Occasionally, I've been offering theistic arguments that border on begging the question. Here, for instance, is one that's basically due to Kant, but transposed into an argument in a way that Kant would not approve of:
- (Premise) We should be grateful for the wondrous universe.
- (Premise) If something is not the product of agency, we should not be grateful for it.
- Therefore, the wondrous universe is the product of agency.
Nonetheless, I think there could be something to (1)-(3). Dan Johnson, in the January 2009 issue of Faith and Philosophy has a fascinating little article on the ontological and cosmological arguments. He argues that a certain kind of circularity is not vicious. Suppose that I know p1. I then infer p2 from p1 in such a way that I also know p2. I then non-rationally (or irrationally) stop believing p1, but as it happens, I continue to believe p2. It will then often be the case that there will be a good argument from p2 back to p1 (perhaps given some auxiliary premises), and if I use that argument, I will be able to regain my knowledge of p1. This is true even though there is a circularity: from p1, to p2, and back to p1. Here is an uncontroversial example: I am told my hotel room is 314. I infer that my hotel room is the first three digits of pi. I then forget that my hotel room is 314, but continue to believe it is the first three digits of pi. I then infer that my hotel room is 314.
Johnson proposes that by the sensus divinitatis one may come to know that God exists (actually, throughout this, I can't remember if he talks of knowledge or justified belief). One may then infer from this various things, such as that possibly God exists. Then, one irrationally rejects the existence of God (it does not have to be a part of the theory that every rejection of the existence of God is irrational), but some of the things one inferred from that belief remain. And arguments like the S5 ontological argument then make it possible to recover the knowledge of the existence of God from the things that one had inferred from that belief. Johnson also applies this to the cosmological argument.
This same structure may be present in my Kantian argument. By the sensus divinitatis one comes to know that God exists (obviously this is not a Kantian idea!). One infers that the universe is such that we should be grateful for it. One then irrationally comes to be an atheist (again, there is need be no claim that every atheist is irrationally such), but one continues to believe that gratitude is an appropriate response to the universe. And if that belief is sufficiently deeply engrained, one can reason back from it to theism or at least to agency behind the universe.
Now let me move a little beyond the Johnson paper. I think it is not necessary for this structure that the initial knowledge of God's existence come from the sensus divinitatis. Any other way of having knowledge of God's existence will do—say, by argument or testimony. In fact, it is not even necessary for this structure that one oneself ever had the knowledge or even belief that God exists. Suppose, for instance, one's parents knew that God exists (in whatever way), and inferred from this that the universe is worthy of gratitude. They then instilled this belief in one, and did so in such a way as to be knowledge-transmitting. (Surely, value beliefs can be instilled in such a way.) But they did not instill the belief that God exists (maybe because they thought that the existence of God was something everybody should figure out for themselves). One then knows (1), and can infer (3).
This transmission can be mediated by the wider culture, too. Culture can transmit knowledge, whether scientific or normative, and arguments can work at a cultural level. It could be that a theistic culture where the existence of God was known grew into a culture where (1) was known. The knowledge of (1) can remain even if the culture non-rationally rejects the existence of God (as American culture has not done, and might or might not do in the future). And then the individual can acquire the knowledge of (1) from the culture (we don't need to attribute knowledge to the culture if we don't want to; we can just talk of knowledge had by individuals participating in the culture), and then infer (3).
I think there are probably many consequences of theism that are embedded in the culture, from which consequences one can infer back to theism. If the participants in the culture knew theism to be true when these consequences were derived, then it is perfectly legitimate to reason back from these consequences to theism.