INTRODUCTION TO KREEFT’S CASE FOR GOD
In this new series of blog posts, I plan to analyze and evaluate Peter Kreeft’s case for the existence of God.
Peter Kreeft is a Catholic philosopher of religion and a Christian apologist. He has published many books defending the Christian faith. Kreeft co-authored Handbook of Christian Apologetics (hereafter: HCA) with Ronald Tacelli in 1994. Kreeft presents a case for God in Chapter 3 of HCA: “Twenty Arguments for the Existence of God”.
Twenty arguments, is a lot of arguments. Kreeft claims that some of the arguments in his case are “proofs” or “demonstrations” (HCA, p.48 & 49). But if Kreeft has one or two arguments that PROVE or DEMONSTRATE that God exists, why would he need to produce twenty arguments for God?
In mathematics, just ONE proof or demonstration is all that is needed to establish a mathematical claim or conclusion. Mathematicians don’t usually produce a dozen different proofs for the same conclusion. Why should a proof or demonstration about God be any different? Why wouldn’t just one or two proofs be all that is required to establish the claim that “God exists”?
The simple answer is that NONE of Kreeft’s twenty arguments proves or demonstrates that God exists. Kreeft appears to admit this point when he discusses his view that only some of his twenty arguments are stand-alone “demonstrations”:
…only some of the arguments, taken individually and separately, demonstrate the existence of a being that has some of the properties only God can have (no argument proves all the divine attributes); but all twenty taken together, like twined rope, make a very strong case. (HCA, p.49-50)
Note that Kreeft does NOT claim that any one of his arguments, taken by itself, is sufficient to prove or demonstrate the existence of God. No single argument has that kind of force. Rather, it is “all twenty taken together” that are required to “make a very strong case”. In other words, it is only the whole collection of twenty arguments “taken together” in a cumulative case, that suffices to prove or to firmly establish the existence of God.
Kreeft does, however, claim that some of his arguments “demonstrate the existence of a being that has some of the properties only God can have…”. Taken at face value, this claim implies that just ONE such argument would be sufficient to prove the existence of God, but in that case Kreeft would be contradicting himself, since he very clearly asserts that it is when “all twenty” arguments are “taken together” that we arrive at “a very strong case”. Furthermore, the very fact that Kreeft feels it is necessary to provide twenty arguments, as opposed to just one or two “proofs”, is further evidence that he does not actually believe that any one argument is sufficient to prove or firmly establish the existence of God.
Nevertheless, Kreeft’s mention of “properties only God can have” implies that some of his “proofs” or “demonstrations” are sufficient to prove or demonstrate the existence of God IF we add another assumption into the mix. A general form of deductive reasoning about God is suggested by this phrase:
1. There exists a being B that has property P.
2. IF there exists a being B that has property P, THEN God exists.
3. God exists.
Premise (2) is implied by the claim that “Only God can have property P”.
Here is an instance of an argument that has the above general form:
1a. There exists a being B that has the property of omniscience.
2a. IF there exists a being B that has the property of omniscience, THEN God exists.
3. God exists.
Premise (2a) is implied by the claim that “Only God can have the property of omniscience.”
Based on an initial reading, the “proofs” or “demonstrations” that Kreeft offers at best only establish that there is a being who has some specific property; Kreeft’s “proofs” are basically attempts to establish conclusions of the form of premise (1). His “proofs” do NOT establish or even attempt to establish that the properties in question are ones that “Only God can have”. In other words, Kreeft does not attempt to prove premises that have the form of premise (2), such as premise (2a). So, if Kreeft thinks that some of his “proofs” or “demonstrations” establish by themselves the conclusion that God exists, without needing any of the other arguments or assumptions, then he is sadly mistaken, because such proofs would require additional strong claims that he has made no effort to prove or support.
If Kreeft makes no attempt to argue for any claims of the form “Only God can have property P”, then it is not clear to me how his various “proofs” or “demonstrations” could individually (as stand-alone arguments) provide strong support for the claim that “God exists”. This will be a question to keep in mind in future posts when we analyze and evaluate some of the alleged “proofs” that Kreeft put forward.
My current interpretation of Kreeft’s view about arguments for the existence of God, is that he believes (or believed in 1994, when HCA was published) that it is only a cumulative case for God that can prove or demonstrate the existence of God, and that individual arguments or proofs are NOT sufficient to prove or demonstrate the existence of God. Here are some reasons supporting this interpretation:
- Kreeft explicitly asserts that it is his collection of arguments that “taken together” constitutes “a very strong case” for the existence of God.
- Kreeft does NOT make such an assertion about individual or stand-alone arguments.
- Kreeft feels it is necessary to provide twenty arguments, as opposed to just one or two proofs, to show the existence of God.
- Although Kreeft’s comment about “the properties only God can have” implies the possibility of an individual proof of the existence of God, Kreeft does not appear to utilize reasoning of this kind in his case for God.
Therefore, although Kreeft does claim that some of his arguments are “proofs” or “demonstrations”, he does not appear to believe or to claim that any one of his twenty arguments is a “proof” or “demonstration” of the existence of God.
WE MAY REASONABLY TOSS OUT FOUR ARGUMENTS RIGHT AWAY
We can quickly whittle down the list of twenty arguments to a list of sixteen arguments by tossing aside the following four arguments:
11. The Argument from Truth
13. The Ontological Argument
14. The Moral Argument
20. Pascal’s Wager
We can toss these arguments aside based on problems with these arguments that Kreeft himself admits.
Kreeft himself admits that the Ontological Argument is “fundamentally flawed” (HCA, p.49) He includes this argument in his list largely because “it is very famous and influential” (HCA, p.49). I’m not interested in “famous” or “influential” arguments; I’m interested in arguments that Peter Kreeft believes to be strong and solid arguments for God. Since Kreeft himself does not accept the Ontological Argument for God, I have no interest in evaluating that argument here. One argument down; nineteen to go.
Kreeft himself admits that Pascal’s Wager “is not an argument for God at all” (HCA, p.49). Rather, it is an argument “for faith in God as a ‘wager’.” (HCA, p.49). In other words, this is NOT an argument for the truth of the claim that “God exists” but is an argument for the practical advantages of believing that “God exists”. I have little interest in the question of the benefits or harms associated with believing in the existence of God. The question I am concerned with is whether the claim “God exists” is true or false. So, we can toss aside Pascal’s Wager. Two arguments down; eighteen to go.
Kreeft himself admits that the Argument from Truth depends on controversial epistemological theories or viewpoints:
This proof might appeal to someone who shares a Platonic view of knowledge–who, for example, believes that there are Eternal Intelligible Forms which are present to the mind in every act of knowledge. …There is too much about the theory of knowledge that needs to be said before this could work as a persuasive demonstration. (HCA, p.68).
Kreeft makes no attempt to argue in support of the Platonic view of knowledge, or any other theory of knowledge that might make the Argument from Truth “work as a persuasive demonstration”, so Kreeft simply abandons this argument right after admitting that it won’t work without a good deal more argumentation for controversial epistemological theories or views. So, we may reasonably toss out the Argument from Truth. Three arguments down; seventeen to go.
Kreeft himself admits that there are some significant issues with the Moral Argument. His candid and honest admissions concerning the Moral Argument are enough, in my view, to conclude that this argument is weak and dubious, and thus not worthy of serious consideration. Kreeft considers an objection to this argument, and concedes the main point of the first objection:
The argument has not shown that ethical subjectivism is false. What if there are no objective values?
Reply: True enough. The argument assumes that there are objective values… . Granted, if ethical subjectivism is true, then the argument does not work. (HCA, p.73)
This honest admission by Kreeft is sufficient to justify tossing the Moral Argument aside. Kreeft admits that the argument is based on a controversial assumption that has not been proven. This objection could be overcome by Kreeft, if he were to provide a proof or solid argument for the existence of objective moral values, but he does not do so. Kreeft abandons this argument for the existence of God by his admission that it is based on a controversial assumption combined with his failure to attempt to prove or justify that controversial assumption. Kreeft throws in the towel in the first round of the fight, so there is no point in giving this argument serious consideration.
Kreeft also makes an honest and candid admission of the main point of the second objection that he considers:
This proof does not conclude to God, but to some vague “religious” view. Isn’t this “religious” view compatible with very much more than traditional theism?
Reply: Yes indeed. It is compatible, for example, with Platonic idealism, and many other beliefs that orthodox Christians find terribly deficient. (HCA, p. 73)
Kreeft then asserts that the objectivity of moral values is “incompatible with materialism” (HCA, p.73). But the question at issue is not whether materialism is true, but whether theism is true. The question at issue is “Does God exist?” In his reply to this second objection, Kreeft admits that the Moral Argument, at least the version of it that he presents, is NOT an argument for the existence of God. This admission by itself provides a sufficient reason to toss this argument aside.
Kreeft makes a third candid comment that indicates a second way in which he chose to abandon this argument:
But we grant that there are many steps to travel from objective moral values to the Creator of the universe or the triune God of love. There is a vast intellectual distance between them. (HCA, p.74)
Based on this comment, and the fact that Kreeft makes no effort to bridge the “vast intellectual distance” between the premise that there exists objective moral values and the conclusion that “God exists,” Kreeft also abandons defense of a line of reasoning that proceeds from the one claim to the other. This is by itself sufficient reason to toss this argument aside.
Given that Kreeft abandons the basic premise of the Moral Argument by failing to provide a proof or solid argument in support of that controversial premise, and given that Kreeft admits that the argument (as it stands) is NOT an argument for the existence of God, and given that Kreeft fails to make the effort to bridge the “vast intellectual distance” between the undefended controversial premise (of moral objectivism) and the conclusion that “God exists”, we have very good reason to toss out this Moral Argument “for God”.
Four arguments down, just sixteen more to go!
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
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
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
19. The Common Consent Argument
20. Pascal’s Wager