Customer Reviews: The Existence of God (Problems of Philosophy Series)
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on May 25, 2009
I have owned this little volume for over 40 years, and I keep coming back to it as the most useful anthology available of arguments for and against the existence of god. Each section is devoted to a particular type of argument (ontological, cosmological, design, etc.) and contains selections from a proponent and an opponent of the argument. For example, the section on the ontological argument has the statement of the argument from Anselm, Descartes, and Leibniz, with the refutation by Kant. The chapter on the design (teleological) argument includes Paley's watchmaker analogy, and Hume's refutation. In addition to the classical arguments, there are chapters dealing with modern critiques based on psychology (e.g, Feuerbach) and logical/linguistic analysis (e.g., Ayer and Flew). Also, the 19-page introduction by Hick is a very succinct and clearly written assessment of the merits of the various arguments. As a handy reference to theistic and anti-theistic thought, The Existence of God is as good as you're going to find.
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on May 9, 2005
As a Pagan, I have to admit that there are quite a few scholars in the field of Divinity, including the editor of this book, John Hick. And by Divinity, I mean study of the monotheistic god. I have very little respect for that god. Let's see how the 23 authors in this book fare when dealing with this topic.

The first argument for the existence of the monotheist god is the ontological one, by Saint Anselm. Anselm argued that perfection entails existence. Since the monotheistic god is perfect, it exists. But Saint Thomas Aquinas rejects this argument. Descartes and Liebniz restate and expand on Anselm's argument, but then Kant argues that existence is not really a predicate. And Norman Malcolm provides further discussion. I think the whole argument is silly given that no being can be perfect, and that even if a being could be perfect in some respect, no such being might exist. But I do think it applies far better to the real Goddesses and Gods than to the monotheist god.

We then get to the "first cause" argument. Plato, Aquinas, and Copelston explain the basis for this argument. But David Hume argues that there is no contradiction in omitting a "first cause." I think that a complex first cause simply violates Occam's Razor. Whatever the Gods and Goddesses may be, they are not first causes. Perhaps existence can come from nothing, but there is no reason to assume that it starts with impossibly infinite complexity.

After that we have the argument from Design. A watch needs a watchmaker. Paley states this argument, unaware of Hume's strong criticism of it from 23 years earlier. I think this argument does suffer from one of the same problems as the First Cause Argument, namely "who made god?"

We then get to the problem of evil (which appears to make hash out of the hypothesis that there is an omnipotent and benevolent god). And arguments from morality, and from religious experience.

There's an interesting debate between Copelston and Bertrand Russell. After this, there is an article that discusses the validity of biblical arguments, and another about whether theistic proofs make sense even from a religious point of view.

We then get to a powerful argument, namely falsification. This is stated powerfully by A. J. Ayer and Anthony Flew. Namely, what would have to happen (or have to have happened) to convince one that god does not love us or does not exist? The answer to that question helps define what one means when one discusses god (if in fact there is any cognitive meaning at all). Braithwaite concedes this argument, but explains that religious statements have ethical significance, while John Hick asserts that the claim of god's existence is of a factual nature.

I recommend this book to those interested in the subject.
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on November 5, 1999
Yearn to obtain book again. Most thought provoking read in 5 years of college. Philosophy course at St. Louis University was required reading. The synopses of great thinkers are direct and to the point. The reader gets much for the money.
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This 1964 contains an excellent Introduction by John Hick (as well as introductions to each of the presented writings) in chapters of: the Ontological Argument; the Cosmological Argument; the Teleological argument; the Moral argument; and the Argument from Religious Experience. A section on "Discussion and Questionings" includes the entire BBC debate between Bertrand Russell and Fr. Frederick Copleston, as well as Feuerbach, Kierkegaard, etc. The final section on "Contemporary Problems" includes the famed essay on "Theology and Falsification" by Anthony Flew, articles by John Wisdom. R.B. Braithwaite, etc.

For me, the debate between Catholic historian of philosophy Copleston (see his monumental multi-volume A History of Philosophy, Vol. 1: Greece and Rome From the Pre-Socratics to Plotinus) and Bertrand Russell would alone be worth the price of the book. (This debate used to be printed in editions of Why I Am Not a Christian and Other Essays on Religion and Related Subjects, but has since been taken out; perhaps because Russell did not fare as well in the debate as his supporters---including me---might have hoped.) The debate was originally broadcast on the BBC in 1948.

To give you a brief idea of the interchange, here are some excerpts: "BR: ... what I'm saying is that the concept of cause is not applicable to the total... I should say that the universe is just there, and that's all. FC: Well, I can't see how you can rule out the legitimacy of asking the question how the total, or anything at all, comes to be there. Why something rather than nothing, that is the question?... BR: That's always assuming that not only every particular thing in the world, but the world as a whole must have a cause. For that assumption I see no ground whatever. If you'll give me a ground I'll listen to it. FC: Well, the series of events is either caused or it's not caused. If it is caused, there must obviously be a cause outside the series. If it's not caused then it's sufficient to itself, and... it is what I call necessary. But it can't be necessary since each member is contingent, and we've agreed that the total is not reality apart from its members, therefore it can't be necessary. Therefore it can't be ... uncaused---therefore it must have a cause... BR: I don't want to seem arrogant, but it does seem to me that I can conceive things that you say the human mind can't conceive. As for things not having a cause, the physicists assure us that individual quantum transition in atoms have no cause. FC: Well, I wonder, now whether that isn't simply a temporary inference. BR: It may be, but it does show that physicists' minds can conceive it." (Pg. 175-176)

With excerpts from Plato, Anselm, Aquinas, Descartes, Paley, Hume, Kant, Mill, A.J. Ayer, and many others, this collection gets right to the heart of the various arguments, and will be of considerable interest to anyone studying the philosophy of religion.
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