I believe you have a mind of your own. I believe a bottle of water can only spinning in one direction at any give time. I believe a bottle of water cannot be full and empty at the same time. I believe that an unsupported bottle of water falls. These beliefs I hold implicitly without cognitive reflection. These beliefs spontaneously develop without special cultural indoctrination. They are maturational natural1 beliefs. Are universal religious2 ideas also maturational natural beliefs?
Preponderance of scientific evidence emerging from cognitive science of religion suggests our answer to this question is yes. Beliefs about the nature and existence of God(s), dualism, afterlife, moral realism &c., are not explicitly cultural indoctrinated ideas. They are intuitive innate implicit beliefs (Bering 2006). Jesse Bering, representing many cognitive scientists, argued that “belief is a ‘cognitive default’ and that, all else being equal, in any given cultural context religious beliefs are driven into expression by a universal, evolved, core set of psychological intuitions present in all normal human brains”(Bering 2010: 167)
Our cognitive faculties have naturally evolved to hold particular mental predispositions. We enter our first day of life with a natural implanted universal cognitive, motivation and perceptual biases. These biases predispose us to foster native instinctive and implicit beliefs of supernatural3. These biases, thus, aid us to effortlessly hold supernatural beliefs.
Disbelief in supernatural, as Norenzayan and Gervais noted, “requires some hard cognitive work to reject or override the intuitions that nourish religious beliefs”(Norenzayan & Gervais 2013: 20). Pascal Boyer equally stated that “disbelief is generally the result of deliberate, effortful work against our natural cognitive dispositions — hardly the easiest ideology to propagate.”(Boyer 2008:1039)
Atheism is psychologically unnatural. Cognitive faculties of a self identified atheists, as a recent study conducted by Heywood and Bering showed, have to persistently struggle against these intuitive beliefs. Bering explained,
In a more recent study [Heywood & Bering, unpublished], self-described British and American atheists were asked a series of quasi-structured interview questions about their own major life events as part of an alleged (i.e., cover) study on autobiographical memory. Many of these individuals’ answers revealed an implicit attribution of teleo-functional, fatalistic purpose to these ‘‘turning points’’ in their lives. A typical example of the atheist’s reasoning in this manner is shown in a response given by a British undergraduate student who considered herself to be an unflinching nonbeliever. One of the most significant events in her life, she said, was failing an important university course and losing her prestigious scholarship. It changed everything. But when she was asked why it happened to her-an ambiguous question that appealed to her poor study habits, challenges at home, or ineptitude as much as anything else-she answered: ‘‘So that I could see that even if I failed a course, my life wouldn’t actually end.’’ This woman is indeed an atheist, in terms of how she identifies herself. And yet like many religious believers, she sees some intrinsic meaning in her personal life events.(2010:167)
Elsewhere Bering also presented empirical evidence that those who explicitly denies life after death implicitly hold that the dead possessed epistemic and emotional states (Bering 2002). Bering stated that “[t]he ‘‘howling discontent of God’’ in atheistic thought is, in fact, an empirically demonstrable phenomenon, referring broadly to the traces of supernatural thinking that can often be found even in the nonbeliever’s representational systems.”(2010:167).
Supporting Bering’s theses is yet another recent study conducted by Marjaan Lindeman, Bethany Heywood, Tapani Riekki and Tommi Makkonen. Their study suggested “that atheists’ explicitly stated beliefs and affective reactions regarding God are of opposite valence”(Lindeman et al 2014: 131). Implicit beliefs can contradict both theists’ and atheists’ explicit beliefs4.
Konika Banerjee and Paul Bloom dissent from these consensus view that individuals lacking spontaneous cultural support of theistic beliefs would automatically come to hold such beliefs. Banerjee and Bloom noted that many cognitive scientists would affirm the idea that individuals raised without exposure to religious ideas would intuitively come to hold beliefs in the nature and existence of God, afterlife, divine creationism &c.,. They, though, argued that we are proned to hold such beliefs. Our cognitive biases make us, they proposed, “’receptive’ to religious ideas, but do not themselves generate them”(Banerjee & Bloom 2013:7).
I believe you have a mind of your own. I believe in God who is the creator of all. It is in my nature to do so. If this is true, then it is the God debate’s game changer. The burden of proof, thus, when it comes to belief in God(s), afterlife, moral realism &c., is not solely on theists’ shoulders. Theists do what is initiative natural. Atheists, on the other hand, ought to bear heavier burden of proof. They have to show that our innate intuitions are false. They have to show that the objects of our natural intuitions do not, in fact, exist.
 Robert McCauley made a distinction between maturational and practiced naturalness. The former develops without cultural indoctrination while not so with latter. (McCauley 2000)
 The question paused is not about religiosity such as Christians dogma, but religious intuition which are universal and believed to develop without cognitive effort.
 Explicit beliefs are consciously held beliefs developed through conscious reflection. E.g. I believe that I ate Sushi yesterday, belief in religious dogmas &c., Implicit beliefs are unconsciously held beliefs emerging through non-reflection. E.g I believe you have a mind of your own, religious intuition &c.,
This shows that an individual could be explicit atheist yet implicit theist. According to Bering it does not matter how one self identify, what matter is what is happening in one’s head. He wrote: “In fact, is it altogether possible that some self-classified atheists are in many respects more ‘‘religious’’ than self-classified religious people.”(Bering 2010:167)
Banerjee, K. & Bloom, P. (2013) ‘Would Tarzan believe in God? Conditions for the emergence of religious belief,’ Trends in Cognitive Sciences, 17, 1:7-8
Bering, J. (2002) ‘Intuitive Conceptions of Dead Agents’ Minds: The Natural Foundations of Afterlife Beliefs as Phenomenological Boundary,’ Journal of Cognition and Culture, 2: 263–308.
________ (2006) ‘The folk psychology of souls,’ Behavioral and Brain Sciences 29, 453-498
________ (2010) ‘Atheism is only skin deep: Geertz and Markússon rely mistakenly on sociodemographic data as meaningful indicators of underlying cognition,’ Religion, 40: 166-168
Boyer, P. (2008) ‘Religion: Bound to believe?,’ Nature, Vol. 455
Lindeman, M., Heywood, B., Riekki, T. & Makkonen, T. (2014) ‘Atheists Become Emotionally Aroused When Daring God to Do Terrible Things,’ The International Journal for the Psychology of Religion 24: 124-132
McCauley, R.N. (2000) ‘The naturalness of religion and the unnaturalness of science,’ in Keil, F.C., Wilson, R. (Eds.), Explanation and Cognition. MIT Press, Cambridge, MA, 61–85.
Norenzayan, A. & Gervais, W. M. (2013) ‘The origins of religious disbelief,’ Trends in Cognitive Sciences 17 1:20-25
33 thoughts on “Naturalness of Theism”
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Studies have determined that belief in God and supernaturality are intuitive and natural to human thought, but interestingly they have shown that specific religious propositions like the trinity and the incarnation are not. Just as you cannot believe a bottle of water can be both empty and full at the same time, it is seemingly unnatural to believe that a person can be both fully human and fully God at the same time for example.
These studies and their implications are fascinating. Children will naturally believe in the existence of God (and other supernatural concepts) and must have those beliefs taught out of them. Likewise, specific markers of particular religions must be taught into them it seems.
Thanks for the interesting post.
Thanks Bill. I made the same remarks on my footnotes. Christian dogma are explicit belief not implicit thus not covered by our natural intuitions. They must be taught.
See my response to Larry (Ibwoodgate)
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Though you may have studied material that suggests – not prove – that “religious beliefs are driven into expression by a universal, evolved, core set of psychological intuitions present in all normal human brains”, you can hardly conclude from this as you seem to have that a single god that fits the views of the Jews, Christians and Muslims is a reality.
The concept of spiritualism may be a “cognitive default” of the human species but the details of this spirituality are not presently clear, else we would not have the diverse religious cultures we do. And as science has expanded our understanding of our world, religion and its hold on people does not seem to have advanced along side this empiricism.
I would also dispute this statement of yours, especially the use of the word “natural”
“We enter our first day of life with a natural implanted universal cognitive, motivation and perceptual biases. These biases predispose us to foster native instinctive and implicit beliefs of supernatural3. These biases, thus, aid us to effortlessly hold supernatural beliefs.”
It seems more correct to say we are capable of biases that we learn from birth imposed on us by parents and culture. And undoubtedly when we have been raised thinking one way it is difficult to accept other ways without years of study on the human variations that exists in this world. Biases formed during the formative years of early childhood are difficult to break from but not impossible to do, so if one can eventually learn to break free of predisposed biases, how “natural” are they really?
Thank you Larry for your input and wonderful question that I take delight responding. The studied material I read are summarized well by the recent words of Marjaan Lindeman, Bethany Heywood, Tapani Riekki and Tommi Makkonen:
You are correct that intuitive innate supernaturalism does not lead to Abrahamic understanding of God. I pointed out in my footnotes that beliefs in Christian dogmas, for example, are explicit beliefs, not implicit. The details are mostly explicit reflective beliefs thus outside what I contended here.
I used ‘natural’ as understood by cognitive scientists. Justin L. Barrett is helpful here when he wrote:
Banerjee and Bloom, as I pointed above, would agree to a degree with you that our intuitive biases prone us to easily learn from birth beliefs in supernaturalism. This ,though, is not the consensus view in this field. Banerjee and Bloom noted that the majority of cognitive scientists would affirm that Tarzan would come to believe in God(s), dualism, afterlife, divine creationism, moral realism &c.,.
According to Bering, Marjaan Lindeman, Bethany Heywood, Tapani Riekki and Tommi Makkonen studies published in 2010 and 2014 we cannot implicit break free of predisposed biases. We can explicit break free but not implicit. Bering provided the data that showed that self-claimed atheists hold, implicitly, supernatural beliefs. Another recent study confirmed Bering theses is of Lindeman & co. They concluded:
So yes, we can break free explicit level but not on implicit. Bering stated that it does not matter what we say but what is happening in our cognitive faculties.
I hope I began answering some of your concerns. Let me know where you need more clarification.
Barrett, J. L. (2010) ‘The relative unnaturalness of atheism: On why Geertz and Markússon are both right and wrong,’ Religion 40:169-172
Lindeman, M., Heywood, B., Riekki, T. & Makkonen, T. (2014) ‘Atheists Become Emotionally Aroused When Daring God to Do Terrible Things,’ The International Journal for the Psychology of Religion 24: 124-132
Thank you for this comment. While reading, my question was similar: if all children were taught atheism from birth, then wouldn’t it often be the result of a life-changing event when they turned to religion?
Thanks Crystal. There are two types of beliefs. Implicit belief and explicit belief. Christianity (particular doctrines) , atheism, evolution by natural selection &c., are explicit beliefs that araises from cognitive reflection. They are cultural indoctrinated beliefs. Tarzan will not come to hold such beliefs. Supernaturalism is non-reflective belief that we are born with. Tarzan will come to hold such beliefs.
If children were taught atheism from beginning, this act will teach them to suppress their innate beliefs. Namely form an explicit belief that are in contradiction to their implicit beliefs. Researches done in 2010 and 2013 shows that it is impossible to elimate these innate beliefs. Atheists still hold such beliefs implicitly contrary to their explicit beliefs(rejection of such beliefs).
When children return to theism, it is not a change in implicit beliefs, for that was still there, but aligning of explicit belief with there implicit beliefs.
Do you see the irony of your comment, Prayson? You do realize that Tarzan is not a real man, right? No human has been raised by another species. You continue to misrepresent atheism in order to bolster your argument for christianity. Your belief is not logical, and that’s okay. But I have little respect for mental gymnastics that spread misinformation–just so that theists can appear to be logical, and therefore, “right.” Isn’t that’s what is at the crux of so many of your postings. “Theism is right. I am right.” We don’t “teach children atheism.” It is not a belief system. A-tarzan is not a belief system. If I don’t believe in Tarzan, that doesn’t mean I hold a “belief system” in his nonexistence. I just know, from the knowledge we have as humans, that Tarzan is a fictional character. The burden of proof is on you to prove otherwise. You would not be “a-______” for any the following: Thor, Zeus, Easter Bunny, Santa, Leprechauns, ghosts, monsters, vampires, dragons, zombies, fairies, guardian angels, etc. You don’t teacher your daughter a system of beliefs based on a-Thor, a-Zeus, a-Monsters or any of the others, right? No, of course not. Why is your theist god any different than the others? The knowledge you have of your god is simply based on a very old book. It’s hearsay at best. No one has seen god. No one has heard god. The idea of god–as the idea of Zeus or vampires–is not logical. God is all-powerful and all-knowing? God can hear every one of us pray to him? He created the entire world in 6 days? Is this earth, with its instability and constant threat from flying asteroids, the best he could do? He’s created the heavens just for humans to take a long, long vacation in “paradise” where we will have no body, no mind, no environment (literally) and no way to communicate for ever and ever? Does that sound like heaven or hell? But I digress. The large majority of atheists actually grew up in religious households (after having been indoctrinated as children) and rejected religion once they began to think logically and/or study. You can think of deconversion in the same way a child might believe that there are monsters under her bed. Once she is older and attains knowledge of the world, she understands that monsters are not real and she rejects that idea. Supernaturalism, you surely know, is indicative of primitive societies. If you are a student of religion, then you also know that the catholic church has had to adapt throughout history by becoming less supernatural. We no longer consider priests alchemists, right? We no longer believe that communion wafers can make our crops grow or heal our farm animals. The catholic church learned (was forced) to embrace science, including evolution. So, while the religion still has many tenets that are based on the supernatural, enlightenment has forced it to grow and change, too.
It would be more honest to say that the ego needs religion.
Thanks Deborah. Tarzan comes from Banerjee, K. & Bloom, P. (2013) article : ‘Would Tarzan believe in God? Conditions for the emergence of religious belief,’ in Trends in Cognitive Sciences, 17, 1:7-8.
The idea was not about Tarzan’s existence but a person in Tarzan-like background. Would a person who has not been raised in cultural environment come to hold beliefs in supernaturalism(gods, divine creation, dualism, afterlife &c.,)? If theism is natural then we expect that someone in Tarzan-like background will come to hold theistic beliefs. This is what it is about Deb.
The idea that theism is natural, while atheism is psychologically unnatural is what cognitive science data reveals. This is what I contended Deb. This is what is on the table to be discussed. 🙂
Hi Prayson. It is just ironic that you (or Banerjee) use a fictional character to illustrate your point about another (possibly) fictional character.
These are my points: Cognitive science does not reveal “atheism is psychologically unnatural.” CSR does. That’s the cognitive science of religion. Very different, as you know.
No matter what you believe or don’t believe, you (or I or any other person reading this) will selectively adopt ideas and studies that support our pre-existing views. The data and studies we quote are second and third-hand information. But if you peel back all the layers and stop leaning on “so and so” or “this study” or “that research”, we can use sound logic to address the claims you make.
Mankind is preloaded with a belief in supernaturalism? If we have the tendency to assign magical, mystical or paranormal answers to our questions, then why isn’t “god” a patch of earth, an antennae, a dragon, a Cyclops, a devil or a fish? Because we are anthropomorphic creatures, finding ourselves in the world around us: toast, trees, sand, tea leaves, the sky. Our conception of god looks, acts and thinks just like us. Just. Like. Us. It’s not supernaturalism that is “natural,” it is the tendency to see ourselves in the world around us, in the questions we ask and in the answers we find. It is our ego which seeks desperately to find eternal life and allay the fear of our mortality.
Your premise is that god has created mankind with the predisposition to supernatural thinking, meaning that we are hard-wired to believe in things we cannot prove, that we must rely on faith to support. Why? If god is all-power and almighty, if he wants us to worship and obey him and no other god, why not ingrain every human with the knowledge of his existence. Why leave doubt? Prayson, why should we have so many conceptions of god(s) around the world and throughout man’s history? Why do we have brains that can question and find fault with the god narrative?
If we were predisposed to believe in magic and mysticism, in things that we cannot prove, then we would still cower in our caves, believing that thunder is the footsteps of an angry god. We would not have the study of science.
Theists must teach their children to believe in god, in a god that looks just like them. Atheists opt out of indoctrinating their kids.
Deb., It has nothing to do with Tarzan as a character, but a situation painted, namely a human being raised outside human cultural indoctrination. Another example was offered by Brook & Bloom. When Bloom was asked if infants left in an isolation would come to hold supernaturalism.
Michael Brooks, in NewScientist Magazine article Born believers: How your brain creates God, put it this way:
Most of cognitive scientists I cited and read are atheists or agnostics. These data, if you have studied, comes from anthropologists and psychologists.
I presented you with contemporary journals in these fields. I can present you more data from 2005-2014 that I have read. What I have noticed is that your opinion is not backed up with any authority. You did not interact with any source, nor present any contemporary data supporting your opinion.
Would you like me to present you with more data from cognitive psychology that shows that supernaturalism is natural?
Prayson. You and I met for the first time, I believe, when I wrote about Christian apologists D’Souza and Plantinga.
What I have consistently pointed out on many of your posts is that you exclusively lean on the opinions and conclusions of others rather than using your own analysis.
When I taught college, one of my favorite assignments was to ask students to take the side of an argument they would be least likely to support and write a short paper supporting their stance. Later, I would tell them to write a short paper taking the opposite stance, using the same sort of support and analysis. You can, with training, successfully argue for whatever side you want, finding data and studies that back your POV. I could easily argue for the naturalness of theism.
So what is important? It’s how well you reason and argue your point. It’s the logic you use. We could do this all day long, quoting the “experts,” of which there are many–and many views.
Neuroscience suggests that the “sense of someone watching and judging” (called, “supernatural surveillance” or your sense of god) really developed or evolved from the need to be on constant alert for rivals. So theism is simply a by-product of “ordinary cognitive mechanism(s),” as Dr. Jonathan Lanman argues:
“Unlike the adaptationist argument of Bering, however, which holds that an implicit theism is an evolved feature of human cognition, the dominant view in the cognitive science of religion holds that theism is a by-product of ordinary cognitive mechanisms that evolved for a variety of purposes, none of them having to do with religion.”
And, then there is this study found on the NIH database, claiming that those folks who engage in analytic reasoning are less likely to support supernatural beliefs:
“Participants more willing to engage in analytic reasoning were less likely to endorse supernatural beliefs..Our data are consistent with the idea that two people who share the same cognitive ability, education, political ideology, sex, age and level of religious engagement can acquire very different sets of beliefs about the world if they differ in their propensity to think analytically.”
This is the crux of so many of my comments to you: Think this through.
So, no, I don’t want you to offer any more “data” that supports your view that supernaturalism is natural. I understand the data. It’s your interpretation and rationalization of it that I’m asking you to examine.
Deb. what you presented is by and large what I presented. You noted correctly two major views, those who hold supernaturalism as an adaptation and those who hold supernaturalism as a cognitive by product of any normal working brain.
Though these two view differ in explanation, they all hold that supernaturalism is natural to human beings. This is the point I defended.
I use authorities because I am not an anthropologist not cognitive scientists. I am a theologian and captologist doing philosophy of science and religion. What I defended here is not to persuade anyone to change their worldview, but to offer justification for my worldview.
Thank you for our discourse, Deb. You are the best. I admire your beautiful mind.
As always, peace to you, too, Prayson.
Prayson. Interesting post. You said, “One thing I can a sure you, I am very abstract and can be very confusing ;)” It appears that you try to be abstract to give credibility to your beliefs. They are yours. They don’t need justification. They’re not fact.
What I take away from your post, what really seems to trouble you from what I’ve read on your blog is that you, on some level, understand that not only can god not be proven, but the existence of god, given what we know about our world and the universe is illogical.
You’ve attempted a couple of times to show why theism is “natural.” In this post, you have not shown that. The reason is, you conflate/confuse the meanings of “belief.” What you state, “I believe that an unsupported bottle of water falls,” it’s not a belief IN something. It’s a “belief” that arises out of knowledge and experience. It has a basis in what is experienced and provable. That’s very different than a belief IN god, which is not experienced and provable. You wrote: “These beliefs spontaneously develop without special cultural indoctrination.” A more appropriate word would be “understanding.” These understandings develop out of trial and error. We learn through trial and error and observation that objects cannot suspend in air—we later learn about to label (gravity) our knowledge. We are not “born with” this knowledge—only the ability to perceive and learn. That’s why children can be convince that deer and sleighs can fly.
I understand why you try so hard to justify your beliefs. You want theism to be credible. Atheism presents a threat—can one be intelligent and still believe in god? Of course. But you have to recognize that there is no proof for god’s existence. Belief in god is a comfort to the unknown. Belief in god is an answer to many unanswered question. But this is all just belief, not knowledge or Truth. I find that you are not being intellectual honest, and your credibility is being eroded.
Thank you Deb for your concerns. I disagree with your evaluation of my Christian theistic worldview but I believe answering your evaluation would be going outside what I contended in this article. I thus address only the point which is directly related to what I contended above.
I used that term “belief(s)” as understood in cognitive sciences and philosophy. Eric Schwitzgebel wrote: “Contemporary analytic philosophers of mind generally use the term “belief” to refer to the attitude we have, roughly, whenever we take something to be the case or regard it as true”(Schwitzgebel 2014). This is simply how I use the term “belief”.
Read more here: Schwitzgebel, Eric (2014) “Belief”, The Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy (Spring 2014 Edition), Edward N. Zalta (ed.)
I’m not going to challenge your view that “a person presenting counter intuitive beliefs has the burden of proof” but I do have some follow-up questions for you if you have the time (if not, that’s cool too, this probably isn’t your full-time job):
1) Which of your beliefs about the supernatural are intuitive?
2) How can you tell whether a belief that you (personally) currently hold about god/gods, the afterlife or morality were arrived at through intuition or through cultural indoctrination and general exposure to religion (going to church, hearing Bible stories etc)?
3) Can intuition tell people lead people to knowing whether there is one all-powerful Creator god or whether there is a pantheon of distinct gods or whether there is a god-in-all-things type deity?
4) Regarding question 3 – if intuition alone led a person towards one of those options, would that be a reliable indicator that it was true?
Curious to hear your responses. Not looking for a full-on debate here but I did find your post interesting.
(argh, no comment editing…Question 3 should read “Can intuition lead people to knowing whether…”
Thank you Ken for wonderful questions. It is an honor to attempt to answer them.
1. Following contemporary cognitive science it is generally believed that our beliefs in deities, demons, after-life, ghosts, moral realism, divine creationism and the like are intuitive. Banerjee and Bloom, for example, asked: “Would an individual never exposed to religious ideas – such as Edgar Rice Burrough’s character, Tarzan, who was raised by apes after his first birthday – nonetheless come to believe in God, an afterlife, and the divine creation of humans and other creatures? That is, do core religious beliefs emerge spontaneously in the course of development, even in the absence of cultural support?”(Banerjee & Bloom 2013:7) They stated that many cognitive scientists would reply affirmatively.
2. In my footnotes 2 and 3 I attempted to expound the difference between religiosity and religious intuition. Christian dogma’s which I hold, such as resurrection of Jesus, trinity, maximally perfect being (God) &c., are explicit beliefs. They are not intuitive. Our intuition makes these beliefs easy to hold. Religious intuitive belief are like those Banerjee and Bloom stated above, namely those we implicit hold without cultural assistance/indoctrination. Tarzan would never come to believe in Christian’s dogma but simply what is called natural religion/theism (belief in god(s), God as a creator, spirits, moral realism, after-life, dualism &c.,)
3. No, intuitive implicit beliefs does not takes us to omnipotent, omnipresent nor benevolent deity. Such understanding of the nature of God needs explicit beliefs(reflective conscious cognitive processing).
4. Intuitive beliefs are for the most part reliable indicator of what is true. We use them in our daily lives. If we did not have them we would be very surprise when someone wakes up from sitting down, or a person approaching us, or a person smiling at us, or an unsupported falling down, or 1 + 1 = 2 &c., . We are not surprised by these because our intuitively beliefs inform us that people have minds of their own and that they have intentions, things do not hang in the air unsupported, if a bottle is empty it cannot be full of water &c., So, I think, personally, our intuitive beliefs are innocent until proven guilty 🙂
Let me know Ken where you need more clarification. One thing I can a sure you, I am very abstract and can be very confusing 😉
Thanks for the follow-up answers. I’m pretty satisfied with what you have to say in 1 & 2. I think we mostly agree there (I’m not saying we agree about the *value* of personal intuition, which I’ve put aside for now). I think it is quite probable (more research in this area would help confirm) that humans do have an innate tendency towards belief in the supernatural and toward accepting supernatural explanations for things (to me ‘supernatural’ works as a good catch-all terms since specific beliefs concerning spirits, dualism and morality can all be quite diverse in practice).
Where we diverge more I think are in points 3 and 4 here. If you say that we require explicit beliefs about the core attributes of your god, then it seems that this argument leads to a theism which is quite unclear and worthless for any sort of decision-making. Since our intuition cannot discern between the possibility that God is an all-powerful, all-good, all-knowing super-being or the possibility that God is actually four distinct personalities who created the Earth but are now in conflict with one another, this intuitive knowledge of God seems rather worthless. In short, you’ve still got a lot of work ahead of yourself. I don’t think you are really interested in persuading people that such a vague notion of “God” is above reproof. If we take your reasoning here seriously then it means that the Abrahamic god you worship is not “innocent until proven guilty” but must have all claims about him (excepting the narrow claims of “this god created the Earth” and “this god exists”) considered unproven until evidence is provided. You haven’t proven your god. You haven’t proven or defended *anyone’s* god here. Even if I were to concede your entire argument in this post, then on all of the points that matter it is clear that you, as an Abrahamic theist, still hold the burden of proof.
Thanks Ken for placing your concerns on the table. I largely agree with you. Yes, Christians, for example, have the burden of proof when it comes to our explicit beliefs such as resurrection of Jesus, trinity, &c. What I presented, if true, only lead to a theistic worldview of of supernaturalism (dualism, divine creationism, spirits, after-life, moral realism and to surprise you, as Olivera Petrovich’s researched showed, God as a creator). These are the underlining ontological picture of theism.
Implicit beliefs that both theists and atheists, as Bering experiment showed, hold is all that I put forward. This shows that theism in general is nature’s default. Atheists cognitive faculties, following Bering, Norenzayan and Gervais, have to override such beliefs with explicit beliefs while theists can build on what is already there.
Abrahamic God has to do more with epistemology than ontology. It has to do with how we explain that deity and not the being of that deity. Christian and Jews would argue that Yahweh is the being that is God, while Moslem would argue that Allah is the being that is God. They all agree on ontology but differ in epistemology. The epistemology is purely explicit beliefs thus require burden of proof.
To be clear, the burden of proof within Abrahamic theism is not of whether God(s) exists or supernaturalism but how do we explain that God(s). This was not address in my article. See https://withalliamgod.wordpress.com/2013/10/31/necessary-existence-of-god/ for my understanding of God and attempt to shoulder a burden of proof 😉 .
Thanks for the detailed follow-ups. I really do like this blog in general, though I probably won’t become a regular commenter or reader here. (I’ve been pretty lazy about updating my own blog at http://kch.me)
From my perspective, the modal ontological argument (what you cite in that link) does not meet the burden of proof for the Abrahamic god (even a very stripped-down version of that god). It seems that you acknowledge the argument’s shortcomings in your back and forth in the comments there. To me the big issue with it is that the argument itself is all about definitions of plausible things and does not present any actual evidence to help ground that hypothesis. Even if the proof were completely logically correct (I’ll defer to professional philosophers to sort that out since I have not studied modal logic myself) the argument does not present the kind of evidence needed to substantiate the idea that the Judeo-Christian god matches up with the “maximally great” god that the argument describes and we are left only one step further ahead than where the argument in this post (Naturalness of Theism) leaves us (again, I want to stress that this is if the skeptic is generous and concedes all of your points).
Do you feel that at some point in your presentation of the reasonableness of theism and Christianity it is necessary to defend the accuracy of the Bible as a revelation from God, or is this something that in your worldview can *only* be known through direct, personal revelation from the Holy Spirit? (I’m not asking if reason & empirical proof is the only way to validate Scripture, merely if it is one way and if that method should be included in a mature defense of the Christian faith)
Thank you Ken. The aim of naturalness of theism is not to argue for Abrahamic theism but theism in general. This I hope is clear. It is not a short coming because it is not aimed to show Revelational theistic beliefs are natural but supernaturalism is natural. Abrahamic theism holds explicit beliefs. This article is about implicit theistic beliefs that atheists and theists unconsciously hold. This is all. Reading Abrahamic theism into it would be going outside what is defended here 😉
I do not think that Christians have to defend the accuracy of the Bible for the reasonability of Christianity. I think the only core defense needed is with the resurrection of Jesus of Nazareth. This is the focus and foundation of Christianity because without it, Christianity falls. See https://withalliamgod.wordpress.com/2013/08/12/rationality-of-the-resurrection-of-jesus/
Ontological argument(s) lead to a picture of God similar to the one revealed in Holy Writ. The aim was not to point to Abrahamic epistemological understanding of God but a being of maximal excellence to which Abrahamic theists explicit believe. It gives us, if sound, a being with unsurpassable greatness. This entails monotheism since its logical impossible for there to be more than one being with unsurpassable greatness(maximal power, wisdom and presence and morally perfect being(Pluto’s The Good))
Ken, I hope you noted by position in giving reasons for my belief. My aim is not for you to hold similar beliefs as mine. My aim is to show that the beliefs I hold are reasonable 😉
Theism is for the demons.
To their credit, they also believe and tremble with fear. (James 2:19)
What about “sacred faith”—personally authored and autographed by Jesus Christ? (Jude 20)
Science has shown that just about every intuition that we’ve had about the world turned out to be wrong. On that basis alone I’d say that we should not believe in things based on just intuition and without evidence.
If you want to make a claim, then the burden of proof is on you. It’s that simple. It’s funny how far religious people will go to try to wiggle out of that.
On a higher level, Jesus has said, “Do you believe just because I told you I saw you when you were under the fig-tree? You will see much greater things than this! … I am telling you the truth: you will see heaven open and God’s angels going up and coming down on the Son of Man.” (John 1: 50-51)
Jesus has a better idea. There is a VISION in the works which many have put under the carpet in preference to make believing for a season based on hearsay.
Rather than making any religious claim, MY BURDEN is to give witness about the vision of Jesus Christ’s independent self-revelation in his Spirit-active, perfect and diacritical death, a.k.a., “People will look at him whom they pierced.” (Ibid. 19:37)
Lastly, I am neither a religious man nor even a Christian. I know personally whom I believe. PRAISE THE LORD!
> I believe a bottle of water can only spinning in one direction at any give time. I believe a bottle of water cannot be full and empty at the same time. I believe that an unsupported bottle of water falls.
What interesting examples, given that every single one of them is wrong.
A bottle of water most certainly could be put into a state of spinning in multiple directions at any time. We call these quantum superpositions. We see it happen all the time on the microscopic scale. The reason we don’t see it on the macroscopic scale is simply because we’re entangled with the bottle being in one particular state.
Ditto for the bottle being full and empty at the same time.
And an unsupport bottle of water in space without any mass near it would not fall. An unsupported bottle in orbit would not fall, depending on your exact definition of fall.
These are perfect examples of how science shows us that our intuitions about the world are very misleading, and are exactly why we shouldn’t trust any intuitions that the superstitious of us might have about magical fairies, pixies, Gods, and so on.
Also I am in admiration of your gentle conduct and non coercive way of putting your religious views across, I think this makes theism far far far more attractive as it shows that some of its dictates actually translate to the behaviour of its followers.
Thank you for your kind words.
Does an inclination towards belief itself suggest a god or rather suggest an innate desire to avoid cognitive dissonance and the uncomfortable fear of the ‘unknown’. Furthermore, just because something is natural doesn’t necessarily mean it is benign or ‘good’, it also doesn’t mean that it hold specific relevance to humanity, climate cycle have been in occurrence for longer than we’ve been existent as a species, they’re there irrespective of our beliefs or being. They also hold no emotional or moral significance, it is just part of the physical clockwork. I think it’s a gross misconception to conflate naturalness with regularity and then understandably conflate regularity with comfort and predictability, which is of course providing fulfilment one of our aims as hedonistic beings.
You are very correct that our intuitions are not necessarily correct. Examples it is natural to belief that the sun raises and sets. It is unnatural to belief in calculus yet it’s true. 🙂
I think it is reasonable to hold a belief until proven otherwise. The same cognitive faculty produce truth that we hold a prior without evidence such as you have a mind, a cannot be b and not-b at same time and same sense, we can trust our minds &c.,
The point I wish to make is that to show that our intuitive beliefs are delusory we have to show that the objects of such beliefs is incorrect. Example show that earth actually rotates the sun(now we know they rotate each other in a way :)) &c., A person presenting counter intuitive beliefs has the burden of proof 🙂 At least that is what I believe.
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