Argument from Intuition & Instinct

Do We Just 'Know' that God Exists?

Sometimes people can argue that anyone who is truly religious simply “knows” that their god really does exist. Logical proofs and empirical evidence simply aren’t necessary to validate this belief. The believer “feels” the presence of his or her god and “intuition” is cited as a valid source of this knowledge.

How do we address such an argument? There are two general responses. The first is purely logical, noting that what we have is little more than a tautology.

All the above says in the end is that anyone who really believes in a god does, in fact, believe in a god.

Obviously that will never be enough to convince anyone else to believe in any gods, and it doesn’t even inform them about that belief. But it also isn’t enough to make the case that the claimant’s belief is rational, as revealed in the second response.

It should be noted that the exact same argument can be easily made — and with equal validity — by just about anyone else on behalf of just about any belief. A person can claim that they intuitively “know” that ghosts or UFOs or fairies exist, too. Even a racist can claim to just “know” that other races are inferior.

Two “true believers” who confront each other with such assertions simply have no way to seriously negotiate their positions. They aren’t really communicating anything, again not saying much more than that as believers, they really believe.

So they certainly aren’t going to get very far with a skeptic who isn’t sympathetic to this argument to begin with.

Another argument we can see is the claim that all people around the world do believe and have believed in some sort of god. These believers may not use the same names for this god, but they do believe because we are all born with an instinctual knowledge of this god’s existence.

Now, how should we respond to this particular argument? The first point to raise should be to note that it isn’t even factually correct. It is not true that all people, either currently or historically, are or have been theists. Not even all religions are theistic, with Buddhist and Taoism most notably having many atheists as adherents.

Thus, since it is not true that all people have been believers, it cannot be concluded that this belief is due to some instinctual knowledge or experience of a god. However, even if we concede that all people have been theists, or even just pretend that the number of atheists has been insignificant and a fluke, is the conclusion supported?

The answer is no: widespread belief in the existence of a god does not mean that this belief stems from any instinctual knowledge or experience of a god. There are many other characteristics of humans which have been at least as widespread as theism, for example the idea that other tribal/ethnic groups are inferior to one’s own. Does this stem from some “instinctual” knowledge that one’s own group is superior?

It must also be noted that it is merely asserted that all believers may be calling “god” by different names, but that they have instinctual knowledge of the same, true god.

At no point is any real reason to believe this claim offered to us. There is no reason to think it any less probable that everyone is getting instinctual knowledge of different, existing gods.

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