Theodore Drange Drange Mchugh Mchugh2

First Rebuttal (2003)

Christopher McHugh

 

In this first rebuttal, I argue that Drange’s ANB provides no evidence against the existence of the God of Christianity.

Premise A of ANB states that if the God of Christianity (abbreviated GC) were to exist, then He would possess at least the following properties:

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

The refutation of ANB is based on a denial of premise A. It is as follows:

The Expectations Defense against ANB

  1. If premise A of Drange’s ANB were true, then GC, if He were to exist, would not hold back in His efforts to bring about situation S. [There is no way for a being with the four properties in premise A of ANB to fail to bring about situation S, or to adopt a less than maximally effective method for causing situation S to obtain. If GC were to fail to bring about S or choose a less than maximally effective means of doing so, then it would follow that at least one of the properties listed in premise A is inapplicable to GC.]
  2. If GC were to exist, He would hold back in His efforts to bring about situation S. [An essential aspect of Christian belief is that God chose to spread the gospel message through human missionaries, and allowed them to meet with much resistance and suffering at the hands of unbelievers. This is described throughout the New Testament, particularly in the book of Acts. God could have brought about situation S in a more effective way than this, so it follows that if GC exists, then He has opted for a less than maximally effective method for causing S to obtain. Furthermore, at many points throughout the New Testament, it is promised that there will be many unbelievers in the world up until the return of Christ.]
  3. It is not the case that premise A of Drange’s ANB is true. [From 1 and 2 by modus tollens]

Since ANB’s premise A is a false premise, ANB is an unsound argument. Therefore, it provides no evidence against the existence of the God of Christianity.

Contrary to what Drange asserts, the Expectations Defense (abbreviated ED) is obviously a logically valid argument. In his opening statement, Drange critiqued a version of ED that I have never presented or defended. Drange deliberately chose to present a logically invalid version of the argument, when he could have easily quoted a valid version from my published work. In light of this, I conclude that Drange either badly misunderstands ED, or is intentionally trying to misrepresent my position.

If Drange is to deny that ED refutes ANB, he must deny one of the premises of ED. It is unclear exactly how he could plausibly argue for a denial of either premise.

Consider that premise 1 of ED is simply an extension of premise B of ANB, which states If there were to exist a being who has all four properties listed above [in premise A of ANB], then situation S would have to obtain. Premise 1 of ED is merely the acknowledgement that if GC were a being who has all of the properties given in premise A of ANB, then not only would situation S have to obtain, but GC could not opt for a less than maximally effective method for causing S to obtain. If GC were to hold back or slack off in bringing S about, then that would entail that He was irrational, or that He lacked the power to use better means, or that He has no desire to bring about S, or that His desire to bring about S is overridden by some higher priority. Consequently, in the same way in which premise B of ANB is necessarily true, premise 1 of ED is also necessarily true.

The truth of premise 2 of ED is obvious to anyone who has a basic familiarity with Christianity. Christians universally believe that God chose fallible human missionaries to evangelize the world. God certainly could have gotten the message out in a more effective way than this, but He did not attempt to do so. Consider that the New Testament describes some of the difficulties (including martyrdom) faced by the first missionaries at the hands of unbelievers. If God’s desire to bring about S were not overridden by a higher priority, then He clearly would not have allowed the apostles to have such difficulties, and would have intervened to prevent any hindrance that they would face. Consider also that Jesus Christ, before ascending to the Father, could have done much more to convince the world of the truth of the gospel message, but chose not to do so. This shows (in support of premise 2 of ED) that if GC were to exist, then He would have held back in his efforts to cause S to obtain. Amazingly, premise 2 of ED is proven by Drange’s own words. Drange writes:

Back in the days of Jesus, events could have occurred differently. Instead of appearing only to His followers, the resurrected Christ could have appeared to millions of people, including Pontius Pilate and even the emperor Tiberius and others in Rome. He could thereby have made such a definite place for Himself in history that it would have enlightened billions of people coming later about the truth of the Gospel message.

Instead of overwhelming the world with ineluctable supernatural evidence, GC chose to spread the gospel through human missionaries. God allowed this slow and perilous dissemination of the gospel message despite having the ability to convince the entire world without difficulty. If the desire to bring about S were not overridden by some higher priority, then GC would not have adopted such a method, but would simply have brought about S directly, and would have done so in a maximally effective way.

The particular area of failure for ANB is premise (A3). The best explanation for why GC chose a less than maximally effective means to spread the gospel message is that the desire to bring about S is overridden by some higher concern. The other properties given in premise A receive strong scriptural support, but (A3) not only receives no support from the Bible, but is incompatible with the notion that God chose human missionaries to preach the gospel.

Drange, in his opening statement, makes a very poor case for the truth of premise (A3). He writes:

God not only sent out missionaries to spread the gospel worldwide, but also provided some of them with miraculous powers in order to help get their listeners to accept the message. That suggests that situation S must have been such a high priority in God’s mind as not to be overridden by anything else.

Drange neglects to mention that, even with their miraculous gifts, the apostles met with much resistance on the part of unbelievers, and were rejected often. Contrary to Drange’s assertions, this shows that God did less than He was able to do in order to bring about S, and thereby proves premise 2 of ED. If God’s desire to bring about situation S were not overridden, then God would not have allowed the missionaries to encounter difficulty. Indeed, He simply would have caused S Himself, without relying on human missionaries.

Curiously, Drange agrees that if (A3) were true of God, then God would simply bring about S Himself. He writes:

The question might be raised whether God might want situation S without wanting to bring it about himself. Certainly if there is some desire on God’s part that overrides a desire to bring about situation S, then ANB’s premise (A3), and ANB along with it, could be thereby refuted On the other hand, if there is no such overriding desire, then one might very well say that God wanting situation S would be essentially the same as God wanting to bring about the situation himself. Since God is not lazy and is highly motivated, there would in that case be no reason for him not to want to do it. In other words, if there is no counterexample to refute premise (A3), then there is no reason for God to want situation S but not want to bring it about himself.

Drange admits that if (A3) is true of God, then God would simply bring about situation S directly. Consequently, the following argument against (A3) can be formed with each premise being derived from Drange’s own words:

  1. If (A3) is true of GC, then if GC were to exist, He would have brought about situation S Himself. [Drange’s words: “If there is no counterexample to refute premise (A3), then there is no reason for God to want situation S but not want to bring it about himself.”]
  2. It is not the case that GC, if He were to exist, would have brought about situation S Himself. [Drange’s words: “God not only sent out missionaries to spread the gospel worldwide, but also provided some of them with miraculous powers in order to help get their listeners to accept the message. So, if GC exists, then He would not have brought about S Himself, but would have used missionaries, who were then permitted to encounter all kinds of hardships.”]
  3. It is not the case that (A3) is true of GC. [From 1 and 2 by modus tollens]

Drange may argue that since miracles are acts of God, then the miracles performed through the apostles are instances of GC attempting to bring about S Himself. This is clearly an untenable position, for there are many instances of the first missionaries meeting with dangerous resistance from unbelievers even though they are able to perform some limited miracles. If God were simply acting directly, and had no higher priority than to cause S to obtain, then He would have acted in a more decisive way than this; He would not have allowed the missionaries to be frustrated in their efforts. The miracles that God worked through the apostles were not of the type that would be consistent with God acting directly to bring about situation S in an unreserved way, for they were not sufficient to convert the Jews of first-century Palestine. Consider that Drange agrees when he writes:

damaging, to my mind, is the fact that the Christians never even succeeded in converting the Jews of first-century Palestine. Those Jews were the people most knowledgeable about the alleged resurrection of Jesus and other events appealed to in support of the Gospel message. If they wouldn’t accept it, then the whole idea of selling it to all nations on earth by means of human missionaries is clearly hopeless and destined for failure.[1]

It is clear that if the God of Christianity exists, then His desire to bring about S is overridden by some higher concern.

Drange tries to offer more support of (A3). He writes:

God can have no wants regarding humans that outweigh His desire for their redemption and eventual salvation, which (on the exclusivist assumptions of evangelical Christians) calls for situation S. And since God wants everyone to be saved and come to knowledge of the truth we may infer that there is no want on God’s part that would override His desire for situation S. This then also provides support for ANB’s premise (A3).

Contra Drange, there is no basis for the inference given above. Christians do not need to believe that people are damned because of ignorance. It may be that God gives unbelievers all the information they need at or after the time of their physical death. While Christians must believe that all salvation comes by the blood of Jesus, they do not need to believe that those who are simply ignorant of Christ are necessarily damned. Consequently, Drange’s inference is invalid.

Drange goes on to offer another argument for (A3):

God is commonly regarded to be a perfect being who always wants nothing but the best. It follows that he cannot have a conflict of desires, since there is only one situation that can be the best. This makes ANB’s premise (A3) tautologically true. Whoever rejects that premise is obliged to explain how it is, exactly, that God could have a conflict of desires.

Drange is under the mistaken impression that (A3) can be false only if God is somehow at war with Himself concerning situation S. Pace Drange, having a hierarchy of desires does not entail internal conflict. Consider, for example, a man who desires to win a debate, but he does not desire to win the debate if his position is false. Such a situation does not imply that the man is conflicted about the issue. The desire of such a person can be put in the following way: I desire to win the debate only if my position is true. God’s attitude concerning situation S could be similar. God may desire situation S only if some other more important condition is first satisfied.[2]

Drange, in his opening statement, tries to show how a defender of ED must conceive of GC as being less than maximally loving. He asserts that an advocate of ED must adopt a Calvinist view of salvation in which God does not have an unrestricted love for humanity, and does not desire that everyone be saved. Rather than implying that God is unloving, His reluctance to adopt a maximally effective means for causing situation S to obtain may simply be the result of the desire to bring about S being overridden by a higher concern. Having a higher priority than bringing about S is not incompatible with God desiring salvation for everyone, or with God having an unrestricted love for humanity. Consider that those who never heard of Jesus before their physical death may have a chance to accept or reject Christ at or after the time of their death. Consequently, God can have unrestricted love for humanity with a desire for universal salvation, but still hold back in bringing about situation S on the earth. There is simply no problem of the sort that Drange alleges.

I conclude that Drange’s version of ANB provides no evidence against the existence of the God of Christianity. At best, ANB merely forces Christians to examine and refine their concept of God so as to reject premise (A3) of ANB. Of course, this is not something that threatens the rationality of Christian belief. The question of why a maximally loving being like GC would allow unbelief in the gospel message is a matter of further theological discussion, but it is clear that (at least with regard to Drange’s formulation of ANB) the phenomenon of unbelief cannot be used as philosophical evidence against the existence of the Christian God.

Notes

[1] Theodore M. Drange, Nonbelief and Evil (Amherst, NY: Prometheus Books, 1998), p. 139.

[2] In dealing with Drange’s opening statement, I use much positive language about God. I want to make it clear that while positive language is useful in elevating the mind towards God, it is not the case that positive properties can be literally predicated of God’s essential nature. Rather, the essence of God is transcendent to positive, empirically derived concepts. God’s essence can be experienced mystically, but not directly conceptualized. My purpose in speaking of God in positive terms is to show that Drange’s ANB fails at its own level. That is, even if one were to conclude that the mystical view of God is incorrect, Drange’s ANB would still fail to provide evidence against the anthropomorphic conception of God that is the target of his argument.


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Copyright ©2003 Christopher McHugh. The electronic version is copyright ©2003 by Internet Infidels, Inc. with the written permission of Christopher McHugh. All rights reserved.