If philosophers agree on anything, it’s that there are no good arguments for the existence of God

Last month, a guest post by Landon at Butterflies and Wheels listed a number of issues, which, according to the Landon, “were largely settled through the work of people who were essentially, for their respective eras, professional philosophers”:

1) Materialism is the proper paradigm for understanding the operation of the mind (a refutation of dualism).

2) Religious belief is not rationally required (and there is only a rear-guard action maintaining that it is rationally permissible).

3) The correct paradigm for analyzing ethical problems is some variant of consequentialism that includes a concept of rights.

4) Democracy with universal adult suffrage is not only rational and ethically justifiable, it is probably the only rational and ethically justifiable form of government.

In the cases of 1, 3, and 4, Landon’s claim strikes me as dubious (to a degree that varies depending on which particular point you focus on). But I’m increasingly thinking there might be something to be said for claiming something like 2 as being generally agreed upon by philosophers.

The stats from the PhilPapers survey are that philosophers are 72.8% atheists, 14.6% theists, and 5.5% agnostic, with a few percent giving other answers. It’s safe to say that the atheists and agnostics don’t think religious belief is rationally required, something which a great many theists will also grant. That makes for a very strong majority of philosophers agreeing that religious belief is not rationally required.

Now you could change the question a bit to whether there are any good arguments for the existence of God. This is a tricky question because there’s a lot of disagreement about what even constitutes a good argument, but I have in mind what Richard Swinburne or William Lane Craig would claim about their arguments, rather than, say, the more modest claims Plantinga has typically made about his ontological argument.

By that standard, it’s a safe bet that almost all of the atheists will say there are no good arguments for the existence of God. Some of the agnostic will agree, though other agnostics (Paul Draper, perhaps) will say that there are good arguments on both sides. And importantly, many of the theists will agree that there are no good arguments for the existence of God, and say they belief on faith (or their beliefs are properly basic, or whatever).

Add all those people together, and it would be a safe guess that at least 80% of philosophers agree that there are no good arguments for the existence of God. That’s not the sort of overwhelming consensus you find on some scientific issues (evolution, global warming), but it’s very high by philosophical standards.

  • http://rulerstothesky.wordpress.com/ Trent Fowler

    I didn’t realize there were that many atheist philosophers, and I hadn’t considered that a lot of theists even admit that religion is not required/ has few if any good supporting arguments. Incidentally, I find myself agreeing with the four points Landon made.

    • Chris Hallquist

      Really? In the democracy and materialism cases, the problems are maybe somewhat subtle, but I don’t even know what “consequentialism + rights” would mean. “Consequentialism” is generally taken to mean you do whatever gets the best consequences, even if it violates someone’s “rights,” a concept consequentialists have often been suspicious of. (Jeremy Bentham famously called the idea of human rights “nonsense on stilts.”)

      • Ray

        Well, I don’t necessarily know if this is what Landon was thinking, but it makes sense if you think of the utilitarian standard as constraining governments rather than individuals (it’s really too stringent for a plausible system of individual morality — e.g. it’s generally assumed that large gifts to charity are not morally required e.g., but utilitarianism at the level of the individual probably requires this.) Once you make that move, it’s probably the case that a utilitarian government will build a construct of rights into its laws.

        Now, rights in personal moraility are a bit dicier, but it’s probably best to think of personal morality as informal laws, enforced by the community by way of social pressure, in which case you can explain rights, such as they exist in personal morality, pretty much the same way.

      • ThrustVectoring

        Obviously you can’t never violate anyone’s rights. You couldn’t get anything done. I mean, there’s a non-zero chance that you only hallucinated getting consent to search a car, so if you can’t *ever* violate someone’s right of freedom from unreasonable search and seizure, you can’t *ever* search anyone’s car.

        What “consequentialism+rights” is getting at is consequentialism that includes a strong negative utility associated with violations of rights. In other words, it’s merely consequentialism that agrees that it is better to let ten guilty people go free than to convict one innocent.

  • John Jones

    What are we suggesting when we ask does God exist? that God is a material object? This appears extremely stupid. But then if we are materialists we couldn’t offer anything better than that.

    The best philosophers wouldn’t even start to tackle an “existence” of God without tackling existence.
    An object exists in its framework. Without specifying the framework we aren’t really asking anything when we ask “does God exist”. Red does not exist in the framework of sound, nor in material nature.

  • Alexander Johannesen

    I agree that 1, 3 and 4 are dubious claims (with a tiny grain of truth to it), and that there is something to be said for 2, not based too much on consensus from philosophers themselves, but also by the permutations of their arguments in popular culture, but mostly by normal believers understanding of epistemology (which, in most cases, is none). It is no coincident that the more naturalistic education you’ve got, the less you are to correlate the whims of the brain to anything supernatural; treating same or similar results from different means in any given way is the very definition of bias and self-deceit.

    No, the best argument *for* a god or any god, is evidence as used in epistemic sound systems of knowledge (and not the “look around you! It’s all evidence! Isn’t it obvious?” kinda way). There is nothing happening in this world that are *better* explained by gods, and Occams razor is, unlike most normal razors under continuous use, keeps getting sharper.

    To those who posit that you can’t test the supernatural in the natural world obviously do not believe that said supernatural force alters the natural one in any way. Because if you do believe in, say, miracles, it’s easy to test those against natural explanations. But the believers in said miracle have a biased tendency to not want to investigate the miracle properly in fear of debunking their own mental state. Tearing down your belief system is scary stuff, and your brain will fight it automatically. It takes real effort to think straight.


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