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Wednesday, December 24, 2008

Do Philosophical Arguments for God Matter?

"If a persuasive argument for the existence of God is wanted, then philosophy has come up empty," Alex Byrne, who teaches philosophy at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, writes in a piece for Boston Review that looks at how creationists, "intelligent design" proponents, and the "new atheists" use and abuse what philosophers say about the existence of a deity. "The traditional arguments have much to teach us, but concentrating on them can disguise a simple but important point," Byrne concludes. "As Anselm and Paley both recognized, the devout are not exactly holding their collective breath. For the most part, they do not believe that God exists on the basis of any argument. How they know that God exists, if they do, is itself unknown—the devout do not know that God exists in the way it is known that dinosaurs existed, or that there exist infinitely many prime numbers. The funny thing about arguments for the existence of God is that, if they succeed, they were never needed in the first place."


Anonymous said...

If we were to take that comment to its logical conclusion, we could deduce that all philopsophical arguments were of the same ilk, thus rendering philosophers themselves of no practical value as they only serve to confirm what we already believe. While arguments for God's existence may not be ultimately convincing, they at least get people thinking, and maybe lead to finding truth.

V.V. Raman said...

Proving the existence or non-existence of God is an old game, generally taken as a serious exercise by analytically inclined thinkers.
God, like love, is an intangible element in the baggage of beliefs that provide a framework for existence.
Every belief is a resonance-mode of the mind to perceived reality. When the belief is very strong, we call it a truth.
Some beliefs enhance our sense of well-being. These are endopotent truths, and constitute art and literature and religion: the humanities, more generally.
Others enable us to manipulate the world around. These are exopotent truths, and constitute the sciences.
They are all truths in that they are states in the mind triggered by external realities.
Believers (in God or heaven or hell or their own religion or political ideology) construct proofs of existence to convince unbelievers.
Unbelievers either demolish such proofs or provide their own proofs of non-existence to "save" believers from their beliefs.
Endopotent truths can never be proved, using logical categories. By definition, they are felt inside, not established by reasoning: they are transrational. That is why proofs of God fall flat in the framework of reason. This does not diminish their value or relevance.