Monday, February 16, 2004

Dialogue on the Argument From Non-Belief (ANB) as a Proposed Disproof of God's Existence (vs. Steve Conifer & Dr. Ted Drange)

I have let Steve (words in blue) get in the "last word" in several places, in the interest of fairness, and due to my belief that his further objections had already been adequately covered by previous of my remarks. Good philosophical discussions usually don't have a neat and tidy ending, as complete concessions or admissions of defeat are rare. But they must end somehow. My goal is to let atheists speak for themselves (rather than be caricatured by opponents) and to show how a Christian might reply to their arguments. The reader is left to judge each "case." Dr. Drange's words will be in red.

* * * * *

You might take a stab at refuting [philosophy professor] Ted [Drange]'s Argument from Nonbelief, which runs thus:

ANB: To formulate ANB, I put first forward these two definitions:

Set P = the following three propositions:

(a) There exists a being who rules the entire universe.
(b) That being loves humanity.
(c) Humanity has been provided with an afterlife.

Situation S = the situation of all, or almost all, humans coming to believe all three propositions of set P by the time of their physical death.

Using the above definitions, ANB may be expressed as follows:

(A) If God were to exist, then he would possess all of the following four properties (among others):

(1) being able to bring about situation S, all things considered;
(2) wanting to bring about situation S, i.e., having it among his desires;
(3) not wanting anything else that conflicts with his desire to bring about situation S as strongly as it;
(4) being rational (which implies always acting in accord with his own highest purposes).

(B) If a being who has all four properties listed above were to exist, then situation S would have to obtain.
(C) But situation S does not obtain. It is not the case that all, or almost all, humans have come to believe all the propositions of set P by the time of their physical death.
(D) Therefore [from (B) & (C)], there does not exist a being who has all four properties listed in premise (A).
(E) Hence [from (A) & (D)], God does not exist.

. . . I've no doubt your rejoinder will be a careful one . . .

I look forward to it.

Here is my reply to ANB:

P(a), P(b), P(c) are accepted as true within orthodox Christianity.

After that, there is a great deal less truth in the argument. :-)

ANB: (A) If God were to exist, then he would possess all of the following four properties (among others):

[Note: I'll use "R" meaning "reply" to the existing numbers and letters]

RA (a general, preliminary observation): A is not so much a reasoned argument as much as it is (like Set P) an acceptance --for the sake of argument only -- of traditional theistic concepts. Each of those have to be argued in turn. But I understand that (as I see it), ANB is an attempt to posit internal inconsistency in the Christian (or at least "theistic") God. Thus, A1 represents omnipotence, A2 omnibenevolence, A3 a combination of omnipotence and omnibenevolence (and thus, A1 + A2), while A4 is a subset of omniscience and/or Providence. I shall now deal with each in turn:

A1: being able to bring about situation S, all things considered;

RA1: An omnipotent being can do whatever is possible to do, given logic and the law of noncontradiction, and the state of the creation as He Himself created it. It does not mean "able to do absolutely anything, whether it goes against logic or not." Thus, even God cannot make the sun and the earth occupy the same place at the same time (not to mention physical laws which presumably would cause the earth to burn up before it ever touched the sun at all). He can't make 2+2=5 or make a circle a square or make a galaxy travel simultaneously in two opposite directions, etc. He can't make Himself not exist, either.

One thing, then, that such a being cannot do, is bring about His desired outcome for His creatures in every case, given the fact that He created them free beings, with the power of choosing contrary to His perfect will, and contrary to what is best for the creatures themselves. Put another way, God can only save everyone and cause them to all end up in heaven with Him eternally by creating robots who always do His will, just as a computer always does the programmer's will, or objects always follow the law of gravity or the laws of thermodynamics.

God thought it was best to create free creatures who could therefore freely and willfully love Him (and each other) or reject God (and each other). To possess such free choice and free will is what it means to be "made in God's image." It makes us more like God, because we can freely, rationally choose, as He does. And this possibility in turn also opens up the possibility of rebellion against God, and evil, and hence separation from God spiritually and ultimately in every sense (the Christian doctrine of hell).

So the short answer is that A1 is false because even an omnipotent God cannot make free creatures inevitably choose His perfect will. By choosing to create men free, certain things were logically ruled out: universalism or near-universalism was one of these. But that is man's fault, not God's. Thus, ANB (for the Christian) inevitably reduces to merely a variant of the rejoinders to the Free Will Defense (FWD).

A2: wanting to bring about situation S, i.e., having it among his desires;

RA2: God does desire this; this is uncontroversial.

A3: not wanting anything else that conflicts with his desire to bring about situation S as strongly as it;

RA3: that is rendered logically impossible even for an omnipotent and omnibenevolent Being, because of free will (RA1). I should clarify that I am assuming that A3 is (ultimately) referring to omnipotence, and not merely desire as in A2 (which God does have): God cannot make such a state of affairs inevitably or necessarily happen, in His omnipotence, because that would overrule or supersede human free will, which is also His desire.

A4: being rational (which implies always acting in accord with his own highest purposes).

RA4: Uncontroversial; but again, the considerations of free will (RA1) must be taken into account.

(B) If a being who has all four properties listed above were to exist, then situation S would have to obtain.

RB: this doesn't follow, due to the nature of free creatures in relation to even an all-powerful God.

(C) But situation S does not obtain. It is not the case that all, or almost all, humans have come to believe all the propositions of set P by the time of their physical death.

RC: Correct, but not due to any deficiency in God's nature, as explained.

(D) Therefore [from (B) & (C)], there does not exist a being who has all four properties listed in premise (A).

RD: That is untrue because of the false and axiomatic premises smuggled into Situation S and A1, upon which the false conclusion is reached. It's an argument/house built on a foundation of sand, and simply begs the question at a crucial starting-point. It presupposes determinism and the absence of human free will. The Christian view always denies determinism, so ANB fails utterly if construed as merely a claim of internal inconsistency in Christianity. If conceived in some larger rhetorical sense, it would then need to prove its assumed premises, which in turn reduces ANB (as described above, at any rate) to a discussion of free will vs. determinism, rather than the supposed non-existence of God based on arguments deriving from that unproven, unsubstantiated premise.

(E) Hence [from (A) & (D)], God does not exist.

RE: Untrue because of RD.

Thanks, Dave, for your enlightened and thoughtful reply.

You're welcome; anytime.

It seems you advocate the Free-will Defense (FWD), whereby (A3) is false because there is something God wants more than worldwide belief, namely, the preservation of man's autonomy.

It doesn't follow that He wants it "more." He wants both (as far as that goes), but both cannot (or often, or potentially cannot) exist together, and even an omnipotent being cannot make it so, if He creates and allows free will in human beings.

Here is Ted's reply to FWD (lifted from his 'net piece):

According to this objection, which may be called "the Free-Will Defense" or FWD for short, premise (A3) of ANB is false because there is something that God wants even more strongly than situation S and that is the free formation of proper theistic belief.

See my last comment. I suspect that this misunderstanding will be the seed of further fallacious arguments . . . We'll see.

God wants people to come to believe the propositions of set P freely and not as the result of any sort of coercion.

Indeed.

He knows that people would indeed believe those propositions if he were to directly implant the belief in their minds or else perform spectacular miracles before them.

In the first instance, yes, but that would be the coercion that God doesn't desire. The second is untrue because it is known that whatever miracle occurs, many skeptics like you guys on this list will disbelieve it (see, e.g., Luke 16:30-31), because you either rule out the possibility of the miraculous beforehand ("define it away") or make verification practically impossible, so that no miracle can occur, let alone a belief in God which oftentimes follows such a remarkable happening. Jesus rebuked the Pharisees, who wouldn't believe that he healed a blind man, when He did it right in front of them. They cared little about demonstrable fact (John 9:1-41 -- all).

But for him to do that would interfere with their free will, which he definitely does not want to happen.

Miracles don't interfere with free will, but people often refuse to believe them because of their false philosophical presuppositions or, e.g., unwillingness to accept the conclusion that the miracle suggests, about God, or about the difference that a God would make in their own life and responsibilities.

Since God's desire that humans retain their free will outweighs his desire for situation S, it follows that premise (A3) is false, which makes ANB unsound.

It doesn't "outweigh" anything in God's desires; it is simply a state of affairs that makes sin and rebellion against God, and evil possible, and hence, human beings not believing in God, etc.

There are many objections to FWD. First and foremost, assuming that God wants to avoid interfering with people's free will, it is not clear that that desire actually conflicts with his desire for situation S. Why should showing things to people interfere with their free will?

It doesn't; I agree.

People want to know the truth.

Some do; not all, by a long shot. Of course all of us here are pure truth seekers who flee in horror from all falsehoods, no matter how minor. :-)

It would seem, then, that to show them things would not interfere with their will, but would conform to it. Even direct implantation of belief into a person's mind need not interfere with his/her free will. If that person were to want true beliefs and not care how the beliefs are obtained, then for God to directly implant true beliefs into his/her mind would not interfere with, but would rather comply with, the person's free will.

Only if he were free to change his mind. If not, it would interfere with his free will and free choice.

An analogy would be God making a large unexpected direct deposit into someone's bank account. It would make the person quite pleased and would not at all interfere with his/her free will.

Sure, but this is irrelevant to the question at hand. The truly free person can now take that money and squander it in whatever fashion he likes. Likewise, free persons can reject God, even if they know that He is exactly what Christians claim Him to be, just as people rejected Jesus during His lifetime, even though He was an obviously and extraordinarily good person by virtually any criteria of ethics and behavior towards others.

Furthermore, as was explained previously in Section I, there are many different ways by which God might bring about situation S. It is not necessary for him to use either direct implantation or spectacular miracles. He could accomplish it through relatively ordinary means. It would be ludicrous to claim that free will has to be interfered with whenever anyone is shown anything.

Again, I agree. But this goes off into different ground from ANB proper (at least as Steve presented it). It's really very simple: if people can freely choose, then that must include the possibility of a rejection of God. That's utterly obvious, and is proven by the very beliefs of the folks on this list. You have all chosen to reject a belief in God. You claim there is no God to even reject. Whether or not God actually exists is beside my current point. You have chosen to deny it. So if God exists, clearly there are people who reject Him and deny that He is the Supreme Being, worthy of a full allegiance, and so forth. If He does not exist, you still have freely made the choice. If you haven't freely made it, then what is the point of having any discussions here at all, since we are all believing what we must believe and can do no other?

People have their beliefs affected every day by what they read and hear, and their free will remains intact. Finally, even the performance of spectacular miracles need not cause such interference. People want to know the truth. They particularly want to be shown how the world is really set up. To perform miracles for them would only conform to or comply with that desire. It would therefore not interfere with their free will. Hence, FWD fails to attack premise (A3) of ANB because it fails to present a desire on God's part that conflicts with his desire for situation S. That failure makes the Free-Will Defense actually irrelevant to premise (A3).

What is irrelevant here is the shifting to this "spectacular miracles will prove to virtually every person that there is a God" approach. I suppose that is part of Ted's overall argument (as I have heard him argue this before). But if so, it should have been a prominent part of the original presentation. I deny this new premise, and I deny that FWD rests on some alleged conflict between different desires of God. I am contending that FWD is true because there are certain things that even an omnipotent being cannot do, not because God desired one thing more than another.

Even if there were people whose free will would be interfered with by God showing them things, it would seem that such people would be benefited by coming to know how things really are. Quite apart from the issue of salvation, just being aware that there is a God who loves humanity and who has provided an afterlife for it would bring comfort and hope to people.

Sure it would. The Christian view is that all people know this without even a spectacular miracle before their eyes. And they know it by creation itself. The Apostle Paul makes the argument in Romans 1:18-32. He says that God's "eternal power and divine nature" can be known by His creation (Romans 1:20). It's a simple presentation of the Teleological Argument. Then he goes on to state that people reject truth even when they know full well what it is (Romans 1:18,21,25,28). The biblical and Christian view of human nature is far more pessimistic, and doesn't see man as this objective truth machine who will inevitably follow truth whenever it is presented.

And again, that argument works and is fairly self-evident whether God exists or not. If He does, and if Christianity is true, then all of you disbelieve it. That shows both that you have the free will to do so, and that (granting our premises) truth can be rejected. If there is no God, on the other hand, then all of us Christians are rebelling against the obvious truth of atheism. You present your crystal-clear arguments to people like me and I reject them utterly. In that case, I am not seeking the truth you find to be so obvious and compelling. Either way, people are not truth-seekers by nature, and Ted's point here fails, as clearly and demonstrably untrue, in both a theistic and an atheistic state of affairs in actuality.

A loving God would certainly want them to have such comfort and hope.

And He provides it, and all men know it, at least in outline form. We disagree on how much evidence is needed to establish that God exists. All anti-supernaturalists place the bar of "proof" so high that it will never be reached for most individuals in the world.

So, even if it were granted that showing things to some people interferes with their free will, FWD would still not work well, for it has not made clear why God should refrain from showing them things of which they ought to be aware. Such "interference with free will" seems to be just what such people need to get "straightened out".

He has done so. There is creation itself; there is the law written upon our hearts" and conscience (Romans 2:15); there is widespread agreement across religions and cultures about basic moral tenets, and a religious awareness itself. And there is the Christian revelation and religious experience and miracles performed in history, and the life of Jesus, and (above all) His Resurrection, and on and on. There are all kinds of evidences. It is never enough for the atheist. That is the point, not that God should provide sufficient evidence and hasn't done so. So again Ted is arguing in a circle. He assumes that this presentation of evidence is lacking, when in fact it is not. So that leads him to make silly arguments, such as, "it has not made clear why God should refrain from showing them things of which they ought to be aware."

There is a further objection concerning God's motivation. FWD seems to claim that God wants people to believe the propositions of set P in an irrational way, without good evidence.

I don't see how, unless one accepts Ted's straw man presentation of what both Christianity and FWD supposedly teach.

But why would he want that? Why would a rational being create people in his own image and then hope that they become irrational?

He doesn't. It's a straw man. Atheism is the irrational path, and it is chosen voluntarily.

Furthermore, it is not clear just how people are supposed to arrive at the propositions of set P in the absence of good evidence.

I agree.

Is picking the right religion just a matter of lucky guesswork? Is salvation a kind of cosmic lottery? Why would God want to be involved in such an operation?

Indeed. More non sequiturs . . .

Sometimes the claim is made that, according to the Bible, God really does want people to believe things without evidence. Usually cited for this are the words of the resurrected Christ to no-longer-doubting Thomas: "because you have seen me, you have believed; blessed are those who have not seen and yet have believed" (John 20:29).

This is not an encouragement of belief without evidence, and quite obviously so, as this very passage occurs when Jesus has appeared to Thomas after His Resurrection, telling Thomas to put his hands in his wounds. So, clearly, Jesus isn't enjoining a blind, irrational, non-empirical faith, because He has just appeared, offering empirical proof in His own resurrected body! That might be enough even for Ted or Steve! If I fell into a tree shredder in front of Ted or Steve and came out hamburger, and then my body came back together and I was resurrected and came to Ted and Steve and had them feel all my shred-wounds, perhaps they would suspect that there was something to this afterlife business. Or they could convince themselves they had too many drinks, or were hallucinating, etc.

To reach such a conclusion of supposed "fideism" or "blind faith" in this passage, context has to be thrown to the wind, and literal absurdity adopted as "exegesis." Jesus is not knocking evidences for faith at all; rather, He is simply praising those who can believe without having to have such miracles as a requirement before they will believe. And that is because there are many evidences of Christianity besides miracles.

Also, Peter praises those who believe in Jesus without seeing him (I Peter 1:8). But the message here may not be that God wants people to believe things without any evidence whatever. It may be, rather, that there are other forms of evidence than seeing, such as, for example, the testimony of friends. Perhaps God is simply indicating that he approves of belief based on the testimony of others.

Yes, much better. This is exactly what Peter is saying here. He is simply extolling their faith. But the same Peter appealed to empirical eyewitness testimony of the risen Jesus: his own (see, e.g., Acts 2:32, 2 Peter 1:16).

Note that, earlier, the resurrected Christ had upbraided some of his disciples for not trusting the testimony of other disciples (Mark 16:14). His words to Thomas may have been just a continuation of that theme.

Correct. And He rebuked them precisely because they were disciples and had seen enough miracles to know Who Jesus was. In other words, it is a special case, if one had walked with Jesus for three years and missed all His miracles, and wouldn't even believe Him when He predicted that he would rise from the dead (see, e.g., John 10:17-18).

Thus, it is not clear that God desires irrational belief on the part of humans, nor is it clear why he should want that, if indeed he does.

Good; now you know that Christianity is not blind faith or fideism at all. Quite the opposite; we stake our claims on empirical evidence and eyewitness testimony.

As another objection to FWD, even if it were true that showing people things interferes with their free will, that seems not to have been a very important consideration for God. According to the Bible, he did many things, some of them quite spectacular, in order to cause observers to have certain beliefs. An advocate of the argument needs to explain why God was willing to do such things in the past but is no longer willing to do them in the present.

Again, Ted assumes that miracles no longer occur: more circular argument. For example, there was the miracle of the sun at Fatima, Portugal in 1917, connected with the Marian apparitions there. Thousands of people saw the sun spinning like a pinwheel; then all of a sudden everyone was dry, where before it was rainy and muddy. The ground was instantly dry too. This was a crowd of thousands, and is a miracle somewhat similar to Ted's hypothetical of (if I remember correctly) "John 3:16 written on the stars." Here was something involving the sun (in some sense) and the elements (rain) and thousands of eyewitnesses. But will Ted accept that? Of course not; he will dismiss it as a fairy tale and nonsense. And if the same thing occurred tomorrow and Ted was there, I suspect that he would find some way to reject that, too, because his prior presuppositions do not allow such a thing.

My best guess as to the nature of the miracle at Fatima is that God simultaneously made everyone see the same thing, by changing something in their brains or eyes. The water and mud drying up is something else again. That would be a miracle where the thing itself changed, rather than perceptions of it. God could, of course, do the same thing with the stars, in Ted's scenario. We could even look at it in a telescope, but if God performed some sort of galactic optical illusion, we wouldn't know if the stars had actually moved, or if our perception was altered. None of that is logically impossible for God to do.

Something remarkable happened at Fatima, and all the skeptic can say is that there were thousands of nutcases there, or it was a communal acid trip or something (just as with all the implausible alternate "explanations" of Jesus' Resurrection). The cavalier dismissals of strange happenings are often as ridiculous as the detractors of miracles claim alleged miracles are. How many people can be nuts at once, for heaven's sake?

Finally, the claim that God has non-interference with human free will as a very high priority is not well supported in Scripture. According to the Bible, God killed millions of people.

Millions, huh? I am dying to know how you arrive at this description of "millions."

Check out the OT sometime. It is little more than a (mystifying) recital of divinely wrought atrocities.

I didn't ask for a cliched put-down of the Bible. I asked for documentation of a claim. If you (or Ted, or anyone else here) want to put out such dubious claims, then back them up. This is as dumb as anti-Catholic claims that the Inquisition killed "millions" of people in the Middle Ages. Even the Spanish Inquisition killed only about 4,000, if I remember correctly -- which is one day's work in America's abortion slaughterhouses today, so who are we to look down our noses at the medievals as insufferably intolerant wackos?

Another list member offered Numbers 26:51, which states that there were more than 600,000 Israelite male adults, thus making the population certainly greater than a million. Then he claimed that in Deuteronomy 20 God ordered the massacre of seven nations (see Deut 20:16), and that each of those nations had a larger population than Israel (Deut 7:7); therefore, God ordered the execution of at least seven million people.

But this doesn't follow; not from Deuteronomy 20, because God didn't command the Hebrews to massacre entire nations. In Deut 20:10, God instructs them to offer terms of peace to "a city." If the city accepted, the people were to serve the Israelites as slaves (this would thus be the practice in any city of an enemy). If it refused, then all were to be killed. Also in Deut 21:10 ff., captive peoples are discussed, and even taking a wife from among them is permitted (21:11-14). It's difficult to be married to a dead wife, so obviously not absolutely everyone in seven nations was to be killed, and this argument fails (at least with these passages as supposed support).

Noah's Flood was the other example given. But this is quite a big presumption. At that early stage of human history, it is not at all certain that there were "more than a million people." So these claims have not been supported by the biblical texts. Perhaps there are other verses to be brought to bear. In any event, God gives life and He has the prerogative to take it away, from anyone. It is when men take things into their own hands and commit murder (playing God), that sin and evil are involved.

Surely that interfered with their free will, considering that they did not want to die.

God is also judge and has the prerogative over life and death. He created it, so He can take the life away and judge human lives. This shouldn't be a controversial notion for anyone who advocates abortion, where a human being who merely conceived (not created) a child has a so-called "right" to destroy it as they choose. I don't think your average child in the womb (with a heartbeat at 18 days and brain waves at six weeks) "wants to die" either. And that wrecks their free will. So one (who holds such a view on abortion) can hardly quibble with the notion that God has the power of life or death over those whom He created. But God's judgment is perfectly just and righteous, whereas child-killing is not at all. And the Creator-creature gulf is much greater than the big person-little person distinction. God killed people because they deserved judgment. We kill our own because they are small and helpless and inconvenient. Yet we sit in judgment of God?

Furthermore, the Bible suggests that God knows the future and predestines people's fates.

God predestines only to heaven, not to hell, as most Christians have believed (excluding Calvinists). And even that involves human cooperation. It is a paradox and one of the most mysterious elements in theology, but man is free in some sense, within the parameters that God sets, just as the fish freely chooses where to swim in its fish tank, not being very conscious of the limitations of the glass edges of the aquarium.

That, too, may interfere with human free will. In addition, there are many obstacles to free will in our present world (famine, mental retardation, grave diseases, premature death, etc.) and God does little or nothing to prevent them.

But He also takes into account how these would affect people's choices, religion-wise. When there is an eternal afterlife, that vastly changes the perspective on suffering on this earth. All atheists have is this life, so suffering is a much greater difficulty in their position and attempt to find meaning in life, than in the Christian position. The atheist life on earth is analogous to the entire universe, whereas the Christian life on earth is but one atom of the entire universe. The rest of the universe is analogous to the relative amount of the afterlife in one's existence.

This is not conclusive proof that God does not have human free will as a high priority, but it does count against it. It is at least another difficulty for the Free-Will Defense. Considering these many objections, the argument seems not to work very well. Let us turn to a different defense against ANB.

I disagree entirely, and have stated my reasons why. We are either free beings or we are not. The alternative is determinism, which would render this whole discussion meaningless, as it was not free, but only an inevitable playing-out of some molecular process. Why bother convincing someone when it is not in your power to do so because they can only do what they are programmed to do?

I'm going to attempt to summarize your objection in premise-conclusion form, then raise some objections thereto. (I will, however, respond briefly to a few of your major points, i.e., those which bear directly on FWD or which I can answer in a couple of sentences.) If for whatever reason you find my formulation unsatisfactory, please let me know how I might improve it.

(1) If God were to in any way induce or help induce theistic belief in people, then he would thereby interfere with their free will.

This is untrue. It only holds if God compels belief, where people have no ability to make a contrary choice. This is obviously and self-evidently true, I think, so I wonder from whence comes this notion?

(2) But God is unwilling to interfere with people's free will, as it is somehow valuable or important to him that people do and believe things freely (rather than on account of coercion).

To paraphrase Einstein very roughly: "God doesn't make robots."

(3) Thus, while God is perhaps motivated to induce or help induce theistic belief in people (since he wants everyone to be a theist), his desire that man be autonomous outweighs that (former) inclination.

Only insofar as compulsion and elimination of free will is concerned. So you are having trouble even summarizing my position. That doesn't bode well for what I may discover below, but maybe it'll get better.

(4) Hence, premise (A3) of ANB is false, which makes that argument unsound.

With the important qualifications I added above, yes.

Here are my replies (note that I'll sometimes use "nontheist" and "non-Christian" interchangeably, since we're here discussing the God of Christianity):

Sure, no problem.

REPLY #1

(i) Missionaries sometimes employ persuasive speech and/or demonstrations in order to convince non-Christians of the truth of Christianity. (The events of the Great Commission would be a paradigm example of such tactics.) Moreover, God himself has sometimes made use of spectacular miracles in order to show people the truth about himself (think Gideon, Samson's parents, Damascus, Mount Carmel, etc.), and even endowed the Apostles with miraculous healing
powers to the same end.

(ii) As a result, many former non-Christians have come to embrace Christianity.
(iii) Yet, at no point in the process was their free will interfered with.
(iv) Thus, it is possible to induce or help induce beliefs in people without thereby impinging on their freedom of volition.
(v) It follows that premise (1), above, is false.

It follows that you have somehow vastly misunderstood my argument, because I agree with this, and always did, and I have already dealt with this same objection with someone else, too.

REPLY #2

(i) Countless non-Christians would like to be made aware of the truth of Christianity, if indeed Christianity is true.
(ii) If A wants to know that P, then to make A aware of (the truth of) P would be to perform an action which is compatible with A's desires.
(iii) To perform an action which is compatible with A's desires is to comply with A's freedom of choice.
(iv) Hence, if A wants to know that P, then to make A aware of (the truth of) P would be to perform an action which is compatible with A's freedom of choice.
(v) Ergo, premise (1), above, is false.

I agree again. Hopefully, you will eventually critique an actual view of mine . . .

REPLY #3

[ . . . -- on whether voluntary choice to believe things exists]

I completely disagree with this, but don't wish to get bogged down in a discussion of free will, free choice, determinism, voluntary or involuntary espousal of beliefs, etc. I find the subject intensely boring, and of little practical import or value. I'm afraid that if someone wants to do this discussion with me, they'll have to assume for the sake of argument that people make, and are able to make, free choices.

Besides, since ANB (if I understand it correctly) is an attempted establishment of the internal inconsistency of Christian tenets, following from Christian premises (hence, several of Ted's "corroborating evidences" from the Bible which he doesn't himself accept as a valid source of information), it must also assume free will for the sake of argument, rather than simultaneously try to make an argument against free will and free choice (which is a completely different discussion, and one I'm not at all interested in). One thing at a time . . .

REPLY #4

(i) God has sometimes made use of spectacular miracles in order to show people the truth about himself (think Gideon, Samson's parents, Damascus, Mount Carmel, etc.), and even endowed the Apostles with miraculous healing powers to the same end. Furthermore, he once meddled in mortals' business on a regular basis, wreaking all manner of doom and disaster on the species by way of plagues, tests, mass killings, and so on. Plus, there is reason to suppose he may have predestined a significant portion of human behavior.
(ii) Clearly, then, God isn't too worried about encroaching upon man's freedom.
(iii) Therefore, there is reason to doubt premise (1), above.

My argument does not entail God not interfering with human free will at all, or not being sovereign or not possessing what Christians call "Providence." Don't read things into it that I didn't assert. All I was saying was that God could not compel ALL men to be saved or to believe in Him and simultaneously preserve human free will. If men are truly free, there has to exist the possibility of contrary choice, and choosing themselves over against God. Therefore, the possibility opens up for some to be damned and separated from God, and for disbelief. But the greater good is allowing free choice to follow God. That outweighs the bad result of those who choose not to do so. Therefore, God allowed the overall state of affairs to exist.

None of this suggests in the slightest that God does not exist. It suggests that free will and potential human autonomy from God exists, by God's choice, as a better state of affairs than making all men robots who must necessarily, inevitably follow God, just as a stream always follows a downhill slope, based on the law of gravity. Now you try to escape that fairly evident conclusion by simply denying that contrary choice exists. But, as I said, that is a separate argument (and one I find extremely boring), and we have enough on our plate as it is.

Prominent Christian philosopher Alvin Plantinga tackles the underlying assumptions of the "atheological" problem of evil, which lie behind objections to the free will defense (FWD), in his book, God, Freedom, and Evil (New York: Harper & Row, 1974):

(21) If God is omniscient and omnipotent, then he can properly eliminate every evil state of affairs.

. . . Is this proposition necessarily true? No. To see this let us ask the following question. Under what conditions would an omnipotent being be unable to eliminate a certain evil E without eliminating an outweighing good? Well, suppose that E is included in some good state of affairs that outweighs it. That is, suppose there is some good state of affairs G so related to E that it is impossible that G obtain or be actual and E fail to obtain . . . Now suppose that some good state of affairs G includes an evil state of affairs E that it outweighs. Then not even an omnipotent being could eliminate E without eliminating G. But are there any cases where a good state of affairs includes, in this sense, an evil that it outweighs? Indeed there are such states of affairs.

To take an artificial example, let's suppose that E is Paul's suffering from a minor abrasion and G is your being deliriously happy . . . it is better, all else being equal, that you be intensely happy and Paul suffer a mildly annoying abrasion than that this state of affairs not obtain. So G and E is a good state of affairs . . .

. . . Certain kinds of values, certain familiar kinds of good states of affairs, can't exist apart from evil of some sort. For example, there are people who display a sort of creative moral heroism in the face of suffering and adversity -- a heroism that inspires others and creates a good situation out of a bad one. In a situation like this the evil, of course, remains evil, but the total state of affairs -- someone's bearing pain magnificently, for example -- may be good . . . It is a necessary truth that if someone bears pain magnificently, then someone is in pain.

The conclusion to be drawn, therefore, is that (21) is not necessarily true . . . it is no easy matter to find necessarily true propositions that yield a formally contradictory set when added to set A

[Set A is:

(1) God is omnipotent
(2) God is whooly good
(3) Evil exists

-- from page 13]

One wonders, therefore, why the many atheologians who confidently assert that this set is contradictory make no attempt whatever to show that it is. For the most part they are content just to assert that there is a contradiction here. Even Mackie, who sees that some 'additional premises' or 'quasi-logical rules' are needed, makes scarcely a beginning towards finding some additional premises that are necessarily true and that together with the members of set A formally entail an explicit contradiction.

(pp. 22-24)

REPLY #5

(i) Salvation is so crucial to God (and his redemptive plan for humanity) that nothing could possibly outweigh it: so far as God is concerned, to attain salvation is man's most basic function.
(ii) Belief in God is invariably or generally required for admittance to heaven.
(iii) Thus, that people believe in him is surely God's greatest concern vis-a-vis humanity.
(iv) Hence, God is surely willing to impinge on people's free will as a means of bringing them to theistic belief, to salvation.
(v) Accordingly, premise (2), above, is false (inasmuch, anyway, as theistic belief is concerned).

St. Augustine answered this objection:

. . . some people see with perfect truth that a creature is better if, while possessing free will, it remains always fixed upon God and never sins; then, reflecting on men's sins, they are grieved, not because they continue to sin, but because they were created. They say: He should have made us such that we never willed to sin, but always to enjoy the unchangeable truth.

They should not lament or be angry. God has not compelled men to sin just because He created them and gave them the power to choose between sinning and not sinning. There are angels who have never sinned and never will sin.

Such is the generosity of God's goodness that He has not refrained from creating even that creature which He foreknew would not only sin, but remain in the will to sin. As a runaway horse is better than a stone which does not run because it lacks self-movement and sense perception, so the creature is more excellent which sins by free will than that which does not sin only because it has no free will.

(The Problem of Free Choice, Vol. 22 of Ancient Christian Writers, Westminster, MD: The Newman Press, 1955, bk. 2, pp. 14-15)

Plantinga writes: "In broadest terms Augustine claims that God could create a better, more perfect universe by permitting evil than He could by refusing to do so." (Ibid., p. 27):

Neither the sins nor the misery are necessary to the perfection of the universe, but souls as such are necessary, which have the power to sin if they so will, and become miserable if they sin. If misery persisted after their sins had been abolished, or if there were misery before there were sins, then it might be right to say that the order and government of the universe were at fault. Again, if there were sins but no consequemt misery, that order is equally dishonored by lack of equity.

(Ibid., bk, 3, p. 9)

Plantinga continues:

A really top-notch universe requires the existence of free, rational, and moral agents; and some of the free creatures He created went wrong. But the universe with the free creatures it contains and the evil they commit is better than it would have been had it contained neither free creatures nor this evil.

(Ibid., 27)

It doesn't follow that He wants it "more." He wants both (as far as that goes), but both cannot (or often, or potentially cannot) exist together, and even an omnipotent being cannot make it so, if He creates and allows free will in human beings.

If somebody wants both A & B and yet cannot have both (perhaps because they logically conflict with one another), then he shall have to choose one or the other. Which one he ultimately chooses is surely determined by the strengths of his respective desires. That is, if he picks A, then it is because he wants A more (however slightly), and vice versa. No?

God obviously chose to create the world as it is. So in setting up the possibilities, and knowing which way they would go in actuality, He chose what indeed occurred, yes.

Some people wouldn't want the ability to change their minds about the truth-values of true propositions, if they held them as true. For some people would be quite happy to have undoable true beliefs, the method of obtaining them notwithstanding. I, for one, am such a person (although I do love pursuing truth, and think ignorance has its perks).

No immediate reply . . .

If by "reject God" you mean refuse to recognize God's sovereignty or else refuse to follow God's commands, then I am utterly baffled by your claim. I do not understand why one who knows that "[God] is exactly what Christians claim Him to be" might nonetheless choose to reject him, given that part of knowing what God is is knowing that God:

(a) both can and will damn undesirables to hell (a place of eternal torment);
(b) both can and will allow desirables into heaven (a place of eternal bliss);
(c) created the whole universe;
(d) raised his son Jesus from the dead; and
(e) is perfect, righteous, and holy in every way.

What kind of irrational lunatic could know all those things and yet nonetheless choose to "go his own way"?

I completely agree, which is why atheists like yourself invariably hold to false notions of what God is, or that He doesn't exist at all, or (to put it more specifically) that God as Christians describe Him is non-existent. In other words, they either reject a being which, in fact, is a gross caricature of the Christian God, or they deny that the loving, holy, perfect God exists at all. They don't (at least outwardly, in describing their views to others) say that God exists, and is wonderful, and proceed to reject Him, because they intuitively know that such an act would be utterly irrational and absurd; not even in their own self-interest (if that is how they go about deciding what truths to espouse). Hence (to speak Christianly for a moment) it is the devil's job to get people to believe lies about God and what He is supposedly like, or to make people pretend that He doesn't exist at all.

I realize that atheists are supposed to be stubborn hedonists bent on self-destruction and self-deception, but c'mon, nobody's THAT crazy. ;-)

Following the above analysis, I think atheists are far more ignorant and misinformed than they are malevolent or depraved. The whole human race is fallen, so atheists are no more intrinsically wicked than anyone else. Only God's grace saves anyone. The trick is to determine at what point the atheist or other non-Christian becomes responsible for "not knowing" what they should know; what they are responsible before God for knowing. At what point are they not culpable, and not worthy to be damned for rebellion? No one can really say, but we believe God is merciful, and will take into account all of one's life experiences, lack of proper Christian role models, inadequate instruction, etc.

Perhaps we're determined to influence one another's beliefs in certain ways. Maybe God has predestined things such that you, Dave Armstrong, are metaphysically bound to convert this entire list to Christianity- nay, Catholicism- by Good Friday 2003. ;-)

LOLOL Stranger things have happened . . . I'll tell them to hold your head under water for 10 minutes when you are baptized. That way, you'll be sure to go straight to heaven. LOL

A loving God would certainly want them to have such comfort and hope. And He provides it, and all men know it, at least in outline form. We disagree on how much evidence is needed to establish that God exists. All anti-supernaturalists place the bar of "proof" so high that it will never be reached for most individuals in the world.

Given how extraordinary is the theist's claim, that is hardly unfair. It isn't as if nontheists, out of an irrational, stubborn desire to eschew the truth, deliberately appeal to an evidential standard so high that no alleged proof of theism could ever sway them;

I beg to differ, and have given my reasons why.

. . . rather, it is that theism is such a bold and astonishing claim that it cannot be rationally accepted absent overwhelming data in its favor.

We disagree as to whether that has been provided or not. I say it has.

[Such does not include a spinning sun seen by a tiny portion of the world's population, nor unenlightened cosmologies, nor hopeful myths about "intelligent design," nor controversial claims regarding the objectivity of morality, nor religious experiences which defy scientific investigation, nor anecdotal "evidence" for a disembodied life beyond the grave (more often than not related by staunch and sometimes delirious religionists).]

In other words, any existing evidence. That only proves my point: no evidence is ever good enough. The excessive skepticism and epistemological double standards are the problem, not a supposed lack of compelling evidence.

Even if God has provided humanity with a MOUNTAIN of evidence, he obviously hasn't provided anywhere near enough to convince the whole world.

There are plenty of Christians and other theists, and other eastern religionists who believe in some concept of God. There are very few atheists, proportionately, in the world. To me that would suggest precisely the opposite of your conclusion. But the atheist easily overcomes that obvious truth by simply dismissing the 95% of the world's population who are religious as ignoramuses and unsophisticated, gullible folks, etc. Occasionally, you will find an atheist who doesn't take such a cynical view of non-atheist intelligence, but for the most part atheists assume that Christians are quite ignorant people, who have an aversion to rationality, where matters of faith are concerned. Don't try to deny this, either.

(And where Christianity alone is concerned, he hasn't provided enough to even sway the majority.)

There are more Christians than any other religion in the world, though Islam will soon overtake us because they still believe in having children (a novel and controversial concept these days). Your task as an atheist is to explain why so few people see the truth of atheism, if in fact it is the true state of affairs, and why so many believe in God. Don't tell me: they are ignorant; they have wish-fulfillment fantasies, etc., etc. None of that tripe will wash.

Whatever the reason, wherever the fault lies, in view of the supreme importance of mankind's salvation he surely ought to provide more.

I don't agree at all. But the problem lies also in how one determines how much "more" is sufficient. If universalism is not required for ANB to succeed, then some people are not saved. At that point, the argument reduces to "how many people need to be saved or to know enough to get saved for us to concede or conclude that God can exist without being a weakling or unloving?" Is the magic number 90.00000000001%? Maybe 95.00000000000000001%? Or, how many have to disbelieve in order for us to conclude that God doesn't exist? That's an extremely difficult question, and entirely subjective. In my opinion, the argument has little or no force at all, precisely because of its extreme subjectivity and naivete as to human nature and the nature of belief and formation of belief-systems.

As Ted quipped in his debate with W.L. Craig (the Protestant evangelist who, like you, thinks God has already done plenty in the way of bringing about an "optimal balance of belief and unbelief"): "[Whether nontheists be stubborn or oblivious or just plain dull], God should say to himself, 'Those dolts!', and then provide more evidence, however much it takes to get them to believe; he shouldn't be reluctant, he shouldn't hold back.'" Why? Because he has nothing to gain by holding back, and everything to gain by giving in. Isn't that so?

Obviously, we have a radically different perception of how much evidence is necessary to compel belief. That is where the dispute lies, not in God's supposed shortcomings in making theism compelling or plausible.

It is not that atheism is obviously true, but that ANB (which very few people know about) is obviously sound.

Rather, it is obviously false because it is built on fallacious premises, as I have already shown, and will continue to demonstrate as we proceed.

The concept is so very simple: If God were to exist then he would want people to be aware of the gospel message (what his son did for them) and could cause them to be aware of it. But most people on our planet do not even believe the gospel message. Hence, God does not exist.

Hogwash. If God were to exist then He would want people to be aware of Him, in order to obtain eschatological (a 50-cent word, meaning "last things," or "in the end") salvation. He does that in ways which are more than merely the proclamation of the gospel (as explained in Romans 1 and 2). Thus, every person has the opportunity to be saved, whether they hear the gospel or not. Therefore, God has indeed made fair provision, and your argument crumbles to dust (insofar as it is directed at the internal inconsistency of some supposed Christian belief-system). The Christian view already anticipates this objection and has more than adequately provided a counter-response to it.

What you need is more knowledge about how Christianity views salvation, and the attainment of same. You argue against something that Christians don't hold in the first place. Small minorities hold such a position, but I'm sure you don't want your argument directed towards those folks, but towards mainstream Christianity.

You say that God refrains from enlightening people on the matter because for him to do so would interfere with their free will,

That is not my argument, as explained several times already.

but that assumes something false: that enlightening people interferes with their free will. It just ain't so!

I agree! If only you guys could figure that out. This forms no part of my argument, correctly-understood. Maybe Alvin Plantinga has explained better than I did.

In fact, it's the exact opposite: enlightening people (especially about matters of importance to their future) enhances their free will. It increases their options and makes them more free than
they were before.

I agree again.

It is ignorance, not enlightenment, that interferes with free will.

I think it makes for a much less-informed free will. To that extent I agree.

Why is it that people who have heard ANB remain Christians? It is because Christianity, which has been drummed into their brains from very young, comforts them, and it is also, that they really have not thought ANB all the way through.

In other words, you opt for the traditional atheist/skeptical recourse to the ignorance of Christians, and infantile recourse to God-as-Father. That won't work with me or any informed Christian, and the tables can be turned, too, as I have done here in the past, with my "psychology of atheism" posts.

They come up with unsound defenses, like FWD, and are not aware of the refutations of those defenses.

Feel free to overcome the arguments I have given. Bald, unsubstantiated claims are not impressive. Whether or not some Christians are ignorant or misinformed (as indeed some are) has no bearing on the truth or falsity of my arguments.

How could having free will interfere with everyone knowing a certain truth? People have free will and yet they all know that stars exist. Why couldn't the proposition that God exists be as obvious to everyone as the proposition that stars exist? . . .

Indeed it is:

. . . what can be known about God is plain to them, because God has shown it to them. Ever since the creation of the world his invisible nature, namely, his eternal power and deity, has been clearly perceived in the things that have been made. So they are without excuse.

(Romans 1:19-20; RSV)

David Hume made a very similar argument:

Wherever I see order, I infer from experience that there, there hath been Design and Contrivance . . . the same principle obliges me to infer an infinitely perfect Architect from the Infinite Art and Contrivance which is displayed in the whole fabric of the universe.

(Letters, 25-26)

The whole frame of nature bespeaks an intelligent author; and no rational enquirer can, after serious reflection, suspend his belief a moment with regard to the primary principles of genuine Theism and Religion . . .

Were men led into the apprehension of invisible, intelligent power by a contemplation of the works of nature, they could never possibly entertain any conception but of one single being, who bestowed existence and order on this vast machine, and adjusted all its parts, according to one regular plan or connected system . . .

All things of the universe are evidently of a piece. Every thing is adjusted to every thing. One design prevails throughout the whole. And this uniformity leads the mind to acknowledge one author.

(Natural History of Religion, 1757, ed. H.E. Root, London: 1956, 21, 26)

Or was Hume simply ignorant of ANB too, or was it because Hume had Christianity "drummed into his brain from very young," which "comforted" him, leading him into a silly and false philosophy that had been expessed by St. Paul some 1700 years earlier?

God could give everyone free will, and then provide everyone with irrefutable evidence for his existence. That way, everyone could have free will and believe in God.

In fact, that is exactly what God did. You are just too skeptical to see it. The problem lies with you, and how you think, not with God, and how He has constructed you and the universe.

(It's always possible, of course, that a tiny portion of utterly irrational people would deny even the most obvious evidence for God's existence,

True, like many atheists, who have always constituted a tiny minority of the world's population, otherwise overwhelmingly religious. :-)

but ANB would have little potency if 99.9% of the world's population believed in God, or if the vast majority believed in GC.)

Perhaps 80-90% of the world believe in a God or some sort of religion, but that's not enough?

FWD is the idea that God refrains from inducing theistic belief in people (by any means) because to induce theistic belief in people (by any means) would impinge on their free will. You claimed to advocate FWD. I gather, then, that you mistakenly took it as the view that God refrains from implanting theistic belief in people because to do so would impinge on their free will. Is that correct?

God has to induce belief in some sense because all Christians believe that His grace is necessary for any belief or salvation whatever. What FWD argues is that God can't make everyone get saved (universalism) or overcome their free choice (fatalism or determinism), insofar as they are free to reject Him.

It is the distinction between inducing and compelling. My dictionary defines the former as "lead on, persuade, bring about." The latter is defined as, "to force or constrain." FWD is talking about God's choice to not compel belief in everyone. He persuades and induces by various means, but He doesn't compel, because He chose to allow human beings to have free will. Alvin Plantinga defines FWD thusly:

A world containing creatures who are significantly free (and freely perform more good than evil actions) is more valuable, all else being equal, than a world containing no free creatures at all. Now God can create free creatures, but He can't cause or determine them to do only what is right. For if He does that, then they aren't significantly free after all; they do not do what is right freely. To create creatures capable of moral good, therefore, He must create creatures capable of moral evil; and He can't give these creatures the freedom to perform evil and at the same time prevent them from doing so. As it turned out, sadly enough, some of the free creatures God created went wrong in the exercise of their freedom; this is the source of moral evil. The fact that free creatures sometimes go wrong, however, counts neither against God's omnipotence nor against His goodness; for He could have forestalled the occurrence of moral evil only by removing the possibility of moral good.

(God, Freedom, and Evil, New York: Harper & Row, 1974, 30)

If so, then how would you respond to the idea that God could bring about worldwide belief in the gospel message simply by providing good, objective evidence therefor (e.g., sky-writing)? That wouldn't interfere with anyone's free will, would it?

No, but that has not occurred. Other things have, so the dispute is over whether they were sufficient to justify belief or not. The Christian (unless a pure fideist) will obviously say that they are, and the atheist will assert the contrary.

Again, if you admit that God's performing spectacular miracles or otherwise providing clear evidence for his existence would be perfectly compatible with man's freedom, then what is your explanation for why God fails to perform such miracles and provide such evidence?

I deny that He has failed to do so. He has only failed according to your opinion of what is sufficiently demonstrative and compelling. And the Christian holds that some people will not believe even though any amount of evidence is given, including (I would suspect) even the star-writing bit.

Again, you apparently misunderstood FWD (as Ted formulates it in his book and Web essay).

How?

The issue here isn't free will as applied to actions, but rather, free will as applied to beliefs. The former isn't relevant to ANB, but the latter certainly is.

Okay; please elaborate.

ANB isn't designed to reveal an incoherence in Christianity. It is designed, rather, to provide inductive grounds for inferring atheism (with respect to the God of Christianity). [That is why it is called an "evidential" rather than "deductive" argument.] Put another way, it appeals to a certain fact about the world- namely, that it contains a large amount of nonbelief in the God of Christianity- and claims that that fact renders Christianity implausible (though logically possible).

Okay; yet Ted tries to find inconsistency in FWD as a reply to ANB by citing several alleged inconsistencies in the Christian view. So if the best Christian reply to ANB is said to be shot-through with holes, then, to that extent, ANB (or at least its counter-defenses) has something to do with the inconsistencies of Christianity. In other words, at some point in these discussions, both sides have to deal with opposing premises and belief-systems built upon same.

And of course, Reply #4 does precisely this. It appeals to biblical events, trying to show that something is incoherent in Christianity:

i) God has sometimes made use of spectacular miracles in order to show people the truth about himself (think Gideon, Samson's parents, Damascus, Mount Carmel, etc.), and even endowed the Apostles with miraculous healing powers to the same end . . .

God could induce theistic belief in people without impinging on their free will, right? If so, then why doesn't he do so?

He does.

What's holding him back?

He cannot force everyone to necessarily believe in Him and be saved, because that would overrule free will, as Plantinga explained in my citation above.

I don't see that Plantinga's commentary is relevant. I've therefore snipped it.

It certainly is, because it deals directly with your questions about "why doesn't (or can't) God do this and that?" Plantinga explains why, and it has to do with free will; hence, the relevance of the FWD. Again, if FWD isn't relevant, why does Ted devote space to it as an objection to ANB? You quoted me that stuff yourself. Here's what you wrote:

It seems you advocate the Free-will Defense (FWD) . . . Here is Ted's reply to FWD (lifted from his 'net piece).

Now you're telling me that FWD (which is what Plantinga was writing about) isn't "relevant" to the discussion. You can't have it both ways.

This addresses AE, not ANB. If you think the same basic principle is somehow applicable to ANB, then you shall need to explain exactly how that is so. I myself don't see that it is.

It is relevant insofar as the free will defended in FWD makes the non-belief discussed in ANB possible and inevitable (i.e., it is an offered explanation for the non-belief, which implicates man, not God -- Who is said to not exist because of this non-belief), and FWD explains how that is, and how even an omnipotent God could not create the world otherwise, without making people robots. Free will is relevant to ANB (Argument From Non-Belief), because it is related to belief and non-belief, and how people arrive at those states; how they are compelled or induced, etc. So it is highly-related. It attacks certain premises falsely assumed by ANB (which seems to presuppose determinism). Since you don't acknowledge these hidden premises that we attack, you don't see the relevance of FWD to ANB.

If the idea is that people's freely disbelieving in God is better than their being forced to believe in God,

Correct. This is what the Christian would argue.

then I must reiterate that (at least insofar as the Bible and most Christians are concerned) there is no issue more important than that of salvation.

That's right.

Would God really prefer scenario A (below) over scenario B (below)?

A: Billions are damned on account of their freely disbelieving in God.

B: Everyone is saved on account of his/her belief in God, albeit perhaps compulsory (i.e., inherent and unalterable).

Yes, He would. But you neglect to mention (for rhetoric's sake, perhaps) that scenario A also entails "billions" being saved, too. I went through this with the example of being a parent and forcing a child to love you [see, Additional Reflections at the end of this paper]. I assume you have been in love with a woman, so I'll use that analogy. Would you want her love for you to be forced, where she couldn't choose otherwise? Or would you want her to freely choose to love you? This is what love is. God merely multiplies that one situation by all the people that have lived. They make the choice. If they choose to reject God rather than love and serve Him, that is not His fault.

It seems to me that while B may not be ideal, it would certainly be preferable to A (at least from God's standpoint).

Well, that's where you and God disagree. Take it up with Him. :-)

Indeed, here is an argument for the conclusion that God would DEFINITELY find B preferable, if indeed he were to exist:

(I) Nothing causes God greater pain than his sending people to hell (or his permitting people to "earn" eternal damnation).
(II) Thus, God's directly implanting theistic belief in people's minds would cause him less pain than does his sending people to hell (or his permitting people to "earn" eternal damnation).
(III) If X pleases God more than Y, then X is morally superior to Y.
(IV) Thus, God's directly implanting theistic belief in people's minds is morally superior to God's sending people to hell (or his permitting people to "earn" eternal damnation).
(V) For any set of options S, God (by definition) always chooses that member of S which is the most moral.
(VI) Ergo, were God to exist, then he would prefer scenario A (above) over scenario B (above).

The fallacy here is the false equation of "pain" with moral principle; also the neglect to incorporate the aspect of divine justice and the failure to consider what creating a race of robots entails with regard to love and "being made in God's image" and so forth. It is a kindergarten view of ethics; a sort of utilitarian "less pain is gain" mentality. Reality involves very difficult choices. If Christian morality was based on the notion of avoiding pain and suffering at all costs, then Jesus certainly wouldn't have died on the cross after being horribly tortured.

To reject (I) is to reject a central tenet of Christianity, whereby God (being all-merciful) is supremely pained by one's damnation.

That is correct. But the conclusions you draw from it don't follow.

To reject (III) is to reject the most popular theory of ethics among theists, namely, the Divine Command Theory (whereby X is moral iff. X pleases God and X is morally superior to Y iff. X pleases God more than Y). The rest of the steps are either necessarily true or else necessarily true given (I) & (III). It's your move, pal. ;-)

You have not adequately taken into account all the important relevant factors involved here. FWD does, by seriously examining what it would mean to have human beings with no free will, which is why it is far more relevant to ANB than your little simplistic scenario here.

You now seem to agree that atheists don't reject God per se, but rather, simply reject the proposition that God exists (perhaps because they've been deluded by the devil, and even though they know "deep down" that the given proposition is TRUE). Is that correct?

An atheist believes in a false theory as to God in the way that anyone believes a false theory about anything: based on a huge variety of possible reasons. That's what I would say.

So lemme get this straight: the only atheists who go to hell are the ones who've been preached to endlessly, raised by stalwart Christian parents, gone to top-notch Christian (Catholic?) schools, and yet still deny God's existence. Is that right? (Please note that the foregoing isn't meant hyperbolically; it's meant literally, based on the various mitigating circumstance-types you mentioned.)

God judges everyone (atheist, Christian, three-toed, green-eyed Rastafarian moth-keeper) based on how much they know and how they have acted upon this knowledge. It's all in Romans 2. Go read it sometime. It's not that complicated (not nearly as much as when Paul gets into the theology of justification and the very complicated relationship between law and grace). Only God (no person) can decide if a person didn't have enough knowledge to be culpable for rejecting it. At the same time, everyone is saved, is saved by Jesus Christ, and grace, whether they are aware of that or not. And God knows who would accept the gospel if properly preached to them, anyway, by means of His middle knowledge (scientia media) of potentialities and theoreticals. That is stated in the Bible, by the way. Jesus said that if Sodom had had the gospel preached to it, it would have repented.

It seems to me that since God is (allegedly) ultimately responsible for existence itself, and thus ultimately responsible for the state of the world ("you reap what you sow"), he really has no right to punish ANYONE for ANYTHING.

That would only follow if determinism were true. You assume that it is; therefore, many Christian notions are absurd to you, because you accept a false premise which makes them inexorably so.

And yes, I know he's a "deity" and all, but that just doesn't cut it with me; it's extremely trite, for one thing, and for another, it's extremely weak: one's level of culpability is directly proportionate to his level of intelligence.

Not intelligence; rather, one's will to believe or disbelieve and to act rightly or wrongly, based on their conscience and what they instinctively know of natural moral law.

I don't recall seeing them. Where exactly did you give reasons to believe that nontheists, out of an irrational, stubborn desire to eschew the truth, deliberately appeal to an evidential standard so high that no alleged proof of theism could ever sway them?

That's too off the subject.

Evidence which is overwhelming tends to inspire universal or near-universal belief. That is why nearly everyone thinks O.J. murdered his ex-wife and her lover: because the evidence of his guilt is (or was) overwhelming. Do you mean to tell me that the evidence for GC's existence is roughly THREE TIMES weaker than the evidence for O.J.'s guilt? (Remember, roughly 99% of the civilized world believes that O.J. "did it," whereas only 33% of the civilized world believes in the God of Christianity).

Whether OJ did it or not (the jury thought not) does not affect my life, whereas God's existence has a huge effect on my life, ethics, culture, law, science; a host of things. So there are vested interests in accepting God's existence or not, in addition to the usual epistemological and philosophical issues. If people are free, they are free to reject God. Some people are not quite as philosophically-detached and supremely objective and "truth-machines-based-on-evidence-alone" as you appear to think that you are. Aldous Huxley, for example:

I had motives for not wanting the world to have a meaning; and consequently assumed that it had none, and was able without any difficulty to find satisfying reasons for this assumption. The philosopher who finds no meaning in the world is not concerned exclusively with a problem in pure metaphysics. He is also concerned to prove that there is no valid reason why he personally should not do as he wants to do.

For myself, as no doubt for most of my friends, the philosophy of meaninglessness was essentially an instrument of liberation from a certain system of morality. We objected to the morality because it interfered with our sexual freedom. The supporters of this system claimed that it embodied the meaning � the Christian meaning, they insisted � of the world. There was one admirably simple method of confuting these people and justifying ourselves in our erotic revolt: we would deny that the world had any meaning whatever.

(Ends and Means, 1937)

Non Sequitur. From "no existing evidence is good enough" it does not follow that "no evidence is ever good enough."

Correct. But if it isn't in every possible case thus far, it is a decent guess to suppose that no evidence will ever be good enough. Not inevitably, but plausibly.

I've already supplied at least ONE example of theistic evidence which would be MORE than sufficient to bring about worldwide belief in God (or GC, depending on the nature of the evidence): sky-writing.

Why would that be more compelling than a dead man coming back to life and eating fish with you? Would you believe that if it happened to you?

. . . Last time I checked the most recent WORLD ALMANAC, nearly one billion people were calling themselves "atheists" or "agnostics." The following comes from adherents.com, the most comprehensive and accurate source of religious statistics on the Internet:

That's news to me. I've never heard that in my life. I'd like to see you back up this figure with some other sources. In any event, it is a small minority of the world, so why couldn't I say, "if atheism were true, why don't most people see that?" So you say it is ignorance, culture, refusal to give up comforting crutches, etc. (all the standard atheist put-downs of Christians and other religionists). If there are many reasons to disbelieve in atheism, why is it inconceivable for there to be many reasons to disbelieve in theism and God? Same difference, no? All that is required for that state of affairs to obtain is that free will is true, rather than determinism. And that overcomes ANB.

More importantly, though, irrespective of how many people believe in a personal deity of some kind, relatively few people believe in the CHRISTIAN deity. And THAT is the fact for which you need to provide an explanation at least as good as the ANBer's hypothesis: that the God of Christianity doesn't exist.

They haven't heard about the "Christian deity" (if we are talking about the entire world populace). That is simple enough. Many cultures don't allow it or persecute such a thing (China, Saudi Arabia and many Moslem countries, Sudan, etc.).

Incidentally, I don't think that ignorance is the sole or even primary cause of theism, be it Christian or Jewish or whatever. (I do think it plays a substantial role in the phenomenon, however; numerous studies have shown a strong correlation between intelligence and religiosity.)

As I suspected . . .

I would assign THAT title to, instead, the vast emotional comfort most people derive from their religious beliefs (chief among them that there exists an all-loving, all-powerful God who has everyone's best interests at heart). Or, at least, that is the primary cause of people's RETAINING their theism throughout their adult lives.

Of course: the good ole crutch argument, beloved by one and all who are familiar with it. People like Aldous Huxley have their own crutches and strictly non-rational reasons for being atheists, too.

The reason why most people INITIALLY believe in God (as youngsters) is obvious: they are conditioned to do so from earliest childhood.

All small children are conditioned. It can hardly be otherwise. For myself, I was raised nominally Methodist, and was so ignorant I didn't even know that Jesus claimed to be God incarnate until age 17. I converted to evangelical Protestantism (vastly different from my parents' religiosity) at age 18, after many years of secularism and occultic interest, then to Catholicism at age 32 (in 1990). So in my case it is obviously not due to my upbringing, having undergone two separate major conversions.

I'm afraid that biological or psychological explanations of the given sort are precisely the most plausible ones. (As I sometimes tell people, "The best way to test the plausibility of any given proposition is to ask yourself how much you wish it were so. If you dread the very thought of it, then it's probably true; and if it makes your heart soar with joy, then it's almost certainly nonsense." That's something of an exaggeration, of course, but I do think it contains a kernel of truth.) It's well known to psychologists that, when confronted with a variety of incompatible propositions none of which is clearly supported or contradicted by any data, most people are likely to assent to the one which they find most comforting or agreeable. That is why so many mothers are convinced that their kids don't take drugs, and why so many wives are convinced that their husbands won't die of heart attacks at some point in the next five years, and why virtually everyone is ABSOLUTELY CERTAIN that "things will work out in the end."

How is it "most comforting or agreeable" to convert to a religion which says, e.g., that sex before marriage is wrong? Why in the world would I want to do that at age 18 if I was seeking the "easy" route? How is it comforting to adopt a religion which includes a God Who knows everything, sees everything, can't be fooled, judges everything you do on Judgment Day, Who tells us it is a sin to even lust after a woman internally (before you even touch her), etc.? It's a hard road. G.K. Chesterton stated: "Christianity has not been tried and found wanting; it has been found difficult and left untried."

On the other hand, it is quite easy (on this psychological, wish-fulfillment plane) to adopt atheism, because then you become your own God, are as free as a bird, and can do whatever you wish. You call all the shots. That's extremely simple, appealing, and agreeable to human self-centeredness (almost intuitive in a certain sense; we feel ourselves to be the masters of our own destiny). So this works both ways. I don't think either "psychological argument" is all that compelling, but if atheists insist on making this analysis of Christians, I can play that game and bounce it right back atcha.

On what GROUNDS don't you agree? (Simply pointing out that you don't agree does me little good.)

Because it is an entirely subjective judgment: whether God has provided enough evidence for His existence or not. How does one objectively decide how much is enough?

It isn't a subjective question how much evidence is necessary to bring about worldwide theistic belief. It is, rather, an objective (empirical) question. That the amount of evidence currently available to people is insufficient to bring about such belief follows logically from the fact that the vast majority of people lack belief in the God of Christianity (assuming they're neither lying nor deluded, which you of course question).

It's beyond silly to sit there and assert that the only reason, the sole factor, in non-belief, is God's failure to provide enough evidence. There are a host of factors which cause people to believe or disbelieve in many things, including religion or atheism. The world is never this simple with regard to anything, let alone big questions in philosophy.

P1: God has not yet provided for his existence evidence sufficient to yield worldwide theistic belief.

P2: Were God to provide for his existence still greater evidence than he has (allegedly) already provided, many if not most nonbelievers would nevertheless retain their nonbelief.

I never stated P2. All I maintained was that many people are not convinced by any amount of evidence, and we know this from experience and their reaction to existing evidences and miracles (as the case may be). I don't know how many people would be convinced by more evidence, and which sort of evidence would be better than other kinds for such a purpose. I can only extrapolate from the current situation and how skeptics think and act. I simply deny that evidence in and of itself is always compelling for everyone, or most people (in FACT, in the sense of persuading such skeptics), if only strong and remarkable enough.

From your previous [words]:

If it isn't in every possible case thus far, it is a decent guess to suppose that no evidence will ever be good enough. Not inevitably, but plausibly.

The Christian holds that some people will not believe even though any amount of evidence is given, including (I would suspect) even the star-writing bit.

Do you now wish to retract both these remarks?

There is no need to, because it hinges upon the words "many" and "most" in P2. I haven't argued, I don't think, that most atheists (let alone none whatsoever) would refuse to convert upon further extraordinary miraculous evidence, but that the excessively skeptical persons would refuse, and that it is quite conceivable for someone to resist even the most "compelling" miracle.

Reread P2:

P2: Were God to provide for his existence still greater evidence than he has (allegedly) already provided, many if not most nonbelievers would nevertheless retain their nonbelief.

It says "many IF NOT most." Thus, the excerpts from your second or third post (in this thread), which I quoted above, both entail P2. Which is to say, you DO hold to P2, whether you realize it or not.

This is indicated by my use of "some people" in the second quote from me above, as opposed to your "many if not most nonbelievers." Even when I used "many" in the longer quote above I meant "many" in the sense of thousands among the whole of the mass of unbelievers, but not "most" or even a majority. I don't know what miracle would cause what reaction, as I have said.

Unless you're willing to say that ALL nonbelievers would remain unmoved by miraculous star-writing, you haven't a leg to stand on when you hint that for God to supply more evidence for his existence would be futile. You can't have it both ways, in other words: either it WOULD be futile (in which case you're stuck with saying that nearly a billion people are clinically insane), or it WOULDN'T be (in which case you're stuck with explaining God's conspicuous failure to provide more evidence). Remember: if God could non-coercively convert even ONE nonbeliever, then the Christian owes us an explanation for his (God's) failure to do so.

You say that P1 is a subjective judgment: "How does one objectively decide how much [evidence] is enough?" But I deny that. I say that, far from being a subjective (truthvalueless) judgment, P1 is an OBVIOUS TRUTH.

Not at all, because for one thing, it seems to presuppose that the only relevant factor in causation of belief is "evidence" that God provides (and for Ted, that invariably reduces to his spectacular "star-writing" scenario). There are also a host of possible reasons for non-belief, none of which necessarily involve or implicate God (thus casting doubt on His omnipotence or omnibenevolence). Therefore, P1 is utterly simplistic and fallacious. It only works at all when determinism is assumed without argument, so its "force" only obtains if the circular reasoning is assumed. Personally, I don't think circular reasoning is all that compelling.

Here's the proof:

1. By definition (of the word "sufficient"), if the evidence for X were sufficient to yield Y, then Y would obtain.
2. So [from 1 by universal instantiation], if the evidence for theism were sufficient to yield worldwide theistic belief, then there would obtain the situation of worldwide theistic belief.
3. But that situation does NOT obtain. It is NOT the case that the whole world believes in GC (the God of Christianity).
4. Therefore [from 2 & 3 by modus tollens], the evidence for theism is insufficient to yield worldwide theistic belief.

Poppycock. Again, this assumes that people are "truth-machines" who will always and inevitably follow truth if only it is presented to them. In my opinion, that is self-evidently false, and I gave the counter-example of a granted atheistic state of affairs in the universe. If people were like you and Ted assume they are (the tacit assumption of #1), then most of the world (if not all men) would be atheists, as we speak. But they are not.

That is, of course, assuming atheism is a clear and obvious truth (as most atheists seem to think it is; if it is not, then theism becomes a relatively more viable and plausible alternative option). Therefore, something in (many) people causes them to resist truth. Ergo: #1 above is fallacious from easily-observable and verifiable fact, and due to its hyper-simplistic nature. It exhibits little understanding of the nature and complexity of belief, belief-systems and the multiplicity of causative factors involved therein. People are neither computers nor robots.

Now, what ANB proposes is that if GC were to exist, then probably the evidence for theism would be sufficient to yield worldwide theistic belief.

That's the problem. Free will is what sabotages that goal. It is possible, I should add, that this could have conceivably happened. It is not absolutely ruled out by the presence of free will. The angels in heaven never rebelled against God. They never sinned. But it is not guaranteed or compelled, either. In the actual world on earth, men rebelled against God, hence we have the phenomenon of some people believing and some not believing, again, for a vast array of reasons, both objective and subjective. Free will is the key. The atheist can either reject it utterly (which is a different argument) or accept it. If he accepts it in all its implications, ANB collapses in a heap. "And great was its fall . . . "

From the premise that such belief does not obtain, it is then deduced that probably GC does not exist.

Talk about weak inferences . . . man! :-)

As the opponent of ANB, what you need to do is to specify exactly where the argument goes awry. Do you deny premise 1? Do you deny premise 3? [Notice that you can't deny 2 or 4 without denying one of the other steps, since 2 & 4 both follow logically therefrom.] If you deny neither premise 1 nor premise 3, then you have but one option remaining: to reject the notion that if GC were to exist, then probably the evidence for theism would be sufficient to yield worldwide theistic belief. Let's call that "P3":

I've done all this. We need to wrap this up. Admit that you have lost, and that ANB should be consigned to the dung-heap of false theories. Fat chance of that, huh? LOLOL

P3: "GC exists" -> "probably the evidence for theism suffices to yield worldwide theistic belief" (where "->" signifies entailment).

P3 is called a "conditional" (or "if-then statement"). In order for a conditional of its kind to be false, the following situation must obtain: the antecedent could be true even if the consequent were false. In this particular case, that would mean that GC could exist even if it weren't probable that the evidence for theism suffices to yield worldwide theistic belief. Now, in order for THAT (latter) condition to obtain, one of the following two situations must obtain: (i) given GC's existence, it is IMPROBABLE that the evidence for theism suffices to yield worldwide theistic belief; (ii) given GC's existence, it is JUST AS LIKELY AS NOT that the evidence for theism suffices to yield worldwide theistic belief.

Worldwide belief doesn't obtain because people irrationally reject the sufficient evidence, or reject it out of ignorance and misinformation as to the very evidence that exists, or because they don't want it to be true because of the implications, or because they have seen lousy role models in people who do believe this stuff, or because their brains have been stuffed with opposing propositions (Islam, atheism, New Age, Hinduism, hedonism, libertarianism, Elvis-worship, etc.), and many other reasons. I deny that your choices are the only ones. The whole thing is circular. The logic leads to the conclusion you want because the premises are false to begin with.

But now we've a problem. We all agree that GC wants people to believe in him. So, it stands to reason that if GC exists, then there's ample evidence for his existence. The only way that might be false is if GC has some HIGHER PURPOSE, some OVERRIDING REASON, for withholding theistic evidence. But what might be that purpose, that reason? You've already supplied ONE possible answer, at least: God doesn't want to interfere with people's free will. Unfortunately, however, you've also agreed that God wouldn't need to interfere with anyone's free will just to perform star-writing or some other spectacular miracle designed to effect worldwide theism.

Free will is more than sufficient to explain non-belief. I've made all the arguments. Your task is not to keep asking the same questions, but to refute the answers I have given. A bad and fallacious argument doesn't become a good one simply by repeated clever re-statements of it (with all the fancy logical lingo). If you dress a stinky hog in a tuxedo or a fancy dress it still stinks, and the clothes look silly on the hog, no matter how nice they are. The "stink" in this case is the smuggled-in false assumptions and axioms of ANB.

And that brings us to P2:

P2: Were God to provide for his existence still greater evidence than he has (allegedly) already provided, many if not most nonbelievers would nevertheless retain their nonbelief.

This principle strikes me as highly implausible. Humans are generally rational creatures, at least insofar as empirical data is concerned. When they see the sun, they believe it's there; when they hear a train coming, they step off the tracks; and when they smell roses, they grow giddy with springtime mirth. (Even philosophy types occasionally wax poetic, you know; but the better ones do so only sparingly.)

I knew you had some "romantic" in you! LOL

To put it mildly, then, it rather strains credibility to suppose that nonbelievers would by and large dismiss miraculous star-writing (spelling out, say, "John 3:16") as a hoax or hallucination or some such thing. But even if such star-writing were to convert just ONE person (some lonely, self-loathing sap in Idaho, let's say), that would be one more saved soul goin' to heaven, one more faithful among the corrupt. And why should God pass up the opportunity to save even one lost soul, even one small man?

I have already commented on P2 above. It isn't really part of my objection. With more evidence, obviously it stands to reason that more would believe. But we continue to reply that the evidence NOW is sufficient, and that people reject it for the wrong reasons, or no reason at all. That's why God is not obligated by some human-generated sense of "justice" to provide more. It is true that you or Ted may start believing if I went through a tree shredder in front of you and then you saw the pieces of my body come back together before your eyes and I stood in your face, winked and grinned mischievously and triumphantly and said "See?!" So then you would become good Christians and I would be your sponsors at your baptism on Good Friday (Catholic, of course).

It does NOT follow from that, however, that the existing evidence was not good enough. It was only not good enough subjectively, for YOU (and Ted), and your standard of what is "sufficient" may be deficient in any number of ways.

Let me try an analogy that came into my head just now. It would be like saying that the ancient Greeks discovered that the world was a sphere by mathematics and geometry and astronomical observations (however they did it). Some people were therefore convinced by that evidence. But one had to be pretty educated to grasp the proofs.

Later, you had people sailing around the world and coming back to the same place. That provided more evidence that more people could more easily grasp, so they accepted the sphericity of the earth. Or, someone could conceivably look at the sun and the moon, see that they were round, and conclude that, by analogy, the earth is probably the same.

Then Copernicus (a Catholic monk, supported by the Church) came up with his heliocentric theory. Then Galileo looked through his telescope, saw Mars and other planets (all round), and expanded upon Copernicus' work. At each step, more and more people could believe in the sphericity of the earth. Then we flew a rocket to the moon and looked back to the earth and literally SAW that it was round.

Now; more people came to believe that the earth was a globe with each new development, didn't they? Does that mean that the ancient Greek proofs were therefore inadequate and not "sufficient" to compel belief in those who could understand them, or who were willing to take the word of the people who DID understand them? No. They were sufficient all along. Simply because not everyone accepted them does not prove that they were insufficient. Yet at the same time, the more information and proof that came out (all the way up to photographs of the earth from the moon), the more people believed. This is how "evidence" works.

(I assume there were very very few flat-earthers in 1968, but there are still two or three in the world today).

The same situation applies to further miracles which would make more people believe. Sure, more would (I readily grant that; it is common sense), but it doesn't follow from that (by the above analogy) that the existing evidence is insufficient. Nor does it follow that God is obliged, in His love and justice to provide more more more evidence, just so hard-nosed stubborn skeptics will yield up their irrational and excessive skepticism. That would entail a continuum whereby each additional evidence convinces more people: you keep going down the scale till 80% believe, 85, 90, 95%, everyone in the world but two (you and Ted). Pretty soon God is compelling everyone, and then we are back to the "man-as-robot" scenario, which is exactly what God doesn't want.

Again, by your own admission, God's increasing Christian numbers would NOT require that he transform ANYONE into a "robot." Showing people the truth of a proposition (by appeal to evidence) does NOT violate their free will. How many people God might convince through his efforts is immaterial, so long as we're agreed that he'd convince at least SOME people (without ever interfering with their free will).

Beyond all that, there is this thing called "faith." No airtight proof for ANYTHING is possible. That's what I believe. That being the case, it is not unreasonable for Christians to exercise faith, when they can't prove Christianity completely (but big wow: nothing can be so proven), and must take that little Kierkegaardian "leap of faith." That's how it was designed by God. There is enough reasonability and evidence to "compel" faith or make it eminently reasonable, credible, and as good as any alternate choice. It is not irrational. But it goes beyond what reason can prove. Faith simply makes a leap based on many things which are rationally or empirically demonstrated: a leap not unlike all the other axioms that all knowledge whatever is built upon.

Suppose an actor in Hollywood wants to make everyone aware of his existence. So he goes on a couple shows and gives a couple of interviews and sends out a press release alerting people to his existence. Consequently, a few million people come to believe that he exists. But there's still a large chunk of people who DON'T, maybe because they missed the shows and the press release. Yet, years go by and there's no further word from the actor. Now, there are at least two ways to look at this:

1. The actor fails to go on more shows and issue further press releases because he wants the remaining nonbelievers (the "holdouts") to make a "leap of faith" and believe in him without adequate evidence.

2. The actor doesn't really want everyone to believe that he exists, or isn't capable of taking further action that would increase awareness of his existence, or is in some way mentally defective, or is dead.

Clearly, 1 is far less likely than 2, since it's given that the actor is rational and has already gone a long way toward making everyone aware of his existence. The notion that he should suddenly cease his efforts and rely on people's "faith" to compensate for his inactivity is just silly, and
totally at odds with a rational mindset. So, 2 is by far explanatorily superior to 1. But there's a problem here: it's also given that the actor DOES want everyone to believe that he exists, and that he IS capable of taking further action which is conducive to that desire. Thus, since we know
he's rational, the only alternative is that he's dead, defunct, deceased, no more (just like the parrot in the MONTY PYTHON sketch). The analogue in our discussion of ANB, of course, is that God does not exist. It has thus been proven, by way of analogy, that ANB provides the best explanation for God's "inactivity": nonexistent entities can't act. Q.E.D.

I'm sorry, Dave, but there's just no rational reply except to say, "He shouldn't; so apparently he isn't there."

Good, then your rational reply to my supposedly necessarily irrational answer should be forthcoming very soon. :-) I look forward to it, and thanks for sticking closely to the subject. That allows me to keep poking more holes in the pin-cushion that is ANB. How many holes can a pin cushion have before not one more pin can be put in it? There's a profound philosophical question for you . . .

Determinism has nothing to do with the matter.

Sure it does, because it would wipe out the free will which is precisely what accounts for the non-universality of belief. Therefore it is quite relevant to ANB as a whole. If determinism (and also theism) were true, there would be nothing to discuss on this. God would simply cause everyone to believe and go to heaven (universalism), where there would be billions of C3PO's and R2D2's buzzing around eternally, doing whatever God programmed them to do. At least we could play chess, because I have a computer chess game. That's comforting to know . . .

You've already admitted that God could cause most everyone to believe in him WITHOUT INTERFERING WITH ANYONE'S FREE WILL, just as teachers cause their students to learn certain facts of science, history, and mathematics every day without turning them into "robots."

Nor do those factors other than evidence which may play a role in shaping beliefs. THE ONLY QUESTIONS WE HERE NEED ASK OURSELVES ARE THE FOLLOWING:

Let's be clear: THE ONLY ONES YOU NEED TO ASK YOURSELF . . . (but I'll play along).

No, the only ones relevant to ANB.

Could God induce theistic belief in people by simply providing better evidence for his existence (irrespective of the quality or quantity of that evidence which he has allegedly already supplied)?

In the sense that more people would believe than do now (in a non-coerced manner), yes, as I have already stated, in my analogy to evidences for the sphericity of the earth.

If so, then why on earth doesn't he do so?

I answered this, already. Because He is not required by either love or justice to provide more evidence if indeed He has already provided enough for all to know something (His existence, etc.).

Nobody ever claimed that he's required to do anything, just that he probably WOULD do something if indeed he were to exist (and be as Christians say he is).

While you've repeatedly answered the first question affirmatively, I'm afraid that you've not yet given any clear answer to the second.

Then you don't read very well. If I have to start repeating every argument, that's a sure sign that the thread is winding down to a conclusion, because you have nothing new to offer and must resort to re-formulations of the same old same old. :-)

You've offered FWD. You've admitted that FWD is untenable. You've denied that you've admitted that FWD is untenable. You've failed to explain why God doesn't simply increase Christian numbers by non-coercively converting nonbelievers to Christianity. You've denied that you've failed to do that and have appealed again to FWD, despite simultaneously implying that FWD is a failure (as when you admit, in various places, that God could probably increase Christian numbers by performing spectacular miracles). So, I give up.

1. By definition (of the word "sufficient"), if the evidence for X were sufficient to yield Y, then Y would obtain.
2. So [from 1 by universal instantiation], if the evidence for theism were sufficient to yield worldwide theistic belief, then there would obtain the situation of worldwide theistic belief.
3. But that situation does NOT obtain. It is NOT the case that the whole world believes in GC (the God of Christianity).
4. Therefore [from 2 & 3 by modus tollens], the evidence for theism is insufficient to yield worldwide theistic belief.

I have been responding to ANB as a whole. In so doing, above I was guilty (in my first reply to this argument) of not using the philosophical meaning of "sufficient." Since I don't do philosophy all day like many of you do, I tend to automatically use the common usage of certain words. It's simply a matter of habit. So when I wrote "sufficient," I was using the non-philosophical dictionary definition, which is, "as much as is needed, adequate, enough." My mistake. I'm not accustomed to thinking in purely philosophical terms at all times. One has to put on that hat. That said, we can now move on from the impasse caused by that faux pas of mine. It doesn't affect my overall case at all, of course, and I'll rectify the problems caused by this, below.

After you answer that, please specify the premise(s) with which you disagree. Please do so by identifying the number(s) of that/those premises. Please do not say or suggest anything until you have completed that task . . .

I agree with 1-4. I immediately add that how I escape your larger implications of this (that God doesn't exist) is by pointing out that evidence alone is not the only factor (it is not sufficient in and of itself to bring about universal salvation), and that free creatures can resist it. In other words, it's back to FWD (and whether determinism exists), which creates a situation of non-universality that even an omnipotent God cannot remedy without sacrificing the freedom of His creatures. So I was simply moving on to the next stage of the debate. I'm always looking at the larger picture. I'm a "forest" guy, not a "trees" guy.

If you agree with 4, then you need to explain why God doesn't provide more evidence for his existence. Is it because he wants to respect man's free will? Then you're committed to the absurdity (which you've repeatedly denied) that providing evidence for a proposition violates people's free will, and that teachers, scientists, and philosophers should all therefore be fired. Is it because the endeavor would be futile? Then you're committed to the absurdity that not a single one of the 4,000,000,000 nonbelievers in GC (the God of Christianity) would be swayed by miraculous star-writing. Is it because GC doesn't really WANT "hardened skeptics" to believe in him? Then much of the Bible is a flat-out lie, and missionaries should quit preaching to people. Is it because he's not REQUIRED to do anything? Irrelevant; what he's required to do and what logic dictates he probably WOULD do are two separate issues. Is it for some other reason you've yet to specify? Then please, hurry up and specify it already.

What I meant to argue was that "there is enough evidence provided by God for any individual to be saved, so that God cannot be accused of unjustly treating His creatures, stacking the deck, etc." Free individuals can resist that evidence, due to many reasons. But it is true that this evidence (alone) will not absolutely bring about universalism. It cannot, because of free will. And I take that as self-evident.

You also seem to take it as false. Weird.

Free will is irrelevant here inasmuch as God could (perhaps vastly) increase Christian numbers without interfering with anyone's free will. You have already admitted that several times. Do you now wish to retract all those concessions?

They weren't "concessions" in the first place (because I never denied this), and you miss the point. It's the free will which can cause an excessively skeptical person to reject adequate evidence. That's why ANB is too simplistic.

People's most fundamental traits (skepticism or credulity, optimism or pessimism, kindness or cruelty) are largely hereditary. They have little to do with one's upbringing or culture, and even less to do with one's volition. That is, no one CHOOSES to be "excessively skeptical"; some people are just BORN that way. So, I can't imagine that a loving guy like GC would hold anyone's "excessive skepticism" against him. Rather, he'd probably try to correct it somehow, maybe through powerful religious experiences. In any case, he certainly wouldn't PUNISH someone for possessing a trait she never asked for (by, say, damning her to hell). Yet, that's precisely what he'd be doing if he punished "excessively skeptical" people for not believing in him. Thus, were he indeed to exist, then he would either (a) allow "excessively skeptical" people into heaven (or at least purgatory), or (b) provide such an overwhelming amount (and quality) of evidence for his existence that not even the most hardened skeptic could deny it. Isn't that right, Dave?

From the premise that such belief does not obtain, it is then deduced that probably GC does not exist.

You need to explain such a deduction in much greater detail. The hidden (false) premises are assumed but not proven.

Far from weak, it is deductively valid (according to that rule of inference known as "modus tollens"). This is where an acquaintance with formal logic could greatly benefit you.

But formal logic has nothing to do with the truth or falsity of the premises that are in the propositions with which logic deals (the relationship of propositions to one another). And it is the premises of ANB that I disagree with. You can't get to the conclusion "God does not exist" without erroneous premises, as I have been demonstrating. My counter-attack went right to them, as is my custom.

Yes, you DID immediately attack ANB's premise (A3), the claim that God would probably have no overriding purpose for withholding evidence for his existence. Namely, you attacked it with FWD. But then you essentially conceded the futility of that endeavor and switched over to some other, less definite defense that has something to do with God's not being obligated to cooperate with the aims of nonbelievers. But that defense is, again, utterly immaterial to ANB, since ANB neither makes nor entails any such claim.

Here is a more concise formulation of those circumstances:

(C) The antecedent (i.e., the "if" clause) is possibly true while the consequent (i.e., the "then" clause") is possibly false.

Since these are the ONLY circumstances under which a strict conditional is false, they are the ONLY circumstances under which the following statement is false:

(P3) If GC [the God of Christianity] exists, then probably the evidence for theism suffices to yield worldwide theistic belief.

My claim is that, necessarily, "GC exists" renders probable "the evidence for theism suffices to yield worldwide theistic belief." I base that claim on the fact that God wants everyone to believe in him and would therefore likely supply evidence for theism sufficient to yield worldwide theistic belief, were he indeed to exist. [Note that by "evidence" I mean publicly available data, religious experiences, miracles, or anything else that might suffice to yield worldwide theistic belief. In other words, when I say that GC would supply adequate evidence for his existence if indeed he were to exist, I mean that he would do SOMETHING or other to bring about worldwide theistic belief. The evidence needn't consist in physical, tangible, publicly observable evidence, although that would surely be the most effective sort.] If you deny that God would likely provide such evidence, then you need to explain why he might withhold it. Wanting to respect man's autonomy can't be his reason, since we've already agreed that performing spectacular miracles (which would surely suffice for the given end) needn't interfere with anyone's free will.

This has all been answered, in great detail. The logic I have no problem with, of course; it is your inadequately-accounted-for arrival at the premise:

If GC exists, then PROBABLY the evidence for theism suffices to yield worldwide theistic belief.

That claim is supported in Scripture. For the proof of that, either consult Scripture or consult Ted's Web essay (http://www.infidels.org/library/modern/theodore_drange/aeanb.html). In the
end, they come to pretty much the same thing. ;-)

Conclusions are only as good as the premises which lead up to them, as you well know. You need to prove the "probably" and what lies behind that assertion, and show how you arrive at it. So you give some arguments above. But I have already met all those with counter-replies. God can't bring about worldwide belief precisely because of free will, which can resist the belief. Period. End of sentence. I stated that in my first reply. It cuts right to the heart of the matter. You try to say free will is irrelevant, yet you assume there is no free will, in your presumptuous, inadequately-thought-through "probably" above (and that's why ANB is circular -- it has to presuppose a determinism which is by no means self-evident or unarguable).

How does it have to "presuppose a determinism"? Which determinism? If God could non-coercively induce theistic belief in even a single nonbeliever, then clearly determinism has nothing to do with the matter. You keep trying to smuggle FWD back into the discussion, but that defense has already been amply refuted (both in this thread and elsewhere).

It's very simple. God can't do what you "require" Him to do. He can create conditions which make it theoretically possible (as indeed He did do), but He can't compel universal belief -- not if men are truly free, which entails the ability to choose the contrary of God's perfect will. And that is why the argument fails to prove that He doesn't exist, because it sets up a logically impossible scenario that even God can't overcome (to save absolutely everyone by this "evidence" -- whatever the atheist deems appropriately "sufficient" -- without any other outcome, yet also create truly free creatures).

How is it logically impossible for God to (non-coercively) increase Christian numbers by means of spectacular miracles? According to the Bible, he's done precisely that several times in the past!

When you say that the evidence for God's existence is sufficient, you mean that any rational person who fairly assesses it should convert to Christianity (or at least theism).

That is, that the evidence is enough for the person to not have a "case" of unfairness against God on Judgment Day, if they fail to convert.

What's the difference?

But when I say that the evidence for God's existence is insufficient, I mean that, whatever the reason, it isn't good enough to sway the whole world that God exists. Whether that's the fault of humans or God is irrelevant to ANB. All that matters for the purposes of the argument is that most of the world lacks belief in the Christian deity.

It can't be irrelevant because then one would be forced to accept false premises of ANB that make it "succeed." I deny the tacit assumption of determinism and inability of humans to resist all the evidence. And to do that, one must appeal to human free will and human fault. If you disallow all arguments that differ from the flimsy premises of ANB, then of course the argument will "succeed" by default. I don't buy it. It's like a boxing match that one guy wins by stepping into the ring without a single punch thrown, and being declared the winner.

The original fallacy in the argument as you first presented it to me resided in this statement:

A1: being able to bring about situation S, all things considered;

I then proceeded to show that this was logically impossible for God to do, given free will.

No, you NEVER showed this. On the contrary, you've admitted several times that it's patently BOGUS. You need to get your facts straight, pal.

The argument collapses right then and there. All else is just decorations on the cake frosting. Now you want to make out that a discussion of free will isn't even relevant or permissible. It's not up to you to rule out the objections before they are even made. If I'm defending the Christian notion of God, I must be allowed to utilize Christian beliefs, one of which is that creatures are free, not determined in all their beliefs and behaviors.

Your "heads I win, tails you lose" circular reasoning scenario is as silly as the following:

"John Lennon is probably the most important Beatle."

I reply, "But what about Paul McCartney?"

"Well, you're not allowed to talk about him because we're talking about John Lennon, and McCartney isn't relevant to that."

Lennon = ANB. McCartney = free will, which is a counter-objection to ANB, because it shows how that posited state of affairs is logically impossible, given the existence of free will.

In the case of the foregoing dialogue, I admit that my reply would be irrational. But in the case of ANB, the analogous reply (about free will) is perfectly TRUE. So, your analogy is failure.

It's not a perfect analogy, of course,

Far from it. It is, with all due respect, an utterly DREADFUL analogy.

but I'm trying to show that it is foolish for you to keep telling me that free will is off the subject, when it is right in the middle of the subject, and in fact, fatal to ANB, as far as I am concerned. You're looking at the feet of the gnats on the bark of the trees, as usual, and can't see the whole "forest" of the discussion and what has happened. And that is what super-concentration on logic at the expense of proper analysis of premises and looking at the larger picture often causes one to do. I'm very familiar with that from being on this list before, and I recall John Kress often pointing this out as well.

Thanks for the dialogue, Dave, should you choose not to reply. 'Twas, as always, a pleasure. :-)

Additional Reflections

On Free Creatures and Free Will

The Christian replies that God thought it was better to create free creatures who could freely choose to believe in Him and to attain heaven (and also hell) than to create robots who only did what He programmed them to do and nothing else. Love itself is voluntary.

We need only look at our own children (or other loved ones, if one isn't a parent) to see the point clearly. Would any parent want a child's love only because he or she was forced to "love" and could do nothing else? Love is a giving thing: the parent loves the child freely and the child freely loves back. Anything less than that would be a sort of slavery.

If I were to act in a way that my will and desire would be in perfect "harmony" vis-a-vis my children, I would make them always love me and not have any possibility to do otherwise. That would also entail my controlling absolutely everything in their lives, because they would have no autonomy or free will in actuality. I could whip them, hold them in chains, put them in a room and never let them out, let them eat only bread and water -- all because I wanted it. I could give them some sort of drug that always made them obey my command (and enjoy doing so), and "love" me. I exaggerate, of course, but I trust that my point is made.

Or I could let them be free and live their life as they chose, which would open up the possibility of their rejection of me. It's the old "mother bird letting the young bird fly" routine. If the bird comes back, then there is a real relationship there, because the bird could have chosen to leave and never return. But if the bird is never allowed to fly, then the mother can't know if it really loves her and wants to freely stay.

I think it is a matter of thinking through what it means to be free, and why it is the only way of conceiving human self-understanding which makes any sense of our experience and perception. Also, reflection upon the relationship of omnibenevolence and omnipotence and the laws of logic . . .

-------------------------------------------------------

I don't say that God never ever interferes with human free will. I contend that "God cannot make free creatures inevitably choose His perfect will," which is a different proposition altogether.
God didn't want to create robots, in the matter of loving Him and choosing to follow Him and be saved, to go to heaven, etc.

God can, of course, always supercede human free will if He wishes. He can help us; that's what miracles, grace, prayer, etc. are all about. But He cannot do so in order to assure that all men would automatically love Him and be saved, for then we would be robots. It is possible that all men could have chosen freely to love God (the angels in heaven are also creatures, and did so), but they had to be free to make the contrary choice, or else their choice would have been meaningless, as it was inevitable, and couldn't have been otherwise. Hence there were angels who did fall, and they could fall because they had the choice to do so.

Closing Statements

I have added numbers -- (1), (2), etc. (in black) -- to Steve's final comments in order for the reader to know exactly what I am responding to, similar to a footnoting system; and also so his statement can be kept intact, for contextual purposes. Steve insisted on further comments upon my closing statements ("Please do not post the dialogue until you have made the corrections described below. Or, if you've already posted the dialogue, please remove it until those corrections have been made."). I will comply for the sake of the larger dialogue, even though, for the record, I protest that this is an excessive and unreasonable demand. His interjections will be included in blue, within the text of my closing statement, exactly where he placed them in his final critique.

Dave explicitly agreed with both of the following:

(P1) If God were to perform miraculous star-writing (i.e., spell out in the
stars a well-known gospel verse, e.g., John 3:16), then probably at least
SOME non-Christians would convert to Christianity.

(P2) God's performing miraculous star-writing (or some similar feat) would in
no way whatever interfere with anyone's free will.

Since Dave affirms (P2), it is a mystery to me why he continually appealed to FWD (the Free-will Defense as applied to ANB) throughout our exchange. (1) It is also unclear to me why he quoted the works of theistic philosophers like St. Augustine and Alvin Plantinga, none of which concerns
ANB (2). Some of those works DO concern AE (the Argument from Evil), but that argument is totally separate from ANB. Apparently Dave thinks that Augustine's and Plantinga's remarks on the former are somehow applicable to the latter. However, when I asked him to clarify how that might be so, he gave an answer which scarcely jibes with his assent to (P1) & (P2), above:

It is relevant insofar as the free will defended in FWD makes the non-belief discussed in ANB possible and inevitable (i.e., it is an offered explanation for the non-belief, which implicates man, not God -- Who is said to not exist because of this non-belief), and FWD explains how that is, and how even an omnipotent God could not create the world otherwise, without making people robots.

How can nonbelief in God be "inevitable" if (P1) is true, i.e., if star-writing and the like would convert at least SOME non-Christians to Christianity? (3) And how might FWD explain nonbelief if (P2) is true, i.e., if such miracles are compatible with (the preservation of) free will? [Or, put
another way, if (P2) is true, then how could such miracles turn people into "robots"?] (4)

Now, Dave agreed several times that such miracles would likely persuade proportionately MANY non-Christians of God's existence. (He rightly called that "common sense.") So, the only way his answer could make any sense is if by "nonbelief" he there means "the nonbelief of (at most) a slim majority of non-Christians." But in that case he owes us an explanation for why God doesn't go ahead and perform the star-writing (or whatever) for the sake of that sizable minority of non-Christians who WOULD find such evidence compelling. When I pressed him on this point, he retreated to FWD, yet refused to abandon his assent to (P2). He never seemed to appreciate that he couldn't have it both ways. (5)

Dave, like most Christians who are confronted with ANB, wants to "have his cake and eat it too." On the one hand, he wants to protest that God's making the evidence for his existence too plain would somehow interfere with humans' free will. But, on the other, he wants to avoid appearing irrational by asserting that X's providing to Y evidence for P somehow entails X's violating Y's free will. He also wants (understandably enough) to portray his god as rational, and so resists saying that God withholds clear evidence for his existence because it would eliminate the need for "faith." (6) Evidently (and I think fortunately), Dave recognizes that only the most naive and unreasonable deity would expect humans to believe in him without the slightest shred of proof. Maybe what Dave was trying to argue all along, then, was that God wants people to believe in him without CLEAR AND UNCONTROVERSIAL proof. But why would God want that? What good is served by having the evidence be ambiguous and disputable, such that millions reject it and billions more misinterpret it (thus coming to believe in the "wrong" god)? No Christian, to my knowledge, has ever satisfactorily answered that question, and thus no Christian, to my knowledge, has ever refuted ANB. (Should any Christian ever figure it out, he might kindly apprise prosecutors of the answer.) (7)

In fairness to Dave, who until last month had never before encountered ANB, his was most Christians' first reaction to the argument. (8) It initially seems so at variance with the inveterate Christian plea for faith that even the seasoned apologist at first fails to register the obvious compatibility between having evidence for P and freely believing P. (9) Moreover, he typically conflates what HE calls "faith," viz., belief without certainty, with what less religious persons generally mean by that term, viz., belief without justification. (That even miraculous star-writing would fail to afford us absolute certainty of God's existence is a knotty, tangential point I shall here bypass.) Consequently, when he objects that having clear evidence for X is incompatible with having faith in X, he is (paradoxically) right by the atheist's definition of "faith" but wrong by his own. Upon realizing this he attempts to redefine "faith" so as to bring it more into line with the atheist's, only to discover the futility of the maneuver: if the reason God doesn't provide clear evidence for his existence is that to do so would eliminate faith as the ATHEIST conceives it, then the reason God doesn't provide clear evidence for his existence is that he wants people to believe in him without justification (i.e., without ANY EVIDENCE WHATEVER). But then
the apologist is back where he started, viz., in the position of having to sensibly answer what cannot be sensibly answered within the parameters of his own worldview: Why would God want people to believe ANYTHING without justification? (10) And if he does, then why has he provided that (slender) evidence for his existence which he supposedly has, e.g., moral intuitions, miracles, etc.? Also, quite apart from why God might WANT people to believe certain propositions without justification, does he really EXPECT them to? How could he, if indeed he is omniscient and created us as he did, such that we are (for the most part) as helplessly enslaved to reason as we are to hope?

For the Christian, God is inevitably the Greatest Prankster in the Universe; for the atheist, depending on his disposition, either Man's Most Charming Chimera or Man's Cruelest Invention Ever. (11)

Steven J. Conifer
Philosophy Student
Marshall University, Huntington, WV USA

I thank my friend Steve for another fun and challenging debate (one of several posted on my website). I shall now reply to his closing statement, reserving the right of all webmasters -- especially of websites expressing a particular viewpoint -- to have the "last word."

(1) I have no idea why Steve would think this was such a "mystery" -- as I explained it several times; notably near the beginning of the debate (very explicitly). I was responding to his propositions in his initial formulation of ANB:

Set P = the following three propositions:

(a) There exists a being who rules the entire universe.
(b) That being loves humanity.
(c) Humanity has been provided with an afterlife.

Situation S = the situation of all, or almost all, humans coming to believe all three propositions of set P by the time of their physical death.

Particularly, I answered his assertion:

(A) If God were to exist, then he would possess all of the following four properties (among others):

(1) being able to bring about situation S, all things considered;

I cite my own words, abridged:

An omnipotent being can do whatever is possible to do, given logic and the law of noncontradiction . . .even God cannot make the sun and the earth occupy the same place at the same time . . . He can't make 2+2=5 or make a circle a square or make a galaxy travel simultaneously in two opposite directions, etc. . . . One thing, then, that such a being cannot do, is bring about His desired outcome for His creatures in every case, given the fact that He created them free beings, with the power of choosing contrary to His perfect will . . . God can only save everyone and cause them to all end up in heaven with Him eternally by creating robots who always do His will, . . . By choosing to create men free, certain things were logically ruled out: universalism or near-universalism was one of these. But that is man's fault, not God's. Thus, ANB (for the Christian) inevitably reduces to merely a variant of the rejoinders to the Free Will Defense (FWD).

Furthermore, one might regard the Argument From Non-Belief a variant (a "distant cousin") of the traditional Argument from Evil (AE) for the Nonexistence of God, since both share in common an aversion to negative aspects of the world (momentarily granting the Christian worldview for the sake of argument), and claim these as supposed disproofs of God's existence, or disproof that He is as loving and/or powerful as Christians claim Him to be. In AE, the claimed disproof is evil; in ANB it is non-belief (and the alleged contradiction of non-belief and an omnipotent Being Who desires it). In both instances, FWD offers a response which contends that man is to blame for the "difficulties," rather than God, thus eliminating the conclusion that these things suggest God's nonexistence.

Also, Steve seems to misunderstand that the espousal of P2 has not the slightest effect on FWD. It is no great admission to agree that miracles are consistent with human free will. The question of whether said miracles can compel belief in God in human beings is, however, an entirely separate and distinct one. Thus, agreement on P2 is irrelevant to FWD, which is the major component of my argument against ANB. Steve's (and Ted's) fundamental task -- for ANB to succeed -- is to explain the dynamics and mechanics of how stated, outward belief is compelled (without eliminating human free will).

This is in itself an extraordinarly complicated question, as I reiterated over and over. But it is simply assumed by Steve and Ted, and not itself supported or established in any rational fashion. Yet it is not at all self-evident that people will believe in God if spectacular miracles are performed (which Ted, in his original presentation of ANB, casually assumes without argument). And the aspect of human rebellion against a God which imposes on human autonomy is likewise ignored. This is the weakest link in ANB. It also might lead one to the conclusion that ANB is a circular argument, because it assumes almost all of its conclusions early on in its formulation. The argument is both logically weak and psychologically and epistemologically naive with regard to belief-formation.

(2) Alvin Plantinga and St. Augustine were quoted concerning FWD, which is relevant according to my reasoning above. In order to bolster the weak edifice of ANB, Steve and Ted simply assume that God doesn't care about free will, giving several lame and insubstantial arguments to that effect. But that also remains to be proven. They claim that ANB isn't an argument about Christian incoherence and that it stands on its own as a philosophical argument. Yet when it is in their interest, they appeal to the Bible (in counter-responses) in order to "prove" that God cares little about free will. Well, if they can go to the Bible they don't believe in order to support their charge of incoherence in the Christian (not merely deist or theist) position, certainly the Christian can appeal to the Bible he accepts as God's revelation of Himself, to show that the Christian and biblical view includes free will. Free will vs. determinism is, of course, a huge philosophical dispute itself. Steve casually assumes determinism in presenting ANB:

Clearly, then, God isn't too worried about encroaching upon man's freedom.

God is surely willing to impinge on people's free will as a means of bringing them to theistic belief, to salvation.

You here quote me out of context. Both those sentences are either premises or parts of premises belonging to one of several replies to FWD. None of the other replies argues or presupposes that God would probably violate man's free will in order to effect worldwide theistic belief. Indeed, all or most of them are directed at proving the compatibility between having evidence for P and freely believing P. The reply whence come the given sentences is admittedly the weakest of all the replies to FWD. Its sole purpose is to highlight the supreme importance of salvation, in view of which God might, as a last resort, impinge on man's autonomy so as to induce in him theistic belief. (In other words, the issue of free will vs. determinism, even as regards belief-formation, is at best tangential to the question whether ANB is sound.) Please either make that abundantly clear on your website (preferably by somewhere including this very paragraph) or else remove your point (2).

This is not "clear" or "sure" at all. I answered the second statement above by a St. Augustine quote, followed by Christian philosopher Alvin Plantinga. I guess, then, that Steve thinks he can assume the unproven axiom of determinism and state it without opposition, but I am not allowed to give a Christian rebuttal, utilizing Christian philosophers. It would be easy to "win" any argument if it is based on false premises, not allowed to be challenged at all. Why even bother having a discussion? The Christian obviously utilizes FWD to defend the existence of free will. So now we have two huge, gigantic assumptions (compulsion of belief by miracles, etc., and determinism) that the Christian is supposed to blithely accept without argument, so that the non-existence of God can be "proven." That's a stacked deck, and unacceptable. And it is a circular argument.

(3) These two propositions have no intrinsic logical connection to each other. Some people would convert if God wrote "John 3:16" in the stars, yes. But what does that have to do with free creatures who have the capability of rejecting God and not believing in Him? Nothing. Also, Steve presupposes without argument the alleged "fact" that God has not provided enough evidence already, and that non-belief is thus all His fault, because He could do more. The premise needs to be established first, before making the grandiose claim that God doesn't exist, based on this foundation of sand and thin air.

(4) My argument was that miracles themselves can occur without abridgement of free will. This is obvious. Whether someone will i) accept the miracle, and/or ii) the implications behind the miracle, or its proper interpretation (God's existence and nature), and/or iii) devote their lives to the God Who performed the miracle, is another question entirely. FWD (in the context of ANB) deals with the ability of men to refuse to do i, ii, and iii.

(5) There is no contradiction, as explained in this closing statement and several times in the dialogue proper. First of all, I argued that God has already provided sufficient evidence for every man. Secondly, I gave the analogy of the earth being round all along, but that more people believed this as more scientific confirmation was provided through the years. That didn't change the fact that the earth was round. Likewise, the non-existence of a supposed "spectacular, compelling" miracle does not prove that God doesn't exist. Thirdly, I argued that for many people, no amount of evidence is sufficient, because they have raised the bar of proof far too high, for a variety of reasons. It remains to be proven that any particular miracle could compel everyone to follow God. This is one of the many unproven and implausible assumptions in ANB. Fourthly, many people believe in God but refuse to follow Him. That is enough to land them in hell. Fifthly, if it is allowed and conceded that not everyone would believe by any one miracle, but that a "great majority" would, then the problem becomes "how many people have to disbelieve in order for God not to exist?" 4.9 %? 1.9 %? 16,743 people in the whole world? 16,744?The arbitrariness is apparent. On the other hand, if 100% belief is required for this "super-miracle," then I don't see how that is indistinguishable from straight determinism.

You really ought to emphasize (again) that your definition of "sufficient," whatever it is, differs from mine. According to MINE, it is logically true that the evidence for theism is insufficient for worldwide theistic belief. (Otherwise, necessarily, such belief would obtain.)

(6) This wrongheaded charge was answered several times in the dialogue. But it sounds good, so Steve (lacking any true rebuttal) hurls it yet again. Most notably, I answered in these words:

He is not required by either love or justice to provide more evidence if indeed He has already provided enough for all to know something (His existence, etc.).

There is enough evidence provided by God for any individual to be saved, so that God cannot be accused of unjustly treating His creatures.

(7) This is merely insubstantial chest-puffing. The Christian believes that all men have sufficient evidence to believe in God, by "the things that have been made" (Romans 1:20), and by their consciences and moral sense in their hearts (Romans 2:14-16). These things are intrinsic to human beings, even before anyone ever hears of Jesus, the Bible, or the gospel, or gets to the various evidences that Christian apologists like myself present and defend.

Same as above.

(8) I was acquainted with the argument somewhat in my last appearance on the atheist list where this discussion took place; particularly the "John 3:16 in the stars" bit.

(9) That these things are compatible is self-evident. Whether belief is thereby inevitable, or whether it can be universal or nearly-universal without compulsion, and given the human ability to reject propositions (let alone deities), is by no means established. It is merely assumed in ANB, which is why it is exceedingly weak and implausible. It only works for one who is already a "true believer" atheist. It's preaching to the (atheist) choir (singing Debussy, no doubt).

(10) I made no such silly argument, with regard to what Steve thinks I think "faith" is (as the reader of the entire dialogue can see). Therefore, it is pointless to respond to it. It's a straw man.

(11) The rest is simply atheist boilerplate rhetoric, featuring yet more unproven assumptions, such as "why has he provided that (slender) evidence for his existence . . . " My answers in the dialogue are, I think, quite adequate to meet Steve's arguments at every turn (with all due respect). When Steve ran out of answers, he stopped answering and started repeating or rephrasing or recycling. That's a sure sign that he hasn't closely examined the many highly questionable or unsupported premises in ANB. This will not do. He has avoided truly grappling with the hard questions. If an argument is true, its advocates need not hide or run from strong critiques; they will meet them, one-by-one. I now confidently leave to the reader the decision as to who has made the best case.

Uploaded by Dave Armstrong on 26 February 2003, with express permission from Steve Conifer.

No comments: