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Empirical arguments on the existence of God

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Teleological argument or the argument from design

The teleological argument (physico-theological argument, argument from design, or intelligent design argument) is the argument for the existence of God that is based on discernible evidence of order, intent, design, or direction — or some combination thereof — in nature. It relies on the complex aspect of the world that seems to have been designed, and would therefore be the objective or the goal of an intelligent being.

This argument has been revived by American creationists in the form of the Intelligent Design movement.

Although there are various variations, the argument can be stated as follows:

  1. X is too complex, too orderly, too befitting, too seemingly thoughtful or beautiful to have appeared by chance or accident.
  2. Therefore, X must have been created by a gifted, intelligent, wise or thoughtful being.
  3. God is a gifted, intelligent, wise or thoughtful being.
  4. Therefore, God exists.

Moral argument

“But then what will become of man, without God and without immortality? Everything is permitted, therefore, everything is lawful?” Fedor Dostoyevsky

The moral argument takes several forms, it can correspond to the following modus tollens:

  1. If God does not exist, then objective moral values ​​do not exist.
  2. But objective moral values ​​exist.
  3. Therefore, God exists.

The objectivity of moral values ​​must here be understood as true at all times and in all places, apart from what human beings think of them. Thus, according to philosopher and theologian William Lane Craig, “to say that the Holocaust was objectively bad is equivalent to saying that it was bad even though the Nazis who carried it out thought it was good, and that it always would have been bad even if the Nazis had won World War II and exterminated or brainwashed anyone who thought otherwise.”

Universal consensus argument

This is an argument proposed by Cicero (De natura deorum), according to which the universal belief of peoples in something divine is sufficient proof to establish its existence. In this case, the minority of non-believers would be against them.

This argument is a special case of an argument from authority where the majority is taken as the competent authority to know God.

But even in a democratic regime, the fact that an overwhelming majority of people support an opinion is not enough to prove its truth. Many examples can be taken in support of this, such as the universal belief in a remote era in geocentrism (the Sun revolving around the Earth).

If certain theologians have defended the existence of a sensus divinitatis (Calvin), other thinkers have maintained that belief in God is an illusion, a universal error of our cognitive faculties in the same way as the perception of the broken stick in the water.

Others, on the contrary, try to reverse the argument by wondering at the existence of atheists in a world created by God. Why did God allow such disobedience to him – even if it was in the minority – to be possible? This is the argument for the existence of unbelief.

Argument from revelation

The sacred texts are the word of God revealed to men, therefore they must be believed. The argument is made both by some Protestants (for whom the Bible is the superior authority) and by some Muslims (who refer to the Koran). It is little used by Catholics (who, while considering the Bible as the word of God, do not, unlike Protestants, make it the primary authority; a Protestant believes in the Bible because it is the Bible; a Catholic believes in the Bible because he first believes in the Church which gives it to him).

Several criticisms can be leveled at this argument, including:

  • Presented thus, it is a petition of principle, the existence of God is proven by the existence of his word which implies it already. What remains to be proven, and not only for atheists, is that these sacred texts are indeed the word of God;
  • The following overview outlines the flaw well:
    1. Sacred texts affirm the existence of God
    2. But these texts are true because word of God
    3. So God exists

The second premise already contains the conclusion! The reasoning is tainted with circularity (vicious circle).

  • The plurality of revelations. There are many incompatible religions claiming to be based on the word of God, either God has revealed himself repeatedly and inconsistently (which does not correspond to the attitude expected of a good and omniscient being) or some of these religions are false. If we accept this last scenario, we must use a criterion external to revelation to discern among the revealed religions which are true. These criteria may exist (Catholics invoke the miracles of Christ, the holiness of his life, the fulfillment of messianic prophecies, etc. – this is the Christological argument, but this amounts to admitting that the (claim to) revelation is not enough to prove the truth of a religion.
  • In the Catholic context, there is indeed a particular discipline, apologetics, whose object is to establish by rational means the credibility of revelation as it is understood in this religion. At the very least, it emerges that arguments “based on revelation” are not ipso facto arguments of faith, in the sense that they would rest purely and simply on belief in the truth of a given revelation, since this truth is supposed to be knowable by bona fide human reason. However, it should be noted that the function attributed to revelation in various religions is not so much to let us know that God is, but rather who he is, and that we can enter with him into certain determined relationships, practically necessary. to our salvation. – Which brings us to a related question, absolutely capital at least since Jean Duns Scotus: if the God whose philosophy (physics and metaphysics, taken in the Aristotelian sense) can possibly demonstrate the existence and certain attributes is, in the full sense of the term, the God of faith (that of the theologian, for Duns Scotus). For Duns Scotus (as for Thomas Aquinas, in another way) it is indeed the same unique God on both sides, but the knowledge that philosophical reason gives us is insufficient, not only, of course , to salvation, but even from a merely speculative point of view. It is not enough to demonstrate that (this) God exists, it is also necessary to know him: the demonstration of the existence of a thing whose nature is not adequately known is limited in its value, not only practical, but even theoretical. The junction between the “God of the philosophers” and the “God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob”, according to Pascal’s formula, is not self-evident: in this respect, the rational arguments in favor of the existence of God (without necessarily being “useless and uncertain”, as Pascal says of Descartes) must necessarily, in order to have a religious value, be supplemented by arguments of the apologetic type – unless we suppose in man another way of coming into direct contact with the first principle, the existence of which has been proved.

(Includes texts from Wikipedia translated and adapted by Nicolae Sfetcu)

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