Philosophy of Religion

Chapter  4. Arguments for the Existence of God: Reason

Section  8. Overview

In the end what can be made of all the proofs and arguments based primarily on reason for and against the existence of god.  It appears that each and every one of them has strong points and weak points as well.  It appears as if no one argument is definitive.  No one argument is powerful enough to convince everyone to accept it.

If each is flawed their combination would not produce a good argument that would be any better than its parts.  Two, three or four flawed arguments do not make one argument without a flaw.

What should be the position of a rational person in the absence of convincing argumentation?  Should a rational person accept that a being exists when no proof has actually been provided?  Many think that the position for a rational being would be at least a positive skepticism if not  atheism.

Considering that the burden of proof should be on the person who makes the claim that X does exist then it might appear that skepticism or atheism is well warranted where the claim is that a supernatural being, a deity, exists.

Finally, just what good are the proofs?   What should be the position of a rational person in the absence of convincing argumentation?


“The Presumption of Atheism” by Michael Scriven 

Summary by Meghan Ramsay (QCC, 2004)

Scriven asserts that normally, the word faith is interchangeable with the word confidence, and that confidence and reason must go hand in hand.  For instance, we have faith in a person because we have reason to be confident.  Normally, if we have faith (confidence) in something without reason to, the results can lead to calamity.  However, he points out that when it comes to religious beliefs, faith is looked upon as a substitute for reason rather than something that should have its foundation in reason.  Scriven argues that faith alone is not an adequate way to prove the truth of beliefs.  Doing so, he asserts, is like saying that you won a game just by playing and by referring to playing as “winning.”  Simply because you call it winning doesn’t mean that you won.  He goes on to say that in order to prove something that one has faith in, s/he must provide evidence that justifies the belief.  In doing so, one would no longer need to believe based upon faith, as s/he would have solid proof.  Scriven also argues that the mere possibility that a person with faith in religious beliefs might turn out to be correct does not mean that the beliefs are automatically true.  He also points out that mere agreement is not enough to prove that a belief is true, as the agreement of either religious persons or atheists could very well be a shared mistake.  Unlike scientific beliefs which are constantly verified by our daily experiences, religious beliefs are not repeatedly verified by constant, common religious experiences.  In fact, he argues, many fundamental religious beliefs vary widely between various denominations and are open to much criticism by others.  Scriven points out that the criteria for religious truth must be connected with our everyday truths, or else these religious criteria for truths do not have any connection with our lives.  Therefore, they would prove completely useless as a method for explanation of our world or guidance for our lives.   

Scriven argues that if there are no arguments that point to even a slight chance of the existence of God, the only alternative is atheism.  Scriven uses the analogy of the belief in Santa Clause to illustrate his point.  When we are children, we find it plausible to believe in Santa Clause.  However, as we grow older we realize that there is not the least bit of evidence in favor of the possibility of his existence.  We do not, however, attempt to prove the inexistence of Santa.  Instead we simply come to realize that there is not the slightest reason to believe in his existence.  In fact, belief in his supernatural powers goes directly against the evidence.  Thus, the proper alternative to belief in Santa is disbelief rather than deferment of belief.   

Scriven maintains that beliefs are either well founded (“there is evidence which is best explained by this claim), provable (“the evidence is indubitable and the claim is very clearly required), wholly unfounded or unsupported (“there is no evidence for it and no general considerations in its favor”), or disprovable (“it implies that something would be the case that definitely is not the case”).  He asserts that it is ridiculous to believe in either a disproved belief or a wholly unfounded one.  Additionally, he argues that it is irrational to treat such a wholly unfounded belief as one that merits serious consideration.  Although a claim for which there is some support cannot be dismissed, but without undoubted evidence such a claim cannot be wholly believed either.  In order for one to maintain agnosticism, the belief must not be provable or disprovable.  However, since there is not even a slight bit of evidence to prove the existence of a supernatural being, one cannot accept agnosticism.  Scriven argues that regardless of how many supposed proofs for the existence of a God exists, if they are all defective, they are worthless.  Additionally, Scriven points out that although the various proofs for the existence of God attempt to support each other, one must take a closer look.  He argues that in reality, these varied proofs are often referring to many different entities who seemingly share the same name.  In order for these supposedly connected proofs to work, there must also be proof that they each refer to the same entity, which monotheism does not provide.   

Scriven, Michael.  Primary Philosophy.  New York:  McGraw-Hill, 1966.


What does the word "atheism" mean anyway?

Ernest Nagel  Philosophical Concepts Of Atheism  from the essay "Philosophical Concepts of Atheism"


Can science be used to disprove that there is a deity?

Can Science Prove that God Does Not Exist?  by Theodore Schick, Jr. The following article is from Free Inquiry magazine, Volume 21, Number 1


Finally , just what good are the proofs?  Well, concerning these proofs it has been said that: 

  • Believers do not need them

  • Unbelievers will not heed them

The following Philosophers have offered these views.

Stephen Cahn has noted of the arguments or proofs for the existence of a deity:

  • they are irrelevant to believers and non-believers

  • morality can exist without a belief in or a proof of God’s existence

  • they are of use to philosophers

S.T. Davis  has made these points about the arguments:

    1. the proofs do not succeed

    2. Proofs are unpersuasive to skeptics

    3. Proofs are irrelevant to believers

    4. The "God" of the proofs is not the "God" of the faithful: it is a philosophical abstraction

    5. Proofs deny divine transcendence

Paul Tillich has observed that the "god" of the proofs is a being similar to other beings and conceived of within the experience of humans.   The "god" of the proofs is not the "Ground of Being"  

So then in the end just what good are the proofs? What is their value?

These arguments or proofs are philosophically and religiously valuable.   They have several benefits (purposes):


   1.   Theists can make use of and develop their rational faculties


  2.  Belief in a deity  is shown to be somewhat rational and justified intellectually as establishing that the existence of a deity-dieties is at least possible


  3.  They help to confirm faith in a deity for those who already had a belief in a deity.

So in the end the proofs remain optional for theists!!!  Most human beings believe or disbelieve in a deity or the supernatural not due to any rational exercise involving thought but due to experiences!! 

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© Copyright Philip A. Pecorino 2001. All Rights reserved.

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