"Argumentum ad Famem"
"The Argument from Hunger"
Augh, Coyne found some grade-A nonsense:
More theological criticism of atheists: we’re not despairing enough
But Robert Barron, a Catholic priest, thinks I should feel otherwise. Watch the video of this seemingly genial fellow and see how many things you can disagree with in just a few minutes:
I watched it. Augh, again.
I find this the most invidious part of his spiel:
We have deeply ingrained in us a sense of the limitedness of this world that there is something more. In fact, our very wiring for God proves the existence of God. We desire something which transcends the limitations of this world means that we have within us a sort of participation in the eternal. . . Your hunger is not a sign that food is a projection, but your hunger in fact proves the existence of food—your hunger proves the reality of food. Right? It doesn’t mean that food is some kind of subjective projection or illusion. So that our desires are not misleading us: our desires order us to realities—so our desire for God.
That’s a new theological argument to me: The Argument from Hunger. Because we want something so badly, it must exist. Readers might amuse themselves with refuting it.
So, if I really, really, really want a unicorn pony in my house, it exists there? Wow, I did not know it was that simple!
But seriously, this really is not different from other theological arguments that try to link the mundane with the supermundane. Just think of Paley's watchmaker argument. Arguments like these comprise two main parts:
- Comparing two mundane objects or qualities linked in some relational situation, and whose existence is not in doubt (e.g. a built pocket watch and its builder -- builder in this relationship implies the watch, and built in this relationship implies the builder).
- Comparing two ultramundane objects or qualities linked in some relational situation, whose existence is in fact in doubt, and just assuming that these ultramundane objects or qualities are in any way analogous to the mundane, often with the help of a mundane label (and yet both this and their very existence is the very thing being called in question).
People who argue things like this, whether they know it or not, use mundane labels for ultramundane concepts in order to make the old switcheroo between the two ontological levels.
When we turn our attention to this Argumentum ad Famem here, our hunger does not prove that our food exists. Food and hunger are relational concepts, and they together are part of a situation in which one has its contextual and semantic and logical coherency together with the other. Of course, someone could say that these concepts are free-floating "things" that exist in some Platonic realm, but if that were the case, I would have no idea what they are, and they would be, frankly, irrelevant to this discussion.
But neither the hunger nor the food say anything about the kind of divinely instilled hunger meant to "prove" the existence of a deity -- a kind of hunger referred to by the mundane label "desires." Not only do we not have to take the existence of the former for granted, we also do not have to accept that such things are in any way analogous to actual hunger and food. If they are analogous, then they are in a relational situation wherein one implies the other. But the "desires" idea mentioned above is laden with the theory of theism in the sense that it is held to be god-given implicitly. While the argument is trying to show that the deity exists, it needs to beg the question of that existence in order to show that the "desires" exist.
So, really, in order for the argument, or rather the analogy, to work, the existence of the deity and the existence of the desires have to be accepted at first just in the same way that the hunger and the food have to be accepted at first.