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Hello there. Some contemporary philosophers say that Aquinas' arguments for the

Hello there. Some contemporary philosophers say that Aquinas' arguments for the existence of God are good arguments (eg John Haldane), whilst others think they are no good. Lots and lots of philosophers and philosophy books seem to not understand the arguments properly (I can remember being taught the arguments in the philosophy department of one of the most prominent universities in my country where, looking back, with hindsight I am pretty sure the teacher did not understand the arguments well at all). So who to believe?? Any suggestions would be interesting! Thank you in advance.

I go on to recommend some other texts below and address the topic of philosophical disagreements and consensus, but first a comment on Stephen Maitzen's observation about not being under any obligation to believe either side in a dispute over theistic arguments. I am not disagreeing with Stephen on this, but I do wonder about the general point of when one might be obligated to come to terms (oneself) in believing one side or another in a philosophical debate.... Here is a suggestion:

Let's say you have been appointed the task of establishing a university in a developing nation in which there are different religious communities (Christian and Islamic or Hindu and Buddhist, for example). You have enough funds to establish sound programs in engineering, the sciences, languages...and now you are considering how much to devote to a philosophy department and, perhaps more specifically, you must decide whether that department or a religion department should include scholars who are well trained and are excellent in teaching who would be able to engage students (undergraduate and graduate) with arguments for and against theism or Monism, beliefs in Karma, philosophical investigations of faith and reason.... Imagine the decision is wholly up to you and (for some reason) there is no body of neutral "experts" you can consult. I think that under THOSE conditions, you may well have an obligation (as part of your task in establishing a university) to sufficiently inquire into the debates to see whether they can be carried out with fairness, skill, openness to listening and considering carefully to both sides. I suppose this is not at all a disagreement with Stephen, for I am not arguing that under those circumstances you would have an obligation to believe one side or the other. But you might have an obligation to inquire further into the debates until you are able to form a reasonable overview of the terrain...

In terms of further reading on theistic arguments, I would recommend the Stanford Encylopedia of Philosophy (SEP) entries on Philosophy of Religion as well as entries on specific arguments like the Cosmological argument. Oppy's book on Arguing about gods (recommended by Stephen) is brilliant in many respects, but I think it would be tough reading on your own; it is sometimes highly technical. There are some good recommendations in the SEP. I also co-edited The Routledge Companion to Theism (which Oppy contributed to) and this contains lots and lots of (what I hope you will find) interesting entries.

As for your general point about disagreements in the case of theism, I suggest that some disagreements in philosophy can stem, not from vigorous "objective" and "impartial" reasoning in which philosophers have enough time and energy to patiently review all the relevant arguments and objections. In this matter, theism is no different as a topic than, say moral realism (the conviction that there are moral facts that are as 'objective' as the fact that I am posting a reply to you now). Actually, topics in religion and ethics can be a bit more vexing than, say, philosophy of language, because the stakes are a bit high. Imagine that a philosophical argument in environmental ethics gives you convincing reasons to change how you live and what you eat and wear or whether you have children or adopt, etc... In matters of religion, some of those who grow up to become professional philosophers have had backgrounds in religion that are unfortunate (they were told to believe X on the basis of authority rather than good reasons) and this can taint one's interest in philosophically exploring religion as adults. So, background, time-constraints, patience or lack of patience... can all come in to account for there not being consensus (yet) in philosophy of religion and, I believe, in ethics, political theory, philosophy of mind and some other areas.

I hope we have not discouraged you from doing your own exploring of the philosophical literature. A nice pairing of opposing philosophers can be found in the book Debating Christian Theism.

I have a question about atheism and semantics, although I'm not sure I can

I have a question about atheism and semantics, although I'm not sure I can phrase it properly, as it also includes the concept of "belief" separate from "doctrine." Here goes: atheists claim that they do not believe in "God" while they do believe in ethics, morality, a concept of right and wrong. It seems to me that anyone who says they believe in right and wrong also implicitly believes that there is something more important than one's own personal ego gratification (in other words, everyone "should" curtail their own gratification to the extent that such gratification harms other people). To me, that seems semantically equivalent to a belief in God, except that the concept of "God" also includes an association in most people's minds with a particular doctrine. It sounds to me that atheists are merely rejecting all the doctrinal beliefs that accompany organized religion, while at the very root or core of the situation, do accept that they need to defer their own gratification to something greater or...

You asked, "How can a person say on one hand that they believe that something is more important than the self and also say at the same time that nothing exists that is more important than the self?" I agree that a person who said such a thing would be expressing a self-contradictory belief, a belief that therefore couldn't possibly be correct. However, I think it's simply a misuse of language to use the term "god" or "God" to refer to anything that someone regards as more important than gratifying his or her ego at that moment. If I resist the temptation to insult someone because I think it would be wrongfully hurtful, even if insulting him would gratify my ego, I don't thereby count as believing in God or gods. You dismissed "terminology and doctrine," as if they're irrelevant. But the meanings of words, such as "god" or "God," are of course entirely a matter of terminology, and in the case of religious terminology the meanings are often connected to one doctrine or another. By the same token, the word "atheist" simply doesn't mean "someone who regards his or her own ego gratification as always more important than anything else." English has other words for such a person.

Hi Philosophers,

Hi Philosophers, I have a burning question that is troubling me relating the religion versus science debate. I hope I articulate it well enough. Here goes. Mathematically, physicists are close to proving that a multiverse exists. Assuming they do prove this, and that as part of this proof it is deemed that infinity universes exist with both every conceivable and inconceivable possibility and outcome occurring throughout, then is it not fair to say that God certainly exists in at least one of these infinite possibility universes? Adversely, it is also fair to assume that God certainly does not exist in at least one of these universes? Then consider that if God certainly exists in at least one universe, and he is the all-seeing, all-knowing God that religion states he is, then how can he certainly not exist in at least one of the infinite universes? To say that God definitely exists is to, by definition of God, say that he exists everywhere and created everything, yet this notion within the multiverse...

Great question (and great response by Allen). Let me just add a tiny bit, by encouraging you to check out both Norman Malcolm's and Alvin Plantinga's work on the ontological argument. (The latter is a lot more technical and difficult, so start with the former.) From them you get something like the idea that if God exists at all, He exists necessarily (for God surely isn't a contingent being); to say that God exists necessarily is to say that He exists in every possible world. But now, if it's even possible that God exists -- i.e. the idea of God contains no contradictions -- then God would exist in at least one possible world. But if He exists at all He exists in every possible world, so if He exists in one PW He exists in every PW. Now is it possible that God exists? Does the idea of God involve any contradictions? Lots of discussion in the history of philosophical theology on that topic (lots of purported contradictions posed, then response to), but lots of people, even many ordinary atheists, think there's no contradiction in the idea of God, just merely that God contingently doesn't exist. So if you construe the multiverse theory to mean that every possible world exists (not sure it should be construed this way, but let's suppose), and if you think the idea of God involves no contradictions, then it sounds like the multiverse theory could support this line of argument toward God's existence.

hope that's useful!


Hello philosophers , recently in a debate with Christians ,

Hello philosophers , recently in a debate with Christians , I made a point that if one claims a relationship with a God or being that can't be seen , heard or touched that they are suffering from a delusion; is this an unfair statement and if so why ?

Just to add a bit to what my fellow panelists have said (all of which seems right to me.)

Even if God can't be seen or heard or touched in ordinary sensory ways, many believers would claim that they have experiences of God. There's a vast literature on this topic, but one interesting recent contribution is by the anthropologist Tanya Luhrmann: her book When God Talks Back gives a detailed account of how some people, as they understand it, learn to experience God. You can read a brief synopsis HERE (Scroll way down if the page appears not to load properly.)

You might say that these people are mistaken, and you might (or might not) be right. You might say that they are deluded, but unless you simply mean "mistaken," the word "deluded" doesn't add anything. There's no reason to believe that such believers are mentally ill by any reasonable criterion.

As it happens, I'm not a theist. But over the years, I've come to the conclusion that many atheists have a mistaken picture of the religious lives of believers. This leads to a good deal of misunderstanding.

Is it right to call a believer rational even if she cannot prove articulately or

Is it right to call a believer rational even if she cannot prove articulately or give good arguments for her belief in God? Let's just say I ask a believer "Why do you believe in God?" and she simply answered, "Because I've experienced God's grace in my life," and she needs no arguments or other evidences for her belief, is her position justifiable? I personally thinks it is but if that is the case, then what would make belief in God irrational, if simply certain personal experiences can justify such belief?

If she had reasons to believe, it would not be faith that she had but knowledge.

I respectfully reject the implicit reasoning in Prof. Marino's claim. Someone's having reasons to believe may make her belief rational or epistemically justified, but her belief is knowledge only if her belief is true, and its truth doesn't follow from her having reasons to believe.

[A]s human beings we still have to decide whether or not [to] believe in what falls outside the bounds of reason.

Does what falls outside the bounds of reason also fall entirely within the bounds of reason? If no, why not? If yes, then how can anyone understand the statement of Prof. Marino's that I just quoted?

Hello, My name is Ana

Hello, My name is Ana I have recently read several articles on the subjects of evolution and religion. Many have been to support either theory about which is true but, not one has been to support both equally. My questions is it possible to support both evolution and be religious at the same point in time, and if so how?

Hi, Ana. Yes. For example, one could believe that God created a world in which evolution operates.

The privation of good is a theological doctrine that evil, unlike good, is

The privation of good is a theological doctrine that evil, unlike good, is insubstantial, so that thinking of it as an entity is misleading. Instead, evil is rather the absence or lack ("privation") of good. The relationship between light and darkness is often used to frame a metaphorical understanding of good and evil. This metaphor can be used to answer the problem of evil: If evil, like darkness, does not truly exist, but is only a name we give to our perception of the privation of good, then our widespread observation of evil does not preclude the possibility of a benevolent, omniscient, and omnipresent God. How can I attempt to refute or at least call into question the above depiction of evil if a theist attempts to use it to dodge the problem of evil?

It is just a rather poor argument, to move from privation to the lack of reality of the phenomenon which is the object of the privation. It is like saying to someone who is starving that he is not really suffering,it is just a privation of food.

Debating with a theologian over the validity of biblical condemnation of

Debating with a theologian over the validity of biblical condemnation of homosexuality i've been offered a sequence of arguments that seem to me circular. First argument: Divine directives 1. God has given the directive to establish the eterosexual marriage 2. Homosexual acts are condemned in the BIble 3. Homosexuals brake the divine directive Second argument: Perverse heart 1. To brake a divine law willingly is perversion 2. Homosexual acts are condemned in the Bible 3. Homosexuals are perverse Third argument: social deviance 1. To diffuse behaviours that are condemned in the Bible is a form of social deviance 2. Homosexual acts are condemned in the BIble 3. Homosexual are social deviant To me it is obvious that all these arguments implies, as a second premise, the condemnation whose validity is in question. When i have made this observation i have been offered a curios answer: anyone has a worldview that starts from certain unquestionable premise, that are in themselves circular but not invalid....


It's true that we do sometimes rely on assumptions, premises or whatnot that we simply take for granted. In fact, it's hard to see how we could avoid doing that; otherwise we'd end up in an endless regress of justifications. We could use the term "worldview" for broad premises that we use this way, but I'm not sure the term adds much so I'll leave it aside.

But there's another question that leaves an ambiguity in what you're saying. Is the theologian offering an argument that s/he think should persuade a non-believer? Or is he offering arguments that a believer might accept whether or not anyone else does?

If your asking this person "Why do you believe that homosexuality is wrong" then pointing out that it's a consequence of other assumptions that the person accepts and sees as more basic is fine. In that case, he's simply setting forth the internal logic of his view. Whether or not you accept the first two beliefs, there's no circularity in saying "The Bible represents God's directives, and we should obey God's directives. The Bible tells us what God's directives are, and it directs us not to perform homosexual acts. Therefore we shouldn't." There's also no logical jump. If you accept the premises, it's reasonable to draw the conclusion

On the other hand, if what you're asking the theologian is "Why should I, who don't share your religion, think that homosexuality is wrong?" then the arguments are plainly not good enough. They rest on premises that you don't simply accept, and you've been given no reason to believe them. Compare: suppose someone said to this theologian "Utilitarianism is the right view of morality. [That is, roughly: what's right is what produces the most happiness and the least unhappiness.] There are no good utilitarian arguments against homosexuality. Therefore it's not wrong." In the circumstances, that would be no better an argument. The theologian plainly doesn't accept the first premise, and he hasn't been given a reason to.

Now the theologian might say that any reasonable person should see that his premises about God are true. But of course, that's not so. Many clearly reasonable people disagree -- just as many reasonable people don't that utilitarianism is the correct story about right and wrong. There are interesting, serious reasons to doubt that there's a God. And even if there is a God, there are interesting, serious reasons to doubt that a literal reading of the Bible reveals his will. (Likewise, there are interesting, serious reasons to doubt that utilitarianism gets morality right.)

If your theologian turns to insult rather than argument when you ask for clarification, there may not be much point in pursuing the discussion. But it could be pursued. Chances are neither of you would end up convincing the other. But you each might gain more insight into why the other thinks as he does.

But this doesn't say anything about your last question: when is it reasonable to put a premise beyond question?

That's a hard question. For one thing, it's context-dependent. If people who share a broad point of view are arguing about details, it's usually reasonable not to call the shared presuppositions into question. But that's not the only context. For most of us, there are certain views that we're not likely to give up even though we know full well that others don't share them. (Basic ideological commitments are sometimes like this, for example.)

Still, I think we can say at least a little more. One point is a rule of thumb: if the person you're disagreeing with seems sane, thoughtful and well-informed, that's a reason to take seriously the possibility that they might be onto something. Another point is related: sometimes, even though we don't find our opponents' reasons compelling, we can see that they have some force; we can feel their tug. For example: I'm opposed to capital punishment. But I can see how a perfectly reasonable person might come to a different conclusion. That suggest that I should't turn my opposition to capital punishment into an axiom. Similarly: I'm not a theist. But I know plenty of sane, reasonable theists, and I can understand the pull that theism has for them. Once again, that suggests I should't take my non-theism as an unquestionable presupposition.

Beyond that, it's not easy to say much. It sounds to me as though your theologian is not giving enough credit to doubters. That said, there's probably some room for you to give him at least some credit and it might be interesting to see where that leads.

I have a question about the theistic argument from contingency (henceforth, TAC)

I have a question about the theistic argument from contingency (henceforth, TAC) and God's selection of universes. There is the following age-old argument which led Leibniz to reject TAC. Argument: 1. Necessarily, If God exists, then God creates the best possible universe. 2. God necessarily exists. 3. So, God necessarily creates the best possible universe (from 1 and 2). (3) gives us modal collapse, which goes against TAC. But let's say we deny (1). Still, God is strongly reasons-responsive. So, if God weighed reasons for and against creating a certain universe U, and God found the reasons to favor creating U, then God necessarily creates U. This would also give us modal collapse. But there may be a solution. My question is whether this solution works. The solution: suppose Molinism is true. Then, God is confronted with different contingent counterfactuals of creaturely freedom in some worlds in which he exists. Maybe in one world in which God exists, all the persons freely reject God's...

Very interesting! I think you have a point, but let me back up a bit. If it is necessarily the case that God is a Creator, then there is no possible world in which God does not create. In that case, if you have described a plausible state of affairs (there is a possible world in which God does not create), it seems that God is not necessarily a Creator. The claim that 'our cosmos is contingent' seems to mean that there there is no necessity that it exists: its existence is possible and its non-existence is possible. If our cosmos exists necessarily then (it seems that) there would be no possible world in which our cosmos does not exist or, putting things differently, our cosmos exists in all possible worlds. Off hand, that seems to be a tenuous claim as it seems we can imagine our cosmos not existing; we can imagine a lifeless cosmos or one in which there are no stable laws of nature that allow for suns, planets, galaxies.

Maybe the following is promising: it seems unlikely that there is a uniquely best possible world. There are two reasons that may bolster this claim: first, 'best possible' might be like 'the largest number,' an absurdity, and two, even if we have a candidate for a best possible world, it is doubtful that this would be a uniquely singular world. So, we can imagine two worlds, identical in all respects, except that I am born and have your life and you are born and have mine or neither of us lives and someone else plays 'our role.' These worlds would be (externally) indistinguishable and yet distinct. If that is true, then God's creating our world would still house a contingency- namely that I am I and you are you. You might check out Thomas Nagel's The View from Nowhere to bolster this kind of thinking when Nagel reflects on the proposition or claim 'I am Thomas Nagel.' On this later line of reasoning, it still may be necessary that God create a world such that there is no better world that God does not create. There is a similar line of reasoning used when act utilitarians face the (possible) problem of doing that act that creates the greatest amount of happiness. One may adjust the 'happiness principle' to contend that persons should do that act of which there is no other act that will produce greater happiness.


I might be wrong (actually I might be wrong not just in this area!), but I believe that Leibniz actually adopted the position that God or God's nature as essential goodness strongly inclines God to create, but God is not thereby necessitated to do so. This is a point that Thomas Aquinas wrestled with also. Aquinas and Leibniz essentially adopted the dictum (associated with Denys the Areopagite) that the nature of goodness is to be self-defusive. Because God's nature is goodness, there is a reason within God to create and to create abundantly. Some medievals actually followed this reasoning and concluded that God's goodness makes it likely that there are boundless worlds / universes. And yet such philosophical theologians (from Aquinas to Leibniz) that creation was also a freely given divine gift.

A sophisticated treatment of such concerns is carried out in William Rowe's book Is God Free?

What theistic philosophical response can there be to evil and suffering,

What theistic philosophical response can there be to evil and suffering, acknowledging original sin, even from a kierkegaardian viewpoint, to what does it relate to the meaning, purpose and endurable with some meaning and joy? (ps sorry for the horrible syntax) basically philosophical statements and ideas relating to meaningful living, not just suffering and illusion, for a religious mind/person. Thank you.

Your question(s) / challenge(s) is/ are important and well put (no need to apologize for syntax!). Along with many (but by no means all) philosophers, I agree with what I think you are suggesting or open to in your second to last sentence: questions about the meaning and value of life involve more than calculating the amount of suffering and illusion. Indeed, I suggest that the concerns you address have a bearing on some rising cultural movements. Those of us who are theists affirm the overall goodness of there being a world such as ours (or at least we affirm the goodness of [a] God who permits evils that exist that will be overcome and redeemed by God's omnipotent love.) But a growing (though still small) group of philosophers have argued for a highly pessimistic view of life. Sometime inspired by Schopenhauer, these philosophers (and public intellectuals) have argued that it would be good if the human species ceased to be. Some have even gone further in concluding that it good for all sentient life to cease to be. I suggest that this radical conclusion does bring us to the logical (or at least natural) conclusion that those who press the case against theism face their own problem of evil: Would it truly be better if our cosmos to not exist rather than exist? Insofar as we find meaning and purpose in life that go beyond mathematically comparing degrees of suffering, this chapter invites us to think of 'the problem of evil' from a broader, important point of view