KREEFT’S CREDIBILITY PROBLEM
To focus in on the alleged flaws and failings of an arguer, as opposed to the alleged flaws and failings of his/her arguments is generally to be avoided, and can amount to the fallacy of ad hominem.
However, the CREDIBILITY of an arguer can affect the persuasive force of an argument, so credibility should not be completely ignored. Part of the reason why I have chosen to focus on Peter Kreeft’s case for God, is that he is a well-known Christian apologist, and he has studied and taught and published on philosophy of religion, Christian apologetics, and Christian theology. Kreeft is an established professor of philosophy, not an uneducated Bible-thumping evangelist from Oklahoma. Kreeft has devoted his life to study and teaching about the rational defense of basic Christian beliefs, such as the belief that “God exists”. So, Kreeft steps into the spotlight with a significant degree of credibility.
Given that Kreeft has done extensive study and teaching and writing on philosophy of religion and Christian apologetics, his case for God, his collection of arguments for the existence of God, deserves respect, at least initially. Given that he is clearly motivated to make a strong case for the existence of God, we may reasonably assume that he has selected what he takes to be the very best arguments available to support this claim. Given that he is an established professor of philosophy who has done extensive study, teaching, and writing on philosophy of religion and Christian apologetics, we may reasonably expect that his judgment as to which arguments for God are strongest and best is better than most people, who are less well-informed on this subject. His judgment on this matter should be given significant respect, at least initially.
However, we saw in the first post of this series that four out of the twenty arguments (i.e. 20% of his arguments) could be tossed aside immediately, based on admissions by Kreeft himself about serious flaws and weaknesses in those arguments. This is a problem for Kreeft’s credibility. Four out of the twenty arguments go down in flames before they even get out of the starting gates.
Why does Kreeft waste our time with these four crappy arguments? Why not edit them out and focus instead on presenting the other sixteen arguments more clearly and fully? If four of the arguments are DOA, based on Kreeft’s own admissions of problems with those arguments, then perhaps many more of the twenty arguments are also crappy. We clearly DON’T have a set of twenty strong and solid arguments, since at least four arguments are unworthy of serious consideration, so how many more of the arguments will turn out to be weak and pathetic?
In this second post, I will show that at least four more of the arguments in Kreeft’s list are crappy and pathetic arguments, thus supporting the conclusion that at least eight of the twenty arguments are very weak and flawed arguments. That is close to half of the whole collection (i.e. 40%, to be precise), and if I am correct about this point, then that destroys any bit of intellectual credibility that Kreeft had initially, at the start of this exercise.
If at least eight out of twenty arguments are CRAP, then either Kreeft has very poor judgment about the strength of arguments for the existence of God, or else Kreeft was willing to greatly lower his standards and scrape the bottom of the barrel just to be able to put forward a list of twenty arguments for God. In either case, it would clearly be a serious intellectual failure by Kreeft to put forward a case for God consisting of these twenty arguments.
Looking over the list of arguments, it is interesting to note that the first four arguments that we tossed out based on Kreeft’s own admissions, are ALL in the second half of the full set of arguments. This suggests that Kreeft had attempted to put his best foot forward by placing his best arguments in the first half of the set of twenty, and his worst arguments in the second half of the collection. Having glanced over all of the arguments in his case, it seems to me that this is indeed what Kreeft has done.
I suspect that ALL twenty of these arguments have significant flaws and errors in them, but it seems fairly clear to me that the last ten arguments are especially crappy, especially pathetic, and are more obviously flawed than the first ten arguments. Kreeft is wasting our time with the second half of his set of arguments. His credibility is shot, as far as I am concerned, because he should have chucked the last ten arguments into the garbage can, and focused his time and effort on constructing clearer and fuller presentations of the first ten arguments in this collection.
WE MAY REASONABLY TOSS ASIDE FOUR MORE ARGUMENTS
The last ten arguments in Kreeft’s collection of twenty arguments are, in my view, very weak and very flawed arguments; they are unworthy of serious consideration, and they fail to add significant weight to his cumulative case for the existence of God. In the first post of this series I argued that four of those last ten arguments could be tossed aside right away based on admissions by Kreeft of serious flaws and weaknesses in those arguments. The case for tossing aside another four of those last ten arguments is not in general based on Kreeft’s own admissions, so I will have to make the case myself, based on problems that I see in these four arguments:
15. The Argument from Conscience
16. The Argument from Desire
17. The Argument from Aesthetic Experience
18. The Argument from Religious Experience
THE ARGUMENT FROM AESTHETIC EXPERIENCE
Let’s start with the Argument from Aesthetic Experience, because this example, all by itself, pretty much destroys what remains of Kreeft’s credibility:
There is the music of Johann Sebastian Bach.
Therefore there must be a God.
WTF?! Is Kreeft serious? Sadly, this is NOT a joke. This is one of his twenty arguments.
This reasoning appears to be a non sequitur. We can, however, add a premise to make the argument logically valid:
1. There is the music of Johann Sebastian Bach.
2. If there is the music of Johann Sebastian Bach, then God exists.
3. God exists.
OK. Clearly premise (1) is true. No problem there.
But premise (2) is highly dubious. This unstated premise clearly needs to be supported and defended.
So, does Kreeft provide a short essay supporting and defending premise (2)? No, he doesn’t. Does Kreeft write a paragraph or two defending premise (2)? No, again he does not do that. Does Kreeft provide ANY REASON WHATSOEVER in support of premise (2)? Nope, he makes no attempt to support or defend it. Kreeft provides ZERO reasons in support of premise (2). He writes only one single sentence about this argument, making this inane comment: “You either see this one or you don’t.”
Wow. Upon presenting this little turd of an argument, Kreeft immediately abandons it, making no effort whatsoever to support or defend the dubious unstated assumption of his argument. Kreeft is clearly wasting our time here, and demonstrating his poor judgement and lack of discernment. Flush this argument into the sewer. Five arguments down, fifteen to go.
PROBLEMS WITH THE CONCLUSIONS OF THE OTHER THREE ARGUMENTS
The other three arguments (in the second set of four crappy arguments) all share the same serious flaw: their conclusions are VAGUE and UNCLEAR:
…something superior to me [exists]. (HCA, p.75)
…something more than nature [exists]… (HCA, p.81)
…there exists a “divine” reality… (HCA, p.82)
NONE of these three arguments ends with the clear and straightforward conclusion that “God exists”. Instead, we are given the above VAGUE and UNCLEAR statements.
But the question at issue is NOT whether there is something superior to us humans, nor is the question at issue whether there is something more than nature or natural phenomena, nor is the question whether there is a “divine” reality (whatever that means). The question here is: “Does God exist?” So, I am only interested in arguments that end with the conclusion “God exists” (or “God does NOT exist.”).
The fact that these three arguments have such VAGUE and UNCLEAR conclusions is by itself a sufficient reason to toss these arguments aside, as being too flawed to be worthy of serious consideration. Furthermore, it seems fairly obvious that even if we grant all three conclusions, it would still not follow that it is PROBABLE that God exists. There are just too many other possibilities besides theism that would correspond with, or be logically compatible with, these three vague claims.
Note that although the claimed existence of “divine” reality seems like it implies the existence of God, it does not in fact imply this, especially given Kreeft’s clarification about this argument (i.e. the Argument from Religious Experience):
Does such experience prove that an intelligent Creator-God exists? On the face of it this seems unlikely. For such a God does not seem to be the object of all experiences called “religious”. (HCA, p.82)
In other words, since “religious experiences” are sometimes taken to be experiences of God (i.e. an intelligent Creator-God), but are in other cases taken to be experiences of other sorts of sacred entities or forces, the Argument from Religious Experience cannot be used to provide significant support for the specific religious belief in theism, as opposed to showing the existence of other kinds of supernatural entities or forces.
The fact that the conclusions of these three arguments are VAGUE and UNCLEAR provides us with a good reason to toss these arguments aside as unworthy of serious consideration. Furthermore, there are a number of other serious problems with these three arguments that point to the same conclusion.
THE ARGUMENT FROM CONSCIENCE
It is not just the conclusion of the Argument from Conscience that is vague and unclear. Each of its premises is also vague and unclear. Part of the unclarity of the conclusion of this argument comes from the vague and unclear term “superior”. But this word (or the related word “inferior”) is used in each premise of the argument. Kreeft makes no attempt to clarify or define what the terms “superior” or “inferior” mean.
But these are vague and unclear words. Something can be “superior” to something else in many different ways, and in various combinations of those different ways. One being might be more intelligent than another being, or more powerful than another being, or more beautiful than another being, or more kind, or more just, or richer, or faster, or more durable, etc. The claims that “X is better than Y” or that “X is superior to Y” are so unclear that there is simply no rational way to determine whether such a claim is true or false. This is a second good reason to toss out the Argument from Conscience.
Another serious problem with the Argument from Conscience is that Kreeft does not provide a definition or clarification of what he means by the word “conscience”, so the central concept of this argument is left vague and unclear. This is a third good reason to toss aside this argument.
The various problems of clarity with the Argument from Conscience provide ample reason to toss out this argument as unworthy of serious consideration. However, I am going to go ahead and take the time to consider (and reject) a basic premise of this argument. A basic premise of the Argument from Conscience is FALSE, given a plausible interpretation of “conscience”.
Here is a dubious premise of the Argument from Conscience (expressed in three different ways):
…there remains [at least] one moral absolute for everyone: never disobey your own conscience. (HCA, p.74)
…[any person’s conscience has] the right to demand absolute obedience [from that person]… (HCA, p.74)
…[a person’s conscience issues] rightful demands for complete obedience [from that person]… (HCA, p.75)
Kreeft is endowing human consciences with tremendous authority here, with god-like authority, in order to make it seem implausible that this tremendous authority could be grounded in something as fallible and as morally imperfect as a human being or a society of human beings. If conscience has god-like authority, then that makes it seem reasonable to ground the authority of a human conscience in God.
But conscience does NOT have the tremendous or god-like authority that Kreeft asserts it to have. His basic premise is FALSE, or at least UNREASONABLE, if we assume that “conscience” means “a person’s sense of right and wrong”. For although it is reasonable to encourage people to pay attention to their sense of right and wrong, it is unreasonable to encourage people to “never disobey” their sense of right and wrong, and to believe that they owe “absolute obedience” or “complete obedience” to their own sense of right and wrong.
I’m reminded of the saying about the (supposed) duty of soldiers to give absolute and complete obedience to the orders of their superiors:
Theirs not to reason why,
Theirs but to do and die:
(from Alfred, Lord Tennyson’s poem “The Charge of the Light Brigade“)
It is unreasonable to demand “absolute” and “complete” obedience to one’s conscience, because our sense of right and wrong is just as fallible and subject to prejudice and irrationality as are human beliefs and opinions in general. Suppose that some ignorant shithead raised by Nazi parents in Germany in the 1930s came to believe that it was his moral duty to kill as many Jews as possible. This person’s sense of right and wrong is all screwed up, so should we insist that this shithead give “absolute” and “complete” obedience to his screwed up conscience? Obviously not.
Ignorance, prejudice, cultural bias, stupidity, and other forms of irrationality infect and affect our sense of right and wrong, just like every other kind of opinion and judgment. Although we ought to give serious consideration to our own sense of right and wrong, we also ought to be skeptical about our own sense of right and wrong, just as we ought to be skeptical about our own beliefs, opinions, and intuitions about any other important issues.
Yes, one should pay attention to one’s sense of right and wrong, but one also ought to be willing to question one’s own beliefs, opinions, and intuitions about moral issues, and to think more deeply and carefully about those beliefs and opinions. In some cases, thinking carefully and deeply about those beliefs and opinions will lead one to doubt or even to completely reject one’s former beliefs and opinions. Such skepticism and critical thinking is something we should encourage, not discourage.
The Argument from Conscience (a) has a very vague and unclear conclusion, (b) fails to conclude that “God exists”, (c) has a number of premises that are also vague and unclear (because of the unclear and undefined key terms “superior” and “inferior”), (d) is focused around an unclear and undefined concept (“conscience”), and (e) the basic premise of the argument is FALSE or UNREASONABLE, given a plausible interpretation of the term “conscience”. Because of the multiple problems of UNCLARITY, and the likely falsehood of the main premise, we have many good reasons to toss this argument aside. It is too weak and flawed to provide any significant support for the claim that “God exists”. Six arguments down, fourteen to go.
THE ARGUMENT FROM RELIGIOUS EXPERIENCE
The conclusion of the Argument from Religious Experience is unacceptably vague and unclear:
…there exists a “divine” reality… (HCA, p.82)
Kreeft makes it clear that this conclusion does NOT mean that “God exists”; however, he fails to explain what this conclusion DOES mean. Kreeft makes no attempt to define what he means by the phrase “a ‘divine’ reality.” The conclusion of this argument is vague and unclear, and this by itself gives us sufficient reason to toss the Argument from Religious Experience aside, as being unworthy of serious consideration.
Furthermore, this is not the only problem of unclarity in the Argument from Religious Experience. The main premise of this argument is also vague and unclear:
Many people of different eras and of widely different cultures claim to have had an experience of the “divine.” (HCA, p.82)
Because it is unclear what Kreeft means by the phrase “an experience of the ‘divine’ “, it is not possible to rationally evaluate the truth or falsehood of this key factual premise. This unclarity in a key premise is by itself a sufficient reason to toss aside this argument. But we now have three good reasons to conclude that this argument is unworthy of serious consideration: (a) the conclusion of the argument is NOT that “God exists”, (b) the conclusion of the argument is vague and unclear, and (c) the meaning of a key premise in this argument is vague and unclear. So, we have ample reason to simply toss this argument out.
Furthermore, there are other general problems with Kreeft’s presentation of this argument that provide good reason to ignore the Argument from Religious Experience. There are some obvious and serious objections that any thoughtful person would raise against the Argument from Religious Experience:
- Religious experiences support conflicting religious beliefs and conflicting religious belief systems.
- Religious experiences appear to be strongly shaped by cultural and ideological influences (Christians have visions of Jesus, Muslims have visions of Muhammad, Catholics have visions of Mary, but few Protestants have visions of Mary).
- When religious experiences support specific and detailed beliefs, then they can often be empirically disconfirmed, or shown to be in conflict with other beliefs supported by religious experiences (e.g. Jesus will return to rule the world in 1844).
- When religious experiences provide support only for vague or general beliefs, then they are more difficult to empirically disconfirm, but even so they can sometimes be shown to be in conflict with general beliefs supported by other religious experiences (e.g. the supreme being is a person vs. the supreme being is an impersonal force).
Peter Kreeft makes no attempt to answer any of these obvious and serious objections to the Argument from Religious Experience.
He doesn’t even mention these objections. I will not argue here that these objections are strong enough to refute this argument, but my point is that Kreeft’s presentation of this argument is so deficient, that it is not worth the time and effort to try to rationally evaluate this argument. No intelligent critical thinking person would be persuaded by an Argument from Religious Experience when the arguer completely fails to respond to any of these obvious and serious objections. We should simply ignore this crappy argument and Kreeft’s crappy defense of the argument. Seven arguments down, thirteen to go.
THE ARGUMENT FROM DESIRE
Before I point out more serious flaws and problems with the Argument from Desire, I want to say something positive about Kreeft’s presentation of this argument: he does a much better job of presenting and defending this argument than with the seven arguments that we have tossed aside so far. The substance of his presentation and defense is still flawed and mistaken, but the form of it is good: (a) he makes a significant effort to clarify some key concepts in the argument, (b) he addresses some objections that could be raised against the argument, and (c) he provides some reasons and arguments in support of premises that are controversial or challenged by the objections.
Unlike with the other arguments that we have tossed aside, Kreeft makes an real effort to stand by this argument; he does not simply abandon the argument without putting up a fight. If Kreeft had tossed out the crappy last ten arguments in his collection, and if he clarified, supported, and defended the first ten arguments in the way that he does the Argument from Desire, then he probably could have at least maintained his CREDIBILITY as a professional philosopher of religion.
Nevertheless, despite his better effort here, the flaws and weaknesses of the Argument from Desire provide good reason to toss this argument aside. I have already pointed out that the conclusion of this argument is NOT that “God exists”:
…something more than nature [exists]… (HCA, p.81)
This is really an argument against naturalism, and for supernaturalism. The actual, but unstated, conclusion of this argument is that something supernatural exists. The vagueness of this conclusion is sufficient reason by itself to toss this argument aside as being unworthy of serious consideration. This is NOT an argument for the existence of God.
Another serious problem with this argument is the unclarity and dubiousness of the main factual premise:
Every natural, innate desire in us corresponds to some real object that can satisfy that desire. (HCA, p.78)
This is a very interesting claim, so I am tempted to dive in and analyze and evaluate the truth of this claim. However, my aim here is not to refute the Argument from Desire, but rather to show that it is seriously defective in ways that give us reason to simply toss the argument aside, as being unworthy of serious consideration. The problematic phrase here is “natural, innate desire”. This phrase is vague and unclear.
However, Kreeft does make an effort to clarify the distinction between “natural, innate desires” and “artificial desires”. I’m not satisfied with his effort, but I would prefer not to get into a detailed discussion about that distinction, if there is some other more direct reason to toss out this argument (in addition to the unacceptable vagueness and unclarity of the conclusion).
A more basic problem with Kreeft’s presentation and defense of this argument is that he fails to understand that this key premise is an empirical claim, which means that he fails to provide anything like adequate empirical data to support this key premise.
Most people, in reading this key premise would infer that this is a universal generalization that is based on inductive reasoning from a sample of factual data. But there is no indication that Kreeft has more data than just a few hand-picked examples. Kreeft gives no indication of the scope of the set of “natural, innate desires”. Are there five such desires? or fifty such desires? or five hundred? maybe five thousand? Kreeft gives no hint as to the quantity of desires that we are talking about, so citing two or three hand-picked examples might well be of no significance. What if we are talking about a scope of one thousand desires or ten thousand desires?
It seems to me that Kreeft is completely unprepared to support this factual premise with the sort of evidence that is needed. In short, Kreeft is mistaken about the kind of claim this premise makes, and thus does not understand the sort of evidence required to support this premise. Perhaps someone who understood the nature of this premise could provide some significant evidence in support of it, but Kreeft is NOT that person; he simply cannot defend this argument, since he cannot properly support this key premise.
Kreeft considers and rejects an objection that is somewhat related to my objection here, so we need to consider his response to that objection before confidently concluding that he is in fact confused about the nature of the claim made in the above key premise:
[This objection]…presupposes empiricism–that is, that the only way we can ever know anything is by sensing individual things, and then generalizing by induction. It excludes deduction because it excludes the knowledge of any universal truths (like our major premise). (HCA, p.79)
First of all, Kreeft has his head up his ass if he thinks that empiricism involves the idiotic view that all universal generalizations are based on “generalizing by induction” from experiences of “individual things”. Empiricists, such as David Hume, allow for there to be universal generalizations that are analytic truths (“relations of ideas” in Hume’s lingo), truths based on the logic of concepts or the meanings of words. In any case, my objection to the major premise of the Argument from Desire makes no such idiotic assumption.
The fact that SOME universal generalizations are analytic truths that are NOT based on “generalizing by induction” from experiences of “individual things” (e.g. All triangles have three sides) does NOTHING to show that Kreeft’s major premise is an analytic truth, or that it can be known to be true apart from induction from experience. The universal generalization that “All swans are white” is an empirical claim, not an analytic claim, and thus one must base this generalization on induction from experiences of individual swans. Similarly, the claim that “Every natural, innate desire in us corresponds to some real object that can satisfy that desire,” is an empirical claim, not an analytic claim, and thus one must base this generalization on induction from experience.
Kreeft continues to respond to the objection (one that is similar to my objection), and digs himself even deeper into a hole:
We can and do come to a knowledge of universal truths, like “all humans are mortal,” not by sense experience alone (for we can never sense all humans) but through abstracting the common universal essence or nature of humanity from the few specimens we do experience through our senses. We know that all humans are mortal, because humanity, as such, involves mortality, it is the nature of a human being to be mortal… (HCA, p.80)
Holy shit. I think Thomistic metaphysics has melted Kreeft’s brain. The idea that the universal generalization that “all humans are mortal” or “all humans eventually die” is known by some sort of rational intuition or insight is unbelievably bizzare. I hardly know what to say in response to this completely implausible claim. The concept “human” does NOT contain the concept of “mortality” and the word “human” is NOT correctly defined using the word “mortal” as a necessary condition. The generalization that “all humans are mortal” is NOT an analytic truth.
Furthermore, it is obvious that the power of reason cannot reveal the truth of a generalization which clearly has empirical implications. That is just crazy magical thinking. Clearly, in order to know that “all humans are mortal” we need to observe more than just a few human beings. Clearly, this universal generalization must be grounded in a wide collection of empirical facts or observations about thousands or millions of human beings.
The universal generalization that “all humans are mortal” is based on inductive reasoning from experiences of the deaths of many individual human beings. Kreeft is mistaken to think otherwise. Similarly, the universal generalization that is asserted in the main factual premise of the Argument from Desire is also based on inductive reasoning from experiences of individual human beings having specific desires. Kreeft is mistaken to think otherwise. Because of Kreeft’s failure to understand the empirical nature of this key premise, he is in no position to provide the empirical evidence required to confirm or verify this premise. There is no hope that Kreeft could properly support and defend the main premise of this argument. This by itself is sufficient reason to toss out this argument.
Because the conclusion of the Argument from Desire is vague, and because this argument does NOT conclude that “God exists”, and because Kreeft has a mistaken understanding of the main factual premise of this argument, making it so that he cannot provide the sort of evidence required to support and defend that premise, we have ample reason to toss out the Argument from Desire, as being unworthy of serious consideration. This is yet another crappy argument among the last ten arguments in Kreeft’s list. Eight arguments down, and one dozen to go.
CONCLUSION: KREEFT’S CREDIBILITY IS GONE
If you agree with me that eight out of Kreeft’s twenty arguments are so weak and flawed that they are unworthy of serious consideration, then you should also agree with me that any remaining credibility that Kreeft had, has been destroyed. Given that at least 40% of the arguments in Kreeft’s collection of arguments for the existence of God are crappy arguments that are unworthy of serious consideration, we have no reason to respect Kreeft’s judgment about which arguments for God are the best and strongest arguments. He either has a serious lack of skill and ability in such matters, or else he was willing to greatly lower his standards to allow such crappy arguments into his case for God.
Twenty Arguments For The Existence Of God
1. The Argument from Change
2. The Argument from Efficient Causality
3. The Argument from Time and Contingency
4. The Argument from Degrees of Perfection
5. The Design Argument
6. The Kalam Argument
7. The Argument from Contingency
8. The Argument from the World as an Interacting Whole
9. The Argument from Miracles
10. The Argument from Consciousness
11. The Argument from Truth
12. The Argument from the Origin of the Idea of God
13. The Ontological Argument
15. The Argument from Conscience
16. The Argument from Desire
17. The Argument from Aesthetic Experience
18. The Argument from Religious Experience
19. The Common Consent Argument
20. Pascal’s Wager