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Is Belief in God Reasonable?

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In a comment to a prior post vjtorley responds to Beelzebub (presumably not THE Beelzebub) with a nice cogent summary of the grounds for believing in a personal God. I think it deserves its own post, so here it is:

Beelzebub writes:

Hart presumably considers the non-contingent ground of being to be the Christian God. This in itself seems to be an unwarranted assumption. Why must existence be underwritten by a god at all, much less the specific personal God of the Christians?

vjtorley responds:

I take it that by “god” you mean a personal being of some sort. Very briefly (and please remember this is just a bare-bones outline), the main lines of argument that have been adduced for believing in a personal God are as follows:

1. Chance, Necessity or Agency?

There are only three general ways of explaining any given state of affairs: we can explain it as the outcome of chance, necessity or agency (or some combination of the above).
To explain the cosmos in terms of pure chance (e.g. the universe just popped into existence out of the blue) won’t work; pure chance explains nothing, and no-one accepts it as an explanation of anything. Even random events turn out to have some underlying explanation. For instance, the phenomenon in which subatomic virtual particles pop in and out of existence can be explained in terms of the Heisenberg Uncertainty Principle, which permits minor energy fluctuations to occur, provided that they are extremely brief.
Necessity alone cannot explain the cosmos either, for if it did, the cosmos would itself be necessary – which it is manifestly not.

Necessity plus chance won’t do the job either. For that to work, we’d have to imagine a necessary being which possesses certain probabilistic characteristics by nature – e.g. once every trillion years, it belches out a universe. The problem with this view is that probabilistic attributes are not the kind of traits that a necessary being could possess – or it wouldn’t be necessary.

That leaves agency. The universe arises from a Necessary Being, but it is neither a necessary by-product of this Being nor a fortuitous spin-off. Rather, it is the free creation of an intelligent agent – and as such, contingent, but here for a purpose. And since the Necessary Being that creates our universe possesses personal attributes, we may call it God.

2. Argument from the Immateriality of the Necessary Being

Anything material is contingent: whatever traits it has could be otherwise. Consequently, the necessary Being is immaterial.

Anything immaterial is intelligent, because its properties – and hence its modus operandi – are purely formal and not material. To be intelligent is the same as having a purely formal modus operandi (think of something performing logical or mathematical operations).
Since the necessary Being is immaterial and hence intelligent, it may be described as personal – and may thus be called God.

3. The Argument from Design

Not only is the Universe contingent; it also possesses certain properties (e.g. fine-tuning; functional complex specified information) which make it overwhelmingly probable that it is the creation of an Intelligent Designer. An Intelligent Designer of the cosmos could also be called God.

4. The Argument from the Intelligibility of the Cosmos

Paraphrasing Einstein, the most peculiar thing about the cosmos is that is it comprehensible. Actually, there is a two-fold wonder here: the fact that reality is intelligible; and the fact that we possess minds that can grasp it. (In fact, I would go so far as to say that nothing in the cosmos appears to be beyond our ken.) In the absence of a personal God, these two facts should strike us as unbelievable good luck, and as states of affairs that we have no right to count on. But if the cosmos is the creation of a Divine Mind which wants to be known by the intelligent beings in the world it has created, then we would expect these facts to be true.

Putting it another way: an Intelligence is the only thing that can guarantee that the cosmos will remain intelligible, no matter what.

5. The Argument from the Reliability of Thought

This line of argument seeks to show that a personal God is the only kind of entity that explain why I can trust the workings of my own mind. The review article by Darek Barefoot, which I linked to in #43 [of the Quote of the Day post], spells out the argument properly.

For a modern summary of the reasons for believing in a personal God, see the article, The Justification of Religious Belief by Professor Richard Swinburne.


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