6.2. Does God exist?


By the end of this section you will discover:

  • The standard beliefs about God in monotheistic thought.
  • Strengths and weaknesses of the monotheistic idea.


The existence of God is a subject of debate in the philosophy of religion and popular culture. A wide variety of arguments for and against the existence of God can be categorized as metaphysical, logical, empirical, subjective, or scientific. In philosophical terms, the question of the existence of God involves the disciplines of epistemology (the nature and scope of knowledge) and ontology (study of the nature of being, existence, or reality), and the theory of value (since some definitions of God include “perfection”).

The Western tradition of philosophical discussion of the existence of God began with Plato and Aristotle, who made arguments that would now be categorized as cosmological. Other arguments for the existence of God have been proposed by St. Anselm, who formulated the first ontological argument; Ibn Rushd (Averroes) and Thomas Aquinas, who presented their own versions of the cosmological argument (the kalam argument and the first way, respectively); René Descartes, who said that the existence of a benevolent God is logically necessary for the evidence of the senses to be meaningful. John Calvin argued for a sensus divinitatis, which gives each human knowledge of God’s existence.

Atheists view arguments for the existence of God as insufficient, mistaken, or outweighed by arguments against it, whereas some religions, such as Jainism, reject the possibility of a creator deity. Philosophers who have provided arguments against the existence of God include Friedrich Nietzsche and Bertrand Russell.

The arguments for the existence of God which follow here are usually applied only to the Western (Jewish, Christian, Muslim) concept of God. These traditions are monotheistic. Monotheism is the doctrine that:

  1. there is only one God, rejecting polytheism or belief in multiple gods,
  2. that God created the universe yet transcends it, meaning God is not equal to the Universe, but outside of it,
  3. that God has revealed God’s existence and character through revelations in the form of prophets and scriptures, meaning that reason alone cannot fully understand God, and
  4. this God is perfect, which means God is Omnibenevolent (all-good), Omniscient (all-knowing), Omnipotent (all-powerful), and, in some cases Omnipresent (everywhere).


This last doctrine became more prominent as Greek philosophical ideas (especially those of Plato) influenced these traditions.

As we work through some classic attempts to prove the existence of God using reason alone, and not scriptures, we should keep this understanding of God in mind.

Strengths and Weaknesses of the Monotheistic concept of God.

Here are some of the key perceived strengths and weaknesses of the monotheistic conception of God:


  1. The idea is Philosophically simple – it posits a single, underlying supernatural cause for existence rather than the existence of many gods.
  2. It is theologically unified – it concentrates divine power, meaning, and actions in one deity rather than in a dispersed pantheon.
  3. It promotes moral universalism – it offers a single set of rules, commandments from one God.
  4. It is consistent with major arguments from natural theology about first cause or reality of moral values requiring a single source.


  1. It is hard to reconcile philosophical simplicity with the multiplicity of complex religious doctrines about one God in different religions.
  2. It is difficult to justify the amount and severity of the world’s suffering if it is caused or allowed by one benevolent, omnipotent deity..
  3. It can justify forms of intolerance, violence, oppression when believers claim a single view of God.
  4. It is difficult to reason/argue for qualities like omniscience, omnipotence, infinity for such a being.

Overall the monotheistic conception appeals philosophically but has been challenged on grounds of theodicy and intolerance linked to its unified theological structure. Nevertheless, it remains an ongoing source of meaning for a majority of faith traditions.


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PPSC PHI 1011: The Philosopher's Quest by Daniel G. Shaw, Ph.D. is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial 4.0 International License, except where otherwise noted.

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