“The arguments for the existence of God do nothing to support the God people actually worship” Critically evaluate this statement. [40]

It is fair to say that the arguments for the existence of God fail to prove the existence of God.  The ontological argument is the only one that sets out to deliver an a priori proof and as Immanuel Kant argued in his “Critique of Pure Reason” (1781) it is “so much labour and effort lost“.  It is equally fair to say that the inductive arguments for God’s existence, both Cosmological and Teleological, fail to demonstrate the existence of God conclusively.  Criticisms leveled at the arguments by David Hume, amongst many others, point out their several flaws and fallacies.  Nevertheless, to say that the arguments do nothing to support the God people worship is a big overstatement. [THESIS]

The ontological argument, for all it seems to rely on bad grammar by treating existence as a perfection and a predicate, remains a powerful thought-exercise for those who already believe.  For one example, Karl Barth – who utterly rejected Natural Theology – appreciated the spiritual depth of Anselm’s argument.  In “Faith Seeking Understanding” (1931), he suggested that Anselm was not trying to prove that God exists, but was rather meditating on how God exists.  For Barth “that than which nothing greater can be conceived of” is a revealed name of God which contains something of God’s nature.  Reflecting on it and seeking deeper and deeper understanding is an essential faith-activity, which supports and enriches peoples’ relationship with the divine.  For another example, the mystic Thomas Merton was inspired by Anselm’s “faith seeking understanding” and exploration of how God necessarily exists as his starting point in opening his mind to insights about God from all religions [Faith Seeking Understanding: Theological Method in Thomas Merton’s inter-religious Dialogue by Ryan Scruggs, Journal of Ecumenical Studies 46:3 2011].  Both Barth and Merton used Anselm’s ontological argument to support their understanding of and enrich their faith in God, in their different ways.  It is wrong to say then that this argument for God’s existence does nothing to support the God that people worship. [REASON]

Cosmological arguments point to God as the Prime Mover, uncaused cause and Necessary sustainer of the universe.  For St. Thomas Aquinas, these arguments show a posteriori how God must be eternal in the sense of being outside time and space, which in turn distances God from creation and limits how He can be understood to know and intervene in what happens.  On one level, this suggests that the statement “the arguments for the existence of God do nothing to support the God people actually worship” is reasonable.  Omnipotence – in the sense of being able to work miracles – omniscience – in the sense of being able to respond to prayer – and benevolence – in the sense of understanding and having a personal relationship with worshipers – are all crucial to the Christian concept of God.  Aquinas’ God, although well-supported by the cosmological argument – is not obviously the God most Christians worship.  Nevertheless, Aquinas’ ways to God  only serve as a preamble to the substance of his argument in the Summa Theologica, which seeks to show why the necessary being supported by observational evidence must be the God Christians worship.  It is true that for Aquinas, the meaning of divine attributes like omnipotence, omniscience and omni-benevolence has to be understood analogically and cannot be understood literally, univocally.  Yet he also maintains that there is real and positive meaning in claims such as “God is good”, which are central to Christian worship.  It is clear that Aquinas’ cosmological arguments establish the necessary existence of the God Christians worship, even if they do not by themselves explain how or why God must be as Christians worship Him. Therefore it is an overstatement to say that the arguments do nothing to support the God people worship.  [REASON]

Teleological arguments suggest a God who is more obviously involved in His creation than either ontological or cosmological arguments.  William Paley used the analogy of watch and watchmaker to describe the close relationship between creation and creator.  Even Aquinas’ fifth way suggests that God is the intelligence that directs inanimate things towards their ends (telos) “as an arrow is given flight by the archer.”  In “Dialogues Concerning Natural ReligionDavid Hume’s character Philo is right to point out that the observable evidence of creation includes things that seem poorly designed or even cruel and might more properly suggest an imperfect deity, or multiple deities, than the perfect God of Christian worship because in practice, most Christians are resigned to worshipping a God who at least allows evil and suffering, albeit for a morally sufficient reason.  For example, John Hick argued that God created human beings in His own image, with only the potential to grow into His likeness after passing through the “vale of soul-making” that is human life.  In “Evil and the God of Love” (1966) he argued that belief in a God who allows people to suffer for the spiritual benefit that they (or other people) may gain from that experience is compatible with Christian faith and worship.  After all, in the Garden of Gethsemane Jesus called out to “Abba, Father…” asking that “this cup of suffering” be taken away by God’s will.  God did not act to prevent his suffering, even when Jesus called out “Eloi, Eloi, lama sabachthani, which means “my God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” (Mark 15:34)  Christians do not worship a God who doesn’t know about or understand suffering and nor do they worship a God who even tried to create a world with no potential for horror… he placed the tree in the garden after all.  It follows that teleological arguments support the God Christians actually worship, “the God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob” far more than they support the perfect “God of the philosophers”, to use Blaise Pascal’s distinction.  [REASON]

Pushing this line of reasoning might give more credence to the claim that “the arguments for the existence of God do nothing to support the God people actually worship.”  Certainly, ontological and cosmological arguments – if they are sound and cogent respectively – support the existence of a perfect God.  Anselm defined God as “that than which nothing greater can be conceived of,” Descartes defined God more straightforwardly as “Supreme Perfection” and Plantinga similarly defined God as a “maximally great being.”  Aquinas’ cosmological arguments support a God who is the Prime Mover, uncaused causer and de re necessary being sustaining the universe.  By definition, such a God is 100% actual and has no potential, is outside time and space and cannot change.  Aquinas successfully showed that this God must be all-good.  In the Aristotelian sense defining goodness in terms of fulfilling potential and evil in terms of falling short, a God whose nature is to unchangingly be 100% actual cannot be other than all-good.  Further, Aquinas successfully showed that this God must be all-powerful and all knowing in the sense of being the primary cause of everything that exists, what is responsible for things being as they are and no other way.  Nevertheless, Christians do not worship a God who is perfect in this abstract way.  The Bible casts God as the creator of everything, but a creator who has a defined purpose for each aspect of his creation (Genesis 1:27-31) and who can and does interact with and respond to people both in Eden (Genesis 2-3) and subsequently throughout Biblical History.  In Genesis God appears to Abraham – albeit in a mysterious way – then Jacob wrestles with God, mistaking him for a man.  In the New Testament God speaks to acknowledge Jesus as His son, Jesus calls God Abba (literally Daddy) and claims “the father and I are one” (John 10:30) before dying horribly on the cross.  It is difficult to claim that the God Christians worship is the abstract if all-powerful, all-good God supported by ontological and cosmological arguments.  [DISAGREE]  Nevertheless, the Nicene Creed affirms that the Christian God is the perfect God of the philosophers as well as being the God of Biblical history.  God is the creator both of what is “seen and unseen”, Jesus’ incarnation is part of the original creation, willed from the beginning of time rather than being a response to circumstance.  God speaks but through the prophets, acts but through the agency of the Holy Spirit.  It is fair to say that the Christian God, the God Christians actually worship, is paradoxical and mysterious but it is not fair to say that the God supported by the arguments is not the God people actually worship.  [EVALUATION]

In conclusion,  to say that the arguments do nothing to support the God people worship is a big overstatement. [THESIS] While it is true that the ontological argument and the cosmological argument point towards an abstract, perfect God which demands theological explanation to show as the God of Biblical history, it is unfair to say that the arguments do nothing to support the God people actually worship.  Certainly, as Karl Barth and Thomas Merton pointed out of the ontological argument, they are useful in enriching and sustaining faith by supporting deeper understanding of God’s nature.  Certainly, as Reformed Epistemologists like William Lane Craig have argued, cosmological arguments help believers to “defeat the defeaters” and show that faith – while not based on or dependent on arguments – is not irrational despite that.  In addition, as St Thomas Aquinas reasoned, a proper understanding of religious language shows that the attributes of the God supported by the arguments and the attributes of the God actually worshipped by Christians share meaning, even if that meaning is of a specific and limited type.  Finally, teleological arguments offer essential support for the God people actually worship, showing His creative care and causing people to reflect on the existence of evil and suffering in a way that is essential to Christian worship.  Without appreciating the reality of suffering – and rational reflection on God as designing intelligence encourages this – Christians could not understand the importance of the atonement or stake their lives on the hope for salvation, and in this case there would be little point in worship.  [Significance]

 

 

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