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Drange-McHugh Debate: McHugh’s Closing Statement


In my opening statement and subsequent rebuttals, I presented a case for belief in God, and for belief in Jesus Christ. In this closing statement I will not restate that case here, but will focus on refuting Drange’s last rebuttal.

It seems that Drange is confused about which arguments I am using against ANB.

He writes:

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.

At no point did I attempt to use what Drange calls the ‘afterlife defense’ as a way of directly rebutting ANB. When I mentioned the possibility that people may have an opportunity to accept Jesus Christ at or shortly after their physical death, I was responding to the issue of whether GC could possibly have an unrestricted love for humanity, while not doing everything possible to bring all humans to believe in Jesus before their physical death.

I wrote:

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.

Drange took this to be an attempt at directly refuting ANB, but it was only meant to refute his proposition that GC could not simultaneously be maximally loving while allowing people to disbelieve in Jesus.

A serious problem with Drange’s defense of ANB is that he failed to address a major argument that I presented in my first rebuttal, and again in my third rebuttal. I offered an argument against ANB that was constructed primarily of Drange’s own words from this debate. 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 last response. Since it directly refutes ANB using comments that Drange made in his very attempt to defend ANB, it is no wonder why he is choosing to evade the issue.

In refuting ANB, I did not attempt to provide a theological explanation for why GC allows nonbelief, but focused on showing that ANB is unsound because it has a false premise. Drange insists that this approach won’t do. He writes:

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.

Indeed, if such an explanation were to be given, it would refute ANB, but it is certainly not a necessary part of a refutation of ANB. All that is required to refute an argument is to show that it has a false premise or an invalid inference. It has been shown that ANB contains a false premise.

Drange goes on:

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.

Drange fails to consider that it may be the case that God’s ways are so far beyond human comprehension that they must remain inscrutable to the human intellect. God’s purpose for allowing nonbelief may not only be unknown, but may ultimately be unknowable to us. This is not hard to imagine. Consider that the content of this debate would be utterly incomprehensible to rabbits. By analogy, it is easy to see how God’s ways could be similarly incomprehensible to us.

Note that I am not attempting to use the unknown-purpose defense against ANB here. My point in the paragraph above is simply a response to Drange’s assertion that I need to provide an explanation for why GC allows nonbelief. The expectations defense shows that ANB has a false premise, and this is all that it needs to do. If Drange wants to discuss the theology behind GC’s motives for allowing nonbelief, then that is a tangential topic, and is not pertinent as to whether ED succeeds in refuting ANB.

Drange tries to show that ED does not pertain to the God that most Christians believe in. He describes two supposedly competing concepts of God, and asserts that ANB applies only to the first concept, but that ED is geared toward defending only the second concept.

Drange’s descriptions are 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.

This split is a terrible mistake on Drange’s part. Any informed Christian who believes that the first list of properties applies to God should also believe that the second list of properties applies to God. I doubt if there is even one sane Christian in the world who accepts the properties in the first list, but denies the properties in the second list. It is obvious that Christians believe in a God who allowed missionaries to suffer adversity. Any familiarity with scripture proves this. It is also obvious that Christians believe that the Jews, for the most part, did not come to believe in Jesus. I don’t know of any Christians who believe that most of the Jews were converted to Christianity. Furthermore, I don’t know of any Christians who disbelieve in the existence of Islam. Hence, Christians must believe that God has permitted the rise of Islam.

Drange goes on:

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.

Drange genuinely thinks that Christians believe that none of the properties in the second list apply to God. I don’t think he will find many Christians who will meet his expectations. One can open to virtually any page of the New Testament to confirm that God allows nonbelief in the gospel message.

Concerning the issue of whether God allowed missionaries to suffer adversity, Drange thinks he has triumphed by pointing out that God sometimes intervened to save them. He writes:

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…. 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.

While God did intervene sometimes, it is clear that God also sometimes allowed the missionaries to suffer, and in some cases allowed them to be killed by unbelievers. This is inconsistent with the notion that GC is maximally determined to cause S to obtain. Clearly, if GC exists, then He has some higher purpose in mind than bringing about situation S.

Happily, Drange at least considers the notion that Christians may believe that God possesses all of the properties in both descriptions. He writes:

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.” 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.

There is no contradiction here. It is possible that God possesses all of the properties given in the two lists, provided that God has some higher purpose in mind than simply getting people to believe that the gospel message is true. Nothing that Drange has argued militates against this possibility. Again, even if no understanding of God’s higher purpose can be arrived at through human intelligence, it does not entail that the properties in the two lists are incompatible. There is no impossibility in God’s ways being incomprehensible to us.

Again, this is not the same as using the unknown-purpose defense to refute ANB. My point in saying that God may have an unknown purpose is simply to show that is possible that one being can have all of the properties in both lists, and that such a concept of God is not contradictory.[1]

Drange continues:

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.

On the contrary, every sane Christian on the planet who accepts the properties in the first list will also accept every property in the second list. I don’t think that Drange could find a single Bible-believing adult Christian who would assert that God does not have all of the properties in the second list.

Drange states:

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.

Again, there is nothing in the first list that renders it impossible for God to allow nonbelief. There is only a problem when one assumes that God cannot have a higher priority than getting people to simply believe.

Drange thinks that I have contradicted myself on the exclusivism issue. He writes:

Even CM himself seemed to advocate [exclusivism] 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.

Jesus Christ is our only salvation. There is no salvation apart from Him. I adhere to the idea that people can be saved through Christ’s act of atonement without explicitly knowing the name of Jesus during their bodily lives. There is no other name by which we can be saved, but it does not follow that those who do not know that name are necessarily damned. If one is to hear the gospel message and reject it because of a love of sin, that that is a different story, but those who are of genuine good will in their skepticism are in no danger. When the scriptures tell of people being damned for not believing in Jesus, it is to be understood in terms of a willful rejection of the truth, not just a matter of ignorance.

Drange questions my stance on the value of evangelization being for the sake of simply bringing people into greater joy through knowing and living in the truth:

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. 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?”

Knowledge of the truth of the gospel message is not of any value apart from a correct response to it. For those people who are genuinely seeking God, and hate their sinfulness, the gospel message comes as a great blessing; it reveals the truth about God and salvation from sin. For those who will not repent, it is nothing but a source of torment. My point about the value of sharing the gospel message pertains only to those who would receive it well.

Concerning the question of why a loving God would permit there to be nonbelief, we are, again, getting off topic. I will gladly engage in a future debate with Drange on whether an adequate explanation can be given for why God allows evil and nonbelief, but the topic is not germane to the present question of whether ANB is a sound argument. My contention is that ANB fails because ED shows that it has a false premise.

I conclude that ANB, in its present form, offers no evidence at all against the existence of the God of Christianity.[2] If Drange’s argument were to have any merit, it would need to account for the concept of God that Christians actually believe in. Christians believe in a God who is all-loving, but allows there to be nonbelief despite having the power to eliminate it. Not only is it not impossible that a loving God would allow nonbelief (and other evils), but it is to be expected if the God of Christianity exists. One can read the New Testament to see that God, as described therein, allows nonbelief throughout. If the Christian God were to exist, He would be the deity described in the New Testament, and so would be someone who allows nonbelief.

I also conclude that none of Drange’s criticisms of my arguments for the existence of God and for belief in Jesus Christ posed any threat to the plausibility of those arguments.[3]


[1] Drange has repeatedly made the mistake of thinking that my mention of an unknown purpose, or of the possibility that people have the opportunity to accept Christ in the afterlife were meant to directly rebut ANB. Note, though, that I have only used these points in response to his claim that it is impossible for a loving God to abstain from bringing S about. The progression of ideas goes like this:

Step 1: ANB is countered by ED.

Step 2: Drange then asserts that it is impossible for a loving God to allow nonbelief.

Step 3: This assertion of impossibility is countered by the recognition that God could have a good unknown reason for allowing nonbelief, or may give people a chance to accept Christ after death.

[2] Not only is Drange’s version of ANB unsound, but all potential versions of ANB fail. A good way of looking at it is as follows:

  1. If some version of ANB is sound, then it is either impossible for a maximally loving being such as GC to allow nonbelief, of it is unlikely that GC would allow nonbelief if He were to exist. [Any argument against the existence of God must appeal either to the impossibility of God existing, or to the improbability of God coexisting with something else.]
  2. It is not the case that it is unlikely that GC would allow nonbelief if He were to exist. [At every point in scripture, GC allows nonbelief, and even guarantees that there will be many nonbelievers in the world until the return of Christ. If GC were to exist, we should expect Him to allow nonbelief.]
  3. It is not the case that it is impossible for a maximally loving being such as GC to allow nonbelief. [It is possible that GC has some humanly incomprehensible unknown overriding purpose for allowing nonbelief that is perfectly compatible with Him being all-loving. It may also be the case that GC gives people a chance to accept the gospel message after they die.]
  4. Therefore, it is not the case that some version of ANB is sound.

[3] Anyone who is interested in doing so can simply choose to bypass arguments entirely and encounter Jesus Christ directly. After all, He is alive. Even if one is a nonbeliever, one can pray in the following way: “Jesus, I am a skeptic, but IF you do exist, and you are the Son of God, I give you permission to do whatever you have to do in my life to accomplish your will in me. I am willing to renounce any sin, or suffer anything that you ask me to suffer for the sake of doing your will. If my life has been an offense to God, I want to repent. Please give me the grace to see the truth about my relationship to God, and to respond to this realization in a way that is pleasing to you.” If one prays in this way with sincerity, Jesus cannot fail to respond. Such a prayer is not incompatible with holding an atheistic or non-Christian worldview because it is phrased in terms of what one would be willing to do IF Jesus were to exist as the Son of God. There is no good reason not to pray this prayer, because it only commits one to Christ on the condition that Jesus is really the Son of God.

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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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