The Argument from (Reasonable) Nonbelief
1993 was a watershed year in the philosophy of religion generally and for atheological arguments specifically. In that year, Cornell University Press published J.L. Schellenberg’s now classic book, Divine Hiddenness and Human Reason. Schellenberg’s book contained the first book-length analysis and defense of the idea that the weakness of evidence for theism is itself evidence against it. At the heart of Schellenberg’s argument is the idea that inculpable or reasonable nonbelief actually occurs; he labels his argument “the argument from reasonable nonbelief” for this very reason. In other words, there are people who do not believe in God whose nonbelief is not the result of culpable actions or omissions on the part of the subject. According to Schellenberg, a perfectly loving God would desire a personal relationship between himself and every human being, or at least every human being capable of it. Belief in God’s existence is a logically necessary condition for such a relationship. Hence reasonable nonbelief is evidence for atheism.
The occurrence of reasonable nonbelief is linked to the idea of the hiddenness of God, and so Schellenberg’s argument is sometimes also referred to as “the argument from divine hiddenness.” This has been the source of some confusion and controversy. The label “divine hiddenness” is unsatisfactory, according to some atheists, because a “hidden God” implies that God exists. Schellenberg points out, however, that he is using the phrase “divine hiddenness” in a purely epistemic way: he is using the phrase solely in terms of the absence of strong evidence for God’s existence.
Philosopher Theodore Drange introduced a related but distinct argument for atheism in his 1998 book, Nonbelief and Evil. Drange calls his argument simply the “argument from nonbelief” and bases it upon all nonbelief, not just reasonable nonbelief. (In “Nonbelief as Support for Atheism,” Drange states he considers the distinction between culpable and inculpable nonbelief to be both unclear and irrelevant.)
“When God is conceived of as an all-powerful and all-loving deity, many arguments for his nonexistence can be raised. Two of the main ones are the Argument from Evil (hereafter abbreviated AE) and the Argument from Nonbelief (hereafter abbreviated ANB). In what follows, I shall provide precise formulations of those two arguments, make some comments about them, and then try to refute the main defenses (of God’s existence) that might be put forward against ANB, which I consider the stronger of the two. I take ANB to be a sound argument establishing the proposition that God (conceived of in a certain way) does not exist.”
Concerning Theodore Drange’s Argument from Evil for the Nonexistence of God (2002) (Off Site) by Shandon Guthrie
“In the recent past, Professor Theodore Drange of West Virginia University has launched a twofold attack on traditional views of the existence of God. In a seminal article reproduced on the Secular Web’s site entitled “Arguments from Evil and Nonbelief,” Dr. Drange mounts a case against classic theism predicating its notion of an omnibenevolent God. His shorter articles have been subsequently maturated in his book, Nonbelief and Evil: Two Arguments for the Nonexistence of God. Although I find Drange’s approach to be erudite, I believe that his argument is dubious. This article explores the Argument from Evil as presented by Dr. Drange and suggests that the conclusion that God does not exist is not warranted.
Theodore Drange responds to Guthrie’s critique. Drange finds Guthrie’s essay “unclear,” and contends that Guthrie “erred in many ways,” including “misstating my views in many ways (and continuing such misstatements even in his concluding paragraph), … in trying to argue that God (were he to exist) is unable to reduce human suffering, and … in his attempt to formulate a divine desire that conflicts with God’s desire to reduce human suffering.”
In Nonbelief and Evil, Theodore Drange presents what he calls the Argument from Nonbelief against the existence of God: the fact that not all people believe the gospel message before they die provides grounds for denying that the Christian God exists. Pardi contends, however, that there are good reasons to deny that this inference goes through; he argues that given the nature of free persons, it is not within the set of logically possible states of affairs that God is able to actualize. Further, Pardi contends that Drange has an inadequate understanding of religious belief that should be rejected and replaced with a more robust formulation.
“I argue that Pardi’s criticisms of Drange’s version of the argument from nonbelief (ANB) do not refute ANB, although they may or may not require peripheral corrections or clarifications on Drange’s part. I focus not so much on Drange’s formulation, but on what I take to be the central intuitions of ANB and on the inadequacy of Pardi’s objections. I assume some familiarity with Pardi’s paper and with ANB, although I present what I consider to be ANB’s central claims.”
A Bit of Undigested Beef : Does the Existence of Non-Belief Prove God’s Non-Existence? (2004) (Off Site) by William Kesatie, J.D.
Kesatie contends that Drange’s article raises an interesting challenge to Christianity, but that his argument is not particularly compelling or even “sound.”
Conifer first formulates his (evidential) atheological argument as applied to the most common concept of deity and then assesses both various defenses of God’s existence against the argument and several objections to those defenses. His thesis is that each of the defenses succumbs to at least one of the objections. He thus concludes that his is a forceful and cogent case for atheism with respect to the given concept of God.
Kuchar defends an Argument from Nonbelief against God’s existence (ANB) similar to that argued by J. L. Schellenberg, which differs in some respects from that argued by Theodore Drange. In short, the mere existence of nonbelievers or the presence of sufficient evidence for nonbelief in God’s existence is incompatible with God given a certain description of him.
One of the theistic maneuvers used to explain and justify the hiddenness of God is the so-called “Feigned-allegiance Reply” (FAR). Although some arguments against FAR have been published in the literature, Plugaru here presents what he believes is a new and valid attack on FAR (NAFAR).
In this paper (originally presented as a talk) Theodore M. Drange seeks to improve upon J. L. Schellenberg’s watershed argument that a perfectly loving God would reveal his existence clearly to people in order to get them to believe in him. Schellenberg’s argument maintains that the existence of a large number of nontheists provides good reason to deny the existence of such a perfectly loving God. But Drange argues that a stronger version of the argument would add to God’s attributes a strong desire for humanity’s love. Since one cannot love God if one does not believe in him, God would more clearly desire widespread belief in his existence under Drange’s revised formulation. Drange then responds to objections to this line of reasoning, particularly those couched in terms of a free-will or unknown-purpose defense, including Daniel Howard-Snyder’s inappropriate-response defense. To this day Drange is unaware of any response by either Schellenberg or Howard-Snyder to his objections to their arguments.
Here are two atheological arguments, called the “Lack-of-evidence Argument” (LEA) and “the Argument from Nonbelief ” (ANB). LEA: Probably, if God were to exist then there would be good objective evidence for that. But there is no good objective evidence for God’s existence. Therefore, probably God does not exist. ANB: Probably, if God were to exist then there would not be many nonbelievers in the world. But there are many nonbelievers in the world. Therefore, probably God does not exist. Reasons are given for saying that although LEA is not totally implausible, ANB is a stronger atheological argument than it is.
In this review of Ted Drange’s Nonbelief and Evil, Charles Echelbarger outlines the contribution that the book makes to the philosophy of religion literature, comparing it to the work of other nontheistic philosophers of religion and noting Drange’s emphasis on the different conceptions of God that comprehensive nontheistic arguments must address. He then turns to a discussion of Drange’s two main arguments, the argument from evil and the argument from nonbelief, noting that Drange finds the latter superior to the more traditional argument from evil. He also notes that, on Drange’s view, the argument from nonbelief has no force against the existence of the sort of remote Creator envisioned by radical deism.
What Divine Hiddenness Reveals, or How Weak Theistic Evidence is Strong Atheistic Proof (Great Debate) (2008) by John Schellenberg
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.
In this explanation of why he is not a Christian, Richard Carrier outlines the top four reasons why he rejects Christianity: God’s silence, God’s inactivity, lack of evidence, and the overt conflict between discovered reality and Christian theory. Though a lay exposition geared at a general audience, the essay appeals to a variety of atheistic arguments, including the argument from religious confusion, an evidential argument from evil, divine hiddenness, the argument from biological evolution, and the argument from physical minds. In an interesting twist on the argument from design, Carrier turns the fine-tuning argument on its head, noting that several features of our universe–features predicted by naturalism–are highly improbable if Christian theism is true.
Jeffery Jay Lowder maintains this page.