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Drange-McHugh Debate: Drange’s Fourth Rebuttal


Chris McHugh (CM) has apparently given up his appeal to the afterlife defense, for he makes no mention of it whatever in his third rebuttal. His sole response to ANB is now the expectations defense.

In his endnote #1, CM claims that an explanation of why GC (the God of evangelical Christianity) would allow [as much nonbelief as there is] is irrelevant to whether or not ANB is a good argument. That is not so. First, if such an explanation were to be given, and it is an adequate one, then ANB would be refuted. That in itself shows the relevance. Second, suppose that no good explanation could be formulated, even as a mere speculative possibility. That is, every explanation suggested is totally demolished by one or more knock-down arguments, so that no one has ever come close to formulating an adequate explanation. In that case, ANB would be greatly strengthened. In effect, ANB tells us why there is so much nonbelief: GC simply does not exist. If there is no other explanation as good as that one, then that one prevails! The atheistic hypothesis then becomes the only adequate explanation available, and ANB succeeds. Thus, whether or not there is any good theistic explanation for nonbelief is indeed relevant to the strength of ANB.

In the same endnote, CM claims: “there are many good theological speculations that could be offered about why God permits nonbelief.” That is utter balderdash! There are no such speculations. CM has not come up with a single one. Attempts at such are all shot down in my book, including the unknown-purpose defense. That is why CM won’t venture there at all. He says of the so-called theological speculations: “they are certainly not provable by me.” He should go on to say: “they are not defensible by me either; all have been refuted.” So far as CM’s writings are concerned, the atheistic worldview stands as the sole explanation for the vast nonbelief that exists in our world, for he has provided no alternative to it whatever.

I: The Expectations Defense (ED)

I refuted ED in my second rebuttal. The deity at which it seems to be directed is not the deity of ANB, and so ED is irrelevant to ANB. Let us look more closely at those two deities. They can be described as follows:

Deity #1 is a rational, all-powerful deity who: (1) has unrestricted love for humanity, (2) desires that all humans be saved, (3) desires that all humans love him in return (and even commanded them to do that, calling it his “greatest commandment”), and (4) in the Great Commission, commanded human missionaries to spread the gospel message worldwide (and even empowered some of them to perform miracles in order to get the message across).

Deity #2 is a rational, all-powerful deity who: (1) permitted missionaries to endure persecution and adversity, which interfered with their fulfillment of the Great Commission that had been assigned to them by the risen Christ, (2) permitted most Jews (his chosen people) to be unaware of their Messiah (and to be unaware of his Resurrection), (3) permitted the rise of Islam in the early seventh century A.D., which caused great hardship to Christianity later on, and (4) in general, permitted there to exist much nonbelief in the gospel message.

Although I apply ANB to what I call “the God of evangelical Christianity,” what I mean by that expression (and by the abbreviation “GC”) is deity #1, as described above. CM seems not to have comprehended this point.[1] ANB addresses deity #1 and makes the claim that if that deity were to exist, then it would be expected that situation S (worldwide belief in the gospel message) would obtain. But which deity does ED address? That is, what properties are to be ascribed to “GC” as that term is used within the argument? If ED is addressing deity #1, then its second premise would be false. On the other hand, if ED is addressing deity #2, then, although its second premise might be true, its first premise would be false and the whole argument could be dismissed as simply irrelevant to ANB, for it would not be about the same deity that ANB is about.

CM may claim that deity #2 is the deity of scripture, the one in which evangelical Christians believe, but I would challenge that. None of the four properties defining deity #2 are very clearly spelled out in the Bible. Nor does CM provide any biblical support for any of them. As I pointed out in my second rebuttal, even property (1) is tempered by certain facts. For example, according to the Bible, even where the apostles were harassed or arrested, God sometimes intervened and led them to safety, which tends to defeat the point of ED. (See, e.g., Acts 5:18-20 and 12:6-17.) Furthermore, none of the thousands of people who actually witnessed the apostles’ miracles were among those who persecuted them. That, too, counteracts the point of ED, for wherever the miracles were performed, they were efficacious. So, even if we grant that property (1) has some biblical basis, we need to note that the basis is mitigated by other events and facts given in the same context.

The other properties defining deity #2 receive still less support from the Bible. Property (3) refers to the seventh century, which has no biblical relevance. And properties (2) and (4), though presumably true of God if he exists at all, are not explicitly attributed within scripture. That is, nowhere in the Bible does it explicitly state that God intentionally permitted most Jews to be unaware of their Messiah or that God intentionally permitted people to be nonbelievers, where “intentionally” implies “for some reason.” If CM thinks he can locate such verses, then he needs to cite them.

Suppose evangelical Christians were to be presented with the above definitions of deity #1 and deity #2 and asked which of them better describes the deity in which they believe. It is obvious that they would all pick deity #1. There is a sizable group of Christians who would assent to the existence of deity #1, and it is specifically that group to which ANB is addressed.

CM might argue that Christians would claim that their deity possesses all eight properties: the four properties listed in the definition of deity #1 as well as the four listed in the definition of deity #2. Thus, what we need to consider is such a composite deity. We could call it “the mosaic god.”[2] It makes no sense to dwell on the mosaic god, for he has incompatible properties. He is defined as being rational, yet his behavior would be irrational, given the desires ascribed to him. No rational, all-powerful deity with the desires of deity #1 would permit the events described in the definition of deity #2, so the mosaic god is both rational and irrational: a contradiction. No evangelical Christian who gives thought to all eight properties would assent to the existence of the mosaic god. As I indicated, given a choice, evangelical Christians would find deity #1 to be more amenable to their outlook than deity #2.

According to CM, evangelical Christians believe that God deliberately holds back in his efforts to present humanity with the “good news” of the gospel, but that seems to be factually incorrect.[3] Evangelical Christians, for the most part, have not written or even thought about the given issue. CM mistakenly attributes to me the view that evangelical Christians believe that God does everything he can to cause people to believe that the gospel is true, but that is a mistake. I never expressed such a view.[4] My position on the matter is that evangelical Christians have given little or no thought to the issue of whether God does everything he can or holds back with regard to enlightening humanity about the gospel message. What I have been saying is that the issue in question (the “problem of nonbelief”) is a profound one, at least as profound as the so-called problem of evil. I have striven hard to try to get Christians to contemplate it and to address it in writing, something which has only very recently begun to happen. To contemplate such a question is, in effect, to contemplate ANB. Perhaps if evangelical Christians were to become aware of ANB and give it much thought, they would come to believe that God does not have all the properties ascribed to deity #1, for they would realize that if such a deity were to exist he would indeed do everything he could to cause people to believe that the gospel is true.

As matters stand, it is clear that anyone who believes in deity #1 has a huge problem: how to explain why there are so many people on our planet unaware of the “good news” of the gospel message. ED has no value here, for it is an unsound argument however it is taken. If it is taken to be about deity #1, then its second premise would be false, and if it is taken to be about deity #2, then its first premise would be false and it would be irrelevant to ANB, which is applied only to deity #1. ED is totally useless towards solving the problem that ANB presents to evangelical Christianity.

II: The Exclusivism Issue

Consider the effect if we were to add a fifth property to our definition of deity #1, above. Let us call it “property (5)” as follows:

(5) requiring that people accept Jesus Christ as their Lord and Savior in order for them to receive the gift of salvation.

I shall call those who ascribe property (5) to God “(Christian) exclusivists.” I think that most evangelical Christians are exclusivists. Even CM himself seemed to advocate the view in the last paragraph of his opening statement where he likened accepting Jesus Christ to the taking of the only medicine that could save one from death. Since then, CM seems to have backed away from exclusivism.

Exclusivism is well supported in the Bible. According to Jesus in Mark 16:16, “Whoever believes [the missionaries] and is baptized will be saved, but whoever does not believe will be condemned.” Thus, nonbelievers will not get saved. It is only within an exclusivist context that the spreading of the gospel message worldwide assumes the great urgency placed upon it by evangelical Christians. Against this, CM claims (at the end of his third rebuttal) that there is a great benefit in simply being aware of the truth of the gospel message, quite aside from any connection with salvation.[5] But that just gives rise to the query “Why, then, would a loving God (one who wants what is best for us) permit there to be so much nonbelief?” That is a query that CM has struggled to avoid. Furthermore, even if there were some such benefit, one must concede that there are a great many happy nonbelievers in the world. Hence, it is clear that, whether or not there is such a benefit, if nonbelievers can get saved, then there would not be any great urgency in converting the world to belief, contrary to the view of evangelical Christians.

Referring to the name “Jesus Christ,” Peter declared, “there is no other name under heaven given by men by which we must be saved” (Acts 4:12), which implies that one must accept the one who goes by that particular name in order to be saved. That is, people who are unfamiliar with the name or who reject the one who has that name will not be saved. Jesus himself emphasized the importance of his own name when he said, “whoever does not believe [in God’s son] stands condemned already because he has not believed in the name of God’s one and only Son” (John 3:18) That exclusivist message is confirmed in verse 36, where it is written: “Whoever believes in the Son has eternal life, but whoever rejects the Son will not see life, for God’s wrath remains on him.” The idea of God’s wrath remaining on a person right up to the moment of death is repeated in John 8:24, where Jesus says, “if you do not believe that I am the one I claim to be, you will indeed die in your sins.” For X to die in his sins is the same thing as X having God’s wrath remain on him. Very clearly, then, according to the Bible, one needs to believe in God’s son, believe via the name “Jesus Christ,” and believe that Jesus is the one he claimed to be, in order to get saved. And that obviously excludes all nonbelievers in the gospel message.

CM says, “The Catholic Church teaches that those who are ignorant of Christ ….. can be saved,” but this is in direct conflict with the verses quoted above. It is also rejected by most evangelical Christians (most of whom are Protestants). Even if it is true that many Catholics and other Christians are not exclusivists, nevertheless, it is also true that there are indeed many Christians who are exclusivists. They would be people who not only ascribe to God all four properties included earlier under “deity #1,” but also property (5) above. It is my claim here that ANB is a very powerful argument against the existence of the deity in which those people believe. Let us call it “deity #3.” Although ANB provides good evidence for the nonexistence of deity #1, the evidence that it presents against deity #3 is overwhelming![6] As pointed out, CM fails to defend the existence of deity #1 against ANB, but with regard to deity #3, he is still further out, as though he wouldn’t “touch it with a ten foot pole.” It seems that CM has simply conceded defeat when it comes to deity #3. Now all he need do is concede defeat with regard to deity #1 as well and we can all go home.

III: The (A3) Issue

Against CM’s claim that premise (A3) of ANB is not adequately supported, I presented three arguments, which I labeled arguments (5), (6), and (7). CM seems to have no more to say about (the biblical) arguments (5) and (6). Argument (7) claims that in order for (A3) to be false, GC must have conflicting desires. In his note 2, CM continues to reject that claim. He says that GC might desire to bring about situation S only if certain conditions are met[7], and in that case (A3) could be false even if GC does not have conflicting desires. That is easily refuted. Obviously, for (A3) to be false, its negation must be true. But the negation of (A3) says that GC does want something that conflicts with his desire to bring about situation S (as strongly as he wants to bring about S). For that to be true, and so for (A3) to be false, it is clear that GC must have conflicting desires. It is now time for CM to acknowledge this fact about premise (A3) and, if he still wants to attack it, to explain how his deity might have conflicting desires.

Since CM did not address the (A3) issue within the body of his essay, I shall say no more about it. It is clear, I think, that with all the many arguments in support of ANB, and with the utter failure of all the objections to it, including ED, ANB emerges as powerful evidence for the nonexistence of various deities, with special attention to the ones referred to as deities #1 and #3. Those are deities believed in by evangelical Christians, who obviously now have a great problem on their hands: the problem of explaining nonbelief.


[1] CM refers to “Drange’s concept of GC,” but it he seems not to realize that my concept of GC is that of deity #1. CM might maintain that that deity should not be given the label “the God of evangelical Christianity.” I disagree, but do not want to get into the semantic issue here. Certainly I would argue that there are a great many Christians, many of whom call themselves “evangelical,” who believe in deity #1, and it is definitely their deity to which ANB is to be applied.

[2] Of course, ANB is not applied to the mosaic god in my book. I made it clear in chapter 14 that the argument is applied only in cases where people assent to belief in a deity similar to deity #1. That is, a questionnaire regarding God’s properties is first given to people and ANB is then presented only to those who answer the questionnaire a certain way.

[3] CM says, “According to scripture and Christian belief, God chose [an] inefficient method [to accomplish his goals].” That is absurd. No rational, omnipotent, omniscient being could possibly choose an inefficient method to accomplish what it wants to accomplish.

[4] CM also attributes to me “the assertion that the missionary method of spreading the gospel was the best one that GC could have chosen.” But I never made or implied such an assertion. I would regard the missionary method to be quite adequate for God to (indirectly) bring about situation S, provided that he supplements it in some way (e.g., enabling the missionaries to perform miracles or seeing to it that the Bible is without defect and clearly not a merely man-made work, etc.). But it is just one of a great number of adequate methods that GC could have chosen for doing that.

[5] What CM says there directly contradicts his note 2, where he writes: “mere belief in the truth of the gospel message is not something that is worthwhile in itself.”

[6] At the end of his note 3, CM challenges me to prove that it is unloving for God to permit nonbelief. Once the exclusivism that is believed in by millions of evangelical Christians is assumed, it is easy to do so:

  1. To be maximally loving, God cannot permit people to be eternally damned.
  2. Nonbelief must lead to eternal damnation (assuming Christian exclusivism).
  3. Therefore, if God permits nonbelief, then he cannot be maximally loving.

[7] CM says, “one of those conditions appears to be repentance from sin.” But he does not explain how that might relate to the bringing about of situation S. Is it that God reveals the gospel to someone only after he has repented? Why would anyone repent prior to learning of the gospel? And why would anyone not repent after coming to believe it? Such important matters are left untouched by CM.

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