Don’t Reject Theistic Arguments Too Quickly!

Scep­tics often reject the­is­tic argu­ments by point­ing out that they “don’t prove God.”[1] Per­haps the the­ist has just argued that there’s a per­sonal uncaused cause, or a per­sonal designer of the uni­verse, or a nec­es­sar­ily exis­tent per­fectly ratio­nal mind, or what-have-you; in any case, the sceptic’s response is to explain how the theist’s argu­ment doesn’t estab­lish that God exists. “How do you know there’s just one uncaused cause? How can you be so sure that the designer of the uni­verse is benev­o­lent towards us?” And so on, and so forth.

As it stands, I don’t find this kind of objec­tion to the­is­tic argu­ments par­tic­u­larly com­pelling. A cou­ple of rea­sons come to mind.

First, that a sin­gle argu­ment on its own fails to estab­lish the­ism does not entail that the argu­ment fails to sup­port the­ism in some impor­tant way. I’d sug­gest that the­is­tic argu­ments should be under­stood not as stand­alone argu­ments for the exis­tence of God but rather as argu­ments in sup­port of the exis­tence of God or some other aspect or aspects of a the­is­tic story. Taken this way, a cumu­la­tive case based on the­is­tic argu­ments may estab­lish the­ism even if each one of the argu­ments, taken indi­vid­u­ally, fails to estab­lish theism.

Sec­ond, that a sin­gle argu­ment on its own fails to estab­lish the­ism does not entail that the argu­ment fails to estab­lish some other non-trivial con­clu­sion—per­haps even a con­clu­sion that is incom­pat­i­ble with nat­u­ral­ism or some other non-theistic worldview.

For exam­ple, if there’s a per­sonal cause of the nat­ural world, nat­u­ral­ism is false and should be rejected. If the uni­verse is designed, then—for all we know—the designer or design­ers involved might be inter­ested in human beings, might hold them respon­si­ble for cer­tain actions, and might offer the pos­si­bil­ity of eter­nal life (among other things). So to sim­ply dis­miss a the­is­tic argu­ment dis­in­ter­est­edly with a state­ment to the effect that it “doesn’t prove God” seems to me rather strange.

To wrap up, then: I think that the­is­tic argu­ments are best under­stood as argu­ments in sup­port of some aspect or aspects of the the­is­tic world­view, and that a full-blown case for the­ism prob­a­bly should be based on a cumu­la­tive case that takes into account those the­is­tic argu­ments; and it’s my view that the­is­tic argu­ments, even if they don’t estab­lish the­ism on their own, may still estab­lish very inter­est­ing con­clu­sions that war­rant fur­ther inves­ti­ga­tion and con­sid­er­a­tion. (I sup­pose that sim­i­lar things might rightly be said about athe­is­tic argu­ments, too.)

—Thomas Larsen.

  1. In this post, I’ll use “the­ism” to refer to the hypoth­e­sis that there exists a being who fits the title “God,” “athe­ism” to refer to the hypoth­e­sis that there does not exist a being who fits the title “God,” and “God” as a title for a per­sonal agent who (uniquely) is all-knowing and all-powerful, per­fectly free and per­fectly good, nec­es­sar­ily exis­tent and the ulti­mate cre­ator of every­thing that is con­tin­gently exis­tent (includ­ing the nat­ural world). []

Originally posted on my blog.


DISCLAIMER: Blog entries made by individual authors reflect the views of the author and not necessarily the view of other CAA authors, or the official position of the group at large.
About Thomas Larsen

Thomas is a Bachelor of Computer Science student at Monash University in Melbourne, Australia, with a little philosophy on the side. His interests include Chris­t­ian the­ol­ogy and apolo­get­ics, phi­los­o­phy of reli­gion, science, and technology.