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The existence of God - Approaches/Criticisms
There are three major arguments that attempt to explain the existence of God. Firstly, it is important to establish a definition of God. According to philosophers God is an infinitely perfect being that upholds a divine unity of ultimate goodness and of ultimate power. God is referred to as Omniscient, Omnipotent and Eternal. God has unlimited knowledge and intelligence, so basically God is the ultimate model of perfectionism. Though all Philosophers agree with this definition of God, it does not state whether or not this ideal concept of God exists. The Ontological, Cosmological and Teleological have been developed throughout time to attempt to prove God existence. There have also been many criticisms into these arguments, which attempt to disprove each argument.
The Ontological argument was developed by Anselm; a theist who argued for the existence of God. In his argument he refers to God as a perfect being, therefore ‘that than which nothing greater can be conceived’. He began his argument by saying that even a ‘fool’ (atheist) can grasp or understand the concept of a being than of ‘which nothing greater can be conceived’ as they already have an understanding or idea of what it means in their mind. Though this idea exists in their mind, it does not mean God doesn’t exist in reality. Anselm refers to God as a perfect being, and because he is so perfect he must have infinite perfectionism, therefore Anselm is arguing that if God lacked existence he would not be perfect, as he is perfect he must exist.
There are many criticisms to why Anselm’s Ontological argument fails. Kant saw Anselm’s argument as merely a word game, playing on words and not reality. In this sense, Kant sees the Ontological argument as an exercise in verbal analysis, the means where anyone can anaylse the meaning of a word or concept, and draw a logical explanation from it. Therefore, Anselms’ words ‘necessary existence’ are logical part of a defined concept of God but they do not reveal whether God exists in reality. Kant’s second criticism outlines that an idea of something does not automatically make it exist in reality. Its actual existence is something additional to the idea of a thing. Kant referred to this concept where ‘existence is not a predicate’; that is it is not a defining quality of a thing like size, colour, shape and so on.
The Cosmological argument refers to the process of arguing from the cosmos – ‘world’, to the existence of God. The Cosmological argument basically draws upon St. Tomas Aquinas’ Five Ways for the existence of God. Firstly, the cosmological argument says it is important to establish that every event has a cause, and everything has a beginning. Therefore there must have been a first cause that requires no prior causes, which is referred to as God. Leibniz also developed an argument where he asks the question ‘Why is there something rather than nothing?’ He claims that a sufficient reason to account for reality there must be a being which is able to create existence.
St. Aquinas’ first of five statements supporting the Cosmological come from the argument of motion that was first developed by Plato. Basically in this statement it refers the idea where everything has been moved by something else, ‘Therefore it is necessary to arrive at a first mover, moved by no other; and this everyone understands to be God’. Aquinas’ second argument comes from the universal fact of cause and effect, where everything a person experiences is an effect resulting from a prior cause, therefore Aquinas says ‘it is necessary to admit a first efficient cause, to which everyone gives the name God’. The third statements outlines that God is the necessary being which brings everything else into being. The fourth way refers to God as an ultimate standard of goodness, truth, nobility and so on. Aquanis says ‘Therefore there must be something which is to all beings the cause of their being, goodness, and every other perfection; and this we call God.’ The fifth and final way states that God is the intelligent creator of intelligence, ‘Therefore some intelligent being exists by whom all natural things art directed to their end; and this being we call God’.
There are many criticisms against the Cosmological argument. Firstly, Hume states that the arguments put forward reveals that the universe logically demands a causal explanation, but this may lie within the nature of the universe itself with regards to scientific evidence. Hick also disagrees with the argument as it fails explain the cause of God. Kant says it fails as to speak of causation outside of time and space has no meaning, because causation requires time and space. Another argument against the cosmological argument comes from Mill. He draws his conclusion from experience, noting that experience teaches that all events are caused. God, as a cause that was not itself caused cannot be conceived, so experience does not logically support the first cause, therefore this concept of God does not exist.
The Teleological argument from the Greek word telos, meaning ‘end or ‘purpose’ is also referred to as the Design Argument. It is based on the contention that there is evidence that supports purpose and design in the universe and in life itself. William Paley (1743-1805), came up with the analogy of a watch found in a field, which required a designer, that of a watchmaker. He explains that there is no logic to claim that it was not designed and carefully crafted in order to have a purpose. So in contrast, it is said that the complex order and design of the universe is obviously the work of an intelligent architect, to which we call God.
Hume strongly critised Paley’s Design Argument. He came up with five reasons to why it fails to prove the existence of God. Firstly, it does not give a reason to believe the world actually serves some purpose, despite it is clear that parts of it do. Hume also develops the idea of organic analogy that challenges the mechanical analogy which suggests an intelligent designer made the world. Hume shows that through organic analogy, there is no need for a designer as elements of the universe such as the flora and fauna, come into being through generation and evolution, so therefore the same could be said about the universe. The Design Argument only accounts for a ‘designer’ with infinite intelligence. The designer might be intelligent, but is certainly not omniscient nor omnipotent, capable of designing but not necessary capable of creating. Hume’s fourth argument puts forward the examples of evil and suffering in the world, as they contradict the posed ‘order and purpose’ put forward by the Design Argument. Hume basically asks the question; if God is perfect then why does evil exist? The last argument of Hume coincides with scientific evidence, as well as the idea that the universe came into being as the result of purely chance.
Together the ontological, cosmological and teleological arguments provide three thoroughly examined arguments for the existence of God. The criticisms of each perspective have also been carefully scrutinized to disprove God’s existence. Though the existence of God is a very controversial issue for theists and atheists alike, these three perspectives and criticisms towards God’s existence provide good insights into this major issue in contemporary philosophy.