bookmark_borderWhy I am a Free-Speech Fundamentalist

I am a free-speech fundamentalist. That is, I hold that public forums, including public universities, should be open to the free expression of opinion. Period. Even when the opinion is offensive and obnoxious. Especially when the opinion is offensive and obnoxious. There can be no free speech if it is required that the speech not offend anyone. There can be no free speech if only certain viewpoints or ideologies are permitted. There can be no free speech if certain topics are sacrosanct and not allowed to be touched. Does that mean that white supremacist Richard Spencer should be allowed a platform? Yes. Does it mean that professional provocateurs such as Ann Coulter and Milos Yiannopoulos should be allowed to do their odious act? Yes. But what about those whose feelings would be deeply hurt by the mindless effusions of such trolls? Tough. You have no right not to be offended. You also have no right to shout down such speakers or prevent their audience from hearing them. If you do so, you should be forcibly ejected from the premises.
As a graduate student in Canada in the early ‘80s I observed mob censorship at work. A group on campus had invited American General Norman Schwarzkopf to speak. The local lefty activists turned out in droves to scream, boo, and shriek their opposition, pretty much drowning out the general. It was not a protest. It was an attempt, unfortunately successful, to keep someone from being heard who was saying something that the mob members did not like. Several of the organizers and participants in this shameful event were fellow philosophy grad students. When I confronted them and asked them whether they believed in free speech, they candidly said that they did not. They said that they were all for the speech of the oppressed but that the oppressors had no right to speak.
My query was: And who gets to decide who is the oppressed and who is the oppressor? Suppose that a campus feminist group invited a speaker to defend abortion rights. Suppose then that hundreds of raucous anti-abortion demonstrators showed up to shout her down, insisting that abortion oppresses babies, and that they are speaking for the silenced and the oppressed, the aborted babies. Would that be OK? Of course it was not OK, but no matter how hard I pressed, their justification boiled down to this: “I get to speak because I am right and you do not because you are wrong.” Can’t anybody say that? Hasn’t every little fanatic and tin pot tyrant through history justified the denial of free speech on the grounds that only the right side deserved to be heard?
The strongest argument against free speech is this: The purpose of free speech is the exchange of ideas, to participate in a cooperative search for clarity and truth by the vigorous clash of reasoned and informed viewpoints. Yet not all speakers have an interest in seeking clarity and truth; on the contrary, like Internet trolls, their aim is to harass and insult, to hurt and provoke. By not providing a platform for, for instance, racist rants or homophobic diatribes we do not inhibit the free exchange of ideas. On the contrary, such speakers have no ideas and their effusions have no more intellectual content than shouting “Kiss my ass!” or “[Bleep] you!” It is not a matter of proscribing controversial content, but of insisting that there be content.
As always, though, when we have censorship, we have to ask who the censors are and whether we are willing to give them such power. Who would get to decide, for instance, who is a “responsible” conservative who is to be granted a platform, and who is merely a “right-wing nut” to be screamed down? Are we willing to give unruly mobs such power? How do we prevent abuses? Here is what recently happened recently here in Houston: When the School of Law at Texas Southern University, a historically black university, invited a conservative state representative, a mob shouted him down and tried to prevent his speech. Then the president of the university stepped in and shut down the event. The invited speaker, Briscoe Cain, is a tea-party style, religious fundamentalist conservative, but he is not a cross-burner or a neo-Nazi by any means. Mobs are not known for their ability to make clear, reasoned distinctions. The result of censorship will inevitably be, “I get to speak because I am right, and you do not because you are wrong.”
But don’t campuses have a responsibility to protect the well-being of their students, which will include shielding them from hateful rhetoric? However, we seem to have a curious double standard with respect to who gets to offend whom. What if a campus Christian group invites a speaker who will argue that “religious liberty” should permit businesses not to serve openly gay or lesbian customers? Now suppose that the campus LGBTQ group strongly objects to the appearance of this speaker, and invites a speaker of its own who argues that conservative Christians are homophobic bigots. Should both speakers be allowed, neither, or only one? (And I know which one many university administrators would want to allow.) Is it acceptable to offend conservative Christians but not LGBTQ students? Why? Either we protect everybody from being offended, in which case nobody ever gets to say anything controversial, or we say “Suck it up. You have no right not to be offended. That is the price of free speech.”
Besides, as I know from my own students, they are not “snowflakes” who melt down in the face of controversy. When I raise a hot topic in class (and I never give a “trigger warning”) they do not clutch their pearls and get the vapors. Nobody swoons and calls for smelling salts. I have, on a very few occasions, had students make prejudicial or homophobic comments in class. When they do, I don’t have to say anything because other students in the class come down on them like the proverbial ton of bricks. That is the way to handle a bigot, not to scream, wail, and have a conniption fit.
The right way to deal with offensive speakers was shown by my undergraduate school, little Berry College, a small liberal arts school in northwest Georgia. We invited to campus a notorious local figure, J.B. Stoner. Stoner was a paleo-racist, a cross-burner and race-baiter from way back, who frequently ran for statewide office on a states’ rights, white supremacist ticket. Everyone listened quietly to Stoner, with occasional chuckles at his grammatical solecisms. Afterwards, a large, but polite group of students approached Stoner for questioning. I asked him why he considered African-Americans inferior. He replied that they score ten to fifteen points lower on intelligence tests. I responded that Jews score on average five points above average on I.Q. tests, and asked if that means that Jews are superior. He stumbled over an answer and did not look terribly comfortable. Really, though, nothing that we asked made him look as bad as he made himself look. There is an algorithm for making an idiot look like an idiot: Let him rant. Let him show everybody what a fool he is. Screaming and denying him a platform only creates the entirely misleading impression that he has something significant to say.

bookmark_borderFeser’s Case for God – Part 2: Chunking Up the Aristotelian Argument

THE IMPORTANCE OF THE ARISTOTELIAN ARGUMENT
In Chapter 1 of Five Proofs of the Existence of God (hereafter: FPEG),  Edward Feser presents his Aristotelian argument for the existence of God.  This is the most important argument in the book, because the other four arguments presented by Feser in later chapters all have a significant dependency on this first argument.
Specifically, the other four arguments rely on the assumption that a purely actual being must have various divine attributes (e.g. omnipotence, omniscience, being eternal, being fully good, etc.).  These assumptions are argued for in the Aristotelian argument, so if that part of the Aristotelian argument fails, then the remaining four arguments also fail.  If Feser fails to prove that a purely actual being must have various divine attributes, then ALL FIVE of his arguments for the existence of God FAIL.   Similarly, if Feser succeeds in proving that a purely actual being must have various divine attributes, then significant portions of the other four arguments also succeed.  So, a great deal rests on Feser’s Aristotelian argument.
 
THE BASIC FORM OF THE ARISTOTELIAN ARGUMENT
All five of Feser’s arguments for the existence of God have the same basic form:

I. There is exactly one being of type X.

II. IF there is exactly one being of type X, THEN God exists.

THEREFORE:

III. God exists.

Feser’s Aristotelian argument can be summarized using the same form:

IA. There is exactly one purely actual actualizer.

IIA. IF there is exactly one purely actual actualizer, THEN God exists.

THEREFORE:

III. God exists.

In Feser’s formal outline of the Aristotelian argument (FPEG,  p.35-37), there are fifty statements.  Statements (1) through (18) contain the reasoning supporting (IA), and statements (19) through (49) contain the reasoning supporting (IIA).  So, the Aristotelian argument can be divided into two large pieces.
 
CHUNKING UP THE ARISTOTELIAN ARGUMENT
I plan to examine somewhat smaller pieces of the argument.  To guide my critique, I will divide Feser’s Aristotelian argument into seven small-to-medium-size chunks:
I.  There is at least one purely actual actualizer: premises (1) through (14).
II. There cannot be more than one purely actual actualizer: premises (15) through (18).
III. Any purely actual actualizer must be immutable, eternal, immaterial, and incorporeal: premises (19) through (27).
IV. Any purely actual actualizer must be perfect and fully good: premises (28) through (32).
V. Any purely actual actualizer must be omnipotent: premises (33) through (37).
VI. Any purely actual actualizer must be  the cause of the existence of all beings, intelligent, and omniscient: premises (38) through (47).
VII. God exists IF AND ONLY IF there is exactly one purely actual actualizer and that  being is immutable, eternal, immaterial, incorporeal, perfect, fully good, omnipotent, the cause of the existence of all beings, intelligent, and omniscient: premise (49).
NOTE: Premise (48) is a conjunction that summarizes several previous sub-conclusions: (18), (21), (23), (25), (27), (29), (32), (37), (39), (44), and (47).
Given this way of dividing the Aristotelian argument up into seven chunks, I plan to write at least seven posts on this argument, and I might well need to write more than one post on some of these chunks, so it could easily take a dozen posts for me to critically examine this first, and most important argument in Feser’s case for the existence of God.

bookmark_borderFeser’s Case for God – Part 1: What Feser Gets Right

In his book Five Proofs of the Existence of God (hereafter: FPEG),  Edward Feser lays out what he takes to be the five best arguments for the claim that “God exists”.  Based on a quick glance through this book, it seems to me that Feser does a much more reasonable job of making a case for God than either Norman Geisler (in When Skeptics Ask) or Peter Kreeft (in Handbook of Christian Apologetics).  In my view, based on careful reading of Geisler’s case and Kreeft’s case, each of their cases is a SPOC (Steaming Pile Of Crap).  Feser’s case for God has the distinct advantage of NOT being a SPOC.
I have no idea at this point whether any of Feser’s arguments are good and strong or bad and weak, but I do see that he gets some important things right, some basic things that Geisler and/or Kreeft got wrong.
The first thing that Feser gets right in his case for God is the length of his case:

  • Norman Geisler’s case for God (in When Skeptics Ask, p.25-33):  18 pages 
  • Peter Kreeft’s case for God (in Handbook of Christian Apologetics, p.48-86): 39 pages
  • Edward Feser’s case for God (in Five Proofs of the Existence of God, p17-168): 151 pages

To try to prove the existence of God in just 18 pages, as with Geisler’s case, is completely idiotic.  To try to prove the existence of God in less than 40 pages, as with Kreeft’s case, is also very foolish.  To make a case for God in about 150 pages is a bit too aggressive in IMHO, but this is much more reasonable than trying to do so in less than 40 pages, and I admit that it just might be possible to make an intelligent case for God in only 150 pages.
The second thing that Feser  gets right is his focus on just a few proofs or arguments for the existence of God, unlike Kreeft who presents twenty arguments for God, at least ten of which are complete crap (I have only examined the last ten arguments in Kreeft’s case so far, but all ten are crap).  Kreeft wastes our time with several obviously lousy arguments, but Feser has carefully selected what he believes to be the very best arguments, and then does justice to those arguments by devoting significant space to developing, clarifying, and defending each argument.
Kreeft wrote an average of only about two pages per argument, while Feser devotes an average of about thirty pages on each of the arguments that he presents.  Kreeft presents outlines of arguments that generally consist of between only three to six statements, while Feser presents outlines of his arguments that consist of between 27 and 50 statements for each argument.  Feser, unlike Kreeft, understands that a reasonable case for the existence of God requires one to put forward some fairly complicated arguments.
The third thing Feser gets right is that he devotes a significant portion of each of his arguments to establishing that a particular being possesses several of the divine attributes that constitute the traditional Christian concept of God.  Geisler makes a pathetic attempt to do this too, but his case is so ridiculously short that he cannot adequately explain, clarify, or justify any of his claims or sub-arguments.  Kreeft doesn’t even make the attempt, and so his arguments for God generally FAIL to be arguments for the existence of God.  Kreeft’s arguments are generally not even in the ballpark.  Kreeft is swinging his plastic-toy bat at whiffle balls out in the parking lot, while the rest of us are on the field swinging real bats at real baseballs.
Each of Feser’s arguments can be divided into two phases.  The first phase gets us to the existence of some sort of metaphysical entity or entities.  In the second phase, the argument attempts to show that there is only one metaphysical entity of that sort, and that this entity has many of the divine attributes that constitute the Christian concept of God.  This is how most reasonable arguments for God ought to be structured:
The Aristotelian Argument  
Phase 1 concludes with this statement:

14.  So, there is a purely actual actualizer. (FPEG, p.36)

Phase 2 concludes with this statement:

50. So, God exists.

The Neo-Platonic Argument
Phase 1 concludes with this statement:

9. So, the existence of each of the things of our experience presupposes an absolutely simple or noncomposite cause. (FPEG, p.80)

Phase 2 concludes with this statement:

38. So, God exists.

The Augustinian Argument
Phase 1 concludes with this statement:

15. So, abstract objects exist not only in contingently existing intellects but also in at least one necessarily existing intellect. (FPEG, p. 109)

Phase 2 concludes with this statement:

29. So, God exists. 

The Thomistic Argument
Phase 1 concludes with this statement:

23. So, either directly or indirectly, each of the things we know from experience has its existence imparted to it at every moment at which it exists, including here and now, by some cause whose essence and existence are identical, something that just is subsistent existence itself.  (FPEG, p.130 )

Phase 2 concludes with this statement:

36. So, God exists. 

The Rationalist Argument
Phase 1 concludes with this statement:

18. So, there must be at least one necessary being, to explain why any contingent things exists at all and how any particular contingent thing persists in existence at any moment. (FPEG, p.163)

Phase 2 concludes with this statement:

27. So, God exists. 

Furthermore, Feser does NOT skimp on the reasoning for the crucial second phase.  In his first two arguments (Aristotelian & Neo-Platonic), about 3/4 of the argument is focused on phase two.  In his third argument (Augustinian), phase one and phase two are of equal length.  In his last two arguments (Thomistic & Rationalist), about 1/3 of the argument is focused on phase two, and phase two of those last two arguments would have been significantly longer, but he abbreviates the reasoning based on the fact that these arguments reuse several steps of reasoning from the Aristotelian argument (statements 15 through 47 of the Aristotelian argument are devoted to showing that “a purely actual actualizer” must possess several divine attributes).  Feser draws an inference (that the being in question has several divine attributes) in just one or two steps, when the actual reasoning if spelled out fully (as in the Aristotelian argument) involves a chain of several inferences involving dozens of statements.
The fourth thing that Feser gets right is his careful use of the word “God”.  It is absolutely shocking how sloppy and unclear and confused Geisler and Kreeft are in their use of the word “God”.  They abuse and misuse and misunderstand this word, and use it with different meanings, shifting the meaning at will, without providing any notice or warning that they are doing so.  No professional philosopher should be as careless as Kreeft and Geisler are with any key philosophical concept or term, but to abuse and misuse the word “God” when one is presenting a philosophical case for the existence of God is shameful and outrageous.
Feser quite correctly avoids using the word “God” until he gets close to the very end of an argument for God, and he is very clear about what he means by this word.  Although I don’t accept his analysis of the concept of God,  it is a fairly common one from the Thomist tradition, and it represents a sincere attempt to capture the meaning of the word “God” in keeping with traditional Christian theology, and which quite appropriately analyzes the meaning of this word in terms of various divine attributes (e.g.  “omnipotent”, “omniscient”, “eternal”, etc.).
CONCLUSION
I don’t know at this point whether any of Feser’s arguments are good or bad, valid or invalid, sound or unsound, but even if they are all weak and defective arguments, I am still very grateful to Feser for providing a case for God that meets some basic intellectual requirements for making a reasonable case for God.  Unlike the cases for God by Geisler and Kreeft, Feser’s case is NOT a Steaming Pile of Crap, and it is a great pleasure to consider a case that at least has the potential to be a reasonable and intelligent case for God.

bookmark_borderHow to “Deal” with Skepticism

Through most of the history of Western philosophy, skepticism has been the specter haunting epistemology. I am teaching an introductory course in epistemology, and every introductory textbook has a chapter, usually near the beginning of the book, on how to “deal” with skepticism. The assumption seems to be that skepticism is not so much a specter as a bothersome insect that has to be swatted before you can get down to the proper business of epistemology, like specifying conditions of justification (“S is justified in believing that P if and only if…”). Or maybe skepticism is viewed more as epistemology’s loony uncle who has to be stowed out of sight in the attic. Either way, the assumption seems to be that skepticism is a sort of particularly pestiferous or embarrassing problem that creates special difficulties that cannot just be ignored and has to be managed somehow.
For some of the major philosophers, on the other hand, skepticism was a useful tool. Descartes and Hume used skepticism for very different purposes. For Descartes, skepticism was the first stage of his method. You engage in hyperbolic doubt, questioning everything that can be questioned. If anything is dubious in any degree, even upon outlandish scenarios like all-powerful deceiving demons, then you regard it as false. The point is not to establish global skepticism, but, just the opposite, to ground knowledge upon absolute certainty. If we engage in the most corrosive and comprehensive doubt, but find that some truths (“Cogito ergo sum”) cannot be doubted even by those means, then we have a solid foundation of certain truth upon which we may base our whole edifice of knowledge.
For Hume, skepticism was useful to show that very much of what we believe is not held on the basis of reason, but is due to habit, custom, or conditioning. We expect the sun to rise tomorrow, but we have no rational basis for believing that it will. Any projection from the past into the future presupposes the uniformity of nature. That nature is uniform is not necessarily true since it is not self-evident nor can it be demonstrated a priori. Any argument intended to establish that, in fact, nature is uniform will have to appeal to that very principle, and so will be circular. Hume concluded that since our expectation of uniformity has no rational basis, it must be due to a habitual expectation repeatedly reinforced. In other words, we are like Pavlov’s slobbering dogs.
My view is that skepticism should not be viewed as confronting us with a particularly troublesome set of problems that have to be swatted away, or at least sealed off before we can get down to our epistemological business. Neither do I see skepticism as the acid bath that dissolves the tarnish and reveals the pure gold of apodictic knowledge, as did Descartes. I do not think that the evil demon can be completely exorcised. Though I am a great admirer of Hume, I think the range of human cognitive competence is much greater than Hume admitted. Hume was far too quick to say what we could not know (he should have applied a bit more skepticism to his skepticism). Two centuries and a half centuries of spectacular scientific progress has belied his epistemic pessimism.
Skepticism is either a doctrine, i.e. a set of claims, or it is a tactic. If it is a doctrine, then it may be critically discussed like any other philosophical doctrine, and its defenders may be held to the same standards of consistency and coherence whereby we judge any other philosophical theory. If it is a tactic, then we may meet a tactic with a tactic, one that disrupts the skeptic’s uneven game and levels the playing field.
As a doctrine skepticism could, for instance, deploy the ancient problem of the criterion: Any truth claim must be evaluated by criteria, but how can we know that the criteria we invoke are the right ones? Either we justify those criteria by appealing to those very criteria, or we invoke new criteria. The former tactic argues in a circle and the latter threatens an infinite regress, therefore we have no basis for claiming to know truth. Perhaps skeptics, like the ancient Academics, will argue that nothing is known with certainty, not even what seem to be the immediate deliverances of our senses. Since, then, nothing is certain, all must be held in doubt, and suspension of belief is the rational option.
Skeptics’ claims may be questioned and must be defended like any other philosophical claim. We may ask, for instance, why we should agree that judgments of truth always require a criterion. Do we not, for instance, rightly judge that some utterances are meaningless even though we might have no criterion of meaning? Might I not know that an expression of condolence or empathy is right in a given situation even though I lack a general theory of human interactions? Are not some things simply evident, and so knowable without appeal to a criterion? The defender of the criterion argument will then have to justify the claim that all judgments of truth, without exception, require a criterion, and such arguments do not require special treatment of any sort, nor should they provoke any special anxiety.  They may simply be evaluated as we would any other philosophical claims.
One particular problem that skeptical doctrines must face is the problem of reflexivity. Are the skeptic’s claims incoherent in the sense that they are self-defeating? Do they fail to live up to their own standards? For instance to the proposition that the certainty required for knowledge is not to be had, we may ask the proposer how certain he is of that. If he says that he is certain, he provides a counterexample to his own claim that nothing is certain. If he says that he is not certain, but he knows it anyway, then he is rejecting his claim that certainty is necessary for knowledge.
While “hoist with your own petard” arguments are always fun, skeptics are not stupid, and a clever skeptic can always deflect the burden of reflexivity. One way to do so is to deny that skepticism is a positive doctrine of any sort, making any sort of positive claims at all. Rather it is a tactic, perhaps the Socratic tactic of rigorously cross-examining every claim to show that it cannot meet its own standards. Thus, Socrates presented Euthyphro with his famous dilemma: Either we define piety in terms of what the gods happen to love, or we say that the gods love pious acts because they are pious. Neither horn of the dilemma was acceptable to Euthyphro, so he did not reply but hurried away, probably wishing he could administer some hemlock to that smartass Socrates.
Another, simpler tactic would simply be for the skeptic to pose endless iterations of the question “How do you know that?” Whenever a claim is made, justification is required. When justification is offered, the justification of the justification is demanded. Such a skeptic is a one-trick pony, but it is a pretty good trick, and you cannot beat it as long as you play the skeptic’s game.
If skepticism is a tactic, you can confront it with another tactic. This is what I think G.E. Moore was doing with his famous “proof” of an external world. Moore held up one hand and then another, thereby showing that there are physical objects in an external world. Of course this does not really prove anything to the skeptic, who says that Moore is begging the question against him. It is precisely such supposed perceptual truths that the skeptic is questioning. What Moore does do is to deploy a tactic to disrupt the skeptic’s tactic of endless questioning. Moore’s tactic is to shift the burden of proof to the skeptic. Here is a hand. Do you doubt it? If so, tell us why you doubt it. It seems evident to me, so tell me why it is not evident to you, why you would say that there only appears to be a hand. If the skeptic replies at all, then he accepts a burden of proof, and then we get the pleasure of subjecting him to a Socratic cross-examination.
As for Descartes, when in Mediation Three he fails to prove the existence of God, then he fails to perform the full and final exorcism of the evil demon. The evil demon we will have with us always. Could you be a brain in a vat? Sure. It cannot be disproven. On the other hand, we need to know why, just because we cannot definitively rule it out, we need to take it as a serious hypothesis. Who says that absolute certainty is a requirement for knowledge? Why can’t we be fallibilists, that is, say that we can know that p even if, possibly, not-p? Why should the possibility that I am in the Matrix or a vat be of any concern to me at all? There is zero evidence for such scenarios (or any other such scenario, as that we are living in a computer simulation) that is set up to prevent us from knowing that the scenario is true. Why waste time on a scenario that sets you up to fail?
As for Hume, he delighted in reflecting on the narrow limits that, he said, nature has placed upon us. We can only know the external appearances of things, never the hidden, secret natures whereby they supposedly have the powers that they have. For instance, Hume says that we can only know the texture, color, and taste of bread, but never why it should nourish us. That we will never know. But we do. We know how polysaccharides are metabolized in the body—the Krebs Cycle, mitochondria, ATP, ADP, and the whole story. We know loads of other things Hume thought we could not. The lesson seems to be to be skeptical of your own skepticism and not write off too quickly what we can know. We may not be as certain as Descartes thought we could be, but neither are we as ignorant as Hume held.
 
 

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

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

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

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

THEREFORE:

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

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

THEREFORE:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

THEREFORE:

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

THEREFORE:

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

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

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

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

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

THEREFORE:

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

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

THEREFORE:

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

THEREFORE:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

THEREFORE:

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

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

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

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

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

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

THEREFORE:

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

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

THEREFORE:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

THEREFORE:

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

THEREFORE:

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

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

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

THEREFORE:

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

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

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

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

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

THEREFORE:

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

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

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

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

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

THEREFORE:

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

THEREFORE:

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

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

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

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

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

THEREFORE:

B. It is VERY LIKELY that God DOES exist. 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Here are two different possible interpretations of this premise:

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

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

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