Existence of God

God

God, divinity of the three great monotheistic religions, Judaism, Christianity, and Islam, as well as many other world religions. See also religion and articles on individual religions.

Names for God

In the Old Testament various names for God are used. YHWH is the most celebrated of these; the Hebrews considered the name ineffable and, in reading, substituted the name Adonai [my Lord]. The ineffable name, or tetragrammaton [Gr.,=four-letter form], is of unknown origin; the reconstruction Jehovah was based on a mistake, and the form Yahweh is not now regarded as reliable. The name Jah occurring in names such as Elijah is a form of YHWH. The most common name for God in the Old Testament is Elohim, a plural form, but used as a singular when speaking of God. The name El, not connected with Elohim, is also used, especially in proper names, e.g., Elijah. The name Shaddai, used with other words and in names (e.g., Zurishaddai), appears rarely. Of these names only Adonai has a satisfactory etymology. It is generally not possible to tell from English translations of the Bible what was the exact form of the name of God in the original. In Islam, the name of God is Allah.

Conceptions of God

The general conception of God may be said to be that of an infinite being (often a personality but not necessarily anthropomorphic) who is supremely good, who created the world, who knows all and can do all, who is transcendent over and immanent in the world, and who loves humanity. By the majority of Christians God is believed to have lived on earth in the flesh as Jesus (see Trinity). In the Hebrew Bible the concept of God is not a unified one. The attitude of believers to this apparent inconsistency has generally been that God, unchanging, revealed Himself more and more to Israel.

Scholars belonging to the rational schools of the 19th cent. developed a view of the Bible as primarily a history of Judaism that evolved naturally without the benefit of divine intervention in the world. They see a series of stages in which God was first held by the Jews as simply the head of a tribal pantheon, then gradually assumed all the attributes of God's fellow divinities, but was still worshiped more or less idolatrously. Gradually, according to these scholars, the Jews considered their God as more and more powerful until they believed God creator and ruler of all humans though preferring Israel as God's chosen people.

God's attributes of goodness, love, and mercy these critics consider as very late in this development. More recent scholars have refuted this latter position, seeing these very qualities in the God of the Exodus. Although the idea of God, through its long acceptance by Jews, Christians, and Muslims, has come to be associated with the concept of a good, infinite personality, in recent times the name has been extended to many principles of an utterly different sort; thus, a philosopher may consider the unifying concept in his philosophy (e.g., cosmic energy, mind, world soul, number) as God.

Arguments for God's Existence

There are several famous arguments for the existence of God. The argument from the First Cause maintains that since in the world every effect has its cause behind it (and every actuality its potentiality), the first effect (and first actuality) in the world must have had its cause (and potentiality), which was in itself both cause and effect (and potentiality and actuality), i.e., God. The cosmological argument maintains that since the world, and all that is in it, seems to have no necessary or absolute (nonrelative) existence, an independent existence (God) must be implied for the world as the explanation of its relations.

The teleological argument maintains that, since from a comprehensive view of nature and the world everything seems to exist according to a certain great plan, a planner (God) must be postulated. The ontological argument maintains that since the human conception of God is the highest conception humanly possible and since the highest conception humanly possible must have existence as one attribute, God must exist. Immanuel Kant believed that he refuted these arguments by showing that existence is no part of the content of an idea. This principle has become very important in contemporary philosophy, particularly in existentialism. The consensus among theologians is that the existence of God must in some way be accepted on faith.

The Columbia Encyclopedia, 6th ed. Copyright© 2014, The Columbia University Press.

Selected full-text books and articles on this topic

The Miracle of Theism: Arguments for and against the Existence of God
J. L. Mackie.
Clarendon Press, 1982
The Existence of God
Richard Swinburne.
Clarendon Press, 1991
Does God's Existence Need Proof?
Richard Messer.
Clarendon Press, 1997
Anselm's Discovery: A Re-Examination of the Ontological Proof for God's Existence
Charles Hartshorne.
Open Court, 1965
Thomas Aquinas: God and Explanations
C. F. J. Martin.
Edinburgh University Press, 1997
Basic Writings of Saint Thomas Aquinas
Anton C. Pegis; St. Thomas Aquinas.
Hackett, vol.1, 1997
The Evidential Force of Religious Experience
Caroline Franks Davis.
Clarendon Press, 1999
Beginning Philosophy
Richard Double.
Oxford University Press, 1999
Librarian’s tip: Chap. 9 "The Existence of God"
FREE! The Philosophy of Religion
George Galloway.
Charles Scribner's Sons, 1914
Religion as Experience and Truth: An Introduction to the Philosophy of Religion
Warren Nelson Nevius.
Westminster Press, 1941
God? A Debate between a Christian and An Atheist
William Lane Craig; Walter Sinnott-Armstrong.
Oxford University Press, 2004
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