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This assignment consists of two short essay questions. The main intent of these questions is to ensure that you have a sound grasp of the fundamentals of the material presented in this unit. To that end, there is a 3 to 4 page (1000 words) limit for this question. I’m not so concerned with whether you agree with a particular author or not. The quality of your answer is based on your exposition of the competing positions, your comparative analysis of those positions and, lastly, your argument in support of the position you defend.
As with all the assignments in this course, these questions are not designed to be a “research” questions. There is no requirement to get material from external sources such as websites like Wikipedia. In fact, doing so can count against you. The point of your essays is to formulate the course material and develop your critical response. You can do this by working with the course material and developing your own ideas about the issue. The essay is simply your opportunity to set that out in paper.
So, the material you need to successfully complete this assignment can be found in the online course materials available through the course website. There may also be some reading material that is part of the hard copy course readings package. You can find this information on the course materials section of the course website.
Questions: (The total possible mark for this assignment is 100 marks.)

1. Consider the three arguments in support of the existence of God: the Ontological argument, the Cosmological Argument, and the Teleological Argument. Explain these three competing arguments as they are provided by the authors included in our course readings. Which argument offers the most plausible justification for the existence of God? Explain why. (70 marks.)
2. Explain the logical problem of evil as provided by the authors included in our course readings. Provide what you consider to be the best response to the logical problem of evil. Explain why it is the best response. (30 marks.)
Instructional content
Preliminary questions
If God did not exist, it would be necessary to invent him. (Voltaire)
The existence of God is one of the most vexing questions in philosophy. Theism is the belief in the existence of a personal God who has created the world. Atheism is the belief that God does not exist. Agnosticism is the belief that, while there may be a God, we cannot know of God’s existence because our knowledge is limited to material phenomena. Notice that these three positions represent all the possible answers to the question “Does God exist?.”
In this section we will consider the three traditional arguments that have been advanced in support of God’s existence: the ontological, cosmological, and design arguments.
These arguments are taken by many thinkers to constitute rational grounds for theism. In addition to examining these arguments we will also examine some of the traditional objections to these arguments, such as problems presented by the existence of moral and physical evil. Finally, we will examine faith and religious experience. Many religious thinkers have conceded that the existence of God cannot be established by rational argument, but they do not draw the conclusion that God does not exist. Instead, they contend that while we cannot prove the existence of God, his existence is assured in nonargumentative ways. Some maintain that God’s existence is certified by faith. Others claim that the existence of God is assured on the basis of religious experiences. We will examine these claims in order to assess whether or not they help to overcome some of the shortcomings of classical theism.
The ethics of Belief
The word ethics is derived from the Greek word ‘ethos’ perhaps best translated as “correctness”. While it is correct to think of ethics as being about moral behaviour, ethics would also include any discussion about what you should, or should not do. In this context, in 1879 William Kingdon Clifford considered the question of whether one should believe in god without sufficient evidence. Reasoning by analogy, Clifford ultimately concludes “it is wrong always, everywhere, and for anyone, to believe anything upon insufficient evidence”.
Cliffords argument begins by making clear that he thinks it would be wrong for a ship owner to commit the lives of his crew and passengers to a ship merely because he believes a ship is safe. Instead, the ship owner should be required to thoroughly check that the ship is safe; to seek evidence for the soundness of the vessel; and not send the ship to sea until sufficient evidence of safety is produced. In our day, aircraft safety rules follow exactly this principle.
Clifford thinks that this method should be applied to each belief. You should not commit yourself to it until sufficient evidence is found. After all, if you are going to consider beliefs acceptable without evidence, then you will be easy prey for the next con man you meet.
William James famously replied to this argument with an essay titled “the will to believe” in which he generally agrees with Cliffords principle that beliefs should not be accepted without evidence, he argues that under certain limited circumstances it is acceptable to do so.
James thinks there is an important difference between a ship-owner who wilfully neglects evidence and a religious adherent who fails to find evidence despite seeking it constantly. James very carefully considers exactly when you can believe something without evidence. He describes three conditions that must be met before you should believe without evidence: first, the question should be “live”, it should be matter to you; second, the question should be “forced”, you must make a decision; third, it must be “momentous”, your prospective believe would have to make a difference in your life.
If these conditions are satisfied, then James argued that you should then believe what you will; hence the title “the will to believe”.
The nature of God
The god of the cannibals will be a cannibal, of the crusaders a crusader, and of the merchants a merchant. (Ralph Waldo Emerson)
Before we turn to the arguments for theism, you should be aware of the distinction between God and our idea of God. The rationale for this distinction is that one of these can exist without the other. For example, we have ideas of centaurs (half-man/half-horse), but modern biologists tell us that centaurs cannot possibly exist. They contend that the laws of genetics rule out the possibility of centaurs, and therefore that our ideas of centaurs, however delightful and real in their own right, have no relationship to the material world.
Similarly, even though we have an idea of God, it does not follow from this idea that God exists. The other side of the coin is that it is possible for things to exist even when we have no idea that corresponds to them. One supposes, for instance, that bacteria existed in ancient times, even though the Greeks and Romans had no idea corresponding to micro-organisms. The conclusion is that we should observe the line between the objects of our thoughts and objects of the world.

In terms of our present discussion, when we affirm the existence of God, we are committed to the belief that God exists independently of what we may think about God. If someone disputes your claim that God exists, it is not a question whether or not you have an idea of God. That much can be granted, but it can be contended that your idea has no reference in the real world. In the following sections we shall evaluate whether or not there are good reasons for holding this belief.
If we attend to our idea of God, it is clear that it varies from person to person, from culture to culture, from time to time. Many people regard God as a perfect being who created the entire universe ex nihilo (out of nothing), as the Bible proclaims. Others think of God as less than perfect, as jealous, and as having a chosen people, as described in the Old Testament. The fact that the idea of God is relative to our cultural point of view is advanced by many people as an argument against theism. Many people maintain that the existence of God is inconsistent with the variety of views about God’s nature. The sheer number of these views, it is argued, testifies that the belief in God and our reasons for supporting it are merely the products of our cultural influences.
This argument from cultural relativism is often thought to undermine theism, but a little thought indicates that this is not the case at all. It may very well be true that our belief in God is shaped by our cultural heritage, but this admission is largely irrelevant to the question of God’s existence. Each of us may have different views about God’s nature—beliefs that have been fostered and shaped by our respective religious backgrounds. What we are examining is the soundness of the belief in the existence of God, an issue that is distinct from our specific religious beliefs, simply because God may or may not exist regardless of what we think about his specific nature.
The argument from cultural relativism is useful, however, because it helps to sharpen our problem. The God that we hold to exist independently of us is not conceived of as a flesh and blood being (unless, that is, we are examining the ancient Greek conception of humanoids who were said to inhabit Mount Olympus). Theists are advancing the existence of what we can call a metaphysical entity, or a being that cannot be discovered by our senses of sight, touch, taste, touch, or smell (except in extraordinary circumstances). Nevertheless, theists regard God as a personal creator who is immanent in the processes of the world. Many theists argue, further, that there is only one God; that is, they advance a thesis called monotheism.
It is also possible to view God as a theoretical entity, in the same way that subatomic particles, forces, minds, egos, and other objects of scientific investigation are theoretical entities. We cannot see electrons, even though we can experience their effects. We do not have direct acquaintance with an ego, but we can certainly study the impact an ego exerts on its environment. To admit that God is a metaphysical being, then, does not mean that he is completely beyond our scrutiny. It simply means that we must rely on our intellectual abilities, much more so than if we were to examine a purely factual matter.
While it is true that the concept of God is imprecise, in the same way that theoretical concepts of science are vague, we can make some provisional conjectures in order to provide a framework for our investigations. Whatever the variations in belief—that is, whatever each of us happens to think about God—our dominant conception of God is inherited from the Old Testament and New Testament and the Jewish and Christian religions. This is not to say that this reigning conception is better than others, but simply that it is necessarily the springboard for any discussion of God and religion in our culture.
Our task is to discover and isolate this dominant conception. In the Old Testament, God is credited with having a voice, walking, being vindictive (we hear about the wrath of God), and with making mistakes (he repents having created human beings). The God of the Old Testament frequently embroiled himself in battles, helping the Hebrews to fell the walls of Jericho, keeping the sun still for several hours, holding apart the waters of the Red Sea. These conceptions are anthropomorphic, which means that they portray God as having human qualities, thinking and behaving like a person.
In a similar way, the ancient gods and goddesses of Greek mythology took sides in the Trojan War, routinely took the shapes of various animals, and even produced numerous progeny (Titans) with human lovers. Of course, the God of the Bible did not take the shape of a swan in order to seduce Leda, as Zeus is said to have done, but there is a striking anthropomorphic streak in the Bible that must be addressed. The idea that God is loving is somewhat anthropomorphic. The emphasis on God’s sense of justice and concern for mankind also reveal anthropomorphic characteristics. Prayer, of course, is only meaningful if God listens to us; hearing is anthropomorphic. Faith is intelligible only if God cares about us; concern is anthropomorphic. However, without these anthropomorphic characteristics, God could very well cease to be a moral force. Not only is it central to the Judeo-Christian tradition that God be characterized in human traits, it seems altogether reasonable to view God in this way. After all, it is only fitting that we attempt to express our beliefs in terms that we know best.
The Monotheistic Hypothesis
It is often useful to construct a minimalist definition. Common to Christianity, Judaism and Islam is the belief that there is exactly one god that has at least these three common attributes: all powerful (omnipotent), all knowing (omniscient) and morally good (benevolent). This rather generic version of theism is often called ‘the monotheistic hypothesis”. Philosophers like this approach because it can be usefully discussed outside a particular faith group (like Christianity), and yet is specific enough to generate serious philosophical issues.
For the purposes of this course, considering the question of the existence of god is equivalent to considering whether the monotheistic hypothesis is true, or at least worthy of belief.
What we want to examine are the grounds for believing in the existence of God. It is one thing to be taught that there is a God, and quite another to believe in God for a good reason. There are many people who insist that this belief cannot be evaluated rationally, but is rather a question of faith. We will examine this claim later in this unit. For now, our question is whether or not theism is a rational position. In other words, can we know that God exists? We will first consider the arguments that have been advanced in support of this belief.
Perhaps the simplest argument that has been advanced is that since people in just about every society believe in God, there must be a God. It is easy to see that the popularity of a belief is a poor reason for supporting it. Many false beliefs are (or were) nearly universal; for example, the belief that flies are spontaneously generated by rotting meat. Moreover, although most cultures support the existence of a God, there is a wide variety of opinion about the nature of this God. What we are examining is the claim that the God of the Judeo-Christian tradition exists, and the fact that other cultures believe in a God of their own is largely irrelevant to this position.
This problem is a vexing one. God by definition transcends our experience. We therefore cannot have evidence for his existence in the same way that we can furnish empirical proof for a scientific hypothesis. There are people who claim to have been direct witnesses to miracles or to have heard God’s voice. We will examine the validity of these claims. Before we turn to these reports, however, we will examine three sets of arguments that have emerged in the long history of Christian theology. Each has been subjected to many formulations, and all are of contemporary interest. They are (1) the ontological argument, (2) the cosmological argument, and (3) the design argument.
Required viewing

The ontological Argument
It is the final proof of God’s omnipotence that he need not exist in order to save us. (Peter de Vries)
Perhaps the most sophisticated and difficult argument for God’s existence was formulated by Saint Anselm of Canterbury (1033-1109), and it is known as the ontological argument. Anselm wanted to formulate an argument so simple and compelling that anyone who could understand it would be persuaded by it. His argument seeks to infer the existence of God from the idea of God.
The ontological argument is actually much more difficult than Anselm imagined. When considering the version of the argument given below, note that it is more concise than Anselm’s formulation. Although there is the risk that reducing the ontological argument to three propositions may render it less appealing, this simplification has the advantage of making its logic more readily apparent
Premise 1: God is that than which nothing greater can be conceived.
Premise 2: If God were merely an idea, we could conceive of something greater, namely, a God who actually existed.
Conclusion: God exists
The logic of this argument is deceptively naïve: it is conceived purely a priori (independently of experience). The heart of the argument is the thesis that the very concept of God entails that God must exist. If this thesis is sound, the consequence is that any rational person must accept God’s existence.
God is defined as “a being greater than which none can be conceived.” Anselm asks us: “which would be greater: a being who is merely thought of, or a being which actually exists?” The answer is: a being who actually exists. Since God is, by definition, the greatest being who can be thought of, he must necessarily exist.
If this is so, the idea of a necessary being who does not exist or who no longer exists must be self-contradictory. The ontological argument has exerted a profound influence on philosophy, and it was defended in one or another form by the eminent philosophers of the seventeenth century: Leibniz, Descartes, and Spinoza. It is still an item of debate among logicians. Descartes (in his Meditations, IV) made explicit the central presupposition of the argument: the thesis that existence is a property which, like colour, shape, weight, etc., an object may or may not possess. Of course, some properties are essential to an object. For example, a triangle must have three sides, and a man must have a Y chromosome. Descartes claimed that perfection is a necessary property of a most perfect being, and that existence is a perfection. The argument is that one can no more conceive of a most perfect being without existence than one can conceive of a man without a Y chromosome or one can conceive of a triangle without three sides.
Other philosophers, however, have objected to Anselm’s argument in various ways, among them Thomas Aquinas, David Hume, and Immanuel Kant. A contemporary of Anselm’s, a monk named Gaunilo, attempted to show that Anselm’s reasoning was suspect by applying it to things that do not exist. His example is an island than which none greater can be conceived. There is no island that is the greatest possible island. But Gaunilo argued that if Anselm’s reasoning were correct, we could show that such an island really does exist. Since it is greater to exist than not to exist, if the island than which none greater is possible does not exist, then it is an island than which a greater island is possible. But it is impossible for the island than which none greater is possible to be an island than which a greater island is possible. The consequence is that the island than which none greater is possible must exist. This is a brilliant argument: by using Anselm’s strategy, Gaunilo shows that we can prove the existence of things that we know not to exist. This shows that Anselm’s argument, although deductively valid, is not sound.
In his response to Gaunilo, Anselm maintained that the ontological argument can only be applied to God, not to ordinary things like islands, but he did not explain why. If we interpret Gaunilo’s remarks as concerning a most beautiful island, we would be quite right to dismiss them as irrelevant to the ontological argument. However, what if we interpret Gaunilo’s remarks as concerning a greatest island? On what grounds could we then resist substituting the word “island” for the word “God” in Anselm’s argument, thereby “proving” the existence of a greatest island. Of course, we know that such an island does not exist, as we remarked earlier.
Descartes accepted the ontological argument. He was presented with an objection similar to the one raised by Gaunilo against Anselm. Descartes responded by drawing an analogy between God’s existence and the angles of a triangle, arguing that just as a triangle must have three sides so too must a perfect being have existence as a property. However, his critic objected that while it may be true that, if a triangle exists it must have three sides, it does not follow that any triangles in fact do exist. By analogy, then, if God exists, the critic remarked, then surely he must have existence as a predicate. But we do not know God exists.
The most famous of the objections to the ontological argument was advanced by the great German philosopher, Immanuel Kant. In his Critique of Pure Reason Kant focused on Anselm’s thesis that existence is a predicate that adds to the greatness of an object. If we say that “the man next door is six feet tall,” we ascribe the predicate “six feet tall” to the individual in question. In making this statement, we presuppose that there exists a man next door, an assumption that may or may not be true. Kant argued that this is a feature of predication: when we ascribe a quality or a predicate to an object, we presuppose that the object exists. If this is so, it follows that existence is not a predicate that we can affirm or deny of something.
If existence were a predicate, when we assert of an object that it exists, we would be asserting that this object exists even though we have already presupposed that it exists.
To see the force of this objection, consider the expression, “electrons exist.” If existence were a predicate, in asserting “electrons exist” we would be presupposing the existence of electrons and then attributing existence to them. In this event, the statement “electrons exist” would involve a redundancy. But there is clearly nothing redundant about the expression “electrons exist.” And this seems to indicate that existence is not a predicate. When we assert “electrons exist,” we are not saying that certain things (electrons) have the property of existence, but that the concept “electron” has an empirical reference in the world around us.
If we apply this line of reasoning to the ontological argument, the consequence is that while the concept “God” may involve a number of properties (goodness, knowledge, power, etc.), existence is not one of them. In short, we can not examine a concept in order to ascertain whether or not existence is part of its meaning, in the same way that we can examine the concept of a dog to determine whether the predicate “walks on all fours” is part of its meaning. If we want to find out whether or not the concept has a reference in the world, we will have to do another kind of analysis, an empirical investigation. The concept of God, Kant argues, includes various characteristics, but it should not include any property which implies his existence.
It is one thing to say that God, if he exists, has a number of characteristics. But it is something else to say that God exists. Another objection to the ontological argument was advanced by the famous German philosopher, G. W. Leibniz. He examined the premise that contends that God is a possible being. Leibniz thought that this premise may involve a contradiction, in the same way that the idea of a “greatest velocity” involves a contradiction. Many sensible people, he remarked, view the idea of a greatest or infinite velocity as a possible concept, or as an idea that we can think about without contradiction.
However, Leibniz noted that in his time (the seventeenth century) there was no way of determining if it was true that a greatest velocity was a possibility. In our own century, we now accept the view that the greatest velocity is the speed of light (or 300,000 meters/second). We suppose, that is, that the idea of an infinite velocity involves a contradiction. Could this be true of the expression “God is a possible being?” Anselm supposes that we can safely employ this notion, but Leibniz reminds us that we first have to demonstrate that it involves no contradiction, and it appears that we cannot do this.
Other compelling objections have been raised against the ontological argument. In a sense, it has been a fertile training ground for philosophers who are interested in argument for its own sake.
The Cosmological Argument
A series of arguments have been advanced that we can treat together as cosmological arguments. Something that makes them importantly different from the ontological argument is that the cosmological arguments contain at least one premise asserting some empirical fact. These arguments are therefore a posteriori. The distinguishing feature of these arguments is that they rely upon the claim that the cosmos as a whole must have a cause. If we consider the question of the origin of the universe, there seem to be three possibilities
1. the universe simply came into existence by itself,
2. the universe has always existed, or
3. the universe was created or brought into existence by some agent.
Theists generally find it incredible that the universe could have come into existence on its own. Even if we allow for an evolving universe, theists point out that at the beginning of time there must have been some primitive matter. This primitive material must have come from somewhere because it is inconceivable that it could have arisen from nothing. Theists also attack the credibility of the claim that the universe always existed: There must have been a beginning. Since the universe could not have brought itself into being at the beginning of time, the only possibility is that it was created by an extremely powerful being, namely God.
Now a definition: arguments that attempt to prove that there must be a God because there must be a creator of the universe are called cosmological arguments. We will examine two of the more well-known of these arguments: (1) the first cause argument, which was first advanced by Saint Thomas Aquinas (1225–1274) (and is the second of five related arguments or “ways” to God that he postulated); and (2) a version of the cosmological argument advanced by Samuel Clarke (1675–1729). As we shall see, Aquinas’s argument, even if it is cogent, does not prove the existence of God as that being has been defined in previous sections of this manual; it only demonstrates the existence of an uncaused cause. The first cause argument, in effect, is only the first part of a cosmological argument. The argument is completed in Clarke’s version of the argument, which attempts to draw the identification between the uncaused cause and the God advanced by theists.
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The First Cause Argument
This argument stems from our everyday observations of the manner in which things are caused to exist or occur. We observe that watering a plant causes it to grow, and that heat causes paper to smoulder and then burn. We can explain a great many things by discovering their antecedent causes or the factors that brought them about. Having done this, we can then view the cause as an effect of some other antecedent cause and explain it as well. However, we cannot explain everything in this way because the series of causes and effects would be never-ending. It seems that at some point we have to accept that there is a cause that cannot itself be considered as an effect of something else. This consideration has led some theists to argue for God’s existence as follows

Premise 1: In everyday life, we discover that events are caused by other events, just as growth in children is caused by the consumption of nutrients, for example.
Premise 2: But an infinite series of such events is impossible because there would be no first cause—no beginning of the series of causes and effects—and if there is no first cause, there cannot be a second cause, a third cause, and so forth.
Conclusion: There must be a first cause: God.
For an argument to be cogent, all of its premises must be acceptable or warranted, it should contain the relevant information available to its proponent, and it must be valid. Many who reject the first cause argument maintain that it does not fulfil any of these conditions. The target is the second premise (the first premise seems innocent enough). Mathematicians, for example, contend that an infinite series of events or causes is conceivable, and their reasoning has been accepted by many philosophers. However, suppose for the sake of argument that the first premise (along with the second premise) is acceptable. Even if this is the case, the argument still is not cogent because it does not meet our third condition; e.g., it is not valid. The premises may be true and the conclusion false. In other words, we can consistently assert the premises and deny the conclusion, an option
that is unavailable if the argument is valid. Consider what the argument proves. It demonstrates that every series of causes has a first or uncaused cause, not that all causes are part of a single series of causes having a single first cause. It is possible that not all causes are members of a single series of causes. In short, the argument proves that there is one or more uncaused first causes, not that there is just one. Further to this, the argument proves only that the first cause exists, and not that the first cause is God. The first cause could be the devil, or even a universal law of nature governing the development of matter. Moreover, the argument does not prove that this God is the personal God of our western tradition. Even if we allow that the first cause is God, it is possible that this God who once created the universe is now dead.
Consider the rationale for the cosmological argument. A little reflection should convince you that even if the cosmological argument is valid, it is not cogent on other grounds. The rationale for this argument stems from the thesis that it is inconceivable that the universe created itself. Theists contend that the universe requires another entity to have created it in the first place. But what if we turn this line of reasoning on itself? What about the existence of God? Either God always existed, or he just leaped into being one day, or God too must have a cause. But it seems just as incredible that God always existed, or that God just appeared one day. Does this mean that we have to postulate a cause as the grounds of God’s existence?—a Super-God? And then wouldn’t we be compelled to argue for the existence of a Super-Super-God, and so on. Our problem is that it seems just as incredible to believe in an uncaused God as it does to believe in an uncaused universe. It seems equally implausible to believe in an infinite series of Gods as it does to believe in an infinite series of causes.
A summation: We can criticize the first cause argument for the existence of God in the following ways
1. challenge the thesis that an infinite series of causes is impossible.
2. challenge the validity of drawing the conclusion that there is just one first cause and that this cause must be God.
3. counter the theist with the argument that if the universe needs a cause to explain its existence, so does God.
Clarke’s cosmological argument
Premise 1: Every being (which exists or has ever existed) is either a dependent being or a self-existent being.
Premise 2: Not every being can be a dependent being.
Conclusion: There exists a self-existent being.
This argument is obviously valid. If its premises are true, then its conclusion is true as well. However, the premises are problematic, especially premise 2. We can see the soundness of the claim that the cosmological arguments all turn on the thesis that the universe must have a cause if we examine this premise more carefully. It states, in effect, that every being, except for one, depends on some other being for its existence. This exceptional being would be the first in the series of all beings, the one being which cannot, for purely logical reasons, depend for its existence on any other being. This idea that beings depend on others is just a paraphrase for the thesis that each being is the effect of some other being. Hence, even though this version of the cosmological argument is different from the first cause argument, in effect it simply restates this argument in terms of dependency, thereby obscuring the general thesis of all versions of the cosmological argument, that the universe as a whole must have a cause for its existence.
The Design Argument
I don’t believe in God because I don’t believe in Mother Goose. (Clarence Darrow)
The design argument (argument from design) was also called the teleological argument by Immanuel Kant. It has a long history and perhaps is the most appealing of the three arguments presented here. The ancient philosophers used it in one form or another, and Aquinas’s “fifth way” is a version of this argument. It became popular once again with the rise of modern science. The most influential version appeared in Isaac Newton’s monumental work, Mathematical Principles of Natural Philosophy (1687). Since Newton was regarded as the greatest genius of his age, the design argument gained a great deal of support when Newton wrote: “This most beautiful system of the sun, planets, and comets, could only proceed from the counsel and domination of an intelligent and powerful being.” Scientists and theologians began to compare the world to a watch—to a machine—and from that inferred the existence of a universal watch maker.
The argument was developed by William Paley (1743–1805) and David Hume (1711–1776), the latter for purely critical purposes. It stems from the observation of pattern and structure in the universe. The traditional examples are the order and symmetry of organic structures such as leaves, the delicate patterns of snowflakes, and the laws of physics. We can explain some of the order we observe as the result of our mastery over nature. A watch, for example, is a human artifact that imposes order on nature. However, in this way we only account for a small part of the order of nature. The argument from design postulates a God to account for the order and structure that clearly does not originate from human influence over natural processes.
The design argument does not merely postulate an orderer to account for structure in the universe. It reasons to a divine orderer on the basis of an analogy with human artifacts: just as artifacts presuppose an orderer, the teleologist reasons that the existence of the cosmos presupposes an orderer. Here is a version of the argument which clearly displays this analogical reasoning
Premise 1: The universe is a great machine, each of its parts perfectly attuned to one another with the greatest accuracy and order.
Premise 2: The structure of the universe resembles exactly, though it greatly exceeds, the productions of human contrivance; that is artifacts produced by human thought, wisdom, and intelligence.
Conclusion: Since the effects resemble each other, we are led to infer by the rules of analogy that the causes also resemble each other. In short, we are led to infer that the author of nature is similar to the mind of man, though evidently possessed of much larger faculties.
This argument is very appealing. One need only examine the human body in a superficial way to get a sense of the wonderful intricacy of nature. This kind of observation, however, does not entail the conclusion that God exists. At best, the argument proves only that there is a designer, not that God exists. And this designer need only be very wise and very powerful, not necessarily an infinitely wise and infinitely powerful being. This designer could just as well be the devil (think about earthquakes, cancer, pests, and related signs of orderly evil), many gods, or super-intelligent beings from another planet. Moreover, since, by analogy, we only know that at the time the world was created there was a world-maker, we have no assurance of the present existence of this designer. The makers of human artifacts all eventually die. For all we know, this designer may be a deceased God.
The design argument is susceptible to a number of other obvious criticisms. In Candide, Voltaire marvelled at God’s cleverness in giving us noses so that we could wear eye-glasses, thus drawing attention to human imperfections. Parodying the logic of Voltaire’s argument, we could remark on God’s skill in arranging our eyes so that they allow us to see what we are eating.
The point is that the logic of the argument from design appeals to those who are predisposed to believe in a designer. Would an opponent accept the thesis that the way nature has developed is such that there are numerous phenomena that elicit in human beings a sense of beauty? Wouldn’t a critic object that nature is equally savage and brutal, and that the qualities we attribute to nature are really in our own minds? Hence, there would be nothing to account for. And even so, there may be other ways of explaining those phenomena.
We can argue, further, that the teleological argument does not even establish the existence of a designer of any kind. Clearly, the second premise is questionable. It presupposes that the world cannot exist without a designer. This is why theists typically counter with an analogy between human artifacts, such as watches, and nature. It is argued that, just as the watch exhibits order and has a creator (man), by analogy the universe exhibits order and has a creator as well (God). This analogy is the nub of the argument from design, and ultimately the basis of its success or failure as an argument for theism. The question is whether or not this analogy is sound.

The case against the analogy is presented with great skill and imagination by the character Philo in David Hume’s Dialogues. He notes that this argument is inductive in scope: it generalizes about the whole of nature on the basis of our knowledge of a small part of it. This line of argument is vulnerable to the critique that Hume raised about all inductive generalizations, the famous problem of induction discussed earlier. From experience we know how watches and other human artifacts are constructed, but we have no experience about the construction of universes. In his major philosophical works, A Treatise of Human Nature and An Enquiry Concerning Human Understanding, Hume argued that our knowledge of causation is simply the recognition of constant conjunctions of items or events in our experience, coupled with the expectation that the future will resemble the past. Since we have never observed the construction of a world, we have no way of knowing what causal relations might be involved in such a project.
Moreover, Philo argues that there are other ways of accounting for the order of the universe, ones that do not compel us to accept the existence of an agent responsible for this order. In this context we could mention Charles Darwin’s theory that biological adaptations are produced by chance variations and the survival of those organisms best suited to their environment. This biological theory is clearly compatible with the order we observe in plants and animals, but it does not presuppose the existence of a thoughtful designer.
There are also a number of scientific explanations for the order of inorganic matter, theories about the birth and development of the universe and its laws. These theories, such as the Big Bang Theory, do not entail a designer. Of course, these scientific theories do not completely answer all of our questions about the origin of the universe. Biologists tell us that organic matter ultimately was produced by the interaction of inorganic matter. Before there was life, on their account, there were chemicals built out of simple molecular structures.
Consequently, if we are to explain the existence and structure of living things, we must turn to physics and molecular theory. But if we do so, we find that physicists simply postulate the existence of a mass of inorganic matter that exploded billions of years ago, matter that is still receding from this core in the form of galaxies racing away from one another. This is not a very satisfactory account of the birth of the universe because we still do not know where this original primordial mass of matter came from. Was it always there? Or was it created by some supernatural power? However, even though physics does not answer this question, this failure does not make the argument from design any more plausible. Insofar as science gives us alternative explanations of the order of the universe, the design argument is weakened accordingly.
Now let us examine the analogy between human artifacts and the universe, which is at once the strength and the weakness of the argument from design. The universe is watch-like insofar as it exhibits order, but it is not like a watch in numerous relevant ways. For example, the universe is evolving; in a sense it is like a living being and not like a mechanical contrivance at all. Moreover, the universe is remarkably complex, not a simple thing like a watch. If we are to push the analogy between human artifacts and the universe, we are led by the demand of consistency to push the analogy between man and the designer of the universe. Taking the analogy seriously, we may have to suppose that the designer is a third-rate deity, a superman, or even an animal or vegetable.
The problem of evil .The traditional proofs for the existence of God are flawed in various ways, as we have seen. These proofs, however, are not fatal to theism because a theist can always claim that better arguments will be forthcoming in the fullness of time.
A more strenuous challenge to theism stems from the problem of evil, because the traditional arguments for belief in God are compelling only if we assume that God is good. But many of us are prepared to challenge this assumption, and therefore reject the attempt to argue for the existence of God. Human beings are plagued by all sorts of problems: illness, poverty, suffering, and death. But theism advances the existence of an all-good, all-powerful, all-knowing creator of the universe. Is this not paradoxical?
If God is all-powerful, then surely he could destroy all evil. If God is all-knowing, then surely he knows how to do this. If God is all-good, then he must want to do away with evil. Since evil exists, the problem is to explain why God permits its existence. This is a vexing problem for theists because if God permits the existence of evil, then either (a) God is not all-powerful, or (b) God is not all-knowing, or (c) God has evil intentions, or any combination of these. No theist is willing to forfeit any of these divine attributes. The prospect that God is not omnipotent, or that he is 12.
ignorant of what is happening in the universe, or that he is a nasty fellow is unacceptable to traditional theists.
Isolate the group of statements that are at issue
1. God is all-good.
2. God is all-powerful.
3. God is all-knowing.
4. God is the creator of the universe.
5. Evil exists.
Note that if we are willing to abandon any one of these statements, the problem is solved. If God is not perfectly good, then the existence of evil can be understood as the consequence of God’s willingness to accept it, or even his willing it to exist. If God is not all-powerful, then we can claim that the existence of evil is not God’s responsibility because he did his best to eradicate it. And if God is not all-knowing, then he may be ignorant of the existence of evil. The problem is that no theist is willing to forfeit any of these godly perfections. Why a perfect God would choose to create a universe in the first place is an interesting theological problem. Why he would choose to create this very imperfect world is arguably an insoluble problem.
Here are a few of the attempts to deal with the problem of evil. The technical name for attempts to reconcile God with the evil in the world is theodicy. Augustine argued that evil is a negative thing, the absence of goodness. To be real, says Augustine, is to be perfect. Since only God is perfect, only God is wholly real. God’s creation—being finite and limited—must contain incomplete goodness. It therefore must contain evil. Augustine’s argument seems to dodge the issue. Sickness may be lack of health. War may be thought of as lack of peace. But the fact is that people suffer, and to refer to this misery as a lack of happiness is to demean those who suffer on a daily basis.
A related response to the problem of evil is that evil is only in the mind, a view that has been popularized by Christian Scientists. The problem for this approach is that even if pain is just in the mind, for those who experience this “unreal” pain the suffering is just as pronounced and felt just as deeply as if it were “real.” Even if evil is not real, it may affect us adversely.
Another response is the contention that we experience only a tiny piece of creation, and therefore we are poor judges of the situation. If we could see the greater picture, we would recognize that the world is in fact good. We would recognize that evil is an instrument of good. Things may look bad to us from our point of view, but life has a happy Hollywood ending. Once again, this is small consolation for those who are in the midst of crisis and suffering. And even if the suffering is only temporary—perhaps a stage on the road to a greater good—it is still not clear why a perfect God should have created even a moment of evil.
St. Thomas argued that evil is necessary for good, e.g., evil is a logical corollary of good. Only through evil, he maintained, can good be achieved. An obvious example is the pain we often suffer in order to rid ourselves of bodily ailments. A good example would be when we undergo painful dental work in order to have healthy teeth. But if we insist on this line of argument, the implication is that God can only realize goodness by permitting the existence of evil. And this is to say that God is limited in his abilities or, in other words, that God is not omnipotent.
The most persistent and popular of the theses that attempt to reconcile the existence of evil with God’s goodness is the view that human freedom is the cause of evil.
In his infinite wisdom, God determined that to deny us freedom would be evil in its own way, because freedom is a good. Once we were granted freedom, however, we were free to choose evil along with the good. The only way God could have eradicated evil, on this view, would have been to turn us into machines that are incapable of making choices. Although this argument helps to explain the existence of what we call moral evil; evil caused by some moral agent it does not explain natural evils like disease, earthquakes, famine, and so forth. Certainly if God placed us in a better world, we would do less evil.
Many people have been forced by their circumstances to steal, lie, or murder in order to get food for their children. Moreover, the argument from human freedom is not even completely satisfactory with respect to moral evil. Why would an all-good God grant us freedom if it allowed us to wage total war with one another. What about the children and innocent people who suffer because of the evil deeds committed by wicked men and women? Could God not foresee the consequences of creating free will in humans? It is small consolation to the innocent child victim of abuse that his or her parents had the power to choose the evil they committed.
All of these responses are rather unsatisfactory. It seems reasonable to reject the existence of a perfect God. Perhaps a less than perfect God exists—something of the order of the Old Testament—but also a God not so worthy of our respect and admiration. Perhaps this explains the popularity of the expression, “God works in mysterious ways.” This does answer the problem of evil but only at a considerable price. Central to the tradition of Christian theism is the thesis that belief in God can be rational (whether or not it was considered a matter of knowledge or faith). Such references to “God’s mysterious ways” break with this tradition. Not only can we not know about God, we cannot even comprehend or argue these matters.
There is one final response to the problem of evil that should be mentioned. Thus far, we have considered two responses to this problem: (a) abandoning our belief in the God of Christian theism, or (b) advancing new hypotheses in order to reconcile God with evil. A third response was advanced by Voltaire: rather than give up God, he invented a new religion that divested God of all his moral and many of his anthropomorphic attributes: deism. On Voltaire’s view, God is just a hypothesis to explain the existence of the universe. But this God is neither just nor unjust. The world may be full of evil, but it is not significant that this evil coexists with God because this God has nothing to do with justice one way or another. We need not worry about reconciling God’s “ways” with the existence of evil, because this God does not strive for perfection.
There are some variations on Voltaire’s response to the problem of evil. Instead of divesting God of the attribute of justice, one can reconcile God with evil by divesting him of omnipotence. One can argue, for example, that evil exists because God was powerless to prevent it. In creating this world, and in attempting to make it “the best of all possible worlds,” God was forced to include a certain amount of imperfection or moral evil. This hypothesis was advanced by Leibniz, and it was soundly ridiculed by Voltaire, who in his writings confronted a Leibnizian character named Doctor Pangloss with a book full of tragedies and evils of the most sadistic sort.
Pascal’s wager
There is an additional argument for the existence of God, advanced by the famous French mathematician and philosopher Blaise Pascal (1623–1662). You have likely encountered Pascal’s line of reasoning at some time or other. Pascal’s argument is as follows: we must wager either that God exists or he does not exist. If God does not exist, it makes little difference how we bet. But if he does exist, we gain a great deal—especially, happiness after life—if we believe that he does exist, and we lose a great deal if we believe that he does not exist. Consequently, the astute person will wager that God does exist.
Pascal’s wager is susceptible to a number of attacks. Prominent among these is the objection that in fact we do not have to wager either for or against God’s existence. We can remain undecided, as does the agnostic, or the individual who is uncertain about God’s existence. Of course, the agnostic may lose the bet, but only if we can prove that there is a reward to be lost, which of course Pascal cannot do.
Secondly, the wager is a good deal more complicated than Pascal suggests. Pascal overlooks the crucial possibility of other creators. He presumes that there is only one choice: the God of the Christian tradition. But other religious traditions support the existence of other gods. If we are to be a reasonable gambler, why would we bet on the Christian God as opposed to the gods of other religious traditions? If Pascal’s wager is reasonable, then surely it makes as much sense to bet on the existence of Zeus or Odin as it does on the God of the Jews, Christians, or Muslims.
Finally, there is no proof that a wager on the existence of God entails a benefit in the event that God does in fact exist. What reasons do we have for supposing that God rewards believers and punishes nonbelievers? This supposition involves an additional act of faith in the tenets of the Judeo-Christian tradition. Of course, from God’s point of view, a belief based on Pascal’s wager might seem to be hypocritical. If God does exist, he may, for all we know, be more sympathetic to the individual who is genuinely uncertain, or unable to believe in the face of what he regards as injustice in the world, than to those individuals who believe in him because they think that it will benefit them to do so.

Pascal’s argument is based on the assumption that God is good, and that God cares about whether or not we believe in his existence. Having made this assumption, Pascal argues that it is rational to believe in God, even if we cannot prove that he exists. Accordingly, belief in God is a matter of faith. However, this faith is not an irrational one, but a faith that can be argued for as rational belief. While it may not be knowledge in any positive sense, Pascal’s argument indicates that faith in God is not blind or beyond the reach of rational deliberation.

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