Debating God’s Existence: A Primer on Common Arguments

By Nicholas Fay

Does God exist? If so, where is he and why is there suffering in the world? For many years different civilizations have tried to answer these questions. Religions sprout from these civilizations as ways to answer the question of higher power, but no one group can agree with each other on just what is that higher power. In contemporary times, we now have three broad beliefs that can encompass the majority of the populace’s beliefs.  Those categories are classified as theists, atheists, and agnostics. (While there are many forms of theists, for the sake of the paper I will use Catholicism to represent the Theist beliefs.) Each belief uses specific arguments to defend their point of view: Catholics use the cosmological argument from contingency, atheists use the argument from evil, and agnostics use the argument from uncertainty.

Naturally, these three arguments are the points of contention between the three philosophies. Catholics are supporters of the cosmological argument from contingency, while atheists back the argument from evil. Agnostics use the argument of uncertainty to defend their beliefs as well. When each group’s arguments are examined, every argument, whether for or against God, usually has a flaw somewhere and is the reason why people still argue over God’s existence to this day.

One of the strongest arguments for God from Catholicism, the cosmological argument from contingency, is powerful due to how logically the argument is presented. According to Bruce Reichenback from Stanford University, the argument from contingency is summarized as, “pattern of argumentation (logos) that makes an inference from certain alleged facts about the world (cosmos) to the existence of a unique being, generally identified with or referred to as God.” In other words, a series of logical statements or facts can lead to the conclusion that God exists. A common example of this is the thought process that everything exists through dependence on something else or it naturally exists. Those things that exist in the world that are impossible to not be there, such as numbers, are naturally existent without outside influence. On the other hand, the universe is mostly dependent. Children result from the union of adults or stars forming from dust coalescing into a single object are events dependent on certain variables to occur. Thus, Catholicism believes that the creation of the universe is dependent on God (Craig).

The problem with the argument from contingency is that the creation of the universe could be attributed to anything. The creation of the universe could have been anything from an act of God to the Big Bang that scientists are always citing, but we don’t know. As a result, the argument could be adapted to fit other views such as atheism, as science could be used to explain the creation of the universe and thus disprove God. Another flaw with the argument is how it can extend almost infinitely. For example, what makes God naturally existent? That simple question impairs the argument from contingency.

On the opposite side of the question, one of the biggest arguments against God that atheists use is the argument from evil. The argument from evil is a relation of God’s existence to the existence of evil in the world. Michael Tooley from Stanford University has this to say about the argument:

. . . God must be a person who, at the very least, is very powerful, very knowledgeable, and morally very good. But if such a being exists, then it seems initially puzzling why various evils exist. For many of the very undesirable states of affairs that the world contains are such as could be eliminated, or prevented, by a being who was only moderately powerful, while, given that humans are aware of such evils, a being only as knowledgeable as humans would be aware of their existence. Finally, even a moderately good human being, given the power to do so, would eliminate those evils. Why, then, do such undesirable states of affairs exist, if there is a being who is very powerful, very knowledgeable, and very good?

In essence, Tooley is saying that if God is a powerful, wise, and good being, then why is there evil in the world? As there are things that can be classified as evil in our world then there is a problem with the current idea of God. If God is wise, he would be able to discern where evil existed. If God is powerful then he should be able to wipe out evil where he finds it. Finally, if God is moral, he would seek to exterminate evil. But, it can be said that since evil exists God’s existence is a conflict based on his predefined nature.

The argument from evil is relatively hard to refute, but it does have some flaws. For one, the argument ignores the possibility that God is a neutral entity instead of a benevolent one. While partially against Catholic beliefs, the chance that some sort of higher entity exists refutes atheist usage of the argument. Another possible flaw of is the idea of theodicy. Theodicy is defined as the “defense of God’s goodness and omnipotence in view of the existence of evil” (“Theodicy”). As such, those that dispute the argument from evil with theodicy believe that any evil in the world is there because it will result in a better outcome for the benefit of people, proving God’s benevolence.

There are other possible arguments that could be used for and against God’s existence, but the cosmological argument from contingency and the argument from evil are two of the strongest points for Catholicism and atheism respectively. It’s interesting to note that these are considered strong arguments, yet they still have many flaws and counterpoints that can refute their claims. This leads directly into the agnostic argument from uncertainty. This argument is relatively simple, revolving around the idea that since we cannot prove for certain God’s existence or inexistence, it must be undeterminable at this point in time (“Arguments for Agnosticism”). This is why humanity still questions God’s existence today; every argument we come up with is inherently flawed in one regard or another and searching for that argument that isn’t flawed is in a way the ultimate goal.

As new arguments are formulated or the arguments from evil, contingency, and uncertainty are refined, hopefully we come closer to the truth. While today Catholics, atheists, and agnostics may support their own individual theories on God, they are all just trying to answer a question that humanity has asked for a long time. Is there such thing as a higher power? I believe we may never know such an answer despite the best efforts from those seeking it.

Works Cited

  • Craig, William L. “Argument from Contingency.” Reasonable Faith. N.p., 08 Oct. 2007. Web. 08 Mar. 2015. <http://www.reasonablefaith.org/argument-from-contingency&gt;.
  • “Arguments for Agnosticism.” Philosophy of Religion. Tim Holt, 2008. Web. 10 Mar. 2015.
  • Reichenbach, Bruce. “Cosmological Argument.” Stanford University. Stanford University, 13 July 2004. Web. 09 Mar. 2015.
  • “Theodicy.” Merriam-Webster. Merriam-Webster, n.d. Web. 10 Mar. 2015.
  • Tooley, Michael. “The Problem of Evil.” Stanford University. Stanford University, 16 Sept. 2002. Web. 08 Mar. 2015. <http://plato.stanford.edu/entries/evil/&gt;.

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