Malignant Demon, Atheism and Search For Truth

Critique“Would any one trust in the convictions of a monkey’s mind,” rhetorically asked Charles Darwin, “if there are any convictions in such a mind?” (Darwin 1881) In Darwin’s July 3rd 1881 letter to William Graham, we encounter a problem of epistemological uncertainty of our cognitive faculties. Darwin believed that Graham had accurately portrayed his conviction that “the Universe [was] not the result of chance.” He further explained,

“But then with me the horrid doubt always arises whether the convictions of man’s mind, which has been developed from the mind of the lower animals, are of any value or at all trustworthy”(ibid.).

Darwin’s unpleasant doubt is the incarnation of the Cartesian malignant Demon. In evolutionary biology, Rene Descartes’ malignant demon took on flesh and dwelt among us. This malignant demon is an “exceedingly potent and deceitful” being that  “has employed all his artifice to deceive” us to believe that we are experiencing an external world while in actual reality we are experiencing “nothing better than the illusions of dreams” (Descartes 1901, 224). Deceitfulness and falseness came through malignant Demon. Continue reading

Naturalness of Theism

Brain WPI 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. Continue reading

Investigating God’s Existence from Innate Desires

FoetusI am so good at being so wrong. For a long period of time, I was not persuaded by the argument from innate desire for the existence of the transcend beings. Even though I deserted atheistic worldview 6 years ago, I am incapable of completely breaking free from the philosophical ghosts of my past. The shekels of empiricism and positivism are still strongly intervened in my Christian worldview.

David Hume, whose philosophy I strongly followed, captured how I went about evaluating whether a particular argument was persuasive  when he wrote,

When we run over libraries, persuaded of these principles, what havoc must we make? If we take in our hand any volume, of divinity or school metaphysics, for instance; let us ask, “Does it contain any abstract reasoning concerning quantity or number?” No. “Does it contain any experimental reasoning concerning matter of fact and existence?” No. Commit it then to the flames. For it can contain nothing but sophistry and illusion” (Hume 2000: 123)

I committed the arguments from desire to the flames. In Mere Christianity and The Weight of Glory, C. S. Lewis presented one of the versions of this argument that I rejected. Lewis contended that creatures possess innate desires that correspond to their satisfaction. Creatures possess some of innate desires that finds none of their satisfaction in this world. Therefore, it is probable that there is another world beyond this world. He argued, Continue reading

Unnaturalness of Atheism

Johannes Moreelse Democritius

The idea that atheism ought be assumed by default is a chimera. Atheism cannot be assumed by default, it must be demonstrated. The belief that given the failure of theistic case for God, atheism ought be assumed does not only commit an appeal to ignorance but is also against the picture painted by modern discoveries in Cognitive Science of Religion (CSR).

Several recent researches in CSR shows that children naturally hold certain universal religious ideas such as belief in divine agents and belief in mind-body dualism. Similar to universals of language, universals of religious belief include principles that are shared in all culture and time, the belief in supernatural beings.

Paul Bloom explained that it was believed that those beliefs in Gods, the afterlife &c., could not have been a result of innate but social and cultural learned beliefs. Observing a recently growing body of literature on this field, however, Bloom affirmed that such a view is no longer entirely right. Though culture plays a certain role, “some of the universals of religion are unlearned”(Bloom 2007: 149) Jesse M. Bering concurs with Bloom’s observation. He wrote:

Although conventional wisdom tends to favor a general learning hypothesis for the origins of after-life beliefs, recent findings suggest a more complicated developmental picture (Bering 2006: 454). Continue reading

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)