James W. Cornman, Keith Lehrer, George S. Pappas, Philosophical Problems and Arguments: An Introduction, 3d edition, 1982. [1st ed., 1968; 2d ed., 1974]
Chapter FIVE
The Problem of Justifying Belief in God


James W. Cornman

One of the most widespread beliefs among people is the belief in a supreme being some being to whom we ordinary beings owe our existence but which depends upon nothing else for its own existence. Such a being we call God. We have previously examined quite different beliefs -- beliefs that we have free will, that every event has a cause, that humans possess an immaterial mind as well as a body. In each case, we have been trying to become as clear as possible about what is believed; and we have then examined the belief to see whether or not it is justified. These two tasks face us once again. We must first consider what is being believed when someone believes that a supreme being exists;.then we must try to discover whether or not this belief can be justified.

It may be objected here that the belief in a supreme being is unlike any of the other beliefs we have examined because a supreme being is unlike any other being so that this belief, unlike our other beliefs, is not open to scrutiny. It is true that a being we would be willing to call God would be different in many important respects from most beings that we ordinarily believe exist, but this alone does not warrant the claim that the belief in the existence of God should be exempt from the scrutiny we give more ordinary beliefs. There are many fanciful beliefs, such as beliefs in the existence of witches, wizards, fountains of youth, which are beliefs in things that differ in many important respects from those ordinary beings that we believe exist. Yet we think that such beliefs must be scrutinized carefully so that we have grounds for either accepting or rejecting them. Thus, initially at least, the belief in the existence of a supreme being seems open to the examination we apply to any other belief so it seems that no one is justified in such a belief unless there is some reason for thinking that such a being exists, or, at the very least, that there is no reason for thinking that such a being does not exist. However, although we have said that this seems to be true initially, we might want to leave open the possibility that after our examination of this belief we might be able to conclude on the basis of what we have found, that the belief in a supreme being is, after all, sui generis, or unique, so that we could perhaps be justified holding such a belief even in the face of what seems to be contrary evidence.


The first task mentioned previously is the task of becoming as clear as we can about the nature of the belief. To do this we must become as clear as possible about the concept of God. Let us do so now. What we want to do is find those characteristics or qualities of a being which we would be convinced is God. To begin, let us distinguish between the terms 'god' and 'God.' We can talk about one god or many gods, lesser gods and false gods. That is, the term 'god' is a general term, such as 'person,' 'horse,' and 'stone,' and as such can apply to a whole range of entities. On the other hand, the term 'God' is usually used to talk about one specific being, namely, the one and only supreme being. Thus, we cannot talk about many Gods or lesser Gods, because if God exists, then there is exactly one being which is supreme. In line with this, we shall use 'God' to mean 'the supreme being,' and will use it interchangeably with 'the supreme being' throughout the following discussion.

The problem before us is to characterize adequately a being we would call God. We already have some idea of where to begin, because the word 'supreme' is involved in the concept we are characterizing. Our question is the following: What characteristics are we ascribing to a being in calling it supreme? We may ask, "Supreme in what regard?" Surely not supreme in evil, or merely in physical size or prowess, or even in physical beauty. We generally mean that the supreme being is supreme in those characteristics or properties that make a being more perfect than it would be if it lacked them, so that we would call a being God only if it were the most perfect being of which we could conceive. Consequently, we would claim that the supreme being is one who is supreme in its ability to perform actions and to know what occurs, and one who is certainly supreme in goodness. Thus we think of God as the being who is all-good, all-knowing, and all-powerful. That is, he is supreme in goodness, knowledge, and power. Let us then consider these three characteristics separately.

The Supreme Being is All-Good

We can understand the statement that the supreme being is all-good to mean that whatever the supreme being wills or commands or does is the right thing to do. Thus whatever God decides, does or commands is morally right. In addition, however, he always has good motives for willing, doing, or commanding in the way he does because he is a loving God who cares about the world and its inhabitants. Thus God does not do the right things with the wrong motives, nor does he have good motives but mistakenly do the wrong things. Let us take the statement 'God is good' to mean that God has good motives and whatever he wills, does, or commands is morally right. There is, however, a problem about how to interpret this. We could interpret it to mean that if a being is the supreme being and he wills or commands or does something, then by definition this is the right thing to do. On the second interpretation the statement means that if a being is the supreme being and if he wills or commands or does something, then as a matter of fact, this is the right thing to do. Which interpretation should we use? It has been claimed that neither alternative is appealing because each is faced with a problem. If we accept the first interpretation, then it would be true that if the supreme being willed or commanded that someone wantonly inflict pain on innocent babies, or inflicted such pain himself, then inflicting pain on innocent babies would be defined as being the right thing to do. Although we shall not consider moral problems in any detail until Chapter 6, it surely seems that if wantonly inflicting pain on innocent babies is morally right, then nothing is morally wrong. We want to deny that this could be morally right. Yet if a supreme being's doing or commanding it, which is surely possible, entails that it is right, we cannot justify such a denial. If it be objected at this point that God would not engage in or command wanton infliction of pain, we can ask, "Why not?" The answer cannot be that he could not because he is good and inflicting pain is wrong. For if he were to inflict pain, then on this view, it would follow that doing this is right. Nor can we find another answer any more helpful. This view, therefore, seems faced with an insoluble problem

Let us turn to the second alternative. On this view it is possible that what God does is wrong although as a matter of fact what he does always turns out to be right. Thus although it is true that if God does or commands an act then it is right, it does not follow from this that if God were to wantonly inflict pain, then that would be right. We can say that if God were to wantonly inflict pain, then he would do something wrong, but that as a matter of fact, God never would inflict pain needlessly. Thus the second interpretation avoids the problem facing the first interpretation. However, there seems to be one consequence of this view that some people have found objectionable. It is claimed that if God does not prescribe the standard of what ought to be done, then there is a moral standard which exists independently of God so that he can be judged by reference to it. Surely, it is argued, something has gone wrong with a view if it entails that it is possible for us to judge the moral worth of the supreme being. However, it is not clear why anyone objects to a view that entails that it is logically possible to judge God's commands and acts by a standard. If the view entailed that it is not only logically possible but also morally permissible for a human being to judge God, then it might well be objectionable. But the view does not entail that statement. The second interpretation, then, seems to be able to avoid the objection to it. Let us, therefore, define the sentence 'The supreme being is all-good' as 'All motives of the supreme being are good and all acts the supreme being wills, does, or commands are, as a matter of fact, the right things to do.'

The Supreme Being Is Omnipotent

The quickest way to define this statement is by saying that it means that the supreme being has the ability to do anything at all. But this definition is too loose, because it does not decide the issue of whether God can do something that involves a logical contradiction. Does God, for example, have the ability to make the mercury in one thermometer be one inch from the bottom of the thermometer at the same time that it is two inches from the bottom? Does he have the ability to make a lake frozen at the same time that there is no ice on it? Some have argued that if we claim that God does not have the ability to do something involving a logical contradiction, then we must conclude that he does not have the ability to do everything and thus is not omnipotent. However, there seems to be no reason why it would be limiting God's power to say that he |is able to do anything that it is logically possible to do. This rules out nothing that has been claimed to be among God's acts, including creation out of nothing. It rules out only acts the descriptions of which involve a contradiction. Let us therefore try the following: 'The supreme being has the ability to do anything that is logically possible to do' as the definition of the 'The supreme being is omnipotent,' (all powerful).

At first glance this definition surely seems satisfactory, but we shall have to make another revision. Consider the act of sitting in a chair at a time when God is not sitting there. It is clear that you, I, and almost everyone are able to sit in a chair at a time when God is not sitting there. But is God able to do this? Is God able to sit in a chair at the same time God is not sitting there? Clearly not, and, because it is logically possible to do it (you and I do it), we must conclude by the preceding definition that God is not omnipotent.

It does not seem, however, that because God or anyone else cannot both be at one place and not be there at the same time, this is any limitation on his power. It is, therefore, not the kind of inability that should be allowed to count against his omnipotence. Let us, consequently, revise the definition as follows: 'The supreme being is omnipotent' means 'The supreme being has the ability to do anything that is logically possible that he do.' Using this definition we can avoid concluding that God is not omnipotent because of the above inability. The sentence

The supreme being is sitting in a chair at a time when he is not sitting there
is a self-contradiction, and so it is logically impossible that God perform this act.

The definition we have settled on not only avoids the preceding problem, but it also allows us to solve an ancient puzzle. Consider a boulder so heavy that God does not have the ability to lift it. Does God have the ability to create such a rock or not? If he has this ability then there is something else God does not have the ability to do, namely, lift the rock. But either he has the ability to create the boulder or he does not. Therefore there is something God does not have the ability to do, either lift or create a certain boulder. Therefore God is not omnipotent.1

How might we refute this argument? The first thing to notice is that it contains two conclusions: that there is something God is unable to do and, consequently, that God is not omnipotent. We must surely accept the first, simply because there are many things God cannot do (that is, whatever involves a logical contradiction). But because God's inability to do self-contradictory things does not limit his power, we should question whether we can draw the second conclusion that his inability either to create or lift this boulder limits his power. Using the preceding definition, the question is whether or not the statement that God does these tasks is self-contradictory. If his doing at least one of them is self-contradictory, then it is fallacious to draw the conclusion that God is not omnipotent. There seems to be no contradiction involved in saying that God creates a rock he is unable to lift, so let us not try to avoid this problem by agreeing that God is unable to create the rock. The question, then, is whether it is logically possible that God lift such a boulder. That is, is it logically possibly that God lift a boulder that he is unable to lift? The answer is clearly that it is logically impossible for God to perform this act, and, therefore, his inability to lift it does not limit his power. We can, therefore, avoid the conclusion that God is not omnipotent by agreeing that God is unable to lift such a rock, because such an inability does not limit his power.

There is however, one more objection to the preceding definition of 'omnipotence' which is worth considering because of its consequences for what is called "backward causation." Consider the following sentence:

The supreme being brings it about in 1982 that Henry VIII has exactly one wife during his lifetime.
This sentence is not self-contradictory, and so, by the preceding definition, if God is omnipotent, he is able to do this. But Henry VIII died in 1547 after having six wives, and so no one, not even God, is able now to make Henry have only one wife in the past. No one is able to change the past. Consequently, given the preceding definition, God is not omnipotent.

In order to understand the mistake in this objection, it is important to distinguish between two different ways of affecting the past. The first is that someone now changes the way the past was. An example of this would be if God now caused Henry VIII, who already had six wives before he died in 1547, to have had only one wife during his lifetime. Such a way of affecting the past is in no one's power, not even God's, because it implies that Henry had only one wife and also had six wives, and this is contradictory. The second way of affecting the past is to cause, without changing the past, something which previously occurred. Although this may be quite unusual, it is not self-contradictory. For example, it logically possible that God now causes Henry to have had six wives, and thus God has this ability to affect the past.

A different illustration may be helpful here. Suppose that at a specific time, namely exactly at 12:00 A.M. on May 4, 1982, a certain individual, Maria, feels a twinge of pain in her arm. Ordinarily, we would suppose that this twinge was caused by events which immediately preceded it: Perhaps neural and muscular events were the immediate causes of the twinge. Moreover -- and this is the important point -- we would also suppose that these muscular and neural events occurred before the twinge occurred, perhaps at 11:59 and 59 seconds, A.M. on that date. Now this is what we would typically suppose, and this is what would typically happen. However, it is logically possible that the actual cause of Maria's twinge of pain occurs after the twinge occurs, say on May 5,1982. Such a case of "backward causation" is quite odd, but not self-contradictory. We can easily apply this illustration to the case of Henry VIII. Imagine that the past is just as we think it was; Henry VIII died in 1547 and during his lifetime he had six wives. It is logically possible that the cause of his having had six wives occurs now, in 1982, rather than in the sixteenth century, just as it is logically possible that Maria's twinge of pain on May 4 is itself caused by some event which occurs on May 5 of the same year. Since this is logically possible, it is logically possible that the actual cause of Henry's having six wives in the sixteenth century is something God does now in 1982. Thus, God has the ability to affect the past without changing the past. The past is unchanged because it remains as it was; Henry had six wives. But God affects the past because he now, in 1982, causes Henry to have had six wives in the sixteenth century. However, God cannot affect the past by changing it, because that is a self-contradictory act. The foregoing objection fails because it confuses affecting the past and changing the past; the former can occur even though the latter does not.

The Supreme Being Is Omniscient

We can begin our definition of the sentence 'The supreme being is omniscient' as we did the previous definition -- that is, by saying that it means that the Supreme Being knows everything. But again we must be careful because not even God can be said to know a falsehood. Thus, it would be better to say that a supreme being knows all truths. There is, however, still a problem that should be considered. If God knows all truths then he knows truths about the future, that is, he knows what will happen. But, it has been claimed, if God knows that something is going to happen before it happens -- for example, that I will write the word 'thus' at the beginning of the next sentence -- then it follows that I must write 'thus' there. Thus, God's foreknowledge, and hence his knowledge of all truths, is incompatible with my free will. Consequently, either no one has free will or God cannot forsee all future events and he is not omniscient. Must we surrender our belief that human beings have free will in order to guarantee God's omniscience? We can avoid this because in the premise 'if God foresees that I do something then I must do it,' the word 'must' indicates that the consequent follows logically from the antecedent. So the premise can be restated as 'It is logically necessary that if God (or anyone else for that matter) forsees that I do something then I will do it.' But it does not follow from the fact that I will do something that I must, in the sense of being coerced or forced to do it against my will. Thus it does not follow from foreknowledge of what I will do that I will not do it of my own free will.2

At this point someone might try a new line of attack. If someone has foreknowledge of what I do, then he can correctly predict what I will do. But he can correctly predict what I will do only if what I will do is causally determined and thus predictable on the basis of causal laws. Consequently, foreknowledge of what I do is not compatible with my doing it of my own free will. The first thing that can be said here is that the conclusion follows only if free will and causal determinism are incompatible. But we have previously found reason to deny this.3 Secondly, there is no reason to think that someone can make a correct prediction only on the basis of causal laws. We often justifiably predict that, for example, Jones will decide to forgive his wife her latest infidelity because we know what he has done in the past, not because we know the causal laws relevant to predicting what he will decide. In addition, it is not clear that foreknowledge correctly describes God's knowledge of my future. It las been claimed that for God the whole of the temporal span of the universe -- past, present, and future -- is like a brief moment of time for us and thus God knows what I will do in the way I know what I am doing now. No prediction is involved. Thus there are reasons for rejecting this second line of attack upon the compatibility of God's foreknowledge and our free will.

Before we move on, there is one other problem concerning God's omniscience that we should consider. Let us say that at a certain time, tn, God decides for the first time to do something (for example, create a particular universe). If at that time, tn, God decides for the first time to create this world, then at no time before tn did God know what his decision at tn would be because if he did, then he would not have decided for the first time at tn. But if God is omniscient, then there is no time at which he does not know all truths, so that if God is omniscient then at every moment before tn, he knows what he decides for the first time at tn to do. Thus if God decides for the first time at tn to do something, then God is not omniscient, for there is a time before tn at which he did not know what he would decide. There are several ways to avoid this conclusion. One is to deny there is a time at which God first decides to do something. Two different reasons have been given for this. The first reason is that no matter how far back in time you might go God has already made all his decisions. The second is to claim that, unlike us, none of God's decisions are made at some time, because God is not a member of the world of temporal objects.

There is another way to avoid this problem. This is to deny that it is impossible for anyone to know at tn what he will do and at a later time, tn + 1, to decide for the first time what he will do. Such a situation is odd, but according to this proposal, it is not logically impossible.4 It surely seems possible, for example, that Jones knows now that he later will decide for the first time to forgive his wife her latest in a series of infidelities, although he is firmly resolved not to forgive her now. He knows this on the basis of what he has done in the past, each time resolving not to forgive her but each time finally giving in. If Jones can know beforehand what he will decide to do, then surely God can. There is no contradiction here.

We can finally rest content with the definition of 'The supreme being is omniscient.' It means that the supreme being knows all truths.

Other Characteristics of a Supreme Being

We have discussed three essential characteristics of a supreme being -- the characteristics of supreme goodness, omnipotence, and omniscience. The question now arises of whether there are any other characteristics an entity would have if he were the supreme being. There seem to be four additional properties. Because the supreme being is all-powerful, he can be neither created nor destroyed and is therefore eternal. Furthermore, he is the creator of "heaven and earth and all things" who loves and cares about the creatures he creates. And, finally, God is holy. There is no problem about what it means to say that God is loving. In being all-good, he is not merely fair and just, but is also benevolent and merciful toward his creatures, and deeply concerned about their welfare. The only problem about what is meant by calling the supreme being the creator of everything is whether this means that he created what there is ex nihilo (that is, out of nothing) or whether he created what there is out of some primordial chaos. Because there is disagreement about which is the correct interpretation, let us leave the question open by defining 'The supreme being is the creator of heaven and earth and all things' as 'The Supreme Being caused heaven and the physical universe to exist in their present form.' Thus we have not decided by definition whether nor not God's creation of things is ex nihilo.

There are two possible ways to interpret 'The supreme being is eternal.' The first is that as a matter of fact there is no time at which the supreme being begins to exist and no time at which he ceases to exist. The second interpretation is that 'The supreme being is eternal' means that it is logically necessary that there is no time at which the supreme being begins to exist and no time at which he ceases to exist. You will notice that neither interpretation begs the question of whether or not God exists because that there is no time at which he begins to exist and no time at which he ceases to exist, is consistent both with his always existing and with his never existing. There is, however, an important difference between the two interpretations. On the first interpretation it is logically possible that God be created and destroyed, but on the second, it is logically impossible that anything create or destroy God. Let us characterize the two interpretations of 'The supreme being is eternal' by saying that on the first if he exists then he always exists, whereas on the second, if he exists then he necessarily exists.

Which interpretation shall we choose? Although some people have argued for the first interpretation, the following, which echoes the ontological argument that we shall consider later in this chapter, will justify our choosing the second. We have said that any being we would call God must be the being supreme in perfection, so that if we can think of a being more perfect than some particular being, then we would not call the latter one God. Furthermore, if it is logically possible that something create or destroy God, then we can think of a being more powerful and therefore more perfect than God, namely, a being that it is logically impossible to create or destroy. Therefore we can conclude that it is logically impossible that anything create or destroy God. We want, then, to characterize God in such a way that it is logically impossible that he be created or destroyed. However, if his eternality is merely a factual contingency, then it is logically possible that something create or destroy him. But if he is necessarily eternal, then this guarantees that it is not possible that anything create or destroy him. Therefore, in order to have this guarantee, let us use the second interpretation.

The last characteristic of a supreme being that we have to consider is that such a being is holy. It is perhaps the hardest of all the characteristics to define. When we say that God is holy we are trying to express something of our feeling that God is worthy, even more than worthy, of our full devotion, adoration, and reverence; that God is that being whom we should worship, honor, and obey. This characteristic is important for our purposes because it can be used as a test of the adequacy of the sum total of the other characteristics that we have ascribed to the supreme being. If we have provided an adequate characterization, then the quality of holiness should really be redundant, because the total of the other characteristics should include all and only lose characteristics which would make any being having them the being whom we would find to be most worthy of our worship. In line with this, let us define 'The supreme being is holy' as 'The supreme being is that being who is most worthy of the complete devotion and reverence of humanity.'

We have characterized the supreme being as the eternal, loving, and holy being who created all things out of his omniscience, omnipotence, and supreme goodness, and we have analyzed what we are to mean by these terms. The question now before us is whether or not there is any reason to think that this concept of the supreme being that we have carefully tried to analyze, applies to anything; that is, whether there is a supreme being in the sense we have described. We are taking this question as equivalent to asking whether there is any reason to think that God exists since, in the major Western religious traditions (Christianity, Judaism, and Islam), God is understood to be the supreme being we have just described and defined. Certainly many people believe that God, or the supreme being, exists. It is also true that many people deny that there is a supreme being. The question before us is which, if either, is the more reasonable.

A final clarificatory point is in order. Some people mean by the term 'God' such things as this: 'the force for love in the world;' or, 'the original cause of things;' or, 'that which sustains the physical universe;' or 'the transcendent object of ultimate concern.' Other similarly vague definitions of the term 'God' are often proposed. We are not asking the question whether God in any of these latter senses of the term exists. We are not even considering the question. We are concerned solely with whether God, considered as the supreme being, exists.


Generally when we want to convince someone that something exists we show it to him whenever we can. That is, we try to get him to see it or touch it or in some way experience the entity in question. Getting someone to experience something is the surest way to convince him of its existence. If, for example, someone doubts that there is a four-legged animal which has a bill like a duck, the best way to convince him is to show him a duckbill platypus, and the next best is to have reliable witnesses tell him that they have seen such an animal. Similarly, the strongest proof for the existence of God would be one based on someone's experience of God, that is, one based on the case of someone who actually experienced God. Let us, therefore, consider whether or not there are good reasons to think that someone has experienced God, because if there are, then we have excellent reason to believe that God exists.


There have been repeated examples of people who in all sincerity claim to have experienced God. William James in his study of religious experience quotes the reports of several such people, including the following:

I remember the night, and almost the very spot on the hilltop, where my soul opened out, as it were, into the Infinite, and there was a rushing together of the two worlds, the inner and the outer. It was deep calling unto deep -- the deep that my own struggle had opened up within being answered by the unfathomable deep without, reaching beyond the stars. I stood alone with Him who had made me, and all the beauty of the world, and love, and sorrow, and even temptation. I did not seek Him, but felt the perfect unison of my spirit with His. The ordinary sense of things around me faded. For the moment nothing but an ineffable joy and exultation remained. It is impossible fully to describe the experience. It was like the effect of some great orchestra when all the separate notes have melted into one swelling harmony that leaves the listener conscious of nothing save that his soul is being wafted upwards, and almost bursting with its own emotion. The perfect stillness of the night was thrilled by a more solemn silence. The darkness held a presence that was all the more felt because it was not seen. I could not any more have doubted that He was there than that I was. Indeed, I felt myself to be, if possible, the less real of the two.5
Here, clearly, is a person convinced beyond all doubt that during a mystical religious experience he had come in contact with God. From this we can construct the following quick proof of God's existence:
  1. If someone experiences an entity, then the entity exists.
  2. Some people have experienced God.
  3. God exists.
Let us interpret what it is to experience an entity so that we can experience something only if it exists. On this interpretation premise (1) is true. This, however, does not also show (2) to be true, because there are many illusory experiences in which people think they experience entities but they are mistaken. Thus, although the person James quotes was convinced he had experienced God, he may have been mistaken; his experience may have been illusory. Obviously, then, premise (2) is the crucial one. Have people experienced God?

People who think that premise (2) is true usually point to three different kinds of experiences to support their position -- religious mystical experiences, revelations, and miracles. In these three cases, such people argue, either what is experienced is God, or what is experienced is the direct result of something God does. There is, however, an important difference between religious mystical experiences and the other two. If in a mystical experience someone experiences God, then, as in the case quoted, he does so by being transported in some way beyond the natural world into the otherworldly presence of God. In the case of revelations and miracles, on the other hand, God participates by actually intervening in the ordinary course of the natural world. For example, the Ten Commandments were supposedly revealed to Moses by means of inscriptions on ordinary stone tablets. Miracles, such as turning water into wine, supposedly were witnessed by people in this the natural world. Because of this important difference between these kinds of religious experiences, we should consider their relevance to the argument from religious experience separately.

The Argument from Mystical Experience

We must begin by clarifying what we mean by 'religious mystical experience.' We have a choice in such a definition. We can define a religious mystical experience either as an experience in which, among other things, a person actually does experience God, or as an experience in which, among other things, a person believes that he experiences God. The difference between the two is that in the first case many experiences which people believe to be mystical experiences are not, because God is not actually experienced in them. In the second case we can grant all such experiences to be mystical but this implies nothing about whether God is experienced. Because in either case we must justify one claim, either that some experiences are mystical or that God is experienced in some mystical experiences, let us then choose the second kind of definition. This will allow us to define mystical experiences phenomenologically, without considering whether any entity is actually experienced.

In defining 'mystical experience' we can once again turn to William James. As a result of studying reports of mystical experiences such as the one quoted, James stated what he took to be the essential characteristics of such experiences. He said that mystical experiences are ineffable, transient, and noetic experiences in which the person involved is quite passive. Let us consider each of these characteristics.

  1. Ineffability. The subjects of mystical experiences say that such an experience "defies expression, that no adequate report of the contents can be given in words. It follows from this that its quality must be directly experienced; it cannot be imparted or transferred to others."6
  2. Noetic Quality. Those who have mystical experiences claim that they have gotten or received deeply significant and important insights during the experiences. Thus, to the person who experiences mystical states, they seem to be states of knowledge. They seem to be "states of insights into depths of truth unplumbed by the discursive intellect.''7 In the case of the religious mystic (that is, a person who thinks he experiences God in his mystical experiences), the insights or illuminations the subject thinks he attains are believed by him to be the result of a direct confrontation or union with the supreme being. For those whose mystical experiences are not religious, the insights are thought to be the result of a new and more heightened way of experiencing the world around us, rather than a result of contact with anything supernatural.
  3. Transiency. As James points out, "Mystical states cannot be sustained for long. Except in rare instances half an hour, or at most an hour or two, seems to be the limit beyond which they fade into the light of common day."8
  4. Passivity of the Subject. Although a person can prepare himself for and help bring about mystical experiences, "when the characteristic sort of consciousness once has set in, the mystic feels as if his own will were in abeyance, and indeed sometimes as if he were grasped and held by a superior power."9
All four of these qualities are exemplified in the report quoted previously. The subject claims he could not fully describe the experience; that he became aware of, was even in unison with, his maker; that the ineffable joy and exultation which accompanied the experience lasted a moment; and that he did not seek unison with his maker, but passively felt it take place. This is, then, a clear example of a religious mystical experience. Our problem is to discover whether such an experience can be used to justify premise (2), the claim that some people have experienced God. The argument in which we are interested can be put as follows:
  1. Some people have had religious mystical experiences.
  2. In religious mystical experiences God is experienced.
  1. Some people have experienced God.
If there is good reason to accept premise (5), then we can justifiably conclude that God exists. We surely must agree that religious mystics do have strange experiences very much like the one described, so that we can accept (4). But is there good reason for us to admit as well that during these experiences the mystics actually get insight into reality, that they experience God in ways that they cannot describe to us? Might it not be true that a mystic is like a person who is hallucinating, like one who sees a mirage and thinks that he is experiencing a real object? How are we to decide whether at least some religious mystics truly experience God or whether all such mystics have merely very unusual illusory experiences? We cannot check the claims of mystics in the way we often check possible cases of illusory experiences, such as mirages, because we cannot observe whether or not there is an object experienced. We can, for example, go to the location in the desert where a person claims to have seen an oasis and carefully investigate the whole area, but we cannot in any comparable manner go to the "region" in which the mystic claims to have been aware of God.

Support for the Argument: God Must Be Postulated as Experienced or as Cause

There is one type of obtainable evidence which would make it reasonable to accept the mystic's claim. Suppose that some strange mystical experiences are totally inexplicable in terms of the natural causes which are the subject matter of the natural sciences such as psychology, physiology, and biology. In that case, we might have some reason to think either that the entity experienced in such experiences is supernatural, or that the cause of the mystical experience is supernatural. That is, we might have to postulate a supernatural experienced object, or postulate a supernatural cause of mystical experiences, or both, in the attempt to explain such experiences. We could then justify the existence of such a supernatural being the way we justify postulating explanatory theoretical entities such as electrons, protons, and neutrons. These theoretical entities are postulated to explain certain observable phenomena. Such postulation is justified only if there is no way to explain what is observed without postulating something or other. If satisfactory explanations can be made without postulating such entities, then, as we saw in Chapter Four about the witch doctor's demons, we cannot justify the existence of such entities.10 The question, then, is whether there is any reason to think that some mystical experiences cannot be explained by means of natural causes, so that there is a reason to postulate a supernatural cause to explain them. If there is, then we may be able to use mystical experiences to justify premise (2). If there is not, then we shall have to conclude that whether or not the mystic experiences God, we have no grounds for claiming that he does and no way of using these experiences to justify premise (2).

We really have two arguments to consider. The first may be expressed by pointing out, first, that reports that people make of their strange mystical experiences are themselves exceedingly unusual. Such individuals report that they have merged with The One, or that they have in some manner been absorbed into pure unity, or similar utterly bizarre things. We nonmystics have no reason to think, generally, that such people are trying to deceive us, or that they are lying. Moreover, such reports as those just cited are common and consistently offered. Hence, the argument goes, the only way to explain these reports is to postulate the existence of some equally unusual entity such as a supernatural one. That is, the only way to explain the verbal behavior of the mystics, and perhaps other nonverbal behavior of such people as well, is by postulating the existence of some supernatural entity that they have experienced. Then, given (a) that the assumption that they experience something supernatural does explain their behavior, verbal and otherwise, and (b) that this is the only way to effectively explain this behavior, then we nonmystics are justified in believing that the mystics experience a supernatural entity when they have mystical experiences. Hence, it would seem that we would have justified premise (5), "In religious mystical experiences God is experienced," and thereby have justified (2), "Some people have experienced God." Thus, since all else in the relevant arguments has been granted, we would have shown that the important step (3), "God exists," has been justified.

The second argument is similar. It claims that religious mystical experiences are so very strange and unusual that the only way to explain their occurrence is by the assumption that something supernatural is their cause. That is, the only way to explain the occurrence of, and features of, religious mystical experiences is by postulating the existence of a supernatural cause of such experiences. Then, again given the assumptions that (a) the assumption of a supernatural cause does explain the occurrences and features of such experiences, and (b) that such an assumption is the only way to effect such explanations, then we would have justified the claim that some supernatural entity exists, as the cause of some mystical experiences. One major difference between these two arguments concerns what is explained. In the first, it is the behavior of the mystics that is said to be explained by the postulation of a supernatural entity; in the second argument it is the actual occurrence and features of mystical experiences themselves that are said to be explained by such a postulation.

Another significant difference is that with this second argument it is not clear what support has been produced for step (5)., "In religious mystical experiences God is experienced." This is because the second argument speaks of a supernatural cause of mystical experiences, rather than of a supernatural entity that is experienced in such experiences. However, we can bridge this gap in the argument. When we experience the effects of some cause, we may often be said to experience the cause as well. For instance, if I see certain footprints in the snow which were caused by raccoons, then in a sense I have experienced the raccoons, too. Of course, this is not the same as experiencing the animals themselves standing in front of me. It is, we might say, indirectly experiencing the raccoons. Still, this is a form of experiencing a thing. Hence, step (5) would again be justified and thus, via this second argument involving postulation, so would (2). Either way, then, the argument from the experience of God, when based on mystical experiences, would seem to have considerable plausibility for us non-mystics.

Objection: No Need to Postulate the Supernatural

The weak point in the first argument comes in the claim that the only way to explain the behavior of mystics is via the assumption that they have experienced a supernatural entity. Consider how we explain the verbal and nonverbal behavior of persons who report sighting flying saucers and other strange UFO's. Ordinarily it is noted that what they have experienced are regular commercial or military aircraft which are flying in unusual weather conditions; or that they have experienced rapidly moving and rapidly changing cloud formations; or, perhaps, that they have experienced falling meteorites. In a few cases it is maintained, instead, that such individuals have experienced nothing at all, but rather that they have hallucinated in odd ways. These assumptions explain the behavior, verbal and nonverbal, of such people in a great many cases, indeed the vast majority, of alleged UFO sightings. It is similar in the situation of the mystics. Thus, in some cases where mystics claim that ordinary objects in their surrounding physical environment take on highly unusual features, one might plausibly contend that what is experienced is simply the surrounding physical environment seen under atypical lighting conditions or atmospheric conditions. In most other cases, where mystics claim to be absorbed into a union with pure being, or with the One, or something of the sort, one might plausibly explain what has been experienced is nothing at all; on the contrary, such people have had strange hallucinatory experiences. Their hallucinations could be exceptionally striking and perhaps vivid, and this would explain their subsequent behavior at least as well as the assumption that they have experienced a supernatural entity. Hence, the latter assumption is not needed for purposes of satisfactory explanations.

What about the second argument, in favor of the claim that we need to postulate the existence of a supernatural cause of mystical experiences? Many people claim that we can explain such experiences without any reference to a confrontation with anything supernatural or divine. They say that mystical experiences, like many other strange experiences, are really the result of abnormal states of mind, and like other psychological abnormalities, they are the proper subject of physiology and psychology. Evidence in favor of this view comes from the fact that certain experiences which fit completely the description of mystical experiences given by James have quite natural explanations. Experiences which seem to provide indescribable insights into reality have been induced by inhalation of nitrous oxide (laughing gas), ether, and chloroform. It has also been found that certain drugs, such as mescaline and LSD, produce experiences with the phenomenological characteristics of mystical experiences. Surely, it is claimed, all these are merely abnormal experiences produced by natural causes.

Given all of this evidence, it is reasonable to conclude that many mystical experiences have quite natural causes. And, given the fact that we can explain the behavior of people who have mystical experiences in ways that do not require the assumption that supernatural entities are experienced, we may conclude that the attempt to justify step (5) and with it premise (2) on the basis of mystical experiences does not succeed. We need to look elsewhere for an argument which justifies the belief in the existence of God.

It might be objected that this conclusion is a bit too quick and premature, especially regarding the second of the two arguments just presented. After all, not all or even most mystical experiences are produced by drugs or other similar agents. Thus, nothing has been said to show that these mystical experiences, ones not caused by drugs and the like, lack a supernatural cause.

This objection misses the point of the argument. The crucial idea is that many experiences which are similar phenomenologically or, as we might say, internally, to mystical experiences, are caused by drugs, laughing gas, chloroform, LSD, and related agents. None of these agents, surely, is a supernatural one. Hence, since these experiences are just like mystical experiences phenomenologically, and since these experiences have quite natural causes, it is reasonable to think that mystical experiences also have quite natural causes, ones which will in time be discovered by advances in the sciences of psychology and physiology. Thus, both the subsequent behavior of people who undergo mystical experiences and the actual occurrences of mystical experiences, are explicable by means of perfectly natural causes. The argument from mystical experiences, while it might give the person who actually has the experience some reason to think that he or she has experienced God, provides no justification for the rest of us nonmystics to have a belief in God. Some other argument should be sought.

The Argument from Revelations and Miracles

Revelations and miracles both differ from mystical experiences in that in the former, unlike the latter, God is thought to intervene in the ordinary course of the natural world. By 'God's intervention' is meant 'an occurrence in this, the natural world, which is not brought about by physical causes but is, rather, directly caused by God.' Thus, according to this definition, something is a revelation or a miracle only if it has a supernatural cause. Most people would probably agree that this is true of revelations where, for example, a vision appearing in a bush which burns but which is never consumed, is said to reveal some word of God. There has been, however, much disagreement regarding miracles. No one denies that some miracles -- such as the biblical miracles of turning water into wine, feeding a multitude from a few fish and loaves of bread, walking on water, and the vertical parting of the waters of the Red Sea -- would be the direct result of supernatural causes, because in each case some law of nature would have been violated. That is, if each of these events occurred, there has been a violation of some scientific law which has been repeatedly confirmed to hold universally. Thus, if we have reason to think that such events have occurred, then we have some reason to believe that God exists.

It has been claimed, however, that not all miracles involve a violation of a natural law otherwise confirmed to hold universally. R. F. Holland, for example, considers the case of a child who has wandered onto a railroad track unaware of a train approaching around a curve, so that there is no chance for the engineer to see the child in time to stop.The mother, watching from a distance and unable to help, sees the train approach and grind to a halt a few feet from her child.

The mother thanks God for the miracle; which she never ceases to think of as such although, as she in due course learns, there was nothing supernatural about the manner in which the brakes of the train came to be applied. The driver had fainted, for a reason that had nothing to do with the presence of the child on the line, and the brakes were applied automatically as his hand ceased to exert pressure on the control lever.11
It was an amazing coincidence that a particular natural process culminated in his fainting at just the time he did.

Let us call any miracle, such as the preceding, which does not violate any law of nature a "coincidence-miracle," and the kind which does violate a law of nature, a "violation-miracle." Although these two concepts of miracles differ importantly, there are three features anything must have to be a miracle, first, whether or not he intervenes, God is in some way involved in and responsible for what occurs; secondly, what occurs is amazing and unusual; and, thirdly, some disaster is avoided, or at least someone is aided, by what occurs. In both cases the feature that is most relevant for our purposes is that God is in some way involved in what occurs. Thus if there is reason to think that either kind of miracle has ever occurred, then we are justified in believing that God exists. We are interested in the following argument:

  1. Some people have experienced miracles.
  2. Miracles are, by definition, situations in which God participates.
  1. Some people have experienced God.
In this argument, unlike the argument involving mystical experiences, the point that can be questioned is whether miracle ever occur, and thus, whether people have ever experienced them. This is because miracles, unlike mystical experiences, occur only if God exists. Do we have any reason to think that miracles have occurred? Let us consider each kind separately.

There have been many cases of amazing coincidences where horrible disasters have been averted. Do we have any reason to think that these are coincidence-miracles? We must also admit that there are many cases of incredible coincidences where horrible disaster has resulted. How should we handle these? Is there any reason, in either case, to reject the claim that these are no more than very rare and most improbable coincidences? So long as each such event is explainable, each in its own way, in terms of a coincidence of individually quite ordinary occurrences, then there is no reason to regard the coincidence as anything more than that; there is no reason to think that something supernatural is involved. Given all the many chances for coincidences, it is not at all surprising that once in a while some very surprising things occur quite naturally. Thus, there is no reason to believe that coincidence-miracles have occurred.

The more usual attempt to justify a belief in God on the basis of miracles, however, is premised on the existence of violation-miracles. If there are grounds to believe that some law of nature confirmed to hold universally has been violated in such a way that some disaster has been averted, or someone aided, or some insight received, then this is surely some evidence for justifying the claim that occasionally God has intervened in the natural course of things, either to bring about a miracle or to reveal something. Are there then, grounds for believing that there have been miraculous violations of laws of nature? The most celebrated attempt to deny such grounds is that made by David Hume.

Hume's Objection: Belief in Violation-Miracles Is Always Unjustified

Hume says,

A miracle is a violation of the laws of nature; and as a firm and unalterable experience has established these laws, the proof against a miracle, from the very nature of the fact, is as entire as any argument from experience can possibly be imagined. . . . Nothing is esteemed a miracle, if it ever happens in the common course of nature. It is no miracle that a man, seemingly in good health, should die of a sudden; because such a kind of death, though more unusual than any other, has yet been frequently observed to happen. But it is a miracle that a dead man should come to life; because that has never been observed in any age or country. There must, therefore, be a uniform experience against every miraculous event, otherwise the event would not merit the appellation. And as a uniform experience amounts to a proof, there is here a direct and full proof, from the nature of the fact, against the existence of any miracle; nor can such a proof be destroyed, or the miracle rendered credible, but by an opposite proof, which is superior.12
Hume's point here is that we have grounds for believing that any particular event is a violation-miracle or, similarly, a revelation, only if we have reason to believe that the event violates a law which has been confirmed to hold universally without exception. If a law is violated which is already in doubt, then the violation would provide further evidence that the law must be revised or replaced by another which accounts for the event which violates the first law. But once this is done, there is no reason to think a violation-miracle has occurred, because the event violates no acceptable law. Consequently, to be counted a violation-miracle an event must violate a law previously found to hold without exception. But, claims Hume, because all the evidence relevant to such a law has confirmed it as having no exceptions, all the evidence relevant to the event being a violation of the law counts against the event being a violation-miracle.

The crucial premise in Hume's argument is his claim that all the evidence relevant to the event counts as evidence against it being a violation of a law. It is true that all the evidence independent of the event itself counts against a violation, but that does not rule out evidence provided by the event itself which might count in favor of a violation. Surely, it might be claimed, if someone personally witnesses an event which as he describes it is a clear violation of a law, then we have good reason to think that a violation has occurred. If, for example, someone claims that he witnessed a violation of a natural law, such as a dead person restored to life, then we have eyewitness evidence which, it could be argued, outweighs the independent evidence. Hume, however, has an answer to this argument. He agrees that we should weigh the two sets of conflicting evidence. The question, then, is whether it is more probable that such an eyewitness is deceived about what he claims to have seen, or whether it is more probable that a dead person has been restored to life. Is it, as Hume asks it, more miraculous that what the person claims is false, or more miraculous that a dead person is restored to life? He answers,

I weigh the one miracle against the other; and according to the superiority which I discover, I pronounce my decision, and always reject the greater miracle. If the falsehood of his testimony would be more miraculous than the event which he relates, then, and not till then, can he pretend to command my belief or opinion.13
And because for any human the falsehood of his testimony, even when completely sincere, is less miraculous, that is, more probable than that a law of nature is violated, we should, as Hume implies, believe the person is mistaken rather than believe that the violation-miracle occurred.

Following Hume we can agree that the independent evidence outweighs the testimony of others. But what about a case in which someone himself experiences what surely seems to him to be a violation of a law of nature? This case is something like that of the mystic. It seems to both that they have experienced an event which in important ways is quite different from what has been established by uniform experience. Is it reasonable for a person who has had a certain kind of experience which seems to violate a law of nature to believe that a violation actually has occurred? We have seen that the person who has had a mystical experience is not unreasonable in believing that he has experienced God, but we also saw that there is not sufficient reason to justify his belief. The case of miracles, however, differs from the mystic's case in an important respect. There is no evidence against the claim that the mystic experiences God because his experience may well result from perfectly natural causes. There is, however, a great deal of evidence against the claim that a violation has occurred. Thus, not only is there not sufficient reason to justify a claim that a violation-miracle occurred, but there is surely a question of whether one should trust one's own testimony in the face of the overwhelming evidence against the violation tie seems to have witnessed. In short, the reasonable conclusion is that what was experienced is the result of natural causes in spite of the way it may seem. Hume's argument, therefore, seems to be sound, and its conclusion is justified, that is, there ire no grounds for believing in violation-miracles or revelations. We cannot appeal to violations of laws of nature, whether violation-miracles or revelations, to justify a relief in the existence of God. And because we have seen that we cannot appeal to coincidence-miracles, we must give up the attempt to justify God's existence by means of miracles and revelations.

We have been unable to justify belief in God by appealing to the experience of God. Is there any other kind of experience we might appeal to which would justify the relief? Some people have claimed that certain facts which we experience in this world can be used as a basis for justifying the belief, although they are not experiences of God. We often justify the existence of other entities in this way. For example, we justify the existence of subatomic particles, such as electrons and neutrinos, not by experiencing them, but by inferring, their existence from the existence of things we do experience, such as visible traces in cloud chambers. Others have claimed, however, that because a supreme being lies outside the realm of what we can experience in this world, we cannot justify his existence by arguments that rely on what we experience. These people claim we must use what we can call, using the terminology of St. Thomas Aquinas, a priori proofs instead of a posteriori proofs. The difference between these two kinds of proof is that an a posteriori proof is a proof in which at least one premise is an a posteriori statement, and an a priori proof of is one in which no premises are a posteriori, that is, all the premises are a priori.14


The proofs we have already examined and dismissed are a posteriori. The question before us now is whether there are any other a posteriori proofs which we might be able to use to justify belief in God. Aquinas, who thought that there are no a priori proofs of the existence of God, thought there were several sound a posteriori proofs. He produced five different a posteriori ways to prove that God exists, the most plausible of which we shall consider now. They are the arguments from motion and from causation (which we shall examine together as the first-cause argument), the argument from contingency, and the argument from design.


The first two ways of Aquinas have basically the same structure. The main difference between the two is that in the first way, the argument from motion, Aquinas begins with the a posteriori truth that some things are in motion, whereas in the second he begins with the a posteriori truth that there is an order of efficient causes. Because Aquinas takes motion to include not merely locomotion or change of spatial position, but all kinds of change, let us say that the first-cause argument as we shall first construe it, is based on the empirical fact that there are changes and causes of change. This argument, then, starts with the a posteriori truth that there are changes taking place now which are caused. It goes on to consider what would be the case if everything that causes a change were itself caused to change by something else, and concludes that its chain of causes would be infinitely long. That is, no matter how many items in its causal chain had been enumerated, there would always be at least one that had not been enumerated. But, so the argument goes, such as causal chain cannot go on to infinity in this way, because without a first or initiating cause of change there would be no intermediate causes of change and thus no change now, contrary to the facts. Consequently, because there is change now, there is a first or initiating cause of change, which, as Aquinas says, we call God.15 Let us lay out this argument in some detail so that we can examine it thoroughly:

  1. There are now things changing and things causing change.
  2. If there are now things changing and things causing change, and something causes change only if it is caused to change by something else, then its causal chain is infinitely long.
  3. If something causes change only if it is caused to change by something else, then its causal chain is infinitely long.
  4. No causal chain can be infinitely long.
  5. There is something that causes change but is not caused to change by anything else, that is, there is a first cause, namely, God.

First Interpretation: Temporally First Cause

Before we begin to evaluate the argument we must settle the problem of interpretation. For most of us today it seems obvious that the first-cause argument is concerned with causes which temporally precede their effects and thus with a causal chain stretching back into the past. On this interpretation, premise (4) asserts that a causal chain could not stretch back into the past over an infinite duration of time, because if there were no temporally prior, or first, cause of change then there could be no temporally subsequent causes of change and no change now. However, there are two reasons for rejecting this interpretation. The first is that premise (4) seems to be false on this interpretation. There is no reason to think that a series of causes stretching infinitely back into the past is impassible. It is quite possible, and some people believe quite likely, that the raw material of which the universe in its present state is composed has existed in some state or other over an infinite period of time. Why could not change have been going on for an infinitely long period of time? It is only if at some time before now there were no change and now there is change, that we must postulate a temporally original cause of change. But if change has always occurred, there was no temporally first cause and therefore no creator ex nihilo. Such a situation can be illustrated by considering a phonograph record of a song being sung by a human voice. Let us assume that this record was recorded from another record, which was itself recorded from another record. Could this series of recordings go on to infinity? Some people might want to claim that somewhere in the past there must have been a human singer recorded. But it is surely possible that no matter how far back into the past you go you will always turn up another record. Consequently, if we are to make the argument as strong as possible, as we should always do before evaluating any argument, then we should look for a more plausible interpretation. Another reason for looking for a better interpretation is that the argument equates the first cause with God. But if by 'first' we mean 'temporally first' there is no reason to say that the first cause of change, which existed at least many thousands of years ago, still exists now. Thus, there is no reason to equate God with a temporally first cause.

Second Interpretation: Ontologically Ultimate Cause

Is there a more plausible interpretation available? F. C. Copleston in his book Aquinas, distinguishes two different ways in which one thing can be causally dependent on something else; consequently, he distinguishes two different kinds of causal orders, a temporal series of causes and an ontological hierarchy of causes. According to Copleston, for Aquinas the phrase 'first cause' does not mean first in the temporal order of causes, but rather supreme or first in the ontological order of causes.16 This interpretation of 'first cause' as 'ontologically ultimate cause' rather than 'temporally first cause' allows us to avoid one of the problems facing the first interpretation. An ontologically ultimate cause exists now so that, unlike the temporally first cause, if we prove that there is such a cause we have no problem concerning its present existence. We might illustrate the difference between a temporal series and an ontological hierarchy of causes as follows. Consider a room with perfect reflecting mirrors on two opposite sides. In the middle of the room burns a candle which is reflected in the mirrors. We can imagine that this candle has been burning for an infinite period of time. That is, for an infinite period of time there have been light waves reflecting back and forth from one mirror to the other causing images in the two mirrors. Thus there has been causal action occurring over an infinite period of time. But, and here is where this example differs from the phonograph example, at any one moment the mirror images exist only if the candle exists at that moment. Although a recording of a voice can exist after what has caused the recording no longer exists, mirror images cannot. Thus we might say that the candle is of a different ontological order from the images. They depend for their very existence at any and every moment on the existence of the candle, but the existence of the candle in no way depends on the images for its existence. On this interpretation, then, the argument asserts that God is to things in the world what the candle is to its reflected images.

There is one problem that faces the first interpretation that we have not yet applied to Copleston's interpretation. We saw that there is no reason why an infinite temporal series of causes could not occur so that premise (4) seemed dubious. How does premise (4) fare on the second interpretation? Are there things in the world like the candle images in that for each of them they can exist at some time only if something else quite different also exists at that time? We know at least that for any human being to exist for any period of time, he is causally dependent upon what might indeed be interpreted as a hierarchy of coexistent causes. For example, his existence is dependent upon the temperature of the earth remaining within a certain range, which in turn is dependent upon the earth's distance from the sun, which is dependent upon the gravitational and centripetal forces affecting the earth, which are dependent upon the masses of the earth and sun, which are dependent upon the chemical constituents of the earth and sun, which are dependent upon the atomic and subatomic makeup of the earth and sun. We have, then, for each human being not only a series of antecedently preceding causes, but an order of contemporaneous causal factors. This does not seem to be what Copleston means, however, because this order of causes leads neither to infinity nor to anything we would call God. It seems to go to basic subatomic particles. What might Copleston reply here? He might claim that the basic subatomic particles are no different from anything else in the world. They also are causally dependent on something for their existence because their existence needs to be explained just like anything else in the world. In other words, he might link causes and causal orders with explanations as he did in a discussion of the topic with Bertrand Russell. He said, "Cause is a kind of sufficient reason. Only contingent beings can have a cause. God is His own sufficient reason; and He is not cause of Himself. By sufficient reason in the full sense I mean an explanation adequate for the existence of some particular being."17 The point here is that if we are looking for the cause of something, we are looking for a sufficient reason for -- that is, a complete explanation of -- its existence. Perhaps, then, we should consider a first or ultimate explanation of why there are things like people, horses, stones, and even neutrinos, rather than considering first causes of change, or ontologically ultimate causes.

Third Interpretation: Ultimate Explanation of Things

On the third interpretation we get an argument that is pretty much analogous to each of the steps in the first-cause argument. The argument can be stated this way:

  1. There are now things existing and things explaining their existence.
  2. If there are now things existing and things explaining their existence and each thing, X, that explains something else, Y, completely explains Y only if it, X, is itself explained by something else, then Y's complete explanation is infinitely long.
  3. If each thing that explains something else completely explains it only if it is itself explained by something else, then its complete explanation is infinitely long.
  4. No complete explanation can be infinitely long.
  5. There is something that completely explains other things and is not explained by anything else, that is, there is something which is the ultimate explanation of things, namely, God.

It should be noted that on this interpretation the crucial claim in the argument is not that there would be an infinite number of different explanations, but that any complete explanation would be infinitely long. The idea here is that if the explanation of one thing requires reference to something else which itself needs to be explained, then the explanation of the first thing is not complete unless the second is completely explained.

One important consequence of this stress on the completeness of the explanation of one thing is that it is possible to give a quite plausible argument to support premise (4). Consider that we would not call something an explanation unless we could completely express it, because the function of an explanation is to make what it explains intelligible, and something is intelligible only if it can be expressed. But a statement that is infinitely long is one that cannot ever by fully stated or expressed. Thus, no complete explanation can be infinitely long. Premise (4), then, no longer seems dubious. Can we now accept the argument as sound? Not yet, because we have not yet examined premise (2), which on this interpretation may be the dubious one.

Problem: Are Adequate Scientific Explanations Complete Explanations?

We can show premise (2) to be false if we can find an example where one thing is explained by reference to something else in such a way that even if we assume that each explaining thing must be explained by something else, the original explanation is, nevertheless, both complete and finite in length. If we find such an example, then even if an infinite number of different explanations were required in order to explain completely everything there is, it would still be true that some specific explanations of individual things would be complete and finite, so that premise (2) would be false.

It seems quite easy to find many examples which can be used to show that premise (2) is false. Consider how we would explain that there is a high tide at a particular time and at a particular location of a certain ocean. We would do it in part by reference to the position of the moon relative to the location of the tide. Although the resulting explanation might seem quite complicated because it requires mathematical laws relating the relevant masses and the resulting gravitational attraction between the moon and the ocean, it is clearly finite in length. Furthermore, it would seem that, whether or not the position of the moon is to be explained by reference to something else, as it surely is, and even if the "chain" of separate explanations started in this way is infinitely long, the adequacy of the original explanation of the high tide is unaffected. It is a completely adequate scientific explanation as it stands, regardless of what else needs to be explained. It surely seems, therefore, that the high tide is completely explained once a completely adequate scientific explanation is given. The explanation of the high tide is finite in length and seems to be complete even if we assume that each explaining thing must itself be explained by another. It seems, then, that premise (2) is false.

It is not hard to construct what the reply to this example would be. We said that the idea behind this interpretation is that to explain something completely, everything referred to in the explanation must also be completely explained. But this clearly cannot be achieved if an infinite number of different explanations is required. Therefore, this reply would go, the explanation of the high tides is incomplete because it does not explain the position of the moon; thus the example does not refute premise (2). The important point to notice about this reply is that someone who makes it is committed to the position that a completely adequate scientific explanation of the high tide is, nevertheless, not a complete explanation. This is exactly the point Copleston makes at another place in his debate with Russell.

Russell: But when is an explanation adequate? Suppose I am about to make a flame with a match. You may say that the adequate explanation of that is that I rub it on the box.

Copleston: Well, for practical purposes -- but theoretically, that is only a partial explanation. An adequate explanation must ultimately be a total explanation to which nothing further can be added.

Russell: Then I can only say that you're looking for something which can't be got, and which one ought not to expect to get.

Copleston: To say that one has not found it is one thing; to say that one should not look for it seems to me rather dogmatic.18

Who is right in this debate? Russell claims that science is our means of explaining facts about the universe. Whatever science cannot explain is, according to Russell, beyond the realm of explanation. But should we accept anything as beyond explanation? Consider the widely accepted principle that is called the "principle of sufficient reason," but that we might also call the "principle of complete explanation." that is, the principle that everything that exists or occurs can be completely explained. If this principle is true, then it would seem that nothing should be beyond the realm of scientific explanation if science is the one means of explanation, as Russell claims. Two questions immediately arise here. First, is there something science cannot, in principle, explain; and second, is the principle of complete explanation true? Although there is no reason to think that science cannot come to explain each individual thing that occurs (and indeed perhaps someday even answer the question astronomers sometimes ask, "Why is there this particular universe rather than some other?"), there is another question it seems that science cannot answer. That question is, "Why is there any universe at all, rather than nothing at all?" Science may be able to explain why there is this particular universe by reference, for example, to the big-bang theory of the origin of the universe. On this theory this universe resulted from the explosion of one primordial mass that sent bits and pieces in all directions and formed the various galaxies that make up the universe. But, for example, science could not explain why, rather than nothing at all, there was this primordial mass waiting to explode. Here scientific explanation, comes to an end, for there is nothing in terms of which the existence of the primordial mass can be scientifically explained. Thus, if the principle of complete explanation is true, then it seems that there is at least one thing to be explained that science cannot explain. Copleston, then, might be able to begin a defense of premise (2) against the counterexample we have taken from scientific explanation.

Is there a reason to think that the principle of complete explanation is true? Copleston might attempt to turn the principle against Russell by claiming that it is certainly a presupposition of science, for scientific progress is premised on the doctrine that everything can be explained. We might agree that the achievements of science surely argue for a kind of justification of the principle as it is used by science, but must we then go on to agree with Copleston that science cannot do the complete job? Following Russell, we could interpret the principle so that it is sufficient for scientific purposes, but does not open the door to let in Copleston's nonscientific explanation. Science explains particular things and events so that the form of the principle needed for science is that there is a complete explanation of each particular event and each individual entity. Thus, this version of the principle, while allowing science all it needs, in no way states that the universe as a whole must be explainable independently of the particular explanations of each of the things that make up the whole universe. If we accept this version then we can agree with Russell that a completely adequate scientific explanation is a complete explanation and the high-tide example would falsify premise (2). There would, then, be no reason to claim that God is necessary to explain the world around us, no reason to postulate God as a theoretical explanatory entity. Science does not, however, answer questions such as. "Why is there something rather than nothing?" so perhaps we should agree that some kind of non-scientific explanation is required. It is not clear which position is more reasonable; thus we have reached an impasse on this point. We can, nevertheless, draw a conclusion about our main interest in explanation. Because we have not been able to resolve the debate about explanation in Copleston's favor, we can conclude that, although premise (2) may be true, it is open to reasonable doubt and therefore cannot be used to justify the conclusion that God exists. Thus, we should reject the third and final version of the first-cause argument. We cannot use it to justify a belief in the existence of God.


The third way of Aquinas is a most ingenious attempt to establish the existence of God. It begins with the a posteriori truth that there are contingent things, that is, things such that it is possible that they begin to exist and possible that they cease to exist, and concludes that there exists a necessary being, that is, a being such that it is impossible that it begins to exist or cease to exist. Such a being is said to exist necessarily and is what we call God.19 Aquinas moves from the premise concerning the existence of contingent things to his conclusion by adding that it is impossible that contingent things always exist. Thus, he says, if everything is contingent, then at some time before now, nothing existed. But if at some time before now nothing at all existed, then nothing exists now, which is plainly false. Therefore there is a noncontingent, that is, a necessary being, namely God.

As stated, the crucial claim in Aquinas' third way is the claim that if everything is contingent, then at some time before now nothing existed. Why would Aquinas believe this? Partly because he is assuming, for purposes of the argument, that time is infinite. As Copleston says, "Aquinas is clearly supposing for the sake of the argument the hypothesis of infinite time, and his proof is designed to cover this hypothesis."20 Imagine that this is correct, and that time stretches back infinitely into the past. We may then ask whether contingent things have always existed, throughout infinite past time, or whether they have existed for only a finite amount of time. On either of these answers, two possibilities are open. Take infinite time and the assumption that contingent things have existed for an infinite time into the past. This may mean either of two things, which can be expressed this way:

  1. At each and every moment stretching infinitely back into the past, contingent things have existed.
  2. Contingent things have existed at some times or other throughout infinite past time; that is, for any given moment of time in the past, some contingent things have existed at some time before that moment.
Thus, as an illustration of (a), imagine a line stretching infinitely back into the past from right now, where each cut on the line represents a moment of time, and each use of the letter c represents contingent things.

- - - ------------------------------|-|-|-|-|-|-|-|-|-|-|-|-|-|-|Now
      - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - ccccccccccccccc      

As can be seen, at every moment of time extending back there are contingent things in existence. If we were able to actually draw such a line as would be needed, drawn infinitely to the left of the page, it would have an infinite number of cuts for moments, and each cut would have a letter c below it. Thus, we would have represented (a) in the diagram. The difference between (a) and (b) is that (b) leaves open the possibility of there being at least one moment when nothing existed. It requires only that for any such moment when nothing existed, some contingent things existed before that moment. Thus, (b) leaves open the possibility of a situation such as that diagrammed in the following:

- - - ------------------------------|-|-|-|-|-|-|-|-|-|-|-|-|-|-|Now
           - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - ---c-cccc-ccccc      

Now let us consider the other option, that contingent things have existed for only a finite amount of past time. Again we have two possibilities, namely:

  1. At each and every moment stretching back into the past up to time to, contingent things have existed.
  2. Contingent things have existed at some times or other throughout past time back to time to, that is, for any given moment of time back to t+1, some contingent things have existed before that time.
Diagrams on lines can now be easily constructed for (c) and (d) based on the two given above for (a) and (b).

One reason why Aquinas' third way is so ingenious and fascinating is that it is designed to work no matter which option we choose, from (a) through (d). His central claim is that given the assumption of infinite past time, then if either (a) or (b) or (c) or (d) is correct, then at some time before now nothing existed. And this, he thinks, is all he really needs to make the argument from contingency work. Notice that by arguing in this fashion, Aquinas need not actually assert and endorse any of (a) through (d). In our statement of the argument, the differences between (a) and (b) on the one hand, and between (c) and (d) on the other, are not explicitly stated. The argument is, as we said, designed to succeed whichever of those options we take. The argument, then, is this:

  1. Either there have been things for an infinite amount of time or there have been things for only a finite amount of time.
  2. If there have been things for an infinite amount of time, then each different sum total of existing entities that can occur has occurred at some time or other before now.
  3. If the only things that exist are contingent, then one possibility is that at some time before now none of them existed.
  4. If there have been things for an infinite amount of time and the only things that exist are contingent, then at some time before now nothing existed. (from 2, 3)
  5. If there have been things for only a finite amount of time and the only things that exist are contingent then at some time before now nothing existed
  6. If the only things that exist are contingent, then at some time before now nothing existed. (from 1,4, 5)
  7. If at some time before now nothing existed, then nothing exists now.
  8. If the only things that exist are contingent, then nothing exists now. (from 6, 7)
  9. It is false that nothing exists now.
  10. It is false that the only things that exist are contingent, that is, there is a necessary being, namely God. (from 8, 9)
Although in premises (2) and (3) the argument considers the consequences of contingent things existing over an infinite duration of time, it also, in premise (5), considers the consequence of contingent things existing only over a finite duration of time. Premise (5) states that if things have existed for only a finite duration of time before now, then there was some first moment at which something began to exist so that at any time before that moment nothing existed. This is surely true if we grant that time is infinite whether or not things have existed for an infinite duration of time. So, given the addition of this premise and premise (1), which is an obvious truth, we can conclude (6), which contains no reference to either hypothesis about how long things have existed. Thus if premises (2) and (3) are true, then on this version of the argument from contingency we can draw a conclusion that does not depend on which hypothesis is correct. This is why it was claimed that this is a stronger argument than one based on the assumption that things have existed for an infinite time. However, the major question is whether premises (2) and (3) are true. We can surely accept (9). Premise (7), although not a necessary truth, can be restated as a more general version of the principle of the conservation of mass-energy, which states, roughly, that in a closed system no amount of energy, including that in the form of mass, can be either created or destroyed. Thus, if something new appears, this principle claims that it cannot have come from nothing, but requires a transfer of energy from something else. When premise (7) is considered in this light, it seems to be acceptable.

The crucial premises are clearly (2) and (3). Let us carefully consider both premises, beginning with premise (3), which is initially more plausible. If everything that has ever existed is contingent, then it is possible that each one ceases to exist at some time. Generally things cease existing at different times, so that usually at any one time some of them exist. But if we restrict our sample -- for example, to the freshman class of a particular college -- then although the members of the class will cease to exist at different times, there will come a time when all of these contingent beings have ceased to exist. If we now enlarge our sample to include all people and indeed all physical objects, we can see quite clearly that in this age of nuclear armament it is very possible that there come a time when no persons and indeed no physical objects exist. Surely, then, if only contingent things have ever existed, it is possible that at some time, which may as a matter of fact have occurred before now, every one of those things that had previously existed had ceased existing and no new one had begun to exist. Notice that this is not to claim it has happened, but only that it is possible that it has happened, which is a much weaker claim.

Premise (3) seems to be acceptable. But is it? Consider once again the principle of the conservation of mass-energy which we used as a reason for accepting premise (7). This principle states that if we take the universe to be a closed system, then no energy can be created or destroyed. But this looks familiar, because we can restate it to read that in the universe energy is such that it is impossible that some amount of it begin to exist and impossible that some amount of it cease to exist. Thus, given the truth of premise (9), once it is adapted to refer to energy, we must conclude that it is impossible that at some time before now nothing, including energy, existed. This will lead us to conclude that premise (3) is false unless we wish to claim that mass-energy exists necessarily rather than contingently, because it is something that can neither be created nor destroyed. But this is really not a viable way out, because when we characterized God as eternal, we decided that this should be interpreted so that it is logically impossible that he either begins to exist or ceases to exist. Thus a necessary being is one that is logically impossible to create or destroy. Therefore energy is contingent because it is logically possible to create or destroy it.

Objection: An Equivocation -- Physical Versus Logical Possibility

Something has gone wrong. On the one hand, premise (3) seems acceptable; on the other, it seems false. It surely seems possible that nothing exists, but it also seems impossible because the energy there is now could not have been created and cannot be destroyed. It seems that we have a problem about what is possible and what is not. To solve it we must examine the concept of possibility. It is important to note that there are several different kinds of possibility, two of which are relevant to our problem: logical possibility and physical possibility.

  1. Logical Possibility: Something is logically possible if and only if it does not violate the laws of logic, that is, it does not logically imply a contradiction when it is conjoined with any analytically true sentence and the laws of logic. By this definition it is logically impossible that there is a married spinster living somewhere.
  2. Physical Possibility: Something is physically possible if and only if (1) it is logically possible, and (2) it does not violate the physical laws of nature, that is, it is false that it logically implies a contradiction when conjoined with any true sentence (with which it is logically compatible) and with the laws of physics and logic. By this definition it is physically impossible that some cow jumped over the moon from the earth with no help.

If we re-examine premise (3), we shall find that it is acceptable when we interpret 'possible' one way, but quite dubious when we interpret it the other way. Let us consider physical possibility first. Thus (3) becomes:

3a. If the only things that have ever existed are logically contingent, then one physical possibility is that at some time before now nothing existed.
We can quickly show that (3a) is false by referring to the conservation principle. Let is assume that everything that has ever existed is some amount of energy, whether in the form of mass or some other form such as heat. Consequently, the only things that have existed are logically contingent. None are such that it is logically impossible to create or destroy them. Nevertheless, it is not physically possible that at some time before now nothing existed. Energy, although logically contingent, is physically necessary, that is, it is physically impossible to create and destroy it. Consequently, (3a) is false. It was when we construed 'possibility' as 'physical possibility' that (3) seemed false.

At this point someone might object that this way of handling (3a) rules out completely the claim that God created the world ex nihilo, because the law of the conservation of mass-energy, as here interpreted to apply to the universe as a whole, entails that a certain amount of energy has always existed. It is true that applying the law in this way makes creation ex nihilo physically impossible, but this does not rule out creation. Such a creation is surely a miracle and, like all violation-miracles, involves the physically impossible. Thus, although we would agree with Hume that violation-miracles and a fortiori creation ex nihilo are highly improbable, on the basis of what has been repeatedly established, this does not rule them out completely. That is, it does not make it logically impossible that they occur and, as we have also seen, it is only if miracles and creation ex nihilo were logically impossible that God would be unable to perform them.

Because (3d) using 'physical possibility' will not do, let us try 'logical possibility,' so that (3) becomes:

3b. If the only thing that exist are logically contingent, then one logical possibility is that at some time before now nothing existed.
It can be quickly seen that (3b) is true. If we claim that everything is such that it is logically possible that it cease to exist, then there is no logical contradiction in also claiming that nothing exists. We contradict ourselves only if we claim that something exists necessarily, that is, it exists now and it is logically impossible that it begin or cease to exist, and also claim that at some time nothing exists. We should then use (3b) in the argument from contingency.

Premise (2) is surely the most dubious of the premises, but I think we can make it seem somewhat more plausible by using an analogy involving coins. Consider two coins which are such that for each it is possible that it comes up heads and possible that it comes up tails. What are the possibilities available? There are 2n possibilities, where n is the number of coins involved. Thus for two coins there are four possibilities: heads, heads; heads, tails; tails, heads; and tails, tails. If we are given an infinite number of flips of these two coins we can surely conclude that at some time or other each of these possibilities will occur. Thus if premise (2) were stated as the flipping of two coins rather than the existence of objects, we could conclude that it is true. Furthermore, if we consider a million such coins, although there would be 2106 possibilities, nevertheless given an infinite series of flips of all million coins, it would still seem likely that each of the 2106 possibilities would have occurred at least once at some time or other. Indeed no matter how many coins we have, as long as the number is finite, it would seem that, given an infinite number of slips, each possibility would occur at least once. If we now apply the analogy so that we move from coins that can come up heads and can come up tails, to objects that can begin to exist and can cease existing, then we can see that given an infinite amount of time there may be some reason to claim that each possibility would occur at some time or other, and thus with premise (3) we would conclude, as in (4), that the one possibility of none of these objects existing would occur.

If, as the coin analogy implies, we might be able to accept premise (2), then the present interpretation of the argument from contingency may well be sound, because each premise is plausible and the argument is valid. One thing that should give us pause, however, is that the plausibility of premise (3) depends on which sense of 'possibility' is used. Which one have we used to make premise (2) plausible? To find out, let us consider another example, this time involving a roulette wheel. Given that there are an infinite number of turns of the wheel, it would seem that the ball would stop at least one time at each number at which it is physically possible for the ball to stop, no matter how large the roulette wheel is. Would it also stop at each logically possible number? Consider a roulette wheel that is fixed so that it is physically impossible for the ball to stop at the number 1. In such a case, the ball would not stop at least once at each number at which it is logically possible to stop, because there is no logical contradiction in the claim about a roulette wheel that its ball will stop at number 1, even if one also asserts that the wheel is fixed so that it is physically impossible that it stop at the number 1. Consequently, if the universe is more like a fixed roulette wheel than like one which runs randomly, then some things that are logically possible will not occur. Although it is logically possible that some day the cow will jump over the moon with no one helping it, it is surely physically impossible, so that we can conclude that it will not happen. It is physical possibility rather than logical possibility that is important for what occurs. Furthermore, because the law of the conservation of mass-energy can be used to show that certain logically possible situations, such as the situation in which nothing at all exists, are physically impossible and thus will not occur unless miraculously, we must use 'physical possibility' in (2) if we are to make it at all plausible.

We must use 'physical possibility' in premise (2) to make it plausible, but we had to use 'logical possibility' in (3) to make it plausible. We need to use different senses of possibility' in these two premises for both to be plausible. The result is that we can make them both plausible only by equivocating in our use of the word 'possibility.' But this makes the argument invalid, because any argument to be valid must use all its terms univocally, with one meaning, throughout. Therefore the argument from contingency is faced with the following dilemma: If there is no equivocation on the word 'possible,' then at least one premise is false and the argument is unsound. If there is an equivocation on 'possible,' then the argument is invalid and, consequently, unsound. From this we can conclude that the argument is unsound. We cannot justify a belief in God using the argument from contingency.


One of the most discussed arguments that has been used to justify a belief in the existence of God is the argument from design, or, as it is called, the teleological argument. Although this argument is like those we have already examined in that it is an a posteriori argument, it differs from them in an important way. Unlike the previous arguments, which are all deductive the argument from design is essentially an inductive argument. It is an attempt to construe the universe, or at least certain characteristics of the universe, as being like certain things humans have designed and created, so at we can inductively infer from this evidence of design that there is a designer or creator like the intelligent designer of human artifacts but, obviously, much more intelligent. At the core of the argument, then, lies an analogy between the universe of things we know to be designed and created by intelligent beings. The argument from design, then, is an analogical argument, and we should, therefore, briefly examine the form of an analogical argument. Let us assume that there is some object O1 and that we want to find out whether it has some property P1, but we cannot find this out in any direct way. If we compare O1 with some other objects we know to have property P1 and find that O1 is like the others in several other respects but differs from them in no important respects, then we can conclude that probably O1 has property P1. It is important, of course, that all the available evidence be considered, because there may be differences which make it improbable that O1 has property P1.

Analogical Arguments

We can state the general form of an analogical argument as follows:

  1. Objects O1, O2, O3, . . .On have properties P2, P3, P4, . . .Pn in common.
  2. Objects O2, O3, . . .On have property P1.
    Therefore, probably
  3. Object O1 has property P1.
We have said that all the available evidence must be considered if a statement such as (3) is to be justified in this way, because there are certain kinds of factors which decrease the probability of the conclusion. There are also, however, factors that raise the probability, thereby strengthening the argument. Therefore, as with any inductive argument, the requirement to use all available evidence -- called the requirement of total evidence -- is essential. To see the importance of this requirement, consider the following example: Let us assume that O1 is a car you wish to buy, that Pl is the property of having a gas consumption of at least fifteen miles per gallon, and that you cannot test the car before you buy it. You can get some idea of the gas consumption of the car by comparing it with the gas consumption of other cars. The more cars you know about that get at least fifteen miles per gallon -- that is, the greater number of cars included in O2 . . . On that have property P1 -- the more probable it will be that car O1 has property P1. Furthermore, the more properties that these other cars have in common with car O1 -- such as the number of cylinders, the kind of transmission, the make of the car, the age of the engine, and the like -- the more probable it will be that car O1 will also get at least fifteen miles per gallon. However, if you find that many cars that have the same number of cylinders, the same kind of transmission, the same age engine, and so on, do not get at least fifteen miles per gallon, then the probability that the car you are thinking of buying will get fifteen miles per gallon will decrease markedly. Furthermore if, given the same information in your premises, you are interested in eighteen miles per gallon instead of fifteen miles per gallon, then the probability that your car will get eighteen miles per gallon is less than the probability that it will get fifteen miles per gallon.

From this example we can extract four different kinds of factors which will affect the probability of the conclusion. These and other relevant factors must be weighed in arriving at any final statement about the probability or improbability of a conclusion. The following two factors will strengthen the argument, that is, increase the probability of the conclusion:

  1. The greater the number of objects included in O2 . . . On having properties P1 . . . Pn, the more probable is the conclusion.
  2. The greater the number of properties included in P2 . . . Pn that the objects O1 . . . On have in common, the more probable is the conclusion.
The following two factors decrease the probability of the conclusion:
  1. The greater the number of objects that have P2 . . . Pn but that do not have P1, the less probable is the conclusion.
  2. The stronger the claim made in the conclusion, relative to the premise, the less probable is the conclusion.
Let us return now to the argument from design. But let us also keep in mind these four factors that affect the probability or likelihood of the conclusions of analogical arguments so that we do not overlook them and thereby fail to meet the requirement of total evidence.21

Two Versions of the Argument from Design

The two most celebrated versions of the argument from design are found in Hume's Dialogues on Natural Religion and the fifth way of Aquinas. Aquinas states his version is follows:

We see that things which lack knowledge, such as natural bodies, act for an end, and this is evident from their acting always, or nearly always, in the same way, so as to obtain the best result. Hence it is plain that they achieve their end, not fortuitously, but designedly. Now whatever lacks knowledge cannot move toward an end, unless it be directed by some being endowed with knowledge and intelligence; as the arrow is directed by the archer. Therefore some intelligent being exists by whom all natural things are directed to their end; and this being we call God.22
In the Dialogues it is Cleanthes who proposes the argument in the following way:
Look around the world: Contemplate the whole and every part of it: You will find it to be nothing but one great machine, subdivided into an infinite number of lesser machines, which again admit of subdivisions, to a degree beyond what human senses and faculties can trace and explain. All these various machines, and even their most minute parts, are adjusted to each other with an accuracy, which ravishes into admiration all men, who have ever contemplated them. The curious adapting of means to ends, throughout all nature, resembles exactly, though it much exceeds, the production of human contrivance; of human design, thought, wisdom, and intelligence. Since therefore the effects resemble each other, we are led to infer, by all the rules of .analogy, that the causes also resemble, and that the Author of nature is somewhat similar to the mind of man, though possessed of much larger faculties, proportioned to the grandeur of the work, which He has executed. By this argument a posteriori, and by this argument alone, do we prove at once the existence of a Deity and His similarity to human mind and intelligence.23
What both versions have in common is the claim that in the universe and among its natural parts there is evidence of a design or purpose, and that this design or purpose requires the existence of an intelligent being who directs the universe and its parts according to his purpose. However, there are two important differences between these two versions that we should consider before we critically evaluate them. To see better what these differences are let us lay out the arguments formally. We can interpret Aquinas' version as follows:
  1. The natural objects that make up the universe (that is, the nonsentient, non-man-made objects, such as trees, rocks, mountains, planets) act to achieve some end or goal.
  2. If something acts to achieve an end, then it is directed toward that end by some intelligent being.
  3. No natural objects are intelligent beings.
  4. There exists some intelligent being that directs the natural objects to achieve some end or goal.
  5. This director is God.
Cleanthes' version can be stated as follows:
  1. The universe is like a huge man-made machine made up of many lesser machines, except that the universe is much more complex than any man-made machine.
  2. Like effects have like causes.
  3. The cause of a man-made machine is an intelligent being.
    Therefore, probably
  4. The cause of the universe is an intelligent being.
  5. This cause is God.
One difference, immediately evident, is that whereas Cleanthes' version is plainly an inductive analogical argument, Aquinas' version appears to be a straighforward deductive argument. Where is the inductive feature we claimed is essential to the argument from design? If we scrutinize the first premise of each argument we can see the reason Aquinas' version seems to lack the analogical character of Cleanthes'version. Aquinas' first premise is surely much more dubious than that of Cleanthes, because whereas Aquinas claims that natural objects act for an end, Cleanthes claims merely that they are like things that we know to act for an end -- for example, machines. What reason could there be to accept Aquinas' first premise? The obvious justification would require an analogical argument such as:
  1. The natural objects that make up the universe are like things which act to achieve some end or goal.
    Therefore, probably
  1. The natural objects that make up the universe act to achieve some end or goal.
For the argument from Aquinas, then, the analogy with things known to be designed seems to be what justified the first premise. And because this is the only dubious premise, premises (2) and (3) being acceptable, the analogy lies at the core of the argument. We can accept premise (2) because it surely seems that only a being with intelligence could set a goal to be achieved and set about achieving it by various means, Furthermore, because we have seen that by 'natural objects' we mean those non-sentient, non-man-made objects which make up the universe, we can grant that premise (3) is true by definition.

The second difference between the two versions is more important. Aquinas talks only of an intelligent being who directs natural objects to some goal, whereas Cleanthes talks about the author of nature. That is, Aquinas' version proves only that there is some very intelligent director or designer who has planned the course of the universe, but Cleanthes' version proves that an extremely intelligent being created the universe in accordance with some plan or purpose. Before we examine the argument we must decide which conclusion to use. We know that Cleanthes' conclusion is stronger than Aquinas' because it claims that there is a creator and designer, whereas Aquinas' conclusion merely claims there is a designer. Thus Aquinas' conclusion will be more probable than that of Cleanthes relative to the same set of premises. However, the purpose of the argument is to establish the existence of God, and what we would call God is not merely the designer, but also the creator of the universe. Consequently, if we merely establish that there is a designer or architect of the universe, there is some doubt whether we are justified in calling such a being God. Let us, then, use Cleanthes' version for the purpose of a critical evaluation.

We can put Cleanthes' argument into the form of analogical arguments that we have previously discussed by letting O1 = the universe, O2 . . .On = various kinds of machines, P1 = the property of having an intelligent designer and creator and P2 . . . Pn = various properties O1 has in common with O2 . . . On. If we pick for an example of a machine a watch as used by another defender of the argument, William Paley, we can point out several properties in common.24 A watch has gears which revolve in a certain orderly way on certain axes, some of which affect others so as to cause the regular ticking off of the seconds, minutes, and hours. Similarly, we can observe the moon revolving around the earth and the earth revolving on its axis, and also around the sun, in a certain orderly way so as to cause the regular rising and falling of the tides and the regular coming of day and night. The earth, moon, and sun in their various relationships to each other produce a regular temporal procession just do the gears of a watch in their various relationships. And because a watch has property P1 (that is, has an intelligent designer and creator), so also, most probably, does the earth and the rest of the universe. This, then, is the argument that we all consider. However, this is not the only analogy possible. Although we have followed Cleanthes and likened the universe to a machine, there is also a design to be found in human works of art. The formal relationships of shapes and colors which go together to produce the beautiful design of a painting are much like the shapes and colors which go together to produce the quiet beauty of a sunset reflected in a mountain pool, or the brilliant beauty of a New England fall, with the colors of leaves contrasting with the white birch trunks. If we were to use this analogy, then God would be the supreme artist rather than the greatest inventor. We shall, however, continue to use Cleanthes' machine analogy, because there seems to be no reason to think that the art analogy is any better.

In evaluating Cleanthes' argument we can do no better than to turn to his antagonist in the Dialogues, Philo, for the crucial objections. Philo's chief objections are aimed at two places: at the strength of the analogy and thus at the strength of the analogical justification of (4), and at the inference from (4) to (5) -- that is, from the claim supported by the analogy that there is a cause of the universe to the conclusion that this cause is God.

Objection to Cleanthes' Analogy: Nonintelligent Causes of Design

Philo's objection to the analogical grounds of the argument is essentially an attempt to show that there is no reason to think that the universe resembles the creation of an intelligent being any more than the causal product of nonintelligent forces. In effect, Philo is trying to show that many objects have properties P2 . . . Pn in common with the universe, but do not have property P1, that is, do not have an intelligent designer and creator. Philo is, then, applying factor (iii) in order to decrease the probability of the conclusion to a point where it is no longer probable. Philo claims that although what order and design we find in the universe might be attributed to intelligence, there are at least three other causes of order and design which have equal claim. Consider the order and design that results from vegetable reproduction, animal reproduction, and instinct.25 We can find intricate order, design, and beauty in a flower, bush, or tree, and all of these are brought about not by an intelligent being, but come from a seed in the ground which receives water and sunlight. In none of these four factors -- seed, earth, water, sunlight -- is there any hint of intelligence. Furthermore, consider a beautiful Persian cat, a peacock, exotic tropical fish, or even a particular human being. The ordering of parts of such organisms, the interrelating functioning of parts, the beauty of many of them are all the causal result of the fertilization of an egg in an act of animal reproduction. Here again there is no reason to think that intelligence was at all relevant, not even in the case of humans, where intelligence is usually used to avoid fertilization. Think also of the marvelous order and design produced by instinct. The geometric precision of bee hives, the intricate pattern of ant tunnels, the functional design of birds' nests, and beaver dams, all seem to be effects of instinctive forces rather than the studied result of some intelligent planning. What grounds are there for picking one from among four quite different causes of order and design? It is no less reasonable to claim, and therefore no less probable, that the earth and the other parts of the universe have sprouted from some seed or matured from some egg fertilized eons ago, or some residual part of the instinctive production of some animal long since extinct, than to claim that it is the planned result of some unseen being with great intelligence. Indeed, as Philo says in countering Cleanthes' analogy with one of his own,

Now if we survey the universe, so far as it falls under our knowledge, it bears a great resemblance to an animal or organized body, and seems actuated with a like principle of life and motion. A continual circulation of matter in it produces no disorder: A continual waste in every part is incessantly repaired: The closest sympathy is perceived throughout the entire system: and each part or member, in performing its proper office, operates both to its own preservation and to that of the whole. The world, therefore, I infer, is an animal; and the Deity is the soul of the world actuating it, and actuated by it.26
There are other ways that order and design can come about, one of the most usual being by purely physical forces. Millions of uniquely complex and lovely designs are found by examining snowflakes and crystals of certain salts. The flakes are the effects of temperature on water vapor and the crystals are the effects of a supersaturation of a salt solution. In neither case do we find intelligence. Order and design are all around us produced in many different ways by many different forces. This may cause us to marvel at the wonder of it all, and unable to believe that it could happen merely by chance, we sometimes are led to conclude that there must be some guiding force behind it all. But if there is such a force it might be instinct, purely mechanical force, or indeed a combination of many varied kinds of forces, each producing its own kind of order and design. It will do no good to try to claim that all these other causes of order and design are the result of intelligence or that they are evidence of some more basic originating intelligent force. Although this claim might be true, we cannot assume it, because it is what the argument is attempting to prove. Furthermore, there is no reason to think that it is true. Indeed if we consider that part of the universe that we inhabit, as we must in drawing analogies from what we know, we find that each intelligent being was brought about by some particular act of animal reproduction, but that so far at least there is no reason to think that any cases of animal reproduction are the result of intelligence. Thus on the basis of the available evidence we should conclude that probably intelligence is not the originating cause of order and design; perhaps it is merely one of the resultant causes. This conclusion is bolstered by the theory of evolution, which claims that human beings, with their intelligence, have evolved over a long period from forms of life lacking intelligence and that they have done so as a result of the interplay of such nonintelligent factors as random mutation, food shortages, and the instinct for survival. If this theory if correct, then intelligence is a very recent addition to those forces that can bring about order and design.

From the preceding discussion we can conclude, with Philo, that because intelligence is only one among many things in this world that produce order and design, there is no reason to think it is any more probable that an intelligent being produced the universe than that one of the other causes of order and design produced the universe. Consequently, although we can agree with Cleanthes that the universe is in several respects like a machine which has property P1, we have also found that it is like many things that do not have property P1, so that the probability that the universe has property P1 is quite low indeed. It is surely too low to conclude that from among all the kinds of causes of order and design we can pick out one which is probably the cause of the universe and that one is intelligence.

Objection to Inferring the Cause of the Universe Is God: Like Effects Have Like Causes

We have seen that the analogy essential to the argument from design cannot support the conclusion, statement (4) -- 'The cause of the universe is an intelligent being.' In a sense, then, it is superfluous to go on to show that even if statement (4) is granted, the move from (4) to (5) -- 'This cause is God' -- is unsound. However, not only is Philo's objection to this move interesting in its own right, but it stresses another important point relevant to supporting conclusions about unknown things by means of analogies with known things. Philo points out that if we conclude (4) on the basis of the similarity between the universe and some human artifact, such as a watch or ship or house, then we must conclude in accordance with the principle that like effects have like causes, that the causes of the artifacts and of the universe are equally similar. In other words, although the more similar the universe and human artifacts are, the more probable premise (4) is, it is also true that the more similar they are, the more similar are their causes. Thus if the similarity is sufficient to make (4) probable, then we must follow through with the analogy and conclude that probably the causes are much alike. But if this is so, and if we accept the inference from (4) to (5), then, as Philo points out, we would have to attribute some most ungodlike characteristics to God. Consider the following points made by Philo:

  1. Even if this world were perfect it must still remain uncertain, whether all the excellences of the work can justly be ascribed to the workman. If we survey a ship, what an exalted idea must we form of the ingenuity of the carpenter, who framed so complicated, useful and beautiful a machine? And what surprise must we entertain, when we find him a stupid mechanic, who imitated others, and copied an art, which, through a long succession of ages, after multiplied trials, mistakes, corrections, deliberations, and controversies, had been gradually improving? Many worlds might have been botched and bungled, throughout an eternity, ere this system was struck out: Much labour lost: Many fruitless trials made: And a slow but continued improvement carried on during infinite ages in the art of world making.27
  2. And what shadow of an argument, continued Philo, can you produce, from your hypothesis, to prove the unity of the Deity? A great number of men join in building a house or ship, in rearing a city, in framing a commonwealth: Why may not several deities combine in contriving and framing a world? This is only so much greater similarity to human affairs.28
  3. But further, Cleanthes; men are mortal, and renew their species by generation; and this is common to all living creatures. Why must this circumstance, so universal, so essential, be excluded from those numerous and limited Deities?29
  4. And why not become a perfect anthropomorphite? Why not assert the Deity or Deities to be corporeal, and to have eyes, a nose, mouth, ears, etc.?30
Philo summarizes his point by saying that a person who adopts Cleanthes' analogy might perhaps be able to assert that the universe is the product of some designer, but he can go no further on the basis of the analogy.
This world, for aught he knows, is very faulty and imperfect, compared to a superior standard; and was only the first rude essay of some infant Deity, who afterwards abandoned it, ashamed of his lame performance; it is the work only of some dependent, inferior Deity; and is the object of derision to his superiors: it is the production of old age and dotage in some superannuated Deity; and ever since his death, has run on at adventures, from the first impulse and active force which it received from him. . . . 31
In short, if the analogy with human artifacts is close enough to make it probable that an intelligent being created the universe, it is close enough to make the creator so much more like human beings than like God that we must reject the claim made in (5) that the creator of the universe as established in (4) is God. We cannot establish (5) by means of the argument from design.

We have found two objections to the design argument which are sufficient to eliminate it as an inductive justification of the belief that God exists. This is the last plausible a posteriori argument for the existence of God. The natural move at this point is to reject a posteriori proofs and claim that if the belief in the existence of God is to be justified it must be by some a priori proof, some proof that uses no premises which are justified by evidence gathered through the experiences human beings have in this world. Let us consider such a proof.


One of the simplest yet most intriguing and baffling arguments that has ever been devised is the ontological argument. From the time of St. Anselm, in the eleventh century, to the present, is has been endlessly discussed. Time and time again it has been thought to be refuted and finally laid to rest, only to reappear as troublesome as ever. There have been two classical statements of the argument, one by St. Anselm and one by Rene Descartes. We shall consider Descartes' version first because it is the simpler argument of the two and brings out more directly one of the central points of contention.


Descartes argues that whenever I choose to think of the First and Supreme Being, and as it were bring out the idea of him from the treasury of my mind, I must necessarily ascribe to him all perfections, even if I do not at the moment enumerate them all, or attend to each. This necessity clearly ensures that, when later on I observe that existence is a perfection, I am justified in concluding that the First and Supreme Being exists.32

We can lay out Descartes' argument in the following simple form:

  1. All perfections are properties of the supreme being.
  2. Existence is a perfection.
  3. The supreme being has existence, that is, exists.
Although the first premise is usually granted, the second has come under repeated severe attacks. One kind of attack on premise (2) has been to argue that if existence is a perfection, then it is a property or characteristic some things have and some things do not have; and if existence is a property of things, then the word 'existence' is a predicate, because properties of things are referred to by predicates. But the word 'existence' is not a predicate, so that existence is not a perfection. The obvious reply to this objection is that existence surely is a predicate, because it can be predicated of a subject in a sentence. However, those who use this refutation of premise (2) are not denying that 'existence' is a grammatical predicate. They put their point in several different ways, but the central claim of them all is that 'existence' is not a descriptive predicate. That is, it is not a predicate that can be used to describe things; it is not a predicate that can be used to refer to some property which things might have. If it can be shown that 'existence' is not such a predicate, then there is good reason to conclude that existence is not a property and, therefore, not a perfection.

Kant's Objection: 'Existence' Is Not a Predicate

The classical and perhaps strongest attempt to show that 'existence' is not a predicate is based on the objection made by Immanuel Kant nearly two centuries ago. This has been considered by many people to be the objection which once and for all refuted Descartes' version of the ontological argument. The crucial part of his objection centers on the concept of a real predicate, that is, according to Kant, a predicate "which determines a thing." In other words, a real predicate is one which can be used to help define what something is. It is, then, what we can call a defining predicate. Kant argues as follows:

Being is obviously not a real predicate; that is it is not a concept of something which could be added to the concept of a thing. It is merely the positing of a thing, or of certain determinations, as existing in themselves. Logically it is merely the copula of a judgment. The proposition, 'God is omnipotent,' contain two concepts, each of which has its object -- God and omnipotence. . . . If, now, we take the subject (God) with all its predicates (among which is omnipotence), and say 'God is,' or 'There is a God,' we attach no new predicate to the concept of God, but only posit the subject in itself with all its predicates, and indeed posit it as an object that stands in relation to my concept.33
It will be helpful to interpret this argument as being concerned with how one term can be used to change the meaning of another. This will give us some better way to interpret what Kant means by one concept being added to another concept. For example, we consider that the term 'bachelor' is defined by the two predicates 'unmarried' and 'male.' We could, however, "add" another predicate to the definition such as "happy,' and so change the meaning of 'bachelor.' Any predicate which can help determine the meaning of a term in this way is a defining predicate. Thus a term can be a defining predicate whether or not it is ever actually used in a definition. The only requirement is that it be possible to use it in such a manner. We can now construe Kant's argument as:
  1. If a term is a real (defining) predicate, then it can be added to the meaning of a term to change its meaning.
  2. The term 'exist' cannot be added to the meaning of a term to change its meaning.
  3. The term 'exist' is not a real predicate.
Premise (1) is surely acceptable, because if a predicate can be used to define a term, then it can be used to redefine a term and thereby change its meaning. Premise (2), however, is not so clearly true. Kant defends it by claiming that whenever we assert that something exists, although we predicate 'exist' of a term, we are saying, in effect, that the term with the meaning it has applies to something or other. Thus we do not ever change the meaning of a term when we use it to say that something exists. When we say, for example, that some happy bachelors exist, in no case are we trying to change the meaning of the phrase 'happy bachelor.' We are claiming instead that the phrase as given applies to some entities. If Kant's defense of premise (2) is sound, then it seems that he has established that 'existence' is not a real or defining predicate.

Although this is a rather persuasive argument there are at least two objections that can be raised against it. First, even if the argument is sound it is not clear how it shows that existence is not a property. The most it can show is that existence is not a defining property of anything. In other words, all it shows is that any statement which asserts that something exists is synthetic rather than analytic, but this is not enough to show that existence is not a property. Some people have argued that showing that no existence statements are analytic is sufficient to refute Descartes' version of the ontological argument. If so, then enough has been done for our purposes. This is wrong, however. Although in many passages Descartes can be interpreted as claiming that 'God exists' is analytic, his argument, either as quoted or as we have reconstructed it, does not imply that it is necessary that God exists. Consequently, the argument does not imply that 'God exists' is analytic. It is true that Descartes claims that God necessarily has all perfections, but he does not claim that it is necessary that existence is a perfection. Thus the argument is compatible with 'God exists' being logically contingent (nonanalytic). Descartes' argument, therefore, cannot be refuted merely by showing that 'exist' is not a defining or real predicate.

There is a reply to this first objection (to Kant's argument) which consists in adding some premises to Kant's argument. The premises are these:

la. If a term is a descriptive predicate, then it is a defining predicate.
By combining (la) and (1) we get, via hypothetical syllogism.
lb. If a term is a descriptive predicate, then it can be added to the meaning of a term to change its meaning.
Then, by utilizing (lb) and (2) we get,
3a. The term 'exists' is not a descriptive predicate.
We now need another premise, namely,
4. Existence is a property only if 'exists' is a descriptive predicate.
and by combining (3a) and (4), we get the conclusion Kant wants,
5. Existence is not a property.
The first formulation of Kant's objection to Descartes' argument led us to statement (3) which, we saw, was not sufficient to refute Descartes. With this amended Kantian argument we get a conclusion, (5), which, if correct, successfully undermines Descartes' ontological argument.

We already granted premise (1). Premise (la) can be seen to be plausible once we note that if a term describes some entity (and so the term is a descriptive predicate) by referring to some property of the entity, then it can be used to help define some term which refers to that entity. Of course, (lb) follows from (1) and (la), so that (lb) is likewise acceptable. Moreover, let us grant premise (2) for the sake of the argument on the grounds that verbs are not used to refer to properties of things and therefore are not real or defining predicates. They are not used in the kinds of definitions we are considering here. We are left, then, with premise (4) to examine.

The fact that the term 'exists' is conceded not to be a real defining predicate, gives us no reason to think that the adjective 'existent' cannot be used in definitions. But if the term 'existent' can be used in definitions, there is some reason to think that it is"] I a real predicate, and likewise some reason to think that it is a descriptive predicated Consider the following definitions:

Let the term 'reggad' mean 'existent dagger' and the term 'nonreggad' mean 'nonexistent dagger.'
We can use these terms to say quite meaningfully, for example, that in his disturbed state of mind Macbeth saw a nonreggad which he thought was a reggad. And, because we can use 'existent' in such definitions of new terms, we can also use it to redefine terms already in use. Hence, we have found reason to suppose that the term 'existent' is a real defining predicate, and thus some reason to suppose that 'existent' is a descriptive predicate. But if 'existent' is a descriptive predicate, then it is reasonable to believe that existence is a property; descriptive predicates refer to properties of things. We have thus cast doubt on premise (4). For if the fact that 'existent' is a descriptive predicate is a sufficient condition all by itself for existence to be a property, then the term 'exists' being a descriptive predicate is not a necessary condition for existence being a property. Hence, Kant's attack on Descartes' ontological argument fails after all.

The reasoning here may be illustrated by consideration of a baseball example. Suppose that someone says that a necessary condition of a batted ball turning out to be a home run in Veteran's Stadium in Philadelphia is that the ball carry a minimum of 500 feet at the appropriate altitude. This person thus affirms,

A batted ball is a home run in Veteran's Stadium in Philadelphia only if the ball carries at least 500 feet at an appropriate altitude.
In fact, however, it is perfectly enough for a batted ball to carry 400 feet at the appropriate altitude and be a home run in that stadium. The distance from home plate to the left field fence is less than 400 feet. Hence, hitting the ball to left field, a distance of 400 feet, at the appropriate altitude, is sufficient for its being a home run. Therefore, hitting the ball 500 feet in that stadium is not a necessary condition for hitting a home run in that stadium. It is similar in our assessment of Kant's argument. If it is reasonable to believe that 'existent' being a descriptive predicate is sufficient for existence to be a property, then it is reasonable to believe that the term 'exists' being a descriptive predicate, is not necessary for existence to be a property.

Another Objection: Existence Is Not a Perfection

We have found that the first kind of attack on Descartes' ontological argument fails. Let us consider another. The point here is that even if 'existence' is a predicate, even if existence is a property, existence is surely not a perfection. For our purposes here it will do to say that a perfection is a property an object has which goes together with certain other properties to make a being perfect. Thus we can compare two things and decide which one is the better or more nearly perfect. We would decide the issue by considering the perfections each had and each lacked. For example, someone might describe two different people in great detail but not tell us whether or not they exist. He then asks us which description more nearly approaches the ideal or perfect person. We decide on the basis of the properties he has described. Suppose that after we have decided he says that he forgot to give us one piece of information. The person we had thought less perfect is actually alive but the other is merely a fictitious character. Should we reevaluate our decision in the light of this new evidence? It would seem not. The one person more nearly attains perfection than the other whether or not he or she exists. Existence, then, is not a perfection.

There is surely some force to this argument. When we decide who is the greatest president or the ideal painter or the saintliest person, we do not need to consider whether he or she exists now or ever. We can evaluate both fictional and real people. Existence seems to be irrelevant to perfection, or to being an ideal thing of a certain type. Consequently, we should conclude that premise (2) of Descartes' version of the ontological argument is too dubious to support the conclusion.


Let us turn to St. Anselm's version which, as we shall see, is not so intimately reliant on the thesis that existence is a perfection. St. Anselm starts by saying that we understand the concept of supreme being.

And whatever is understood, exists in the understanding. And assuredly that, than which nothing greater can be conceived, cannot exist in the understanding alone. For suppose it exists in the understanding alone: then it can be conceived to exist in reality; which is greater.

Therefore, if that, than which nothing greater can be conceived, exists in the understanding alone, the very being, than which nothing greater can be conceived, is one, than which a greater can be conceived. But, obviously this is impossible. Hence, there is no doubt that there exists a being, than which nothing greater can be conceived. . . .34

Although it may not be historically accurate, we can untangle some of the complexity of Anselm's argument by replacing 'can be conceived' with 'is possible' and 'does not exist in the understanding alone' with 'exists.' We can then state the core of the argument as follows:
  1. If the greatest being possible does not exist, then it is possible that there exists a being greater than the greatest being possible.
  2. It is not possible that there exists a being greater than the greatest being possible.
  3. The greatest being possible exists.
It should be noted that this argument claims neither that existence is a perfection nor that statement (3) is a necessary truth. Consequently, it seems to be open to none of those objections that we have seen launched against Descartes' version. However, Gaunilo, a contemporary of Anselm, offered a different objection which we must consider.

Gaunilo's Objection: The Greatest Island Possible

Gaunilo asks Anselm to consider an island which is the most excellent of all islands and to consider the following argument:

And since it is more excellent not to be in the understanding alone, but to exist both in the understanding and in reality, for this reason it must exist. For if it does not exist, any land which really exists will be more excellent than it; and so the island already understood by you to be more excellent will not then be more excellent.35
Gaunilo's point here is that Anselm's argument proves too much so that it is surely unsound. We can prove by this argument that the greatest possible object of any kind, whether it be island or scholar or athlete or dinner or whatever, exists, and this is surely mistaken. Anselm's reply was merely to say that the logic of his argument applies only to the greatest being possible and to no other.

Reply to Gaunilo: A Being Greater than the Greatest Island Possible

Was Anselm's reply to Gaunilo justified? To see what both men were driving at, let us use variables in the premises instead of constants. However, there are two ways we can do this: we can let 'being' be what replaces the variable X, or we can let 'greatest possible being' be the substituend for X. The premises will differ accordingly. Argument form A will be the following:

la. If the greatest X possible does not exist, then it is possible that there exists an X greater than the greatest X possible.
2a. It is not possible there exists an X greater than the greatest X possible.
And argument form B will be the following:
1b. If X does not exist, then it is possible that there exists a being greater than X.
2b. It is not possible there exists a being greater than X.

We can see that we can substitute innumerable terms for X in (la) and (2a), so that we could prove that the greatest possible object of any kind exists. Surely something is wrong with this argument, as Gaunilo claims. However, the second argument form, B, supports Anselm's claim that his argument works only for 'the greatest being possible.' Premise (2b) is true when 'the greatest being possible' is substituted for X, but there is no reason to think it true for anything else such as 'the greatest island possible' because the statement:

It is not possible there exists a being greater than the greatest island possible.
seems to be false. Many beings, especially gods, are certainly greater beings than any piece of earth. Consequently, it would seem that Anselm had something like the second argument form in mind, and thus, as he claimed, his argument is not open to Gaunilo's objections.36

Another Objection: The Dirtiest Being Possible

Can we accept this version of Anselm's argument? It has avoided all the objections we have examined, and therefore we have found no reason to reject either premise. Furthermore, premise (2) is certainly acceptable. We can, however, find some reason for rejecting premise (1) when interpreted as (lb), a reason similar to Gaunilo's Consider argument form C:

lc. If X does not exist, then it is possible that there exists a being more Y than X.
2c. It is not possible there exists a being more Y than X.
Here we have replaced 'great' in argument form B by the variable Y. In order for (2c) to be true X would have to equal 'the most Y being possible.' But we can substitute any adjective at all for Y and thus prove not only that the most great of any kind of being exists, as Gaunilo tried to prove, but also that a being that is superlative in any way at all exists. Thus we could prove by this argument that the happiest or saddest or cleanest or dirtiest, or fattest, or thinnest, or most absurd, or most evil being possible exists. In this case the two premises would be the following:
If the most (dirty, absurd, evil, and so on) being possible does not exist, then there exists a being more (dirty, absurd, evil, and so on) than the most (dirty, absurd, evil, and so on) being possible.

It is not possible that there exists a being more (dirty, absurd, evil, and so on) than the most (dirty, absurd, evil, and so on) being possible.
We can even prove that the being whose description involves the most contradictions possible exists. But it is not possible that a being whose description involves even one contradiction exists. Thus many arguments of the form C are unsound. But because the argument form is valid and the relevant premises of the form (2c) are true, it follows that the premises of the form (lc) are false. Furthermore because (lb) is (lc) with one less variable this surely casts doubt on premise (1) when taken as an instance of (lb). If at this point Anselm were to reply to us, similarly to the way he replied to Gaunilo, that his argument applies only to the one adjective 'great,' we could reply in turn that there seems to be no difference between the adjective 'great' and many others relevant to existence. If a defender of the ontological argument thinks that there is, then it is up to him to show it. It may be possible to do so but so far no one has. Once again we have reached a point where we are unable to justify a premise. Thus although the premise may be true, we are unable to use it in an argument to justify a conclusion. We should, then, reject the ontological arguments, as we have the others, as being inadequate to justify the belief that God exists.


We have rejected the most plausible a posteriori and a priori proofs for the existence of God and thus have found no way to justify the belief that God exists. Unless we can find some other way to justify beliefs, we shall have to conclude that this belief is not justifies. All the arguments we have examined have tried to justify the belief by giving reasons for thinking that the belief is true. However, such pragmatists as William James have tried to develop a different kind of reason for holding a belief. Some beliefs that we are unable to prove to be either true or false play such an important role in our lives that, according to James, we are justified in believing them under certain conditions. This "pragmatic" justification of certain beliefs, then, does not depend upon any evidence or reason in favor of the truth of what is believed. James, in his article "The Will to Believe," has applied this kind of justification to the belief that God exists. Let us examine what he says:

The thesis I defend is, briefly stated, thus: Our passional nature not only lawfully may, but must, decide an option between propositions, whenever it is a genuine option that cannot by its nature be decided on intellectual grounds; for to say, under such circumstances, "Do not decide, but leave the question open," is itself a passional decision -- just like deciding yes or no -- and is attended with the same risk of losing the truth.31
The crucial phrase here is "genuine option," and James defines it to mean a choice between alternative hypotheses that is living, momentous, and forced. By a living option he means a choice between hypotheses at least one of which is of some interest to the person faced with the choice. Many options are not living, but are what James calls dead. The option of whether or not to believe that I have an odd number of hairs on my head is certainly of no interest to almost everyone.

We shall say that a momentous option is one where to decide for or against one of the hypotheses in the option is to decide for or against something which is very important. The option offered an astronaut to accept or reject the assignment to be the first person to land on the moon is a momentous option. The last characteristic necessary for a genuine option is that the opinion be forced. A forced option is one in which there is no way to avoid a decision. A person held up at gunpoint, with no chance of escape, and given the choice, "Your money right now or your life," is faced with a forced option. He cannot avoid a decision by escaping, or by refusing to respond to the robber, because by refusing he would fail to hand over his money and thereby, in effect, agree to lose his life. However, the option to watch television or go to a movie is not forced because one can do neither -- for example, by reading a book.38

The Religious Option and the Right to Believe

Having defined James' terms we can now lay out his argument as follows:

  1. If someone is faced with an option which is genuine and cannot be decided by rational inquiry, then he is justified in deciding it according to his desires.
  2. If the religious option is a living option for someone, then it is a genuine option for him.
  3. The religious option cannot be decided by rational inquiry.
  4. If the religious option is a living option for someone, then he is justified in deciding it according to his desires.
James is arguing, then, that if someone has the will to believe, if he wants to believe then he has the right to believe. Of course, if believing that God exists or that he does not exist is of no interest to someone, then James' argument does not apply to him. It applies to the person who wants to believe, the person for whom the option is live, but who withholds believing because he has no reason to think that the belief is true. Notice, incidentally, that not only the would-be believer but also the would-be atheist can justify his belief. Thus someone who wants to believe that God does not exist but has refrained because he cannot provide reasons for such a belief will also find James' argument helpful.

Some people have complained that James' argument provides us with "an unrestricted license for wishful thinking," but if we look closely at the argument we shall see that this is not so. James' argument applies only to genuine options which cannot be decided by rational inquiry. This eliminates the great majority of our options which can be decided by a rational investigation of the relevant facts. James' argument applies to a quite limited group of options. The question with which we are concerned is whether it applies to what James calls the religious option. For James, when we are faced with the religious option, the hypothesis in question is not 'God exists,' but rather something more complicated. James' religious hypothesis has two parts, the first of which I shall rephrase as 'God exists,' and the second as 'We are better off even now and surely later if we believe that God exists.' For James, then, the religious hypothesis is a conjunction of two hypotheses and the religious option is the decision of whether or not to believe the religious hypothesis.39

Let us consider the premises. The first seems acceptable because if someone wants to make an important decision, there is no way he can avoid making it, and there is absolutely no way to bring any evidence or reasons to bear on the decision, then surely he has the right to decide the way he wants. There is no argument that can be used to condemn such a decision as irrational. He cannot avoid the choice, because it is forced; and he cannot just shrug it off because it is important. In such a case he is justified in doing as he wants. There is nothing relevant to the decision which overrides his desires.

The problem for the second premise is to decide whether or not James' religious option is momentous and forced. If it is both, then the premise is true. James says that

we see, first, that religion offers itself as a momentous option. We are supposed to gain, even now, by our belief, and to lose by our non-belief, a certain vital good. Secondly, religion is a forced option so far as that goes. We cannot escape the issue by remaining skeptical and waiting for more light, because, although we do avoid error in that way if religion be untrue, we lose the good, if it be true, just as certainly as if we positively chose to disbelieve.40
We can agree with James that his religious option is momentous, because to decide to believe the hypothesis is to decide in favor of extremely important benefits right now and also in the eternity of afterlife. However, it is not clear why James thinks that his option is forced. He seems to think that if we decide either to disbelieve or to refrain from believing his religious hypothesis, then we in effect have decided against attaining certain present benefits. But this is not so. We can reject his religious hypothesis, which is a conjunction, merely by rejecting just one of the conjuncts. Thus if we reject the second conjunct, that believing brings us benefits, but believe that God exists, then we have not rejected the benefits, because receiving them requires only that we believe that God exists. Similarly, we can refrain from believing the religious hypothesis without any risk of loss if we only refrain from believing the second conjunct. Consequently, the religious hypothesis offered by James does not result in a forced option, and thus the second premise of James' argument is false.

However, we may be able to devise another religious hypothesis which will result in a forced as well as a momentous option. The simpler hypothesis that God exists will provide the forced option of whether to believe that God exists or not to believe that God exists. If I refrain from deciding, then, of course, I have in effect decided not to believe that God exists. This, of course, is different from deciding to believe that God does not exist. The option, however, is not momentous, as we have defined it. I have not decided for or against any present benefits if I either believe or refrain from believing that God exists-especially if I believe, for example, that if there were a god, he would reward me not for my belief in him, but for how I treat my fellow human beings. Thus I may decide to treat others with love and respect and so decide in favor of the benefits. I may be wrong about what would bring benefits, but I face that risk no matter what I decide. The point, nevertheless, is that in deciding only about God's existence, I have not decided for or against the benefits. The following hypothesis, however, which I shall call H, avoids this problem:

H. God exists and only those who believe the teachings of God (which include H) will receive certain important benefits now and also later.
In the case of H we must believe both parts of the conjunction in order to receive the benefits, so that if we either reject or refrain from believing either part of the conjunction we have in effect decided against the benefits. Thus an option concerning H is forced and is certainly momentous. Let us then accept the second premise of James' argument once we interpret the religious hypothesis as H.

We are left with the task of evaluating the third premise. We have found no sound arguments for God's existence, whether a priori or a posteriori. It may be thought that this is sufficient to justify premise (3), but there are two other ways that it might still be refuted. First, throughout the preceding discussion we have assumed that it is either true or false that God exists, and although this seems to be a reasonable assumption, it has come under vigorous attack. It has been claimed that no religious utterances, including 'God exists,' are assertions; they are all utterances which are neither true nor false. According to this claim, religious utterances do not function to make assertions about things, but have a quite different linguistic function. Consequently, it is wrong to conclude that it is either true or false that God exists and also wrong to talk of a religious option involving the hypothesis that God exists. To talk this way is to be mistaken about language and to be misled into pseudoproblems involving pseudo-hypotheses.41

The second attack on premise (3) is quite different. It grants that it is either true or false that God exists and that there is no evidence in favor of the hypothesis that God exists. It states, however, that there surely is evidence against the hypothesis, evidence which should lead us to conclude that God does not exist. Let us consider each of these quite different attacks separately.

First Objection: Religious Utterances Are Not Assertions

We know of many uses of language which do not involve assertions. When we ask a question or give a command or tell a joke or recite a line of poetry or do numerous other things with language, we are not asserting something true or false. If I say, "Shut the door!" or, "Please pass the salt," it would be inappropriate to reply, "That's true," or "That's false." Similarly, if I say, "Oh what a wonderful meal!" or, "Let's go team!" I am expressing my feelings, my attitudes about certain things. What I utter is neither true nor false. It has been claimed that religious utterances are not assertions but rather function to express, for example, our feelings of awe and wonder about the strange and mysterious aspects of the world around and even within us. This characterization of religious utterances may be correct, but is there any reason to accept it? The best-known attempt to substantiate this view is that made by Anthony Flew, who begins his discussion with a parable, which he adapts from an article by John Wisdom, about a most peculiar gardener. He says,

Once upon a time two explorers came upon a clearing in the jungle. In the clearing were growing many flowers and many weeds. One explorer says, "Some gardener must tend this plot." The other disagrees, "There is no gardener." So they pitch their tent and set a watch. No gardener is ever seen. "But perhaps he is an invisible gardener." So they set up a barbed-wire fence. They electrify it. They patrol with bloodhounds. (For they remember how H. G. Wells' The Invisible Man could be both smelt and touched though he could not be seen.) But no shrieks ever suggest that some intruder has received a shock. No movement of the wire ever betrays an invisible climber. The bloodhounds never give cry. Yet still the Believer is not convinced. "But there is a gardener, invisible, intangible, insensitive to electric shocks, a gardener who comes secretly to look after the garden ^which he loves." At last the Skeptic despairs, "But what remains of your original assertion? Just how does what you call an invisible, intangible, eternally elusive gardener differ from an imaginary gardener or from no gardener at all?"42
Flew's claim is that just as the utterance of the person who believes that there is a gardener has at the end of the parable become compatible with every possible state of affairs, so can the same be said for religious utterances. He concludes from this that a religious utterance is not an assertion.
For if the utterance is indeed an assertion, it will necessarily be equivalent to a denial of the negation of that assertion. And anything which would count against the assertion, or which would induce the speaker to withdraw it and to admit that it had been mistaken, must be part of (or the whole of) the meaning of the negation of that assertion. And to know the meaning of the negation of an assertion is, as near as makes no matter, to know the meaning of that assertion. And if there is nothing which a putative assertion denies then there is nothing which it asserts either: and so it is not really an assertion.43
If Flew is right here, then it is mistaken to say that 'God exists' is either true or false. Thus this utterance does not express any beliefs (either true or false) about certain facts. Rather it expresses feelings or attitudes we have toward the world, so that if Flew is right then James is wrong in thinking that we have an option involving a belief that God exists.

Reply to Objection: Rests on Dubious Theory of Meaning

The core of Flew's argument can be put as follows:

  1. If nothing counts against an utterance, then its denial has no meaning.
  2. If the denial of an utterance has no meaning, then there is nothing the utterance denies.
  3. If there is nothing an utterance denies, then there is nothing it asserts.
  4. If there is nothing an utterance asserts, then it is not an assertion, that is, it is neither true nor false.
  5. Nothing counts against 'God exists.'
  6. 'God exists' is not an assertion.
Premises (2), (3), and (4) may be granted, but neither (1) nor (5) are immune from attack. One attack on premise (5) is the same as the second objection to James' third premise, that is, there is some evidence against 'God exists.' We shall examine this objection later in this chapter. The other attack stems from the claim that whether or not any experiences that people have in this world are relevant to 'God exists,' there is at least one kind of experience relevant to that utterance. This is the experience involved in what Hick calls "eschatological verification," or verification after bodily death.44 The utterance 'God exists' could certainly be verified by certain experiences which some people would have if there is a life after death. Similarly, whether or not any experience in this world would falsify or count against 'God exists,' surely certain experiences after death, such as the experience of an all-powerful malicious demon, would provide an eschatological falsification of 'God exists.' Thus something counts against 'God exists.' Flew could avoid this objection, however, by revising (5) to refer only to evidence discoverable in this world, that is, empirical evidence. Premise (5) then would state that nothing empirical counts against 'God exists,' that is, 'God exists' is not empirically falsifiable. However, in order to save premise (5) in this way we must rewrite (1) as:
la. If no empirical evidence counts against an utterance, then its denial has no meaning.
But if we realize that evidence against an utterance is evidence for its denial, and that the denial of an utterance is meaningful just in case the utterance is also, we can rephrase (la) as:
1b. If no empirical evidence counts for an utterance, then the utterance has no meaning.
When we look at premise (1) as transformed into (1b) it becomes clear what lies behind this argument -- the verifiability criterion of meaning. Premise (1b), which, in effect, asserts that if an utterance is meaningful then it is empirically verifiable, is really a statement of the verifiability criterion which, as we have seen in Chapter Four, is highly dubious.45 Premise (1), then, is highly dubious when amended to avoid an objection to premise (5). Consequently, because this and other attempts to establish that religious utterances are not assertions have all relied upon the dubious verifiability criterion of meaning, we can reject the first attack on James' third premise. There is no reason to doubt that 'God exists' is an assertion.

Second Objection: There Is Evidence Against the Religious Hypothesis

But can we also reject the second attack on premise (3)? Can we accept what both James and Flew accept, namely, that no empirical evidence is relevant to the utterance 'God exists'? If we find this acceptable, then although it will not save Flew's argument, it will allow us to accept the third premise of James' argument and, thereby, James' argument. From our previous discussion we have found good reason to agree that there is no supporting evidence relevant to the utterance 'God exists,' but we have not considered whether there might be some evidence which counts against the utterance. We can, I think, pass over many facts that people have claimed are evidentially relevant to the existence of God, but there are other facts that are not so easily avoided. According to many people, the existence in this world of much evil cannot be ignored except by someone so irrational in his beliefs about God that he would not be willing to consider even the possibility that something counts as evidence against the existence of God. We must, therefore, consider the problem of evil.


The problem of evil is one of the most troublesome problems that faces anyone who believes that there exists an all-good, all-knowing, and all-powerful God who created this world we live in. We can begin to see this problem in the following way: If you were all-good, all-knowing, and all-powerful, and you were going to create a universe in which there were sentient beings -- beings who are happy and sad; enjoy pleasure; feel pain; express love, anger, pity, hatred -- what kind of world would you create? Being all-powerful, you would have the ability to create any world that it is logically possible for you to create, and being all-knowing you would know how to create any of these logically possible worlds. Which one would you choose? Obviously you would choose the best of all the possible worlds because you would be all-good and would want to do what is best in everything you do. You would, then, create the best of all the possible worlds, that is, that world containing the least amount of evil possible. And because one of the most obvious kinds of evil is suffering, hardship, and pain, you would create a world in which the sentient beings suffered the least. Try to imagine what such a world would be like. Would it be like the one which actually does exist, this world we live in? Would you create a world such as this one if you had the power and knowhow to create any logically possible world? If your answer is "no," as it seems it must be, then you should begin to understand why the evil of suffering and pain in this world is such a problem for anyone who thinks God created this world. This does not seem to be the kind of world God would create, and certainly not the kind of world he would sustain. Given this world, then, it seems we should conclude that it is improbable that it was created or sustained by anything we would call God. Thus, given this particular world, it seems we should conclude that it is improbable that God -- who if he exists, created this world -- exists. Consequently, the belief that God does not exist, rather than the belief that he exists, would seem to be justified by the evidence we find in this world.

Objection: People Are Responsible for Evil

The problem of evil is not merely a problem for someone who wishes to justify belief in God by, for example, the argument from design. It is a problem for anyone who wishes to claim that his belief in God is not unreasonable, not contrary to what ought to be believed on the basis of the available evidence. Is there any way to solve or avoid this problem? Can we in some way justify the ways of God to human beings, given the way things are in this world? Such a task is what has been called theodicy, which is the attempt to justify the claim that in spite of the evil we find here, this is the best of all possible worlds. In a sense the problem is to find a way to absolve God of the moral responsibility for suffering. One attempt to do this places the responsibility, and thereby the blame, for suffering on human beings rather than on God. On this view God created human beings in his own image and because of this people have free will. And because people have free will they and not God are morally responsible for all the suffering they cause. Surely the ways of humans to humans can be quite horrible as the road from cannibalism, to the Inquisition, to Nazi concentration camps, and to mass bombing of civilians testifies. Men often seem more adept at devising and using the instruments of torture than the means to charity.

Reply: Moral versus Natural Evil

People are surely responsible for much of the suffering inflicted on other people, but nevertheless, there is much for which they do not seem to be responsible. To see this let us differentiate what has been called moral evil from natural evil. Moral evil consists of all the evil in the world which is the causal result of those morally responsible agents who exist as part of the world. Natural evil includes all the other evil that there may be. Thus although the massive suffering at Auschwitz is surely a moral evil, the also immense suffering resulting from such natural disasters as earthquakes, floods droughts, hurricanes, and the like, are not the causal result of any moral agent in the world. They are natural evils, evils for which no human being is responsible. Let us, then, grant for the purposes of this discussion that much evil is moral evil and that God is not responsible for this. But this only means that the problem of evil can be redefined as the problem of natural evil, a problem no easier to solve.

Objection: Satan as One Cause of Natural Evil

It may be objected here that although people are not morally responsible for natural evils because they do not cause them, nevertheless such evils do occur as tests, warnings, and punishment to human beings for the evils they do cause. Consequently, so the objection goes, although God is indeed the cause of natural evils, he is justified in causing them because of the way people act toward other people and toward God. A refinement of this objection is to include Satan as a cause of some natural evil, so that only certain natural evils are caused by God and the rest by Satan. This objection is important because it helps us delimit the problem we are discussing. We are not interested in whether the existence of the evil we find in this world is compatible with (that is, logically consistent with) the existence of God, but what effect it has on the likelihood that God exists. We can admit that it is logically possible that God created this world because it is logically possible that this world, with all its evils, is the best of all possible worlds.46 But there are many improbable logical possibilities and the claim that God created this world seems at this point to be one of them. Thus, although what the preceding objection claims may be true, the question is whether there is any reason to think that it is true. Natural evils indiscriminately afflict the guilty and innocent alike. Certainly the suffering of innocent babies as the result of an earthquake cannot be justified, not even as a warning to people to mend their ways. If such suffering is said to be Satan's work we can ask why Satan is allowed to continue his work. It cannot be that God is powerless to stop Satan. This Manichaean doctrine that there are two gigantic forces, one good and one evil, neither of which can overcome the other, is ruled out because God is omnipotent, and it certainly is logically possible that Satan be destroyed or at least shackled. It must be that God allows Satan his ways. But this would seem to be like someone who has the power to stop another, allowing the second one to inflict suffering at will. This does not seem to be the kind of thing that an all-good being would allow.

At this point it might be replied that Satan, like humans, has free will and that God, having given this free will, does not want to interfere, just as he allows so many moral evils because he does not want to interfere with human beings' free will. Let us grant that God does not want to interfere with the free exercise of any being's will, perhaps because this is God's unique and most precious gift to those who have it. Such an attitude seems clearly admirable; most of us want to be allowed the free exercise of our wills, and many of us think that this right belongs to all people. Nevertheless there are many situations in which we think that the only morally right thing to do is to limit someone's freedom so that he cannot do anything he wants. There are many cases in which we ought to confine someone to a mental hospital or in a prison to keep him from harming others. If, as it surely seems, there are clear cases where the only right thing is to restrict someone's free will, then surely, if Satan is the cause of natural evils, the only right thing to do is restrict Satan. Thus an all-good being would restrict Satan's actions if he could. And clearly God could, if he existed.

Reply: Natural Evil Explainable by Natural Causes

It seems that postulating Satan as the cause of certain natural evils will not help save the hypothesis that God exists. There is another reason why this is so. Satan as the unobservable cause of certain observable events would play the same role as such theoretical entities as electrons, protons, and neutrons in scientific theories. Such theoretical entities are postulated to explain what is observed. We have seen that such postulations are justified only if some kind of theoretical entity is necessary to explain the events. Thus we have seen that the postulation of demons by witch doctors as the causes of certain illnesses, and of God as the cause of mystical experiences cannot be justified in this way.47 Is the case any different with Satan as the cause of observable evils? It seems not. We have every reason to think that all natural evils have perfectly natural causes. It is, therefore, unreasonable to postulate some nonnatural cause to explain their occurrences. Again, there may be such a cause, but we cannot justify it in this way. We cannot even justify postulating the existence of Satan to save the hypothesis that God exists. We might provide such an indirect justification if there were some reason to think that God is necessary as a theoretical explanatory entity, but with the failure of the ultimate explanation argument there is no reason to think such a postulation necessary. We cannot justify the postulation of one unnecessary explanatory entity for the purpose of saving a second unnecessary explanatory entity.

Objection: All Evils Are Necessary

There is another traditional attempt to avoid the problem of evil that we should consider. This position attempts to reconcile the evil we find in this world with the claim that this is the best of all possible worlds by claiming that the evils we find in this world are all necessary or unavoidable evils, so that any other would have more evils. The claim is often based on the view that the best world for a being such as a person is an orderly world in which he can predict the course of events with a degree of accuracy sufficient to guide his life safely and prosperously. Such a world must proceed in a lawlike way, and according to the present claim, this requires a world which proceeds in accordance with causal laws. In any such universe some degree of suffering and hardship is bound to result when people are faced with natural forces much too powerful for them. The claim, in brief, is that this is the best of all possible worlds, for all its evils are necessary. This world has the minimum amount of natural evil consistent with a world which proceeds in accordance with laws. As with the previous objection we can admit that it is possible that this claim is true. But we can also ask, as did Philo, whether this claim or its denial is more probable based on the evidence we can gather from this world. That is, if we could find some examples of evil in this world which surely seem to be avoidable and thus unnecessary, then the claim would seem to be improbable.

Reply: Examples of Unnecessary Evils

Let us once again turn to Philo, who lists several examples of what he thinks are avoidable evil. Philo is willing to grant that pain can serve a valuable function in warning sentient beings of bodily ills and that it is better for people that the course of nature proceed in an orderly fashion. But he finds no reason to think that pain is necessary for the purpose of warning sentient beings, or that causal laws are necessary for the course of nature being orderly. He says,

The first circumstance which introduces evil, is that contrivance or economy of the animal creation, by which pains, as well as pleasures, are employed to excite all creatures to action, and make them vigilant in the great work of self-preservation. Now pleasure alone, in its various degrees, seems to human understanding sufficient for this purpose. All animals might be constantly in a state of enjoyment; but when urged by any of the necessities of nature, such as thirst, hunger, weariness; instead of pain, they might feel a diminution of pleasure, by which they might be prompted to seek that object, which is necessary to their subsistence. Men pursue pleasure as eagerly as they avoid pain; at least, they might have been so constituted. It seems, therefore, plainly possible to carry on the business of life without any pain. Why then is any animal ever rendered susceptible of such a sensation?48
There may be some who disagree with Philo, some who think that some degree of pain is a much better way to implement learning than a mere diminution of pleasure. Yet it seems most unreasonable to believe that any animals need to be as susceptible to very intense pain as are humans. A world like this one in all respects except that animals have a much lower susceptibility to pain would be a better world, and one that seems quite possible. Thus pain, or at least certain intensities of pain, is an unnecessary, or avoidable, evil.

Concerning the necessity of causal laws in the best of all possible worlds, and thus in an orderly world, Philo claims,

But a capacity of pain would not alone produce pain, were it not for the second circumstance, viz. the conducting of the world by general laws; and this seems nowise necessary to a very perfect Being. It is true; if everything were conducted by particular volitions, the course of nature would be perpetually broken, and no man could employ his reason in the conduct of life. But might not other particular volitions remedy this inconvenience? In short, might not the Deity exterminate all ill, wherever it were to be found; and produce all good, without any preparation or long progress of causes and effects?49
Philo's point is that an omniscient and omnipotent being could control the course of events by particular acts of his will in as orderly a fashion as if all events were parts of continuous causal chains subject to causal laws. Consequently, causal laws are not necessary for the kind of orderly universe that is most helpful to human beings. Therefore it seems clear that such a being could, by an orderly procession of acts, avoid and eradicate much evil found in the world.

Furthermore, even in a universe in which the course of events is governed by causal laws, there are so many factors causally relevant to most events that insofar as humans can tell, the events are mere coincidences of accidents. As Philo says,

A Being, therefore, who knows the secret springs of the universe, might easily, by particular volitions, turn all these accidents to the good of mankind, and render the whole world happy, without discovering himself in any operation. A fleet, whose purposes were salutary to society, might always meet with a fair wind: Good princes enjoy sound health and long life: Persons born to power and authority, be framed with good tempers and virtuous dispositions. A few such events as these, regularly and wisely conducted, would change the face of the world; and yet would no more seem to disturb the course of nature or confound human conduct, than the present economy of things, where the causes are secret, and variable, and compounded.50
Even if most events occurred as parts of continuous causal chains, even if God only acted occasionally, he could do it in such a way that it would be unknown to humans. They would find no break in the causal order; what would appear to them to be coincidence and accident could in many cases be the work of God, who could quite easily, by indiscernible coincidence-miracles, help humans more often than they are now helped by coincidences. Once again certain features of the universe, unbroken causal chains that often result in pain and other evils, are not necessary in the best of all possible worlds.

Perhaps the most decisive example used by Philo concerns what he calls the "inaccurate workmanship of all the springs and principles of the great machine of nature."51 He is willing to admit that certain parts of this universe may indeed be necessary for human beings' welfare, but certain of the effects of these parts which cause suffering are by no means necessary.

Thus the winds are requisite to convey the vapours along the surface of the globe, and to assist men in navigation: But how oft, rising up to tempests and hurricanes, do they become pernicious? Rains are necessary to nourish all the plants and animals of the earth: But how often are they defective? How often excessive? Heat is requisite to all life and vegetation, but is not always found in due proportion. On the mixture and secretion of the humours and juices of the body depend the health and prosperity of the animal: But the parts perform not regularly their proper function.52
In short, although wind currents, rain, a certain amount of heat, and such bodily fluids as blood may be necessary for human life, it seems quite unnecessary that there be hurricanes, tornadoes, floods, droughts, extreme cold or heat, or blood defects such as leukemia.

At this stage of the discussion we seem warranted in concluding that the existence of what surely seems to be unnecessary evil in this world provides inductive grounds for the belief that God does not exist, because it is probable that if he once existed he would have created a different world and that if he now exists he would control the course of nature so as to avoid many pernicious events that occur.

Objection: Evidence Available to Human Beings Is Insufficient

But although such a conclusion seems warranted, there is one way it still might be avoided. There are many who would reject the claim that humans can gather evidence from what they know that will affect the probability or improbability of the existence of God. Consider the following analogy. Suppose that a young child is brought up in a primitive society in which the highest perfection is to be a great hunter with immense physical prowess. Suppose further that he is taken to a university where there is an acknowledged great mathematician. The child comes into contact with some of the effects of the mathematician's work. He sees strange white markings left all over a blackboard. He looks at pieces of paper with equally strange markings on them. Occasionally he hears people say how great this person is, but never once do they mention hunting. He also hears others say that they cannot figure out what this mathematician thinks he is doing, and still others talk about his lack of physical exercise and the fact that he continually sits at a desk. On the basis of these bits of information it would be quite natural for the child to think that this person was perhaps quite strange, but certainly not a great person. But we would not want to say that the child had an inductive justification for the claim that the cause of these effects he had seen was not a remarkable being. His information was so paltry that it was insufficient to justify any belief about the greatness of the person. Although the analogy is not perfect, it has been claimed that the information that humans have about the ways of God is like the information that the child has about the mathematician, except that it is more paltry. How then could we think that the information we have obtained in our limited way is at all close to being sufficient to justify any belief, positive or negative, about the greatness of the cause of the universe?

If we accept this analogy between our evidence relevant to God and the boy's evidence relevant to the mathematician, then instead of concluding that it is improbable that God exists we should conclude that no argument based on the evidence available to human beings is capable of affecting the justification of the statement that God exists or that God does not exist. We should also conclude that James is correct in his claim that we are justified in believing the religious hypothesis even when there is no evidence to support it. Where there is no evidence against one hypothesis of a genuine option we are justified in believing it. Thus if we can accept the analogy then, even in the face of the seemingly contrary evidence provided by the natural evil present in this world, there would be nothing irrational about believing that God exists.

Reply: Believe in Accordance with the Total Evidence Available

There is, however, an important difference between our situation relevant to God and the relevance of the analogy to our problem. When someone is attempting to justify a belief by means of a body of evidence, he can be said to have justified the belief only if he has considered the total amount of evidence available to him. The native boy clearly could have found more evidence relevant to the greatness of the mathematician, evidence which surely could have led him to revise his belief that there was nothing great about the person. We, however, at this stage of our discussion have good reason to think we have examined, at least to some extent, practically all the available evidence, so that we, unlike the boy, can be said to meet the requirement of total evidence. Where someone meets that requirement, then, no matter how paltry his evidence is, if it tips the scale, no matter how little, in favor of one hypothesis, then the rational course is to believe in accordance with the evidence.


Thus, although the evidence provided by the existence of evil in this world may be quite paltry relative to evidence unavailable to us, it is sufficient, nevertheless, to tip the scale of total available evidence in favor of the hypothesis that God does not exist. Although God may exist, as evidence unavailable to human beings might indeed show, the conclusion that we as rational beings should draw, based on the evidence discussed in this chapter, is that God does not exist, and, because he can neither be created nor destroyed, he never did and never will exist.


1 For recent discussions of this problem see G. Mavrodes, "Some Puzzles Concerning omnipotence," The Philosophical Review (1963), pp. 221-23; and H. C. Frankfurt, 'The Logic of Omnipotence," The Philosophical Review (1964), pp. 262-63.

2 For an argument for the incompatibility of free will and foreknowledge see N. Pike, "Divine Omniscience and Voluntary Action," The Philosophical Review (1965), pp. 27-46.

3 See Chapter 3, pass.

4 For two opposing views on this point, see C. Ginet, "Can the Will Be Caused?" The Philosophical Review (1962), pp. 49-55; and K. Lehrer, "Decisions and Causes," The Philosophical Review (1963), pp. 224-27.

5 W. James, The Varieties of Religious Experience (New York: Collier Books, 1961), p. 69.

6 Ibid., p. 300.

7 Ibid.

8 Ibid.

9 Ibid.

10 See pp. 186-188.

11 R. F.Holland, "The Miraculous," American Philosophical Quarterly (1965), pp. 43-51.

12 Hume, An Enquiry Concerning Human Understanding, (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1955), edited by L. A. Selby-Bigge, pp. 114-15.

13 Ibid, p. 116.

14 For the distinction between a priori and a posteriori, see pp. 24-26.

15 For Aquinas' statement of the first-cause argument, see St. Thomas Aquinas, Basic Writings, edited by A. C. Pegis (New York: Random House, 1945), Vol. I, p. 22.

16 See F.C.Copleston, Aquinas (Baltimore: Penguin Books, 1957), pp. 117-18.

17 F. C. Copleston, from a debate on the Third Program of the British Broadcasting Corp., 1948.

18 Ibid.

19 For Aquinas' statement of the argument from contingency, see Aquinas, Basic Writings, op. cit., pp. 22-23.

20 Copleston, Aquinas, p. 120.

21 See I. Copi, Introduction to Logic (New York: Macmillan, 1965), Chapter 11, for a more detailed examination of analogical arguments.

22 Aquinas, p. 23.

23 Hume, Dialogues Concerning Natural Religion (Indianapolis: Bobbs-Merrill, 1947), p. 143.

24 See W. Paley, Evidences of the Existence and Attributes of the Deity.

25 See Hume, Dialogues Concerning Natural Religion, pp. 178-80.

26 Ibid., pp. 170-71.

27 Ibid., p. 167.

28 Ibid.

29 Ibid., p. 168.

30 Ibid.

31 Ibid., p. 169.

32 Descartes, Philosophical Writings, edited by E. Anscombe and P. T. Geach (Edinburgh: T. Nelson, 1959), pp. 104-105.

33 Kant, Critique of Pure Reason, translated by N. K. Smith (London: Macmillan, 1958) pp. 504-505.

34 St. Anselm, Basic Writings (La Salle, 111.: Open Court, 1962), p. 8.

35 Ibid., p. 151.

36 Mr. Lehrer should be given credit for this way of showing how St. Anselm can avoid Gaunilo's objection.

37 W. James, Essays in Pragmatism (New York: Hafner, I960), p. 95.

38 Ibid., pp. 88-90.

39 See ibid., p. 105, for James' way of stating the religious hypothesis.

40 Ibid., pp. 105-106.

41 See A. J. Ayer, Language, Truth and Logic (New York: Dover Publications, Inc., 1952), pp. 144-20 for this view of religious language.

42 A. Flew, "Theology and Falsification," in A. Flew and A. Maclntyre, eds., New Essays in Philosophical Theology (London: SCM Press, 1958), p. 96. Wisdom's parable comes from his article "Gods" in A. Flew, ed., Logic and Language, first series (Oxford: Blackwell, 1963), pp. 187-206.

43 Flew, 'Theology and Falsification," p. 98.

44 See J. Hick, "Theology and Verification," in J. Hick, ed., The Existence of God (New York: Macmillan, 1964), pp. 252-74.

45 The problems confronting the verifiability criterion are discussed in some detail on pp. 179-181.

46 For a defense of the consistency of the existence of both God and evil, see A. Plantinga, "The Free Will Defense," in M. Black, ed., Philosophy in American (London: Allen & Unwin, 1965), pp. 204-20.

47 See pp. 186-188 for a discussion of demons as theoretical entities.

48 Hume, Dialogues Concerning Natural Religion, pp. 205-206.

49 Ibid., p. 206.

50 Ibid., pp. 206-207.

51 Ibid., p. 209.

52 Ibid., p. 210.


1. According to the characterization of God in the text, which of the following would God be able to do? Explain.

Make hot ice.
Destroy himself.
Cause a triangle to have four angles.
Make 2 plus 2 equal 5.
Inflict suffering sadistically.

2. Evaluate the following objection to the claim that God is omnipotent.

It is possible that at time t1 someone, namely me, lifts the stone I lift by myself at t1. But it is not possible that at t1 God lifts the stone I lift by myself at t1. Therefore, I can do something God cannot do and he is not omnipotent.

3. In the Gospels it is stated that Christ told Peter, "This night, before the cock crow, thou shalt deny me thrice," and that this happened in spite of Peter's protests that it would not happen. This seems to be an example of divine omniscience. Explain whether you think Peter could have had free will given Christ's foreknowledge of what he would do.

4. Discuss the following argument:

Mystical experiences are ineffable, therefore they cannot be accurately described. Thus, any report of them must be misleading and hence unable to provide evidence for any claim. It follows that belief in God cannot be justified by appealing to mystical experiences.

5. Is there any possible situation in which you think a scientist should admit supernatural causes? If so, describe such a situation and justify your conclusion. If not, explain why not.

6. Do you think that there is any historical evidence -- scriptural or otherwise -- that supports, at least to some degree, the claim that God has revealed himself to people? Justify your answer.

7. Show which premises in the first-cause argument and in the argument from contingency are a posteriori and which are a priori. Are the conclusions a posteriori or a priori? If they are a posteriori, explain what empirical evidence is relevant to them. If they are a priori explain how an a priori, and thus necessary, statement can be derived from premises some of which are a posteriori, and thus contingent.

8. The central question at issue in the third version of the first-cause argument is whether it is senseless to ask for an explanation of why there is something rather than nothing. One reason to think that it is a legitimate question is that, because everything in the universe is contingent so also is the universe. Thus the existence of the universe, just like the existence of anything else, must be explained. Bertrand Russell's answer to this is that the error in this reasoning is the fallacy illustrated by the argument, 'Every man has a mother; therefore the human race has a mother.' Evaluate these two conflicting positions.

9. State some examples of things that are logically possible but physically impossible. Is anything logically impossible but not physically impossible? Consider, for example, the sentence 'God is omniscient and God is not omniscient.' Does this violate a law of physics? Is it physically impossible according to the definition on page 228?

10. It is often claimed that the theory of evolution has rendered the argument from design untenable. Yet Copleston, in his book Aquinas, says, "If Aquinas had lived in the days of the evolutionary hypothesis, he would doubtless have argued this hypothesis supports rather than invalidates the conclusion of the [design] argument." Explain how Aquinas might have used this theory to bolster the argument from design.

11. Criticize the following argument:

God is a being who can do all things that it is logically possible for him to do. But a nonexistent being can do nothing at all, much less everything logically possible. Therefore God exists.

12. Explain whether this is an a posteriori or an a priori argument.

It is clear that 'Existence is a perfection' is not an analytic statement, so that it is a contingent rather than a necessary statement. But if it is contingent, it must be a posteriori, and Descartes' ontological argument, which contains it as a premise, is a posteriori instead of a priori, as claimed in the text.

13. The French philosopher Pascal proposed that the way to decide whether or not to believe in God is to discover whether belief or disbelief is the better and bet accordingly. This is known as Pascal's wager. He tells us to consider the odds.

If we wager that God exists and he does then we gain eternal bliss; if he does not, we have lost nothing. If we wager that God does not exist and he does, then eternal misery is our share; if he does not, we gain only a lucky true belief. The obvious wager is to bet God exists. With such a bet we have everything to gain and nothing to lose. This is far superior to a bet where we have little to gain and everything to lose.
Evaluate this attempt to justify belief in God. Compare it with James' attempt.

14. It was concluded in this chapter that reports of various kinds of religious experiences do not provide sufficient evidence to justify belief in God. Might not the existence of such reports, however, show an important difference between God and Flew's "eternally elusive gardener"? Justify your answer.

15. One kind of argument to justify the existence of God not covered in the text is that known as the moral argument. Evaluate the following brief version.

If God did not exist, then there would be no objective moral law because moral laws must be decreed by some being, a being that is all-good. Furthermore, no objective law depends merely on a human being. But, surely, there are objective moral laws, so God exists.
Is this an a priori or an a posteriori argument? Explain.

16. It has been maintained that even the problem of moral evil is not solved by appealing to human free will. For God could have given human beings free will and also intervene miraculously to thwart at least the most heinous crimes. In fact, God could intervene to thwart evil intentions in ways that would be coincidence-miracles. Thus, no laws of nature would have to be broken. Does this claim seem well-founded? Explain your answer

17. Discuss the following.

The problem of evil is no problem at all for Christianity because any amount of earthly misery is literally nothing when compared with the infinite and eternal bliss that Christianity promises.

18. St. Augustine held that although we think that there are natural evils, there really are none. We think this way because our own natures are insufficiently real (that is, not enough like God's) to apprehend things as they really are (that is, good). Thus if we could view an earthquake or a plague through God's eyes, we should then see that it is exactly the right thing to happen at a particular place and at a particular time. Critically evaluate this argument.

19. One theory explains the evil of the world by postulating an evil God as its creator. Is this theory faced with a "problem of good" corresponding to the problem of evil which faces the theist? Why cannot the theist point to the great amount of good in the world in order to counter the problem of evil?

20. It might be objected that the conclusion of this chapter is incorrect because we have overlooked some important positive evidence, that is, evidence in favor of the claim that God exists. Have we overlooked such evidence? What exactly is the overlooked evidence? Would the addition of this evidence suffice to overturn the conclusion of this chapter? How?




I. Original Works

The views of Plato can be found in The Laws, Book X, and Aristotle's in Metaphysics A. St. Anselm's famous statement of the ontological argument occurs in the Proslogion and the five ways of St. Thomas Aquinas in Summa Theologica, Part I. Rene Descartes argues for the existence of God in the third of his Meditations; his version of the ontological argument occurs in the fifth Meditation. Benedict Spinoza presents his justification of God, and nature as the one and only substance in Short Treatise on God, Man, and His Well-being, Part I, Chapter 1; and Gottfried Leibniz states his position that God is the cause of this, the best of all possible worlds, in New Essays Concerning Human Understanding, Appendix I, and in Theodicy. The classical dissection of the argument from design and statement of the problem of evil occur in Dialogues Concerning Natural Religion by David Hume. Hume also discusses and refutes the argument from miracles in An Enquiry Concerning Human Understanding, Section X, Of Miracles. Immanuel Kant offers his refutation of the standard arguments for the existence of God and proposes his own version of the moral argument in Critique of Pure Reason, B611-670, and Critique of Practical Reason, Book II, Chapter II respectively. In Three Essays on Religion, John Stuart Mill states his views on natural theology, the problem of evil and a limited God. Christian existenialism was given its classical statement by S. Kierkegaard in Concluding Unscientific Postscript.

II. Collections Containing Excerpts from Historical Works

Each of the following anthologies is devoted entirely to the philosophy of religion, and contains selections from historical works on various topics in this area: Some of these anthologies also contain contemporary articles and commentaries on the historical works they include
A Modern Reader in the Philosophy of Religion (New York: Appleton-Century-Crofts, Inc., 1966), edited by W. Arnett;
Classical and Contemporary Readings in the Philosophy of Religion (Englewood Cliffs, N.J.: Prentice-Hall, Inc., 1964), edited by J. Hick;
God and Evil (Englewood Cliffs, N.J.: Prentice-Hall, Inc., 1964), edited by N. Pike;
Religious Belief and Philosophical Thought (New York: Harcourt Brace Jovanovich, Inc., 1963), edited by W. Alston;
The Existence of God (New York: Macmillan Publishing Co., Inc., 1964), edited by J. Hick;
The Ontological Argument (Garden City, N.Y.: Doubleday & Company, Inc., 1965), edited by A. Plantinga;
Cosmological Arguments (Garden City, N.Y.: Doubleday & Company, Inc., 1967), edited by D. R. Burrill.
More recent works include
W. Wainwright and W. Rowe, eds., Philosophy of Religion (New York: Harcourt Brace Jovanovich, Inc., 1973); and
B. Brody, ed., Readings in the Philosophy of Religion (Englewood Cliffs, N.J.: Prentice-Hall, Inc., 1974).


I. Original Works

Among books which discuss various issues in the philosophy of religion, including some of those discussed in this chapter, are
W. James, The Varieties of Religious Experience (New York: Longmans, Green & Company, 1902), and The Will to Believe (New York: Longmans, Green & Company, 1897);
C. J. Ducasse, A Philosophical Scrutiny of Religion (New York: The Ronald Press Company, 1953);
J. F. Ross, Philosophical Theology (Indianapolis: The Bobbs-Merrill Co., Inc., 1969);
A. Plantinga, God and Other Minds (Ithaca, N.Y.: Cornell University Press, 1967);
P. R. Baelz, Christian Theology and Metaphysics (London: Epworth Press, 1968); and
P. T. Geach, God and the Soul (New York: Schocken Books, 1969); the books by Ross and Plantinga are especially to be recommended; both contain extremely sophisticated discussions of various proofs for the existence of God, the problem of evil, and, in Plantinga's case, the rationality of believing in God without having a proof for his existence.

Some more recent important books include R. Swinburne, The Coherence of Theism (New York: Oxford University Press, 1977); W. Rowe, The Cosmological Argument (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1977); A. Plantinga, Does God Have A Nature? (Milwaukee: Marquette University Press, 1980); and G. Schlesinger, Religion and Scientific Method (Dordrecht: Reidel, 1977).

Several recent books have been devoted exclusively to the problem of the nature of religious knowledge and its relation to faith and to other sorts of knowledge. Among these are G. Mavrodes, Belief in God: A Study in the Epistemology of Religion (New York: Random House, Inc., 1970); J. Gill, The Possibility of Religious Knowledge (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1971); W. Blackstone, The Problem of Religious Knowledge (Englewood Cliffs, N.J.: Prentice-Hall, Inc., 1963); H. P. Owen, Christian Knowledge of God (London: Athlone Press, 1969); J. Hick, Faith and Knowledge (Ithaca N.Y.: Cornell University Press, 1957); C. Martin, Religious Belief (Ithaca, N.Y.: Cornell University Press, 1959); and P. Schmidt, Religious Knowledge (New York' The Free Press, 1961).

Works on the way in which God is to be conceived of include J. Collins, God in Modern Philosophy (Chicago: Henry Regnery Co., 1959); C. Hartshorne, Divine Relativity (New Haven: Yale University Press, 1948); N. Pike, God and Timelessness (New York: Schocken Books, 1970); H. P. Owen, Concepts of Deity (London: Macmillan & Company, Ltd., 1971); R. Otto, The Idea of the Holy (Oxford: Galaxy Books, 1968); F. Sontag, Divine Perfection: Possible Ideas of God (New York: Harper & Row, Publishers, Inc., 1962); and K. Ward, The Concept of God (Oxford: Blaskwell 1975).

The problem of religious language and its meaningfulness had received much discussion since the logical positivists declared all language purporting to be about metaphysics, including religious language, to be cognitively meaningless. The classical logical positivistic view is stated in Chapter 4 of A. J. Ayer, Language, Truth, and Logic (New York: Dover Publications, Inc., 1952). Book-length treatment has been given to this topic in L. Dewart, Religion, Language and Truth (New York: Herder and Herder, 1970); J. Macquarrie, God-Talk (New York: Harper & Row, Publishers, Inc., 1967); B. L. Clarke, Language and Natural Theology (The Hague: Mouton and Co., 1966); I. Ramsey, Religious Language (London: SCM Press, 1957); F. Ferre, Language, Logic and God (London: Eyre & Spottiswoode, Ltd., 1962); and P. Sherry, Religion, Truth and Language Games (London: Macmillan & Company, Ltd., 1977).

Several books devoted entirely to a discussion of the various proofs for the existence of God are J. Hick, Arguments for the Existence of God (London: Macmillan & Company, Ltd., 1970); C. Hartshorne, Anselm's Discovery (La Salle, Ill.: Open Court Publishing Company, 1965), Man's Vision of God and the Logic of Theism (Chicago: Willet, Clark, 1941), The Logic of Perfection (La Salle, 111.: Open Court Publishing Company, 1962); A. Kenny, The Five Ways (London: Routledge and Kegan Paul, 1969); H. P. Owen, The Moral Argument for Christian Theism (London: George Allen & Unwin, Ltd., 1965); W. Matson, The Existence of God (Ithaca, N.Y.: Cornell University Press, 1965).

The problem of evil has also called forth several book-length treatments in recent years. Among these are E. H. Madden and P. H. Hare, Evil and the Concept of God (Springfield, Ill.: Charles C Thomas, Publisher, 1968); J. Hick, Evil and the Love of God (London: Macmillan & Company, Ltd., 1966); C. S. Lewis, The Problem of Pain (New York: Macmillan Publishing Co., Inc., 1962); W. Fitch, God and Evil (London: Pickering and Inglis, 1967); F. Sontag, God of Evil (New York: Harper & Row, Pub-Ushers, Inc., 1970). P. Geach, Providence and Evil (New York: Cambridge University Press, 1977); J. Kleinig, Punishment and Desert (The Hague: Nijhoff, 1972); H. McCloskey, God and Evil (the Hague: Nijhoff, 1974); and A. Plantinga, God, Freedom and Evil (London: Allen & Unwin, Ltd., 1975).

Finally, several books devoted to general critiques of religion are B. Russell's Religion and Science (New York: Oxford University Press, 1935), and Why I Am Not a Christian (New York: Simon & Schuster, Inc., 1957). K. Nielsen, Contemporary Critiques of Religion (New York: Herder and Herder, 1971); and H. R. Burkle, Non-Existence of God (New York: Herder and Herder, 1969).

II. Collections of Articles and Textbooks

Each of the following collections contains contemporary articles devoted to the philosophy of religion, many of which are directly relevant to the problems discussed in this chapter: New Essays in Philosophical Theology (London: SCM Press, 1958), edited by A. Flew and A. MacIntyre; Religious Experience and Truth (New York: New York University Press, 1966), edited by S. Hook; New Essays on Religious Language (New York: Oxford University Press, 1969), edited by D. M. High; Faith and Philosophy (Grand Rapids: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Co., 1964), edited by A. Plantinga; Rationality and Belief in God (Englewood Cliffs, N.J.: Prentice-Hall, Inc., 1970), edited by G. Mavrodes; The Many-Faced Argument (New York: Macmillan Publishing Co., Inc., 1967), edited by J. Hick and A. C. McGill; The Encyclopedia of Philosophy (New York: Collier-Macmillan, 1967), edited by P. Edwards, also contains many excellent articles on the philosophy of religion.

Two more recent collections of articles are S. Brown, ed., Reason and Religion (Ithaca, N.Y.: Cornell University Press, 1977); and C. Delaney, ed., Rationality and Religious Belief (Notre Dame: University of Notre Dame Press, 1979). Each of these volumes contains important original essays on a number of matters discussed in this chapter.

Among the textbooks on the philosophy of religion are N. Smart, Philosophy and Religious Truth (New York: Macmillan Publishing Co., Inc., 1969), and The Philosophy of Religion (New York: Random House, Inc., 1970), both of which discuss several less-discussed topics, along with the standard topics in the philosophy of religion; J. F. Ross, Introduction to the Philosophy of Religion (New York: Macmillan Publishing Co., Inc., 1969); J. Hick, Philosophy of Religion 2d ed. (Englewood Cliffs, N.J.: Prentice-Hall, Inc., 1973); and W. L. Rowe, Philosophy of Religion (Belmont, Calif.: Wadsworth, 1978).

III. Articles

Several articles on the characteristics of a supreme being have been written, especially on the concept of omnipotence. Some of these are G. B. Keene, "A Simpler Solution to the Problem of Omnipotence," Mind (1960), to which B. Mayo replied with "Mr. Keene on Omnipotence," Mind (1961). Mr. Keene gave his reply to Mr. Mayo in "Capacity Limiting Statements," Mind (1961). G. Mavrodes proposed a solution to the problem of omnipotence in "Some Puzzles Concerning Omnipotence," Philosophical Review (1963), to which H. Frankfurt added a note in "The Logic of Omnipotence," Philosophical Review (1964); and about which C. W. Savage wrote "The Paradox of the Stone," Philosophical Review (1967). Other articles include N. Pike, "Omnipotence and God's Ability to Sin," American Philosophical Quarterly (1969); G. Mavrodes, "Defining Omnipotence," Philosophical Studies, Vol. 32 (1977); D. Walton, "The Omnipotence Paradox," Canadian Journal of Philosophy, Vol. 4 (1975); W. Mann, "The Divine Attributes," American Philosophical Quarterly, Vol. 12 (1975); R. Swinburne, "Omnipotence," American Philosophical Quarterly, Vol. 10 (1973); R. La Croix, "The Incompatibility of Omnipotence and Omniscience," Analysis, Vol. 33 (1973); G. Rosenkrantz and J. Hoffman, "What An Omnipotent Agent Can Do," International Journal for Philosophy of Religion, Vol. 11 (1980); W. Mann, "Ross on Omnipotence," International Journal for Philosophy of Religion, Vol. 8 (1977); and D. Blumenfeld, "On the Compossibility of the Divine Attributes," Philosophical Studies, Vol. 34 (1978).

The concept of necessary being has also been widely discussed, often in connection with the argument from contingency. Among others are P. Brown, "St. Thomas' Doctrine of Necessary Being," Philosophy Review (1964); R. Franklin, "Necessary Being," Analysis (1957); J. Hick, "God as Necessary Being," Journal of Philosophy (1960); P. Hutchins, "Necessary Being," Australasian Journal of Philosophy (1957); T. Penelhum, "Divine Necessity," Mind (1960); J. F. Ross, "God and Logical Necessity," Philosophical Quarterly (1961); J. A. Brunton, "The Logic of God's Necessary Existence," International Philosophical Quarterly (1970); and B. R. Reichenbach, "Divine Necessity and the Cosmological Argument," Monist (1970).

The concept of God's omniscience and its relationship to a person's free will has brought forth articles by N. Kretzmann, "Omniscience and Immutability," Journal of Philosophy (1966), to which H. Castaneda has responded in "Omniscience and Indexical Reference," Journal of Philosophy (1967); N. Pike "Divine Omniscience and Voluntary Action," Philosophical Review (1965), to which J. Saunders replied in "Of God and Freedom," Philosophical Review (1966). There have been many articles on the problem of free will and foreknowledge. An interesting approach is taken by C. Ginet in "Can the Will Be Caused?" Philosophical Review (1962) and replied to by, among others, K. Lehrer, "Decisions and Causes," Philosophical Review (1963) and A. Oldenquist, "Causes, Predictions, and Decisions," Analysis (1964). Other interesting articles on the concept of God are D. Bennett, "Deity and Events," Journal of Philosophy (1967); J. Donceel, "Second Thoughts on the Nature of God," Thought (1971); and S. Coval, "Worship, Superlatives, and Concept Confusion," Mind (1959). Replies to this last article came from M. Fisher, "S. Coval on Worship, Superlatives, and Concept Confusions," Mind (1960); R. Franklin, "Worship and God," Mind (1960).

The argument for the existence of God most discussed in current literature is the ontological argument. A sampling is W. Baumer, "Anselm, Truth and Necessary Being, " Philosophy (1962); R. Games, "Descartes and the Ontological Argument," Philosophy and Phenomenological Research (1963-1964); J. Findlay, "Can God's Existence Be Disproved?" Mind (1948); F. Fitch, "The Perfection of Perfection," The Monist (1963); C. Hartshorne, "The Logic of the Ontological Argument," Journal of Philosophy (1961); D. Henry, "St. Anselm and Nothingness," Philosophical Quarterly (1965); N. Malcolm, "Anselm's Ontological Arguments," Philosophical Review (I960), which brought replies in The Philosophical Review (1961) from R. Abelson, "Not Necessarily"; R. Allen, "The Ontological Argument"; P. Henle, "Uses of the Ontological Argument"; T. Penelhum, "On the Second Ontological Argument"; A. Plantinga, "A Valid Ontological Argument?"; G. Mathews "On Conceivability in Anselm and Malcolm"; and other replies from W. Huggett, "The Nonexistence of Ontological Arguments," Philosophical Review (1962); J. Shaffer, "Existence, Predication and the Ontological Argument," Mind (1962).

More articles on the argument are G. Mathews, "Aguinas on Saying 'God Doesn't Exist,'" The Monist (1963); and J. F. Ross, "Logically Necessary Existential Statements, " Journal of Philosophy (1961).

More recently, some articles on the ontological argument are R. Maydole, "A Modal Model for Proving the Existence of God," American Philosophical Quarterly, Vol. 17 (1980);and P. Van Inwagen, "Ontological Arguments," Nous, Vol. 11 (1977). A thorough bibliography of works on the argument may be found in T. Miethe, "The Ontological Argument: A Research Bibliography," Modem Schoolman, Vol. 54 (1977).

Articles concerning the objection to the ontological argument that existence is not a property are W. Alston, "The Ontological Argument Revisited," Philosophical Review (1960); K. Baier, "Existence," Aristotelian Society Proceedings (1960-1961); R. Cartwright, "Negative Existentials," Journal of Philosophy (I960); C. Hartshorne, "Is the Denial of Existence Ever Contradictory?" Journal of Philosophy (1966); M. Kitely, "Is Existence a Predicate?" Mind (1964); W. Kneale, "Is Existence a Predicate?" Aristotelian Society Supplement (1936); G. E. Moore, "Is Existence a Predicate?" Aristotelian Society Supplement (1936); G. Nakhrdkian and W. Salmon, "'Exists' as a Predicate:," Philosophical Review (1957).

The cosmological argument has also received significant discussion recently. Some relevant articles are W. L. Rowe, "The Cosmological Argument and the Principle of Sufficient Reason," Man and World (1968), "Cosmological Argument," Nous (1971), and "Two Criticisms of the Cosmological Argument," Monist (1970); R. G. Swinburne, "Whole and Part in Cosmological Arguments," Philosophy (1969); W. N. Clarke, "A Curious Blindspot in the Anglo-American Tradition of Anti-Theistic Argument," Monist (1970); F. B. Dilley, "Descartes' Cosmological Argument," Monist (1970);and B. Miller, "The Contingency Argument,"Monist (1970).

Several articles on the design argument are J. Narveson, "On a New Argument from Design," Journal of Philosophy (1965); E. D. Klemke, "The Argument from Design," Ratio (1969); R. G. Swinburne, "The Argument from Design," Philosophy (1968). More recent articles include K. Nelson, "Evolution and the Argument from Design," Religious Studies, Vol. 14 (1978); R. Swinburne, "The Argument from Design -- A Defense," Religious Studies, Vol. 8 (1972); G. Schlesinger, "Probabilistic Arguments for Divine Design," Philosophia, Vol. 3 (1973); and B. Clarke, "The Argument from Design: A Piece of Abductive Reasoning," International Journal for Philosophy of Religion, Vol. 5 (1974).

Discussions of Pascalian-type arguments for the rationality of belief in God are to be found in W. N. Christensen and J. King-Farlow, "Gambling on Other Minds-Human and Divine," Sophia (1971); P. T. Landsberg, "Gambling on God," Mind (1971); M. B. Turner, "Deciding for God -- The Bayesian Support of Pascal's Wager," Philosophy and Phenomenological Research (1968). The first of these articles has drawn responses from L. Resnick, "Evidence, Utility and God," Analysis (1971); and I. Rudinow, "Gambling on Other Minds and God," Sophia (1971).

Articles on other arguments for the existence of God or on the arguments in general are R. Holland, "The Miraculous," American Philosophical Quarterly (1965); J. Hutchinson, "The Uses of Natural Theology: An Essay in Redefinition," Journal of Philosophy (1958); J. F. Ross, "Did God Create the Only Possible World?" Review of Metaphysics (1962-1963), and "On Proofs for the Existence of God," Monist [1970); C. Cherry, "Miracles and Creation," International Journal for Philosophy of Religion, Vol. 5 (1974); C. Cherry, "On Characterizing the Extraordinary," Ratio, Vol. 17 (1975); J. Kellenberger, "Miracles," International Journal for Philosophy of Religion, Vol. 10 (1979); and R. Oakes, "A New Argument for the Existence of God," New Scholasticism, Vol. 54 (1980).

Religious language and verification has been rather widely discussed by, among others, B. Clark, "Linguistic Analysis and the Philosophy of Religion," The Monist 1963); R. Coburn, "A Neglected Use of Theological Language," Mind (1963). J. Hick, "Theology and Verification," Theology Today (1960) is on the concept of eschatological verification and was replied to by D. Duff-Forbes, "Theology and Falsification Again," Australasian Journal of Philosophy (1961); B. Mitchell, "The Justification of Religious Belief," Philosophical Quarterly (1961); and K. Nielsen, "Eschatalogical Verification," The Canadian Journal of Theology (1963). Other articles are J. Losee, "Two Proposed Demarcations for Theological Statements," Monist (1963); J. Riser, "Toward the Philosophical Analysis of Religious Statements," Monist (1963); J. F. Ross, "A New Theory of Analogy," Proceedings of the American Catholic Philosophical Association (1970), and "Analogy and the Resolution of Some Cognitivity Problems," Journal of Philosophy (1970); J. F. Harris, "The Epistemic Status of Analogical Language," International Journal of Philosophy and Religion (1970); M. Durrant, "God and Analogy," Sophia (1969); J. Donnelly, "Moral and Religious Assertions," International Journal of Philosophy and Religion (1971); W. Swanson, "Religious Discourse and Rational Preference Rankings," American Philosophical Quarterly (1967).

Articles on the nature of religious belief, knowledge, and experience, and the possible justification of religious belief in the face of less than adequate evidence, are:
Z. Phillips, "Religion and Epistemology, Some Contemporary Confusions," Australasian Journal of Philosophy (1966);
A. Dulles, "Faith, Reason, and the Logic of Discovery," Thought (1970).
N. Malcolm's "Is It a Religious Belief That 'God Exists,'" in Faith and the Philosophers, edited by J. Hick, drew a reply from K. Nielsen, "On Believing That God Exists," Southern Journal of Philosophy (1967).
Another controversy has arisen over J. Hick's argument for the "no-evidence" defense of the rationality of theistic belief, given in his book Philosophy of Religion. Discussions of this type of argument occur in
R. A. Oakes, "Is Probability Inapplicable-in-Principle to the God-Hypothesis?" The New Scholasticism (1970);
D. F. Henze, "Faith, Evidence, and Coercion," Philosophy (1967), replied to by J. King-Farlow "Cogency, Conviction, and Coercion," International Philosophical Quarterly (1968); D. R. Duff-Forbes, "Faith, Evidence, Coercion," Australasian Journal of Philosophy (1 969), replied to by J. Hick, "Faith, Evidence, Coercion Again," Australasian Journal of Philosophy (1971).

Other articles on religious belief are
J. King-Farlow, "Justification of Religious Beliefs," Philosophical Quarterly (1962);
D. M. Levin, "Reasons and Religious Belief," Inquiry (1969);
J. Wisdom, "Gods," Aristotelian Society Proceedings (1944), and "The Modes of Thought and the Logic of God," printed his The Existence of God, edited by J. Hick.
The two articles by Wisdom have had widespread influence among linguistic philosophers. Springing from them, and also widely discussed are the contributions to a debate on theology and falsification by A. Flew, R. M. Hare, B. Mitchell, and I. M. Crombie, reprinted as Chapter VI of New Essays in Philosophical Theology, which is listed on p. 343. On the same topic see also D. Z. Phillips, "Wisdom's Gods," Philosophical Quarterly (1969).

The problem of evil especially the question of whether the existence of both God and evil is possible, is discussed in J. Mackie, "Evil and Omnipotence," Mind (1955); A. Plantinga, "The Free Will Defense," in Philosophy in America (Ithaca, N.Y.: Cornell University Press, 1965), edited by M. Black. A debate on this article occurred in Journal of Philosophy (1966) between N. Pike, "Plantinga on the Free Will Defense: A Reply"; and Plantinga, "Pike and Possible Persons."

E. H. Madden has written extensively on the problem of evil. Among his articles are "The Many Faces of Evil," Philosophy and Phenomenological Research (1963-1964), "Evil and the Concept of a Limited God," Philosophical Studies (1967), and, with P. H. Hare, "Evil and Unlimited Power," Review of Metaphysics (1966), and "On the Difficulty of Evading the Problem of Evil," Philosophy and Phenomenological Research (1967). J. King-Farlow has replied to Madden in two articles, "Must Gods Madden Madden?" Philosophy and Phenomenological Research (1969), and "The Liabilities of Limited Gods," Philosophical Studies (1969).

More articles on the problem of evil are
K. E. Yandell, "Ethics, Evils and Theism," Sophia (1969);
G. S. Kane, "Theism and Evil," Sophia (1970);
C. F. Keilkopf, "Emotivism as the Solution to the Problem of Evil," Sophia (1970);
C. Dore, "An Examination of the 'Soul-Making Theodicy,'" American Philosophical Quarterly (1970);
G. Mavrodes, "The Problem of Evil as a Rhetorical Problem," Philosophy and Rhetoric (1968);
R. M. Chisholm, "The Defeat of Good and Evil," Proceedings of the American Philosophical Association (1968-1969).
G. Schlesinger's "The Problem of Evil and the Problem of Suffering," American Philosophical Quarterly (1964) was responded to by J. F. Rosenberg, "The Problem of Evil Revisited," and W. W. Shea, "God, Evil, and Professor Schlesinger," both in the Journal of Value Inquiry (1970).

More recent discussions of evil and God include
B. Reichenbach, "The Inductive Argument from Evil," American Philosophical Quarterly, Vol. 17 (1980);
R. Swinburne, "Natural Evil," American Philosophical Quarterly, Vol. 15 (1978);
H. Lafollette, "Plantinga on the Free Will Defense," International Journal for Philosophy of Religion, Vol. 11 (1980);
R. Adams, "Must God Create the Best?" Philosophical Review, Vol. 81 (1972);
D. Griffin, "Divine Causality, Evil and Philosophical Theology: A Critique of James Ross," International Journal for Philosophy of Religion, Vol. 4 (1973);
P. Bennett, "Evil, God and the Free Will Defense," Australasian Journal of Philosophy, Vol. 51 (1973);
K. Yandell, "The Greater Good Defense," Sophia, Vol. 13 (1974);
R. Oakes, "God, Evil and Professor Ross," Philosophy and Phenomenological Research, Vol. 35 (1974);
T. Benditt, "A Problem for Theodicists," Philosophy, Vol. 50(1975);
S. Clark, "God, Good and Evil," Proceedings of the Aristotelian Society, Vol. 77 (1976-1977);
J. Tomberlin and F. McGuinness, "Good, Evil and the Free Will Defense," Religious Studies, Vol. 13 (1977); and
A. Plantinga, "The Probabilistic Argument from Evil," Philosophical Studies, Vol. 35 (1979).

Alvin Plantinga's book God and Other Minds (listed on p. 342) has received extensive comment since its publication. Some of the relevant articles are here listed:
G. Mavrodes, "Some Recent Philosophical Theology," Review of Metaphysics (1970), discusses both Plantinga's book and J. F. Ross's Philosophical Theology. Other articles on Plantinga:
W. L. Rowe, "God and Other Minds," Nous (1969);
C. J. Dore, "Plantinga on the Free Will Defense," Review of Metaphysics (1971);
B. L. Tapscott, "Plantinga, Properties and the Ontological Argument," Philosophy and Phenomenological Research (1971);
J. E. Tomberlin, "Is Belief in God Justified?" Journal of Philosophy (1970), and "Plantinga's Puzzles About God and Other Minds," Philosophical Forum (1969);
I. Hedenius, "Disproofs of God's Existence?" Personalist (1971); and
G. E. Hughes, "Plantinga on the Rationality of God's Existence," Philosophical Review (1970).
James Ross' book Philosophical Theology (listed on p. 342) has now been issued in a second edition (Indianapolis: Hackett, 1980), and in this new volume Ross has contributed an extended preface in which he replies to the many critics who have commented on the material in the first edition.