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Philosophy of Religion Revision notes The Concept of God God as omniscient Omnipotent supremely good timeless (eternal) within time (everlasting) meaning(s) of these divine attributes. Issues with claiming that God has these attributes, either singly or in combination, the paradox of the stone the Euthyphro dilemma. The compatibility, or otherwise, of the existence of an omniscient God and free human beings. Arguments relating to the existence of God Ontological arguments: • Anselm • Descartes • Leibniz • Malcolm • Plantinga. Issues, including those raised by: Gaunilo Hume Kant. The cosmological argument: causal and contingency arguments: Aquinas’ Five Ways (first three) • Descartes (the Kalam argument.) Issues, including those raised by: Hume Russell. The argument from design: arguments from purpose and regularity, including those formulated by: • Paley • Swinburne.
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Aug 14, 2019



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Philosophy of Religion Revision notes

The Concept of God

God as omniscient


supremely good

timeless (eternal)

within time (everlasting)

meaning(s) of these divine attributes.Issues with claiming that God has these attributes, either singly or in combination,

• the paradox of the stone• the Euthyphro dilemma.

The compatibility, or otherwise, of the existence of an omniscient God and free human beings.

Arguments relating to the existence of God

Ontological arguments:• Anselm• Descartes• Leibniz• Malcolm• Plantinga.Issues, including those raised by:• Gaunilo• Hume• Kant.

The cosmological argument: causal and contingency arguments:

• Aquinas’ Five Ways (first three)• Descartes• (the Kalam argument.)Issues, including those raised by:• Hume• Russell.

The argument from design: arguments from purpose and regularity, including those formulated by:

• Paley• Swinburne.

Issues, including those raised by:

• Paley (himself)• Hume• Kant.

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The Concept of God

God’s AttributesOmnipotenceThe word Omnipotent comes from the Latin omni, ‘all’ and potens, ‘power’

In religious philosophy being “all-powerful” doesn’t just mean that God has power over everything else and cannot be overpowered (this is being “Almighty”). It is literally the ability “to do everything”

This means that either:God can do anything (‘You name it, God can do it’) ORGod can do anything logically possible (‘If it can be done, God can do it’) ORGod can do anything logically possible and compatible with God’s Nature(‘If it can be done, and if it can be done by God, God can do it’)

God can do Anything (Absolute Omnipotence)

Descartes supports the idea of absolute omnipotence:“In general we can assert that God can do everything that we can comprehend but not that he cannot do what we cannot comprehend.”

If there were laws of logic which restricted God these laws would have to pre-exist God but because everything was created by God it follows that the laws of logic were created as well, so God could have chosen them to be otherwise

Criticism of Absolute Omnipotence

Maths and Logic are thought to consist of necessary truths that are true by definitionThese could not have been otherwiseBut if God’s free choice means that they could have been otherwise they are not really necessary after all

“Descartes's statement that God could have made contradictions true seems to entail, the logical possibility of the logically impossible.” “we cannot say how a non-logical world would look [or] how a supra-logical God would act”

If God can do absolutely anything, God can do things that are incompatible with His own nature (e.g. cause Himself not to exist or to both exist and not exist simultaneously!)

Thomas Aquinas

“All confess that God is omnipotent; but it seems difficult to explain in what His omnipotence precisely consists”

In Summa Theologica Aquinas considers objections to God’s omnipotence

Objection 1:Human beings can be moved and acted upon but God is immovable (cannot change)Reply to Objection 1: God is said to be omnipotent in respect to His active power, not to passive power

Objection 2:Humans can sin (turn from God) but God cannot sin or deny His own existenceObjections to God’s omnipotence often involve scenarios that are logically possible but that contradict an aspect of God’s nature e.g. God doing evil. This involves an apparent dilemma: either God (because he is supremely good) cannot do evil and so is not omnipotent or God (because he is omnipotent) can do evil, in which case he is not supremely good

Reply to Objection 2:Aquinas’ answer is that it follows from God’s omnipotence that God cannot sinThis is because to sin would be to “fall short of a perfect action…Therefore it is that God cannot sin, because of His omnipotence”

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Nevertheless, it is still true to say that “God can do evil things, if he will”. This is because a conditional sentence can still be true even if its ‘antecedent’ (if-clause) describes an impossibility. So when Aristotle said that God could do the logically impossible it should be understood hypothetically.

Objection 3:God “manifests His omnipotence especially by sparing and having mercy“However there are other things that show greater power than this so God is not Omnipotent

Reply to Objection 3:“God's omnipotence is particularly shown in sparing and having mercy, because in this is it made manifest that God has supreme power, that He freely forgives sins. ...For nothing is due to anyone, except on account of something already given him gratuitously by God.”

Objection 4:

“If we were to say that God is omnipotent because He can do all things that are possible to His power, there would be a vicious circle in explaining the nature of His power (tautology) .. this would be saying …. that God is omnipotent, because He can do all that He is able to do.”

"God hath made the wisdom of this world foolish by showing those things to be possible which it judges to be impossible” Being able to ‘make the impossible possible’ is a contradiction in termsIf God can do this (i.e. create a round square), He can also make what is logically necessary, impossible!

Reply to Objection 4

Aquinas goes on to examine ways in which something can be possible: “First in relation to some power i.e. human power” (relatively and practically) Secondly absolutely, on account of the relation in which the terms stand to each other.” (logically)

“The absolute possible is not so called in reference either to higher causes, or to inferior causes, but in reference to itself. …Thus is it that the wisdom of the world is deemed foolish, because what is impossible to nature, it judges to be impossible to God.”

Something is possible absolutely if the predicate is compatible with the subject and absolutely impossible when the predicate is incompatible with the subject (e.g. that a man is a donkey)

A logically impossible state is not meaningful because it does not describe anything at all even if God can’t do the logically impossible there still isn’t anything that God can’t do 

Everything that does not imply a contradiction in terms, is numbered amongst those possible things, in respect of which God is called omnipotent: whereas whatever implies contradiction does not come within the scope of divine omnipotence ….it is better to say that such things cannot be done, than that God cannot do them.

Paradoxes of Omnipotence

‘The paradox of the Stone: Can God create a stone that He can’t lift?’‘The paradox of free-will : Can God create a being that He can’t control?’

The Paradox of the StoneCan God create a stone that He can’t move?An early version is found in writing of the medieval Islamic philosopher AverroesSceptics have used it to suggest that the concept of Omnipotence is incoherent

Mavrodes claims that the “paradox of the stone” only succeeds if it shows “that the assumption of the omnipotence of God leads to a reductio”

If God is omnipotent, He can do everything that is logically possible“Creating a stone that you cannot lift” sounds logically possibleIf God is omnipotent He is able to create a stone that he cannot liftThis means that there is something that God cannot do (lift the stone)from which it follows that God is not omnipotent which is a reductio

In Some Puzzles Concerning Omnipotence Mavrodes re-states the dilemma:Either God can’t create a stone that He can’t lift

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OR God can create it but can’t lift itEither way God’s Omnipotence is compromised

The doctrine of God’s omnipotence appears to claim that God can do anything. There have been attempts to refute the doctrine by giving examples of things which God cannot do; for example, He cannot draw a square circle. St. Thomas pointed out that “anything” should be construed to refer only to objects, actions, or states of affairs whose descriptions are not self-contradictory.

However while “x is able to draw a square circle” seems plainly to involve a contradiction, “x is able to make a thing too heavy for x to lift” does not.If we say that God can create such a stone, then it seems that there might be such a stone. And if there might be a stone too heavy for Him to lift, then He is evidently not omnipotent. But if we deny that God can create such a stone, we seem to have given up His omnipotence already.

Mavrodes’ defence explores two possibilities for dealing with the dilemma:

Assuming that God is not Omnipotent (assumption 1)In that case the phrase “a stone too heavy for God to lift” may not be self-contradictory. If as God is not omnipotent then He cannot create or lift certain stonesThis makes logical sense but is no more than the assumption with which we began

That God is Omnipotent (assumption 2)On this assumption the phrase “a stone too heavy for God to lift” becomes self-contradictory For it becomes “a stone which cannot be lifted by Him whose power is sufficient for lifting anything.”

The “thing” described by a self-contradictory phrase is absolutely impossible and hence has nothing to do with the doctrine of omnipotence. Not being an object of power at all, its failure to exist cannot possibly be due to some lack in the power of God

Even supposing that God cannot create the stone in question; this does not restrict His omnipotencebecause God still has infinite power to create stones and infinite power to lift stones

Mavrodes concludes that “the supposed limitation is no limitation at all” and that “Such pseudo-tasks, not falling within the realm of possibility, are not objects of power at all”

Wade Savage re-states the dilemma:

A. (i) Either God can create a stone which He cannot lift, or He cannot create a stone which He cannot lift.(2) If God can create a stone which He cannot lift, then He is not omnipotent (since He cannot lift the stone in question).(3) If God cannot create a stone which He cannot lift, then He is not omnipotent (since He cannot create the stone in question).(4) Therefore, God is not omnipotent.

He then makes four objections to Mavrodes’ solution:

1. He implies that the paradoxical argument must either assume that God is omnipotent or assume that He is not omnipotent, but neither assumption is made.

2. He assumes that “a stone which God cannot lift” is self-contradictory on the grounds that ‘God is omnipotent’ is necessarily true (true by definition). However “Russell can lift any stone” is a contingent statement (it doesn’t have to be so and could be otherwise).

3. If “God is omnipotent” is necessarily true this ‘begs the question’ of the paradoxical argument. For what it really tries to establish is that the existence of an omnipotent being is logically impossible

4.The claim that inability to perform a self-contradictory task is no limitation on the agent is controversial. Descartes suggested that an omnipotent God must be able to perform self-contradictory tasks.

However the paradoxical task doesn’t have to be described using the word GodWade Savage re-writes the argument using x

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In this version ‘no critic can maintain that it assumes that x is omnipotent’ Also the point that “a stone which God cannot lift” is self-contradictory is irrelevant

B. (i) Either x can create a stone which x cannot lift, or x cannot create a stone which x cannot lift.(2) If x can create a stone which x cannot lift, then, necessarily, there is at least one task which x cannot perform (namely, lift the stone in question).(3) If x cannot create a stone which x cannot lift, then, necessarily, there is at least one task which x cannot perform (namely, create the stone in question).(4) Hence, there is at least one task which x cannot perform.(5) If x is an omnipotent being, then x can perform any task.(6) Therefore, x is not omnipotent.

 However Wade Savage agrees with Mavrodes that the fact that God cannot create a stone which He cannot lift “does not entail a limitation on His power”

The fallacy in the paradox of the stone lies in the second horn of its dilemma (line B(3): “x can create a stone which x cannot lift” This entails that there is a task which x cannot perform and, consequently, that x is not omnipotent

However although “x cannot create a stone which x cannot lift” seems to imply that there is a task which x cannot do, it can also mean “If x can create a stone, then x can lift it.” This statement does not entail that x is limited in power.

If x’s power in lifting was finite then ‘x’s inability to create a stone which He cannot lift would be a limitation on x’s power. However if x’s power to lift is infinite, then x’s inability to create a stone he cannot lift is not a limitation, it is a “necessary consequence” of its omnipotence.

If God is omnipotent, then He can create stones of any poundage and lift stones of any poundage. And this entails “God cannot create a stone which He cannot lift.”

The Euthyphro dilemma

For Christians God is all loving but there are a number of issues with this claim: the question of whether Omni-benevolence is compatible with so much evil and suffering in the world (see design argument) and whether God is free to do evil and if He can’t, whether he is Omnipotent.

Also what makes good actions good in the first place: are they good simply because God approves of them, or does God approve of them because they are good? This question is known as the Euthyphro dilemma because it was first raised in Plato’s dialogue Euthyphro, written c380 BCE

In the book Socrates (Plato’s teacher) meets Euthyphro at the court house where Euthyphro has gone to prosecute his own father for the murder of a slave because he believes it is the right thing to do.Since he is so sure of this, Socrates asks Euthyphro to tell him what piety (goodness) is. The Euthyphro is a philosophical dialogue about piety and its relationship to the gods.

Euthyphro’s first answer to the question ‘What is piety’? is to give an exampleHis next answer is that it is ‘what is pleasing to the gods’Socrates points out that the gods are divided about what pleases them, so actions could be both pious and impiousEuthyphro then proposes that piety is something that all the gods love Socrates then asks whether it is pious because it is loved by the gods, or whether the gods love it because it is pious (the dilemma)He is saying that it must be one or the other because if it were both it would be tautological i.e. ‘The Gods love what is good and what is good is loved by the gods’Euthyphro and Socrates then agree that the gods love it because it is piousSocrates then asks Euthyphro what piety is if it is independent of what the gods loveEuthyphro suggests it is justice in relation to the gods (through prayers and sacrifices)Socrates objects that piety once more becomes whatever pleases the gods Euthyphro finds it impossible to say what piety is, independent of what the gods love

Plato implies that both answers are unsatisfactory:

1) Good (or pious) actions are good because the gods (or God) approve of them

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2) Because some actions are good (or pious), the gods (or God) approve of them

Horn 1In the Euthyphro, Socrates asks why we should worship a god who commands us to do ‘bad’ actsThis horn forces us to conclude that whatever the gods (or God) commands is goodIf there is no independent goodness (morality) God arbitrarily invents morality God could have chosen to approve of anything (including what we now view as bad) and make it goodIf God is good, he is good only because He approves of Himself, just like everything else is good only because God approves of it!In this case ‘God is good’ doesn’t say anything new about GodIt is a tautology

Descartes defended the first option

Reply: ‘God is good’ means ‘God is good to us’, i.e. God loves us and wants what is best for usObjection: But then, there is some standard of what is good, viz. what is best for us, which is independent of God

Reply: ‘God is good’ should be understood metaphysically, not morally‘God is good’ just means that God has all perfectionsObjection: Either God being perfect entails that God is morally good in which case ‘God is (morally) good’ is a tautology or morality is independent of metaphysical perfection

Reply: although God does not apply to any independent standard of goodness, his goodness is not arbitrary, it relies on God’s other attributes, such as loveObjection: we are judging God’s goodness by the independent standard of love

Reply: the basis of morality is not love per se but God’s loveObjection: we can still ask why God loves what He loves. If God loved something else, then morality would be different

Another solution to the dilemma is to say that if what God wills is good by definition, morality is the same thing as what God wills. It only makes sense to say “A because B” or “B because A” if A and B are different things. So Socrates’ question presents a false dilemma

‘God is good’ is not a tautology because ‘God’ and ‘morally good’ are different concepts and people can understand one without the other, so ‘God is good’ is not an analytic truth

However, what is good is not something separate which provides a standard for God’s willMorality is dependent on GodThis is a metaphysical truth (about what exists) but not a conceptual truth

We can object that unless we have an independent standard of goodness, we cannot claim that God’s will and what is good are the same thing. This only applies to how we know what is good, not what goodness turns out to be; once we come to believe that what is good is what God wills, we may use what we believe God’s will to be to start judging what is good.

Second horn

If God approves of right actions because they are good, then the morality of actions is something that exists independent of God’s decisions

In this case objective moral standards define God’s goodness, rather than vice versaThis means that it is the moral standards that are supremely good, not God

This makes God’s morally redundant as we do not need to find out what God approves of to discern what is right, also God cannot change what is morally right – so God is not omnipotent

Reply: since God is omnipotent, morality is not a restriction on God’s will, but is dependent on itIf God exists and is good, then everything that is morally good must relate back to God as the ultimate reality

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Aquinas says that because God is supremely good by definition – it is logically impossible for what God does or wills to be anything other than good, it is not a limitation on God’s omnipotence that God cannot do the logically impossible.

Like Aristotle, Aquinas takes a teleological view of morality. God created the world according to Divine Natural Law in which everything is good when it fulfils its purpose or function. God cannot then decide what is good or bad arbitrarily. Natural Law is objective, but it flows from God’s omni-benevolence. Human actions can be good in themselves if they are “in harmony with right reason” they then become obligatory for humans because God commands them. This is compatible with Biblical teaching


An omniscient being is one that ‘knows everything’

If God lacked knowledge it was possible to have God would not be supremely perfect

Omniscience is not just a matter of what God knows, but also of how God knows: We can define God’s omnipotence as ‘knowing all true propositions’ (and not believing any false propositions)

If God is incorporeal (no body) or transcendent (over and above) it does not make sense to say that God knows how to engage in physical activity

Although Theologians may say that God knows ‘the full set of truths about every activity’

Thomas Aquinas

God knows all the truths that it is possible to know, consistent with God’s perfection

God knows everything ‘directly’, rather than through propositional thinking or understanding a system of representation or language

“God sees all things together and not successively” this means that God does not think first of one thing, then of another, but has an immediate awareness of all truths at once

Other philosophers disagree; if God doesn’t know all true propositions then there is something that God doesn’t know, so God has propositional knowledge as well as direct knowledge

Omnipotence and Immutability

Norman Kretzmann

If it were possible for God to change from one state to another, God would either be getting better or getting worse in that change, neither is compatible with God’s perfection, so God cannot change.

Omniscience and Immutability are “incompatible characteristics” of a perfect God.

An Omniscient Being would have to know what time it is, and this changes.

His argument is a reductio:

1. A perfect being is not subject to change2. A perfect being knows everything3. A being that knows everything always knows what time it is4. A being that always knows what time it is, is subject to change5. Therefore, a perfect being is subject to change6. Therefore, a perfect being is not a perfect being7. Therefore, there is no perfect being

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Objections to Premise 4: Just because the time changes doesn’t mean that knowing what time it is counts as a change in knowledge

Reply: Yes it does. If you know that it is 1.30 and then you know that it is not, you know one thing, then another, so what you know changes

Objection: A change in my belief about what time it is doesn’t count as a change in me

 Reply: It’s true that you haven’t decided that you were wrong and the change in your beliefs isn’t very significant. However your beliefs have changed and so your mind has changed

Objections to premises 3 and 4: God knows everything about the universe ‘simultaneously’, not ‘successively’. As God knows everything ‘all at once’; his knowledge doesn’t change as the universe changes

Reply: Perhaps God knows the time at which each thing happens – past, present or future, but if God doesn’t change, then God doesn’t know where we are in time, as this changes. This still means that God cannot know what time it is now, and so is not omniscient

Objections to Premise 2: Omniscience should be seen as knowing ‘what it is logically possible for a perfect being to know’. A perfect being transcends time; therefore, it is logically impossible for a perfect being to know what time it is. Not knowing what it is logically impossible for a perfect being to know is no limitation.

God is transcendent, outside time; so cannot change

Reply: God’s transcendence is usually understood as there being no time for God. That would mean that time is an illusion. If time doesn’t exist, then nothing changes. This is implausible

This form of argument is unsatisfactory. For instance, ‘I am a mortal being, and so it is logically impossible that I should not die, therefore, dying is no limitation on me’. Obviously, dying is a limitation!

Objection: Omniscience is knowing everything that it is possible for a perfect being to know without ceasing to be perfect. Knowing what time it is, is only possible if one changes, and to change is to be imperfect. Therefore, a perfect being is omniscient without knowing what time it is

Reply: This is highly counter-intuitive. Knowing what time it is, is knowing what is happening now. To not know that is to lack significant knowledge. It won’t work to say that God chooses not to know everything: omniscience isn’t just the power to know everything; it is actually knowing everything

Objection to Premise 1: Knowing what time it is from one moment to the next is not a change that affects God’s perfection. So God’s knowledge does change in this respect

Reply: Being perfect means being ‘complete’ rather than in a state of potential. If God knows what time it is now, God’s knowledge is not complete as God is yet to know what time it will be next

What makes omniscience and immutability incompatible is the contingent fact that things change. In a world where nothing changed, including time, God could know everything

In this world God can’t be absolutely perfect because He must either change or He can’t be omniscient. So God isn’t the most perfect possible being but the most perfect actual being

Omniscience and Free Will

God is ‘the most perfect possible being’ (Aquinas etc.)

But it is impossible to know everything. If human beings have free will, it is not possible to know what they will do in the future

Divine foreknowledge and human freedom

Fatalism is the view that human acts occur by necessity and so are not free

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Theological fatalism claims that there is a Being who infallibly knows everything that will happen in the future. This creates a dilemma because many religious people have thought it important to maintain

(1) there is a deity who infallibly knows the entire future, and

(2) human beings have free will in the strong sense usually called libertarian

But the theological fatalist argument seems to show that (1) and (2) are incompatible

Philosophers who think there is a way to maintain both (1) and (2) are called compatibilists

Compatibilists must either identify a false premise or show that the conclusion does not follow from the premises

Suppose that your phone will ring at 9 am tomorrow It is either true that you will answer the phone at 9 am tomorrow (T)or it is true that you will not answer the phone at 9 am tomorrow (not T)(The Law of Excluded Middle rules out any other alternative)

1. Yesterday God infallibly believed T 2. If yesterday God believed T, it is now-necessary that T 3. If it is now-necessary that T, then you cannot do otherwise than T4. If you cannot do otherwise than T, you do not act freely 5. Therefore, when you do T, you will not do it freely

This argument is valid, that is, if the premises are all true, the conclusion follows

The compatibilist must therefore find a false premise

The incompatibilist could conclude that God is omniscient and we are not free

However, this raises a conflict with God’s benevolence

Freedom allows us to do good or evil and to willingly enter into a relationship with God

In the Bible we are also told that God judges us according to our deeds

Without free will, we are not morally responsible for our actions


In de Interpretalione 9 Aristotle asked:

If it is now true that a sea battle will take place tomorrow, must the battle take place?

In other words, if future tense propositions possess truth-value (are either true or false) is the future fixed and fated?

Aristotle denies that any proposition about the contingent future or its negation has a truth value now

Propositions about the contingent future become true when and only when the event occurs

If the event does not occur at that time, then the proposition becomes false

According to Aristotle, necessity applies only to true past and present propositions, not to future propositions of contingent fact

Some philosophers have used this as a counter-argument to both logical and theological fatalism

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The argument could mean that God has no beliefs about the contingent future because he does not infallibly know how it will turn out, even though this restricts God’s knowledge

This is compatible with God's being infallible in everything he does believe

It is also compatible with God's omniscience if omniscience means knowing the truth value of every proposition that has a truth value

Consider the sentence ‘Paul will marry Alison on the 26th June 2020’

This is either true or untrue

But it’s contingent truth at the time does not mean that it is necessarily true today

In the sentence, ‘Because God foresees that Paul will marry Alison, Paul shall marry her,’ although the word ‘because’ serves as a logical connective, there is no causal link

God’s knowledge does not cause Paul to marry Alison

But the fact that Paul actually marries Alison causes God’s knowledge

However, the theological fatalist argument doesn’t just rely on God's precognition causing what it foresees

The restriction of freedom arises from God's infallibility and the irrevocability of the past

If God's infallible knowledge of our doings exists in advance, then we are too late to act freely

This is because if we had acted differently God would have known differently

According to the definition of infallibility used in the basic argument, if God is infallible in all his beliefs, then it is not possible that God believes T if T is or if it will become false

So the argument still holds but becomes:

(4) Necessarily, if yesterday God believed T, then T will become true.

(6) It is necessary that T will become true

If the past is irrevocable, future events connected to the past are entailed in God’s foreknowledge

If it can therefore be demonstrated that God necessarily knows the future Fatalism follows

Boethius denied premise (1) on the grounds that God and his beliefs are not in time

God no longer possesses foreknowledge although he is timelessly cognizant of our future

If God is not in time and has no temporal properties, God does not have beliefs at a time

It does not make sense to think of the whole of temporal reality as being before God's mind in a single temporal present

It is an atemporal present, a single complete grasp of all events in the entire span of time

Aquinas agreed with Boethius’ solution. Although an hour is part of a day, both can exist simultaneously. In the same way time is part of eternity, except that eternity both exceeds and contains time


Not compatible with Biblical God who is personal, immanent and interventionist, makes the Bible false, or at best a long series of metaphors

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Most philosophical objections focus on the idea of timelessness, arguing either that it does not make sense or that it is incompatible with other properties of God

In any case timelessness does not avoid the problem: if there is nothing I can do about God’s timeless knowledge, there is nothing I can do about my future

The first three steps of the argument would be reformulated as follows:

God timelessly knows T(If E is in the timeless realm, then it is now-necessary that E)It is necessary that T

For me to do an action freely, I must be able to do it or not do it

It cannot be true that God knows what I will do (T)and be true that I don’t do that action

Therefore, if God knows what I will do, then that action is not free

(Conversely, if my actions are free, God does not know what I will do)

The only way not to have knowledge of my future events is for God to be everlasting in time

However it there is something God does not know, God is not now omniscient

And if God can gain new knowledge, He wasn’t previously omniscient

Anthony Kenny

Kenny claimed that God is eternal and outside time

Kenny was also a compatibilist who believed that Human actions are free but at the same time God sees what actions we will choose

In ‘Divine foreknowledge and human freedom’ Kenny re-states Aquinas’ dilemma:

“… it cannot be the case both that God knows that I shall do such and such an action (x) and that I shall not do it. For what God knows must be true: and indeed what anyone knows must be true, since it is impossible to know what is false.”

He then challenges the premise that ‘If God knows that p, p must be true’

This can be understood in two ways: 

Falsely: ‘If God knows that p, it is necessarily true that p’

Correctly: ‘whatever God knows is true’ is necessarily true’

There is no reason to think that whatever God knows is a necessary truth

God can know all sorts of contingent truths

Knowing that something will happen doesn’t mean that it has to happen

it only needs to be the case that I don’t do something else, not that I can’t

But we may object that this doesn’t solve the problem. To do something different from what God knows I will do would mean changing God’s knowledge – either changing what God knows (I will do) or making it that God doesn’t know what I will do, because I do something else

Kenny responds that we don’t change the future

The future is what will happen

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The past is what has happened

There are truths about both

“Whatever changes of plan we may make, the future is whatever takes place after all the changes are made; what we alter is not the future but our plans; the real future can no more be altered than the past”

By acting, I don’t change the future, but I can change a truth about the future into a truth about the past: ‘I will write this book’ (future tense) turns into ‘I have written this book’ (past tense)

I can also change a truth about the past: ‘I have not written this book’ (past tense) becomes ‘I have written this book’ (past tense)

Compatibilists like Kenny claim that if I were to have chosen differently, God would have known differently

God’s actual knowledge guarantees that I will choose a specific act but not that I must of necessity so choose

When I do what God believes I will do, that makes His belief true, it doesn’t show that I cannot act freely


As soon as we ask how God knows what I will do, the puzzle arises again, as you saw in Sleigh’s paradox, simply having a true belief that someone will do something doesn’t mean that they are not free.

But because God is omniscient, his beliefs are complete and infallible.

The problem of evil: how to reconcile God's omnipotence, omniscience and supreme goodness with the existence of physical/ moral evil.

Responses to the issue and issues arising from those responses, including:

• the Free Will Defence (Plantinga)• soul-making (Hick).

Two problems of evil

Logical: ‘The mere existence of evil is logically incompatible with the existence of an all-loving, all-powerful God.’

Evidential: ‘The amount of evil that exists is incompatible with the existence of an all-loving, all-powerful God.’

The Logical Problem of Evil

An a priori deductive argument that seeks to prove that the existence of God and the existence of evil are logically incompatible

This emerges from three core propositions:

1. An all-powerful (omnipotent) God could prevent evil from existing in the world

2. An all-good (omnibenevolent) God would wish to prevent evil from existing in the world

3. There is evil in the world

Given that the fourth proposition would appear to be undeniable, it can be inferred that one of the other three must be false

If God does exist, He must be either "impotent, ignorant or wicked"

J.L. Mackie

Mackie says that the contradiction between the premises is not obvious until we connect God’s attributes to the existence of evil with ‘additional principles’ 4 and 5

Mackie’s Logical Problem of Evil

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1 God is omnipotent

2 God is wholly good

3. Evil exists

4. A good being eliminates evil as far as possible

5. There are no limits to what an omnipotent being can do

6. Necessarily, if a being is omnipotent and supremely good, then it eliminates all evil

7. Therefore, God does not exist

In this formulation, (1) and (2) are definition premises: they claim that nothing can be God unless it has these attributes

(3) is an empirical or a posteriori premise, which adds the fact (known through experience) that evil exists

Mackie thinks he can show that all believers agree with premises 1-6 but that they cannot be held simultaneously

In Evil and Omnipotence, Mackie says that there are some ‘adequate’ solutions to the problem e.g. to reject the claim that God is omnipotent or to deny that evil exists, but no theist accepts these ideas in more than a ‘half-hearted’ way.

The most frequently adopted responses to the problem are fallacious – i.e. they involve logical mistakes due to ‘vagueness‘ in the use of words, or ‘equivocation‘ over the terms ‘good’ and evil’ or incorrect accounts of what is meant by omnipotence

He discusses four possible responses to the logical problem of evil and concludes that none of them are successful:

“Good cannot exist without evil”

This sets a limit to what God can do (i.e. create good without evil)

It denies that evil is opposed to good

It suggests that what God supports is not ‘the good’ but ‘the better’

If good really could not exist without evil, God would ensure that the evil ‘ that exists is only just enough to serve as the counterpart of good’

“Evil is necessary as a means to good”

If God has to introduce evil as a means to good, he must be subject to causal laws; this conflicts with the view that causal laws are made by God.

This suggestion solves the problem of evil by denying that God is omnipotent or that 'omnipotent' means what theists normally believe it to mean.

“The universe is better with some evil in it”

This may be developed in two ways:

“an aesthetic analogy, by the fact that contrasts heighten beauty”

“in connection with the notion of progress ….that the gradual overcoming of evil by good is really a finer thing than would be the eternal unchallenged supremacy of good”

(Challenges to the ‘evidential problem of evil’ apply here)

Mackie calls pain and misery 'first order evil' or evil (1)

Pleasure and happiness, he calls 'first order good' or good (1)

'Second order good' or good (2) emerges in a situation in which evil (1) is a logically necessary component.

Free-will defenders argue that God might allow ‘first order evil’ to bring about ‘second order good’

Mackie claims that this is not successful because:

Firstly, ‘qualities such as benevolence …are not higher sorts of good, but merely means to good (1), that is, to happiness’

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‘It would be absurd for God to keep misery in existence in order to make possible the virtues of benevolence, heroism, etc.’

Secondly, ‘it follows that God is not in our sense benevolent or sympathetic: he is not concerned to minimise evil (1), but only to promote good (2)’

Thirdly, ‘just as good (2) is held to be the important kind of good that God is concerned to promote, so evil (2) will, by analogy, be the important kind of evil, which God, if he were wholly good and omnipotent, would eliminate’

"Evil is due to human freewill"

In this case ‘first order evil (e.g. pain) may be justified as a logically necessary component in second order good (e.g. sympathy), second order evil (e.g. cruelty) is not justified, but ascribed to human beings’

This evades the previous criticism

“Freedom, is now treated as a third order good, and as being more valuable than second order goods (such as sympathy and heroism) would be if they were deterministically produced

…it is being assumed that second order evils, such as cruelty, are logically necessary accompaniments of freedom, just as pain is a logically necessary pre-condition of sympathy.”

Mackie claims that “There is a fundamental difficulty in the notion of an omnipotent God creating men with free will, for if men's wills are really free this must mean that even God cannot control them, that is, that God is no longer omnipotent.”

The Paradox of Omnipotence

In the ‘Paradox of Omnipotence‘ (parallel to the Paradox of the Stone) Mackie asks whether God can create a creature that He cannot subsequently control.

Or, what is practically equivalent to this, can an omnipotent being make rules that then bind him?’ (parallel to the Euthyphro dilemma)

in either answer to this question God‘s omnipotence is limited

Mackie makes a distinction between “first order omnipotence (omnipotence (1),that is unlimited power to act, and second order omnipotence (omnipotence (2), that is unlimited power to determine what powers to act things shall have.”

We could say God always has omnipotence (1), but if so no beings at any time have powers to act independently of God. Or we could say that God at one time had omnipotence (2), and used it to assign independent powers to act to angels and human beings, so that after this God did not have omnipotence (1).

The Paradox of Omnipotence can be answered by saying that God exists outside space and time, but in this case, it makes no sense to describe God as being able to control our decisions as they happen

“It may be objected that God's gift of freedom to men does not mean that he cannot control their wills, but that he always refrains from controlling them. But why, should he not leave men free to will rightly, but intervene when he sees them beginning to will wrongly?”

Flew and Mackie argue that an omnipotent God could create a world where human beings always freely choose to do what is good. Anyone who says that it is a logically necessary condition of freedom that people sometimes make the wrong decision, would have confused genuine Free Will with ‘complete randomness or indeterminacy‘.Flew gives the example of Murdo who decides to marry Marie. Murdo does not choose at random whom to marry. His free choice is determined by the person he is.

Flew can be challenged by rejecting his definition of freedom and saying that real freedom means having a genuine, open choice between all the alternatives open to us, including doing evil.

Mackie’s criticism of the FWD

It is logically possible for me to choose to do good on any one occasion

It is logically possible for me to choose to do good on every occasion

It is logically possible for any individual to choose to do good throughout their life

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God is omnipotent and can create any logically possible world

Therefore God could have created a world in which we were all genuinely free yet we all chose to do good

God did not create such a world

Therefore either God is not omnipotent or he is not wholly good

The Evidential Problem of Evil

The evidential problem of evil is a posteriori and inductive

The conclusion is reasonable, rather than proven beyond all doubt

1.God, by definition, is omnipotent, omniscient, and supremely good.

2.A being who is omnipotent, omniscient and supremely good would not permit excessive evil.

3.The evil in the world is probably excessive.

4.Therefore,God probably does not exist.

In this form of the argument the mere existence of evil in the world cannot count against the existence of God as evil might be a necessary part of a ‘greater good’

Evil has to be shown to be excessive to the purpose of ‘maximising good’ to justify the claim that God does not exist

John Stuart Mill

In Three Essays on Religion (on Nature) Mill says that natural evil arises from a malfunctioning of the universe which was originally intended for the preservation of lifeHe gives examples of the harm done by nature and concludes that “the order of nature, in so far as unmodified by man, is such as no being, whose attributes are justice and benevolence, would have made”


In his novel 'The Brothers Karamazov' Ivan Karamazov discusses the problem with his brother Alyosha, a novice priest. Ivan says that nothing is worth the suffering of innocent children. Adults have 'eaten the apple', so they must take responsibility for their own lives but 'what have the children to do with it’?.

Ivan says that if God foresaw the outcome (even if he later planned to redeem humanity through Christ) it would have been better not to create the world because ‘the price’ is too high. Creation is hopelessly flawed. He therefore 'returns his ticket' and refuses to play God's game. In other words he rejects the free will defense.

In the case of the peasant boy, Dostoyevsky imagines a scene in heaven when the mother may possibly forgive the murderer:

"But the sufferings of her tortured child she has no right to forgive; she dare not forgive .. even if the child were to forgive him."

One response to the problem of evil is to find a way in which God and evil can co-exist

If we can, then we no longer have to accept the incompatibility premise (premise 2)

The ‘free-will defense’ attempts to do this

Augustine of Hippo (354-430 CE)

Augustine adopted the distinction made by Aristotle that everything has its opposite

Good refers to the fulfilment or completion (habitus) of something’s natural purpose (telos)

Evil is not a ‘thing’ in itself but a lack of good (privatio bonni)

Augustine is not denying the reality of evil but saying that it is a defect

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This clears God of direct blame for evil as he only made things that exist (positively)

(However God created the conditions in which sin and the resulting evil and suffering are possible, so must take at least some responsibility).


Everything in the universe was created by God

God could only create what was good

Everything that God has made is therefore ‘good in itself’, in proportion to its place in the hierarchy of creation, even ‘the fires of hell’.

Human beings and angels were created with free will, which shows God's Goodness

Adam and Eve’s ‘original sin’, when they used their freedom to turn away from God, altered the order of the universe, giving rise to natural as well as moral evil.

Augustine saw this biblical ‘myth’ as illustrative of the negative choices that cause disharmony and harm to the environment and within the human race.

The ‘fall’ from grace was caused by human and angelic choice, not God

In the book of Revelation there is an account of the rebellion of angels led by Lucifer (the Devil), and their expulsion from heaven. Lucifer and his followers (who became demons) were given charge of the world.

The Free-Will Defense

God foresaw humanity's misuse of free-will and therefore planned the redemption of humanity through Christ

Augustine believed that God, because he is supremely good and omnipotent, can bring good out of evil

He referred to original human sin as a ‘happy fault’ (felix culpa) because it allowed Christ’s atoning sacrifice.

Some people will still go to hell but this will be as a result of their abuse of their own free will. 

Thomas Aquinas

God (being timeless and spaceless and immutable) cannot fall short of perfection, so cannot do evil

God causes all that exists and therefore all that is good

Evil arises indirectly with God's permission:

 “…in so far as a bad action exists it is caused by God; but in so far as it is bad, it is caused not by God but comes from a defective agent”

God’s essence is goodness, but this does not mean that He is good in the way that we are good even though our goodness derives from God.

Therefore we should not judge God’s goodness from a human point of view.

Aquinas believed that it was possible to prove that God exists (through the 'Five Ways' that all start from facts in the world.)

Once God's existence is established, the problem of evil is looked at from a theocentric point of view

Seen from God's perspective everything is part of the hierarchy of creation, all of which is good


Modern Theologians have criticised Aquinas saying that we should start from human suffering, especially the suffering of Jesus Christ; the God who humans can identify with rather than the immutable, timeless God of Aquinas.

Even if evil is not caused directly by God it is difficult to explain what morally sufficient reason God has to allow evil to exist.

(Aquinas does not address this question directly since he and the Catholic tradition do not use the Free will defense in the way that Augustine does.)

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Leibniz (1646-1716)

Leibniz’s theodicy starts from God’s omnipotence and benevolence

Since God is omnipotent, there are limitless possibilities for the kind of world God could make

Because God is Good he would make a good world

As God foresaw all possible future universes, this must be the ‘best of all possible worlds’

Some evil and suffering must therefore be necessary for the greater good

Leibniz attempted to address concerns over the extent and intensity of evil by talking about the difference between what God wants to happen (his antecedent will) and what God allows to happen (his consequent will)

This view fell out of favour after the Lisbon Earthquake of 1755

Plantinga’s Free Will Defense

The Logical problem of evil

In God, Freedom, and Evil, Plantinga addresses Mackie’s claim that belief in an omnipotent and omnibenevolent God in a world where evil exists is "positively irrational".

As opposed to a theodicy, Plantinga puts forth a defense, to demonstrate that it is logically possible for God to create a world that contains moral evil. He does not need to assert that his new proposition is true, merely that it is valid ‘in the broadly logical sense’.

Plantinga says that as there are no explicit contradictions between the main premises of the Logical Problem of Evil, Mackie has added ‘additional principles’ that he claims are ‘necessary truths’ that show the implicit contradictions.

Plantinga suggested that Mackie‘s logical principles 4 and 5:

4. “a good thing always eliminates evil as far as it can” and

5. “there are no limits to what an omnipotent being can do”

should be replaced by: “every good thing always eliminates every evil that it can eliminate”

This would mean God eliminating all the evil he can ‘properly‘ eliminate without ‘eliminating an outweighing good or bringing about a greater evil‘

Plantinga postulates a ‘state of affairs’ in which:

(i) God is omnipotent, omniscient, and wholly good and (ii) evil exists

Both could be true in a world in which God had good reason for creating evil (even if we don‘t know what that reason was):

A world with free creatures is more valuable than a world containing no free creatures

God can create free creatures but he cannot (without removing their freedom) cause them to do what is morally right

It is therefore not a ‘necessary truth’ that an omnipotent being can eliminate every evil and it is not irrational to believe in the simultaneous existence of evil and an omnipotent and omnibenevolent God.

Plantinga then deals with Mackie’s suggestion that God would create a world in which everyone freely chooses the good.This challenge rests on the mistaken premise that ‘God could have actualized any possible world he pleased‘Plantinga rejects the idea that God could create an infinite number of ‘possible worlds’(Plantinga says to presume he could was "Leibniz's lapse") There are some possible worlds that God could not have (logically) actualizedA world in which morally free creatures produce only moral good is such a world (since it contains a contradiction.)The point of a human being‘s free choice is that it is not controlled by God. In contrast there is no logical inconsistency involved when God creates a world where free creatures choose to do evil. 

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Transworld Depravity

Plantinga says that even within the possible worlds that God could create there are limitations.

It is possible that some person (Curly Smith) has ‘transworld depravity’, so that in every possible world that God could create he will always do at least one evil action.

In this case it is not possible for an omnipotent and wholly good God to ‘actualise’ a world where he is free yet always does good actions

It is possible that the ‘essence’ of every person includes ‘transworld depravity’:

The evidential problem of evil

Plantinga argues that the free will defense can also address the evidential problem of evil:

A world containing creatures that are significantly free is better than a world containing no free creatures.

God can create significantly free creatures.

To be significantly free is to be capable of both moral good and moral evil.

If significantly free creatures were caused to do only what is right, they would not be free.

Therefore, God cannot cause significantly free creatures to do only what is right.

Therefore, God can only eliminate the moral evil done by significantly free creatures by eliminating the greater good of significantly free creatures.

Therefore, God can only eliminate natural evil by eliminating the greater good of significantly free creatures.

It is possible that most of the evil in this world is moral evil (because some natural evil can be the result of moral evil e.g. floods, fires)

It is also possible that there is no better balance of moral good and moral evil than the one that exists.

Even the scale and amount of evil (the surd) that exists does not count as evidence that God could have created a better world, because we have no way of knowing whether a better world is logically possible.


Plantinga’s defense only addresses moral evil

(He anticipates this problem, suggesting that it is possible that natural evil is due to the free actions of nonhuman persons such as ‘Satan and his cohorts‘)

Plantinga makes conflicting claims about the nature of Free Will

Plantinga makes conflicting claims about the nature of Free Will:

A genuinely free choice must not be ‘causally determined’

There are truths about how someone would have behaved or will behave in various ‘possible worlds’ that are fixed in advance.

Plantinga’s defense takes an incompatibilist libertarian view of free will

Mackie’s option is a compatibilist account of Free Will in which our decisions and actions are free if they follow from our character and desires.

Although it would contradict a creature's freedom if God were to strongly actualize a world where creatures only do good, an omniscient God would still know the circumstances under which creatures would go wrong. God could avoid creating such circumstances, thereby weakly actualizing a world with only moral good.

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Plantinga presents a false dilemma

God did not have to create humans with the natures they do; so the fact that they misuse their freedom to cause suffering is evidence against (an omnipotent) God’s existence.

Another option that is consistent with God‘s supreme goodness would be to intervene selectively to prevent the most extreme evils (through miracles) even at the cost of some human freedom.

Mackie rejected Plantinga's notion of transworld depravity:

“ could there be logically contingent states of affairs, prior to the creation and existence of any created beings with free will, which an omnipotent God would have to accept and put up with? The suggestion is simply incoherent”

“If it was caused to be true by God, one may wonder why God actualized a world in which this person is transworld depraved when God could have actualized a world where this person, at least with respect to this action, would not suffer from such conditional depravity. If on the other hand, the fact is not up to God, we must accept that an omnipotent God has no power over contingent facts about the world.”

We could question whether ‘a world containing creatures who are significantly free is more valuable, all else being equal, than a world containing no free creatures at all’

Dostoyevsky agrees

Also whether the moral good in the world actually does outweigh the moral evil since Plantinga‘s model is not consistent with the existence of more moral evil than moral good

One possible response is that freedom is a necessary condition for any kind of morally significant action

Plantinga’s argument is an appeal to ignorance

Plantinga’s argument is an appeal to ignorance

We don’t usually allow the appeal to ignorance on its own

We need good reasons to believe that God and evil are not only able to coexist but also that it is plausible that they actually do coexist

The evidential problem of evil

Plantinga underestimates the evidential problem of evil.

There is no good that we know of that could justify the evil that we are already familiar with.

Any good that we can think of (such as free will or second-order goods) could be obtained without God having to allow the evil that exists

Therefore, evil can only be justified by a good that we are not familiar with.

It is probable that we know most goods.

Therefore, it is probable that there is no such good.


(We often infer from what we know to what we don’t know in this way, inferring from ‘nothing we know of will justify evil’ to ‘nothing will justify evil’ is just the same)

Excessive evil

We do not know how much evil God prevents, because there could presumably be more evil in the world. This does not, however, make the evils that do exist more justifiable from our point of view. For Dostoyevsky and Roth the problem of evil and suffering remains because God cannot redeem the past and give back what is lost

Some believe like St. Teresa that seen from the perspective of eternity the worst human suffering ‘will seem like an uncomfortable night in a hotel’!

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In The Great Divorce, C S Lewis describes how mortal human beings, without the benefit of God's perspective: " ... says of some temporal suffering, ‘No future bliss can make up for it', not knowing that Heaven, once attained, will work backwards and turn even the agony into a glory."

Irenaeaus (130-202)

In his work Against Heresies, Irenaeus said that God created humans in his own image but that they needed to develop into his ‘likeness’ or perfection of character.

This could only be accomplished through experience and with the assistance of the Holy Spirit

Freedom required the possibility of choosing evil:

“How, if we had no knowledge of the contrary, could we have instruction in that which is good? If anyone do shun the knowledge of both kinds of things…he unaware divests himself of the character of a human being.”

Evil and suffering are also necessary for people to develop human virtues.

Christ was the paradigm of human existence as through suffering he showed Humans how to return to God.

Eventually, evil and suffering will be overcome and the human race will develop into God’s perfect likeness and will live in Heaven, where all suffering will end forever and God’s plan will be complete.

 “The basic Irenaean conception of human beings as creatures made initially in the image of God and gradually being brought though their own free responses into the divine likeness, this creative process being interrupted by the fall and sent right again by the incarnation, has continued to operate in the minds of the theologians of the Orthodox approach down to the present day.” John Hick

Richard Swinburne

Swinburne argues that there is no ‘best possible world’

However God would have reasons to make some worlds rather than others

An evolving physical world is better than a static spiritual world

For humans to be free there must be a genuinely open future and a necessary condition for this is an element of randomness

He says this is not a ‘toy world’ and as such it helps people to develop

A world with death means that the old do not always dominate the young and progress can occur.

It concentrates our minds by making us recognise that we have limited time available.

Also death is good in that it brings an end to suffering and marks the beginning of the afterlife when ‘God will wipe away the tears from every eye’


Both the Augustinian and Irenaean traditions agree that free-will is central to any explanation of why evil exists.

Both also agree that by creating the world as it is God has the ultimate responsibility for the existence of evil which is why a theodicy is needed.

The also agree that a ‘greater good’ emerges as a result of evil.

Both accept there are logical limits to God’s omnipotence i.e. God cannot create beings with genuine free will who are ‘ready-made’ to do good

Pain and disease makes possible the existence of ‘sympathy, benevolence, heroism, as well as the more spiritual goods which arise in the struggle against evil.

Most theists accept Plantinga’s response to the Logical problem of evil. John Hick adapts the Irenaean Theodicy as an attempt to deal with the evidential problem.

John Hick (1922-2012)

Hick rejects the traditional ‘Free Will defense’; instead he attempts a theodicy to show that the evil in the

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world does not count as evidence against God‘s existence ‘ when considered in light of a correct account of God’s aims and purposes….it cannot profess to create faith, but only to preserve an already existing faith from being overcome by this dark mystery [of evil]’

Hick adapts the Irenaean Theodicy.

In Evil and the God of Love, Hick describes God’s ongoing process of creating human beings:

The first stage is evolutionary, to develop creatures who are capable of fellowship with God

The second and more difficult stage involves perfecting individuals in their relationship with God and others

Hick agrees with Swinburne that this is the kind of world that God would make. It enables autonomous beings, made in the image of God (knowing right and wrong) to become perfected into the likeness of God.

There are two conditions necessary for human beings to attain moral perfection:

They must have real (libertarian) freedom includes the possibility of doing wrong.

Distance of knowledge from God (epistemic distance) to allow Human’s to make autonomous decisions.

This makes evil inevitable.

The ‘vale of soul-making’

The world is to be viewed: ‘not primarily by the quantity of pleasure and pain occurring in it at any particular moment, but by its fitness for its primary purpose, the purpose of soul-making’.The phrase a ‘vale of soul-making’ is a quotation from the poet John Keats. It describes how humans can use their free will to make choices that lead to moral growth and development. The price that has to be paid is the possibility of human beings causing great suffering. However they can also learn from the consequences of their actions.

In Hick’s theodicy evil has a ‘salvific quality’Some virtues depend upon the existence of evil in order to develop, compassion depends upon suffering, forgiveness would never be needed in a perfect world etc. The virtues achieved through ‘soul making’ are ‘good in a richer and more valuable sense’ than the qualities of someone simply created good.


The main problem is the amount and the intensity of evil (Surd).

Hick agrees that only a supremely good future in heaven can justify this magnitude of suffering.

Since not everyone has a fair opportunity to develop their souls in this life, it is more just if they have other existences to perfect themselves. Hick speculates that there may be another realm in which the process may be continued until complete (like purgatory)

He does not believe that God would create human beings only for them to be dammed.

In the case of the peasant boy, Hick says that Dostoyevsky is thinking of a meeting taking place when the general is still the same cruel, and possibly insane, person. His theodicy envisages a period of perfecting when the General:

 " ... will remember how he treated the serf boy, and will feel ashamed and sorry and in desperate need of forgiveness. But in another sense he will no longer be the same person; for he will have changed in character into someone who is now morally incapable of behaving in such a way."

Hick considers some ‘particularly difficult issues’:

Terrible and pointless evils

Because God is good, he wants us to become good through ‘soul making’. Mackie argues that God is not benevolent in this theodicy because rather than seeking to reduce suffering, the development of virtues actually requires (innocent) suffering.

D. Z. Phillips points out that the challenges of the world do not always result in human development, and often seem to produce nothing but suffering

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In The Concept of Prayer he argued that love can never be expressed by allowing suffering to happen:

 ‘What are we to say of the child dying from cancer? If this has been “done” to anyone that is bad enough, but to be done for a purpose planned from eternity — that is the deepest evil. If God is this kind of agent, He cannot justify His actions and His evil nature is revealed.’

Terrible evils are terrible in contrast to more ‘ordinary’ evils. It is not possible to know how much more terrible evils there could have been, however it seems that when one disease is overcome another arrives HIVAids, Ebola etc.

We cannot rationalise such evils, they remain a challenge and a mystery

However, we can understand that their existence is part of the process of soul-making

If every time someone suffered we knew it was for the best, we might not feel moved to intervene to offer help or support and we would not need faith nor hope that things could be improved.

Animal suffering

Mill wrote eloquently about animal suffering

The Irenaean theodicy allows for the concept of evolution, however this process causes the death of billions of living creatures

Animals don’t grow spiritually, so we can ask how the natural evil that they suffer can be justified

Animal and environmental suffering becomes a means toward human salvation

This is a very anthropocentric (human-centered) view

It raises the question of why such a long drawn out process is necessary when God could have created free intelligent beings in the 'twinkling of an eye’

Human freedom requires that we inhabit a natural world

Physical pain provides all creatures with clues to danger and lessons about how to avoid risks

Since animals lack self-conscious awareness of future pain and death they do not suffer in the same way that humans do

Animals are made by God and are evolutionarily related to us

We have a responsibility that extends to animals as well

Why does God allow Natural Evil?

Natural evil occurs as a by-product of natural laws that govern the physical world

People are hurt because they are physical beings who are in the wrong place at the wrong time

If God intervened directly in nature to prevent suffering he would be breaking the laws set up at creation

If God intervened to prevent natural evil there would be no regularity or predictability in nature and no ‘laws of nature’ at all

"... natural evils (as most people nowadays rightly believe) are produced by impersonal natural laws governing every physical object and process which, therefore, once created, will mechanically strew goods and evils in the path of every sentient being quite regardless of expediency or desert." Paterson

Why does God allow Moral Evil?

It is a by-product of Human free will, if people are free they can choose to cause suffering and pain as well as to help each other (Plantinga)

The world is a ‘vale of soul making’ where people learn about good and evil through their actions (Hick)

What does God do to help suffering?

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By becoming human (the incarnation) God shared human suffering and death and showed a way through to eternal life.

Jesus Christ took human suffering on himself and atoned for human sin, he reformed the relationship between God and Humans that was broken when Adam and Eve turned from God’s commands (sinned).

Arguments relating to the existence of God

Ontological ArgumentsOntology is the study of existence or ‘being’. Ontological arguments use premises that derive from reason alone (a priori). They deduce the existence of God from the concept of God.

St Anselm (1033-1109)

“I do not seek to understand so that I may believe, but I believe in order to understand”

The Proslogion (Discourse) Chapter II: That God Really Exists

God is ‘something greater than which cannot be conceived’

“The fool said in his heart, there is no God” (Ps. 13:1, 52:1) but even the fool, understands what this means, even if he does not think it exists

However God cannot exist only in thought, for if he exists only in thought he could also be thought of as existing in reality as well, which is greater

Therefore God undoubtedly exists both in thought and reality

(Anselm goes on to deduce God's nature and attributes from the same definition.)

Gaunilo of Marmoutier ‘On behalf of the fool’

The ‘Lost Island’

The Lost Island is that than which no greater can be conceived.

It is greater to exist in reality than merely as an idea.

If the Lost Island does not exist, one can conceive of an even greater island; that is one that does exist

Therefore, the Lost Island exists in reality

Gaunilo’s challenge is a reductio. If the argument were sound we would also be able to prove the existence of many other supremely perfect things.

Suppose that the property of being supremely great is part of the concept of God and that the property of existing is part of the concept of God, it does not follow that any being actually has that property

We need to first demonstrate God’s actual existence as a ‘real and indubitable fact’

Issues with perfect Islands

The notion of a perfect island is not coherent as they have no ‘intrinsic maximum’

Perfect islands aren’t a different kind of thing from islands, but a type of island

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So perfection is an ‘accidental’ not an ‘essential’ property of islands

It’s coherent to think of an island that isn’t perfect, if an island was not perfect it would not cease to be an island

Gaunilo’s perfect island doesn’t have to exist, however we ‘clearly and distinctly perceive’ that existence is an inseparable part of God’s nature, so God has to exist

‘a supremely perfect island’ is an ‘idea which has been put together by my intellect …where none of its properties necessarily belong to its nature’ Descartes

Gaunilo’s other challenges

The fool questions or simply denies that the greatest conceivable being must exist in reality

This being exists in his mind only in the sense that he understands what is said even though he has never experienced it in reality

‘All sorts of false and completely non-existent things exist in his mind’ since when someone speaks of them he understands what is said but through existence in the mind alone they cannot be said to attain existence in reality

Anselm seems to conflate God and the concept of God

From the fact that we have an idea of God, it does not follow that God ‘exists in thought’, what exists in our thought is the concept of God, not some inferior version of God!

His options should really be;

(i) only the concept of God exists or

(ii) both the concept of God and God exist

it seems a mistake to count the difference between existing in reality and existing in the intellect as a difference in the quality of the thing, God does not become better by existing in reality.

Anselm fails to distinguish between

(i) a property being part of the definition or concept of a being, and

(ii) the being really having that property

Anselm’s response

If that being can be even conceived to be, it must exist in reality.

For what can be conceived to exist, but does not exist, is not the being than which a greater cannot be conceived

Therefore, if such a being can be conceived to exist, necessarily it does exist”

Anselm introduces a new element into his argument:

The greatest conceivable being can’t be thought not to exist

Because it is better to exist than not, existence is therefore an essential property of God

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Necessary existence is greater than contingent existence

Therefore God necessarily exists (unlike islands)

Rene Descartes (1596-1650)

Descartes' argument relies on God’s perfection alone

It starts from the definition of God as "a supremely perfect being" (un etre souverainement parfait)

Descartes - Meditation V

“It is certain that I ..find the idea of God, that is to say, the idea of a supremely perfect Being, in me, than that of any figure or number whatever it is”

“Whenever it happens that I think of a first and sovereign Being, and, so to speak, derive the idea of Him from the storehouse of my mind, it is necessary that I should attribute to Him every sort of perfection . . . .

And this necessity makes me conclude (after having recognized that existence is a perfection) that this first and sovereign Being really exists.”

“Existence can no more be separated from the essence of God than can its having three angles be separated from the essence of a triangle, or the idea of a mountain from the idea of a valley”

Descartes’ Argument:

I have the idea of GodGod is supremely perfectTherefore, God has all perfections

Descartes (and Anselm) conclude that God exists by definitionThis is because the subject (God) is contained in the predicate (exists)Existence is a ‘perfection’ or predicable attribute that a supremely perfect being must have The ‘doctrine that existence is a predicate of God’ enables Descartes to meet the objection that the concept of God cannot guarantee that there is an actual being corresponding to it

Descartes claimed to know the nature of God a priori, like the analytic truths of Mathematics this knowledge is perceived ‘clearly and distinctly’

God’s perfections aren’t accidental features but are part of the ‘true and immutable nature’ of God, the necessary existence of God is not simply about the ‘concept’ of God; it is a claim about the essence of God

That is the point of the comparison with the triangle: just as it is part of the nature of a triangle that its internal angles add up to 180º, so existence is part of the nature of God

Descartes believes he has established that if we think about God it must be in terms of His necessary existence and that the idea of necessary existence entails actual existence since God must actually exist in order to be God

If the first premise presupposes that God exists the argument turns out to be question-begging or circular; it may be valid, but the non-theist has no reason to accept there is such a thing as the ‘true and immutable nature’ of God unless she is already convinced that God exists

Leibniz felt that Descartes version of the argument was incomplete and needed an extra premise to make it valid

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“…the argument silently assumes that this idea of a wholly great or wholly perfect being is possible”

we cannot safely infer from definitions until we know that they are real or that they involve no contradiction.

The reason for this is that from concepts which involve a contradiction, contradictory conclusions can be drawn simultaneously, and this is absurd” Leibniz

Gottfried von Leibniz 1646 -1716

The extra premise is needed to show that the definition of God as a supremely perfect being is coherent and does not contain any contradictions

Without this it would be impossible to get from the definition to the claim that God really does have all the perfections attributed to him

Leibniz says that the only way to show that God’s perfections A and B are incompatible would be to show that A implies not-B, or B implies not-A, but A and B, because they are perfections, are simple, positive, and absolute (without limit) can’t be analysed to reveal any hidden potential for contradiction

Descartes and Leibniz were rationalists, they believed that as in Mathematics and other things we know a priori, the necessary connection between God and existence is discovered through reason:

David Hume 1711-1776

As an Empiricist Hume was opposed to the idea that we can gain knowledge about what exists through reason alone

The ontological argument doesn’t rely on sense experience, but on pure reasoning

So the argument, and its conclusion that God exists, are a priori

The only claims that can be known a priori are what Hume called ‘relations of ideas’

The ontological argument doesn’t tell us anything about the world, only about the relations between the terms used

To be meaningful these must be ‘demonstrable’:

“Nothing is demonstrable, unless the contrary is a contradiction…Whatever we conceive as existent, we can also conceive as non-existent. There is no being, therefore, whose non-existence implies a contradiction”

Hume believes that a claim (p) can be ‘demonstrated’ (proved) by showing that its contrary (not-p) implies a contradiction

However any claim about the existence of any being X will have a contrary ‘X does not exist’ which is ‘distinctly conceivable’ (and so does not imply a contradiction)

This also means that the idea of ‘necessary existence’ is meaningless

God does not possess existence essentially as it is possible to conceive of God not existing (and still be thinking of God)

Immanuel Kant

Kant's objections to the ontological argument are that:

1.No existential proposition is logically necessary

2. 'Existence' is not a genuine predicate

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A claim is necessary only if a contradiction can be derived from its denial, while it is contradictory to posit a subject while denying one of the predicates that describes its essential features, there can be no contradiction in rejecting both the subject and its predicates

Kant’s response can be set out like this: 

If you have a triangle

Then it must have three angles

But if you do not have the triangle, you do not have its three angles or sides either

In the same way, if you accept God, it is logical to accept his necessary existence

But you do not have to accept God

Descartes maintained that ‘God exists’ is an analytic statement i.e. the concept ‘God’ contains the idea of existence

For Kant, although definitions are analytic, statements about existence are synthetic

Therefore, the angles and sides of a triangle are necessary because they are part of the definition of a triangle, but that says nothing about the actual existence of a triangle – necessity is not a feature of the world, but only of logic

Kant might agree with Descartes that necessary existence forms an essential part of the definition of God but it does not follow that there actually is a God, as we can deny that there are any necessary existing beings

Kant also says that in the proposition ‘God exists’ ... ‘exists’ is a grammatical or logical predicate but not a real predicate because it does not give new information about the subject of the sentence

You add nothing to a description of something by saying that ‘it has existence’, existence is not an extra quality - it is a way of saying that there is the thing itself

Norman Malcolm (1911-1990)

God is (by definition) the most perfect being

Necessary existence is a perfection

Therefore, necessary existence is contained within the concept of God

Therefore, God’s existence is either impossible or necessary

God’s existence is not impossible

Therefore, necessarily, God exists

Four possibilities concerning God’s existence:

a) God’s existence is necessarily false – it is logically impossible for a being that has God’s properties to exist

b) God’s existence is contingently false, a being that has God’s properties could exist - but doesn’t

c) God’s existence is contingently true, a being that has God’s properties could exist and does

d) God’s existence is necessarily true, it is logically necessary that a being that has God’s properties exists

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Malcolm argues that possibilities b) and c) can’t apply to the greatest possible being

Contingent beings are dependent on other factors, whereas God is independent and eternal

This leaves either a) or d)

a) type statements are logically contradictory propositions (e.g. square circles)

There is nothing logically contradictory about d)

This is the only remaining possibility

Malcolm agrees with Anselm that the argument cannot produce ‘living faith’, but it can remove some ‘philosophical scruples’ about the existence of God

This is because he believes that religious belief arises from ‘a storm in the soul’ rather than an intellectual process

Alvin Plantinga (1932 - )

Plantinga’s version of the ontological argument makes use of modal logic:

A proposition p is possibly true if and only if it is true in some possible world

A proposition p is necessarily true if and only if it is true in all possible worlds

A proposition p is actually true if and only if it is true in this, the actual world

Plantinga starts with two definitions:

A being is maximally excellent if in a given possible world if it has omniscience, omnipotence, and moral perfection

A being is maximally great if it has maximal excellence in every possible world

Outline of the argument

God is a being with ‘maximal greatness’

Since there is no contradiction in the concept, there must be some possible world where such a being exists

If such a being exists it would have to exist in every possible world

A being that exists in all possible worlds necessarily must exist in this world

It is possible that there is a maximally great being

so there is a possible world in which maximally greatness is instantiated (has an instance)

but a maximally great being is one that has maximal excellence in every world – i.e. it is necessarily maximally excellent

If it is possible that something is true in all possible worlds

then it is true in at least one possible world

which means that it is true in all possible worlds

so from premise (1) it follows, by the definition of maximal greatness, that it is necessary that there is a maximally great being

Therefore necessarily, God exists.

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‘actually p’ implies ‘possibly p’ because if something is true in this world then it is true in some possible world (i.e. this one)

‘necessarily p’ is equivalent to ‘not possibly not-p’ because a necessary truth is true in every world so there is no possible world in which that truth is not true

‘necessarily p’ implies ‘actually p’, because if something is true in every world then it is clearly true in this one

Plantinga claims that God ‘couldn‘t have been otherwise’ so he couldn‘t have failed to exemplify his properties, a possible world in which God doesn’t exist is one in which God fails to exemplify his properties, it follows that God is the same in every possible world and thus must exist in every possible world if he exists at all

Like Anselm, Plantinga aims to show that his argument shows the ‘rational acceptability’ of belief in the existence of God


We can construct other expressions of the form ‘maximally F’ whose possibility entails their necessity

Graham Tooley points out that, if we accept that a ‘maximally evil’ being is possible, then we can use the same reasoning to prove that such a possible being is necessary and therefore actually exists:

Lacewing says that this makes no sense, if God doesn’t exist he ‘doesn’t have zero degree of greatness ..we can’t talk of his degree of greatness at all’ He says that ‘ we should redefine a maximally great being as a being that is maximally excellent in every world in which it exists … but because the greatest possible being need not exist in every possible world, it is still possible that God does not exist.’

The cosmological argument: causal and contingency arguments:

Aquinas’ Five Ways (first three)

God's existence is an article of faith. What is a matter of faith cannot be (directly) demonstrable

‘God's (actual) existence, though not self-evident to us, can be demonstrated through his effects’

First way – the argument from motion

Second way –the argument from causation

Third way – the argument from contingency

Causal Cosmological Arguments

The argument from motion

it is... evident to our senses, that in the world some things are in motion”

(Aquinas gives the example of wood being made hot by fire as something that is “moved” by something else)

Whatever is in motion is put into motion by something else; nothing can move itself

If y is put into motion by x, and x is also in motion, then x must have been put into motion by something else again

If this goes on to infinity, then there is no first mover

If there is no first mover, then there is no other mover, and so nothing is in motion

Therefore, there must be an unmoved first mover

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This eternal prime mover we call God

The argument from causation

We find, in the world, causes and effects

Nothing can be the cause of itself (if it were, it would have to exist before itself, which is impossible)

If you remove a cause, you remove its effect

Therefore, if there is no first cause, there will be no later causes

There cannot be an infinite regress of causes as there would be no first cause

There must be a first cause, which is not itself caused, this we call God

The argument from contingency

Everything in the world could be or not be (they exist contingently)

If it is possible for something not to exist, then at some time, it does not exist.

If everything exists contingently, then it is possible that at some time, there was nothing in existence.

If at some time, nothing was in existence, nothing could begin to exist (Reductio)

Since things did begin to existence, there was never nothing in existence

Therefore, there is at least one thing that does not exist contingently, but must exist (exists necessarily)

Everything that is necessary has the cause of its necessity within (intrinsic) or outside (extrinsic)itself

If everything had the cause of its necessity outside itself there would be no source of necessity

There must be a necessary being that causes and sustains all other necessary and contingent beings

This we call God

David Hume (1711-1776)

Hume raises four objections to cosmological arguments from causation, each attacks a different assumption:

1. that everything (apart from the first cause) has a cause2. that there must be a first cause3. that the first cause is God 4. That the first cause is ‘necessary’

That everything (apart from the first cause) has a cause

We never actually experience causation, we only experience one event, then another

Causation is something that our minds impose upon the world as a result of past experience

The premise: “every being that begins to exist has a cause of its existence… is neither intuitively nor demonstratively certain”; it is not an analytic statement since we can deny it without contradiction

Similarly ‘something cannot come out of nothing’ is not an analytic statement

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These claims are not certain even though our experience generally supports them, experience cannot establish that a claim holds universally

It is not that the premise is false, but rather that we do not know it to be true: this means that the argument as a whole cannot be deductive

This objection can be avoided by giving up the deductive form of the cosmological argument claiming instead that an inference to God’s existence is the best explanation for the universe (which is made up of contingent objects)

We cannot work backwards from an effect to determine a cause (we cannot know a priori what the cause for something is)

That there must be a first cause

We do not have any experience of first causes just as we have no experience of the beginnings of universes

We have no idea what would count as a sufficient cause

The beginning of a universe is not an event that happens within the universe, it doesn’t take place in space or time, since both come into existence with the universe

We cannot apply principles we have developed for events within a universe, such as ‘everything has a cause’, to the universe as a whole

The proposition that there must be a first cause is not an analytic truth; an infinity of causes does not involve a contradiction

It is conceivable, that something has always existed, and each thing has caused the next

Hume questions the move from ‘every event in the universe has a cause’ to ‘the universe as a whole has a cause’

He dismisses ‘uniting’ the individual causes into a series as ‘an arbitrary act of the mind’

The series doesn’t have a separate existence that needs explanation (see the fallacy of composition below)

That the first cause is God

Hume asked why believers stop at the explanation of God

Conversely, if we accept that there may be self-explaining facts e.g. ‘God exists’ the universes existence could be one of them: “Why may not the universe be the necessarily existent being?”

This has the advantage of not multiplying causes (Ockham’s razor)

We cannot infer that the first cause must be a mind, let alone God, this is neither an analytic truth, nor is it established by experience: ‘anything may produce anything’ (A Treatise of Human Nature)

There is no a priori reason that matter cannot produce thought (in fact experience would suggest that it does)

To avoid an infinite regress of causes we should not search for an explanation beyond the natural universe: “It were better, therefore never to look beyond the present material world”

There may be some “brute facts” that cannot be explained in terms of other facts

That the first cause is ‘necessary’

If something is necessary, it cannot be denied without contradiction

Anything we can conceive of existing, we can also conceive of not existing

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So the existence of a ‘necessary’ being can be denied without contradiction

“the words ‘necessary existence’ have no meaning, or, which is the same thing, none that is consistent”

Bertrand Russell 1872-1970

Four main criticisms:

There is no such thing as a ‘necessary being’

Causal cosmological arguments are guilty of the fallacy of composition

Not every event may have a cause

The universe is a ‘brute fact’ that does not need an explanation

There is no such thing as a ‘necessary being’

Only propositions can be necessary. These statements are true by definition (analytic) and cannot be denied without contradiction

(Kant and Hume both claim that the concept of a necessarily existent being is incoherent, if something were necessarily existent, the proposition “X does not exist” would be self-contradictory)

The Ontological argument claims that the statement ‘God exists’ is necessarily true but we still need to establish the fact that God actually exists

The fallacy of composition

Just because everything in the universe is contingent (and so needs an explanation) and the universe could be described as the ‘totality of individual contingent objects’, it doesn’t follow that the universe is also contingent or needs an explanation

Fallacies of composition infer that because the parts have some property, the whole also has that property.

This is like saying that: ‘because each member of the human race has a mother, humanity as a whole has a mother’

Not every event may have a cause (sub-atomic physics)

If everything has a cause of its existence, and nothing can cause itself, what is the cause of God's existence?

The answer would be that because God has necessary existence, nothing is required as a cause of his existence

As God does not have a beginning in time, then he does not need a cause of his existence, since existing things need a cause only if they have a beginning at which that causation can take place

However it is not an analytic truth that everything has a cause

(sub-atomic physics suggests that some sub-atomic particles just appear)

the universe may be a ‘brute fact’ has no explanation – it is ‘just there, and that’s all’

The ‘necessary being’ need not be God but could be matter/energy

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A fundamental law of physics is the conservation of energy: the total amount of matter/energy in the universe remains constant, it cannot be increased or decreased

(Mackie says that we cannot jump from ‘everything at some time did not exist’ to ‘at some time everything did not exist’; the universe could have an infinite succession of linear causes but no hierarchical sustaining cause(s)

However the ‘Big Bang theory’ suggests that matter/energy was created, along with time and space; if the universe came into existence it is contingent. (see the Kalam argument)


Descartes Ontological argument is found in the Fifth Meditation, in the Third Meditation Descartes gives two further ‘proofs’ of God’s existence:

The Trademark argument

The Cosmological argument

In the Meditations, Descartes practices radical scepticism, he doubts whether an external, physical world exists, but is certain that he exists (cogito ergo sum). He then asks what causes his continued existence and then what causes the universe’s continued existence

The trademark argument

He has a ‘clear and distinct’ idea of God (a perfect being)

This idea must have been caused by something

There must be ‘at least as much reality in the cause as in the effect’

The cause of his idea of a perfect being must be a perfect being

i.e. God must have imprinted this idea in his mind (like a trademark)

The Cosmological argument

If I cause my own existence, I would give myself all perfections

I do not have all perfections

Therefore, I am not the cause of my existence

My existing at one time does not entail my existing later (I am contingent)

Some cause is needed to keep me in existence

(My existence is not uncaused)

Therefore, I depend on something else to exist

I am a thinking thing and I have the idea of God

There must be as much reality in the cause as in the effect (the “Causal Adequacy Principle”)

Therefore, what caused me must be a thinking thing and have the idea of God

Either what caused me is the cause of its own existence or its existence is caused by another cause

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There cannot be an infinite sequence of causes

Therefore, some cause must be the cause of its own existence

What is the cause of its own existence (and so, directly or indirectly, the cause of my existence) is God

Some cause is needed to keep me in existence.

There cannot be an infinite chain of causes because what caused me also causes my continued existence in the present

My parents, or any other supposed cause of my existence, do not keep me in existence

The only cause that could keep me in existence is God

The “Causal Adequacy Principle”

Descartes claims that the idea of God has “objective reality” due to the level of reality or “perfection” of the “object” of the idea (God himself) is tautological (known as the ‘Cartesian circle’).

We cannot say that one cause is “more real” than another: either something is “real” (it exists) – or it isn’t!

The Kalām Cosmological Argument

Named after the Kalām school of Islamic philosophy (means ‘speech’ or scholastic debate)

First discussed by the medieval Islamic philosophers Al-Kindi and Al-Ghazali who disputed Aristotle’s idea that the Universe had always existed (NB Al-Ghazali went on to attack the argument, claiming it was unsuccessful)

Al-Ghazali’s formulation was:

“Every being which begins to exist has a cause for its beginning; now the world is a being which begins; therefore it possesses a cause for its beginning”

This argument claims that the cause of the world’s existence must have been a being which did not itself have a beginning (because if it did have a beginning then this being would in turn need a cause for its existence)

This “eternal being” is God


All-Ghazali sought ways to show that the universe must have had a beginning (as it says in the Bible) In one of these he used a mathematical paradox;

It takes Jupiter twelve years to orbit the sun

It takes Saturn thirty years

If past time is infinite they must have orbited the sun the same number of times

But this is impossible since Jupiter must have orbited at least twice as many times

Actual infinity is therefore not a coherent concept

(modern ‘set theory’ supports the idea of ‘real’ infinity)

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Craig claims that the cause of the universe must be a personal agent because the physical laws and processes described by science cannot explain the beginning of the universe, since they only began to operate after the universe was formed

The Big Bang theory

The Big Bang theory states that the Universe had a beginning

The Second law of Thermodynamics (Entropy) suggests that the universe is running out of usable energy (it will have an end). It also implies that time can’t be eternal in the past but that it must have an absolute beginning  

The Kalam Argument

Everything that begins to exist, has a cause

The universe began to exist

Therefore it must have a cause of its existence

Something can’t come out of nothing

There must be something that causes things to exist, but the existence of which isn’t caused

Only a personal God could have been the cause of the universe’s existence

Therefore, God exists

William Lane Craig

Craig has re-introduced the Kalām argument, he treats the premise that ‘the universe has a cause’ as an a priori truth based purely on reasoning and as an a posteriori truth based on the current scientific theory that the universe began with one event – the big bang

Craig explains that the universe cannot be an actual infinite, as we keep adding days onto it. Whatever is finite (i.e. whatever comes into being) has a causeIt is a logical impossibility for something to cause itself (Aquinas used this argument in his Second Way). If something does not exist, then it can have no influence, and so cannot be a cause.Therefore nothing can cause itself.The conclusion of these points is that since the Universe is finite and nothing can cause itself, the Universe must have a cause. Since the Universe was created ‘ex nihilo’ then the cause must exist outside the Universe. The Kalam tradition believed this uncaused cause to be God. They rested their belief in this being as God on the fact that it was necessary for some personal Being to will the Universe into existence. This, they believe, points to God.

Whatever begins to exist has a cause

The Universe began to exist

Therefore the Universe had a cause

The Universe could not cause itself

The cause of the Universe must be a power that is spaceless and timeless

It is reasonable to believe that this is God

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Three key issues are discussed:

the causal principle, that everything that begins to exist has a cause

that the universe had a beginning

that the explanation must be God

The Causal Principle

Hume argued that ‘every event has a cause’ is not an analytic truth

‘Something cannot come out of nothing’ is also not analytic

Synthetic truths are known a posteriori, through experience although our experience supports the claim that everything within the universe has a cause, we cannot apply this principle to the beginning of the universe (it may be self-causing)

The Beginning of the Universe

Even if this universe has a beginning, it may have been caused by a previous (or another) universe and so on, infinitely

Fred Hoyle’s ‘steady state theory’ and similar more recent theories suggest that the universe may not have a beginning


Once we reach the simplicity of the ‘big bang’, it is complicating the situation unnecessarily to suggest a God behind it (Ockham’s razor)

If everything needs a cause then God must need a cause

If the First Cause were to exist, it would not have to be God; it could be any sort of creator

The Argument from Design

Also called the teleological argument from the Greek world telos which means ‘end’ or ‘purpose’

Arguments from design are a posteriori: based on empirical evidence

Anthony Flew pointed out that it should really be called the argument to design rather than from design‘from design’ is tautological – the conclusion is already assumed in the premise, it presumes design when all we can actually see in nature is pattern, order and regularity (order is the premise from which design has to be established via the argument).

Arguments from Analogy

Aquinas Fifth Way

Living beings that lack intelligence appear to have an end or purpose

Things that lack intelligence cannot move towards their end unless they are directed by something with intelligence (as an arrow has to be fired by an archer)

Therefore (by analogy) there must be an intelligence that directs unintelligent natural things towards their end

This we call God

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“whatever lacks knowledge cannot move towards an end, unless it be directed by some being endowed with knowledge and intelligence; as the arrow is shot to its mark by the archer”.


Aquinas argument reflects an Aristotelian view of the universe

This suggests that it rains to water plants rather than because it rains plants happen to grow

The thing that directs unintelligent organisms to their purpose we now call DNA

William Paley (1743-1805) Natural Theology

Paley used the examples of eyes, bird's wings, fish's fins, the lacteal system, the laws of motion and gravity and the rotation of the planets to argue for design in nature

His argument treats the world and its parts as mechanisms, like the ones humans make

It is concerned with order (the accurate adjustment of parts to one another)

purpose (the adaptation of means to ends) in natural mechanisms

and regularity (the ‘laws’ that govern nature)

1) Anything that has parts organized to serve a purpose must have been designed

2) ‘There cannot be design without a designer’

3) Nature contains things which have parts organized to serve a purpose

4) Therefore, Nature contains things which have been designed

5) Therefore, nature has a designer

6) A designer must be a ‘designing mind’ separate from what it designs

7) Therefore, this designer must be God

The Watch Analogy

The analogy with the watch is intended to show the absurdity of denying premise (2)

If you came across a watch in an uninhabited place, you could not say it had got there by chance

The complexity of its mechanism and the adaptation of parts to a purpose would make you say it had a designer

The watch has several parts

They are arranged to work together

Each part seems to have been planned for a pre-assigned use

It has a function or purpose

It couldn’t have worked in any other way

(It is finely tuned and complex)

(It is aesthetically pleasing)

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Paley’s counter arguments

I wouldn’t be dissuaded that the watch had a designer because:

I had never seen a watch being made or couldn’t make one myself

Paley asks: “Does one man in a million know how oval frames are turned?”We are none the less certain that they have a designer

It sometimes went wrong

I didn’t know what a couple of bits were for or if they had no apparent use

By being told that I knew nothing at all about the matter

Matter has to be arranged in some order and it just happened to be as a watch It was made by the ‘principle of order’ that is found within thingsIt was the result of the Laws of ‘metallic nature’

The mind tends to create patterns 

Paley subscribed to Newton’s (and Aristotle’s) idea of a ‘mechanical clockwork’ universeHe went on to say that even if the ‘watch’ turned out to be some kind of watchmaking machine, it would still need an ultimate designer“a chain composed of an infinite number of links, can no more support itself than a chain composed of a finite number of links”

He also considered the possibility that:‘nothing had been before us but an unorganised, mechanised substance without mark or indication of contrivance”He says if this were the case there would be no difference between the watch and the stone, in that the watch would just have ‘evolved’ but we know that it is the product of deliberate, conscious and intelligent design

The universe is a far more complex mechanism than a watch

If a watch needs a watchmaker, the universe needs a universe-maker

Paley attempts to sidestep Hume’s criticisms about the weakness of the “analogy” by basing his argument on a general principle that anything which has parts arranged for a purpose must have been designedIn this way he avoids directly relying on Hume’s idea that “similar effects must have similar causes”

Immanuel Kant

Kant doesn’t think we have to criticise the analogy between the natural world and human design Or to question whether the argument shows an intelligent designer

The real issue is that it is not sufficient to establish the existence of a God who is the creator of the world and on whom the existence of everything else depends

When we look closely at the world of human artefacts (houses, ships etc.) we are entitled to conclude that they have properties that suggest they are designed However the designers do not create these objects from nothingThey use materials that already exist

In the first part of the argument from design we are justified in concluding that the watchmaker put together the ‘form’ of the watchbut not that he created the material that the product was made from

Kant says that the ‘lofty purpose’ of the argument is to prove that:a) there is a being that designed and created the universeb) that that being contains all perfectionsand that it fails to do so: we can conclude that the universe has a designer but not a creator

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David Hume

In his Dialogues Concerning Natural Religion (published 30 years before Paley’s argument) Hume presents an argument between three ancient philosophers: Cleanthes, Demea and Philo. All three agree that God exists but disagree about the correct way to prove it

Cleanthes supports the Design Argument

Philo, who is characterised by his ‘careless scepticism’, criticises it. (He represents Hume’s own views)

Cleanthes (Hume)

1 In the organization of parts for a purpose (the fitting of means to ends), nature resembles the products of human design

2 Since the effects resemble each other, the causes also resemble each other.

3 The products of human design are the result of intelligence

4 The intelligent cause of nature is ‘similar to the mind of man’ only greater

5 God

The Dialogues also contain a “lengthy presentation of the argument that the existence of evil in the world shows that the god who made it and gave it order is not both totally good and omnipotent”.

However “This does not affect the argument from design which does not purport to show that the designer of the Universe does have these characteristics”.

Philo’s Criticisms (Hume)

the analogy is not strong, we can only infer similarity of causes from “exact similarity” of effectsA machine doesn’t have enough similarities with the universe to support the conclusion that both have been designed

The universe is not like a vast machine, it is more like something organic that evolves and changes

the ‘generation of the universe’, was a ‘one off’; we can only infer causes where we see two kinds or “species” regularly “conjoined” together

We can’t generalise from our very limited and finite experience to the universe as a wholeUnless we have experience of other universes being made, we can’t infer that our own universe has been designed

We can only be certain that objects have an intelligent designer if we have direct or indirect empirical evidence.

the presence of design is not necessarily evidence of a perfect designer

we cannot tell from our limited position whether the universe “contains any great faults or deserves any considerable praise”

“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”

There is no reason to suppose that there is only one designing deity; a complex object like a ship has a team of designers

The gods could be male and female and have manufactured the universe as we ‘manufacture’ babies

It could have been an infant or senile deity

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Even if the world does have a designer – the existence of this designing mind would have to be explained by another designer and so on, leading to an infinite regress of designers

It is possible that the universe is the result of chance rather than intelligenceThis is the Epicurean hypothesis’ that matter adopts all possible arrangements over infinite time

The most the argument can establish is that “the cause or causes of the Universe probably bears some remote analogy to human intelligence” but it appears that the designer of the universe does not care about or for it but is ‘entirely indifferent’

Swinburne’s responses to Hume

In The Coherence of Theism, Swinburne accepts some of Hume’s objections:

The argument so far is only evidence for a designer, not for the theistic God

(However God is still the best explanation for design)

Hume puts forward as a general principle that ‘when we infer any particular cause from an effect, we must proportion the one to the other, and cannot ascribe to the cause any qualities but what are ‘exactly sufficient to produce the effect.’

Swinburne replies that the universal adoption of this principle would lead to the abandonment of science.

“it is often perfectly reasonable to postulate that unobserved A*s, similar to As, have the same relation to unobserved and unobservable B*s similar to Bs”

Hume argued that we cannot reach conclusions about an object which is the only one of its kind, such as the universe.

Swinburne responds that “cosmologists are reaching very well-tested scientific conclusions about the universe as a whole… [so] the principle… is obviously wrong.”

In science it is “reasonable” to postulate entities to explain phenomena, even if those entities need an additional explanation “as long as the postulated entities account simply and coherently for the characteristics of the effects …. it is no objection to explaining X by Y that we cannot explain Y.”

Hume (Philo) asks why we should not believe in a multitude of creator deities rather than just one

Swinburne appeals to the scientific principle (Ockham’s razor) that the simpler theory is preferable: “when postulating entities, postulate as few as possible”.

(‘Simplicity’ here means not multiplying causes; and not giving them more complexity than is needed for the explanation to work)

If there were many gods, we would expect to see marks of their work in different parts of the universe but we see uniformity everywhere

It is also simpler to suppose that the cause of the universe is uncaused, or we have a problem of infinite regress and to suppose that God has infinite power or we would have to explain why God had just the right amount of power to create the universe

Hume suggests that the arrangement of matter in the universe might be the result of random distribution of atoms over time

Swinburne points out that this can only account for spatial order; it does not account for the existence of temporal order such as the regular operation of laws of nature

Card Shuffling Machine analogy

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Imagine a madman kidnapped you and strapped you to a bomb that would explode unless a card shuffling machine dealt the ace of hearts from ten consecutive packs…and it did!

You might say this was extraordinary if not miraculous; the kidnapper replied that you couldn’t have seen anything else

Swinburne says that there is something extraordinary about such an improbable event

The Teleological argument’s basic point is valid.

Science describes the laws of nature, but it can’t explain why the universe has the laws it has or the exact quantity of matter it has.

Swinburne’s Design Argument

Swinburne identifies two forms of regularity:

Spatial order (Swinburne calls this ‘regularities of co-presence') concerns the existence of things with complex structures such as the eye, this kind of order can be explained as a result of Evolution.

Temporal order (‘regularities of succession’) concerns the timing of events and the way they follow each other, needed to create the universe and the fact that laws of nature exist and operate throughout.

The universe could easily have been chaotic, but it is not. The orderliness of the universe is a remarkable fact that seems highly unlikely to have come about by chance (like the card shuffling analogy). The existence of uniform laws of nature throughout the universe suggests that the universe was designed by a personal agent.

Science must assume the fundamental laws of nature in order to provide an explanation of temporal order.

We can explain why things happen in terms of scientific laws or intentional human action. The hypothesis that a designer exists and created the universe to include the laws of nature provides a personal explanation for the laws of nature, and so for the order of the universe:

P1.The universe is uniform, complex, and relatively simple.

P2. Science can't explain P1

P3. Either P1expresses a brute fact or its truth is explained by the existence of a creator/designer who is a personal, rational agent

P4. The probability of theism given P1 together with our general background knowledge is considerably higher than the probability of atheism given P1 together with our general background knowledge.

C. Therefore, the existence of an immensely uniform, complex, and at bottom relatively simple universe increases significantly the probability of the existence of a designer.

Swinburne’s second point is that this is the sort of universe God would have reason to make because:

It is intellectually understandable and aesthetically beautiful

It is orderly so that human beings can learn from it

It gives finite creatures the chance to grow to knowledge of God

Swinburne maintains that the Teleological argument by itself does not prove God’s existence, but that together with the cosmological argument and the argument from religious experience it makes a cumulative case for God’s existence.

Objections to Swinburne

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To use Swinburne’s own analogy: “the alphabetical order of books on a library shelf” might imply the activity of a librarian, but it does not require us also to suppose that the librarian created those books!

Swinburne says that there are two distinct kinds of explanation, “in terms of scientific law”, and “in terms of the rational choice of a free agent” and that the second can account for the first. However, God’s rational decisions cannot be the cause of the regularities in nature, because without them it would be impossible for anything to cause anything else!

Multiverse theories explain the existence of regular laws of nature by suggesting that the big bang brought into being infinitely many possible universes, each following different “laws of nature”. Some of these were internally coherent and survived, and others could not survive and collapsed

Swinburne replies that an appeal to chance to account for order becomes less and less plausible, the greater the order. He also says that “In the absence of any evidence ….we are not justified in attributing its present regular behaviour to chance”.

The Infinite Monkey Theorem

A infinite number of monkeys hitting typewriter keys at random for an infinite amount of time would type the complete works of Shakespeare

“We would be justified attributing a typewritten version of collected works of Shakespeare to the activity of monkeys if we had some evidence of the existence of an infinite quantity of paper randomly covered with type, as well as the collected works”.

Richard Dawkins

Richard Dawkins picks up on Hume’s “Epicurean” suggestion that the appearance of design might be due to random arrangement of atoms over time

He claims that the theory of evolution shows how there can be the appearance of ‘design”’ without a ‘designer

Natural selection, combined with random genetic mutations, result in a process that favours stability and adaptation to a purpose. This process is “blind” but not “random” and lead to organisms adapting to their environment over time.

Paley’s hypothesis of a ‘designer’ for the natural world is even more improbable than the phenomenon it seeks to explain

The designer would have to be highly complex to design the Universe, and so we would have to infer that the designer needed a designer. This is a form of reductio ad absurdum

The Anthropic Principle

Suggests that the universe is ‘fine-tuned’ to develop human life:

WEAK - if the world were any different, we would not be here

STRONG - the world had to be as it is in order for us to be here

“God does not play dice”

Einstein was unhappy with the apparent randomness of nature. He felt that uncertainty was only provisional and that there was an underlying reality, operating according to deterministic laws. This reality might be known as God but it was more of a creative principle or a Deist god.

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Religious Language


Religious statements express propositions which are factually significant or meaningful and capable of being true or false.‘God is omnipotent’ has the same logical structure as ‘the Pope is Catholic’.It claims there is something in reality that corresponds to God and that He is ‘all powerful’.Religious statements can function as premises or conclusions in valid arguments.


Religious language does not express beliefs that are factually significant and capable of being verifiedIt would be a mistake to try to find out whether the statement corresponds to realityThese statements are not making empirical claims, even if it looks as though they are.Religious statements are meaningful because they express a set of beliefs(We may still want to talk of religious ‘beliefs’ but this is better understood as ‘faith’ or ‘belief in God’ rather than ‘belief that God exists’)

Language Games

Ludwig Wittgenstein (1889-1951) is associated with non-cognitivism In later life he rejected his ‘picture theory’ of meaning; instead he claimed that meaning is conveyed by the way words are used. He compared the way we use language to a game; he called different modes of discourse ‘language games’Each ‘language game’ has its own rules governing the use of the word/sentence Understanding this requires a distinction between surface grammar and depth grammar: words or sentences describing an object or event may be similar on the surface but in a different context they mean something very different, e.g. ‘the bus passes the bus stop’, ‘the peace of the Lord passes understanding’. Therefore it is clear that meaning is not given by the form of words alone. A language game is part of a ‘form of life’ or a collection of cultural practices.

Religious language

The philosophy of religious language looks at the meaning of religious concepts and propositions:

Religious propositions are often paradoxical (God is Father, Son and Holy Spirit) and apparently contradictory (an omnipotent God giving creatures free-will).Religious language uses symbols and metaphors and is often anthropomorphic.God as a transcendent being is beyond human experience and ordinary language is inadequate.Ian Crombie agrees with critics that the word ‘God’ does not refer to ‘anything’Even the name given to God in the monotheistic religions Yahweh ‘I am’ is not a ‘proper name’. Believers have long stressed that although God is personal God is not a person.They have resorted to saying what God is not (the via negativa) to avoid misrepresentation. Crombie says we can only ‘define the reference range of god negatively’Our understanding of the nature of God has traditionally come from a contrast between human beings and God (finite/infinite, in time/timeless etc.)

Religious language contains many different ‘language games’. On the surface religious propositions often appear to be giving us factual information or making a hypothesis, however non-cognitivists claim that they have a different purpose.For Wittgenstein the key to religious language is to understand the place of certain statements in the life of the believer and religious community.

In An empiricists view, non-cognitivist Richard Braithwaite says that religious statements are used by believers to express a commitment to morality Although we cannot test these views empirically we can use empiricism to observe how religious statements are usedTo believers: ‘God is love’ means ‘I will try to act in a loving and altruistic way’The stories or myths of the different religions are the sources of the differing usage of words.

For these reasons religious statements are immune to rational justification: whereas scientific or historical statements are assessed by appeals to evidence, religious statements can be justified only by their

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coherence within the ‘way of living’ or ‘form of life’ that they express:

“The historical accounts in the Gospels might, historically speaking, be demonstrably false and yet belief would lose nothing by this ... because historical proof is irrelevant to belief.”

Criticisms of a non-cognitive view of religious language

People don’t normally acquire religious beliefs by argument or testing evidence. When someone converts to a religion, what changes is what they value and how they live and their attitudes towards other people. This supports non-cognitivism.

Religious statements cannot be criticised on the grounds that they cannot be justified rationally because their justification comes from their meaning for the believer.

It also makes what we believe less important than how we live (it emphasises Orthopraxis not Orthodoxy).

Statements also can’t be criticised as being highly improbable, because religious language doesn’t make factual claims based on empirical evidence.

However religious belief still needs to make sense of our experiences.

The non-cognitive view separates religious belief from reason.

Wittgenstein’s account looks like a reinterpretation of religious belief. He was right to point to the expressive use of religious language but he was wrong to think that because religious beliefs express attitudes, they cannot also be empirical.

A group of people could talk coherently and meaningfully about any number of non-existent entities such as fairies, pixies, goblins, etc. (Wittgenstein might say this is the case in the context of Harry Potter or Lord of the Rings or Warhammer)

If religious statements are no longer counted as metaphysical claims about ultimate reality they lose their value. For many people belief that God exists and the historical truth of Jesus’ resurrection, are the most important factors motivating them to lead a religious life.

Many religious believers would say that they live in a certain way as a result of their encounter with God. If religious ‘belief’ is just a commitment, what supports that commitment or is it arbitrary?

Logical Positivism (logical empiricism)

Shortly after the end of WWI, a group of philosophers began meeting in Vienna (the "Vienna Circle"). They campaigned for a systematic reduction of human knowledge to logical and scientific foundations.

Their approach was influenced by empiricist philosopher David Hume. Hume said that statements could be divided into two types (‘Hume's fork'): relations of ideas (analytic statements) and matters of fact (synthetic statements).

They used this criterion to develop a principle that could be used to verify meaningful statements.

The Logical Positivists agreed that analytic statements were necessarily true because of the internal logic of their grammar; for any other statement to be meaningful we must know what would make it true.

British philosopher A. J. Ayer presented many of the central doctrines of the positivist movement in his 1936 book, Language, Truth, and Logic.

“We say that a sentence is factually significant if a person knows what observations would lead him, under certain conditions, to accept the proposition as being true or reject it as being false”

“In libraries…if we take in our hand any volume of divinity…let us ask ‘Does it contain abstract reasoning concerning number?’ No ‘Does it contain any experimental reasoning concerning existence? No

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Commit it to the flames then for it can contain nothing but illusion”

Two versions of this verification principle can be distinguished:

The strong verification principle that a factual statement is meaningful if I can verify it directly through sense experience.

The weak verification principle (Ayer): that a factual statement is meaningful if I know how to verify it in principle]

This modification was necessary to allow sentences such as ‘there are no human beings on Andromeda’ to count as ‘verifiable’.

It also allowed evidence to count towards the truth of a statement and ensured that universal generalizations such as ‘all men are mortal’ could be verified, even though they can never be proven absolutely, since they cover a potentially infinite number of cases.

Karl Popper proposed abandoning the quest for verification, noting that the key feature of scientific hypotheses is falsifiability. Anthony Flew then turned the verification principle round by saying that unless a statement could be falsified it was meaningless.

John Hick gives an example of a statement appears to be making an empirical claim about the world : ‘The Universe and everything in it universe doubled in size last night’ The verification principle can be used to show that the statement is meaningless because it is impossible to say whether it is true or false (and it makes no difference to our experience, either way).

Religious language and verification

Traditional metaphysics, with its abstract speculation about the supposed nature of reality, cannot be grounded on scientific observation, and is therefore devoid of significance. The ontological argument, cannot prove ‘God exists’ from a priori premises using deduction alone.

To be meaningful ‘God exists’ must be empirically verifiable, but it is not possible to state any observable circumstances under which we can check it’s truth. Because we cannot explain what kind of experience would count as verifying it, Ayer suggests that the claim “God exists’ is a ‘pseudo proposition’, neither true nor false but literally meaningless.

We can object that many people do think that ‘God exists’ has empirical content:The argument from design argues that the regularities in the universe are evidence for the existence of God whereas the existence and extent of suffering is evidence against. To use things we experience, such as ‘regularities in nature’ to assert the existence of God is ‘simply equivalent’ to making certain claims about nature (not a ‘transcendent’ Being).

Statements such as ‘God loves the world’ appear to be telling us something about someone, and it should be possible to show if it is true or false. However, Flew asks: “What would have to occur to constitute for you a disproof of the love of, or the existence of God?” His claim is that if nothing will count against a statement, then the statement is not saying anything at all (see Wisdom's Gardener parable).

Claims to religious experience are also meaningless because whatever they claim to reveal cannot be said to be facts. Ayer considers the objection that God may be known through ‘mystical intuition’.The problem is not so much that the statements are unverifiable but rather that the mystic is incapable of putting into words what he claims to ‘know’, so we are unable to decide whether his insights are genuine.


The major criticism is that much of what we want to talk about is nonsense. Not only religious statements but also ethical judgements become just a matter of personal feeling and statements such as 'all human actions are determined’ are rejected as meaningless. Only psychological study of observable human behaviour, mathematics and natural science are secure.

Historical statements are also 'meaningless' according to the strong verification principle.

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However Richard Swinburne believes that historical claims have authenticity according to his principles of testimony and credulity.

The most common response has been to reject the verification principle.This is partly because it is self-refuting.It says that any non-analytic sentence which cannot be verified through experience is meaningless.This sentence does not seem to be analytic (true solely in virtue of the meanings of the words involved)and it is hard to see what kinds of experience could count as verifying it.The only way in which it could count as meaningful would be if it was false.Since it seems meaningful, we seem to be justified in deciding that the principle is false!

Ayer‘s response to this is that the verification principle contains a definition of the word ‘meaningful’ which makes it an analytic truth.

This seems implausible as before the principle was proposed, this isn’t part of how most people used the word ‘meaningful’.

Anthony Flew claims that any genuine statement about the world should make predictions that can be falsifiedHowever it is possible to come up with examples of genuinely meaningful statements which are not easily falsified by future experience as well as those that are easily verified but cannot be easily falsified (e.g. ‘the Yeti exists’)

The falsification principle is also meaningless as nothing could count against it. It ‘dissolved in its own acid’.For these reasons, falsification (as a test for meaning) is not widely accepted

Stewart Sutherland describes Ayer’s theory as ‘conceptually restrictive and intellectually imperialistic’ because it limits what we can say philosophically and outlaws any discourse except scientific empiricism.

Quine says that we shouldn’t criticize a sentence as meaningless because we cannot see what evidence would count towards verifying it in isolation; it may be that it can only be ‘verified by being part of a coherent overall theory’.

Eschatological Verification

According to the logical positivists’ verification criterion, non-empirical claims cannot in principle be true or false. Hick’s definition of verification is different from Ayer’s. He agrees that only factually significant statements are meaningful but says that verification means removing the grounds for ‘reasonable doubt’ about the truth of a claim.

Hick also objects to falsification as a test for religious significance. He points out that not every verifiable statement can be falsified: for example, the proposition ‘there are three successive sevens in the decimal determination of π’ can be verified in principle if it is true (we just need to go on working out the value of π for long enough), but can never be falsified (however long we go on working out the value of π, we will never get to a point where we show that π never contains the string 777).

Once the Logical Positivists had introduced the 'weak' verification principle, Hick was able to argue that religious statements are in principle verifiable. This is because the eschatological expectations of the Christian believer can be verified in the afterlife if true, though they cannot be falsified, since there would be no afterlife in which to falsify these beliefs.

Christian belief becomes compatible with the logical positivists’ criterion of verification. Although the world is 2sufficiently ambiguous’ to be interpreted theistically or atheistically, “the theistic assertion is indeed—whether true or false—a genuinely factual assertion”.

In ‘Theology and Verification’ Hick develops the idea of ‘eschatological verification’. To illustrate this he uses the parable of the ‘celestial city. In it he describes two travelers on a journey with dangers and delights (reminiscent of his vale of soul making). One believes that the road leads to the celestial city, the other doesn’t. They will both know the truth when they turn the last corner.

They have not merely felt differently about the road; for one was feeling appropriately and the other inappropriately in relation to the actual state of affairs. Their opposed interpretations of the road constituted genuinely rival assertions, though assertions whose status has the peculiar characteristic of being guaranteed retrospectively. (FK, 177-78)

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The reason theists experiences in this life cannot determine the truth or falsity of religious belief is that i t is primarily about what happens after this life. The point is that the mere fact that we cannot see how a claim could be falsified, does not show us that the claim itself is not a significant assertion.

Hick offers two situations which (if experienced together) would be capable of verifying ‘the existence of a loving God’. One of these is the experience of ‘the fulfilment of God‘s final purpose for ourselves’ (to reach the perfect ‘likeness of God’). The other is an experience of ‘communion’ with Jesus. He says that even i f we don‘t know exactly what form these experiences might take they would be recognized as ‘ s e l f - a u t h e n t i c a t i n g ’ . Hick chooses Jesus rather than God because of the difficulty of any experience convincing us we had encountered God the Father; and he avoids the experience of an afterlife as this on its own is not evidence of the existence of God, but could be a ‘surprising natural fact’.

Hick considers several objections. First, that experience of this kind could not decisively prove that God exists, since you could always doubt whether the experience is genuine or a hallucination.

To this he responds that ‘the possibility of error does not constitute grounds for rational doubt as to the veracity of our experience. If it did, no empirical proposition could ever be verified, and indeed the notion of empirical verification would be without use and therefore without sense.’

Hick also answers the objection that talk of ‘life after bodily death’ is logically incoherent because our consciousness depends on our brain to sustain it.

Here he points out that many religious traditions appeal to the idea of a ‘bodily resurrection’ in which our bodies are miraculously reassembled.

He also presents three thought experiments to suggest that resurrection is at least logically possible.

(However some people will find it hard to believe that a copy of a person who died long ago is literally the same person).It could also be argued that it would be difficult to verify something if we had never experienced it before or even heard of its existence.

In conceding that we don‘t know what the eschatological verifying experiences would be like, Hick is implying that we cannot know what would count against the claim that God exists.

Hick is not trying to prove that God actually exists, but rather ‘to establish that there are such things as religious facts‘, by showing that the claim is meaningful.

The ‘University debate’

In a debate published in the Journal University in 1955, Anthony Flew, Richard Hare and Basil Mitchell discussed the meaning of religious language.

‘The Gardener’ Anthony Flew (Logical positivist - Cognitive Atheist)

Flew says that as ‘theological utterances’ cannot be falsified, they are not, strictly speaking assertions at all, in fact they have ‘no meaning whatsoever’ – they are completely ‘vacuous’, not even expressing the sort of ‘commitment’ that Wittgenstein describes.

Flew opened the debate with a story from John Wisdom’s article ‘Gods’: Two explorers come across a clearing in the jungle in which both flowers and weeds grow. One claims that the clearing is the work of a gardener; the other disagrees. They try to detect the gardener by various means - but never discover him. At each stage, the ‘believer’, rejects the claim that his failure is evidence that the gardener doesn’t exist, saying first that the gardener must be invisible, then intangible, then leaves no scent and makes no sound. The ‘sceptic’ finally asks “How does your claim that there is an invisible, odourless, intangible gardener differ from the claim that there’s no gardener at all?”

The parable shows that empirical observation or evidence does not, by itself, determine the different conclusions that people draw about the world. How we interpret the evidence is influenced by our attitude towards it.

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If ‘God exists’ is a real claim, then there should be some possible experience that would lead us to accept that it is false. If believers are not prepared to accept that anything could show that God doesn’t exist, then saying ‘God exists’ states nothing at all.

Flew claims that religious believers keep qualifying what ‘God exists’ actually means. In the statement ‘there is a gardener’ the idea of the gardener is modified so much that it ends up not being an assertion at all. Flew called this process ‘death by a thousand qualifications’

In The problem of evil Flew asks how much pain and suffering there needs to be before the theist admits that God does not love them or even that God does not exist.If believers cannot articulate what will make the assumption that ‘God loves them’ false or if they continue to qualify their assertions despite evidence to the contrary, they are not making assertions at all.

In response someone could claim that an utterance is an assertion so long as there is some evidence that would count against it, regardless of whether people choose to respond to the evidence rationally or not.

The ‘Paranoid student’ and ‘Bliks’ R.M. Hare (Non-cognitive Theist)

Hare’s aim is to ‘defend’ religious language against Flew’s attack that it is vacuous and his main point is that it can still be meaningful even if it does not express falsifiable assertions. Hare refers to Hume’s work showing that even seemingly true statements such as ‘every event has a cause’ cannot be falsified.

Hare responds to Flew’s Gardener parable with a story of his own about a student who holds the paranoid delusion that university lecturers want to murder him and doesn’t allow anything to count as evidence against this view. Hare claims that although the student’s ‘blik’ is wrong in this case, it is still significant because it describes a conviction that forms part of his understanding of the world

(Flew would say that the paranoid student is making a claim that can’t be falsified so this isn’t an assertion, whereas the other students claim that the lecturers aren’t trying to kill him is an assertion because it is falsifiable.)

Hare also gives other examples of someone who trusts the ability of a road to support cars v. someone who doesn’t and someone who thinks everything happens by chance v. someone who believes in the laws of nature.

Hare introduced the word ‘blik’ to describe an overall intellectual framework which regulates our beliefs and interaction with the world. Often bliks cannot be easily put into words.A disagreement in bliks can’t be decided by empirical experience, and two people who disagree may not assert anything different about what to expect from experience.

To hold that God exists is a blik, as is the view that God does not exist. The mistake Flew makes is to regard religious talk ‘as some sort of explanation, as scientists are accustomed to use the word’.A particular sentence like ‘God loves us’ is not an assertion that can be true or false, but an overall blik about the world, which has significance for the believer.

It seems that bliks can be true or false, which suggests that they are cognitiveOn the other hand, because bliks can’t be falsified, Hare claims that they work more like attitudes or commitments than beliefs. This would suggest that they are non-cognitive.

Flew objects that Hare’s theory that religious belief is a blik is unorthodox and is not what religious believers actually mean. If Bliks are just expressions of an approach or attitude to the world we live in, they are not metaphysical and should be falsifiable.

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‘If Hare‘s religion really is a blik, involving no cosmological assertions about the nature and activities of a supposed personal creator, then surely he is not a Christian at all?

Flew claims that if religious justifications like ‘because God wills it’ are bliks, then someone who says this is ‘not really giving a reason, but a fraudulent substitute for one’

Religious statements can express an attitude towards the world, but they cannot say why we should adopt one attitude rather than another. Also when someone holds an unfalsifiable conviction (blik) about some claim, we tend to think that the person is being irrational.

The Partisan Basil Mitchell (Cognitive Theist)

Mitchell accepts Flew’s argument that for an empirical claim to be meaningful, we must allow something to count against it. But he disagrees that an assertion is only meaningful if we are willing to withdraw it in light of certain contrary experiences.

He tells the parable of the partisan. Suppose there is a war in which someone’s country has been occupied, and he joins the resistance movement. One day, this partisan meets a stranger who tells him that he is the leader of the resistance. The partisan is very impressed by the stranger and trusts him deeply. However, the stranger later acts in ambiguous ways, sometimes seeming to help the resistance and other times apparently helping the enemy. But the partisan, because he trusts the stranger, continues to believe that the stranger is on the side of the resistance, and so must have some good reason for his ambiguous behaviour.

If the partisan refused to count the stranger’s ambiguous actions as evidence against the claim that he is on the side of the resistance (as in the case of Hare’s bliks), this would be merely irrational.However the partisan is not rationally required to just give up his view. His trust sustains his belief in the stranger, and he cannot say just how much evidence against his belief is needed before he will give it up, or even if he would ever give it up. The truth will be clear when the war is over (like Hick’s eschatological verification, when we die).

Mitchell’s main point is that genuine faith is a matter of continuing to believe something despite recognizing the evidence against it, not a matter of refusing to recognize anything as counting as evidence against it.He denies that religious beliefs should be treated as ‘vacuous’ simply because the person of faith will not be persuaded to give them up by evidence to the contrary. (Religious belief can be meaningful even in cases where the believer admits that no evidence will persuade her to change her mind.)

Mitchell has identified an ambiguity in the claim that genuine assertions must be ‘falsifiable‘.Religious statements might be falsifiable assertions in the sense that many pieces of evidence ‘may and do count against’ them, even though they are not ‘conclusively falsifiable’ in the sense that a person of faith must be prepared to give them up.

Mitchell is defending a cognitivist approach to religious language, according to which statements can be ‘assertions’ (capable of being true or false) even if they are not ‘falsifiable‘ in the sense that a person of faith can always be persuaded to reject them by the evidence.

Religious language does make assertions, but these claims are not simply provisional hypotheses, to be discarded in the face of contrary experiences. They involve a certain commitment as well. A claim can be meaningful without us being able to say what experiences would lead us to relinquish it, as long as we recognise that experiences can count against it.

Mitchell had suggested that someone who continues to believe through faith can be regarded as ‘sane and reasonable‘.

In response to this, Flew argues that “In Mitchell‘s parable of the stranger it is easy for the believer to find plausible excuses for ambiguous behaviour: for the Stranger is a man. But suppose the Stranger is God”.

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While faith in the stranger’s good intentions is at least partly rational, the ‘problem of evil; makes faith in God wholly irrational.This is because it is impossible to hold on to that belief without adapting or ‘qualifying’ it.According to Flew, a belief that is genuinely immune to evidence against it is ‘no belief at all’.

We can object, however, that this is now no longer an argument about whether religious claims are meaningful, but about whether they are either true or coherent.

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Hume divided all statements into two categories:

Relations of ideas: are a priori. Relations of ideas are intuitively certain, and a denial of such a proposition implies a contradiction. They are proved by demonstrating that the opposite involves a contradiction. Hume says that they tell us nothing about the real world.

Matters of fact: can only be shown to be true or false through experience of the external world

Kant called these categories:

Analytic statements: are true by definition

Synthetic statements: can only be verified by experience

Apriori: before the facts, independent of experience

Aposteriori: after experience

Sufficient condition: x is a sufficient condition for y means if x then y and ~y then ~x.

Necessary condition: x is a necessary condition for y means if not x then not y.

Proposition: A statement that is either true or false, but not both.

Premise: A proposition that provides support to an argument's conclusion. An argument may have one or more premises.

Deductive argument: An argument in which if the premises are true, then the conclusion must be true. The conclusion is said to follow with logical necessity from the premises. For example. All men are mortal. Socrates is a man. Therefore.Socrates is mortal.

Inductive argument: An argument in which if the premises are true, then it is probable that the conclusion will also be true. The conclusion therefore does not follow with logical necessity from the premises, but rather with probability. In science, we usually proceed inductively from data to theories and laws.

Logical fallacy: An error in reasoning that results in an invalid argument.

Formal fallacy: A logical fallacy whose form does not conform to the grammar and rules of inference. The argument's validity can be determined just by analysing its structure without needing to evaluate its content.

Reductio ad absurdum: a common form of argument which seeks to demonstrate that a statement is false by showing that an untenable or absurd result follows from its acceptance (and vice versa)An example would be an argument where the initial premise is shown to entail a contradiction

The Concept of God

Theology: from the Greek theos, “God”: talk about God

Revealed Theology: based on scriptural accounts of people’s experience of God throughout history (‘the God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob’)

Natural Theology: based on observation of the world God created or abstract concepts using ‘God-given’ Reason (‘the God of the Philosophers’)

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God’s Attributes: In “Classical Theism” God is characterized as supremely perfect, omniscient (all-knowing), omnipotent (all-powerful), supremely good (omni-benevolent), wholly simple (i.e. not divisible into parts), transcendent (existing independently from the physical world) and immutable (not changeable and unchanging)

Omnipotent: from the Latin omni, ‘all’ and potens, ‘power’. In religious philosophy being “all-powerful” doesn’t just mean that God has power over everything else and cannot be overpowered (this is being “Almighty”). It is literally the ability “to do everything”. This means that either: God can do anything or that God can do anything logically possible and compatible with God’s Nature.

aspatial : outside time and space

 atemporal :transcendent to time

Eternal: existing timelessly

Everlasting: existing in infinite time

Omniscience: (Latin omni-, ‘all’; scient, ‘knowing’) Omniscience is not just a matter of what God knows, but also of how God knows: we can define God’s omnipotence as ‘knowing all true propositions’ and not believing any false propositions . Some Theologians also say that God has ‘direct knowledge’ and that He has ‘the full set of truths about every activity’i.e he knows all there is to know.

Propositional knowledge: knowing that a statement is true (e.g. knowing that the world will end in 2020)

The Law of Excluded Middle: states that for any proposition, either that proposition is true, or its negation is true. one excludes the other and there is no third possibility that both are true.

Fatalism: the view that human acts occur by necessity and so are not free

Theological fatalism: claims that there is a Being who infallibly knows everything that will happen in the future so that human beings have no control over the future. In the Bible God is able to ‘make known the end from the beginning' (Is 46:10) and that God foreknows the elect (Rom 8:28; 1 Pet 1:2)

A dilemma: (“two horns” in Greek) is a situation where there are only two options, and neither is fully acceptable

Clear and distinct ideas: self-justifying beliefs that Descartes uses as the basis of his theory of knowledge. They can be ‘intuited’ by the mind by the ‘light of reason’ ( I exist, God exists, Mathematical truths exist)

The Problem of Evil

Evil: actions and motives that are wrong because they cause suffering to human beings, animals and the environment

Physical Evil: suffering caused by Nature (natural disasters and disease) e.g. the Lisbon earthquake (1755) Ichneumon wasps

Moral Evil: suffering caused by Human Beings (moral agents) through choice e.g. the Shoah (Holocaust), Rwandan genocide

Excessive evil: (the dysteleological surd) evil which is not part of some greater good, it has no purpose, end or ‘right-making characteristics‘ which counterbalance obvious ‘wrong-making characteristics‘

Theodicy: attempt to justify why God allows suffering

Epistemic distance: distance of knowledge from God

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Concepts of ‘freedom’: voluntariness we have freedom of action and appear to have a choice but we want to do a particular action because it is part of our nature which is partly determined by factors (nurture)

Libertarian freedom: is genuinely undetermined, we have freedom of will and can equally well choose between a set of alternatives

The Ontological argument

Predicate: A predicate is a property or attribute that an object or concept has as part of its definition or essence. The ontological argument rests on the assumption that ‘existence’ or ‘necessary existence’ is a predicate of God. Philosophers since Kant have questions whether ‘existence’ is a genuine predicate.

Contingent existence: belongs to an object that happens to exist but may not have existed at some time in the past and may not exist at some time in the future. Its existence is dependent on factors beyond it and its non-existence is coherently conceivable. For empiricist philosophers everything we know of in the universe seems to have this kind of existence. The word only makes sense in contrast to ‘non-existence’.

Is existence a predicate? ‘y exists’ means that there is at least one instance of this particular concept (y). To say that x does not exist is to say that the concept of x has no instances. Therefore to say that God exists is to say that the propositional function ‘x is God’ is true for some value of x.

Gassendi claimed that existence is something more fundamental than an attribute, since without it there can be no attributes.

For Frege existence is a ‘second order predicate’. First order predicates tell us something about the subject. Second order predicates tell us something about a concept. Claims about existence are not about attributing a property to anything, they simply saying that the concept has at least one instance.

Kant says that ‘exists’ is a grammatical or logical predicate but not a genuine predicate because it does not give new information about the subject of the sentence. You add nothing to a description of something by saying that ‘it has existence’, existence is not an extra quality.

Russell drew attention to the difference between the ‘surface structure of language’ and the underlying logical structure. What appears to be a subject or predicate may not be (e.g. in ‘nothing matters’, nothing is not a genuine subject). Similarly ‘exists’ seems to function as a normal predicate but it does not refer to any real property.

Necessary Existence: the mode of existence that must exist at all times. A being with necessary existence is not dependent on anything else for its existence. It is self-contradictory to think of it coming into existence or being caused to be by anything else or of it being destroyed by anything or simply ceasing to be. In the Ontological arguments necessary existence is seen as a superior mode of being to contingent existence.

Is necessary existence a predicate? If existence refers to objective reality, by claiming that something exists you are saying that an instance of it can be perceived. It also has to be possible that it cannot be perceived (i.e. doesn’t exist) in reality. Nothing can therefore necessarily exist as this is a contradiction. However for Anselm ‘necessary existence’ is a mode of existence that uniquely describes God, so that in God’s case it is a predicate. For Descartes ‘God exists’ is analytic, and so true by definition since the predicate is contained in the subject. For Kant it is synthetic which means that it still has to be shown that a God with ‘necessary existence’ necessarily exists.

Hick claims that Malcolm’s ontological argument has conflated two different kinds of necessity in an instance of the fallacy of equivocation. The reasoning Malcolm uses to show that God’s existence is ‘not impossible’ shows only that God’s existence is not logically impossible, this makes no difference to the question of

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whether God is ontologically necessary. Ontological necessity is what God has, if He exists but, you cannot show that something is ontologically necessary by showing that it is logically necessary.

Possible worlds: Plantinga’s ontological argument involves ‘possible worlds’. A possible world is the way the universe might have been. The set of all possible worlds are all the ways the universe might have been, including those slightly different from this one. ‘Possible worlds’ are a logical tool or ‘convenient fiction’ rather than a claim that the ‘multiverse’ exists

Maximal excellence: Plantinga defines a being as maximally excellent if, in a given possible world if it has omniscience, omnipotence, and moral perfection

Maximal greatness: a being is maximally great if it has maximal excellence in every possible world.

Modal logic: a type of formal logic primarily developed in the 1960s that extends classical propositional and predicate logic to include operators that qualify a statement.

The Cosmological Argument:

Primary movers: have the power to move themselves and others (Plato)

Secondary movers: can only move others once they had been moved

Actual infinity: something which is completed and consists of infinitely many elements (Aristotle)

Potential infinity: is never complete: more and more elements can always be added

Infinite regress: a series of efficient causes going back for ever. This gives no explanation for why anything exists. It is like an ‘infinite series of carriages without a train’.

An infinite regress of caused efficient causes for a given motion-event would be interminable. This is because without a starting point you can never reach a particular specified point in time.

Mackie points out that an infinite series of hooks, one of which is hanging from another, does not need a point of attachment (however there is no explanation for their hanging).

Principle of sufficient reason: any contingent fact about the world must have an explanation (Leibniz). Also identified with "ex nihilo nihil fit" (‘nothing comes from nothing’)

An efficient cause: what causes change in what is changed (Aristotle)

First efficient cause: what causes change in everything else. Identified with God

An intermediate cause: lies between a first and ultimate causes

Linear cause: "x is the linear cause of y" means that x causes y to exist in such a way that y can continue to exist even if x ceases its causal activity e.g. "The artist painted (i.e. ‘caused’) the picture"

Hierarchical cause: "x is the hierarchical cause of y" means that x causes y to exist in such a way that y cannot continue to exist unless x continues x's causal activity e.g."The minstrel makes the music"

Deism: view that God is the (linear) first cause but that he does not intervene in the world

Theism: belief that God is the (hierarchical) first cause and sustainer of the universe

Contingent beings: their existence is dependent on other things; they could be or not be

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Necessary Beings: have an existence that is independent of everything else; they have to exist and cannot cease to exist. They must be the same in ‘all possible worlds’.

Dependent necessary beings: beings like angels who depend for their necessity or non-corruptibility on God and so are only ‘conditionally necessary’(Aquinas)

The ‘Causal Adequacy Principle’: ‘There must be ‘at least as much reality in the cause as in the effect’. Descartes claims that this principle is a deliverance of “the natural light”; in other words, that it is intuitively certain.

The idea of God has “objective reality” due to the level of reality or “perfection” of the “object” of the idea (God himself).

Dualism: associated with Descartes. Belief that the mind (self) is a separate substance from the body. What keeps the mind in existence through time is not physical and is outside the body.

The Argument from Design

Analogy:(from Greek for "proportion") is a cognitive process of transferring information or meaning from a particular subject (the analogue or source) to another particular subject (the target), The argument from design uses a number of analogies to support design: Aquinas archer and arrow, Paley’s watch, Hoyle’s Boeing 747, the fly on a brick wall, hit by a bullet, and Swinburne’s Card Shuffling Machine. It also uses some to argue against conscious design e.g. the Infinite Monkey Theorem

The Anthropic Principle: suggests that the universe is ‘fine-tuned’ to develop human life:

Weak Anthropic Principle - if the world were any different, we would not be here

Strong Anthropic Principle - the world had to be as it is in order for us to be here

‘Regularities of co-presence' (spatial order) the existence of things with complex structures such as the eye, this kind of order can be explained as a result of Evolution. (Swinburne)

‘Regularities of succession’ (temporal order) concerns the order of events needed to create the universe and the fact that laws of nature operate throughout. (Swinburne)

Teleology: from the Greek world telos which means ‘end’ or ‘purpose’

Religious Language

Logical Positivists (Empirical Positivists): a group of philosophers who began meeting in Vienna (the "Vienna Circle") shortly after the end of WWI. Their aim was to achieve a systematic reduction of human knowledge to logical and scientific foundations. To be meaningful any proposition had to be an analytic statement (true by definition) or a synthetic statement that could be shown to be true (checked or verified) using sense experience. Any other kind of utterance such as metaphysical statements, are meaningless.

The Verification Principle was proposed by Logical Positivist AJ Ayer. There are two forms:

The strong form: I need to be able to verify a claim myself

The weak form: I need to know how to verify a claim in principle

The falsification principle: was added by Anthony Flew. If nothing will count against a statement, then it is not saying anything at all. I might have a theory that all swans are white. It is not possible to prove conclusively that this theory is true, but I could encounter evidence that it is false (seeing a black swan).

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Falsification: was a method proposed by the philosopher of science Karl Popper. Although a scientific theory can never be conclusively proved, it becomes established when ‘risky’ predictions which could be falsified, are upheld. Popper never used falsification as a test for meaningfulness. He accepted that Marxism was meaningful, and merely wanted to show that it was unscientific.

Eschatological verification: In classical Greek, ‘eschatos’ means ‘last’ or ‘final’. Eschatology is the branch of theology which deals with the ‘last things‘, namely death, resurrection, and ultimate salvation or damnation. John Hick suggested that belief in life after death could be verified in by meeting Jesus in an after-life. However it could not be falsified.

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Index of philosophers and theologians

The concept of God: Divine Attributes: Omnipotence

Rene Descartes (1596-1650)

Meditations on First Philosophy The cosmological (trademark) argument The idea of God is imprinted in the mind (like a trademark) There must be as much reality in a cause as in the effect ( “Causal Adequacy

Principle”) The ontological argument defined God as "a supremely perfect being" we perceive the nature of God ‘clearly and

distinctly’ (a priori) supported the idea of absolute omnipotence Rationalist Dualist Mathematician (Cartesian co-ordinates) Sceptic - Cogito ergo sum

St. Thomas Aquinas (1225-74)

Summa Theologica Summa contra Gentiles

Five proofs for God’s existence (including cosmological and teleological arguments) God can do anything that is logically possible in keeping with His nature Believed in an eternal timeless God: “God sees all things together and not successively” Brought Aristotelian philosophy to Christianity Argued for a close connection between faith and reason Believed that nature reveals much about God’s existence and attributes God causes all that exists is good, evil arises indirectly with God's permission the problem of evil is looked at from a theocentric point of view as part of the hierarchy of


George Mavrodes (c1935- )

Belief in God: A Study in the Epistemology of Religion Some puzzles concerning omnipotence

Analyses and responds to the paradox of the stone: “the supposed limitation is no limitation at all” “such pseudo-tasks, not falling within the realm of possibility, are not objects of power at all”

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Wade Savage (c1935- )

The Paradox of the Stone

Re-states the paradox of the stone If God is omnipotent, then He can create stones of any poundage and lift stones of any

poundage this entails “God cannot create a stone which He cannot lift.”

Plato (423/8 BCE – 347/8 BCE)

The Dialogues Euthyphro The Republic

The Euthyphro dilemma: is something pious because it is loved by the gods, or do the gods love it because it is pious (the dilemma)Theory of FormsPlatonic idealismPlatonic realism

Divine Attributes: Omniscience

Norman Kretzmann (1928 –1998)

Omnipotence and Immutability

Omniscience and Immutability are “incompatible characteristics” of a perfect God

Anthony Kenny (1931- )

Divine foreknowledge and human freedom

Trained as a catholic priest God is eternal and outside time Kenny was a compatibilist who believed that Human actions are free but at the same

time God sees what actions we will choose

Arguments for the existence of God: Ontological Arguments

St Anselm (1033-1109)

Major works: Proslogion Monologion

Archbishop of Canterbury “Father of Scholastic Theology” “Faith seeking understanding” Tried to establish the existence of God on purely rationalistic grounds The ontological argument God as the greatest conceivable being

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Gaunilo of Marmoutier

In Behalf of the Fool

Monk and contemporary of Anselm He can imagine a ‘perfect’ island and all manner of other things but they don’t have to

exist Anselm seems to conflate God and the concept of God

Gottfried von Leibniz (1646 -1716)

General Inquiries About the Analysis of Concepts and of Truths

Rationalist: the necessary connection between God and existence is discovered through reason

Mathematician (Calculus) Descartes version of the ontological argument needed an extra premise to make it

valid for contradiction Best of all possible worlds

David Hume (1711-1776)

Dialogues Concerning Natural Religion An Enquiry Concerning Human Understanding

Empiricist The idea of ‘necessary existence’ is meaningless God does not possess existence essentially as it is possible to conceive of God not

existing Criticises the use of analogy in the design argument

Immanuel Kant (1724-1804)

Critique of Pure Reason Of the impossibility of an ontological proof of the existence of God

Enlightenment philosopher Transcendental idealism Synthetic a priori The Categorical imperative Lutheran Criticised the Ontological argument No existential proposition is logically necessary 'Existence' is not a genuine predicate If you accept God, it is logical to accept his necessary existence, but you do not have

to accept God The Noumenon and libertarian freedom The design argument is not sufficient to establish the existence of creator and

sustainer God

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Norman Malcolm (1911-1990)Anselm’s ontological arguments

Necessary existence is a perfection that is contained within the concept of God The ontological argument cannot produce ‘living faith’, but can remove some

‘philosophical scruples’ about the existence of God

Alvin Plantinga (1932- )

God, Freedom, and Evil: Essays in Philosophy

Supports the ontological argument Plantinga’s version uses modal logic A being is maximally excellent if in a given possible world it has all perfections A being is maximally great if it has maximal excellence in every possible world Free-will defence tries to demonstrate that it is logically possible for God to create a world

that contains moral evil (for a greater good)

The Cosmological Argument

William Lane Craig (1949- )

The Kalām Cosmological Argument

claims that the universe had a beginning is a a priori truth the universe cannot be an actual infinite, as we keep adding days onto it the Second law of Thermodynamics (Entropy) implies that time can’t be eternal in the

past but that it must have an absolute beginning

Bertrand Russell (1872-1970)

Philosophical Essays Why I Am Not a Christian

Mathematician Criticised the cosmological argument There is no such thing as a ‘necessary being’ Not every event may have a cause The universe is a ‘brute fact’ that does not need an explanation

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The Argument from Design

William Paley (1743-1805)

Natural Theology

Clergyman Watch analogy used the examples of eyes, bird's wings, fish's fins, the lacteal system and the laws of

motion and gravity design argument based on order, purpose and regularity

Richard Swinburne (1934- )

The Argument from Design The Coherence of Theism Existence of God Faith and Reason

Swinburne identifies two forms of regularity: Spatial order (‘regularities of co-presence') can be explained as a result of Evolution Temporal order (‘regularities of succession’) convinces him that the Universe is designed Evolution can explain spatial order, temporal order needs a personal explanation There is no ‘best possible world’ This is the sort of universe God would have reason to make Arguments together make a cumulative case for God’s existence

J.L. Mackie

Evil and Omnipotence

A good being eliminates evil as far as possible There are no limits to what an omnipotent being can do an omnipotent God could create a world where human beings always freely choose to

do what is good

John Hick (1922-2012)

Evil and the God of Love ‘Theology and verification’

Hick adapts the Irenaean Theodicy Autonomous beings, made in the image of God become perfected into the likeness of God God allows epistemic distance for humans to make autonomous decisions Real (libertarian) freedom includes the possibility of doing wrong The is a ‘vale of soul-making’ where evil has a ‘salvific quality’ We will be able to verify God’s existence eschatologically when we die

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A.J. Ayer (1910-1989)

The Central Questions of Philosophy Language, Truth and Logic

Logical Positivist Verification principle that a factual statement is meaningful if it can be verified through

sense experience Emotivist ethics

Anthony Flew (1923-2010)

University debate in ‘Theology and Falsification’

The argument ‘from design’ is tautological (it should be called the argument to design) No True Scotsman fallacy ‘The Gardener’ parable ‘theological utterances’ cannot be falsified so they are completely ‘vacuous’ Cognitivist

RM Hare (1919-2002)

University debate in ‘Theology and Falsification’

Universal prescriptivism Two-level utilitarianism ‘Bliks’ Non-cognitivist

Basil Mitchell (1917 – 2011)

University debate in ‘Theology and Falsification’

Partisan parable faith can be ‘sane and reasonable‘ despite elements of doubt Cognitivist

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Some ideas on how to use these notes for revision

Traffic light highlighter: go through the notes for one section, use a pink highlighter for sections you don’t understand, an orange one for bits you are not sure of and a green one for sections you understand, revisit the orange and red sections hopefully converting them to green!

Create flashcards: write each argument or group of arguments onto a flash card, either write criticisms of each one on the reverse or between each line of the argument in a different colour

Make cards on Quizlet (post on Edmodo if you are feeling generous) and print them out or work on them online

Concept maps: for each argument or topic area, use different colours, pictures etc. put large maps on the wall (a section at a time), use computer software mind maps or prezi

Argument ping pong: take an argument e.g. Aquinas First way, either with or without the notes, the first person explains the argument and the other explains the criticisms. Question and help each other, note down any problems that the exercise has uncovered.

Go through the Glossary defining the words yourself before reading the printed definition

Make quizzes for each other.