On arguments for God

John Haldane considers two types: the cosmological and the teleological.



John Haldane considers two types: the cosmological and the teleological.


I’m both a believer and a philosophical believer, so I’m interested in the role that philosophical argument can have in relation to religious belief. I think one of its roles is to defend the intelligibility of religious claims, but more ambitiously, I think it has a role in establishing the credibility of these.

Now I suppose there’s really two aspects to that. There’s the philosophical investigation of particular religious claims and doctrines and so on, what we might call philosophical theology. But prior to that is natural theology, and this is just the exercise of human reason in trying to determine answers to questions about whether there is a God, and if there is, what the nature of God is. I belong within a broadly Aristotelian tradition – certainly a tradition to which Aristotle makes a very important contribution, as, you know, 1200 years later or 1400 years later, does Aquinas – and within that tradition, arguments about the existence of God have their origins in observations of features of nature. And I suppose principally two lines of argumentation: one sometimes called the cosmological, which starts off with the fact that anything exists at all, and observes that what we are aware of is contingent, it’s the kind of thing that though it does exist it could easily not exist, and therefore it’s not the cause of its own existence. It’s not an explanation of its own existence. And so we’re driven to try to find something that could be a cause of the existence of other things but was not itself caused – hence, the first cause.

But the other line of argumentation is really … sometimes called teleological, or design-oriented – I myself think the term design can be slightly misleading, so I think I would rather say teleological. And this is a style of argument that observes that things seem to – not just to be, but to be active, to be engaged in certain kinds of processes, that as it were nature is a series of interlocking processes that seem to have an orientation. And then the question is, what is … where’s that orientation to be found? In some sense we might say it resides within things, but on the other hand, there’s not as if there’s a mechanism inside things that’s moving them along and so on.

So that idea of the orientation – and the orientation to proper functioning and things of that sort – I think in itself opens up a different kind of argument, the conclusion of which, as it were, is that things are being directed by and being drawn to God. Now obviously, there would be an awful lot one would have to say about that – but that’s at least the kinds of lines of argument that I’m interested in, and have written about.