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Metaphysical, logical and epistemic arguments against the existence of God

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Metaphysical and logical arguments

The existence of God is unverifiable and therefore meaningless

According to the verificationist theory of meaning, the meaning of an utterance is determined by its conditions of verification.

But God is not a being whose existence can be tested empirically. Accordingly to this theory, any statement about the existence or non-existence of God — like many metaphysical concepts — is meaningless. The interest of this argument is that it removes the debate concerning the existence or non-existence of God, since it is not demonstrable, one way or the other. The argument comes from Rudolf Carnap, notably in “The task of the logic of science” (1934), and applies to any metaphysical statement, including the existence of God.

The other argument comes from the fundamental principles of rational logic: it is up to the person (or group) who makes a statement in the order of the positive to prove it, not to the one who refutes it. This is the idea of ​​Bertrand Russell and his thought experiment of Russell’s teapot.

Argument from infinite regress

This argument is intended as a response to the first cause argument.

It is often offered in this form: If God helps explain the creation of the world, where does the creation of God himself come from?

Or: if everything has a cause, what causes God?

But in reality, the first cause argument does not say that everything has a cause (which would effectively imply an infinite regress), but that everything has a reason for being (either in itself or in something else) or, in the cosmological argument of the Kalam, that everything that begins to exist has a cause, but God is not concerned with this assertion, because he did not begin to exist.

It is precisely to avoid infinite regress that this argument posits the existence of a being which has its raison d’etre within itself (it does not need a cause external to itself: it exists by itself, from all eternity, outside of time, without receiving anything from anyone). It is this self-existent being (without receiving anything from another) that is called God.

It will then be noticed that if something may not begin to exist, then the universe may not begin to exist, and therefore God is no longer necessary to explain the origin of the universe. Generally speaking, any argument used to say that the universe cannot be uncreated applies equally to God. Moreover, a timeless being who “creates” or “causes” the universe poses a problem of logic. Thomas Aquinas attempts to resolve this paradox in one of the quinque viae (Theological Summa, Ia, q.2, s.3).

God faced with a logical paradox

God is omniscient (he knows everything) and omnipotent (he can do everything). Now, is he able to create a stone heavy enough that he cannot lift it? If so, he is therefore omnipotent on the one hand (creation of the stone) but on the other, he cannot lift it and therefore he is not omnipotent. Other paradoxes arise from the contradiction between these two attributes: Can God make, for example, something He knows should happen not happen? These various paradoxes have been widely discussed, particularly in the Middle Ages.

Epistemic argument: Argument from superfluity

This argument has the general form:

  1. God is not needed to explain the world
  2. However, we must believe only in the entities necessary to explain the world
  3. So don’t believe in God

The second premise corresponds to Ockham’s razor saying that “entities should not be multiplied beyond what is necessary”. In other words, the existence should be postulated only of what is necessary to explain the world.

This objection is recorded in the Summa Theologica of Saint Thomas Aquinas:

“What can be accomplished by few principles is not accomplished by more principles. Now, it seems that all the phenomena observed in the world can be accomplished by other principles, if we suppose that God does not exist; for what is natural has nature as its principle, and what is free has human reason or will for its principle. There is therefore no need to assume that God exists.”

Note that the argument of superfluity is an epistemic argument, that is to say that it shows that one should not believe in God and not that God does not exist. To use the expression of St. Thomas “no need to suppose that God exists” does not imply that God does not exist. This argument thus leads at most, according to Peter van Inwagen, to a presumption of agnosticism, that is to say to think that the suspension of judgment as to the existence of God would be the most reasonable position. According to van Inwagen, only proof of the non-existence of God can make atheism reasonable, not the absence of proof in favor of theism. To defend this thesis, van Inwagen uses an analogy: the absence of evidence for the existence of extraterrestrial intelligences does not justify its rejection. In the absence of evidence for or against it, it is most reasonable not to believe anything about extraterrestrial intelligences. The same would be true for God.

Against this agnostic conclusion, atheists take up the motto of Euclid of Megara: “What is affirmed without proof can be denied without proof”. The problem is whether the fact that there is no reason to believe that an entity exists is sufficient to justify the assertion that it does not exist.

Validity of the first premise

For the conclusion of the superfluity argument to be true, its most questionable premise must still be true, namely that one can explain all existing phenomena without invoking God.

Natural theology has long dominated the idea that the complexity and the order reigning in the world, in particular among living beings, required the existence of God in order to be explained (argument from design).

In particular, the following have been invoked as phenomena requiring the existence of God:

  • the existence of the world itself (cosmological argument)
  • the existence of living beings (teleological argument)
  • the existence of man, being rational and conscious
  • the existence of morality (moral argument).

If some of these phenomena have received a scientific explanation, this is not the case for all. The synthetic theory of evolution offers an explanation of the diversity of living forms, and in particular of the appearance of humans, without resorting to a creator. Moral conscience can itself be explained in evolutionary terms, similarly different theories are put forward to explain the appearance of life. The appearance of the world and the appearance of consciousness raise many more problems for contemporary science (respectively the problems of the Big Bang and the difficult problem of consciousness).

However, the first premise of the superfluity argument asserts that all natural phenomena can receive a scientific explanation and not that this has been provided in the current state of science. It is thus a question of a philosophical attitude of trust in the explanatory power of science. The justification of this premise can thus take the form of an induction from the past explanatory successes of science: scientific explanations have already been provided for phenomena that were once known to require the existence of God, it is therefore likely that scientific explanations will be provided in the future for phenomena whose explanation today would require the existence of God.

Besides, what value has a “gap God” that is postulated only to fill in the gaps of science? To appeal to the divine is even less to provide an explanation since the very origin of the divine is not explained (cf. argument of infinite regress).

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

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