Arguing For Arguments Sake

Okay so, this page is really geared toward those interested in atheism, theology and the arguments for/against the existence of a god.  Whether through browsing the myriad videos on You Tube, exchanging banter with other users on Twitter, or just dipping into the occasional a/theistic discussion, online or on TV, at some point you will probably have come across one or more of the arguments below.

You might not necessarily be interested in the slightly more complex, philosophical aspects of religious debate. Maybe you’ve always been atheist/religious; maybe you came to reject/accept all religious indoctrination, based entirely on your own critical thinking and experiences; maybe you’re happy enough just stick with what you already know and have no desire to poke around in some of the finer points of theistic/atheistic thinking. And that’s absolutely fine. I can’t speak for any of the numerous organised religions in existence around the world, but I can assure you that when it comes to atheism, there are no ‘requirements’ for you to have read, studied or understood any particular literature before you can call yourself an atheist; there are no exams you need to sit in order to gain’ acceptance into ‘the club’!

However, chances are, if you’re here and reading this, it’s precisely because you do like to examine various areas of theistic/atheistic discourse. So if you’ve ever found yourself wondering what some of those terms being bandied around actually mean, the following (taken from: will hopefully help you to make sense of what’s being said.


Perhaps the most complex problem confronting the philosopher of religion is the question regarding God’s existence, for the premise of a good God opens the way to a belief in the immortality of the soul; the strongest arguments for eternal life are predicated on the existence of a beneficent God. Earlier, it was noted that the conflict between Theism and Atheism is not the primary issue, and that the basic problem has to do with the nature of God; to a considerable extent, that is true, yet usually when people debate concerning God’s existence they refer to a Theistic God. Consequently, the following discussion will deal with the arguments for a personal Creator, including the Deity as the source (axiogenesis) and preserver (axiosoteria) of value.

The Etiological Argument

The idea that the world requires a First Cause which is itself uncaused is the basis of the Etiological for God. In its simplest form, this argument states that, since nothing contingent (man or nature) can ultimately be its own cause, then some noncontingent (necessary) Being must exist for this world to have come into existence-that because it would have been impossible for the universe to get started on its own initiative, an initial cause (God) was necessary.

Skeptical philosophers have accepted Hume’s objection to the Etiological Argument, namely, the assertion that the world always existed; philosophers defending the argument, however, ask why it is that, if Hume’s view be granted, man nevertheless persists in thinking of phenomenal nature (the physical world) as contingent, coming into being at a given point in time? Thus William Paley (1743-1805) argued (in opposition to Hume) that if finite nature is contingent and hence requires a cause, certainly an infinite nature would still require a cause; if a chain of a few links could not be suspended in mid-air without support, similarly a chain with an infinite number of links could not remain suspended in the same way.

The Cosmological Argument

As noted above, the Etiological Argument posits the existence of God on the ground that the world requires a First Cause; consequently that argument may be regarded as one aspect of the Cosmological Argument which bases the proof of God’s existence on the fact of an orderly universe. From Cosmology, the study of order in the universe, this argument draws evidence for the conclusion that God was the source of world order. The logic of the Cosmological Argument rests on the thesis that the natural world is incapable of explaining itself; since an orderly universe is an effect, it is necessary to assume that a First Cause produced it.

Although the Etiological Argument is actually but one aspect of the Cosmological Argument, many philosophers use the two interchangeably, and further conclude that order in nature implies purpose. In this way they pass from the Etiological and Cosmological Arguments to consideration of a related concept, that of teleology.

The Teleological Argument

The existence of purpose in the world and the conclusion that such purpose is evidence of a Supreme Mind are basic assumptions of the Teleological Argument. During the Age of Reason, philosophers found purpose, design, and order in the universe, accepting the view that purpose is implicit in world design and order; with widespread approval of the Darwinian Theory of Evolution, however, philosophers during the past century have cited the evolutionary progress of the world as an organism and the adaptation of organisms to their environment as evidence of purpose in nature.

Argument from Design

Paley became the most influential defender of the idea that God’s existence is proved by the design to be found throughout nature. Paley’s classic Watch Argument states that someone finding a watch on the ground would never conclude that the watch had been lying there forever, but rather (noting that the watch parts had been carefully designed to operate in harmonious conjunction with other parts for the purpose of telling time) would assume that an intelligent being had planned, devised, and constructed it. “There cannot be design without a designer; contrivance without a contriver; order without choice; arrangement without anything capable of arranging; subserviency and relation to a purpose without that which could intend a purpose; means suitable to an end, and executing their office in accomplishing that end, without ever having been contemplated or the means accommodated to it. Arrangement, disposition of parts, subservience of means to an end, relation of instruments to a use imply the presence of intelligence and mind.

Argument from Adaptation

Paley’s argument was challenged by adherents of Darwin’s Theory of Evolution which purports to explain the designed order of the world by reference to the doctrine of the survival of the fittest. According to Darwin, natural design results when characteristics favorable to survival persist while the useless characteristics disappear. Paley’s idea that world order indicates a beneficent Creator failed to explain evil, waste, pain, and disease-all those phenomena (apparently purposeless) known to philosophers as dysteleological; Darwin had explained them as part of the evolutionary process thus brought forward the question, “So far as man and his values are concerned, is the purpose of the world benevolent, malevolent, or indifferent?” The assumption that nature is indifferent or malevolent would create the problem of explaining the presence of goodness, truth, and beauty in the world. According to evolutionary theory, the existence of values, the apparent upward trend of evolution, and the adaptation of species to their environment can be adequately explained only through the hypothesis that God’s intelligent guidance is responsible for progress in organic evolution, including the conservation of values, such as truth, moral good, and beauty. Alfred Lord Tennyson expressed this point of view in his verse:

That God, which ever lives and loves,

One God, one law, one element,
And one far-off divine event,
To which the whole creation moves.​

The French philosopher Henri Bergson, who posited a life principle (the Elan Vital) in the universe, introduced a concept of flexibility in purpose in evolution. Bergson maintained that God operates with complete freedom in unfolding the process of evolution, that God, like an artist who works completely unrestricted by outside forces, freely chooses each new step of creative activity as he develops successive stages of the evolutionary process. The American philosopher C. Lloyd Morgan formulated a comparable Theory of Emergent Evolution in an effort to explain consciousness, self-awareness, and life as emergent, or new phenomena in the ongoing processes of natural evolution.

All such theorists emphasizing the concept of evolution assume a God who is immanent in the world, continuously active in the creative process, a point of view central to the religious philosophers of Theism and Pantheism.

The Ontological Argument

The basis for the Ontological Argument is the fact that the idea of a Supreme Being has always been a universal concept of mankind. Thus Saint Anselm of Canterbury (1033-1109), the most influential proponent of the Ontological Argument, set forth the following argument:

We have a concept of a Perfect Being:
Such a Perfect Being must necessarily exist.
If he did not exist, then he would not be perfect.


To quote Saint Anselm: “Assuredly that, than which nothing greater can be conceived, cannot exist in the understanding alone. For, suppose it exists in the understanding alone: then it can be conceived to exist in reality; which is greater. Therefore, if that, than which nothing greater can be conceived, exists in the understanding alone, the very being, than which nothing greater can be conceived, is one, than which a greater can be conceived. But obviously this is impossible. Hence there is no doubt that there exists a being, than which nothing greater can be conceived, and it exists both in the understanding and in reality.

Saint Anselm here maintains that the existence of God must be deduced from his attribute of perfection. Other religious philosophers have preferred to emphasize the idea that the characteristic quality of a perfect Being is indicated by the subsistent nature of perfect relationships in mathematics, logic, and other sciences.

It is true that we have a concept of perfection evidenced by mathematical concepts, but to ascribe existence to them is unwarranted, for unlike the existence of human beings and physical nature, they subsist. If the concept of God is accepted as a principle, then it may be concluded that he subsists, but will a subsistent God be satisfactory to Theists? Probably not.

The monk Gaunilo, a contemporary of Saint Anselm, repudiated the Ontological Argument, arguing that a person could prove the existence of a nonexistent island by asserting that he had an idea of a perfect island. From Saint Anselm’s point of view, however, Gaunilo was mistaken in assuming that such an island is a genuine concept, whereas it is merely an imaginary phenomenon; to Saint Anselm God is a non-phenomenal concept, as shown by its universality among human beings, so that consequently his existence (or preferably subsistence) follows necessarily.

Decartes also developed an Ontological Argument for God’s existence. He asserted that we have innately embedded in our minds the idea of God, an infinite Being, yet we are neither infinite nor did we receive this idea from experience (since we cannot sense God). Accordingly, said Descartes, the idea must have issued from the Infinite himself, who must of necessity exist. “For though the idea of substance be in my mind owing to this, that I myself am a substance, I should not, however, have the idea of an infinite substance, seeing I am a finite being, unless it were given me by some substance in reality infinite.

The principal objection to the Cartesian Ontological Argument is its predication of God on the basis of an idea of him, assuming his existence on the ground of a mere conceptual definition. Nevertheless, the contention that the idea of God is innate has always posed a problem; in contemporary times, this idea has been widely accepted among various religious groups. The fact that each instinct finds its counterpart in life (e.g., the instinct of thirst finds its complement in water, that of hunger in food) is put forward as evidence that the instinctive belief in God proves his existence. This argument derives a measure of support from those sociologists who attest that man in all societies has practiced some form of religion, that hence religion must be considered to be a universal culture trait or instinct.

The Axiological Argument

The fact that there are moral values in the world provides the basis for the Axiological Argument, which states that if God did not exist such values would be inexplicable or irrational. There are two forms of the Axiological Argument, namely, the Moral Argument and the Argument from Values.

The Moral Argument

Every person experiences the necessity for making moral choices and senses his moral obligations in the light of actual ideals. The Moral Argument holds that such universality of moral conscience can be explained more logically on the assumption of the existence of a moral deity, God, than it can on the basis of atheistic beliefs. Although men differ as to precisely what is moral, they nevertheless do face life in a moral light, as moral beings; consequently, moral ideals and moral existence are real and, being real, can be explained logically by assuming the existence of a moral God.

The Argument from Values (the Axiological Argument)

Not only man’s experience but the world as a whole indicates the presence of moral values. Truth, beauty, and goodness not only are experienced within the individual’s subjective consciousness but also are sensed as external realities. The human being’s awareness of moral values implies their objective existence. Even conflicting subjective interpretations of truth, beauty, and goodness presuppose or tacitly indicate an Absolute Value, the Su*preme Value (God).

The Religio-Empirical Argument

The argument from religious experience, the Religio-Empirical Argument, asserts that since our knowledge of the world is based on experience, then religious experience like all other forms of experience must be accorded validity. The fact that religious beliefs have been found in all societies, ancient and modern, primitive and civilized, is taken as evidence of their basis in reality.

William James argued that since all normal persons have religious experiences, and since experience is their criterion of truth, then God, the object of their religious experience, must be (like the objects of all their other experiences) factually true. Furthermore, said James, inasmuch as a person’s experience of God does make a practical difference in living, the Pragmatic test of truth corroborates the assumption that God exists.

The cogency of the Religio-Empirical Argument is indeed enhanced by the remarkable consequences attributed to religious experiences. The idea of God has been so potent as to alter not only the lives of individual men but also the course of all history, for throughout history societies have been changed by religious experiences. If the experiences of religious men were to be deleted from the annals of the history of civilization, the record would exclude the world’s best achievements and most precious ingredients. Consider to what extent the world’s destiny has been molded by religious mystics and saints, such as Moses, Socrates, Jesus, Luther, Buddha, and Gandhi. Consider the heights to which religious experience has inspired men of literature, art, sculpture, architecture, and music. The idea of God harmonizes and enhances an orderly, purposeful, moral world, renders it more meaningful, giving man a cause for which to live, as well as his inspiration for living. The Religio-Empirical Argument states that it is much more reasonable to posit an existent God as the basis for religious experience than to attribute the extraordinary consequences of religion to belief in a mere fairy tale or imaginary deity.

The Epistemological Argument

The principal basis for the Epistemological Argument is the view that the world is meaningful and rational, therefore inconceivable without a Supreme Source, namely, the creative, controlling mind of God which gives it order and purpose. Only within an ordered, meaningful universe could science derive truths verifiable through experience. Haphazard objects and events could never account for an orderly system of natural laws, and one must assume that, since man does not simply invent or imagine a meaningful uni*verse, a Supreme Mind, God, endows it with meaning.

This argument may be illustrated by analogy with Shakespeare’s Hamlet. Would it be reasonable to suppose that the Shakespearean play resulted from the haphazard scattering of many pieces of printer’s type? Is it not obvious that a mind carefully arranged it, imputing meaning to it? By the same line of reasoning, it would be fantastic to the point of absurdity to conclude that the world’s order and meaning were created by accident. (The distinction between the Epistemological Argument and the comparable Teleological Argument is that, whereas the former is based on the concept of world order and purpose, the latter emphasizes order and meaning as governing forces in the universe.)

The Anthropological Argument

According to the Anthropological Argument, God’s existence must be assumed from the nature of man-his ability to think logically, mathematically, symbolically, scientifically, rhetorically, abstractly; his ability to appreciate and create works of art, such as those of music, sculpture, and painting; his sense of humor, his moral insight, and his religious insight. These significant and distinctive attributes of human personality must be accepted as evidence of a Supreme Mind, which not only encompasses and surpasses all powers of the human intellect but also serves as their source or creator, indeed the source and creator of man himself. In this sense, man is said to have been created in the image of God.


Ideas of the Great Philosophers
William S. Sahakian, Ph.D. – Mabel Lewis Sahakain, D.Sc
Copyright @ 1966 by Barnes & Noble, Ine. All rights reserved.
This edition published by Barnes & Noble, Ine., by arrangement with Harper Collins Publishers.
1993 Barnes & Noble Books
ISBN 1-56619-271-4
Printed and bound in the United States of America.​


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