In This Article Arguments for the Existence of God

  • Introduction
  • General Overviews
  • Anthologies
  • Assessing Arguments
  • “Cumulative” Arguments
  • Pascal’s Wager

Philosophy Arguments for the Existence of God
by
Graham Oppy
  • LAST REVIEWED: 08 October 2015
  • LAST MODIFIED: 23 May 2012
  • DOI: 10.1093/obo/9780195396577-0040

Introduction

Philosophical discussion of arguments for the existence of God appeared to have become extinct during the heyday of logical positivism and ordinary language philosophy. However, since the mid-1960s, there has been a resurgence of interest in these arguments. Much of the discussion has focused on Kant’s “big three” arguments: ontological arguments, cosmological arguments, and teleological arguments. Discussion of ontological arguments has been primarily concerned with (a) Anselm’s ontological argument; (b) modal ontological arguments, particularly as developed by Alvin Plantinga; and (c) higher-order ontological arguments, particularly Gödel’s ontological argument. Each of these kinds of arguments has found supporters, although few regard these as the strongest arguments that can be given for the existence of God. Discussion of cosmological arguments has been focused on (a) kalām cosmological arguments (defended, in particular, by William Lane Craig); (b) cosmological arguments from sufficient reason (defended, in particular, by Richard Gale and Alexander Pruss); and (c) cosmological arguments from contingency (defended, in particular, by Robert Koons and Timothy O’Connor). Discussion of teleological arguments has, in recent times, been partly driven by the emergence of the intelligent design movement in the United States. On the one hand, there has been a huge revival of enthusiasm for Paley’s biological argument for design. On the other hand, there has also been the development of fine-tuning teleological arguments driven primarily by results from very recent cosmological investigation of our universe. Moreover, new kinds of teleological arguments have also emerged—for example, Alvin Plantinga’s arguments for the incompatibility of metaphysical naturalism with evolutionary theory and Michael Rea’s arguments for the incompatibility of the rejection of intelligent design with materialism, realism about material objects, and realism about other minds. Other (“minor”) arguments for the existence of God that have received serious discussion in recent times include moral arguments, arguments from religious experience, arguments from miracles, arguments from consciousness, arguments from reason, and aesthetic arguments. Of course, there is also a host of “lesser” arguments that are mainly viewed as fodder for undergraduate dissection. Further topics that are germane to any discussion of arguments for the existence of God include (a) the appropriate goals at which these arguments should aim and the standards that they should meet, (b) the prospects for “cumulative” arguments (e.g., of the kind developed by Richard Swinburne), and (c) the prospects for prudential arguments that appeal to our desires rather than to our beliefs (e.g., Pascal’s wager).

General Overviews

There are few works that seek to provide a comprehensive overview of arguments for the existence of God; there are rather more works that seek to give a thorough treatment of arguments for and against the existence of God. Mackie 1982 is the gold standard: its treatment of arguments for the existence of God remained unmatched until the publication of Sobel 2004. Other worthy treatments of a range of arguments for the existence of God—as parts of treatments of ranges of arguments for and against the existence of God—include Gale 1991, Martin 1990, and Oppy 2006. The works mentioned so far are all products of nonbelief; they all provide critical analyses and negative assessments of the arguments for the existence of God that they consider. Plantinga 1990 is an interesting product of belief that also provides critical analyses and negative assessments of the arguments for the existence of God that it considers, although in the service of a wider argument in favor of the rationality of religious belief; first published in 1967, this work was clearly the gold standard for analysis of arguments for the existence of God prior to Mackie 1982. Of the general works that provide a more positive assessment of arguments for the existence of God, consideration should certainly be given to Plantinga 2007 and, for those interested in a gentle but enthusiastic introduction, Davies 2004.

  • Davies, Brian. An Introduction to the Philosophy of Religion. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2004.

    E-mail Citation »

    Wide-ranging introduction to philosophy of religion that includes a discussion of ontological arguments, cosmological arguments, teleological arguments, arguments from religious experience, arguments from miracles, and moral arguments. Good coverage of a range of arguments for the existence of God.

  • Gale, Richard. On the Nature and Existence of God. Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press, 1991.

    E-mail Citation »

    Entertaining and energetic discussion of ontological arguments, cosmological arguments, arguments from religious experience, and pragmatic arguments (e.g., Pascal’s wager).

  • Mackie, John. The Miracle of Theism: Arguments For and Against the Existence of God. Oxford: Clarendon, 1982.

    E-mail Citation »

    Superb presentation of cumulative case argument for atheism. Considers ontological arguments, cosmological arguments, teleological arguments, moral arguments, arguments from consciousness, arguments from religious experience, arguments from miracles, and Pascal’s wager. Benchmark text for critical discussion of arguments for the existence of God.

  • Martin, Michael. Atheism: A Philosophical Justification. Philadelphia: Temple University Press, 1990.

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    Comprehensive cumulative case for atheism. Considers ontological arguments, cosmological arguments, teleological arguments, arguments from miracles, arguments from religious experience, Pascal’s wager, and minor evidential arguments. Worthy contribution to the literature on arguments for the existence of God.

  • Oppy, Graham. Arguing about Gods. Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press, 2006.

    DOI: 10.1017/CBO9780511498978E-mail Citation »

    Detailed discussion of cosmological arguments, teleological arguments, Pascal’s wager, and a range of other arguments. Discussion of ontological arguments that supplements Ontological Arguments and Belief in God (Oppy 1995, cited under Ontological Arguments). Also includes some discussion of methodology: the mechanics of assessment of arguments for the existence of God.

  • Plantinga, Alvin. God and Other Minds: A Study of the Rational Justification of Belief in God. Ithaca, NY: Cornell University Press, 1990.

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    Groundbreaking discussion of cosmological arguments, ontological arguments, and teleological arguments. Instrumental in setting new standards of rigor and precision for the analysis of arguments for the existence of God. First published in 1967.

  • Plantinga, Alvin. “Appendix: Two Dozen (or so) Theistic Arguments.” In Alvin Plantinga. Edited by Deane-Peter Baker, 203–228. Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press, 2007.

    DOI: 10.1017/CBO9780511611247E-mail Citation »

    A collection of sketches or pointers to what Plantinga claims would be good arguments for the existence of God. Divided into (a) metaphysical arguments (aboutness, collections, numbers, counterfactuals, physical constants, complexity, contingency), (b) epistemological arguments (positive epistemic status, proper function, simplicity, induction, rejection of global skepticism, reference, intuition), (c) moral arguments, and (d) other arguments (colors and flavors, love, Mozart, play and enjoyment, providence, miracles).

  • Sobel, Jordan. Logic and Theism: Arguments For and Against Beliefs in God. Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press, 2004.

    E-mail Citation »

    Brilliant discussion of major arguments about the existence of God. Contains very detailed analyses of ontological arguments, cosmological arguments, teleological arguments, and arguments from miracles. Brought new rigor and technical precision to the discussion of these arguments for the existence of God.

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