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

WHERE WE ARE AT

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

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

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

THEREFORE:

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

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

THEREFORE:

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

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

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

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

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

In Part 7, I began to evaluate premise (3) of Argument #19.  Specifically,  I examined the Natural Capacity Argument, Kreeft’s first argument in support of premise (3):

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

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

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

THEREFORE:

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

THEREFORE:

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

I showed that the reasoning supporting premise (6) was based on FALSE premises, and that the inference was INVALID and UNREASONABLE, and also that we have good reason to believe that (6) is probably FALSE.  So, the Natural Capacity Argument is based on a premise that is probably FALSE.

I also raised a couple of objections against premise (5).  First, this is a broad empirical generalization that requires a significant amount of data to justify, but Kreeft provides ZERO evidence to support this strong claim.  Second, the key concepts of “natural” and “innate” are too unclear to allow one to investigate and rationally evaluate premise (5), so unless and until Kreeft further clarifies these concepts, we ought to reject premise (5).

Finally,  I pointed out that premise (8) CANNOT be used to support any premise of Argument #19, because premise (8) is basically asserting the same thing as the conclusion of Argument #19.  So, to use (8) in support of a premise of Argument #19 would involve CIRCULAR REASONING.   Thus,  the Natural Capacity Argument should be viewed as a separate and independent argument for the existence of God, and as yet another FAILED argument for that conclusion.

In the last ten arguments of his case for God, Kreeft astoundingly provides us with eleven FAILED arguments for the existence of God!

 

A THEME  OF CHRISTIAN APOLOGETICS

Kreeft’s defense of premise (3)  appears to follow a theme of Christian apologetics:  dilemmas or trilemmas in which one alternative (or lemma) is eliminated because it involves an implication that some person (or group of persons) is crazy or DELUSIONAL.

The Trilemma (Lord, Liar, or Lunatic?) argument is an obvious example of this sort of argument.  The argument presents three alternatives: Jesus claimed to be God, so he was either (a) sincerely mistaken and thus a LUNATIC, (b) knew that he wasn’t God and was thus a LIAR, or (c) was correct and thus Jesus was God incarnate.  The alternative that Jesus was a “lunatic” or “mad man” is tossed aside as being very improbable.

Similarly,  there is an ancient apologetic argument about the resurrection of Jesus that lays out three alternatives concerning the disciples of Jesus: they either were DELUDED in thinking that they had seen the risen Jesus, or they were LYING about having seen the risen Jesus, or they were telling the TRUTH about having seen the risen Jesus. The alternative that they were all DELUSIONAL is tossed aside as being very improbable. [NOTE: I suspect that the Trilemma (Lord, Liar, or Lunatic?) argument developed out of the earlier similar argument concerning Jesus’ disciples, but it could have happened the other way around.]

So, there are at least two major arguments used by Christian apologists that rely on rejection of an alternative which supposedly implies that some person, or group of persons, was DELUSIONAL.

 

A THEME OF KREEFT’S ARGUMENT #19

The improbability of many people being delusional is clearly a theme in Kreeft’s exposition of Argument #19:

…it is thinkable that those millions upon millions who claim to have found the Holy One who is worthy of reverence and worship were DELUDED.  But is it likely?
     It seems far more likely that those who refuse to believe are the ones suffering from deprivation and DELUSION… (HCA. p.83, EMPHASIS added)

But if God does not exist, what is it that believers have been experiencing?  The level of ILLUSION goes far beyond any other example of collective error.  It really amounts to COLLECTIVE PSYCHOSIS.  (HCA. p.84, EMPHASIS added)

…believing in God is like having a relationship with a person. …It’s as if you believe yourself happily married when in fact you live alone in a dingy apartment.
     Now we grant that such MASS DELUSION is conceivable, but what is the likely story?  (HCA, p.84, EMPHASIS added)

It is most reasonable to believe that God is really there, given such widespread belief in him–unless atheists can come up with a very persuasive explanation for religious belief, one that takes full account of the evidence of the experience of believers and shows that their experience is best explained as DELUSION and not insight.  (HCA, p.84, EMPHASIS added)

This theme of doubting MASS DELUSION implies a basic premise in Kreeft’s reasoning about Argument #19:

IF  almost all people of every era have believed in God but God does NOT exist, THEN almost all people of every era have been DELUSIONAL.

Clearly,  Kreeft thinks that the idea that almost all people of every era have been delusional is very unlikely or improbable.  He thinks it is “far more likely that those who refuse to believe are the ones suffering from deprivation and DELUSION…” (HCA, p.83).  Presumably, he thinks this because there are (allegedly) very few people who have not believed in God, whereas almost all people have (allegedly) believed in God.  It is more likely that just a few people are crazy, than that nearly everyone who has ever lived was crazy.

 

KREEFT’S SECOND ARGUMENT FOR PREMISE (3)

Now we can make Kreeft’s second line of reasoning in support of premise (3) more clear and explicit:

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

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

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

THEREFORE:

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

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

THEREFORE:

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

THEREFORE:

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

 

KREEFT’S DELUSION DILEMMA APPEARS TO BE A VERY BAD ARGUMENT

Because this Delusion Dilemma makes use of premise (1) of the Argument from Common Consent, it is based on a FALSE premise, so we know immediately that this is a BAD argument.  But this is not the only problem with Kreeft’s Delusion Dilemma.  Premises (10) and (11) are also dubious, and as with the Natural Capacity Argument,  the Delusion Dilemma involves CIRCULAR REASONING when used to support premise (3) of the Argument from Common Consent.

 

EVALUATION OF PREMISE (10)

As suggested by the title of Richard Dawkins’ book promoting atheism (The God Delusion), atheists and skeptics often speak of belief in God as being a “delusion”.  However, it is far from obvious that ALL people who believe in God are literally crazy or DELUSIONAL people, even if we suppose that they are mistaken and that there is no God.

Many believers in God (a) have jobs or careers that they manage successfully, (b) have children and/or parents that they raise or take care of successfully, (c) have successfully completed high school and have successfully completed college studies to earn a B.A. or B.S. degree, (d) are not serial killers or arsonists, (e) don’t run around claiming to be Napoleon Bonaparte or Abraham Lincoln  or Jesus Christ, and (f) don’t claim to hear voices talking to them that nobody else can hear.

In other words, many believers in God appear to be fairly normal and successful at managing the basic tasks of ordinary life.  Believers in God do NOT (in general) appear to be crazy or insane.  Therefore,  Kreeft cannot simply assert premise (10).  He needs to provide a good reason or solid argument in support of this dubious claim.

Here is a passage where Kreeft is arguing for (10):

… But if God does not exist, what is it that believers have been experiencing?  The level of illusion goes far beyond any other example of collective error.  It really amounts to collective psychosis.
     For believing in God is like having a relationship with a person.  If God never existed, neither did this relationship.  You were responding with reverence and love to no one; and no one was there to receive and answer your response.  It’s as if you believe yourself happily married when in fact you live alone in a dingy apartment.
     Now we grant that such mass delusion is conceivable, but what is the likely story?  (HCA, p.84)

The word “believers” is clearly a reference back to the group of people mentioned in premise (1) consisting of “almost all people of every era” who have “believed in God”.  This interpretation is confirmed at the beginning of the next paragraph, which talks about what “believing in God” is like.

Kreeft does not bother to define what he means by being “deluded” or “suffering from…delusion”.  However, it is clear from what he does say that he is talking about some very serious form of mental illness, like being crazy or insane.  He uses the term “psychosis” which has the following meaning, according to my American Heritage Dictionary (2nd College edition, emphasis added):

Severe mental disorder, with or without organic damage, characterized by deterioration of normal intellectual and social functioning and by partial or complete withdrawal from reality. 

Furthermore, Kreeft’s analogy strongly suggests the idea of someone who is literally crazy or insane:

 It’s as if you believe yourself happily married when in fact you live alone in a dingy apartment. (HCA, p.84)

Someone who believes themselves to be happily married when they are not married and are living alone, is someone who clearly has very serious mental problems, the sort of person that most people would consider to be literally crazy or insane.  So, Kreeft gives indications that he is using the word “deluded” and the phrase “suffering from…delusion” to refer to some sort of severe mental disorder.

Kreeft goes on to say a bit more about what believers in God “have been experiencing”:

…what we experience is a relationship involving reverence and worship and, sometimes, love.  It is most reasonable to believe that God really is there, given such widespread belief in him… (HCA, p.84)

As I have previously noted, “believing in God” is an ambiguous phrase, so premise (10) suffers from the same ambiguity as with premise (1).  Here are the two different meanings of premise (10):

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

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

 

EVALUATION OF PREMISE (10a)

Let’s begin with interpretation (10a).   As I have stated previously,  believing THAT God exists is NOT like having a relationship, and it does NOT imply that one has feelings or reverence towards God, nor that one worships God, nor that one trusts in God, nor that one is devoted to God.  It is simply an intellectual point of view that may or may not be accompanied with these various religious feelings or experiences.

We can see that Kreeft’s defense makes no sense given interpretation (10a) by substituting the phrase “believing that the ghost of Houdini exists” for the phrase “believing in God” in his defense of this premise:

     For believing that the ghost of Houdini exists is like having a relationship with a person (namely, with the ghost of Houdini).  If the ghost of Houdini never existed, neither did this relationship.  You were responding with reverence and love to no one; and no one was there to receive and answer your response.  It’s as if you believe yourself happily married when in fact you live alone in a dingy apartment.

When a person believes THAT the ghost of Houdini exists, this does NOT imply that they have a “relationship” with Houdini nor the ghost of Houdini, nor that they have responded “with reverence and love” towards the ghost of Houdini.  Believing that some being (of a particular kind or description) exists does NOT imply that one has any sort of relationship with that being, or that one has particular feelings about that being, or that one has any particular kind of experiences that seem to be about interactions with that being.   So, Kreeft’s defense of premise (10) is a FAILURE, if we interpret (10) as meaning what is stated in (10a).

There are a few of obvious problems with (10a) that cast it into doubt.  First, merely having a FALSE belief does not imply that one is crazy or insane.  It all depends on what sort of evidence and experiences one has that are relevant to the belief in question.  Sometimes evidence and experiences can mislead us into believing something that is FALSE, even though we are following the evidence where it leads.   There may be some OTHER important items of evidence that disconfirm or disprove the belief in question, but this contrary evidence might not be known to the person in question.

We all have to make decisions and form beliefs without knowing all of the relevant evidence, and the evidence available to a particular person at a particular time, might be evidence that points in the wrong direction, evidence that is misleading.   But a person who follows the limited evidence available to him or her, is being perfectly reasonable, even if it turns out that the belief he/she formed was FALSE.  Premise (10a) is dubious, because it makes a direct connection between having a FALSE belief and being unreasonable or irrational, but this ignores the fact that it is possible, and even common, for a person to believe something that is FALSE on the basis of a reasonable evaluation of the evidence available to that person at that time.

A second problem with (10a) is that it draws an extreme conclusion (“is delusional”) from modest evidence (when a person has just one false belief).  Everybody has false beliefs, but not everybody is crazy or insane.  Therefore, the fact that someone has one particular false belief is not in general a sufficient reason to conclude that this person is delusional.

Belief in God, is, however, an important and basic belief, in that if this belief is FALSE, then that would imply that Christianity is FALSE, and Judaism is FALSE, and ISLAM is FALSE.  The existence of God is a fundamental metaphysical assumption of three major western religions.  So, it is a big deal to be wrong on this point; it makes a big difference how one will live one’s life, at least in times and places where one or more of these religious traditions is available as a live option.

But there are several arguments for the existence of God (as Kreeft’s own case for God shows), and there are several arguments against the existence of God as well.  These arguments are philosophical arguments, and yet most people have little exposure to and education in philosophy until they go to college, and many people don’t go to college, or don’t complete their college education.  Also, many college students take only one or two philosophy courses, and those courses might only briefly touch on arguments for and against the existence of God.  So, most people are not well prepared to carefully and objectively evaluate the main arguments for and against the existence of God.

Given this big hole in our systems of education,  we ought not to expect people to be particularly good at analysis and evaluation of the philosophical arguments relevant to this question.  So, it should be no big surprise if people in general fail to properly analyze and evaluate the main arguments concerning the existence of God, and thus arrive at a FALSE conclusion on this issue.  Getting the wrong answer to the God question is, in part, the result of failing to educate people about logic, critical thinking, and philosophy.  Thus, a perfectly rational person could arrive at a FALSE conclusion on this issue because of defects in his or her education.

(Kreeft is himself a perfect example: he is a trained and experienced professional philosopher, and yet he could not reason his way out of a wet paper bag.  So, how can we expect people who have little or no education and experience with philosophical arguments to do better than Kreeft?)

This brings me to a third problem with the argument for (10a) and with (10a) itself:

 It’s as if you believe yourself happily married when in fact you live alone in a dingy apartment. (HCA, p.84)

The belief that God exists is NOT analogous to the serious mental illness involved in the case of a person who believes himself/herself to be happily married when in fact that person is unmarried and lives alone in a “dingy apartment”.

If Jack believes he is married to Jill, and that they live happily together, eating meals together in the morning and in the evening, having conversations with each other over meals, doing household chores together, watching television programs or movies together,  listening to music together, going out on the town together, going shopping together, and sleeping together at night, and if Jack is actually living alone in a dingy apartment, then Jack must be regularly experiencing hallucinations: seeing Jill’s face at the breakfast table, hearing Jill’s voice in the evening,  feeling Jill’s body next to his at night, when Jill is actually never present in the apartment with Jack.

No such hallucinations are required in order for someone to believe THAT God exists.  One might simply be persuaded by a weak or logically flawed argument for the existence of God.  Some people do claim to hear God’s voice, or to see God, but God has no physical body, according to Christian theology, so God has no mouth or vocal chords, and God has no face to be seen, and God has no arms or legs to be touched.  So, it is not possible to literally hear, see, or touch God.  Most people who believe that God exists do NOT claim to have heard God’s voice, or seen God’s face, or touched God’s hands.  Believing that God exists does NOT require any sort of empirical or sensory experiences.

Kreeft’s analogy is a lousy one; it fails to provide any significant support for premise (10a), and it reveals the implausibility of (10a) by pointing out how belief in the existence of God lacks the sort of empirical and observational grounds that we use to determine the existence of a physically embodied human being.  In other words, determining whether God exists is not as simple and straightforward as determining whether some particular human person exists, so it is not as simple and straightforward to determine when someone is being IRRATIONAL in arriving at this belief concerning God, as compared to determining when someone is being IRRATIONAL in arriving at this belief about a particular human being.

Kreeft has FAILED to provide a good reason to believe (10a) to be true, and we have some good reasons to doubt the truth of (10a), so we ought to reject this premise as being probably FALSE.

 

EVALUATION OF PREMISE (10b)

What about the second interpretation of premise (10)?

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

Why should we think that people who trust in God and  who are devoted to God are delusional or crazy if we suppose that God does not exist?  One reason might be that they were mistaken in their belief that God exists.  In order  to trust in God and be devoted to God, one must believe that God exists.  It makes no sense to trust in a non-existent person, nor to be devoted to a non-existent person.  So, trust and devotion towards God involve the belief that God exists, and we are supposing that this assumption is FALSE.   But now we are back at the same problems discussed above with premise (10a), which was focused on people who believe THAT God exists.  So, this line of defense for (10b) will not work.

Kreeft’s argument is focused on the religious experiences of believers in God:

… But if God does not exist, what is it that believers have been experiencing?  (HCA, p.84)

…what we experience is a relationship involving reverence and worship and, sometimes, love.  (HCA, p.84)

But just as belief in the existence of God need not involve any particular feelings or attitudes towards God, so also people who trust in God and who are devoted to God don’t necessarily have any particular religious experiences of God.  If someone thinks that he hears the voice of God (when nobody else hears the voice) or sees the face of God (when nobody else sees an unusual face), and if we suppose there is no such being as God, then the hearing of God’s voice and the seeing of God’s face must be “delusional” in the sense that they were not based on objective reality, but were rather some sort of subjective phenomena.  Furthermore, such “delusional” experiences might be a sign of actual mental illness (hearing voices is is “the most common type of hallucination in people with psychotic disorders such as schizophrenia.”)

But most people who trust in God and who are devoted to God don’t claim to hear God’s voice or to see God’s face.   If they have any religious experiences of God, those experiences are much more vague and subjective in nature: “I felt the presence of God in the room.”  If anything is delusional about such vague and subjective experiences, it is the believer taking such experiences to be objective proof of the existence of God.

The problem is NOT in the experiences themselves, in the way that a psychotic person might have hallucinations about being happily married to another person, when he is actually living alone in a dingy apartment.  The “feeling of the presence of God” might be a perfectly normal experience for human beings in certain circumstances having been raised in a certain way.  The feeling itself is not the problem, it is the interpretation of that feeling that is the problem, assuming that there is no God corresponding to the feeling.

It might be unreasonable for a believer to interpret his or her vague and subjective feelings of “the presence of God” as objective proof of the existence of God, but such unreasonableness is nothing at all as compared with the severe mental illness involved in experiencing vivid and compelling hallucinations of the presence of another human being, when one is actually alone in a dingy apartment.

 

THE DELUSION DILEMMA AND CIRCULAR REASONING

Kreeft’s Delusion Dilemma is supposed to support premise (3) of the Argument from Common Consent.  Here is the final inference of the Delusion Dilemma:

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

THEREFORE:

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

But premise (14) is basically the same assertion as the CONCLUSION of Argument #19 (the Argument from Common Consent).  Thus,  when Kreeft uses the Delusion Dilemma to support premise (3) of the Argument from Common Consent, he is engaging in CIRCULAR REASONING. Even if the Delusion Dilemma was a good argument (it clearly is NOT), it is WORTHLESS as an argument to support premise (3) of the Argument from Common Consent.

It is much more reasonable to view the Delusion Dilemma as a separate and independent argument for the existence of God, and NOT an argument in support of premise (3).  Thus, with the addition of the Delusion Dilemma,  Kreeft has managed, in the last ten arguments of his case, to provide us with a dozen bad arguments for the existence of God, arguments that FAIL to provide any significant support for the claim that God exists.

CONCLUSION

Kreeft’s Delusion Dilemma is a VERY BAD argument in support of premise (3) of Argument #19 (The Argument from Common Consent).  It is based on a premise that is clearly FALSE: premise (1).   It is also based on a dubious premise that Kreeft has FAILED to provide us with a good reason to believe, and which we have good reason to doubt: premise (10).  Finally, even if the Delusion Dilemma was a good argument (it is NOT), use of this argument to support premise (3) of the Argument from Common Consent involves the fallacy of CIRCULAR REASONING.

We saw previously that Kreeft’s Natural Capacity Argument was also a VERY BAD argument in support of premise (3).  So, Kreeft has provided us with two VERY BAD arguments in support of premise (3).

We saw previously that premise (1) of the Argument from Common Consent was ambiguous, and that on either interpretation, premise (1) is clearly FALSE.

Therefore, the Argument from Common Consent is based on a FALSE premise, premise (1), and it is also based on a dubious premise,  premise (3), for which Kreeft has offered two VERY BAD arguments.  The Argument from Common Consent is a FAILURE because it rests on a premise that is clearly FALSE and on a dubious premise that Kreeft has failed to give us any good reason to believe.

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