Concepts of God

By: Sabrina Chen, Graciela Marez, Prachi Nawathe, Annie Zhang


  • Ontological: "Ontological arguments are arguments, for the conclusion that God exists, from premises which are supposed to derive from some source other than observation of the world—e.g., from reason alone." (Oppy)
  • Cosmological: An argument type that uses a general pattern of argumentation that makes an inference from certain alleged facts about the world to argue for the the existence of a unique being, generally identified with or referred to as God. (Reichenbach)
  • Contingency: Contingency is a causation: a rock on a windowsill is warm because the sun is on it, a plant grows because it has been watered. Every instance of something happening is based on another instance; nothing would happen without cause.
  • Teleological arguments focus on plan, purpose, intention, and design as a form of explaining the existence of God as an intelligent creator. (Ratzsch, Del and Koperski, Jeffrey)

Important Philosophers

  • Anselm of Canterbury--also referred to as Anselm of Aosta--was a Benedictine monk born in Aosta, Italy in 1033 who held the office of Archbishop of Canterbury until his death in 1109. Long after his death, he was canonized in 1494 (Kent). Before his death, however, Anselm was able to contribute a variety of theological works that have long been debated and studied. In his second book Proslogium, one of his most famous writings is his ontological argument. (Kent)
  • "René Descartes (1596–1650) was a creative mathematician of the first order, an important scientific thinker, and an original metaphysician. During the course of his life, he was a mathematician first, a natural scientist or “natural philosopher” second, and a metaphysician third" (Hatfield).
  • St. Thomas Aquinas was a Dominican priest who wrote extensively on Christian theology and successfully synthesized Christian thought and Aristotelian science in his writings to defend the existence of God. He developed one of the main cosmological arguments for the existence of God. (Kennedy)
  • William Paley: William Paley (1743-1805) was an English, Christian, utilitarian philosopher. He wrote several philosophical texts, but is best known for his natural theology exposition of the teleological argument of the existence of God.
  • Richard Taylor: Born in 1919, was a professor at Brown, Columbia, and Rochester. He often criticized his own work and became a pacifist late in his life, after already having been a WWII pilot. He was best known for his work on metaphysics and his ideas about contingency. Richard Taylor died on October 30, 2003, at his home near Trumansburg, N.Y. after a nearly year-long struggle with lung cancer. He was 83 years old. ("Richard Taylor Remembered.")

Ontological Arguments

Why did ontological arguments arise?
Ontological arguments arose in order to prove God's existence in a matter that does not require tangible evidence. Philosophers can use deductive reasoning to provide evidence for his existence.
Examine the premises of Anselm’s argument:
Anselm's first premise is that God is the greatest conceivable being. His second premise seems to be that existing in someone's mind and in reality is greater that existing in only the mind.That then leaves four options for God's existence: 1) he can exist in the understanding alone, 2) he can exist in reality alone, 3) he can exist in both the mind and reality, or 4) he cannot exist in either. As Anselm suggests in his third premise, because humans acknowledge that God exists in the understanding, he must exist in either the mind and reality, or in the mind alone.Anselm then concludes in the passage that God must exist in the understanding and reality because existing in the understanding alone is not as great, which would contradict the definition of God.
What does Descartes add to Anselm’s argument?
"In the seventeenth century, René Descartes defended a family of similar arguments. For
instance, in the Fifth Meditation, Descartes claims to provide a proof demonstrating the existence of God from the idea of a supremely perfect being. Descartes argues that there is no less contradiction in conceiving a supremely perfect being who lacks existence than there is in conceiving a triangle whose interior angles do not sum to 180 degrees. Hence, he supposes, since we do conceive a supremely perfect being—we do have the idea of a supremely perfect being—we must conclude that a supremely perfect being exists" (Oppy).

Cosmological Arguments

Why cosmological arguments arise?
Cosmological arguments arise from human curiosity as to why things exist or not exist. These arguments attempt to find some full, complete, ultimate, or best explanation of what exists contingently in this universe. In addition to ultimately finding God to be (or not to be) the ultimate causation of everything, important philosophical questions are raised about about contingency and necessity, causation and explanation, infinity, sets, and the nature and origin of the universe. (Reichenbach)
What are Aquinas’ Five Proofs? Strengths and weaknesses?

  1. The Proof from Motion: Things move and things are put into motion by something else. Therefore there must have been an initial unmoved mover, which is God.
  2. The Proof from Causation: All things have an immediate or efficient cause. The efficient causes cannot go back infinitely, so there must be a first, uncaused cause, which is God.
  3. The Proof from Contingency: It is not necessary for any particular thing to exist, they are, rather, contingent things. If all things are merely contingent, then at one time things did not exist. There must be a necessary essence that caused all contingent things to be, which is God.
  4. The Proof from Goodness: Things have degrees of perfection—larger or smaller, heavier or lighter, warmer or colder. Degrees imply the existence of a maximum of perfection. This maximum perfection is God.
  5. The Proof from Design: Things in this world are ordered to particular ends. Even unintelligent things are predisposed to this and not that. This order inherent in even inanimate things necessitates an intelligence to direct it, which is God. ("Proving the Existence of God: St. Thomas' Aquinas")

The Proof from Motion and Proof from Causation are supported by modern scientific understanding of the physical world. However, The Proof from Goodness is much weaker because goodness is subjective, and Proof from Design is also very weak because order can be explained by the principles of entropy and evolution, not necessarily by God’s existence.

Contingency Theory

What is the argument from contingency according to Taylor?

Something is “contingent” if it is not necessary, i.e. if it could have failed to exist. Most things seem to exist contingently. All of the human artifacts around us might not have existed; for each one of them, whoever made it might have decided not to do so. Their existence, therefore, is contingent.

Based off of the argument from contingency: by likening the world to a sphere that is found in the forest, one will question why it is there but have no notion as to how it got there. However, one will assume that the sphere is there because something put it there--it has a reason for existing.

Then, imagining the sphere among many other just like it, they all have a reason for existing, even though it is unfathomable. Even if the sphere is the only thing to ever exist, it still came to exist somehow--that reason is God. ("Philosophy of Religion." )

Design Arguments

Why did design arguments did arise?

Design arguments arose from the curiosity of existence and design in the world. These arguments look at things the way they are and how they were created and search for an explanation. Though we may not know how things were created or why they are the way they are, every design must have a purpose whether we see it or not.

What is Paley’s main argument for the existence of God? Strengths and weaknesses?

Paleys main argument is that God is the designer. Everything we see has a design to it, whether or not we know the exact purpose is not important. As we observe what is created, we can infer about it and give it a purpose of our own. Every design, even if it appears to be mechanically made , must in some chain of events have a designer because the machine making the machines must have been designed. The existence of God is proven through this theory to explain the other designs and existences in the universe that seem ineffable.

Examples from Scripture

  • “In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth. Now the earth was formless and empty, darkness was over the surface of the deep, and the Spirit of God was hovering over the waters.” (Genesis 1: 1-2)
  • This is aligned with Aquinas’s cosmological argument, especially his Proof from Causation because it shows that before anything existed or happened, God was the only existence in the universe that caused other things to happen.

Arguments Not Used By Biblical Authors

Biblical authors did not use philosophical arguments for the existence of God because arguments  are not forms of evidence. Biblical authors were not concerned about blind faith but rather faith based on evidence. Their evidence is the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus.

Why Philosophical Arguments for the Existence of God?

As there came more and more information regarding the workings of the physical and biological world, it became easier to doubt the existence of God. Approaching this from a contingency perspective, earlier, it was easy to assume that everything had been created by God because there was no explanation as to how everything came to exist. People simply assumed that everything existed because some being (God) made it that way. As there came more and more revelations about how things came to be, the cause of their creation shifted from being God to another source, such as photosynthesis for plant growth or fertilization for how babies are made.

Works Cited

  • Hatfield, Gary, "René Descartes", The Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy (Spring 2015 Edition), Edward N. Zalta (ed.), forthcoming URL =
  • Kennedy, Daniel. "St. Thomas Aquinas." The Catholic Encyclopedia. Vol. 14. New York: Robert Appleton Company,1912. 20 Feb. 2015 <>.
  • Kent, William. "St. Anselm." The Catholic Encyclopedia. Vol. 1. New York: Robert Appleton Company, 1907. 2 Feb. 2015
  • McInerny, Ralph and O'Callaghan, John, "Saint Thomas Aquinas", The Stanford Encyclopedia
    of Philosophy (Summer 2014 Edition), Edward N. Zalta (ed.), URL =
  • Oppy, Graham, "Ontological Arguments", The Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy (Spring 2015 Edition), Edward N. Zalta (ed.), forthcoming URL =<>.
  • "Proving the Existence of God: St. Thomas' Aquinas'" Catholic Chapter House Blog. 20 May
    2013. Web. 20 Feb. 2015. <>.
  • Ratzsch, Del and Koperski, Jeffrey, "Teleological Arguments for God's Existence", The Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy (Spring 2015 Edition), Edward N. Zalta (ed.), forthcoming URL = <>.
  • Reichenbach, Bruce, "Cosmological Argument", The Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy (Spring 2013 Edition), Edward N. Zalta (ed.), URL = <>.
  • "Richard Taylor Remembered." Richard Taylor Remembered. N.p., n.d. Web. 20 Feb. 2015.
  • "Philosophy of Religion." Philosophy of Religion The Argument from Contingency Comments. N.p., n.d. Web. 20 Feb. 2015.

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