Is God’s Existence Known Inferentially or Directly?

Editor’s note: This post originally appeared on Think Apologetics. Tabernacle of David considers this resource trustworthy and Biblically sound.


When it comes to God’s existence, one common approach to this issue is to utilize what is called the inference to the best explanation model which  takes into account the best available explanation in our whole range of experience and reflection. For example, when we look at these features of reality, which provides a more satisfactory explanation:

  • How do you explain the Origin of the Universe?
  • How do you explain the Mathematical Fine-Tuning of the Universe?
  • How do you explain the Terrestrial Fine-Tuning of Planet Earth?
  • How do you explain the Informational Fine-Tuning of the DNA molecule?
  • How do you explain the Origin of Mathematical Laws?
  • How do you explain the Origin of Logical Laws?
  • How do you explain the Origin of Physical/Natural Laws?
  • How do you explain the Origin of the First Cell?
  • How do you explain the Origin of Human Reason?
  • How do you explain the Origin of Human Consciousness?
  • How do you explain the Origin of Objective Morality?
  • How do you explain Ultimate Meaning in Life?
  • How do you explain Ultimate Value in Life?
  • How do you explain Ultimate Purpose in Life?

Abduction can operate when people on both sides of an argument agree on what needs to be explained (certain features of reality) but they disagree on why this feature of reality exists.   Why does this feature of reality exist? Is it the result of nature itself or something outside nature? An inference is an idea or conclusion that’s drawn from evidence and reasoning or an inference can be an educated guess. But also remember that inferences can be based on observation and background knowledge.  Remember, when we look at the questions above, if you are committed to philosophical naturalism (the idea that nothing exists outside the natural realm of the material universe), you’ll find a way to interpret every piece of data to confirm your naturalistic presuppositions, even if the best inference from evidence points to something else. Of course, nobody directly knows past historical events. Much of it is inferential as well.

You can see this approach in The Return of the God Hypothesis  by Stephen C. Meyer or Paul Copan’s God: The Best Explanation

When it comes to making inferences and saying God is the best inference,  skeptics generally cry “God of the Gaps.” See more about the abuse of that fallacy here. 

In contrast to the inference to to the best explanation model, philosopher Alvin Plantinga  concludes that “there is a kind of faculty or cognitive mechanism, what Calvin calls sensus divinitatis or a sense of divinity, which in a wide variety of circumstances produces in us beliefs about God.” So in the same way that perceptual beliefs such as “I see a table” are non-inferential and properly basic, belief in God, when occasioned by the appropriate circumstances (such as one feeling a sense of guilt, dependence, beauty, and so forth), can also be properly basic because of the cognitive working of the sensus divinitatis.  Obviously, pepole can have perpetual or introspective l beliefs that aren’t inferred from anything else (ex. “I see a tree,” or, “I feel pain.”).  Apologists and philosophers are not fully convinced Plantinga’s model is successful.

I would say it doesn’t have to be an  either/or issue. People to come to think God exists through a variety of ways.

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