- Every attitude that humans take that cannot be constructed out of simpler attitudes is appropriate on some occasions. (Premise)
- There are properly religious attitudes that humans take that cannot be constructed out of simpler attitudes. (Premise)
- Therefore, some properly religious attitudes are appropriate on some occasions. (by 1 and 2)
- If a properly religious attitude is appropriate, then there is a numinous being. (Premise)
- If there is a numinous being, there is a supernatural and numinous being. (Premise)
- Thus, there is a supernatural and numinous being. (by 3-5)
The argument is valid, but has four premises, not one of which is uncontroversial. [The above has been edited: The first version of the argument had "holy" in place of "numinous" in 5, which mistake a sharp-eyed commenter pointed out. A typo was also fixed. – ARP]
About premise 1. Here, there is a question of what I mean by "attitude". I include under "attitude" every kind of propositional attitude, but also some object-oriented ones, like being afraid of (which is, of course, not the same as fearing that). The attitudes all include an aspect of the mental, but may also include physical aspects. I don't know exactly how large a class I want to pick out here. I want it to include things like being afraid of, hoping that, worshiping, being awestruck by, believing that, trusting in, hating, smelling, etc. An attitude is a way for a person comport herself at least mentally.
Some attitudes can be constructed out of simpler ones. For instance desiring to spread ______ on bread is constructed out of the attitude of desiring to together with some concepts like those of spreading and onbreadness. Spinoza thinks all attitudes can be constructed out of believes that, is pleased by and is pained by and various concepts to put in the accusatives of these attitudes, but he's surely wrong.
If a basic attitude, one not constructible from something simpler as above, had no circumstances under which it was appropriate, it would be a very odd fact that we had that attitude. Odd, of course, is not the same as impossible. But I am not claiming that it is impossible for a critter to have a basic attitude that is never appropriate, only that in fact each of ours is sometimes appropriate. Arguably, unless we affirm 1, scepticism looms.
The sense of "appropriate" here is the stronger, objective sense. I do not mean that sometimes attitudes are justified, as in Jane's being justifiably scared of a hose because she has a justified false belief that it's a venomous snake, but that they are really appropriate.
Thus, sometimes fear is appropriate. Hence, some things are dangerous. Sometimes hope is appropriate. Hence, some future goods are causally possible. Sometimes, hearing is appropriate. Hence, there is an external world.
About premise 2. An attitude is properly religious provided that it is inappropriate outside of a religiously significant context. Thus, the attitude of believing _______ to be a non-bicycle is not properly religious, since it is appropriate towards both God and a rock.
Here, I am thinking about the attitudes we take towards the numinous, attitudes of the sort Otto describes in The Idea of the Holy. Otto lists the emotional concommittants of our attitudes towards the mysterium tremendum et fascinans as including awe and fascination. The "awe" and "fascination" at the mysterium tremendum et fascinans are each irreducible. They have analogues and similarities, of course, outside of the religious sphere, but do not reduce to them. Awe pushes us away from an object, but it cannot be reduced to fear (we might say that "awe" is a "religious fear", but that is not a reduction). Fascination in the relevant sense pulls us towards an object, but it cannot be reduced to a combination of wanting, liking or being curious about, even though it may entail strong versions of these inspid attitudes.
These religious attitudes of awe and fascinations are properly religious. One might have them when contemplating the universe as a whole, say, but only insofar as the universe as a whole is a reflection of the glory of something greater than the universe. One way to see this is to note that the appropriateness of these attitudes is not a question of degree. A universe that was the size of a walnut would not, unless seen as a reflection of something greater, make religious attitudes towards itself appropriate. But mere size will not make the attitude more appropriate. How many pounds do you need to weigh to be awe-ful and fascinating? The universe as a whole, as far as we can tell, is just more of the same stuff around us, just a lot more of it–more matter, more energy, perhaps more minded finite beings. It is only as reflecting something beyond the physical, something holy which lends the object something of its holiness, that the religious attitudes become appropriate. Thus, they are properly religious.
About premise 4. I only need premise 4 as restricted to religious awe and fascination, and there I can make use of what I said in regard to premise 2. But I think it is a general characteristic of properly religious attitudes that they should relate us or the world around us to something numinous. Contrition as a religious attitude is being sorry insofar as one has offended a holy being. (I don't know if contrition is reducible. Maybe it can be reduced to being sorry for offending a holy being. I suspect not, just as being in awe is not the same as being scared of a holy being.)
Premise 5. The holy is not just the very, very good, as Otto reminds us. The holy is numinous. Now a natural object might be numinous, say a shrine. But it is only really numinous if it in some way ultimately participates in something beyond this universe. We've seen in this in the discussion of premise 2. Of course people might feel awe at a shrine that in no way participates in stuff beyond this world. But "numinous" in this argument is to be always taken to mean "really numinous" not just "apparently numinous". The shrine of a false god is apparently numinous, but is only numinous if it happens to participate in the numinousness of something real.
One might formulate this as a regress: natural objects are only numinous by association with something else. But if all we had is a regress of natural objects, each numinous by association with the next, the chain as a whole would still be a numinous object, and hence only numinous by association, and hence there would have to be a supernatural numinous object. (Sounds quite a bit like the Cosmological Argument and the Fourth Way.)
So, the premises are true, the argument valid, and the conclusion true.