Review of Yujin Nagasawa’s ‘The Existence of God: A Philosophical Introduction’ (2011)

Yujin Nagasawa, a Professor of the Philosophy of Religion at the University of Birmingham, and his book The Existence of God: A Philosophical Introduction (2011) provide a treatment of various arguments that seek to prove the existence of God. It also offers arguments that attempt to disprove the existence of God. It gives the typical treatment of arguments common in the philosophy of religion. At least three such arguments are treated in detail. 

First, we have the “armchair proof of the existence of God” section focusing on the ontological argument(s). What is helpful here is that Nagasawa does not limit his analysis to Anselm (who is the major representative of this argument) as many tend to do, but also brings Descartes and Gödel into the discussion. Descartes offered two versions of the ontological argument for God’s existence that do not always find treatment in books on the philosophy of religion. 

A large section is on design arguments (p. 46-101). This looks at the history of design arguments, several expressions of the argument (from Thomas Aquinas, William Paley, Cicero, and others), the major claims/arguments of Intelligent Design (ID) proponents (“irreducible complexity” and “specified complexity”), and the evolution versus the intelligent design hypothesis and debate. He engages several controversies from the intelligent design debacle around school education and the Scopes Trial to the release of the controversial Wedge documents and why almost all scientists do not consider ID scientific. Nagasawa also offers a breakdown of Judge Jones’ verdict on ID. Jones adjudicated that the introduction of intelligent design in biology classes violates the Establishment Clause. Nagasawa examines this judgment and shows why it largely misrepresented ID’s position.

Third, we have the section on cosmological arguments (p. 102-152). We receive a tour of Big Bang cosmology, the concept of infinity, the history of the cosmological argument, and the Kalām cosmological argument. Parts of this section are arguably the most difficult, especially the topic of infinity for those of us who have not previously been introduced to this area of philosophy. But generally, the chapter is helpful and effectively breaks down William Lane Craig’s Kalām cosmological argument as well as objections to it. 

How does Nagasawa state the arguments for and against God’s existence? Often he simply presents the arguments as certain thinkers have stated them and then includes responses from others to those arguments. Nagasawa then discusses the merits of these arguments and sometimes as contemporary philosophers view them. But the book is not entirely absent of Nagasawa’s own views. For instance, it appears that he goes to some length to defend the ontological argument among others.

The strength of Nagasawa’s title is that it spends large amounts of time and space engaging the ontological, design, and cosmological arguments for God. Of the 190 or so pages (minus the thirty allotted to endnotes and references), these enjoy 150 pages of exposition which means significant attention is given to them. One thing I would have liked more is the presentation of syllogisms that break down the arguments into deductive or abductive premises. There are a few of them but not nearly on the scale as those helpfully provided by Chad Meister in his book on the subject.

Certainly the weakest aspect to Nagasawa’s title is his conclusion that he jam packs with numerous arguments for and against God (p. 153-160). I counted five additional arguments for and roughly five against God’s existence. For God we have the fine-tuning and moral arguments, the argument from consciousness and religious experience, and Pascal’s wager. Arguments against God include criticism regarding the coherency of God’s attributes, God’s inability to “sin”, concept possession, the logical and evidential arguments from evil, and from divine hiddenness. Incredibly, Nagasawa packs ten huge arguments into no more than six or seven pages. These arguments are anemic in comparison to the three major ones to which most of the book was dedicated. It is a poor end to the work and it felt as if Nagasawa lost interest in the topic and ended it as quickly as possible. It would have been better if he just excluded mentioning these arguments altogether.

So what can we say in conclusion? If you are looking for a treatment of the ontological, design, and cosmological arguments for God’s existence, then Nagasawa’s The Existence of God: A Philosophical Introduction will satisfy. Anything beyond that will lead readers to disappointment.

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