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Drange-McHugh Debate: McHugh’s Third Rebuttal


In this rebuttal, I will argue that Drange has failed to show that ANB prevails against ED.[1]

Concerning my presentation of ED, Drange is absolutely correct when he notes that the version that I presented does not follow the modus tollens form. This embarrassing error on my part was the result of hurried editing, and I apologize for any confusion that may have been caused. If the argument were to be presented in its correct modus tollens format, it would appear as follows:

  1. If premise (A) of ANB were true, then if the God of Christianity (GC) existed, He would have worked to the best of His ability to cause situation S to obtain. [Premise (A) of ANB defines GC as someone who is rational (which implies always acting in accord with one’s highest priorities) and as someone who has it among His top (nonoverridden) priorities to bring about situation S. If both of these attributes are granted, it is conceptually impossible that GC would hold back or “slack off” in His efforts to cause S to obtain.]
  2. It is not the case that GC, given His existence, would have worked to the best of His ability to cause situation S to obtain. [The scriptures detail the fact that GC chose the highly inefficient method of using human missionaries to spread the gospel, and allowed them to suffer adversity and face great danger in their efforts to preach the word. He allowed this slow and perilous dissemination of the gospel message despite having the ability to convince the whole world without difficulty.]
  3. It is not the case that premise (A) of ANB is true. [From (1) and (2) by modus tollens]

Drange asserts that premise 2 of ED is false, and that if GC were to exist, He would work to the best of his ability to cause S to obtain. Drange writes:

Evangelical Christians would not embrace premise 2 or the concept of a God who holds back in his efforts to get people to be aware of the “good news,” i.e., the truth of the gospel message. So, the use of the term “GC” in premise 2 is incorrect.

Drange’s denial of premise 2 of ED is totally unreasonable. No Christians believe that GC does everything He can to cause people to believe that the gospel is true. GC, being omnipotent, would have no trouble at all in convincing the entire population of the world of the truth of the gospel message instantaneously with inescapable supernatural evidence. It seems that causing some kind of universal mystical experience that directly reveals the truth of the gospel would be the most direct and efficient way of bringing about S. Clearly, this would be within GC’s power to do, but GC, if He were to exist, would not have done something like that. According to scripture and Christian belief, He chose a much more inefficient method, namely the use of human missionaries. In doing so, GC did far less than what He could have done with regard to bringing S about. Consequently, Drange’s concept of GC really has nothing to do with the scriptural notion of God, and bears no relation to the God that Christians believe in.

Drange seems to think that the missionary method of spreading the gospel is consistent with GC working to the best of His ability to bring about S. He writes:

[W]e need only note that God could have empowered missionaries to perform miracles in order to get their listeners to believe the gospel message. Such a methodology on God’s part would have been quite effective and could easily have brought about situation S.

Using human missionaries may have resulted in bringing about S eventually, but it is obvious that it is not the ideal method for doing so. A quicker and more efficient method would be to overwhelm the world with supernatural evidence. If premise A of ANB is true, then GC cannot choose a slow and inefficient method to cause S; He can only do that which brings about S most efficiently. If GC is rational, and has the power to bring about S, and has no desire that overrides His desire to bring about S, then it is conceptually impossible for Him to choose a slow method to cause S to obtain; He would just cause it to happen without any hesitation, and would certainly not permit any interference. But if GC exists, then (according to scripture) He would have chosen human missionaries to spread the gospel, and this would be an inefficient method compared to what GC could have done. Consequently, if GC exists, He must have some higher priority in mind than simply bringing about S.[2], [3]

Drange’s position is bizarre, for he admits that the apostles suffered persecution and adversity, but he stakes his entire case on the assertion that the missionary method of spreading the gospel was the best one that GC could have chosen. Furthermore, in my opening statement, I quoted Drange admitting that GC could have chosen a more effective method than this. I think these quotes are very telling, and bear repeating. Drange wrote:

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.

Given that, Drange cannot maintain his denial of premise 2 of ED. In order to deny premise 2, he needs to assert that the missionary method was the best means of bringing about S.

Admitting that GC could have chosen a more effective method for spreading the gospel, Drange also wrote:

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.

Drange admits that there is a great disparity between what GC could have done, and what Christians believe GC did do in order to spread the gospel.

I agree with both of Drange’s quotes above, but it seems that Drange does not agree with himself. If he admits that GC could have chosen a more effective method than using missionaries, then premise 2 of ED is granted. There is no way to contest this, for premise 2 merely states the following modest claim:

It is not the case that GC, given His existence, would have worked to the best of His ability to cause situation S to obtain.

Who can deny that? It is quite clear that Drange’s ANB should not be taken seriously by anyone hoping to argue against Christianity.

In my first rebuttal, I offered an additional argument against ANB that was constructed primarily of Drange’s own words. I wrote:

  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 didn’t say anything about this argument in his response except for the following:

Part of CM’s difficulty is that he confuses “God will bring about S himself” with “God will bring about S directly.” ANB only advocates the former, not the latter. When God empowered missionaries to perform miracles, he was, in effect, starting to bring about S himself, but he was not doing it directly, but by means of the missionaries.

Drange has missed the point here. If premise (A3) is true of GC, then it is impossible for Him to choose a less than maximally effective method for causing S. If someone has total power and unrestricted motivation to bring about S, then they would not choose to delegate the action to someone else with less power, and then let those responsible for causing S encounter hardships. Drange’s position on the matter appears to be unsalvageable.

Concerning the notion of Christian exclusivism, Drange seems to think that knowledge and acceptance of the gospel message before physical death are necessary for salvation, but this is not an essential tenet of Christianity. Christianity teaches that all salvation comes from Christ, and that nobody can come to the Father except by Him, but it is not an essential tenet of Christianity that only those who know Jesus before their physical death can be saved. The Catholic Church teaches that those who are ignorant of Christ, but genuinely seek the truth about God and respond to the moral law can be saved through Christ without even knowing it. Drange may wonder what point there is in evangelism if people who do not know Christ can be saved anyway. The primary reason for evangelism is that knowledge of the truth about God and salvation from sin is a great good, and it should be shared with all who will receive it.


[1] It is important to note that ED is successful independently of any knowledge of why GC allows nonbelief in the gospel to occur. The function of ED is merely that of a defense against ANB; it shows that ANB fails to provide any reason to disbelieve that GC exists. Drange insists that I should offer an explanation of why GC would allow nonbelief, but such an explanation is irrelevant to whether ANB is a good argument. While there are many good theological speculations that could be offered about why God permits nonbelief, they are certainly not provable by me philosophically. As such, I will stick to what can be proven, namely that ANB fails.

[2] Drange argued that GC cannot have a desire that overrides His desire to bring about S without thereby having a conflict of desires (which is impossible for a perfect being). I responded that GC can have a hierarchy of desires, and therefore only desire to bring about S provided that certain conditions are met. Drange responded that my view that God desires S conditionally contradicts my acceptance of premise (A2) of ANB. I understood (A2) simply to mean that GC has the desire to bring about situation S among His desires in some basic sense, but I did not understand it to mean that God desires to bring about S unconditionally. To think that GC desires S unconditionally is the same as affirming both (A2) and (A3) of ANB. But in light of ED, (A3) is clearly false. It seems that God would only desire belief in the gospel given that certain conditions are met. For example, one of those conditions appears to be repentance from sin. Apart from repentance, mere belief in the truth of the gospel is not something that is worthwhile in itself. Consider that, on the Christian worldview, Satan believes that the gospel is true, and it does him no good whatsoever. Indeed, the belief that the gospel is true would be a great source of fear and torment to those who choose not to repent.

[3] Drange implied in his last statement that GC would somehow be less than maximally loving if He were to have some higher priority than causing S to obtain. He is mistaken on this point, and his error is based on the false presupposition that the only way that people can be saved is with explicit knowledge of the gospel. I challenge Drange to come up with an argument (in numbered steps) that shows that God’s act of permitting nonbelief entails that God is not maximally loving.

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Copyright ©2004 Christopher McHugh. The electronic version is copyright ©2004 by Internet Infidels, Inc. with the written permission of Christopher McHugh. All rights reserved.

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