Many sane, educated and generally trustworthy people claim not only that God exists but also that they have genuine knowledge, including justified true belief, that God exists. Because claims are typically cheap and easy, however, the claim to know that God exists will prompt the following response, usually sooner rather than later: How do they know? ¶ This common four-word question, although irksome at times, is perfectly intelligible and even valuable, as far as it goes. It seeks an explanation of how the belief that God exists exceeds mere belief, or opinion, and achieves the status of genuine knowledge. In particular, this question typically seeks an explanation of how, if at all, the belief that God exists is grounded, justified, reasonable, or evidence-based regarding affirmations of truth. ¶ A plausible goal behind our four-word question is, at least for many inquirers, to acquire truth in a manner that includes an adequate indication of true belief. These truth-seeking inquirers aim not only to avoid false belief and lucky guesswork, but also to minimize the risk of error in their beliefs (at least in a way befitting to the acquisition of truth). We should aim for the same, as people who seek truth but who are faced sometimes with facts and other realities at odds with our opinions. In seeking truth about God’s existence, in particular, we thus should seek truth based on evidence for God’s reality. Such evidence, if available, would indicate that it is true that God exists, or (in other words) that God is real rather than fictional.
In treating any questions about God’s existence, we do well to begin with some clarity regarding what (or whom) we are asking about: in this case, God’s existence. Are we asking about a morally indefinite but strikingly powerful creator? Many academic writers on theism, “mere theism,” deism, atheism, agnosticism and related philosophical positions inquire about the existence of such a creator, whatever the creator’s moral character may be. The creator in question may turn out to be an evil tyrant or at least a morally indifferent slouch. Such inquiry, however earnest and rigorous in its search for a creator, may rest on a misleading bias regarding God’s character and would thus be significantly different from inquiry about the existence of a God who is worthy of worship, who is morally perfect, including being perfectly loving toward all persons.
In keeping with a prominent traditional usage, we can fruitfully use the term God as a most exalted title rather than as a name. Part of the value of using the title thus is that it allows us to engage some central theological concerns of traditional monotheism (particularly of Judaism, Christianity and Islam) without arbitrarily dismissing atheists and agnostics by a naming fiat. For better or worse, people cannot name or postulate God into existence by refusing to imagine that God does not exist. Likewise, people cannot define or postulate God out of existence, as if a mere definition could block the actual existence of God. A god worthy or worship would not be at the linguistic mercy of people in any such way. The title God, on the proposed usage, signifies a being worthy of worship, even if such a being fails to exist and thus even if the title fails to refer to an actual being.