Does God exist?

  • Our question

    god hands around earth

    Is God real? In Western philosophy, God is usually defined as the “greatest possible being”—supremely worthy of worship.1 Theism is the view that God actually exists. (Atheism is the view that God does not exist).

    In virtue of God's unsurpassable greatness then, God is thought to have the greatest consistent set of knowledge, power, and benevolence. Putting that set together, God has been classically understood to be the singular all-good, all-powerful, all-knowing, everlasting (or eternal), perfectly free creator of the Universe.2 Moreover, God's existence is supposed to not depend on anything else. If this perfect personal foundation to reality exists, then a God exists who unsurpassably loves you. Moreover, loving God in return is likely central to your greatest good, purpose, and fulfillment.

    We mean to ask here whether theism is true, i.e. is there a God as defined?

    1. In fact, some argue that “the ordinary concept of God that is expressed by ‘God’ is confined to the idea of being worthy of worship.” [Jordan Howard Sobel, Logic and Theism (Cambridge, 2004), 17.]
      • Louis Pojman & Michael Rea: “...God is viewed as having attributes that set him apart from other beings as supreme. Traditionally, some of these attributes have been omnibenevolence (being perfectly good), timelessness (eternity), immutability (changelessness), omnipotence (being all-powerful), and omniscience (being all-knowing). [Philosophy of Religion: An Anthology 5th Edition (2007), 221.]
  • Quick suggestion: use standard reasoning methods

    There are three standard academic approaches to “reasoning” to conclusions like theism or atheism, namely:

    (1) Deductive reasoning

    (2) Inductive reasoning

    (3) Abductive reasoning

    Like most academic philosophers then, we can quickly dispense with all the other arbitrary reasoning criteria and methods proposed for discerning truth that one finds from laymen on YouTube and such (e.g. “it must be falsifiable,” “this or that facet must first be demonstrated,” “the hypothesis must be naturalistic”).1

    So before going further, consider reading:

    Although there are libraries of information surrounding the topic, you can get the gist of Bayesian / Inductive reasoning very quickly and easily with a 10 minute investment; it could save you countless hours and would be worth your time. If you feel you have a comfortable understanding of how evidence works, feel free to skip below and start evaluating the evidences for theism (green) and against theism (red).

    1. I don't mean to imply here that one is irrational if one has a belief which is not justified in one of these three ways; there are plausibly externally warranted beliefs (e.g. on grounds of the belief forming and functioning in a proper way [see Alvin Plantinga, Warrant and Proper Function (Oxford, 1993)]). Nevertheless, these are the canonical internalist means of reaching conclusions and arguing for them and, absent good reason, we should probably avoid deviant critera and methods.
“Yes, after all…
  • Physical reality began to exist

    man with action clipboard beginning the universe

    Several lines of evidence strongly suggest that the whole of physical reality—all contiguous space, time, and matter—truly began to exist, whether it was at the Big Bang or not.

    This page analyzes six evidences.

    The Universe's having a beginning would support God's existence, because if space, time, and matter began to exist, then the required cause of those three things obviously couldn't depend on those three things. (That would require self-causation.) So the cause would need to be spaceless, timeless, and immaterial. Moreover, it would have needed both the ability and disposition to cause space, time, and matter to exist. This sounds very suspiciously like God, and functions as a powerfully fulfilled theistic prediction.1 By contrast, the discovery that the universe began was a uniquely awkward and surprising development for atheist thinkers; it “was not even remotely expected”.2 (In fact, for a while atheists largely hated it and labeled the idea unscientific.)3

    But no,…

    But so what? Plausibly,…

      • Quentin Smith (Atheist professor of philosophy at Western Michigan): “The central idea of this cosmology, that the universe exploded into existence in a 'big bang' about 15 billion years ago or so, seemed tailor-made to a theistic viewpoint. Big bang cosmology seemed to offer empirical evidence for the religious doctrine of creation ex nihilo.” [“A Big Bang Cosmological Argument For God's Nonexistence” in Faith and Philosophy Vol. 9. No. 2 (1992): 217]
      • Lawrence Krauss & Robert Scherrer: “In 1908 the scientific consensus was that the universe was static and eternal. The beginning of the universe in a fiery big bang was not even remotely suspected.” [“The End of Cosmology?” Scientific American (March 2008)]
      • Robert Jastrow (Agnostic cosmologist, director of NASA): “…the essential element in the astronomical and biblical accounts of Genesis is the same; ...” [14.] “For the [non-believing] scientist... the story ends like a bad dream. He has scaled the mountains of ignorance; he is about to conquer the highest peak; as he pulls himself over the final rock, he is greeted by a band of theologians who have been sitting there for centuries.” [God and the Astronomers, 2nd ed. (W.W. Norton & Company, 1992), 116.]
  • The Universe is fine-tuned to permit life

    symbols of physics constants with checkmarks

    Of all the known ways the Universe's physical laws, constants, and initial conditions could have been, few ways would ever allow any life to exist.1

    This page analyzes three evidences.

    • First, various constants of physics are fine-tuned, like the strength of gravity, the balance of the strong and electromagnetic force, the weak force, and the proton-neutron mass difference, and the cosmological constant. For example, if the last item were off by 1 part in 10^120 (that is one-hundred and twenty zeroes), the Universe would only ever consist of rapidly dissipating hydrogen and helium—no life ever.
    • Second, various initial conditions are fine-tuned, including its initial mass-density, its initial distribution of energy, the Big Bang's “explosion” strength, the character of the density perturbations yielding star formation, and the density-ratio of radiation to normal matter.
    • Third, various laws of physics are fine-tuned, including the notion of gravity itself, and the strong nuclear force itself, as well as the electromagnetic force, Bohr's quantization rule, the Pauli exclusion principle, and more.

    This is an awkward and shocking development for atheist cosmologists2 because it means for them that we got really lucky for no reason. If God exists, however, then the Universe’s ability to permit life is not nearly so surprising or improbable.3 A life-permitting universe is the kind of thing God would plausibly choose to create.4

    But against the truth of fine-tuning, plausibly…

    And against the relevance of fine-tuning, plausibly…

    1. Specialist Luke Barnes recently co-authored A Fortunate Universe (Cambridge University Press, 2016). He also published a review of the scientific literature, 200+ papers, and confesses he can only think of “a handful of physicists that oppose this conclusion, and piles and piles that support it.” See here for non-theist specialists confessing that the fact of fine-tuning is not in dispute.
    2. See confessions from Lemley, Deutsch, Weinberg, Davies, Townes here. One example:

      Philip Ball (Physicist, 10+ years editor for Nature): “Our universe is so unlikely that we must be missing something… the incomprehensibility of our situation even drives Susskind's team to ponder whether an ‘unknown agent intervened in the evolution [of the Universe] for reasons of its own’…” [“Is Physics Watching Over Us?” Nature, Science Update, 2002.]

    3. See comments from Vilenkin, Davies, Dyson, Polkinghorn, Tipler, Hoyle, Penzias, Greenstein here. One example:

      Fred Hoyle (Former atheist “greatly shaken” by fine-tuning; influential astrophysicist): “A common-sense interpretation of the facts suggests that a superintellect has monkeyed with physics, as well as with chemistry and biology, and that there are no blind forces worth speaking about in nature. The numbers one calculates from the facts seem to me so overwhelming as to put this conclusion almost beyond question.” [“The Universe: Past and Present Reflections” Annual Review of Astronomy and Astrophysics (1982): 20:16.]

    4. Why would God create a life-permitting universe? See the choice arena section.
    5. [Forthcoming]. For now, to see a compelling and novel critique of the multiverse's utility as an explanation for fine-tuning, consider reading Collins's “The Fine-tuning of the Cosmos: A Fresh Look at its Implications”, available online.
  • The Universe is fine-tuned for doing physics & cosmology

    Scientist with telescope and Hubble behind him.

    Of all the known ways that a life-permitting universe could have been, few have initial conditions, laws, and physical constants which would ever allow its potential lifeforms to learn about it.

    See this page to explore four examples of this:

    The discoverability of the universe ends up being evidence for God given that:
    (1) It is a uniquely awkward and shocking development for atheists. After all, it means for them that we got really lucky for no reason. (2) By contrast, on the hypothesis of theism the Universe’s amenability to being discovered and known is not nearly so surprising. Such a user-friendly universe is the kind of thing God would plausibly choose to create. In defense of both of these propositions, see the intro section here.[Note: these three links will lead to some quotes from experts and a paper, but the arguments are not developed on BeliefMap yet.]

  • Cells, brains, eyes “look” intelligently designed

    There is a strand of DNA and bacterial flagellum next to it.

    Features of living organisms resemble the products of an intelligent mind intentionally arranging parts for a purpose.

    This page only analyzes one evidence at the moment, namely that the cell and its inner workings seem to be intelligently designed. The prima facie impression of design is overwhelming as one examines the cell's inner machinery, e.g. cell wrapping and DNA replication, as well as flagellar assembly.

    This overwhelming impression of design counts as evidence for theism because if God does not exist, then the likelihood of there being such an overwhelming superficial appearance of design in life is very low. By contrast, if God does exist, then life's existing and resembling intelligently designed objects is not nearly so unexpected—it was designed.

    Actually, the appearance of design is not relevant. After all, it is plausible that life evolved in an unguided way that merely mimics the pattern of intelligent design (i.e. Darwininan evolution).1[Forthcoming]

    1. This is a big topic. On its face, theories of unguided evolution and predicted rates of evolution in general appear to be in contradiction with the fossil record, which is habitually characterized by incredible abruptness in novelty, not just in the Cambrian Explosion, but across all eras. At the more mechanical level (of protein evolution), we can run experiments on how difficult it is to obtain novel designs, i.e. how sensitive to change the systems are, and it appears that metaphorical islands of function are separated by great distances. While minor tweaking (e.g. finch beaks) provide immediate advantages, they are not novel new designs. For novel designs, any random mutation away from the islands of immediate function will generally be undone by natural selection itself, cornering the species in a local area of optimized functionality with little room to move. Again, this is a complex topic and an overly simplified representation of the problem, but this is just a footnote.
  • Philosophical intuitions justify beliefs

    Two men think with gears turning by their head.

    Our cognitive faculties, like perception, memory, reason, can justify beliefs, and have a propensity to recommend to us true beliefs rather than false ones.1 In particular philosophical intuition justifies beliefs.

    See this page for examples. Philosophical intuiton justifies beliefs like…

    This is relevant because it is awkward and unexplained if atheism is true, whereas if theism is true, it is not nearly so unlikely or unexpected. After all, creating moral agents with generally reliable cognitive faculties able to interact with each other is the kind of thing a good God would plausibly choose to do. By contrast, no naturalistic process (e.g. Darwinian evolution) can plausibly account for why we would have reliable intuitions along these lines.

  • God-belief is instinctive for humans

    stick figure image of michelangelos creation of man

    Humans are innately inclined to believe in God or gods (contra naturalism), instinctively finding it commonsensical or intuitive, even if they and/or their culture ultimately resist it and are “educated” out of it.

    See this page to analyze four evidences.

    • Atheist scientists find theism intuitive, according to a 2013 Boston study where trained atheist chemists, geologists, and physicists were shown to instinctively tend to find purpose in nature, having “teleological tendencies,” e.g. when forced to answer questions quickly.
    • Atheists in general find theism intuitive, according to aa 2013 Finland study which showed that even convinced atheists perspire (sweat) when forced to dare God to cause harm to themselves and their intimates, and they did so just as much as theists.
    • Humans are "born believers", according to a 2011 Oxford study. As one source summarizes, “A three-year international research project, directed by two academics at the University of Oxford, finds that humans have natural tendencies to believe in gods and an afterlife. The £1.9 million project involved 57 researchers who conducted over 40 separate studies in 20 countries representing a diverse range of cultures. The studies (both analytical and empirical) conclude that humans are predisposed to believe in gods and an afterlife, and that both theology and atheism are reasoned responses to what is a basic impulse of the human mind.”
    • Intuitive thinkers favor theism, according to a 2011 Harvard study (or conjunction of studies), demonstrated that individuals with an intuitive thinkng style, i.e making judgments “with little effort based on automatic processes,” tended to be theists, regardless of education level, income, political orientation, or other demographic variables.

    By “intuitive” here, we mean that cognitively healthy humans—from childhood into adulthood—are innately predisposed to think atheism “seems” false or absurd. If it's true that theism is a substantially more natural or intuitive view it could matter because, in the absence of a new belief which undercuts or rebuts it, it is rational to heed the suggestions of our basic philosophical intuitions. Depriving philosophical intuitions and seemings of any evidential value (or any value in setting an initial plausibility) actually runs one into severe worldview consequences, and puts thinkers in philosophically famous skeptical scenarios (e.g. more sophisticated versions of “why think you're not in the matrix?” or “why think everything wasn't created a second ago with appearance-of-age”) where they are suddenly unable to justify their most basic philosophical beliefs on which everything else is built.

  • Some actions are objectively morally wrong

    A man pointing gun at another mans head.

    Some actions are morally wrong despite what anybody believes. The existence of such specifically personal facts in the world is unlikely if the world is, at bottom, impersonal (e.g. just particles and physics), and yet it is very much the kind of thing we would anticipate if a God exists who grounds the world and who could not fail to have been loving, honest, etc. To the degree that it is more expected on the hypothesis that God exists (which is a lot), it constitutes a corresponding amount of evidence for theism over atheism.

  • Some “necessary foundation” exists

    pythagoras in front of a chalk board triangle

    Some foundational thing or being exists which is such that it could not have failed to exist; it could not be missing from any truly possible reality.

    See this page to analyze seven evidences.

    That is to say, there is a foundational entity/thing which, by its own nature, could not fail to exist. This is relevant because the entity in question will, by necessity, have a series of properties that strikingly resemble those of God.1

    1. There are several arguments to discuss here, but to start consider:

      Joshua Rasmussen (Philosophy professor, specialist on cosmological arguments): “Just as the bridge of reason took us to a foundation of all things, the Argument from Limits will take us to a foundation of all properties. Reason will be our light. I start with definitions that lay a foundation for clarity:
      D1: A property P is instantiated = P characterizes something. (Example: the property blue characterizes my shirt, and so blue is instantiated.)
      D2: A property P is explicable = There could be—without contradicting any principle of reason—an explanation of P’s instantiation that does not appeal to P itself. (Example: a factory could have produced the first blue shirts, which explains how the property being a blue shirt came to characterize anything.)
      D3: A property P is a limit = Necessarily, whatever has P is limited in some positive respect. (Example: being incapable of thinking coherently is a limit.) …
      1. Every limit is explicable. [My insert: “For example, the limited size of the earth has a consistent (and actual) explanation in terms of the forces that produced the earth.“]
      2. The property, having limits, is itself a limit.
      3. Therefore, having limits is explicable. (1, 2)
      4. If having limits is explicable, something could lack limits.
      5. Therefore, something could lack limits. (3, 4)
      6. If something could lack limits, then something must be perfect.
      7. Therefore, something must be perfect (i.e., God). (5, 6) [How Reason Can Lead to God (IVP Academic, 2019), 182-3.]

      Rasmussen dedicates pages to defending these premises, but the reader will have to consult the book.
      As an additional quick point: consider that the Universe (space, time, matter) exists merely contingently, and as in the case of the Kalam cosmological argument, its explanation by necessity must involve an entity that is able to exist independently of time, space, and matter (i.e., be immaterial, non-spatial, and atemporal). And of course, it must have the ability to bring about the Universe. This all sounds very suspiciously like God.

  • Miracles have occurred

    Jesus raised in front of empty tomb

    Genuine supernatural events have occurred within human history, ones that are plausibly imbued with spiritual significance.

    For example,…

    • Ezekiel accurately prophesied Tyre's destruction, where God declared through him (in April of 587 B.C.), that “[I will] destroy the the walls of Tyre... scrape her debris from her... throw your stones and your timbers and your debris into the water.” Nebuchadnezzar soon-after destroyed the mainland part of the city as prophesied, and then in 336BC Alexander the Great confronted the remaining island portion of the city: “The refusal of the Tyrians to surrender led Alexander to connect the isle to the mainland with the construction of a causeway, one of the most difficult marine engineering tasks of that era… The stones of the fresh ruins of ancient Tyre [previously destroyed by Nebuchadnezzar], together with trees limbs, were drawn into the water, and stones and sand were placed on top of them in order to build the mole.” [Yaacov Nir, “The City of Tyre, Lebanon and its Semi-artificial Tombolo” Geoarchaeology 11 (1996): 235.]
    • Jesus remarkably fulflled the Isaiah 53 prophecy, of a suffering servant of God, described as: “sinless,” “despised,” “lamb led to slaughter,” “pierced for our transgressions,” “God caused our iniquity to fall on him,” and yet “by his scourging we our healed”.
    • Jesus was raised from the dead (resurrected), an act connected intimately to God's declaration that He will perfect the world by destroying sin and preserve His righteous children (where any of us can be made righteous adopted childrstn, freely, through acceptance of God's gift in Jesus Christ).

    The occurance of these miraculous signs are evidence for God because because it is highly unlikely that such supernatural events would occur by chance; they do not just seem to extend beyond the powers of nature, but seem intelligently designed as well.

“No, after all…
  • God is an incoherent notion

    two arrows colliding one with a brain another with a muscle arm

    God's properties, both individually and/or taken together, are incoherent or yield contradictions.

    After all…

    • One or more of God's monadic properties are incoherent (e.g. being all-powerful (able to lift unliftable rocks etc.), all-knowing, all-good, timeless, spaceless, immaterial, free (free will), perfectly rational
    • One or more sets of God's properties are incoherent (e.g. being both timeless and personal, both timeless and a creator, both omniscient and free, both omnipotent and omnibenevolent, both all-just and all-loving).

    This relates to the question of God's existence because if God's properties are incoherent or impossible, then God is incoherent or impossible.

    By way of response, however...

    • It is rather bearing the “maximally consistent set of knowledge, power, and benevolence” that must be incoherent.1
    1. God is generally defined as the greatest, most worship-worthy possible being. This is fundamentally what theists have always wanted, insofar as they think humans were designed to recognize God as such. This notion of God in turn is best understood as follows: the being which bears the maximally consistent set of knowledge, power, and benevolence (see Yujin Nagasawa, Maximal God (Oxford, 2017).). While the alleged individual incoherences listed above have a complexity of responses and counter-responses, at the end of the day, most any proven incoherence in the concept of omni-properties will simply force the theist into a logically possible analog nearby, the very analog that presumably fits the most worship-worthy possible being.
  • God is complex (intrinsically improbable)

    The flying spaghetti monster symbol.

    The idea of a God existing is extravagant and intrinsically improbable; the so-called prior probability of God’s existence—prior to looking at evidence for or against—seems very low. This is relevant because a low prior probability is functionally similar to having evidence against it. More complex and bold hypotheses have more ways/chances of being wrong. We expect them to be wrong in the absence of sufficient evidence.

    But no,

    • The God of bare theism is more simple than a single fundamental particle. God is a unified soul (an unbreakable thing with no parts)1, and it is the simplest possible soul: it only has three fundamental properties (those necessary for being a soul), and in their simplest form—without limits.2
    • Reason alone confirms theism (or something close). [Forthcoming]
      • Stewart Goetz: “Thus a table, unlike a soul, is a complex entity or thing in virtue of the fact that it is made up of parts that are themselves substances (substantive parts). Physical scientists inform us that a table is actually a lattice structure of molecules bound together by attractive powers affecting appropriate capacities, and when this lattice structure is broken by a sufficient force, the table breaks. Unlike a table and material objects in general, a soul is not a complex entity because it has no substantive parts. Instead, it is substantively simple in nature. It is a simple thing. While a soul is complex in so far as it has a multiplicity of properties, it is simple in so far as it has no substantive parts. Thus complexity at the property level is compatible with simplicity at the level of thinghood. [“Human Persons are Material and Immaterial (Body and Soul)” in Debating Christian Theism (Oxford, 2013), 262.]
      • Trent Dougherty: “[The Standard Model of Physics] posits 16 fundamental particles that fit into three categories....Some theists think that the simplicity of a theistic universe should be assessed similarly (See Swinburne 2004, chapter 5...) Theism postulates one brute fact and the rest flows from that in conjunction with necessary truths about value. Bare Theism's fact is the existence of a person with two properties -- knowledge and power -- held in the simplest possible way -- zero limitation. The explanation of every contingent truth (other than his own existence, if that is taken to be contingent, an issue too big for the present discussion) is a function of the goodness of the corresponding state of affairs. Since there is no best world, an arbitrary choice must be made as to which initial world segment to actualize among sufficiently good initial world segments (this wording allows for "...the universe to unfold in ways perhaps unforeseen to God, if it contains beings with free will or if it contains certain kinds of chance processes). If having a good deal of chance in that world is best, then that world will be expected to have a good deal of chance. So if one applies a method of assessing the complexity of the physical universe to assessing the complexity of the theistic hypothesis, Theism turns out to be a very simple hypothesis indeed. Naturalism lacks this kind of explanatory simplicity and systematicisy. there will be quite a number of brute facts: the existence of contingent being, the existence of a number of laws, the many particular parameters of those laws, and so on. Counting up the number of brute facts in Naturalism by the same method used earlier will be difficult but it seems that inevitably it postulates more than one brute existent with only two properties held in the simplest ways.” [“Reflections on Explanation and Draper's Argument” The Blackwell Companion to Evil (Blackwell, 2014), 85.]
  • “God did-it” is not an explanation

    man with thinking bubble of gods hands creating

    Theistic explanation is illegitimate; real potential explanations cannot feature God.

    This page analyzes eight arguments:

    • “God-did-it” is just an appeal to ignorance-gaps. It is what humans do when they don't yet understand something. (Recall how we threw our hands up and insisted that gods were the cause of lightning and volcanos.)
    • “God-did-it” is just an appeal to magic. The concept of God and God's non-mechanistic activies is wholly unknowable, and functionally no different than citing magic.
    • Explanations don't compound the mystery. If someone tries to explain some unknown “x” with “xx”, then trivially no real progress has been made. We explain the unknown with the known.
    • Explanations don't explain “too much”. As the saying goes: if your explanation can explain anything, then it explains nothing. And yet one can always claim am omnipotent God explains a mysterious observation.
    • Meaningful claims are verifiable (by senses). If the alleged explanation ultimately would make no difference to the perceivable world, then what difference is it from not existing at all? We cannot perceive miracles or Divine causation as such.
    • Meaningful claims are falsifiable/testable. A cornerstone of science is the duty and necessity of trying to show our hypotheses are false. However, no empirical observation could truly test or falsify the God hypothesis, or the hypothesis that God was the cause of a given phonemonon. So the very idea of citing God is anti-scientific.
    • Explanations cite effective mechanisms. To explain something is to provide a mechanistic explanation of how it works, and if an explanation falls short of that we cannot really call it an explanation. We have no idea how God or miracles work; in fact, God is allegedly a free agent which is trivially non-mechanistic.
    • Explanations are unificationist.

    God's failing to be a possible/responsible explanation matters because if God or God's activity cannot feature as part of a real explanation, then God obviously cannot be accepted as the explanation for the Universe's existence. Insofar as God is defined as the creator of the universe, this would render Western theism irrational. (And so, presumably false?)

    But no, God can theoretically feature in a real potential explanation:

    • All agree: outlandish evidences for God could warrant theistic conclusions. If we can imagine evidences sufficiently compelling so-as to warrant a God conclusion, then obviously God could in principle be a responsible explanation.
    • Theism does best explain some facts. We ask how likely the given observation/evidence is on the God explanation vs. the not-God explanation, and then consider the prior probability of the God explanation to reach a final (posterior) probability for the hypothesis that God is actually the case. Many will judge that theism is not prohibitively implausible, and that God's miraculous activity is the best explanation of one or more of these phonemona.
    • Bayesian epistemology is true. And as long as the God hypothesis does not have a prior probability of literally zero (which is virtually impossible to ascertain in philosophy), it comes out as trivially true that the God hypothesis can be justified given enough evidence.
  • Only the natural world of science exists

    ghost being crossed out

    Fundamental reality is mindless (or mathematically describable). This is relevant because God is essentially a thinking-thing without limits, and God's nature cannot be captured by mathematical equations.

    No, [All Forthcoming]

    • Abstract objects exist (numbers, shapes, propositions, etc.).
    • Mentalia exist (ideas, beliefs, desires, willings, etc.).
    • Moral facts exist (e.g. torturing a child for fun is wrong).
    • Souls exist.
    • An afterlife/heaven exists.
    • The cause of physical/natural reality exists (since matter and natural laws etc. are contingent).