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. [Read more...]

Objection(s) to the Ontological Argument

It may be strange to some that there are philosophical objections raised by Christians against arguments for belief in God. For example, St. Anselm’s “Ontological Proof” (as it would come to be called) was taken under a critical lens when Thomas Aquinas (1225-1274) took consideration of the argument in his epic Summa Theologiae (ST hereafter). Over the last year or so, I have written numerous defenses of Anselm’s argument as well as criticisms so as to see if we have a legitimate and defensible argument for God’s existence.

Gaunilo and Kant’s criticism aside, there are several other considerable objections to the argument that I think are serious enough to address. Two in particular come to mind. Mortimer J. Adler (1980) makes the point in his book How to Think About God that existential propositions do not entail logical necessity. As he writes at length:

No existential proposition can be self-evidently true or necessarily true. When we have direct perceptual acquaintance with a particular individual, the existence of that individual is evident to us, but the proposition which asserts that the individual exists is not self-evident, nor is its truth necessary. Self-evident propositions are propositions which we know to be true directly from our understanding of their component terms, not by process of reasoning or inference. (Adler 1980: 104)

[Read more...]

Is the Ontological Argument Valid? – Part 2

(I continue from Part 1 last month into Aquinas’ response to the argument.)

Almost two hundred years later, St. Thomas Aquinas (1224-1274) rejected the ontological argument; he believed that God’s existence was self-evident in itself, but not to us. Aquinas asserted that we cannot know God’s essence directly, but only through his effects, thus all valid arguments for his existence will be a posteriori, not a priori. This critique centered upon Aquinas’ charge that not everyone shared the same concept of God and consequently the argument will only convince those with a similar notion. He further claimed that even if one could share the same concept of God, one would have no idea what this sequence of words really means.[i] However, the success of the ontological argument does not depend on fully understanding the concept of a “being than which none greater can be conceived.” One does not need to possess a complete understanding of a “natural number than which none larger can be imagined” to understand that there does not exist such a number. Providing the concept is coherent, even a minimal understanding is sufficient for Anselm’s argument to stand.[ii] [Read more...]

Quality of Life in the Multiverse

Flickr (credit: Idiolector)

Flickr (credit: Idiolector)

The universe appears to be fine-tuned for life.  For example, seemingly infinitesimal adjustments to the dark-energy density or gravitational constant would render most conceivable forms of life impossible.  Adjusting the dark energy, for example, would result in either no planets or a collapsed universe.[1]  Clearly, cosmic fine-tuning is necessary (although not sufficient) for evolution to occur. [Read more...]

Is the Ontological Argument Valid?

The ontological argument has fascinated philosophers for centuries in attempting to prove God’s existence from the concept of God. The argument does not appeal to any facts of experience, but solely on the implications of conceiving of God a priori. This differs from other a posteriori arguments for God’s existence such as the cosmological (creation), teleology (design), or axiological (moral) which depend on at least one empirical premise. The first philosopher to apply the word “ontological” to the argument was Immanuel Kant (1724-1804) who believed it made an invalid transition from thought to being (ontos). St. Anselm (1033-1109), the archbishop of Canterbury is considered the architect of the argument and interestingly enough formulates the argument in writings meant to worship God. This explains why the argument is also called the “proof from prayer”. Anselm himself is not a skeptic, but writes as a believer seeking rational persuasion for God’s existence. He prefaces the argument in his Proslogion with his famous pronouncement, “For I do not seek to understand that I may believe, but I believe in order to understand. For this also I believe, – that unless I believed, I should not understand.”[i]

The goal of this series of blogs is to evaluate the argument in its various forms from Anselm to modern philosophers. I will be unable to discuss every philosopher who addressed this argument, but tour through the highlights of the development of the argument to the present. This historical approach will address the charges against the argument and help the reader determine if the original argument (or any subsequent argument) is valid.

Anselm’s argument proceeds from chapter two of Proslogion which he describes as follows:

[Even a fool], when he hears of … a being than which nothing greater can be conceived…understands what he hears, and what he understands is in his understanding…And assuredly that, than which nothing greater can be conceived, cannot exist in the understanding alone. For suppose it exists in the understanding alone: then it can be conceived to exist in reality; which is greater… Therefore, if that, than which nothing greater can be conceived, exists in the understanding alone, the very being, than which nothing greater can be conceived, is one, than which a greater can be conceived. But obviously this is impossible. Hence, there is no doubt that there exists a being, than which nothing greater can be conceived, and it exists both in the understanding and in reality.[ii]

The argument in this difficult passage can be summarized as follows:

  1. It is a conceptual truth that God is a being than which none greater can be imagined.
  2. God exists as a concept in the mind.
  3. A being that exists as a concept and in reality (other things being equal) is greater than a being that exists only as a concept.
  4. If God can only exist as a concept in the mind, then we can imagine something that is greater than God.
  5. But we cannot imagine something that is greater than God (i.e. it is a contradiction to suppose that we can imagine a being greater than the greatest being possible that can be imagined.)
  6. Therefore, God exists.

[Read more...]