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The Rational God

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A Need for God

It seems to be part of our human nature to compulsively want to justify our existence. I understand this to be the reason for the creation of religion in all cultures. At the center of all religions there is a being we usually call God, the Creator of everything that is. Over time and still today, there is much debate as to whose God is the greatest and whether or not God actually exists. Evidently, these debates have caught the attention of philosophers, whose job is to find the truth of the matter and convince an audience through rational arguments. As a result, many rational arguments have been constructed to prove the existence of God .

Generally, these are classified in either of the following categories: the ontological argument, the teleological argument, the cosmological argument, or a cost/benefit analysis. The ontological argument seeks to prove the existence of God solely using rational claims, whereas the teleological argument uses mostly empirical ones . The cosmological argument is somewhere in the middle, beginning with empirical claims, which then become the premises for the rational ones. Finally, the cost/benefit analysis assesses the advantages and disadvantages of believing in God.

In this paper, we will explore two of the plethora of arguments assembled over the course of history. These are specifically, 1) Saint Anselm's Proslogium, an ontological argument, and 2) the argument from design, a teleological argument. We will also assess them by looking at some relevant criticisms and see where they succeed and where they fail. It is important to note that in this essay, we are not concerned with whether there actually is a God, but rather examining the construction of the arguments that prove its existence .

Anselm's Proslogium

Saint Anselm, an eleventh-century Christian philosopher and theologian, introduced his theistic proof in the second chapter of his Proslogium, using an ontological argument. Much like RenÐ"©e Descartes did, 600 years or so later, Anselm relied solely on a priori concepts to prove the existence of God. This is his reasoning: Firstly, one must understand God as the greatest conceivable being. This means that God must possess certain qualities such as being infinite, omnipotent, omniscient, and so on. Secondly, one must acknowledge that there is a difference between existence in the understanding and existence in reality.

Anselm's fool claims that God does not exist. Anselm suggests that if someone can claim that no God exists, it must necessarily already exist in the understanding. This is simply because we cannot deny something that we do not understand. An so, Anselm makes the following deduction: 1) if we accept that God exists in the understanding, 2) if we accept that God is the greatest conceivable being, and 3) if we accept that existence in reality is greater than existence in understanding, then we must accept that God, being the greatest being, exists in reality.

One might then reply that this does not prove the existence of a "religious" God, one that punishes and offers miracles. This seems correct. Anselm's argument simply affirms the theoretical existence of the greatest conceivable being in reality. This is more like a "philosophical" God, a concept .

Gaunilo's Criticism

This argument has received many criticisms including one from Anselm's contemporary, Gaunilo, a Benedictine monk. Gaunilo's critique "Liber pro insipiente" ("In Behalf of the Fool") challenges Anselm's argument by giving him an absurd example. This example states that if one is to suppose a perfect island, it does not follow that this island must exist in reality, even if, just as with God, 1) it is the greatest one, 2) it does exist in the understanding, and 3) that existence in reality is greater than existence in the understanding. Anselm simply replies by saying that there is a fundamental difference between the island and God. That is, the island only possesses contingent existence, whereas God possesses necessary existence. In other words, God transcends the possibility of not existing. Since the example only applies to contingent things, it means that it does not apply to God.

The Argument from Design

Next, we contrast Anselm's argument with the argument from design, which is categorized as a teleological argument. Teleological arguments are claims that link the order of the observable universe to the existence of God. Unlike Anselm's ontological argument, the design argument bases most of its premises on a posteriori claims (empirical facts). This argument is a thousand year old argument that has been adopted by many philosophers. David Hume was one of the last philosophers to write a major critique on this argument. In his critique "Dialogues Concerning Natural Religion", Hume utilized two main characters: Cleanthes, who gives the argument, and Philo, who then criticizes it . To understand Cleanthes' argument, one must first understand what an analogical argument is.

An analogical argument is a subset of a larger group of arguments called inductive arguments. Inductive arguments, as opposed to deductive arguments, are arguments from experience that make claims from something that is known to something that is unknown. For instance, inferring that the sun will rise tomorrow based on the evidence that it has always risen in the past, is an example of an inductive argument; we are inferring something unknown Ð'- the future rising of the sun Ð'- from something that we have observed and is known Ð'- the past rising of the sun. Analogical arguments also infer unknown facts from known facts. More specifically, by comparing the qualities of different items, they infer a missing quality of one item based on the known relevantly similar quality of the other. For instance, if two boxes have the same labels, weigh the same weight, were purchased from the same store, and look identical, and we open the first one and discover a specific object, we can infer that the second box will probably also contain the same object. Notice, the "probably"; this is important because we must note that inductive arguments can be at best only probable, since we can always be wrong. As one can imagine, some analogical arguments can be better than others, depending on the probability of occurrence. There are basically two requirements for a strong analogical argument: 1) that the items have repeated experience (reliability), and 2) that the compared items be relevantly similar to one another.

Here is Cleanthes' argument. By observation,



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