On Writers and Company on CBC radio today there is an interview with an author, a philosopher by trade, who has a book out "26 Arguments for the Existence of God."
My first response is that it is a commercial work pandering to the doubts and anxieties of the great unwashed who may actually buy this book.
Of course, you can define "God" in many ways and therefore you can discuss the existence of such an entity or spirit or whatever in a number of ways. In the end though, nothing conclusive can be said, for there is no evidence whatsoever to support the contention. I can hear the protests already. What about this, or that, they will say? It must inevitably regress to a discussion about what shall count as "evidence."
All such discussions require some discussion of this sort. How can you proceed, except with an agreement about what is going to count as evidence of something, anything?
The difference between something actually existing and, say, someone testifying that they have a "feeling" that something exists, or perhaps, reporting that they have had some experience that leads them to believe something exists, is precisely in the evidence that is on offer. If it involves feelings, or sensory experiences, supposedly had by someone, but which cannot be experienced by anyone else, or which cannot be observed independently, at any given time, say, is that, while that may be enough for the person who claims to have had the experience, it must leave others wondering at best, and at least, merely shrugging and moving on.
Bertrand Russell said, "We ought not to believe anything for which there is no evidence whatsoever."
If this seems materialistic, it is. The claim is about existence. A claim of existence requires material evidence, or what does existence possibly mean?
There need be no doubt if someone says, "I had a feeling." We need only reply, "That's nice" or "How sad," whatever is appropriate.
Their feelings don't alter the world of material things like medium-sized dry goods: people, cars, houses, rocks, etc On the other hand, evidence of "God," of a "God" in the ordinary sense of "God" - an all powerful being with will, personality, an agenda, etc., would alter the world as we know it and must therefore be taken notice of. So the discussion of evidence must be undertaken, lest the discussion dissolve into bickering and the disharmony of claims, counterclaims, skepticism and emotional outbursts.
That someone may make a statement of their beliefs is harmless, unless that requires something of others - that they refrain from doing something, say. If someone says, for example, pork should not be consumed, and as a result, pigs for food are made illegal then a response is necessary because a conflict has occurred. And what has been contentious in the past, has been when someone says, "I believe that it is contrary to God's law that x," and that claim has ramifications on others. That case seems to require some proof that there is a God. And that requires evidence of a material existence.
In addition, for reasonable people, some agreement about what constitutes "proof" is necessary also. Without that, disagreement can result in violent dispute, as has often occurred.
Now, any University course in Philosophy typically deals with concepts of proof and evidence and proper, valid arguments.
That some institutions, in an apparent attempt at undermining the process of reason, have arbitrarily made requirement of standards of evidence superfluous is a matter of history. Oral Roberts U, Brigham Young U., any Catholic university, or any religious sectarian university of any kind whatsoever, anywhere in the world, pre-empts unbiased skepticism by pre-supposing the texts of various works to be above examination, eg. the Qu'uran, the St. James Bible, the Talmud.
In practice the questioning of anything in these works is proscribed.
In practice, the discussion of the existence of God with any of the faithful is a complete waste of time, because the issue for them is already decided. No further discussion is possible,