Sensus divinitatis ("sense of divinity"), also referred to as sensus deitatis ("sense of deity") or semen religionis ("seed of religion"), is a term first used by French Protestant reformer John Calvin to describe a hypothetical human sense. Instead of knowledge of the environment (as with, for example, smell or sight), the sensus divinitatis is alleged to give humans a knowledge of God.
In Calvin's view, there is no reasonable non-belief. Neo-Calvinists who adhere to the presuppositionalist school of Christian apologetics sometimes appeal to a sensus divinitatis to argue that there are no genuine atheists.
That there exists in the human mind and indeed by natural instinct, some sense of Deity [sensus divinitatis], we hold to be beyond dispute, since God himself, to prevent any man from pretending ignorance, has endued all men with some idea of his Godhead…. …this is not a doctrine which is first learned at school, but one as to which every man is, from the womb, his own master; one which nature herself allows no individual to forget.
Analytic philosopher Alvin Plantinga of the University of Notre Dame posits a modified form of the sensus divinitatis whereby all have the sense, only it does not work properly in some humans, due to sin's noetic effects. (see Reformed epistemology)
Jonathan Edwards, the 18th-century American Calvinist preacher and theologian, claimed that while every human being has been granted the capacity to know God, successful use of these capacities requires an attitude of "true benevolence."
Philosopher Evan Fales presents three arguments against the presence of a sensus divinitatis:
- The divergence of claims and beliefs (lack of reliability, even within Christian sects).
- The lack of demonstrably superior morality of Christians versus non-Christians.
- Bible verses, accepted by most Christians as authored by men inspired by the Holy Spirit — presumably with a functioning sensus divinitatis — in which "God performs, commands, accepts or countenances rape, genocide, human sacrifice, pestilence to punish David for taking a census, killing David's infant to punish him, hatred of family, capital punishment for breaking a monetary promise, and so on".
However, Maitzen may[according to whom?] have confused Aquinas's sensus dei with sensus divinitatis - sensus divinitatis (a religious sense) only necessitates a core religious/faith component to one's beliefs, whereas the sensus dei aims at a natural knowledge of God - compare In the Twilight of Western Thought by Herman Dooyeweerd (1894-1977).
- Helm, Paul (1998). "John Calvin, the Sensus Divinitatis, and the noetic effects of sin". International Journal for Philosophy of Religion 43 (2): 87–107. doi:10.1023/A:1003174629151.
- Calvin, Jean. Institutes of the Christian Religion. Westminster/John Knox Press,U.S. ISBN 0-664-22028-2.
- Plantinga, Alvin. Warranted Christian Belief. ISBN 0-19-513192-4.
- Fales, Evan (2003-05-13). "Critical Discussion of Alvin Plantinga's Warranted Christian Belief". NOUS (Wiley Periodicals, Inc) 37 (2): 353–370. doi:10.1111/1468-0068.00443. Retrieved 2012-01-26.
- Maitzen, Steven (2006). "Divine hiddenness and the demographics of theism" (PDF). Religious Studies (Cambridge University Press) 42: 177–191. doi:10.1017/S0034412506008274. Retrieved 2012-01-26.
- Dooyeweerd, Herman (1960). In the Twilight of Western Thought. Paideia Press, Limited (published 2012). p. 24. ISBN 9780888152176. Retrieved 2013-10-24.