimony unless there are strong reasons for not doing so.

  • The witness argument gives credibility to personal witnesses, contemporary and throughout the ages. A variation of this is the argument from miracles which relies on testimony of supernatural events to establish the existence of God.
  • The majority argument argues that the theism of people throughout most of recorded history and in many different places provides prima facie demonstration of God's existence. The argument from common consent is regarded as a logical fallacy in most debates.

Arguments grounded in personal experience

  • The Scottish School of Common Sense led by Thomas Reid taught that the fact of the existence of God is accepted by us without knowledge of reasons but simply by a natural impulse. That God exists, this school said, is one of the chief metaphysical principles that we accept not because they are evident in themselves or because they can be proved, but because common sense obliges us to accept them.
  • The Argument from a Proper Basis argues that belief in God is "properly basic"; that it is similar to statements like "I see a chair" or "I feel pain". Such beliefs are non-falsifiable and, thus, neither provable nor disprovable; they concern perceptual beliefs or indisputable mental states.
  • In Germany, the School of Friedrich Heinrich Jacobi taught that our reason is able to perceive the suprasensible. Jacobi distinguished three faculties: sense, reason, and understanding. Just as sense has immediate perception of the material so has reason immediate perception of the immaterial, while the understanding brings these perceptions to our consciousness and unites them to one another. God's existence, then, cannot be proven (Jacobi, like Immanuel Kant, rejected the absolute value of the principle of causality), it must be felt by the mind.
  • In Emile, Jean-Jacques Rousseau asserted that when our understanding ponders over the existence of God it encounters nothing but contradictions; the impulses of our hearts, however, are of more value than the understanding, and these proclaim clearly to us the truths of natural religion, namely, the existence of God and the immortality of the soul.
  • The same theory was advocated in Germany by Friedrich Schleiermacher, who assumed an inner religious sense by means of which we feel religious truths. According to Schleiermacher, religion consists solely in this inner perception, and dogmatic doctrines are inessential.
  • Many modern Protestant theologians follow in Schleiermacher's footsteps, and teach that the existence of God cannot be demonstrated; certainty as to this truth is only furnished us by inner experience, feeling, and perception.
  • Modernist Christianity also denies the demonstrability of the existence of God. According to them we can only know something of God by means of the vital immanence, that is, under favorable circumstances the need of the divine dormant in our subconsciousness becomes conscious and arouses that religious feeling or experience in which God reveals himself to us. In condemnation of this view the oath against modernism formulated by Pius X says: "Deum ... naturali rationis lumine per ea quae facta sunt, hoc est per visibilia creationis opera, tanquam causam per effectus certo cognosci adeoque demostrari etiam posse, profiteor." ("I declare that by the natural light of reason, God can be certainly known and therefore his existence demonstrated through the things that are made, i.e., through the visible works of creation, as the cause is known through its effects.")
  • Pascal's Wager (or Pascal's Gambit) is a suggestion posed by the French philosopher Blaise Pascal that even though the existence of God cannot be determined through reason, a person should "wager" as though God exists, because so living has everything to gain, and nothing to lose.