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

WHERE WE ARE AT

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

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

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

THEREFORE:

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

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

THEREFORE:

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

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

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

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

In Part 5, I argued that (1a) was FALSE.  In Part 6, I argued that (1b) is FALSE.  So, no matter which interpretation we give to premise (1), it turns out to be FALSE.  Therefore,  Argument #19 is UNSOUND.

It is now time to take a closer look at premise (3).

 

THE NATURAL CAPACITY ARGUMENT

Kreeft’s first argument in support of premise (3) concerns reverence and worship of God:

No one disputes the reality of our feelings of reverence, attitudes of worship, acts of adoration.  But if God does not exist, then these things have never once–never once–had a real object.  Is it really plausible to believe that?
      The capacity for reverence and worship certainly seems to belong to us by nature.  And it is hard to believe that this natural capacity can never, in the nature of things, be fulfilled… (HCA, p.83)

Who is the group that Kreeft is referencing by the word “our” (in the phrase “our feelings of reverence”)?  This refers back to a phrase in the previous sentence:

…the vast majority of humans who have believed in an ultimate Being…  (HCA, p.83)

This phrase, in turn, refers back to the subject of premise (1):

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

Therefore, the word “our” in the above passage is a reference to the group consisting of “almost all people of every era” who “have believed in God”.

Kreeft is constructing an argument here that is similar to his earlier Argument from Desire.  Recall the first premise of that earlier argument:

Every natural, innate desire in us corresponds to some real object that can satisfy that desire.  (HCA, p.78)

We can use similar language to spell out a key unstated assumption in Kreeft’s Natural Capacity Argument:

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

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

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

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

THEREFORE:

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

THEREFORE:

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

 

EVALUATION OF PREMISES (5) AND (6)

Premises (5) and (6) are both questionable and controversial, so Kreeft needs to provide evidence to support these claims.

How does Kreeft know that (6) is true?  He provides no evidence in support of (6).  However, it seems likely that he is using reasoning similar to the reasoning used to conclude that all human beings have a natural, innate desire “for something more than nature” (HCA, p.81).  Here are some of the criteria that Kreeft mentions as useful in determining whether a desire is “natural” and “innate” or “artificial”:

…the natural desires come from within, from our nature, while the artificial ones come from without, from society, advertising or fiction.  …the natural desires are found in all of us, but the artificial ones vary from person to person.  (HCA, p.78)

So, presumably, a capacity must “come from within” and NOT “from society, advertising or fiction”, and it must be a capacity found in ALL human beings, in order to be a candidate for being categorized as a “natural” and “innate” capacity.

How does Kreeft know that ALL human beings have the capacity for reverencing God and worshiping God?  He might well be reasoning on the basis of the main factual premise of Argument #19, since the word “our” in his presentation of the Natural Capacity Argument refers back to the group of “almost all people” mentioned in premise (1):

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

THEREFORE:

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

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

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

Recall that premise (1a) is FALSE, so if this is Kreeft’s evidence for (6), then he has provided us with a BAD argument for (6).

Furthermore, we cannot reasonably infer (6) from (1a), because one can believe THAT God exists without reverencing God or worshiping God.  Someone might simply be persuaded by a philosophical argument that God exists, but have no inclination to reverence or worship God.  The belief that God exists is basically an intellectual position, and it does NOT imply the existence of specific feelings or attitudes towards God.  Thus, if Kreeft is inferring (6) from (1a), then he is making an invalid and unreasonable inference.

The second possible interpretation of premise (1) appears to be more relevant:

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

THEREFORE:

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

Recall that (1b) is also FALSE, so if this is Kreeft’s evidence for (6), then he has provided us with a BAD argument for (6).

One could trust in God without reverencing or worshiping God, but being devoted to God does seem closely related to reverence of God and worship of God.  I suppose that one could be devoted to God in terms of obedience to God’s commands, and that would NOT necessarily require reverence or worship of God, unless one believes that God had commanded humans to worship him.

So, it seems possible to be devoted to God without reverencing or worshiping God, but devotion does seem closely related to reverence and worship.  According to the three major western religions (Judaism, Christianity, and Islam),  God commands that humans reverence and worship him.  Thus, claiming to be “devoted to God” in the context of these western religions, implies that one reverences and worships God.

For the sake of argument, let’s assume that if (1b) were true, it would provide strong evidence in support of the following claim:

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

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

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

THEREFORE:

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

THEREFORE:

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

Unfortunately, not only is (1b) FALSE, but (9) is also FALSE, for the same reason: it is FALSE that almost all people in every age have reverenced and worshiped God, because it is FALSE that almost all people in every age have believed THAT God exists.  So, again, if this is Kreeft’s reasoning then it is based on FALSE assumptions.

Furthermore, just as the universality of a desire fails to prove that the desire is “natural” and “innate”, so the universality (or near universality) of a capacity fails to prove that the capacity is “natural” and “innate”.  For one thing, according to Kreeft, there is at least one other criterion that is relevant to the distinction between “natural” and “artificial”: we need to know whether the desire or capacity came “from within” or “from society, advertising or fiction” (HCA, p.78).

In almost all cases that we know of, people have been RAISED to reverence God and worship God.  People are TAUGHT to reverence God and worship God.   I was brought to Church on Sundays as a child, and I also attended Sunday School.  I learned how to pray in Church services and at Sunday school: “Our Father, who art in heaven,  hallowed by thy name…”  I was taught to reverence God and Jesus and the “Holy Bible”.  I learned how to sing songs of praise to God and Jesus:  “Jesus loves me this I know…”.  Based on what we actually observe,  reverence of God and worship of God appear to be taught and learned and thus appear to be “from society”.  If this capacity is taught and learned, then it is NOT a “natural” or “innate” capacity.  It appears that this capacity fails to meet one of the basic criteria for something being “natural” as opposed to “artificial”.

Clearly, the truth of premise (9) is insufficient evidence to establish the truth of (6),  and we have good reason to doubt that (6) is true, because we can observe that reverence and worship of God are taught to children and learned by children.  I have previously argued that (1b) is FALSE, so it does NOT provide support for (9).  Furthermore, the evidence that shows (1b) to be FALSE also shows (9) to be FALSE.  Thus, (9) is both FALSE and also provides insufficient evidence (even if were true) to establish (6).  So, one serious problem with the Natural Capacity Argument  is that the apparent sub-argument for premise (6) is a VERY BAD argument, and we also have reason to believe that premise (6) is probably FALSE, so the Natural Capacity Argument is probably UNSOUND.

Premise (5) is also a questionable and controversial claim:

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

Kreeft does not even bother to make this claim explicitly, and he certainly does NOT make any attempt to prove or justify this claim with any empirical evidence.  But this is an empirical generalization about human capacities, and there are presumably hundreds or even thousands of different human capacities, and yet Kreeft has provided ZERO evidence to support this broad generalization.

Furthermore, with the Argument from Desire, Kreeft provided only a tiny bit of clarification about the vague and unclear distinction between “natural, innate” desires and “artificial” desires.  So, it is difficult to categorize any given capacity as either “natural, innate” or as “artificial” with any confidence.  So,  we cannot even do the empirical investigation for ourselves and test this broad generalization against various examples of capacities, not with any confidence.

In short, Kreeft has provided NO evidence in support of this broad empirical generalization, and the claim is too vague and unclear to be rationally evaluated as it stands.  So, unless and until Kreeft provides a better and clearer analysis of the key concepts in premise (5), we ought to reject this premise because it is both completely unsupported and too unclear to be rationally assessed.

The Natural Capacity Argument FAILS to provide support for premise (3), because premise (6) is probably FALSE, and because premise (5) is a questionable empirical generalization that is completely unsupported, and too unclear to be rationally evaluated.

 

THE NATURAL CAPACITY ARGUMENT AND CIRCULAR REASONING

Even if the Natural Capacity Argument were a good argument for (8), it would still FAIL to support premise (3) of Argument #19.  The problem is that premise (8) is basically the ultimate, though unstated, conclusion of Argument #19:

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

THEREFORE:

B. It is VERY LIKELY that God DOES exist. 

Because premise (8) is basically the same claim as the ultimate conclusion of Argument #19, using (8) to support premise (3) of Argument #19 involves CIRCULAR REASONING.  One cannot use premise (8) as support for any premise of Argument #19, so the Natural Capacity Argument is WORTHLESS as a sub-argument to bolster Argument #19.

Kreeft appears to be confused about the logical function of the Natural Capacity Argument.  This argument cannot be used to support Argument #19.  It is much more reasonable to view the Natural Capacity Argument as an additional independent argument for the existence of God, similar to the function of The Argument from Desire.  And just like The Argument from Desire,  this additional argument for God is a complete FAILURE, for the reasons I have stated above.

To be continued…

 

"Is that a useful distinction? Certainly the cause of the universe was something exotic and ..."

Taking Atheism Ignorantly
"FWIW, Aquinas himself does not reject the position of Avicenna and Al Gazali that there ..."

Taking Atheism Ignorantly
"Thanks. I'm a little unclear about the meaning of your second sentence though. No one ..."

Taking Atheism Ignorantly
"Some theists do say God is a brute fact. Plantinga for instance."

Taking Atheism Ignorantly

Browse Our Archives

Follow Us!


What Are Your Thoughts?leave a comment