Arguments for the Existence of God

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Assignment 11

  1. Why did Huxley use the term agnosticism?

  2. What is the difference between agnosticism and atheism?

  3. What are the main philosophical reasons for agnosticism?

  4. What would be an example of the formal agnostic argument?

  5. Why is it important to distinguish facts from interpretation.

  6. Give an example of this distinction.

Pascal’s Wager – Argument Against Agnosticism

This is a response to both atheism and agnosticism. Suppose that the agnostic is right, there really is no conclusive evidence one way or the other, and that, without conclusive evidence one way or the other, we really should not commit ourselves to either believing that God does exist, or that God doesn’t exist.

The French mathematician, Blaise Pascal, suggests that the lack of conclusive evidence one way or the other is no reason for us not to commit ourselves to believing in God.

In brief, Pascal says that given the choice between believing or not, we should believe in God because we have the least to lose by it. Philosophers call this argument Pascal’s Wager. Put more formally, Pascal’s Wager looks something like this:

P1 If you believe in God and God exists, you will be rewarded in the afterlife.
P2 If you do not believe in God and God exists, you will be punished in the afterlife.
P3 If you do not believe in and God does not exist there will be no reward or punishment.
P4 Clearly there is more to gain than lose from believing in God


cONCLUSION - It makes sense to believe in God

The central point is to do with hedging your bets - an analogy…

God Does Exist

God Does Not exist

I believe in God

Win £10,000,000,000,000.00

£ 0.00

I do not believe in God

Lose £10,000,000,000,000.00

£ 0.00

In this analogy, the potential benefits of believing are considerably greater than not believing. The worst that can happen to a believer is that s/he gets no reward. However, the worst that can happen to a non-believer is that s/he gets in a lot of debt and the best is that s/he gets nothing.

So, looking at it this way, Pascal’s argument is that even if there no evidence either way on the question of God’s existence, we should still form an opinion in favour of God’s existence since, in terms of potential benefits, it is plainly more sensible to believe.
Is this the same as reasonable?

There are many objections to Pascal’s Wager. Here are just three:
1. Do those who do not believe do so because they choose to not believe? Surely those who do not believe are just not convinced by the evidence. Pascal is not arguing for a real belief in God but a virtual belief in God and he is not giving reasons for this belief but trying to persuade us to accept this virtual situation out of self-interest not rational conviction. The best we can say for Pascal’s argument is that it provides evidence for the benefit of believing but not the truthfulness of the belief
2. Look again at Pascal’s argument. A big claim against it is that if God does not exist, then a life spent believing in Him is not a life wasted – no loss. But what about the efforts that have to be put in and restriction on life and behaviour that a belief in God entails – loss of freedom.
3. It is not just a question of belief or non-belief in God. Which God does one need to believe in to be sure to get the reward? Will the wrong choice result in punishment?

Clifford’s Objection to Pascal’s Wager
WK Clifford argued that we have a responsibility to make a reasoned choice based on the evidence alone and not on personal considerations.
Clifford, asks us to imagine the owner of a number of passenger ships, which he knows are not in good condition. But, because these ships in the past have successfully completed journeys many times, the ship-owner reasons that they will be able to do this again. Unfortunately the ships sink and all on board are drowned.
What kind of argument and evidence did the ship-owner use?

Using this selective evidence to draw a conclusion produced undesirable results. The ship owner has arrived at his beliefs irresponsibly. He acted not reasonably but selfishly and irresponsibly.

For Clifford, we are in a similar position regarding the evidence for God in that we have to form our beliefs responsibly, and forming a belief for, or against, God on the evidence currently available would not be responsible.
So, for the agnostic, there is no clear cut evidence one way or the other about God’s existence, and if we are to behave responsibly regarding the formation of our beliefs, we should abstain from belief rather than commit ourselves on poor or inconclusive evidence.
Is the agnostic right to make these conclusions?
So what do you conclude? – Is there a rational basis for belief in God?
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