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© Michael Lacewing The Idea of God Michael Lacewing

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1 © Michael Lacewing The Idea of God Michael Lacewing

2 The idea of God What is the idea of God? Does it make sense? Can we prove the existence of God just from the idea of God? What is the origin of the idea of God? Is it God? If so, how did we get it from God - is it innate or discovered in experience? Or did we invent it? Why?

3 What is the idea of God? Augustine: to think of God is to ‘attempt to conceive something than which nothing more excellent or sublime exists’ or could exist God as personal: intellect and will –Perfect intellect: omniscience –Perfect will: omnipotence, perfect goodness Transcendence: beyond creation, self-sufficient, non-spatial, without beginning or end –Everlasting - throughout time –Eternal - outside time Immanence: closely related to creation, e.g. omnipresent

4 Puzzles about omnipotence Omnipotence: ‘all-powerful’: Is logic a limitation on God’s power? God can’t change logic, not because of a lack of power, but because any description of a logically impossible state of affairs or power is not a description at all ‘The power to do whatever it is possible for a perfect being (or the greatest possible being) to do’

5 The stone paradox Can God create a stone so heavy that he can’t lift it? –If yes, he can’t lift it; if no, he can’t create it ‘The power to create a stone an omnipotent being can’t lift’ is logically incoherent, so it’s not a possible power. Or: the stone is, by definition, impossible to lift. If God lacks the power to lift a stone it is logically impossible to lift, there is still no power God lacks.

6 Other puzzles Can God know the future? Can God do evil? In what sense is God ‘good’? Is everything that God wills good by definition? Or is there an independent standard of good that God adheres to? Can God be transcendent and personal?

7 Anselm’s argument By definition, God is a being greater than which cannot be conceived. I can conceive of such a being. It is greater to exist than not to exist. Therefore, God must exist.

8 Anselm on islands and God Gaunilo: I can conceive of the the perfect island, greater than which cannot be conceived. And so such an island must exist, because it would be less great if it didn’t. Anselm: An island wouldn’t cease to be what it is – an island – if it wasn’t perfect. Islands aren’t perfect by definition or ‘essentially’. God wouldn’t be God if there was some being even greater than God. Being the greatest conceivable being is an essential property of God. God’s existence is therefore necessary, while even a perfect island exists only contingently.

9 Kant’s objection Kant: existence is not a ‘perfection’, because it is not a predicate at all. –To say ‘x exists’ is not to describe x at all or explain what x is. Existence is not part of the concept of anything. –To say ‘x exists’ is to say that some real object corresponds to the concept of x.

10 The origin of ‘God’ Descartes: Innate and God-given –The idea of God, infinite perfection, can’t be derived from experience –Hume: it can be, negatively - not-finite, not- imperfect Experience –Religious experience –Experience more generally ‘Human construction and projection’ –Legitimate: Inference to the best explanation –Illegitimate: Origin in emotional or social need

11 Invention as explanation Many concepts are invented in order to explain experience, even concepts of things we cannot directly experience e.g. electron, ecosystem If we invented the concepts because explanations using them are true, the concepts refer to something that exists Are explanations invoking God true? What did we use the first explanations invoking God for? ‘God of the gaps’: the concept of God filled gaps in our understanding of the world –But what about cosmological argument, religious experience, miracles?

12 Invention and psychology: Freud The origins of religion in human history: a response to our vulnerability in the face of forces of nature The origins of religion in the individual mind: a development from our childhood vulnerability and our relationship with our father, whom we both fear and love “Thus [man’s] longing for a father is a motive identical with his need for protection against the consequences of his human weakness.”

13 Invention and psychology Religion is an ‘illusion’, i.e. caused by the fulfilment of a wish (we want it – life, the universe – to be this way). This doesn’t show that God doesn’t exist - only that the origin of the idea of God is emotional But this emotional need could realistic: if we are made by God, our deepest longing could be relationship with God; Freud misidentifies the nature of the need The idea that God will ‘make everything alright’ is not the childish fantasy Freud thinks it is

14 Invention and sociology Durkheim: At the level of society, religious belief promotes cooperation, mutual respect, solidarity, a sense of identity, and the basis for a collective morality and for authority in the society. these features help the group to survive and flourish. Explaining the origins of religious practices and beliefs is not yet to explain the origins of GOD, because even if human societies work better with religious belief, this is not to say that the concept or belief in God must be part of that religious belief Nietzsche: the idea of God is a projection of our values, an illusory external confirmation


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