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ShakaUVM's Journal: Rational Arguments for the Existence of God 8

Journal by ShakaUVM

Here's some classical rational arguments for God by Aquinas, Anselm, Descartes, Pascal, Lewis, and James, using my own paraphrasing of them to make them short. I think Pascal's and James' are probably the ones that will interest atheists the most, as the others, while interesting, are rational arguments *for* the existence of God, but these pragmatic arguments say that it is rational *to believe* in God. An important difference. (Most people confuse Pascal's wager as an argument in the first case, not the second, as it was intended -- he wrote it for Christians, not trying to convince atheists.)

1) Aquinas:
Everything in science has a cause. What caused the big bang? If you say nothing, that is a less scientific statement than saying something. Therefore, rationally, something caused the universe. Since that something must stand outside of time, the only thing which fits our concept of a powerful entity sitting outside of time is God. Though you could posit something else that fits those shoes, like an omnipotent 8th grader in a higher dimension creating our universe as a science fair project, whatever it is will resemble God to some degree.
Note: The universe cannot be infinitely old. If the universe started an infinite amount of time ago, we could not get to the present one second at a time.

2) Anselm:
Unlike with unicorns and fairies, we know that God has to exist simply from the definition of him as the most perfect being, as existence is one of the required attributes for perfection. Certainly a god that exists is more perfect than a god that doesn't exist.

3) Descartes (heavily adapted):
God or evolution made us (or maybe space aliens). Therefore, we were made either with a purpose, or survived by being be more fit than other species, with useful traits retained and harmful ones pruned. All humans have a yearning for God, hence atheists' greater belief in the supernatural than theists, as they attempt to fill their need another way. But this need makes no sense in any creation method (unless we were made by aliens, I guess, who wanted religious slaves to tend their stargates...) unless there was a God. A creature who has blinded or deceptive senses is useless evolutionary, and wouldn't be done by a kind and loving God. Therefore, since in both cases we are given facilities which we should be able to trust, the yearning for God should be seen as actual evidence that God does exist.

4) Pascal:
We don't know if God exists or not. However, we *do* know what the consequences of belief and nonbelief are. When dealing with uncertainty, the rule is to ignore the non-quantifiable probabilities and focus on the consequences in order to make a rational decision. In this case, it is a very simple decision, as with even a small (but non-zero!) chance of God's existence, the rational decision is to believe.

Note: this means that if you think there's a 0% chance that God exists, you shouldn't believe in him. In any event, trying to believe in something that you think is completely false is stupid, and probably impossible to boot.

However, it does mean that if someone thinks that there is a chance that God exists, that you shouldn't criticize them for being irrational, as well.

5) Lewis:
The historical record, unlike with Mormonism and some other records, shows that there probably was a guy named Jesus who ran around on earth and did stuff in front of a bunch of people. There's several possibilities: 1) Jesus was a man, but a great moral teacher (Christian "modernism"), 2) Jesus thought he was the son of God -- but was just kind of crazy, 3) Jesus was a sort of crazy evil cult leader guy, like David Koresh, or 4) He was the son of God. Lewis eliminates the first three possibilities due to various things like his disciples almost universally dying for him (sorry, I'm running out of time here, I have to take off for Jiu-Jitsu), and so concludes that Jesus must have been the son of God.

6) James (the Will to Believe, one of the greatest works of philosophy: http://falcon.jmu.edu/~omearawm/ph101willtobelieve.html)
We don't know if God is real or not. However, we must choose -- we cannot put it off. As long as the option is a live option (in other words, it's an option a specific person could actually believe in, as opposed to "the world was created by My Little Ponies") which is rational and not self-contradictory, then let him believe it without shame. The person who tediously insists on 100% proof of anything will be sorely disappointed in life (and probably a bore, to boot), since even science doesn't give us things that are 100% true. A tedious skeptic is just as bad, if not worse, than a fatuous believer.

Imagine a person put a gun to your head (i.e., it's a forced decision), and says that you have to decide, right now, if P=NP or not, and how you pick will govern the rest of your life somehow. It's a momentous, forced, live decision (as either P=NP or P!=NP could be true), but you *must* pick, without firm proof either way. James' point is that in such situation we can freely choose either, without shame, or without being called irrational.

So there you have it -- four rational arguments for the existence of God, and two that the belief in God is rational.

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Rational Arguments for the Existence of God

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  • None of those arguments are worth the effort to refute.

    However, I will say I would not want your Pascal on my jury. He'd disregard both reasonable doubt and preponderance of evidence and would convict on the slightest probability of guilt.
    • by ShakaUVM (157947)
      Except they haven't been refuted, not really, by anyone, with the possibility that the yearning for God might have some plausible evolutionary benefit.

      Pascal wouldn't convict on your jury -- given an unknown percentage chance that you committed murder, with the consequences (known) of 1) Correctly imprisoning a murderer OR 2) Convicting an innocent man, it doesn't make logical sense to convict. The options in his wager are completely one-sided, by comparison.

      • by HTH NE1 (675604)

        Pascal wouldn't convict on your jury -- given an unknown percentage chance that you committed murder, with the consequences (known) of 1) Correctly imprisoning a murderer OR 2) Convicting an innocent man, it doesn't make logical sense to convict. The options in his wager are completely one-sided, by comparison.

        Unless his conception of the consequence two was "Incorrectly freeing a murderer." If there's the slightest chance that the accused is guilty, the consequences of freeing a guilty man (would kill more men) would outweigh imprisoning an innocent man (won't kill in or out of prison), and from the base that you wouldn't be accused if there wasn't some non-zero probability you did the crime, so imprison everyone accused of a crime based on the slight chance the accusation is true.

        It's all just trying to prove

        • by ShakaUVM (157947)
          Our system agrees that freeing a man is better than wrongfully imprisoning a man, in the absence of evidence, and I think it's the right decision.

          To repeat, though, in Pascal's Wager, the balance is entirely one-sided. It's as if someone went up to you and said, "Would you like to have a lottery ticket? I have extras. Here, take it! The jackpot is quite high today." And the atheist says, "Don't take that, you might not win."
          • by HTH NE1 (675604)
            There are lotteries one does not want to win and gifts you cannot afford to receive, like indentured military service or a car from Oprah.

            As an aside, here's a bit of dialogue from a one-season series I like:

            "Doesn't give you much comfort does it? Not believing in an afterlife."

            "On the contrary, it gives me lots of comfort."

            "How can the prospect of nonexistence be comforting?"

            "I look at it like this: before I came on stage, the Universe had been around for twelve billion years. All that time I was in a state of nonexistence, and it wasn't bad. Pretty comfortable as a matter of fact. I figure it'll be just as comfortable for the next twelve billion years."

  • is that they are open to rational analysis. Pascal's argument is trivially stupid, at least as you've written it.

    However, we *do* know what the consequences of belief and nonbelief are.

    A) No, we don't know what the consequences of non-belief are.
    B) Which God? Choosing the wrong one would allegedly piss off the real god a great deal.
    Perhaps God is a scientist who, having given us the tools to analyse things and stand on our own, would be disgusted at those who waste their lives in self imposed ignoranc

    • by ShakaUVM (157947)
      >>No, we don't know what the consequences of non-belief are.

      Sure we do. There's a variety of soteriological theories, but I don't believe there's any supported by the Bible (which the closest thing we have to a window on understanding God) which would make atheism a preferred position over belief. At best, virtuous atheists could get into heaven as well (which is somewhat CS Lewis's position). At worst, you go to hell. But it's strictly optimal to believe, in game theory terms.

      >>B) Which God? Ch
      • Sure we do. There's a variety of soteriological theories, but I don't believe there's any supported by the Bible (which the closest thing we have to a window on understanding God)

        You must have a different understanding of "know" than me.

        two live options (Christianity and Atheism)

        . It is not rational or logical to limit yourself merely to those two options. If you make the irrational assumption that those are the only two options then perhaps you can make a rational argument between the two. However if yo

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