Sensus Divinitatis


“Is there any human being who has not entered on the first day of his life with an idea of that Great Head?” rhetorically inquired Arnobius of Sicca. Arnobius further inquired: “In whom has it not been implanted by nature, on whom has it not been impressed, aye, stamped almost in his mother’s womb even, in whom is there not a native instinct, that He is King and Lord, the ruler of all things that be?”(Aga. Hea. 33)

Arnobius echoed the idea that could be traced back to Cicero(Cic. Leg. I. 8) and beyond that human have an implanted knowledge of God(s) which when left to its natural function tends to direct them to acknowledge the existence of God(s).  This innate knowledge, which is also called the sense of divinity, is for Tertullian of Carthage, “the crowning guilt of men, that they will not recognize One, of whom they cannot possibly be ignorant”(1 Apo 17)

Even though God is ineffable and incomprehensible, John of Damascus resounded a similar understanding that “God, however, did not leave us in absolute ignorance. For the knowledge of God’s existence has been implanted by Him in all by nature.”(De Fide Orth. 1.1) The denial of the existence of God emerges from human’s fallen nature (1.3)

Noting John of Damascus’ work, Thomas Aquinas also argued that “[t]o know that God exists in a general and confused way is implanted in us by nature, inasmuch as God is man’s beatitude.”(Sum. The. A richer development of this view is found in the works of  John Calvin. Calvin contended,

That there exists in the human minds and indeed by natural instinct, some sense of Deity, we hold to be beyond dispute, since God himself, to prevent any man from pretending ignorance, has endued all men with some idea of his Godhead, the memory of which he constantly renews and occasionally enlarges, that all to a man being aware that there is a God, and that he is their Maker, may be condemned by their own conscience when they neither worship him nor consecrate their lives to his service. (Inst. 1.3.1)

Calvin went further,

All men of sound judgment will therefore hold, that a sense of Deity is indelibly engraven on the human heart. And that this belief is naturally engendered in all, and thoroughly fixed as it were in our very bones, is strikingly attested by the contumacy of the wicked, who, though they struggle furiously, are unable to extricate themselves from the fear of God. (1.3.3)

The reason that there never has been any society on earth that did not hold to kinds of beliefs in deities[and I will add life after physical death], according to Calvin, is due to the fact that sensus divinitatis is naturally inscribed on every human’s heart.

Cognitive science of religion is bringing in more reasons and evidence, for the first time as far as I understand, showing that it is true that humans are endowed with cognitive faculties that naturally stimulate sensus divinitatis. (Atran 2002, Bering 2002, Bloom 2007, Kelemen 2007 )

Further Readings

Atran, Scott (2002) In Gods We Trust. New York, NY: Oxford University Press.

Bering, Jesse (2002) “Intuitive Conceptions of Dead Agents’ Minds: The Natural Foundations of Afterlife Beliefs as Phenomological Boundary.” Journal of Cognition and Culture 2:263–308.

Bloom, Paul (2007) “Religion Is Natural.” Developmental Science 10: 147–151.

Kelemen, Deborah (2007) “Are Children ‘Intuitive Theists?’ Reasoning about Purpose and Design in Nature.” Psychological Science 15:295–301.

Paintings: Raffaello Sanzio da Urbino(Header) + Victor Mottez(Cover)

27 thoughts on “Sensus Divinitatis

  1. To shame the wise and the great by making sensus divinitatis null and void, Jesus Christ said “I am telling you the truth: no one can see the Kingdom of God unless he is born again.”

    The discourse with Nicodemus includes a PRESCRIPTION of the means of firsthand knowledge of God postdated to his death on the cross. (John 3: 1-21; ff.)

    The “great teacher” had enough sense to follow-up (Ibid. 7: 50-52) successfully the advice all the way to the litmus test (Ibid. 19: 30-37).

    The world’s weapons cannot compete against God’s.

  2. Prayson, the anlogy of the driver in the car still doesn’t work because we can extricate the driver from the car and demonstrate two separate entities. You cannot demonstrate this with the min; instead, all our evidence shows that we’re dealing with only one thing: the brain, which leads us (from evidence adduced from reality) that the mind is what the brain does.

    Now you slip in the word ‘all’ to redefine what I said. No, the mind is not all the brain does, which is why I also said that the mind (aka consciousness) is an emergent property of the brain. This property can be shown with overwhelming evidence adduced from reality to be directly affected by altering the brain in a variety of ways. Most significantly, the greater the impairment to the brain, the greater the impairment to the functioning of this property called the mind. This one-to-one correlation continues right up until brain death where the complete cellular death of the matter that constitutes the brain correlates exactly as we should expect with the absence of any mind.

    It is at this point that you then assert with no equivalent evidence adduced from reality that the mind magically reconstitutes and lives on permanently after complete brain death. This is an assertion you make not adduced from evidence reality provides us but imposed on it as if equivalently true to the correlation that mind function mirrors brain function. It’s not equivalent because the evidence is not equivalent. The assertion you make bears all the hallmarks of wishful thinking that simply waves away the knowledge we have adduced that demonstrates the brain/mind continuum and replaces it with a faith-based belief that insists they are not one but two separate ‘things’. They’re not… unless you now explain how the mind and brain correlation is connected and by what mechanism. Saying it is doesn’t do this job. Demonstrating the separateness (like extricating the human body from the vehicle) is now essential. I could show you the body of the driver completely separate from the car and demonstrate the mechanisms involved in how the body controls the car; something tells me that you cannot show me the same for this artificial division you believe exists between the brain and the mind.

  3. Pingback: Really Recommended Posts 11/8/13 | J.W. Wartick -"Always Have a Reason"

    • Silence is a forgotten blessing for some Graham.

      As a general spiritual rule, you can trust this: The ego attempts to get what it wants with words. The soul finds what it needs from silence. The ego prefers light—immediate answers, full clarity, moral perfection, absolute certitude, and undeniable conclusion—whereas the soul prefers the silent world of darkness and light. And by that, of course, I mean a real interior silence, not just the absence of noise.

      All creation is creatio ex nihilo—from “a trackless waste and an empty void” it all came (Genesis 1:2). But over this darkness God’s spirit hovered and “there was light”—and everything else too. So there must be something pregnant, waiting, and wonderful in such voids, silence and darkness.

      M. Basil Pennington wrote, “God is infinitely patient. He will not push himself into our lives. He knows the greatest thing he has given us is our freedom. If we want habitually, even exclusively, to operate from the level of our own reason, he will respectfully keep silent. We can fill ourselves with our own thoughts, ideas, images, and feelings. He will not interfere. But if we invite him with attention, opening the inner spaces, with silence, he will speak to our souls, not in words or concepts, but in the mysterious way that Love expresses itself—by presence.”

  4. There is quite a leap to be made between the human propensity to seek patterns in nature and attribute the same kind of agency that we are familiar with (human motivation for the patterns) with the notion of sensus divinitatis. To call this propensity evidence for god is just really bad thinking because it is solely an attribution that may or may not be true. How can we know if the agency we assign is of our own making or reflective of reality? We investigate reality and see if it this agency is a causal agency. When we do this, we find no such agency seems to be present; rather, evidence for the attribution is only in one direction: from humans and applied outwards.

    To compound this error of attribution with the claim that therefore atheists must bear the burden of proof to show why non belief is ‘unnatural’ assumes the attribution is correct – that this causal agency does exist independent of humans – and rests entirely on the creation of this false dichotomy… that because the causal agency is true and we ‘know’ of it, those who deny it do so because they refuse to accept it. This is a false accusation because we ‘know’ no such thing about any such causal agency and reality does not offer us compelling evidence that it is likely. Reality shows us just the opposite, that the attribution is factually wrong.

    We fool ourselves all the time. Belief in the sensus divinitatis is just another example in a long line of foolish notions that, as John says, equates with any other foolish superstitious attribution. The atheist simply accepts reality’s adjudication of the attribution – there really is a causal agency called ‘god’ to be likely false.

    • Some things in life we cannot control, but we want to control them. This is what superstition is all about.

      When we attempt to control our fate by the use of a charm or a ritual or trust in fate or the stars or whatever, this is superstition. Most superstitions are harmless.

      Authentic Christian faith is something else. Christian faith, at its best, is not an attempt to use God, but a willingness to surrender control of our lives to God. We pray for His will to be done, not ours.

      True Christ­ian faith, in-fact, always counters superstitious thinking.

      An email excerpt written by Dean VanDruff concerning the difference between faith, belief, and trust may help those struggling with the false idea that their Faith is mere superstition.


      There is a difference between faith, belief, and trust.

      Faith is believing the truth. For faith to be faith, we must have a reason to believe.

      Belief is an element of faith but not the whole.

      Trust is nearly the inverse of faith, and God requires it as well as faith. It is believing in spite of the evidence.

      The following illustration should help make this clear.

      When your parents were courting, they had to check out each others intentions and collect “evidence” that he/she was the right person. Now they have been married for many years, and know if their expectations and due diligence were warranted. They might have “believed” in each other from the beginning, but their belief might have been misguided. It is when we have the substance of that for which we hope, the evidence of the unseen thing that is believed in playing out before us, that distinguishes mere belief from faith.

      Now suppose that after 20 years of marriage, someone comes to you and your mother and shows you proof that your dad is really a drug dealer and Russian spy. You are given irrefutable evidence (at least in the moment), shown pictures, receive testimony, etc. that your father is a disgustingly wicked and traitorous person. You can offer (in this moment, at least) no response or counter… as this is all new, and you are overwhelmed by “the facts”. Yet you do not believe for a moment that it is true. You discount the present “evidence”, because you and your mother know your father.

      This… would be trust. It is believing in spite of what appears to be the case. It is a resistance to the “tyranny of the immediate” for what is known and believed when the weather was better and the mind was clearer.

      As you can see, trust in this sense is nearly the opposite of faith, and clearly God requires it in the moment of temptation. When human limitations are assailed with a barrage of facts or desires, trust is required.

      Both faith and trust are the same in that the ultimate object of both–if valid–is God. In the one case we are sure of what we believe, in the other we hold to it despite the barrage of “facts” that the unbelieving world, the flesh, or the devil is presently assailing us with.

      Faith is believing the truth. For it to be faith, it must be true, we must apprehend it, and we must embrace it. Minus any of these (if what we are embracing is false, if God has not spoken it to US–even it is true, or we simply agree with it and do not enter into the truth) then it might be something; but it is not faith.

      Another illustration of the “substance” and “evidence” of faith would be running down a basketball court a good 15 feet ahead of anyone else–headed for the goal. You have not done the lay-up or slam-dunk yet, but you can taste it, feel it. It is going to happen, you just know it is. It has not happened yet, but in such moments the future (an example of an “unseen thing”) is so prescient and palpable that it is almost like the moments leading up to it and the thing itself are of “one piece”.

      Perhaps you have had this experience, this surety of what is yet unseen… It is a distinct thing. It is not mere belief. It is not blind; there is ample and sound reason for it. It is not in opposition to what the evidence suggests. Faith is the palpability of things looked forward to, the sureness of what remains to play out.


    • John and I believe you, failed to notice that superstitious attribution arises from that sensus divinitatis. Humans are superstitious because of their cognitive faculties naturally stimulate sense of divinity.

      The belief in sense of divinity is longer pure philosophical or theological. Cognitive science is bringing in reasons to think it is true. Paul Bloom for example stated that “[t]here’s now a lot of evidence that some of the foundations for our religious beliefs are hard-wired” and Michael Brooks concurring that , “our minds are finely tuned to believes in gods”(2009)

      Could you share your reasons to how you calculated the probability that “there really is a causal agency called ‘god’ to be likely false”?

      • You are attributing what you call a sense of divinity to the assignment of agency. The wind blows, for example, and we assume an exhalation. We look and see nothing, but we attribute the exhalation to an invisible being. We attribute its invisibility to divine power. You see how we fool ourselves? By a starting assumption that only seems to be supported by reality, but when we look into the details of how air moves, we find that our assumptions that build into a complex theology to explain reality are groundless (pun intended). The same is true for all religious belief, for when we look into the details of how reality operates, we find no need for invisible divine agencies; natural mechanisms account fully for them. To go beyond these explanations that also produce consistent and reliable applications, therapies, and technologies that work for everyone everywhere all the time indicates that the likelihood of divine agencies becomes close to zero. That’s why claiming a causal agency called ‘god’ is less likely. When we combine this with the lack of causal efficacy when calling on this agency to intervene, we can safely and with assurance throw out the explanation because it doesn’t work to explain anything. This is why theology has never does not and predictably shall not suddenly produce knowledge.

        • It is not only HADD but also ToM and the fact that all humans, according CSR, have “dualism-faculty”. This is the reason that the belief that body and mind(spirit) are two different entities to which the latter survive physical death(life after death) is also universal in all societies.(see Bloom, Paul (2004) Descartes’ Baby: How Child Development Explains What Makes Us Human. London, UK: William Heinemann)

          • But that popularity doesn’t make it true. In fact, the evidence is overwhelming that the mind is what the brain does. To assume a separation is simply not borne out by reality. People who then live their live assuming this division continues past cellular death of the brain are (arguably) living their lives based on a lie. I think this matters a very great deal.

          • It does not make it false neither. My point was to show you that it is not only HADD in play here.

            I have provided you with literature both on the blog article and comments. If you wish to explore this issue, then dive in.

            Could you direct me to contemporary peer-reviewed journal article(s) that presented support to your assertion that the fact is evidence is overwhelming that the mind is what the brain does?

          • Oh how I so wish dear people wouldn’t use such as HADD and ToM thatI have no understanding of. I’m afraid the only abbreviations I know are OT, NT and G-d.

          • Come on, PD: it’s called modern medicine. The evidence is overwhelming in that if you damage the brain, you adversely affect the functioning of the mind. This spectrum goes from light damage to gross cellular death directly correlated to a decrease in function of the mind. Directly. That indicates causation. The logical conclusion is that when brain death reaches 100%, so too does mind cease to function entirely because that is what the evidence suggests. To use Shermer’s example, where does mind go (bit by bit) as Aunt Millie’s brain slowly dies from Alzheimer’s disease? We know from many peer reviewed studies that Alzheimer’s disease affects the functioning of the mind in a negative correlation: the greater the advancement of the disease, the greater the loss of function. There is no compelling evidence contrary to this tandem progression.

            To then assert without equivalent compelling evidence that something magical happens at death and mind is restored to functioning independent of the brain that has degraded is nothing more than wishful thinking. And yes, I have followed neuroscience for many years and the compelling evidence is all in one direction: that mind is what the brain does.

          • It does not follow. If you think of mind as be a person trapped in a car (body) Then, when the car is not working, broken, then the person inside cannot do much. Slow dying of a car(greater loss of car’s function), which makes the person inside less in control of it, does not give evidence of status of the person inside.

            Claim that that a person is what the car does in that example would be irrational.

            You have not provide me with peer-reviewed journal article I asked for. Do direct me to scholarly works that support your assertion?

          • “Increasing evidence shows that patients with PD have non-motor symptoms, such as mild cognitive impairment [3-12], dementia [13,14], and olfactory dysfunction [15]. Of note, it has been suggested that Theory of Mind (ToM), a concept within social cognitive neuroscience that refers to the ability to attribute mental state to oneself and others, is impaired in PD patients. Furthermore, our latest study provided first direct evidence in Taiwanese population that non-demented PD patients exhibit ToM dysfunction early in the disease process. Hereby, we review the literature regarding the evidence for ToM impairment and its impact in patients with PD; the potential mediators related to ToM deficit.” (source)

            PD, there are thousands of such peer reviewed studies for anyone who bothers to look.

            Your analogy to a person (mind) trapped in a car (brain) is false; there are many ways to determine the person is separate from the car; no such equivalent ways are available to separate what you call ‘mind’ from the organ we call the brain. This is why ‘mind’ and ‘consciousness’ are referred to as ’emergent properties’ that we have then labelled… leading people to assume incorrectly that we are talking about two ‘things’. This is simply not true but based on a long history of ancient metaphysics that assigns agency to motion and design to complexity, both of which have clearly been demonstrated to be factually wrong.

            Look, the way to think of ‘mind’ is to watch what is called a murmuration (in birds) and schools of fish that seem to be discrete and complex entities with agency and purpose. This is analogous to the way the chemistry works in the brain – local units obeying local rules – to produce whatseems to be a discrete and complex entity with agency and purpose. But is it really… and how can we know?

            This is why the overwhelming evidence is not debatable: the mind is influenced directly by the brain…. think of chemical impairment, think of damage, think of viral infection, and so on. When anything affects brain chemistry, we can be certain (meaning with a very high degree of confidence) that we will find evidence of effect from what we call ‘mind’. Believing these two are discrete means you – not I – have to come up with an explanation that can be demonstrated to produce equivalent reliable and consistent results that these two ‘things’ are in fact separate. So far, no one has been able to do this, so to infuse confidence into such an explanation – that mind and body are two different ‘things’ – without compelling evidence is not an equivalent explanation to the notion that the mind is what the brain does and should be held with justified skepticism.

          • The idea that brain status affects the minds ability is not debatable. The journal articles are plent on that. But that is not what I am asking for!

            You failed to see the point of my example. The aim was to show you that brain function(as car function in my illustration) influence the mind(the person trapped inside controllability) but that does not follow that the mind is all that the brain does. Here is why:

            Premise 1: Brain status directly affect the minds ability
            Conclusion: The mind is all that the brain does.

            Mind being affected by the brain is hardly evidence for that and a gave you an person-car example to show that namely the status of the car affect the controllability of the person trapped inside. Claiming that that the person is all that the car does is clearly false.

            There plenty of journals in support of P1 but am asking for the conclusion that does not follow from P1. I am asking for an article that support your assertion that the mind is all what the brain does?

          • My pet hate of every corner of the media these days is the constant use of anachronism and abbreviations, that mean absolutely nothing to me. Therefore the act of communication is lost – meaningless!

          • I learned the mind and brain are two different things. That’s why, although we both have brains, our minds are usually much different.

            The mind is the manifestations of thought, perception, emotion, determination, memory and imagination that takes place within the brain. Mind is often used to refer especially to the thought processes of reason. The mind is the awareness of consciousness we know, the ability to control what we do, and know what we are doing and why. It is the ability to understand. Animals are able to interpret their environments, but not understand them. whereas humans are able to understand what happens around them, even if not the scientific reasoning for it, and therefore adapt.

            I’m sure you have heard of a computing slang for the idea that putting bad data into a program will give bad results , ‘garbage in-garbage out’. The brain is similar to hardware and the minds it’s software, and it seems to follow that when the hardware gets broken the software fails to junction properly.

            This is the meaning behind Romans 12:1-2 (beware of “body and mind garbage in” since it leads to “garbage out”). (Amplified). “I APPEAL to you therefore, brethren, and beg of you in view of [all] the mercies of God, to make a decisive dedication of your bodies [presenting all your members and faculties] as a living sacrifice, holy (devoted, consecrated) and well pleasing to God, which is your reasonable (rational, intelligent) service and spiritual worship. Do not be conformed to this world (this age), [fashioned after and adapted to its external, superficial customs], but be transformed (changed) by the [entire] renewal of your mind [by its new ideals and its new attitude], so that you may prove [for yourselves] what is the good and acceptable and perfect will of God, even the thing which is good and acceptable and perfect [in His sight for you].”

  5. Just one very important word missing from your essay: superstition. Humans are predisposed to superstition (blunders in causal association) which explains all later thoughts identifying some external, overseer force… what you are calling a “god.” Understand superstition (and its natural roots in our hardwired paranoia) and you’ll understand the root of all the gods.

    • It is true that belief in existence of God(s) and afterlife, among others(e.g. belief in other minds/person, repulsion to rotten things, human waste etc) are naturally rooted in our hardwired paranoia. This by itself does not suggest that God’s existence is actual or not (We are to avoid committing a genetic fallacy)

      An atheist evolutionary psychologist and anthropologist,Pascal Boyer,(2001) contended that if two children are left on an island to raise themselves they would become religious.

      The application of this, turn the table around for atheists to be the one with burden of proof to show their unnatural beliefs, something that is alien to human nature, are true. It seems we are born intuitive theists.

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