In This Article Expand or collapse the "in this article" section The Existence and Attributes of God

  • Introduction
  • General Overviews
  • Anthologies
  • Reference Works
  • Series

Philosophy The Existence and Attributes of God
Trent Dougherty
  • LAST REVIEWED: 29 June 2011
  • LAST MODIFIED: 29 June 2011
  • DOI: 10.1093/obo/9780195396577-0049


This entry focuses on the contents of the core conversation about God in recent Anglophone analytic philosophy. That conversation has been predominantly about evidence for the sort of God at the center of Abrahamic monotheism of Judaism, Christianity, and Islam, as well as an investigation into the finer points of certain key divine attributes. This conversation includes both arguments for the existence of God and arguments against. The arguments for the existence of God vary widely. Some rely on more a priori foundations such as the ontological arguments; some are quite empirical, such as the design argument. The cosmological arguments spans the gap by appealing both to a priori principles concerning explanation or causation as well as at least the minimal empirical claim that something exists. Each of these arguments is covered in this entry. Historically, the central argument against the existence of God is based on the presence of various kinds of evil. In recent years, two developments pertaining to this conversation have emerged. First, there is a certain response to the problem of evil called “skeptical theism” according to which evil cannot show that God does not exist because one cannot fathom the reasons God might have for allowing any state of affairs we might observe. This entry covers both presentations of and critiques of this response. Also, some theorists have reflected upon the debate and presented the idea that the very debatability of God’s existence is evidence that there is no God, for God would surely make his presence known. This is known as the problem of divine hiddenness and is covered in this entry. Concerning the nature of God, omnipotence is a traditional starting point, since many puzzles concerning it come quickly to the philosophical mind. This entry covers the most important investigations, presentations, and attempted resolutions of these puzzles. It is hard to consider the attributes of omniscience and eternity separately, for one of the historically most prominent proposed solutions to the puzzle concerning omniscience and free will exploits the concept of God’s being “outside time” in some sense. This entry tries to do justice to this fact while treating each attribute under its own heading. Finally, the very puzzling yet often theologically central doctrine of the problem of divine simplicity (that in some important sense God has no parts) is treated. In this entry the focus is always on the most prominent and most recent discussion. This will by nature involve very important contributions from earlier in the 20th century, but earlier sources are left to the bibliographies of works that are addressed in this bibliography. For classical readings on the topics, the reader is referred to the Anthologies section below.

General Overviews

Most general overviews of the topics in this bibliography serve as survey texts in the philosophy of religion. Most of them also have accompanying anthologies, which include classical and contemporary readings on the subjects such as Taliaferro 1998. Some of these texts—e.g., Hick 1990 and Rowe 2006—are quite brief and opinionated, but fair, introductions. Others such as Peterson, et al. 2008, and Zagzebski 2007 are quite comprehensive. Some thus cover all the arguments for God’s existence or all the divine attributes together in a single chapter while others such as Davies 2004 and Meister 2009 have independent chapters either on each individual argument for the existence of God, the divine attributes, or both.

  • Davies, Brian. An Introduction to the Philosophy of Religion. 3d ed. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2004.

    A nice feature of this volume is its separate chapters on the various arguments for and against the existence of God as well as full chapters on different attributes. Also covers how talk about God is possible, religious experience, and other traditional issues in the philosophy of religion. It has an accompanying anthology (see Davies 2000 in Anthologies).

  • Hick, John. Philosophy of Religion. 4th ed. Englewood Cliffs, NJ: Prentice Hall, 1990.

    This slim classic opens with a chapter on the Judeo-Christian God. Its distinctive features are a classic section on the Irenaean (or soul-making) theodicy, which focuses on the development of moral character, and a concluding chapter on reincarnation and resurrection.

  • Meister, Chad. Introducing Philosophy of Religion. London: Routledge, 2009.

    This text has the benefit of independent chapters on the three main arguments for the existence of God and on the problem of evil. It contains a helpful glossary. It has an accompanying anthology (see Meister 2007 in Anthologies).

  • Peterson, Michael, William Hasker, Bruce Reichenbach, and David Basinger. Reason and Religious Belief: An Introduction to the Philosophy of Religion. New York: Oxford University Press, 2008.

    There is only one chapter on arguments for the existence of God that considers the main arguments in turn, but its discussion of the cosmological argument is quite good. The chapter on the case against God gives a fair reading of the evidence. The chapter on the attributes of God is quite brief but at times illuminating. Most of the chapters correspond to chapters in the accompanying anthology (see . Peterson, et al. 2010 in Anthologies).

  • Rowe, William L. Philosophy of Religion: An Introduction. Belmont, CA: Wadsworth, 2006.

    The first half of this slender volume gives excellent introductions to the idea of God and to the main arguments for and against the existence of God. It then turns to broader issues in the philosophy of religion.

  • Taliaferro, Charles. Contemporary Philosophy of Religion: An Introduction. Oxford: Wiley-Blackwell, 1998.

    This text takes a rather nontraditional approach in that the discussion of the existence and attributes of God is tightly interwoven with discussion of worldviews, practices, and concepts. There is an accompanying anthology (see Taliaferro and Griffiths 2003 in Anthologies).

  • Zagzebski, Linda. The Philosophy of Religion: An Historical Introduction. Fundamentals of Philosophy 3. Oxford: Wiley-Blackwell, 2007.

    An advantage of this volume is that one gets coverage of standard topics that is erudite and historically sensitive yet written in a more casual if not conversational tone. There is an accompanying anthology (see Zagzebski and Miller 2009 in Anthologies).

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