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Drange-McHugh Debate: McHugh’s Second Rebuttal


This second rebuttal will show that Drange’s critique of my opening statement offers no sound refutation of any of the arguments presented there. Drange’s debate tactic appears to be relegated to pleading a lack of understanding of my opening arguments. This is surprising, for most of the points made in my opening statement are not subtle, and should be understood easily. I will proceed to answer each of Drange’s objections as space permits.

The Argument from Simplicity

I argued that the most fundamental reality must be something that is not complex at all. Every complex thing depends on something simpler than itself (i.e., its individual parts). So, whatever happens to be the most basic substance of reality cannot depend on simpler parts, otherwise it would not be the most basic substance of reality. This is not hard to grasp, but Drange tries to make it as obscure as possible. The dependency of which I write is an ontological relationship in which a whole depends on its individual parts. I gave the example of a chair depending on the existence of the individual molecules that compose the chair. Any composite thing, like a chair, depends on the existence of its parts (which are simpler than the whole, and are not identical to the whole).

Drange claims that we should prefer the hypothesis that there is no most basic substance of reality. He writes:

Why couldn’t everything that exists depend on something else for its being?

There are at least two reasons why this infinite regress of dependent substances hypothesis should be rejected:

  1. To prefer such a hypothesis over the view that there is an ultimate reality is a violation of the principle of parsimony, which is commonly known as Ockham’s razor. In explaining a given phenomenon, one should not multiply entities unnecessarily. Drange’s view requires that there be an infinite number of entities that get simpler and simpler. To posit an infinite number of progressively simpler entities in order to explain the existence of any given composite entity is a total abdication of parsimonious thinking. Drange’s alternative is infinitely more complex than the hypothesis that I proposed. If it comes down to a choice between the two views, then the conservative hypothesis should be preferred unless there is good independent reason to adopt the more complex view.
  2. Current scientific research shows that space and time began to exist a finite time ago. Whatever caused space and time to begin to exist could not have been something dependent on simpler parts. This follows from the fact that having parts necessitates that the parts are spatially separated from each other to at least some degree. If there is no space, then there is no possibility of there being a multiplicity of components to something. Hence, whatever caused space and time to begin to exist is perfectly simple. Drange’s view that everything is dependent on an infinite number of progressively simpler parts entails either that space did not begin to exist, or that it began to exist without any cause at all. Neither of these options is plausible. Drange seems either unaware of the current state of cosmological theories, or is committed to a faith-based belief in their falsity.

Both of the points made above also serve to counter the assertion that there may be more than one ultimate reality. Such a hypothesis is less parsimonious than the view that there is only one ultimate reality, and it is inconsistent with the notion that space had an absolute beginning.

Drange proceeds to offer the alternative hypothesis that space and time may have originated uncaused. He writes:

Space and time (and matter and energy) may have originated uncaused. Some recent cosmological theories take them as having done that.

Pace Drange, things do not begin to exist uncaused. Most people know that much intuitively. Despite Drange’s belief, there is absolutely no scientific support for the notion that something can come into being without a cause. Drange is either lying, or is confused about the scientific theories to which he refers. I challenge Drange to describe any hypothetical experiment that could (even in principle) be used to support the notion that something can come into being uncaused. Supposedly, he is familiar with such experiments already. How does one test to confirm that something began to exist with no cause? What kind of experiment could potentially support a speculation like that? The mere absence of the discovery of a cause does not support the belief that there is none. Moreover, the whole scientific endeavor is a search for causes and explanations. Scientific method presupposes causality.

Drange’s alternatives to the theistic view that I have proposed in the argument from simplicity consist in arbitrarily preferring a complicated hypothesis to a simpler one, going against current cosmological theory, and asserting that things can begin to exist without a cause. It is not difficult to see which position is more plausible.

The Argument from Freedom

Drange’s main substantive criticism of AF is that there is a third option (compatibilism) between genuinely free actions and those that are compulsory. A position of the sort that Drange espouses is necessarily false, for a given action is either compelled or it is not. An action cannot be both compulsory and noncompulsory at the same time. When I use the term free will, I am merely referring to a type of action that is noncompelled by internal or external factors. We all have the intuition that at least some of our actions are noncompulsory. Drange makes no effort to argue for, or even explain, his apparently impossible third option, so it does not deserve serious consideration until he does so.

Drange suggests that we are unjustified in the belief that we have free will. He writes:

But how can anyone directly apprehend that one’s act of will was not causally determined? That is impossible, since the causal determinants are presumably events that occur within the brain, which is hidden from us.

Quite simply, there is an overwhelming intuition that some of our actions are not compulsory, and there is no good reason to deny this intuition. Why do we believe that the physical world is real, and not just an illusion? It may very well be illusory (and we would never know if it were), but it is reasonable to believe that it is real because of our direct intuition of its reality. The same is true of free will. Drange attempts to introduce doubt in areas for which there is no good reason to doubt. Since he appears to dismiss direct intuitions as being worthy of belief, it is puzzling as to why he does not also doubt the reality of the physical world. Indeed, all knowledge ultimately reduces to direct intuition of some form or another, so why should we deny our experience of our own freedom? All things considered, I would rather bet on the experience of my freedom being correct than to believe anyone’s assertion that my personal experience is illusory. Of course, as I argued in my opening statement, if we have genuine freedom, then that entails that God exists.

The Argument from Moral Obligation

Drange asserts that there may be moral obligations even if God does not exist. This makes no sense. On the atheistic worldview, human beings are merely chemical reactions. Chemicals just do what they do; one chemical reaction is no more or less moral than another. At best, the atheist may say that certain types of human actions are socially disadvantageous, but that says nothing about whether a given action (such as rape, for example) is objectively morally wrong. Consider that the Nazi ethic of killing Jews was entirely consistent and well accepted within the context of German society. If one wants to argue that killing Jews is objectively wrong (i.e., wrong independently of what anyone thinks, and in every possible world), then one must appeal to some standard that transcends cultural and individual opinion. There is no plausible basis for such a standard other than the belief that morality is grounded in God.

Drange raises the Euthyphro problem in an attempt to show that morality cannot be based on God. In this purported problem lies a false dilemma. One is led to believe that morality is either arbitrarily and capriciously legislated by God, or it must be the result of something other than God. What about the view that moral absolutes proceed necessarily from our relationship to God’s perfect nature? This obvious and plausible alternative is simply disregarded in Drange’s analysis.

Drange then makes the following curious statement:

CM has failed to explain how God is supposed to give ultimate meaning and value (or objective meaning and purpose) to life, as he puts it. If indeed life’s meaning, value, and purpose are supposed to be objective features of it, then there should be some way to observe or measure one or more of them.

This objection is very strange indeed. Drange seems to think that everything that is real must be measurable, but that is obviously not so. Consider, for example, that there are mathematical and logical truths, and they are not measurable.

How does God give meaning and value to life? The meaning and value in life is the result of the fact that God created us humans for our ultimate good. We can participate in this ultimate good when we live in correct relationship to God. We do this by doing the following:

  1. We must put our relationship with God first in our lives.
  2. We must respect ourselves as beings created by God for the sake of our ultimate good.
  3. We must respect others as beings created by God for the sake of their ultimate good.

From these simple principles, all of the truths of objective morality follow. On the atheist view, objective morality is left entirely unexplained, and is ultimately nonsensical. On the theistic view, it is clearly explained and commonsensical.

The Argument from Negative Properties

Drange complains that he does not understand the definition of God that I have offered. He writes:

  1. The only definition of “God” provided in ANP is “that being which possesses the maximal conjunction of negative properties that can be possessed essentially by one being.” What is that supposed to mean?

This definition merely means that God has no positive essential properties. The definition is very easy to understand. If a property is positive (according to the criteria defined in my opening statement), then God does not possess that property essentially.

Drange argues that Gales definition of positive and negative properties is circular, but he is mistaken on this point. Gales position has been given considerable analysis, and has not been found lacking. Being of the same quality as, is epistemically or psychologically more primitive than being positive (or negative) in quality; and there is no reason why we cannot take it as being logically primitive and devise criteria for distinguishing between negative and positive properties or predicates in terms of it. In other words, it is being assumed that we have the concept of being of the same quality as, and, as a result, can segregate properties or predicates into two groups, each member of one group being of the same quality as every other member of that group and no member of one group being of the same quality as any member of the other group. If we try to divide up properties according to Gales criteria, we find that there is only one way to do it. That proves that his definition works; it establishes a clear mutually exclusive and jointly exhaustive means of classification.

Drange attempts to cite negative properties that are incompatible in order to provide counterexamples to Gales criteria. He writes:

Consider the terms “nonabstract” and “nonconcrete.” They seem to be of the “same quality” yet are incompatible with each other.

Determining the quality of either of those terms is a matter of understanding what other properties (if any) are entailed by them. Drange’s mistake lies in the belief that the mere presence of a non at the front of a term makes it negative, but this is not how Gales criteria function. In order to properly analyze these terms, Drange would need to provide formal definitions for both of them so that their entailments are made plain. Until he does this, his objection has no content.

Drange goes on:

Consider, also, “being necessary” and “being contingent.” Those properties, too, seem to be of the “same quality” yet incompatible with each other, and so, they should both be classified as “positive properties.”

Drange evinces a serious misunderstanding of Gales criteria when trying to distinguish the quality of properties. He fails to investigate entailment relations, but insists on judging by the appearance of the word used to signify the property. Quite clearly, being contingent is positive because it entails properties of differing quality, such as not being a logical truth and being possibly created. Being contingent is also incompatible with properties of the same quality, such as being a mathematical truth. On the other hand, the property of being necessary is negative because it meets all of Gales criteria for being negative, and meets none of the criteria for being positive. The quality of a property is determined by its logical relations, and not by the mere appearances of words. In order to determine the quality of a property, we must consider its entailments, and then judge accordingly.

Drange then writes:

What about the properties “being the sort of entity that is worshiped in some possible world” and “being the sort of entity that creates things in some possible world”? (Each of these needs to be possessed in every possible world or in no possible world, since they are clearly not contingent properties.) CM should tell us whether or not his deity has them and whether they are positive properties or negative ones.

The property of “being the sort of entity that is worshiped in some possible world” is trivial, which means that every possible being has it. As such, it does not qualify as a property according to Gales criteria. This qualification against trivial properties was noted in my opening statement, and Drange should have been conscious of it. The property of “being the sort of entity that creates things in some possible world” is also trivial. Any being can be conceived as possibly having something else depend on it for its being. Of course, creates can also be understood in many positive senses too, and it is not the case that these positive senses of the term are applicable to God. The way the universe depends on God transcends our positive ideas of what it means for one being to create another. The best we can do is to recognize that there is a relationship of dependency such that the existence of the universe relies on God for its being, but this says nothing positive about the essential nature of God; it only speaks about the universe as being dependent.

Drange goes on:

CM also needs to explain how ANP relates to the existence of the God of Christianity. He says that the relevant deity here is God “as conceived by the mystics,” and he quotes the Catholic Catechism in an attempt to clarify what that is supposed to be. However, I did not find the quotation to be intelligible, nor do I see any similarity between the deity of ANP and the deity referred to as “God” by almost all Christians in the English-speaking world. In effect, ANP is irrelevant to this debate.

The quote from the Catechism of the Catholic Church should be easily intelligible; it is written at a middle-school reading level, and contains nothing confusing. It is the official position of the largest Christian denomination on the planet, so Drange is simply wrong when he claims that it is contrary to Christianity. Of course, Drange’s lack of familiarity with Christian mysticism is neither a problem for Christianity, nor is it a problem for the formulation of ANP that I presented.

I conclude that the argument from negative properties provides a clear and logically compelling proof that God exists, and that Drange’s criticisms do not cast doubt on this.

God and Creation

Drange complains that the concept of nondeficiency makes no sense because deficiency is entirely relative to the evaluator. Surely this can’t be right. For example, Drange obviously thinks that my arguments are genuinely deficient, while his are genuinely superior. He does not think that the supposed inferiority of my arguments is just a matter of mere taste and opinion, but represents a true insight into reality. We can all agree that at least some things are really inferior to others. Stupidity, for example, is inferior to perfect knowledge. Weakness is inferior to strength. While there is some area where subjectivity comes into play, there is also a very clear cut and obvious knowledge of real quality or lack thereof. When I say that God is nondeficient, I simply mean that God does not have any of the properties that entail a genuine inferiority to some possible being, such as weakness or stupidity or whatever. This is not hard to understand at all. Indeed, God’s nondeficiency places God above all positive properties. If God were to have some positive properties, then we could conceive of a greater being, namely one who did not have the limitations inherent in empirically derived positive concepts.

Saint Anselm writes:

Therefore, Lord, not only are You that than which a greater cannot be thought, but You are also something greater than can be [positively] thought. For since it is possible to think that there is such a one, then, if You are not this same being something greater than You could be thought which cannot be.[1]

It seems rather obvious that a being such that nothing greater can be conceived is a being which transcends human ideas.


Drange does not make an attempt to critique my arguments for Christianity, so there is really nothing to say in response. I conclude that our alienation from God is such that Christianity provides the only plausible solution to the problem.


Drange’s admitted lack of understanding of the arguments given in my opening statement does not support a case for their unsoundness. I conclude that there is good reason to adopt belief that God exists, and to accept Christianity. Drange’s criticisms do not succeed at diminishing the weight of the case for Christian belief that has been presented.


[1] Saint Anselm, Proslogion, trans. M.J. Charlesworth, (London, UK: University of Notre Dame Press, 1970), p. 137.

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