bookmark_borderKreeft’s Case for God – Part 8: Are Believers in God DELUSIONAL?

WHERE WE ARE AT
I am in the process of evaluating Argument #19 (the Argument from Common Consent) from Peter Kreeft’s case for the existence of God (in Chapter 3 of Handbook of Christian Apologetics, hereafter: HCA):

1. Almost all people of every era have believed in God.

A.  Either God DOES exist or God does NOT exist.

THEREFORE:

2. EITHER almost all people of every era have believed in God and God DOES exist, OR almost all people of every era have believed in God but God does NOT exist.

3.  It is FAR MORE LIKELY that almost all people of every era have believed in God and God DOES exist, than that almost all people of every era have believed in God but God does NOT exist.

THEREFORE:

4. It is VERY LIKELY that almost all people of every era have believed in God and God DOES exist.

Premise (1) is ambiguous between two different possible meanings:

1a. The belief that God exists is common to almost all people of every era.

1b. Trust in God and devotion to God is common to almost all people of every era.

In Part 5, I argued that (1a) was FALSE.  In Part 6, I argued that (1b) is FALSE.  So, no matter which interpretation we give to premise (1), it turns out to be FALSE.  Therefore,  Argument #19 is UNSOUND.
In Part 7, I began to evaluate premise (3) of Argument #19.  Specifically,  I examined the Natural Capacity Argument, Kreeft’s first argument in support of premise (3):

5. Virtually every natural, innate capacity in us (human beings) corresponds to some real object that allows that capacity to be fulfilled.

6. All human beings have a natural, innate capacity for reverence of God and worship of God.

7. The the capacity for reverence of God and worship of God can be fulfilled ONLY IF the object of this reverence and worship (i.e. God) actually DOES exist.

THEREFORE:

8.  It is FAR MORE LIKELY that God does exist, than that God does NOT exist.

THEREFORE:

3.  It is FAR MORE LIKELY that almost all people of every era have believed in God and God does exist, than that almost all people of every era have believed in God but God does NOT exist.

I showed that the reasoning supporting premise (6) was based on FALSE premises, and that the inference was INVALID and UNREASONABLE, and also that we have good reason to believe that (6) is probably FALSE.  So, the Natural Capacity Argument is based on a premise that is probably FALSE.
I also raised a couple of objections against premise (5).  First, this is a broad empirical generalization that requires a significant amount of data to justify, but Kreeft provides ZERO evidence to support this strong claim.  Second, the key concepts of “natural” and “innate” are too unclear to allow one to investigate and rationally evaluate premise (5), so unless and until Kreeft further clarifies these concepts, we ought to reject premise (5).
Finally,  I pointed out that premise (8) CANNOT be used to support any premise of Argument #19, because premise (8) is basically asserting the same thing as the conclusion of Argument #19.  So, to use (8) in support of a premise of Argument #19 would involve CIRCULAR REASONING.   Thus,  the Natural Capacity Argument should be viewed as a separate and independent argument for the existence of God, and as yet another FAILED argument for that conclusion.
In the last ten arguments of his case for God, Kreeft astoundingly provides us with eleven FAILED arguments for the existence of God!
 
A THEME  OF CHRISTIAN APOLOGETICS
Kreeft’s defense of premise (3)  appears to follow a theme of Christian apologetics:  dilemmas or trilemmas in which one alternative (or lemma) is eliminated because it involves an implication that some person (or group of persons) is crazy or DELUSIONAL.
The Trilemma (Lord, Liar, or Lunatic?) argument is an obvious example of this sort of argument.  The argument presents three alternatives: Jesus claimed to be God, so he was either (a) sincerely mistaken and thus a LUNATIC, (b) knew that he wasn’t God and was thus a LIAR, or (c) was correct and thus Jesus was God incarnate.  The alternative that Jesus was a “lunatic” or “mad man” is tossed aside as being very improbable.
Similarly,  there is an ancient apologetic argument about the resurrection of Jesus that lays out three alternatives concerning the disciples of Jesus: they either were DELUDED in thinking that they had seen the risen Jesus, or they were LYING about having seen the risen Jesus, or they were telling the TRUTH about having seen the risen Jesus. The alternative that they were all DELUSIONAL is tossed aside as being very improbable. [NOTE: I suspect that the Trilemma (Lord, Liar, or Lunatic?) argument developed out of the earlier similar argument concerning Jesus’ disciples, but it could have happened the other way around.]
So, there are at least two major arguments used by Christian apologists that rely on rejection of an alternative which supposedly implies that some person, or group of persons, was DELUSIONAL.
 
A THEME OF KREEFT’S ARGUMENT #19
The improbability of many people being delusional is clearly a theme in Kreeft’s exposition of Argument #19:
…it is thinkable that those millions upon millions who claim to have found the Holy One who is worthy of reverence and worship were DELUDED.  But is it likely?
     It seems far more likely that those who refuse to believe are the ones suffering from deprivation and DELUSION… (HCA. p.83, EMPHASIS added)
But if God does not exist, what is it that believers have been experiencing?  The level of ILLUSION goes far beyond any other example of collective error.  It really amounts to COLLECTIVE PSYCHOSIS.  (HCA. p.84, EMPHASIS added)
…believing in God is like having a relationship with a person. …It’s as if you believe yourself happily married when in fact you live alone in a dingy apartment.
     Now we grant that such MASS DELUSION is conceivable, but what is the likely story?  (HCA, p.84, EMPHASIS added)
It is most reasonable to believe that God is really there, given such widespread belief in him–unless atheists can come up with a very persuasive explanation for religious belief, one that takes full account of the evidence of the experience of believers and shows that their experience is best explained as DELUSION and not insight.  (HCA, p.84, EMPHASIS added)
This theme of doubting MASS DELUSION implies a basic premise in Kreeft’s reasoning about Argument #19:
IF  almost all people of every era have believed in God but God does NOT exist, THEN almost all people of every era have been DELUSIONAL.
Clearly,  Kreeft thinks that the idea that almost all people of every era have been delusional is very unlikely or improbable.  He thinks it is “far more likely that those who refuse to believe are the ones suffering from deprivation and DELUSION…” (HCA, p.83).  Presumably, he thinks this because there are (allegedly) very few people who have not believed in God, whereas almost all people have (allegedly) believed in God.  It is more likely that just a few people are crazy, than that nearly everyone who has ever lived was crazy.
 
KREEFT’S SECOND ARGUMENT FOR PREMISE (3)
Now we can make Kreeft’s second line of reasoning in support of premise (3) more clear and explicit:

1. Almost all people of every era have believed in God.

10. IF God does not exist, THEN anyone who believes in God is delusional and people who do not believe in God are not (in general) delusional.

11. IF God does exist, THEN anyone who does not believe in God is delusional and people who believe in God are not (in general) delusional.

THEREFORE:

12.  IF God does not exist, THEN almost all people of every era have been delusional, but IF God does exist, THEN only a small minority of people have been delusional.

13. It is FAR MORE LIKELY that a small minority of people have been delusional than that almost all people of every era have been delusional.

THEREFORE:

14.  It is FAR MORE LIKELY that God does exist than that God does not exist.

THEREFORE:

3.  It is FAR MORE LIKELY that almost all people from every era have believed in God and God does exist, than that almost all people from every era have believed in God but God does NOT exist.

 
KREEFT’S DELUSION DILEMMA APPEARS TO BE A VERY BAD ARGUMENT
Because this Delusion Dilemma makes use of premise (1) of the Argument from Common Consent, it is based on a FALSE premise, so we know immediately that this is a BAD argument.  But this is not the only problem with Kreeft’s Delusion Dilemma.  Premises (10) and (11) are also dubious, and as with the Natural Capacity Argument,  the Delusion Dilemma involves CIRCULAR REASONING when used to support premise (3) of the Argument from Common Consent.
 
EVALUATION OF PREMISE (10)
As suggested by the title of Richard Dawkins’ book promoting atheism (The God Delusion), atheists and skeptics often speak of belief in God as being a “delusion”.  However, it is far from obvious that ALL people who believe in God are literally crazy or DELUSIONAL people, even if we suppose that they are mistaken and that there is no God.
Many believers in God (a) have jobs or careers that they manage successfully, (b) have children and/or parents that they raise or take care of successfully, (c) have successfully completed high school and have successfully completed college studies to earn a B.A. or B.S. degree, (d) are not serial killers or arsonists, (e) don’t run around claiming to be Napoleon Bonaparte or Abraham Lincoln  or Jesus Christ, and (f) don’t claim to hear voices talking to them that nobody else can hear.
In other words, many believers in God appear to be fairly normal and successful at managing the basic tasks of ordinary life.  Believers in God do NOT (in general) appear to be crazy or insane.  Therefore,  Kreeft cannot simply assert premise (10).  He needs to provide a good reason or solid argument in support of this dubious claim.
Here is a passage where Kreeft is arguing for (10):
… But if God does not exist, what is it that believers have been experiencing?  The level of illusion goes far beyond any other example of collective error.  It really amounts to collective psychosis.
     For believing in God is like having a relationship with a person.  If God never existed, neither did this relationship.  You were responding with reverence and love to no one; and no one was there to receive and answer your response.  It’s as if you believe yourself happily married when in fact you live alone in a dingy apartment.
     Now we grant that such mass delusion is conceivable, but what is the likely story?  (HCA, p.84)
The word “believers” is clearly a reference back to the group of people mentioned in premise (1) consisting of “almost all people of every era” who have “believed in God”.  This interpretation is confirmed at the beginning of the next paragraph, which talks about what “believing in God” is like.
Kreeft does not bother to define what he means by being “deluded” or “suffering from…delusion”.  However, it is clear from what he does say that he is talking about some very serious form of mental illness, like being crazy or insane.  He uses the term “psychosis” which has the following meaning, according to my American Heritage Dictionary (2nd College edition, emphasis added):
Severe mental disorder, with or without organic damage, characterized by deterioration of normal intellectual and social functioning and by partial or complete withdrawal from reality. 
Furthermore, Kreeft’s analogy strongly suggests the idea of someone who is literally crazy or insane:
 It’s as if you believe yourself happily married when in fact you live alone in a dingy apartment. (HCA, p.84)
Someone who believes themselves to be happily married when they are not married and are living alone, is someone who clearly has very serious mental problems, the sort of person that most people would consider to be literally crazy or insane.  So, Kreeft gives indications that he is using the word “deluded” and the phrase “suffering from…delusion” to refer to some sort of severe mental disorder.
Kreeft goes on to say a bit more about what believers in God “have been experiencing”:
…what we experience is a relationship involving reverence and worship and, sometimes, love.  It is most reasonable to believe that God really is there, given such widespread belief in him… (HCA, p.84)
As I have previously noted, “believing in God” is an ambiguous phrase, so premise (10) suffers from the same ambiguity as with premise (1).  Here are the two different meanings of premise (10):

10a. IF God does not exist, THEN anyone who believes THAT God exists is delusional and people who do not believe THAT God exists are not (in general) delusional.

10b. IF God does not exist, THEN anyone who trusts in God and is devoted to God is delusional and people who do not trust in God and are not devoted to God are not (in general) delusional.

 
EVALUATION OF PREMISE (10a)
Let’s begin with interpretation (10a).   As I have stated previously,  believing THAT God exists is NOT like having a relationship, and it does NOT imply that one has feelings or reverence towards God, nor that one worships God, nor that one trusts in God, nor that one is devoted to God.  It is simply an intellectual point of view that may or may not be accompanied with these various religious feelings or experiences.
We can see that Kreeft’s defense makes no sense given interpretation (10a) by substituting the phrase “believing that the ghost of Houdini exists” for the phrase “believing in God” in his defense of this premise:
     For believing that the ghost of Houdini exists is like having a relationship with a person (namely, with the ghost of Houdini).  If the ghost of Houdini never existed, neither did this relationship.  You were responding with reverence and love to no one; and no one was there to receive and answer your response.  It’s as if you believe yourself happily married when in fact you live alone in a dingy apartment.
When a person believes THAT the ghost of Houdini exists, this does NOT imply that they have a “relationship” with Houdini nor the ghost of Houdini, nor that they have responded “with reverence and love” towards the ghost of Houdini.  Believing that some being (of a particular kind or description) exists does NOT imply that one has any sort of relationship with that being, or that one has particular feelings about that being, or that one has any particular kind of experiences that seem to be about interactions with that being.   So, Kreeft’s defense of premise (10) is a FAILURE, if we interpret (10) as meaning what is stated in (10a).
There are a few of obvious problems with (10a) that cast it into doubt.  First, merely having a FALSE belief does not imply that one is crazy or insane.  It all depends on what sort of evidence and experiences one has that are relevant to the belief in question.  Sometimes evidence and experiences can mislead us into believing something that is FALSE, even though we are following the evidence where it leads.   There may be some OTHER important items of evidence that disconfirm or disprove the belief in question, but this contrary evidence might not be known to the person in question.
We all have to make decisions and form beliefs without knowing all of the relevant evidence, and the evidence available to a particular person at a particular time, might be evidence that points in the wrong direction, evidence that is misleading.   But a person who follows the limited evidence available to him or her, is being perfectly reasonable, even if it turns out that the belief he/she formed was FALSE.  Premise (10a) is dubious, because it makes a direct connection between having a FALSE belief and being unreasonable or irrational, but this ignores the fact that it is possible, and even common, for a person to believe something that is FALSE on the basis of a reasonable evaluation of the evidence available to that person at that time.
A second problem with (10a) is that it draws an extreme conclusion (“is delusional”) from modest evidence (when a person has just one false belief).  Everybody has false beliefs, but not everybody is crazy or insane.  Therefore, the fact that someone has one particular false belief is not in general a sufficient reason to conclude that this person is delusional.
Belief in God, is, however, an important and basic belief, in that if this belief is FALSE, then that would imply that Christianity is FALSE, and Judaism is FALSE, and ISLAM is FALSE.  The existence of God is a fundamental metaphysical assumption of three major western religions.  So, it is a big deal to be wrong on this point; it makes a big difference how one will live one’s life, at least in times and places where one or more of these religious traditions is available as a live option.
But there are several arguments for the existence of God (as Kreeft’s own case for God shows), and there are several arguments against the existence of God as well.  These arguments are philosophical arguments, and yet most people have little exposure to and education in philosophy until they go to college, and many people don’t go to college, or don’t complete their college education.  Also, many college students take only one or two philosophy courses, and those courses might only briefly touch on arguments for and against the existence of God.  So, most people are not well prepared to carefully and objectively evaluate the main arguments for and against the existence of God.
Given this big hole in our systems of education,  we ought not to expect people to be particularly good at analysis and evaluation of the philosophical arguments relevant to this question.  So, it should be no big surprise if people in general fail to properly analyze and evaluate the main arguments concerning the existence of God, and thus arrive at a FALSE conclusion on this issue.  Getting the wrong answer to the God question is, in part, the result of failing to educate people about logic, critical thinking, and philosophy.  Thus, a perfectly rational person could arrive at a FALSE conclusion on this issue because of defects in his or her education.
(Kreeft is himself a perfect example: he is a trained and experienced professional philosopher, and yet he could not reason his way out of a wet paper bag.  So, how can we expect people who have little or no education and experience with philosophical arguments to do better than Kreeft?)
This brings me to a third problem with the argument for (10a) and with (10a) itself:
 It’s as if you believe yourself happily married when in fact you live alone in a dingy apartment. (HCA, p.84)
The belief that God exists is NOT analogous to the serious mental illness involved in the case of a person who believes himself/herself to be happily married when in fact that person is unmarried and lives alone in a “dingy apartment”.
If Jack believes he is married to Jill, and that they live happily together, eating meals together in the morning and in the evening, having conversations with each other over meals, doing household chores together, watching television programs or movies together,  listening to music together, going out on the town together, going shopping together, and sleeping together at night, and if Jack is actually living alone in a dingy apartment, then Jack must be regularly experiencing hallucinations: seeing Jill’s face at the breakfast table, hearing Jill’s voice in the evening,  feeling Jill’s body next to his at night, when Jill is actually never present in the apartment with Jack.
No such hallucinations are required in order for someone to believe THAT God exists.  One might simply be persuaded by a weak or logically flawed argument for the existence of God.  Some people do claim to hear God’s voice, or to see God, but God has no physical body, according to Christian theology, so God has no mouth or vocal chords, and God has no face to be seen, and God has no arms or legs to be touched.  So, it is not possible to literally hear, see, or touch God.  Most people who believe that God exists do NOT claim to have heard God’s voice, or seen God’s face, or touched God’s hands.  Believing that God exists does NOT require any sort of empirical or sensory experiences.
Kreeft’s analogy is a lousy one; it fails to provide any significant support for premise (10a), and it reveals the implausibility of (10a) by pointing out how belief in the existence of God lacks the sort of empirical and observational grounds that we use to determine the existence of a physically embodied human being.  In other words, determining whether God exists is not as simple and straightforward as determining whether some particular human person exists, so it is not as simple and straightforward to determine when someone is being IRRATIONAL in arriving at this belief concerning God, as compared to determining when someone is being IRRATIONAL in arriving at this belief about a particular human being.
Kreeft has FAILED to provide a good reason to believe (10a) to be true, and we have some good reasons to doubt the truth of (10a), so we ought to reject this premise as being probably FALSE.
 
EVALUATION OF PREMISE (10b)
What about the second interpretation of premise (10)?

10b. IF God does not exist, THEN anyone who trusts in God and is devoted to God is delusional and people who do not trust in God and are not devoted to God are not (in general) delusional.

Why should we think that people who trust in God and  who are devoted to God are delusional or crazy if we suppose that God does not exist?  One reason might be that they were mistaken in their belief that God exists.  In order  to trust in God and be devoted to God, one must believe that God exists.  It makes no sense to trust in a non-existent person, nor to be devoted to a non-existent person.  So, trust and devotion towards God involve the belief that God exists, and we are supposing that this assumption is FALSE.   But now we are back at the same problems discussed above with premise (10a), which was focused on people who believe THAT God exists.  So, this line of defense for (10b) will not work.
Kreeft’s argument is focused on the religious experiences of believers in God:
… But if God does not exist, what is it that believers have been experiencing?  (HCA, p.84)
…what we experience is a relationship involving reverence and worship and, sometimes, love.  (HCA, p.84)
But just as belief in the existence of God need not involve any particular feelings or attitudes towards God, so also people who trust in God and who are devoted to God don’t necessarily have any particular religious experiences of God.  If someone thinks that he hears the voice of God (when nobody else hears the voice) or sees the face of God (when nobody else sees an unusual face), and if we suppose there is no such being as God, then the hearing of God’s voice and the seeing of God’s face must be “delusional” in the sense that they were not based on objective reality, but were rather some sort of subjective phenomena.  Furthermore, such “delusional” experiences might be a sign of actual mental illness (hearing voices is is “the most common type of hallucination in people with psychotic disorders such as schizophrenia.”)
But most people who trust in God and who are devoted to God don’t claim to hear God’s voice or to see God’s face.   If they have any religious experiences of God, those experiences are much more vague and subjective in nature: “I felt the presence of God in the room.”  If anything is delusional about such vague and subjective experiences, it is the believer taking such experiences to be objective proof of the existence of God.
The problem is NOT in the experiences themselves, in the way that a psychotic person might have hallucinations about being happily married to another person, when he is actually living alone in a dingy apartment.  The “feeling of the presence of God” might be a perfectly normal experience for human beings in certain circumstances having been raised in a certain way.  The feeling itself is not the problem, it is the interpretation of that feeling that is the problem, assuming that there is no God corresponding to the feeling.
It might be unreasonable for a believer to interpret his or her vague and subjective feelings of “the presence of God” as objective proof of the existence of God, but such unreasonableness is nothing at all as compared with the severe mental illness involved in experiencing vivid and compelling hallucinations of the presence of another human being, when one is actually alone in a dingy apartment.
 
THE DELUSION DILEMMA AND CIRCULAR REASONING
Kreeft’s Delusion Dilemma is supposed to support premise (3) of the Argument from Common Consent.  Here is the final inference of the Delusion Dilemma:

14.  It is FAR MORE LIKELY that God does exist than that God does not exist.

THEREFORE:

3.  It is FAR MORE LIKELY that almost all people from every era have believed in God and God does exist, than that almost all people from every era have believed in God but God does NOT exist.

But premise (14) is basically the same assertion as the CONCLUSION of Argument #19 (the Argument from Common Consent).  Thus,  when Kreeft uses the Delusion Dilemma to support premise (3) of the Argument from Common Consent, he is engaging in CIRCULAR REASONING. Even if the Delusion Dilemma was a good argument (it clearly is NOT), it is WORTHLESS as an argument to support premise (3) of the Argument from Common Consent.
It is much more reasonable to view the Delusion Dilemma as a separate and independent argument for the existence of God, and NOT an argument in support of premise (3).  Thus, with the addition of the Delusion Dilemma,  Kreeft has managed, in the last ten arguments of his case, to provide us with a dozen bad arguments for the existence of God, arguments that FAIL to provide any significant support for the claim that God exists.
CONCLUSION
Kreeft’s Delusion Dilemma is a VERY BAD argument in support of premise (3) of Argument #19 (The Argument from Common Consent).  It is based on a premise that is clearly FALSE: premise (1).   It is also based on a dubious premise that Kreeft has FAILED to provide us with a good reason to believe, and which we have good reason to doubt: premise (10).  Finally, even if the Delusion Dilemma was a good argument (it is NOT), use of this argument to support premise (3) of the Argument from Common Consent involves the fallacy of CIRCULAR REASONING.
We saw previously that Kreeft’s Natural Capacity Argument was also a VERY BAD argument in support of premise (3).  So, Kreeft has provided us with two VERY BAD arguments in support of premise (3).
We saw previously that premise (1) of the Argument from Common Consent was ambiguous, and that on either interpretation, premise (1) is clearly FALSE.
Therefore, the Argument from Common Consent is based on a FALSE premise, premise (1), and it is also based on a dubious premise,  premise (3), for which Kreeft has offered two VERY BAD arguments.  The Argument from Common Consent is a FAILURE because it rests on a premise that is clearly FALSE and on a dubious premise that Kreeft has failed to give us any good reason to believe.

bookmark_borderKreeft’s Case for God – Part 7: The Natural Capacity Argument

WHERE WE ARE AT
I have been analyzing and evaluating Peter Kreeft’s Argument #19 (the Argument from Common Consent):

1. Almost all people of every era have believed in God.

A.  Either God DOES exist or God does NOT exist.

THEREFORE:

2. EITHER almost all people of every era have believed in God and God DOES exist, OR almost all people of every era have believed in God but God does NOT exist.

3.  It is FAR MORE LIKELY that almost all people of every era have believed in God and God DOES exist, than that almost all people of every era have believed in God but God does NOT exist.

THEREFORE:

4. It is VERY LIKELY that almost all people of every era have believed in God and God DOES exist.

Premise (1) is ambiguous between two different possible meanings:

1a. The belief that God exists is common to almost all people of every era.

1b. Trust in God and devotion to God is common to almost all people of every era.

In Part 5, I argued that (1a) was FALSE.  In Part 6, I argued that (1b) is FALSE.  So, no matter which interpretation we give to premise (1), it turns out to be FALSE.  Therefore,  Argument #19 is UNSOUND.
It is now time to take a closer look at premise (3).
 
THE NATURAL CAPACITY ARGUMENT
Kreeft’s first argument in support of premise (3) concerns reverence and worship of God:
No one disputes the reality of our feelings of reverence, attitudes of worship, acts of adoration.  But if God does not exist, then these things have never once–never once–had a real object.  Is it really plausible to believe that?
      The capacity for reverence and worship certainly seems to belong to us by nature.  And it is hard to believe that this natural capacity can never, in the nature of things, be fulfilled… (HCA, p.83)
Who is the group that Kreeft is referencing by the word “our” (in the phrase “our feelings of reverence”)?  This refers back to a phrase in the previous sentence:
…the vast majority of humans who have believed in an ultimate Being…  (HCA, p.83)
This phrase, in turn, refers back to the subject of premise (1):

1. Almost all people of every era have believed in God.

Therefore, the word “our” in the above passage is a reference to the group consisting of “almost all people of every era” who “have believed in God”.
Kreeft is constructing an argument here that is similar to his earlier Argument from Desire.  Recall the first premise of that earlier argument:
Every natural, innate desire in us corresponds to some real object that can satisfy that desire.  (HCA, p.78)
We can use similar language to spell out a key unstated assumption in Kreeft’s Natural Capacity Argument:

5. Virtually every natural, innate capacity in us (human beings) corresponds to some real object that allows that capacity to be fulfilled.

Premise (5) works together with premise (6), which is stated more explicitly in the above quoted passage, as well as with another unstated assumption, premise (7):

6. All human beings have a natural, innate capacity for reverence of God and worship of God.

7. The the capacity for reverence of God and worship of God can be fulfilled ONLY IF the object of this reverence and worship (i.e. God) actually DOES exist.

THEREFORE:

8.  It is FAR MORE LIKELY that God does exist, than that God does NOT exist.

THEREFORE:

3.  It is FAR MORE LIKELY that almost all people of every era have believed in God and God does exist, than that almost all people of every era have believed in God but God does NOT exist.

 
EVALUATION OF PREMISES (5) AND (6)
Premises (5) and (6) are both questionable and controversial, so Kreeft needs to provide evidence to support these claims.
How does Kreeft know that (6) is true?  He provides no evidence in support of (6).  However, it seems likely that he is using reasoning similar to the reasoning used to conclude that all human beings have a natural, innate desire “for something more than nature” (HCA, p.81).  Here are some of the criteria that Kreeft mentions as useful in determining whether a desire is “natural” and “innate” or “artificial”:
…the natural desires come from within, from our nature, while the artificial ones come from without, from society, advertising or fiction.  …the natural desires are found in all of us, but the artificial ones vary from person to person.  (HCA, p.78)
So, presumably, a capacity must “come from within” and NOT “from society, advertising or fiction”, and it must be a capacity found in ALL human beings, in order to be a candidate for being categorized as a “natural” and “innate” capacity.
How does Kreeft know that ALL human beings have the capacity for reverencing God and worshiping God?  He might well be reasoning on the basis of the main factual premise of Argument #19, since the word “our” in his presentation of the Natural Capacity Argument refers back to the group of “almost all people” mentioned in premise (1):

1. Almost all people of every era have believed in God.

THEREFORE:

6. All human beings have a natural, innate capacity for reverence of God and worship of God.

Recall that premise (1) is ambiguous, so we need to clarify the meaning of (1).  The first possible meaning is this:

1a. The belief that God exists is common to almost all people of every era.

Recall that premise (1a) is FALSE, so if this is Kreeft’s evidence for (6), then he has provided us with a BAD argument for (6).
Furthermore, we cannot reasonably infer (6) from (1a), because one can believe THAT God exists without reverencing God or worshiping God.  Someone might simply be persuaded by a philosophical argument that God exists, but have no inclination to reverence or worship God.  The belief that God exists is basically an intellectual position, and it does NOT imply the existence of specific feelings or attitudes towards God.  Thus, if Kreeft is inferring (6) from (1a), then he is making an invalid and unreasonable inference.
The second possible interpretation of premise (1) appears to be more relevant:

1b. Trust in God and devotion to God is common to almost all people of every era.

THEREFORE:

6. All human beings have a natural, innate capacity for reverence of God and worship of God.

Recall that (1b) is also FALSE, so if this is Kreeft’s evidence for (6), then he has provided us with a BAD argument for (6).
One could trust in God without reverencing or worshiping God, but being devoted to God does seem closely related to reverence of God and worship of God.  I suppose that one could be devoted to God in terms of obedience to God’s commands, and that would NOT necessarily require reverence or worship of God, unless one believes that God had commanded humans to worship him.
So, it seems possible to be devoted to God without reverencing or worshiping God, but devotion does seem closely related to reverence and worship.  According to the three major western religions (Judaism, Christianity, and Islam),  God commands that humans reverence and worship him.  Thus, claiming to be “devoted to God” in the context of these western religions, implies that one reverences and worships God.
For the sake of argument, let’s assume that if (1b) were true, it would provide strong evidence in support of the following claim:

9. Almost all people of every era have reverenced and worshiped God.

In that case, Kreeft’s reasoning in support of (6) would go like this:

1b. Trust in God and devotion to God is common to almost all people of every era.

THEREFORE:

9. Almost all people of every era have reverenced and worshiped God.

THEREFORE:

6. All human beings have a natural, innate capacity for reverence of God and worship of God.

Unfortunately, not only is (1b) FALSE, but (9) is also FALSE, for the same reason: it is FALSE that almost all people in every age have reverenced and worshiped God, because it is FALSE that almost all people in every age have believed THAT God exists.  So, again, if this is Kreeft’s reasoning then it is based on FALSE assumptions.
Furthermore, just as the universality of a desire fails to prove that the desire is “natural” and “innate”, so the universality (or near universality) of a capacity fails to prove that the capacity is “natural” and “innate”.  For one thing, according to Kreeft, there is at least one other criterion that is relevant to the distinction between “natural” and “artificial”: we need to know whether the desire or capacity came “from within” or “from society, advertising or fiction” (HCA, p.78).
In almost all cases that we know of, people have been RAISED to reverence God and worship God.  People are TAUGHT to reverence God and worship God.   I was brought to Church on Sundays as a child, and I also attended Sunday School.  I learned how to pray in Church services and at Sunday school: “Our Father, who art in heaven,  hallowed by thy name…”  I was taught to reverence God and Jesus and the “Holy Bible”.  I learned how to sing songs of praise to God and Jesus:  “Jesus loves me this I know…”.  Based on what we actually observe,  reverence of God and worship of God appear to be taught and learned and thus appear to be “from society”.  If this capacity is taught and learned, then it is NOT a “natural” or “innate” capacity.  It appears that this capacity fails to meet one of the basic criteria for something being “natural” as opposed to “artificial”.
Clearly, the truth of premise (9) is insufficient evidence to establish the truth of (6),  and we have good reason to doubt that (6) is true, because we can observe that reverence and worship of God are taught to children and learned by children.  I have previously argued that (1b) is FALSE, so it does NOT provide support for (9).  Furthermore, the evidence that shows (1b) to be FALSE also shows (9) to be FALSE.  Thus, (9) is both FALSE and also provides insufficient evidence (even if were true) to establish (6).  So, one serious problem with the Natural Capacity Argument  is that the apparent sub-argument for premise (6) is a VERY BAD argument, and we also have reason to believe that premise (6) is probably FALSE, so the Natural Capacity Argument is probably UNSOUND.
Premise (5) is also a questionable and controversial claim:

5. Virtually every natural, innate capacity in us (human beings) corresponds to some real object that allows that capacity to be fulfilled.

Kreeft does not even bother to make this claim explicitly, and he certainly does NOT make any attempt to prove or justify this claim with any empirical evidence.  But this is an empirical generalization about human capacities, and there are presumably hundreds or even thousands of different human capacities, and yet Kreeft has provided ZERO evidence to support this broad generalization.
Furthermore, with the Argument from Desire, Kreeft provided only a tiny bit of clarification about the vague and unclear distinction between “natural, innate” desires and “artificial” desires.  So, it is difficult to categorize any given capacity as either “natural, innate” or as “artificial” with any confidence.  So,  we cannot even do the empirical investigation for ourselves and test this broad generalization against various examples of capacities, not with any confidence.
In short, Kreeft has provided NO evidence in support of this broad empirical generalization, and the claim is too vague and unclear to be rationally evaluated as it stands.  So, unless and until Kreeft provides a better and clearer analysis of the key concepts in premise (5), we ought to reject this premise because it is both completely unsupported and too unclear to be rationally assessed.
The Natural Capacity Argument FAILS to provide support for premise (3), because premise (6) is probably FALSE, and because premise (5) is a questionable empirical generalization that is completely unsupported, and too unclear to be rationally evaluated.
 
THE NATURAL CAPACITY ARGUMENT AND CIRCULAR REASONING
Even if the Natural Capacity Argument were a good argument for (8), it would still FAIL to support premise (3) of Argument #19.  The problem is that premise (8) is basically the ultimate, though unstated, conclusion of Argument #19:

4. It is VERY LIKELY that almost all people of every era have believed in God and God DOES exist.

THEREFORE:

B. It is VERY LIKELY that God DOES exist. 

Because premise (8) is basically the same claim as the ultimate conclusion of Argument #19, using (8) to support premise (3) of Argument #19 involves CIRCULAR REASONING.  One cannot use premise (8) as support for any premise of Argument #19, so the Natural Capacity Argument is WORTHLESS as a sub-argument to bolster Argument #19.
Kreeft appears to be confused about the logical function of the Natural Capacity Argument.  This argument cannot be used to support Argument #19.  It is much more reasonable to view the Natural Capacity Argument as an additional independent argument for the existence of God, similar to the function of The Argument from Desire.  And just like The Argument from Desire,  this additional argument for God is a complete FAILURE, for the reasons I have stated above.
To be continued…
 

bookmark_borderKreeft’s Case for God – Part 6: More on Premise (1)

 
WHERE WE ARE AT
I am in the process of evaluating Argument #19 (The Argument from Common Consent) from Peter Kreeft’s case for the existence of God (in Chapter 3 of Handbook of Christian Apologetics, hereafter: HCA).
One key premise of Argument #19, is this:

1. Belief in God…is common to almost all people of every era.

In Part 5, I argued that Argument #19  is UNSOUND, because premise (1) of that argument is FALSE.
In this post, I was planning to evaluate another key premise of Argument #19, namely premise (3c).
However, I have been struggling for the past few days to understand Kreeft’s presentation and defense of Argument #19, and I just now realized that my difficulty making sense out of what Kreeft wrote was caused primarily by an ambiguity in premise (1).   So, I need to revisit my interpretation of premise (1) and my evaluation of (1) as well.
 
SOME HISTORICAL BACKGROUND
I have been aware that the phrase “I believe in X” is ambiguous at least since back when I began studying critical thinking and philosophy in the early 1980’s.  I think I probably was aware of the ambiguity of this phrase even in my Evangelical Christian days, back in the 1970’s.  So, when I read premise (1) of Argument #19,  I immediately recognized that this premise makes use of a potentially ambiguous phrase: “Belief in God…”
However, I thought nothing of this potential ambiguity, because the Argument from Common Consent has always been based on a factual generalization about the belief that God exists. 
In a recent paper on the Argument from Common Consent, the philosopher Thomas Kelly characterized the argument this way:
In its crudest and least sophisticated form, the Common Consent Argument for the Existence of God runs as follows:

(Premise) Everyone believes that God exists.
(Conclusion) God exists.

So stated, the argument is not exactly an overwhelming one, suffering as it does from the twin defects of transparent invalidity and the having of an obviously false claim as its sole premise. In a slightly less crude form, the premise of the argument is that almost everyone, or the great majority of humankind, believes that God exists. More generally, proponents of the argument contend that the prevalence of the belief that God exists is itself evidence for the truth of that belief.
Consensus Gentium: Reflections on the ‘Common Consent’ Argument for the Existence of God” (p.1, emphasis added)
by Thomas Kelly, Princeton University
This is an ancient argument that goes back at least to the time of Plato.  Plato’s book Laws ( written 360 BCE) has a reference to this argument:
See Book X, 886, where Clinias appeals to the fact that “all mankind, both Greeks and barbarians, believe in them” as one way of proving the existence of the gods.  (from footnote #1 in the above paper by Thomas Kelly).
When John Locke criticized the “Argument, drawn from Universal Consent”, he clearly understood the argument to claim that everyone believed that certain claims were true: “…that there were certain Truths, wherein all Mankind agreed…”  (An Essay Concerning Human Understanding, Book I, Chapter II,  Section 3).  If the particular “truth” in question was that “God exists”, then the argument would have been based on the general premise that “all Mankind agreed” with the claim that “God exists”; in other words, an Argument from Universal Consent for the existence of God would have been based on the claim that “Everyone believes that God exists.”
The Christian theologian Charles Hodge was a defender of the Argument from Common Consent, and he understood the main factual premise of the argument to be about the belief that God exists:
…”men no more need to be taught that there is a God, than that there is such a thing as sin” (Systematic Theology, Vol. I, p.199)  [quoted in the article “Common Consent Arguments For the Existence of God” by Paul Edwards, in The Encyclopedia of Philosophy, 2nd ed., Vol. 2, p.345, emphasis added]
Given the history of this argument, I made the reasonable assumption that Kreeft’s version of this argument would also be based on a factual generalization about the belief that God exists, and thus that the alternative meaning of “Belief in God…” was irrelevant and could be ignored.  I was wrong.
 
THE AMBIGUITY OF PREMISE (1)
Argument #19 is either based on a FALSE generalization about the belief that God exists being nearly universal or else Kreeft has significantly altered the traditional Argument from Common Consent, so that it is no longer based on a general claim about the belief that God exists.  In either case, it is critical to notice the ambiguity of the phrase “Belief in God…” and to determine how to interpret Argument #19 in view of that ambiguity.
When my daughters are struggling with math problems or with a writing assignment,  I will often encourage them by saying “I believe in you!  You can do this.”  When I say this to them,  I do NOT mean “I believe that you exist.”  I mean something more like “I have faith in you.  I believe that you are a smart and capable person.”
The expression “I believe in God” is ambiguous.  It can mean: “I believe that God exists.”  or it can mean: “I have faith in God.  I trust in God.  I am devoted to God.”  Similarly, the opening words of the first premise of Argument #19 are ambiguous:

1. Belief in God…is common to almost all people of every era.

Here are two different possible interpretations of this premise:

1a. The belief that God exists is common to almost all people of every era.

1b.  Trust in God and devotion to God is common to almost all people of every era.

There are a couple of lines of evidence that point to (1b) as the intended meaning of this premise.
First,  in the paragraphs where Kreeft discusses Argument #19,  he ALWAYS uses the preposition “in” when talking about belief related to God  (except in stating the conclusion of this argument):
1. Belief in God…is common to almost all people in every era. (HCA, p.83, emphasis added)
…the vast majority of humans have believed in an ultimate Being… (HCA, p.83, emphasis added)
For believing in God is like…  (HCA, p.84, emphasis added)
…given such widespread belief in him [God]…(HCA, p.84, emphasis added)
Many nonbelievers hold that belief in God is the result of childhood fears. (HCA, p.84, emphasis added)
Kreeft ONLY uses the word “that” in relation to belief concerning God in the conclusion of Argument #19, or when pointing to that conclusion:
4. Therefore it is most plausible to believe that God exists.  (HCA, p.83, emphasis added)
It is most reasonable to believe that God really is there, given such widespread belief in him…             
(HCA, p.84, emphasis added)
A second piece of evidence in support of interpretation (1b) is the following paragraph, which occurs about halfway through Kreeft’s discussion of Argument #19:
For believing in God is like having a relationship with a person.  If God never existed, neither did this relationship.  You were responding with reverence and love to no one; and no one was there to receive and answer your response.  It’s as if you believe yourself happily married when in fact you live alone in a dingy apartment. 
(HCA, p.84, emphasis added)
Believing THAT God exists is NOT like having a good relationship with a person.
As the book of James states, “You believe that God is one; you do well.  Even the demons believe–and shudder.”  (James 2:19, Revised Standard Version).  Demons do NOT trust in God.  Demons are NOT devoted to God.  Demons are the enemies of God who live in rebellion against God.  Demons, according to James, believe that God exists, but they don’t have a good “relationship” with God.
Clearly, in the above paragraph, Kreeft has in mind the sense of the phrase “believe in” that I have tried to capture in premise (1b).  He has in mind the idea of trusting in and relying on God and being devoted and obedient towards God.  He has in mind the idea of having a good or proper relationship with God.
 
PREMISE (1b) IS FALSE
In Part 5 of this series I argued that premise (1) was FALSE.  In making my objection, I assumed that (1a) was the correct interpretation of (1), so I have already argued that (1a) is FALSE.
But we now have some significant evidence that indicates that (1b) is the assertion that Kreeft had in mind.  Suppose that (1b) is the correct interpretation of premise (1) (or the best interpretation based on the available evidence from a careful reading of Kreeft’s exposition of this argument).  Would this help Argument #19?  It wouldn’t help in relation to my previous objection that this first premise is FALSE.
In order to worship or reverence God, one must first believe that God exists.  In order to trust in God or become devoted to God, one must first believe that God exists.  So, the number of people who have worshiped God or trusted in God or become devoted to God CANNOT be more than the number of people who have believed that God exists.
Furthermore, it is almost certain that some people who have believed that God exists did NOT worship God or trust in God or devote themselves to God, so it is almost certain that the number of people who have worshiped God or trusted in God or been devoted to God are FEWER than the number of people who have believed that God exists.  Therefore, since (1a) is FALSE, it is clear that (1b) must also be FALSE.
No matter which interpretation we give to the ambiguous premise (1), the premise turns out to be FALSE, and thus Argument #19 is UNSOUND.

bookmark_borderKreeft’s Case for God – Part 5: The Argument from Common Consent

WHERE WE ARE AS OF PART 4
In Part 1 and Part 2 I argued that eight out of ten (80%) of the last ten arguments in Peter Kreeft’s collection of twenty arguments (from Handbook of Christian Apologetics, Chapter 3) are AWFUL arguments that are not worthy of serious consideration, that we should thus toss them aside, and ignore those eight arguments.
In Part 3, I analyzed the logical structure of Argument #12 (The Argument from the Origin of the Idea of God), and in Part 4 I evaluated Argument #12 as being a BAD argument that provides ZERO support for the claim that God exists.
Therefore, in Parts 1 through 4, I have argued that nine out of ten (90%) of the last ten arguments in Kreeft’s set of arguments each provides ZERO support for the claim that God exists.  Since ZERO plus ZERO equals ZERO, the combined force of those nine arguments provides ZERO support for the claim that “God exists”.
Since 90% of the last ten arguments have FAILED to provide any support for the existence of God, I think it is a safe bet that Argument #19 (The Argument from Common Consent), the final argument to consider from the last ten arguments, will also FAIL, and that we will probably arrive at the conclusion that the last ten arguments in Kreeft’s list of twenty arguments ADD NOTHING to his case for the existence of God.  We shall now see whether this argument is as weak and/or as flawed as the others.
 
ANALYSIS OF ARGUMENT #19
Here is how Kreeft summarizes Argument #19 (The Argument from Common Consent):

1. Belief in God…is common to almost all people of every era.

2. Either the vast majority of people have been wrong about this…or they have not.

3. It is most plausible to believe that they have not.

4. Therefore, it is most plausible to believe that God exists.

(HCA, p.83)

To show the logical relationship between premise (1) and premises (2) and (3), we should make the wording of (2) and (3) more similar to the wording of premise (1), and insert the inference indicator word “therefore” between (1) and (2):

1. Belief in God…is common to almost all people of every era.

THEREFORE:

2a. EITHER almost all people of every era believed that God exists and they have been wrong about this, OR almost all people of every era believed that God exists and they have NOT been wrong about this.

3b. It is most plausible to believe that almost all people of every era believed that God exists and they have NOT been wrong about this.

THEREFORE:

4. It is most plausible to believe that God exists.

 
EVALUATION OF THE INFERENCES
The inference from premise (1) to (2a) is logically correct.  This would be more obvious if we added the following obviously true tautology:

A. EITHER God exists OR it is NOT the case that God exists.

This does assume that “God exists” is a claim or proposition that could be true or false, but I’m happy to grant the assumption that some plausible analysis of “God exists” could be produced that would make this a legitimate claim or proposition.  The combination of premise (1) with (A) implies (2a), so the first inference in this argument is OK.
The second inference in this argument also appears to be correct, at least if we understand the phrase “most plausible” to mean that one of the alternatives in (2a) is MORE PLAUSIBLE than the other alternative:

3c.  It is MORE PLAUSIBLE to believe that almost all people of every era believed that God exists and they have NOT been wrong about this, than to believe that almost all people of every era believed that God exists and they have been wrong about this.

Premise (2a) eliminates any other possibilities besides just these two possibilities, so the conclusion does seem to follow from the combination of (2a) and (3c).
Premise (3c) seems obviously controversial and questionable, so we need to take a closer look at that premise.  However, the basic factual premise, premise (1) can also be challenged, and so I will examine premise (1) first, and then examine premise (3c).
 
EVALUATION OF PREMISE (1)

1. Belief in God…is common to almost all people of every era.

This is a strong generalization, and I will argue that this claim is FALSE, and thus that Argument #19 is UNSOUND.
First of all, Kreeft provides no facts or data to support this strong generalization (!)
Religious Belief vs. Belief in God
Second, what he does say in support of this claim FAILS to provide a good reason to believe premise (1):
Everyone admits that religious belief is widespread throughout human history. (HCA, p. 83, emphasis added)
Does Buddhism involve religious belief?  Buddhists, especially Theravada Buddhists, do NOT believe in God:
…if we speak of faith in God as somehow characterising religions, we are confronted by the example of Buddhism, and in particular Theravada Buddhism.  There is here no belief in God.  The supreme value is nirvana. But nirvana is not described as a personal Being or Creator or Object of worship.  It is rather a state to be realised. 
(The Philosophy of Religion, by Ninian Smart, p. 6)
Buddhism is a world religion, and it involves religious belief, but it does not, at least in some of its forms, involve belief in God.
Furthermore, many Buddhists are polytheists; they believe in MANY gods.  In fact a common Buddhist belief is that there is a cycle of re-birth in which when humans die, they (usually) undergo re-birth ending up in one of six realms: (1) as gods in a heavenly realm, (2) as humans on earth, (3) as titans (“a race of demonic warlike beings”),  (4) as ghosts, (5) as animals, (6) as sufferers in a hellish realm.  (Buddhism: A Very Short Introduction, by Damien Keown, p.35-37).
Becoming a god, is thus one of six possible outcomes of re-birth, and people usually undergo thousands or millions of re-births. In this Buddhist scheme, gods are born and gods also eventually die:
Sooner or later the good karma that results in a heavenly birth [as a god] will run its course, and even the gods will die and be reborn. (Buddhism, p. 47).
Buddhists commonly believe in MANY gods, and they believe that those gods are NOT immortal or eternal, but are finite beings who are born and who also eventually die.  Buddhists who believe in many finite and imperfect gods are polytheists, not monotheists.  They do not believe in “God” as the one-and-only eternal, infinite and perfect, creator of the universe.  The word “God” is a proper noun, not a common noun.  It is the name of a single person or being.  Thus, to say “God exists” is to assert that there is a single unique person who is the eternal, infinite and perfect, creator of the universe.  Buddhists, in general, do NOT believe that such a being exists.
Hinduism, the third largest religion in the world, is also, in general, polytheistic.  Hindus generally believe in MANY gods and goddesses, such as: Rama, Sita, Durga, Ganesha, Vishnu, Shiva, and Krishna (Hinduism: A Very Short Introduction, by Kim Knott, p. xiv).
Hinduism, however, includes a diversity of religious and philosophical perspectives, including six different traditional philosophical systems: (1) Samkhya, (2) Yoga, (3) Mimamsa, (4) Vedanta, (5) Nyaya, and (6) Vaisheshika. (Hinduism, p. 111).  Furthermore, there are some significantly different views within these particular philosophical systems.  One important and influential version of Vedanta was formulated by Shankara in the 9th century, CE:
To Shankara, atman [self] was really none other than brahman [ultimate reality].  There was no plurality of consciousness or being.  It was all one.   Liberation was achieved by removing ignorance, learning to discriminate between what was eternal and what only masqueraded as such, and then acquiring knowledge of the self’s identity with brahman.  (Hinduism, p. 28).
According to Shankara, brahman (ultimate reality) was impersonal and without qualities (Hinduism, p. 29).  Hindus who follow Shankara’s verion of Vedanta thus view ultimate reality as an impersonal force or principle:
…in the Upanisads,  the word Brahman comes to mean the source of power, and thus the impersonal, supreme, eternal principle behind the origin of the universe and the gods.  (Concise Dictionary of World Religions, by John Bowker, p.96)
Hindus who follow Shankara’s version of Vedanta might say they believe in “God”, but what they mean by the word “God” is clearly something very different from what Christians, Jews, and Muslims usually mean by the word “God”.  The traditional view of God in western religions is that of a personal creator who is omnipotent, omniscient, and perfectly good.  Hindus who follow Shankara’s version of Vedanta do NOT believe that such a being exists.  Thus, although such Hindus have “religious belief”, they do NOT believe in God, not in the sense of the word “God” intended by most Christians, Jews, and Muslims.
[I should note that there are other versions of Vedanta in which “brahman” is understood to be a personal being and a creator, similar to the Western conception of God, so Hindus who ascribe to those other versions of Vedanta are correct, or at least more accurate, when they claim that they believe in God.]
In short, there are a significant number of Buddhists and Hindus who have “religious belief” but who do NOT believe in God.  Therefore, even if we grant the assumption that “religious belief” is widespread, it does NOT follow that “almost all people of every era” believe that God exists.   Kreeft’s  “evidence” in support of premise (1) thus FAILS to show that (1) is true.
Belief in God in the United States
One obvious source of evidence that might have influenced Kreeft’s opinion on this matter is the Gallup Polls that have been taken about belief in God since the 1940s:
Do you believe in God? YES
2017 May 3-7                      87%
2016 Jun 14-23                  89%
2014 May 8-11                    86%
2013 May 2-7                      87%
2011 May 5-8                      92%
1967 Aug 24-29                  98%
1965 Nov                              98%
1954 Nov 11-16                   98%
1953 Mar 28-Apr 2           98%
1947 Nov 7-12                     94%
1944 Nov 17-22                  96%
(see this web page:  http://news.gallup.com/poll/1690/religion.aspx )
Based on those figures, one might be tempted to conclude that:
In the 20th century, almost all people in the United States believed in God.
Since belief in God in the U.S. has dropped from over 95% in the 20th Century to below 90% in the 21st Century (according to the above Gallup polls), I’m not sure it would be accurate to say “almost all people” in the U.S. believe in God in the 21st century.  It depends on what we mean by “almost all people”.
It should be noted, however, that the figures from Gallup exaggerate the percentage of people who believe in God.  First of all, no definition or clarification is given in the poll question as to what the word “God” means.  So, the person answering the question is left free to interpret this word however they wish or however they are inclined to interpret it.  Some people who do NOT believe in God as understood in traditional Christian, Jewish, and Muslim belief, probably answered the question “Yes”, because they believe in some sort of deity or spirit or impersonal ultimate force or principle.
Another problem with the Gallup poll numbers is that people are only given two basic options “Yes” or “No”.  But in the area of religious belief there is a variety of points of view about “ultimate reality” and metaphysics.  There are monotheists, and polytheists, and pantheists, and panentheists, and atheists.  And there are different kinds of monotheists with significantly different concepts of the deity.  Some monotheists believe in a finite and imperfect deity, others believe in an infinite and perfect deity.  Also, polytheists come in different varieties.  Some believe that there is a chief deity that rules over the other deities, and other polytheists don’t believe that there is a chief deity.  Some polytheists believe that gods are immortal, and other polytheists (such as Buddhists) believe that gods, like humans, are subject to death.
When a poll question only provides TWO options: belief in God or no belief in God, some people are uncomfortable with both options, because saying they “believe in God” suggests that they believe in the God of Western religion (Christianity, Judaism, or Islam), but saying that the do NOT believe in God suggests that they are atheists who have no religious beliefs, and neither of those are accurate characterizations of their viewpoints.  So, people who are polytheists or pantheists or who believe in just one finite and limited god are tempted to say they “believe in God” just because that is closer to the truth than that they are atheists who have no religious beliefs, which is how they interpret (or think others will interpret) the answer that they “don’t believe in God”.
When other options are provided, it is no surprise that fewer people will then say that they “believe in God”.  For example, in some Gallup polls people were given a second religious alternative:
Which of the following statements comes closest to your belief about God — you believe in God, you don’t believe in God, but you do believe in a universal spirit or higher power, or you don’t believe in either?
Date                      God        Universal Spirit
2010 May 3-6      80               12
2008 May 8-11    78               15
2007 May 10-13  78               14
2004 May 2-4      81               13
(see this web page:  http://news.gallup.com/poll/1690/religion.aspx )
Notice that a significant percentage of respondents chose the second religious alternative.  In a Gallup poll taken in 2011, where no second alternative was offered, 92% of respondents answered “Yes” to the question of whether they believed in God; this is the exact same percentage as the sum of those who in the previous year said they believed in God (80%) and those who answered that they “don’t believe in God, but…do believe in a universal spirit or higher power” (12%).
When Americans are given this second religious alternative, 12 to 15 percent go for that option, people who would have said that they “believe in God” if only given the choice between “believe in God” and “don’t believe in God”.   So, belief in God, as understood in traditional Christian theology, is probably held by no more than 80% of people in the United States in the 21st century.
Furthermore, since the above question still fails to provide a definition of “God”,  some people who answered “Yes” do not believe in God as understood by traditional Christian theology and belief.  They have some idiosyncratic or non-traditional understanding of the concept of “God” and so they actually do NOT believe in God, as understood by traditional Christian theology and belief.
Barna Research has attempted to provide clearer definitions or characterizations of “God” to determine how many Americans actually believe in God in terms of the traditional Christian conception of God, and their surveys indicate that significantly less than 80% of Americans believe in the existence of God, so defined:
When asked to choose one of several descriptions of God, the proportion who believe that God is “the all-knowing, all-powerful and perfect Creator of the universe who still rules the world today” currently stands at two-thirds of the public (67%).   
(see this web page: https://www.barna.com/research/barna-examines-trends-in-14-religious-factors-over-20-years-1991-to-2011/ )
So, when a poll provides a clear definition of “God” that corresponds to the traditional Christian (or Western) concept of God, less than 70% of people in the U.S. in the 21st century say they believe that such a being exists.  Therefore, it seems to be the case that even the narrow claim that “almost all people” in the United States in the 21st century believe in God (as traditionally conceived of by Western religions) is FALSE.   67% of people does NOT constitute “almost all people”.
Belief in God Worldwide
The real problem for Kreeft’s claim, however, is that the United States is only one country out of many countries in the world:
https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Country#/media/File:1-12_Political_Color_Map_World.png
The United Nations includes 193 countries as members, and there are a few other countries that are not members of the U.N.:
https://www.countries-ofthe-world.com/all-countries.html
How many people in the world believe that God exists?
According to a worldwide poll conducted in 2011 by global research company Ipsos for Reuters News, only 45% of people believe in a “God or Supreme Being”:
Half of global citizens (51%) surveyed believe there is some form of ‘divine entity’: either a “God or Supreme Being” (45%) or “many Gods or Supreme Beings” (6%). This compares with two in ten (18%) who “don’t believe in God/Gods/Supreme Being/Beings” and another three in ten (30%) who are “undecided” of which 17% say “sometimes I believe, but sometimes I don’t” and another 13% say “I’m not sure if I believe”.
(see this web page:  https://www.ipsos.com/en-us/ipsos-global-dvisory-supreme-beings-afterlife-and-evolution )
Furthermore, this 45% figure is itself exaggerated, for the same reason that some of the Gallup polls exaggerated the percentage of people who believe in God: there is no definition or clarification provided of what the word “God” means.  Therefore, some people who have an idiosyncratic or non-traditional concept of God will misleadingly answer that they believe in a “God or Supreme Being”, when the being that they believe in is significantly different from God as traditionally conceived of by Western religions.
Based on the above worldwide polling data, the following claim is FALSE:
In the 21st century, almost all people in the world believe that God exists.
If we broaden the scope of the claim about the prevalence of belief in God from the United States (which is a very religious country dominated by Christianity) to the entire world, then we move from a dubious claim about the US to a claim that is clearly FALSE about the world.  
It seems likely that Peter Kreeft took his personal experience and understanding about belief in God in the United States (where he grew up and where he lives), and mistakenly generalized that experience and understanding to the entire world.  But this was a HASTY GENERALIZATION that led him to a FALSE conclusion.
Belief in God in the Past
One might try to defend premise (1) against the above objection by arguing that the 21st century is a time of great and unprecedented skepticism, and that belief in God was much more common and widespread in past centuries.  If belief in God was more prevalent in the past than it is now, then premise (1) could still be true, because the 21st century would be an aberration from the norm.
Recall that Kreeft’s claim has a very broad scope in terms of time:

1. Belief in God…is common to almost all people of every era.

Taken literally, “every era” would include the Paleozoic Era (from 541 million years ago to 252 million years ago).  Of course, there was no belief in God by people during the Paleozoic Era, because there were no people (no human beings) that long ago.  But clearly, Kreeft had in mind only those “eras” in which people existed, who could then either believe in God or not believe in God.
How long have people existed?  Homo Sapiens have been around for about 250,000 years. Is it true that “almost all” Homo Sapiens who lived 200,000 years ago believed in God?  I don’t think there is any evidence that shows this to be true.  Also, it seems unlikely that primitive humans believed in God.  There were no temples or churches, no priests, no missionaries, no hymns, and no sacred books 200,000 years ago.  People were very busy just trying to stay alive, and language itself was no doubt very primitive, so talking about ordinary observable things and events was difficult, let alone having deep philosophical or theological discussions.
It seems unlikely that belief in God existed prior to human civilization.  The first human civilization was the Mesopotamian Civilization which began around 3500 BCE.  So, if belief in God did not occur until the beginning of human civilization, then human beings existed for about 245,000 years without believing in God, and then some humans believed in God for about the past 5,000 years.   Given the vast period of time that humans existed prior to human civilization, if belief in God began around the time that civilization began, then the period in which (some) humans have believed in God was only about 2% of the time that humans have existed.  So, if we include the “eras” of human existence prior to civilization, it seems very doubtful that “Belief in God…is common to almost all people of every era.”
Of course, we don’t know for a fact whether humans believed in God 200,000 years ago.  There are no books or writings from that long ago, because writing was not invented until about 3100 BCE , in ancient Sumer, in Mesopotamia (see History of Writing, Wikipedia).  Since it is extremely difficult to know what humans believed or did not believe prior to the invention of writing, it is reasonable to infer that when Kreeft spoke of “every era”, he had in mind only HISTORICAL times, only those centuries and locations where humans had developed writing and so could record their experiences and beliefs for posterity.  So, I will assume that the scope of premise (1) is limited to the centuries after the beginning of human civilization, especially after the invention of writing around 3100 BCE.
OK.  So, is it true that “almost all” humans who lived 5,000 years ago (in Civilizations) believed in God?  Let’s start with the most ancient civilization, the Mesopotamian Civilization.  Did “almost all” of the people who were part of the ancient Mesopotamian Civilization believe in God?  So far as I know, none of them did.  At any rate, the dominant religious view was that of polytheism:
Mesopotamian religion was polytheistic; more than 2,000 gods and goddesses have been identified. The chief of the gods varied from period to period. For the Sumerians, it was Enlin, the Sky God. The Babylonians worshipped Marduk above all others, and Ashur was the supreme god of the Assyrians. Other notable gods and goddesses were Ishtar, goddess of love and fertility, Tiamat, god of the sea and chaos, and Sin, the moon god.
The Mesopotamians conceived of the material world as being deeply bound up with the divine. Every household, village and city had its own god. 
(see this web page: https://www.timemaps.com/civilizations/ancient-mesopotamia/ )
Unlike the more unified civilizations of Egypt or Greece, Mesopotamia was a collection of varied cultures whose only real bonds were their script, their gods, and their attitude toward women. The social customs, laws, and even language of Akkad, for example, cannot be assumed to correspond to those of Babylon; it does seem, however, that the rights of women, the importance of literacy, and the pantheon of the gods were indeed shared throughout the region (though the gods had different names in various regions and periods).
(see this web page: https://www.ancient.eu/Mesopotamia/)
So, the people of the earliest human civilization believed in MANY gods, NOT in one unique, eternal, infinite, and perfect creator of the universe.  They did NOT believe in God.
What about OTHER ancient civilizations? 

  • Ancient Egyptian civilization was polytheistic.
  • Indus Valley civilization was polytheistic.
  • Ancient Greek civilization was polytheistic.
  • Ancient Roman civilization was polytheistic.
  • Mayan civilization was polytheistic.

Notice a pattern here?  Most ancient civilizations were polytheistic.  So, for the period from 3000 BCE to the first century CE, it appears that “religious belief” was indeed widespread, but that monotheism and thus “belief in God” was NOT widespread.
In the past 2,000 years Christianity and Islam have grown to become the two largest world religions, with Hinduism running close behind in third place.  But even though the spread of Christianity and Islam have promoted the spread of belief in God, it is still not the case in the 21st century, that “almost all” people believe in God.
It is fair to say that as Christianity and Islam have grown and spread, belief in God has become more widespread, more prevalent than it was in the first 3,000 years of ancient human civilizations.  Even so, belief in God is still held by less than 50% of the human beings on this planet.  Therefore, it is reasonable to conclude that it is NOT the case that “almost all people in every era” have believed in God (assuming that “every era” refers to the time since the beginning of human civilization, and especially the beginning of writing, around 3100 BCE).
CONCLUSION: Premise (1) of Argument #19 is FALSE, and thus Argument #19 is UNSOUND.
In Part 6, I will evaluate premise (3c) of Argument #19.
 

bookmark_borderKreeft’s Case for God – Part 4: Evaluation of Argument #12

WHERE WE ARE AT WITH EXAMINATION OF ARGUMENT #12
In Part 3 of this series I analyzed the logical structure of Argument #12 in Peter Kreeft’s case for the existence of God from Chapter 3 of his Handbook of Christian Apologetics (hereafter: HCA).
My initial criticism of this argument is that much of it is devoted to support for premise (14), but premise (14) is irrelevant to the argument; it plays no role in the deductive reasoning that is the core of the argument, and by itself (14) provides no significant support for the conclusion that God exists.
I pointed out that the reasoning supporting (14) suggests or hints at an interesting line of reasoning against naturalism and for supernaturalism, but the question at issue here is: “Does God exist?”, and an argument for supernaturalism does not answer this question.  Proving that something supernatural exists is a far cry from proving that God exists.  So, in the end, we should simply ignore premise (14) and the bulk of the premises and inferences that Kreeft included in Argument #12.
 
SUPPORT FOR THE PREMISES OF THE CORE ARGUMENT
Having set aside the reasoning supporting premise (14), we will now focus on the core of Argument #12, which is this bit of deductive reasoning:

15. The idea of God must have been caused by something which has nothing less than the qualities contained in the idea of God.

6a. But only God himself has the qualities contained in the idea of God.

THEREFORE:

7. God himself must be the cause of the idea of God.

Neither of the premises of this argument is self-evident or obviously true, so Kreeft needs to provide some reason or argument in support of each premise.  According to my previous analysis of the logical structure of the argument, neither premise was supported by a reason or argument.
However, it seems to me that one of the premises in the arguments supporting (14) could be viewed as providing support for (15) as well:

12. No effect can be greater than its cause.

Another assumption would be required in order to make use of (12) to support (15):

G.  If X has qualities that are less than the qualities contained in Y, then Y is greater than X.

So, we can reconstruct the reasoning probably intended to support premise (15):

12. No effect can be greater than its cause.

G.  If X has qualities that are less than the qualities contained in Y, then Y is greater than X.

THEREFORE:

15. The idea of God must have been caused by something which has nothing less than the qualities contained in the idea of God.

As for premise (6a), there does not appear to be any premises supporting (14) that could be viewed as also providing support for (6a). Kreeft provides no support for premise (6a).  However, we will soon see that on one interpretation of (6a), this premise is obviously true, so given that interpretation, there would be no need for Kreeft to provide any reasons or arguments in support of (6a).  In a moment, I will discuss the interpretation(s) of premise (6a).
 
THE PREMISES OF THE CORE ARGUMENT ARE AMBIGUOUS
There is a very serious problem with the core of Argument #12, that makes it challenging to evaluate this argument.  There is an ambiguity in the key expression “the qualities contained in the idea of God”.  If we set aside the idea of God for a moment, we can see the problem of ambiguity in talk about the idea of an elephant:

  • The idea of an elephant contains the qualities of (a) being gray, (b) having a trunk, and (c) being larger than a horse. 
  • It is NOT the case that the idea of an elephant contains the qualities of (a) being gray, (b) having a trunk, and (c) being larger than a horse.

The first statement seems true, because the qualities specified are the qualities we use to identify something as being an elephant.  But the second statement, which directly contradicts the first statement, also seems true, because ideas have no color, no appendages, and no size.  The problem is that we need to make a distinction between the qualities of the idea itself, and the qualities that define the object of the idea:

  • The idea of an elephant REFERS TO the qualities of (a) being gray, (b) having a trunk, and (c) being larger than a horse. 
  • It is NOT the case that the idea of an elephant POSSESS the qualities of (a) being gray, (b) having a trunk, and (c) being larger than a horse.

If we use the two different expressions above to mark the distinction between talk about the qualities of an idea itself (the idea itself possesses, or does not possess, various qualities) versus talk about the qualities that define the object of an idea (the qualities to which an idea refers), then we can distinguish two different meanings or interpretations of premise (15) and of premise (6a).  Because both premises are ambiguous and have two possible interpretations, we can formulate four different interpretations or versions of the core deductive reasoning of Argument #12.   
We can see how using the above expressions to mark the distinction helps to clarify claims about the idea of God:

  • The idea of God REFERS TO the qualities of (a) omnipotence, (b) omniscience, and (c) being the creator of the universe. 
  • It is NOT the case that the idea of God POSSESS the qualities of (a) omnipotence, (b) omniscience, and (c) being the creator of the universe. 

Using this clearer language, we can be confident that the above two statements are both true.
 
VERSION I: UNSOUND  BECAUSE (6.1) IS FALSE

15.1. The idea of God must have been caused by something which has nothing less than the qualities POSSESSED BY the idea of God.

6.1. But only God himself has the qualities POSSESSED BY the idea of God.

THEREFORE:

7. God himself must be the cause of the idea of God.

In this version, both premises are talking about the qualities of the IDEA itself (e.g. an idea has no size, no shape, no weight).  The idea itself is NOT a person, and is NOT omnipotent, and is NOT the creator of the universe.  So, on this interpretation, the core argument is clearly UNSOUND, because premise (6.1) is FALSE.
All of my ideas are non-persons, non-omnipotent, and non-creators.  So, many different ideas possess the same qualities that are possessed by the idea of God.  Furthermore, God himself lacks some of the qualities that my ideas have, and many of my other ideas possess qualities possessed by the idea (itself) of God.  So, it is NOT the case that only God has the qualities POSSESSED BY the idea of God; premise (6.1) is FALSE.
 
VERSION II: PROBABLY UNSOUND BECAUSE (15.2) IS PROBABLY FALSE 

15.2. The idea of God must have been caused by something which has nothing less than the qualities REFERRED TO BY the idea of God.

6.2. But only God himself has the qualities REFERRED TO BY the idea of God.

THEREFORE:

7. God himself must be the cause of the idea of God.

In this case the second premise, premise (6.2), appears to be true; only God has the qualities that are used to define the meaning of the word “God”.  On this interpretation, premise (6.2) is obviously true, and thus no reasons or arguments are needed to support this premise.
But on this interpretation of Argument #12, the first premise, premise (15.2), is FALSE.  Some of the qualities that are referred to by the idea of God are: omnipotence, omniscience, and being the creator of the universe.  But the idea itself is NOT omnipotent, and NOT omniscient, and it is NOT the creator of the universe.  So even if one assumes that only an omnipotent being could be the cause of another omnipotent being, this has no relevance to this case, because the idea itself does not possess the quality of omnipotence.
The argument supporting premise (15.2) is based on premise (12):

12. No effect can be greater than its cause.

Premise (12) seems (at least to Kreeft) to imply that something that is lacking the quality of omnipotence could not be the cause of something that possesses the quality of omnipotence, but this is irrelevant to the case under consideration here: the idea of God (the idea itself) is NOT omnipotent, does NOT possess the quality of omnipotence, and thus it does NOT require something that is omnipotent to be its cause.  Kreeft’s argument in support of (15.2) FAILS.
Furthermore, we have a good inductive reason to doubt the truth of premise (15.2), because in the case of almost any other idea that we can think of, the existence of that idea does NOT require a cause that possesses the qualities referred to by that idea.
My idea of an elephant MIGHT have been caused by something that is gray, has a trunk, and is larger than a horse, but it MIGHT also have been caused by something that does NOT possess those qualities.  For example, it might have been caused by viewing a cartoon of a pink elephant, and by hearing someone say that elephants are actually gray and not pink.  The cartoon is not gray, does not have a trunk, and is not larger than a horse, and yet the cartoon is (or could be) the cause of my idea of an elephant.  We can imagine many such scenarios for many different ideas that we have, so it appears to be a general fact that the cause of an idea does NOT need to possess the qualities referred to by the idea in question.  Thus, premise (15.2) is probably FALSE.
 
VERSION III: UNSOUND BECAUSE LOGICALLY INVALID

15.1. The idea of God must have been caused by something which has nothing less than the qualities POSSESSED BY the idea of God.

6.2. But only God himself has the qualities REFERRED TO BY the idea of God.

THEREFORE:

7. God himself must be the cause of the idea of God.

On this interpretation,  Argument #12 is logically invalid, because (15.1) is talking about the set of qualities POSSESSED BY the idea of God, but (6.2) is talking about the set of qualities REFERRED TO BY the idea of God.  The premises are talking about two different sets of qualities, and so they do NOT logically connect with each other.
On this interpretation, the second premise, premise (6.2), is obviously true, and premise (15.1) has some initial plausibility (the argument Kreeft gives for this premise is at least relevant, though it is based on a dubious premise).  But even if (15.1) were true, this argument would still be UNSOUND because the logic of the argument is INVALID.
 
VERSION IV: UNSOUND BECAUSE LOGICALLY INVALID AND PREMISE (6.1) IS FALSE

15.2. The idea of God must have been caused by something which has nothing less than the qualities REFERRED TO BY the idea of God.

6.1. But only God himself has the qualities POSSESSED BY the idea of God.

THEREFORE:

7. God himself must be the cause of the idea of God.

Once again, the first premise, premise (15.2), is talking about qualities REFERRED TO BY the idea of God (e.g. omniscience, omnipotence, etc.), but the second premise, premise (6.1), is talking about qualities POSSESSED BY the idea of God (e.g. the idea itself is NOT omniscient, and is NOT omnipotent, etc.).  So, the premises are talking about two different sets of qualities.  Therefore, this version of Argument #12 is logically INVALID, because the two premises do not logically connect with each other.
Furthermore, premise (15.2) is probably FALSE, as I have argued above, and premise (6.1) is clearly FALSE.  So, this version of the argument is UNSOUND because it is INVALID and because premise (6.1) is FALSE.
 
CONCLUSION: ARGUMENT #12 IS A BAD ARGUMENT
The bulk of Argument #12 is concerned with supporting premise (14), but premise (14) is irrelevant to the conclusion, so that portion of the argument constitutes a Red Herring fallacy; it is a lot of blather about a point that is irrelevant to the question at issue.
The core of Argument #12, on the other hand, is a bit of deductive reasoning that IS relevant to the question at issue.  However, the core of Argument #12 has a very serious flaw: both of its premises use an ambiguous phrase: “the qualities contained in the idea of God”.  When the meaning of this phrase is clarified, we see that there are four possible interpretations of the core of Argument #12.  We examined each of those interpretations, and discovered that the core of Argument #12 is UNSOUND no matter which interpretation we give it.
Because this argument is UNSOUND no matter which interpretation we consider, we must conclude that Argument #12 is a BAD argument and that it provides ZERO support for the conclusion that “God exists”.
===========================
FURTHER DISCUSSION ABOUT PREMISE (15)
I have argued above that premise (15) is ambiguous; it could mean either (15.1) or (15.2).  The same is true of premise (6); it could mean either (6.1) or (6.2).   However, (6.1) is clearly FALSE, and (6.2) is clearly TRUE.  Since Kreeft provides no reason or argument in support of (6), this indicates he believes (6) to be obviously true.  Therefore, the best interpretation of (6) is (6.2), because (a) this is the more charitable interpretation (it is true rather than false), and (b) this interpretation makes sense of the fact that Kreeft provides no reason or argument in support of premise (6).
If we interpret (6) as meaning (6.2), then in order for the argument to be LOGICALLY VALID, we must also interpret premise (15) as meaning (15.2).  Otherwise, if we pair (6.2) with (15.1) the premises will be talking about two different sets of qualities and the argument would be INVALID.  So, if (6.2) is the best interpretation of (6), then in order to follow the principle of charity, we must take premise (15) to mean (15.2).
Here then, is the best interpretation of the bit of deductive reasoning that is the core of Argument #12:

15.2. The idea of God must have been caused by something which has nothing less than the qualities REFERRED TO BY the idea of God.

6.2. But only God himself has the qualities REFERRED TO BY the idea of God.

THEREFORE:

7. God himself must be the cause of the idea of God.

(This is what I called “Version II” of Argument #12).
Although the sets of qualities spoken of by (6.2) and (15.2) are the same set of qualities, there is still a problem with the logic of this argument.  Premise (15.2) talks about something that “has nothing less than” the qualities referred to by the idea of God, but premise (6.2) talks about something that simply “has” the qualities referred to by the idea of God.  These are different ideas, so the above argument is NOT a formally valid deductive argument.
We need a slightly different statement than (15.2) to work with (6.2):

15.3. The idea of God must have been caused by something which has the qualities REFERRED TO BY the idea of God.

6.2. But only God himself has the qualities REFERRED TO BY the idea of God.

THEREFORE:

7. God himself must be the cause of the idea of God.

It seems to me that Kreeft (or a Christian apologist who was sympathetic with Kreeft’s Argument #12) would try to deduce (15.3) from (15.2) like this:

15.2. The idea of God must have been caused by something which has nothing less than the qualities REFERRED TO BY the idea of God.

H. IF anything has nothing less than the qualities REFERRED TO BY the idea of God, THEN either it (or those things) has the qualities REFERRED TO BY the idea of God, OR it (or those things) has qualities that are greater than the qualities REFERRED TO BY the idea of God.

I. Nothing can have qualities that are greater than the qualities REFERRED TO BY the idea of God.

THEREFORE:

15.3. The idea of God must have been caused by something which has the qualities REFERRED TO BY the idea of God.

The expressions “has nothing less than the qualities…” and “qualities that are greater than the qualities…” are unacceptably vague and unclear, so we cannot rationally evaluate the premises of this argument.  Kreeft would need to provide clarification or definitions of these unclear phrases in order for it to be possible to rationally evaluate this argument for (15.3).
Premise (15.2) appears to be based upon premise (12):

12. No effect can be greater than its cause.

Premise (12) is also unacceptably vague and unclear.  The problematic phrase is “greater than”.  Kreeft provides no definition of this vague and unclear expression, so we cannot rationally evaluate (12).  However, there are various claims that seem to be implications of (12), and we know that these apparent implications are FALSE:

  • Something that is SMALL cannot cause something that is LARGE.
  • Something that is WEAK cannot cause something that is STRONG.
  • Something that is UNINTELLIGENT cannot cause something that is INTELLIGENT.

We can easily come up with examples that contradict these claims:

  • A SMALL lump of uranium can cause a LARGE nuclear explosion.
  • Parents who are WEAK can produce children who are STRONG.
  • UNINTELLIGENT single-celled animals can kick off the process of evolution leading to the existence of INTELLIGENT animals, such as humans.

Since various claims that appear to be implications of (12) are clearly FALSE, this gives us good reason to doubt the truth of (12), even though the meaning of (12) is unacceptably vague and unclear.  Whatever meaning is given to (12) by Kreeft or a sympathetic apologist, it is likely to be subject to counterexamples like those above.
Thus, there are two problems with the arguments for (15.2) and (15.3).  The arguments are based on claims that are unacceptably vague and unclear, and the arguments depend on the truth of premise (12) which is also unacceptably unclear, but which appears to have implications that we KNOW to be FALSE.  Kreeft’s argument for (15.3) therefore FAILS.
We also have good inductive evidence that (15.3) is FALSE.  Many claims of a similar form are clearly FALSE:

  • The idea of SUPERMAN must have been caused by something which has the qualities REFERRED TO BY the idea of SUPERMAN.
  • The idea of SANTA CLAUS must have been caused by something which has the qualities REFERRED TO BY the idea of SANTA CLAUS.
  • The idea of FRANKENSTEIN must have been caused by something which has the qualities REFERRED TO BY the idea of FRANKENSTEIN.
  • The idea of KING KONG must have been caused by something which has the qualities REFERRED TO BY the idea of KING KONG.

These analogous claims give us good reason to doubt the truth of premise (15.3).  Since Kreeft has given us no good reason to believe (15.3), and since we have a good reason to doubt the truth of (15.3), we ought to reject this premise unless and until some good reason or argument is given to show that premise (15.3) is true.
 

bookmark_borderKreeft’s Case for God – Part 3: The Origin of the Idea of God

MY DIVIDE-AND-CONQUER STRATEGY
I have argued that Peter Kreeft puts forward what he takes to be his strongest and best arguments for the existence of God in the first half of his list of twenty arguments (Handbook of Christian Apologetics by Peter Kreeft  and Ronald Tacelli, Chapter 3), and then puts forward his weakest and most flawed arguments in the second half (the last ten arguments in his list).  
Furthermore, in Part 1 and Part 2 of this series, I have argued that eight out of the ten last arguments are so weak and/or flawed that they should be tossed aside and simply ignored:
11. The Argument from Truth
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
20. Pascal’s Wager
I had intended to argue that all ten of the last ten arguments should be tossed aside and ignored, but the remaining two arguments do not seem to be as obviously weak and/or  flawed as the above eight arguments.  I think the remaining two are BAD arguments, but they are not as obviously and egregiously BAD as the above eight arguments, which are AWFUL arguments.  
Since I am likely to conclude that all twenty of Kreeft’s arguments are BAD arguments, and since I don’t intend to simply toss aside all twenty arguments, I will assume (for now) that the above list of eight arguments are the only AWFUL arguments in Kreeft’s list, and that I need to treat the remaining twelve arguments (including two arguments from the second half of Kreeft’s list) more seriously and do the serious intellectual work necessary to show that those dozen arguments are in fact BAD arguments.  
I will also try to show (in a future post) that when taken together those dozen arguments provide (at best) only a weak and/or seriously flawed cumulative case for the existence of God.  It is the remaining dozen arguments (and only those arguments) that I will now consider to be the content of Kreeft’s cumulative case.  I will set aside and simply ignore the above eight AWFUL arguments.
In future posts I will be focusing my attention on the first ten arguments in Kreeft’s list, which I think he believes to be his best and strongest arguments for the existence of God.  There are also two arguments remaining from the last ten arguments in Kreeft’s list:
12. The Argument from the Origin of the Idea of God
19. The Common Consent Argument
In this present post, I will analyze and evaluate Kreeft’s Argument #12.
 
ANALYSIS OF THE ARGUMENT FROM THE ORIGIN OF THE IDEA OF GOD
Unlike some of the arguments I have asserted should be tossed aside, this argument actually concludes that “God exists”, so it is at least in the ballpark and appears to be relevant to the main question at issue: “Does God exist?”.  
Here is Kreeft’s outline of Argument #12:
1. We have ideas of many things.
2. These ideas must arise either from ourselves or from things outside us.
3. One of the ideas we have is the idea of God–an infinite all-perfect being.
4. This idea could not have been caused by ourselves, because we know ourselves to be limited and imperfect, and no effect can be greater than its cause.
5. Therefore, the idea must have been caused by something outside us which has nothing less than the qualities contained in the idea of God.
6.  But only God himself has those qualities.
7. Therefore God himself must be the cause of the idea we have of him.
8. Therefore God exists.
(HCA, p.68)
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NOTE: 
As Kreeft points out, Argument #12 is derived from Descartes’s argument for the existence of God in Meditations on First Philosophy (in Meditation III).  However, Kreeft does not quote Descartes’s presentation of the argument; rather, he provides his own outline and defense of the argument, and in doing so, Kreeft makes the argument his own.  I do not care whether Kreeft has accurately represented Descartes’s argument for God.  Kreeft might have misunderstood and distorted Descartes’s argument, or modified it in a way that seriously damages the argument.  My only concern is whether or not the argument that Kreeft presents is a GOOD and solid argument.
Because I am only concerned with evaluating the argument as presented by Kreeft,  I don’t care whether this argument reflects the reasoning of Descartes, and I don’t care whether this argument presented by Kreeft is better or worse than Descartes’s version.  One other implication of my focus is that if Kreeft’s argument turns out to be a BAD argument (and it will), that would not necessarily mean that Descartes’s similar argument for God is a BAD argument, and if Kreeft’s argument turns out to be a GOOD argument (it won’t), that would not necessarily mean that Descartes’s argument for God was a GOOD argument.  My only concern here is the strength or weakness of the argument that is presented by Kreeft.
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I’m going to clean up Kreeft’s statement of this argument before I attempt to evaluate it.

  • First, note that premise (1) plays no logical role in the argument, so I will use gray font for that premise.
  • Second, premise (2) is not required to make the first inference in the argument, but is required for the second inference, so let’s move premise (2) to occur just before the second inference.  Let’s also revise the phrase “arise…from” to “caused…by”, to make it more consistent with the language used in other premises.
  • Third, premise (3) actually asserts two claims, so let’s separate (3) into two premises: (9) and (10).
  • Fourth, premise (4) is actually an argument, NOT a statement, so let’s break (4) down into three statements: (11), (12), and (13), and let’s use the inference indicator word “therefore” to show the inference made here.
  • Fifth, premise (5) actually asserts two claims, so lets separate (5) into two premises: (14) and (15).
  • Sixth, in premise (6) we find the phrase “those qualities”, so let’s make the reference of this phrase explicit (i.e. “the qualities contained in the idea of God”).
  • Seventh, let’s pull the inference indicator word “therefore” out of the statements, and place it between the statements at the appropriate locations.

ARGUMENT #12, REV A:

1. We have ideas of many things.

9. We have the idea of God.

10. The idea of God is the idea of an infinite all-perfect being.

11. We are limited and imperfect.

12. No effect can be greater than its cause.

THEREFORE:

13. The idea of God could not have been caused by ourselves. 

2a. Our ideas must be caused either by ourselves or by things outside us.

THEREFORE:

14. The idea of God must have been caused by something outside us.

15. The idea of God must have been caused by something which has nothing less than the qualities contained in the idea of God.

6a.  But only God himself has the qualities contained in the idea of God.

THEREFORE:

7. God himself must be the cause of the idea of God.

THEREFORE:

8. God exists.

I take it that (7) logically entails (8), so the final inference in this reasoning is correct.  Thus, the question at issue becomes: Has Kreeft provided us with a good and solid argument in support of (7)?
I take it that Kreeft intends to provide a deductive argument in support of (7).  It appears that he intends us to infer (7) from premises (14), (15), and (6a).   So, the question becomes: “Has Kreeft provided a SOUND deductive argument in support of (7)?
It is plausible (at least initially) to understand the core of Kreeft’s argument as follows:

14. The idea of God must have been caused by something outside us.

15. The idea of God must have been caused by something which has nothing less than the qualities contained in the idea of God.

6a.  But only God himself has the qualities contained in the idea of God.

THEREFORE:

7. God himself must be the cause of the idea of God.

This core argument does not appear to be formally valid.  It might, however, be deductively valid.  I will examine and evaluate this core argument later, in the “evaluation” section of this post.
In the middle of Kreeft’s argument, we find a nice little nugget of deductive reasoning in support of premise (14):

13. The idea of God could not have been caused by ourselves. 

2a. Our ideas must be caused either by ourselves or by things outside us.

THEREFORE:

14. The idea of God must have been caused by something outside us.

Let’s take a closer look at what appears to be the first inference in Kreeft’s argument, which is given in support of premise (13):

1. We have ideas of many things.

9. We have the idea of God.

10. The idea of God is the idea of an infinite all-perfect being.

11. We are limited and imperfect.

12. No effect can be greater than its cause.

THEREFORE:

13. The idea of God could not have been caused by ourselves. 

I take it that Kreeft intends to provide a deductive argument here in support of (13), but it is unclear whether this argument is logically valid.  It is NOT formally valid.
Clearly (12) is a primary premise given in support of (13), but the argument is missing an assumption that would allow us to validly infer (13):

A. The idea of God is greater than ourselves.

Premise (12) combined with premise (A) is sufficient to validly deduce (13):

12. No effect can be greater than its cause.

A. The idea of God is greater than ourselves.

THEREFORE:

13. The idea of God could not have been caused by ourselves. 

So, it is pretty clear that this is the reasoning that Kreeft had in mind (which he failed to state clearly and explicitly).  But then, what are the purposes of premises (1), (9), (10), and (11)?  What roles do those premises play in this argument?   How do they fit into the logical structure of the argument?
First of all, premises (1) and (9) are irrelevant, or more accurately: they are unnecessary.  These claims are presupposed by premise (10).  If premise (10) is true, that means that both (1) and (9) must be true as well.  Furthermore, (1) and (9) are NOT sufficient to imply the truth of (10); premise (10) asserts something more than what is contained in premises (1) and (9), so it does not make sense to use (1) and (9) together as a deductive argument in support of (10).  Such an argument would be logically INVALID.  We should simply toss aside premises (1) and (9), because they play no actual role in the logical structure of this argument; they are merely presuppositions of premise (10).
That leaves us with premises (10) and (11).  What role do these premises play?  Where do they fit into the logical structure of this argument?  It seems fairly clear to me that these premises are intended to provide support for premise (A):

10. The idea of God is the idea of an infinite all-perfect being.

11. We are limited and imperfect.

THEREFORE:

A. The idea of God is greater than ourselves.

I take it that Kreeft intends to use deductive reasoning here, but this part of his argument is NOT formally valid.  I believe there are more unstated assumptions and more unstated inferences going on here in the background, and we will need to reconstruct this bit of reasoning in order to properly evaluate this part of Kreeft’s argument.  For now, we can simply insert a generic “inference warrant” premise as an additional assumption, to make this bit of reasoning formally valid:

10. The idea of God is the idea of an infinite all-perfect being.

11. We are limited and imperfect.

B. IF we are limited and imperfect and the idea of God is the idea of an infinite all-perfect being, THEN the idea of God is greater than ourselves.

THEREFORE:

A. The idea of God is greater than ourselves.

Based on my analysis of Kreeft’s Argument #12, we can now show the logical structure of this argument (click on image below for clearer view of the diagram):
Arg 12 diagram
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
EVALUATION OF THE ARGUMENT FROM THE ORIGIN OF THE IDEA OF GOD
Note that most of this argument is in support of premise (14).  This appears to be much ado about nothing.  Premise (14) is irrelevant to this argument, because it is unnecessary and plays no role in the deductive reasoning that Kreeft offers in support of (7).   Premise (15) and premise (6a) both play a significant role in a bit of deductive reasoning in support of (7), but (14) does not play a role in that reasoning.
The core of Argument #12 is this bit of reasoning:

15. The idea of God must have been caused by something which has nothing less than the qualities contained in the idea of God.

6a.  But only God himself has the qualities contained in the idea of God.

THEREFORE:

7. God himself must be the cause of the idea of God.

Because (14) is not needed in this bit of deductive reasoning, it appears as though most of Kreeft’s argument is irrelevant to the conclusion, and that the portion of the argument shaded in gray (see the argument diagram above) constitutes a Red Herring fallacy; it is a lot of blather that is distracting but irrelevant.
However, that criticism is not entirely fair to Kreeft’s argument.  There is some reasoning going on underneath the surface, behind the scenes, that makes the reasoning supporting (14) more significant than it initially appears to be.  So,  I will make this reasoning explicit, and then simplify, and make an improvement to, this part of Kreeft’s argument.
At first, the use of the plural pronouns in this argument irritated me (“we” “us” “ourselves”).  But after thinking about this for a bit, I came to see this as a hint pointing towards some iterative reasoning, reasoning that is applied over-and-over to various different things.  Consider the following series of iterative reasoning:

  • I am not the cause of the idea of God (because I am limited and imperfect).
  • John is not the cause of the idea of God (because John is limited and imperfect).
  • Susan is not the cause of the idea of God (because Susan is limited and imperfect).
  • Tom is not the cause of the idea of God (because Tom is limited and imperfect).
  • etcetera, etectera…

CONCLUSION:  No human being is the cause of the idea of God.
The conclusion of this bit of iterative reasoning is almost the same as premise (14):
14. The idea of God must have been caused by something outside us.
The scope of the pronoun “us” is all human beings.  So, we can re-state (14) more clearly as follows:
14a.  The idea of God must have been caused by something other than human beings.
But there is no reason to stop the iterative reasoning with just the collection of all human beings.  We can continue the iterative reasoning to get to a much wider scope of things:

  • No human being is the cause of the idea of God (because humans are limited and imperfect).
  • No dog is the the cause of the idea of God (because dogs are limited and imperfect).
  • No tiger is the cause of the idea of God (because tigers are limited and imperfect).
  • No rabbit is the cause of the idea of God (because rabbits are limited and imperfect).
  • etcetera, etcetera…

CONCLUSION:  No animal is the cause of the idea of God.
And further iterative reasoning of this form can be used to continue to broaden the scope of things included in the conclusion.  Eventually, we get to this stopping point:
CONCLUSION:  No natural thing or phenomenon is the cause of the idea of God (because all natural things and phenomena are limited and imperfect).
This conclusion looks similar to sub-conclusions in various other arguments for the existence of God, and the next step of reasoning is obvious:

C. Something supernatural must have been the cause of the idea of God.

Now, (C) still does NOT play a role in the deductive reasoning that Kreeft offers in support of (7), so (C), like (14) is unnecessary.  However, (C) does provide a bit of evidence in support of the existence of God, claim (8), certainly more significant evidence than is provided by (14).
We can now simplify and improve Kreeft’s argument by replacing the complex argument for (14), with a simpler argument for (C), and take (C) to be a separate bit of evidence for (8) in addition to the support for (8) from the deductive argument for (7).
Here is the argument for (C):

D. Nothing that is limited and imperfect could have been the cause of the idea of God.

E. Every natural entity and phenomenon is limited and imperfect.

THEREFORE:

F. No natural entity or phenomenon could have been the cause of the idea of God.

THEREFORE:

C. Something supernatural must have been the cause of the idea of God.

If Kreeft was making a case against naturalism or for supernaturalism, then I would take a closer look at this interesting bit of reasoning that was VAGUELY HINTED at by the reasoning in Argument #12, but the question at issue here is “Does God exist?” And showing that some non-natural entity or phenomenon exists is a far cry from showing that God exists.
Because there is a huge logical gap between (C) and the claim that “God exists”, the evidence and support that (C) provides for (8) is very weak, so weak that we should simply ignore (C)  and the reasoning in support of (C) hinted at in Argument #12.  Thus, if Argument #12 is going to help Kreeft’s cumulative case for God, then that help must come from the deductive reasoning at the core of this argument.
In post #4, I will continue my evaluation of Argument #12, and I will focus my attention on the following core argument:

15. The idea of God must have been caused by something which has nothing less than the qualities contained in the idea of God.

6a.  But only God himself has the qualities contained in the idea of God.

THEREFORE:

7. God himself must be the cause of the idea of God.

 

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.
=========================

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_borderI Don’t Care – Part 3

According to the Christian philosopher Peter Kreeft, and many others, Aquinas gives five different arguments for the existence of God.  In the Handbook of Christian Apologetics (IVP, 1994; hereafter: HCA) by Peter Kreeft and Ronald Tacelli, there is a chapter that lays out twenty different arguments for the existence of God, and the first five arguments are versions of Aquinas’ Five Ways:
A word about the organization of the arguments.  We have organized them into two basic groups: those which take their data from without–cosmological arguments–and those that take it from within–psychological arguments.  The group of cosmological arguments begins with our versions of Aquinas’ famous “five ways.” (HCA, p.49)
Kreeft is Catholic, so it is not surprising that he puts these arguments by Aquinas at the front of his list of arguments.  On pages 50 through 58 of HCA, Kreeft and Tacelli lay out five different arguments for the existence God that they take to be versions of five different arguments for the existence of God presented by Aquinas in Summa Theologica (Part I, Question 2, Article 3: Whether God Exists?).
I believe, however, that Kreeft and Tacelli are WRONG on this point, and that Aquinas has only ONE argument for the existence of God, or possibly TWO arguments.  I will need to study the details of Aquinas’ case for God a bit further in order to make a final determination on whether he has ONE argument or TWO arguments for God.  (Note: This alternative way of understanding the Five Ways passage is presented by Knut Tranoy in A Critical History of Western Philosophy; see pages 110-112).
Kreeft and Tacelli, I suspect, were deceived by the misleading title of the famous Five Ways passage in Summa Theologica:  “Whether God Exists?”.   Since Aquinas gives five different arguments in that passage, this makes it seem as though he was giving five different arguments for the existence of God.  But this is a gross distortion and a serious misunderstanding of the Five Ways passage.  There are exactly ZERO arguments for the existence of God in the Five Ways passage.
The problem is that Aquinas does not define what he means by “God”, and that what he apparently means by “God” is NOT what the word “God” means in the English language, especially in relation to the Christian religion and Christian theology.  So, in the Five Ways passage, Aquinas does NOT argue for the existence of “God” in the ordinary sense of the word, as used by Christian believers and Christian philosophers and apologists.
The word “God” is a proper noun, the name of a single being.  The meaning of this name is based on a definite description, a list of properties or characteristics that (allegedly) belong to one, and only one, person.  A bare-bones definite description of this person would include the following properties (at least in relation to the use of the word “God” by Christian believers, and especially Christian philosophers and apologists):

  • the creator of the universe
  • an eternally bodiless person
  • an eternally omnipotent person
  • an eternally omniscient person
  • an eternally perfectly morally good person

Although the ordinary use of the word “God” probably does not entail the possession of each and every one of these properties by the being in question (because the ordinary use of famous names typically is criterial  and thus allows some wiggle room, allowing the name to be properly applied so long as the being in question possesses MOST of the properties in the definite description and no other being possesses MOST of the properties), it is clearer, logically cleaner, and more theologically conservative to treat the list of properties in this definite description as necessary conditions for the proper application of the name “God” to a particular being, and to take them jointly as a sufficient condition for the proper application of the name “God” to a particular being.
What Aquinas actually argues for in the Five Ways is the following five metaphysical claims:
(MC1) There exists an AP being.  
(“an AP being” = a being that is actus purus, i.e. pure act)
(MC2) There exists an FEC being.  
(“an FEC being” =  a being that is a first efficient cause)
(MC3) There exists an IES being.
(“an IES being” = a being that is ipsum esse subsistens, i.e. its own self-subisting existence)
(MC4) There exists a COP being.
(“a COP being” = a being that is the cause of all perfections)
(MC5)  There exists an IDN being.
(“a IDN being” = a being that is the intelligent designer of nature)
Aquinas goes on in OTHER passages of Summa Theologica to use (MC3) as the basis for an argument for the existence of God (in the ordinary sense of the word that I have outlined above), and one could argue that he has a second argument for the existence of God that is based on (MC1).  Each argument can be summarized as a modus ponens that contains a metaphysical claim as the first premise and a conditional claim that links the metaphysical claim to the existence of God:
THE IES ARGUMENT
(MC3) There exists an IES being.
(CC1) IF there exists an IES being, THEN God exists.
Therefore:
(G) God exists.
 
THE AP ARGUMENT
 (MC1) There exists an AP being.
(CC2) IF there exists an AP being, THEN God exists.
Therefore:
(G) God exists.
It might be the case that Aquinas intended for the two key metaphysical claims to function together in a single argument for God (or possibly although this was not his intention, this might be an improved way to make use of Aquinas’ reasoning about God to formulate an argument for the existence of God):
THE COMBINED IES & AP ARGUMENT
(MC6)  There exists a being that is both an IES being and an AP being.
(CC3) IF there exists a being that is both an IES being and an AP being, THEN God exists.
Therefore:
(G) God exists.
Whether Aquinas gives ONE argument or TWO arguments for the existence of God, it is clear that the Five Ways passage contains arguments for only five metaphysical claims, and contains ZERO arguments for the conditional claims in the above modus ponens arguments for the existence of God.  Crudely speaking, the Five Ways passage is concerned with only HALF of Aquinas’ argument for the existence of God: the metaphysical claim but not the conditional claim.
But, more accurately, MOST of Aquinas’ reasoning about the existence of God is found in later sections of Summa Theologica that contain a lengthy and complex chain of reasoning consisting of four or five phases (see  post 2 of the I Don’t Care series for a chart that lays out the phases) in order to support the conditional claim(s) in the above argument(s).  So MOST of Aquinas’ argument for the existence of God is found OUTSIDE of the Five Ways passage.
Each of the conditional claims in the above modus ponens arguments is a summary of a lengthy and complex line of reasoning by Aquinas and can be broken down further into a series of conditional claims of the following form:
(P1) If there exists a being with property W, then there exists a being with properties W & X.
(P2) If there exists a being with properties W & X, then there exists a being with properties W & X & Y.
(P3) If there exists a being with properties W & X & Y, then there exists a being with properties W & X & Y & Z.
Therefore:
(P4) If there exists a being with property W, then there exists a being with properties W & X & Y & Z.
(P5) If there exists a being with properties W & X & Y & Z, then God exists.
Therefore:
(CC) If there exists a being with property W, then God exists.
Aquinas provides reasoning in support each of the conditional claims in this more complex argument, but he does so OUTSIDE of the Five Ways passage.  Thus, MOST of the reasoning that Aquinas provides in support of the existence of God is OUTSIDE of the Five Ways passage.
This means that Kreeft and Tacelli (and many others as well) have completely misunderstood Aquinas’ argument(s) for the existence of God and have only touched upon a small portion of the actual reasoning that Aquinas puts forward for the existence of God in Summa Theologica.
Given this point of view, let me re-state and clarify the meaning of the title of this series of posts:
I DON’T CARE about the first five arguments in Chapter 3 of HCA by Peter Kreeft and Ronald Tacelli, because those arguments are gross distortions and serious misunderstandings of the actual argument(s) for the existence of God given by Aquinas in Summa Theologica.
HOWEVER, I am very much interested in the actual argument(s) that Aquinas gives for the existence of God in Summa Theologica, and I plan to study his reasoning on this issue more closely and then present it in greater detail in future installments of this series.