Argument from Innate Religious instinct page 2

Arguments for the Existence of God
by Metacrock - edited by JMT
Used with Permission

The Religious a priori.



(1) Scientific reductionism loses phenomena by re-defining the nature of sense data and qualia.

(2)There are other ways of Knowing than scientific induction

(3) Religious truth is apprehended phenomenologically, thus religion is not a scientific issue and cannot be subjected to a materialist critique

(4) Religion is not derived from other disciplines or endeavors but is a approach to understanding in its own right

Therefore, religious belief is justified on its own terms and not according to the dictates or other disciplines

The Religious a priori and Its Affects Imply Reality of its Co-Determinate Are we justified in believing something for which there is no direct empirical proof? Yes!

A. Religious a priori: The Trace of God in The Universe

God is not found directly in empirical data or in direct observation. It is foolish to demand such data, because God is the ground of being, and thus exists beyond the limits of human rationality (beyond our ability to understand or perceive). Yet there are experiences of God's presence, and other experiential phenomena which indicate that God is real. These constitute an a priori understanding of God, that is to say, an experience which transcends sense data and indicates to the believer that God is real. The basic argument then is that: The sense of religious experience offers an a priori reason to assume the existence of God.

Please note: I'm not necessarily talking about miracles, in fact most of what I am talking about is not "miraculous" at all.

1) Definition of the a priori.

Obviously religious belief is taught through culture, and there is a good reason for that, because religion is a cultural construct. But that does not diminish the reality of God. Culture teaches religion but God is known to people in the heart. This comes through a variety of ways; through direct experience, through miraculous signs, through intuitive sense, or through a sense of the numinous. The Westminster's Dictionary of Christian Theology ..defines Numinous as "the sense of awe in attracting and repelling people to the Holy."

"This notion [Religious a priori] is used by philosophers of religion to express the view that the sense of the Divine is due to a special form of awareness which exists along side the cognitive, moral, and aesthetic forms of awareness and is not explicable by reference to them. The concept of religion as concerned with the awareness of and response to the divine is accordingly a simple notion which cannot be defined by reference other than itself." --David Palin "Religious a priori" Westminster Dictionary of Christian Theology (498)

a) Culturally constructed nature of religion does not negate a priori.

"Even though the forms by Which religion is expressed are culturally conditioned, religion itself is sui generis ..essentially irreducible to and underivable from the non-religious." (Ibid.)

b) The Religious a priori cannot be reduced to anything else.

It cannot be summed up by the use of ethics or any other field, it cannot be reduced to explanation of the world or to other fields, or physiological counter causality.

Of course that is going to invite a lot of dispute from internet atheists and many other kinds of atheists, as well as social scientists. But no control can ever be established. Any study would only be studying the culturally constructed bits (by definition since language and social sciences are cultural constructs as well) so all the social sciences will wind up doing is merely reifying the phenomena and reducing the experience. In other words, This idea can never be studied in a social sciences sense, all that the social sciences can do is redefine the phenomena until they are no longer discussing the actual experiences of the religious believer, but merely the ideology of the social scientist (see science and religion page--link).

2) Forms of the A priori.

a) Schleiermacher's "Feeling of Utter Dependence."

Schleiermacher, (1768-1834) in On Religion: Speeches to it's Cultured Despisers, and The Christian Faith .sets forth the view that religion is not reducible to knowledge or ethical systems. It is primarily a phenomenological apprehension of God consciousness through means of religious affections. Affections is a term not used much anymore, and it is easily confused with mere emotion. Sometimes Schleiermacher is understood as saying that "I become emotional when I pay and thus there must be an object of my emotional feelings." Though he does venture close to this position in one form of the argument, this is not exactly what he's saying.

In the earlier form of his argument he was saying that affections were indicative of a sense of God, but in the Christian Faith he argues that there is a greater sense of unity in the life world and a sense of the dependence of all things in the life world upon something higher.

What is this feeling of utter dependence? It is the sense of the unity in the life world and it's greater reliance upon a higher reality. It is not to be confused with the starry sky at night in the desert feeling, but is akin to it. I like to think about the feeling of being in my backyard late on a summer night, listening to the sounds of the freeway dying out and realizing a certain harmony in the life world and the sense that all of this exists because it stems form a higher thing. There is more to it than that but I don't have time to go into it. That's just a short hand for those of us to whom this is a new concept to get some sort of handle on it. Nor does “feeling" here mean "emotion" but it is connected to the religious affections. In the early version S. thought it was a correlate between the religious affections and God; God must be there because I can feel love for him when I pray to him. But that's not what it's saying in the better version.

a1) Platonic background.

The basic assumptions Schleiermacher is making are Platonic. He believes that the feeling of utter dependence is the backdrop, the pre-given, pre-cognitive notion behind the ontological argument. IN other words, what Anselm tried to capture in his logical argument is felt by everyone, if they were honest, in a pre-cognitive way. In other words, before one thinks about it, it is this "feeling" of utter dependence. After one thinks it out and makes it into a logical argument it is the ontological argument.

a2) Unity in the Life world.

"Life world," or Labeinswelt is a term used in German philosophy. It implies the world of one's culturally constructed life, the "world" we 'live in.' Life as we experience it on a daily basis. The unity one senses in the life world is intuitive and unites the experiences and aspirations of the individual in a sense of integration and belonging in the world. As Heidigger says "a being in the world." Schleiermacher is saying that there is a special intuitive sense that everyone can grasp of this whole, this unity, being bound up with a higher reality, being dependent upon a higher unity. In other words, the "feeling" can be understood as an intuitive sense of "radical contingency" (in the sense of the above ontological arguments).

He goes on to say that the feeling is based upon the ontological principle as its theoretical background, but doesn’t' depend on the argument because it proceeds the argument as the pre-given pre-theoretical pre-cognitive realization of what Anslem sat down and thought about and turned into a rational argument: why has the fools said in his heart 'there is no God?' Why a fool? Because in the heart we know God. To deny this is to deny the most basic realization about reality.

b) Otto's Sense of the Holy

The sense of power in the numinous which people find when confronted by the sacred. The special sense of presence or of Holiness which is intuitive and observed in all religious experience around the world.

c) Tillich's Object of Ultimate Concern.

We are going to die. We cannot avoid this. This is our ultimate concern and sooner or latter we have to confront it. When we do we realize a sense of transformation that gives us a special realization existentially that life is more than material.

B. Freedom from the Need to prove.

Schleiermacher came up with his notion of the feeling when wrestling with Kantian Dualism. Kant had said that the world is divided into two aspects of reality the numinous and the phenomenal. The numinous is not experienced through sense data, and sense God is not experienced through sense data, God belongs only to the numinous. The problem is that this robs us of an object of theological discourse. We can't talk about God because we can't experience God in sense data. Schleiermacher found a way to run an 'end round' and get around the sense data. Experience of God is given directly in the "feeling" apart form sense data.

This frees us form the need to prove the existence of God to others, because we know that God exists in a deep way that cannot be asserted by mere cultural constructs or reductionist data or reified phenomena. This restores the object of theological discourse. Once having regained its object, theological discourse can proceed to make the logical deduction that there must be a co-determinate to the feeling, and that co-determinate is God. In that sense Schleiermacher is saying "if I have affections about God, God must exist as an object of my affections"--not merely because anything there must be an object of all affections, but because of the logic of the co-determinate--there is a sense of radical contingency, there must be an object upon which we are radically contingent.

(It's an argument of justification for belief)

1) Reductionism loses the phenomena.

When scientific reductionism is applied to these experiences they reduced to something else, the phenomena is lost. This does not mean that they are disproven. It means that here we are dealing in the phenomenological realm and this cannot be subjected to scientific reductionism. Like the problem of quantum physics and the study of light particles, to study the problem is to change it so that it cannot really be studied in that way.

William James, The Varieties of Religious Experience, (The Gilford Lectures) The world interpreted religiously is not the materialistic world over again, with an altered expression; it must have, over and above the altered expression, a natural constitution different at some point from that which a materialistic world would have. It must be such that different events can be expected in it, different conduct must be required. This thoroughly 'pragmatic' view of religion has usually been taken as a matter of course by common men. They have interpolated divine miracles into the field of nature, they have built a heaven out beyond the grave.

"By being faithful in my poor measure to this over-belief, I seem to myself to keep more sane and true. I can, of course, put myself into the sectarian scientist's attitude, and imagine vividly that the world of sensations and of scientific laws and objects may be all. But whenever I do this, I hear that inward monitor of which W. K. Clifford once wrote, whispering the word 'bosh!' Humbug is humbug, even though it bear the scientific name, and the total expression of human experience, as I view it objectively, invincibly urges me beyond the narrow scientific bounds. Assuredly, the real world is of a different temperament,- more intricately built than physical science allows. So my objective and my subjective conscience both hold me to the over-belief which I express. Who knows whether the faithfulness of individuals here below to their own poor over-beliefs may not actually help God in turn to be more effectively faithful to his own greater tasks?"

Neilson on Maslow

"An important criticism that Maslow leveled at psychology concerned scientists' efforts to keep values out of their work. Most psychologists see this as an attempt to avoid bias, but to Maslow it reflects a lack of value for things that are important. According to Maslow, a science without values can not be used to show that murder or genocide is bad. This can be remedied by adopting a broader approach to the subject matter, and by concerning ourselves with people's choices and values."

2. The demand for "empirical data" is irrational

(given the phenomenological nature of religious belief)

a) Scientific Reduction of experience is mere genetic fallacy.

William James, Gifford Lectures.

[Though his work in The Varieties of Religious Experience is very dated (turn of the century) this work is still looked upon as a classic and guide to framing of modern research paradigms. James' overall conclusion, that religious experience was healthy and universal to human experience]

"Medical materialism seems indeed a good appellation for the too simple-minded system of thought which we are considering. Medical materialism finishes up Saint Paul by calling his vision on the road to Damascus a discharging lesion of the occipital cortex, he being an epileptic. It snuffs out Saint Teresa as an hysteric, Saint Francis of Assisi as an hereditary degenerate. George Fox's discontent with the shams of his age, and his pining for spiritual veracity, it treats as a symptom of a disordered colon. Carlyle's organ-tones of misery it accounts for by a gastro-duodenal catarrh. All such mental over-tensions, it says, are, when you come to the bottom of the matter, mere affairs of diathesis (auto-intoxications most probably), due to the perverted action of various glands which physiology will yet discover. And medical materialism then thinks that the spiritual authority of all such personages is successfully undermined."

b) Reduction to physiological cause is ideological assumption.


"Let us ourselves look at the matter in the largest possible way. Modern psychology, finding definite psycho-physical connections to hold good, assumes as a convenient hypothesis that the dependence of mental states upon bodily conditions must be thorough-going and complete. If we adopt the assumption, then of course what medical materialism insists on must be true in a general way, if not in every detail: Saint Paul certainly had once an epileptoid, if not an epileptic seizure; George Fox was an hereditary degenerate; Carlyle was undoubtedly auto-intoxicated by some organ or other, no matter which,- and the rest. But now, I ask you, how can such an existential account of facts of mental history decide in one way or another upon their spiritual significance? According to the general postulate of psychology just referred to, there is not a single one of our states of mind, high or low, healthy or morbid, that has not some organic process as its condition. Scientific theories are organically conditioned just as much as religious emotions are; and if we only knew the facts intimately enough, we should doubtless see 'the liver' determining the dicta of the sturdy atheist as decisively as it does those of the Methodist under conviction anxious about his soul." "When it alters in one way the blood that percolates it, we get the methodist, when in another way, we get the atheist form of mind. So of all our raptures, and our drynesses, our longings and pantings, our questions and beliefs. They are equally organically founded, be they of religious or of non-religious content.....It is needless to say that medical materialism draws in point of fact no such sweeping skeptical conclusion. It is sure, just as every simple man is sure, that some states of mind are inwardly superior to others, and reveal to us more truth, and in this it simply makes use of an ordinary spiritual judgment. It has no physiological theory of the production of these its favorite states, by which it may accredit them; and its attempt to discredit the states which it dislikes, by vaguely associating them with nerves and liver, and connecting them with names connoting bodily affliction, is altogether illogical and inconsistent."

c) Reductionism reifies phenomena.

The Religious A priori, being irreducible to other forms of inquiry, demands that religious experience be taken on its own terms. to try and ascribe it to some counter causality or alternative explanation merely involves one in an infinite regress of trying to justify reduction from the actual phenomenon observed to some other phenomenon until the original thing being studied is lost. The argument is that most people experience some form of God or some form of numinous such that they have a sense of a higher reality. This cannot be denied in terms which explain it away by some other means. To attempt to do so is merely to critique the culturally constructed manifestations of religion. Unless the critic can actually get inside the consciousness of the believer he/she has no way of knowing the validity of the claims. (see Schleiermacher The Theologian by Williams)

This does not mean that the mere claim of religious experience of God consciousness is proof in and of itself, but it means that it must be taken on its own terms. It clearly answers the question about why doesn't God reveal himself to everyone; He has, or rather, He has made it clear to everyone that he exists, and He has provided everyone with a means of knowing Him. He doesn't get any more explicit because faith is a major requirement for belief. Faith is not an arbitrary requirement, but the rational and logical result of a world made up of moral choices.

William James: The Varieties of Religious Experience, form Gilford Lectures.

"To pass now to religious phenomena, take the melancholy which, as we shall see, constitutes an essential moment in every complete religious evolution. Take the happiness which achieved religious belief confers. Take the trance-like states of insight into truth which all religious mystics report. 8 These are each and all of them special cases of kinds of human experience of much wider scope. Religious melancholy, whatever peculiarities it may have qua religious, is at any rate melancholy. Religious happiness is happiness. Religious trance is trance. And the moment we renounce the absurd notion that a thing is exploded away as soon as it is classed with others, or its origin is shown; the moment we agree to stand by experimental results and inner quality, in judging of values,- who does not see that we are likely to ascertain the distinctive significance of religious melancholy and happiness, or of religious trances, far better by comparing them as conscientiously as we can with other varieties of melancholy, happiness, and trance, than by refusing to consider their place in any more general series, and treating them as if they were outside of nature's order altogether? -I hope that the course of these lectures will confirm us in this supposition. As regards the psychopathic origin of so many religious phenomena, that would not be in the least surprising or disconcerting,..."

d) Empirical demands Irrational because of assumptions.


"To plead the organic causation of a religious state of mind, then, in refutation of its claim to possess superior spiritual value, is quite illogical and arbitrary, unless one have already worked out in advance some psycho-physical theory connecting spiritual values in general with determinate sorts of physiological change. Otherwise none of our thoughts and feelings, not even our scientific doctrines, not even our dis-beliefs, could retain any value as revelations of the truth, for every one of them without exception flows from the state of their possessor's body at the time"

Note: The bottom line on this point is that religious experience belongs to the phenomenological realm, not to that of empirical "objective" investigation. Therefore, attempts to reduce it to counter causality are misplaced and even irrational because in so doing they reify (change the nature) of the experiences.

[For a read treat see how this argument played out on the boards against my greatest nemesis, Mutalito, on "Metacrock in Action."]

There is a co-determinate to the Feeling of Utter dependence.

"It is the original pre-theoretical consciousness...Schleiermacher believes that theoretical cognition is founded upon pre-theoretical inter-subjective cognition and its life world. The latter cannot be dismissed as non-cognitive for if the life world praxis is non-cognitive and invalid so is theoretical cognition. S... contends that belief in God is pre-theoretical, it is not the result of proofs and demonstration, but is conditioned solely by the modification of feeling of utter dependence. Belief in God is not acquired through intellectual acts of which the traditional proofs are examples, but rather from the thing itself, the object of religious experience. If as S...says God is given to feeling in an original way this means that the feeling of utter dependence is in some sense an apparition of divine being and reality. This is not meant as a Bartian fideism or appeal to revelation but rather as a naturalistic eidetic or a priori. The feeling of utter dependence is structured by a correlation with its whence." Robert R. Williams, Schleiermacher the Theologian, p 4.

The believer is justified in assuming that his/her experiences are experiences of a reality, that is to say, that God is real.

Argument No. VII, Mystical Experience.

By Metacrock. Used with Permission.
For more articles by the same author, see Doxa.