Interview with Theodore Drange
Definition of Atheism
LOWDER: How do you define atheism?
DRANGE: Atheism is the belief that God does not exist. I have put down some arguments in support of that usage in my essay “Atheism, Agnosticism, Noncognitivism.”
LOWDER: Under your definition people who are pretty sure that God exists, people who are pretty sure that God doesn’t exist, and people who believe that it is impossible to know anything about God would all be agnostic. What’s wrong with, say, “weak atheism” and “strong atheism” (as described in the alt.atheism FAQ)?
DRANGE: The terminology that I recommend is the following:
Strong theist: one who says that God definitely exists.
Weak theist: one who says that God probably exists.
Strong atheist: one who says that God definitely does not exist.
Weak atheist: one who says that God probably does not exist.
Agnostic: one who concedes understanding the proposition that God exists but takes no stand on its truth, falsity, probability, or improbability.
One advantage of this terminology is that it makes all the groups MUTUALLY EXCLUSIVE. For purposes of discussion and debate there is a benefit in such a system of classification. If one really wants a term for people who are either atheist or agnostic, I recommend the term “nontheist.”
Another benefit of my recommended terminology (a “biggie”) is that it is the most common set of usages in ordinary language. If you use my terminology with a stranger, you are less likely to mislead (or to have to explain) than if you use some other terminology.
LOWDER: What, in your opinion, is the historical usage of the word, “atheist”?
DRANGE: It is clear that there never was any period in history prior to the present in which the term “atheism” was taken to mean “lacking theistic belief.” That usage is a fairly recent invention. Now many nontheists are trying to reform our speech by getting us to adopt their redefinition of the term “atheism.” Such attempts at linguistic reform are almost always futile. If they succeed in getting a majority of speakers of English to adopt their usage within my lifetime, then I would go along with it, but not before.
The Argument from Nonbelief
LOWDER: What is the very best argument there is for the nonexistence of the God of Christianity (GC)?
DRANGE: It is the Argument from Nonbelief (ANB), which may be formulated in many ways, but a simple version of which is the following:
(1) If GC were to exist, then he would not permit there to be in the world as much nonbelief in (or unawareness of the truth of) the gospel message as there is.
(2) But there is that much.
(3) Therefore, GC does not exist.
One rival candidate would be the Argument from Evil (AE), but I claim that the ANB is even stronger for the following reason. When we study closely the description of God in the New Testament, we find that he is less concerned about people’s suffering than he is about their nonbelief. It says there that he sent his son to testify to the truth of the gospel message, and the son in turn sent out missionaries (to “all nations”) to spread the word. Such considerations make premise (1) above more likely true than the corresponding premise of the AE.
LOWDER: Could you explain why you think the problem of nonbelief is a distinct issue from the problem of evil?
DRANGE: First, evil is usually thought of in terms of suffering (both the suffering of humans and the suffering of animals), but suffering and nonbelief are two totally separate things.
Second, suffering is viewed as distressful to humans, but nonbelief is not viewed as distressful to humans, only to God. In other words, nonbelief is “in God’s face” but suffering is “in our face”. Maybe you could say they are both bad, but nonbelief, unlike suffering, is only bad to God.
I think that these differences between the problem of evil and the problem of nonbelief suffice to warrant regarding them as two separate and distinct problems that confront theists.
LOWDER: Some people may question the truth of premise (1). Could you briefly explain why we should believe premise (1) is true?
DRANGE: That premise is well supported within the New Testament, where it says of God that he wants all men to come to a knowledge of the truth (1 Tim. 2:4) and that he has commanded people generally to love him with all their hearts (Matt. 22:37, Mark 12:30) and to believe in his son (1 John 3:23) whom he sent to testify to the truth (John 18:37). It is clear that such a deity must want everyone to be aware of all he has done for them (so they could love him maximally), which requires that they be aware of the truth of the gospel message. All this is tremendous support for premise 1 of ANB.
LOWDER: However, isn’t it true that there are other NT verses that suggest that God is secretive and does not want everyone to become aware of the truth of the gospel message. Among the latter verses are the ones in which Jesus said that he spoke in parables so that not everyone would understand his message and thereby get saved (Matt. 13:10-15, Mark 4:11-12, Luke 8:10). See also John 12:40, Rom. 9:18, and 2 Thess. 2:11-12. How do you explain these verses?
DRANGE: Granted, there are the above-mentioned “secretive-God” verses. However, the contrary verses, which emphasize God’s desire that EVERYONE become aware of the truth of the gospel message greatly outnumber them and are emphasized by most Christians over them. That is, the idea that God as described in the NT wants everyone to be aware is a dominant (“missionary”) theme of traditional Christianity which overrides the “secretive-God” theme. It is beyond question that most Christians in the U.S. view God in that way, i.e., as an “open God” rather than as a “closed God”. In any case, let my claim be understood to apply specifically to the “open God”. Replace “God as described in the NT” by “God as described by those NT verses which take him to be open, loving, and desirous that everyone be aware of the truth of the gospel message.” I stand by my claim, thus understood.
LOWDER: There is another objection to the ANB known as the Free Will Defense. According to this defense, even though God as (predominantly) described in the NT WANTS everyone to be aware of the truth of the gospel message, there is something else conflicting with that desire which he wants even more and that is that people retain their free will. Could you briefly explain, for the benefit of our readers, why the Free Will Defense is a poor objection to the ANB?
DRANGE: There are at least four reasons why the Free Will Defense is a poor objection to the ANB.
First, presenting evidence to people does NOT interfere with their free will. Even Eric grants this point, for he has said that skeptics can always explain away any evidence presented to them, no matter how good it is. Since they can thus REFUSE to believe, no matter what the evidence may be, (according to Eric) there can be no conflict between God presenting evidence to nonbelievers and the nonbelievers retaining their free will. The free-will objection is therefore incorrect.
Second, in the Bible there are many instances where God performs miracles for the purpose of getting people to believe certain things. But if the free-will objection were correct, then God would never do such a thing (for fear of interfering with people’s free will). It follows that the free-will objection is incompatible with scripture. (There are still other ways in which it is incompatible with scripture, but I shall not go into those here.)
Third, according to the free-will objection, there already IS adequate evidence for the truth of the gospel message. But that is simply NOT SO. (I challenge anyone to present such evidence!) The free-will objection is therefore incorrect.
And fourth, even if people’s free will would be interfered with by God presenting them with additional evidence for the truth of the gospel message, it would be well worth it for God to do that, for it would at least increase their opportunity to be saved, and (as implied by several verses) nothing could be more important to a person in the long run than salvation. Thus, there is good reason to deny that concern about people’s free will on God’s part overrides his desire that they be saved. There is thus good reason to reject the free-will objection.
LOWDER: How would you reply to Christians or other theists who might state, in reply to the ANB, “God put us here to make our own decisions.”
DRANGE: That may be so, but we can’t make proper decisions without proper information, so GC must want us to have proper information, which presumably requires that we be aware of the truth of the gospel message. That again leads us back to ANB’s premise 1. If GC were to exist, he would have seen to it that his creatures have the basic data needed for proper decision making in life, esp. as it concerns their eventual salvation. It is clear that premise 1 is true and ANB is a sound argument.
LOWDER: Christians might also reply (to the ANB) that God requires everyone to honestly seek Him. Thus, there are two explanations for nonbelievers. First, some nonbelievers have not even sought God. Second, some nonbelievers have sought God and received an answer, but chose not to believe anyway. How would you respond to that?
DRANGE: What do Christians mean by “God REQUIRES this”? What happens to all those nonbelievers who do not seek God? They include people with nontheistic religions as well as the usual crop of atheists, agnostics, noncognitivists, etc., quite a huge bunch (probably more than half the earth’s population).
Also, how and why is the ball in the nonbeliever’s court? Has God informed nonbelievers that they are playing a game? If they don’t know they are playing a game, then how can they be doing so?
Why should a nonbeliever seek God? There are many things for which we have no evidence (three-headed skunks, for example). Why should we seek those things? You might claim that there IS evidence for God. Suppose I grant (for the sake of argument) that it does exist. Such evidence would be very important: without it there could be no reason to seek God. Why, then, hasn’t God provided BETTER evidence than the evidence that you claim there is? What theists have is apparently not excellent evidence, seeing as how it has failed to convince many of us. If God were to provide evidence that would convince us that there is SOME reason to think he exists, even if it is only slight, then there could be some point to us seeking him; otherwise not.
LOWDER: Presuppositionalists maintain that there are no atheists. How might a proponent of the ANB address the objection that there are no genuine nonbelievers?
DRANGE: It is amazing that anyone would claim that everyone has knowledge of God when many have expressed not only lack of belief that there are any gods but lack of comprehension what “gods” are supposed to be. It also seems PRESUMPTUOUS, as if to say, “I know you better than you know yourself. You really do know that God exists, and you are mistaken when you deny it.”
It is also highly illuminating that one would resort to such a response. I think it shows the enormous power of the Argument from Nonbelief, at least as applied to the God of Christianity. They are actually reduced to denying the existence of genuine nonbelievers! In other words, they simply have no rational response to ANB. I tell you folks, we’re on to something here!
Even if there were no genuine nonbelievers in the relevant sense and everyone on earth were to know in his heart-of-hearts that the gospel message is true, the argument would still go through in a slightly different form. The God of the NT as interpreted by evangelical Christianity is a deity who strongly desires not only that everyone be aware of the truth of the gospel message but that everyone “live as if that truth exists.” It must upset that deity greatly to have people going around publicly denying the gospel message. So the question might be posed: why doesn’t God do something to bring that truth which everyone has in his heart-of-hearts up to consciousness? If that were to happen, then no one would deny the gospel message and everyone would be FULLY aware of its truth. (And, as a significant by-product, a lot more people would escape being cast into the lake of fire later on.)
LOWDER: In the ANB, are you simply focusing on nonbelief itself without suggesting the most probable way God could have brought about more belief in Himself, or are you specifically saying that providing good, objective evidence is NOT how God would produce more believers?
DRANGE: The former.
LOWDER: In your opinion, would a private religious experience constitute good, objective evidence for the person who has such an experience?
DRANGE: No, “objective” means public, as opposed to private. Objective evidence must be accessible to everyone.
LOWDER: I have sometimes heard atheists state an argument for the nonexistence of God based on the fact that many people have no experience of God, including people who seek such experiences. Let us call this argument the Lack of Religious Experience Argument (LREA). What is your evaluation of this argument?
DRANGE: Offhand, I see no reason to think that if God were to exist, then he would cause belief in his creatures by any one particular method rather than another. Certainly he would want to cause belief in people, but we have no basis for speculating on what method he would employ. Schellenberg favors the use of private religious experiences, but does not give any justification for that preference. So, on the whole, both LEA and LREA can be refuted the same way: each specifies a method that God would use (or would probably use), and there just is no good reason to prefer any particular method over any other.
A theist might say, “God may sometimes use private religious experiences, but he may not use them for everybody, and in any case, there is good objective evidence for God’s existence anyway, so the fact that some nonbelievers seek religious experiences but do not get them is no problem. Those people are still without excuse, since they have the objective evidence before them.” If I understand what LREA is, it seems to me that theists would have an easy way to attack it.
LOWDER: What evidence would you accept for the existence of a god?
DRANGE: Well, skywriting of a certain sort might do. For example, rearranging the constellations so as to spell out John 3:16 (in English) would do. Even just an audio component (like a huge PA system) with a deep male voice heard by everyone on earth would do provided that it occurs repeatedly.
Also, he could say, “Folks, I’m going to do you a favor: make you immune to cancer,” where from that day on no cancers are observed in anyone. It would put the oncologists out of business, but it would please everyone else, but more importantly: it would provide excellent evidence that God exists.
LOWDER: I have heard some theists maintain that the types of miracles you describe above would be interpreted in many different ways by religious believers. Therefore, they argue, Christianity would NOT win many new converts if the miracles you describe above occur.
DRANGE: Again, many things can be said about this:
(1) Anyone who thinks that, in the situation described above, many people would not convert to Christianity, is dead wrong. Remember that, as I describe the event: (a) it is groups of stars that are used to write the words in the sky; (b) the writing is indelible and permanent; (c) it can be read any time, day or night; (d) it shines through dark clouds; (e) everyone on earth (who can see it) has seen it; (f) every newspaper and every TV station has reported it; (g) there is daily commentary on it; (h) the message is the central core of Christianity’s gospel message, which is incompatible with every other religion on earth.
I see no way to explain the described event in any non-Christian way, but if you still think it could be done, then go ahead and add more stuff to it that would make it clearly incompatible with any alternative to Christianity. My question remains: why hasn’t God done something like that? It would very clearly achieve his desired situation of everyone being aware of the truth of the gospel message (and not only that but actually living the corresponding life that God wants to accompany such awareness). My answer to my question is that he (the God of the NT as interpreted by evangelical Christianity) DOES NOT EXIST.
Argument from Evil
LOWDER: If God has some purpose for suffering, why would he keep it secret from us? It seems quite counter-productive for him to do that so far as helping us to love him is concerned.
The standard answer that theist philosophers give to this is to say that God’s lack of an explanation to us is one more instance of inscrutable evil. But these theists admit that inscrutable evils exist anyway, so this objection does not present a new or different problem.
DRANGE: It may be true that God’s lack of an explanation is an evil to humanity, but it is also more than that. It is an evil to God. That is, it harms God by causing him to receive less of something (love and worship from humans) that he wants than he would otherwise receive. My attack on UPD is based on this latter fact and so it does indeed “present a new or different problem” (as you put it).
The argument (qua “new problem”) could be put as follows:
(1) If God were to provide humans with an explanation for their suffering or an explanation for why he hasn’t provided them with such, then it would help them to love him more.
(2) God strongly desires such love from them.
(3) Therefore, there is reason to think that if God exists then he would probably provide humans with one of the two sorts of explanation mentioned in (1).
(4) But God has not provided either sort of explanation mentioned in (1).
(5) Hence, there is reason to think that probably God does not exist. [from (3) & (4)]
Putting the matter this way not only attacks UPD but aims also at a separate argument for God’s nonexistence.
LOWDER: I wonder if there is another way of attacking the UPD. Pascal Bercker has suggested that the UPD ultimately backfires against theism in the sense that, if the UPD were true, then nothing of interest can be said about the God of this kind of theism. And yet this argument is popular not just among theists, but among Christian theist (like Plantinga, Alston and Wykstra) who seem to think that while we can know nothing with regards to the problem of evil, suddenly find themselves knowing a great deal about what this God intends for a future life, about the methods of worship, about what God intends for the moral life, and so on. Thus I believe there is an inconsistency here.
DRANGE: Yes, I think that objection to the UPD is quite excellent.
LOWDER: Adams, in “Must God create the best?”, argues that any significant reduction of evil (as the atheist typically wants) that God could perform would mean the existence of a very significantly *different* world from this one – so different that in all likelihood it would be a world without *us* in it. For example, if the holocaust had not occured, and WWII had not happened, and the vietnam war, and a few other things, things would have been different enough that your parents probably would not have met. That means that *you* would not exist. That seems plausible. The next thing observed is that if *you* are essentially satisfied with life as it is (even though you could say that it could be better) and you prefer your existence as it is rather than non-existence, *you* have been done no wrong by God not creating a world with less evil in it. To ask that God should have created a world with less evil is essentially to ask that God have created a world without *you* in it.
The further idea is that the vast majority of people, despite going through varying amounts of pain and suffering, as sufficiently happy that they prefer existence over non-existence (this is perhaps a debatable point). Thus, God has wronged none of them by creating a less evil world because a less evil world is one that does not have any (or most) of *us* in it.
DRANGE: Several points could be made here.
(1) Even if no one in the world has been “wronged,” an omnibenevolent deity would make people happier than they are. If I love my wife, I will occasionally give her gifts. If I do not ever give her gifts, that in itself does not “wrong” her, but it is evidence that I do not love her.
Similarly, the fact that our world has not been made better than it is from our point of view is evidence that we are not governed by a deity who loves us greatly.
(2) There very definitely are people who are “wronged” in that they have been permitted to have very bad luck in their lives. An example would be children who die young from disease or catastrophe. If those disastrous effects had been prevented and the children had been given a chance at life, then the world would be a better place and furthermore no one who presently exists would in that (better) world not exist. Significant improvement in the world could be made without necessarily having to eliminate anyone who is presently an inhabitant of it. The existence of “wronged” people is evidence for God’s nonexistence.
(3) There are not only people who are “wronged” but who lead such miserable lives that they do indeed wish they had never been born. Some people who live day to day in agony would be an example. Adams’ argument has no application to such people. An omnibenevolent deity would not “wrong” a single person and would certainly not permit anyone to lead a life so miserable as to actually prefer nonexistence (i.e., never having existed) to that life. The fact that there are such cases (even though they may be rare) counts against the existence of an omnibenevolent deity.
For these reasons, it could be argued that, despite all that Adams says, the amount of suffering and premature death in the world is good evidence for the nonexistence of an omnibenevolent deity.
LOWDER: Besides your book, Nonbelief and Evil, are there any other books on the argument from evil you would recommend?
DRANGE: A new paperback book has been published on the problem of evil. It is GOD AND EVIL: AN INTRODUCTION TO THE ISSUES by Michael L. Peterson (Westview Press 1998). I have read it and recommend it highly to those who have an interest in that topic. It surveys in a clear fashion most of the various arguments currently being debated by professional philosophers that relate to the problem of evil.
Argument from Confusion
LOWDER: I can’t remember where I read this, but I thought I read that you were planning on writing another book in the philosophy of religion. Is that true?
DRANGE: Someday I plan to write a book entitled The Argument from Confusion. It would be in an area intermediate between the Argument from Nonbelief and my attack on the Argument from the Bible. It won’t happen for a few years, though, probably not before I am retired from teaching.
LOWDER: Could you briefly outline the Argument from Confusion?
(1) Theists are confused about their beliefs in that:
(a) they have different religions, denominations, and conceptions of God;
(b) the Bible contradicts itself about God’s nature and about other important points of theology (such as salvation);
(c) the original biblical manuscripts have been lost;
(d) different copies of the extant biblical manuscripts say different and even conflicting things;
(e) the biblical canon involves disputes and is apparently arbitrary;
(f) there is no objective procedure for settling any of these many disputes and thus little or no hope of settling them here on earth.
(2) If God were to exist, then he would love all theists and strongly desire that, here on earth, they become aware of his true nature (not having any misconceptions about it and come to love him in return).
(3) Hence, if God were to exist, then he would prevent theists from becoming confused about their beliefs in the ways mentioned above.
(4) But theists have not been prevented from becoming confused in those ways.
(5) Therefore, God does not exist. [from (3) & (4)]
The Argument from Confusion (AC) is like the Argument from Nonbelief (ANB) in that it has an epistemological focus and appeals to such considerations as premise (2). Some of the biblical material that is used in support of ANB could be used in support of AC’s premise (2). However, AC differs from ANB in that it deals with theists rather than nonbelievers.
Certainly a theist could reject premise (2) and simply deny that the god he/she believes in is like that. However, I think most theists in the U.S. would accept premise (2). For them, AC would be a most formidable challenge.
LOWDER: Could you elaborate on (1)(b)?
DRANGE: The Bible provides no clear guide regarding baptism (its efficacy, use with children, mode of adult baptism, etc.) and that has created divisions among God’s own people. Nor is it clear on the mode and significance of the sacrament of Holy Communion, which also has created divisions.The Bible is inconsistent regarding salvation. Jesus teaches salvation by works in the synoptic gospels (with Luke requiring repentance) but John portrays him as teaching salvation by faith and makes no mention of repentance. Result: total confusion about “what must I do to be saved?”
The Bible is not clear on the nature of Jesus himself and repeatedly contradicts itself regarding his divinity. The Doctrine of the Trinity is incoherent and unbiblical. [It seems that the early church created it in order to control people’s minds. As George Orwell showed in his novel 1984, if you force people to recite gibberish then you prevent them from thinking.]
The Bible’s account of Satan is incoherent. There is no reason for God to have created Lucifer, no reason for God to continue to let Satan exist, and no reason for Satan to keep fighting God (no one could be THAT stupid!).
The Bible is inconsistent on the afterlife. There is no mention of hell (thought of as eternal torment) in the Old Testament. In fact, most of the OT teaches that there is no afterlife. (See, e.g., Eccl. 9:5-6.)
The Bible provides no clear answer to the question of the standing of people (whether Jews or Gentiles) in relation to the Law (the Torah). The notion that Jesus somehow “replaced the Law” is totally obscure. With so much of early Scripture devoted to the presentation of the Law to humanity, if God had come to later want it superseded, then he would have proclaimed that message in very clear and unambiguous terms.
If the God of the Bible were to exist, then he would have had the New Testament written, authorized, and cononized in a very clear manner (or perhaps presented to humanity himself, as he did the Law at Mount Sinai). The notion that he would have left much of it revealed through the use of occasional letters is utterly absurd.
The fact that the Bible is so chock full of errors, contradictions, obscurity, failure to provide clear guidance on important matters, and other defects is excellent evidence that its alleged Divine Author does not exist. It’s obvious that both the Bible and its deity are purely human inventions. This is just one aspect of the Argument from Confusion, on which I am now working.
LOWDER: Are you suggesting that God, Christian or otherwise, ought to make everyone think the same way?
DRANGE: According to the Bible, and according to Christianity, God has the following three properties: he is omnipotent, he wants everyone to be aware of the truth of the gospel message, and he set out to accomplish that goal. His method for accomplishing the goal consisted (among other things) of having his son “testify to the truth,” sending out disciples to spread the message to “all nations,” raising his son from the dead to provide good evidence of the truth of the message, and writing the Bible as his revelation to humanity.
If the above account is correct, then everyone MUST be aware of the truth of the gospel message. It is impossible for an omnipotent being to set out to accomplish a certain (logically possible) goal, but then fail to accomplish it. However, not everyone is aware of the truth of the gospel message, far from it, and so something is amiss. Either God is not omnipotent, after all, or else he does not have the aims and purposes attributed to him in the Bible and by Christianity. In effect, the God of Christianity (defined to have those features) does not exist.
Both the Argument from Nonbelief (ANB) and the Argument from Confusion (AC) aim at this result. ANB focuses on the existence of a huge number of nonbelievers in the world, and AC focuses on the widespread confusion among believers regarding the details of the gospel message (God’s nature and purposes, the requirements for salvation, the role of the Bible, etc.). Both arguments show that God’s aim (universal awareness of the truth of the gospel message) has not been achieved and so God (conceived of in the given way) does not exist.
When we look at the methodology that God was supposed to have employed to accomplish his aim, we can understand why he failed. The method was grossly inefficient. He sent his son to “testify to the truth,” but the son only came in contact with a relatively small number of people. Disciples were sent out to “all nations,” but, later, the missionary endeavor largely fizzled. Today Islam is gradually coming to overtake Christianity as the most widespread religion in the world. As for the Resurrection of Jesus, the whole show was very badly staged. After coming back to life, Jesus needed to appear to many people, not just his followers. If he had appeared before his enemies and before neutral observers (esp. in Rome), then the Resurrection might have made it into the history books. And finally, the writing of the Bible has also been a gross failure. The book should have been perfect, and, instead, it is full of contradictions, factual errors, atrocities, etc. Given such a deficient method, it is no mystery why there are so few believers and why there is so much confusion among them. The argument could be put in this way:
(1) If the Christian God were to exist, then he would use an ideal method to accomplish his aim.
(2) But no ideal method has been used. (His alleged method is grossly defective.)
(3) Therefore, the Christian God does not exist.
This would be an alternate way of capturing the theme that exists in both ANB and AC.
Consider an analogy. Suppose there is a certain subject or field, F, and an expert in that field. He writes a textbook covering the subject matter of F. His aim is to get people to become aware of the truths of the given field. The book is published and widely read by people. However, when later questioned, the people show that they are confused about various details of F, for they disagree with one another on important tenets, etc. One conclusion to draw from such a situation is that the given textbook is badly written and its author is inept as a writer and teacher. It would be impossible that the author is a perfect writer and the book is a perfect presentation of the truths of F. It is like that with the Bible and the God of Christianity. The very fact that there is so much disagreement and confusion among Christians regarding important doctrinal tenets shows that the book is defective and its author, God, could not be omnipotent and omniscient. If we define “God” as omnipotent and omniscient, then it follows that God does not exist.
There may be defects in the readers. But a perfect textbook would overcome those defects. The perfect textbook would present the subject matter in such a clear and convincing way that no rational reader could fail to understand it and accept it. Someone might say, “some interpret the message incorrectly,” but it’s clear that the defect is not only in the readers but also in the alleged author. And given that the alleged author is defined as “perfect,” we may infer that THAT author does not exist, and, rather, the book was written by a bunch of incompetents.
LOWDER: Is AC susceptible to the Free Will Defense?
DRANGE: What has free will to do with the fact that different groups of people have such different conceptions of God? People do not pick their conceptions of God by a free choice. They acquire them through socialization and thought, based for the most part on the circumstances in which they are born.
What has free will to do with the fact that the Bible contradicts itself (and, I might add, is exceedingly unclear in places)? The authors didn’t deliberately make such mistakes. How could it be “the result of human actions,” as you put it?
What has free will to do with the fact that the original biblical manuscripts have been lost? People didn’t deliberately discard them.
What has free will to do with the fact that the manuscripts that ARE available to us differ from, and conflict with, one another? The scribes didn’t do that deliberately.
What has free will to do with the fact that the choice of biblical canon was full of controversy and to this day is not universally agreed upon? All of that was due to an absence of any clear guide as to what writings to include or exclude from Scripture. Free will is totally irrelevant.
Even if people did do some of it deliberately, causing the Bible to have defects, for example, why did God permit THAT? How could he allow one or two persons to upset for all time the revelation of His Word to humanity? It makes no sense whatever.
Other Atheological Arguments
LOWDER: If you were to do another public oral debate on the existence of God and if time were not an issue, what atheological arguments would you present? I assume you would present the arguments from evil, nonbelief, and confusion. Are there any others?
DRANGE: It’s hard to imagine an oral debate where time were not an issue. Anyway, you’re right: I would definitely present those three. I wouldn’t do LEA, for I feel that it is superseded by ANB & AC. I might consider also doing two or three of the incompatible-properties arguments. There are a couple dozen of them, and I would pick out the best of the bunch. As for TANG, teleological atheological arguments, etc., some of those, too, might be possibilities. I need to think them through further. It’s an interesting hypothetical question.
LOWDER: Many atheological arguments are often times difficult for laymen to grasp and come across as counterintuitive. Do you think the AE, ANB, and AC can be presented in a way that is easy for laymen to understand? Do you think those arguments have an intuitive appeal?
DRANGE: Yes, I do indeed think that those three can be presented in a clear and intuitive way. The formulations in my book may not be the best for laypeople, though they strike me as ideal for rigorous professional analysis, discussion, and defense against objections. We need to keep working on improving the formulations for laypeople.
LOWDER: What about theistic arguments? Do you think any of the theistic arguments have an intuitive appeal to laymen? If so, how should atheists and agnostics deal with the intuitive appeal of such arguments?
LOWDER: Agnostic philosopher Paul Draper, in his oral debate with William Lane Craig, presented 7 arguments for naturalism. Three of his arguments for naturalism are very similar to AE, ANB, and AC. However, I wanted to get your opinion on his other four arguments. His first argument is that ….
LOWDER: Draper also argued that naturalism is much more likely on the fact of biological evolution than theism. Do you agree with this?
DRANGE: Note that Draper is, in effect, taking the occurrence of evolution to be some evidence for God’s nonexistence, which ties in with our recent discussion about the possibility of an atheological Argument from Evolution.
How about his first two points? Is there an atheological argument based on the fact that theists are not more moral than nontheists? And is there an atheological argument based on the fact that consciousness is highly dependent on the brain? If the answer is “yes” for either of these, it would have to be only with regard to a narrow conception of theism, maybe just Christian theism. In other words, such evidence would count only for the nonexistence of the Christian God, not for God in general. I assume that the context of the Craig-Draper debate was specifically Christian theism.
DRANGE: I agree that one can believe in gods with or without evolution, and I suppose in centuries before Darwin one could propose some version of the Argument from Design (AD) without consideration of the theory of evolution (TOE). However, since Darwin, TOE has been one of the major competing explanations for the fact that there exist complex life forms on our planet. So when AD proclaims that the God Hypothesis (GH) is the very best explanation there is for the given fact, that nowadays entails that GH is a better explanation than TOE. In this way, AD has very definite implications regarding TOE. (And no contemporary treatment of AD in any philosophy text would omit mention of TOE.) And the converse relation also holds: if TOE should emerge triumphant in the c/e debate, being declared the winner over GH, then that would show that GH is not the best explanation after all, thereby refuting AD. Thus, evolution is relevant to the gods after all!
DRANGE: Here is one possible way to formulate the atheological Argument from Evolution:
(1) God is, by definition, among other things, that being who created life and all kinds of living organisms on our planet.
(2) If the theory of evolution is true, then all kinds of living organisms on our planet evolved from prior organisms and were not created.
(3) The theory of evolution is true.
(4) Therefore, all kinds of living organisms on our planet evolved from prior organisms and were not created.
(5) Hence, God does not exist. [from (1) & (4)]
All three premises are highly controversial. Theistic evolutionists would reject premise (1). Progressive creationists would reject premise (2). And yahoos all across the land would reject premise (3).
The argument might be worth pressing once its premise (1) is granted. But how many theists would grant premise (1)? Too few, I’m afraid, to make the argument worthwhile.
LOWDER: In “On the Nature of Morality,” Niclas Berggren puts forth the following argument for atheism:
(1) If God exists, then he is a being who is omnipotent, omniscient, and benevolent.
(2) If God exists, God is the creator of an objective ethics.
(3) If God exists, it would be in God’s interest and within his capacity for all human beings to know his ethics perfectly.
(4) All human beings do not know God’s ethics perfectly, which is shown by their disagreeing about many moral values.
(5) Therefore, God does not exist.
What is your evaluation of this argument?
DRANGE: I think the argument would be improved if premise 2 were simply deleted from it. I think it would then be quite a good argument, somewhat similar to the Argument from Nonbelief (since it seems to appeal to the lack of awareness of certain ethical truths among a sizable proportion of the earth’s population).
My complaint about premise 2 is that even if God were to exist it does not seem that he could do self-contradictory or inconceivable actions (“omnipotent” is usually defined as able to do whatever is logically possible). But to “create an objective ethics” is surely logically impossible. There would be many reasons to say this. One of those reasons is that it would involve having the power to make right actions wrong and wrong actions right. Consider, for example, the action of torturing babies for fun. Clearly, that is a wrong action. Could God (if he were to exist) make it morally right? Certainly not. Probably even most Christians would agree. God could no more make THAT action right than he could draw a 4-sided triangle (which is not to detract from his omnipotence, properly defined).
It is true that many theists think that God DID create an objective ethics. But I submit that that is just a confusion on their part and their overall theory (or theology) would be improved if they were to rid themselves of such an objectionable idea. [If they say that God created ethics but, no, he cannot make it morally right to torture babies for fun, then they are really being inconsistent.] In any case, we should frame arguments the basic premises of which would be acceptable to ENLIGHTENED theists, and I would think that such people would reject premise 2 of the above argument. I have other complaints about premise 2, but let that suffice for now. I think the argument would be much better without it.
I would revise Berggren’s argument as follows:
(a) If the God of Christianity were to exist, then he would be a being who is omnipotent, omniscient, and benevolent.
(b) Furthermore, if that deity were to exist, then it would be in his interest and within his capacity for all humans to know his ethics perfectly.
(c) Thus, if he were to exist, then they WOULD all know his ethics perfectly.
(d) But there is much ethical disagreement (or disagreement about moral matters) among humans.
(e) Therefore, not all humans know God’s ethics perfectly.
(f) It follows [from c + e] that the God of Christianity does not exist.
Let us call this argument the Argument from Ethical Disagreement.
I would be willing to defend premises (a) and (b) by appeal to the description of God in the New Testament. Also, steps (d)-(f) of the argument are unobjectionable. Certainly (d) is factually true, (e) follows from (d), and (f) follows by modus tollens from (c) & (e).
So the burden of the argument comes down to the inference from (a) & (b) to (c). I can see how a Christian might attack it just at that step by appeal to the Unknown-purpose Defense. He might say, “Granted, God WANTS everyone to be aware of his ethics, and, granted, he COULD make everyone aware of it, but, still, there may be some unknown purpose on God’s part that prevents him from bringing that about; and so step (c) of the argument is false, even though its premises (a) & (b) are both true.” It is the old ploy of “the ways of God are mysterious.” It is a ploy that confronts every atheological argument, including the Argument from Evil (“God has his reasons for permitting so much suffering”) and the Argument from Nonbelief (“God has his reasons for permitting 2/3 of the human race to be ignorant of the truth of the gospel message and thereby end up in hell”). The key issue for each of the arguments is how well it battles the Unknown-purpose Defense. In my opinion, the Argument from Nonbelief puts up the strongest battle on that front, and for that reason deserves the title of the “best atheological argument there is.” But the details of that would be a long story, which I shall (mercifully) omit here.
LOWDER: What are some incompatible properties arguments for the nonexistence of God?
DRANGE: Here are a few of the incompatibilities:
- being perfect vs. being the creator (of anything)
- being immutable vs. being the creator (of anything)
- being immutable vs. being a personal being
- being immutable vs. being omniscient
- being immutable vs. being all-loving
- being transcendent vs. being omnipresent
- being transcendent vs. being a personal being
- being non-physical vs. being a personal being
- being omnipresent vs. being a personal being
- being omniscient vs. being free
- being all-just vs. being all-merciful
LOWDER: What about the god of Deism? What reasons do you have for believing THAT god does not exist?
DRANGE: Here’s an argument for the nonexistence of the god of deism:
(1) The god of deism, by definition, created the universe.
(2) But in order for the universe to have been created, time must have been created.
(3) For anything to be created, there must have been a time prior to that creation.
(4) There cannot be a time prior to time.
(5) Hence, time cannot have been created. [from (3) & (4)]
(6) So, the universe cannot have been created. [from (2) & (5)]
(7) Therefore the god of deism cannot exist. [from (1) & (6)]
Theism and Morality
LOWDER: David Basinger and Kai Nielsen have debated the following proposition, call it (P):
(P): Our objective morality is independent of God.
Nielsen affirms (P) on the grounds that whenever theists call God “good” they must do so by appeal to some prior morality, and that prior morality must be independent of God. Otherwise, their statement (“God is good”) would be tautological (and devoid of content), which they reject.
Basinger denies (P) on the basis of his divine implantation theory, according to which God implanted his ethics in each of us and it is that (God’s ethics) to which we appeal in our moral intuitions. Who is right here? Is (P) true or false?
DRANGE:One is tempted to say that it all depends on whether or not God exists. If Nielsen is right that God does not exist, then (P) is true, and if Basinger is right that God exists and implanted our morality in us, then (P) is false. However, I do not go that route.
What does “independent of” mean in (P)? It means “not justified by appeal to.” It does not mean “not brought about by.” Therefore, Nielsen is right: (P) is true. Even if (as Basinger claims) God were to exist and had indeed implanted our morality in each of us, (P) would still be true if it is interpreted correctly. Even then, morality would not be justified by appeal to God, and so, in the relevant sense, morality would be independent of God. That is the correct and relevant sense because the basic issue has to do with the justification of moral judgments. What makes them true? Are they true because of what God has said or done? Or are they true because of what our moral intuitions tell us? It is the latter, not the former.
There are many reasons for denying that moral judgments are true because of what God has said or done: (1) That is not what people actually appeal to in deciding moral issues; they appeal to their moral intuitions. (2) There is widespread disagreement about what God has said and done, whereas there is not widespread disagreement about basic moral issues. (3) If moral judgments were true because of what God has said or done, then it would be nonsense to call God “morally good.” Such a statement would have no content. It seems clear that people (even theists) do not justify their moral judgments by appeal to God [you don’t see theists rushing to their Bibles to decide moral issues] and so, in that sense, our objective morality is independent of God. Statement (P) is true and Basinger is mistaken.
Basinger’s mistake lies in misinterpreting what is at stake in the debate about morality. The source of our morality (in a causal sense) is not what is at issue, but rather its basis or justification, and for that reason his divine implantation theory is irrelevant and off the track.
LOWDER: But don’t fundamentalists base their morality on the Bible?
DRANGE: I grant that they do it on occasion, but only rarely. Let’s face it: the Bible really has little to say about current moral problems, and even if it has something to say, more likely than not it will also contain a conflicting pronouncement elsewhere. The fundamentalists would never admit that the Bible is of little use regarding 20th century ethical issues, but their behavior and that of other theists would reveal that that is the case.
What I observe fundamentalists doing is coming to a moral judgment by appeal to their moral intuitions and then possibly trying to rationalize that judgment by an appeal to the Bible. It is only on very rare occasions that they would actually decide what is right or wrong by appeal to what is written there.
In the movie “Sergeant York,” the fundamentalist hero debated with himself whether it is right or wrong to kill in the war. He sat on a hill with his Bible and the wind blew it open to the passage “Render unto Caesar the things which are Caesar’s, and unto God the things which are God’s” (Matt. 22:21, Mark 12:17, Luke 20:25). On the basis of THAT, he decided it was O.K. to kill in the war. This is not a perfectly clear case of arriving at a moral judgment on the basis of what is in the Bible, since one could just as well say that taking a life is FAILING to render unto God something which is God’s, but let that go.
My claim is that THAT sort of thing (arriving at a moral judgment on the basis of what is in the Bible) is a RARE occurrence, even among fundamentalists. One main reason is that if you list all the ethical issues that have come up in comtemporary life, you would find that only a very small proportion of them are addressed at all, let along clearly and unambiguously, in the Bible.
LOWDER: Do you think that an objective system of morality is logically compatible with the nonexistence of God?
DRANGE: To say of something that it is objective is to say that it exists or is true independently of any observers. Maybe morality is like that. Consider the following two propositions:
(1) The number four is even.
(2) Stealing is wrong.
Why not say that statement (2) is like statement (1) in that it ascribes a property to something, not on the basis of experience or observation, but on the basis of a-priori intuitions? Just as we can think about the number four and intuitively apprehend its property of being even, so also we can think about the act of stealing and intuitively apprehend its property of being wrong. In the one case we appeal to our mathematical intuitions, and in the other case we appeal to our moral intuitions.
I do not wish to proclaim this intuitionist theory of morality as my own, but I would like to point out two things about it: (1) it would make morality objective; and (2) it is a theory that is quite compatible with atheism.
If there are any objective moral laws at all, they would be a-priori conceptual truths (existing, as you say, in a Platonic realm). They would not be laws of nature, so Big Bang Theory would be irrelevant to them. They would be in the same category with the laws of logic and set theory, which are presumably timeless.
I myself am an ethical subjectivist, but I do not think that ethical objectivism can be as easily refuted as some people seem to think, and so I like to defend it on occasion. Also, I certainly do reject Mackie’s incompatibilism, i.e., his view that ethical objectivism is incompatible with atheism. I think there are many forms of ethical objectivism (e.g., utilitarianism, ideal observer theory, intuitionism, etc.) and almost all of them are compatible with atheism.
The Kalam Cosmological Argument
LOWDER: Does Big Bang cosmology really imply that the universe was created “out of nothing,” or does Big Bang cosmology simply maintain that energy-matter was compressed into a point with high (infinite?) density?
DRANGE: No, it does not imply that the singularity out of which our universe emerged (via the big bang) originated out of nothing, but rather it leaves that matter open. And, yes, it simply maintains that our universe was at an earlier time compressed into a singularity.
I think that both Craig and Smith are big bang cosmologists, for they both agree that there was a big bang and that that holds the key to understanding the origin of the universe. What they disagree about is whether the singularity out of which our universe emerged was something caused or not. Craig says the singularity must have been caused and Smith says it could not possibly have been caused. It has been my observation that almost all the theists on our list follow Craig on that score and almost all the non-theists follow Smith.
LOWDER: I think there is another issue related to my previous question. Craig claims that Big Bang cosmology supports not just creation, but creation EX NIHILO. How does Big Bang cosmology provide any support for creation *ex nihilo*?
LOWDER: So how, in your view, did the universe begin?
DRANGE: All matter, energy, time, and space began to exist a certain finite number of seconds ago. Since time itself began to exist then, there was no time (or anything else) prior to that first event. Thus, there could not possibly have been any cause for it.
Physicists say that sometimes particles just pop into existence. Well, I would be willing to say that the universe “popped into existence” in a similar way, so long as that is taken in a sense which does not presuppose the existence of any time prior to the given event.
LOWDER: Many theists seem to think that the question, “Why is there something rather than nothing?”, somehow poses a problem for atheists. What’s your take on this question?
DRANGE: Many people would say that this question is unanswerable, and to an extent I agree. There certainly cannot be any complete answer to it.
That question CAN be partially answered as follows: There are MANY different ways for something to exist, but there is ONLY ONE way for nothing to exist. Therefore, it is MORE LIKELY that something exist than that nothing exist.
Even if one were to regard the probability that something exist and the probability that nothing exist as each 50%, it would provide a partial answer to the question “Why something rather than nothing?” The partial answer is “It had a 50-50 chance.” It is similar to the answer to the question “Why did the coin come up heads rather than tails?” One could answer “It had a 50-50 chance.” That is not a complete answer, but it seems sufficient within the given context. Similarly, “It had a 50-50 chance” seems sufficient as an answer to “Why something rather than nothing?”
It should be noted that the answer “God created everything” does NOT adequately answer the question “Why something rather than nothing?” for it does NOT explain why God, rather than nothing, exists. In that respect, it seems to be a circular explanation, presupposing the very thing it is supposed to explain. That is, it is supposed to explain WHY SOMETHING RATHER THAN NOTHING and it presupposes that there is SOMETHING (God) in the very explanation itself. The “50-50” explanation does not do that. Thus, the answer “It had a 50-50 chance” is a BETTER ANSWER to the given question than “God created everything” would be.
What OTHER answers might there be to the question, “Why something rather than nothing?” We are asking why there is anything at all: space, time, matter, energy, God (whether finite or infinite), a cause, higher dimensions, ANYTHING WHATEVER! Why is there anything whatever rather than nothing at all? A causal explanation in this context is completely out of place.
LOWDER: Some theists (including Craig) have maintained that causes need not be temporally prior to their effects; they argue that simultaneous causation is a coherent and legitimate notion of causaton. As an example, they will mention a bowling ball indenting a cushion. What’s your opinion of God “simultaneously causing” the Big Bang?
DRANGE: The bowling ball and indented cushion is not an example of simultaneous causation. The indentation in the couch was caused by the placing of the bowling ball on the couch. The placing of the bowling ball on the couch TEMPORALLY PRECEDED the indentation.
Our concept of cause and effect LOGICALLY REQUIRES that the cause temporally precede the effect. Since nothing can temporally precede time, it is logically impossible for time to have been caused (or created). Not even an omnipotent being could create time, assuming that omnipotence is properly restricted by logic.
LOWDER: Are there other reasons for doubting that God created the universe?
DRANGE: One reason for doubting that God created the universe is that the universe originated more than ten billion years before mankind originated and that is not what we would expect if indeed God created the universe for the sake of mankind. It poses a kind of anomaly for the God Hypothesis which the theist needs to address if indeed he is to convince us that the God Hypothesis is true.
LOWDER: I have heard presuppositionalists maintain that the laws of induction presuppose the truth of Christian theism. Can you think of any reason why that would be the case?
DRANGE: It’s the atheist who REALLY believes that the future will resemble the past. The Christian theist does NOT believe it, since the theist expects the Second Coming of Jesus (like a thief in the night), and THAT day, he expects, will be quite different from past days.
You ask: why believe that the future will resemble the past? There are many possible answers. Here are four of them:
Answer #1: It’s a principle of inference that has worked (gotten good results) in the past and so we expect it to keep working in the future.
Answer #2: It’s a “properly basic” belief. It may be something innate in all organisms capable of perception.
Answer #3: It’s a presupposition of reason. It helps define what “reason” is. All reasoning beings must presuppose the principle that the future will resemble the past, just to be “reasoning beings.” To ask for a justification of the principle is illegitimate, since the principle is itself one of those that is used in the justification of reasoning.
Answer #4: We do not really know that the future will resemble the past but it is practical to operate according to such a principle. It helps us organize our investigations into nature. It’s also a HOPEFUL approach, since it would be devastating for the principle to fail in a general way.
Some of these answers might be objectionable. For example, answer #1 seems circular because it uses the principle (the future will resemble the past) in the very attempt to justify it. I do not wish to get into such issues. My only point here is that there are many things that the atheist might say in response to the presuppositionalist.
The presuppositionalist’s own answer to the question “Why believe that the future will resemble the past?” is presumably the following:
Answer #5: In the past God has kept nature uniform; the future will resemble the past; therefore, in the future God will continue to keep nature uniform.
My own view is that answer #5 is the worst of all five answers. The other answers may have defects, but it has even more. There are so many that it would be a big effort just to recite them all. But let me state just one: presuppositionalists believe that nature is not uniform. To say that nature is uniform means: there are no disruptions; natural laws always hold. Yet according to Christianity there very definitely will occur a departure from the uniformity of nature with the Second Coming of Christ. So I do not see how presuppositionalists can even proclaim that nature is uniform, let alone that one must appeal to God to explain it. Miracles are departures from uniformity and the Bible is full of those. No one who believes in miracles can consistently believe that nature is uniform.
I really do not see much difference between that and my argument:
(1) In the past nature has been uniform.
(2) The future will resemble the past.
(3) Therefore, in the future nature will continue to be uniform.
Presuppositionalists object to my argument on the grounds that it is circular because it employs premise (2), which is the principle of induction itself. Presuppositionalists say that induction cannot (without circularity) be used to justify induction. But the same might be said of the presuppositionalist’s argument. Isn’t that so? How come presuppositionalists get to appeal to the past in order to justify predictions about the future, whereas I am not permitted to do that?
I think we need to concede that if inductive justifications of induction are not acceptable, then there just is no way to justify induction. The principle of induction cannot be justified by appeal to any more basic principle. There is no more basic principle. So the very request for such justification must be taken to be unanswerable, and perhaps unintelligible. All sentient organisms on our planet use the principle of induction in their everyday reasoning about practical matters. With most lower organisms it appears to be instinctive, and it may be that way with humans as well. The principle of induction is like the laws of deductive logic: they must simply be presupposed and cannot be deduced from anything more basic. One must presuppose them just to think at all about anything whatever.
Divine Foreknowledge and Human Free Will
LOWDER: Do you think the notion of divine foreknowledge is compatible with human free will?
DRANGE: Certainly it is if you define “free will” simply as “doing what you really want to do.” But suppose we instead define “free will” as “being able, all things considered, to avoid doing what one does.” Then an incompatibilist argument could be constructed along the following lines:
(1) To have free will is to be able, all things considered, to avoid doing what one does.
(2) Whatever action you perform, God knew beforehand, with 100% certainty, that you would perform it.
(3) It is impossible to avoid doing something that God knows beforehand, with 100% certainty, that you would do.
(4) Therefore [from 2 & 3], whatever action you perform, you cannot avoid performing it.
(5) It follows [from 1 & 4] that no one has free will.
Once the definition of “free will” expressed in step (1) is accepted, it seems that the only places to attack this argument would be at steps (2) & (3). If one is to still maintain the compatibility of God’s foreknowledge with free will, then one would have to attack step (3). That could be done, but the issue is very tricky and complicated. I shall not here address that topic.
Let me just comment briefly on step (2). I have already discussed it a little previously. The atheists among us could of course avoid the conclusion by rejecting step (2), but how might a theist deal with that step? As I have said before, Richard Swinburne, a theistic philosopher, would reject step (2) while still proclaiming God’s omniscience. He does that by first defining “omniscience” as “knowing whatever it is logically possible to know” (which is a definition I myself would accept) and then arguing that to know (with certainty) the future free actions of a person would be logically impossible.
Now, there is the crux of the matter. Is it logically impossible to know (with certainty) the future free actions of a person? I find that to be a most challenging philosophical problem, and I have not myself come to a definite view on it. It depends to a large extent on one’s theory of knowledge.
Certainly the Bible takes God to know about people’s future free actions and much prophecy is based on that assumption, so Swinburne’s position is an unbiblical one. I see no way for a fundamentalist to reject step (2), and so the argument would be a most formidable one to present to a fundamentalist.
LOWDER: Is there any reason to believe that the concept of the Christian god is coherent?
DRANGE: Christians allege that Jesus endured a tremendous sacrifice in dying on the cross for our sins, but the alleged “sacrifice” was no big deal. Jesus was supposed to have powers to heal. He could have made the crucifixion painless and just put on a good show. The whole idea of the creator of the universe being executed by humans is an absurdity beyond belief. This supports what might be called the Argument from Incoherence (AFI) for God’s nonexistence. One version of AFI has to do with the alleged “sacrifice” by God. Another AFI has to do with the Doctrine of the Trinity. Another has to do with God’s alleged timelessness (though it is debatable whether the God of the Bible could be timeless). And there are still other versions as well.
The incoherence of the alleged “sacrifice” could be brought out in other ways. One way is to focus on the LACK OF NECESSITY for any sacrifice. If God wanted to give humans an opportunity for redemption, he could have done so in other ways. There was no need for him to sacrifice his son. In fact, there are even biblical passages that hint at such other ways (e.g., Psalms 103:11-12; Isa. 1:11-19; Jonah 3:5-10; Micah 6:6-8; Matt. 6:12; Luke 11:4, 15:3-32, 18:9-14).
Even assuming that the shedding of blood was needed (as claimed in Heb. 9:22), God could have had some other victim serve his purpose of atonement. For example, he could have let the murder of Abel by Cain satisfy the requirement (instead of the execution of Jesus by the Romans) and then declare mankind redeemed following THAT action. That would also have avoided the problem about what to do with all those people who had lived and died before Christ atoned for their sins.
Another absurdity involving the Atonement has to do with the principle that divine justice can be satisfied only by the shedding of innocent blood. Not only is it unclear why the shedding of innocent blood should be the ONLY way for God to carry out his plan of divine justice (or redemption), but by appeal to our own standards of justice we can see that the shedding of innocent blood CANNOT POSSIBLY serve any sort of justice. It is necessarily unjust that the innocent should be punished in place of the guilty. The notion that God would punish the innocent in place of the guilty is similar to the following.
God (addressing humanity): “You’re all criminals and deserve damnation. But, wait, not to worry. I’ll be back.”
God then goes into a back room behind the court
God (to his son): “Are you willing to take their punishment for them?”
God’s son, reluctantly: “Yes” (Matt. 26:39, Mark 14:36)
God gives his innocent son a terrible beating. Then he returns to the court.
God (again addressing humanity): “It’s O.K. now, you’re not criminals anymore.”
Now, THAT is what I would call a “meaningless judicial system.”
One might say that God’s notion of “justice” is different from ours. But if one says that, then it would be inconsistent to go to claim, as Christians usually do, that we get OUR moral sense from God.
God’s nonexistence can be established (among other ways) by appeal to the incoherence of the very concept of God in some religions. And one way (among many) to show such incoherence in the Christian God is by appeal to the many absurdities inherent in the Christian Doctrine of the Atonement.
LOWDER: On a different subject, do non-Christians reject the Christian god?
DRANGE: No, non-Christians definitely do not reject the Christians’ God. Here are two separate arguments for that.
(1) In order for X to reject Y, Y must exist.
(2) The Christians’ God does not exist.
(3) Therefore, no one can reject the Christians’ God.
(4) Hence non-Christians do not reject the Christians’ God.
(1) In order for X to reject Y, X must be aware that Y exists.
(2) In order for X to be aware that Y exists, X must believe that Y exists.
(3) Non-Christians do not believe that the Christians’ God exists.
(4) Therefore, non-Christians are not aware that the Christian God exists. [from (2) & (3)]
(5) Hence, non-Christians do not reject the Christians’ God. [from (1) & (4)]
Argument #1 might be said to be less forceful than argument #2 because its premise (2) is question-begging, or at least debatable. It might be best, then, for those aiming at the given conclusion, to use argument #2 to establish it, instead of argument #1.
What is the significance of the arguments’ conclusion? One possible application is the following:
(1) The only way for the (exclusivist) doctrine of the eternal damnation of all non-Christians to make any sense from a moral point of view would be if it were true (as some Christians claim) that non-Christians reject the Christians’ God.
(2) But non-Christians do not reject the Christians’ God.
(3) Therefore, the (exclusivist) doctrine of the eternal damnation of all non-Christians does not make any sense from a moral point of view.
Note that premise (1) is here only postulating a necessary condition, not a sufficient condition. It does NOT imply that anyone who rejects the Christians’ God deserves eternal damnation. I myself regard argument #3 (when properly understood) to be a sound argument.
Is There a Symmetry in Theistic and Atheological Arguments?
LOWDER: At a superifical level (at least), theistic and atheological arguments seem to come in pairs, perhaps starting from the same facts and coming to opposite conclusions, or maybe just being similar for other reasons. Consider the following pairs:
- moral arguments & argument from justice/arguments from evil
- cosmological arguments/atheistic cosmological arguments
- teleological arguments/atheistic teleological arguments
- ontological arguments/arguments from incoherence
- argument from common consent/argument from nonbelief & argument from confusion
- argument from religious experience/argument from isolation
Do you think that such symmetry is genuine or only superifical? Could some arguments for atheism could be constructed along these lines? Are there other unpaired theistic arguments which could be used for ideas?
DRANGE: I have several comments about this.
1. I don’t see how one can reason from the same facts to an opposite conclusion. Some detailed example would be needed to illustrate/demonstrate this.
2. Whatever similarities there may be between the theistic argument and the corresponding atheistic argument, they strike me as rather superficial. Even TANG has a quite different point than TAG.
3. I see some merit in the atheistic cosmological argument but am not yet convinced that any of the atheistic teleological arguments has much force. [I may come around, though, in the near future.]
4. The argument from incoherence is more an argument for noncognitivism than for atheism.
5. The argument from common consent asks, “If God does not exist, how come there are so many believers?” and the argument from nonbelief asks, “If God exists, how come there are so many nonbelievers?” On the surface they seem to have the same structure, but when you dig down a little, they become disparate. That is brought out by answers to the given questions: “The believers are irrational in their beliefs (or believe for psychological reasons)” vs. “God’s ways are mysterious.” The answers have practically nothing in common.
6. The argument from confusion (of believers) is different still, though it is a little like the argument from nonbelief: To the question “If God exists, how come his people are so confused?” the answer might be, again: “God’s ways are mysterious.” [I am at a loss for an alternate answer here.]
7. In addition to the suggested unpaired theistic arguments, there is a huge bunch of unpaired atheistic arguments, namely, the incompatible-properties arguments. I recently sent in an article for PHILO entitled “Incompatible-properties Arguments: A Survey” in which I outlined more than ten of them.
8. On the whole, then, I think the alleged pairings are superficial and the suggested way of generating new arguments not very promising. It is good to keep on looking for new arguments, though.
Professional Philosophers and Atheism
LOWDER: In your estimation, what percentage of professional philosophers are atheist?
DRANGE: As a very rough guess, and taking “atheism” as the view that there does not exist any Judeo-Christian-type God, I’d say about 40%. The others would have these percentages, approximately: noncognitivists 10%, agnostics 20%, and theists 30%. Of the ones who are theists, almost all of them teach in sectarian (mostly Roman Catholic) institutions.
LOWDER: But hasn’t theism seen something of a resurgence in philosophical circles in the last couple of decades? Do you think the percentage of theistic professional philosophers will increase over time?
LOWDER: Do you think nontheist philosophy of religion has been neglected? If so, given the large percentage of professional philosophers who are nontheist, why do you think nontheist philosophy of religion has been so neglected?
DRANGE: It hasn’t been neglected. Most philosophy teachers who take up arguments for or against God’s existence (whether in Philosophy of Religion classes, or, more commonly, Introduction to Philosophy classes) do an excellent job in presenting (and in many cases defending) the nontheist side. However, they could certainly benefit from additional (and improved formulations of) atheological arguments and objections to theistic arguments. It should be emphasized that they are free to use the Secular Web materials in their classes.
LOWDER: Do you think that promoting atheism can have an impact on people? If so, how do you think atheism can be effectively promoted?
LOWDER: I’ve received several fundraising letters and membership solicitations from various freethought organizations, all of which state that the number of freethinkers in the USA is much, much higher than the number of freethinkers who belong to a freethought organization. Should the average freethinker get involved with a freethought organization? Why?
LOWDER: I know that your book focuses on nonbelievers, but for a moment I want to talk about believers. Why do you think there are so many believers in the world today?
LOWDER: Do you fear death?