This is primarily an attempt to structure all the ideas related to religion, in my head, and I will, therefore, take the privilege of considerable license with regards to brevity and/or intelligibility. Most of the ideas outlined below constitute the mainstream of philosophical thought pertaining to religion and I have tried to prevent my own agnostic sensibilities from coloring the discourse.
Arguments for the Existence of God —
1. Ontological : Conception of God — “a being than which nothing greater can be conceived” — Since a being which exists is greater than that which is only in our imagination. The concept of God must exist! God’s existence is uniquely necessary.
Criticisms — “A most perfect island” . Anselm says that the element in the idea of God which is lacking in the notion of the most perfect island is “necessary existence”. An island is part of the contingent world, a dependent reality, which can without contradiction be thought not to exist – hence the ontological argument doesn’t apply.
Descartes treats existence as a property or predicate, the presence or lack of which is open to inquiry. His argument says that existence is a defining feature of God’s existence (God’s essence). Existence is an essential attribute of a perfect being.
Kant’s criticisms of Descartes run on two levels —
a.) To posit a triangle and yet to reject its three angles is self-contradictory; but there is no contradiction in rejecting the triangle together with the three angles. The same holds true for the concept of an absolutely necessary being.
b.) Existence is not a predicate. It does not add anything to the concept of thing. Russell has shown that although “exists” is grammatically a predicate, logically it performs a different function — “Cows exist” means “There are x’s such that “x is a cow” is true.” Cows exist does not attribute a quality to a cow, but asserts that there are objects in the world to which the description cow applies. Hence existence cannot be a defining predicate of God, and the question of anything in reality corresponding to God remains unanswered. The Ontological proof fails.
2. First Cause and Cosmological Arguments : Aquinas. Everything has a cause, blah blah … fails because of Infinite Regress.
Some contemporary reinterpretations of Aquinas say ” If fact A is made intelligible by fact B, and so on, at the back of the complex there must be a reality which is self-explanatory, whose existence constitutes the ultimate explanation of the whole. If no such reality exists, the universe is a mere unintelligible fact” . …. Two problems, who said the universe has to be intelligible!! Second, it depends on a certain understanding of causality. For ex. if causal laws state statistical probabilities, or if as Hume suggested, causal connections are mere observed sequences or Kant’s projections of the structure of the human mind, the argument fails.
3. Design or Teleological Argument : Analogy of a complex watch and the world. Some intelligent creator must have engineered it. A contemporary jackass makes this argument ” The Ozone gas layer is a mighty proof of the Creator’s forethought. Could anyone possibly attribute this device to a chance evolutionary process?” Hahahahaa …. he inverts causality! Life evolved because .. there was ozone. (which is wrong, since primitive life existed in environments far different from today) Hume attacks this by saying that the universe consists of a finite number of particles in random motion. In unlimited time these go through every combination that is possible. If one of these combinations constitutes a stable order, this will be realized and we will find the orderly cosmos.
4. Moral Argument. — The claim that anyone seriously committed to respect moral values as exercising a sovereign claim upon his life must thereby implicitly believe in the reality of a transhuman source and basis for these values. Kant argues that both immortality and existence of God are postulates of the moral life. To recognize moral claims as taking precedence over all other interests is, implicitly, to believe in a reality of some kind, other than the natural world, that is superior to oneself and entitled to our obedience.
This is not a proof of God’s existence, but a move towards some transcendental reality. It can be questioned on the basis of there existing perfectly naturalistic explanations for morality, as psychology increasingly shows.
Arguments against God’s Existence :
Durkheim’s Sociological Theory of Religion — Gods are imaginary beings unconsciously fabricated by society as instruments whereby society exercises control over the thoughts and behavior of the individual. Attributes of a deity — a symbol for society and communal interests over the individual, necessary for survival. Australian aborogines — tribe or clan was a psychic organism, where individuals were not yet fully separated from the group mind. In advanced societies this primitive unity has enjoyed a partial revival in times of war, nationalism taking religion’s place.
God as people’s final succor and security — the way in which the individual is carried and supported in all aspects of life by society. The Human Animal has created God in order to preserve its own social existence.
How do you account for the fact that “god loves all human beings” being a teaching, if religion is supposed to develop from tribal instincts? It also does not account for moral prophets who seem to go against the society’s collective impulse and seem to be inspired by divinity.
Freudian Theory of Religion — religious beliefs are illusions, fulfillments of the oldest, strongest and most insistent wishes of mankind. It is a mental defense against the threatening aspects of nature. The human imagination transforms these forces into mysterious personal powers. The solution adopted in the Judaic-Christian tradition is to project upon the universe the buried memory of our father as the great protecting power. The face that smiled at us in the cradle, now magnified to infinity, smiles down upon us from the heaven. Thus religion is the universal obsessional neurosis of humanity, which may be left behind when at last people learn to face the world, relying no longer on illusions but upon scientifically authenticated knowledge. Faith is a psychological crutch.
The final argument against God is Science. Evidence is the final arbiter of knowledge. There are no miracles. There is no verifiable proof of God.
The Problem of Evil — Why is there so much suffering? The common defense is that moral evil is related to human freedom and responsibility. To be a person is to be a finite center of freedom, with the choice to act wrongly. But there is no contradiction involved in saying that God might have made people who would be genuinely free but who could at the same time be guaranteed always to act rightly.
If all our thoughts and actions are divinely predestined, then however free and responsible we may seem to ourselves to be, we are not free in the sight of God and must be like puppets. Such freedom would be comparable to patients acting out of posthypnotic suggestions. It is suggested that God could have created such beings – but there is no point in doing so if God wanted to create sons and daughters rather than puppets.
Augustinian Theodicy (attempts to solve the theological problem of evil) : Evil always consists of the malfunctioning of something that is in itself good. For ex. blindness. As God originally created the universe, it was in perfect harmony, with a graded hierarchy of higher and lower beings which were good. Angels and men had free will and then they turned from God. At the end of history, on judgement day, many will enter into eternal life and the others into eternal torment. Evil stems from culpable misuse of creaturely freedom in a tragic act.
But how can finitely perfect beings turn to evil? How is evil self-created? Why did some of the angels not turn away and remained steadfast? Did they receive less of God’s grace? Scientifically, we know that humans evolved from lower life forms and were not angelic beings in paradise who suddenly fell into evil. The idea of eternal hell, which is affirmed to be the fate of a large portion of the human race, serves no constructive purpose. It does not solve the problem of evil, but builds the sinfulness of the damned and the evil of their pains and sufferings, into the permanent structure of the universe.
Irenaean Theodicy : It identifies two stages in the creation of the human race. The first was the creation of humans as intelligent animals endowed with capacity for immense moral and spiritual development. They were not perfect pre-fallen Adam and Eve, but immature creatures. In the second stage, they are gradually being transformed through their own free responses into “children of God”. Human goodness has to come about through the making of responsible and free choices – and that kind of development is intrinsically more valuable than a goodness created by God. The human situation is one of tension between the natural selfishness that arises from the instincts for survival, and calls of both morality and religion to transcend our failings. The World has so much suffering because it is necessary for genuine development of humanity. Only a world like ours provides an effective environment for the purpose of God. Is it worth it? The answer must be in a future good enough to justify all that has happened in the past.
Process Theodicy : God acts non-coercively, by persuasion and lure, and the exercise of God’s power is limited by the structure of reality, basic laws of the universe. Universe is an uncreated process, which includes the deity. The ultimate reality is creativity continually producing new unities of experience out of the manifold of the previous moment. Each wave of actual occasions, constituting a new moment in the universe’s life, involves an element of creativity or self-causation. God’s power over each occasion, and in directing outcomes is necessarily limited, and the reality of evil in the world is the measure of the extent to which his will is thwarted. Evil is a lack of harmony in the universe, and the divine impetus is to continually maximize harmony. The good that was created in the course of the world process could not have come about without the possibility of the evil which is intertwined with it. God’s goodness is vindicated in that the risk-taking venture in the evolution of the universe has produced enough good to outweigh all the evil in the process. ?? (is this valid?)
There is a moral elitism here – majority of humanity lives in hunger and suffers and is it worth it that some good is created on the way? Some great people are born? some finer possibilities of human existence have been realized at this cost?
Revelation and Faith — Two distinct views about revelation — The Propositional View : The content of revelation is a body of truths expressed in statements or propositions. Revelation is the communication of some truth by God to a rational creature through extraordinary means. Faith is the obedient acceptance of these divinely revealed truths. It conveys the notion of an intellectual assent to the content of the revelation. Natural theology is all the theological truth that can be worked out by the unaided human intellect. Revealed theology was held to consist of those truths that are not accessible to human reason. The most popular way of bridging the gap between revelation and the lack of evidence, is by an effort of will. Faith is distinguished by the entertainment of a probable proposition by the fact that the latter can be a completely theoretic affair. Faith is a “yes” of self-commitment, it does not turn probabilities into certainties; only a sufficient increase in the weight of evidence could do that. But it is a volitional response which takes us out of the theoretic attitude.
Voluntarist accounts of Faith — Pascal’s wager (or as Denny Crane once pointed out — if God exists and you believe in him, you are blessed. While if you are an atheist, you are screwed. If there is no God, everyone is screwed. Hence, believe in God. Higher expected utility! )
Tennant distinguishes between belief and faith — Belief is more or less constrained by fact or actuality that already is or will be independently of any striving of ours, and which convinces us. Faith reaches beyond the actual to the ideally possible, which in the first instance it creates, like a mathematician posits his entities, and then by practical activity may realize or bring into actuality. Faith always involves risks, but it is only by such risks that human knowledge is extended.
This bracketing of religious faith and scientific “faith” is highly questionable. Scientific faith is significant only as a preliminary to experimental verification. There is no objective verification for religious faith.
Tillich’s conception of faith is one of ultimate concern. Our ultimate concern is that which determines our being or non-being, not in the sense of our physical existence but in the sense of – the reality, the structure and meaning of our existence. Ultimate concern is unconditional and total and infinite. There is no respite from it, no place to flee. God is already present to us as the ground of our being, and yet at the same time he transcends us. To know God is to overcome the estrangement from the Ground of our being. To be ultimately concerned about God is to express our true relationship to Being.
(Or you could read and try to decipher Heidegger’s Being and Time.)
Non-Propositional View of Faith -The content of revelation is not revealing a body of truths about God, but God coming into the orbit of human experience. Theological propositions are not revealed, but represent human attempts to understand the significance of revelatory events. But why does God not reveal himself in an unambiguous way?
The process of becoming aware of God, if it is not to destroy the frail autonomy of the human personality, must involve the individual’s own freely responding assent and insight. Therefore, God does not become known to us as a reality of the same order of ourselves, for then the Infinite being would swallow our finite self. Instead, God has created space-time as a sphere in which we may exist in relative independence and within this sphere, God is self-discovered in ways that would allow us the fateful freedom to recognize or fail to recognize his presence. Divine activity always leaves room for the uncompelled activity of faith.
P.S. Maybe I will need one more blog-post for this. Until then, cheerio.