Argument from divine sense
The argument from divine sense, or sensus divinitatis is an attempt to justify reformed epistemology, which holds that belief in God can be considered properly basic, requiring no external justification. This particular argument has seen resistance from both believers and non-believers, though for fundamentally different reasons. Believers point out that the argument not only eliminates any need for traditional apologetics that attempt to offer rational defenses of faith and belief in God, it also eliminates traditional views of faith, encouraging a position akin to "God is real for me, and that's all that matters." Additionally, theists and non-theists point out that even if the argument were sound, it cannot justify any particular God or concept of God beyond what the individual claims to experience.
The underlying premise for the argument rests in the concepts of foundationalism, which holds that beliefs can be divided into two categories:
- foundational beliefs (also called basic or properly basic), which are accepted axiomatically and require no external justification
- all other beliefs, which are derived from foundational beliefs
Foundationalism isn't universally accepted and competing epistemological philosophies exist which include objections to the premise of properly basic beliefs. (See the main article on foundationalism at Wikipedia, or our own summary, for more information)
- Premise 1 (P1) - If Christianity is true, it is very probable that humans are endowed with a cognitive faculty in addition to memory, perception, etc. which we can call the sensus divinitatis
- Premise 2 (P2) - If humans have a sensus divinitatis, then Christian belief can be foundational
- Conclusion (C1) - If Christianity is true, (very probably) Christian belief can be justified, without independent evidence.
Objections, changes and more objections
Asserting the Sensus Divinitatis (SD)
Existence of SD
- → See main article on sensus divinitatis
In P1, we see "If Christianity is true, it is very probable that humans are endowed with a...sensus divinitatis." Those who accept this reformed epistemology assert that Christian teachings necessarily support the existence of SD and that this assertion can only be challenged on exegetical grounds. They hold that a number of passages in the Bible imply or affirm the notion that God has given everyone a mechanism for knowing and understanding his nature.
This assertion isn't accepted, to the same degree, by all Christians and additional passages from the Bible along with testimonials from believers clearly claim that God can, and does, interact with the physical world in empirically observable ways, not the least of which is the Christian doctrine that God came to earth in a physical form to deliver the most important message in Christendom. This sort of physical interaction would not be necessary if a properly basic SD existed.
Reliability of SD
In P2 we see, "If humans have a sensus divinitatis, then Christian belief can be foundational."
This raises questions about the reliability of claims attributed to a sensus divinitatis. If we operate under the assumption that SD exists:
- How do we explain the lack of such claims from the non-religious?
- How do we explain contradictions between scientific knowledge and claims of divinely revealed knowledge?
- How do we explain the many inconsistent and/or contradictory claims about god/God/gods made by members of various religions - including members who profess to be of the same religion?
There are more than 1000 denominations within Christianity and there have been many other religions and sects which claim to worship the same God, rely on many of the same scriptures and have claimed rough equivalents of SD. To even the most casual observer, this situation should call the reliability of claims regarding SD into question.
Why SD is unreliable
One common claim among apologists is that humans were created with a perfect sensus divinitatis, but after man sinned by eating from the tree of knowledge, part of his punishment was a separation from God which rendered this divine sense unreliable. They claim that this broken SD will be repaired, for true believers, by God. Some of those who would use this argument would re-write P2 to read:
- P2 - If humans have a properly working SD, then Christian belief can be foundational
Modifying premise 2 demonstrates the fundamental flaws inherent in making claims of divine revelation:
- How do you distinguish SD from psychosis, delusion or wishful thinking?
- How do you know whether or not your SD is working properly?
- How do you know that your SD isn't being intentionally manipulated by Satan?
- Wouldn't a truly evil and near-god-like being prefer to have you believe you're understanding God when you're really understanding him?
The unreliable and often contradictory nature of claims attributed to SD clearly ensure that it shouldn't be considered properly basic. This is only exacerbated by ad hoc explanations to explain the unreliable nature of these claims which seem to be desperate attempts to avoid the obvious conclusion - there is no sensus divinitatis.