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John Schellenberg

John Schellenberg

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What Divine Hiddenness Reveals, or How Weak Theistic Evidence is Strong Atheistic Proof (Great Debate) (2008)

John Schellenberg argues that if there were a God, then nonresistant nonbelief would not exist. But, he continues, the existence of nonresistant nonbelief is undeniable: there are individuals who do not believe in God for reasons having nothing to do with emotional or behavioral opposition towards God, towards relationship with God, or towards any of the apparent implications of such a relationship. For example, some former believers who would have loved to go on believing in God could not do so because a serious and honest examination of all the evidence available to them unexpectedly eroded away their belief. Additionally, throughout human history theistic belief has never been a live option for scores of human beings either entrenched in alternative religious traditions or lacking the basic conceptual conditions to even be able entertain the idea of an all-powerful, all-knowing, and perfectly good creator God separate from the physical universe. From this it follows that God does not exist. A perfectly loving God would ensure that meaningful contact with herself was always possible for those she loved, but just by looking around we can see that this state of affairs does not obtain. Weak theistic evidence, then, provides strong atheistic proof.

The Sounds of Silence: Why the Divine Hiddenness Argument Fails (Great Debate) (2008) by Jeff Jordan

Key to John Schellenberg's divine hiddenness argument is the idea that a perfectly loving being would desire "explicit and positively meaningful relationship" with its creatures. But Jeffrey Jordan finds Schellenberg's argument unsound for two main reasons. First, the argument assumes that if God exists, the probability that God exists given the available evidence would have to be significantly greater than one-half. However, this presumption overlooks the possibility that God might value a free acceptance and inculcation of belief that is only possible if the probability of God's existence given the evidence is exactly one-half. Second, the argument assumes absolute evidentialism, roughly that one ought not believe a proposition if the available evidence doesn't render it more likely to be true than false. But there are possible situations in which taking steps to form or maintain a belief lacking adequate evidence is morally obligatory; consequently, it may be permissible to form a theistic belief on the basis of a pragmatic argument when one finds oneself with as much reason to believe as not to believe.

The Sounds of Silence Stilled: A Reply to Jordan on Hiddenness (Great Debate) (2008) by John Schellenberg

Jeffrey Jordan offers a solution to the divine hiddenness argument that is interesting and original, but unconvincing. For one, Jordan ignores the point that a perfectly loving God would seek a relationship with us primarily for its own sake, not simply because such a relationship is good for us. Moreover, if God wants to ensure that everyone is always in a position to participate in explicit relationship with God just by trying to, then God will provide more than merely pragmatic reasons to believe, as these take time to implement. Namely, God will provide constantly available evidence causally sufficient to engender belief, particularly for nonresistant nonbelievers. Furthermore, the pragmatic support for specifically theistic belief that Jordan's argument requires simply does not exist. Why should one align oneself with theism as against other possibilities? For there to be a clear rational choice in favor of alignment with theism, there must be good, nonpragmatic reason to prefer theism.

Jordan's Jamesian Wager (2008)

Jeffrey Jordan contends that there are good prudential reasons to believe that theism is true even if the evidence for or against it is indecisive. But his "Jamesian wager" fails because it is unduly dismissive of various nontheistic religious possibilities, while the pragmatic benefits of religious belief he appeals to suggest that any form of religious belief can be life-enhancing. The community support and psychological integration grounded in a cosmic optimism found in all religions surely generate the various this-worldly benefits Jordan emphasizes rather than theism per se. Moreover, no one fully cognizant that the evidence for theism is no better than the evidence against it can believe theism without fooling herself about what the evidence shows. Belief in the absence of tipping evidence amounts to belief that the evidence on one side is stronger than the evidence on the other, contrary to the facts, and thus is dishonest self-deception. The benefits of faith or hope without belief are at least as great as those of self-deception, but without retaining what is detrimental about self-deception. Thus, all things considered, it is irrational to take steps to self-deceptively induce theistic belief on pragmatic grounds when superior alternatives are available.

On Joining the Ranks of the Faithful (Great Debate) (2008) by Jeffrey Jordan

John Schellenberg suggests that faith (not belief) that there is some ultimate reality in relation to which an ultimate good can be attained is preferable to old-fashioned theistic belief, as theistic belief in the absence of tipping evidence amounts to self-deception. However, self-deception only arises when inculcating a belief which one takes to be false, not a belief for which there is no tipping evidence or an indeterminate probability. A belief that a proposition is probably the case is not the same as a belief that a proposition is probably the case based on the evidence at hand. Because one can generate a belief on the basis of a pragmatic reason without self-deception, Schellenberg's objection fails. Contra Schellenberg, the opportunity for hope and optimism is far greater with theism than with naturalism; and the expected benefits associated with a religious commitment swamp those of naturalism, even if religious uncertainty obtains. It would be irresponsible to forego theism's established this-worldly benefits in favor of a nontheistic religion for which there is little or no evidence of comparable this-worldly benefits. And even if non-Western religions produce comparable benefits to Western ones, it is hard to see how this would comfort the naturalist.

Published on the Secular Web

Modern Library

The Sounds of Silence Stilled: A Reply to Jordan on Hiddenness

(2008) John Schellenberg           1. Love is Not Love that without Love of Unity Unites           2. Ought-Nots and Will-Nots           3. Why a Pragmatic Solution Won’t Work Jeffrey Jordan’s response to my hiddenness argument is essentially an extension and application of his pragmatic stance on matters religious. The result is an interesting and original solution to the […]

Jordan’s Jamesian Wager

(2008) John Schellenberg           1. The ‘Many Gods’ Objection Revived           2. The ‘Many Attitudes’ Objection Introduced           3. Conclusion: More Twists in the Tale Jeffrey Jordan’s pragmatic argument for the rational preferability of theistic belief in circumstances of indecisive evidence is resourceful and interesting, but I shall argue that it fails even if we assume–as I would […]