Philosophical theism

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Not to be confused with Classical theism, sometimes also called "philosophical theism".
Plato was by some reckonings an early proponent of philosophical theism.
Kurt Gödel, the eminent mathematical logician, composed a formal argument for God's existence.
Bust of Socrates in the Vatican Museum.

Philosophical theism is the belief that God exists (or must exist) independent of the teaching or revelation of any particular religion.[1] It represents belief in a personal God entirely without doctrine. Some philosophical theists are persuaded of God's existence by philosophical arguments, while others consider themselves to have a religious faith that need not be, or could not be, supported by rational argument.

Philosophical theism has parallels with the 18th century philosophical view called Deism.

Relationship to organized religion[edit]

Philosophical theism conceives of nature as the result of purposive activity and so as an intelligible system open to human understanding, although possibly never completely understandable. It implies the belief that nature is ordered according to some sort of consistent plan and manifests a single purpose or intention, however incomprehensible or inexplicable. However, philosophical theists do not endorse or adhere to the theology or doctrines of any organized religion or church. They may accept arguments or observations about the existence of God advanced by theologians working in some religious tradition, but reject the tradition itself. (For example, a philosophical theist might believe certain Christian arguments about God while nevertheless rejecting Christianity.)

Notable philosophical theists[edit]

  • Socrates (469-399 B.C.) was a classical Greek Athenian philosopher; he is the earliest known proponent of the teleological argument,[2] though it is questionable if he abandoned polytheism.
  • Plato (428-347 BC), a student of the Athenian sage Socrates, provided early medieval Christianity with a philosophical paradigm and is widely acknowledged as the father of Western philosophy. While his influence on theistic thought has been great, his own status as a theist is arguable.
  • Aristotle (384-322 BC) founded what are currently known as the "cosmological arguments" for a God (or "first cause").[3]
  • Marcus Tullius Cicero (106-43 BC) was a Roman philosopher, statesman, lawyer, political theorist, and Roman constitutionalist.
  • Immanuel Kant (1724–1804) was a German philosopher
  • Gottfried Wilhelm Leibniz (1646–1716) was an important German polymath, regarded as the father of digital computing. Although Leibniz embraced Christianity, as a philosopher he argued for the existence of God on purely philosophical grounds. Leibniz wrote: "Even by supposing the world to be eternal, the recourse to an ultimate cause of the universe beyond this world, that is, to God, cannot be avoided."[4]
  • Thomas Jefferson (1743–1826) was an American Founding Father who was the principal author of the United States Declaration of Independence, although he was a Unitarian, he argued for God's existence on teleological grounds without appeal to revelation.[5]
  • Nicolas Léonard Sadi Carnot (1796-1832) was a French military engineer and physicist, often described as the "father of thermodynamics". In his only publication, the 1824 monograph Reflections on the Motive Power of Fire, Carnot gave the first successful theory of the maximum efficiency of heat engines. Carnot's work attracted little attention during his lifetime, but it was later used by Rudolf Clausius and Lord Kelvin to formalize the second law of thermodynamics and define the concept of entropy.
  • Alfred Russel Wallace (1823–1913) was a British naturalist, biologist and co-discoverer of natural selection. Wallace later began to doubt his own theory of natural selection and advocated a teleological form of evolution, in a letter to James Marchant he wrote "The completely materialistic mind of my youth and early manhood has been slowly molded into the socialistic, spiritualistic, and theistic mind I now exhibit"[6]
  • Theodore Parker (1810-1860) was an American Unitarian minister, Trascendentalist, reformer, and abolitionist. Parker denied the virgin birth, the miracles, and the resurrection of Jesus. Parker's views were considered heretical by many within the Unitarian Church.
  • Charles Sanders Peirce (1839–1914) was an American philosopher, logician, mathematician, and scientist who sketches, for God's reality, an argument to a hypothesis of God as the Necessary Being[7]
  • Alfred North Whitehead (1861–1947) was a philosopher and non-theologian who found that following through on the development of an innovative philosophy led to the inclusion of God in the system.
  • Miguel de Unamuno (1864–1936) was a Spanish philosopher
  • Ralph Barton Perry (1876–1957) was an American philosopher
  • Kurt Gödel (1906–1978) was the preeminent mathematical logician of the twentieth century who described his theistic belief as independent of theology,[8] he also composed a formal argument for God's existence known as Gödel's ontological proof.
  • Martin Gardner[9](1914–2010) was a mathematics and science writer who defended philosophical theism and was actively hostile to some religious traditions because of their belief that God has performed miracles or revelations. Gardner believed that many liberal Protestant preachers, such as Harry Emerson Fosdick and Norman Vincent Peale, were really philosophical theists without admitting (or realizing) the fact.
  • Antony Flew (1923–2010) was an atheist philosopher who converted to philosophical theism on the basis of scientific discoveries and related reasoning, which had convinced him that there is an intelligent designer of the natural universe[10]


  1. ^ Swinburne, Richard (2001), Entry, "Philosophical Theism" in Phillips, D.Z. and T.Tessin (eds.), Philosophy of Religion in The 21st Century, Palgrave.
  2. ^ Xenophon, Memorabilia I.4.6; Franklin, James (2001). The Science of Conjecture: Evidence and Probability Before Pascal. Baltimore: Johns Hopkins University Press. p. 229. ISBN 978-0-8018-6569-5. 
  3. ^ Aristotle's Physics (VIII, 4–6) and Metaphysics (XII, 1–6)
  4. ^ Leibniz, G. W. (1697) On the ultimate origination of the universe.
  5. ^ To JOHN ADAMS vii 281 1823 Jefferson Cyclopedia, Foley 1900
  6. ^ When I was alive by Alfred Russel Wallace, THE LINNEAN 1995 VOLUME 11(2), pp. 9
  7. ^ Peirce (1908), "A Neglected Argument for the Reality of God", published in large part, Hibbert Journal v. 7, 90–112. Reprinted with an unpublished part, CP 6.452–85, Selected Writings pp. 358–79, EP 2:434–50, Peirce on Signs 260–78.
  8. ^ Wang 1996, pp. 104–105.
  9. ^ According to Gardner: "I am a philosophical theist. I believe in a personal god, and I believe in an afterlife, and I believe in prayer, but I don’t believe in any established religion. This is called philosophical theism.... Philosophical theism is entirely emotional. As Kant said, he destroyed pure reason to make room for faith." Carpenter, Alexander (2008), "Martin Gardner on Philosophical Theism, Adventists and Price" Interview, 17 October 2008, Spectrum.
  10. ^ My Pilgrimage from Atheism to Theism: an exclusive interview with former British atheist Professor Antony Flew by Gary Habermas, Philosophia Christi, Winter 2005.

See also[edit]