Hello, what do you think of this argument against God's existence? If the world's existence is contingent. There is a possible world in which the world doesn't exist. There isn't a possible world where the world doesn't exist. The world's existence is not contingent. If the world's existence is not contingent, it is impossible or it is necessary. The world exists; therefore, its existence is not impossible. The world's existence is necessary. If the world's existence is necessary, the world cannot not exist. If it cannot not exist, it is eternal. If it is eternal, it's uncreated. If it's uncreated, it doesn't have a creator. If it doesn't have a creator, God doesn't exist. The world is eternal. God doesn't exist.

This argument is lots of fun! Thanks for offering it. Whether it works, of course, may be another matter. There are many places to try to poke holes, and others on the panel may have their needles poised over other places. But here's my pick. Your first premise says: if the world's existence is contingent, then there is a possible world where the world doesn't exist. That sounds a little odd, and the oddness suggests that we need to be careful. Most of us think at least this much: the matter that surround us didn't have to exist. When we say that the world's existence is contingent, it's plausible that we mean something like: "The matter that happens to exist need not have existed." That seems plausibly true; it's certainly not obviously false. Consider: if physics has it right, the matter of this world obeys quantum theory. But other laws of nature seem at least possible. Arguably, matter that doesn't fit quantum principles couldn't be this matter -- the matter that makes up the stuff of ...

Most atheists presumably believe that there is insufficient evidence to justify belief in God. What I want to ask is: is there ANY evidence? Or none at all? Is there anything that the panelists might point to and say, "this counts as evidence that God exists"?

I didn't respond earlier mainly because it was that time of year when college teachers are worried about grading exams and such. But I'm with Richard on this one: I find many of the discussion of evidence around this question not altogether helpful. There is, of course, evidence for God's existence, but then there can be evidence in favor of claims that we ultimately reject. so if the only question were whether there is any evidence at all the answer would be easy. But many thoughtful believers don't to believe because they're convinced by some quasi-scientific argument. They believe because as it seems to them, belief in God makes the most sense of things entire. There's a way of misunderstanding that. Non-believers often think of believers as offering something akin to a scientific hypothesis, meant to explain the details of the physical world, and that is one strain of traditional theological thought. But I don't think it has a lot to do with the outlook of the typical believer. As...

How can one rationally show that life is of supreme value and that killing should be disallowed in all instances, without relying on religious axioms such as that life is "sacred" or "god given?" It appears that, without resorting to such a religious axiom, it is impossible to rationalize complete prohibition of killing, especially considering social situations which we already know necessitate taking of life, e.g. war or self-defense. If that is true, can one conclude that the prohibition of killing as it stands in modern criminal law is induced by religious motivation and not a genuine society engineering concern, and as such contradicts reasoning?

I think you've answered most of your own question. You pointed to self-defense and war as potential cases of acceptable killing. But the law in every country I know of allows for self-defense, and also allows for legislatures or rulers to declare war. We might add: for better or worse (worse , in my view) some countries allow for capital punishment. And so whether or not religion has anything to do with the historical origins of the law, there are very few nations, if any, in which killing is absolutely and always illegal. Still, we do place a very high value on life -- perhaps even a "supreme" value, even if not an absolute one. But it's not at all clear that we have to use religious premises to end up with this view, and it's also not clear that there's anything irrational in thinking that killing is usually a very great wrong. One might think: if this is irrational, we need some sort of argument to see why.

As I see it, there is not a single person on the planet who can prove or disprove the existence of God. If there is no provable God and/or afterlife then there can be no better hope for anything beyond the grave than what religion espouses. If there is a God however, then the rewards for correct behavior are well defined. Why then would the rational man NOT believe in some sort of supreme divine being if there is no proof either way?

It sounds as though you're giving a version of Pascal's Wager . One version of that argument runs along the following lines (whether or not this is exactly what Pascal had in mind): If God exist and I believe, I'll get infinite bliss. If he exists and I don't believe, I'm damned. But if God doesn't exist and I believe, I lose little, if anything and if he doesn't exist and I don't believe, I don't gain that much. Since belief potentially gains me much and loses me little, but since disbelief potentially gains me little and loses me much, I should believe. One problem, of course, is whether skeptical people can actually get themselves to believe. Pascal thought they could by going to mass, taking holy water and the like. Let's suppose he's right. What's the downside? One famous difficulty is the "many gods" objection. Which version of God do we believe in? What sorts of actions should we perform? Should we be Christians? What if there's a God who sees that as an unacceptable form of thinly...

Philosophy never seems to debate multiple Gods like the Vikings and the ancient Greeks had as well as Hinduism. These could be dismissed as silly, discredited ideas except Hinduism still has numerous believers. It seems no more ridiculous to me than the Father, Son and Holy Ghost scenario. Why is monotheism alone debated by religious Western philosophers? (Atheist ones will only consider a Prime Mover or Argument from Design creator but why is this? Is it because of over 2000 years of Abrahamic Gods, messiahs, and prophets with the attendant respectability these, believers would say, bestow?)

The reasons are no doubt complicated, and insofar as what's called for is a historical explanation, my amateur guesses are no better than the next amateur's. But we can still ask what might give the monotheistic notions a special philosophical interest. And when we ask this, I think we see fairly quickly that monotheism per se isn't the issue. Rather, it's the details of the way that the monotheistic traditions have developed their idea of God. Let's start by contrast with the Greek gods. What's striking about them is that they're so thoroughly physical. They live in a particular place, they have physical bodies, and they have a variety of physical limitations. Suppose we discovered that somewhere atop some misty mountain, there really were such beings. That would be fascinating in all sorts of ways, but it's not so clear that there's much philosophical interest here. They would just seem to be rather remarkable physical beings. We might wonder how they manage to do what they do (I can't...

Is religion based around God or can people have a religion without believing in God?

Religion seems to be what is sometimes called a "family resemblance" concept. If we try to tie it up in a neat definition that draws sharp lines between religions and non-religions, we're likely to fail. Instead, what we find is that there are various things we refer to as religions that resemble one another in a variety of ways. For example: although it would be a mistake to say that Buddhism avoids all notions of the supernatural, the idea of a creator God simply isn't part of any form of Buddhism that I've ever heard of. But Buddhism in its various forms is usually counted as a religion. There are many Unitarians who don't believe in God, but think of themselves as religious and as belonging to a religion. Even within familiar theistic traditions there are some interesting variations. The Christian theologian Paul Tillich wasn't a theist by any conventional accounting; his notion of the "Ground of Being" is not much like what most people thinnk of when they think of God. So the answer seems to be...

I am an Atheist, and a teacher of mine, got me to meditate on a paper-clip, his point being, that if you don't believe in an upper power, then unlike the paper-clip, which has a purpose, the human race is ultimately pointless. You live to die basically. What I want to know is, how would I combat such an argument? Thanks. Mark S.

Your teacher seems to have some argument such as the following in mind: 1) Things have a purpose only if some being gives them that purpose. 2) Therefore, humanity ("the human race") has a purpose only if someone gave it that purpose. 3) Only an "upper power" could give humanity a purpose. 4) Therefore, if there is no upper power, humanity has no purpose. 1) isn't as obvious as it seems, but let that pass for now. It would be odd to think that the human race has some purpose quite apart from anyone's intentions, and so 2) may be alright on its own. Even at that, 3) isn't altogether obvious. Groups can adopt purposes without someone imposing them, and so it could be that humanity -- the human race -- sets its own purpose, though there are some puzzles here. But of course, even if we grant the whole argument, all that follows is a hypothetical: if there is no higher power, then humanity as such doesn't have a purpose. If not, it's not clear that believing otherwise is a good thing. ...

Can an omnipotent being truly want? Larry 16, New Jersey.

It's an interesting question. I'd just add this bit to what Nicholas had to say. Let's take the God of classical theism as our example. Assuming God exists, there are some things God might want, and yet can't simply bring about. God might want there to be creatures who freely love him (pardon the gendered pronoun) as much as he loves them. Now an omnipotent God can certainly make creatures who love him, but that's not the same as making creatures who freely love him. Put another way, God might want there to be creatures who love him, but weren't guaranteed to do so. In fact, many believers think that something like this is so. They would say that God has the power to make free creatures, but that if he wants them to love him freely, he can't guarantee, even in his omnipotence, that his desire will be satisfied.

Assume there is a God, who is the always-was, always-will-be Catholic version of a Supreme Being. If this is the first universe and the first earth (and, therefore, we are the first people) what in tarnation was He doing all that time before He decided to actuate the so-=called Big Bang?

I suppose She wasn't twiddling Her thumbs, since I believe God has no thumbs... But a bit more helpfully, there are two ways to think about God's relationship to time. On one view, God is eternal . That means that God is outside time and space altogether. On the other view, God is everlasting -- is in time, but has no beginning and no end. My sense is that the former view is the dominant one in Catholic tradition. And in that case, God wasn't doing anything "before" the Big Bang, since "before" and "after" don't apply to God. You might want to look at the entry on Eternity in the Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy (see the link to the right) and you might also find the paper called "Eternity" by Eleanor Stump and Norman Kretzmann (Journal of Philosophy, 1981) interesting, though that paper is a bit difficult. By the way: on one way of thinking about the Big Bang, "before" doesn't apply to it either. Time itself begins with the Big Bang. If that's the right way to think of it, then...

Most Christians would agree that God is perfect. She is the ultimate: Omnipotent, Omniscient and Omnipresent. Most Christians (and most people) would agree that humans are imperfect. Surely the mere act of a perfect being (God) creating an imperfect being (humans) is an act of imperfection in itself. In other words; how is it possible for a perfect entity to create something less than perfect? I’m sure my logic has flaws in it (that’s what happens when you’re imperfect), but I just can’t seem to see it; whether that’s because I’m not able to or just because I don’t want to, I’m not sure. Any comments would be appreciated.

It's a nice question. But let me ask another. Are you saying that it would have been better if God had not created creatures like us -- less than perfect beings? Suppose you think, as many theologians do, that there can be at most one perfect being. Then if God is going to create anything at all, s/he will have to create creatures that are less than perfect. And suppose you also think, as many theologians also do, that all things considered, it's a good thing for there to be creatures who can make free decisions, engage in moral effort, and love God and one another. That might be reason enough for a perfect being to create us. It may be that a truly perfect being wouldn't leave Reality populated by Itself alone. Whether the facts of the world really are compatible with the existence of a perfect being, of course, is a vexed and much-discussed question. Many people have argued that there's just too much evil for perfect-being theology to be plausible. But it's not immediately clear that only a...

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