ANSWERING THE QUESTION “DOES GOD EXIST?” THROUGH PHILOSOPHY
How should we answer the question “Does God exist?” ? Having studied philosophy as an undergraduate at Sonoma State University, and having studied philosophy as a graduate student at the University of Windsor, and then having studied philosophy for a number of years more at UC Santa Barbara, the way to approach this question seems obvious to me:
We should answer this question by means of philosophical investigation, especially by critical examination of philosophical arguments for and against the existence of God.
But, given that my educational background has been focused on philosophy, one might suspect that my view of this matter is a bit biased, and that other ways of arriving at an answer to this question should be considered before hopping onto the PHILOSOPHY BUS, and spending a lot of time and energy learning about and evaluating philosophical arguments for and against the existence of God.
One objection that has been raised against the philosophy of religion in recent years is that it is too focused on CHRISTIANITY. There are many religions and religious worldviews that one could investigate and evaluate by means of philosophy and philosophical argumentation, but philosophy of religion has traditionally been focused on the basic beliefs of the Christian faith, to the exclusion of philosophical investigation of other religions and religious worldviews, and non-religious worldviews (such as Marxism and Humanism).
There are MANY different religions and worldviews competing for our allegiance, so it seems question-begging, narrow-minded, and sociocentric to focus all (or even most) of one’s time and energy on evaluation of basic beliefs of CHRISTIANITY. What about Islam? Hinduism? Buddhism? Taoism? and what about secular worldviews, like Marxism and Humanism?
I think this is a legitimate and significant criticism of philosophy of religion, as this sub-discipline of philosophy has been practiced in recent centuries. However, if one is interested in the question “Is Christianity true?” there is a lot of philosophical investigation in the philosophy of religion that is helpful in answering that question. And since the question “Does God exist?” is concerned with a basic Christian belief, there is a lot of philosophical investigation in the philosophy of religion that is helpful in answering that question.
Furthermore, the question “Does God exist?” has implications beyond the evaluation of Christianity and the Christian worldview. Jews also believe in the existence of God. Muslims also believe in the existence of God. Some Hindus believe in the existence of God, and a number of Indigenous religious traditions (such as a number of Native American tribes) include a belief in the existence of God, or of a supreme being who has many of the characteristics of God as conceived of by Jews, Christians, and Muslims. So, the question “Does God exist?” is NOT purely and strictly a question about a basic Christian belief. It is also about a basic Jewish belief, a basic belief of Islam, a basic belief of at least one form of Hinduism, and a basic belief of many forms of Indigenous religious traditions.
Another way of putting this point is that arguments for and against the existence of God are, in general, applicable to evaluations of not only Christianity, but also of Judaism, Islam, some forms of Hinduism, and of a number of Indigenous religious traditions. If there is a solid argument for the existence of God, this would provide support not only for Christianity, but for many other theistic religious traditions, and if there is a solid argument against the existence of God, this would (in most cases) provide a good reason to doubt or reject not only Christianity, but also Judaism, Islam, some forms of Hinduism, and many Indigenous religious belief systems.
In short, it is true that the philosophy of religion has tended to be focused primarily on the basic beliefs of the Christian religion, and has not paid much attention to other religions, nor to the non-religious worldviews that compete with various religious traditions for our allegiance; however, when it comes to the question “Does God exist?”, this is a question that the philosophy of religion is well-suited to help us answer.
OTHER WAYS OF ANSWERING THE QUESTION “DOES GOD EXIST?”
Before we all hop onto the PHILOSOPHY BUS, let’s consider the alternative ways of answering the question “Does God exist?”. Some people think they know about God’s existence through ordinary experience, and some people think they know about God’s existence through religious experience, and some people think they know about God through intellectual investigations outside of philosophy.
Here are ten common ideas about how one might answer the question “Does God exist?” apart from philosophical investigation of this question:
1. Believe whatever religion or worldview you were raised to believe.
2. Believe whatever religious or ideological ideas make you feel happy and content.
3. Try out different religions/worldviews to see which one works best for you.
4. Try praying to God, to see if God answers your prayers.
5. Try prayer, meditation, and worship, to see if you feel the presence of God or hear the voice of God.
6. Try reading the sacred texts of various religions, to see if you sense divine wisdom in any of them.
7. Try experiencing nature and natural beauty, to see if you feel the presence of God that way.
8. Try experiencing and appreciating art, music, and literature, to see if you sense the presence or influence of God in those human artifacts.
9. Study human history, to see if you can discern the influence of God on human cultures and societies.
10. Study nature scientifically, to see if you can discern the handiwork of God in nature.
In Part 2 of this series, I will begin to consider and evaluate these alternative ways of arriving at an answer to the question “Does God exist?” If you have any other alternatives that are widespread or that seem promising or interesting, please point them out in a comment to this post.