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Arguments for the Existence of God

Philosophy of Religion

Arguments for the existence of God (Part 3): Morality and Religion

Information: Part 3 of a review of various arguments for the existence of God. Click here to read Arguments for the existence of God (Part 1): Introduction and design and Arguments for the existence of God (Part 2): Cosmology. A version of this article was originally published on the website www.faithnet.org.uk.

Arguments for the existence of God based on morality

Although much of what we come to accept as 'right or wrong' is learnt from our family and friends, many faith-traditions teach that our moral compass (or conscience) is actually something God-given.

Conscience is said to be like an 'inner-voice', prompting people to do things they should do, and not those things they should avoid doing (leading people to feel guilty for doing so), even when no-one is watching them.

The German philosopher Immanuel Kant (1724-1804) believed that an awareness of how people ought to live had been given to us by God, and referred to it as the 'highest good' (or summum bonum). He also believed we should never use other people for our own advantage, and that the best test for working out if were doing the right thing was to imagine what would happen if everyone else did the same.

Always treat others as you would like them to treat you. (Jesus - Matthew 7:12)

Something to think about: Do you think the universalisation test for judging the rightness of wrongness of an action is a good one? For example, do you think the argument that if someone is a thief then everyone should be thieves, proves that stealing is a morally wrong action?

In terms of the existence of God, Kant argued that God had to exist in order for the world to be a moral place. Actually, he never really said that God existed because he believed we could never know this for sure. Instead, we need to imagine that God exists (or live as though God does), and keep thinking that one day our lives will be judged by God when we die (even if it turns out they are not). Although this might be an odd thing to do, Kant believed that living as though God existed and that one day God would judge our lives, is the only way we can guarantee people a sense purpose for acting morally, or not living solely as they please.

Something to discuss: Kant's moral philosophy suggests that without any divine threat of judgment, reward and punishment, that people will never think about anyone else but themselves. Do you agree with this, and why? [Help?]

Picture of the Ten CommandmentsTheistic faith-traditions often argue that God has not only given us a conscience, but has also specifically instructed us as to how we should live. These instruction are usually given as commandments, but can also be general guidance about various everyday matters. Theistic faith-traditions also promote the belief that without God's help, people cannot live a good life. This means that unless God tells us the right way to live, there is every chance that we will do the wrong thing (or not live the way as God intended). Hand-in-hand with this is the belief that as long as people obey God's commands, the world will be a good place to live in.

Key features of moral arguments

  • Our conscience is a God-given sense of right and wrong.
  • Our conscience guides us as to how God wants us to live (or not).
  • The world would be a better place if people lived how God wanted them to.
  • Immanuel Kant said that the highest good (summum bonum) is living as our conscience directs us.
  • Kant also said that God was required to exist in for our moral decisions to have any practical value (i.e. we see a reason for living a 'good life').
  • If we only do things we would be happy for others to do as well, Kant believed we would be living a moral life.

Evidence which supports moral arguments

  • People feel bad when they do something they should not, even if no-one is around (conscience).
  • Most people live morally responsible lives, and condemn others who do not.
  • The idea that we can live as we please without any care for the consequences, is something most people do not believe is right.
  • Many religions have moral teachings in them, which are said to be God-given (E.g. The Ten Commandments).

Debates about moral arguments

One of the biggest challenges to moral arguments is that there are many religions which have different teachings about how we are to live, yet are all believed to be God-given. So what are we do when religious people disagree about moral issues, yet all believe they are living how God intends? Furthermore, how can people live moral lives today based on the teachings of ancient documents?

Something to discuss: In the Old Testament, people were commandment not to wear clothing made of two different types of fibre (Leviticus 19:19). Is this command still relevant for people living in the 21st Century, and why? (Note: In the same section God forbids having sex with a parent, and also homosexuality (Leviticus 18:7-8, 22).)

Probably the biggest objection to moral arguments is that 'religion' has not always demonstrated a good example of morality. In fact, some people argue that we should get rid of religions altogether, because they do nothing but inspire hatred and division amongst people.

World Trade Centre attacks, 11th September 2001It is worth remembering that the September 11 highjackers were college educated, middle class people who had no discernable experience of political oppression. They did, however, spend a remarkable amount of time at their local mosque talking about the depravity of infidels and about the pleasures that await martyrs in Paradise (Harris S., Letter to a Christian Nation, Knopf, 2006 p.82).

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The Existence of Religion

From the earliest records of history, and in the remotest regions of the planet, one can find evidence of religious activity amongst humans. This leads many people to conclude that the presence of religion implies there must be a God, and so God exists!

Religious activity can take many forms, and range from simple death and fertility rituals (such as burying the dead and offering sacrifices), to more advanced belief systems (such as those found in modern world religions).

Many Christians believe there is a 'God-shaped gap' in people's life, and that they are naturally drawn towards a religious lifestyle (thus making atheism unnatural for humans).

The 'God-shaped gap' is another way of saying people need God.

Picture of someone eating a hamburgerOne way of explaining what is meant by a 'God-shaped gap', is to compare it to getting hungry. The body gets hungry because this is the way it is fed, and by being fed it continues to survive. Without food, the body would die. Therefore, the feeling of hunger is a natural thing, and is the way our body indicates that it needs food. In a similar way it might be said that the feeling that God exists, is rather like the body having a hunger for God. The fact that religion has been a feature of human life for so long, may indicate that people have a sense that this life is not all there is and are naturally drawn towards God (who exists - just as food exists!). We might say that a 'hunger' for meaning and purpose in life, is satisfied by God.

Key features of the religious argument for God's existence

  • Humans have always been religious people.
  • Humans always seem to have had a sense that there might be something beyond this world.
  • Christians believe that people have a 'God-shaped gap' in them.
  • That humans have always been religious, suggests there might be a God.
  • Religious activity in humans seems to indicate that it is natural for humans to be religious.
  • The sense that there is a God might be a form of spiritual hunger.

Evidence which supports the religious argument for God's existence

  • Archaeological evidence shows existence of primitive forms of religion has been present on earth, from the earliest traces of human civilisation.
  • Evidence of religious activity ranges from examples of people burying their dead, to more advanced religious rituals such as human sacrifice.
  • Religion is still very much a feature of people's lives today, despite the fact that we live in a technologically advanced world.
  • In a 2004 survey, only 35% of people in the UK said they were atheist; 46% said they were agnostic. According to the findings of a recent poll in the USA, 53% of Americans believe the world was created by God (Harris S., Letter to a Christian Nation, Knopf, 2006 p. x).

Debates about the religious argument for God's existence

Some people argue that the presence of religion, is simply an indication of some psychological imbalance in humans. For example, the founder of modern psychology Sigmund Freud (1886-1939) argued that people who believed in God as a heavenly father who watches over them and takes care of them did so, because they were trying to make up for deficiencies in a relationship with their earthly father. Karl Marx (1818-83) on the other hand, argued that the presence of religion in the world was inhibitive to humans making progress socially (for more on this see Atheism: An introduction).

Picture of an alien faceAlthough the presence of religious activity might show that God exists, it does not show which God this might be. For example, if 'God' exists this might be the Christian God, or the Islamic God, or the Sikh God, or may even be the god of ancient Egypt (who might no longer be believed in, but may still be around getting progressively angry that no-one is worshipping him/her/it). Of course, the fact that people claim to believe in and worship God, does not mean God exists. That would be like saying the belief that there are extra-terrestrials, and the fact that people spend time looking for them, is evidence that there is intelligent life elsewhere in the universe.

Proving whether God exists or not is always going to be difficult, because God is said to be a spiritual being who exists beyond our normal range of experience. However, 'seeing' something does not necessarily make it more real, and does not prove something exists. An unseen God may be the best (and true) explanation as to why people are religious, just as the 'Big-bang' (which has also never been seen), is currently believed by many scientists to be the best explanation as to why the universe is here.

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