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_borderRoy Moore and the Tide of Irrationality

As you may have noticed, it looks like the next U.S. Senator from Alabama, taking the seat vacated by Jeff Sessions, will be former judge Roy Moore. Moore won the Republican primary, defeating the appointed incumbent, Luther Strange. Strange, an obsequiously loyal Trump supporter, was apparently not conservative enough for Alabama voters. Moore was twice elected as Chief Justice of the Alabama Supreme Court, and twice removed from office because of his disrespect for the law. On the first occasion, he defied court orders to remove “Roy’s Rock,” a multi-ton monument inscribed with the Ten Commandments, from state property in Montgomery. The second time he was removed for defying the U.S. Supreme Court’s ruling on same-sex marriage by directing probate judges to continue to respect Alabama’s ban on same-sex unions. For Moore, a fundamentalist’s fundamentalist, the Law of God (as infallibly revealed to him) is infinitely superior to any merely human laws, such as the U.S. Constitution.
The purpose of this post, however, is not merely to engage in political commentary (well, that too), but to raise a deeper issue: Moore’s success shows that it is impossible for a candidate to be too right-wing for Alabama voters. Moore is as far as you can go on the ideological scale; they just do not come any purer. He is a Bible-believin’, gay & lesbian hatin’, gun totin’, evolution denyin’, put-God-back-in-the-schools True Believer. It is a fair supposition that the voters that supported him also fit that description. In that case, we have to ask ourselves what, if anything, can be done about the fact that millions of our fellow citizens, concentrated in broad swaths of the country, adhere to an ideology that is both absurd and vicious.
What is the rational approach to fanatical irrationality? How do you deal with the American Taliban? Obviously, rational argument is out. I once heard people of Moore’s ilk described as those who will believe anything you tell them—except the truth. How can you convince the proudly, defiantly, adamantly ignorant? What about ridicule? During the Scopes trial of 1925 H.L. Mencken characterized the citizens of Dayton, Tennessee as “anthropoid rabble” and laughed at fundamentalists as “halfwits” who worship in “galvanized iron tabernacles behind the railroad yards.” Should we depend upon Bill Maher or Samantha Bee to mock today’s True Believers into silence? But ridicule only works on those who have a sense of shame, and those who are doing the Work of the Lord can feel no shame. Will they all just die off? No; like original sin, fanaticism is passed from one generation to the next. Will they ultimately become discouraged as they experience repeated defeats, like the Supreme Court ruling on same-sex marriage? Yet big defeats for the religious right, such as the removal of “Roy’s Rock” and Terri Schiavo’s feeding tube, only provoked them to histrionic displays of rage and determination to fight even harder.
Normally, the wisdom would be to fight an idea with another idea. However, what we are dealing with here is much deeper than an idea; it is much more like a cult. If an individual is immersed in a cult, he or she can be deprogrammed, but how do you deprogram millions? Ideologies are also like addictions. A system of invincible dogmas works on the mind like an opiate, creating a strong dependence that requires regular infusions of the drug. Addicts can become sober, but it is a long and difficult process, and cannot be done at all unless the addict is genuinely committed to change. Again, though, if you are doing the Lord’s Work , you will have no motivation to change, whatever defeats or frustrations you encounter.
Do I think that we are going to descend into a theocratic dystopia, something like The Handmaid’s Tale? No, but if we cannot change fundamentalists we will have to keep fighting them. Who will lead us in this fight with the Democratic Party in shambles? “Establishment” Republicans do the bidding of their billionaire masters while throwing enough red-meat rhetoric to their far-right base to keep getting elected. No hope there.
I hope you are not reading this thinking that I have any answers. I’m fresh out. Anybody?

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”.
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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.
=======================
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_borderThe Laws of Physics and the Laws of Logic

I recently conducted a typically inconclusive discussion with Victor Reppert in the comments section of my post “Can Brains Think?” While I doubt that we will ever agree (each of us in in his mid-sixties), I think I can identify one issue that keeps coming up again and again. Repeatedly Victor pointed to the difference between the laws of physics and the laws of logic. Physical things, like the brain, operate in accordance with the laws of physics. Rational thinking draws inferences in accordance with the laws of logic. As Victor sees it, if, as physicalists (like me) view it, thinking is an activity of the brain, then the thoughts, as physically determined, will only have such content as physical processes determine, which processes are, like all other physical processes, ultimately the interaction of subatomic particles interacting via the fundamental forces of nature.
If, then, the physical is a closed system, with all effects ultimately determined by microphysical interactions, then there is no room for a causal role for reasons, which, Victor holds, there must be if inferences are to be due to reason and not merely in accordance with reason. The latter is a crucial distinction. Victor realizes, of course, that a machine can be programmed to match inputs with outputs in accordance with the rules of logical inference. Indeed, we might be able to train rats to run through mazes in some manner that physically realizes logical rules. That, however, does not mean that machines or rats are rational beings. To qualify as rational, it is not sufficient that our thoughts merely accord with logical rules. Rather, the conclusions inferred must be inferred because they are recognized as rational, and this is possible only if our thoughts have rational causes (e.g. the laws of logic) and not merely physical ones. In short, for Victor, the laws of logic must have causal powers.
I hope that the above accurately summarizes Victor’s views.
To adumbrate a reply (a full reply would require a book), I consider two senses of “rational,” one in the context of an externalist/reliabilist account of warrant and another in the sense, due to W.K. Clifford, of epistemic rights and duties. With respect to the former sense, I argue that accordance with logical rules is sufficient for rationality; with respect to the latter, I argue that an ethic of belief, a lá Clifford, is independent of how reasons are caused to appear to us. Instead, rationality is a matter of living in accordance with our fundamental perceptions of what is reasonable and true.
According to an externalist/reliabilist epistemology, rationality of beliefs is a matter of warrant, and warrant is a matter of having beliefs that are caused in a reliably-truth tracking way. Warrant on this account has nothing to do with subjective awareness of “reasons” or an ability to adduce such reasons in defense of beliefs. What matters is that the beliefs are generated in an objectively reliable manner, as, for instance, produced by a cognitive faculty operating normally in an appropriate environment with respect to appropriate sorts of inputs. For instance, my if my visual faculties are operating normally in broad daylight and with trees present, then my belief that trees are present is warranted if produced by the operation of my visual faculties. Likewise, if my internal logical faculty standardly operates so as to reliably conclude “p” when and only when p is logically inferred from premises that entail p, then my conclusion that p is warranted. On this account, my ability to cite the rules of inference that led me to conclude p are neither here not there. Surely, this is intuitive as well. Someone can think logically that has never had a course in logic and thinks that “Modus Tollens” is the name of the back-up catcher for the Mets.
The inference does not even have to be conscious. Immediately upon noting that the dog did not bark in the nighttime, Sherlock Holmes concluded that the abduction of Silver Blaze was an inside job. He did not have to consciously think “If the dog did not bark, he must have recognized the abductor. The dog did not bark, and so the abductor was known to him. Therefore, the abduction must have been an inside job.” No, the inference was immediate and unconscious, but was surely fully rational (in the sense of warrant) for that. The upshot is that with respect to warrant accounts of rationality, the inference may be warranted, and therefore rational, if it is accomplished by a causal process that reliably produces beliefs in accordance with logical rules. Whether the believer is aware of the rules or can adduce them is irrelevant. Victor’s requirement that the logical rules themselves have causal efficacy does not apply to a warrant account of rationality.
Consider then the account of rationality developed by W.K. Clifford in his famous essay “The Ethics of Belief.” Clifford holds that rationality is a matter of obeying our epistemic duties and committing to beliefs in accordance with our epistemic rights. Epistemic duties are analogous to ethical duties; indeed, I think that they are a kind of ethical duty. We have a responsibility not to commit ourselves to beliefs, such as belief in God, unless we have conscientiously attempted to vet that belief in accordance with the highest standards of rationality. If we commit ourselves to beliefs that are backed by no or insufficient evidence, then surely we have committed an epistemic (and possibly moral sin).
Clifford gives the example of a ship owner who sells berths to poor immigrants desperate find a better life across the ocean. The ship is old and has not been inspected in a long time. However, inspections are costly and would eat into the owner’s profits. Besides, the ship has made the journey many times without mishap, and there is no reason to think that this time will be any different, right? Of course, the ship breaks up in a storm in mid-ocean and the poor immigrants meet a watery doom. The owner collects the insurance and tells no tales. Surely, Clifford says, by failing in his epistemic duty to ascertain the actual condition of his ship, and to insouciantly form the belief that his ship is sound, the owner is as guilty of the immigrants’ deaths as if he had intentionally killed them.
For Clifford, then, and his account of the ethics of belief, rationality is a matter of exercising due diligence in making sure that we have met our epistemic duties, that is, making sure that we do not commit ourselves to beliefs unless we have fairly vetted them with respect to the evidence.
In agreement with Clifford, I accept that that we have epistemic duties just as we have ethical duties (indeed, I would say that epistemic duties are a species of ethical duty). We perform our ethical duty by attempting, insofar as we can, to follow the ethical norms that seem right to us. However, which ethical or epistemic norms appear right to us is not a matter over which we have control. If something seems (morally or epistemically) right to us, then that is how it seems and we have no control over that. It seems to me that torturing sentient creatures for fun is morally wrong. I cannot help having it seem that way to me, and I am glad that I cannot help it. Similarly (having had the benefit of training in logic and critical thinking), inferring “p” from “If p, then q” and “q” seems wrong to me, and I cannot help that it seems wrong to me.
At epistemic or ethical “rock bottom” what seems right or wrong to us is not a matter of our control. Since ethics deals with what we can control (“ought” implies “can”), then we have no duties with respect to how things fundamentally seem to us. Our epistemic or ethical duties, therefore, boil down to conforming our behavior (including belief-behavior) to what fundamentally and involuntarily seems right to us. What ethically or epistemically appears right to me is therefore caused by factors over which I have no (direct) control, and therefore rationality in Clifford’s sense does not apply to those fundamental perceptions. Clifford’s account of rationality therefore can say nothing about the ultimate causes of my beliefs, i.e. my fundamental perceptions of what is true and reasonable. Rationality is a matter of living in accordance with those fundamental perceptions of rational norms.
I have, then, considered two prominent senses of rationality—the warrant version and the ethics of belief version. On neither account do the “laws of logic” cause my belief. Rather, on each account rationality consists of believing or acting in ways that are in accordance with such laws. Maybe Victor has some completely different sense of rationality in mind which he claims requires that the laws of logic have causal powers. I think I have shown that two prominent theories of rationality do not require that we invest abstractions like “the laws of logic” with occult causal powers.

bookmark_borderRichard Dawkins and Moral Realism

Christian apologists who love to substitute quote-mining for actual argumentation are fond of quotations like the following, in order to conclude that atheism somehow undermines morality.

In a universe of blind physical forces and genetic replication, some people are going to get hurt, and other people are going to get lucky; and you won’t find any rhyme or reason to it, or any justice. The universe we observe has precisely the properties we should expect if there is at the bottom, no design, no purpose, no evil and no good. Nothing but blind pitiless indifference. … DNA neither knows nor cares. DNA just is, and we dance to its music.
River Out of Eden (New York: Basic Books, 1996), p. 133

For people whose search for truth involves more than selectively quoting ‘hostile’ authorities, however, this quotation raises more questions than answers. Let’s start with a basic question for apologists who like to use this quote. Why are you quoting Dawkins on this point? Is it because you think he is an expert on the implications of atheism for morality? Is it because you think Dawkins has given a good argument for the conclusion that in a godless universe there is “no evil and no good”? Is it both? Or is it something else?
(1) Does the Quotation Support a Correct Inductive Argument from Authority?
While some arguments from authority can be logically correct, this one is not. Let P be the statement “If naturalistic evolution is true, then there is no good and no evil,” and let S be metaethics. Using Wesley Salmon’s schema for inductive arguments from authority,[1] we can then formulate the argument from authority as follows.

(1) The vast majority of statements made by Richard Dawkins concerning subject S are true.
(2) P is a statement made by Richard Dawkins concerning subject S.
(3) [probably] P is true.

This argument does not satisfy Salmon’s conditions for an inductively correct argument from authority, in two ways. First, even if we treat Dawkins as an expert on metaethics, the argument would still be evidentially worthless. As Salmon observed, an appeal to one group of authorities has no evidential value when another group of authorities who are equally competent disagree.[2] And there are many qualified experts on metaethics who believe P is false.[3] Second, with all due respect to Dawkins, he is not a reliable authority on subject S. He is an evolutionary biologist with a D.Phil. in biology, not a philosopher who specializes in metaethics. Therefore, premise (1) is dubious. The upshot is that this argument from authority provides literally zero evidence for statement P.
Even if we cannot accept P on the basis of Dawkins’ authority, however, it is still possible that Dawkins has a good argument for believing it. I’ll consider that possibility in a moment. For now, I want to make one other point. Have you ever noticed that Christian apologists love to quote Dawkins as a hostile witness when it supports their desired conclusion but not when it doesn’t? If Dawkins’ opinion about morality (that it’s not objective) is supposed to be evidence for an apologist’s claims about the moral implications of atheism, then Dawkins’ opinion about God (He doesn’t exist) should also be evidence for atheism.  It seems rather one-sided to appeal to Dawkins’ authority when it helps theism (by lending support to a dubious moral argument for God’s existence), but to ignore Dawkins’ authority when it hurts theism (by lending support to a robust evidential argument from evil against God’s existence).
(2) Does the Quotation State an Inductively Correct Argument against Moral Realism?
Again, here is what Dawkins wrote:

In a universe of blind physical forces and genetic replication, some people are going to get hurt, and other people are going to get lucky; and you won’t find any rhyme or reason to it, or any justice. The universe we observe has precisely the properties we should expect if there is at the bottom, no design, no purpose, no evil and no good. Nothing but blind pitiless indifference. … DNA neither knows nor cares. DNA just is, and we dance to its music.

What properties does Dawkins have in mind when he claims that the universe has the properties “we should expect” if there is no objective meaning or morality? And why would those properties be expected?
Let’s parse this quotation one step at a time. He writes: “In a universe of blind physical forces and genetic replication…” This suggests he is talking about an explanatory hypothesis I’ll call “naturalism.”

naturalism (N) =df. causal reality is limited to physical reality, i.e., there is no such things as minds which can exist apart from arrangements of matter

Continuing on, he writes, “some people are going to get hurt, and other people are going to get lucky; and you won’t find any rhyme or reason to it, or any justice.  …  Nothing but blind pitiless indifference.” This suggests that he is talking about the evidence to be explained (E).

E1. Distribution of good and evil, pain and pleasure, success and failure, triumph and tragedy, etc. is morally random.

And so a key premise in his argument against theism seems to be this:

(1) Known facts about evil are much more probable on the assumption that naturalism is true than on the assumption that theism is true, i.e., Pr(E1 | N) >> Pr(E1 | T).

In the quotation, Dawkins also writes the words, “no evil and no good.” This suggests another explanatory hypothesis:

O: ontologically objective moral values (i.e., moral goodness or “good”) and disvalues (i.e., badness or “evil”) exist.

And, again, the evidence to be explained would seem to be the same as before:

E1. Distribution of good and evil, pain and pleasure, success and failure, triumph and tragedy, etc. is morally random.

And so a key premise in his argument against O seems to be this:

(1’) Known facts about evil are much more probable on the assumption that O is false than on the assumption that O is true, i.e., Pr(E1 | ~O) >> Pr(E1 | O).

Dawkins’ argument against theism is much better than his argument against ontologically objective moral values. Dawkins’ terse statement of an evidential argument from evil is consistent with the very powerful defense of an evidential argument from evil by Purdue University philosopher Paul Draper. But what about Dawkins’ terse statement of an evidential argument against moral realism or objectivism? Not so much. It’s far from obvious why known facts about evil are much more probable on the assumption that O is false than on the assumption that O is true, i.e.,
Pr(E1 | ~O) >> Pr(E1 | O).
Dawkins writes, “DNA neither knows nor cares. DNA just is, and we dance to its music.” The problem is that DNA and O have nothing to do with each other.  There are two possibilities:
(1) DNA is indifferent to the moral value of pain and pleasure; and O is true.
(2) DNA is indifferent to the moral value of pain and pleasure; and O is false.
For example, it could be the case that moral anti-reductionism is true (and so moral properties are not reducible to non-moral properties) and the Good exists. Or it could be the case that naturalistic moral reductionism is true (and so moral properties are reducible to physical properties) and the Good is desirable; facts about universal human desires rooted in human biology help inform us about the Good.
In sum, Dawkins has overstated his conclusion. It’s far from obvious why DNA (or anything about the “universe we observe”) is just what we would expect on the assumption O is false.
Notes
[1] Wesley C. Salmon, Logic (third ed., Englewood Cliffs: Prentice-Hall, 1984), 100.
[2] Ibid.
[3] E.g., Adams; Hick; Moore; Morriston; Nielsen; Pojman; Post; Rottschaefer; Sagi and Statman; Shafer-Landau; Q. Smith; Swinburne; and Wielenberg.
More on Theistic Quote-Mining of Atheists on the Topic of Morality

More Posts by Lowder about Atheism and Morality

Posts by Other Secular Outpost Authors on Atheism and Morality

Wes Morriston’s Critiques of Attempts to Argue that Morality Needs God

Erik Wielenberg’s Critiques of Theistic Metaethics

Stephen Maitzen

John Danaher’s Critiques of Moral Arguments and Theistic Metaethics

Ex-Apologist’s Blog Posts

 

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

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

1. There is the music of Johann Sebastian Bach.

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

THEREFORE:

3. God exists.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

THEREFORE:

3. God exists.

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

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

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

THEREFORE:

3. God exists.

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

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

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

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

bookmark_borderGeisler’s Five Ways – Part 19: The Whole Enchilada

In part 11 of this series of posts I reviewed the overall structure of Norman Geisler’s case for the existence of God, the case that he presented, along with coauthor Ronald Brooks, in When Skeptics Ask (hereafter: WSA).  In this present post, I will once again review the overall structure of Geisler’s case, and will summarize a number of key problems with Geisler’s case.
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For a more detailed analysis and critique of Geisler’s case, or of a specific argument in his case, see previous posts in this series:

INDEX: Geisler’s Five Ways

https://secularfrontier.infidels.org/2017/05/25/index-geislers-five-ways/
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PHASE 1: GEISLER’s FIVE WAYS
On pages 15 through 26, Geisler presents five arguments for five conclusions.  I call this Phase  1 of this case.  Here are the five conclusions of the five initial arguments:

  • Something other than the universe caused the universe to begin to exist.
  • Something is a first uncaused cause of the present existence of the universe.
  • There is a Great Designer of the universe.
  • There is a supreme moral Lawgiver.
  • If God exists, then God exists and God is a necessary being.

PROBLEM 1:  Geisler FAILS to provide a clear definition of the word “God”, thus making his whole argument unclear and confusing.
Note that the word “God” is being misused by Geisler in the statement of the fifth conclusion.  The purpose of his case is to prove that “God exists”, so a premise that begins, “If God exists, then…” is of no use in his case.
What he really means by the word “God” here is “the creator of the universe” or, more precisely: “the being that caused the universe to begin to exist and that causes the universe to continue to exist now.”  That this is what the word “God” means in his fifth argument can be seen in his comment about the significance of the fifth argument:
The argument from being may not prove that God exists, but it sure does tell us a lot about God once we know that He does exist (by the argument from Creation).  (WSA, p.27)
The “argument from creation” is actually two cosmological arguments: the Kalam cosmological argument, and the Thomistic cosmological argument (to a sustaining cause of the current existence of the universe).  Thus, the antecedent of the fifth argument “If God exists…” really means: “If there is a being that caused the universe to begin to exist and that is also causing the universe to continue to exist now…”
As with MANY of the arguments that I have examined in Geisler’s case, he is using the word “God” in an idiosyncratic sense, which he does not bother to clarify or to define.  So, we have to examine the context of each such claim in his case to figure out what the hell he means each time he misuses the word “God”.  This is part of why I say that this case is a steaming pile of dog shit; Geisler does not bother to clarify or define the meaning of the most important word in his argument, and he continually shifts the meaning of this word at will, with no warning that he is doing so.
PROBLEM 2:  Geisler has only ONE argument for the existence of God, but he mistakenly believes he has FIVE different and independent arguments for the existence of God.
ALL FIVE of Geisler’s arguments for the above five conclusions must be sound in order for his case for the existence of God to be successful.  If just one of those five arguments is unsound, then his case FAILS.  Furthermore, the soundness of all five of those arguments is NOT sufficient to prove that God exists; further arguments are needed.  None of the five basic arguments is sound, and none of the additional arguments that Geisler makes in order to get to the ultimate conclusion that “God exists” is sound, so his case for God is pure unadulterated crap from start to finish.
The basic reason why Geisler needs all five arguments to be sound, is that the concept of God is complex.  God, as understood in Christian theology, has several divine attributes, and so Geisler must show that there is one and only one being that has all of the main divine attributes.
There is no universally agreed upon list of the “main” divine attributes, but we can see what Geisler considers to be the main divine attributes in relation to his lists of God’s characteristics, and in relation to his five basic arguments.  Here is a key comment by Geisler listing several divine attributes:
…God is all-powerful, all-knowing, all-good, infinite, uncreated, unchanging, eternal, and omnipresent. (WSA, p.28)
A key attribute that Geisler left out of this list is “unlimited” (see WSA, p.27 & 28).
In view of his five basic arguments, Geisler implies that God also has the following key attributes or characteristics:

  • God caused the universe to begin to exist.
  • God causes the universe to continue to exist now.
  • God designed the universe.
  • God produced the laws of morality.
  • God is a necessary being.

Geisler’s description of God includes more than a dozen different divine attributes.  The existence of such a being cannot be established on the basis of just one simple argument.  That is why Geisler needs ALL FIVE of his basic arguments to be sound, plus a number of other additional arguments, in order for his case for the existence of God to be successful.  If any one of his five arguments is unsound, then his case FAILS. If one of his additional arguments is unsound, then his case FAILS.  Geisler’s case depends on the soundness of MANY (about a dozen) different arguments.  If one of those MANY arguments is unsound, then Geisler’s case for God FAILS. As far as I can tell, none of his arguments are sound.
PROBLEM 3: Geisler makes a confused and mistaken distinction between proving the existence of God and proving the existence of a being with various divine attributes.
Geisler represents his case as consisting of two main phases: first he proves that “God exists”, and next he proves that God has various divine attributes:
The first question that must be addressed in pre-evangelism is, “Does God exist?”  The second question is very closely related to the first: “If God exists, what kind of God is He?”  (WSA, p.15)
This argument [his Thomistic cosmological argument] shows why there must be a present, conserving cause of the world, but it doesn’t tell us very much about what kind of God exists.  (WSA, p.19)
But what if we can combine all of these arguments into a cohesive whole that proves what kind of being God is as well as His existence? (WSA, p.26)
The argument from being may not prove that God exists, but it sure does tell us a lot about God once we know that He does exist (by the argument from Creation).  (WSA, p.27)
This is completely idiotic and ass-backwards.  In order to prove that “God exists”, one must prove that there exists a being who has various divine attributes (e.g. all-powerful, all-knowing, all-good, eternal, etc.).
Proving that there is a thing or being that caused the universe to begin to exist is NOT sufficient to prove that “God exists”.  Proving that there is a thing or being that is causing the universe to continue to exist now is NOT sufficient to prove that “God exists”.  Proving that there is a being who designed the universe (or some aspect of the universe) is NOT sufficient to prove that “God exists”.  The concept of God in Christian theology is a complex concept that implies a unique being who possesses MANY different divine attributes.  Thus proving that “God exists” in the context of a discussion about the truth of the Christian religion requires that one prove the existence of a being who possesses MANY different divine attributes.
Geisler is free to reject the Christian religion if he wishes, and  he is free to reject the traditional Christian concept of God as well.  He is free to invent his own personal concept of God, and to argue for the existence of that particular idiosyncratic God.  But if he wants to dump Christian theology and create his own new religion, then he needs to be very clear that this is what he is doing, and he would also need to provide a clear alternative definition or analysis of what he means by the word “God”, so that nobody would confuse Geisler’s new idiosyncratic concept of God with the traditional Christian concept of God.
Geisler, however, presents himself as a defender of the traditional Christian faith, so he clearly has no interest in inventing a new concept of God.  In the context of presenting apologetic arguments in support of the Christian faith, when Geisler asserts that “God exists”, he implies that there exists a being who has MANY (or most) of the divine attributes that Christian theologians have traditionally ascribed to God.  Therefore, in order for Geisler to prove that “God exists”, he must prove that there exists exactly ONE being who possesses MANY (or most) of the divine attributes that Christian theologians have traditionally ascribed to God.  He cannot prove that “God exists” without proving the existence of a being who, for example, is all-powerful, all-knowing, all-good, eternal, the creator of the universe, etc.
PROBLEM 4: The conclusions of Geisler’s five basic arguments are UNCLEAR and AMBIGUOUS, leading to multiple fallacies of EQUIVOCATION by Geisler.
The first order of business is to clarify the conclusions of Geisler’s five basic arguments.  Here are the conclusions in Geisler’s own words:

1. Therefore, the universe was caused by something else, and this cause was God. (WSA, p.16)

2. Therefore, there must be a first uncaused cause of every finite, changing thing that exists. (WSA, p.19)

3. Therefore, there must be a Great Designer of the universe. (WSA, p. 20)

4. Therefore, there must be a supreme moral Lawgiver.  (WSA, p.22)

5. Therefore, if God exists, then He must exist and cannot not exist. (WSA, p.25)

These conclusions need to be cleaned up and clarified, so that we have a clear and accurate understanding of what they imply:

1a. The universe was caused to begin to exist (in the past) by at least one thing or being other than the universe (or some part or aspect of the universe) that existed prior to when the universe began to exist.

2a. There currently exists at least one uncaused cause for each finite, changing thing that currently exists.

3a. There existed (in the past) at least one Great Designer who designed some part or aspect of the universe. 

4a. There existed (in the past) at least one supreme Lawgiver who produced  at least some of the laws of morality.

5a. If there is (or ever was) a being that is (or was) the most perfect Being possible, then that being must always exist and cannot not exist.

Geisler provides dubious or unsound arguments for these five conclusions.  Furthermore, Geisler is very sloppy and unclear in his thinking, and so he infers significantly stronger conclusions that clearly do NOT follow logically from his five basic arguments:

1b. The entire universe was caused to begin to exist by EXACTLY ONE being (other than the universe and the beings that are part of the universe).

2b. The current existence of the entire universe is caused by EXACTLY ONE currently existing being (other than the universe and the beings that are part of the universe).

3b. There is EXACTLY ONE Great Designer who designed every part and aspect of the universe.

4b. There is EXACTLY ONE supreme lawgiver who produced all of the laws of morality.

5b. IF there is a being who caused the universe to begin to exist and who also causes the universe to continue to exist now, THEN that being must always exist and cannot not exist.

PROBLEM 5:  Because Geisler consistently FAILS to show that there is EXACTLY ONE being of such-and-such kind, he cannot prove that  “the cause of the beginning of the universe” is the same being as “the cause of the current existence of the universe” or as “the designer of the universe” or as “the moral lawgiver”.  
Geisler’s five arguments leave open the possibility that there were MANY beings involved in causing the beginning of the universe, and MANY beings involved in causing the continuing existence of the universe, and MANY beings who designed different parts and aspects of the universe, and MANY moral lawgivers who produced different moral laws.
Because the “divine attributes” are distributed differently among these different kinds of beings, Geisler cannot show that there is just ONE being who possesses ALL of the various divine attributes.  Furthermore, since the function of a particular kind of being could be spread out among MANY beings, we cannot infer that the required power or ability exists to a high or unlimited degree in any one such being.  If, for example, a team of one thousand beings worked together to design the human brain, then there might well have been no being who had enough knowledge or intelligence to design the human brain by itself.
PHASE 2: THE CREATOR’S PERSONAL ATTRIBUTES
On pages 26 and 27,  Geisler presents Phase 2 of his case.  He argues for three claims related to personal attributes of “God”:

  • God is very powerful.
  • God is very intelligent.
  • God is [morally] good.

Once again, Geisler misuses the word “God” here.  But he gives us a good clue as to what he means by “God” in his Phase 2 arguments:
The argument from design shows us that whatever caused the universe not only had great power, but also great intelligence.  (WSA, p.26, emphasis added)
Geisler had argued in the previous paragraph that based on his two cosmological arguments “God” had great power.  Then Geisler uses his argument from design to try to show that “God” had great intelligence.  The above quoted statement implies that the word “God” is being used in the narrow sense of “whatever caused the universe”.  Roughly speaking, the conclusions that Geisler argues for in Phase 2 are more clearly stated as follows:

  • Whatever caused the universe to begin to exist is very powerful.
  • Whatever caused the universe to begin to exist is very intelligent.
  • Whatever caused the universe to begin to exist is [morally] good.

So, Geisler is arguing that there exists a cause of the universe, and that this cause has various personal attributes that are part of the ordinary meaning of the word “God”.
PROBLEM 6:  Geisler simply ASSUMES without providing any reason or argument that the (alleged) being that caused the beginning of the universe is the same being as the (alleged) being that designed the universe, and that the (alleged) being that caused the beginning of the universe is the same being as the (alleged) being that produced moral laws.
A being that causes a universe to begin to exist is NOT necessarily the being that designed the universe; design and manufacturing are two separate functions in most companies that make products.  Making something is NOT the same as designing something.
The laws of nature could have been created by one being, while the laws of morality could have been created by a different being. There is no reason to believe that the cause of the existence of the universe is the same as the designer of the universe or the same as the moral lawgiver.
Because Geisler has NOT proven that these beings are all the same being, he cannot ascribe these various personal attributes (powerful, intelligent, and good) to just one being.  But in order to prove that God exists, he must show that there is ONE being who possesses all three of these personal attributes in an unlimited way, a being that is all-powerful, all-knowing, and perfectly good.
 
PHASE 3: THE EXISTENCE OF A NECESSARY BEING
Yet again, Geisler abuses the word “God” in Phase 3 of his case for the existence of God.  The argument in Phase 3 is on page 27.  It makes use of the conclusion from “The Argument from Being” in Phase 1 (pages 24-26). Here is how Geisler states the conclusion of this part of his case:

  • God is a necessary being.

Clearly, he is NOT using the word “God” in its ordinary sense here.  As I argued above, what he actually means something like this:

  • If there is a being that caused the universe to begin to exist (in the past) and that also causes the universe to continue to exist (right now), then that being is a necessary being.

PROBLEM 7:  Geisler illogically shifts from the claim that a perfect being must be a necessary being to the assumption that a being that caused the universe to begin to exist must be a necessary being.  This is an INVALID inference.
There is no reason to believe that a cause of the beginning of the universe must be a “perfect being”.  Let’s grant for the sake of argument that a “perfect being” must be a necessary being.  The question then becomes, “Does a perfect being exist?”
Geisler believes he has proven that there is a being that caused the universe to begin to exist, but that tells us nothing about whether a perfect being exists.  The fact that the universe is finite and imperfect suggests the opposite conclusion, namely that the being that caused the beginning of the universe (if there were such a being) is something less than a perfect being.   In any case, Geisler has provided no reason to think that the cause of the beginning of the universe was a perfect being, so he has provided no reason to believe that there exists a perfect being, and thus Geisler has provided no reason to believe that there is a necessary being.
 
PHASE 4: THE IMPLICATIONS OF “A NECESSARY BEING”
On pages 27-28, Geisler presents Phase 4 of his case.  There are two different sets of alleged implications that Geisler argues follow from the existence of a necessary being.  First there are implications related to God’s “metaphysical” attributes (as contrasted with God’s personal attributes above):

  • A necessary being is unchanging.
  • A necessary being is infinite.
  • A necessary being is eternal.
  • A necessary being is omnipresent.

Second, there are alleged conditional implications of the concept of a necessary being:

  • If a necessary being is powerful, then it is all-powerful.
  • If a necessary being is intelligent, then it is all-knowing.
  • If a necessary being is [morally] good, then it is perfectly [morally] good.

PROBLEM 8: In his reasoning about the implications of the concept of a “necessary being”, Geisler confuses different senses of the verb “to be” leading to INVALID inferences about the implications of the concept of a “necessary being”.
We see this confusion in Geisler’s reasoning in support of the conclusion that a necessary being must be unchanging:
We said already that necessary existence means that He [God] cannot not exist–so He has no beginning and no end.  But it also means that He cannot ‘come to be’ in any other way.  He must be as He is necessarily.  He can’t become something new.  That removes all change from His being–He is unchanging.  (WSA, p.27)
The expression “come to be” is clearly AMBIGUOUS.  It can refer to something coming into existence, or it can refer to something undergoing a change in an attribute or characteristic.  The concept of a “necessary being” implies that the thing or being in question did not come into existence, will not cease to exist, and cannot cease to exist.  This concept does NOT imply that ALL of the characteristics or attributes of such a thing or being must remain unchanged.
An apple can change from being green to being red; this does NOT involve the apple coming into existence or ceasing to exist.  The apple continues to exist through the change in its color.  An apple can “come to be red” even though the apple previously existed and continues to exist.  Thus, the apple itself does NOT “come to be” when it changes color from green to red.
Geisler confuses and conflates two different meanings of the expression “come to be”.   The claim that an apple “came to be red” implies NOTHING about the apple coming to exist.  An apple can “come to be red” even if the apple has always existed, and will always exist.  The fact that some of the attributes of an apple can change, does NOT imply that the apple began to exist, nor that the apple will cease to exist.  Geisler draws an INVALID inference based on the AMBIGUITY of the expression “come to be”; he commits yet another fallacy of EQUIVOCATION in this crappy bit of reasoning.
The same sort of confusion occurs again in Geisler’s reasoning in support of the view that a necessary being must have unlimited attributes:
Because of His [God’s] necessity, He can only have whatever He has in a necessary way.  That means, as we have seen, without beginning, without change, and without limitation. (WSA, p.28)
If something is a “necessary being”, that just means that it has existence in a necessary way; it does NOT mean that it has all of its attributes or characteristics in a necessary way.  Geisler again confuses the existence of something being necessary with its possession of its attributes being necessary.  The necessity of attributes does NOT logically follow from the necessity of a thing’s existence.
Geisler contradicts himself a few pages later, by implying that God’s attribute of being “the creator of the universe” is NOT a necessary attribute or characteristic:
…He [God] must be all that He is.  All that is in God’s nature is necessary, but anything that He does extends beyond His nature and is done by His free will.  One cannot even say that it was necessary for Him to create.  (WSA, p.31)
But if it was NOT necessary that God create the universe, then the divine attribute of being “the creator of the universe” is merely a contingent attribute, not a necessary attribute, and therefore God does NOT possess this particular attribute (of being the creator of the universe) “in a necessary way”.   Geisler clearly contradicts his earlier assertion that God “can only have whatever He has in a necessary way.”
Geisler then uses the conclusions from Phase 2 (the cause of the universe is very powerful, very intelligent, and morally good) along with the conclusion of Phase 3 (the cause of the universe is a necessary being) in combination with the conclusions from Phase 4 (a necessary being is unchanging, infinite, eternal, omnipresent, and if a necessary being is powerful, intelligent, and good then it must be all-powerful, all-knowing, and perfectly good) in order to infer this conclusion:

  • Whatever caused the universe to begin to exist is an unchanging, infinite, eternal, and omnipresent necessary being, that is all-powerful, all-knowing, and perfectly morally good.

 
PHASE 5: ONLY ONE INFINITE BEING
In a short paragraph on page 28, Geisler argues that there cannot be multiple beings of the sort that he thinks he has shown to exist:

  • There can be only one infinite Being.

Geisler’s argument for this conclusion is based on the following premise:

  • If being A is an unlimited being and being B is an unlimited being, then we cannot tell being A apart from being B.

PROBLEM 9: Geisler’s assumption that two unlimited beings would be indistinguishable from each other is FALSE and it also contradicts a basic Christian dogma.
Unlimited beings share many unlimited attributes, but one unlimited being can have an attribute that differs from another unlimited being, thus making it possible to distinguish the two beings as different and separate beings.
For example, since the attribute of being “the creator of the universe” is, according to Geisler (WSA, p.31), a logically contingent attribute of God, it is possible for there to exist both an unlimited being that is “the creator of the universe” and also an unlimited being that is NOT “the creator of the universe”.  Since these two beings would have at least one attribute that they don’t share, it would be possible to distinguish between these two unlimited beings.
Furthermore, according to traditional Christian doctrine, God consists of three different persons, but each of those persons is an unlimited person.  Although these three persons are unlimited, according to traditional Christian belief, it is possible to distinguish between these three persons: one is “the Father”, another “the Son”, and the third is “the Holy Spirit”.   It is logically inconsistent to allow that there can be three distinguishable unlimited persons, but at the same time to insist that there cannot possibly be two or more distinguishable unlimited beings.
In the case of the Trinity,  Christians believe that there are specific unique attributes possessed by each of the persons of the Trinity that make it possible to distinguish one from another.  But this implies that one unlimited person can possess an attribute that differs from another unlimited person.  If so, then this implies that one unlimited being can possess an attribute that differs from another unlimited being.  Clearly, the attribute of being “unlimited” does NOT dictate every attribute possessed by such a person or being.
 
PHASE 6: GOD EXISTS
Although Geisler never provides a definition of the word “God”, it is fairly clear that his concept of God is something like this:
X is God IF AND ONLY IF:

  • X caused the universe to begin to exist, and
  • X causes the universe to continue to exist, and
  • X is the great designer of the universe, and
  • X is the supreme moral lawgiver, and
  • X is a necessary being, and
  • X is the only unchanging, infinite, eternal, and omnipresent being, and
  • X is the only all-powerful, all-knowing, and perfectly morally good being.

So, the ultimate conclusion of Geisler’s case is this:

  • God exists.

Here, finally, the word “God” is being used in something like it’s ordinary sense.
PROBLEM 10:  Geisler has adopted a Thomistic concept of God, but this Thomistic concept of God is INCOHERENT, making it a necessary truth that “It is NOT the case that God exists.”
On the above Thomistic definition of “God”, God is both a person and an absolutely unchanging being.  But a person can make choices and decisions and perform actions and a person can communicate with other persons.  Something that is absolutely unchanging cannot make choices and decisions and perform actions, nor can such a thing communicate with other persons.  The idea of a person who is an absolutely unchanging being is INCOHERENT, it contains a logical self-contradiction.  Therefore, on this definition of “God” it is logically impossible for it to be the case that “God exists”.  The claim “God exists” would be a logically necessary falsehood, given Geisler’s concept of God.