bookmark_borderKreeft’s Case for God – Part 22: Kreeft’s Reply

MY BAIT-AND-SWITCH OBJECTION
In Part 21 I reiterated a criticism of Kreeft’s case for the existence of God that has been a theme in my critique:  very few, if any, of Kreeft’s twenty arguments are actually arguments for the existence of God, thus Chapter 3 of Handbook of Christian Apologetics (hereafter: HCA) appears to be one big bait-and-switch ploy.
Although it would be unreasonable to insist that Christian apologists prove that there is ONE being that possesses ALL of the many characteristics that Christians believe God to have, there are some basic divine attributes that a case for the existence of God should show are possessed by ONE being.  In order to be “God”, a being must be:

  • an eternally bodiless person
  • an eternally omnipotent (all-powerful) person
  • an eternally omniscient (all-knowing) person
  • an eternally perfectly morally good person
  • a person who is the creator of the universe

Kreeft does repeatedly attempt to show that there is a being who is the designer of the universe, but none of his arguments show that such a being exists.  Even if  one of Kreeft’s arguments did actually succeed in showing that there was an intelligent designer of some part or aspect of the universe, this does not imply that there is a person who is the creator of the universe.  First, evidence of a designer does not imply that there is JUST ONE designer of the entire universe.  Second, even if we knew that there was just one designer, this does not imply that this designer also CREATED the universe.   Designing something is not the same as making that something.  Third, the existence of a designer or creator of the universe in the distant past does not imply that such a being still exists today.
Furthermore, a designer of the universe is not necessarily a bodiless person, and is not necessarily an eternal person, and is not necessarily an omnipotent person, nor an omniscient person.  And the many problems of evil indicate that if there is a designer of the universe, that designer was either not omniscient or not omnipotent or not a perfectly morally good person.  The argument from design actually casts doubt on the existence of God, when we take into account the problems of evil in the apparent “design” of the universe.
There are very few arguments presented by Kreeft that even attempt to show the existence of a being who is a bodiless person, or who is an omnipotent person, or an omniscient person, or who is a perfectly morally good person.  In the first dozen arguments presented by Kreeft, there is only ONE argument for the existence of a bodliess person, only ONE argument for the existence of a person who is the creator of the universe, ZERO arguments for an omnipotent person, ZERO arguments for an omniscient person, and ZERO arguments for a perfectly morally good person (click on the image below for a clearer view of the chart):

 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
Finally, there is not a single argument that even attempts to show that there is a being who possesses three or more of the above basic divine attributes.  Thus, there is not a single argument in Kreeft’s twenty arguments that actually ATTEMPTS to prove the existence of God.  Therefore, it is highly misleading for Kreeft to call Chapter 3: “Twenty Arguments for the Existence of God”.  It would be much more accurate to label Chapter 3: “Zero Arguments for the Existence of God.”
 
KREEFT’S DEFENSE OF THE LOGIC OF HIS CASE FOR GOD
Kreeft has some awareness of this objection to his case for God, for he makes a few comments that indicate an awareness of the sort of objection that I am calling my bait-and-switch criticism.  In this post I will examine some of Kreeft’s comments that are relevant to my bait-and-switch objection.
In a nutshell, Kreeft’s reply to the sort of objection that I have repeatedly raised is that his twenty arguments form a cumulative case for the existence of God.  It is the whole collection of arguments, taken together, that prove the existence of God, or that show the existence of God to be highly probable, not individual arguments:
Not all of the arguments are equally demonstrative.  One (Pascal’s Wager) is not an argument for God at all, but an argument for faith in God as a “wager”.  Another (the ontological argument) we regard as fundamentally flawed; … Others (the argument from miracles, the argument from religious experience and the common consent argument) claim only strong probability, not demonstrative certainty.  We have included them because they form a strong part of a cumulative case.  We believe that only some of these arguments, taken individually and separately, demonstrate the existence of a being that has some of the properties only God can have (no argument proves all of the divine attributes); but all twenty taken together, like a twined rope, make a very strong case.
(HCA, p. 49-50, emphasis added)
Kreeft clearly believes that SOME of his arguments “claim demonstrative certainty” in showing “the existence of a being that has some of the properties only God can have…”.  Such an argument could prove that God exists, but ONLY IF the properties or divine attributes in question were proven to be “properties only God can have”.  If only God can have the property of omnipotence, for example, then proving the existence of an omnipotent person would be sufficient to prove the existence of God.
But Kreeft never argues that being “eternal” is a property “only God can have”.  Kreeft never argues that being “bodiless” (or immaterial) is a property “only God can have”, and Kreeft never argues that being “the creator” is a property “only God can have”.  Furthermore, it seems fairly obvious that these are not properties “only God can have”, so proving the existence of a person who is eternal would not prove that God exists.  Proving the existence of a person who is bodiless would not prove that God exists, and proving the existence of a person who is the creator of the universe would not prove that God exists.
By combining all of his arguments together, Kreeft could, in theory, show that there exists a being or person who has MANY of the basic divine attributes.  However, there are at least three serious problems with the cumulative case that Kreeft has actually provided:

  1. Most of his arguments do not attempt to show the existence of a person with ANY of the basic divine attributes. The chart above shows that eight out of the first twelve arguments in his case don’t attempt to show the existence of a person with ANY of the basic divine attributes (see the rows for Arguments 1 & 2, 4 & 5, 8, 9, 10, and 12).
  2. A number of the basic divine attributes are not touched upon by Kreeft’s arguments, or are supported by only one argument.  The chart above shows that in the first twelve arguments ZERO of them attempt to show that there is a person who is omnipotent, or a person who is omniscient, or a person who is perfectly morally good, and the chart also shows that only ONE of the first twelve arguments attempts to show that there is a bodiless person, and only ONE of the first twelve arguments attempts to show that there is a person who is the creator.
  3. Additional argumentation is needed to show that there is JUST ONE being that possesses the various basic divine attributes.  But Kreeft does not argue for this assumption.  He simply ASSUMES that all of his arguments are about the same being or person.   Furthermore, it is fairly obvious that many of the attributes could be possessed by a person who was not God, because it is possible to have one divine attribute without having all of the other divine attributes.  One could, for example, be the creator of the universe but not be an omniscient person, and not be a perfectly morally good person.

In the first twelve arguments presented by Kreeft, only one argument attempts to show the existence of a person who has more than one of the basic divine attributesArgument #6 attempts to show that there is an eternal person who is the creator of the universe.  Yet Kreeft admits that this argument falls short of establishing many divine attributes:
Of course, the kalam argument does not prove everything Christians believe about God, but what proof does?  Less than everything, however, is far from nothing.  And the kalam argument proves something central to the Christian belief in God: that the universe is not eternal and without beginning; that there is a Maker of heaven and earth.
(HCA, p.60, emphasis added)
Proving that there is an eternal person who is the creator of the universe, however, does not show that there is a JUST ONE person who has ALL of the basic divine attributes.  Proving that there is a person who is eternal and who created the universe does NOT prove that God exists, because the creator of the universe (a) might not be omnipotent, (b) might not be omniscient, (c) might not be a perfectly morally good person. 
Furthermore, although Kreeft is right that it would be unreasonable to expect a Christian apologist to prove that there exists a being who has ALL of the characteristics that Christians ascribe to God, it is not unreasonable to expect a Christian apologist to prove that there exists a being who has ALL of the basic divine attributes, and it is certainly reasonable to expect a Christian apologist to prove that there is a being who has MOST of the basic divine attributes.  The kalam argument, as presented by Kreeft, fails to do this, and Kreeft’s cumulative case for God also fails to do this.
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UPDATE 4/25/18
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I have added the rest of Kreeft’s arguments, specifically Argument #13 through Argument #20, to a chart showing which of the basic divine attributes, if any, each argument attempts to support.  The chart shows that one argument, Argument #13, attempts to prove the existence of a person who is omnipotent, omniscient, and perfectly morally good.  The chart also shows that Argument #14 through Argument #20 do not attempt to show that there is a being with ANY of the basic divine attributes:

 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
Other than Argument #13, the rest of the arguments that I have added into this chart are of little worth in terms of making a cumulative case for the existence of a person who has ALL (or MOST) of the basic divine attributes.  However, Argument #13 looks like it could potentially rescue Kreeft’s cumulative case from being a complete failure, because it provides an argument for three basic divine attributes that no other argument in Kreeft’s collection supports.
Argument #13 is the Ontological Argument for God.  Specifically, Plantinga’s version of the Ontological argument concludes that “there actually exists…an omnipotent, omniscient, morally perfect being.” (HCA, p.72)  However, Argument #13 is of no help to Peter Kreeft, because he (and his co-author Ronald Tacelli) admit that this argument is no good:
Another (the Ontological Argument) we regard as fundamentally flawed… (HCA, p. 49)
The ONE argument that had the potential to rescue Kreeft’s cumulative case from being a complete failure, is an argument that Kreeft tells us is a “fundamentally flawed” argument.  I agree with Kreeft and Tacelli that the Ontological argument is fundamentally flawed, so I must conclude that Kreeft’s cumulative case for the existence of God is a complete failure.

bookmark_borderKreeft’s Case for God – Part 2: Tossing Out Four More Arguments

KREEFT’S CREDIBILITY PROBLEM
To focus in on the alleged flaws and failings of an arguer, as opposed to the alleged flaws and failings of his/her arguments is generally to be avoided, and can amount to the fallacy of ad hominem.
However,  the CREDIBILITY of an arguer can affect the persuasive force of an argument, so credibility should not be completely ignored.  Part of the reason why I have chosen to focus on Peter Kreeft’s case for God, is that he is a well-known Christian apologist, and he has studied and taught and published on philosophy of religion, Christian apologetics, and  Christian theology.  Kreeft is an established professor of philosophy,  not an uneducated Bible-thumping evangelist from Oklahoma.  Kreeft has devoted his life to study and teaching about the rational defense of basic Christian beliefs, such as the belief that “God exists”.  So, Kreeft steps into the spotlight with a significant degree of credibility.
Given that Kreeft has done extensive study and teaching and writing on philosophy of religion and Christian apologetics, his case for God, his collection of arguments for the existence of God, deserves respect, at least initially.  Given that he is clearly motivated to make a strong case for the existence of God, we may reasonably assume that he has selected what he takes to be the very best arguments available to support this claim.  Given that he is an established professor of philosophy who has done extensive study, teaching, and writing on philosophy of religion and Christian apologetics,  we may reasonably expect that his judgment as to which arguments for God are strongest and best is better than most people, who are less well-informed on this subject.  His judgment on this matter should be given significant respect, at least initially.
However, we saw in the first post of this series that four out of the twenty arguments (i.e. 20% of his arguments) could be tossed aside immediately, based on admissions by Kreeft himself about serious flaws and weaknesses in those arguments.  This is a problem for Kreeft’s credibility.  Four out of the twenty arguments go down in flames before they even get out of the starting gates.
Why does Kreeft waste our time with these four crappy arguments?  Why not edit them out and focus instead on presenting the other sixteen arguments more clearly and fully?  If four of the arguments are DOA, based on Kreeft’s own admissions of problems with those arguments, then perhaps many more of the twenty arguments are also crappy.  We clearly DON’T have a set of twenty strong and solid arguments, since at least four arguments are unworthy of serious consideration, so how many more of the arguments will turn out to be weak and pathetic?
In this second post, I will show that at least four more of the arguments in Kreeft’s list are crappy and pathetic arguments, thus supporting the conclusion that at least eight of the twenty arguments are very weak and flawed arguments.  That is close to half of the whole collection (i.e. 40%, to be precise), and if I am correct about this point, then that destroys any bit of intellectual credibility that Kreeft had initially, at the start of this exercise.
If at least eight out of twenty arguments are CRAP, then either Kreeft has very poor judgment about the strength of arguments for the existence of God, or else Kreeft was willing to greatly lower his standards and scrape the bottom of the barrel just to be able to put forward  a list of twenty arguments for God.  In either case, it would clearly be a serious intellectual failure by Kreeft to put forward a case for God consisting of these twenty arguments.
Looking over the list of arguments, it is interesting to note that the first four arguments that we tossed out based on Kreeft’s own admissions, are ALL in the second half of the full set of arguments.  This suggests that Kreeft had attempted to put his best foot forward by placing his best arguments in the first half of the set of twenty, and his worst arguments in the second half of the collection.  Having glanced over all of the arguments in his case, it seems to me that this is indeed what Kreeft has done.
I suspect that ALL twenty of these arguments have significant flaws and errors in them, but it seems fairly clear to me that the last ten arguments are especially crappy, especially pathetic, and are more obviously flawed than the first ten arguments.  Kreeft is wasting our time with the second half of his set of arguments.  His credibility is shot, as far as I am concerned, because he should have chucked the last ten arguments into the garbage can, and focused his time and effort on constructing clearer and fuller presentations  of the first ten arguments in this collection.
 
WE MAY REASONABLY TOSS ASIDE FOUR MORE ARGUMENTS
The last ten arguments in Kreeft’s  collection of twenty arguments are, in my view, very weak and very flawed arguments; they are unworthy of serious consideration, and they fail to add significant weight to his cumulative case for the existence of God.  In the first post of this series I argued that four of those last ten arguments could be tossed aside right away based on admissions by Kreeft of serious flaws and weaknesses in those arguments.  The case for tossing aside another four of those last ten arguments is not in general based on Kreeft’s own admissions, so I will have to make the case myself, based on problems that I see in these four arguments:
15. The Argument from Conscience
16. The Argument from Desire
17. The Argument from Aesthetic Experience
18. The Argument from Religious Experience
 
THE ARGUMENT FROM AESTHETIC EXPERIENCE
Let’s start with the Argument from Aesthetic Experience, because this example, all by itself, pretty much destroys what remains of Kreeft’s credibility:
There is the music of Johann Sebastian Bach.
Therefore there must be a God.
WTF?!  Is Kreeft serious?  Sadly, this is NOT a joke.  This is one of his twenty arguments.
This reasoning appears to be a non sequitur. We can, however, add a premise to make the argument logically valid:

1. There is the music of Johann Sebastian Bach.

2. If there is the music of Johann Sebastian Bach, then God exists.

THEREFORE:

3. God exists.

OK.  Clearly premise (1) is true.  No problem there.
But premise (2) is highly dubious.  This unstated premise clearly needs to be supported and defended.
So, does Kreeft provide a short essay supporting and defending premise (2)?  No, he doesn’t.  Does Kreeft write a paragraph or two defending premise (2)?  No, again he does not do that.  Does Kreeft provide ANY REASON WHATSOEVER in support of premise (2)?  Nope, he makes no attempt to support or defend it.  Kreeft provides ZERO reasons in support of premise (2).  He writes only one single sentence about this argument, making this inane comment: “You either see this one or you don’t.”
Wow.  Upon presenting this little turd of an argument, Kreeft immediately abandons it, making no effort whatsoever to support or defend the dubious unstated assumption of his argument.  Kreeft is clearly wasting our time here, and demonstrating his poor judgement and lack of discernment. Flush this argument into the sewer.  Five arguments down, fifteen to go.
 
PROBLEMS WITH THE CONCLUSIONS OF THE OTHER THREE ARGUMENTS
The other three arguments (in the second set of four crappy arguments) all share the same serious flaw: their conclusions are VAGUE and UNCLEAR:
…something superior to me [exists].  (HCA, p.75)
…something more than nature [exists]… (HCA, p.81)
…there exists a “divine” reality… (HCA, p.82)
NONE of these three arguments ends with the clear and straightforward conclusion that “God exists”.  Instead, we are given the above VAGUE and UNCLEAR statements.
But the question at issue is NOT whether there is something superior to us humans, nor is the question at issue whether there is something more than nature or natural phenomena, nor is the question whether there is a “divine” reality (whatever that means).  The question here is: “Does God exist?”  So, I am only interested in arguments that end with the conclusion “God exists” (or “God does NOT exist.”).
The fact that these three arguments have such VAGUE and UNCLEAR conclusions is by itself a sufficient reason to toss these arguments aside, as being too flawed to be worthy of serious consideration.  Furthermore, it seems fairly obvious that even if we grant all three conclusions, it would still not follow that it is PROBABLE that God exists.  There are just too many other possibilities besides theism that would correspond with, or be logically compatible with, these three vague claims.
Note that although the claimed existence of “divine” reality seems like it implies the existence of God, it does not in fact imply this, especially given Kreeft’s clarification about this argument (i.e. the Argument from Religious Experience):
Does such experience prove that an intelligent Creator-God exists?  On the face of it this seems unlikely.  For such a God does not seem to be the object of all experiences called “religious”.  (HCA, p.82)
In other words, since “religious experiences” are sometimes taken to be experiences of God (i.e. an intelligent Creator-God), but are in other cases taken to be experiences of other sorts of sacred entities or forces, the Argument from Religious Experience cannot be used to provide significant support for the specific religious belief in theism, as opposed to showing the existence of other kinds of supernatural entities or forces.
The fact that the conclusions of these three arguments are VAGUE and UNCLEAR provides us with a good reason to toss these arguments aside as unworthy of serious consideration.  Furthermore, there are a number of other serious problems with these three arguments that point to the same conclusion.
 
THE ARGUMENT FROM CONSCIENCE
It is not just the conclusion of the Argument from Conscience that is vague and unclear.  Each of its premises is also vague and unclear.  Part of the unclarity of the conclusion of this argument comes from the vague and unclear term “superior”.  But this word (or the related word “inferior”) is used in each premise of the argument.  Kreeft makes no attempt to clarify or define what the terms “superior” or “inferior” mean.
But these are vague and unclear words.  Something can be “superior” to something else in many different ways, and in various combinations of those different ways.  One being might be more intelligent than another being, or more powerful than another being, or more beautiful than another being, or more kind, or more just, or richer, or faster, or more durable, etc.   The claims that “X is better than Y” or that “X is superior to Y” are so unclear that there is simply no rational way to determine whether such a claim is true or false.  This is a second good reason to toss out the Argument from Conscience.
Another serious problem with the Argument from Conscience is that Kreeft does not provide a definition or clarification of what he means by the word “conscience”, so the central concept of this argument is left vague and unclear.  This is a third good reason to toss aside this argument.
The various problems of clarity with the Argument from Conscience provide ample reason to toss out this argument as unworthy of serious consideration.  However, I am going to go ahead and take the time to consider (and reject) a basic premise of this argument. A basic premise of the Argument from Conscience is FALSE, given a plausible interpretation of “conscience”.
Here is a dubious premise of the Argument from Conscience (expressed in three different ways):
…there remains [at least] one moral absolute for everyone: never disobey your own conscience. (HCA, p.74)
…[any person’s conscience has] the right to demand absolute obedience [from that person]… (HCA, p.74)
…[a person’s conscience issues] rightful demands for complete obedience [from that person]… (HCA, p.75)
Kreeft is endowing human consciences with tremendous authority here, with god-like authority, in order to make it seem implausible that this tremendous authority could be grounded in something as fallible and as morally imperfect as a human being or a society of human beings.  If conscience has god-like authority, then that makes it seem reasonable to ground the authority of a human conscience in God.
But conscience does NOT have the tremendous or god-like authority that Kreeft asserts it to have.  His basic premise is FALSE, or at least UNREASONABLE, if we assume that “conscience” means “a person’s sense of right and wrong”.  For although it is reasonable to encourage people to pay attention to their sense of right and wrong, it is unreasonable to encourage people to “never disobey” their sense of right and wrong, and to believe that they owe “absolute obedience” or “complete obedience” to their own sense of right and wrong.
I’m reminded of the saying about the (supposed) duty of soldiers to give absolute and complete obedience to the orders of their superiors:
Theirs not to reason why,
Theirs but to do and die:
(from Alfred, Lord Tennyson’s poem “The Charge of the Light Brigade“)
It is unreasonable to demand “absolute” and “complete” obedience to one’s conscience, because our sense of right and wrong is just as fallible and subject to prejudice and irrationality as are human beliefs and opinions in general.  Suppose that some ignorant shithead raised by Nazi parents in Germany in the 1930s came to believe that it was his moral duty to kill as many Jews as possible.  This person’s sense of right and wrong is all screwed up, so should we insist that this shithead give “absolute” and “complete” obedience to his screwed up conscience? Obviously not.
Ignorance, prejudice, cultural bias, stupidity, and other forms of irrationality infect and affect our sense of right and wrong, just like every other kind of opinion and judgment.  Although we ought to give serious consideration to our own sense of right and wrong, we also ought to be skeptical about our own sense of right and wrong, just as we ought to be skeptical about our own beliefs, opinions, and intuitions about any other important issues.
Yes, one should pay attention to one’s sense of right and wrong, but one also ought to be willing to question one’s own beliefs, opinions, and intuitions about moral issues, and to think more deeply and carefully about those beliefs and opinions.  In some cases, thinking carefully and deeply about those beliefs and opinions will lead one to doubt or even to completely reject one’s former beliefs and opinions.  Such skepticism and critical thinking is something we should encourage, not discourage.
It seems clear to me that the claim that we each owe absolute and complete obedience to our own sense of right and wrong  is FALSE or UNREASONABLE.  Our human consciences are fallible and subject to distortion by irrational influences, so we ought to exercise a degree of caution and skepticism about our own sense of right and wrong.  Human conscience does NOT have the tremendous and god-like authority that Kreeft claims it to have.
The Argument from Conscience (a) has a very vague and unclear conclusion, (b) fails to conclude that “God exists”, (c) has a number of premises that are also vague and unclear (because of the unclear and undefined key terms “superior” and “inferior”), (d) is focused around an unclear and undefined concept (“conscience”), and (e) the basic premise of the argument is FALSE or UNREASONABLE, given a plausible interpretation of the term “conscience”.  Because of the multiple problems of UNCLARITY, and the likely falsehood of the main premise, we have many good reasons to toss this argument aside.  It is too weak and flawed to provide any significant support for the claim that “God exists”.  Six arguments down, fourteen to go.
 
THE ARGUMENT FROM RELIGIOUS EXPERIENCE
The conclusion of the Argument from Religious Experience is unacceptably vague and unclear:
…there exists a “divine” reality… (HCA, p.82)
Kreeft makes it clear that this conclusion does NOT mean that “God exists”; however, he fails to explain what this conclusion DOES mean.  Kreeft makes no attempt to define what he means by the phrase “a ‘divine’ reality.”  The conclusion of this argument is vague and unclear, and this by itself gives us sufficient reason to toss the Argument from Religious Experience aside, as being unworthy of serious consideration.
Furthermore, this is not the only problem of unclarity in the Argument from Religious Experience.  The main premise of this argument is also vague and unclear:
Many people of different eras and of widely different cultures claim to have had an experience of the “divine.”  (HCA, p.82)
Because it is unclear what Kreeft means by the phrase “an experience of the ‘divine’ “, it is not possible to rationally evaluate the truth or falsehood of this key factual premise.  This unclarity in a key premise is by itself a sufficient reason to toss aside this argument.  But we now have three good reasons to conclude that this argument is unworthy of serious consideration: (a) the conclusion of the argument is NOT that “God exists”, (b) the conclusion of the argument is vague and unclear, and (c) the meaning of a key premise in this argument is vague and unclear.  So, we have ample reason to simply toss this argument out.
Furthermore, there are other general problems with Kreeft’s presentation of this argument that provide good reason to ignore the Argument from Religious Experience.  There are some obvious and serious objections that any thoughtful person would raise against the Argument from Religious Experience:

  • Religious experiences support conflicting religious beliefs and conflicting religious belief systems.
  • Religious experiences appear to be strongly shaped by cultural and ideological influences (Christians have visions of Jesus, Muslims have visions of Muhammad, Catholics have visions of Mary, but few Protestants have visions of Mary).
  • When religious experiences support specific and detailed beliefs, then they can often be empirically disconfirmed, or shown to be in conflict with other beliefs supported by religious experiences (e.g. Jesus will return to rule the world in 1844).
  • When religious experiences provide support only for vague or general beliefs, then they are more difficult to empirically disconfirm, but even so they can sometimes be shown to be in conflict with general beliefs supported by other religious experiences (e.g. the supreme being is a person vs. the supreme being is an impersonal force).

Peter Kreeft makes no attempt to answer any of these obvious and serious objections to the Argument from Religious Experience.
He doesn’t even mention these objections.  I will not argue here that these objections are strong enough to refute this argument, but my point is that Kreeft’s presentation of this argument is so deficient, that it is not worth the time and effort to try to rationally evaluate this argument.  No intelligent critical thinking person would be persuaded by an Argument from Religious Experience when the arguer completely fails to respond to any of these obvious and serious objections.   We should simply ignore this crappy argument and Kreeft’s crappy defense of the argument.   Seven arguments down, thirteen to go.
 
THE ARGUMENT FROM DESIRE
Before I point out more serious flaws and problems with the Argument from Desire, I want to say something positive about Kreeft’s presentation of this argument: he does a much better job of presenting and defending this argument than with the seven arguments that we have tossed aside so far.  The substance of his presentation and defense is still flawed and mistaken, but the form of it is good: (a) he makes a significant effort to clarify some key concepts in the argument, (b) he addresses some objections that could be raised against the argument, and (c) he provides some reasons and arguments in support of premises that are controversial or challenged by the objections.
Unlike with the other arguments that we have tossed aside, Kreeft makes an real effort to stand by this argument; he does not simply abandon the argument without putting up a fight.   If Kreeft had tossed out the crappy last ten arguments in his collection, and if he clarified, supported, and defended the first ten arguments in the way that he does the Argument from Desire, then he probably could have at least maintained his CREDIBILITY as a professional philosopher of religion.
Nevertheless, despite his better effort here, the flaws and weaknesses of the Argument from Desire provide good reason to toss this argument aside.  I have already pointed out that the conclusion of this argument is NOT that “God exists”:
…something more than nature [exists]… (HCA, p.81)
This is really an argument against naturalism, and for supernaturalism.  The actual, but unstated, conclusion of this argument is that something supernatural exists.  The vagueness of this conclusion is sufficient reason by itself to toss this argument aside as being unworthy of serious consideration.  This is NOT an argument for the existence of God.
Another serious problem with this argument is the unclarity and dubiousness of the main factual premise:
Every natural, innate desire in us corresponds to some real object that can satisfy that desire. (HCA, p.78)
This is a very interesting claim, so I am tempted to dive in and analyze and evaluate the truth of this claim.  However, my aim here is not to refute the Argument from Desire, but rather to show that it is seriously defective in ways that give us reason to simply toss the argument aside, as being unworthy of serious consideration.  The problematic phrase here is “natural, innate desire”.  This phrase is vague and unclear.
However, Kreeft does make an effort to clarify the distinction between “natural, innate desires” and “artificial desires”.  I’m not satisfied with his effort, but I would prefer not to get into a detailed discussion about that distinction, if there is some other more direct reason to toss out this argument (in addition to the unacceptable vagueness and unclarity of the conclusion).
A more basic problem with Kreeft’s presentation and defense of this argument is that he fails to understand that this key premise is an empirical claim, which means that he fails to provide anything like adequate empirical data to support this key premise.
Most people, in reading this key premise would infer that this is a universal generalization that is based on inductive reasoning from a sample of factual data.  But there is no indication that Kreeft has more data than just a few hand-picked examples.  Kreeft gives no indication of the scope of the set of “natural, innate desires”.  Are there five such desires?  or fifty such desires? or five hundred? maybe five thousand?  Kreeft gives no hint as to the quantity of desires that we are talking about, so citing two or three hand-picked examples might well be of no significance.  What if we are talking about a scope of one thousand desires or ten thousand desires?
It seems to me that Kreeft is completely unprepared to support this factual premise with the sort of evidence that is needed.  In short, Kreeft is mistaken about the kind of claim this premise makes, and thus does not understand the sort of evidence required to support this premise.  Perhaps someone who understood the nature of this premise could provide some significant evidence in support of it, but Kreeft is NOT that person; he simply cannot defend this argument, since he cannot properly support this key premise.
Kreeft considers and rejects an objection that is somewhat related to my objection here, so we need to consider his response to that objection before confidently concluding that he is in fact confused about the nature of the claim made in the above key premise:
[This objection]…presupposes empiricism–that is, that the only way we can ever know anything is by sensing individual things, and then generalizing by induction.  It excludes deduction because it excludes the knowledge of any universal truths (like our major premise). (HCA, p.79)
First of all, Kreeft has his head up his ass if he thinks that empiricism involves the idiotic view that all universal generalizations are based on “generalizing by induction” from experiences of “individual things”.  Empiricists, such as David Hume, allow for there to be universal generalizations that are analytic truths (“relations of ideas” in Hume’s lingo), truths based on the logic of concepts or the meanings of words.  In any case, my objection to the major premise of the Argument from Desire makes no such idiotic assumption.
The fact that SOME universal generalizations are analytic truths that are NOT based on “generalizing by induction” from experiences of “individual things” (e.g. All triangles have three sides) does NOTHING to show that Kreeft’s major premise is an analytic truth, or that it can be known to be true apart from induction from experience.  The universal generalization that “All swans are white” is an empirical claim, not an analytic claim, and thus one must base this generalization on induction from experiences of individual swans.  Similarly,  the claim that “Every natural, innate desire in us corresponds to some real object that can satisfy that desire,” is an empirical claim, not an analytic claim, and thus one must base this generalization on induction from experience.
Kreeft continues to respond to the objection (one that is similar to my objection), and digs himself even deeper into a hole:
We can and do come to a knowledge of universal truths, like “all humans are mortal,” not by sense experience alone (for we can never sense all humans) but through abstracting the common universal essence or nature of humanity  from the few specimens we do experience through our senses.  We know that all humans are mortal, because humanity, as such, involves mortality,  it is the nature of a human being to be mortal… (HCA, p.80)
Holy shit.  I think Thomistic metaphysics has melted Kreeft’s brain.   The idea that the universal generalization that “all humans are mortal” or “all humans eventually die” is known by some sort of rational intuition or insight is unbelievably bizzare.  I hardly know what to say in response to this completely implausible claim.   The concept “human” does NOT contain the concept of “mortality” and the word “human” is NOT correctly defined using the word “mortal” as a necessary condition.  The generalization that “all humans are mortal” is NOT an analytic truth.
Furthermore, it is obvious that the power of reason cannot reveal the truth of a generalization which clearly has empirical implications.  That is just crazy magical thinking.  Clearly, in order to know that “all humans are mortal” we need to observe more than just a few human beings.  Clearly, this universal generalization must be grounded in a wide collection of empirical facts or observations about thousands or millions of human beings.
The universal generalization that “all humans are mortal” is based on inductive reasoning from experiences of the deaths of many individual human beings.  Kreeft is mistaken to think otherwise.  Similarly, the universal generalization that is asserted in the main factual premise of the Argument from Desire is also based on inductive reasoning from experiences of individual human beings having specific desires.  Kreeft is mistaken to think otherwise.  Because of Kreeft’s failure to understand the empirical nature of this key premise, he is in no position to provide the empirical evidence required to confirm or verify this premise.  There is no hope that Kreeft could properly support and defend the main premise of this argument. This by itself is sufficient reason to toss out this argument.
Because the conclusion of the Argument from Desire is vague, and because this argument does NOT conclude that “God exists”, and because Kreeft has a mistaken understanding of the main factual premise of this argument, making it so that he cannot provide the sort of evidence required to support and defend that premise, we have ample reason to toss out the Argument from Desire, as being unworthy of serious consideration.  This is yet another crappy argument among the last ten arguments in Kreeft’s list.  Eight arguments down, and one dozen to go.
 
CONCLUSION: KREEFT’S CREDIBILITY IS GONE
If you agree with me that eight out of Kreeft’s twenty arguments are so weak and flawed that they are unworthy of serious consideration, then you should also agree with me that any remaining credibility that Kreeft had, has been destroyed.  Given that at least 40% of the arguments in Kreeft’s collection of arguments for the existence of God are crappy arguments that are unworthy of serious consideration, we have no reason to respect Kreeft’s judgment about which arguments for God are the best and strongest arguments.  He either has a serious lack of skill and ability in such matters, or else he was willing to greatly lower his standards to allow such crappy arguments into his case for God.
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Twenty Arguments For The Existence Of God

1. The Argument from Change
2. The Argument from Efficient Causality
3. The Argument from Time and Contingency
4. The Argument from Degrees of Perfection
5. The Design Argument
6. The Kalam Argument
7. The Argument from Contingency
8. The Argument from the World as an Interacting Whole
9. The Argument from Miracles
10. The Argument from Consciousness
11. The Argument from Truth
12. The Argument from the Origin of the Idea of God
13. The Ontological Argument
14. The Moral Argument
15. The Argument from Conscience
16. The Argument from Desire
17. The Argument from Aesthetic Experience
18. The Argument from Religious Experience
19. The Common Consent Argument
20. Pascal’s Wager

bookmark_borderKreeft’s Case for God – Part 1: Tossing Out Four Arguments

INTRODUCTION TO KREEFT’S CASE FOR GOD
In this new series of blog posts, I plan to analyze and evaluate Peter Kreeft’s case for the existence of God.
Peter Kreeft is a Catholic philosopher of religion and a Christian apologist.  He has published many books defending the Christian faith.  Kreeft co-authored Handbook of Christian Apologetics (hereafter: HCA) with Ronald Tacelli in 1994.   Kreeft presents a case for God in Chapter 3 of  HCA: “Twenty Arguments for the Existence of God”.
Twenty arguments, is a lot of arguments.  Kreeft claims that some of the arguments in his case are “proofs” or “demonstrations” (HCA, p.48 & 49).  But if Kreeft has one or two arguments that PROVE or DEMONSTRATE that God exists, why would he need to produce twenty arguments for God?
In mathematics, just ONE proof or demonstration is all that is needed to establish a mathematical claim or conclusion. Mathematicians don’t usually produce a dozen different proofs for the same conclusion.  Why should a proof or demonstration about God be any different?  Why wouldn’t just one or two proofs be all that is required to establish the claim that “God exists”?
The simple answer is that NONE of Kreeft’s twenty arguments proves or demonstrates that God exists.  Kreeft appears to admit this point when he discusses his view that only some of his twenty arguments are stand-alone “demonstrations”:
…only some of the arguments, taken individually and separately, demonstrate the existence of a being that has some of the properties only God can have (no argument proves all the divine attributes); but all twenty taken together, like twined rope, make a very strong case.  (HCA, p.49-50)
Note that Kreeft does NOT claim that any one of his arguments, taken by itself, is sufficient to prove or demonstrate the existence of God.  No single argument has that kind of force.  Rather, it is “all twenty taken together” that are required to “make a very strong case”.  In other words, it is only the whole collection of twenty arguments “taken together” in a cumulative case, that suffices to prove or to firmly establish the existence of God.
Kreeft does, however, claim that some of his arguments “demonstrate the existence of a being that has some of the properties only God can have…”.   Taken at face value, this claim implies that just ONE such argument would be sufficient to prove the existence of God, but in that case Kreeft would be contradicting himself, since he very clearly asserts that it is when “all twenty” arguments are “taken together” that we arrive at “a very strong case”.  Furthermore, the very fact that Kreeft feels it is necessary to provide twenty arguments, as opposed to just one or two “proofs”, is further evidence that he does not actually believe that any one argument is sufficient to prove or firmly establish the existence of God.
Nevertheless, Kreeft’s mention of “properties only God can have” implies that some of his “proofs” or “demonstrations” are sufficient to prove or demonstrate the existence of God IF we add another assumption into the mix.  A general form of  deductive reasoning about God is suggested by this phrase:

1. There exists a being B that has property P.

2. IF there exists a being B that has property P, THEN God exists.

THEREFORE:

3. God exists.

Premise (2) is implied by the claim that “Only God can have property P”.
Here is an instance of an argument that has the above general form:

1a. There exists a being B that has the property of omniscience.

2a. IF there exists a being B that has the property of omniscience, THEN God exists.

THEREFORE:

3. God exists.

Premise (2a) is implied by the claim that “Only God can have the property of omniscience.”
Based on an initial reading, the “proofs” or “demonstrations” that Kreeft offers at best only establish that there is a being who has some specific property; Kreeft’s “proofs” are basically attempts to establish conclusions of the form of premise (1).  His “proofs” do NOT establish or even attempt to establish that the properties in question are ones that “Only  God can have”.  In other words, Kreeft does not attempt to prove premises that have the form of premise (2), such as premise (2a). So, if Kreeft thinks that some of his “proofs” or “demonstrations” establish by themselves the conclusion that God exists, without needing any of the other arguments or assumptions, then he is sadly mistaken, because such proofs would require additional strong claims that he has made no effort to prove or support.
If Kreeft makes no attempt to argue for any claims of the form “Only God can have property P”, then it is not clear to me how his various “proofs” or “demonstrations” could individually (as stand-alone arguments) provide strong support for the claim that “God exists”.  This will be a question to keep in mind in future posts when we analyze and evaluate some of the alleged “proofs” that Kreeft put forward.
My current interpretation of Kreeft’s view about arguments for the existence of God, is that he believes (or believed in 1994, when HCA was published) that it is only a cumulative case for God that can prove or demonstrate the existence of God, and that individual arguments or proofs are NOT sufficient to prove or demonstrate the existence of God.  Here are some reasons supporting this interpretation:

  • Kreeft explicitly asserts that it is his collection of arguments that “taken together” constitutes “a very strong case” for the existence of God.
  • Kreeft does NOT make such an assertion about individual or stand-alone arguments.
  • Kreeft feels it is necessary to provide twenty arguments, as opposed to just one or two proofs, to show the existence of God.
  • Although Kreeft’s comment about “the properties only God can have” implies the possibility of an individual proof of the existence of God, Kreeft does not appear to utilize reasoning of this kind in his case for God.

Therefore, although Kreeft does claim that some of his arguments are “proofs” or “demonstrations”, he does not appear to believe or to claim that any one of his twenty arguments is a “proof” or “demonstration” of the existence of God.
 
WE MAY REASONABLY TOSS OUT FOUR ARGUMENTS RIGHT AWAY
We can quickly whittle down the list of twenty arguments to a list of sixteen arguments by tossing aside the following four arguments:
11. The Argument from Truth
13. The Ontological Argument
14. The Moral Argument
20. Pascal’s Wager
We can toss these arguments aside based on problems with these arguments that Kreeft himself admits.
Kreeft himself admits that the Ontological Argument is “fundamentally flawed” (HCA, p.49)  He includes this argument in his list largely because “it is very famous and influential” (HCA, p.49).  I’m not interested in “famous” or “influential” arguments; I’m interested in arguments that Peter Kreeft believes to be strong and solid arguments for God.  Since Kreeft himself does not accept the Ontological Argument for God,  I have no interest in evaluating that argument here.  One argument down; nineteen to go.
Kreeft himself admits that Pascal’s Wager “is not an argument for God at all” (HCA, p.49).  Rather, it is an argument “for faith in God as a ‘wager’.” (HCA, p.49).  In other words, this is NOT an argument for the truth of the claim that “God exists” but is an argument for the practical advantages of believing that “God exists”.  I have little interest in the question of the benefits or harms associated with believing in the existence of God.  The question I am concerned with is whether the claim “God exists” is true or false.  So, we can toss aside Pascal’s Wager.  Two arguments down; eighteen to go.
Kreeft himself admits that the Argument from Truth depends on controversial epistemological  theories or viewpoints:
This proof might appeal to someone who shares a Platonic view of knowledge–who, for example, believes that there are Eternal Intelligible Forms which are present to the mind in every act of knowledge. …There is too much about the theory of knowledge that needs to be said before this could work as a persuasive demonstration.  (HCA, p.68).
Kreeft makes no attempt to argue in support of the Platonic view of knowledge, or any other theory of knowledge that might make the Argument from Truth “work as a persuasive demonstration”, so Kreeft simply abandons this argument right after admitting that it won’t work without a good deal more argumentation for controversial epistemological theories or views.  So, we may reasonably toss out the Argument from Truth.  Three arguments down; seventeen to go.
Kreeft himself admits that there are some significant issues with the Moral Argument.  His candid and honest admissions concerning the Moral Argument are enough, in my view, to conclude that this argument is weak and dubious, and thus not worthy of serious consideration.  Kreeft considers an objection to this argument, and concedes the main point of the first objection:
The argument has not shown that ethical subjectivism is false.  What if there are no objective values? 
Reply: True enough.  The argument assumes that there are objective values… . Granted, if ethical subjectivism is true, then the argument does not work.  (HCA, p.73)
This honest admission by Kreeft is sufficient to justify tossing the Moral Argument aside.  Kreeft admits that the argument is based on a controversial assumption that has not been proven.  This objection could be overcome by Kreeft, if he were to provide a proof or solid argument for the existence of objective moral values, but he does not do so.  Kreeft abandons this argument for the existence of God by his admission that it is based on a controversial assumption combined with his failure to attempt to prove or justify that controversial assumption.  Kreeft throws in the towel in the first round of the fight, so there is no point in giving this argument serious consideration.
Kreeft also makes an honest and candid admission of the main point of the second objection that he considers:
This proof does not conclude to God, but to some vague “religious” view.  Isn’t this “religious” view compatible with very much more than traditional theism?
Reply: Yes indeed.  It is compatible, for example, with Platonic idealism, and many other beliefs that orthodox Christians find terribly deficient.  (HCA, p. 73)
Kreeft then asserts that the objectivity of moral values is “incompatible with materialism” (HCA, p.73).  But the question at issue is not whether materialism is true, but whether theism is true.  The question at issue is “Does God exist?”  In his reply to this second objection, Kreeft admits that the Moral Argument, at least the version of it that he presents, is NOT an argument for the existence of God.  This admission by itself provides a sufficient reason to toss this argument aside.
Kreeft makes a third candid comment that indicates a second way in which he chose to abandon this argument:
But we grant that there are many steps to travel from objective moral values to the Creator of the universe or the triune God of love.  There is a vast intellectual distance between them.  (HCA, p.74)
Based on this comment, and the fact that Kreeft makes no effort to bridge the “vast intellectual distance” between the premise that there exists objective moral values and the conclusion that “God exists,” Kreeft also abandons defense of a line of reasoning that proceeds from the one claim to the other.  This is by itself sufficient reason to toss this argument aside.
Given that Kreeft abandons the basic premise of the Moral Argument by failing to provide a proof or solid argument in support of that controversial premise, and given that Kreeft admits that the argument (as it stands) is NOT an argument for the existence of God, and given that Kreeft fails to make the effort to bridge the “vast intellectual distance” between the undefended controversial premise (of moral objectivism) and the conclusion that “God exists”, we have very good reason to toss out this Moral Argument “for God”.
Four arguments down, just sixteen more to go!
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Twenty Arguments For The Existence Of God

1. The Argument from Change
2. The Argument from Efficient Causality
3. The Argument from Time and Contingency
4. The Argument from Degrees of Perfection
5. The Design Argument
6. The Kalam Argument
7. The Argument from Contingency
8. The Argument from the World as an Interacting Whole
9. The Argument from Miracles
10. The Argument from Consciousness
11. The Argument from Truth
12. The Argument from the Origin of the Idea of God
13. The Ontological Argument
14. The Moral Argument
15. The Argument from Conscience
16. The Argument from Desire
17. The Argument from Aesthetic Experience
18. The Argument from Religious Experience
19. The Common Consent Argument
20. Pascal’s Wager

bookmark_borderJ.L. Schellenberg’s Wisdom to Doubt, Chapter One: The Subject Mode

This is the first in a planned series of blog posts reviewing J.L. Schellenberg’s important book, The Wisdom to Doubt.
The first chapter of Schellenberg’s book is valuable to anyone who wants to think clearly about unrecognized evidence, including the implications of unrecognized evidence for arguments from silence and cumulative case arguments. See why.
Continue reading “J.L. Schellenberg’s Wisdom to Doubt, Chapter One: The Subject Mode”