Religious Skepticism: Direct Responses
Direct responses to religious scepticism accept the grounds of criticism, and attempt to offer a response on similar grounds; i.e. offering a rational grounding for a belief, offering ‘evidence’, offering argument. With respect to scepticism regarding the existence of God, there are three main types of argument: ontological, cosmological and teleological. (There are various different versions of these and I offer only the basic lines of argument.) The first suggests that we can have an a priori knowledge of God.
(e.g. St. Anselm, St. Thomas Aquinas, Descartes)
1. By definition, God is a being than which none greater can be imagined.
2. A being that necessarily exists in reality is greater than a being that does not necessarily exist.
3. Thus, by definition, if God exists as an idea in the mind but does not necessarily exist in reality, then we can imagine something that is greater than God.
4. But we cannot imagine something that is greater than God.
5. Thus, if God exists in the mind as an idea, then God necessarily exists in reality.
6. God exists in the mind as an idea.
7. God necessarily exists in reality.
The second is based upon the idea that the universe must have had a creator:
Cosmological Argument (First Cause)
(e.g. Aristotle, St. Thomas Aquinas)
1. Everything that exists has a cause of its existence.
2. The universe exists.
3. The universe has a cause of its existence.
4. If the universe has a cause of its existence, then that cause is God.
5. God exists.
The third is often known as the ‘intelligent design’ argument:
Teleological Argument (Argument from Design)
(e.g. Paley, Swinburne)
1. The universe is too complex to have occurred randomly or naturally.
2. Therefore, the universe must have been created by an intelligent being.
3. God is that intelligent being.
4. God exists.
1.) Are these arguments enough to convince a sceptic? If not, why not? Could they be improved in such a way that the sceptic would be forced to accept their validity?
2.) All of these arguments have a venerable history in theology and philosophy of religion. Which of them is the most plausible? Are any of them simply relics of the past, or do they continue to have any sort of purchase?
3.) Can religious belief be reduced to this sort of argumentative form? If not, does that mean the sceptic is thoroughly misguided in their demands for evidence?
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