Which Philosophers Believed in God?

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  • Many influential philosophers throughout history have believed in God’s existence.
  • Philosophers like Augustine, Aquinas, Descartes, Leibniz and Kant used reason and logic to argue for God.
  • Others like Kierkegaard, Wittgenstein and Weil based their belief more on intuition or personal experience.
  • Atheist philosophers like Hume and Nietzsche still dealt deeply with religious concepts.
  • The existence of God remains an important philosophical question discussed today.

What is the history of philosophers’ beliefs about God?

Throughout the history of philosophy, belief in God has been quite common. Many of the most influential philosophers and intellectual figures of the Western tradition have believed in some concept of God. However, the specific nature of their belief has varied greatly.

Some philosophers, like St. Augustine, St. Thomas Aquinas, Rene Descartes, Gottfried Leibniz and Immanuel Kant, used logic, reason and philosophical arguments to defend their belief in God’s existence. Others, like Søren Kierkegaard, Ludwig Wittgenstein and Simone Weil, considered their belief in God less rational and more based on intuition, personal revelation or existential truth. A few, like David Hume and Friedrich Nietzsche, criticized and rejected the traditional concept of God, but still dealt extensively with religious issues and concepts in their work.

The existence of God remains one of the most discussed philosophical questions today. While religious belief has declined in some circles, many leading philosophers continue to defend various concepts of God using rational arguments. The rich tradition of philosophical theism impacts discussions of metaphysics, ethics and epistemology.

How did Augustine and Aquinas influence philosophical beliefs about God?

St. Augustine (354-430) and St. Thomas Aquinas (c. 1225-1274) are considered two of the most influential philosophers in the Christian tradition. Both sought to better understand Christian concepts and articulate rational justifications for belief in God.

Augustine used Neoplatonist philosophy to defend the existence of a divine transcendent reality. In his Confessions, he described how God’s truth and perfection is imperfectly reflected in temporal created things. His approach shaped much medieval philosophy.

Aquinas argued that reason and faith could be mutually supportive. In his Summa Theologica, he presented five logical arguments for God’s existence using Aristotelian principles. For Aquinas, the order and causality evident in the world implies the necessity of a First Cause unmoved and unchanged, which he identified as God.

Augustine and Aquinas demonstrated how philosophical reasoning could lead to God. Their approaches represent philosophical theism – using rational arguments to defend religious belief. This influenced later philosophers like Anselm, Bonaventure, Duns Scotus and Meister Eckhart.

Did Descartes, Leibniz and other Rationalists believe in God?

The major 17th-18th century Rationalist philosophers, including Descartes, Leibniz and Spinoza, believed in God and thought His existence could be proven through logical reasoning.

Rene Descartes’ trademark phrase “I think, therefore I am” established human reason as the foundation of philosophy. After proving his own existence through reason, Descartes then argues logically for the necessary existence of a perfect God in his Meditations on First Philosophy.

Gottfried Leibniz claimed God was an infinitely perfect, necessary being whose essence implied existence. He presented a version of the cosmological argument, arguing the contingency of the universe required the existence of a necessary being as its cause. For Leibniz, this necessary being was God.

Baruch Spinoza equated God with the whole of nature, arguing for a kind of pantheism. He rejected traditional Judeo-Christian conceptions, instead asserting that everything unfolds from the divine with logical necessity. Despite his unorthodoxy, Spinoza still affirmed the centrality of God in his philosophical system.

Other Rationalists like Nicolas Malebranche and George Berkeley developed their philosophies in dialogue with Cartesian and Leibnizian ideas to produce distinct but theistic worldviews. Overall, they demonstrated the traction philosophical theism still had in the Enlightenment era.

What was Kant’s philosophical position on God?

Immanuel Kant (1724-1804) was a German Enlightenment philosopher whose influential work Critique of Pure Reason (1781) examined the grounds and limits of human knowledge. Though a Rationalist, Kant criticized traditional arguments for God’s existence. However, he still maintained a belief in God, virtue and immortality based on moral reasoning rather than speculative metaphysics.

Kant argued that God’s existence could not be proven theoretically using pure reason, critiquing the ontological argument made famous by Anselm. However, practical reason led Kant to affirm God, freedom and immortality as necessary postulates for grounding morality. His later work Religion Within the Boundaries of Mere Reason (1793) explored these ideas more fully.

Kant’s rational ethics required belief in a moral creator to align virtue with happiness. He believed philosophical reasoning by itself could not justify this belief fully, but could show it was logically consistent. For Kant, rational proofs were insufficient grounds for religious belief, which ultimately required a “leap of faith.”

How did existentialist philosophers view God?

Existentialist philosophers like Søren Kierkegaard, Ludwig Wittgenstein and Simone Weil believed in God, but considered this belief transcended by pure reason. Their theism relied more on passion, intuition and lived experience than logical arguments.

Kierkegaard stressed the importance of individual subjective experience of God over abstract proofs. He valued the “truth of the heart” over objective facts, emphasizing faith’s absurdity and defending religious belief as a passionate subjective commitment.

Wittgenstein, after his early Logical Positivist stage, saw religion addressing aspects of human existence left untouched by science. He valued mysticism and considered belief in God problematic to articulate but existentially vital. Wittgenstein embraced a kind of non-rational fideism grounded in the practicalities of life.

Simone Weil believed unconceptualized mystical experience provided the only direct connection with God’s truth. She warned against substituting neat philosophical abstractions for an authentic openness to transcendence grasped through imagination and beauty.

Did any atheist philosophers engage seriously with religious concepts?

While critics of religion like David Hume and Friedrich Nietzsche did not believe in God themselves, they took religious concepts seriously and subjected them to rigorous philosophical analysis.

Hume’s Dialogues Concerning Natural Religion (1779) presented powerful skeptical critiques of traditional arguments and conceptions of God. However, he acknowledged the psychological appeal of belief and the pragmatic function of religion in society. Though rejecting faith himself, Hume engaged thoughtfully with others’ beliefs.

Nietzsche proclaimed the “death of God” and criticized Christianity’s moral impact. But he recognized religion’s profound place in human culture and endeavored to find new philosophical meaning after the loss of faith. Nietzsche sought to imagine new existential possibilities, not just negate old beliefs.

Why does belief in God remain an important philosophical question today?

Though religious belief has declined in some arenas, philosophers continue arguing for God’s existence using logic and evidence. Contemporary religious apologists like Alvin Plantinga, William Lane Craig and Richard Swinburne update traditional arguments to defend theism. Some argue advances in physics and cosmology strengthen the case for God as First Cause or Designer.

Critics argue the problem of evil, hiddenness and lack of physical evidence undercut theism. Skeptical philosophers like J.L. Mackie, Quentin Smith and Michael Martin employ both new and old arguments to challenge inferences to supernatural agency or purpose in explaining existence.

God’s existence thus remains a vital topic in metaphysics. The question also extends to ethics, as moral realism requires explaining binding duties in terms of natural or theological realities. Epistemology must consider whether religious belief can reflect knowledge. The concept of God continues sparking lively philosophical debate.


Belief in God has a long and rich tradition in Western philosophy. From Augustine to Aquinas and Descartes to Kant, many influential philosophers have defended various concepts of God using reason and argument. Others, like Kierkegaard and Wittgenstein, embraced God based more on experiential insight.

Skeptics like Hume and Nietzsche criticized yet engaged seriously with religious ideas. God’s existence remains a significant philosophical question occupying thinkers today. The intersection of philosophy and religion provides a fascinating arena for ongoing dialogue.

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