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

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Shand’s (Mis)conception Of Omnipotence

God's Hand

In Probing Shand’s Refutation of the Existence of God, I contended that John Shand, associate lecturer in Philosophy at The Open University, attacked a Straw God and committed an informal fallacy of composition. In this article I addressed his (mis)understanding of omnipotence. His (mis)understanding of omniscience and omnipresence are addressed in the next article. 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

Dawkins’ One-God-Further Blunder Simplified

One Less God

In A Devil’s Chaplain, Richard Dawkins reechoed an increasing popular meme. Dawkins contended:

[M]odern theists might acknowledge that, when it comes to Baal and the Golden Calf, Thor and Wotan, Poseidon and Apollo, Mithras and Ammon Ra, they are actually atheists. We are all atheists about most of the gods that humanity has ever believed in. Some of us just go one god further. (Dawkins 2004, 150)

I presented a case in Dissecting ‘One God Less’ Meme  showing that this meme is nonsensical utterance because it confused the concept of God, a general notion/idea of a being that is God, with conceptions of God, the way in which that general notion/idea is perceived or regarded. Noting that concept of God refers to objective notion/idea of a being that is God, while conceptions of God(s) refer to a particular groups’ subjective way in which that objective notion/idea is perceived, the meme appears to be a mere wind-egg. This article offered an analogy to explain the argument presented in a more simplified form.

Explanation From Analogy: United States of America’s Future Presidency

Say we are in USA in year 2050. There is a confusion over who is the current president, if indeed there is any. State B claims that Theodore Baal is the current president of USA. State C claims Benjamin Thor is current president of USA. And so on.

Newly formed State X dismisses Baal and Thor &c., as current president of USA and X claims that William Allah is the current president of USA.  State U rejects all B, C and X former-candidates regarded to be in the presidential office and hold that the former-candidate, now in office, is unknown. In this pool of States there is also ‘apresident’-state, State A. A claim is that there is no such thing as a president in USA.

From this analogy, it is clear that states B, C, X and U agree on the notion of there being a former-candidate that is now occupying the presidential office. What they disagree is who that former-candidate is regarded to now be in that office.  State A, contrary to other States, reject that notion of a being occupying the presidential office, since according to A, there is no such thing as presidential office.

Dawkins one-god-further’s blunder is on failing to note that by X dismissing Baal, Thor, &c., former-candidates regarded to be occupying the presidential office, X does not dismiss the notion of there being a being in presidential office. There  is multiple former-candidates but a single office presidential office. There is no multiple offices for A (or B, C, X and U) to go one further. There is either an office or no-office.

Claiming that X is like A in regard to Thor, Poseidon &c., but A goes one president further is nonsensical utterance because what X dismisses is not the notion of presidential office (concept), namely there is a being in office, but who is in that office (conception). U, for example, rejects all former-candidates regarded to be now in the office, but U  is not A  because does not reject that there is someone in that office.

Dawkins, Richard (2004) A Devil’s Chaplain: Reflections on Hope, Lies, Science, and Love. A Mariner Books. Houghton Mifflin Harcourt

C. S. Lewis & Omnipotent God

Blood

How far does God’s power extend? Is there any state of affair that an omnipotent God cannot bring about? These are the questions Christian theologians and philosophers have wrestled with throughout centuries.

God’s omnipotence prima facie appears to be challenged by the existence of pain and suffering in the world He created good. Was God not powerful enough to make sure that the creatures He created in His own image would not experience pain and suffering?

For C. S. Lewis existence of pain and suffering did not challenge God’s omnipotence as he once believed when he was a self-claimed atheist.  Pain and suffering is the result of mankind’s bad exercise of freedom of will endowed by God. Lewis contended:

God created things which had free will. That means creatures which can go either wrong or right. Some people think they can imagine a creature which was free but had no possibility of going wrong; I cannot. If a thing is free to be good it is also free to be bad. And free will is what has made evil possible. (2002, 47-48)

The reason God gave higher creatures free will is that it is  “the only thing that makes possible any love or goodness or joy worth having”(48) The world without free will creatures would indeed be free of pain and suffering, but it would also be a world without genuine “happiness of being freely, voluntarily united to Him[God] and to each other.”(ibid)

According to Lewis, it is logically impossible for God to create genuinely free creatures who freely choose to do the right acts only. Shadowing Augustine¹ and Thomas Aquinas², Lewis submitted “that not even Omnipotence could create a society of free souls without at the same time creating a relatively independent and “inexorable” nature.” (1996, 26) He understood omnipotence to encompass the power to bring about logical possible states of affair only. Lewis wrote,

It remains true that all things are possible with God: the intrinsic impossibilities are not things but nonentities. It is no more possible for God than for the weakest of His creatures to carry out both of two mutually exclusive alternatives; not because His power meets an obstacle, but because nonsense remains nonsense even when we talk it about God.”(ibid, 25)

He concluded that,

If you choose to say “God can give a creature free will and at the same time withhold free will from it, “you have not succeeded in saying anything about god: meaningless combinations of words do not suddenly acquire meaning simply because we prefix to them the two other words “God can”(ibid)

Rene Descartes would have disagree with Lewis. Descartes entertained the idea that our intellect is finite while God’s power is infinite, thus we cannot set bounds from our finite minds what God’s power can do. He wrote,

“I boldly assert that God can do everything which I conceive to be possible, but I am not so bold as to deny that he can do whatever conflicts with my understanding – I merely say that it involves a contradiction (LHM³ 241).

Descartes’ God, wrote Harry G. Frankfurt, is “a being for whom the logically impossible is possible.” (Frankfurt 1977, 44) God, for Descartes, is ex les. His power is beyond our reason and morality.  God, in this view, can bring about any state of affairs. If this is true, then contrary to Lewis, God could have created higher creatures with free will that freely and voluntarily choose the right things only.

The problem, with adopting Cartesian absolute power of God that could even bring about logical impossible states of affair, is that the problem of pain and suffering disappears with it. If God can bring about logical impossible states of affair, then it would follow that God could bring about what atheologians believe to be logically impossible, namely the coexistence of pain and suffering and omnicompetent and benevolent God.

Previous: C. S. Lewis & The Problem of Evil


[1] De Symbolo, I.i & De Civitate, V. x

[2] Summa I, Q. xxv, a. 3

[3] Rene Descartes’ letter to Henry More, 5 February 1549 in trans, and ed. Anthony Kenny(1970) Descartes Philosophical Letters. Oxford: Clarendon Press.

Bib.

Frankfurt, Harry G. (1977)  “Descartes and the Creation of the Eternal Truths,” Philosophical Review 86 No. 1: 36-57

Lewis, C. S. (1996) The Problem of Pain. New York: Simon & Schuster.

____________ (2002) Mere Christianity. HarperCollins Publishers.

David Hume’s Genuine Theism

David Hume

“All the new discoveries in astronomy,” explained David Hume quo Philo, “which prove the immense grandeur and magnificence of the works of Nature, are so many additional arguments for a Deity, according to the true system of Theism.” (DNR 165)

Superstition, following Hume, ravishes from us the “presents of God and Nature”. Liberation from the slavery of the grossest superstition and false religion was Hume’s driving force in his campaign against superstition (Roman Catholicism) and enthusiasm (Protestantism) orthodoxy theism.  He explained,

That the corruption of the best things produces the worst, is grown into a maxim, and is commonly proved, among other instances, by the pernicious effects of superstition and enthusiasm, the corruptions of true religion. (E 73)

Sound philosophy and philosophical skepticism were not only the route to weed out superstition, man’s worst enemy, and false religion but also the route to establish a “true system of theism” and true religion.

Hume went head-on against rationalist orthodoxy, which assumed that religious beliefs can be defended by the principles of human reason. In its place he resurrected a “genuine theism” or “true religion” that is aesthetically founded. After dismantling rationalist argument from miracles, for example, Hume resolved that: “Our most holy religion is founded on Faith, not on reason; and it is a sure method of exposing it to put it to such a trial as it is, by no means, fitted to endure.”(EHU II, 135).

True theism emerges from aesthetic escalation of beauty and wonderful scenes in nature. There is no intelligent person who is so blind and senseless not to see the “regularity and uniformity of nature” and the awareness it strikes us (DNR 214¹). Hume rhetorically inquired:

Can we then be so blind as not to discover intelligence and a design in the exquisite and most stupendous contrivance of the universe? Can we be so stupid as not to feel the warmest raptures of worship and adoration, upon the contemplation of that intelligent being, so infinitely good and wise? The most perfect happiness, surely, must arise from the contemplation of the most perfect object. But what is more perfect than beauty and virtue? And where is beauty to be found equal to that of the universe? Or virtue, which can be compared to the benevolence and justice of the Deity(E 158)

The “regularity and uniformity of nature” is for Hume the “strongest proof of design and of a supreme intelligence”(NHR 329). Philo’s skepticism is relaxed when it came to aesthetic appreciation that is poured out from reflecting the wonderful scenes of the parts of universe. “[T]he beauty and fitness of final causes strike us with such irresistible force, that all objections appear (what I[Philo] believe they really are) mere cavils and sophisms”( (DNR 201)

Cleanthes resounded the role of true religion², which Hume drafted in History of England vol. II but did not publish³. He contended that:

The proper office of religion is to regulate the heart of men, humanize their conduct, infuse the spirit of temperance, order, and obedience; and as its operation is silent, and only enforces the motives of morality and justice, it is in danger of being overlooked, and confounded with these other motives (DNR 220)

Hume’s criticism against rationalist orthodoxy should not be read as leading to atheism but  “pure theism” and “true religion”. Hume’s aim was to restore the gifts of a Deity and nature that was kept captive by superstition. Belief in the designer and supreme intelligent Deity is not founded through human reason but aesthetic appreciation of the “regularity and uniformity of nature”.


[1] See also NHR 309, 311, 317 & 325

[2] See E 581 for the providence of Hume’s Deity

[3] Mossner, Ernest C. (1954) The Life of David Hume. Austin: University of Texas Press. pp. 306-7

Bib.

Hume, David (1947) Dialogues concerning Natural Religion, ed. Norman Kemp Smith. Indianapolis: Bobbs Merrill.

_________ (1978) A Treatise of Human Nature, ed. L. A. Selby-Bigge, 2nd  ed. revised by P. H. Nidditch. Oxford: Clarendon Press.

_________(1882) The Natural History of Religion, from Philosophical Works of David Hume, ed. T. H. Green and T. H. Grose. London: Longmans, Green.

_________ (1987). Essay, Moral, Political, and Literary. E. F. Miller (Ed.) Indianapolis: Liberty Classics Pub.

Sensus Divinitatis

Raffaelo

“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. 1.2.1.1). 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)