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The Common Consent Argument for God

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This proof for God is in some ways like the argument from religious experience and in other ways like the argument from desire. It argues that:

  1. Belief in God—that Being to whom reverence and worship are properly due—is common to almost all people of every era.
  2. Either the vast majority of people have been wrong about this most profound element of their lives or they have not.
  3. It is most plausible to believe that they have not.
  4. Therefore it is most plausible to believe that God exists.

Everyone admits that religious belief is widespread throughout human history. But the question arises: Does this undisputed fact amount to evidence in favor of the truth of religious claims? Even a skeptic will admit that the testimony we have is deeply impressive: the vast majority of humans have believed in an ultimate Being to whom the proper response could only be reverence and worship. 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, especially when so many testify that it has been. True enough, it is conceivable that this side of our nature is doomed to frustration; 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—like the tone-deaf person who denies the existence of music, or the frightened tenant who tells herself she doesn't hear cries of terror and distress coming from the street below and, when her children awaken to the sounds and ask her, "Why is that lady screaming, Mommy?" tells them, "Nobody's screaming: it's just the wind, that's all. Go back to sleep."

Question 1: But the majority is not infallible. Most people were wrong about the movements of the sun and earth. So why not about the existence of God?

Reply: If people were wrong about the theory of heliocentrism, they still experienced the sun and earth and motion. They were simply mistaken in thinking that the motion they perceived was the sun's. 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? If there were no other bits of experience which, taken together with our perceptions of the sun and earth, make it most likely that the earth goes round the sun, it would be foolish to interpret our experience that way. How much more so here, where 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—unless atheists can come up with a very persuasive explanation for religious belief, one that takes full account of the experience of believers and shows that their experience is best explained as delusion and not insight. But atheists have never done so.

Question 2: But isn't there a very plausible psychological account of religious belief? Many nonbelievers hold that belief in God is the result of childhood fears; that God is in fact a projection of our human fathers: someone "up there" who can protect us from natural forces we consider hostile.

Reply A: This is not really a naturalistic explanation of religious belief. It is no more than a statement, dressed in psychological jargon, that religious belief is false. You begin from the assumption that God does not exist. Then you figure that since the closest earthly symbol for the Creator is a father, God must be a cosmic projection of our human fathers. But apart from the assumption of atheism, there is no compelling evidence at all that God is a mere projection.

In fact, the argument begs the question. We seek psychological explanation only for ideas we already know (or presume) to be false, not those we think to be true. We ask, "Why do you think black dogs are out to kill you? Were you frightened by one when you were small?" But we never ask, "Why do you think black dogs aren't out to kill you? Did you have a nice black puppy once?"

Reply B: Though there must be something of God that is reflected in human fathers (otherwise our symbolism for him would be inexplicable), Christians realize that the symbolism is ultimately inadequate. And if the Ultimate Being is mysterious in a way that transcends all symbolism, how can he be a mere projection of what the symbol represents? The truth seems to be—and if God exists, the truth is—the other way around: our earthly fathers are pale projections of the Heavenly Father. It should be noted that several writers (e.g., Paul Vitz) have analyzed atheism as itself a psychic pathology: an alienation from the human father that results in rejection of God.

Adapted from "20 Arguments For God’s Existence".
(Image credit: FT.com)

Dr. Peter Kreeft

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Dr. Peter Kreeft is a professor of philosophy at Boston College and a noted Catholic apologist and philosopher. He is a convert to the Catholic Church from reformed Protestantism. He earned an A.B. degree from Calvin College, an M.A. and Ph.D. from Fordham University, followed by post-doctoral work at Yale University. He is a regular contributor to several Christian publications, is in wide demand as a speaker at conferences, and is the author of over 60 books including Making Sense Out of Suffering (Servant, 1986); Fundamentals of the Faith: Essays in Christian Apologetics (Ignatius, 1988); Catholic Christianity (Ignatius, 2001); The Unaborted Socrates: A Dramatic Debate on the Issues Surrounding Abortion (IVP, 2002); and The Philosophy of Tolkien: The Worldview Behind The Lord of the Rings (Ignatius, 2005). Many of Peter's books are also integrated into the Logos software. Find dozens of audio talks, essays, and book excerpts at his website, PeterKreeft.com.

Note: Our goal is to cultivate serious and respectful dialogue. While it's OK to disagree—even encouraged!—any snarky, offensive, or off-topic comments will be deleted. Before commenting please read the Commenting Rules and Tips. If you're having trouble commenting, read the Commenting Instructions.

  • I have many criticism of this piece, let's start with the conclusion. This is what Dr Kreeft is trying to establish. I find his phrasing confusing. I really don't understand what he means by "it is most plausible to believe God exists".

    I understand "it is more probable than not God exists" or "it is more reasonable to believe God exists" but his phrasing doesn't seem to be saying either of these. I don't want to put words in his mouth but I think we need to re-state the syllogism.

    1 The vast majority of people believe a God exists.
    2 where the vast majority of people believe in something, it is more likely than not true.
    3 it is more likely than not that God exists.

    I think this better sets out the argument. I have issues with both premises one and two, which I will discuss in other comments.

  • I do not accept the first premise in many respects. I don't accept that "a being for which worship and reverence are properly due" is a description of what all these believers hold in common or is properly also described as a God, much less the God. At best, this definition gets us only as far as this reverence/worship-worthy being. It says nothing about the supernatural, universe creating, power, benevolence and so on. Even if the rest of the argument works, we are really not very close to a god.

    Secondly, I have profound reservations about the variety and extent of belief in the world and through time. For example, the majority of Japanese engage with both Shinto and Bhuddist shrines at least once a year. But they do so, apparently, in the way we engage in good luck superstition and Halloweeen, I would tend to think that this is not the kind of belief being asserted. I think ancestor worship, pantheism, animism and paganism practiced by most societies for most of history would not count as a belief in what monotheists would call a God. I think at best we could say that most people have some beleif in the supernatural. Again there is still a lot of work to get you to what Catholics would accept as a belief in God.

    • Fr.Sean

      Hi Brian,
      I'm not so sure you disagree with Dr.Kreeft. He isn't saying; "Most people over the history of humanity believe in God, therefore God with all of the common attributes most likely exists". He's simply saying since most people over the course of history have believed something (the existence of God) it is more likely than not that their belief is true than not. However i would also guess that of the people that did believe in God that many of those attributes (good, loving, merciful, etc.) are in fact part of that belief.

    • Fr.Sean

      Brian,
      I stand corrected. i went back glanced at the article. Still though, i haven't done a large scale evaluation on religions but the only people who I can think of who didn't think worship or reverence to God was important were deists. Even Buddhist's had the "Om" which, i believe is a term of reverence directed to the divine.

    • Sure, many forms of Bhuddism do have "gods" certainly divine beings. My point is that Kreeft needs to specify what he is saying the belief in common is. It seems he is equivocating between a vague sacredness and the god of Catholicism. Even if arguments from popularity were not fallacious, they only establish the common belief, not your specific version. Once you get there, it gets complicated. You say, e.g. 4 billion people who believe in the divine are unlikely to be wrong, but the billion who believe in Islam can easily be fooled. I just say that when it comes to supernatural claims, yes most people are wrong. They believe for understandable but unjustifiable reasons.

  • David Nickol

    Statement 1 has to be modified quite a bit before it is the basis for an argument like this, it seems to me.

    1. Belief in God—that Being to whom reverence and worship are properly due—is common to almost all people of every era.

    This makes it sound like "almost all people of every era" have been monotheists, which is simply not true. Nor is it clear to me that the three major "monotheistic" religions—Judaism, Christianity, and Islam—all worship the same "God."

    If you want to argue that perhaps the majority of cultures or societies we know of have had beliefs that might be lumped together and considered to recognize some kind of powers beyond what materialists believe exist, then you have the beginning of an argument, although it does not seem to me to be a very good argument, and certainly not a proof.

  • David Nickol

    There seems to be something very strange with Dr. Kreeft's handling of his Question 2. He criticizes the offering of an alternative theory for religious belief as illegitimate because it begins with the assumption that God does not exist. Surely in order to offer an alternative to the theory that people believe in God because God exists, it is only reasonable to begin with the assumption that God doesn't exist. Am I missing something here? Does Dr. Kreeft consider it necessary to provide definitive proof of the nonexistence of God before offering alternative explanations of why people believe in God?

  • David Nickol

    Many nonbelievers hold that belief in God is the result of childhood fears; that God is in fact a projection of our human fathers: someone "up there" who can protect us from natural forces we consider hostile.

    Is this in any way an adequate presentation or summary of any psychological theory attempting to explain belief in God? Dr. Kreeft doesn't seem to be interested in presenting an argument here that is at all challenging to his own position and then putting some effort into refuting it.

    • Mike O’Leary

      I think it's so awkwardly phrased (using fathers specifically as the definition of what protects us) so that he can offer the second reply crediting Paul Vitz's book. That book, Faith of the Fatherless: The Psychology of Atheism, appears to imply that atheists are atheists because of poor fathering.

      • Michael Murray

        Not just poor fathering but we are deluded and deprived and refuse to believe in God. That must be four straw atheists in one.

        It seems far more likely that those who refuse to believe are the ones suffering from deprivation and delusion

        • Ignatius Reilly

          If I was to insinuate that the religious are delusional and mentally ill, would that comment get deleted?

          Apparently there is something of a double standard.

          • Michael Murray

            You would be out on your ear!

  • Loreen Lee

    As I have long been a practitioner of meditation for its
    psychological benefits, it came to my attention long ago that there was a
    difference in the way this is practiced in the Buddhist vs. the
    Christian practice of prayer, contemplation, meditation. In the
    Buddhist tradition, the goal is to silence the thought, and cultivate
    only an awareness of the continuum of one's thought in order that a
    sought for awareness merely with practice 'lets the negative aspects of
    the karma of continuity of thought' go.

    Why this is interesting to this dialogue, may I suggest is the relevance of the possible importance of the reflective consciousness in the development of
    religion. In Buddhist practice, it would seem, the 'voice of the
    other' is silence, in the attempt to develop an 'omniscient' awareness.
    In the Judaic-Christian tradition, and indeed in the Western
    philosophical tradition, including Nietzsche's ubermensch, there seems
    to be a different perspective towards dialogue, (and possibly the
    development of intellectualism generally) in the retention of the
    thought process, along with the awareness. Perhaps many dialogues
    within the Old Testament particularly, could provide examples of such
    'internal dialogue'. Indeed, in some religions, there is perhaps
    'evidence' of psychological structures which include many 'voices', or
    many different 'gods', if you will allow this analogy.
    When I attempted to understand Godel, I was most impressed by what I could
    understand of his perspective on the reflective consciousness: i.e. that
    it was not necessarily (edit always) a good thing. (There is another descriptive
    word which describes the often paradoxical nature of the self in
    dialogue with the self. But I'm getting old and the words don't always
    come spontaneously. Will come back if the word occurs to me).

    My conclusion, is that there are many kinds of dialogue that constitute
    discrete differences between religions. The one's that recognize
    God/gods perhaps run into the Godel paradox. But these religions of the
    Western tradition also emphasize the development of the intellectual
    aspects of human nature, and conversation with the 'other', whereas the
    Buddhist tradition welcomes the silence and emptiness of 'nirvana',
    while also preferring the emphasis of compassion over the intellect. I
    saw a line recently that said religion (Western) is all pray, pay, and
    obey. In the Buddhist tradition, it is instead emphasized that one
    should follow no one's lead in spiritual matters, not even the Buddhas.

    So what do you 'atheists' think is the better alternative? If we all have
    'voices in our heads' whether reflective consciousness, or the
    paradoxical one that I cannot at the moment name, perhaps religion is
    indeed inherent, and even if one is an 'atheist' one merely has a choice
    on whether to admit or deny 'dialogue'. And as an afterthought,
    perhaps Descartes made some progress in the recognition that there could
    be some competing 'voices' within the reflective dialogues that ancient
    religious traditions were unaware of. (That homunculus perhaps has
    only recently been 'identified'. )

    Comment posted in reply has been deleted. This posting is all I have to say on this subject. Except I am happy to find that Kurt Godel 'believes in the/a Absolute'.
    (This comment has been structures purposely in a attempt to engage dialogue on a level that it was hoped would be acceptable to estranged notions).

    So. hey! I actually followed your reply, and 'believe I understood
    it'. However, in the interim I have been reading about Godel -
    specifically this link: http://www.higherconsciousness...
    (Hope it takes) And now I know where I am going to be spending quite a
    bit of time in the next while. I feel instinctively that I am in
    agreement with a lot that this man says: my idealistic, mystical bent.
    I found out that he was very aware that he was outside the norm and
    that his ideas did not mesh with a lot of 20's century analytic
    philosophy etc. So, I guess I will continue to struggle with the
    'gods' of my own consciousness, grin grin.

  • Jim (hillclimber)

    I think this could be a moderately persuasive argument for God, but perhaps only to for that subgroup of atheists (which may be large or small, I don't know), who see a reasonably clear continuity between the different conceptions of "God(s)" / "the divine" / "the objective of religious striving" across cultures. A separate post that argues in favor of that continuity would strengthen this position.

    I think the post is more successful in displacing the notion that atheism should be the default paradigm for all people. I don't think it is particularly fruitful to argue in favor of either theism or atheism as a universal default paradigm. Neither side can legitimately claim that the other side has the burden of proof. A more fruitful way to go about it, in my view, is paradigmatic thinking: try each paradigm separately and determine which one allows you to make more sense of the world.

    • Ray Vorkin

      A more fruitful way to go about it, in my view, is paradigmatic
      thinking: try each paradigm separately and determine which one allows
      you to make more sense of the world.

      I agree with you in a sense....but ultimately is it more about adopting a system of thinking that allows one to be more comfortable with the difficulties that life presents or would it be more honest to put the emphasis on seeking "Truth" no matter how uncomfortable it may be. At the moment...I personally would prefer the truth of reality no matter what that entails rather than a delusion.
      ,...but who knows how that will play out in the end?.....Perhaps in my old age at the end of days, I will regret not having opted for the more comfortable paradigm of what may be nothing more than the "ultimate delusion" of theism.

      • Jim (hillclimber)

        Your concern is valid, but theism and atheism BOTH have associated comforts and discomforts, so that cuts both ways.

        We all run the risk of adopting a worldview that does nothing more than cater to our own little hopes and fears and presuppositions.

        All any of us can do is be aware of that risk and do our best to avoid it. To use a term that Pope Francis likes, that is a matter of "discernment".

  • I have a criticism and a question.

    My criticism, regarding (2): It seems that the majority of people have been wrong about this "most profound element of their lives." About 31% of the population is Christian (all denominations), 22% is Muslim, 15% is Hindu, 7% is Buddhist and 25% is everything else. If Christianity is true, then 69% of the population is wrong about the most profound element of their lives. That's the best case scenario for this "common consent argument."

    My question: Let's imagine that you lived in a world that was 90% atheist, 10% theist. Would this convince you of atheism? If not, why not? Would you find the argument below (or an argument like it) very convincing?

    Disbelief in God—that Being to whom reverence and worship are properly due—is common to almost all people.

    Either the vast majority of people are wrong about this profound element of their lives or they are not.

    It is most plausible to believe that they are not.

    Therefore it is most plausible to believe that God does not exist.

    • Fr.Sean

      Hi Paul,
      I think your observation about the percentages of other faiths should be highlighted by the idea that the various faiths are supporting an idea of "our idea of what God is like is the most true", thus they're not saying, "all other faiths are 100% wrong." it's the common ideas and beliefs that are universal that support "one God". I suppose your second idea at the bottom would lead to a conclusion that God most likely does not exist.

      • I hope you don't think atheists are 100% wrong.

        Buddhists and Hindus don't generally believe in one God. Even though Christians and Muslims agree that there's only one God, they don't agree on what God's like.

        This doesn't engender much confidence in the majority opinion.

        • Fr.Sean

          Hi Paul,

          I hope you don't think atheists are 100% wrong.

          Hmm, i guess that would kind of question what you mean by wrong. if the question is; "is there a God" and there in fact is a God, than on that one topic they would be 100% wrong. But if you mean as a philosophy no i wouldn't, but again that's a broad generalization. I could say atheists in general are supportive of education and the importance of instilling a desire to appreciate science. that, naturally would be something i would be in agreement on and something they do very well.

          Buddhists and Hindus don't typically support one God. Even though
          Christians and Muslims agree that there's only one God, they don't agree
          on what God's like.

          I can't be sure but i think Hindu's do in fact believe in one supreme God over the rest. and i think both also have common beliefs about morality and the spiritual aspect of life?

          • George

            Krishna is very much indeed like a king of the gods, so it is at least a theistic autocracy. I think a major difference that is non-negotiable by both faiths would be on the view of life/death and earthly existence. I've read some of the bhavagad gita, and it seems pretty clear that under hinduism you should believe that the suffering you hand out to persons or even animals in this life will be visited on you in your next life. there are other lives and you won't necessarily be a human in the next one. you keep doing this until you get things right and break out of that cycle of rebirth.

            and in catholicism, everyone has one life, one chance, no do-overs.

            but how can it be that the hindu god concept is the imperfect shade that provides clues leading to the truth of the catholic god concept? what if the catholic afterlife is the flawed shadow that leads one to the truth of the hindu afterlife?

          • Jim (hillclimber)

            This video , while not providing a definitive answer, is suggestive of an answer to your question.

          • I can't be sure but i think Hindu's do in fact believe in one supreme God over the rest.

            Some do, some don't. Some believe in many gods. Some believe in no god. Most hindus I've known and worked with are pantheists.

            You asked:

            Hmm, i guess that would kind of question what you mean by wrong

            I think you answered your own question better than I could have:

            and i think both also have common beliefs about morality and the spiritual aspect of life?

            I think many atheists wold share that belief about morality and the spiritual aspect of life.

            If the argument were about great hope for the future of humanity, wonder about the universe, commitment to kindness and upholding the value of every human person, then I would say that:

            (1) the argument includes most atheists as well as theists in its majority,

            (2)that the argument never really was about God in the first place,

            and

            (3) it's still a bad argument.

          • Culminating Deception

            I work with a Hindu woman, and as she explains it as such: there is one god who manifests itself in many ways. As such, what appears to be a myriad of hindu gods is really just different incarnations of one divine being. This is not necessarily what every hindu person believes, but this is how it has been explained to me.

          • I do think that there are a variety of beliefs. You can ask her (I'd be curious anyway) about how this one god is related to reality and to life.

        • Jim (hillclimber)

          Any serious comparison between major religious systems requires a deep dive on so many subtle and complex topics, and everyone here knows that I can't speak authoritatively about any such comparisons (if my ignorance wasn't well know, I might speak a little more freely), but I think one should be cautious about claiming dissimilarity (or similarity) too quickly. The fact that some religious systems don't have a concept that maps easily to our concept of "God" -- that alone may not indicate differences as deep as we think. As Catholics we know that all of our language and concepts about God are ultimately inadequate to the task.

          I don't necessarily expect this to convince anyone, but my own formation as a Catholic was profoundly, I would say indispensably, influenced (in a synergistic way) by what I learned in multiple college class on Hinduism and Buddhism, by the close friendship that I had with a very pious Muslim, and by my reflection on Native American sacrificial rites. To me it is as clear as day that Catholicism is the fulfillment of much non-Christian religious striving. I would even go further and say that I see Catholicism as being very much in continuity with the striving of non-human animals for food and warmth.

          Of course, you have to come to your own judgement on that, but FWIW.

  • Ray Vorkin

    Carl Sagan One of the saddest lessons of history is this: If we've been bamboozled
    long enough, we tend to reject any evidence of the bamboozle. We're no longer interested in finding out the truth.

    Sad but true....Ray...former Catholic.

  • Of course the main problem with is the argument from popularity fallacy. The number of people believing a claim does not assist us in knowing how likely the claim is to be true. Unpacking the premise, we could get to the following:

    1) most people believe things for good reasons.
    2) when people believe something for good reasons, it is more likely to be true
    3) most people believe in God
    4) therefore it is more like God exists.

    I disagree with number 1, especially when it comes to god claims and the supernatural.

    At the end of the day, this kind of analysis is a waste of time. We don't need to appeal to popularity of the claims. We can just ask believers to provide us with the reasons and we can use reason to assess whether they are good, and whether the claim is reasonable. Whether we think the evidence implies a god is real.

    I will grant this to theists, the sheer numbers or believers does mean it is a claim we should take seriously and assess. This is why I'm here!
    ,

  • Michael Murray

    I think there is a lot to work through before you conclude that the reason people have religious beliefs is that there is some form of God. I would have thought you need to discuss why homo sapiens first started to believe in supernatural beings and conduct religious rituals. I think there are reasonable evolutionary and psychological reasons for this. Superstition is pretty deeply wired in our psyches. Then you need to think about why these beliefs and rituals have persisted. The reasons for that I would think are that they become embedded in our cultures and continuing with them for an individual gives cultural and social advantages as well as psychological advantages. Also until recently, and still in some non-Western cultures, the penalty for not continuing with the religion you were born into could be very high.

    All these things have been well discussed before. I'm sure Dan Dennett has done most of them in one of his books.

    For me there is enough of the makings of a materialist explanation here for why so many people are religious to not feel the need for anything else. I will lake my religious advice from Friar William of Ockham!

    It seems far more likely that those who refuse to believe are the ones suffering from deprivation and delusion—like the tone-deaf person who denies the existence of music, or the frightened tenant who tells herself she doesn't hear cries of terror and distress coming from the street below and, when her children awaken to the sounds and ask her, "Why is that lady screaming, Mommy?" tells them, "Nobody's screaming: it's just the wind, that's all. Go back to sleep."

    Ah the usual gratuitous insult to atheists. I guess it warms the hearts of the believers this article is written for.

    • Jim (hillclimber)

      I generally embrace materialist explanations of religious behavior. To me, they only point more deeply to the relationship between God and creation. Supposing it is true that elementary laws of the material world ultimately explain human religious orientation, that would mean to me that matter itself is in some sense oriented toward God, or that longing for God is embedded in the structure of matter.

      • Michael Murray

        Supposing it is true that elementary laws of the material world ultimately explain human religious orientation, that would mean to me that matter itself is in some sense oriented toward God, or that longing for God is embedded in the structure of matter.

        Neither of which tells us anything about the existence of God. Compare to something like sleep paralysis

        http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Sleep_paralysis

        We have an materialistic explanation of the feeling of a demon on the chest and of a presence in the room. Does that make it seem more or less likely that demon's actually exist ?

        • Jim (hillclimber)

          True. The fact that you have a material explanation of a human perception says nothing about the reality or unreality of that which is perceived.

          Similarly, if I say that I perceive a dog in my house, and neuroscientists monitoring the electrochemistry of my brain say that, yes, he really is perceiving a dog in his house, that still tells us nothing about whether there is a dog in my house. At that point, it does seem worthwhile to ask other people in the house if they perceive a dog in the house. This is why the major premise of the OP, that the opinions of other people constitute valid evidence, seems correct to me.

          • Michael Murray

            But dogs and gods are different. Dogs we know about and understand and the existence of a dog in your house is quite likely. A more valid comparison would be a claim that you see a unicorn in your house. If other people also claim to see a unicorn would you look for the unicorn or check the mushrooms in the omelette they had all just eaten ?

          • Jim (hillclimber)

            But I don't ultimately know about the reality of dogs. How would I? Matrix and brain in jar, etc.

            My belief in the reality of dogs is predicated on a belief that reality is fundamentally non-deceptive (not that things are necessarily obvious on first impression, but that if I work hard enough, I should be able to come to a good sense of what is real), and my belief in non-deceptiveness is predicated on my underlying trust in goodness, i.e. God.

            As to your unicorns: if I were to hear that most people in the history of the world (I've left the house now, sorry) had been (and still were) able to perceive unicorns, even while I had never perceived one, that would be very troubling to me. I would question whether my own senses were working correctly.

          • Ignatius Reilly

            But God could mean almost anything. It is an ill defined concept. We know exactly what a unicorn is - a horse with a horn on its head that flies.

          • Michael Murray

            I would question whether my own senses were working correctly.

            So would I. Unless the descriptions conflicted and nobody seemed able to quite say what it was they saw. Particularly if they only very rarely claimed to actually see a unicorn but actually only felt it in some nebulous way or found that belief in unicorns just made sense of their lives or said that it wasn't a unicorn but just the ground of all unicorniness.

          • Jim (hillclimber)

            OK, fair enough with the unicorns.

            What do you make of my thinking in regard to the reality of dogs? Am I going about my epistemology the wrong way?

          • Ignatius Reilly

            A unicorn is grounded in reality. It is part horse and part eagle and part rino. If the dog did not actually exist, it would still have been based on things that actually exist (four legged mammals).

            Say we lived in a matrix, where would the matrix get the idea of the dog?

          • Jim (hillclimber)

            Before you go any further, I should tell you -- and maybe we differ on this point -- I don't merely believe that the idea of a dog is based on things that exist . I actually believe that dogs exist . I'm wondering if you think that belief can be justified, and it doesn't seem like you are headed down the road of providing a justification.

          • David Nickol

            I don't merely believe that the idea of a dog is based on things that exist. I actually believe that dogs exist.

            I will be interested to see if you can justify this belief without relying in any way on Dr. Peter Kreeft's Twenty Arguments for Dogs' Existence.

          • Michael Murray

            (1) Some dogs are bigger than other dogs.

            (2) There must be a biggest dog.

            (3) We call it the Great Dane.

          • Michael Murray

            Assuming an external reality without anyone cheating as you said there is a bunch of things that we plausible believe in than fit with what we think are sense perceptions of that external reality. These things fit together into a reasonably coherent whole. Dogs are in that group.

            There are a bunch of other things that are reasonably well defined and whose existence wouldn't mess up that coherence but for which most of us believe there is not sufficient evidence of their existence. Alien visitors, unicorns, yetis etc.

            EDIT: Actually if the unicorn flies my guess is that it is inconsistent with the physics we know. So in that case it makes a third group. Things that have a consistent definition but whose existence would be incoherent with the rest of reality.

            There is another bunch of things that are not even consistently defined and whose existence, if we could get a consistent, definition that would seem to break the existing coherence. Souls, gods, ghosts, etc.

            We do have some evidence mind you for gods, ghosts etc but it's usually quite personal and subjective so I put them in the basket with dreams and hallucinations. Sense perceptions not arising from things in what I call external reality.

            I'm not a philosopher so I doubt any of the above will stand much serious scrutiny. But it's worked OK so far.

          • Jim (hillclimber)

            I agree with everything you said and I would use that as a description of my own thought process. The part that I would want to focus on more closely is:

            These things fit together into a reasonably coherent whole.

            What I read into this is that you think that that worldview which is most coherent is most likely to be correct. That amounts to, I would say, I deep trust in the underlying coherence of reality. And to me, deep trust in the coherence of reality flows from, or is an aspect of, deep trust in the goodness of reality.

            But, that's me. Why do you think coherence is in any way relevant in determining what is real?

          • Michael Murray

            What I read into this is that you think that that worldview which is most coherent is most likely to be correct. That amounts to, I would say, a deep trust in the underlying coherence of reality. And to me, deep trust in the coherence of reality flows from, or is an aspect of, deep trust in the goodness of reality.

            I don't know what goodness of reality means. That implies to me that reality has something to do with humans. I don't think that at all. I think we are an accident.

            I don't think I have a deep trust in reality but rather it's a working assumption. Should that working assumption fail I would consider questioning it. But so far no-one has offered me the red and blue pill!

            The public discussion and interpretation is what is necessary, in my mind, to distinguish visions from mere hallucinations. If we cannot bring the vision into coherence with our group understanding of reality, it is rightly called a mere hallucination.

            I would be cautious about "group understanding of reality" as it has proved wrong in the past. I would rather make my understanding of reality consistent with the scientific understanding of reality.

          • Jim (hillclimber)

            Here is a related thought: absurd as it may sound on first pass, my trust in God precedes any thoughts that I have about God, just as your underlying trust in coherence (I think) precedes any specific thoughts you have about the nature of coherence. Of course, I can only meaningfully say (in human language) "I trust in God" after I have begun to have specific conceptions about who or what God is. But the act of placing my trust in God actually occurs upstream from any of those conceptions. It is only once I have placed my trust in God that I feel I can start to have thoughts about him.

          • David Nickol

            I have a couple of books lined up to read that touch on this topic, so perhaps I should withhold comment until I have finished them (especially if Ye Olde Statistician is lurking), but it certainly seems possible to me that "dog" is a human classification that has no independent reality. It is not crazy to call a Collie or a Beagle or a Dalmatian a dog, but are the offspring of a wolf and a dog to be classified as dogs or wolves? Or do we need to posit the existence of both Dog and Wolfdog as Platonic ideals (or as existing in whatever sense you would claim Dog exists).

            I understand that one of the great obstacles to the acceptance of Darwin's theory of evolution was the belief that "kinds" existed, and the idea of intermediates was out of the question. So the idea that there could be continuity along an evolutionary path from an animal like a tree shrew to a human being was unthinkable, since it would be impossible to identify every ancestor (going from human being backward) as belonging to a specific "kind." But we do know this is how evolution worked.

            The question in my mind, then, is how does something like Dog come into existence, when over a span of time there may be "pre-Dogs" and eventually maybe "post-Dogs"?

          • Jim (hillclimber)

            it certainly seems possible to me that "dog" is a human classification that has no independent reality.

            I agree that that is possible. This is an additional valid reason to question whether dogs exist.

            Michael's argument, I think, leveraged an assumption that dogs self-evidently exist. My point is that it is not self-evident that dogs exist.

            I am not absolutely sure of anything, but in my hierarchy of belief, I am more sure that God exists than I am sure that my dog exists. I am even more sure that God exists than I am sure that my wife exists, and she is the most important creature in my life. My belief in the reality of every single created thing is predicated on my trust in God.

          • Michael Murray

            I don't merely believe that the idea of a dog is based on things that exist . I actually believe that dogs exist .

            I'm not sure what this means. Are you talking about something like forms ? As part of my general assumption that there is a material world I think there are things in it which humans have decided to call dogs. So I think (assume really) that the things have existence and also that the concept "dog" has existence as an idea in my and other humans minds.

          • Jim (hillclimber)

            No, please, no forms! I do not generally have the patience for deep dives into Thomistic (or other) philosophy. I think the phrase, "my dog exists" has a clear common sense meaning, and that is the meaning I am shooting for. I think you have captured that meaning well.

            You say you assume there is a material world, but you are perhaps not willing to go further and trust that your assumption is actually correct? This is where I want to go further. A working assumption is not enough for me here. I want to let go and just trust that that the material world really does exist.

          • Michael Murray

            I guess we need to define trust. I live my life as if there is a material world and I don't think I have ever doubted it. Does that define trust ?

          • Jim (hillclimber)

            If I say to a person, "In order to be closer to you, I am going to give up a level control. I am going to rely on you and 'let you in' to my life in a way that you will be able to hurt me. I am putting myself at your mercy", that is an expression of trust. It is a movement of the heart.

            By contrast, a working assumption, or even a strong belief, is merely a movement of the mind. It involves no real risking of the self. A working assumption might be expressed as: "I will act as if you are a reliable source of information."

            I trust that the material world exists in this sense that I just described. It is personal to me. If I wake up from some Matrix-like environment, I will be emotionally hurt. That is because I have emotionally committed myself to the reality of the material world that I now perceive.

  • Arthur Jeffries

    Belief in God—that Being to whom reverence and worship are properly due—is common to almost all people of every era.

    Is that true? It is my understanding that agriculture didn't emerge until around 8000 BCE and took many thousands of years to spread over the world. Prior to that time, wasn't animism, not theism, the predominant belief system worldwide?

    • Michael Murray

      Also between animism and theism there is a lot of polytheism which persists today in Hinduism.

      http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Major_religious_groups

    • Roman

      Prior to that time, wasn't animism, not theism, the predominant belief system worldwide?

      Actually no. There is a consensus among historians of religion that the more ancient cultures believed in some type of monotheistic God. Polytheism, paganism, pantheism, animism, etc. came later and in many cultures coexisted with monotheism for some time. Roy Varghese has written a good book summarizing this (The Christ Connection). But this is all somewhat irrelevant to the proof for God's existence described above. Dr. Kreeft is not talking exclusively about the monotheistic God but he is making a general statement in regard to belief in "some" type of God.

      • Arthur Jeffries

        Polytheism, paganism, pantheism, animism, etc. came
        later and in many cultures coexisted with monotheism for some
        time.

        Do you have evidence from anthropologists - books, articles, interviews, lectures - that confirm that monotheism predated animism?

        Roy Varghese has written a good book summarizing this (The Christ Connection).

        I note that Mr. Varghese is the author of such books as There is
        Life After Death – Compelling Reports from Those Who Have Glimpsed the Afterlife
        and God-Sent: A History of the Accredited Apparitions of Mary. Is there a less biased author with expertise in the subject whom you can recommend?

        Dr. Kreeft is not talking exclusively about the monotheistic God but he is making a general statement in regard to belief in "some" type of God.

        Dr. Kreeft appears to be referring to theism of some form and so am I. I never mentioned monotheism specifically.

        • Roman

          Do you have evidence from anthropologists - books, articles, interviews, lectures - that confirm that monotheism predated animism?

          Look up the writings of Rudolph Otto, Wilhelm Schmidt, Mircea Eliade, and Ninian Smart, who are either historians of religion or anthropologists of religion. They have all published research showing that in the most ancient cultures there was an almost universal belief in a supreme being that continued even as religious beliefs evolved.

          Is there a less biased author with expertise in the subject whom you can recommend

          Give me a break. How is it that a Christian author is automatically biased but an atheist or secular author is not??? Roy Varghese writes a book about near death experiences which you automatically dismiss because he believes in God.....but Dr. Pim van Lommel, a famous cardiologist, and atheist, also wrote a book detailing scientific studies of thousands of near death cases in a book called "consciousness beyond life". Roy Varghese is a well established author and researcher with 15 books to his credit and several prestigious awards. If you were actually to read his book you would find that he does a fair job of presenting and critiquing the views of a number of other theories of religion and their authors. He lists over 200 references.as well.

          • Arthur Jeffries

            Look up the writings of Rudolph Otto, Wilhelm Schmidt, Mircea Eliade, and Ninian Smart, who are either historians of religion or anthropologists of religion.

            I will look up Smart and Eliade. Thank you for the other recommendations, but they seem to be in the vein of Mr. Varghese.

            How is it that a Christian author is automatically biased but an atheist or secular author is not???

            I have no particular preference for atheist or agnostic anthropologists and I never asked you to suggest an atheist scholar instead. I myself am a Roman Catholic. However, Mr. Varghese's bibliography does not inspire confidence. He has his field of expertise and other people have their's.

          • Roman

            Sorry if I misunderstood your objection with Varghese. Its true he is neither a historian or an anthropologist. But either are most journalists who similarly do research and write about these type of topics. I agree with you, however, that its always best to read original material from the experts and eliminate the possibility of misinterpretations or misunderstandings that can happen when getting information second-hand.

      • Whoa! Is Roy a historian? Are these views in any way mainstream? I know he appears on coast to coast....

        I understand we have virtually no information on pre-agricultural religious views. At most we have fertility "goddess" carvings and animal cave paintings. We can guess that these point to a kind of spiritual belief.

        The Non-agricultural societies we are aware of today were not monotheistic, nor are the millions of Hindus whose religion dates back further than any of the other major religions.

        • Roman

          Did I say Roy is a historian?? He's a researcher and successful author. I recommended his book because he does a fair job of presenting various views on the history or religion; and his book is well documented, i.e., over 200 references. If you want original source material, look up the writings of Rudolph Otto, Wilhelm Schmidt, Mircea Eliade, and Ninian Smart. They're all historians or anthropologists of religion that support the view that early civilizations believed in a monotheistic sort of God or Supreme being.

          • Well, you said there was a consensus among historians and you referenced Roy. Rudolph Otto was a theologian writing about a hundred years ago, Wihelm Schmidt while an anthropologist and linguist was also a priest, writing more than 60 years ago, Mircea Eliade was a historian of Religion and wrote over 50 years ago and he would seem to be the best source in academic terms. But it seems outlandish to me to suggest that these this one historian of religion writing 50 years ago amounts to a consensus among historians.

            The point remains that we have no writings and only a small number of artifacts and sites. I think that it is not possible to argue that we can make any strong claims about the nature of pre-agricultural religion.

            Unless you can point me to some source in the last 50 years or so that states anything like a consensus on this point, I am going to remain unconvinced.

          • Roman

            I admit my language in my last comments was not as precise as it could have been and I didn't take the time to qualify my remarks. I was trying to give you a sampling of what I understand are prominent 20th century scholars of comparative religion (historians, anthropologists, theologians, etc.). Otto and Schmidt were early 20th century. Mircea Eliade was middle 20th century and Ninian Smart was last half of 20th century...he was president of the American Academy of Religion until his death in 2001. Aloysius Ligura is a contemporary expert on native African religion. So among these prominent scholars of the 20th century there appears to be a consensus that early civilizations had a monotheistic tendency. BTW, I'm using that word monotheism loosely to include what some would call monism or henotheism. Aloysius Ligura is an interesting read. He has researched the oral tradition of native African religions and found that they all have a monotheistic type of supreme being that they believe in. Where as Zoroastrianism, Hinduism and Judaism originated 3000 - 5000 years ago, the roots of China's belief in the supreme being Shang Di and native African religion go back much further. We know thats true, for example in China because the belief in Shang Di preceded taoism, buddhism, and confucianism. As Aloysium Ligura points out, the native African religion that has survived until present has always been transmitted through an oral tradition. The latter as well as the fact that African has about 6000 different groups of people but all share the same common belief in a supreme being point to this belief being ancient, i.e. the original religion of ancient Africa

          • You've listed a historian, theologian and a anthropologist and conclude that there is a consensus?

            Again, you are talking about agricultural societies. The issue here is about pre-agricultural societies.

        • Roman

          The Non-agricultural societies we are aware of today were not monotheistic, nor are the millions of Hindus whose religion dates back further than any of the other major religions

          I think you need to do some more research on this topic. You've not heard of the Chinese God Shang Di, or the the Zoroastrian God Ahura Mazda, or the Supreme Being of native African Religion, or the Brahman of Veda Hinduism.....You talk about Hinduism as though its a monolithic faith. Its evolved over 4 thousand years into a diverse set of religious beliefs and practices that appear contradictory. But the earliest form of Hinduism that we have written records of are based on the Vedas which teaches that there is an absolute, supreme being called Brahman. All other Gods are just other forms or names for the Brahman.

          • I've certainly heard of Zoroastrianism and understand that it is considered the first monotheism. It is not pre-agricultural. As far as I can tell none of the cultures you cite are.

            But sure I can accept that some forms of Hinduism are more monotheistic. I would not know.

      • David Nickol

        Dr. Kreeft is not talking exclusively about the monotheistic God but he is making a general statement in regard to belief in "some" type of God.

        If so, he didn't make it at all clear when he wrote the following:

        Belief in God—that Being to whom reverence and worship are properly due—is common to almost all people of every era.

        He could have said "belief in some kind of god." And he did not have to say "that being," implying there is only one.

        • Roman

          I can see how his wording could lead someone to conclude that he is talking about the monotheistic God of Christianity, Judaism and Islam. I guess I have the benefit of a larger context because I've read his books and heard his talks. In the two public speaking engagements I heard where he presented this proof, he used the wording "some type of God". If you think about it, however, he really is just giving the basic definition of a God similar to what you would find under the dictionary definition. For example, Merriam Webster Dictionary defines God (second meaning) as "one of various spirits or beings worshiped in some religion"

  • Ignatius Reilly

    Could we not also conclude that we should be very skeptical in believing that we believe in the correct religion?

    Counter examples:

    Does a thunder god exist?

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_thunder_gods

    Is the Sun a god?

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Solar_deity

    Flat Earth before the Ancient Greeks
    Most ancient religions have gods plural
    Napoleon was above average in height
    Great wall of China is not visible from the moon
    Epilepsy is not possession by an evil spirit
    Gamblers Fallacy

    Most of these things was or are commonly held to be correct.

    • Michael Murray

      It seems you have to be very careful how you apply the "most everyone believes in" argument. Apply broadly and most everyone believes in some sort of supernatural gods. Apply too finely and this democratic theology will tell you that 70% of people are not Christians so Jesus ceases to exist. It's a delicate business backing up your faith with reason.

      • Roman

        I don't think that line of reasoning works against this proof. The proof is not based on a particular type of God but on belief in "some type" of God.

        • Michael Murray

          My point is that you need to be selective in application of this "proof". It's not reasoning really it's post hoc justification. Theology in other words.

  • Michael Murray

    that Being to whom reverence and worship are properly due

    Surely from all the sophisticated theology I have been taught here this is a typo and should be

    that ground of Being to whom reverence and worship are properly due

    I guess that explains the old idiom "worship the ground she walks on".

    • Ignatius Reilly

      Although I don't really think most of the beings that the various religions worship are actually worthy of said worship.

  • Ignatius Reilly

    This is probably the weakest of all of the arguments for the existence of a God, first mover, designer etc. Perhaps I am wrong, but I do not believe anyone was ever converted to Catholicism because of some philosophical argument for the existence of God. I think it was Camus who said something like "no one has ever died for the ontological argument"

    People believe because
    a) Geographical location/culture they are part of
    b) personal experiences, which they interpret in a religious light
    c) its a coping mechanism

    I will not deny that many atheists also have emotional reasons for what they believe. Personally, I am not very interested in the nonexistence of a first mover (I think it may be a non question), as much the rampant incoherencies of the major religions and how religions are often a force of harm in the world. I am not asking that someone prove Catholicism correct, but rather prove that it is coherent (without contradictions).

    • VicqRuiz

      Ignatius,

      There have been many, many articles on this site which attempt with varying degrees of success to prove the existence of a first mover/uncaused cause/ground of all being. I find some interesting, a few challenging, some all but incomprehensible.

      It's much harder, I think, to prove (or even to reasonably assert) that the mover/cause/ground has an opinion about the Hobby Lobby case, wants me to recite phrases while running a string of beads through my fingers, or (until a couple of decades ago) required me to eat fish on Friday. Few here have tried, and none have really succeeded.

      • "It's much harder, I think, to prove (or even to reasonably assert) that the mover/cause/ground has an opinion about the Hobby Lobby case, wants me to recite phrases while running a string of beads through my fingers, or (until a couple of decades ago) required me to eat fish on Friday. Few here have tried, and none have really succeeded."

        I don't think it's more difficult, but it is more lengthy. That's why someone like Thomas Aquinas spends a few pages on the existence of God and thousands of pages fleshing out the implications.

        I'm not sure how familiar you are with the Bible, but even a cursory reading makes clear that God is deeply concerned with our moral life, because it can either lead us toward or away from our flourishing. Thus it's not at all surprising that God cares about situations like Hobby Lobby and whether we pay for or provide immoral items like abortifacients and contraception.

        You're also confused why God "wants me to recite phrases while running a string of beads through my fingers." He doesn't just want you to mechanically "recite" phrases; he wants you to know and love him deeper--that's what prayer is, and that's what the Rosary, properly prayed, helps with.

        Finally, God doesn't (and never has) "required [you] to eat fish on Friday." God gave his authority to the Church and the Church has used that authority to require Catholics to abstain from meat (or make some other sacrifice) on Fridays as a disciplined sacrifice, a way to grow closer to God. You don't have to eat fish; you simply must abstain from meat. But again, assuming God cares deeply about our flourishing, and assuming intentional, occasional sacrifice strengthens our character, it's not surprising that God would commission such a practice. Without the Church requiring her faithful to abstain, most would not voluntary do this. This is proved in practice. After all, how many meals, or how much meat, have you given up in the last few months?

  • David Nickol

    I think many of us here don't find a "common consent" argument persuasive because we used to count ourselves among believing Catholics or at least believing theists.

    When we look back to those times when we believed significantly more than we do now, we see that we didn't actually know any more than we do now (and probably in most cases, we knew a lot less when we believed more).

    So having been inside the heads of believers (when we were believers), we don't assume that believers have any special knowledge we don't know about that undergirds their beliefs.

    • Really good point. Coming from the other side, I certainly from time time to time, think, well so many smart people have some beleif, maybe there is something to it. Then I look at their reasons.

      • "Really good point. Coming from the other side, I certainly from time time to time, think, well so many smart people have some beleif, maybe there is something to it. Then I look at their reasons."

        Interesting. That's precisely how I felt when I seriously investigated atheism.

        But then I found the smartest atheists I read and talked with badly misunderstood, or were totally unfamiliar with, the strongest arguments for God.

        I found that none of them could offer a solid defense of their atheism or propose strong arguments against God.

        • David Nickol

          I found that none of them could offer a solid defense of their atheism or propose strong arguments against God.

          I think it is not at all remarkable that atheists don't think there are convincing arguments for God, and theists don't think there are convincing or adequate reasons to doubt or disbelieve in God. And I think Catholics and Jews, or Catholics and Muslims, or Buddhists and Evangelical Christians could "dialog" endlessly without any group converting the other or even coming close. I think liberals and conservatives, or (in the USA) Democrats and Republicans, if locked in a room and told they wouldn't be freed until they had resolved their differences, would remain inside until they starved to death.

          So I think a person with all the conviction in the world that there is a God, and a person with all the conviction in the world that there isn't a God, are not going to change each others' minds by arguing. However, as I have mentioned before, I heard a story many years ago, the source of which I have been to recover, about a little village in which the local rabbi and the town atheist got together every day and argued for hours against the existence of God. After years and years of overhearing their arguments, the long-suffering rabbi's wife finally lost her temper and shouted, "What's the point? You have been arguing this for years, and neither of you have budged an inch. Why keep this up? Neither one of you will ever convince the other. You've got to stop!" But both the rabbi and the atheist turned on her and declared they would not stop. Why? Because they were in total agreement about one thing—the importance of the question.

        • David Nickol

          Or, to put it more succinctly, the theists' conviction that atheists don't know what they are talking about and are just so wrong their errors defy explanation should carry no more weight in these debates than the atheists' conviction that theists have no possible reason to believe in a God whose existence is no more demonstrable than the existence of unicorns or the Flying Spaghetti Monster.

          My unshakeable conviction that you are wrong and I am right is no more proof of anything than your unshakable conviction that I am wrong and you are right.

        • Who did you read? Check out Justin Scheiber, and/or ask him to do a guest post if you are truly serious about engaging with the best arguments for positive atheism.

  • Michael Murray

    It seems far more likely that those who refuse to believe are the ones suffering from deprivation and delusion—like the tone-deaf person who denies the existence of music, or the frightened tenant who tells herself she doesn't hear cries of terror and distress coming from the street below and, when her children awaken to the sounds and ask her, "Why is that lady screaming, Mommy?" tells them, "Nobody's screaming: it's just the wind, that's all. Go back to sleep."

    So is the suggestion here really that atheists are the kind of people who don't call the police when they hear a women is being attacked ?

    • David Nickol

      It seems to me that "proofs" of the existence of God in which atheists are deliberately insulted don't come from people whose motive it is to convince, but rather to smugly congratulate themselves. ("God, I thank you that I am not like other people—robbers, evildoers, adulterers—or even like this tax collector.")

    • Stephen Gann

      No. The suggestion is that atheists are the kind of people who assert the absence of a reality they lack the capacity to experience (deprivation/tone-deaf person/music) or assert the absence of a reality that they have convinced themselves that they do not experience (delusion/frightened woman/screaming).
      In the context of the argument, Kreeft is saying that it is more likely that a small group of atheists is more likely to be delusional or otherwise incapable of detecting a real divine existence, than it is for a large group of theists (of various definitions) to fabricate (through imagination or otherwise) a false experience of the divine.
      I am not fond of his argument, but it does not appear to be a personal attack.

      • Regardless of the (very little) merits of the argument itself, it shouldn't use these kinds of examples. The examples are tasteless, biasing, and ultimately insulting to the very person you are trying to persuade.

        • Kevin Aldrich

          I don't think Dr. Kreeft is actually trying to convince atheists but rather he is defending belief in God to Christians, Catholics specially. It is why, in my opinion, posts on SN should be written for SN or at least for atheists.

          Many atheists do the exact thing to Christians and use tasteless, biased, and insulting examples, vocabulary, and arguments. I think when they do, they are not really trying to convince theists as much as supporting those in their camp.

          • I agree that atheists do it too. They shouldn't. It's tasteless, biased, insulting (as you admit).

          • Michael Murray

            Primate tribalism. If human's carry an original sin surely this is it ? It always strikes me as tragic that religion is so often used as a way to separate humans into "us" and "them" but Jesus argued that everybody was us. At least that is how it seemed to me. Maybe I just heard too many modern priests preaching after Vatican II.

          • Ignatius Reilly

            Do not think that I came to send peace upon earth: I came not to send peace, but the sword. For I came to set a man at variance against his father, and the daughter against her mother, and the daughter in law against her mother in law. And as a man's enemies shall be they of his own household

          • Michael Murray

            I think the modern priests I listened to at the time tended not to favour those verses. They preferred hippy Jesus. It was the early 70s after all. I was thinking of

            44 “Then they will also answer, saying, ‘Lord, when did we see you hungry, or thirsty, or a stranger, or naked, or sick, or in prison, and didn’t help you?’

            45 “Then he will answer them, saying, ‘Most certainly I tell you, because you didn’t do it to one of the least of these, you didn’t do it to me.’

            Of course I've deleted the next verse about eternal punishment as a cherry not worth picking now that the fires of Hades have been turned off.

          • VicqRuiz

            I don't think Dr. Kreeft is actually trying to convince atheists

            Christian apologetics in my experience seem to be targeted to believers/atheists in about an 90/10 ratio. SN does a little better than that, but not a whole lot.

            What atheists are usually pretty good at sussing out are the apologists who claim to be "former atheists" but who, when speaking to atheists, don't show any signs of having walked the walk. There are plenty of these........

    • Culminating Deception

      The author was obviously insinuating a fear to accept that God exists rather than to indicate that atheists are inhumane and would not call the police if someone is attacked. This is made evident in the statement "the frightened tenet who tells herself she doesn't hear cries of terror and distress." You instead focus on a part of the statement, creating a false conclussion so you may draw upon a position of victimization and moral outrage.

      • Michael Murray

        Obviously ? I don't think obviously. Possibly.

        You instead focus on a part of the statement, creating a false conclussion so you may draw upon a position of victimization and moral outrage.

        It's interesting that you would like me to apply a "most charitable" interpretation of Kreeft's comments but are unwilling to do the same to mine. I guess we all have our biases.

        • Culminating Deception

          I'm not attempting to be charitable in my interpretation, merely logical. The author is indicating two options from the his two examples. First, that like a deaf person an atheist is incapable of hearing/seeing the evidence. Secondly, that like a frightened woman hearing a mugging below an atheist is afraid to acknowledge the evidence because of a fear of admitting there is a God.
          You can disagree with his point, or even throw back second comparison to say it is how Christians act when confronted with evidence about evolution. What you instead do is to take his analogy literally, saying the author insinuates an atheist won't call the police on a mugging. It is the equivalent of taking from the author's first statement that he is insinuating atheists are tone deaf. I'd say that is pretty foolish.

  • I’ve heard it said (often) that anything humans do can be seen in the animal kingdom at lower evolutionary level, since we are just another animal. It’s only a matter of “spectrum”. Seems not to be the case with religion. What evidence is there of animals “worshiping”?

    • Michael Murray

      I think you can see something akin to superstition with Skinner's pigeons. That's where I think worshipping starts.

      • Hi Michael,
        You're pic reminds me that I need my morning coffee right now.
        Anyway, If pigeons doing tricks for food is where worship starts, then more highly evolved intelligent animals like dogs, apes and dolphins should have worship behavior more similar to humans. Correct?
        From your link...
        "Modern behavioral psychologists have disputed Skinner's "superstition" explanation for the behaviors he recorded....."

        • Michael Murray

          I think there is a large gap between us and all those animals even the apes. I doubt anyone has actually tried to put dogs, apes or dolphins in Skinner boxes. Have they ?

          A few years back I read a book about the building and launching of the Opportunity and Spirit Mars rovers. There is a funny bit where they talk about how the guys involved all had little trinkets like lucky rabbits feet they liked to have with them during a launch. They were very sheepish about it as they prided themselves on being very rational but they had it with them last time and the launch went OK ... You see the same thing in the movie of the Apollo 13 launch where Gene Kranz is waiting for his special embroidered waist coat that his wife does for every launch.

      • Jim (hillclimber)

        I am surprised that no one has mentioned elephant death rituals.

        Whether you would call this elephant behavior "mourning" or even "worship", I think, is a matter of what those words mean to you, but it certainly seems like this phenomenon at least belongs in the conversation.

        Personally, my guess is that some sort of orientation toward the sacred precedes any cognitive models for the sacred. I would guess that we engaged in rituals like sacrifice long before we had any cognitive model for whom we were sacrificing to, and before we had any thoughts about what the sacrifice would accomplish. This is just a guess, but I think things like this elephant behavior point in the direction of this sort of thing.

        • David Nickol

          Although I am a firm believer in evolution and the fact that human have no capabilities that require the positing of a "spiritual soul" to explain, I would not take very seriously the contention that "anything humans do can be seen in the animal kingdom at lower evolutionary level, since we are just another animal." What is composing a poem, writing a computer program, telling a joke, or day trading stocks "at a lower evolutionary level"?

          • Jim (hillclimber)

            I think I agree. Most human behaviors seem to be somewhat in continuity with some animal behavior or other, but the additional capacity for symbolic thought changes everything. This is why, even though I would personally consider the elephant behavior to be an expression of worship, I think human worship constitutes the "fullness of praise". When an animal can both worship and additionally develop a mental model for what the worship means, and when that animal then worships in a way that integrates that symbolic thinking, I would say that takes it to another level entirely.

            Since we are talking about mourning and poetry, let me take the opportunity to share out a poem that many may be familiar with, in honor of Sept 11: http://www.poetryfoundation.org/poem/247934

        • Michael Murray

          Thanks. I had forgotten about that. I agree the rituals most likely came first and the thought about it later.

  • David Nickol

    Of course the flip side of the "common consent" argument is that while "religion" may be a near universal in human societies, there are so many different religions (and so many different sects within Christianity, Islam, and Judaism), that if any specific religion or sect is right, the vast majority of people in other sects or religions are necessarily wrong.

  • David Nickol

    those who refuse to believe

    Perhaps someone sympathetic to Dr. Kreeft's views could explain the concept of refusing (or choosing) to believe. For example, in a criminal trial, when a defendant is found guilty, do twelve jurors choose to believe the case presented by the prosecution?

    I can think of instances in which someone would say, "I refuse to believe such-and-such," but in those cases I think they are not really talking about making a choice, but rather are saying the weight of evidence is strongly against the allegation.

    And of course I can think of instances in which we might say that people in certain situations are "fooling (or deluding) themselves," but I seriously question whether such language can be taken literally.

    I do think that the unconscious (in the Freudian sense) can play a major role in what we believe and don't believe, and if unconscious factors are taken into consideration, then I think the concept of choosing to believe or not believe has some validity. But since we are not aware of our own unconscious mental processes, I don't see how we can be held morally responsible for them. So if it should indeed be the case that an atheist had a horrible father, unconsciously associates God with fathers, and does not believe in God because of that unconscious association, then I don't see how an omniscient, all-loving God (if he exists) would hold the person with the horrible father morally responsible for not believing in God.

    • Stephen Gann

      In understanding the notion of belief as choice, I would use the following example:
      My language education was based heavily in grammar. When I had to use a pronoun to describe a person of unknown gender in the third-person singular, I was taught to use "he" in the "androgynous case". I eventually discovered that other people used a singular "they" for that circumstance, a practice that I found repugnant. After years of mentally classifying such writing as "bad", I was informed that the singular "they" has a pedigree reaching back at least to the 16th century. I experienced (and continue to experience) a powerful urge to deny that the age of this means of expression has any bearing on its grammatical "bad"-ness.
      I strongly suspect that the experiences that a theist would describe as "the hand of God" are experienced also by atheists. However, in the case of the atheist, they are considered a purely natural occurrence. This is true even if the atheist does not know which natural function a particular experience can be attributed.
      A "refusal to believe," as Kreeft would have it, is a habitual disqualification of evidence. He would argue that we are just as responsible for conditioning ourselves towards a particular (dis)belief as we would be to (dis)believe it without conditioning.

      • David Nickol

        A "refusal to believe," as Kreeft would have it, is a habitual disqualification of evidence. He would argue that we are just as responsible for conditioning ourselves towards a particular (dis)belief as we would be to (dis)believe it without conditioning.

        But this seems to imply that nonbelievers at some point made a decision to condition themselves toward disbelief, and believers made a decision to condition themselves toward belief. You seem to be saying that if an atheist doesn't find the "common consent argument" convincing, it may not be exactly that he refuses to believe it, but that he has conditioned himself to disbelieve arguments for the existence of God.

        This seems to imply two selves, a "higher self" that conditions a "lower self." The "higher self" at some point made an executive decision against belief in God, and conditioned the "lower self" to habitually discount evidence. So the "lower self" is not really responsible. It has been conditioned. It is the "higher self" that made the overall decision.

        The whole idea seems problematic, but even if we accept it, we have to ask on what basis, or on what evidence, was the initial decision made? Perhaps it was made in good faith. Perhaps it was made by an overly harsh religious upbringing by parents and teachers who preached Christianity but did not practice it.

        I used to have a friend in high school (a long time ago) who said the genius of Catholicism was that it made you (that is, those who had been raised Catholic) your own "thought police." You were responsible for either suppressing any doubts you had, or seeking out someone who could explain them away. Since those in charge of Catholic education were virtually certain that Catholicism was true, those receiving Catholic education had to be taught that any question about the Church's claims had to be resolved in favor of the Church. In general, in my Catholic schooling, especially in high school, we were taught to think critically and independently and in investigating issues to let the chips fall where they may. But this did not apply to the Catholic religion itself.

  • Vicq_Ruiz

    Pete, if you're going to use this kind of hopelessly anthropomorphic language, I don't ever want to see you post to the effect that "of course, we Christians don't believe in an Old Guy In The Sky. That's a naive concept and a straw man."

  • Mike

    As always, clear, concise and interesting, thanks Dr. PS love you're lectures...especially the one on PHONEYS.

  • Boris

    "Either the vast majority of people have been wrong about this most profound element of their lives or they have not."
    The sheer silliness of this argument should be obvious. It doesn't matter how many people believe a stupid thing, it's still a stupid thing. Besides the huge number of gods humans have invented shoots this argument full of holes.

  • Peter A.

    1. Belief in God—that Being to whom reverence and worship are properly due—is common to almost all people of every era.
    2. Either the vast majority of people have been wrong about this most profound element of their lives or they have not.
    3. It is most plausible to believe that they have not.
    4. Therefore it is most plausible to believe that God exists.

    This is a terrible argument. All one has to do is substitute "God" for "a flat Earth" and you can immediately see how lame it is. Reality is what it is regardless of what people believe about it. The truth isn't democratic, it isn't decided upon by a majority.

    (Now I wonder if this comment will be deleted as well, like some of my others have).