Saturday, February 20, 2010

God and love

The following argument is valid. The only question is whether the premises are true.

  1. (Premise) A failure to see someone one loves as created by a good God is a defect (culpable or not) in that love.
  2. (Premise) A failure to see people as they are not is not a defect in love for them.
  3. (Premise) There is an atheist, x, who loves someone, y, and does not see y as created by a good God.
  4. x suffers from a failure of love in not believing y to be a creature of a good God. (1 and 3)
  5. If there is no God, then no one is created by a good God. (Tautology)
  6. If there is no God, then x does not suffer from a failure of love in not loving y as created by God. (2 and 5)
  7. There is a God. (4 and 6)

I am actually pretty sure of all the premises except (3). (It may be that the phenomenology of love is such that one always sees the beloved as created by God, even if one is an atheist.) If (3) is the point of uncertainty, one can supplement the argument by a dilemma:

  1. Either it is possible to love someone without seeing her as created by a good God or not. (Tautology)
  2. (Premise) If it is not possible to love someone without seeing her as created by a good God, then probably God exists.
  3. (Premise) If it is possible to love someone without seeing her as created by a good God, then God exists.
  4. Therefore, probably, God exists.
Here, (10) is justified by the earlier argument, and (9) is fairly plausible. One way to see (9) is to note that love is an obligatory attitude in certain relationships (e.g., parent-child ones), and it is unlikely that a doxastic necessary condition for having an obligatory attitude would be to have a false belief.

[I made some minor corrections.]


Andrew said...

I think (1) is true, but I am not sure that everyone would accept it.

It seems the following two propositional attitudes are different: "not believing/seeing someone I love as created by a good God" and "believing/seeing someone I love as not created by a good God". I think that it would make a difference as to which where meant in premise (1). I can see the former not effecting my love towards the other person in a defective way. It simply doesn't come up whether the other person is created by a good God, or I withhold belief in it (not believing it does not seem to be a _defect_ in my love). But the later (believing/seeing it not to be the case) would cause a defect in my loving the other person.

Anonymous said...

Here's something I love about learning:
Prior to reading this blog-entry, my reaction to someone telling me "There exists an argument from atheists in love for the existence of God and the premises aren't completely crazy", my reaction would have been saying "Oh yeah. Sure." and then, when no one is looking, run away.

But while the project sounds implausible, the premises don't really. In fact, they look pretty good. Personally, I don't have a problem with (3), I just don't see much justification for (1). Could you lay out the rationale behind it?

Alexander R Pruss said...


Well, let me tell you what made me think (1) is true. I was looking at my 4.5-year-old son, and thinking that he appears to be created by God. And it seemed fairly obvious that my appreciation for him would fall short of how delightful he is if I didn't see him in this way. And then I reflected on the fact that the same could be said in the case of every interpersonal love.

larryniven said...

Alex, are you familiar with Cormac McCarthy? "If he is not the word of God God never spoke," is how the protagonist of The Road describes his son.

Not that any of this makes me any more believing in theism, but it's a neat coincidence.

Alexander R Pruss said...

1. No, I don't know C. McCarthy. Thanks for the reference.

2. A minor correction to the first premise is that I need to stipulate that the beloved is not God. :-)

3. My wife points out that the point about love being defective if it doesn't see the beloved as a creature of God is particularly important in the case of love for a child. For it is different to see one's child as one's own product versus seeing this child as someone that has been assigned to one's keeping. This reminds me of the importance of the historical moral development away from seeing one's children as one's property, and one might argue that theism played a role in this development--the child isn't really mine, because the child is God's. We don't create our children, and shouldn't treat them as if we did.

Alexander R Pruss said...

I should note that this argument is closely related to Kant's argument that we have a moral duty to be grateful for the world around us; but we can only be grateful to a person; thus, we can only fulfill our moral duties if we suppose that there is a creator.

Dan Johnson said...

Good stuff, Alex.

Like some other arguments that are vulnerable to charges of circularity :), this argument's persuasiveness will depend quite a bit on its rhetorical presentation. The story about your son is essential to that presentation, I think, and using the McCarthy quote would be helpful.

Here's an idea of where some of these arguments come from. I've said that they derive from the sense of deity. But the sense of deity is more than a one-time belief-former. It is something that we live in light of, and Kuyper and Bavinck always insisted that Christians should strive to live their lives ever more embedded in the vivid awareness provided by the sense of deity. So we should expect to have the sense of deity spill out in all sorts of ways when we look around in God's world, and we can use some of those ways in apologetic arguments.

You've been keeping your eyes open for such opportunities, and I'm impressed.

Dan Johnson said...

A directly analogous argument can be constructed for love of or respect for nature rather than for love of other persons. Just replace the first premise with:

(1) A failure to see the natural world (or the parts of nature) that one respects and treasures as created by a good God is a defect (culpable or not) in that respect.

Then alter the rest of the argument accordingly. This argument may be of more use against committed environmentalists who don't have children (or for some other reason don't find the original argument compelling).

And it seems to me that this argument has as much pull as the original. It brings in classical Christian thinking about stewardship -- the natural world is God's gift to us, not completely ours to do with as we please.

One more, unrelated, comment. I think you can strengthen your first premise. Not only is it a defect in love to fail to see the loved one as created by a good God; it is a defect in love to fail to see the loved one as created IN THE IMAGE OF a good God. And that strengthens the rest of the argument.

Dan Johnson said...

More stuff to say! Wow, what a fascinating argument.

This all seems directly related to Kierkegaard's view that neighbor-love needs to lie beneath all preference-love. We must love others because of their relation to God (because they are created in the image of God and because we are commanded to love everyone), and that love must be somehow more fundamental than our love which is based on more person-relative reasons.

Maybe this law, the law of neighbor-love, is written on our hearts, such that we can feel the lack when we don't have such neighbor-love (which is essentially God-referring).

brian_g said...

What if we make the change steps 4 -6:

4 If there is no good God, then no one is created by a good God. (Tautology)
5 If there is no good God, then x does not suffer from a failure of love in not loving y as created by a good God. (2 and 5)
6 There is a good God. (4 and 6)

I think the argument is still valid.

Dan Johnson said...

Alex, you may need to revise premise 2, in light of some of what Kierkegaard says in Works of Love. Sometimes, it is important for love to give the loved one the benefit of the doubt -- even if the evidence doesn't support giving them that benefit. And the benefit of the doubt you give them may be mistaken. In that case, you see the loved person as they are not, but it is a defect in your love to fail to see them that way (fail to give them the benefit of the doubt).

I'm sure you can revise the premise to account for this without hurting the argument, but I'm not sure how exactly. Maybe something like: failing to believe something impossible about them can't be a defect in your love for them. I'm not sure.

TaiChi said...

(1) is closely related to: (`1) A failure to see someone one loves as perfect is a defect (culpable or not) in that love. In fact, I can't but see (1) as borrowing its plausibility from (`1).

However, (`1) is false. People love each other in spite of, or perhaps because of, their imperfections. And there is no defect in that love, as (2) tells us. So, I submit, (1) is false as well.