Arguments for the Existence of God
by Metacrock - edited by JMT
Used with Permission
Several Short Arguments
Several Short Arguments From Alvin Plantinga
[These arguments are on the Sudath website, they are from lecture notes of Alvin Plantinga, the are not intended to be as comprehensive as the others, but just short reflections to provoke thought]
Not all the arguments on this page are from Plantinga, but most of them are.
XXVIII. Why is There Something instead of Nothing?
"Why is there anything at all? That is, why are there any contingent beings at all? (Isn't that passing strange, as S says?) An answer or an explanation that appealed to any contingent being would of course raise the same question again. A good explanation would have to appeal to a being that could not fail to exist, and (unlike numbers, propositions, sets, properties and other abstract necessary beings) is capable of explaining the existence of contingent beings (by, for example, being able to create them). The only viable candidate for this post seems to be God, thought of as the bulk of the theistic tradition has thought of him: that is, as a necessary being, but also as a concrete being, a being capable of causal activity. (Difference from S's Cosmo Argument: on his view God a contingent being, so no answer to the question "Why are there anything (contingent) at all?"
XXIX. The argument from positive epistemic status.
"Clearly many of our beliefs do have positive epistemic status for us (at any rate most of us think so, most of us accept this premise). As we have seen, positive epistemic status is best thought of as a matter of a belief's being produced by cognitive faculties that are functioning properly in the sort of environment that is appropriate for them. The easiest and most natural way to think of proper functioning, however, is in terms of design: a machine or an organism is working properly when it is working in the way it was designed to work by the being that designed it. But clearly the best candidate for being the being who has designed our cognitive faculties would be God."
"This premise of this argument is only a special case of a much broader premise: there are many natural (non-artifactual) things in the world besides our cognitive faculties such that they function properly or improperly: organs of our bodies and of other organisms, for example. (Tony Kenny's design argument)"
"Objection: perhaps there is indeed this initial tendency to see these things as the product of intelligent design; but there is a powerful defeater in evolutionary theory, which shows us a perfectly natural way in which all of these things might have come about without design.
"Reply: (1) is it in fact plausible to think that human beings, for example, have arisen through the sorts of mechanisms (random genetic mutation and natural selection) in the time that according to contemporary science that has been available? The conference of biologists and mathematicians ("Mathematical Challenges to the NeoDarwinian Interpretation of Evolution", ed. Paul Morehead and Martin Kaplan, Philadelphia, Wistar Institute Press); the piece by Houston Smith. The chief problem: most of the paths one might think of from the condition of not having eyes, for example, to the condition of having them will not work; each mutation along the way has to be adaptive, or appropriately connected with something adaptive. (2) There does not appear to be any decent naturalistic account of the origin of life, or of language."
XXX. The Argument from the confluence of proper function and reliability.
We ordinarily think that when our faculties are functioning properly in the right sort of environment, they are reliable. Theism, with the idea that God has created us in his image and in such a way that we can acquire truth over a wide range of topics and subjects, provides an easy, natural explanation of that fact. The only real competitor here is nontheistic evolutionism; but nontheistic evolution would at best explain our faculties' being reliable with respect to propositions which are such that having a true belief with respect to them has survival value. That does not obviously include moral beliefs, beliefs of the kind involved in completeness proofs for axiomatizations of various first order systems, and the like. (More poignantly, beliefs of the sort involved in science, or in thinking evolution is a plausible explanation of the flora a fauna we see.) Still further, true beliefs as such don't have much by way of survival value; they have to be linked with the right kind of dispositions to behavior. What evolution requires is that our behavior have survival value, not necessarily that our beliefs be true. (Sufficient that we be programmed to act in adaptive ways.) But there are many ways in which our behavior could be adaptive, even if our beliefs were for the most part false. Our whole belief structure might (a) be a sort of byproduct or epiphenomenon, having no real connection with truth, and no real connection with our action. Or (b) our beliefs might be connected in a regular way with our actions, and with our environment, but not in such as way that the beliefs would be for the most part true.
Can we define a notion of natural plausibility, so that we can say with Salmon that belief in God is just implausible, and hence needs a powerful argument from what is plausible? This would make a good section in the book. Here could argue that what you take to be naturally plausible depends upon whether you are a theist or not. (It doesn't have to do only with what seems plausible to you, or course) And here could put into this volume some of the stuff from the other one about these questions not being metaphysically or theologically neutral.
Patricia Churchland (JP LXXXIV Oct 87) argues that the most important thing about the human brain is that it has evolved; hence (548) its principle function is to enable the organism to move appropriately. "Boiled down to essentials, a nervous system enables the organism to succeed in the four F's: feeding, fleeing, fighting and reproducing. The principle chore of nervous systems is to get the body parts where they should be in order that the organism may survive. . . . . . Truth, whatever that is, definitely takes the hindmost." (Self-referential problems loom here.) She also makes the point that we can't expect perfect engineering from evolution; it can't go back to redesign the basics.
Note that there is an interesting piece by Paul Horwich "Three Forms of Realism", Synthese, 51, (1982) 181-201 where he argues that the very notion of mind independent truth implies that our claims to knowledge cannot be rationally justified. The difficulty "concerns the adequacy of the canons of justification implicit in scientific and ordinary linguistic practice--what reason is there to suppose that they guide us towards the truth? This question, given metaphysical realism, is substantial, and, I think, impossible to answer; and it is this gulf between truth and our ways of attempting to recognize it which constitutes the respect in which the facts are autonomous. Thus metaphysical realism involves to an unacceptable, indeed fatal, degree the autonomy of fact: there is from that perspective no reason to suppose that scientific practice provides even the slightest clue to what is true. 185 ff.
XXXI. The Argument from induction.
Hume pointed out that human beings are inclined to accept inductive forms of reasoning and thus to take it for granted, in a way, that the future will relevantly resemble the past. (This may have been known even before Hume.)
As Hume also pointed out, however, it is hard to think of a good (noncircular) reason for believing that indeed the future will be relevantly like the past.
Theism, however, provides a reason: God has created us and our noetic capacities and has created the world; he has also created the former in such a way as to be adapted to the latter. It is likely, then, that he has created the world in such a way that in fact the future will indeed resemble the past in the relevant way). (And thus perhaps we do indeed have a priori knowledge of contingent truth: perhaps we know a priori that the future will resemble the past.) (Note here the piece by Aron Edidin: "Language Learning and A Priori Knowledge), APQ October l986 (Vol. 23/ 4); Aron argues that in any case of language learning a priori knowledge is involved.)
This argument and the last argument could be thought of as exploiting the fact that according to theism God has created us in such a way as to be at home in the world (Wolterstorff.)
XXXII. The Putnamian Argument
(the Argument from the Rejection of Global Skepticism)
Hilary Putnam (Reason Truth and History) and others argue that if metaphysical realism is true (if "the world consists of a fixed totality of mind independent objects", or if "there is one true and complete description of the 'the way the world is'") then various intractable skeptical problems arise. For example, on that account we do not know that we are not brains in a vat. But clearly we do know that we are not brains in a vat; hence metaphysical realism is not true. But of course the argument overlooks the theistic claim that we could perfectly well know that we are not brains in a vat even if metaphysical realism is true: we can know that God would not deceive us in such a disgustingly wholesale manner. So you might be inclined to accept (1) the Putnamian proposition that we do know that we are not brains in a vat (2) the anti-Putnamian claim that metaphysical realism is true and antirealism a mere Kantian galimatias, and (3) the quasi-Putnamian proposition that if metaphysical realism is true and there is no such person God who has created us and our world, adapting the former to the latter, then we would not know that we are not brains in a vat; if so, then you have a theistic argument.
Variant: Putnam and others argue that if we think that there is no conceptual link between justification (conceived internalistically) and truth, then we should have to take global skepticism really seriously. If there is no connection between these two, then we have no reason to think that even our best theories are any more likely to be true than the worst theories we can think of. We do, however, know that our best theories are more likely to be true than our worst ones; hence. . . . You may be inclined to accept (1) the Putnamian thesis that it is false that we should take global skepticism with real seriousness, (2) the anti-Putnamian thesis that there is no conceptual link between justification and truth (at any rate if theism is false), and (3) the quasi-Putnamian thesis that if we think is no link between the two, then we should take global skepticism really seriously. Then you may conclude that there must be a link between the two, and you may see the link in the theistic idea that God has created us and the world in such a way that we can reflect something of his epistemic powers by virtue of being able to achieve knowledge, which we typically achieve when we hold justified beliefs.
Here in this neighborhood and in connection with anti-realist considerations of the Putnamian type, there is a splendid piece by Shelley Stillwell in the '89 Synthese entitled something like "Plantinga's Anti-realism" which nicely analyzes the situation and seems to contain the materials for a theistic argument.
XXXIII. Ultimate Origin must be Personal.
This one is not from Plantinga:
John Hick's argument
Dennis McCallum and Gary DeLashmutt
John Hick has argued that since God is personal, He is not subject to natural law, (e.g. thermodynamic laws) which apply to the physical realm. Therefore, there are fewer problems with His eternity than there would be with the eternity of the physical universe.[footnote 7]7. [John Hick, Arguments for the Existence of God. (New York: Herder and Herder, 1971) pp.34 ff. He also gives other reasons for distinguishing between God and the universe in the area of eternalness.]
By Metacrock. Used with Permission.
For more articles by the same author, see Doxa.