Throughout history, various religious scholars have devised faulty arguments to prove God’s existence.
Possibly the best known is “intelligent design.” It goes like this: Nature has consistent patterns. The sun eternally rises in the east and sets in the west. Tides rise and fall twice daily. Seasons follow seasons. Clouds bring rain and rivers flow. Generations are born, age and die. Most creatures have eyes, ears, noses, mouths, digestive tracts and similar features.
Isaac Newton, Rene Descartes and Jean-Jacques Rousseau all wrote that the universe functions like a mighty watch, so it must have been designed by a creator. English vicar William Paley famously wrote that, if he found a watch on the ground, he would know that it wasn’t a natural object, but was built by a careful designer.
Skeptic philosopher David Hume countered that the universe is no more like a watch than like a complex vegetable, so it might have grown naturally like a vegetable.
Fundamentalists spent decades trying, unsuccessfully, to force America’s public schools to teach intelligent design. They couldn’t see a problem lurking in their plan: Students might ask why the divine creator designed breast cancer and cerebral palsy, deadly hurricanes and earthquakes, horrible predators that rip innocent animals apart, and other evils. Why did the “intelligent designer” make such cruelties?
Another common argument for God goes like this: Humans have a moral sense of right and wrong, and they also can feel compassion. These “better angels” must have been implanted in us by a divine creator — therefore the creator exists. But it can well be argued that evolution slowly developed empathy and nurturing in mammals, especially apes, and finally in humans. That’s a matter of psychology, not theology.
There have been other dubious attempts.
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In the 1200s, Thomas Aquinas offered five proofs of God, as follows:
• Everything has a cause, so there must have been a “first cause” — God — who made the universe.
• The heavens and Earth are in motion, and all motion comes from previous impetus — so there must have been an “unmoved mover” who propelled things.
• Most things perish and cease to exist, yet the reality of the universe continues — so there must be a permanent, eternal God to uphold the continuum.
• Everything varies in degree of perfection, so there must be an ultimate perfection: God.
• Nonintelligent things such as trees behave in a predictable manner, so there must be a master who guides their behavior.
The great Immanuel Kant, “the godfather of modern philosophy,” wrote in his Critique of Pure Reason that all logical proofs of God are faulty and that none of them is convincing. However, Kant contended that people may assume that God exists, because morality exists.
Meanwhile, I know another “proof” not cited by theologians. Long ago, a corny lawyer came to our local Press Club each evening for an after-work drink. He told me earnestly about his marriage: “Jim, it’s wonderful. We hold each other all night. If I roll over, she hugs me from behind — and if she rolls over, I hug her from behind. Now, if that doesn’t prove there’s a God, I don’t know what will.”
Well, I suppose theologians can add his proof to all the others that have fallen short.
This column is adapted from a piece first published on Nov. 18, 2019, at Daylight Atheism.