Two Interesting Arguments for God: Intelligibility & Desire

I wanted to share two simple arguments for God’s existence that I don’t see used very often :the argument from intelligibility, and the argument from desire.

I. The Argument from Intelligibility

The argument from intelligibility is one that Pope Benedict is largely responsible for.  Fr. Robert Barron explains the argument in Catholicism (pp. 67-68):

Pope Benedict XVI

In 1968 a young theology professor at the University of Tübingen formulated a neat argument for God’s existence that owed a good deal to Thomas Aquinas but also drew on more contemporary sources.  The theologian’s name was Joseph Ratzinger, now Pope Benedict XVI.  Ratzinger commences with the observation that finite being, as we experience it, is marked, through and through, by intelligibility, that it is to say, by a formal structure that makes it understandable to an inquiring mind.  

In point of fact, all of the sciences – physics, chemistry, psychology, astronomy, biology, and so forth – rest on the assumption that at all levels, microscopic and macroscopic, being can be known.  The same principle was acknowledged in ancient times by Pythagoras, who said that all existing things correspond in numeric value, and in medieval times by the scholastic philsophers who forumlated the dictum omne ens est scibile (all being in knowable). 

Ratzinger argues that the only finally satisfying explanaiton for this universal objective intelligibility is a great Intelligence who has thought the universe into being.  Our language provides an intriguing clue in this regard, for we speak of our acks of knowledge as moments of “recognition,” literally a re-cognition, a thinking again what has already been thought.  Ratzinger cites Einstein in support of this connection: in the laws of nature, a mind so superior is revealed that in comparison, our minds are as something worthless. The prologue to the Gospel of John states, In the beginning was the Word, and specifies that all things came to be through this divine Logos, implying thereby that the being of the universe is not dumbly there, but rather intelligently there, imbued by a creative mind with intelligible structure.

In other words, all science points to God, since all science requires intelligibility, which in turn, requires an Intelligent Creator.

Einstein

Much time and energy is wasted on the Intelligent Design debate over things like irreducible complexity, that the more fundamental questions aren’t being asked.  Whether the universe was a good idea or a bad idea, a holy plan or an evil plan, it’s still  an idea, and a plan.  This necessarily requires a Thinker and a Planner.  Consider the stability of math, of the universal constants, of the fundamental interactions.  Two plus two doesn’t suddenly equal five, but there’s no natural explanation for why these things remain stable (in fact, since these are immaterial truths, materialism can’t even approach them).  Yet if two plus two generated a random result, we could never have math or science, never develop any technology, and all existence would be a series of random and inexplicable events that our brains would be incapable of processing.

By the way, while Benedict developed this argument, we see variations of it being made back in the early days of the 300s, when St. Athanasius argued that “if the movement of creation were irrational, and the universe were borne along without plan, a man might fairly disbelieve what we say. But if it subsist in reason and wisdom and skill, and is perfectly ordered throughout, it follows that He that is over it and has ordered it is none other than the [reason or] Word of God.”  So the argument has a pretty solid pedigree, such as it is.

II. The Argument from Desire

C.S. Lewis (in his second appearance on the blog this week) describes the argument from hunger this way, in Mere Christianity (pp. 136-37):

The Christian says ‘Creatures are not born with desires unless satisfaction for those desires exists. A baby feels hunger: well, there is such a thing as food. A duckling wants to swim:: well, there is such a thing as water. Men feel sexual desire: well, there is such a thing as sex. If I find in myself a desire which no experience in this world can satisfy, the most probable explanation is that I was made for another world.  If none of my earthly pleasures satisfy it, that does not prove that the universe is a fraud.  Probably earthly pleasures were never meant to satisfy it, but only to arouse it, to suggest the real thing.  If that is so, I must take care, on the one hand, never to despise, or to be unthankful for, these earthly blessings, and on the other, never to mistake them for the something else of which they are only a copy, or echo, or mirage.  I must keep alive in myself the desire for my true country, which I shall not find till after death; I must never let it get snowed under or turned aside; I must make it the main object of life to press on to that other country and to help others do the same.’

This argument is self-explanatory, but let me answer two objections.

Juan de Juanes,
Jesus with the Eucharist (mid-16th c.)

First, the hunger for God may be stronger or weaker for certain people than others.  That’s quite natural.  Some people have larger appetites than others, some people are seemingly uninterested (or conversely, obsessed) with sex, etc.  But some degree of a hunger for God exists in every human soul.

Second, while our desires correspond to realities, but they can be corrupted and perverted.  Gluttony is a perversion of our natural desire for food, lust is a perversion of our natural desire for sex, and so on.  But standing back, we can see why hunger (and gluttony) exist, and why sexual desires (and lust) exist.  These are desires that are ordered towards the attainment of specific goals.  So even if the hunger for God gets perverted in some way, this doesn’t deny the reality that God exists, and that we long for Him.

Finally, with our desire for God, the appropriate question ought to be: could anything less than God possibly satisfy this hunger?  We try to appease that hunger for God by substituting earthly pleasures: wealth, honor, power, and sensible pleasures (everything from sex to overeating).  But that’s like drinking a lot of water when you’re hungry for food.  It might fill the void for a while, but it doesn’t really satisfy the craving.  Our souls are made with an aching hunger for God.

67 Comments

  1. Stevo –

    Upon what standard would you determine what is good and evil?

    Next question, where did that standard come from? Genes?? Spores?? Neither of those answers seems likely or probably compared to a moral law giver such as God.

    The secular humanists are quick to point out evil yet they fail to explain how they can claim something is good or evil or where such standards came from.

  2. cwdlaw223 wrote: “Transversed according to whom? Billions of believers in God, very few atheists relatively speaking.

    The scientific method itself rests upon faith that it will work. Can it prove itself? If your logic leads you to such a belief there isn’t much more that any of us can do to help you. Many atheists like the spors theory as well. Takes a lot of faith to be an atheist if you ask me.”

    LOL… To ask your first question you had to ignore the qualifiers that I spelled out concerning the scientific method and logic.

    The second question you pose is only relevant if and only if the scientific method employs faith, in which it does not. The only thing required for faith is the ignorance of the facts. Once facts are brought to the forefront it is no longer faith, just religion…:)

  3. cwdlaw: I take objective morality to mean something like this:

    ‘Those things which have moral values as properties, have them independently of moral agents.’

    I say moral agents instead of ‘humans’ because we don’t want to say good and evil are relative to some non-human moral agent like an extra-terrestrial, angel or demon. But, God is a moral agent. So, if morality is objective, it’d be objective regardless of whether God exists. So, I don’t see the point of mentioning God in defending the objectivity of morality.

    As far as by what standard I discern what moral value something has, I don’t have an articulate answer. I can tell you *how* I do it, but now *why*. Although, recall I’m not making an argument from evil.

  4. Stevo –

    What is the basis for your position that humans have moral values apart from moral agents?

    Evil is real and not an intellectual exercise in our heads. I have yet to meet someone who claims that evil doesn’t exist when it happens to them. Under your construct it appears that good and evil just exist.

  5. Mr. Patton –

    What exactly are your qualifiers and your definition of the scientific method? Can’t seem to find them in this post.

    Furthermore, what’s your defintion of “faith” that you claim the scientific method is not built upon?

  6. BTW – The scientific method is built upon assumptions/faith in intelligence, math and language. Where did intelligence, math and language come from? Random happenings in the universe or part of design from a creator? I’ll take my changes on design from a creator.

  7. cwdlaw223 wrote: “BTW – The scientific method is built upon assumptions/faith in intelligence, math and language. Where did intelligence, math and language come from? Random happenings in the universe or part of design from a creator? I’ll take my changes on design from a creator.”

    Why do you continue to tell me what the scientific method isn’t? Take your chances on intelligent design, have faith. Just don’t call it fact, logic or science.

    Also, it is difficult to have a discussion when a poster needs another to define the words so that they may understand the material under discussion. It rapidly becomes a lecture in which I care little for…:)

  8. The devil is always in the details and defintions.

    I didn’t say anything what the method isn’t, just that you need faith to believe in that which makes up the method. The whole concept of gravity is built upon faith in an unknown force that we believe exists to make our own experience intelligible.

    The scientific method can’t prove itself and is built upon things which can’t be proven with such scientific precision that you want.

    You still have faith whether you like it or not. You just have faith in something that was created and not in the creator.

  9. cwdlaw223 wrote: ” The whole concept of gravity is built upon faith in an unknown force that we believe exists to make our own experience intelligible.”

    You should stick with subject material that you actually understand.

  10. While there’s much I like about Ratzinger’s argument from intelligibility, I have to take issue with some of the fundamental assumptions on which it is based. Ironically, these are assumptions that many in the scientific community would have granted Ratzinger. I’m referring to the notion that science “discovers” things out there in the world (and intelligibility along with them). It comes down to a philosophy of science and what we take science to be. To many, both within and outside of the scientific community, science seems to be in the business of discovering: natural phenomena, their correlations and so forth. Since part of sciences is to make these things intelligible it becomes very easy to think that that intelligibility itself was among the things discovered. All the structures and order that we supposedly discover in the universe, however, may be nothing more than our own projections. It may be the case that science is not a process of discovering the world as much as it is a process of pragmatically navigating the world. The laws and constants, causes and effects, necessities and relations, and all other metaphysical notions that science invokes in its explanations may or may not exist. Like all metaphysical notions, there is simply no way of verifying their existence, we have no epistemic bridge to their reality; rather they are pragmatically employed as kinds of conceptual stopgaps. We don’t know how to make the world intelligible without them and we don’t fare as well in a world utterly unintelligible to us, so it behooves us more often than not to proceed as though (pragmatism) it were intelligible i.e. as though the universe had structure, order, continuity, etc. Regardless of what behooves us, there remains no means of verifying that any of these notions refer to how the universe actually is. At end, these notions say more about us than the world (“physical” or otherwise) we find ourselves in.

    Here’s where Ratzinger’s argument loses some of its punch for me. Framing science as “Going out to meet a world imbued with intelligibility” may not in fact be what the scientific process is all about, there is certainly no way to verify that that is what it is doing or has done.

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