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

MY DIVIDE-AND-CONQUER STRATEGY

I have argued that Peter Kreeft puts forward what he takes to be his strongest and best arguments for the existence of God in the first half of his list of twenty arguments (Handbook of Christian Apologetics by Peter Kreeft  and Ronald Tacelli, Chapter 3), and then puts forward his weakest and most flawed arguments in the second half (the last ten arguments in his list).  

Furthermore, in Part 1 and Part 2 of this series, I have argued that eight out of the ten last arguments are so weak and/or flawed that they should be tossed aside and simply ignored:

11. The Argument from Truth
13. The Ontological Argument
14. The Moral Argument
15. The Argument from Conscience
16. The Argument from Desire
17. The Argument from Aesthetic Experience
18. The Argument from Religious Experience
20. Pascal’s Wager

I had intended to argue that all ten of the last ten arguments should be tossed aside and ignored, but the remaining two arguments do not seem to be as obviously weak and/or  flawed as the above eight arguments.  I think the remaining two are BAD arguments, but they are not as obviously and egregiously BAD as the above eight arguments, which are AWFUL arguments.  

Since I am likely to conclude that all twenty of Kreeft’s arguments are BAD arguments, and since I don’t intend to simply toss aside all twenty arguments, I will assume (for now) that the above list of eight arguments are the only AWFUL arguments in Kreeft’s list, and that I need to treat the remaining twelve arguments (including two arguments from the second half of Kreeft’s list) more seriously and do the serious intellectual work necessary to show that those dozen arguments are in fact BAD arguments.  

I will also try to show (in a future post) that when taken together those dozen arguments provide (at best) only a weak and/or seriously flawed cumulative case for the existence of God.  It is the remaining dozen arguments (and only those arguments) that I will now consider to be the content of Kreeft’s cumulative case.  I will set aside and simply ignore the above eight AWFUL arguments.

In future posts I will be focusing my attention on the first ten arguments in Kreeft’s list, which I think he believes to be his best and strongest arguments for the existence of God.  There are also two arguments remaining from the last ten arguments in Kreeft’s list:

12. The Argument from the Origin of the Idea of God
19. The Common Consent Argument

In this present post, I will analyze and evaluate Kreeft’s Argument #12.

 

ANALYSIS OF THE ARGUMENT FROM THE ORIGIN OF THE IDEA OF GOD

Unlike some of the arguments I have asserted should be tossed aside, this argument actually concludes that “God exists”, so it is at least in the ballpark and appears to be relevant to the main question at issue: “Does God exist?”.  

Here is Kreeft’s outline of Argument #12:

1. We have ideas of many things.

2. These ideas must arise either from ourselves or from things outside us.

3. One of the ideas we have is the idea of God–an infinite all-perfect being.

4. This idea could not have been caused by ourselves, because we know ourselves to be limited and imperfect, and no effect can be greater than its cause.

5. Therefore, the idea must have been caused by something outside us which has nothing less than the qualities contained in the idea of God.

6.  But only God himself has those qualities.

7. Therefore God himself must be the cause of the idea we have of him.

8. Therefore God exists.

(HCA, p.68)

=======================

NOTE: 

As Kreeft points out, Argument #12 is derived from Descartes’s argument for the existence of God in Meditations on First Philosophy (in Meditation III).  However, Kreeft does not quote Descartes’s presentation of the argument; rather, he provides his own outline and defense of the argument, and in doing so, Kreeft makes the argument his own.  I do not care whether Kreeft has accurately represented Descartes’s argument for God.  Kreeft might have misunderstood and distorted Descartes’s argument, or modified it in a way that seriously damages the argument.  My only concern is whether or not the argument that Kreeft presents is a GOOD and solid argument.

Because I am only concerned with evaluating the argument as presented by Kreeft,  I don’t care whether this argument reflects the reasoning of Descartes, and I don’t care whether this argument presented by Kreeft is better or worse than Descartes’s version.  One other implication of my focus is that if Kreeft’s argument turns out to be a BAD argument (and it will), that would not necessarily mean that Descartes’s similar argument for God is a BAD argument, and if Kreeft’s argument turns out to be a GOOD argument (it won’t), that would not necessarily mean that Descartes’s argument for God was a GOOD argument.  My only concern here is the strength or weakness of the argument that is presented by Kreeft.

=======================

I’m going to clean up Kreeft’s statement of this argument before I attempt to evaluate it.

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

ARGUMENT #12, REV A:

1. We have ideas of many things.

9. We have the idea of God.

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

11. We are limited and imperfect.

12. No effect can be greater than its cause.

THEREFORE:

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

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

THEREFORE:

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

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

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

THEREFORE:

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

THEREFORE:

8. God exists.

I take it that (7) logically entails (8), so the final inference in this reasoning is correct.  Thus, the question at issue becomes: Has Kreeft provided us with a good and solid argument in support of (7)?

I take it that Kreeft intends to provide a deductive argument in support of (7).  It appears that he intends us to infer (7) from premises (14), (15), and (6a).   So, the question becomes: “Has Kreeft provided a SOUND deductive argument in support of (7)?

It is plausible (at least initially) to understand the core of Kreeft’s argument as follows:

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

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

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

THEREFORE:

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

This core argument does not appear to be formally valid.  It might, however, be deductively valid.  I will examine and evaluate this core argument later, in the “evaluation” section of this post.

In the middle of Kreeft’s argument, we find a nice little nugget of deductive reasoning in support of premise (14):

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

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

THEREFORE:

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

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

1. We have ideas of many things.

9. We have the idea of God.

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

11. We are limited and imperfect.

12. No effect can be greater than its cause.

THEREFORE:

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

I take it that Kreeft intends to provide a deductive argument here in support of (13), but it is unclear whether this argument is logically valid.  It is NOT formally valid.

Clearly (12) is a primary premise given in support of (13), but the argument is missing an assumption that would allow us to validly infer (13):

A. The idea of God is greater than ourselves.

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

12. No effect can be greater than its cause.

A. The idea of God is greater than ourselves.

THEREFORE:

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

So, it is pretty clear that this is the reasoning that Kreeft had in mind (which he failed to state clearly and explicitly).  But then, what are the purposes of premises (1), (9), (10), and (11)?  What roles do those premises play in this argument?   How do they fit into the logical structure of the argument?

First of all, premises (1) and (9) are irrelevant, or more accurately: they are unnecessary.  These claims are presupposed by premise (10).  If premise (10) is true, that means that both (1) and (9) must be true as well.  Furthermore, (1) and (9) are NOT sufficient to imply the truth of (10); premise (10) asserts something more than what is contained in premises (1) and (9), so it does not make sense to use (1) and (9) together as a deductive argument in support of (10).  Such an argument would be logically INVALID.  We should simply toss aside premises (1) and (9), because they play no actual role in the logical structure of this argument; they are merely presuppositions of premise (10).

That leaves us with premises (10) and (11).  What role do these premises play?  Where do they fit into the logical structure of this argument?  It seems fairly clear to me that these premises are intended to provide support for premise (A):

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

11. We are limited and imperfect.

THEREFORE:

A. The idea of God is greater than ourselves.

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

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

11. We are limited and imperfect.

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

THEREFORE:

A. The idea of God is greater than ourselves.

Based on my analysis of Kreeft’s Argument #12, we can now show the logical structure of this argument (click on image below for clearer view of the diagram):

Arg 12 diagram

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

EVALUATION OF THE ARGUMENT FROM THE ORIGIN OF THE IDEA OF GOD

Note that most of this argument is in support of premise (14).  This appears to be much ado about nothing.  Premise (14) is irrelevant to this argument, because it is unnecessary and plays no role in the deductive reasoning that Kreeft offers in support of (7).   Premise (15) and premise (6a) both play a significant role in a bit of deductive reasoning in support of (7), but (14) does not play a role in that reasoning.

The core of Argument #12 is this bit of reasoning:

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

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

THEREFORE:

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

Because (14) is not needed in this bit of deductive reasoning, it appears as though most of Kreeft’s argument is irrelevant to the conclusion, and that the portion of the argument shaded in gray (see the argument diagram above) constitutes a Red Herring fallacy; it is a lot of blather that is distracting but irrelevant.

However, that criticism is not entirely fair to Kreeft’s argument.  There is some reasoning going on underneath the surface, behind the scenes, that makes the reasoning supporting (14) more significant than it initially appears to be.  So,  I will make this reasoning explicit, and then simplify, and make an improvement to, this part of Kreeft’s argument.

At first, the use of the plural pronouns in this argument irritated me (“we” “us” “ourselves”).  But after thinking about this for a bit, I came to see this as a hint pointing towards some iterative reasoning, reasoning that is applied over-and-over to various different things.  Consider the following series of iterative reasoning:

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

CONCLUSION:  No human being is the cause of the idea of God.

The conclusion of this bit of iterative reasoning is almost the same as premise (14):

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

The scope of the pronoun “us” is all human beings.  So, we can re-state (14) more clearly as follows:

14a.  The idea of God must have been caused by something other than human beings.

But there is no reason to stop the iterative reasoning with just the collection of all human beings.  We can continue the iterative reasoning to get to a much wider scope of things:

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

CONCLUSION:  No animal is the cause of the idea of God.

And further iterative reasoning of this form can be used to continue to broaden the scope of things included in the conclusion.  Eventually, we get to this stopping point:

CONCLUSION:  No natural thing or phenomenon is the cause of the idea of God (because all natural things and phenomena are limited and imperfect).

This conclusion looks similar to sub-conclusions in various other arguments for the existence of God, and the next step of reasoning is obvious:

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

Now, (C) still does NOT play a role in the deductive reasoning that Kreeft offers in support of (7), so (C), like (14) is unnecessary.  However, (C) does provide a bit of evidence in support of the existence of God, claim (8), certainly more significant evidence than is provided by (14).

We can now simplify and improve Kreeft’s argument by replacing the complex argument for (14), with a simpler argument for (C), and take (C) to be a separate bit of evidence for (8) in addition to the support for (8) from the deductive argument for (7).

Here is the argument for (C):

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

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

THEREFORE:

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

THEREFORE:

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

If Kreeft was making a case against naturalism or for supernaturalism, then I would take a closer look at this interesting bit of reasoning that was VAGUELY HINTED at by the reasoning in Argument #12, but the question at issue here is “Does God exist?” And showing that some non-natural entity or phenomenon exists is a far cry from showing that God exists.

Because there is a huge logical gap between (C) and the claim that “God exists”, the evidence and support that (C) provides for (8) is very weak, so weak that we should simply ignore (C)  and the reasoning in support of (C) hinted at in Argument #12.  Thus, if Argument #12 is going to help Kreeft’s cumulative case for God, then that help must come from the deductive reasoning at the core of this argument.

In post #4, I will continue my evaluation of Argument #12, and I will focus my attention on the following core argument:

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

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

THEREFORE:

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

 

"Sidenote: this"men no more need to be taught that there is a God, than that ..."

Kreeft’s Case for God – Part ..."
"All this logical reasoning seems unnecessary. Something limited can certainly conceive of something perfect without ..."

Kreeft’s Case for God – Part ..."
"Interesting point. I don't think this impacts my assessment of (1b). First of all, I ..."

Kreeft’s Case for God – Part ..."
"I'd like to agree with your argument for 1b against 1a, but you have missed ..."

Kreeft’s Case for God – Part ..."

Browse Our Archives

Follow Us!


What Are Your Thoughts?leave a comment