Sunday, May 20, 2012

Do atheists know God exists?

I recently noted that William Lane Craig takes the view, apparently, that atheists know in their hearts that God exists. It would seem to follow that atheists are liars when they claim not to know that God exists (assuming they know they knows God exists, and that to lie is to assert what one knows to be false).

Theist Andy Everist, in an independent post, sees that this conclusion is implausible, and writes:

The Bible claims all men (atheists and skeptics included) have a knowledge of God. Romans 1:20-21 states, “For the invisible things of him from the creation of the world are clearly seen, being understood by the things that are made, even his eternal power and Godhead; so that they are without excuse. Because that, when they knew God, they glorified him not as God, neither were thankful; but became vain in their imaginations, and their foolish heart was darkened.”

Many atheists find such a claim both wrong and offensive. This is because it generally seems, both to skeptics and Christians alike, that there are only two choices for response when an atheist claims he doesn’t really know God exists. First, we can accuse him of being dishonest. Second, we can accuse him of being deluded. Neither seems particularly appealing. Is there a way to harmonize the biblical record without being firmly committed to one of these options? I think there is.

I believe the answer lies both in intuitive knowledge and the idea of awareness. Intuition is knowledge gained independently of a process. It is simply “in born,” as it were. This passage seems to teach we have some kind of sensus divinitas within; we know God exists.[1] This knowledge does not require conscious awareness of that fact. Here are some clear, everyday examples of knowledge not requiring conscious awareness: ever described something as being “on the tip of your tongue”? Or what about saying, “Oh! I know his name, I just can’t remember it!” You do in fact know his name but you are not currently aware due to forgetfulness.

These examples of forgetfulness are not the only ones of knowledge without awareness. I know my breathing is regular and my individual breaths to be quite frequent and high in number throughout a day. However, when I am sleeping, I am completely unaware of these and other bodily functions that I do in fact know about. Even when I am awake, there are facts of which I have knowledge but of which I am not always aware, like: the 16th amendment of the U.S. Constitution concerns income tax, my mother’s favorite thing is strawberries, South Africa has another country within its borders, etc. It’s quite apparent one can know something and yet not be aware of it.

So how does this apply to the atheist? Well, I do not think he is necessarily being dishonest or deluded, at least not in the senses these terms immediately imply. We see in life as well as the Bible that character is formed by choices and experiences (cf. Exodus







Suppressing conscious awareness of a fact doesn't entail that one does not know that fact (as Everist says), but neither does it follow that one doesn't know one knows it. And if you know you know it, and say you don't, you are a liar - for a liar asserts what he knows not to be true.

What Everist needs to show is that atheists know that God exists but, for certain reasons, don't know they know. Then they would not be liars when they say they don't know God exists. I guess Everist thinks that atheists suppress their knowledge that God exists, so they have it but don't know they have it. However, confusingly, none of his examples are of such a case.

Conscious awareness of a state of affairs P, and knowing the fact that P, are obviously not the same thing. You can lack conscious awareness while knowing the fact. But I cannot see how this particular distinction helps Everist avoid the conclusion that atheists are liars. If an atheist knows (P), where (P) is the fact that he knows God exists, then if that atheist asserts he does not know (P), that atheist is surely a liar, whether or not he is currently consciously aware of God's existence.



If the explanation is in terms of suppressed knowledge, it would also need explaining what the motive would be for suppressing such knowledge, given the known, infinitely horrible consequences of doing so.


Moreover, if sending the atheist to hell is justified given their denial of what they know to be true (that God exists), it must be the case that the atheist's lack of knowledge of what they know does not exonerate them (they must be "without excuse"). Yet in many cases, not knowing you know does seem to exonerate you for not acting on what you know (if reliabilism is true and I "just know" by psychic means that Fred will die if I don't persuade him not to board that train, but I don't know I know this (having no clue that I am psychic and every reason to suppose I'm not), it's not clear I can be blamed for not trying to persuade Fred not to board the train. (Yes, I find myself stuck with the belief he'll die, but I can't understand why I hold this belief, and indeed have every reason to suppose it's both irrational and false. As a result, I don't act on the belief. Am I culpable? I think not...).

53 comments:

Steven Carr said...

Is belief in God a properly basic belief - a la Plantinga?

Can you be mistaken about properly basic beliefs?

Steven Carr said...

' These do not causally determine our choices, but they are influencers of these choices.'

I see the 'c' word is still theologically incorrect.

But as it is obvious to everybody that something forms our choices.

So the 'c' word has to be replaced by 'influence'.

Which is just another way to spell 'cause', but Christians are not allowed to say that their brains cause them to do things. Their brains can only 'influence' their choices, not cause them.

TaiChi said...

I think you're exactly right - I was thinking of the same points as you raised them.

"Because that, when they knew God, they glorified him not as God, neither were thankful; but became vain in their imaginations, and their foolish heart was darkened."

Hmm. Although the Romans passage states that atheists knew God, this way of putting things seems to imply that they do not now know God, doesn't it? That the atheist is one who has lost knowledge of God?

Fredsie said...

I don't see why we are dancing on the head of this pin. The whole debate rests on the wholly undemonstrable assertion that atheists actually know that God exists, albeit not consciously. The fact that there's a line in Romans 1 claiming this doesn't make it true.

wombat said...

I was recently reminded of two real world instances of "knowing without knowing you know"

1) From the Iowa Gambling Task studies (
e.g Deciding Advantageously Before Knowing the Advantageous Strategy ) where it appears that people can learn a successful strategy to win at a simple card game and apparently act on the knowledge some time before they can consciously articulate this.

2) The case of Clive Wearing, an amnesiac, who when asked how long he has been ill has no idea. "...he has no feeling of knowing but if asked to guess is usually spot on" [ A. Damasio "Self Comes to Mind" p 239 ]

The schoolboys history knowledge might yield a feeling of knowing if he is given time and a stress free environment to reflect whereas the individual in (2) never will.

Steven Carr said...

' Is there a way to harmonize the biblical record without being firmly committed to one of these options?'

Why not test the Bible against reality, rather than testing reality against the Bible?

wombat said...

"But if they know they know God exists, and say they don't, they still come out as liars. Whether or not they are currently consiously aware of God is irrelevant."

If I have a feeling which seems intermittent (sometimes I am unaware of it) and which one might assume is supposed to be there all the time, since God does not go away, then I am surely justified in having doubts about either the reliability of the feeling or the thing that is supposed to be causing it. Certainly strong enough doubts to be able to deny knowledge of Gods existence via this route.

wombat said...

In any case I would have read that passage from Romans (and am fairly sure others have e.g here ) as an indication that signs of God were clearly visible in the natural world not through some extra sense.

Daniel said...

Given St Paul is talking about the Roman environment to Roman Christians, it is unlikely that there was a lot of atheism around at the time. There was emperor worship and worship of the 'old' gods the took over from the Greeks, as well as the mystery religions.

Either way, St Paul hadn't been to Rome when he wrote this, and seems more likely to be talking about why paganism might be preferable to what he thought was the more obvious, and more demanding, monotheism of the Jews.

Just as many scholars say St Paul could have no idea of the modern conception of homosexuality when he mentions same sex practices in Romans chapter one, it is also unlikely that he was thinking of modern day materialists in the same chapter.

St Paul was way more likely to be concerned about the worship of 'other gods' than any atheistic schools of philosophy which, if they existed, would have done so even more secretly than the early Christians (who were also called atheists).

Martin said...

I still don't see the evidence that Craig thinks atheists know that God exists. That doesn't seem to follow from any of the quotes you had from him in that post you link to at the start of this one.

Fredsie said...

I think (despite my earlier post, and apologies for not reading this properly) that, for the purposes of this debate, we are to accept as true the assertion that everyone does know that God exists, this knowledge being either overt or subconscious. The initial proposal then simply becomes "Given that everyone knows that God exists, anyone denying the fact must be lying or delusional." Everist is proposing a third possibility, framed around "knowledge we have but are not aware of" to let the atheist off the "liar or deluded" charge. And so the question to be answered is, is Everist right?

Some points on this:

1) Does the initial assertion (that every one knows that God exists) imply that God in fact doest exist? Again I think purely for this debate we have to assume that to be true. (Though I would say that in general it implies nothing of the kind; everyone with this belief could be deluded.)

2) Stephen asserts that in all the examples the person "knows that he knows", even though he cannot now recall. He follows this with "But if they know they know God exists, and say they don't, they still come out as liars." Yes, but this doesn't follow from the analogies. Knowing that you know something is not equivalent to knowing the thing itself. The correct corresponding analogy to "I know that I know her name, but can't recall it" would be "I know that I know whether God exists or does not exist, but I can't recall right now which of those assertions is true." So no, this state doesn't make you a liar. And of course you can "know that you know" and still be wrong - "Ah I knew I knew her name, it's come back to me now, it's Mary", when in fact it's Jane.

3) In my view, Everist doesn't really be saying anything of substance. In the end all he claims is "I think this rather has to do both with the will of the individual and the consequences of choosing to suppress the knowledge." Does this address the question at all? The atheist, though an act of will seems to be suppressing the knowledge, thus becoming unaware of it. This does not seem to excuse him from the accusation of being delusional, or indeed deliberately lying through the act of will.

Carbon Dated said...

If I were to opine that theists know that God doesn't really exist, I'd at least have a little circumstantial evidence. For one thing, there are plenty of reasons to pretend to believe in God, from social acceptance if you're laity, to duping gullible tithe-payers if you're clergy.

On the other hand, whatever benefits there are for someone to pretend to be an atheist -- particularly if the deity he "really" believes in is Craig's God Allsmitey -- would be outweighed, enormously, by the eventual eternal damnation.

Paul Wright said...

Steven Carr: a properly basic belief is just one which we're justified in holding without evidence. So there's no contradiction in a belief being properly basic and not everyone sharing that belief.

I think Daniel is probably right that St Paul had something other than modern atheism in mind: Romans 1:22-23 and 25 make it sound like he's concerned with idol worship. Nevertheless, the standard evangelical interpretation of these passages is that modern atheists are also covered (if you read enough study guides, you will find that we worship "idols" such as money and sex: Christians generally think atheists' lives are much more exciting than they are, though it's possible I'm just not getting invited to the right parties, I suppose).

Does Craig think atheists know God exists? Well, he says in relation to those who have not heard about Jesus: "God will judge the unreached on the basis of their response to His self-revelation in nature and conscience. The Bible says that from the created order alone, all persons can know that a Creator God exists and that God has implanted His moral law in the hearts of all persons so that they are held morally accountable to God (Rom. 1.20; 2.14-15)" Now, that's "can know" rather than "do know", so maybe he just thinks it's obvious enough that everyone should have worked it out (a statement which is false but doens't have the weird implications of the "you know there's a god really" crowd). Maybe someone should ask him? :-)

Craig also disagrees with Plantinga's idea of a sensus divinatis: he thinks the witness of the Holy Spirit is literally someone telling you something (but then goes on to describe it as properly basic, confusingly: why isn't it an evidenced belief, in that case?) I think this means Craig would disagree with Everist, who seems to be drawing on Plantinga (see also my comment on Coyne's blog on the differences between Craig and Plantinga here).

Angra Mainyu said...

Everist

 A result of these choices (not to worship God for who he is) is a suppression of knowledge (cf. Romans 1:28)—in other words, they have knowledge of which they are not aware. 



This claim seems to imply a conscious choice not to worship God.
However, throughout history, millions of people never even heard of God in the first place.
While there are different definitions of 'God', there were entire civilizations in which there was no worship or even talk of any being claimed to be supreme, or omnipotent, or omniscient, or a creator of all other beings, or anything remotely like anything that matches any of the definitions of God in English, including philosophical definitions as well as simply the use of the word 'God' to mean 'Yahweh' (i.e., the biblical creator).
In fact, those civilizations did not even have any words that meant 'God', in any of the common definitions of the term.

Everist's claim seems to imply that all those people knew about the existence of God, considered whether to worship him, chose not to, but they did not even bother to ever mention him, coin a word that means 'God', etc.

It's absurdly implausible. For that matter, someone might posit that they knew General Relativity, and the claim wouldn't be any less plausible.

Sketch Sepahi said...

I find it quite amusing that so many theists are apparently incapable of concede genuine disagreement with the atheist. It's sort of like Plato's Beard ('On What There Is' - Quine) turned on its head. Do you suppose that the motivation for this incapability is the problem of Divine Hiddenness?

I must admit I think Plantinga's explanation that the Sensus Divinitatis has been eroded by sin makes a bit more sense, even though I think it's by far more bigoted.

Tige Gibson said...

Christians such as Craig feel they know God exists because of the innate human tendency to anthropomorphize everything.

It is the same reason that the ancient Egyptians knew that Ra existed because the Sun rose each morning, or that the Celts knew that river spirits existed because the waters continued to flow.

Fredsie said...

Tige, you've brought us back from abstract philosophising with that telling point. I'm sure there have been many inmates of mental institutions who 'knew in their hearts' that they were Napoleon or Cleopatra. It has to be the worst possible reason for believing anything.

Although it sometimes can be a good reason for proposing something as possibly true, in appropriate circumstances. Many an expert in a particular field have felt that such-and-such is true, I'm thinking of the likes of Einstein and Dirac. But of course they then go on to validate their intuition with investigation, dismissing it if it fails the ultimate test against reality.

Stephen Law said...

PS here is another interesting quote from Craig, btw, in which he suggests that those who never hear the Gospel are those who would never have responded to it anyway even if they had, and so it's not unjust that God send them to hell.

Within the quote you'll see Craig does say that everyone is exposed to his self-revelation in nature and also in conscience, whether or not they also hear the Gospel message that if they believe in Jesus, they'll be saved. If God reveals himself to everyone, does that mean everyone knows God exists? That, though God has revealed himself to them (in two different ways) they don't know he exists would be a hard position to defend, I think. Unless, perhaps, his revelations are rather less than transparently obvious ("Was that God I caught a glimpse of just there, or was it some sort of brain spasm?"). In which case, they can hardly be faulted for failing to know he exists, and cannot then justifiably be sent to hell for failing to believe, I guess? Here's the quote...

""The solution proposed thus far preserves God's goodness and love on a global scale, but on an individual level surely an all-loving God would have done more to achieve such a person's salvation by ensuring that the gospel reaches him. But how do we know that there are any such persons? It is reasonable to assume that many people who never hear the gospel would not have believed it even if they had heard it. Suppose, then, that God has so providentially ordered the world that all persons who never hear the gospel are precisely such people. In that case, anybody who never hears the gospel and is lost would have rejected the gospel and been lost even if he had heard it. In supplying such persons with sufficient grace for salvation, even though He knows they will reject it, God is already exhibiting extraordinary love toward them, and bringing the gospel would be of no additional material benefit to them. Hence, no one could stand before God on the judgement day and complain, "Sure, God, I didn't respond to your revelation in nature and conscience. All right. But if only I had heard the gospel, then I would have believed!" God will say to them, "No, I knew that even if you had heard the gospel, you still would not have believed. Therefore, my judgement of you on the basis of my revelation in nature and conscience is neither unloving nor unfair.""

Stephen Law said...

source of preceding quote:

http://www.leaderu.com/offices/billcraig/docs/politically.html

Angra Mainyu said...

Stephen Law

PS here is another interesting quote from Craig, btw, in which he suggests that those who never hear the Gospel are those who would never have responded to it anyway even if they had, and so it's not unjust that God send them to hell.

Interesting quote; thanks.

I would make the following points:

1) Craig's own belief in libertarian free will entails an open future, at least with respect to a person's choice.
In particular, if belief in the truth of the Gospels is a choice (I seriously doubt it, at least in nearly all cases, but Craig claims or implies that it is), if someone hears about the Gospel, then there is a possible world where she chooses to believe it's true, and a possible world where she does not. Yahweh does not know in advance how they would react. He can make probabilistic assessments, but cannot be sure. By not revealing himself to them, Yahweh is failing to give them the chance to make a free choice whose result even he cannot predict with certainty.

2) Let's say that an atheist assesses that sending someone to Hell would be even for those who hear the Gospel and conclude it's not true, even if such conclusion were the result of a culpable error.
Should the atheist stop trusting her own sense of right and wrong, and instead choose the Bible?
But why should she do that?
Why should she mistrust her own faculties?
Yet, if Christianity were true (nearly all versions, at least, including Craig's), then the atheist is never epistemically justified in rejecting the Gospel. But people normally is epistemically justified to trust their own faculties.
Sometimes, they may have good reasons not to trust some of them (and, of course, they need to use some of their own faculties to assess those reasons, since they cannot jump out of their mind), but without any such reasons in sight, she's justified in rejecting the claim that Hell would be justified.
Granted, Craig may claim that she's not actually listening to her own sense of right and wrong when he rejects the justice of Hell. But that's only Craig's claim.
Why should we believe that?
Why should anyone believe in Craig's claim about the psychology of the atheist in question, and indeed generally about atheists?
In fact, there are many Christians who conclude that infinite punishment in Hell would be immoral, regardless of the sin for which the punishment is applied.
So, they conclude that so they conclude that there is no infinite Hell (or that there is no Hell at all), or that it's not a place of punishment but a state freely chosen by the individual, etc. The right conclusion would be that Christianity is not true, but leaving that aside, the existence of Christians who reject Hell on moral grounds reinforces the previous problem, and one can raise questions such as:
Why is it that so many of those who do accept the Gospel still deny his claim about the justification of Hell? Why should they (or we, or anyone) trust Craig's sense of right and wrong over their own?

Angra Mainyu said...

Stephen Law

That, though God has revealed himself to them (in two different ways) they don't know he exists would be a hard position to defend, I think. Unless, perhaps, his revelations are rather less than transparently obvious ("Was that God I caught a glimpse of just there, or was it some sort of brain spasm?"). In which case, they can hardly be faulted for failing to know he exists, and cannot then justifiably be sent to hell for failing to believe, I guess? 

Good points.

I would go a bit further and say that the view that everyone knows that God exists is untenable given the evidence not only of atheists, but of entire societies without belief in God, or even a word that means 'God', so it seems that either God does not reveal himself, or his revelations are less than obvious as you say, in which case your point about not being their fault applies (though as I mentioned above, I would assess Hell would not be justified regardless).

I suppose that someone might object that you're relying on your own sense of right and wrong to make the previous assessment about the lack of justification for sending them to Hell, but that objection does not succeed: one is normally justified in trusting one's own faculties, so if someone claims you're not, they'd have to provide some reasons.

Also, we may claim that even if someone could be faulted for failing to know that God exists, it would be immoral of Yahweh to send them to Hell for that, since culpably failure to believe simply does not merit infinite torment.

Granted, we need to rely on own own sense of right and wrong to make such an assessment, but that is generally the case, so this isn't per se a problem.

Angra Mainyu said...

@Stephen Law

For some reason, sometimes my posts do not get through.

Are they getting caught in some filter, or are they in breach of some policy of your blog, etc.?

Please let me know, so that I avoid the difficulty in the future. :)

Rabbie said...

@Angra Mainyu

"Also, we may claim that even if someone could be faulted for failing to know that God exists, it would be immoral of Yahweh to send them to Hell for that, since culpably failure to believe simply does not merit infinite torment."

On the evidence of the "Old Testament", YHWH does no such thing anyway. Sheol is not a place of conscious awareness, the dead sleep in it. You will look in vain for the eschatological trimmings of Christianity in the Torah, although later Christians did try to impose such readings on certain obscure verses. The earliest Hebrews knew nothing of anything like the Christian hell, and it was only after the Babylonian captivity where they came in contact with Persian ideas on the afterlife that such things began to develop. The first mention of anything like a resurrection isn't mentioned until as late as the Book of Daniel. The fear of hell could not be used as a psychic weapon until the advent of Christianity, where thinkers such as Augustine refined it into a means of securing obedience to the church by mental torture.

The Sadducees didn't believe in life after death, and their interpretation of the Torah has always seemed to me more consistent than that of Jesus, who is hard pressed to find any scriptural evidence for the eternal fire He tells us about in Matthew.

Angra Mainyu said...

@Rabbie,

Good points about the OT.
Just to be clear, I'm using the word 'Yahweh' to name the biblical creator, but considering the (or a) Christian Bible, because that's what Craig uses.
I could use 'God' instead, but since the word 'God' is often used to mean 'an omnipotent, omniscient, morally perfect being, creator of all other beings' (or something along those lines), or otherwise to mean something that implies moral goodness and even moral perfection.

So, I tend to use other words, such as 'Yahweh'.
If 'Yahweh' is not adequate, I'm not sure which name would be better. One possibility would be 'the Christian creator', but then, a potential difficulty is that someone might interpret that as also implying that the entity is question is morally good (indeed, morally perfect), since that's the (usual) Christian conception.

Angra Mainyu said...

Back to Craig's contention, I would add that Craig's own belief in libertarian free will entails an open future, at least with respect to a person's choices. Moreover, Craig claims that believing whether Christianity is true is a choice. Assuming such account, one may argue as follows:

a) The creator could have given the Gospel to Sima Qian (who lived in the second century BCE, in China), but chose not to.

b) The creator has libertarian freedom (Craig's own claims).
So, there is a possible world W with the same past as our world up to, say, the third century BCE, in which the creator revealed the Gospel to Sima Qian at some time in the second century BCE, say t1 (t1 does not need to be an instant).

c) Given that Sima Qian has libertarian freedom too, there is a possible world W' with the same past as W up to t1 such that Sima Qian accepts the Gospel in W'.
So, there is a possible world W' with the same past as our world up to the third century BCE in which Sima Qian accepts the Gospel.

d) In particular, it's not the case that the creator knew, in the fourth century BCE, that Sima Qian would be damned. Yet, the creator freely chose not to give the Gospel to Sima Qian. And later, the creator freely chose to torture Sima Qian for eternity in Hell (Craig might object to the usage of the word 'torture', but it's accurate: it's a terrible torment imposed by the creator, so it's torture; whether it's justified (it's not) is another matter).

Someone might object to the previous reasoning by saying that the Gospel only works after Jesus, or something like that. If so, the easiest way around it is to substitute, say, a Maya from the tenth century BCE for Sima Qian.

Also, something like 'the creator is timeless' wouldn't work as a defense against the previous point. Even if a timeless creator is coherent (I doubt it, but that aside), Craig claims that the creator is temporal with creation (even if timeless without it), so he can't raise a general objection to considerations about what the creator knew at some time or another without contradicting his own position.

Dan P said...

The assertion that atheists know that God exists is simply one of the lowest forms of reasoning available.

It is not evidence that God exists. It assumes God's existence and is supposed to explain why an atheist thinks as he or she does.

Furthermore, if applied to another area of disagreement, this line of reasoning would not be granted an iota of respectability. Stating that, "You know that I'm right", would justify, "You are a moron!".

Even believers with a "sensus divinitas" may prefer some evidence or proof in addition to this intuition.

This whole notion is frankly embarassing.

Sketch Sepahi said...

@Fredsie

"Many an expert in a particular field have felt that such-and-such is true, I'm thinking of the likes of Einstein and Dirac. But of course they then go on to validate their intuition with investigation, dismissing it if it fails the ultimate test against reality."

Quite possibly the best example of this is Johannes Kepler, who for almost his entire career tried to prove the solar system was ordered in accordance with the Platonic solids only to finally give up on it because it didn't fit the evidence. Carl Sagan on Kepler:

"When he found that his long-cherished beliefs did not agree with the most precise observations, he accepted the uncomfortable facts. He preferred the hard truth to his dearest delusions. That is the heart of science."

Patrick said...

Randy Everist: “Intuition is knowledge gained independently of a process. It is simply “in born,” as it were. This passage seems to teach we have some kind of sensus divinitas within; we know God exists.”

In the following book it is argued that there is an innate knowledge of the existence of God or gods:

Justin L. Barrett, Born Believers: The Science of Children’s Religious Belief, New York et al. 2012.

A summary of the content of this book can be found in the following link:

http://www.tothesource.org/5_2_2012/5_2_2012.htm

Angra Mainyu: “While there are different definitions of 'God', there were entire civilizations in which there was no worship or even talk of any being claimed to be supreme, or omnipotent, or omniscient, or a creator of all other beings, or anything remotely like anything that matches any of the definitions of God in English, including philosophical definitions as well as simply the use of the word 'God' to mean 'Yahweh' (i.e., the biblical creator).”

The following book arrives at a different conclusion:

Don Richardson, Eternity in Their Hearts: Startling Evidence of Belief in the One True God in Hundreds of Cultures Throughout the World, Ventura 1981.

Stephen Law said...

Patrick - I own the first book, and it does NOT say the research supports innate knowledge of the existence of God.

Mel Thompson said...

There may be innate knowledge that God does not exist, experienced by believers as a temptation to give up their faith. That might account for their defensiveness, and for the refusal of the fundamentalist fraternity to deny the validity of any attempt to explore religion from a natural standpoint. The claim that atheists really believe in God mirrors and attempts to counter their own fear of innate atheism.
A relevant question would seem to be whether the supernaturalist projection is curable rationally, or whether recovery from it can only come when the emotional need for it ceases.

Dan P said...

Mel Thompson:

Your point is well taken!

The skeptic can say to the believer, "In your heart, you know that God did not part the seas, and Jesus did not die only to be ressurected. Surely, you must know in your heart that this is foolish".

The skeptic need not assert that this is actually innate knowledge; only that the doubt surely exists.

Paul Wright said...

Angra: a comment of mine has also not shown up. Weird.

Stephen Law said...

Paul and Agra - I just checked and you got spammed for some reason. Comments should appear now....

Angra Mainyu said...

@Stephen Law,

Thanks.

I posted most of the post that didn't get through in another comment, but good to know. I'm guessing it might have been because I tried two consecutive and long posts. I'll avoid that and see whether that works.

Angra Mainyu said...

@Patrick,

We should distinguish between what the data in those studies actually says and what the authors conclude.

The data seems to support a tendency to see agency, and even a creator of sorts in many cases, but not all

However, there is no support for instinctive belief in anything like God, understanding the word 'God' to mean anything that is usually used to mean in philosophy (e.g., 'an omnipotent, omniscient, morally perfect creator of all other beings', 'a maximally great being', 'the greatest conceivable being', 'a supreme being, creator of all other beings', etc.), or by less philosophically inclined Christians, Muslims, etc. (i.e., the Abrahamic creator, in any of his versions).

The authors may have used 'God' in a different way, or jumped to conclusions, but the data does not support a claim of an innate belief in God, in any of the aforementioned senses.

On that note, we may consider (purely for example), Chinese folk religion: They have a creator of sorts: Pan-Gu.

Now, Pan-Gu was born from an egg, which formed in some chaotic realm and was not created by any agents. Pan-Gu just grew inside the egg for 18000 years. After that, he was born and created stuff. But after doing a lot of creating, Pan-Gu went to sleep and died.

So, yes, they see agency where there is no good reason to see any. But what they believe or believed in was a creator that formed from a non-intelligent source, which means in the beginning there was no agency whatsoever. Moreover, it was a mortal creator, and indeed a dead one (even if the different parts of his body went on to create the mountains and the like).

If the authors of the study take a look at Pan-Gu and conclude that humans tend to have an innate belief in the existence of God, then they're either using the word 'God' in a manner not relevant to any of the matters at hand (and I'd say non-standard), or simply making a mistaken assessment of the data available to them.

If, on the other hand, the claim is that humans have an innate propensity to believe in gods, there is the issue of the meaning of the word 'god', but we needn't bother with that here: the point is that the data does not support any innate propensity to believe in the existence of God, let alone any innate belief in God (even if there were a propensity to believe in God given certain circumstances), or any universal belief in God across civilizations.

Robbie said...

@angra Mainyu



I tend to use YHWH and Trinity to denote the repespective entities found at either end of the Bible. When I read that book completely through for the first time I was immediately struck by the fact that the notion of "God" constantly evolves throughout the text in a way which invalidates all the classical attributes of the deity. Christians might respond that this does not invalidate nor disprove God's timeless nature, and invoke some doctrine of progressive revelation. Chalk, however, does not progressively reveal itself as three cheeses in one cheese, nor can Tom Jones ever turn into the Three Degrees.

Hence the irony in Craig pronouncing that unbelievers are damned and without excuse "on the Biblical view". What Biblical view would that be, and whose Bible? It is specifically Paul's view, and Paul's views are on occasion completely opposed to those of Christ who said "Think not I come to abolish the law"and was rather particular about His jots and tittles. So what excuse does Paul have for being ignorant of the contents of the Sermon on the Mount and contradicting his Master on the abrogation of the Law?

It seems to me that a Hebrew understanding of the OT is quite strong evidence against the truth of Christianity. One does not have to "assume scientific naturalism" to contest the virgin birth for example. Rather it shows YHWH acting in a way which is completely out of character. He would never say, as Christ does in the Fourth Gospel, that "I have overcome the world". All one has to do is to set that quotation against YHWH's rhetorically magnificent but boastful reply to Job out of the whirlwind to see the fundamental incongruity of these two versions of God.

Does Craig believe that the Jews will be damned for not accepting Jesus as their personal saviour? I don't think he has ever made or dared to make such a statement, but on his view it seems to follow.

cheers




Good points about the OT.
Just to be clear, I'm using the word 'Yahweh' to name the biblical creator, but considering the (or a) Christian Bible, because that's what Craig uses.
I could use 'God' instead, but since the word 'God' is often used to mean 'an omnipotent, omniscient, morally perfect being, creator of all other beings' (or something along those lines), or otherwise to mean something that implies moral goodness and even moral perfection.

So, I tend to use other words, such as 'Yahweh'.
If 'Yahweh' is not adequate, I'm not sure which name would be better. One possibility would be 'the Christian creator', but then, a potential difficulty is that someone might interpret that as also implying that the entity is question is morally good (indeed, morally perfect), since that's the (usual) Christian conception.

Angra Mainyu said...

Robbie,

I agree with your points; Craig would say that everyone (Jew or otherwise) deserves infinite punishment for rejecting Jesus...though he'd also say that everyone (even himself) actually deserve infinite punishment.

That aside, and with regard to the name, in the context of this thread I could go with 'Trinity', but sometimes I prefer not to assume that it's a Trinity (some liberal Christians deny it), and instead consider the issue of whether or not Jesus only human or not. Hmm...maybe I could use 'the Christian creator' or something like that, though I'd prefer a name.

Anyway, I'll figure something out, or else I'll just define the words I use to prevent ambiguity.

cheers

Sketch Sepahi said...

@Angra

Good to see more people point out that a tendency in children to project tendency onto the natural world does not equate to an innate belief in God as classically understood. Kudos to you.

I think, however, that you can take the criticism of that study even further than to concede that it supports an innate belief in a creator or intelligence like Pan-Gu.

If I remember correctly - and please correct me if I'm wrong - the study relied heavily on examples of either teleological thinking or perhaps what Freudians would call 'magical thinking.' It's true that one type of teleological thinking involves thinking about intelligent agency, but it's at least contentious that one can't have teleology without agency. Aristotle certainly springs to mind as an example of someone, who seemed to have thought you could.

So what that study should have concluded, if you ask me, is that "children often reason teleologically." But then, of course, that wouldn't have been as newsworthy. We already knew that.

Angra Mainyu said...

@ Sketch Sepahi,


If by 'teleology' you're talking about functionality, proper function, etc., then I would say that there can be that without agency, despite the claims of Plantinga and others. I did not mean to suggest otherwise, so thanks for pointing that out just in case.

As for that book, I've relied on summaries of the book, and those may have been misleading. So, thanks for pointing that out.

I was also relying on the evidence for an oversensitive sense of agency, which in particular results in a tendency to jump to conclusions about design, and not limited to the content of the book (e.g., after all, religions positing all sorts of non-existent beings are pretty common, and that's some evidence).

I realize I wasn't clear about that, so sorry about it, and if you disagree with that, please let me know what your take on that is (i.e., do you think humans usually have a propensity to see agency where there is none, etc., or you disagree?).

With regard to the second book mentioned by Patrick, I've not read it, but even if there were evidence of belief in God, in any of the senses I mentioned above, in hundreds of cultures (which does not seem to be the case but regardless), the fact would remain that there are entire societies with no such belief, and without even a word for such a being, as I pointed out. That would be enough to defeat the claim that everyone knows God exists.

Angra Mainyu said...

Addition to the immediately previous post:

Just to be clear, I'm not suggesting that an oversensitive sense of agency is the only cause of the existence and permanence of religions positing all sorts of non-existent beings.

Sketch Sepahi said...

@Angra Mainyu

I think we're pretty much in agreement on nearly everything. I didn't think at all that you weren't aware of the things I mentioned. You seem more informed than me. I was just jumping in on the fun. Hope you don't mind.

Angra Mainyu said...

@ Sketch,

I don't mind at all; on the contrary, I welcome the input.

Plus, I've come to realize that my first reply to Patrick was unclear, so a clarification is useful.

Thanks for the 'more informed' part, but I don't think that's the case with respect to this particular book.
I was relying on what I had read before about it plus I was commenting on other evidence (i.e., other than that in the book), but after reading more about Barrett's book (i.e., I read more reviews), it seems to me that he does conflate functionality with design, even though he also seem to have some actual evidence for belief in agency (though now I'd like to be more cautious on that, without the book itself).

So, your point seems very apt, and a welcome addition.

Dennis said...

Rev. Doug Wilson who debated Christopher Hitchens at my Seminary alma mater, also asserts this. It is a basic tenet of Presuppositional Apologetics (although I'm not sure Craig would own the term, he still seems to follow the thought). Cornelius Van Til made this approach somewhat widely known and it is currently championed by Dr. John Frame, one of my former teachers. They refer to the noetic effect of sin and assert that every aspect of human nature is corrupt including knowledge and reason.

I do not hold this position myself. i am now an atheist though once an ordained minister.

vinegardaoist said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
vinegardaoist said...

According to the Presuppositionalist, the motive for suppressing the knowledge if moral.The assertion is that sinful man rebels against and hates God. Therefore he suppresses that knowledge of God. The text asserts that they did not worship him or honor him as God. At the heart of their suppression and resulting immorality, is the refusal to worship God and honor him as God.

It is for this same reason that Christians will often say that atheism and agnosticism is not an intellectual issue but a moral one.

vinegardaoist said...

Rev. Doug Wilson who debated Christopher Hitchens at my Seminary alma mater, also asserts this. It is a basic tenet of Presuppositional Apologetics (although I'm not sure Craig would own the term, he still seems to follow the thought). Cornelius Van Til made this approach somewhat widely known and it is currently championed by Dr. John Frame, one of my former teachers. They refer to the noetic effect of sin and assert that every aspect of human nature is corrupt including knowledge and reason.

I do not hold this position myself. i am now an atheist though once an ordained minister.

Anonymous said...

When you use the bible to justify your arguement you have already lost the arguement. So when I see someone use the bible they lost. I don't continue the arguement b/c it a waste of time. Btw the bible has been proven in all areas that it is wrong historically, archaeologically, and scientifcially.

Angra Mainyu said...

vinegardaoist, glad to see you abandoned presuppositionalist irrationality (and theism in general).

Do you think Craig is a presuppositionalist?

On one hand, he does not go as far as to claim that Christianity is a presupposition for rational thought.

On the other hand, it seems he would knowingly reject any evidence against Christianity, even if he realized that something is evidence against Christianity.

Regardless of whether that counts are presuppositionalism, it's clearly an irrational way of assessing evidence, arguments, etc.

Mr. Hamtastic said...

Why do the two sides even fight at all? I have never understood this. I believe in God and will not change my belief, you don't and you won't change your belief, so let's accept that and discuss something else.

As a christian, I think one of the mistakes atheists would be wise to point out is that evangelism at gunpoint by theists is tantamount to rape. It is not my job, in my belief-system, as the human christian, to bring you to belief in anything. It's my job to be known as a christian should you choose to seek some belief. So long as I'm not attacking you, you should not attack me or my belief directly, and vice versa.

I am a christian by choice. As in I have decided to be irrational and believe despite lack of evidence just because it pleases me to do so. The rational belief(or lack, semantics) is Atheism. I apologize for the people that attack you for your belief, whoever they may be. Why can't people simply allow each other their belief? Is it about power or something?

I don't know.

Anonymous said...

Belief in a god could possibly be innate. But belief in a specific god is certainly not. A child born on a deserted island with non-denominational parents will not instinctively believe in the Judeo-Christian god. Ideology must be taught. There would be no Christians if they were not indoctrinated.

Mr. Hamtastic said...

Giving this further thought, I just want to say this. As a christian that thinks on occasion, I find the entire idea that human beings possess an "innate knowledge" of God to be almost offensive.

Think about it. Have you ever spent time with an infant? I have 7 kids, and watching them grow and develop suggests to me that a being who does not possess an "innate" knowledge of "good" or "bad" or an "innate" knowledge of their own appendages even, would have a hard time being said to have an "innate" knowledge of deity of any kind.

An infant studies their mother's face upon being able to focus on it. They grow quiet, and stare and stare. This being they know makes them feel good because they know their mother makes them feel good. They may even recognize the beta of their mother's heart. But the idea that they look at this being who they will have to be taught is their "mommy" and that they even have an innate knowledge of who SHE is, is totally beyond me.

If a child has innate knowledge of any kind I would think the identity of their mother would be the first thing. But, adopt out an infant, and ask them, when they can talk, whether the woman they call,"mommy", and is their adoptive mother, was the one to give birth to them, I'm sure they would respond "yes". They LEARN who mommy is.

They LEARN what a hand is, that they have a nose, that they can thrash their feet around for new interesting effects.

If these things are learned, and not either instinctive or innate knowledge, how can they be said to have even the slightest concept of deity? No, I say God can be a product of a philosophical question. If they come to the point that curiosity brings them to ask:"Why am I here?", the idea that a being created them, (which they'd relate to, tending towards being creative creators themselves) might lead them down the road of deification of that which is not understandable.

As a christian, it would be easy to suggest that atheists are liars and that they deny God's existence and that they fight themselves. Logically, though? It makes my brain want to vomit. Atheists are people that looked around, and denied the generally irrational "evidence" presented as "definitive proof" of God. Some were indoctrinated into a religion and rejected it, and I see this as religion's fault, for being quite rejectable.

But, let me clarify this, I am a christian. Was I taught to be one? Yes, but very ritualistically and in a way that I explored my own thoughts on everything from paganism to deism to atheism. Why did I choose to hold the irrational belief in God? I choose to believe that the christian God is horrifically misrepresented by those who claim Him(her, it, I doubt He cares, what is gender to God?). I choose to believe that God tried to rectify things and set the old stories straight by sending a representative, but that guy has also been sorely misrepresented. I don't think it harms anyone for me to believe this way, and I do not try to force it on anyone, not even my own children. I tell them we are all free to believe as we choose, and if they find comfort in christianity, that's great. If it's wicca, some eastern religion, even Islam, so long as they respect everyone else's right to their beliefs (or their choice to go without belief at all) then it's perfectly fine.

I thus rationally choose to accept the irrational, much as I choose to believe I exist, myself, without objective, and what I consider reasonable, evidence. I say this, as well. Thank God for free will. Perhaps I should also say, thank free will for God? Perhaps.

Charles Bailey said...

[Stephen Law quotes WLC] "...surely an all-loving God would have done more to achieve such a person's salvation by ensuring that the gospel reaches him. But how do we know that there are any such persons?"

What such persons? Persons who failed to obtain salvation because they weren't familiar with the Gospel of Jesus Christ?

"It is reasonable to assume that many people who never hear the gospel would not have believed it even if they had heard it."

It is? What makes this assumption reasonable? Better yet, what makes this assumption more reasonable than the assumption that a good God would never create persons for whom it was even possible to reject their one and only chance to avoid everlasting torment should they have actually been given the chance? What would be the point in a good God creating such persons?

"Suppose, then, that God has so providentially ordered the world that all persons who never hear the gospel are precisely such people."

I'll ask the same question, here, that Dr. Craig asked above..."But how do we know that there are any such persons?" Anyhow, why would a good God create such persons? And can a person really be guilty of rejecting the Gospel if they had never actually been given the chance to reject the Gospel? This sounds a lot like the rationalizing methods used in the preemptive strike policies of the former Bush administration, and also the main premise of the legal system depicted in the movie Minority Report where people are routinely convicted of crimes that they did not actually commit...but "would've committed" had they been given every opportunity to do so. Does Dr. Craig really agree with this system of justice? Is it the best that a morally perfect being can do?

"In that case, anybody who never hears the gospel and is lost would have rejected the gospel and been lost even if he had heard it."

Notice the slight of hand Craig employs in his theodicy: he begins his response by saying that it was reasonable to assume that at least 'some' people may not have believed...observe...

"many people who never hear the gospel would not have believed it even if they had heard it.",

He then moves from the alleged 'reasonable assumption' that many such people would fail to believe to all such people would fail to believe which is, of course, not what he originally claimed was 'reasonable' to assume...observe again...

"God has so providentially ordered the world that all persons who never hear the gospel are precisely such people."

This is the kind of nonsense I find so insulting. Either Craig is so philosophically incompetent that he repeatedly fails to realize the glaring inconsistencies in his own arguments, or he's most likely a card-carrying liar for Jesus. I'm not sure I can seriously consider other options here, but I'm willing to listen.

Aside from all of this, Craig's theodicy seems to ignore the fact that some atheists are actually given the chance to hear the Gospel and reject it. Why, then, should it be the case that a good God would fail to give all people who have failed to believe and accept the Gospel a chance to actually hear it before rejecting it? How does it make sense to argue that some people will never hear the Gospel and will burn in hell anyway since God knew beforehand that they would just reject it upon hearing it, and then acknowledge the simple fact that atheists are given such an opportunity all the time? What's different about the people who never get the chance? Doesn't God love them as much as he loves the atheists he actually shares the Gospel with?

It's all rather confusing from where I sit.

Charles Bailey said...

As an aside, let's not forget that when an apologist like Craig starts using words like "providentially" in his "arguments," we can be rest assured that what he means by "providentially" is something like, "forget about ever trying to actually understand the situation."