3 Non-Standard Arguments for God’s Existence

Robert Sloan Lee

The attempt to demonstrate the existence of God by way of reason and argument has been called “the most ambitious intellectual enterprise ever undertaken” (Schmitz 1992, 28). The standard arguments typically employed in this enterprise (namely, the ontological argument, the argument from design, and the cosmological argument—see Chapter 2) are the arguments that are usually discussed in introductory philosophy textbooks. Other arguments, ones not usually covered in introductory philosophy textbooks, can be called non-standard arguments for God’s existence. Here, we will discuss a small sample of the non-standard arguments that attempt to show that belief in God’s existence is either rational or well-evidenced. Specifically, we will focus on the following three arguments: Pascal’s Wager, Arguments from Religious Experience, and C.S. Lewis’s Argument from Desire. After examining these arguments, we will mention a few other non-standard arguments for the existence of God and recommend sources for further reading.

Pascal’s Wager

Pascal’s wager is not strictly an argument for God’s existence. Rather, as Blaise Pascal (1623-1662), a brilliant polymath and the founder of probability theory, presents it, the argument attempts to show that one should believe in God even if there is no evidence for or against God’s existence.[1] Specifically, Pascal thinks that it is in one’s own best interest to believe in God’s existence in the absence of any evidence for or against God’s existence.[2]

If there are no good reasons for believing or disbelieving in God’s existence, Pascal holds that there are four possibilities:

  • Option (a): God exists and one believes that God exists
  • Option (b): God exists and one believes that God does not exist
  • Option (c): God does not exist and one believes that God exists
  • Option (d): God does not exist and one believes that God does not exist

Pascal argues that each possibility will have a particular outcome or payoff. Further, on the assumption that there is no evidence available to decide whether or not God exists, Pascal thinks we should choose the option which has the best payoff. Since we cannot choose whether or not God actually exists, our only choice is whether or not we believe that God exists. We are in the game, as it were, and we must place our bets.

Under possibilities (c) and (d) God does not exist, so any losses or benefits will be limited. In other words, if one believes that God exists when God does not exist (possibility c), then one might forgo some temporary pleasures or may gain temporary benefits from living one’s life in a different way. Further, Pascal holds that benefits or losses associated with not believing in God’s existence when God doesn’t exist (possibility d) will also be limited.

However, Pascal thinks the outcomes for possibilities (a) and (b) are more striking. In fact, he thinks that if God exists and we choose to believe that God exists, then our gain will be unlimited. Further, if God exists and we choose to believe that God does not exist, Pascal says our loss will be unlimited. Since unlimited gains and losses will always outweigh limited gains and losses, we should choose to believe that God exists even if there is no evidence that would demonstrate God’s existence or non-existence.[3] If Pascal’s wager is a correct assessment of our options, then it turns out that not believing in God is irrational in terms of our self-interest.

There are different types of objections to Pascal’s wager. Some of the argument’s opponents think that making a decision to believe in God on the basis of self-interest is somehow morally problematic. However, whether or not that type of objection can be spelled out in a persuasive manner is another question, given that people blamelessly act in their own self-interest all the time (for example, eating and sleeping are acts of self-interest). Further, there is no reason to think that believing on the basis of Pascal’s wager would harm anyone else’s interests.[4] Further, one advocate of Pascal’s argument writes that the “benefits invoked” by the argument “need not be self-centered prudential benefits only” (Jordan 1997, 353). He adds that these benefits “may involve the good of other persons, and even the common good of a large number of people” (Jordan 1997, 353). He concludes that prudential arguments, like Pascal’s wager, “cannot be easily dismissed as morally suspect, selfish appeals to base considerations” (Jordan 1997, 353). In short, this objection to Pascal’s wager is not very convincing.

A more important objection raises the question of whether the options and outcomes described by Pascal above are the only possibilities. Perhaps some other view of God is correct. For example, why should we think that God rewards belief without evidence? Perhaps there is a deviant God who perversely punishes belief and rewards unbelief. This objection is sometimes referred to as the many-Gods objection. Stephen Davis puts the objection this way: “Indeed, there are scores of other Gods or gods that are actually worshiped in the religions of the world, and there is no guarantee that they will dispense rewards and punishments in the way that Pascal says that the Christian God will do” (Davis 1997, 165). If this objection is correct, then the issue is not merely one of deciding between whether or not God exists, but of deciding which type of God exists.

Defenders of Pascal’s wager are not without responses to this type of objection. Regarding the notion of a perverse deity that punishes belief and rewards unbelief, Jeff Jordan says the following:

Such a hypothesis being “cooked up” is not … a “genuine option.” That is to say, these cooked up “religious” hypotheses are so bizarre that one is justified in assigning them, if not a zero probability, a probability assignment so small as to warrant only neglect. This procedure is illustrated by the simple case of coin tossing. When one tosses a coin considered fair, it is possible that it land on its edge, remain suspended midair, or disappear, or any number of bizarre but possible events might occur. Yet, because there is no reason to believe that these events are plausible, one quite properly neglects their possibility and considers the partition of “heads” and “tails” jointly to exhaust the possibilities. (Jordan 1994, 107-108)

Jordan thinks that the notion of the perverse deity considered above should be treated with similar neglect. Nevertheless, while we might dismiss gerrymandered ideas about perverse gods, the various deities of the world’s religions (say, Vishnu, Yahweh, or Allah) constitute a more formidable objection to the wager argument. Some philosophers think that this objection defeats this basic statement of Pascal’s wager (Flew 1984, 66-68; Harrison 1999, 598-599). (See Chapter  6 for more on how the diversity of the world’s religions may cause difficulties for traditional arguments in favor of mono-theistic belief.)

While the basic version of Pascal’s wager does not seem to survive this objection based on the actual religions of the world, the wager argument can be revised. On the revised version of the argument, all the religions that promise unlimited gain as a result of belief are grouped together under one option and all the other choices (namely, the view that all religions are false along with any religions that don’t promise unlimited gains) are grouped together under another option. Given this partition, prudence says that one should pursue a religion from the first group (rather than disbelieving all religions or pursuing a religion from the second group). We can refer to this as the ecumenical wager. Jeff Jordan says the following about this revised argument:

The ecumenical version of the wager shows that theistic belief (as well as, perhaps, other sorts of religious belief) carries a greater expected utility than does disbelief, and so one ought to try to believe….But it is important to note that even if the wager is no help in deciding which religious option to believe, it does nonetheless show that one ought to believe one of them. (Jordan 1994, 110-111)

In short, this version of Pascal’s wager encourages one to explore certain sorts of religions—namely, those that offer some sort of unlimited gain.

Now that we’ve seen how some of the objections above may be answered, one should keep in mind that there are other objections to Pascal’s argument (as well as replies to those objections). Further, it is also important to realize that there are other types of wager arguments. For example, James Beattie (1735-1803) argues that theism is so consoling or encouraging that we are justified in believing in God’s existence even if God’s existence is highly unlikely, and John Stuart Mill (1806-1873) offers a pragmatic argument that one is justified in hoping that something like theism is true. These and other versions of the argument can be explored in Jeff Jordan’s book, Pascal’s Wager: Pragmatic Arguments and Belief in God (Jordan 2006).[5] Another treatment of the wager argument worth mentioning is Michael Rota’s book, Taking Pascal’s Wager: Faith, Evidence and the Abundant Life (Rota 2016).

Questions to Consider

  1. Suppose there is some good (but not conclusive) evidence for the type of God that Pascal believes in. Would that lend credibility to Pascal’s basic wager argument?
  2. Pascal’s basic wager argument says nothing about Hell or punishment for not believing in God’s existence (if God exists). Does noticing that fact make the argument more attractive or plausible? Why or why not? If it did include mention of punishment for disbelief, would that make the argument more compelling? Why or why not?
  3. Suppose that you will die in one year if you don’t believe (by the end of that year) that elephants live on Mars. So, you decide that you will try to make yourself believe this. Could you make yourself believe that elephants live on Mars? If not, then does that count against Pascal’s wager or against Jeff Jordan’s ecumenical wager? Explain why or why not.
  4. Is it plausible to think that God could be displeased for someone coming to hold theistic belief as a result of the wager argument?

God’s Existence and Religious Experience

Another argument for God’s existence (or for the rationality of believing in God’s existence) is the argument from religious experience. William James (1842-1910) and Rudolf Otto (1869-1937) are well-known authors who have discussed different kinds of religious experience and described the features of these experiences (James 1982; Otto 1950). However, contemporary philosophers have skillfully argued that religious experience provides justifying grounds for belief in God’s existence (Alston 1991; Yandell 1993; Swinburne 2004, 293-327). Religious experience is a ubiquitous feature of human history and culture. Such experiences might range from a general sense of divine presence (rather than specifically theistic experience) to a mystical vision of the light of God. For a contemporary discussion of the features of religious experience and the different types of religious experience, see Chapter 2 of Caroline Franks Davis’s book, The Evidential Force of Religious Experience (Davis 1989, 29-65).

While not everyone thinks that religious experience counts as evidence for God’s existence, some hold that religious experience does justify belief in the existence of God. One way of formulating this sort of argument is the following:

  1. Some people have experiences that seem to be experiences of God.
  2. If some people have experiences that seem to be experiences of God, then there is prima facie evidence for God’s existence.
  3. Therefore, there is prima facie evidence for God’s existence. (from 1 and 2)

Here the notion of   evidence is just the notion of initial evidence—where prima facie simply means what seems to be true before the situation is examined in greater detail. Given the frequency of religious experience (across both times and cultures), the first premise is virtually undeniable. However, why should one accept the second premise that claims experiences of God give one initial evidence for God’s existence?

One reason to accept the second premise of this argument is offered by Richard Swinburne. He advances a principle of reasonable belief (namely, the Principle of Credulity). Swinburne’s principle can be stated like this: if something appears to be present to a person, then (in the absence of special considerations) it probably is present to them (or it is at least rational to believe it to be present) (Swinburne 2004, 303-304). In other words, we are justified in thinking that things are a certain way based on things appearing to be that way—barring extenuating considerations. One philosopher provides an illustration of this principle in action: “For example, the experience of it seeming to me that my keys are locked inside my car is good evidence in support of my supposing that my keys are locked inside my car” (Geivett 2003, 181). Now, if we found out that this person has frequent hallucinations of his keys being locked in the car or that he has been hypnotized to believe this about his keys, then those extenuating circumstances would overturn the judgement that this man has good evidence (or justification) for believing that his keys are locked in his car. But in the absence of any such extenuating circumstances, his belief about his keys is justified. Likewise, advocates of the argument from religious experience often see religious experience in a similar way (namely, that an experience of God’s presence is prima facie or initial evidence of God’s presence).

Critics of the argument may think that it is easily defeated by some simple objections. However, it turns out that this type of argument possesses an unexpected resilience. For instance, one objection to the argument is that religious experiences (or something like them) can result from the use of drugs, extreme stress, extraordinary hardship, or other natural factors (involving, say, brain chemistry or the environment). Under these conditions purely natural factors can bring about religious experiences, and this throws doubt on the legitimacy of all religious experiences. In response to this objection, William J. Abraham writes, “We do not generally believe that because some reports of ordinary natural objects sometimes involve illusion, hallucination, and the like, then all reports do so” (Abraham 1985, 45). He continues, “If we insist that they apply only to religious experience, then we face the embarrassing fact that we apply standards in the religious sphere which we do not apply elsewhere” (Abraham 1985, 45). This sort of double-standard suggests that “religious experience must always be seen as guilty until proven innocent,” but that would fallaciously beg the question against Swinburne’s principle of reasonable belief (Abraham 1985, 45). To illustrate this point, suppose it can be shown that some people frequently hallucinate their car keys being locked in their car. That fact would not give us a good reason to think that no one is ever justified in believing that their keys are locked in their cars, and similar considerations should apply to religious experience.

Another objection to the argument from religious experience highlights a dissimilarity between sensory experience and religious experience. Specifically, according to this objection, sensory experience is public, but religious experiences are private. Whereas the sensory experience of locking one’s keys in the car can be verified by others, religious experience is subjective and there are no independent ways of confirming that one’s religious experiences are reliable by comparing them to the religious experience of others. As a critic of the argument from religious experience, C.B. Martin writes, “What I apprehend,” when I have a visual experience (of, say, car keys or a piece of blue paper), “is the sort of thing that can be photographed, touched, and seen by others”—but there seems to be no intersubjective way of verifying religious experience. (Martin 1959, 87-88). Given this consideration, Martin thinks that we should not consider religious experience as providing prima facie (or initial) evidence for God’s existence. This response to the argument constitutes a rejection of the second premise of the argument which says that if some people have experiences that seem to be experiences of God, then there is initial evidence for God’s existence.

However, one philosopher, Kai-Man Kwan, responds by denying Martin’s claim. Specifically, the only way one can check the reliability of sense experience (of, say, seeing one’s keys locked in the car) is by verbal reports from other people describing their sensory experience. In a similar way, people can give verbal reports to each other of their religious experiences. Kwan explains that “experiences of God are present in almost all ages, all places, and all cultures…” and Kwan adds that these reports, “to a considerable extent, match” (Kwan 2009, 506). He concludes that, in this way, religious experience “is also public” (Kwan 2009, 506). In other words, the dissimilarity between sensory experience and religious experience is not nearly as great as the argument’s critics suppose.[6]

Of course, there are other objections (and replies) to the argument from religious experience, and there are many other versions of this sort of argument.[7] William P. Alston deals with numerous objections to the argument from religious experience (Alston 2003). However, for a more fully developed treatment of the argument, consult his book, Perceiving God (Alston 1991). Also of interest here is Keith Yandell’s essay, “Is Numinous Experience Evidence that God Exists?” (Yandell 2003), and his book-length development of the argument that takes into consideration religious experiences in both Eastern and Western religious traditions, The Epistemology of Religious Experience (Yandell 1993).

Questions to Consider

  1. Suppose a machine is used to stimulate someone’s brain in order to make them have a religious experience. Would that discredit the religious experiences of other people (or discredit the argument for God’s existence from religious experience)? If so, then suppose that this same machine could stimulate someone’s brain and cause them to see, feel, and taste an apple that isn’t there. Would that discredit the claims of other people to have seen apples? If not, then what is the relevant difference between these cases?
  2. If one person, A, has a genuine religious experience of God (that was caused by God) and another person, B, does not have any religious experience at all, then could A’s experience of God provide B with reason or evidence for believing in God? Explain why or why not.
  3. If a person’s religious experience of God counts as evidence for God, can that evidence outweigh other evidence against God’s existence (say, from suffering or evil)?

C.S. Lewis’s Argument from Desire

A British scholar who taught at both Oxford and Cambridge Universities, C.S. Lewis (1898-1963), changed his views from atheism to a general belief in God (and, eventually, to Christianity in particular) over the course of his career. There were three arguments motivating Lewis’s change from atheism to theism: the argument from reason, the argument from morality, and the argument that we will examine, the argument from desire. Lewis’s argument from desire is rarely discussed and often misunderstood, but we can avoid one misunderstanding of the argument by saying at the outset what the argument is not. Lewis’s argument is not the claim that God exists because one wants God to exist. Further, the argument is not an argument from religious experience. The basic idea behind the argument is explained by Lewis:

Creatures are not born with desires unless satisfaction for those desires exists. A baby feels hunger: well, there is such a thing as food. A duckling wants to swim: well, there is such a thing as water. Men feel sexual desire: well, there is such a thing as sex. If I find in myself a desire which no experience in this world can satisfy, the most probable explanation is that I was made for another world. (Lewis 1952, 120)

Before stating the argument more precisely and in greater detail, we need a better understanding of the experience that motivates the argument.

Lewis uses different names for the experience that propels his argument: the inconsolable longing, Joy, enormous bliss, immortal longings, and other names. The inconsolable longing is a feeling of nostalgic longing connected to a sense of absence or open-ended possibility. The experience that Lewis refers to here is not a religious experience or a mystical experience. Rather, it is an ordinary and natural desire, and Lewis’s first experience of this desire occurred when he was eight years old:

As I stood beside a flowering currant bush on a summer day there suddenly arose in me without warning, and as if from a depth not of years but of centuries, the memory of that earlier morning at the Old House when my brother had brought his toy garden into the nursery. It is difficult to find words strong enough for the sensation which came over me; Milton’s “enormous bliss”…comes somewhere near it. It was a sensation, of course, of desire, but desire for what? (Lewis 1955, 16)

Lewis also experienced the inconsolable longing while reading Norse mythology, and he describes the longing as being “cold, spacious, severe, pale and remote” (Lewis 1955, 17). Lewis indicates that while his first experience of this desire “had taken only a moment” of time, other things that happened to him seemed to pale in comparison (Lewis 1955, 16).

Lewis provides a description of the inconsolable longing that can help one identify when one is having the experience. Specifically, the inconsolable longing is distinct from happiness and pleasure, it is desirable in itself, and it is brought about by a variety of objects and events that fail to satisfy that desire. Lewis explains, “I call it Joy, which is here a technical term and must be sharply distinguished both from Happiness and Pleasure” (Lewis 1955, 18). He adds that it is an “unsatisfied desire which is itself more desirable than any other satisfaction” (Lewis, 1955, 17-18). The fact that this inconsolable longing is desirable makes it distinct from other kinds of longing (like hunger) which can be unpleasant. Further, the experience of inconsolable longing may be described as a melancholic Joy or “dizzying exaltation” which provides an intense satisfaction that feels like “swallowing light itself” (Lewis 1986, 24-25). This experience will sometimes accompany one’s appreciation of beauty in music, art, or nature. However, the object of this longing is not identical to any of these (because one can appreciate these things without having an experience of inconsolable longing). Lewis writes:

There is a peculiar mystery about the object of this Desire. Inexperienced people (and inattention leaves some inexperienced all their lives) suppose, when they feel it, that they know what they are desiring. Thus if it comes to a child while he is looking at a far off hillside he at once thinks “if only I were there”; if it comes when he is remembering some event in the past, he thinks “if only I could go back to those days.” If it comes (a little later) while he is reading a “romantic” tale or poem of “perilous seas and faerie lands forlorn,” he thinks he is wishing that such places really existed and that he could reach them….When it darts out upon him from his studies in history or science, he may confuse it with the intellectual craving for knowledge. But every one of these impressions is wrong….Every one of these supposed objects for the Desire is inadequate to it. (Lewis 1958, 8-9)

The point here is that the object of this unique desire is not found in the realm of our sensory experiences.

Now that we have a somewhat better understanding of the natural experience that inspires the argument, we are in a position to state the argument concisely:

  1. We have good reason to think that all of our natural desires have existing objects that satisfy those desires.
  2. There exists, in most people, a natural desire (that is, the inconsolable longing) which is satisfied by neither anything within the range of sensory experience nor by anything in the natural world.
  3. Therefore, we have good reason to think that something exists beyond the range of sensory experience and beyond the natural world that can satisfy the inconsolable longing. (from 1 and 2)

Now we add another premise that brings us to the final conclusion of the argument:

  1. If we have good reason to think that something exists beyond the range of sensory experience and beyond the natural world that can satisfy the inconsolable longing, then we have some good reason to think that God exists.
  2. Therefore, we have some good reason to think that God exists. (from 3 and 4)

Notice that Lewis is not arguing that there is something beyond nature based on the idea that life’s experiences do not make us happy. It is often through happiness (or along with happiness) that the inconsolable longing is experienced. Further, religious experience is not the means by which the inconsolable longing is satisfied. Instead, Lewis’s argument is an argument based on a natural desire (for something beyond nature) that is commonplace and produced in people in a spontaneous fashion as a result of both ordinary experiences and unique experiences.

The most obvious objection to the argument is the claim that people often desire things that are not real. However, this objection (while true) does not apply to Lewis’s argument, because Lewis’ argument is that the inconsolable longing is a natural desire, which he distinguishes from artificial desires. Artificial desires are cultivated by our cultures and environments (for example, through advertisements or other cultural means), and must be built up out of natural desires, which are produced within us spontaneously. For example, the desires for food or sleep constitute natural desires, while the desires to become invisible, to become the president, or to fly like a bird are not natural desires. In the case of desiring to be president, one actually desires other things that are natural desires (for example, things like the desire for prestige or influence). Given this distinction, artificial desires do not always have corresponding objects of satisfaction, but are based on more fundamental desires that do.[8] Of course, there are other potential objections to this argument. For a detailed refutation of five other objections to the argument from desire, see the essay, “As if Swallowing Light Itself: C.S. Lewis’s Argument from Desire, Part II” (Lee 2017).

Of course, if someone has a reason to think that there is something beyond the natural realm, then this raises the probability of the claim that God exists. However, it also raises the probability of any other view according to which there is something beyond nature. It does this in the same way that evidence may implicate multiple murder suspects in a murder case (where only one person committed a murder). For example, suppose the police find a certain shoe print at a crime scene and also find out that two suspects (say, Mr. Smith and Mr. Jones) both have that same style and size of shoe. That fact raises the probability that Mr. Smith committed the crime, but it also raises the probability that Mr. Jones committed the crime. It does this simply by lowering the probability that various other suspects committed the crime because they wear different shoe sizes or different shoe styles. In a similar fashion, the plausibility of theism is raised given the conclusion of Lewis’s argument, even if it raises the probability of any other view that also holds that there is something beyond the natural world. It does this simply by lowering the probability of any view according to which there is nothing beyond the natural world.

Questions to Consider

  1. Make one list of natural desires and a second list of artificial desires. What is different between the desires on the first list versus the desires on the second list?
  2. Have you ever experienced what C.S. Lewis calls the inconsolable longing? If so, then how would you describe that experience? If not, is it possible that you have had the experience but have not noticed it (or have confused it with other feelings)?
  3. What sorts of distractions, amusements, or biases could prevent someone from noticing an experience of the inconsolable longing?

Other Non-Standard Arguments for God’s Existence

The arguments considered above are not the only non-standard arguments for rational belief in God’s existence. Many other arguments for God’s existence have been developed and defended by philosophers—even within the last fifty years. A good place to begin is the following text which covers a wide variety of arguments for God’s existence: Two Dozen (or so) Arguments for God (Walls 2018). This work covers a great many non-standard arguments for God’s existence, including arguments from mathematics, intuition, intentionality, sets, meaning, counterfactual statements, morality, consciousness, induction, and other arguments. In what follows, we will briefly highlight some of these non-standard arguments and their advocates, specifically the moral argument, the argument from consciousness, and a few others.

One non-standard argument for God’s existence that has grown in popularity over the last few years is the moral argument for God’s existence. The moral argument comes in many varieties, but only a few of its more recent defenders will be mentioned here. First, David Baggett and Jerry L. Walls defend theistic ethics and advance an argument from morality for God’s existence in Good God: The Theistic Foundations of Morality (Baggett 2011). In this work, Baggett and Walls argue that “moral freedom, ethical obligations, and genuine responsibility” are a better fit with theism than with a naturalistic outlook affirming the existence of only the “physical world” (Baggett 2011, 28).[9] Next, Linda Zagzebski—in her essay “Does Ethics Need God?”—advances the claim that theism prevents the moral enterprise from being seen as futile and provides grounds for thinking that we can have moral knowledge. She holds that these considerations make belief in God’s existence rational (Zagzebski 1987). Another advocate of the moral argument, Mark D. Lindville, argues that theism can provide a framework that accounts for moral knowledge and personal dignity whereas naturalism cannot (Lindville 2009). John E. Hare (whose work builds upon and develops an argument initially suggested by Immanuel Kant) lays out the case that the demands of morality are too stringent for humans to satisfy without divine assistance—and, since we are nevertheless obligated to meet the demands of morality, we have reason to believe God exists and can assist us in satisfying those demands (Hare 1996). Katherin Rogers argues that only theism can provide the objectivity and normative power needed for a robust account of objective morality (Rogers 2005). Further, she argues that grounding morality in the nature of God provides a better account of morality than divine command theory, and that grounding morality in God’s nature allows one to rebut the notion that God has no bearing on the solution to moral problems. Her final conclusion is that, given her account of God and morality, evil itself serves as evidence for God’s existence. Finally, the debate between William Lane Craig and Paul Kurtz (along with the essays by various philosophers responding to their debate) does a nice job at setting out many of the core issues on both sides of the debate in Is Goodness without God Good Enough? (Garcia and King 2009). As one can see, there are many types of moral argument for theism. However, in general, advocates of moral arguments for God’s existence will highlight various features of morality (say, for example, the objectivity of moral obligation, our ability to possess moral knowledge, or the rationality of the moral enterprise) and then argue that such features are best explained by (or entail) the existence of God.

In recent years, another argument receiving greater attention is the argument from consciousness for God’s existence. Richard Swinburne has argued that the correlation of brain events with mental intentions and mental events (such as pains, thrills, and beliefs) gives us reason to think that God exists (Swinburne 2004, 192-212). Robert Adams advances a similar argument in his essay, “Flavors, Colors, and God” (Adams 1987, 243-262). There, Adams suggests that the likelihood of God’s existence is increased given the existence of qualia—that is, specific instances of conscious experience such as the subjective experience of seeing red or feeling cold—because there is no naturalistic explanation for how these sorts of qualitative states of mind exist. Theism, in contrast to naturalism, can provide such an explanation given that God is a mind. J.P. Moreland gives an extensive treatment of the argument from consciousness in his book, Consciousness and the Existence of God: A Theistic Argument (Moreland 2008). In that work, Moreland argues that the existence of consciousness and its correlation with physical states gives us evidence for God’s existence. Like the moral argument mentioned above, the argument from consciousness comes in many varieties. Generally, defenders of arguments from consciousness appeal to the fact of conscious awareness or to certain features of consciousness (say, for example, the apprehension of qualia, the mind’s intentionality, or to other features of conscious experience) and then argue that such facts or features are best explained by (or entail) God’s existence.

A few other arguments deserve to be briefly mentioned. First, the argument for God’s existence from beauty has received a careful presentation and defense in Mark Wynn’s book, God and Goodness: A Natural Theological Perspective (Wynn 1999, 11-36). This argument is a development and refinement of F.R. Tennant’s argument from beauty given in the 1930s (Tennant 1956, 89-93). An attractive feature of their argument, at least for some readers, is that it does not require that beauty be an objective property. Rather, the argument only requires that the subjective experience of beauty be produced by certain non-subjective features of the world (Wynn 1999, 16-17). Second, George Berkeley is infamous for his arguments for the non-existence of matter and how the non-existence of matter leads to the conclusion that God exists. For a better understanding of Berkeley’s arguments, one place to begin is his short book first published in the 1700s, Three Dialogues between Hylas and Philonous (Berkeley 1979). A good supplemental work for understanding this type of argument is Robert Adams’s essay, “Idealism Vindicated” (Adams 2007, 35-54). Third, one type of argument receiving little attention from contemporary philosophers is the argument from the intelligibility of reality. Hugo Meynell introduces this sort of argument, saying that he wants to suggest that the world “is intelligible; and to insinuate that this constitutes rather good reason for belief in the existence of God” (Meynell 1977, 23). Drawing on the work of Karl Popper and Bernard Lonergan, he goes on to explain that the practice of science (along with things required to practice science, namely physical objects, minds with mental contents, and irreducible propositions and concepts) implies the intelligibility of the universe (Meynell 1977, 23-28). Further, he argues that if there exists nothing analogous to the human mind involved in the constitution of the universe (something like God), then the universe would not be intelligible (Meynell 38-39). Therefore, the intelligibility of the universe gives us reason to believe in the existence of God. C.S. Peirce advanced, in broad outline, a similar sort of argument in the early 1900’s (Peirce 1998, 434-450). Finally, we will mention an argument found in the same neighborhood as the previous argument. This version of the argument, however, is based primarily on the laws of nature. Specifically, John Foster’s book, The Divine Lawmaker (Foster 2004), presents an argument for God’s existence by appealing to both the laws of nature and induction, where induction is a type of inference in which one draws conclusions, say, about the future, by appealing to one’s past experience (or in which one draws conclusions concerning unobserved cases based on observed cases) (Foster 2004).[10] While these last few arguments have received comparatively little attention, they are interesting and creative arguments for God’s existence that some philosophers find compelling. Obviously, much more could be said in laying out the details of each of these arguments.

Questions to Consider

  1. Can morality and self-interest conflict with each other?
  2. Is the moral intuition that innocent people should not be harmed for no good reason anything more than a social agreement or personal preference? If it nothing more than a social agreement or preference, then is there any reason to follow that intuition if one does not wish to do so and can avoid any negative consequences for not doing so?
  3. Suppose that an evolutionary account can be provided for what we call moral behavior. Would that account succeed in making sense of objective moral obligations or would that account need to be supplemented in some way? If so, then how?
  4. If everything is ultimately physical or material, then how can we make sense of the idea that physical things (which are not about anything) give rise to mental things (which are about other things)?
  5. Some take human conscious awareness as a requirement of any possible scientific inquiry (and, therefore, more fundamental than any scientific theory of space-time, mass, charge, and so on), and they hold that this prerequisite of science should make it difficult for us to think of consciousness as being nothing more than brain activity (Taliaferro 2009, 9-10). If this is correct, does that make the hypothesis of God’s existence more plausible? Why or why not?
  6. Why should we expect reality to be rationally comprehensible (at least in part) by means of empirical investigation or by the methods of scientific investigation? Would God’s existence make it more or less surprising that reality can be rationally comprehended?
  7. People often have personal goals, projects, and purposes. However, if naturalism is true, then all of a person’s goals, projects, and purposes will be destroyed, forgotten, and lost in the depths of time (no matter how successful one is in reaching one’s goals or achieving one’s purposes). What relevance (if any) could God’s existence have in relation to whether or not a person’s life has objective purpose, meaning, or value?
  8. Suppose that three or four of the non-standard arguments provide some good evidence for God’s existence. Do these arguments make a better case for God’s existence when they are taken together (rather than individually)? If not, then why not? If so, then how do these arguments stack up against arguments for God’s non-existence?

Conclusion

This survey of arguments could not possibly explore (or even list) all of the non-standard arguments for God’s existence. Nevertheless, it hopefully provides the reader with a better idea of the variety and range of arguments that have been developed and deployed in making a case for the rationality of theistic belief.[11]

References

Abraham, William J. 1985. An Introduction to the Philosophy of Religion. Englewood Cliffs, New Jersey: Prentice-Hall.

Adams, Robert. 1987. The Virtue of Faith and other Essays in Philosophical Theology. Oxford: Oxford University Press.

Adams, Robert. 2007. “Idealism Vindicated.” In Persons: Human and Divine, eds. Peter van Inwagen and Dean Zimmerman, 35-54. Oxford: Oxford University Press.

Alston, William P. 1991. Perceiving God. Ithaca: New York: Cornell University Press.

Alston, William P. 2003. “Perceiving God.” In God Matters: Readings in the Philosophy of Religion, eds. Raymond Martin and Christopher Bernard, 361-381. New York: Longman.

Baggett, David and Jerry L. Walls. 2011. Good God: The Theistic Foundations of Morality. Oxford: Oxford University Press.

Berkeley, George. 1979. Three Dialogues between Hylas and Philonous. Robert Merrihew Adams, ed. Indianapolis, Indiana: Hackett Publishing Company.

Davis, Caroline Franks. 1989. The Evidential Force of Religious Experience. Oxford: Clarendon Press.

Davis, Stephen T. 1997. God, Reason and Theistic Proofs. Grand Rapids, Michigan: Eerdmans.

Flew, Antony. 1984. God, Freedom, and Immortality: A Critical Analysis. Amherst, New York: Prometheus Books.

Foster, John. 2004. The Divine Lawmaker: Lectures on Induction, Laws of Nature, and the Existence of God. Oxford: Clarendon Press.

Garcia, Robert K. and Nathan L. King. 2009. Is Goodness without God Good Enough?: A Debate on Faith, Secularism, and Ethics. Lanham, Maryland: Roman and Littlefield.

Geivett, R. Douglas. 2003. “The Evidential Value of Religious Experience.” In The Rationality of Theism, eds. Paul Copan and Paul K. Moser, 175-203. New York: Routledge.

Hare, John E. 1996. The Moral Gap: Kantian Ethics, Human Limits, and God’s Assistance. Oxford: Clarendon Press.

Harrison, Jonathan. 1999. God, Freedom and Immortality. Aldershot: Ashgate Publishers.

James, William. 1982. The Varieties of Religious Experience. New York: Penguin Classics.

Jordan, Jeff. 1994. “The Many-Gods Objection.” In Gambling on God: Essays on Pascal’s Wager, ed. Jeff Jordan, 101-113. Lantham, Maryland: Rowman & Littlefield, 1994.

Jordan, Jeff. 1997. “Pragmatic Arguments.” In A Companion to Philosophy of Religion, eds. Philip L. Quinn and Charles Taliaferro, 352-359. Cambridge: Massachusetts: Blackwell.

Jordan, Jeff. 2006. Pascal’s Wager: Pragmatic Arguments and Belief in God. Oxford: Oxford University Press.

Kreeft, Peter. 1989. “C.S. Lewis’ Argument from Desire.” In G.K. Chesterton and C.S. Lewis: The Riddle of Joy, eds. Michael H. Macdonald and Andrew A. Tadie, 249-272. Grand Rapids: Eerdmans.

Kwan, Kai-Man. 2009. “The Argument from Religious Experience.” In The Blackwell Companion to Natural Theology, eds. William Lane Craig and J.P. Moreland, 498-522. Oxford: Wiley-Blackwell.

Lee, Robert Sloan. 2017. “As if Swallowing Light Itself: C.S. Lewis’s Argument from Desire, Part II.” In C.S. Lewis as Philosopher: Truth, Goodness, and Beauty, eds. David Baggett, Gary R. Habermas, and Jerry L. Walls, 327-346. 2nd ed. Lynchburg, Virginia: Liberty University Press.

Lewis, C.S. 1952. Mere Christianity. New York: Macmillan.

Lewis, C.S. 1955. Surprised by Joy. New York: Harcourt Brace Jovanovich.

Lewis, C.S. 1958. Pilgrim’s Regress: An Allegorical Apology for Christianity, Reason and Romanticism. Grand Rapids, Michigan: Eerdmans.

Lewis, C.S. 1986. Present Concerns and Other Essays, ed. Walter Hooper. New York: Harcourt Brace Javoanovich.

Lindville, Mark D. 2009. “The Moral Argument.” In The Blackwell Companion to Natural Theology, eds. William Lane Craig and J.P. Moreland, 391-448. Oxford: Wiley-Blackwell.

Martin, C.B. 1959. Religious Belief. Ithaca: New York: Cornell University Press.

McNamara, Patrick. 2009. The Neuroscience of Religious Experience. New York: Cambridge University Press.

Meynell, Hugo. 1977. “The Intelligibility of the Universe.” In Reason and Religion, ed. Stuart C. Brown, 23-43. Ithaca, New York: Cornell University Press.

Moreland, J.P. 2008. Consciousness and the Existence of God: A Theistic Argument. New York: Routledge.

Morris, Thomas V. 1992. Making Sense of It All: Pascal and the Meaning of Life. Grand Rapids, Michigan: Eerdmans.

Morris, Thomas V. 1993. “Pascalian Wagering.” In Contemporary Perspectives on Religious Epistemology, eds. R. Douglas Geivett and Brendan Sweetman, 257-269. Oxford: Oxford University Press.

Otto, Rudolf. 1950. The Idea of the Holy. 2nd ed. Trans. John W. Harvey. Oxford: Oxford University Press.

Pascal, Blaise. 1966. Pensées. Trans. A.J. Krailsheimer. New York, Penguin Books.

Peirce, Charles Sanders. 1998. “A Neglected Argument for the Reality of God.” In The Essential Peirce, Volume 2: Selected Philosophical Writings (1893-1913), ed. Peirce Edition Project, 434-450. Bloomington, Indiana: Indiana University Press, 1998.

Plantinga, Alvin. 2000. Warranted Christian Belief. Oxford: Oxford University Press.

Quinn, Philip L. 1994. “Moral Objections to Pascalian Wagering.” In Gambling on God: Essays on Pascal’s Wager, ed. Jeff Jordan, 61-81. Lanham, Maryland: Rowman & Littlefield, 1994.

Ratzsch, Del. 1990. “Nomo(theo)Logical Necessity.” In Christian Theism and the Problems of Philosophy, ed. Michael D. Beaty, 184-207. Notre Dame, Indiana: University of Notre Dame Press.

Rescher, Nicholas. 1985. Pascal’s Wager: A Study of Practical Reasoning in Philosophical Theology. Notre Dame, Indiana: University of Notre Dame Press.

Rogers, Katherin. 2005. “God and Moral Realism.” International Philosophical Quarterly 45(1):103-118.

Rota, Michael. 2016. Taking Pascal’s Wager: Faith, Evidence and the Abundant Life. Downers Grove, Illinois: InterVarsity Press.

Ryan, John K. 1994. “The Wager in Pascal and Others.” In Gambling on God: Essay on Pascal’s Wager, ed. Jeff Jordan, 11-19. Lanham, Maryland: Rowman & Littlefield.

Schloss, Jeffery, and Michael J. Murray, eds. 2009. The Believing Primate: Scientific, Philosophical and Theological Reflections on the Origin of Religion. Oxford: Oxford University Press.

Schmitz, Kenneth L. 1992. “Theological Clearness: Foreground to a Rational Recovery of God.” In Prospects for Natural Theology, ed. Eugene

Thomas Long, 28-48. Washington, D.C.: Catholic University Press of America.

Swinburne, Richard. 2004. The Existence of God. 2nd ed. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2004.

Taliaferro, Chales. 2009. “The Project of Natural Theology” In The Blackwell Companion to Natural Theology, eds. William Lane Craig and J.P. Moreland, 1-23. Oxford: Wiley-Blackwell.

Tennant, F.R. 1956. Philosophical Theology. Volume II: The World, the Soul, and God. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

Walls, Jerry and Trent Dougherty, eds. 2018. Two Dozen (or so) Arguments for God: The Plantinga Project. Oxford: Oxford University Press.

Wynn, Mark. 1999. God and Goodness: A Natural Theological Perspective. New York: Routledge.

Yandell, Keith. 1993. The Epistemology of Religious Experience. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

Yandell, Keith. 2003. “Is Numinous Experience Evidence that God Exists.” In God Matters: Readings in the Philosophy of Religion, eds. Raymond Martin and Christopher Bernard, 361-381. New York: Longman.

Zagzebski, Linda. 1987. “Does Ethics Need God?” Faith and Philosophy 4(3): 294-303.

Further Reading

To learn more about the arguments we have discussed, one may consult the works previously mentioned in the text and notes above and the works listed below. However, if one can only read a few works connected with the non-standard arguments for God’s existence, one could begin by consulting the following significant journal articles, essays, and books for any particular argument that one finds interesting.

Pascal’s Wager

Jordan, Jeff. 2006. Pascal’s Wager: Pragmatic Arguments and Belief in God. Oxford: Oxford University Press.

Morris, Thomas V. 1993. “Pascalian Wagering.” In Contemporary Perspectives on Religious Epistemology, eds. R. Douglas Geivett and Brendan Sweetman, 257-269. Oxford: Oxford University Press.

Rota, Michael. 2016. Taking Pascal’s Wager: Faith, Evidence and the Abundant Life. Downers Grove, Illinois: InterVarsity Press.

Argument from religious experience

Alston, William P. 1991. Perceiving God. Ithaca: New York: Cornell University Press.

Davis, Caroline Franks. 1989. The Evidential Force of Religious Experience. Oxford: Clarendon Press.

Kwan, Kai-Man. 2009. “The Argument from Religious Experience.” In The Blackwell Companion to Natural Theology, eds. William Lane Craig and J.P. Moreland, 498-522. Oxford: Wiley-Blackwell.

Mavrodes, George I. 1986. “Religion and the Queerness of Morality.” In Rationality, Religious Belief, and Moral Commitment: New Essays in the Philosophy of Religion, eds. Robert Audi and William J. Wainwright, 213-226. Ithaca, New York: Cornell University Press.

Argument from desire

Lee, Robert Sloan. 2017. “As if Swallowing Light Itself: C.S. Lewis’s Argument from Desire, Parts I and II.” In C.S. Lewis as Philosopher: Truth, Goodness, and Beauty, eds. David Baggett, Gary R. Habermas, and Jerry L. Walls, 315-346. 2nd ed. Lynchburg, Virginia: Liberty University Press.

Lewis, C.S. 1980. “The Weight of Glory.” In The Weight of Glory and Other Addresses, 25-46. New York: Macmillan.

Lewis, C.S. 1952. “Hope.” In Mere Christianity, 118-121. New York: Macmillan.

Moral argument for God’s existence

Baggett, David and Jerry L. Walls. 2011. Good God: The Theistic Foundations of Morality. Oxford: Oxford University Press.

Craig, William Lane and Paul Kurtz. 2009. “The Kurtz/Craig Debate: Is Goodness without God Good Enough?” In Is Goodness without God Good Enough?: A Debate on Faith, Secularism, and Ethics, eds. Robert K. Garcia and Nathan L. King, 25-46. Lanham, Maryland: Roman and Littlefield.

Hare, John E. 1996. The Moral Gap: Kantian Ethics, Human Limits, and God’s Assistance. Oxford: Clarendon Press.

Lindville, Mark D. 2009. “The Moral Argument.” In The Blackwell Companion to Natural Theology, eds. William Lane Craig and J.P.

Moreland, 391-448. Oxford: Wiley-Blackwell.
Rogers, Katherin. 2005. “God and Moral Realism.” International Philosophical Quarterly 45(1):103-118.

Zagzebski, Linda. 1987. “Does Ethics Need God?” Faith and Philosophy 4(3): 294-303.

Arguments for God’s existence based on consciousness

Adams, Robert. 1987. “Flavors, Colors, and God.” In The Virtue of Faith and other Essays in Philosophical Theology, 243-262. Oxford: Oxford University Press.

Moreland, J.P. 2008. Consciousness and the Existence of God: A Theistic Argument. New York: Routledge.

Argument from beauty

Swinburne, Richard. 2004. The Existence of God. 2nd ed. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2004.

Wynn, Mark. 1999. “Providence and Beauty.” In God and Goodness: A Natural Theological Perspective, 11-36. New York: Routledge.

Arguments inspired by Berkeley’s immaterialist arguments for God’s existence

Adams, Robert. 2007. “Idealism Vindicated.” In Persons: Human and Divine, eds. Peter van Inwagen and Dean Zimmerman, 35-54. Oxford: Oxford University Press.

Spiegel, James S. 2016. “Idealism and the Reasonableness of Theistic Belief” In Idealism and Christian Philosophy: Idealism and Christian Truth, Volume 2, eds. Steven B. Cowan and James S. Spiegel, 11-28. New York: Bloomsbury.

Arguments for God’s existence that appeal to the laws of nature or the intelligibility of reality

Clarke, W. Norris. 2007. The Philosophical Approach to God: A New Thomistic Perspective. 2nd ed. New York: Fordham University Press.

Foster, John. 2004. The Divine Lawmaker: Lectures on Induction, Laws of Nature, and the Existence of God. Oxford: Clarendon Press.

General works pertaining to the philosophy of religion and natural theology

The following resources address the non-standard arguments we’ve mentioned above and others we have not mentioned; some of them discuss the standard arguments for God’s existence as well.

Adams, Robert. 1987. “Divine Necessity.” In The Virtue of Faith and other Essays in Philosophical Theology, 209-220. Oxford: Oxford University Press.

Craig, William Lane and J.P. Moreland, eds. 2009. The Blackwell Companion to Natural Theology. Oxford: Wiley-Blackwell.

Copan, Paul and Paul K. Moser, eds. 2003. The Rationality of Theism. New York: Routledge. (See Chapters 8-10)

Davies, Brian. 1992. The Thought of Thomas Aquinas, 31-33. Oxford: Clarendon Press. (See pp. 31-33 for “the existence argument”)

Davis, Stephen T. 1997. God, Reason and Theistic Proofs. Grand Rapids, Michigan: Eerdmans. (See Chapters 7 and 9)

Feser, Edward. 2017. Five Proofs of the Existence of God. San Francisco: Ignatius Press.

Fradd, Matt and Robert Delfino. 2018. “The Fourth Way: Argument From Degrees of Being.” In Does God Exist?: A Socratic Dialogue on the Five Ways of Thomas Aquinas, 69-82. St. Louis, Missouri: En Route Books and Media.

Geivett, R. Douglas and Brendan Sweetman, eds. 1993. Contemporary Perspectives on Religious Epistemology. Oxford: Oxford University Press.

Peterson, Michael L. and Raymond J. VanArragon, eds. 2019. Contemporary Debates in Philosophy of Religion. 2nd ed. Oxford: Wiley-Blackwell. (See Chapters 3-5)

Swinburne, Richard. 2004. The Existence of God. 2nd ed. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2004.

Taliaferro, Charles. 1998. Contemporary Philosophy of Religion: An Introduction. Oxford: Blackwell.

Walls, Jerry and Trent Dougherty, eds. 2018. Two Dozen (or so) Arguments for God: The Plantinga Project. Oxford: Oxford University Press.


  1. An accessible account of Pascal’s life and impressive accomplishments can be found in Thomas V. Morris, Making Sense of It All: Pascal and the Meaning of Life (Morris 1992).
  2. The wager was originally presented in Blaise Pascal’s posthumously published and incomplete book, Pensées (Pascal 1966, 149-155). The title of this book can be translated as Thoughts.
  3. Of course, Pascal thought there was good evidence for God’s existence (and for the truth of Christianity), but exploring that would take us too far out of our way.
  4. A discussion on the difficulties of advancing this sort of objection can be found in Philip L. Quinn’s essay, “Moral Objections to Pascalian Wagering” (Quinn 1994).
  5. Jeff Jordan explores prudential arguments presented by authors other than Pascal (for example, by J.S. Mill, James Beattie, H.H. Price, and others) in chapter 6 of his book (Jordan 2006, 166-198). One can also find a brief survey of Pascal-styled arguments in writers predating Pascal in John K. Ryan’s essay, “The Wager in Pascal and Others” (Ryan 1994). Also of interest here is Nicholas Rescher’s book, Pascal’s Wager: A Study of Practical Reasoning in Philosophical Theology (Rescher 1985).
  6. There have been attempts to verify and falsify religious experience in the field of cognitive science or neurobiology. To pursue that line of thought, one may explore the collection of essays dealing with both sides of this issue, The Believing Primate (Schloss 2009) and the book, The Neuroscience of Religious Experience (McNamara 2009). (Also, see Chapter 5 for more on the relationship between cognitive science and religious belief.)
  7. It is important to keep in mind that (for some philosophers) religious experience is not used in an argument for God’s existence. Rather, religious experience constitutes direct (non-inferential) grounds for believing in God’s existence (Plantinga 2000, 167-198). However, that very interesting distinction need not detract from our examination of religious experience as the basis of an argument for God’s existence.
  8. For more on the distinction between natural and artificial desires, see Peter Kreeft’s essay, “C.S. Lewis’ Argument from Desire” (Kreeft 1989, 250).
  9. These authors go on to respond to a common objection to the moral argument for God’s existence known as “the Euthyphro dilemma” (Baggett 2011, 31-48).
  10. In a similar line of thought, Del Ratzch advances an argument for the existence of God. However, his argument focuses on the subjunctive feature of the types of natural law statements that one finds in science (Ratzsch 1990).
  11. I wish to thank Wes English, Maggie Newman, Steven Soldi, and Kent Travis for reading and correcting earlier versions of this paper. Also, many thanks are owed to Beau Branson for his valuable editorial oversight and advice.

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