Does God Exist? Considering the Philosophy of Ernest Nagel from a First Person

Topics: God, Atheism, Existence Pages: 5 (1537 words) Published: April 15, 2006
One burning and enduring problem in philosophy to which we have given considerable examination is the question of the existence of God--the superlative being that philosophers have defined and dealt with for centuries. After reading the classic arguments of St. Anselm and St. Thomas Aquinas, the contentious assertions of Ernest Nagel, and the compelling eyewitness accounts of Julian of Norwich, I have been introduced to some of the most revered and referenced arguments for and against God's existence that have been put into text. All of them are well-thought and well-articulated arguments, but they have their holes. The question of God's true existence, therefore, is still not definitively answered and put to rest; the intensity of this debate probably never will mitigate. Many theologians and academics honestly admit that no matter what any philosopher may assert regarding this topic, whether or not a certain person believes in God's existence is a question of faith and nothing more.

I am naturally inclined, then, even after reading the heavyweight philosophers of religion, to ponder this pressing issue. After all, what one person may gather out of serious consideration of this problem could totally alter his or her life. Even though I have been raised in the Episcopal Christian faith and have attended church regularly, I have never really taken the time to scrutinize the very existence of a being I have been worshipping for my whole childhood. Reading the famed selections in this course has alerted my attention to the topic, and this major philosophical problem continues to eschew my understanding.

One would think that, because I have been raised a Christian and have been exposed to the doctrine and theory of Christianity, I would quickly lean toward the arguments for God and be more easily persuaded by them, hoping to find a defense for spending nearly every Sunday morning in the chancel at church. Actually, I am not automatically persuaded toward the theist position thanks to an atheist argument; the philosopher whom we have examined this semester who complicates this issue for me is Ernest Nagel, an atheist professor who wrote an outstanding defense of atheism. I found that his defense made atheism appear a much more attractive way to think than any theistic religion. I was not impressed, though, with his contentions against the Ontological Argument of St. Anselm, and thus I refrain for now from venturing to the atheist way. Because of Nagel, I now have ambivalence towards believing in God, even though reading his work did not change my broader belief.

One object of heated debate between convinced believers in God and convinced atheists is the Problem of Pain or Theodicy Problem, which asks how evil and suffering can exist in the world if an all-powerful and all-good God is overseeing what happens in his world. There are a few arguments that theists have constructed defending God's existence in spite of this obvious conflict between doctrine and reality. Some of them, even though they have become classic arguments, are ridiculous; for example, Nagel confronts the argument stating that "the things called evil are evil only because they are viewed in isolation; they are not evil when viewed in proper perspective and in relation to the rest of creation" (605). This argument can be easily destroyed by a man of reason, and Nagel does so mainly by holding that "it is irrelevant to argue that were we something other than what we are, our evaluations of what is good and bad would be different" (606). Calling the argument "unsupported speculation," (606) Nagel easily downturns this faulty response to the Theodicy Problem. What I found most admirable about this section of Nagel's "Philosophical Concepts of Atheism" was his own solution to the problem--simply that it cannot be resolved: "I do not believe it is possible to reconcile the alleged omnipotence and omnibenevolence of God with the unvarnished facts of human...


Cited: Cahn, Steven M., Patricia Kutcher, George Sher, and Peter J. Markie, eds. Reason at Work: Introductory Readings in Philosophy. 3rd Ed. Florence, KY: Thomson Learning, Inc., 1996.
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