Philosophy and the Soul’s Search for God

In the following blog post, Paul Herrick responds to the charge that theistic arguments are mere “god of the gap” fallacies. He expands on his argument in Philosophy, Reasoned Belief, and Faith and shares why any course on philosophy needs to integrate arguments for God’s existence.

When philosophers give arguments for God’s existence, they are often accused of giving a “god of the gaps” argument. This is an argument that reduces to the following form: Phenomenon P has not been explained by science. Therefore, P must have been caused by God. So, God exists. Everyone agrees that this kind of argument is fallacious. It is also unconvincing. The obvious reply to a god of the gaps argument is: “Just wait. Science will explain P in due time.”

However, the great theistic arguments are not god of the gap arguments. Rather, they typically argue that P is a phenomenon that in principle cannot be explained by science and they conclude that the hypothesis that God exists is the best explanation, out of the possible explanations available. In my opinion, that is a solid response to the “gap” critique of theistic arguments.

But there is another way to defend the inference to God’s existence. In my recent book, Philosophy, Reasoned Belief, and Faith: An Introduction, I tried to show that belief in God’s existence, which I call “mere theism,” is the only rational way to explain many features of the universe that (a) cannot be explained by science, and (b) that would otherwise be unrelated in our account of the universe as a whole. Theism is therefore not only the best explanation in each case, it is the only way to achieve theoretical unification—the goal of every academic subject within its own domain. Put another way, theism alone gives us an integrated worldview—one that makes sense of the universe as an interconnected whole.

In Philosophy, Reasoned Belief, and Faith I tried to establish this point by building a cumulative argument for mere theism that runs from the first chapter to the last, with arguments for God’s existence from the order of the universe, the existence of the universe, the existence of our higher cognitive faculties, the existence of highly theoretical knowledge, the immaterial nature of consciousness, free will, and morality, and the intrinsic value of the individual human being. Belief in God thus explains and ties together major aspects of reality that would otherwise be unrelated and unexplained. Theism does explanatory work that science cannot do and that it never will do. This is another way to respond to the charge that theistic arguments are mere god of the gap fallacies.

Based on my experiences in the college classroom, this “theistically integrated” approach to philosophy is the best way to show students why nearly all the greatest philosophers of the past 2,500 years have argued that belief in God’s existence is a necessary part of the most reasonable worldview attainable. In my opinion, then, an introduction to philosophy ought to integrate arguments for God’s existence within each unit, producing a cumulative case for belief that grows as each new topic is explored.

Socrates, Plato, and Aristotle, if they were alive today, would approve, for they saw philosophy as an ascent of the mind, heart, and soul toward God as the ultimate end of life’s journey. Augustine, Bonaventure, and Aquinas would agree, as would most of the greatest since their time. I wish the first philosophy text that I studied had been organized along the theme of theistic integration. I was questioning everything at the time and was lost. I would have progressed faster. On the other hand, I would not have lived the life I did live, and I give thanks every day for everything, for I’ve slowly come to see how great a gift life is, however many twists and turns it takes. In part I wrote Philosophy, Reasoned Belief, and Faith for students as confused as I once was. A theistically integrated text is existential in another sense: its chapters step by step mirror the soul’s search for God.