Arguments For the Existence of God (Overview)

Aquinas' Five Ways

For in depth analysis of the individual arguments, see unmoved mover, first cause, argument from contingency, argument from degree, or teleological argument.
In the first part of his Summa Theologica, Thomas Aquinas developed his five arguments for God's existence. These arguments are grounded in an Aristotelian ontology and make use of the infinite regression argument.[17][18] Aquinas did not intend to fully prove the existence of God as he is orthodoxly conceived (with all of his traditional attributes), but proposed his Five Ways as a first stage, which he built upon later in his work.[19] Aquinas' Five Ways argued from the unmoved mover, first cause, necessary being, argument from degree, and the teleological argument.

  • The unmoved mover argument asserts that, from our experience of motion in the universe (motion being the transition from potentiality to actuality) we can see that there must have been an initial mover. Aquinas argued that whatever is in motion must be put in motion by another thing, so there must be an unmoved mover.[17]
  • Aquinas' argument from first cause started with the premise that it is impossible for a being to cause itself (because it would have to exist before it caused itself) and that it is impossible for there to be an infinite chain of causes, which would result in infinite regress. Therefore, there must be a first cause, itself uncaused.[17]
  • The argument from necessary being asserts that all beings are contingent, meaning that it is possible for them not to exist. Aquinas argued that if everything can possibly not exist, there must have been a time when nothing existed; as things exist now, there must exist a being with necessary existence, regarded as God.[17]
  • Aquinas argued from degree, considering the occurrence of degrees of goodness. He believed that things which are called good, must be called good in relation to a standard of good—a maximum. There must be a maximum goodness that which causes all goodness.[17]
  • The teleological argument asserts the view that things without intelligence are ordered towards a purpose. Aquinas argued that unintelligent objects cannot be ordered unless they are done so by an intelligent being, which means that there must be an intelligent being to move objects to their ends: God.[17]


Rational warrant

Philosopher Stephen Toulmin is notable for his work in the history of ideas[20] that features the (rational) warrant: a statement that connects the premises to a conclusion.

Joseph Hinman applied Toulmin's approach in his argument for the existence of God, particularly in his book The Trace of God: A Rational Warrant for Belief.[21]Instead of attempting to prove the existence of God, Hinman argues you can "demonstrate the rationally warranted nature of belief".[22]

Hinman uses a wide range of studies, including ones by Robert Wuthnow, Andrew Greeley, Mathes and Kathleen Nobel to establish that mystical experiences are life-transformative in a way that is significant, positive and lasting.[23] He draws on additional work to add several additional major points to his argument. First, the people who have these experiences not only do not exhibit traditional signs of mental illness but, often, are in better mental and physical health than the general population due to the experience.[24] Second, the experiences work. In other words, they provide a framework for navigating life that is useful and effective.[25] All of the evidence of the positive effects of the experience upon people's lives he, adapting a term from Derrida, terms "the trace of God": the footprints left behind that point to the impact.

Finally, he discusses how both religious experience and belief in God is, and has always been, normative among humans:[26] people do not need to prove the existence of God. If there is no need to prove, Hinman argues, and the Trace of God (for instance, the impact of mystical experiences on them), belief in God is rationally warranted.

Deductive arguments

Ontological argument

The ontological argument has been formulated by philosophers including St. Anselm and René Descartes. The argument proposes that God's existence is self-evident. The logic, depending on the formulation, reads roughly as follows:[27]

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 idea of actual existence; therefore since we have the idea of an absolutely perfect Being such a Being must really exist.[27]

Thomas Aquinas criticized the argument for proposing a definition of God which, if God is transcendent, should be impossible for humans.[28] Immanuel Kant criticized the proof from a logical standpoint: he stated that the term "God" really signifies two different terms: both idea of God, and God. Kant concluded that the proof is equivocation, based on the ambiguity of the word God.[29] Kant also challenged the argument's assumption that existence is a predicate (of perfection) because it does not add anything to the essence of a being. If existence is not a predicate, then it is not necessarily true that the greatest possible being exists.[30] A common rebuttal to Kant's critique is that, although "existence" does add something to both the concept and the reality of God, the concept would be vastly different if its referent is an unreal Being.[citation needed] Another response to Kant is attributed to Alvin Plantinga who explains that even if one were to grant Kant that "existence" is not a real predicate, "Necessary Existence", which is the correct formulation of an understanding of God, is a real predicate, thus according to Plantinga Kant's argument is refuted.[31]

Inductive arguments

Inductive arguments argue their conclusions through inductive reasoning.

  • Another class of philosophers asserts that the proofs for the existence of God present a fairly large probability though not absolute certainty. A number of obscure points, they say, always remain; an act of faith is required to dismiss these difficulties. This view is maintained, among others, by the Scottishstatesman Arthur Balfour in his book The Foundations of Belief (1895). The opinions set forth in this work were adopted in France by Ferdinand Brunetière, the editor of the Revue des deux Mondes. Many orthodox Protestants express themselves in the same manner, as, for instance, Dr. E. Dennert, President of the Kepler Society, in his work Ist Gott tot?[32]


Other arguments

  • The hypothesis of well design proposes that certain features of the universe and of living things are the product of an intelligent cause.[33] Its proponents are mainly Christians.[34]
  • Argument from belief in God being properly basic as presented by Alvin Plantinga.[35]
  • Argument from the confluence of proper function and reliability and the evolutionary argument against naturalism, concluding that naturalism is incapable of providing humans with the cognitive apparatus necessary for their knowledge to have positive epistemic status.[36]
  • Argument from Personal Identity.[37]
  • Argument from the "divine attributes of scientific law".[38]


Subjective arguments

Arguments from historical events or personages

  • The sincere seeker's argument, espoused by Muslim Sufis of the Tasawwuf tradition, posits that every individual who follows a formulaic path towards guidance, arrives at the same destination of conviction in the existence of God and specifically in the monotheistic tenets and laws of Islam. This could only be true if the formula and supplication were being answered by the same Divine entity being addressed, as claimed in Islamic revelations. This was formally organized by Imam Abu Hamid Al-Ghazali in such notable works as "Deliverance from Error" and "The Alchemy of Happiness," in Arabic "Kimiya-yi sa'adat". The path includes following the golden rule of no harm to others and treating others with compassion, silence or minimal speech, seclusion, daily fasting or minimalist diet of water and basic nourishment, honest wages, and daily supplication towards "the Creator of the Universe" for guidance.[39][40]
  • Christianity and Judaism assert that God intervened in key specific moments in history, especially at the Exodus and the giving of the Ten Commandments in front of all the tribes of Israel, positing an argument from empirical evidence stemming from sheer number of witnesses, thus demonstrating his existence.[citation needed]
  • The argument from the Resurrection of Jesus. This asserts that there is sufficient historical evidence for Jesus's resurrection to support his claim to be the son of God and indicates, a fortiori, God's existence.[41] This is one of several arguments known as the Christological argument.
  • Islam asserts that the revelation of its holy book, the Qur'an, and its unique literary attributes, vindicate its divine authorship, and thus the existence of God.[42][43]
  • The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, also known as Mormonism, similarly asserts that the miraculous appearance of God, Jesus Christ, and angels to Joseph Smith and others and subsequent finding and translation of the Book of Mormon establishes the existence of God. The whole Latter Day Saint movement makes the same claim for example Community of Christ, Church of Christ (Temple Lot), Church of Jesus Christ (Bickertonite), Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints (Strangite), Church of Jesus Christ (Cutlerite), etc.[citation needed]

    • The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints (Strangite), similarly asserts that the finding and translation of the Plates of Laban, also known as the Brass Plates, into the Book of the Law of the Lord and Voree plates by James Strang, One Mighty and Strong, establishes the existence of God.[citation needed]
    • Various sects that have broken from the Church of Christ (Temple Lot) (such as Church of Christ "With the Elijah Message" and Church of Christ (Assured Way)) claim that the message brought by John the Baptist, One Mighty and Strong, to Otto Fetting and W. A. Draves in The Word of the Lord Brought to Mankind by an Angel establishes the existence of God.[citation needed]




Arguments from testimony

Arguments from testimony rely on the testimony or experience of witnesses, possibly embodying the propositions of a specific revealed religion. Swinburne argues that it is a principle of rationality that one should accept testimony unless there are strong reasons for not doing so.[44]

  • The witness argument gives credibility to personal witnesses, contemporary and throughout the ages. A variation of this is the argument from miracles (also referred to as "the priest stories") which relies on testimony of supernatural events to establish the existence of God.
  • The majority argument argues that the theism of people throughout most of recorded history and in many different places provides prima facie demonstration of God's existence.


Arguments grounded in personal experiences
  • The sincere seeker's argument, espoused by Muslim Sufis of the Tasawwuf tradition, posits that every individual who follows a formulaic path towards guidance, arrives at the same destination of conviction in the existence of God and specifically in the monotheistic tenets and laws of Islam. This apparent natural law for guidance and belief could only be consistent if the formula and supplication were being answered by the same Divine entity being addressed, as claimed in Islamic revelations. This was formally organized by Imam Abu Hamid Al-Ghazali in such notable works as "Deliverance from Error" and "The Alchemy of Happiness," in Arabic "Kimiya-yi sa'ādat". The path includes following the golden rule of no harm to others and treating others with compassion, silence or minimal speech, seclusion, daily fasting or minimalist diet of water and basic nourishment, honest wages, and daily supplication towards "the Creator of the Universe" for guidance.[39][40]
  • An argument for God is often made from an unlikely complete reversal in lifestyle by an individual towards God. Paul of Tarsus, a persecutor of the early Church, became a pillar of the Church after his conversion on the road to Damascus. Modern day examples in Evangelical Protestantism are sometimes called "Born-Again Christians".
  • The Scottish School of Common Sense led by Thomas Reid taught that the fact of the existence of God is accepted by people without knowledge of reasons but simply by a natural impulse. That God exists, this school said, is one of the chief metaphysical principles that people accept not because they are evident in themselves or because they can be proved, but because common sense obliges people to accept them.[citation needed]
  • The Argument from a Proper Basis argues that belief in God is "properly basic"; that it is similar to statements like "I see a chair" or "I feel pain".[citation needed]Such beliefs are non-falsifiable and, thus, neither provable nor disprovable; they concern perceptual beliefs or indisputable mental states.
  • In Germany, the School of Friedrich Heinrich Jacobi taught that human reason is able to perceive the suprasensible. Jacobi distinguished three faculties: sense, reason, and understanding. Just as sense has immediate perception of the material so has reason immediate perception of the immaterial, while the understanding brings these perceptions to a person's consciousness and unites them to one another.[45] God's existence, then, cannot be proven (Jacobi, like Immanuel Kant, rejected the absolute value of the principle of causality), it must be felt by the mind.
  • In Emile, Jean-Jacques Rousseau asserted that when a person's understanding ponders over the existence of God it encounters nothing but contradictions; the impulses of people's hearts, however, are of more value than the understanding, and these proclaim clearly the truths of natural religion, namely, the existence of God and the immortality of the soul.[citation needed]
  • The same theory was advocated in Germany by Friedrich Schleiermacher, who assumed an inner religious sense by means of which people feel religious truths. According to Schleiermacher, religion consists solely in this inner perception, and dogmatic doctrines are inessential.[46]
  • Many modern Protestant theologians follow in Schleiermacher's footsteps, and teach that the existence of God cannot be demonstrated; certainty as to this truth is only furnished to people by inner experience, feeling, and perception.[citation needed]
  • Modernist Christianity also denies the demonstrability of the existence of God. According to them, one can only know something of God by means of the vital immanence, that is, under favorable circumstances the need of the divine dormant in one's subconsciousness becomes conscious and arouses that religious feeling or experience in which God reveals himself.[citation needed] In condemnation of this view the Oath Against Modernism formulated by Pius X, a Pope of the Catholic Church, says: "Deum ... naturali rationis lumine per ea quae facta sunt, hoc est per visibilia creationis opera, tanquam causam per effectus certo cognosci adeoque demostrari etiam posse, profiteor." ("I declare that by the natural light of reason, God can be certainly known and therefore his existence demonstrated through the things that are made, i.e., through the visible works of creation, as the cause is known through its effects.")
  • Brahma Kumaris religion was established in 1936, when God was said to enter the body of diamond merchant Lekhraj Kripalani (1876–1969) in Hyderabad, Sindh and started to speak through him.[47][48]


Hindu arguments

Most schools of Hindu philosophy accept the existence of a creator god (Brahma), while some do not. The school of Vedanta argues that one of the proofs of the existence of God is the law of karma. In a commentary to Brahma Sutras (III, 2, 38, and 41), a Vedantic text, Adi Sankara, an Indian philosopher who consolidated the doctrine of Advaita Vedanta, a sub-school of Vedanta, argues that the original karmic actions themselves cannot bring about the proper results at some future time; neither can super sensuous, non-intelligent qualities like adrsta—an unseen force being the metaphysical link between work and its result—by themselves mediate the appropriate, justly deserved pleasure and pain. The fruits, according to him, then, must be administered through the action of a conscious agent, namely, a supreme being (Ishvara).[49]

A human's karmic acts result in merits and demerits. Since unconscious things generally do not move except when caused by an agent (for example, the axe moves only when swung by an agent), and since the law of karma is an unintelligent and unconscious law, Sankara argues there must be a conscious supreme Being who knows the merits and demerits which persons have earned by their actions, and who functions as an instrumental cause in helping individuals reap their appropriate fruits.[50] Thus, God affects the person's environment, even to its atoms, and for those souls who reincarnate, produces the appropriate rebirth body, all in order that the person might have the karmically appropriate experiences.[51] Thus, there must be a theistic administrator or supervisor for karma, i.e., God.

The Nyaya school, one of six orthodox schools of Hindu philosophy, states that one of the proofs of the existence of God is karma;[52] it is seen that some people in this world are happy, some are in misery. Some are rich and some are poor. The Naiyanikas explain this by the concept of karma and reincarnation. The fruit of an individual's actions does not always lie within the reach of the individual who is the agent; there ought to be, therefore, a dispenser of the fruits of actions, and this supreme dispenser is God.[52] This belief of Nyaya, accordingly, is the same as that of Vedanta.[52]

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