In 1882, Nietzsche wrote, “God is dead”, adding, in case you had hopes for another timely resurrection, “God remains dead.” You can quibble about what he meant, but at the very least the idea is that the Enlightenment put a dent in ordinary religious belief. The rise of reason, tolerance, and free-thinking at the expense of all sorts of established ideas, not least the authority of religion, meant that belief in God couldn’t be the unproblematic thing that it was.
So Friedrich would be alarmed to learn that, more than a century later, most people believe in something, apparently with no problem at all, and that something is probably God as traditionally conceived. According to a 2011 UK census, religion is alive and well in Britain, with nearly 60% of the population calling themselves Christian, 4.5% lining up with Islam, followed by smaller numbers of Hindus, Sikhs, Jains and Buddhists. Just 25% say they have no religion, but working out whether that means atheism is another matter. The Pew Centre found that 9 in 10 Americans believe in a “higher power”, and about half of them said that power was God as described in the Bible. Worldwide, the Pew Centre discovered that more than 8 in 10 people identify with a religious group. The planet supports about 2.2 billion Christians, 1.6 billion Muslims, a billion Hindus, half a billion Buddhists, 14 million Jews, plus many millions more practising what gets called “folk religions” or smaller faiths like Jainism and Sikhism. While many of these surveys show that orthodox or traditional views are slipping, one thing’s clear: God ain’t dead.
In this issue’s forum, we’ve asked philosophers with expertise in arguments for the existence of God to bring us bang up to date. What are the arguments, are they any good, and have they changed in recent years? (Surprisingly, they have.) We’ve left arguments against the existence of God for another time, but if you have no faith or if God isn’t your thing, don’t worry. There’s a lot more to interest you in this issue, but even so, arguments for the existence of God can bring with them a kind of warm, fuzzy nostalgia. Many of us first learned how to argue in an introductory philosophy class or a philosophy of religion seminar, mimicking Hume and Pascal, quoting Kant. Philosophy is at its best lining up arguments and scanning replies, and arguments for the existence of God have had the time to mellow and develop. Whether or not religion interests you, the arguments might, just for argument’s sake.