Arguments for the Existence of God

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Proofs FOR the Existence of God

While theology may take God's existence as absolutely necessary on the basis of authority, faith, or revelation, many philosophers-and some theologians-have thought it possible to demonstrate by reason that there must be a God.

St. Thomas Aquinas, in the thirteenth century, formulated the famous "five ways" by which God's existence can be demonstrated philosophically:

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Two other historically important "proofs" are the ontological argument and the moral argument. The former, made famous by St. Anselm in the eleventh century and defended in another form by Descartes, holds that it would be logically contradictory to deny God's existence. St. Anselm began by defining God as "that [being] than which nothing greater can be conceived." If God existed only in the mind, He then would not be the greatest conceivable being, for we could imagine another being that is greater because it would exist both in the mind and in reality, and that being would then be God. Therefore, to imagine God as existing only in the mind but not in reality leads to a logical contradiction; this proves the existence of God both in the mind and in reality.

Immanuel Kant rejected not only the ontological argument but the teleological and cosmological arguments as well, based on his theory that reason is too limited to know anything beyond human experience. However, he did argue that religion could be established as presupposed by the workings of morality in the human mind ("practical reason"). God's existence is a necessary presupposition of there being any moral judgments that are objective, that go beyond mere relativistic moral preferences; such judgments require standards external to any human mind-that is, they presume God's mind.

Arguments AGAINST God's Existence

Arguments against God's existence have been given by philosophers, atheists, and agnostics. Some of these arguments find God's existence incompatible with observed facts; some are arguments that God does not exist because the concept of God is incoherent or confused. Others are criticisms of the proofs offered for God's existence.

One of the most influential and powerful "proofs" that there is no God proceeds from "The Problem From Evil." This argument claims that the following three statements cannot all be true: (a) evil exists; (b) God is omnipotent; and (c) God is all-loving. The argument is as follows:

Another argument claims that the existence of an all-knowing God is incompatible with the fact of free will-that humans do make choices. If God is omniscient, He must know beforehand exactly what a person will do in a given situation. In that case, a person is not in fact free to do the alternative to what God knows he or she will do, and free will must be an illusion. To take this one step further, if one chooses to commit a sin, how can it then be said that one sinned freely?

Hume provided powerful critiques of the main arguments for God's existence. Against the cosmological argument (Aquinas' third argument), he argued that the idea of a necessarily existing being is absurd. Hume stated, "Whatever we can conceive as existent, we can also conceive as nonexistent." He also asked why the ultimate source of the universe could not be the entire universe itself, eternal and uncaused, without a God?

Hume also criticized the argument from design (Aquinas' fifth argument). In particular, he emphasized that there is no legitimate way we can infer the properties of God as the creator of the world from the qualities of His creation. For instance, Hume questioned how we can be sure that the world was not created by a team; or that this is not one of many attempts at creations, the first few having been botched; or, on the other hand, that our world is not a poor first attempt "of an infant deity who afterwards abandoned it, ashamed of his lame performance."

Arguments for the Existence of God

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The arguments for the existence of God constitute one of the finest attempts of the human mind to break out of the world and go beyond the sensible or phenomenal realm of experience.

Certainly the question of God's existence is the most important question of human philosophy. It affects the whole tenor of human life, whether man is regarded as the supreme being in the universe or whether it is believed that man has a superior being that he must love and obey, or perhaps defy.

There are three ways one can argue for the existence of God.

The A Priori Approach

This approach is the heart of the famous ontological argument, devised by Anselm of Canterbury though adumbrated earlier in the system of Augustine. This argument begins with a special definition of God as infinite, perfect, and necessary.

Anselm said that God cannot be conceived in any way other than "a being than which nothing greater can be conceived." Even the fool knows what he means by "God" when he asserts, "There is no God" (Ps. 14:1). But if the most perfect being existed only in thought and not in reality, then it would not really be the most perfect being, for the one that existed in reality would be more perfect. Therefore, concludes Anselm, "no one who understands what God is, can conceive that God does not exist." In short, it would be self contradictory to say, "I can think of a perfect being that doesn't exist," because existence would have to be a part of perfection. One would be saying, "I can conceive of something greater than that which nothing greater can be conceived", which is absurd.

The ontological argument has had a long and stormy history. It has appealed to some of the finest minds in Western history, usually mathematicians like Descartes, Spinoza, and Leibniz. However, it fails to persuade most people, who seem to harbor the same suspicion as Kant that "the unconditioned necessity of a judgment does not form the absolute necessity of a thing." That is, perfection may not be a true predicate and thus a proposition can be logically necessary without being true in fact.

The A Posteriori Approach

Popular mentality seems to appreciate the a posteriori approach better. The ontological argument can be made without ever appealing to sensation, but the cosmological and teleological arguments require a careful look at the world. The former focuses on the cause, while the latter stresses the design of the universe.

The Cosmological Argument

This has more than one form. The earliest occurs in Plato (Laws, Book X) and Aristotle (Metaphysics, Book VIII) and stresses the need to explain the cause of motion. Assuming that rest is natural and motion is unnatural, these thinkers arrived at God as the necessary Prime Mover of all things. Thomas Aquinas used motion as his first proof in the Summa Theologica (Q.2, Art.3). Everything that moves has to be moved by another thing. But this chain of movers cannot go on to infinity, a key assumption, because there would then be no first mover and thus no other mover. We must arrive, therefore, at a first mover, Aquinas concludes, "and this everyone understands to be God."

This argument from motion is not nearly as cogent for our scientific generation because we take motion to be natural and rest to be unnatural, as the principle of inertia states. Many philosophers insist that the notion of an infinite series of movers is not at all impossible or contradictory.

The most interesting, and persuasive, form of the cosmological argument is Aquinas's "third way," the argument from contingency. Its strength derives from the way it employs both permanence and change. Epicurus stated the metaphysical problem centuries ago: "Something obviously exists now, and something never sprang from nothing." Being, therefore, must have been without beginning. An Eternal Something must be admitted by all, theist, atheist, and agnostic.

But the physical universe could not be this Eternal Something because it is obviously contingent, mutable, subject to decay. How could a decomposing entity explain itself to all eternity? If every present contingent thing / event depends on a previous contingent thing / event and so on ad infinitum, then this does not provide an adequate explanation of anything.

Hence, for there to be anything at all contingent in the universe, there must be at least one thing that is not contingent, something that is necessary throughout all change and self established. In this case "necessary" does not apply to a proposition but to a thing, and it means infinite, eternal, everlasting, self caused, self existent.

It is not enough to say that infinite time will solve the problem of contingent being. No matter how much time you have, dependent being is still dependent on something. Everything contingent within the span of infinity will, at some particular moment, not exist. But if there was a moment when nothing existed, then nothing would exist now.

The choice is simple: one chooses either a self existent God or a self existent universe, and the universe is not behaving as if it is self existent. In fact, according to the second law of thermodynamics, the universe is running down like a clock or, better, cooling off like a giant stove. Energy is constantly being diffused or dissipated, that is, progressively distributed throughout the universe. If this process goes on for a few billion more years, and scientists have never observed a restoration of dissipated energy, then the result will be a state of thermal equilibrium, a "heat death," a random degradation of energy throughout the entire cosmos and hence the stagnation of all physical activity.

Naturalists from Lucretius to Sagan have felt that we need not postulate God as long as nature can be considered a self explanatory entity for all eternity. But it is difficult to hold this doctrine if the second law [of thermodynamics] is true and entropy is irreversible. If the cosmos is running down or cooling off, then it could not have been running and cooling forever. It must have had a beginning.

A popular retort to the cosmological argument is to ask, "If God made the universe, then who made God?" If one insists that the world had a cause, must one not also insist that God had a cause? No, because if God is a necessary being, this is established if one accepts the proof, then it is unnecessary to inquire into his origins. It would be like asking, "Who made the unmakable being?" or "Who caused the uncausable being?"

More serious is the objection that the proof is based on an uncritical acceptance of the "principle of sufficient reason," the notion that every event / effect has a cause. If this principle is denied, even if it is denied in metaphysics, the cosmological argument is defanged. Hume argued that causation is a psychological, not a metaphysical, principle, one whose origins lay in the human propensity to assume necessary connections between events when all we really see is contiguity and succession. Kant seconded Hume by arguing that causation is a category built into our minds as one of the many ways in which we order our experience. Sartre felt that the universe was "gratuitous." Bertrand Russell claimed that the question of origins was tangled in meaningless verbiage and that we must be content to declare that the universe is "just there and that's all."

One does not prove the principle of causality easily. It is one of those foundational assumptions that is made in building a world view. It can be pointed out, however, that if we jettison the idea of sufficient reason, we will destroy not only metaphysics but science as well. When one attacks causality, one attacks much of knowledge per se, for without this principle the rational connection in most of our learning falls to pieces. Surely it is not irrational to inquire into the cause of the entire universe.

The Teleological or Design Argument

This is one of the oldest and most popular and intelligible of the theistic proofs. It suggests that there is a definite analogy between the order and regularity of the cosmos and a product of human ingenuity. Voltaire put it in rather simplistic terms: "If a watch proves the existence of a watchmaker but the universe does not prove the existence of a great Architect, then I consent to be called a fool."

No one can deny the universe seems to be designed; instances of purposive ordering are all around us. Almost anywhere can be found features of being that show the universe to be basically friendly to life, mind, personality, and values. Life itself is a cosmic function, that is, a very complex arrangement of things both terrestrial and extraterrestrial must obtain before life can subsist. The earth must be just the right size, its rotation must be within certain limits, its tilt must be correct to cause the seasons, its land - water ratio must be a delicate balance. Our biological structure is very fragile. A little too much heat or cold and we die. We need light, but not too much ultraviolet. We need heat, but not too much infrared. We live just beneath an airscreen shielding us from millions of missiles every day. We live just ten miles above a rock screen that shields us from the terrible heat under our feet. Who created all these screens and shields that make our earthly existence possible?

Once again we are faced with a choice. Either the universe was designed or it developed all these features by chance. The cosmos is either a plan or an accident!

Most people have an innate repugnance to the notion of chance because it contradicts the way we ordinarily explain things. Chance is not an explanation but an abandonment of explanation. When a scientist explains an immediate event, he operates on the assumption that this is a regular universe where everything occurs as a result of the orderly procession of cause and effect. Yet when the naturalist comes to metaphysics, to the origin of the entire cosmos, he abandons the principle of sufficient reason and assumes that the cause of everything is an unthinkable causelessness, chance, or fate.

Suppose you were standing facing a target and you saw an arrow fired from behind you hit the bull's eye. Then you saw nine more arrows fired in rapid succession all hitting the same bull's eye. The aim is so accurate that each arrow splits the previous arrow as it hits. Now an arrow shot into the air is subject to many contrary and discordant processes, gravity, air pressure, and wind. When ten arrows reach the bull's eye, does this not rule out the possibility of mere chance? Would you not say that this was the result of an expert archer? Is this parable not analogous to our universe?

It is objected that the design argument, even if valid, does not prove a creator but only an architect, and even then only an architect intelligent enough to produce the known universe, not necessarily an omniscient being. This objection is correct. We must not try to prove more than the evidence will allow. We will not get the 100 percent Yahweh of the Bible from any evidence of natural theology. However, this universe of ours is so vast and wonderful we can safely conclude that its designer would be worthy of our worship and devotion.

Many object that the theory of evolution takes most of the wind out of the design argument. Evolution shows that the marvelous design in living organisms came about by slow adaptation to the environment, not by intelligent creation. This is a false claim. Even if admitted, evolution only introduces a longer time frame into the question of design. Proving that watches came from a completely automated factory with no human intervention would not make us give up interest in a designer, for if we thought a watch was wonderful, what must we think of a factory that produces watches? Would it not suggest a designer just as forcefully? Religious people have been overly frightened by the theory of evolution.

Even the great critics of natural theology, Hume and Kant, betrayed an admiration for the teleological argument. Hume granted it a certain limited validity. Kant went even further: "This proof will always deserve to be treated with respect. It is the oldest, the clearest and most in conformity with human reason . . . We have nothing to say against the reasonableness and utility of this line of argument, but wish, on the contrary, to commend and encourage it."

The Moral Argument

This is the most recent of the theistic proofs. The first major philosopher to use it was Kant, who felt that the traditional proofs were defective. Kant held that the existence of God and the immortality of the soul were matters of faith, not ordinary speculative reason, which, he claimed, is limited to sensation.

Kant reasoned that the moral law commands us to seek the summum bonum (highest good), with perfect happiness as a logical result. But a problem arises when we contemplate the unpleasant fact that "there is not the slightest ground in the moral law for a necessary connection between morality and proportionate happiness in a being that belongs to the world as a part of it." The only postulate, therefore, that will make sense of man's moral experience is "the existence of a cause of all nature, distinct from nature itself," i.e., a God who will properly reward moral endeavor in another world. In a godless universe man's deepest experience would be a cruel enigma.

In his Rumor of Angels, Peter Berger gives an interesting negative version of the moral argument, which he calls "the argument from damnation." Our apodictic moral condemnation of such immoral men as Adolf Eichmann seems to transcend tastes and mores; it seems to demand a condemnation of supernatural dimensions.

Some deeds are not only evil but monstrously evil; they appear immune to any kind of moral relativizing. In making such high voltage moral judgments, as when we condemn slavery and genocide, we point to a transcendent realm of moral absolutes. Otherwise, all our moralizing is pointless and groundless. A "preaching relativist" is one of the most comical of self contradictions.

Most modern thinkers who use the moral argument continue Kant's thesis that God is a necessary postulate to explain moral experience. Kant thought the moral law could be established by reason, but he called in God to guarantee the reward for virtue. Modern thinkers do not use God so much for the reward as for providing a ground for the moral law in the first place.

The moral argument starts with the simple fact of ethical experience. The pressure to do one's duty can be felt as strongly as the pressure of an empirical object. Who or what is causing this pressure? It is not enough to say that we are conditioned by society to feel those pressures. Some of the greatest moralists in history have acquired their fame precisely because they criticized the moral failings of their group, tribe, class, race, or nation. If social subjectivism is the explanation of moral motivation, then we have no right to criticize slavery or genocide or anything!

Evolutionists attack the moral argument by insisting that all morality is merely a long development from animal instincts. Men gradually work out their ethical systems by living together in social communities. But this objection is a two edged sword: if it kills morality, it also kills reason and the scientific method. The evolutionist believes that the human intellect developed from the physical brain of the primates, yet he assumes that the intellect is trustworthy. If the mind is entitled to trust, though evolved from the lower forms, why not the moral nature also?

Many people will go part way and accept moral objectivism, but they want to stop with a transcendent realm of impersonal moral absolutes. They deny that one must believe in a Person, Mind, or Lawgiver. This seems reductive. It is difficult to imagine an "impersonal mind." How could a thing make us feel duty bound to be kind, helpful, truthful, and loving? We should press on, all the way to a Person, God, the Lawgiver. Only then is the moral experience adequately explained.

The Question of Validity

How valid are all these theistic proofs? This question raises issues in a number of fields: logic, metaphysics, physics, and theory of knowledge. Some thinkers like Aquinas feel that the proofs reach the level of demonstration. Others like Hume say that we should just suspend judgment and remain skeptics. Still others like Pascal and Kant reject the traditional proofs but offer instead practical grounds or reasons for accepting God's existence. Pascal's famous wager is an appeal to pragmatism; it makes sense, in view of the eternal consequences, to bet on the existence of God.

Paul seems to demand a high view of the theistic proofs when he says that the unbelievers are "without excuse." "What can be known about God is plain to them, because God has shown it to them. Ever since the creation of the world his invisible nature, namely his eternal power and deity, has been clearly perceived in the things that have been made" (Rom. 1:19 - 20).

Paul was not necessarily affirming that the arguments are deductive, analytical, or demonstrative. If someone rejected a proposition of high probability, we could still say that he was "without excuse." The arguments, in their cumulative effect, make a very strong case for the existence of God, but they are not logically inexorable or rationally inevitable. If we define proof as probable occurrence based on empirically produced experiences and subject to the test of reasonable judgment, then we can say the arguments prove the existence of God.

If God truly exists, then we are dealing with a factual proposition, and what we really want when we ask for proof of a factual proposition is not a demonstration of its logical impossibility but a degree of evidence that will exclude reasonable doubt. Something can be so probable that it excludes reasonable doubt without being deductive or analytical or demonstrative or logically inevitable. We feel that the theistic proofs, excluding the ontological argument, fall into this category.

Natural theology, however, can never establish the existence of the biblical God. These proofs may make one a deist, but only revelation will make one a Christian. Reason operating without revelation always turns up with a deity different from Yahweh, the Father of Our Lord Jesus Christ. One can confirm this easily by comparing Yahweh with the deities of Aristotle, Spinoza, Voltaire, and Thomas Paine.

A J Hoover
(Elwell Evangelical Dictionary)

J Baillie, Our Knowledge of God; D Burrill, The Cosmological Argument; G H Clark, A Christian View of Men and Things; R E D Clark, The Universe: Plan or Accident? H H Farmer, Towards Belief in God; R Hazelton, On Proving God; J Hick, The Existence of God; D Hicks, The Philosophical Basis of Theism; A J Hoover, The Case for Christian Theism; S Jaki, The Road of Science and the Ways to God; C E M Joad, God and Evil; J Maritain, Approaches to God; E L Mascall, The Openness of Being; G Mavrodes, The Rationality of Belief in God; A Plantinga, ed., The Ontological Argument; R C Sproul, If There Is a God, Why Are There Atheists? A E Taylor, Does God Exist?

The Existence of God

Catholic Information

The topic will be treated as follows:

I. As Known Through Natural Reason

A. The Problem Stated

1. Formal Anti-Theism

2. Types of Theism

B. Theistic Proofs

1. A Posteriori Argument

(a) The general causality argument

(b) The argument from design

(c) The argument from conscience

(d) The argument from universal consent

2. A Priori, or Ontological, Argument

II. As Known Through Faith

A. Sacred Scriptures

B. Church Councils

C. The Knowability of God




1. Formal Anti-Theism

Had the Theist merely to face a blank Atheistic denial of God's existence, his task would he comparatively a light one. Formal dogmatic Atheism is self-refuting, and has never de facto won the reasoned assent of any considerable number of men. Nor can Polytheism, however easily it may take hold of the popular imagination, ever satisfy the mind of a philosopher. But there are several varieties of what may be described as virtual Atheism which cannot be dismissed so summarily.

There is the Agnosticism, for instance, of Herbert Spencer, which, while admitting the rational necessity of postulating the Absolute or Unconditioned behind the relative and conditioned objects of our knowledge declares that Absolute to be altogether unknowable, to be in fact the Unknowable, about which without being guilty of contradiction we can predicate nothing at all, except perhaps that It exists; and there are other types of Agnosticism. Then again there is Pantheism in an almost endless variety of forms, all of which, however, may be logically reduced to the three following types:

the purely materialistic, which, making matter the only reality, would explain life by mechanics and chemistry, reduce abstract thought to the level of an organic process deny any higher ultimate moral value to the Ten Commandments than to Newton's law of gravitation, and, finally, identify God Himself with the universe thus interpreted (see MATERIALISM; MONISM);

the purely idealistic, which, choosing the contrary alternative, would make mind the only reality, convert the material universe into an idea, and identify God with this all-embracing mind or idea, conceived as eternally evolving itself into passing phases or expressions of being and attaining self-consciousness in the souls of men; and

the combined materialistic-idealistic, which tries to steer a middle course and without sacrificing mind to matter or matter to mind, would conceive the existing universe, with which God is identified, as some sort of "double-faced" single entity.

Thus to accomplish even the beginning of his task the Theist has to show, against Agnostics, that the knowledge of God attainable by rational inference -- however inadequate and imperfect it may be -- is as true and valid, as far as it goes, as any other piece of knowledge we possess; and against Pantheists that the God of reason is a supra-mundane personal God distinct both from matter and from the finite human mind -- that neither we ourselves nor the earth we tread upon enter into the constitution of His being.

2. Types of Theism

But passing from views that are formally anti-theistic, it is found that among Theists themselves certain differences exist which tend to complicate the problem, and increase the difficulty of stating it briefly and clearly. Some of these differences are brief and clear.

Some of these differences are merely formal and accidental and do not affect the substance of the theistic thesis, but others are of substantial importance, as, for instance, whether we can validly establish the truth of God's existence by the same kind of rational inference (e.g. from effect to cause) as we employ in other departments of knowledge, or whether, in order to justify our belief in this truth, we must not rather rely on some transcendental principle or axiom, superior and antecedent to dialectical reasoning; or on immediate intuition; or on some moral, sentimental, emotional, or ├Žsthetic instinct or perception, which is voluntary rather than intellectual.

Kant denied in the name of "pure reason" the inferential validity of the classical theistic proofs, while in the name of "practical reason" he postulated God's existence as an implicate of the moral law, and Kant's method has been followed or imitated by many Theists -- by some who fully agree with him in rejecting the classical arguments; by others, who, without going so far, believe in the apologetical expediency of trying to persuade rather than convince men to be Theists. A moderate reaction against the too rigidly mathematical intellectualism of Descartes was to be welcomed, but the Kantian reaction by its excesses has injured the cause of Theism and helped forward the cause of anti-theistic philosophy. Herbert Spencer, as is well known, borrowed most of his arguments for Agnosticism from Hamilton and Mansel, who had popularized Kantian criticism in England, while in trying to improve on Kant's reconstructive transcendentalism, his German disciples (Fichte, Schelling, Hegel) drifted into Pantheism. Kant also helped to prepare the way for the total disparagement of human reason in relation to religious truth, which constitutes the negative side of Traditionalism, while the appeal of that system on the positive side to the common consent and tradition of mankind as the chief or sole criterion of truth and more especially of religious truth -- its authority as a criterion being traced ultimately to a positive Divine revelation -- is, like Kant's refuge in practical reason, merely an illogical attempt to escape from Agnosticism.

Again, though Ontologism -- like that of Malebranche (d. 1715) -- is older than Kant, its revival in the nineteenth century (by Gioberti, Rosmini, and others) has been inspired to some extent by Kantian influences. This system maintains that we have naturally some immediate consciousness, however dim at first, or some intuitive knowledge of God -- not indeed that we see Him in His essence face to face but that we know Him in His relation to creatures by the same act of cognition -- according to Rosmini, as we become conscious of being in general -- and therefore that the truth of His existence is as much a datum of philosophy as is the abstract idea of being.

Finally, the philosophy of Modernism -- about which there has recently been such a stir -- is a somewhat complex medley of these various systems and tendencies; its main features as a system are:

negatively, a thoroughgoing intellectual Agnosticism, and positively, the assertion of an immediate sense or experience of God as immanent in the life of the soul -- an experience which is at first only subconscious, but which, when the requsite moral dispositions are present, becomes an object of conscious certainty.

Now all these varying types of Theism, in so far as they are opposed to the classical and traditional type, may be reduced to one or other of the two following propositions:

that we have naturally an immediate consciousness or intuition of God's existence and may therefore dispense with any attempt to prove this truth inferentially;

that, though we do not know this truth intuitively and cannot prove it inferentially in such a way as to satisfy the speculative reason, we can, nevertheless, and must conscientiously believe it on other than strictly intellectual grounds.

But an appeal to experience, not to mention other objections, is sufficient to negative the first proposition -- and the second, which, as history has already made clear, is an illogical compromise with Agnosticism, is best refuted by a simple statement of the theistic Proofs. It is not the proofs that are found to be fallacious but the criticism which rejects them. It is true of course -- and no Theist denies it -- that for the proper intellectual appreciation of theistic proofs moral dispositions are required, and that moral consciousness, the ├Žsthetic faculty, and whatever other powers or capacities belong to man's spiritual nature, constitute or supply so many data on which to base inferential proofs. But this is very different from holding that we possess any faculty or power which assures us of God's existence and which is independent of, and superior to, the intellectual laws that regulate our assent to truth in general -- that in the religious sphere we can transcend those laws without confessing our belief in God to be irrational. It is also true that a mere barren intellectual assent to the truth of God's existence -- and such an assent is conceivable -- falls very far short of what religious assent ought to be; that what is taught in revealed religion about the worthlessness of faith uninformed by charity has its counterpart in natural religion; and that practical Theism, if it pretends to be adequate, must appeal not merely to the intellect but to the heart and conscience of mankind and be capable of winning the total allegiance of rational creatures. But here again we meet with exaggeration and confusion on the part of those Theists who would substitute for intellectual assent something that does not exclude but presupposes it and is only required to complement it. The truth and pertinency of these observations will be made clear by the following summary of the classical arguments for God's existence.


The arguments for God's existence are variously classified and entitled by different writers, but all agree in recognizing the distinction between a priori, or deductive, and a posteriori, or inductive reasoning in this connection. And while all admit the validity and sufficiency of the latter method, opinion is divided in regard to the former. Some maintain that a valid a priori proof (usually called the ontological) is available; others deny this completely; while some others maintain an attitude of compromise or neutrality. This difference, it should be observed, applies only to the question of proving God's actual existence; for, His self-existence being admitted, it is necessary to employ a priori or deductive inference in order to arrive at a knowledge of His nature and attributes, and as it is impossible to develop the arguments for His existence without some working notion of His nature, it is necessary to some extent to anticipate the deductive stage and combine the a priori with the a posteriori method. But no strictly a priori conclusion need be more than hypothetically assumed at this stage.

1. A Posteriori Argument

St. Thomas (Summa Theologica I:2:3; Cont. Gent., I, xiii) and after him many scholastic writers advance the five following arguments to prove the existence of God:

Motion, i.e. the passing from power to act, as it takes place in the universe implies a first unmoved Mover (primum movens immobile), who is God; else we should postulate an infinite series of movers, which is inconceivable. For the same reason efficient causes, as we see them operating in this world, imply the existence of a First Cause that is uncaused, i.e. that possesses in itself the sufficient reason for its existence; and this is God. The fact that contingent beings exist, i.e. beings whose non-existence is recognized as possible, implies the existence of a necessary being, who is God.

The graduated perfections of being actually existing in the universe can be understood only by comparison with an absolute standard that is also actual, i.e., an infinitely perfect Being such as God. The wonderful order or evidence of intelligent design which the universe exhibits implies the existence of a supramundane Designer, who is no other than God Himself.

To these many Theists add other arguments:

the common consent of mankind (usually described by Catholic writers as the moral argument),

from the internal witness of conscience to the supremacy of the moral law, and, therefore, to the existence of a supreme Lawgiver (this may be called the ethical argument, or

from the existence and perception of beauty in the universe (the aesthetical argument).

One might go on, indeed, almost indefinitely multiplying and distinguishing arguments; but to do so would only lead to confusion.

The various arguments mentioned -- and the same is true of others that might be added -- are not in reality distinct and independent arguments, but only so many partial statements of one and the same general argument, which is perhaps best described as the cosmological. This argument assumes the validity of the principle of causality or sufficient reason and, stated in its most comprehensive form, amounts to this: that it is impossible according to the laws of human thought to give any ultimate rational explanation of the phenomena of external experience and of internal consciousness -- in other words to synthesize the data which the actual universe as a whole supplies (and this is the recognized aim of philosophy) -- unless by admitting the existence of a self-sufficient and self-explanatory cause or ground of being and activity, to which all these phenomena may be ultimately referred.

It is, therefore, mainly a question of method and expediency what particular points one may select from the multitude available to illustrate and enforce the general a posteriori argument. For our purpose it will suffice to state as briefly as possible

the general argument proving the self-existence of a First Cause,

the special arguments proving the existence of an intelligent Designer and of a Supreme Moral Ruler, and

the confirmatory argument from the general Consent of mankind.

(a) The general causality argument

We must start by assuming the objective certainty and validity of the principle of causality or sufficient reason -- an assumption upon which the value of the physical sciences and of human knowledge generally is based. To question its objective certainty, as did Kant, and represent it as a mere mental a priori, or possessing only subjective validity, would open the door to subjectivism and universal scepticism. It is impossible to prove the principle of causality, just as it is impossible to prove the principle of contradiction; but it is not difficult to see that if the former is denied the latter may also be denied and the whole process of human reasoning declared fallacious. The principle states that whatever exists or happens must have a sufficient reason for its existence or occurrence either in itself or in something else ; in other words that whatever does not exist of absolute necessity - whatever is not self-existent -- cannot exist without a proportionate cause external to itself; and if this principle is valid when employed by the scientist to explain the phenomena of physics it must be equally valid when employed by the philosopher for the ultimate explanation of the universe as a whole. In the universe we observe that certain things are effects, i.e. they depend for their existence on other things, and these again on others; but, however far back we may extend this series of effects and dependent causes, we must, if human reason is to be satisfied, come ultimately to a cause that is not itself an effect, in other words to an uncaused cause or self-existent being which is the ground and cause of all being. And this conclusion, as thus stated, is virtually admitted by agnostics and Pantheists, all of whom are obliged to speak of an eternal something underlying the phenomenal universe, whether this something be the "Unknown", or the "Absolute", or the "Unconscious", or "Matter" itself, or the "Ego", or the "Idea" of being, or the "Will"; these are so many substitutes for the uncaused cause or self-existent being of Theism. What anti-Theists refuse to admit is not the existence of a First Cause in an indeterminate sense, but the existence of an intelligent and free First Cause, a personal God, distinct from the material universe and the human mind. But the very same reason that compels us to postulate a First Cause at all requires that this cause should be a free and intelligent being. The spiritual world of intellect and free will must be recognized by the sane philosopher to be as real as the world of matter; man knows that he has a spiritual nature and performs spiritual acts as clearly and as certainly as he knows that he has eyes to see with and ears to hear with; and the phenomena of man's spiritual nature can only be explained in one way -- by attributing spirituality, i.e. intelligence and free will, to the First Cause, in other words by recognizing a personal God. For the cause in all cases must be proportionate to the effect, i.e. must contain somehow in itself every perfection of being that is realized in the effect.

The cogency of this argument becomes more apparent if account be taken of the fact that the human species had its origin at a comparatively late period in the history of the actual universe. There was a time when neither man nor any other living thing inhabited this globe of ours; and without pressing the point regarding the origin of life itself from inanimate matter or the evolution of man's body from lower organic types, it may be maintained with absolute confidence that no explanation of the origin of man's soul can be made out on evolutionary lines, and that recourse must be had to the creative power of a spiritual or personal First Cause. It might also be urged, as an inference from the physical theories commonly accepted by present-day scientists, that the actual organization of the material universe had a definite beginning in time. If it be true that the goal towards which physical evolution is tending is the uniform distribution of heat and other forms of energy, it would follow clearly that the existing process has not been going on from eternity; else the goal would have been reached long ago. And if the process had a beginning, how did it originate? If the primal mass was inert and uniform, it is impossible to conceive how motion and differentiation were introduced except from without, while if these are held to be coeval with matter, the cosmic process, which is ex hypothesi is temporal, would be eternal, unless it be granted that matter itself had a definite beginning in time.

But the argument, strictly speaking, is conclusive even if it be granted that the world may have existed from eternity, in the sense, that is, that, no matter how far back one may go, no point of time can be reached at which created being was not already in existence. In this sense Aristotle held matter to be eternal and St. Thomas, while denying the fact, admitted the possibility of its being so. But such relative eternity is nothing more in reality than infinite or indefinite temporal duration and is altogether different from the eternity we attribute to God. Hence to admit that the world might possibly be eternal in this sense implies no denial of the essentially finite and contingent character of its existence. On the contrary it helps to emphasize this truth, for the same relation of dependence upon a self-existing cause which is implied in the contingency of any single being is implied a fortiori in the existence of an infinite series of such beings, supposing such a series to be possible. Nor can it be maintained with Pantheists that the world, whether of matter or of mind or of both, contains within itself the sufficient reason of its own existence. A self-existing world would exist of absolute necessity and would be infinite in every kind of perfection; but of nothing are we more certain than that the world as we know it, in its totality as well as in its parts, realizes only finite degrees of perfection. It is a mere contradiction in terms, however much one may try to cover up and conceal the contradiction by an ambiguous and confusing use of language, to predicate infinity of matter or of the human mind, and one or the other or both must be held by the Pantheist to be infinite. In other words the distinction between the finite and the infinite must be abolished and the principle of contradiction denied. This criticism applies to every variety of Pantheism strictly so called, while crude, materialistic Pantheism involves so many additional and more obvious absurdities that hardly any philosopher deserving of the name will be found to maintain it in our day. On the other hand, as regards idealistic Pantheism, which enjoys a considerable vogue in our day, it is to be observed in the first place that in many cases this is a tendency rather than a formal doctrine, that it is in fact nothing more than a confused and perverted form of Theism, based especially upon an exaggerated and one-sided view of Divine immanence (see below, iii). And this confusion works to the advantage of Pantheism by enabling it to make a specious appeal to the very arguments which justify Theism. Indeed the whole strength of the pantheistic position as against Atheism lies in what it holds in common with Theism; while, on the other hand, its weakness as a world theory becomes evident as soon as it diverges from or contradicts Theism. Whereas Theism, for example, safeguards such primary truths as the reality of human personality, freedom, and moral responsibility, Pantheism is obliged to sacrifice all these, to deny the existence of evil, whether physical or moral, to destroy the rational basis of religion, and, under pretence of making man his own God, to rob him of nearly all his plain, common sense convictions and of all his highest incentives to good conduct. The philosophy which leads to such results cannot but be radically unsound.

(b) The argument from design

The special argument based on the existence of order or design in the universe (also called the teleological argument) proves immediately the existence of a supramundane mind of vast intelligence, and ultimately the existence of God. This argument is capable of being developed at great length, but it must be stated here very briefly. It has always been a favourite argument both with philosophers and with popular apologists of Theism; and though, during the earlier excesses of enthusiasm for or against Darwinianism, it was often asserted or admitted that the evolutionary hypothesis had overthrown the teleological argument, it is now recognized that the very opposite is true, and that the evidences of design which the universe exhibits are not less but more impressive when viewed from the evolutionary standpoint. To begin with particular examples of adaptation which may be appealed to in countless number -- the eye, for instance, as an organ of sight is a conspicuous embodiment of intelligent purpose -- and not less but more so when viewed as the product of an evolutionary process rather than the immediate handiwork of the Creator. There is no option in such cases between the hypothesis of a directing intelligence and that of blind chance, and the absurdity of supposing that the eye originated suddenly by a single blind chance is augmented a thousand-fold by suggesting that it may be the product of a progressive series of such chances. "Natural selection", "survival of the fittest", and similar terms merely describe certain phases in the supposed process of evolution without helping the least to explain it; and as opposed to teleology they mean nothing more than blind chance. The eye is only one of the countless examples of adaptation to particular ends discernible in every part of the universe, inorganic as well as organic; for the atom as well as the cell contributes to the evidence available. Nor is the argument weakened by our inability in many cases to explain the particular purpose of certain structures or organisms. Our knowledge of nature is too limited to be made the measure of nature's entire design, while as against our ignorance of some particular purposes we are entitled to maintain the presumption that if intelligence is anywhere apparent it is dominant everywhere. Moreover, in our search for particular instances of design we must not overlook the evidence supplied by the harmonious unity of nature as a whole. The universe as we know it is a cosmos, a vastly complex system of correlated and interdependent parts, each subject to particular laws and all together subject to a common law or a combination of laws as the result of which the pursuit of particular ends is made to contribute in a marvellous way to the attainment of a common purpose; and it is simply inconceivable that this cosmic unity should be the product of chance or accident. If it be objected that there is another side to the picture, that the universe abounds in imperfections -- maladjustments, failures, seemingly purposeless waste -- the reply is not far to seek. For it is not maintained that the existing world is the best possible, and it is only on the supposition of its being so that the imperfections referred to would be excluded. Admitting without exaggerating their reality -- admitting, that is, the existence of physical evil -- there still remains a large balance on the side of order and harmony, and to account for this there is required not only an intelligent mind but one that is good and benevolent, though so far as this special argument goes this mind might conceivably be finite. To prove the infinity of the world's Designer it is necessary to fall back on the general argument already explained and on the deductive argument to be explained below by which infinity is inferred from self-existence. Finally, by way of direct reply to the problem suggested by the objection, it is to be observed that, to appreciate fully the evidence for design, we must, in addition to particular instances of adaptation and to the cosmic unity observable in the world of today, consider the historical continuity of nature throughout indefinite ages in the past and indefinite ages to come. We do not and cannot comprehend the full scope of nature's design, for it is not a static universe we have to study but a universe that is progressively unfolding itself and moving towards the fulfilment of an ultimate purpose under the guidance of a master mind. And towards that purpose the imperfect as well as the perfect -- apparent evil and discord as well as obvious good order -- may contribute in ways which we can but dimly discern. The well-balanced philosopher, who realizes his own limitations in the presence of nature's Designer, so far from claiming that every detail of that Designer's purpose should at present be plain to his inferior intelligence, will be content to await the final solution of enigmas which the hereafter promises to furnish.

(c) The argument from conscience

To Newman and others the argument from conscience, or the sense of moral responsibility, has seemed the most intimately persuasive of all the arguments for God's existence, while to it alone Kant allowed an absolute value. But this is not an independent argument, although, properly understood, it serves to emphasize a point in the general a posteriori proof which is calculated to appeal with particular force to many minds. It is not that conscience, as such, contains a direct revelation or intuition of God as the author of the moral law, but that, taking man's sense of moral responsibility as a phenomenon to be explained, no ultimate explanation can be given except by supposing the existence of a Superior and Lawgiver whom man is bound to obey. And just as the argument from design brings out prominently the attribute of intelligence, so the argument from science brings out the attribute of holiness in the First Cause and self-existent Personal Being with whom we must ultimately identify the Designer and the Lawgiver.

(d) The argument from universal consent

The confirmatory argument based on the consent of mankind may be stated briefly as follows: mankind as a whole has at all times and everywhere believed and continues to believe in the existence of some superior being or beings on whom the material world and man himself are dependent, and this fact cannot be accounted for except by admitting that this belief is true or at least contains a germ of truth. It is admitted of course that Polytheism, Dualism, Pantheism, and other forms of error and superstition have mingled with and disfigured this universal belief of mankind, but this does not destroy the force of the argument we are considering. For at least the germinal truth which consists in the recognition of some kind of deity is common to every form of religion and can therefore claim in its support the universal consent of mankind. And how can this consent be explained except as a result of the perception by the minds of men of the evidence for the existence of deity? It is too large a subject to be entered upon here -- the discussion of the various theories that have been advanced to account in some other way for the origin and universality of religion; but it may safely be said that, abstracting from revelation, which need not be discussed at this stage, no other theory will stand the test of criticism. And, assuming that this is the best explanation philosophy has to offer, it may further be maintained that this consent of mankind tells ultimately in favour of Theism. For it is clear from history that religion is liable to degenerate, and has in many instances degenerated instead of progressing; and even if it be impossible to prove conclusively that Monotheism was the primitive historical religion, there is nevertheless a good deal of positive evidence adducible in support of this contention. And if this be the true reading of history, it is permissible to interpret the universality of religion as witnessing implicitly to the original truth which, however much obscured it may have become, in many cases could never be entirely obliterated. But even if the history of religion is to read as a record of progressive development one ought in all fairness, in accordance with a well-recognized principle, to seek its true meaning and significance not at the lowest but at the highest point of development; and it cannot be denied that Theism in the strict sense is the ultimate form which religion naturally tends to assume. If there have been and are today atheistic philosophers who oppose the common belief of mankind, these are comparatively few and their dissent only serves to emphasize more strongly the consent of normal humanity. Their existence is an abnormality to be accounted for as such things usually are. Could it be claimed on their behalf, individually or collectively, that in ability, education, character, or life they excel the infinitely larger number of cultured men who adhere on conviction to what the race at large has believed, then indeed it might be admitted that their opposition would be somewhat formidable. But no such claim can be made; on the contrary, if a comparison were called for it would be easy to make out an overwhelming case for the other side. Or again, if it were true that the progress of knowledge had brought to light any new and serious difficulties against religion, there would, especially in view of the modern vogue of Agnosticism, be some reason for alarm as to the soundness of the traditional belief. But so far is this from being the case that in the words of Professor Huxley -- an unsuspected witness -- "not a solitary problem presents itself to the philosophical Theist at the present day which has not existed from the time that philosophers began to think out the logical grounds and the logical consequences of Theism" (Life and Letters of Ch. Darwin by F. Darwin, II, p. 203). Substantially the same arguments as are used today were employed by old-time sceptical Atheists in the effort to overthrow man's belief in the existence of the Divine, and the fact that this belief has withstood repeated assaults during so many ages in the past is the best guarantee of its permanency in the future. It is too firmly implanted in the depths of man's soul for little surface storms to uproot it.

2. A Priori, or Ontological, Argument

This argument undertakes to deduce the existence of God from the idea of Him as the Infinite which is present to the human mind; but as already stated, theistic philosophers are not agreed as to the logical validity of this deduction. As stated by St. Anselm, the argument runs thus: The idea of God as the Infinite means the greatest Being that can be thought of, but unless actual existence outside the mind is included in this idea, God would not be the greatest conceivable Being since a Being that exists both in the mind as an object of thought, and outside the mind or objectively, would be greater than a Being that exists in the mind only; therefore God exists not only in the mind but outside of it.

Descartes states the argument in a slightly different way as follows: Whatever is contained in a clear and distinct idea of a thing must be predicated of that thing; but a clear and distinct idea of an absolutely perfect Being contains the notion of actual existence; therefore since we have the idea of an absolutely perfect Being such a Being must really exist.

To mention a third form of statement, Leibniz would put the argument thus: God is at least possible since the concept of Him as the Infinite implies no contradiction; but if He is possible He must exist because the concept of Him involves existence. In St. Anselm's own day this argument was objected to by Gaunilo, who maintained as a reductio ad absurdum that were it valid one could prove by means of it the actual existence somewhere of an ideal island far surpassing in riches and delights the fabled Isles of the Blessed. But this criticism however smart it may seem is clearly unsound, for it overlooks the fact that the argument is not intended to apply to finite ideals but only to the strictly infinite; and if it is admitted that we possess a true idea of the infinite, and that this idea is not self-contradictory, it does not seem possible to find any flaw in the argument. Actual existence is certainly included in any true concept of the Infinite, and the person who admits that he has a concept of an Infinite Being cannot deny that he conceives it as actually existing. But the difficulty is with regard to this preliminary admission, which if challenged -- as it is in fact challenged by Agnostics -- requires to be justified by recurring to the a posteriori argument, i.e. to the inference by way of causality from contingency to self-existence and thence by way of deduction to infinity. Hence the great majority of scholastic philosophers have rejected the ontological argument as propounded by St. Anselm and Descartes nor as put forward by Leibniz does it escape the difficulty that has been stated.



A. Sacred Scriptures

Neither in the Old or New Testament do we find any elaborate argumentation devoted to proving that God exists. This truth is rather taken for granted, as being something, for example, that only the fool will deny in his heart [Ps. xiii (xiv), 1; lii (liii), 1]; and argumentation, when resorted to, is directed chiefly against polytheism and idolatry. But in several passages we have a cursory appeal to some phase of the general cosmological argument: v.g. Ps. xviii (xix), 1, xciii (xciv), 5 sqq., Is., xli, 26 sqq.; II Mach., vii, 28, etc.; and in some few others -- Wis. xiii, 1-9; Rom., i, 18,20 -- the argument is presented in a philosophical way, and men who reason rightly are held to be inexcusable for failing to recognize and worship the one true God, the Author and Ruler of the universe.

These two latter texts merit more than passing attention. Wis., xiii, 1-9 reads:

But all men are vain in whom there is not the knowledge of God: and who by these good things that are seen, could not understand him that is, neither by attending to the works have acknowledged who was the workman: but have imagined either the fire, or the wind, or the swift air or the circle of the stars, or the great water, or the sun and moon, to be the gods that rule the world. With whose beauty, if they, being delighted, took them to be gods: let them know how much the Lord of them is more beautiful than they: for the first author of beauty made all those things. Or if they admired their power and effects, let them understand by them that he that made them, is mightier than they: for by the greatness of the beauty, and of the creature, the creator of them may be seen, so as to be known thereby. But yet as to these they are less to be blamed. For they perhaps err, seeking God, and desirous to find him. For being conversant among his works, they search: and they are persuaded that the things are good which are seen. But then again they are not to be pardoned. For if they were able to know so much as to make a judgment of the world: how did they not more easily find out the Lord thereof?

Here it is clearly taught

that the phenomenal or contingent world -- the things that are seen -- requires a cause distinct from and greater than itself or any of its elements;

that this cause who is God is not unknowable, but is known with certainty not only to exist but to possess in Himself, in a higher degree, whatever beauty, strength, or other perfections are realized in His works, that this conclusion is attainable by the right exercise of human reason, without reference to supernatural revelation, and that philosophers, therefore, who are able to interpret the world philosophically, are inexcusable for their ignorance of the true God, their failure, it is implied, being due rather to lack of good will than to the incapacity of the human mind.

Substantially the same doctrine is laid down more briefly by St. Paul in Romans 1:18-20:

For the wrath of God is revealed from heaven against all ungodliness and injustice of those men that detain the truth of God in injustice: because that which is known of God is manifest in them. For God hath manifested it unto them. For the invisible things of him, from the creation of the world, are clearly seen, being understood by the things that are made, his eternal power also and divinity: so that they are inexcusable.

It is to be observed that the pagans of whom St. Paul is speaking are not blamed for their ignorance of supernatural revelation and the Mosaic law, but for failing to preserve or for corrupting that knowledge of God and of man's duty towards Him which nature itself ought to have taught them. Indeed it is not pure ignorance as such they are blamed for, but that wilful shirking of truth which renders ignorance culpable. Even under the corruptions of paganism St. Paul recognized the indestructible permanency of germinal religious truth (cf. Romans 2:14-15).

It is clear from these passages that Agnosticism and Pantheism are condemned by revelation, while the validity of the general proof of God's existence given above is confirmed. It is also clear that the extreme form of Traditionalism, which would hold that no certain knowledge of God's existence or nature is attainable by human reason without the aid of supernatural revelation, is condemned.

B. Church Councils

What the author of Wisdom and St. Paul and after them the Fathers and theologians had constantly taught, has been solemnly defined by the Vatican Council. In the first place, as against Agnosticism and Traditionalism, the council teaches (cap. ii, De revelat.)

that God, the first cause (principium) and last end of all things, can, from created things, be known with certainty by the natural light of human reason (Denz., 1785-old no. 1634)

and in the corresponding canon (can. i, De revelat.) it anathematizes anyone who would say

that the one true God our Creator and Lord, cannot, through the things that are made, be known with certainty by the natural light of human reason (Denz., 1806-old no. 1653).

As against Agnosticism this definition needs no explanation. As against Traditionalism, it is to be observed that the definition is directed only against the extreme form of that theory, as held by Lamennais and others according to which -- taking human nature as it is -- there would not, and could not, have been any true or certain knowledge of God, among men, had there not been at least a primitive supernatural revelation -- in other words, natural religion as such is an impossibility. There is no reference to milder forms of Traditionalism which hold social tradition and education to be necessary for the development of man's rational powers, and consequently deny, for example, that an individual cut off from human society from his infancy, and left entirely to himself, could ever attain a certain knowledge of God, or any strictly rational knowledge at all. That is a psychological problem on which the council has nothing to say. Neither does it deny that even in case of the homo socialis a certain degree of education and culture may be required in order that he may, by independent reasoning, arrive at a knowledge of God; but it merely affirms the broad principle that by the proper use of their natural reasoning power, applied to the phenomena of the universe, men are able to know God with certainty. In the next place, as against Pantheism, the council (cap. i, De Deo) teaches that God, "since He is one singular, altogether simple and incommutable spiritual substance, must be proclaimed to be really and essentially [re et essentia) distinct from the world most happy in and by Himself, and ineffably above and beyond all things, actual or possible, besides Himself" (Denzinger, 1782-old no. 1631); and in the corresponding canons (ii-iv, De Deo) anathema is pronounced against anyone who would say "that nothing exists but matter"; or "that the substance or essence of God and of all things is one and the same"; or "that finite things both corporeal and spiritual, or at least spiritual, have emanated from the Divine substance; or that the Divine essence by a manifestation or evolution of itself becomes all things; or that God is universal or indefinite being, which by determining itself constitutes the universe of things distinguished into genera, species and individuals" (Denzinger, 1802-4; old no. 1648).

These definitions are framed so as to cover and exclude every type of the pantheistic theory, and nobody will deny that they are in harmony with Scriptural teaching. The doctrine of creation, for example, than which none is more clearly taught or more frequently emphasized in Sacred Scripture, is radically opposed to Pantheism -- creation as the sacred writers understand it being the voluntary act of a free agent bringing creatures into being out of nothingness.

C. The Knowability of God

It will be observed that neither the Scriptural texts we have quoted nor the conciliar decrees say that God's existence can be proved or demonstrated; they merely affirm that it can be known with certainty. Now one may, if one wishes, insist on the distinction between what is knowable and what is demonstrable, but in the present connection this distinction has little real import. It has never been claimed that God's existence can be proved mathematically, as a proposition in geometry is proved, and most Theists reject every form of the ontological or deductive proof. But if the term proof or demonstration may be, as it often is, applied to a posteriori or inductive inference, by means of which knowledge that is not innate or intuitive is acquired by the exercise of reason, then it cannot fairly be denied that Catholic teaching virtually asserts that God's existence can be proved. Certain knowledge of God is declared to be attainable "by the light of reason", i.e. of the reasoning faculty as such from or through "the things that are made"; and this clearly implies an inferential process such as in other connections men do not hesitate to call proof.

Hence it is fair to conclude that the Vatican Council, following Sacred Scripture, has virtually condemned the Scepticism which rejects the a posteriori proof. But it did not deal directly with Ontologism, although certain propositions of the Ontologists had already been condemned as unsafe (tuto tradi non posse) by a decree of the Holy Office (18 September, 1861), and among the propositions of Rosmini subsequently condemned (14 December, 1887) several reassert the ontologist principle. This condemnation by the Holy Office is quite sufficient to discredit Ontologism, regarding which it is enough to say here

that, as already observed, experience contradicts the assumption that the human mind has naturally or necessarily an immediate consciousness or intuition of the Divine,

that such a theory obscures, and tends to do away with, the difference, on which St. Paul insists (1 Corinthians 13:12), between our earthly knowledge of God ("through a glass in a dark manner") and the vision of Him which the blessed in heaven enjoy ("face to face") and seems irreconcilable with the Catholic doctrine, defined by the Council of Vienne, that, to be capable of the face to face or intuitive vision of God, the human intellect needs to be endowed with a special supernatural light, the lumen gloriae and finally that, in so far as it is clearly intelligible, the theory goes dangerously near to Pantheism.

In the decree "Lamentabili" (3 July, 1907) and the Encyclical "Pascendi" (7 September, 1907), issued by Pope Pius X, the Catholic position is once more reaffirmed and theological Agnosticism condemned. In its bearing on our subject, this act of Church authority is merely a restatement of the teaching of St. Paul and of the Vatican Council, and a reassertion of the principle which has been always maintained, that God must be naturally knowable if faith in Him and His revelation is to be reasonable; and if a concrete example be needed to show how, of logical necessity, the substance of Christianity vanishes into thin air once the agnostic principle is adopted, one has only to point the finger at Modernism. Rational theism is a necessary logical basis for revealed religion; and that the natural knowledge of God and natural religion, which Catholic teaching holds to be possible, are not necessarily the result of grace, i.e. of a supernatural aid given directly by God Himself, follows from the condemnation by Clement XI of one of the propositions of Quesnel (prop. 41) in which the contrary is asserted (Denzinger, 1391; old no. 1256).

Publication information Written by P.J. Toner. Transcribed by Tomas Hancil. The Catholic Encyclopedia, Volume VI. Published 1909. New York: Robert Appleton Company. Nihil Obstat, September 1, 1909. Remy Lafort, Censor. Imprimatur. +John M. Farley, Archbishop of New York

Arguments for the Existence of God

Personal Thoughts By the Editor of BELIEVE

In general, BELIEVE does NOT contain any of MY thoughts or opinions, because BELIEVE is intended so as to present only the best scholarly authorities on religious subjects. However, after 14 years of this presentation ending here, including nine years on the Internet, I see it as potentially useful to include my own thoughts here. A reader needs to evaluate whether there is any value or not.

First, Logical Reverse Reasoning

A person is certainly free to decide whether the Bible has any value or not. A central issue in that matter is usually regarding whether God "Inspired" the Bible's human authors. Consider the possibilities.

IF a person does NOT think that God Inspired the Bible, or that God doesn't even actually Exist, then the Book would seem to have very limited value, and it would certainly not deserve to be the central focus of Faith.

On the other hand, if one accepts the idea that God participated in Inspiring the Bible, it becomes an important Book. Technically, there would still be three possibilities to consider.

  1. If God Inspired the Bible, and it is all absolutely and precisely true (at least when it was still in its Original language and the Original Manuscripts) and accurate, then we should carefully pay attention to every detail of it. Traditionally, this has always been the case for both Christians and Jews.

  2. If God Inspired the Bible, but He is Evil, then it is likely to nearly all be untrue and deceptive. However, no accepted concept of God would see that as possible of Him.

  3. If God Inspired the Bible, but it Originally contained both Truths and untruths, and it contained inaccuracies or distortions, this appears to be the only possible assumption of those Christians who feel they can freely select the parts of the Bible they want to obey. (Many thousands of researchers have compared the more than 20,000 existing Scribe-written Manuscripts to ensure that we accurately know the Original text.) If God is even remotely as Powerful and Considerate and Compassionate as we believe Him to be, would He intentionally include such faults in the Book He provided us as a Guide? Or, could He be so sloppy as to unintentionally include such flaws in it?

For this last matter, it seems impossible that the God we know and Worship would be either intentionally deceptive or incompetent. For, if He was, then the consistency and reliability of our Universe would be an unexpected and unintentional effort of His. When you step out the door of your house, you might fall into a bottomless pit, rather than stepping out on the sidewalk that you know is there.

For these reasons, it seems inappropriate to feel that a person could pick and choose various parts of the Bible to accept and obey. If you accept ANY of it as being valid and valuable, then you are implicitly accepting that God participated in its creation. And if God participated in the Bible being composed, that seems to necessarily imply that ALL of it was Originally precisely correct and accurate, in its Original language.

These observations do not make such claims regarding any specific modern Bible translation. Given that we see the inconsistencies between various translated Versions, we should certainly be somewhat cautious at totally accepting any one of them. Either use two or more different Bible Versions in your studies, or have a Strongs Concordance handy, or both! As long as you can get to an understanding of what the Original texts said and meant, you will have the true meaning!

I sometimes present this all in a different way.

Each person must decide for himself/herself regarding a variety of religious subjects. Churches and religions and "experts" can give opinions, but that is really what they are, opinions.

It seems to me that it is reasonable to ask several logical questions in the pursuit of Truth.

The first is, does God exist?
If your answer is no, then the subject is pretty much closed!

If your answer is yes, He exists, or I think so, then a follow-up question seems logical:

Does God have Principles, Ethics, Morals, Logic?
If your answer is no, then we are all in a horrible situation, where God could choose to be irrational, unfair, capricious. There are people who believe this. But I look at the history of everything that is known. As far as is known, the Sun has risen at the proper time each day, gravity has worked consistently, no buildings or fields or cities just disappear or reappear illogically. Based on this rather massive evidence of all history and all experience, I am tempted to think that the Universe appears to be consistent and logical. That suggests that God does not apply irrational actions or motives. I take that to suggest that He has at least several positive characteristics. If we grant Him "several" admirable traits, I am willing to accept that He has additional admirable traits which we cannot confirm or deny.

So, if your answer is yes, He is ethical and moral and logical, then a follow-up question seems logical:

Did He participate in the composition of the Bible?
If your answer is no, then you need to explain the specific sequence of events listed in Genesis 1. It has only been in the past hundred years or so that science has begun to establish just when those several events occurred. Even skeptics agree that the Bible has said that Light came first, for at least 3300 years! That statement must have seemed odd to many people. Why Light first? Why not Man, to witness everything? Why not the Earth, to stand on? But Genesis 1 starts by saying that Light was first. It is only in the past hundred years that science has discovered that stars are older than anything else we know, and therefore that their light existed before anything else. Prior to a hundred years ago, how could anyone have known that? Or even guessed it? So, if God was NOT involved in composing Genesis 1, how could any ancient human have known to write down that Light came first? (more on this theme below)

So, if your answer is yes, God is ethical and moral and He participated in the composition of the Bible, then a follow-up question seems logical:

Would such an ethical, moral, honorable God have either intentionally put falsehoods or misleading statements in His Book or even permitted the human authors to do such?
This represents the INTERESTING part! Given these seemingly logical questions and conclusions, it would seem that He would have assured that the (Original) Manuscripts of the Bible would have been precisely accurate and Truthful.

This seems to imply that, for an absolute fact, the Flood occurred, David slew Goliath, Moses received the Ten Commandments, and all the rest, EXACTLY as it was presented in those Original Manuscripts.

Now, it is well established that Scribes, in copying the roughly three million characters of the text of the Bible, have occasionally made minor errors (which are now found and have been corrected, through a comparison of many thousands of early Manuscripts). Amazingly, that (ongoing) research has also discovered that a few Scribes had (in the first few centuries after Christ) even added some text that was intended as clarifying statements, and those modifications, too, have been largely recognized and corrected.

But the point is, all of the central Teachings of the Bible have NOT been altered or mis-copied. That means that, even without ANY (current) scientific documentation, we can confidently say that the Flood of Noah actually occurred. More than that: If God told us that He took Six Days to create the Universe, that statement MUST be the Truth. Otherwise, He was either intentionally telling us a falsehood, or He made an error, or He permitted a central error to exist in the Bible.

Now, none of this actually PROVES anything. It will always come down to a person's personal choice as to what to believe, a matter of Faith. These questions and discussion are only meant to suggest a way to look at the situation, to think through it. My conclusion from this is that God exists, He is Good, He guided the composition of the Bible and He made sure it was all Correct and Truthful. So, when many modern Christians see seemingly illogical stories in the Bible, especially things that modern science seems to challenge, I find it sad (and inappropriate) when they then begin to pick through the Bible's contents to decide which parts they want to believe and which they choose to disbelieve. In a word, Hogwash!

As a person who was educated as a serious scientist (my College Degree was in Theoretical Nuclear Physics), I am familiar with logic and the value in analytical thought and all it has accomplished within the realm of science. I have little question regarding that, and accept nearly all of what science has so far figured out. But at the same time, using the same scientific analytical approach, those questions above lead me to totally believe in the validity of the WHOLE Bible.

My Second Line of Reasoning, Regarding Genesis 1

It seems to me, as a scientist, that the Bible contains a small number of solid facts, on which solid scientific conclusions might be based. I specifically refer to Genesis 1. A number of specific, identifiable events are mentioned there, IN A SPECIFIC SEQUENCE. I ask that you momentarily ignore the Days references, and simply make a sequential list of the events that you see there. When I was 19 years old, I first made my list, on which I had 14 distinct events, the first being Light and the fourteenth being Man.

First, consider the possibility if God did NOT exist. That means that some ancient speaker or writer had devised the story of Creation, without ANY help from God. Such a writer had 14 events to mention, right? In principle, he could have selected any of the 14 as the first to mention. Then he would have 13 left to select from for his second event. This choice making would continue until he eventually just had one left to choose as the fourteenth.

It turns out that this is a large number of possible choices for his (human-written) storyline! In fact, the number of choices is referred to in mathematics as 14 factorial (14!). That seems like an innocent number, but it is actually HUGE! It is over 87 billion possible storylines! (87,178,291,200)

Do you see why this is significant? A HUMAN writer would have had to select from over 87 billion possible sequences in writing such a Creation story for Genesis 1. To put it a different way, there would have been one chance in 87 billion that a poorly educated ancient writer could have selected the CORRECT actual sequence which really occurred! In other words, it is scientifically and statistically IMPOSSIBLE for this to have happened!

It has only been in the last hundred years where science has advanced enough to be able to determine WHEN (in scientific terms) each of those events happened, such as that nearly all stars turn out to be far older than the Earth, and therefore "first" in creating starlight (and then sunlight). And that the appearance of man turns out to be the most recent of those 14 events. And also the relative timing of the other events mentioned in Genesis 1. ASTOUNDINGLY, very recent modern science has CONFIRMED the sequence of those events in Genesis 1, with only (in my opinion) a single minor discrepancy (regarding birds being one step different in the two sequential listings). As far as I am concerned, THIS means that modern science has statistically PROVEN that Genesis 1 could NOT have been written by any human, UNLESS God was directly providing information that ancient writer could not possbily have known!

I realize that this might seem overwhelming. So I have a simplified version for you to consider. Say that, without any reference books, YOU were given the task of writing a story regarding the beginnings of fish, trees, man, large animals and small animals (FIVE events). It turns out that you could create 5! or 120 different sequences or storylines for just those five incidents. Think about it! Which of those five would YOU discuss first? And then second?

Modern science now knows that there was no free oxygen in the early atmosphere, so that plants and trees HAD TO exist before any of the others, BECAUSE plants and trees GIVE OFF OXYGEN into the atmosphere. Did YOU know that, as an "ancient writer"? No, you could not have! It is also now known (rather recently) that the early atmosphere could not have stopped most of the deadly incoming ultraviolet and cosmic rays from getting to the Earth's surface. So land-based animals would certainly have soon died. It was possible for fish to arise and to multiply and fill the seas, because the water protected them from that radiation. (The oxygen given off by plants and trees had first gradually gotten dissolved in the water by waves and such).

See the reasoning? IF you were given a lot of scientific evidence, you would have been able to get those five events in the correct sequence. But if you lived 3500 years ago, without any source of such information, you would have been on your own, and you might have selected ANY of the 120 possible sequences to use in writing your story! Even with just five events to mention, you would have had less than 1% chance of getting the order exactly right!

I have come up with a more personal example for you to try! Imagine that you are given an assignment, to write an essay of a few pages. I give you a list of 14 various sports: Baseball, football, soccer, tennis, golf, basketball, rugby, cricket, field hockey, ice hockey, archery, gymnastics, track and field, and wrestling. You are to write a brief essay indicating the "history" of sports (no computer or encyclopedia allowed!) The specific point is that you will have to put those 14 sports in some sort of order, a sequence over time. Which one do you think was first? You have 14 choices to pick from. Then, which was second? You have 13 left to pick from, so you already have 182 different possible storylines for just the first two!

You might have some tremendous advantages over the Genesis source, as you may have read books or seen programs that gave you information regarding when specific of those sports first arose. But even with that added information, you will have to do amazing things to beat the 87 billion to one odds against you getting the entire sequence exactly correct!

I hope it is noted WHY I felt these personal comments needed to be added (after 14 years of struggling about doing that!) The reasoning presented here is so recent that it was not available to Augustine or Aquinas or Anselm. I like to think that if they had had access to such recent scientific findings, they might have presented such science-based arguments along with their other approaches! In any case, whether of value or not, these are MY personal "Arguments for the Existence of God"!

Also, see:

The individual articles presented here were generally first published in the early 1980s. This subject presentation was first placed on the Internet in May 1997. My personal sequence reasoning was first developed in 1965.

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