Is Intuition an Unjustifiable Reason for Faith?

The Thinker
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The writers at LiveScience.com tell us that those who are more intuitive are people who are more likely to have faith in God.

Shenhav and his colleagues investigated that question in a series of studies. In the first, 882 American adults answered online surveys about their belief in God. Next, the participants took a three-question math test with questions such as, “A bat and a ball cost $1.10 in total. The bat costs $1 more than the ball. How much does the ball cost?”

The intuitive answer to that question is 10 cents, since most people’s first impulse is to knock $1 off the total. But people who use “reflective” reasoning to question their first impulse are more likely to get the correct answer: 5 cents.

Sure enough, people who went with their intuition on the math test were found to be one-and-a-half times more likely to believe in God than those who got all the answers right. The results held even when taking factors such as education and income into account.

The headline of the article reads that “belief in God boils down to a gut feeling”. I think some may read this article and walk away with the feeling that belief in God is therefore unjustified, or even irrational. To use an example, a football coach may decide to “go for it” on 4th and short based on a hunch and have it end up backfiring and costing his team valuable field position, or possibly even the game. The last thing fans want to hear from the coach is that he went with his gut. Intuition isn’t always the best justification for our beliefs.

But when considering the question of God’s existence, the answer is not like taking a math quiz or gambling field position in a football game. Some truths that are known intuitively are perfectly justified. Intuition could be defined as pure, untaught, inferential knowledge. In other words, some things are self-evident. Take for instance moral facts. Moral facts cannot be proven scientifically. You can describe what happens to a woman psychologically or physiologically when she is being raped by a man, but science cannot tell you why one ought not to rape a woman. That is something we infer based upon on our moral intuitions. We just know that some things are just plain wrong. Thomas Aquinas once wrote  “A truth can come into the mind in two ways, namely as known in itself, and as known through another. What is known in itself is like a principle, and is perceived immediately by the mind….It is a firm and easy quality of mind which sees into principles.”

Moreover, if we continue to ask for justification for everything we can possibly know, we fall into an infinite regress. Greg Koukl states that..

If it’s always necessary to give a justification for everything we know, then knowledge would be impossible, because we could never answer an infinite series of questions. It’s clear, though, that we do know some things without having to go through the regress. Therefore, not every bit of knowledge requires justification based on prior steps of reasoning. Eventually you’re going to be pushed back to something foundational, something you seem to have a direct awareness of and for which you need no further evidence.

Furthermore, if God does exist and he wants to be known and he wants us to act a certain way towards him and our fellow-man, one way he can make himself known is through instilling in intuitions so that we respond in such a way he would like. We can then choose to stifle those intuitions, play dumb and demand an unreasonable amount of evidence – or we can choose to respond.

Finally, I would also say that being a more reflective person does not necessarily mean one will end up being an atheist or an agnostic. Quite the contrary. As Francis Bacon famously quipped. “A little philosophy inclineth man’s mind to atheism, but depth in philosophy bringeth men’s minds about to religion.”

When one seriously reflects on things such as what could be the first cause of the universe, or why the universe displays such exquisite design, or what is the basis for moral facts, or how the Christian faith originated, they will find that faith cannot only be grasped intuitively, but also intellectually.

The Christian and the Euthyphro Dilemma

Bust of Socrates in the Vatican Museum
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One of the arguments raised against God being the basis for morality is the age-old Euthyphro Dilemma. Socrates, in Plato’s dialogue, asks Euthyphro: “Is the pious loved by the gods because it is pious, or is it pious because it is loved by the gods?” The modern adaptation raised against theism goes something like this: “Is what is morally good commanded by God because it is morally good, or is it morally good because it is commanded by God?”

The Catch-22 for the theist is this:

  1. God could command any arbitrary thing that popped into his head – like killing kittens – and we’d be obligated to obey and call it good because God says so. Or
  2. God answers to some sort of higher moral standard outside of himself, thus he cannot be the basis for our morality.

Based on biblical teachings, I do not think the Euthyphro dilemma poses a real problem for the Christian at all. If the statements found in the Bible are even possibly true in what they say about God, then the Euthyphro dilemma is really a false dilemma.

  1. “God is light; in him there is no darkness at all.” (Referring to evil as darkness and light as good) (1 John 1:5)
  2. “God is love” (1 Jn. 4:8)
  3. God is triune “And I (Jesus) will ask the Father, and he will give you another advocate to help you and be with you forever— the Spirit of truth. The world cannot accept him, because it neither sees him nor knows him. But you know him, for he lives with you and will be in you” (Jn. 14:16)
  4. God is eternal and necessary. “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. He was with God in the beginning. Through him all things were made; without him nothing was made that has been made.” (Jn. 1:1-3)
  5. God’s character is unchanging. “Every good and perfect gift is from above, coming down from the Father of the heavenly lights, who does not change like shifting shadows. “ (James 1:17)

So if God is light and he is unchanging, then He cannot on a whim become a “dark god” and command torture of little babies. If God is love, then what he commands will by necessity be loving. If God is triune, then his morality is not found outside himself, but within the persons of the Trinity. The persons who make up the Godhead relate to each other freely not out of law or arbitrary demands,  but out of perfect and maximal love for the other. “For the one whom God has sent speaks the words of God, for God gives the Spirit without limit. The Father loves the Son and has placed everything in his hands.” (John 3:34-35)

So assuming the Bible is correct in what it says about the nature of God, God cannot have other traits then the ones that He possesses,  thus there is no arbitrariness. Furthermore, there is no higher moral good than love of the self-sacrificial, agape kind. God’s commands flow from his loving nature, and the New Testament command is to believe in Jesus Christ  love as Christ loved. (Jn. 13:34-35, 1 Jn. 3:22-24) There is no love standard that the triune God answers to outside of himself, He is necessarily a perfectly loving being by his very own nature.

Moreover, we read that whether we know God or not, He has “hard-wired” all humanity to recognize his commands. The commands aren’t imposed on us from the outside, but rather we recognize internally that we ought to love our neighbor as ourselves. If we do love our neighbor as ourselves, then we won’t steal from them, sleep with their wife, kick their cat, throw fireworks at their dog, etc.

“Indeed, when Gentiles, who do not have the law, do by nature things required by the law, they are a law for themselves, even though they do not have the law. They show that the requirements of the law are written on their hearts, their consciences also bearing witness, and their thoughts sometimes accusing them and at other times even defending them.” -Romans 2:14-15

The Christian has a special advantage. Not only does the Christian experience the benefit of having their sins forgiven, but they also God’s very own Spirit living within her, enabling her with divine grace to keep God’s commands.

I will give you a new heart and put a new spirit in you; I will remove from you your heart of stone and give you a heart of flesh. And I will put my Spirit in you and move you to follow my decrees and be careful to keep my laws.  (Ezekiel 36:26-27)

But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, forbearance, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control. Against such things there is no law. (Gal. 5:22-23)

To close, if the Christian theology and anthropology is correct, then Euthyphro dilemma really is not a dilemma at all. Socrates may have stuck a pebble in Euthyphro’s shoe (or sandal, I should say) but for the Christian believer, there is no quandary.

How I became a Christian – Part 2

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I spoke of my “Fall” in the convenience store. Now we’ll look at the ramifications. As a kid, I never questioned the existence of God, even though it wasn’t something that was necessarily preached to me. I would not have classified myself as a “born-again” person as a child in any sense of the term.  As I grew, I became less apt to follow my conscience and more inclined to do whatever I felt like doing, just so long that I could get away with it.

My parents unfortunately became addicted to alcohol as I got older.  I took the streets with my friends, playing wiffle-ball, basketball and doing goofy stuff that kids do, mostly to keep away from my house as much as possible.

We moved to another neighborhood around the time I turned 13, and that was about the time I became an atheist. I began to ask questions about life’s meaning. In my observation, life seemed so utterly meaningless. Because my family situation was becoming increasingly chaotic with all the drinking, and because of what I learned in school about Darwinian evolution (primordial-soup-to-people through an unguided process of chance and necessity with no end in view) and psychology (God is just wish-fulfillment) I came around to the sentiment that there was no sense in having faith. No one really provided me with any alternatives at the time.

My trouble with God as that my life seemed so unfair, but I oddly enough I never questioned of where this sense of justice within me arose. Not only was my life an injustice, but others’ lives also seemed so unfair, the world that God was supposedly sovereignty controlling was a mess, and I had been given what I believed were scientific and rational reasons to reject God.

The funny thing about it was that I presupposing infinite knowledge was possible by claiming there is no god. Despite my claims, I couldn’t prove that there was no god, as if I had comprehensive knowledge of the entire universe.  So in one sense I was positing omniscience while denying the Omniscient one at the same time.

I feel as though I was a very consistent atheist, as far as that is actually possible. I say that because I was very nihilistic.  Nothing was particularly right or wrong, because morality had no real basis. There was no point in being moral for the sake of convention, I would act in whatever way served my best interests at the moment. It didn’t help that I was re-enforcing my nihilistic views with gangster rap, either. This led to a very grim outlook on life, and because of that I self-medicated myself with drugs, particularly with weed.

My friends were all into the gangster culture, which is sort of funny because we were mostly white kids living in the suburbs. There was a low-income housing project in the county I lived in, and some of the inner-city gangs flocked to the area to sell drugs, and they started making an impression on some of the youngsters in the neighborhood. I befriended these people through an association from high school. While violence between other social groups occasionally broke out, we were hardly gang-bangers. We were really a pack of hooligans looking to get high and have fun.  (Can I use the word hooligan?)

I was very hostile to anyone who tried to preach the gospel to me. I had several people try and talk to me, ironically some of which were among the people I partied with. Because their lifestyle was inconsistent with their message, I told them where they could stick their gospel. To me, it was all an illusion for the weak; fairy tales and myths.

After about two years of this, and seeing my friends lives getting more out of control, I began to re-consider my worldview. There had to be more to life than just satisfying my pride and mental and physical cravings. And it couldn’t be through just finding meaning in work and family, either, as demonstrated by the brokenness that I saw in the lives of the parents of my friends, and in my family.  The knowledge of God was something I was suppressing. I didn’t want to accept that there was a God because I really didn’t want to be accountable for my behavior. But if we were not here by accident, how then should I live and why?

No matter how much I tried to deny morality, I couldn’t make it really compatible with naturalism, (although I know plenty of people try to find a way to squeeze it in).  And were all these people who claimed to find meaning in God really just deluding themselves, or was there something more to it?

to be continued