Is Intuition an Unjustifiable Reason for Faith?

The Thinker

Image by 4johnny5 via Flickr

The writers at LiveScience.com tell us that those who are more intuitive are people who are more likely to have faith in God.

Shenhav and his colleagues investigated that question in a series of studies. In the first, 882 American adults answered online surveys about their belief in God. Next, the participants took a three-question math test with questions such as, “A bat and a ball cost $1.10 in total. The bat costs $1 more than the ball. How much does the ball cost?”

The intuitive answer to that question is 10 cents, since most people’s first impulse is to knock $1 off the total. But people who use “reflective” reasoning to question their first impulse are more likely to get the correct answer: 5 cents.

Sure enough, people who went with their intuition on the math test were found to be one-and-a-half times more likely to believe in God than those who got all the answers right. The results held even when taking factors such as education and income into account.

The headline of the article reads that “belief in God boils down to a gut feeling”. I think some may read this article and walk away with the feeling that belief in God is therefore unjustified, or even irrational. To use an example, a football coach may decide to “go for it” on 4th and short based on a hunch and have it end up backfiring and costing his team valuable field position, or possibly even the game. The last thing fans want to hear from the coach is that he went with his gut. Intuition isn’t always the best justification for our beliefs.

But when considering the question of God’s existence, the answer is not like taking a math quiz or gambling field position in a football game. Some truths that are known intuitively are perfectly justified. Intuition could be defined as pure, untaught, inferential knowledge. In other words, some things are self-evident. Take for instance moral facts. Moral facts cannot be proven scientifically. You can describe what happens to a woman psychologically or physiologically when she is being raped by a man, but science cannot tell you why one ought not to rape a woman. That is something we infer based upon on our moral intuitions. We just know that some things are just plain wrong. Thomas Aquinas once wrote  “A truth can come into the mind in two ways, namely as known in itself, and as known through another. What is known in itself is like a principle, and is perceived immediately by the mind….It is a firm and easy quality of mind which sees into principles.”

Moreover, if we continue to ask for justification for everything we can possibly know, we fall into an infinite regress. Greg Koukl states that..

If it’s always necessary to give a justification for everything we know, then knowledge would be impossible, because we could never answer an infinite series of questions. It’s clear, though, that we do know some things without having to go through the regress. Therefore, not every bit of knowledge requires justification based on prior steps of reasoning. Eventually you’re going to be pushed back to something foundational, something you seem to have a direct awareness of and for which you need no further evidence.

Furthermore, if God does exist and he wants to be known and he wants us to act a certain way towards him and our fellow-man, one way he can make himself known is through instilling in intuitions so that we respond in such a way he would like. We can then choose to stifle those intuitions, play dumb and demand an unreasonable amount of evidence – or we can choose to respond.

Finally, I would also say that being a more reflective person does not necessarily mean one will end up being an atheist or an agnostic. Quite the contrary. As Francis Bacon famously quipped. “A little philosophy inclineth man’s mind to atheism, but depth in philosophy bringeth men’s minds about to religion.”

When one seriously reflects on things such as what could be the first cause of the universe, or why the universe displays such exquisite design, or what is the basis for moral facts, or how the Christian faith originated, they will find that faith cannot only be grasped intuitively, but also intellectually.