Theism and the Genetic Fallacy, Part II

(Editor’s note: redating this post; originally published on 5-Mar-09)

A few weeks ago I engaged in an exchange with Victor Reppert on theism and the genetic fallacy. I had meant to get back to him right away, but administrative b.s. of the sort always imposed on university faculties slowed me down. Anyway, our conversation made me think of ways to employ some of the recent biological belief theories (BBT’s) of Boyer, Atran, Dennett and others in constructing a more rigorous atheological argument:

My argument is simple. I think that Alvin Plantinga is right. If God exists, humans will very likely possess a sensus divinitatis, a God-detecting faculty, which, when functioning properly and in the appropriate circumstances, will present us with warrant-basic (both warranted and epistemologically basic) awareness of his existence. If this is so, and if God does exist, then humans, provided that their sinfulness has not impaired the proper functioning of their sensus, will have a warrant-basic awareness of God’s existence. On the other hand, if there is no God, it is extremely unlikely that humans would possess a cognitive faculty that would produce the warranted (but false) belief that God exists. In this case, evidence that belief in God is not caused by a warrant-conferring cognitive faculty, but rather is generated by a noncognitive process that does not confer warrant on that belief, will, ipso facto, constitute evidence against the existence of God. An atheological argument can therefore be set out semi-formally like this:

1) If God exists, then humans very likely possess a sensus divinitatis, a cognitive faculty which, when functioning properly and in the appropriate circumstances, produces the warrant-basic belief that God exists.
2) If there is no sensus divinitatis, then God probably does not exist, unless the background probability of his existence is very high.
3) It is not the case that the background probability of God’s existence is very high.
4) There is no sensus divinitatis.
5) Therefore, God probably does not exist.

Plantinga and others argue cogently for (1). The God of orthodox theism is not an aloof Lawgiver or Watchmaker. A God that loves his children will not allow them to stumble about in the dark, vainly searching for light. Surely nothing could be more important for God’s sentient creatures than to have sure knowledge of his existence, his nature, and his will for them. Therefore, he will reveal himself to them in some clear, unmistakable, and authoritative way. That is, God will reveal his existence, nature, and will in so clear and forceful a manner that no honest and rational person will mistake it. God very probably will not make himself knowable only through a process of complex inference (modal ontological arguments, say) since very many persons lack the education or the intellect to follow such complex and recondite inferences. Therefore, God will make himself knowable either through a very simple and direct inference, or immediately and noninferentially as a basic belief. The surest way would be to implant a universal sensus divinitatis that imparts a warrant-basic knowledge of God to all humans, or at least to those in whom sin has not fatally corrupted their God-detecting faculty.

(2) follows from the probabilities we have assigned. If G = God exists and S = humans possess a sensus divinitatis, and we say, with Plantinga, that p(S/G) is very high, say, .99, then p(~S/G) = .01. Also, p(~S/~G), the probability that there is no sensus divinitatis if God does not exist, effectively equals one. By Bayes’ Theorem:

                p(~S/G) X p(G)
p(G/~S) = --------------------------------------------
p(~S/G) X p(G) + p(~S/~G) X p (~G)

Since we assume that p(~S/G) is .01, and that p(~S/~G) is effectively 1, then, the only way for p(G/~S) not to be quite low is for p(G), the background probability that God exists, to be very high. For instance, if p(G) = .8, then

             .01 X .8

p(G/~S) = ----------------------- = .038

(.01 X .8) + (1 X .2)

Even if we say that p(~S/G) is only .1, rather than .01, and we keep p(G) =.8, that would still give us only p(G/~S) = .29. So, if we say, with Plantinga, that p(~S/G) is quite low, then the only way to keep p(G/~S) above .5, is to put p(G) very high.

With respect to premise (3): That it has not been established that p(G) is very high, I take for granted. The numerous arguments of natural theology have been extensively, and, in my view, cogently debunked by critics like Mackie, Matson, Martin, Everitt, Oppy, Gale, Le Poidevin, Sinnott-Armstrong, Fales, Drange, Edis, Carrier, Parsons (ahem), and many, many others. For the record, I think that, among the many arguments of natural theology, Victor Reppert’s argument from reason is about the best of the lot, though I have argued copiously elsewhere why I find it wholly unconvincing.

Naturalistic explanations of religious belief, such as the various Biological Belief Theories (BBT’s) of Wilson, Boyer, Atran, Dennett, Guthrie, et al., come in to support premise (4). Theistic belief is warranted, in Plantinga’s sense, only if it is the product of the proper functioning of a cognitive faculty designed to produce true belief. Now one may wish, following Richard Dawkins, to speak of highly adapted phenotypic features as “designed” by evolution, but even so, no one would say that the belief-producing mechanisms postulated by the various BBT’s were designed to generate theistic belief if and only if that belief is true. They are not God-detecting faculties. On the contrary, these postulated mechanisms would work just as well in generating theistic belief whether or not God exists. Clearly, if theistic belief is generated in a manner like those proposed by BBT’s, then theistic belief is not warranted in Plantinga’s sense. Belief is the result of an epistemologically unreliable belief-forming process, not the consequence of the proper functioning of a cognitive faculty in the appropriate circumstances, and so belief cannot be warrant-basic. If humans possess a sensus divinitatis, then theistic belief cannot be explained in terms of an unreliable, noncognitive, non-warrant-conferring process, such as a BBT. Therefore if any BBT is sound, there is no sensus divinitatis, and the fourth premise of the above atheological argument is supported.

The upshot is that appeal to BBT’s or other naturalistic explanations of theistic belief need not involve the genetic fallacy. On the contrary, when added to other highly plausible claims, they provide support for the atheological argument I have given.

About Keith Parsons
  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/03034292023591747601 PersonalFailure

    To be honest with you, once you got into formulas, my one semester of logic became useless, but that was fascinating.

    I tend to think that the argument that we were designed by god with a “god detector”, ergo god exists and atheists are just defective is disproven by the fact that billions of people do not detect yhwh, but rather detect the hindu deities, pagan deities, etc.

    This may not be logically sound, but it seems that if the god detector only works properly less than half the time, it’s either very poorly designed, or it doesn’t exist.

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/10212971606135991995 Wes

    Very nice argument.

    I suppose a weaker conclusion would work as well–e.g. you could argue that the probability of the non-existence of a sensus divinitatis is more probable given naturalism than given theism. You would lose the stronger deductive conclusion that God probably does not exist, but you would add to a cumulative case favoring naturalism over theism (and the weaker conclusion would be much easier to defend, I think).

    Your support for (4) goes a long way in showing that the Pr(~S|G) is quite low (i.e. ~S would be very surprising indeed given theism). And, of course, the absence of a sensus divinitatis is exactly what one would expect given naturalism (N), so the Pr(~S|N) is quite high.

    And no matter how we fill in reasonable prior probabilities, it seems hardly controversial that the

    Pr(~S|N) > Pr(~S|G)

    One might be able to quibble about how low the Pr(~S|G) is, but I don't think anyone can reasonably contend that Pr(~S|G) is greater than or equal to Pr(~S|N).

    In an extended comparative cumulative case this is another good piece of evidence supporting naturalism over theism.

    Kudos.

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/01831685367130233530 Andrew Atkinson

    Outstanding post! If God exists and wants us to know the truth, he has either made the signal of his truth deficient or has made us deficient as receivers of the signal, or both. Either way God is the one to blame assuming he is all powerful and wants us to know the truth. The only way to get out of this, is to say God does not want all to know his truth (as the Calvinist believe) but then you can’t say god is all loving. Either way god is either incompetent or cruel.

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/16826768452963498005 Jim Lippard

    In the penultimate sentence of the penultimate paragraph, shouldn’t “Belief” be qualified as “Theistic belief”?

    Seems to me that a theist would attack premises 3 and 4; 3, by saying that p(G) is, in fact, very high; and 4, by restricting the scope of information produced by the sensus divinitatis to the mere detection of divine presence, and accepting that the BBT’s explain only the additional beliefs about God or gods that accumulate upon that sensation of the divine. That way, the majority of believers can be appealed to as evidence for the sensus divinitatis despite their extensive disagreements about the nature of gods. The difference between, say, Boyer’s account on the basis of inference schemata about agents and the underlying perception of the divine then becomes much like a debate about qualia.

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/09925591703967774000 Dianelos Georgoudis

    I see several weaknesses in the argument.

    I find premise #1 questionable at least as a general principle of theism. According to some powerful theistic worldviews (I am thinking of John Hick’s exposition of Irenaean theodicy) the preeminent purpose of creation is not belief in God but soul-making. Indeed John Hick explains that there is therefore a good reason for the existence of what he calls an epistemic distance between creatures and Creator, a view that greatly weakens premise #1.

    Further I think there may be a misunderstanding of what “sensus divinitatis” actually means. I suspect it does not mean a “God-detecting faculty”, but rather the capacity to become aware of the presence of God. How this capacity works and on what cognitive faculties it depends is a different matter. Perhaps it works via our moral consciousness (i.e. our faculty to know good from evil) by which we know God’s character. Or perhaps our moral consciousness moves us into following Christ’s path and hence into personal awareness of God. And as there is little doubt that people do possess moral consciousness we have here entirely credible cases which falsify premise #4.

    But even under Keith Parsons’s (and perhaps Plantinga’s) understanding of “sensus divinitatis” I think his justification of premise #4 does not hold water. So suppose God’s preeminent purpose of creation is for us to know Him/Her, and that S/He has given us a God-detecting faculty which when functioning property and in the appropriate circumstances will give us knowledge of God. Is there any reason to suspect that the creator of nature would implement that God-detecting faculty as an un-natural process? In other words, does it make any sense to believe that God would make us in such a way that for us to believe in His/Her existence would be an unnatural phenomenon? If not, then the various naturalistic explanations about the origin of religious beliefs (the various BBT’s of Wilson et al) do no in the least decrease the probability that we do possess a God-detecting faculty. (Not to mention that if these BBT’s are part of God’s design for us then they are certainly not unreliable sources of knowledge and, under the right conditions, provide warranted beliefs in Plantinga’s sense.)

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/12901445956957726604 George

    Yes ok, it is like being in a dark cellar without a torch looking for a black cat which is not there !!

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/01875109580933192779 Perezoso

    While not agreeing with Dianelos (or, Osiris forbid, Plantinga), I do agree that Premise 1 itself seems questionable (and then the argument is rendered meaningless, more or less).

    The argument seems to be a variation on the argument from mystical experience. Humans have, throughout history, claimed to have known and perceived God, whether via prayer, miracles, or mystical experience, or some other means (say, listening to Beethoven’s 5th symphony).

    Those reports might be questioned, or given some psychological explanation, but cannot just be swept away via a claim of naturalism, or, in the older parlance, via Hume’s “uniformity of experience”. The uniformity of experience does seem to preclude miracles– or a perception of God– but that’s not a necessary argument.

    William Blake may very well have seen God at his windowsill: now was that JHVH himself, or a hallucination? Perhaps the latter, but we weren’t there. Hume or the modern scientific-naturalist would probably demand that we reject the mystic’s report, but I am not sure that settles the issue. Most humans probably don’t believe chupacabras exist, but there are dozens of fairly reliable reports saying they do, and supposedly one or two caught on video. When one shows up in your neighborhood, you would probably revise your belief system.

    .

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/09915579495149582531 exapologist

    Stephen Maitzen’s argument from the demographics of theism further corroborates the non-existence of a sensus divinitatis.

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/09925591703967774000 Dianelos Georgoudis

    Perezoso said: “ Humans have, throughout history, claimed to have known and perceived God, whether via prayer, miracles, or mystical experience, or some other means (say, listening to Beethoven’s 5th symphony).

    If God is beauty (as the Qur’an says) then anytime we experience beauty (in music or in anything else) we are in fact experiencing a reflection of God. Indeed it often happens that we experience something without realizing what it is. So for example the light emitted by a burning piece of wood is due to a quantum process but surely prehistoric people while cooking were not aware that they were observing a quantum phenomenon. Similarly many people today while seeing the sun are not aware that they are looking at a nuclear fusion reaction. If God exists then in fact everything we experience is directly or indirectly an experience of God. So the difference in the case of mystics is not really in that they experience God but rather in that they experience God in a particularly direct way and more importantly in that they understand what they are experiencing. (A little noticed fact of our condition is that there is a dialectic between experience and understanding. We all know that experience leads to understanding, but understanding leads to experience also. So, for example, a mathematician experiences a paper full of formulas differently than a non-mathematician who does not understand what they are seeing.)

    Perezoso said: “ Those reports might be questioned, or given some psychological explanation, but cannot just be swept away via a claim of naturalism, or, in the older parlance, via Hume’s “uniformity of experience”.

    Of course from naturalism’s point of view all religious experiences can’t be anything but illusions. On the other hand thinking about religion from the naturalistic point of view amounts to begging the question. Religious claims can only be reasonably evaluated from the agnostic point of view. We all agree that one’s intelligible experience of physical things (say of an apple tree in one’s garden) warrants the belief that these physical things exists. I have always wondered why exactly is it that some peoples’ intelligible experience of a transcendental being does not similarly warrant their belief that that being exists. Now it’s true that not all people “uniformly” experience God. But then again not all people uniformly experience the beauty of Beethoven’s 5th symphony either, not all people uniformly experience the meaning of a mathematical formula, etc – but this does not imply that the former are therefore illusions. (By “intelligible” I understand an experience that is stable, possesses explanatory power, is useful in some pragmatical sense, and, optimally, coheres with the rest of one’s worldview.) An example of an intelligible experience that transcends naturalistic evidence is our experience of a mind – or more generally of a conscious subject – in people around us.)

    The religious understanding of reality is not in opposition to a scientific understanding; rather it transcends it. Religion does not deny the order present in physical phenomena and which science discovers, but claims that there is a deeper order to be discovered in the whole of the human experience, including in the very relevant subjective bits. Is that religious order illusory? Perhaps it is, but then again perhaps it is not. Here is an analogy: Some years back a kind of images were popular that at first look just like a dense collection of meaningless colored dots (these are called “autostereograms” [1]). Most people do manage after some effort to look at these pictures in such a way that a three-dimensional image appears, perhaps of a dolphin seemingly springing out of the paper. Some people do not manage this, but it would be unreasonable for them to claim that therefore those who do see it are being delusional. Now in the case of a transcendental understanding of reality different religious people make different claims about the deeper order they see. So for example the western traditions claim to see a personal order, but the eastern traditions claim to see an impersonal one. Isn’t that a contradiction which perhaps evidences that it’s all an illusion? Not necessarily, because multiple levels of order, or multiple properties of the same order, can co-exist. For example, even though to my knowledge it hasn’t been done, I think one can produce an autostereogram that encodes two different 3D images. Also the transcendental may well have both personal and non-personal properties, and western and eastern religions may focus on these different aspects. Lastly there are of course the limitations of our language which is largely adapted to the description of mid-sized physical objects and not for describing transcendental insights.

    What I am saying in short is this: Our experience of life is intelligible. One kind of patterns in our experience that all people of normal cognitive faculties detect in a superficially automatic fashion is the presence of mid-sized physical objects (we all learn to do that as toddlers). But there are deeper patterns present, for example physical laws, mathematical laws, etc. The religious claim is that there are even deeper patterns which apply not only to the objective part of our experience but also to our subjective part (and are therefore invisible to the scientific method). Finally the theistic claim is that in the whole of our experience of life there is a single pattern of overarching explanatory power, which is that of God.

    [1] Here is an example of an autostereogram: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/File:Stereogram_Tut_Random_Dot_Shark.png

    A page with remarkable optical illusions, and which also explains how autostereograms are made, can be found here: http://www.waynesthisandthat.com/opticalillusions.htm

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/12901445956957726604 George

    Dianelos I could not agree more, very well said indeed. Sensus dvinitatis or sense of divinity was posited by John Calvin as the inherent awareness of God which is implanted in every human being. This presupposes the existence of soul. Excerpt: Richard Dawkins & Steven Pinker Guardian Dillons debate ( Is Science killing the soul)Is science killing the soul? This is a cunning title, because it cunningly mixes two different meanings of soul. The first and oldest meaning of soul, which I'm going to call Soul One, takes off from one set of definitions. I'm going to quote several related definitions from the Oxford dictionary:

    "The principle of life in man or animals — animate existence."

    "The principle of thought and action in man commonly regarded as an entity distinct from the body, the spiritual part of man in contrast to the purely physical."

    "The spiritual part of man regarded as surviving after death, and as susceptible of happiness or misery in a future state."

    "The disembodied spirit of a deceased person regarded as a separate entity and as invested with some amount of form and personality."

    So Soul One refers to a particular theory of life. It's the theory that there is something non-material about life, some non-physical vital principle. It's the theory according to which a body has to be animated by some anima. Vitalized by a vital force. Energized by some mysterious energy. Spiritualized by some mysterious spirit. Made conscious by some mysterious thing or substance called consciousness. You'll notice that all those definitions of Soul One are circular and non-productive. It's no accident. Julian Huxley once satirically likened vitalism to the theory that a railway engine works by "force-locomotif." I don't always agree with Julian Huxley, but here he hit the nail beautifully. In the sense of Soul One, science has either killed the soul or is in the process of doing so.

    But there is a second sense of soul, Soul Two, which takes off from another one of the Oxford dictionary's definitions:

    "Intellectual or spiritual power. High development of the mental faculties. Also, in somewhat weakened sense, deep feeling, sensitivity."

    In this sense, our question tonight means, Is science killing soulfulness? Is it killing esthetic sensitivity, artistic sensibility, creativity? The answer to this question, Is science killing Soul Two?, is a resounding No.
    Perezoso :There is no harm in myth-making if the myth is called a myth. It is when we use our fanciful knowledge to deny or to shut out real and scientific knowledge that the myth becomes a stumbling block. And this is precisely the use to which myths have been put. The king with his sword and the priest with his curses, have supported the myth against science. When a man pretends to believe that the Santa Claus of his childhood is real, and tries to compel also others to play a part, he becomes positively immoral. There is no harm in believing in Santa Claus as a myth, but there is in pretending that he is real, because such an attitude of mind makes truth unnecessary and not at all vital.
    Myths die when history is born. Before history was born, there was myth; before men could think, they dreamed. It was with the human race in its infancy as it is with the child. The child's imagination is more active than its reason. It is easier for it to fancy even than to see. It thinks less than it guesses. This wild flight of fancy is checked only by experience. It is reflection which introduces a bit into the mouth of imagination, curbing its pace and subduing its restless spirit. It is, then, as we grow older, and, if I may use the word, riper, that we learn to distinguish between fact and fiction, between history and myth.
    In childhood we need playthings, and the more fantastic and bizarre they are, the better we are pleased with them. We dream, for instance, of castles in the air — gorgeous and clothed with the azure hue of the skies. We fill the space about and over us with spirits, fairies, gods, and other invisible and airy beings. We covet the rainbow. We reach out for the moon. Our feet do not really begin to touch the firm ground until we have reached the years of discretion.
    I know there are those who wish they could always remain children, — living in dreamland. But even if this were desirable, it is not possible. Evolution is our destiny; of what use is it, then, to take up arms against destiny?
    Let it be borne in mind that all the religions of the world were born in the childhood of the race.
    Science was not born until man had matured. There is in this thought a world of meaning.
    Children make religions.
    Grown up people create science.
    The cradle is the womb of all the fairies and faiths of mankind.
    The school is the birthplace of science.
    Religion is the science of the child.
    Science is the religion of the matured man.
    I appeal to the mature, not to the child mind. I appeal to those who have cultivated a taste for truth — who are not easily scared, but who can "screw their courage to the sticking point" and follow to the end truth's leading.

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/01875109580933192779 Perezoso

    Religious claims can only be reasonably evaluated from the agnostic point of view.

    I agree, but only in the sense that it cannot be necessarily proven that a monotheistic God exists OR does not exist, somewhere in the Universe. That was Russell’s point on the teapot analogy. That does not mean doubts are not warranted, or that we can’t discuss “what if’s,” or the implications of omnipotent monotheism.

    Mysticism in itself does not establish monotheism, of course. Mystics might have all sorts of religious experiences (as might someone listening to Beethoven), but does not suffice as proof of G*d’s existence, or as evidence against physicalism (perhaps a better term than naturalism). That humans are transported into Beethoven-land may show something–anomaly of human thinking or something (there are other, more direct means of transport. of course….). A non-believer might also be transported, however…

    Mysticism raises other problems as well. For every William Blake, there might be a dozen David Koreshes or Mansons. The empiricists (including founding fathers, really) were concerned with that issue of “enthusiasm” and Hume’s points against miracles were meant to call into question the supposed infallibility of scripture (and by extension any religious dogma, including the Koran). A society based on the premise that the vision of the Book of Revelation— or Book of Mormon, for that matter–could be realized any day would not be too copacetic (and yet that has been the case, and still is in some areas of the dirty South…..or Utah territory).

    At the same time (and this was sort of my point), Hume’s own skepticism regarding natural laws (and thus the uniformity of experience) would imply that significant anomalies to say Newtonian mechanics are logically possible, though highly unlikely–at least unlikely at the level of “the dead coming back to life,” Book of Revelation, and so forth.
    Some anomalies might be more along lines of hybrids, like………. chupacabras!. Perhaps the resident Einsteins could calculate the probability of a Chupie existing.

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/16641266062186767500 Keith Parsons

    Dianelos Georgoudis says:
    “I see several weaknesses in the argument.

    I find premise #1 questionable at least as a general principle of theism. According to some powerful theistic worldviews (I am thinking of John Hick’s exposition of Irenaean theodicy) the preeminent purpose of creation is not belief in God but soul-making. Indeed John Hick explains that there is therefore a good reason for the existence of what he calls an epistemic distance between creatures and Creator, a view that greatly weakens premise #1.”

    But awareness of the existence of God does not abrogate human freedom to make responsible moral choices, a necessary condition of soul-making. On the contrary, as everyone knows, much moral evil is done in the name of God. Scripture somewhere assures us that the devils themselves know that God exists, but this does not stop them from being devils. Further, the awareness supposedly imparted by the sensus divinitatis is not conceived as coercive or overwhelming; it is the “still, small voice” that imparts the “assurance of things not seen.” I think an example of the operation of the putative sensus would be something like John Wesley feeling his heart “strangely warmed” or perhaps Luther’s “tower experience.” Plantinga (and surely Calvin) would argue that the power of temptation and pride are such that they can easily bind the will and lead the sinner to wickedly (and irrationally) deny the promptings of the sensus.

    On the other hand, many believers have reported overwhelming conversion experiences that rendered it psychologically impossible for them not to believe. Does having an overwhelming, life-changing “born again” experience render you less liable to moral dereliction, so that, for instance, you will automatically refrain from such sins as self-righteousness, bigotry, and dishonesty? The examples of Jerry Falwell, Pat Robertson, Ralph Reed, and the whole gaggle of born-again Christo-fascists, make me think otherwise. That is one group that really needs some soul-making (except for Falwell, who has already gone to his “reward”).

    The main strength of premise one derives from the fact that theists traditionally maintain that unbelievers are to be held responsible for their unbelief. The point is that unbelief is supposed to be a culpable failing, one that merits punishment, perhaps even hell. Now Hick, in An Interpretation of Religion, clearly holds that unbelief can be an entirely rational and responsible choice. More traditional theists would disagree. If people are to be punished, perhaps eternally, for not believing, then unbelief cannot be a reasonable and responsible option. If you have done your epistemic best, weighing the reasons for and against theistic belief carefully and conscientiously, and still cannot bring yourself to believe, then God would be a moral ogre to punish you for not believing. Unbelief must be blatantly irrational, a violation of epistemic duty, if its punishment is to be justified. How much epistemic distance can there be between humans and God for unbelief to be morally and intellectually culpable? If there is considerable epistemic distance, then unbelief will be a reasonable and responsible choice for some people, and punishment for unbelief will be morally monstrous. If, on the other hand, we all possess a sensus divinitatis, a warrant-basic awareness of the existence of a loving God who wants us to live in communion with him, and we sinfully distort or dismiss this awareness, then we can rightly be held responsible for not believing (though I think it is monstrous to hold that eternal punishment is justified for any human failing).

    Mr. Georgoudis:
    “Further I think there may be a misunderstanding of what “sensus divinitatis” actually means. I suspect it does not mean a “God-detecting faculty”, but rather the capacity to become aware of the presence of God. How this capacity works and on what cognitive faculties it depends is a different matter. Perhaps it works via our moral consciousness (i.e. our faculty to know good from evil) by which we know God’s character. Or perhaps our moral consciousness moves us into following Christ’s path and hence into personal awareness of God. And as there is little doubt that people do possess moral consciousness we have here entirely credible cases which falsify premise #4.”

    But if the sensus divinitatis is merely a “capacity to become aware of the presence of God,” rather than an active cognitive faculty, then, again, how can people be blamed for not having that capacity brought to actual belief? So far as I can tell, I have a capacity to become aware of the existence of E.T.’s, but given the exiguous evidence so far given on their behalf, my doubts about their existence are not blameworthy. I hold that, on the contrary, my skepticism about E.T.’s is abundantly justified. What holds for E.T.’s holds for God.

    Mr. Georgoudis suggests that perhaps it is our moral consciousness that leads us to know God’s character or to follow Christ’s path. He says that since people clearly do have moral consciousness, we clearly have cases that falsify premise four, the claim that there is no sensus divinitatis. But such cases would falsify premise four only if authentic moral consciousness dependably led us to the awareness of God or to follow Christ’s path. However, to make such a claim seems arbitrary and presumptuous. Very many people with a moral consciousness that, prima facie, is fully functional do not seem to be led along that path.

    Mr. Georgoudis:

    “But even under Keith Parsons’s (and perhaps Plantinga’s) understanding of “sensus divinitatis” I think his justification of premise #4 does not hold water. So suppose God’s preeminent purpose of creation is for us to know Him/Her, and that S/He has given us a God-detecting faculty which when functioning property and in the appropriate circumstances will give us knowledge of God. Is there any reason to suspect that the creator of nature would implement that God-detecting faculty as an un-natural process? In other words, does it make any sense to believe that God would make us in such a way that for us to believe in His/Her existence would be an unnatural phenomenon? If not, then the various naturalistic explanations about the origin of religious beliefs (the various BBT’s of Wilson et al) do no[t] in the least decrease the probability that we do possess a God-detecting faculty. (Not to mention that if these BBT’s are part of God’s design for us then they are certainly not unreliable sources of knowledge and, under the right conditions, provide warranted beliefs in Plantinga’s sense.)”

    There is nothing that requires the belief imparted by the sensus divinitatis to be the product of a non-natural process. If I understand Plantinga, Alston, et al. rightly, “seeing” God, in the right circumstances, can be as natural as seeing a tree (though, of course, the object of our perception, God, is not a natural entity). In fact, the whole point is to say that awareness of God is a perception, not an inference, and is epistemically on all fours with sense perception. The conditions Plantinga imposes are rather complex, but, in essence they are that the sensus must be a cognitive faculty that reliably imparts warrant-basic awareness of God when (and only when) functioning properly in the appropriate circumstances. So, if (a) God exists, and (b) one of the BBT’s is the correct account of the origin of theistic belief (as Mr. Georgoudis supposes), then would the postulated belief-generating mechanism serve as the sensus divinitatis? Could the belief-forming mechanisms postulated by a BBT in fact be part of God’s design, his way of making us aware of him? No, because the whole point about the belief-causing mechanisms postulated by BBT’s is that they are epistemically unreliable; they produce belief in gods just as effectively whether there are any gods or not. Therefore, the beliefs caused by the BBT mechanisms are not warranted, even if, in fact, God exists. If a drug causes me to hallucinate a ghost, then my belief that a ghost is present is not warranted even if, in fact, a ghost is present. The “design function” of a belief-causing mechanism of the sort postulated by the BBT’s—even if it were designed by God—is not to generate warranted belief in God, but to generate beliefs that have survival value, where the survival value does not depend upon the warrant or probable truth of the beliefs. Therefore a BBT cannot serve as the sensus divinitatis, even if God exists.

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/09925591703967774000 Dianelos Georgoudis

    Keith Parsons responds above to three observations I had previously made.

    The first concerns the idea that there is perhaps good reason why knowledge of God does not come easily. According to Irenaean theodicy God created us in an imperfect (“fallen”) state because this is the one that conduces to the most valuable final state of the human condition, indeed is the one that conduces to universal deification. Keith Parsons responds by pointing out various traditional Christian beliefs (about the Devil, about God blaming atheists or punishing sinners) which do not comport with Irenaean theodicy. I generally agree with his criticisms, but they are irrelevant to my point. Actually the atheist and the agnostic have an advantage when thinking about theism, namely that they are not encumbered by any particular tradition or previous affiliation and are therefore completely free to think about theism at its best. In my judgment Irenaean theodicy stands heads and shoulders above the Augustinian theodicy of traditional theism. And theodicy is not just a response to the problem of evil (including to the in our context relevant problem of non-belief) but is rather an explanation of why the will of a perfect person would produce the kind of experiential condition we in fact find ourselves in. Therefore a theodicy has the potential to explain much more than science, for example to explain why we should experience a physical environment in the first place, why we should experience death, and so on. In short, via a theodicy theism can answer “why” or teleological questions beyond and above science’s answering “how” or operative questions. As ontological naturalism is exclusively based on scientific knowledge we see that theism has at least the potential of greater explanatory power.

    My second observation was about the meaning of “sensus divinitatis”. I think it’s obvious that if theism is true then it can’t be the case that it is impossible for human beings to have knowledge of God. Therefore we can safely agree that if theism is true then some kind of “sensus divinitatis” does exist, at least in the sense of a potential for knowing God. Keith Parsons response is I think in the sense that there are good, intelligent and motivated people who invest quite some effort in thinking about or pondering this matter and conclude that God does not exist. I wonder if that’s really the case though. Take the example of the vastly intelligent Bertrand Russell comparing belief in God with belief in a flying teapot. Is that really the best he could do? What I think is indisputably true is that people of good will can and do often err; there is such a thing as an honest mistake. I agree with Keith Parsons that this does not make people blameworthy. On the other hand I agree with all religious traditions’ basic belief that errors have certain consequences, as successes too have certain consequences. Which incidentally does not imply that there is punishment or reward; it just implies that there is a just order in reality, and that responsibility has a real meaning, exactly as would be expected if reality is based on the presence of a perfect person. Finally, I would like to clarify that for me “Christ’s path” is the path of selfless love, and as such is one that all people of authentic moral consciousness will be moved to follow whatever their ontological beliefs. And following that path will I think in general lead people into knowledge of God, or at least into the realization of a transcendental reality that is good and meaningful.

    Thirdly I observed that in any case the existence of naturalistic explanations for the phenomenon of religious belief does not decrease the probability that sensus divinitatis does exist, because there is no reason to assume that God would create us in such a way that to believe in Him/Her would be an unnatural phenomenon. Keith Parsons responds by arguing that if belief in God is the product of a natural process then it can’t be an epistemically reliable process because it will produce belief in God whether God exists or not. At first this argument looks OK, after all it clearly works well with other existential beliefs. So, for example, if belief in Santa Claus is produced by a belief forming process which works equally well whether Santa Claus exists or not then, certainly, that process can’t be epistemically reliable. But it’s questionable whether this argument works in the case of existents that cannot be considered physical objects. For example most mathematicians believe that mathematical objects exist objectively, indeed that they exist timelessly, spacelessly, and necessarily. And to argue that this belief is produced by a belief forming process which works equally well whether math is objective or not, and that therefore this process is not epistemically reliable – would not impress these mathematicians I think. Similarly we all believe in the existence of other minds, a belief that is produced by a belief forming process which works equally well whether in fact other peoples’ mind exists or not.

    In the case of God it’s clear why this argument does not work. The question of whether God exists is not an existential question like any other, namely the question of whether something exists within a given background reality. (And what kind of background reality Keith Parsons has in mind is evident when he speaks of the “mechanism” of belief-formation.) Rather theism is a claim about the fundamental nature of reality itself, namely the belief that reality is based on the existence of a perfect person, God. Among other things theism entails that all processes are not at bottom mechanical but rather are contingent on God’s free and creative personal will – the very antithesis of a mechanism. We see now that in the case of God the premise of the argument under discussion becomes self-referentially incoherent: “Belief in God is the product of a process contingent on God which would work equally well whether God exists or not”. Of course if God does not exist then a process contingent on God does not work at all, in fact it does not even exist.

    In this context it is important to note a fact about the relationship between phenomenal and objective reality. It is possible for the phenomenal universe we experience to be wholly “naturalistic” (i.e. amenable to the mathematical modeling that science excels in) while the objective reality which produces the respective phenomena is not. An easy way to understand this is by visualizing Plato’s cave: even if the shadows on the wall are amenable to such modeling the objects that cast the shadows may not be; these objects may well be “super-natural”. Our own free will may be constrained (as it is certainly constrained in various ways) in the same sense, namely in that we are not free to behave in ways which are not amenable to scientific modeling – after all we do exist within a physical environment. Thus there is no incoherence between the premises that God exists, that the phenomenal universe is wholly naturalistic [1], and that we are essentially free to choose and express our beliefs (and also inclined to form true beliefs). If God exists then God may have created the world in a way that instantiates the latter two premises, perhaps via one of the various Biological Belief Theories that scientists are suggesting.

    [1] Why the phenomenal universe we experience should be wholly naturalistic, at least prima facie, is a question that Irenaean theodicy is well-equipped to answer.

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/16641266062186767500 Keith Parsons

    In a previous comment Dianelos Georgoudis challenges premise #1 of my argument, which asserts that God would very likely impart a sensus divinitatis to humans. His counter is that perhaps, as John Hick argues in defense of his Irenaean theodicy, there needs to be epistemic distance between God and humans, or humans’ free agency in their own soul-making will be compromised. My response was (a) that the awareness of God’s existence imparted by a sensus divinitatis would in no way abrogate or compromise human responsibility, and so would not be incompatible with a soul-making theodicy, and (b) that the epistemic distance between God and humans cannot be very great if, as all traditional creeds assert, unbelief is morally and intellectually culpable.

    I simply cannot see that Mr. Georgoudis has effectively responded to these claims in his latest comment. Indeed, he says that he largely agrees with my criticisms, but that they are irrelevant to his point. What, then, is his point? I’m afraid that I just do not see one that is relevant to my points.

    He continues by endorsing the Irenaean theodicy and claiming that it potentially explains more than science. Again, I do not see that this addresses my earlier arguments, but let us take a look at these further claims.
    Mr. Georgoudis says: “…a theodicy has the potential to explain much more than science, for example to explain why we should experience a physical environment in the first place…” As opposed to what? When or where was it ever the least likely or even possible that we would experience anything else? He also says that a theodicy can explain why we experience death. But death is a biological fact with a biological explanation. Once the physical facts about death are explained, in evolutionary, genetic, and physiological terms, what more is there to know? Mr. Georgoudis continues: “In short, via a theodicy theism can answer “why” or teleological questions beyond and above science’s answering ‘how’ or operative questions. As ontological naturalism is exclusively based on scientific knowledge we see that theism has at least the potential of greater explanatory power.”

    But the “greater explanatory power” of theism is a sham. The standard modus operandi of theistic apologists is to create a mystery where there is none and then to offer God as the pseudo-answer to the pseudo-enigma. The completely adequate answer to the typical “why” questions theists ask (to which, of course, “God” is their tailor-made answer) is “Why not?”

    Next, Mr. Georgoudis responds to my argument that the sensus divinitatis cannot be merely, as he suggests, the human moral consciousness. My argument is that the human moral consciousness could be the sensus divinitatis only if its proper functioning dependably led people to an awareness of the theistic God. However, very many humans with an apparently highly functional moral consciousness—the Buddha, Confucius, Lao-Tzu, Socrates, and Aristotle, and Spinoza for example—do not seem to have been led to such an awareness. As far as I can tell, Mr. Georgoudis’s only reply is to express his doubts about the moral and intellectual earnestness of those who have not been led to the awareness of God. He instances Bertrand Russell’s allegedly flippant dismissal of theistic belief (actually, Russell took the claims of religion very seriously, as I argue in my chapter on Russell in Icons of Unbelief, edited by S.T. Joshi, Garland Press, 2008). He further alleges that all genuinely morally earnest persons have been led in Christ’s path, by which he means the path of selfless love, and that, “…following that path will I think in general lead people into knowledge of God, or at least into the realization of a transcendental reality that is good and meaningful.”

    Mr. Georgoudis offers a great deal of assertion here, but very little that, even generously regarded, can be construed as argument. Further, these assertions raise many questions. Does the earnest and authentic functioning of the moral consciousness always prompt us towards the ideal of selfless love? Why not towards Aristotelian virtue instead, or Buddhist renunciation, or even to an enlightened ethical egoism? Does genuinely selfless love exist? Is selfless, unconditional love a good thing, even as an ideal? Should we really love everyone? For instance, I do not in any sense love George W. Bush, Donald Rumsfeld, or Dick Cheney. In fact I loathe and despise them, and I do not consider this to be a moral failing at all. In fact, I think they should be despised because they are despicable. Further, you do not have to be a Nietzschean or a follower of Ayn Rand to suspect that most talk about selfless love is deployed to clothe self-interest in shining garments of hypocrisy.

    Mr. Georgoudis next responds to my argument that if the cause of theistic belief is a belief-forming mechanism of the sort postulated by one of the various biological belief theories (BBT’s), plus social construction in particular cultural/historical milieus, then such belief is not epistemically warranted. These beliefs are not warranted because the postulated belief-making causes do not have the design function of dependably producing true beliefs; rather, they work so as to generate the belief just as effectively even if God does not exist. Mr. Georgoudis admits that this argument is effective in some cases. For instance, he admits that it would be a good argument against the warrant-basic status of belief in Santa Claus to note that belief in Santa Claus is effectively produced by unreliable belief-causing factors. Yet he says that this argument does not work when applied to beliefs about non-physical objects (Santa Claus is supposed to be a physical being?). What about belief in ghosts or demons? At any rate, he says that mathematicians who spontaneously believe that mathematical objects exist timelessly, spacelessly, and necessarily, would not be impressed by an argument claiming that they would be inclined to such beliefs whether they were true or not. Well, why wouldn’t they? On what grounds would it be reasonable for them not to take such an argument seriously?

    Mr. Georgoudis continues: “Similarly we all believe in the existence of other minds, a belief that is produced by a belief forming process which works equally well whether in fact other peoples’ mind exists or not.” Reading between the lines, I surmise that Mr. Georgoudis is now willing to admit that belief in God might be unwarranted in the sense we have been considering—where warrant is conferred by the proper functioning of a cognitive mechanism designed to generate true belief when operating in the appropriate circumstances. Yet, he now appears to offer belief in other minds as a counterexample to the account of warrant we have been considering. I take the liberty of expressing his argument this way: Intuitively, belief in other minds would be rational and epistemically authorized—indeed, we would still know that there are other minds—even if that belief were shown to be the product of a belief-causing mechanism that would operate equally effectively if there were no other minds. Fair enough, but since the context of this whole discussion was to rebut my premise #4—that there is no sensus divinitatis—Mr. Georgoudis now has the burden of at least adumbrating the sense in which the purported sensus, like our belief in other minds, would be epistemically authorized, even if unwarranted because it is generated by an unreliable mechanism.

    Finally, Mr. Georgoudis says: “We see now that in the case of God the premise of the argument under discussion becomes self-referentially incoherent: ‘Belief in God is the product of a process contingent on God which would work equally well whether God exists or not.’ Of course if God does not exist then a process contingent on God does not work at all, in fact it does not even exist.” Huh?? Here is what I really said: “The ‘design function’ of a belief-causing mechanism of the sort postulated by the BBT’s—even if it were designed by God—is not to generate warranted belief in God, but to generate beliefs that have survival value, where the survival value does not depend upon the warrant or probable truth of the beliefs. Therefore a BBT cannot serve as the sensus divinitatis, even if God exists.” What I’m saying is that whether God exists or not, a BBT will generate theistic belief with equal effectiveness, and so cannot confer warrant. Where is the incoherence?

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/09925591703967774000 Dianelos Georgoudis

    About what my point is: I think that both freethinking atheists and theists should only concern themselves with the most powerful and in many ways most natural and authentic idea of God, namely that God is the person who is perfect in all respects – and only consider the scripture, tradition and dogmas of the various theistic religions under that light. So, as far as I am concerned, what “traditional creeds assert” does not concern me and need not concern Keith Parsons either. What should concern us both is what we can reason under the assumption that God exists, and then see how well the implications of that reasoning fit the evidence (especially when compared to what we can conversely reason under the assumption that naturalism is true and that all order in reality is at bottom strictly mechanical/non-personal).

    Now theodicy is about what God’s purpose with creation is, and in my judgment Irenaean theodicy suggests the by far most plausible idea: That God’s purpose is to create personal beings capable of achieving the same perfection S/He possesses, that is capable of theosis. It is known at least since Plato that of all personal perfections the decisive one, indeed the one without which all other perfections become less the worthless, is moral perfection. And it is a matter of basic insight that personal perfection is valuable (indeed coherent as a concept) only when attained and not when received for free. So the Ireanean thesis is that the experiencial world we find ourselves in is optimized for the attainment of moral virtue, in this life and the next, until theosis is achieved. We know that a world completely free of evils would not be optimal in this sense, as wouldn’t a world filled to the brim with evil. So somewhere between these two extremes lies the optimal state for what John Hick calls “soul-making”. In a deep sense then we are here to create ourselves. The question now facing all freethinkers is this: Is it plausible to believe that the world as we know it is at this optimum? In other words the question is: how well does Irenaean theodicy fit the evidence of our condition? The answer I give to this question is that there is nothing that would make me suspect that the world is not optimal in this sense. Indeed I experience my own life as an incessant moral challenge, and, despite all its bad facets, as an extremely interesting place for learning and creating, and indeed for self-transcendence.

    Many arguments for non-existence, no matter whether one is discussing math, or physics, or metaphysics, have the form: “If E exists then C would be the case, but C is not the case, therefore E does not exist”. (Conversely many arguments for existence have the similar form: “If E does not exist then C would be the case, but C is not the case, therefore E exists”.) Keith Parsons has here suggested an argument of precisely this form, where E=”God” and C=”people possess a sensus divinitatis”, defining “sensus divinitatis” the way Alvin Plantinga does, namely as a God detecting cognitive faculty that when working properly and in the appropriate circumstances produces warranted belief in God. In the context of Irenaean theodicy we immediately see that in relation to the sensus divinitatis both extremes are, again, sub-optimal: A world in which we did not at all possess the cognitive faculty to come to know God would clearly not be optimal for the attainment of moral virtue; but a world in which that cognitive faculty would immediately give us complete knowledge of God would not be optimal either, because with such knowledge even the idea of evil would not occur to us, in which case no moral advancement (and therefore soul-making) would be possible. The optimal it seems would be somewhere in the middle, nicely reflecting how our condition is: to posses a clear inclination to sense a purpose (and hence God) behind it all, but also suffering a significant epistemic distance between us and God, which translates that we do have the potential of attaining knowledge of God but only after quite some effort. Which is a common state in our condition; for example we all have the potential of discovering and knowing general relativity (or, I say, of drawing well) but only after quite some effort too.

    Keith Parsons objects to my claim that a theodicy has the *potential* of explaining more than science. Scientific explanations reside in the discovery of mathematical patterns (or a mechanical order) in the physical phenomena we observe. Naturalists believe that this phenomenal order is ultimately produced by a reality consisting of a corresponding mechanical order. Therefore naturalistic explanations cannot be more illuminating or have more predictive power than scientific ones (perhaps that’s one reason why so many people commit the error of conflating naturalism and science). Theists on the other hand believe that this phenomenal order is ultimately produced by the purposeful mind of God. Therefore, above and beyond the value of the scientific explanation, a theodicy which clarifies the purpose of God in creation has the potential of explaining more than science. As an analogy consider examining a watch without knowing what it is. To fully understand the mechanism of the watch (e.g: it is a mechanism which using a spring and lots wheels moves two hands at approximately constant speed, one 12 times faster than the other, on a circular face) provides one measure of explanation. But to further understand the purpose of the watch, namely to measure time, adds an additional and deeper explanatory level. So I think it’s clear that a theodicy can in principle explain more than science.

    In relation to my claim that following the path of Christ (a path of moral excellence characterized by selfless love for all) will naturally lead one knowledge of God, or at least into the realization of a transcendental reality that is good and meaningful, Keith Parsons responds that I offer a great deal of assertion but little that resembles an argument. Which is true. Religion is not only the conclusion of an ontological argument, religion is also an assertion about a dimension of our condition. For example, in the Christian monastic tradition the assertion is made that if you do this and that you’ll experience God in a direct and overwhelming manner. Such spiritual assertions belong to the same category of any empirical claim, for example that if you heat water you’ll experience it starting to boil. What such empirical facts say about reality is a different matter, and one can argue about that. But knowledge of the empirical facts themselves does not come with argumentation, but only through direct experience.

    To the question of whether the earnest and authentic functioning of the moral consciousness always prompts us towards the ideal of selfless love, I’d answer that yes. How that selfless love expresses itself is another question; Aristotelian contemplation or Buddhist renunciation may be valid expressions, as may be self-sacrificing service to others, or even a normal family life. Enlightened ethical egoism I think doesn’t cut it; it seems to me that authentic moral consciousness always entails self-transcendence. Finally, for me, it is a moral failing to despise and loathe people no matter what they have done, for people who do evil can only do so because they do not know any better or cannot do any better. I don’t see the point of despising or loathing people who are already suffering from a particular weakness of mind or will.

    In the context of the various biological belief theories (BBT’s) Keith Parsons claims that “[religious] beliefs are not warranted because the postulated belief-making causes do not have the design function of dependably producing true beliefs; rather, they work so as to generate the belief just as effectively even if God does not exist”. On theism this affirmation is clearly false, for on theism the designer of nature has designed its various belief-making causes of religious belief (such as the sensus divinitatis) for producing true beliefs when working properly and in the right circumstances. On theism the argument that these causes would produce theistic beliefs even if theism were false is self-referentially incoherent. On naturalism Keith Parsons’s affirmation above is meaningless, for on naturalism belief-making causes do not have any design function. Unless, that is, one makes the questionable assumption that through natural selection the belief making mechanisms that tend to produce true beliefs will be favored and become sociobiologically more populous. The naturalist can then believe that nature itself blindly “designs” reliable belief forming mechanisms. But on this naturalistic view one can turn the tables around and ask how such blindly designed belief forming mechanisms can be reliable in the case of beliefs where such mechanisms would work the same whether the beliefs in question are true or not. I have already mentioned two cases of such beliefs, namely the belief in the existence of other minds, and the belief in the objectivity of mathematics. A third case would be belief in scientific realism as opposed to the computer simulation hypothesis. Actually, on naturalism it’s difficult to explain how belief making mechanisms can have any epistemic warrant at all, but that’s another question I suppose.

    It would seem that on the last issue Keith Parsons and I are speaking past each other. Perhaps the problem is this: Epistemological truths are contingent on ontological truths, so sometimes an epistemological principle is valid only when assuming a particular ontological background as given. Epistemic principles that are reasonable within a naturalistic world may not make sense within a theistic world, and cannot therefore be used in the context of an argument against theism – and vice versa of course. Consider for example the following argument that some theists (e.g. William Craig) use: Objective evil exists; if God does not exist then objective evil does not exist; therefore God exists. Craig argues that atheists accept the first premise because they use it in the argument from evil against the existence of God. But atheists use that premise in the context of a theistic world, in order to attack it from within. That they use that premise in their argument does not imply that they also accept it within the naturalistic world they believe is actual the case.

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/16342860692268708455 Angra Mainyu

    Just to add a couple of cents:

    Regarding the existence of a "sensus divinitatis" (SD), and in addition to the points that Keith Parsons already made, the fact that there are societies in which neither belief in God nor even the concept of God exists seems to be strong evidence against it.

    Granted, most of those people believed in different entities which are often called "gods", "spirits", "monsters", etc., in English. However, and regardless of what we call those entities, they were very different from God.

    In fact, in many religions, such entities were very much like humans with superpowers, like comic characters, or fictional monsters, without omniscience, moral perfection, lack of a body or shape, etc.

    Those "gods" would fight each other for pretty much any reason humans fight each other, and sometimes would even kill each other, etc.

    In fact, it seems that without exposure to claims that God exists, nearly all people do not come to believe that God exists, or even to have the concept of God.

    A theist might claim that in those cases, something – say, sinfulness – is interfering with the normal functioning of the SD.

    However, with that criterion, it seems to me that probably nothing would be accepted by such theist as evidence against that SD – for no matter how hard one tries, the "conclusion" might just be: "human sinfulness is preventing the SD from working", or generally "The conditions for SD to work were not present".

    That aside, one can still point out that a claim that there is a SD is simply a claim about human psychology for which there is no support at all, whereas there are much better explanations for belief in God.

    In particular, the fact that many people do believe in God today does nothing to support the claim that there is a SD, just as the fact that people in certain societies have some beliefs in some superpowerful entities does not support the existence of a "sensus Zeusis", etc.

    In fact, a more plausible claim about human psychology is that humans usually tend to believe claims of existence of certain entities when other members of their group – parents, peers, etc., depending on the case, but members they respect as authorities on the matter – tell them that said entities exist; even when people abandon their previous religious beliefs, they often do so while in the process of joining another group with a different set of such beliefs.

    Also, plausibly, there is also an oversensitive sense of agency, which makes false beliefs in agents common, though not universal.

    Granted, those are not invincible tendencies, but they seem common, and that seems to be a good explanation for belief in God, for belief in Christianity, or for belief in Zeus – far better than a SD, a "sensus Jesus" or a "sensus Zeusis" would be.

    It's true there are also related issues that would not be answered by the previous considerations, such as why humans tend to acquire beliefs in that particular way, but I think the key point is that the tendency to believe is not linked to that particular entity – namely, God – but it's common to different sets of beliefs prevalent among some groups of humans.

    Of course, the previous considerations do not apply to a SD understood so broadly that it only encompasses the possibility for humans to have knowledge of God, if God exists.

    In that broad sense, though, humans definitely do have a "sensus teapotis" because if the teapot exists, humans surely could – given the right conditions – come to know that it does.
    I suspect that this is not the SD that Plantinga and others posit, though, and I don't see why something like that should be called a "sensus divinitatis" in the first place.

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/18095903892283146064 Richard Wein

    I'd like to mention some possible weaknesses I see in this argument that haven't been mentioned already.

    First, I reject both Plantinga's definition of "warrant" and the foundationalist presupposition that there are basic beliefs. I don't accept that the existence of a sensus divinitatis would make it any more rational to believe in God, since the evidence looks the same whether belief in God results from a real sensus divinitatis or a misguided feeling. That said, I'm not sure that the concepts of "warrant" and "warrant-basic" play any significant part in your argument, and it might be better to omit them.

    As I see it, the evidence is against the existence of God. Given that God has given us a rational faculty and insufficient evidence to rationally believe in him, how reasonable is it to suppose that he would also give us an irrational belief in him? If God is so determined to have us believe in him, wouldn't it be better to give us more persuasive evidence? Moreover some versions of God–such as a God who would consign us to Hell for mere disbelief–make God so unreasonable that it seems futile to make judgements about what he would do. So I find premise #1 highly questionable even if the term "warrant-basic" is removed.

    The other problem I have with this argument is that it seems to border on circularity. BBT is being used here to support an argument against God. But BBT is also dependent on the strength of the case for God. The more reason we have to believe in God, the more reason we have to prefer truth-tracking explanations for belief in God over BBT. It might be better merely to argue that evidence for BBT is evidence against the existence of God, and use this as part of a more general evidentiary case against God. (I think philosophical arguments generally should be more evidentiary and less deductive.)

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