The Argument from Reason for the Nonexistence of God
Steven J. Conifer
[The following essay is derived from my forthcoming book, The Plausibility of Atheism: Eight Essays in the Philosophy of Religion, which shall be available via amazon.com by June of 2001.]
1. Prefatory Comments
I shall herein propound an evidential atheological argument which I have dubbed "the Argument from Reason for the Nonexistence of God" (hereafter abbreviated AR). The primary difference between AR and most other atheological arguments is that AR does not necessarily appeal to a lack of action on God's part (e.g., his failure to provide good evidence for his existence, to prevent or reduce suffering, etc.), but rather to a particular feature of human beings over which theists must presume that God is able to exercise control. (The only possible exception to that assertion would be those theists who do not believe God to be omnipotent, a small minority whose view I shall briefly address toward the end of the essay.)
As AR attempts to show, said feature is exceedingly improbable on the view that there exists the sort of deity in whom the vast majority of theists profess a belief, viz., the sort who desires that humans believe in him. There are, of course, other concepts of deity (or definitions of "God"), but they are far less common than the type at hand and are beyond the scope of the present essay, which aims exclusively to prove beyond a reasonable doubt the nonexistence of the god in whom most claim to believe.
Let us now examine a precise formulation of AR.
2. The Argument from Reason (AR) Formulated
(A) If God were to exist, then he would desire theistic belief on the part of all (or almost all) humans during their earthly lives.
(B) Therefore, if God were to exist, then probably very few (if any) humans would possess a capacity to reason which could render it difficult or impossible for them to acquire/retain theistic belief. (Let us call such a capacity to reason "CR" for short.)
(C) But it is not the case that few (if any) humans possess CR. On the contrary, millions (perhaps even billions) of humans possess such a capacity.
(D) Hence [from (B) & (C) by modus tollens], probably God does not exist.
3. Comments on AR
First, let "theistic belief" be defined simply as "belief in the existence of God as defined within AR, i.e., belief in the existence of a deity who desires that humans believe in him."
Second, I include the phrase "during their earthly lives" in premise (A) merely to forestall the possible theistic defense that, although God desires that humans possess theistic belief, he is perfectly satisfied should they come to possess it only once they reach the afterlife. (I forego taking up such a defense since virtually no theists assent to that proposition, i.e., that humans' failure to possess theistic belief while on earth does not at all displease God, as they shall naturally acquire the given belief when they reach the afterlife.)
Third, I employ the phrase "very few" in step (B) simply to leave open the possibility that there might exist some very small number of persons whose possession of CR would not at all upset God. I do not have any particular examples in mind here (indeed, I cannot even think of any), but I wish to leave open that possibility simply as a kind of precautionary measure, i.e., so as to avoid formulating AR too rigidly. While I believe the inference from its premise (A) to the step in question would be quite defensible even if the given phrase were omitted from it, I do not see that the inclusion of that phrase in any way weakens the argument. Furthermore, the measure makes the task of justifying the inference from premise (A) to the step at hand easier than it would be if the given phrase were omitted, much as the inclusion of the same phrase in an argument which sought to show that probably very few (if any) deer would be shot if there were to exist no deer hunters would make the task of defending the inference involved in that argument easier than it would be if said phrase were left out. Similarly, I insert the parenthetical qualification "(or almost all)" in premise (A) simply to leave open the possibility that perhaps there are at least some humans (very small in number) whose lack of theistic belief would in no way trouble God if indeed he were to exist.
There are, of course, several objections which could be raised against either the validity (or strength) of the inference from AR's premise (A) to its step (B) or else its premise (C). Let us abbreviate said inference "INF." I shall label the first set of objections, then, "Challenges to INF" and the second set "Challenges to Premise (C)." Those in the first group consist of theistic attempts to justify humans' possession of CR and thereby show INF to be invalid (or weak), whereas those in the latter consist of theistic attempts to undercut premise (C).
Also, since AR (as it is being considered here) aims solely to refute the alleged existence of any deity who desires that humans possess theistic belief during their earthly lives, I shall not entertain challenges to premise (A). Furthermore, all divine attributes other than the desire in question (with the possible exception of omnipotence, as was mentioned in section 1, above) are irrelevant to AR.
Some might challenge the semantic accuracy of implying that God's desire that humans possess theistic belief constitutes a "divine attribute" (at least in the same way as, say, omniscience or omnibenevolence). Perhaps that is a challenge worth pursuing, though I shall not do so in the present essay. In any case, my point here is that, employing as its basis that desire alone, AR may rightly be deemed a strong evidential argument for the nonexistence of God so conceived.
With those remarks in mind, let us proceed.
4. Challenges to INF
As I see it, AR most clearly presents a problem for those theists who concede the truth of its premise (C) but who believe that God has some justification for humans' being endowed with CR. As Pascal Bercker has queried, "[H]ow could... God allow for the evidence to support a position of nonbelief based on solid intellectual foundations....?"
However, Bercker has, so far as I know, posed this question only in relation to the belief held by many evangelical Christians that God sends nonbelievers to hell, which Bercker (quite rightly) argues would be grossly unfair in light of the evidence to which he refers. Apparently he fails to appreciate the correlation between that evidence (and, more pertinent to the thrust of AR, the nonbelief that might result therefrom) and the alleged existence of a deity who desires that humans believe in him. In other words, rather than reason merely that no such deity could justly punish people for not believing in him, Bercker should go a step further and conclude that, given the relevant data, it is probable that no such deity even exists. Put simply, if God were to exist and were to indeed desire theistic belief on the part of humans, then what sense would it have made for him to do such a thing, i.e., endow them, (or permit them to be endowed) with CR?
I shall take up that matter in sections 5-8, examining four theistic defenses against INF and attempting as thoroughly as possible to show why each of them fails.
5. The Fairness Defense (FD)
The essence of this defense is that in order to make things "fair" (or "even"), it was necessary for God to endow humans (or permit them to be endowed) with CR. That is, in order to allow humans the freedom to make their own decisions regarding his existence, it was essential for God to "level the playing field" by endowing them (or permitting them to be endowed) with such a capacity. Had he not, humans would be naturally disposed to theistic belief, which would eliminate (or at least considerably diminish) the kind of freedom in question. Furthermore, his desire that they possess theistic belief necessarily conflicts with his desire that they be able to freely choose to believe or disbelieve in him. Thus, God refrains from removing humans' capacity to reason (viz., CR) because of that latter, overriding desire, which makes INF invalid and thereby renders AR unsound. (In this way, what I here refer to as "the Fairness Defense" rather closely resembles what is often called "the Free-will Defense," an argument to the effect that for God to in any way influence humans' beliefs or environment would necessarily interfere with their free will, which he desires more than their possessing theistic belief.)
There could be raised against FD at least six substantial objections, each aiming to significantly weaken it so as to constitute, when combined with the others, a fatal blow thereto. The theist, I submit, must inevitably concede that appealing to "fairness" in order to reconcile God's existence with the truth of AR's premise (C) is fruitless.
Let us now take up those objections.
5.1. The Determinism Objection (to FD)
One of the fundamental assumptions upon which FD rests is that humans possess free will, as is evidenced by its intimation that people have the freedom to "make their own decisions." However, that people actually possess free will is by no means established or uncontroversial. It is a matter which is frequently debated among both philosophers and scientists of various fields (particularly neurobiologists and physicists). To simply assume it to be true is question-begging.
Moreover, quite a strong case can be made for determinism, or at least "human-action determinism," also known as "near-determinism" (i.e., the theory that every human action and decision is completely causally determined by events and conditions of the past, leading back, eventually, to the remote past, including causes prior to the person's own birth). For instance, indeterminism (i.e., the theory that not every human action and decision is completely causally determined by events and conditions of the past) postulates the occurrence of uncaused choices, ostensibly a sort which are entirely spontaneous and random and occur "out of the blue," by pure chance. But such an idea is incoherent; nobody can really grasp what it means. Indeed, it would seem to make nary a shred of sense to suggest that somebody performed a given action for no reason whatever. To be sure, we often, in ordinary language, use the word "random" to describe seemingly arbitrary or unexpected behavior (e.g., if a man were to suddenly begin screaming in public and subsequently attack someone with his shoe, then it might later be said that he performed a completely "random" action), but all we typically mean by that is that such behavior appears random, that it has no apparent cause. We know, of course, that there very likely exists some explanation for it, even if it is not readily ascertainable. To claim that no explanation could ever be discovered would be unjustifiably hasty and almost certainly inaccurate.
In addition, the theory of indeterminism has been forcefully attacked by science for centuries. Few rational individuals would hesitate to grant that most theories so persuasively challenged by scientists (both at present and in the past) are probably false. Put another way, because indeterminism appears to be inconsistent with science, it follows that indeterminism is likely an incorrect theory. Of course, it does not follow from that that determinism is necessarily true, but it certainly lends strong support to such a hypothesis.
Furthermore, the goal of this objection is not to prove that determinism is true, but rather to show that free will is far from a given, which, of course, severely undermines FD's background assumption that humans do, in fact, possess free will. Because that assumption is questionable, FD can be reasonably doubted.
5.2. The Divine-foreknowledge Objection (to FD)
This objection is analogous to the previous one in that it appeals to the possibility that humans lack free will so as to undercut one of FD's chief presuppositions. However, unlike the "Determinism Objection," the present objection makes no reference to scientific theories or anything of the like. Rather, it appeals directly to one of the properties commonly ascribed to God, namely, that of foreknowledge (i.e., God's knowledge of everything that will happen or exist in the future, including humans' actions, thoughts, beliefs, etc.).
The question which naturally arises here is that of how human beings might possibly have genuine freedom of volition if God possesses such knowledge. For if God were to know everything that a person will do before he does it, then it would seem logically impossible for that person to perform any action contrary to God's foreknowledge. In other words, if God foreknows that person X will perform action Y at time T, then person X must perform action Y at time T. For example, if God knows that I am going to wear my Doors t-shirt tomorrow, then it would be impossible for me not to wear that shirt. Hence, I would not truly possess free will (i.e., the ability to choose among alternatives each of which is avoidable), which would make FD doubtful.
Theists might attempt to escape this undesirable implication of divine foreknowledge by postulating something known as "backward causation," which is the notion that while God indeed possesses foreknowledge, he obtains it only by way of humans' making free choices, which itself causes God to acquire knowledge of what those choices will be. Theodore Drange explains this bizarre outlook as well as the enormous difficulties confronting it as follows:
Of course, an advocate of FD could simply deny that God possesses foreknowledge. But such a claim would seem inconsistent with another of FD's chief assumptions, namely, that God foresaw the need to endow humans (or permit them to be endowed) with CR in order to allow them the freedom to make their own decisions regarding his existence, thereby making things "fair." At the very least, FD presupposes that God, by the time humans came to exist, possessed a substantial amount of knowledge concerning the beliefs they would form and the manner in which they would form those beliefs. That is, according to FD, God either foreknew or accurately predicted at least the following three occurrences: first, that at least some humans would come to posit the existence of a deity; second, that most of them would be naturally disposed to a belief in that deity; and third, that by endowing them with CR, he would be able to offset that inherent leaning and thus "level the playing field."
One might argue here that since God designed and created humans, it would not have been particularly difficult for him to predict such occurrences, but such an idea seems totally incompatible with FD's central theme: that God gave humans unrestricted free will because he wanted them to think and behave however they desired. That is, if God truly wanted all humans to be free, then it would have been markedly counterproductive for him to have designed them in such a way as to inhibit that freedom by imposing upon them certain intrinsic inclinations.
So, is it possible that God could have predicted even those three occurrences were he not in possession of foreknowledge? Although most would doubtless concede that it is at least conceivable that he could have done so (i.e., that he could have speculated based on the available data that those things would happen), surely few would contend that it is likely. Therefore, probably FD requires that God possess foreknowledge, and so probably it cannot consistently presuppose also that humans have free will. Hence, FD can be reasonably doubted.
5.3. The Scriptural Objection (to FD)
This objection has relevance only for Christians, particularly those who believe the Bible to be the inerrant word of God and free of any errors or defects. All other readers are urged to skip this objection and move on to the next.
FD rests on the assumption that God wants humans to come to believe in him of their own accord, without any interference by God himself. However, numerous biblical passages seem to contradict this view. For instance, in the Book of Exodus, God performed spectacular miracles before the Israelites and the Egyptians in order to prove to them his supreme power and authority. According to Exodus 7:5, "the Egyptians will know that I am the Lord when I stretch out my hand against Egypt and bring the Israelites out of it." And Exodus 10:1-2 states the following:
Several verses expressing a similar theme could be cited.
In addition, God proved things to Gideon by way of astonishing miracles. For example, he made fire come out of a rock (Judg. 6:21). Subsequently, in order to meet Gideon's own challenge, God proceeded first to place dew overnight only on some fleece and nothing else and then the next night he placed dew on everything else but the fleece (Judg. 6:37-40). God also revealed himself to Samson's parents by performing a miracle for them (Judg. 13:19-23). And he further demonstrated his divine nature to the hundreds of people assembled on Mount Carmel by means of another amazing miracle (1 Kings 18:1-39). In the New Testament, Jesus employed miracles so as to persuade people to adopt certain beliefs. He also miraculously appeared before a skeptical Thomas (John 20:24-28), and bestowed upon the Apostles the capacity to perform an abundance of miracles (sometimes even resurrections) in order to convert people to the new religion. Acts 14:3, for example, contains the following passage: "Paul and Barnabas spent considerable time there, speaking boldly for the Lord, who confirmed the message of his grace by enabling them to do miraculous signs and wonders." Paul himself came to acquire new beliefs as the consequence of a miraculous occurrence on the road to Damascus.
In light of these passages from Scripture, it seems that either there is no real conflict between the observers' free will and God causing beliefs in the given way, or else God is no more concerned about the interference with free will than he is with people's nonbelief. In either case, FD's assertion that God refrains from removing humans' CR because to do so would be unfair (i.e., it would eliminate or at least greatly diminish their free will) is erroneous. Not only does the Bible in no way allude to God's desire to make things "fair" or "even" by endowing humans (or permitting them to be endowed) with anything even remotely akin to CR, it seems to strongly suggest just the opposite: that God desires belief in his existence on the part of humans to such a great extent that he is (or at least was) willing to directly cause such belief in them by both performing miracles himself and enabling select individuals ("the chosen few," it might be said) to do the same. Hence, at least within the context of Christianity, FD clearly stands refuted.
5.4. The Irrationality Objection (to FD)
Advocates of FD would surely have to maintain that if God were to provide any sort of sign that he exists, then people would no longer have a real choice as to whether or not to believe in him. In that way, then, FD seems to presuppose that since God is unwilling to supply everyone with good evidence for his existence, he wants at least some people to come to believe in him without good evidence (and in spite of CR). But would God really want such a thing? If so, why? Most would probably agree that for people to believe anything without good evidence is irrational, especially when there exists considerable evidence which contradicts that belief.
And to those who claim that God wishes for people to believe in him based strictly on "faith," the question ought to be posed: why would God create us in such a way that our natural tendency is to ordinarily believe only those propositions for which there exists good objective evidence, yet desire that we make a hugely significant exception in the case of "God exists"? Put another way, why should we believe in God on the basis of faith but not believe in anything else on that basis? What good reason is there to have faith in God, but not have faith in, say, the Loch Ness Monster, or Bigfoot, or unicorns? As drastically misguided as such comparisons might initially seem, there is no real difference between the two kinds of entities being considered here: the former is supposed to be some sort of nonphysical being who mysteriously created the universe and now hides from its inhabitants, and the latter a group of mythical creatures that conceals itself from humanity with all the thoroughness of an invisible and silent deity.
In truth, there is no better evidence for the existence of God than there is for the existence of any of those mythical creatures. Indeed, the only substantial difference is that humans generally want to believe in God, presumably because they find such a belief comforting, pleasing, and perhaps somehow proper, whereas a belief in, say, the Loch Ness Monster or Bigfoot yields no such psychological benefits. Therefore, it is just as irrational (at least epistemically) to believe in God as it would be to believe in the types of creatures described above: no good evidence exists for either. Hence, if FD is correct, then God must want at least some humans to come to believe in him on an irrational basis, a contention which seems highly dubious and with which I imagine most advocates of FD would themselves firmly disagree. Thus, FD appears unsound.
5.5. The Desirability-of-truth Objection (to FD)
It would be fair to say, I think, that human beings generally want to know the truth. We frequently exhibit this desire in our everyday lives: we read informative books, magazines, and newspapers to gain knowledge of our world (and all that takes place therein); we attend educational classes and seminars to learn the facts of various subjects; and, on a more personal level, we ordinarily expect our spouses, family members, and friends to be honest with us, particularly in matters of great consequence. This appreciation for truth seems an inherent and universal characteristic of our species, much like our desire for acceptance, or affection, or comfort. Moreover, we want to know the truth not only because it satisfies that innate desire, but because it serves a number of essential practical functions as well: when we know the truth, problems are far easier to solve, obstacles can be more readily overcome, and harmony is much easier to achieve. Virtually everyone should agree, then, that discovering and understanding the truth is both prudentially and epistemically desirable.
Further, we do not typically complain that our free will has been interfered with when we are taught a new fact or shown something of which we were previously unaware. It would seem quite peculiar indeed if someone were to object to being shown or taught something (that might conflict with one of his existing beliefs) on the basis that it would somehow hinder his ability to "make his own decisions." For instance, suppose there exists a rather unenlightened fellow who has always believed that the earth is actually flat rather than spherical. Upon being told that the earth really is spherical (and being presented with good objective evidence for that), the fellow becomes angry and protests his having been informed of the fact in question on the grounds that his free will has been interfered with. "I do not appreciate this new knowledge," the man might grumble. "Now I have no choice but to abandon my false belief and accept that the world is, in fact, spherical in shape. I no longer have the freedom to believe what I used to, what I liked believing. Therefore, my free will has been violated: I have been forced to know the truth."
Does that really sound like a plausible scenario? Does the fellow's argument have any force? I strongly suspect that most, like I, would answer "no" to both questions, and that most would regard the situation described above as positively strange, if not downright ridiculous. If the sort of reasoning such a fellow embraces were to be taken seriously and adopted by the masses, then it would become exceedingly difficult to justify the existence of schools, encyclopedias, newspapers, and anything else of a comparably informative nature.
Obviously, few would advocate the abolition of any of those. In fact, nearly everyone is of the opinion that learning new facts and gaining new knowledge is beneficial, even indispensable to a productive and fruitful life. Many even dedicate their entire lives to the pursuit of knowledge and imparting to others what they have learned. Thus, there can be no doubt that humans, by and large, place an enormous value on education and the acquisition of knowledge. Even when acquiring it necessitates that one modify his beliefs and convictions, almost everyone views the process as favorable and proper. So how, then, could it ever constitute (as the fellow in the above example asserts) a violation of one's free will? As Theodore Drange writes:
What this quite clearly shows, I think, is that the removal of CR need not eliminate (or even impede) anyone's free will. In fact, I should think that, if anything, that removal would actually enhance people's free will. For if God indeed exists and desires that all (or almost all) humans possess theistic belief, and their exercising their capacity to reason (viz., CR) even sometimes precludes (or hinders) their ability to recognize that fact, then by endowing them (or permitting them to be endowed) with CR, he would be, in effect, making it harder for them to discover the truth (as regards his existence and desire that they believe in him), which would actually frustrate one of their desires, namely, their desire to know the truth. And since it is frustrating people's desires rather than helping to satisfy them which obstructs people's free will, it follows that, far from preserving humans' freedom of volition, God's failure to remove CR actually hampers it. Or, at the very least, his removal of CR certainly would not eliminate (or even impede) that freedom.
Still, one might object to this line of argumentation by pointing out that knowledge of the truth, though certainly in many ways beneficial and thus desirable, can often be so psychologically distressing as to outweigh the advantages that it normally bestows upon those who come to know it. An example of such a case might be a patient who is terminally ill, and whose doctor is unsure as to whether or not he ought to apprise this patient of his circumstances. The doctor wrestles with the decision, torn between being honest and sparing the patient of tremendous worry and despair. On one hand, informing the patient of his condition would allow him time to put his affairs in order and complete any important tasks which require his attention. On the other hand, telling him the truth might dishearten him so greatly as to ruin what little time he has remaining.
Indeed, the doctor appears to be in quite a dilemma. There seems no clear way to determine what course of action is best in such a situation. However, the analogy fails miserably, and the reason should be evident: the disparity between the doctor's predicament and the situation in which we are here assuming God finds himself is indisputably vast. The doctor, by notifying the patient of his condition, would be conveying bad news (perhaps even the worst sort imaginable), whereas God, by making his existence known to humanity, would be conveying good news, if not unsurpassably wonderful news. (Indeed, the very word "gospel" means "good news.") By revealing himself to humankind, God would be providing all of humanity with unparalleled hope and joy, a clear and gratifying purpose for living. Surely even nontheists who were already perfectly content would be delighted to learn that God is real, even if it required that they adjust their worldviews so as to render them compatible with their new awareness. This would be particularly likely if it were also revealed that eternal bliss awaits everyone in the hereafter, wherein each shall be reunited with his deceased loved ones and receive ample compensation for his earthly suffering (assuming such a concept is even intelligible).
But suppose God is the kind of deity in whom most evangelical Christians believe, i.e., the kind of deity who admits only a certain group (or groups) of humans into heaven and damns the rest to hell for eternity. Certainly that kind of knowledge would not please everyone (or even a majority of people), seeing that Christians at present comprise not even a third of the world's population. But the difficulty here is a superficial one. Because the deity in which even evangelical Christians (most of whom subscribe to the doctrine of exclusivism) profess a belief supposedly wants all humans to be saved (damning nonbelievers to hell only because of their failure to accept Jesus as their "Lord and Savior"), he must also want all humans to be aware of his existence. Thus, it would be perfectly consistent for him to enlighten them by means of miracles or some other such device, thereby bringing about the situation of all (or almost all) people coming to know the truth and being rewarded for accepting it.
This brings us to a different kind of response to "the Desirability-of-truth Objection," one I shall call "the Feigned-allegiance Reply." This reply suggests, essentially, that if God were to reveal himself too clearly to humans, then their obedience to him would become unduly prudent or rational, their allegiance to him too easy and self-serving. Put another way, if God were to make his presence unambiguously known to humanity, then people would be greatly tempted to "do the right thing" simply to please God and thereby remain "on the safe side," rather than as the result of more admirable and selfless motives. This might also be dubbed "the Sleeping-policeman Reply," because it portrays God as a sort of furtive law enforcer who apprehends suspects by allowing them to (unwittingly) commit crimes in his presence. (Presumably, within the framework of this analogy, those who transgress God's law are "apprehended" in the afterlife, where they are justly punished for their misdeeds.)
I find this response terribly misguided. First of all, theists presently comprise well over half of the world's population, and the vast majority of them subscribe to some kind of objective morality dependent upon God which, if violated, occasions significant and adverse consequences for the violator(s). Therefore, at least half of the human beings alive today are already susceptible to the temptation described above (i.e., to behave in the way they believe God desires more out of self-interest than any sort of genuine altruism).
Second, assuming that God is omniscient (as nearly all theists do), it would be ludicrous to suppose that those apt to obey his will for purely (or largely) selfish reasons could somehow dupe him into thinking their obedience sincere. Obviously, it would require little effort on his part to distinguish the "real" do-gooders from the "phony" do-gooders: no feigned philanthropy could possibly escape the notice of an all-knowing deity.
Third, it would seem only fair for God to explicitly convey what is moral and immoral, what constitutes a transgression of his law and what is acceptable. Or, if not explicitly convey that information, at least provide some rough guidelines as to what he expects from us, for how else can we possibly know how to conduct ourselves? There are currently circulating among theists seemingly countless ideas about just what constitutes God's "infallible law," many of them quite confusing or incoherent and some even self-contradictory. To be sure, most of the major religious views (i.e., those of the various Christian, Jewish, and Islamic denominations) appear to conflict in one way or another, which serves only to exacerbate the ambiguity and controversy surrounding the issue of God's true "code of ethics" (as it might be called). Accordingly, it would seem quite judicious from both God's standpoint and our own for him to somehow clarify these matters and thereby assist people in understanding (at least to some extent) what is required of them.
Fourth, and perhaps most substantial, no part of the Desirability-of-truth Objection is at all relevant to the kind of deportment God wishes for humans to display. Nowhere does the objection call for God to reveal his preferences regarding humans' behavior. Although, as was just shown, it would greatly improve our ability to act properly (i.e., in accordance with God's desires), it is by no means necessary that God provide such information in order to simply reveal his existence to humanity, a move which the Desirability-of-truth Objection argues would in no way interfere with humans' free will (which, according to FD, would be unfair).
Yet another response to the Desirability-of-truth Objection is one which might be labeled "the Epistemic-distance Reply." One writer who seems to advocate this line of thought is John Hick, who says the following:
What Hick may be intimating here (among other things) is that, quite apart from the fact that humans naturally want to know the truth, for God to reveal himself to them would in a way overwhelm their consciousness, as his is a nature so complex and awesome as to preclude comprehension on the part of humans. Thus, it is not that God is unwilling to make himself known to humanity, but rather that he is unable to do so.
As with the other replies to the Desirability-of-truth Objection, Hick's (and those of a similar ilk) can be quite easily rebutted, particularly within the context of Christianity. As was demonstrated in "the Scriptural Objection," God at one time frequently employed spectacular miracles so as to reveal his existence and thereby cause certain beliefs in people. That theme is especially prevalent in the Old Testament, according to which God diligently endeavored to make the Israelites aware of him as their Lord. He performed a series of miracles as he led them out of Egypt, aiding their efforts to survive in the wilderness and subsequently assisting them in battle. And yet, all of God's astonishing feats notwithstanding, not only were the Israelites less than "overwhelmed," but they deserted him soon thereafter and began worshipping other gods. Others who were less than stupefied by such supernatural events were those dwelling in the cities of Korazin, Bethsaida, and Capernaum for whom Jesus performed miracles (Matt. 11:20-23); John 12:37 describes a similar incident. And in Luke 16:31, the assertion is put forth that a man could return from the dead to tell people about the afterlife and perhaps still encounter only skepticism and mistrust.
In view of all this, it seems clear that Hick is way off the mark by suggesting that God's revealing himself to humans would necessarily cause them to be "overwhelmed." Hick apparently fails to realize the extent of some people's obstinacy. Quite contrary to what he maintains, for God to demonstrate his existence, even by means of spectacular miracles, would far from "overwhelm" them, at least insofar as the Bible is concerned. That alone is sufficient reason for Christians (who believe the Bible to accurately depict the manner in which God thinks and operates) to reject "the Epistemic-distance Reply."
As for theists in general, they would fare only slightly better in pursuing the given reply. First of all, it almost certainly presupposes a strong form of doxastic voluntarism (i.e., the theory that beliefs are often directly subject to the will, or that people often choose their beliefs), which is a highly dubious view. I shall not analyze this matter in detail because I do not wish to formulate any of the objections to FD on the basis of doxastic involuntarism. Nonetheless, it is certainly a relevant and significant challenge to "the Epistemic-distance Reply" which would deserve serious consideration if the reply in question were pressed.
Furthermore, it would hardly seem plausible to contend that God is incapable of revealing his existence without "overwhelming" humans (especially since we are, for the time being, assuming him to be omnipotent). Not even spectacular miracles of the sort described above would be necessary to accomplish the task. He could simply enable missionaries (or even just a select group of individuals) to present their case for theism so convincingly that everyone (or very nearly everyone) would eventually come to believe in him. Or perhaps he could reveal himself in something of a piecemeal fashion (so as to prevent "overwhelming" people with a single astonishing miracle), at first providing only extremely subtle evidence for his existence and gradually supplementing it until it became so clear to humanity that virtually no one would deny it. Surely any deity worth his salt could manage to devise some process by which to make himself known without paralyzing people's senses. Hence, "the Epistemic-distance Reply" appears to be a failure.
One last response to the Desirability-of-truth Objection is simply an appeal to the kind of stubbornness mentioned in connection with the "Epistemic-distance Reply." This response might be called "the Futility Reply." It is basically the argument that even if God were to reveal himself to humans (particularly nontheists), they would nonetheless refuse to believe in him through some sort of self-deception or "denial." That is, they would irrationally deny his existence no matter how obvious God rendered it and therefore his even attempting to make himself known to humans would be futile.
The most substantial problem with this idea is that it imposes a restriction upon a being whom most believe is omnipotent (as we have thus far assumed him to be). Clearly, to suggest that an all-powerful deity has no means at his disposal by which to eliminate nonbelief on the part of humans would be exceedingly difficult to defend. How could such a being not succeed in convincing people of his existence? It seems perfectly reasonable to conjecture that people would be strongly inclined to believe in him if he were to simply provide them with adequate proof that exists. Few rational nontheists, I imagine, would cling to their skepticism if God were to make his existence known through clear, objective evidence. So, the suggestion that God's revealing himself to humanity would likely be futile seems patently bogus.
In any case, what is important to remember here is that AR is not an argument which stems from God's failure to provide adequate evidence for his existence. Rather, it appeals simply to the idea that humans' being endowed with CR is exceedingly improbable given the existence of a deity who desires that humans believe in him. So even if it could be shown that such a deity may have some justification for his failure to clearly reveal himself to humans, that would in no way explain humans' being so endowed. In other words, not even a strong argument against the Desirability-of-truth Objection would cast doubt over the validity (or strength) of INF. In order to create such doubt, one would have to present some legitimate reason to believe that God not only desires to refrain from clearly revealing himself, but that he has some compelling motive for having endowed humans (or having permitted them to become endowed) with CR. Therefore, if the Desirability-of-truth Objection is itself successful, then it seems undeniable that FD is a lost cause.
5.6. The Optimum-world Objection (to FD)
In order to formulate this objection as clearly as possible, I should like to divide it into two parts. The first is directed at FD's claim that God, by endowing humans (or permitting them to be endowed) with CR, somehow made things "fair" in the realm of belief formation as regards his existence. The second pertains to two hypothetical worlds both of which, as I shall attempt to show, would be far more conducive to optimizing humans' ability to "freely" form beliefs with respect to God's existence than is the actual one (contrary to FD's implicit claim that it is ideally suited for such belief formation).
I: FD explicitly states that God endowed humans (or permitted them to be endowed) with CR in order to make things "fair" (or "level the playing field"), which presumably implies an attempt on God's part to supply humans with a means by which to rationally evaluate the evidence and/or information regarding his existence (and thereby, God hopes, embrace theism), or at least to optimize their freedom to decide for themselves whether or not he exists. This seems to entail that the evidence and/or information regarding God's existence is at least roughly balanced, i.e., that there is at least some good objective evidence for God's existence that counteracts whatever evidence might be construed in such a way as to hinder humans' acquisition or retention of theistic belief, and whereby humans might rationally infer God's existence.
However, it seems very doubtful that the evidence and/or information in question is even roughly balanced. As has been amply shown elsewhere, all of the traditional arguments for God's existence are failures. And any appeal to Scripture would be fruitless, as Theodore Drange cogently illustrates in his essay "The Argument from the Bible." (It is likely that Drange's argument would be applicable to other alleged holy books as well.) As George H. Smith has noted, "Most philosophers and theologians now concede that belief in a god must rest on faith, not on reason."
Conversely, many atheological arguments, such as the Argument from Evil, Theodore Drange's Arguments from Nonbelief and Confusion, various incompatible-properties arguments, and the Lack-of-Evidence Argument (which is based on the very assertion that there exists no good objective evidence for God's existence) have never, to my knowledge, been seriously challenged. Moreover, in addition to their being entirely unverifiable, it seems very likely that so-called "religious experiences" (or any other inherently subjective, private foundation for theistic belief) could be explained naturalistically (e.g., hallucinations, emotional stress, the consumption of mind-altering drugs, etc.).
Some might object to those claims on the grounds that they are more a matter of opinion than fact, that although I (and like-minded individuals) may believe atheological arguments to be much stronger than the theistic arguments aforementioned and that private religious experiences can be explained naturalistically, that in no way makes those statements true. They might contend that I have somehow misconstrued the available evidence and/or information regarding God's existence (whether unintentionally or deliberately, perhaps so as to accommodate some belief or desire of my own), and that such evidence and/or information really is perfectly balanced, or at least very close to it.
To such people I would reply that they are simply mistaken, perhaps because they have been misled in some way or because they fail to reason well. The truth of the matter is that there exists an extremely important distinction between the assertions put forth above and the contention that those assertions are, or probably are, inaccurate: the former are based on highly plausible, objective assessments, whereas the latter is a purely speculative (and misguided) view. That is, according to any reasonable criteria, atheological arguments are generally much more cogent than are theistic arguments: they typically appeal to some given (or at least widely accepted) datum or data, contain more readily verifiable claims, and so forth. It is because of that fact that so many philosophers embrace nontheism: the converse is entirely without merit. As George Smith has succinctly explained the matter: "Quite simply... belief in a god is unreasonable."
Likewise, it is a fact that most alleged religious experiences could be explained naturalistically, and it is very probable that they could all be so explained. People who claim to have had such experiences themselves frequently admit later that they were probably wrong in thinking those experiences genuine, and sometimes even discover precisely what induced them. Many of them who retain their theism will readily grant that they base it strictly on "faith." And even if they were to maintain that their experiences were genuine (i.e., that they have actually in some way experienced God or something supernatural), that would have no relevance for anyone else, for it could not be analyzed or assessed in the way that theistic arguments in the public arena can be. If someone asserts that he has "directly felt God's presence" (or something analogous thereto), that does nothing to support God's existence or render theism more plausible. Such claims are totally unfalsifiable and therefore vacuous, without content. They are no more helpful to a discussion of whether or not God exists than would be a statement such as, "Only need meat if the fence smokes olives," or "Fred Flinstone on the head of rabbits cooked at Stone Henge." Obviously, proclamations to that effect are hopelessly unintelligible, and as such add nothing to any discourse, whether about the matters at hand or any other.
Theodore Drange, addressing the subject of what is sometimes called the "mumbo-jumbo" theory of some forms of religious language, says the following:
The question might again be raised why faith alone cannot constitute an adequate justification for believing in God. ("Don't feelings count for anything?" a person might ask. "Doesn't the fact that I feel God exists justify my belief in him?") The answer to that question depends on the manner in which the word "justification" is defined. If by "justification" one means simply "any reason put forward for something," then certainly faith on its own would be sufficient to justify theistic belief. By the same token, then, one could justify his belief in elves by saying, "I find the notion of elves to be very pleasant and enjoy films in which little actors portray elves. Therefore, I believe in the existence of elves." Of course, that is a completely irrational justification for a belief in elves, but according to the given definition, it would suffice to justify such a belief.
However, if the word were taken in a sense which refers only to rational justifications (as I believe it is usually taken), then faith would in no way justify a belief in God or anything else. As was mentioned in section 5.4, above, there is no better reason to believe in God based on faith than there is to believe in any other mythical creature on such grounds. Any rational person would dismiss out of hand the idea of believing in fairies or leprechauns simply on the basis of faith, and he should do no differently in the case of God. In fact, the very concept of faith is in sharp opposition to a rational mindset, rendering impossible a reasonable approach to anything. For the individual who desires tenable beliefs and a view of reality unmarred by distorted perceptions and faulty logic, faith poses a serious threat indeed. Writes George H. Smith on the perils of blind acceptance:
It should be clear by now that there are much better reasons to deny God's existence (or at least suspend judgment on the matter) than to subscribe to it. As was mentioned above, no theistic argument is any good. Even a believer of the most zealous lot, I should think, would be rather reluctant to endorse any of them (assuming he is fair and rational in his assessments). And with regard to wholly subjective grounds for believing God, the above comments should render it quite evident that such grounds are either immune to a meaningful analysis or simply irrational (or both). Coupled with the force of most atheological arguments, such considerations should render it plain that the evidence and/or information regarding God's existence is, at best, substantially unbalanced, with rational justifications for nontheism far outweighing such justifications for theism.
II: I shall now propose two hypothetical worlds (or situations), both of which, I think, would be far better suited to God's putative desire to balance the evidence and/or information regarding his existence, thereby optimizing people's ability to "freely" form their beliefs in relation thereto.
The first is a world in which there exists a clear and uncontroversial balance of evidence and/or information for and against God's existence. The evidence and/or information for both sides is exactly proportional, or at least so close to being exactly proportional as to prevent any appreciable disparity. It is almost universally accepted that the evidence and/or information in question is so balanced. Virtually everyone agrees that there is just as much evidence and/or information that implies God's existence as there is evidence and/or information that implies the contrary. It is widely held by both philosophers and the general public that there exist good objective reasons for assenting to either theism or atheism, and that those reasons are so evenly matched that neither view is more tenable than the other. Noncongnitivists are a virtually nonexistent breed: practically everyone understands the relevant propositions (i.e., "God exists" and "God does not exist") and regards them as cognitively meaningful, but the data relevant thereto render theism and atheism equally plausible beliefs. In short, the "playing field" of belief formation regarding God's existence is perfectly level.
The second is a world in which there clearly and uncontroversially exists no evidence and/or information whatever regarding God's existence. It is widely held by both philosophers and the general public that there are no good objective reasons to either accept or deny the proposition "God exists." Noncognitivists are a virtually nonexistent breed: practically everyone understands the relevant propositions (i.e., "God exists" and "God does not exist") and regards them as cognitively meaningful, but there is simply no data relevant thereto (i.e., there is zero data to support either theism or atheism). There exists absolutely no evidence and/or information on which to base theistic or atheological arguments. (None of the arguments referred to in this essay even exists.) In short, the very absence of relevant data necessarily renders the "playing field" level.
It should be noted that in neither of the hypothetical worlds (or situations) just described is there any call for God to interfere with anyone's free will. No spectacular miracles would be performed. No angels would be sent to earth to convey the news of God's existence. No beliefs would be directly implanted in people's brains by God or any other supernatural being(s). In both scenarios, humans would retain just as much free will as advocates of FD presume they actually have. There would simply be either a perfect balance of evidence and/or information regarding God's existence (as in the first world) or a total lack thereof (as in the second world). Both, I submit, would offer a greater and more equitable opportunity for people to "freely" believe in God than does the actual one (i.e., the one in which we live). Both, in other words, would do a much better job of creating the level "playing field" to which FD refers.
Therefore, if FD were a correct view, then it would be reasonable to think that God, defined as being who desires belief in his existence on the part of humans, would have caused one of the two hypothetical worlds (or situations) to obtain. But, as was shown earlier, it is not the case that either of those worlds (or situations) obtains: nontheism is far more tenable than is theism. (At the very least, it is far from universally accepted that the evidence and/or information regarding God's existence is perfectly balanced or totally nonexistent; the fact that debates on that very topic occur as frequently as they do makes that abundantly clear.) Hence, FD must be an incorrect view.
6. The Testing Defense (TD)
The basic idea behind this defense is that God, although desirous of belief in his existence on the part of humans, is testing them to separate those who believe in him despite CR from those who fail to believe in him (presumably because of the given capacity). Theodore Drange discusses a similar defense by the same name in his Nonbelief & Evil (pp. 156-170) insofar as its applicability to the God of evangelical Christianity is concerned. Although the sort of deity being considered here is any who possesses the given desire (i.e., the desire humans believe in him), some of the issues therein addressed shall be relevant to the present defense.
Let us now examine four objections thereto.
6.1. The Unpopular-view Objection (to TD)
This objection is a refreshingly simple one: that God is testing people in their earthly lives to see who comes to believe in him despite the imbalance of evidence regarding his existence is not a view which seems at all popular among philosophers or theologians. So far as I know, no one in the literature has ever seriously advocated this or any analogous defense against an atheological argument which makes reference in some way or another to either said imbalance or, as in the case of AR, the very fact that humans are endowed with the CR. While this certainly does not in and of itself serve to refute TD, it nevertheless casts a decidedly inauspicious shadow over such a line of argumentation. That the defense is as deeply flawed as should be expected is precisely what I intend to show in the ensuing three objections.
6.2. The Divine-foreknowledge Objection (to TD)
The issue of God's supposed foreknowledge (or omniscience) can be raised against TD just as it was against FD. That is, if God is supposed to know everything that will ever exist or occur, then what could possibly be the purpose of his testing people to see who comes to believe in him despite CR? Obviously, assuming that God indeed possesses foreknowledge, he must know the outcome of these "tests" before they are even conducted, so why would he bother with them at all?
As indubitably cogent as this objection appears to be, Drange regards it as inadequate, saying:
I think Drange is mistaken here. If God is supposed to be omnipotent (as we are, for the time being, assuming him to be), it would be rather suspect to contend that he has at his disposal no means by which to enlighten "angels or saints" about human nature other than the tests in question. Could he not (by way of, say, divine will) simply furnish them with the knowledge necessary to comprehend how humans think and operate, thereby eliminating whatever function these so-called tests are designed to serve? And with regard to enlightening humans about their own sinful nature, how exactly is such an endeavor supposed to work? At what point are such people supposed to come to grasp their "sinfulness," and what are they then supposed to do about it? If the goal is to induce them to repent, it would doubtless be in God's interest to make them aware of what it is they are supposed to be repenting for. Most nontheists, subsequent to their abandoning theism (assuming they ever held it to begin with), probably adhere to their nonbelief for the remainder of their lives, so it could hardly be said that the sort of tests described above often aid such people in coming to realize their own ignorance regarding God's existence and consequently atoning for it.
Thus, it has not been shown that the "Divine-foreknowledge Objection" as applied to TD (or any analogous defense) is untenable, and it therefore remains a formidable obstacle for any advocate of TD who holds that God has foreknowledge.
6.3. The Inequity Objection (to TD)
In order to briefly expound this objection, I shall cite a passage from Drange's Nonbelief & Evil which succinctly illustrates the point:
Similarly, it would constitute a flagrant injustice on the part of God to punish (or exclude from any benefit[s] which theists receive) those who happen to be born into nontheistic families, viz., individuals who are generally likely to be more inclined to dismiss theism than accept it (i.e., to succumb to CR rather than resist it). In addition, millions of humans die at too young an age or are too mentally ill to be tested in the way TD suggests. That is, their belief in God (or lack thereof) could not be reliably assessed. Clearly, then, the world in which we live is far from being ideally suited for such a test, rendering its feasibility extremely doubtful. For these reasons alone, TD ought to be rejected.
6.4. The Degree Objection (to TD)
Another major problem which arises in relation to TD is the extent to which one must believe in God (despite his CR). In other words, what degree of conviction (or certainty) is necessary for one's belief to qualify as "true"? What degree is sufficient to avoid eternal damnation and/or receive whatever benefit(s) theistic belief might yield? Suppose, for example, that person X believes in God to degree A, whereas person Y believes to degree B (where B is greater than A). Both believe in God, but Y is palpably more confident in his belief than is the former. So does only Y qualify as a "true" believer, or do both? Or is it that a still greater degree of conviction (say, degree C) is required for such a qualification?
Closely related to both this matter and the issues mentioned in section 6.3, above, is the fact that some people, for various reasons, lack the intellectual capacity to properly (or fully) comprehend the proposition "God exists." It seems hopelessly unclear how such people's theism (or lack thereof) might be fairly and effectively evaluated by means of the sort of test described in TD. In his Nonbelief & Evil, Drange discusses this consideration as it relates to the God of evangelical Christianity:
He continues in the following paragraph:
Likewise, God could have simply made the evidence for his existence much stronger than it actually is, thereby greatly improving his ability to ascertain which humans are truly "stubborn" (and who therefore deserve censure of some kind). However, within the context of AR, not even that would have been necessary, for as was underscored earlier, AR is not an argument which proceeds from the lack of good objective evidence for God's existence and the resultant nonbelief in his existence on the part of some humans.
Although most dispassionate and sensible people would assuredly agree that such a lack of evidence in and of itself lends a certain degree of plausibility to nonbelief in God, AR bypasses that issue altogether and merely inquires: irrespective of the alleged evidence regarding God's existence (or nonexistence), why is it that a deity who wants humans to believe in him would endow them (or permit them to be endowed) with CR? That is, why would he give them any means by which to even doubt (for what at least seem to be good reasons) his existence, even if it should be that such means somehow lead them into error? [And even if it were really the case that CR is some way deceptive or misapplied by humans (which by any reasonable account seems enormously implausible), it would still have to be explained why God has given people so many paths, as it were, by which to arrive at the false conclusion that he is nonexistent (or at least probably nonexistent), paths that a huge cross section of philosophers and theologians, representing a vast array of outlooks and ideologies, regard as logical.]
As I hope has been made evident, AR is different from any traditional atheological argument which derives simply from the fact that there exists (or occurs) what J.L. Schellenberg calls "reasonable nonbelief" in that it entirely sidesteps the mere existence (or occurrence) of such nonbelief and goes directly to the heart of the quandary: if God were to exist and were to want humans to believe in him, then very probably people would have no way of rationally doubting his existence; yet, by merely exercising CR, people can rationally doubt his existence. And the inference to be logically drawn from that pair of facts is that probably no such deity exists.
In any case, the point remains that TD fails to show that INF is invalid (or weak) not because God has failed to provide adequate evidence for his existence (although clearly that alone suffices to show that the world is considerably ill-suited for the purpose of the sort of test described in TD), but rather, because humans are endowed with CR. If God were to exist and were to have a reason for conducting some test so as to identify those people who "willfully" refuse to believe in him, then it seems quite obvious that he would not have so endowed humans (or permitted them to be so endowed). For as we have seen, to suggest that he desires to separate from everyone else those who believe in him despite CR would be exceedingly implausible, as it would entail that God is grossly unfair, totally irrational, and without foreknowledge, none of which the vast majority of theists believe him to be. Furthermore, hardly any nontheists "willfully" refrain from believing in God, but instead do so simply because it strikes them as reasonable. Hence, TD fails.
7. The Necessary-by-product Defense (NBD)
What I shall call "the Necessary-by-product Defense" can be summarized as follows: in order for human beings to possess any capacity to reason whatever, that capacity would have to be such that it could render it difficult or impossible for at least some humans to acquire/retain theistic belief during their earthly lives. In other words, its potential to render difficult or impossible the acquisition/retention of theistic belief on the part of some humans is a kind of "necessary by-product" of any capacity to reason. Additionally, God desires that they possess such a capacity more than he desires that they possess theistic belief. Hence, INF is invalid, which makes AR unsound.
Proponents of NBD would likely also argue that there exist(s) some desirable trait(s) or feature(s) indispensable to humans' cognitive and/or moral nature, something (or some things) essential to their "humanness" which they would not possess if they were to lack CR and which God desires that they possess more than he desires that they possess theistic belief. Therefore, said proponents would probably contend, it was necessary for God to endow them (or permit them to be endowed) with CR, viz., it would have been impossible for God to have created humans (or allowed them to evolve) in such a way as to ensure that they would possess said trait(s) or feature(s) had he not both enabled them (or allowed them to become enabled) to employ the given capacity and designed it in precisely the fashion in which he actually did, with all its sundry ramifications and consequences (including, therefore, its potential to render it difficult or impossible for some humans to acquire/retain theistic belief). So conceived, the capacity would be a sort of "necessary by-product" of a certain divine goal, plan, or priority, namely, ensuring that humans come to possess the nature (or disposition, make-up, etc.) which they actually do. For this reason as well, it might be claimed, INF is invalid and thus AR is unsound.
The main problem with NBD is that it presupposes that if humans were to possess any capacity to reason whatever, then that capacity would ipso facto entail the potential to render it difficult or impossible for at least some humans to acquire/retain theistic belief, viz., that if INF were valid, then humans would have to lack a capacity to reason altogether. But it is by no means my claim that the validity of INF entails that. Rather, I submit merely that the sort of capacity to reason that humans actually possess renders highly improbable the existence of God as conceived within AR (i.e., the existence of a deity who desires theistic belief on the part of humans during their earthly lives). If it can be shown that it is, in fact, conceivable that humans should possess a capacity to reason which could not render it difficult or impossible for any (or nearly any) of them to acquire/retain theistic belief during their earthly lives, then clearly NBD is defective.
In sections 7.1-7.4, that humans could indeed possess such a capacity to reason is precisely what I shall aim to demonstrate. In section 7.5, I shall attack NBD on purely a priori grounds. And lastly, in sections 7.6 and 7.7, I shall critique the claim that there exist(s) some desirable trait(s) or feature(s) indispensable to humans' cognitive and/or moral nature, something (or some things) essential to their "humanness" which they would not possess if they were to lack CR and which God desires that they possess more than he desires that they possess theistic belief.
7.1. The Sufficient-evidence Objection (to NBD)
NBD states that in order for human beings to possess any capacity to reason whatever, that capacity would have to possess the potential to prevent or eliminate theistic belief on the part of humans during their earthly lives. But that is simply erroneous. It is perfectly conceivable that humans should possess a capacity to reason which could not render it difficult or impossible for any (or nearly any) of them to acquire/retain theistic belief during their earthly lives.
For instance, God could have provided them with evidence for theism sufficient not only to preclude them from reasoning in the direction of nontheism, but to cause all (or almost all) of them to believe in him. Such evidence could have ranged from spectacular miracles to amazing prophecies (whether contained in a holy book or simply promulgated by some select individuals) to the message of overwhelmingly convincing missionaries. It could have taken a multitude of other forms as well. In addition, being omnipotent as he is, he could have made that evidence so powerful as to preclude even the possibility of any (or nearly any) human's (even irrationally) inferring nontheism. Had God indeed done both those things (i.e., provided humans with sufficient evidence for theism and made that evidence so powerful as to preclude even the given possibility), then humans could possess a capacity to reason which could not render it difficult or impossible for any (or nearly any) of them to acquire/retain theistic belief during their earthly lives, and which could even lead to the universal (or nearly universal) acceptance of theism. Thus, NBD fails.
7.2. The Religious-experiences Objection (to NBD)
Another way in which humans could possess a capacity to reason which could not render it difficult or impossible for any (or nearly any) of them to acquire/retain theistic belief during their earthly lives is this: God could have caused all (or almost all) of them early in their lives to have religious experiences so powerful as to nullify (or "cancel out") the threat to theistic belief which their capacity to reason could have otherwise posed. That is, such religious experiences could have been so incredibly intense as to, in effect, render moot humans' capacity to reason insofar as theism is concerned. Were God to have indeed done this (i.e., caused humans early in their lives to have religious experiences so powerful as to nullify the threat to theistic belief which their capacity to reason could have otherwise posed), then humans could possess a capacity to reason which could not render it difficult or impossible for any (or nearly any) of them to acquire/retain theistic belief during their earthly lives, and which could also result in the universal (or nearly universal) acceptance of theism. Therefore, NBD can be reasonably dismissed.
7.3. The Direct-implantations Objection (to NBD)
Yet another way in which God could have brought about the situation of humans' possessing a capacity to reason which could not render it difficult or impossible for any of them to acquire/retain theistic belief during their earthly lives would have been for him to directly implant in their minds the given belief. They would thus innately possess it and would need not, to any extent whatever, exercise their capacity to reason with regard to it. In this scenario, too, humans could obviously possess a capacity to reason which could not render it difficult or impossible for any of them to acquire/retain theistic belief during their earthly lives. And the given belief would, of course, be universally held. Hence, there can be no doubt that NBD is a failure.
7.4. The Infallible-capacity-to-reason Objection (to NBD)
Finally, God could have provided everyone with an infallible capacity to reason, viz., he could have endowed humans with a capacity to reason such that humans' reasoning could not possibly err (in any matter). Along with thereby making it impossible for humans to (even irrationally) infer nontheism, such a method would have indirectly served to make humans much smarter than they are (since they would come to possess a wide range of knowledge that is presently precluded by their fallible capacity to reason), which is certainly desirable. In this way, then, God could "kill two birds with one stone" (i.e., he could eliminate whatever nonbelief results from humans' capacity to reason as well as [simultaneously] augment their knowledge, specifically, their awareness of various truths arrived at via reasoning, which would itself yield numerous benefits, e.g., a better ability to cope with evil than they presently have).
It should be noted that free will would be totally irrelevant here, as it (ordinarily) plays no role whatever in people's exercising their capacity to reason. Additionally, it would seem most odd to protest humans' being endowed with this sort of capacity to reason, since truth (to whose acquisition an infallible capacity to reason would obviously be conducive) is intrinsically desirable and also of substantial practical value (as was shown in section in 5.5, above).
For all of these reasons, NBD collapses.
7.5. The A Priori Probability Objection (to NBD)
On the basis of a priori probabilities alone, it can be shown that it is more likely than not that NBD is unsound. Viewing the matter inductively, we are confronted by a choice between two competing hypotheses. Let us call the first one "the Anti-necessary-by-product Hypothesis" and the second "the Necessary-by-product Hypothesis," or, for short, ANBH and NBH, respectively. ANBH can be formulated as a disjunction thus:
ANBH: At least one of the following disjuncts is true:
(a) there is no divine power of any sort, or
(b) there is such a power but it is not in the form of a single being, or
(c) there is such a being but it does not desire theistic belief on the part of humans, or
(d) the being does not desire theistic belief on the part of all (or almost all)humans during their earthly lives, or
(e) the being desires theistic belief on the part of all (or almost all) humans during their earthly lives but nonetheless endowed them (or permitted them to be endowed) with CR for some reason(s) other than either of those reasons which NBD suggests, i.e., some reason(s) other than:
(i) the allegedly necessary correlation between humans' possessing a capacity to reason and the possibility of at least some humans' exercising that capacity in such a way as to render it difficult or impossible for themselves to acquire/retain theistic belief during their earthly lives; and
(ii) the allegedly necessary correlation between humans' possessing CR and some supposedly desirable trait(s) or feature(s) which humans actually possess.
NBH can be formulated as a conjunction thus:
NBH: All of the following conjuncts are true:
(a) there is some sort of divine power; and
(b) that power is in the form of a single being; and
(c) that being desires theistic belief on the part of all (or almost all) humans; and
(d) that being desires theistic belief on the part of all (or almost all) humans during their earthly lives; and
(e) although that being desires theistic belief on the part of all (or almost all) humans during their earthly lives, he endowed them (or permitted them to be endowed) with CR specifically for the reasons which NBD suggests, i.e., the following reasons:
(i) his desire that humans possess a capacity to reason, which necessarily entails that they possess CR; and
(ii) his desire that humans possess some desirable trait(s) or feature(s) which they actually possess, which necessarily entails that they possess CR.
We may now formulate the following argument to show that ANBH is more likely true than NBH and thus that it is more likely than not that NBD is unsound:
(1) ANBH has a considerably higher a priori probability than does NBH.
(2) It follows from (1) that the negation of NBH is more likely true than is NBH.
(3) In order for NBD to be sound, NBH must be true.
(4) Therefore [from (2) & (3)], it is more likely than not that NBD is unsound.
And from (4) it follows that
(5) NBD can be reasonably dismissed and hence fails to show that INF is invalid (or weak).
(1) is true simply by virtue of the two hypotheses' logical structures. ANBH constitutes a disjunction that leaves open several possibilities, whereas NBH constitutes a conjunction that makes a very exact specification of the way things are. Such a conjunction has a significantly lower a priori probability than does a disjunction such as ANBH merely because of the latter's much greater specificity. Drange provides the following analogy:
It might be objected that the analogy fails since we lack access to probabilities concerning God's existence and desires (or lack thereof) and therefore have no reliable way to assess the initial probabilities of the individual disjuncts of ANBH and the individual conjuncts of NBH. Hence, the case of God's existence and desires (or lack thereof) is unlike that of the boxes, in which the initial probability that each box is empty is assumed to be one-half. But this objection fails, for even assuming that the initial probabilities of the various possible situations are unequal, we still have no way of knowing what they are. As Drange notes:
He then supplies another analogy:
This point is well taken, and it does suffice to establish the truth of (1), above. As for (2), that premise is true simply because ANBH constitutes the negation of NBH. But what about (3)? Why believe it? My answer is that NBD entails all of NBH's conjuncts (a)-(e). That is so because NBD is a defense of the claim that there exists a being who fits the description of "God" contained in AR's premise (1), i.e., a being who:
And since NBD explicitly declares that God's reasons for endowing humans (or permitting them to be endowed) with CR are his desire that humans possess a capacity to reason (which NBD mistakenly takes to necessarily entail that they possess CR) and his desire that humans possess some desirable trait(s) or feature(s) which they actually possess (which NBD takes [dubiously, as shall be shown below] to necessarily entail that they possess CR), advocates of NBD must affirm NBH's (a)-(e). It follows that premise (3), above, is true, from which, combined with the truth of (1) & (2), it indeed follows that it is more likely than not that NBD is unsound. And thus it has been shown that NBD is failure.
7.6. The Deficient-result Objection (to NBD)
The latter half of NBD proposes that there is something particularly desirable or beneficial about God's creating (or allowing to evolve) humans as he actually did. By (incorrectly) supposing that it would have been impossible for him to create (or allow to evolve) humans virtually identical (both cognitively and morally) to those who came to exist had he not caused (or permitted) them to possess CR, it further implies that he had some compelling motive for causing (or permitting) the existence of a species with some specific trait(s) or feature(s) that humans possess. But what trait(s) or feature(s) might it/they be, and what is so good about it/them?
One possible candidate for such a trait is free will (or moral freedom). But the view that humans actually possess anything like that was shown to be questionable in sections 5.1 and 5.2, above. And even if it were assumed for the sake of argument that humans really do possess free will, the idea that it somehow entails CR was decisively refuted in section 5.5, above, as was the immensely popular belief that there exists an irreconcilable conflict between humans' possession of both free will and an awareness of God's existence. It should be evident, then, that any appeal to free will in an attempt to support NBD would be no less futile than it was in the case of FD.
Another possible example of a favorable human feature would be the altruistic tendencies which many people exhibit. For instance, some people frequently donate to charities, volunteer their time at hospitals and soup kitchens, or assist people living in areas affected by natural disasters or other calamities. Such compassion is undoubtedly a feature of humans that most would consider desirable; few, I imagine, would prefer to belong to a species with a prevalent bent toward selfishness or malice.
Nevertheless, there arise major problems with this line of argumentation. First of all, what might be the correlation between CR and the benevolence to which some are given? If anything, it seems that that sort of capacity might actually impede their inclination to perform kind deeds. Some who believe that atheism or agnosticism is the most tenable belief regarding the alleged existence of a deity (or deities) might advance that belief as a justification for their lack of charity (and perhaps even cruelty) toward others. As unfortunate and misguided as such attempts assuredly are, it seems likely that those who engage in them would behave much differently if they did not take the given belief to be defensible. And clearly CR constitutes one of the primary causes of that belief. Thus, if humans did not possess CR, then one of the primary causes of nontheism would be eradicated, which would, in turn, substantially undermine what such people take to be a justification for their apathy or truculence. Ergo, the fact that humans possess CR might actually diminish their altruism (or at least not increase it). Hence, even if there were an appreciable link between that feature of humans and CR, it would seem dubious to claim that it is a desirable one.
Moreover, just as some humans are apt to perform great kindnesses, many seem more disposed to committing unspeakable atrocities. The Holocaust would be a paradigm example of the barbarity of which our species is capable. Another would be the Spanish Inquisition. (Indeed, Torquemada was alone responsible for the executions of more than two thousand people). Still other examples could be cited, including the Crusades and the various slave trades established in earlier centuries. In addition, there seems no end to the kinds of violent crimes which occur with disturbing frequency, such as murder, torture, rape, sexual molestation, cruelty to animals, and so on. Whether it be perpetrated by individuals, groups, or governments, the infliction of harm upon innocent victims is undeniably a universal occurrence. There can be little doubt that whatever the particular traits and features of our species, many of them produce situations that are far from favorable (by virtually any account). So, if God indeed intended to create (or allow to evolve) humans as he actually did for the sort of purpose proposed by the latter half of NBD (i.e., to ensure that they would possess some clearly desirable trait[s] or feature[s]), then one need only peruse a history book or a newspaper to ascertain that the result is markedly deficient.
One last possible candidate is humans' lack of credulity. Perhaps advocates of NBD would argue that CR helps people to be smarter and less gullible than they would be if they were to lack it. However, since there is no reason whatever to believe that humans would be at all obtuse or naive in any of the scenarios described in 6.71-6.74, above, such a contention seems implausible.
Hence, one of NBD's underlying assumptions having been proven dubious, the defense itself appears unsound.
7.7. The Unpopular-view and Further-Restrictions Objections (to NBD)
A final pair of objections, the first similar to the one propounded in section 6.1, above, I shall call "the Radical-view and Further-restrictions Objections." Although I believe the task of disposing of NBD has already been satisfactorily accomplished, I include these objections here simply to "seal the lid" on this third defense.
First, the basic idea behind NBD is not one which receives particularly great support from philosophers of religion or even theists in general. That God had to create the world or human beings in a certain way is a view that generally runs counter to the mainstream belief that he could have created any world or species he desired, in any way he liked, or even created nothing at all. While this no more proves NBD to be a failure than the "Unpopular-view Objection" alone refutes TD, it offers a comparably grim prognosis for the defense at hand.
Second, while the latter half of NBD (dubiously) asserts that God was restricted only insofar as humans' possessing some desirable trait(s) or feature(s) necessarily entails their possessing CR also and his desire that humans possess that/those trait(s) or feature(s) overrides his desire that they possess theistic belief (which CR can render difficult or impossible for at least some of them to acquire/retain), it seems to suggest the possibility of other restrictions as well. For instance, the same sort of reasoning of which NBD makes use might be employed in an effort to support the claim that God could not have made lions unless he had also endowed them with manes, or that he could not have created an earth without also creating one with mountains. Although obviously not even an omnipotent deity could have created the lions that actually came to exist or the earth that actually exists had he not endowed the former with manes and designed the latter such that it has mountains (since both of those actions are logically impossible), it certainly does not follow from that that he could not have created any lions without manes or any earth without mountains.
Advocates of NBD might contend that the defense restricts God only in the way described above and in no way hints at any further restrictions, but there seems reason for suspicion: if such advocates are prepared to argue that humans would not be essentially the same creatures as they actually constitute if they were to lack CR, then they may very well be prepared to argue that virtually any attribute of anything at all is somehow essential to the nature of that thing, which seems quite improbable indeed.
Moreover, there is a certain measure of unclarity surrounding the whole issue of which characteristic(s) of things (especially ones of a physical nature) ought to be classified as essential (or what scientists and philosophers call "primary"), an obscurity which would severely weaken NBD even if all of the preceding objections thereto could somehow be refuted. Numerous questions would need to be addressed, not the least of which is that of what criterion (or criteria) might be appealed to so as to determine which attribute(s) of a thing or being are indeed essential. Also, who is to formulate it? And even assuming that some criterion (or criteria) could be formulated, we would still need to know whether a thing or being could nonetheless be properly (if somewhat loosely) referred to as that thing or being if it were to lack one of those attributes. The obvious answer is "no," but if we accept that answer, then another, still more conceptually complex question emerges: what, exactly, would the thing or being become once it lacked such an attribute?
The foregoing queries introduce a kind of "slippery slope" problem for advocates of NBD, requiring that they satisfactorily answer them in order to draw a clear line beyond which the type of restrictions aforementioned, should there be any, could never extend. That is, for them to argue simply that those actions which God can perform are limited only to those which are logically possible (or conceivable) would be insufficient, for they would first need to clarify precisely what constitutes an essential attribute of a thing or being and then show how such a property might necessarily entail a particular capacity, as some essential trait(s) or feature(s) of humans, according to the latter half of NBD, necessarily entail(s) their being endowed with CR.
Together with the first six objections to NBD, these further complications make it clear that the defense should be rejected, if not on the basis that it is unsound (as it has been amply shown to be), then on the grounds that its latter half appears irretrievably nebulous.
8. The Unknown-purpose Defense (UPD)
The final challenge to INF which I shall examine is one Theodore Drange calls "the Unknown-purpose Defense." As with the "Testing Defense," above, although Drange's emphasis is on the strength of UPD as applied to the God of evangelical Christianity, some of his remarks on the subject shall be pertinent to the present defense.
UPD, tersely formulated, is as follows: God (conceived as a being who desires that humans believe in him) does have some purpose for endowing humans (or permitting them to be endowed) with CR, but it is a purpose of which we are unaware, whether it be necessarily unknowable to humans or merely unknown to them at present. (Those who subscribe to the former hypothesis would probably argue that this purpose is incomprehensible to humans, as is perhaps God himself, whereas those who think the latter to be correct would likely say that the data relevant to God is currently incomplete and therefore precludes the reliability of any judgments concerning his motives or intentions.) In short, God has some rational justification for his endowing humans (or permitting them to be endowed) with the capacity in question despite his desire that they believe in him, but exactly what it is (or even what it might be) is unclear to us.
As Drange explains the matter:
In an earlier part of his book, he expounds two different versions of UPD:
That AR fails as a conclusive proof of God's nonexistence is a point that I shall gladly concede. After all, AR is not intended to constitute such a proof. It purports merely to demonstrate that there is good reason to deny God's existence, as does Drange's Argument from Nonbelief. (However, it is unlike ANB in that it aims to show that there is good reason to deny the existence of any deity who desires that humans believe in him, regardless of whether or not that deity be one who "rules the entire universe." By contrast, ANB, even as applied to God in general, targets only a deity who possesses that property, i.e., that of ruling the entire universe.) Thus, the possibilist version of UPD is irrelevant to AR.
So, the issue here is that of which view, the relevant form of theism (i.e., the belief in a deity who desires that humans believe in him) or its denial, is the more reasonable one in light of the available evidence. The question now becomes one of probability: is it more probable that God actually has the sort of purpose described in UPD, or that no such deity exists?
In the following six sections, I shall endeavor to show why the latter is much more likely true than the former.
8.1. The Burden-of-proof Objection (to UPD)
UPD claims the existence of something, namely, that of a certain purpose which God has that adequately explains his having endowed humans (or having permitted them to become endowed) with CR. There is a methodological principle to the effect that anyone who claims the existence of something assumes the burden of proving that it exists. But UPD fails to prove that God really has such a purpose. Hence, UPD can be reasonably doubted.
Is that a sound argument? I believe so, but the matter is not quite as simple as it might appear to those who instinctively agree with it. One might attack such an argument on the basis that, while it is certainly true that advocates of UPD have a burden-of-proof they must meet, so also do advocates of AR, for it, too, puts forth a positive assertion: that if the type of deity in question (i.e., one who desires that humans believe in him) were to exist, then probably very few (if any) humans would be endowed with CR. This is a point well taken, but the obstacle it presents is only a temporary one. AR has numerous advantages that UPD lacks, which, as I intend to demonstrate, both satisfy the burden-of-proof incurred by advocates of AR and render it a far more plausible argument than UPD.
8.2. The Loving-God Objection (to UPD)
Most theists believe that God loves humanity maximally and that he desires a close, personal relationship with people. Obviously, for God to endow humans (or permit them to be endowed) with CR would create something of a barrier between him and humanity, making it unnecessarily difficult for them to know and love him. Yet, people are, in fact, generally endowed with the given capacity, and so it is unlikely that any such deity exists.
Advocates of UPD could, of course, simply accept this and contend that God does not desire any sort of intimate relationship with people. In that case, "the Loving-God Objection" would have no force whatever against UPD. However, as was indicated above, most theists do conceive of God in the given way, and for those people such an objection would pose a serious problem indeed. Therefore, those theists who view God as desiring the kind of relationship with humanity in question ought to reject UPD.
8.3. The Superior-explanation Objection (to UPD)
Advocates of AR can offer a reasonable explanation for why humans are endowed with CR: there exists no deity who desires that humans believe in him; their capacity to reason (viz., CR) is the result of either purely naturalistic causes or else some supernatural cause(s) other than a deity who desires that they possess theistic belief. Advocates of UPD, on the other hand, can explain the given fact only by appeal to a kind of "great mystery": God, who desires belief in his existence on the part of humans, has some unknown purpose for endowing them (or permitting them to be endowed) with said capacity. Clearly, the explanation proposed by advocates of AR is far simpler and much more plausible than the one proposed by advocates of UPD. Drange puts the matter this way:
As Drange has more recently commented, "Mere appeal to parsimony would dictate that we prefer the explanatory hypothesis of God's nonexistence to a story about a 'mysterious God' which leaves the relevant facts totally unexplained."
There can be no doubt, then, that AR makes possible an explanation for the given fact far superior to that which UPD does. Hence, UPD can be reasonably dismissed.
8.4. The A Priori Probability Objection (to UPD)
As in the case of NBD, here again, against UPD, we can advance an objection which appeals simply to a priori probabilities. Let us consider the two relevant hypotheses, the first of which we may call "the Anti-unknown-purpose Hypothesis" and the second "the Unknown-purpose Hypothesis," or, for short, AUPH and UPH, respectively:
AUPH: At least one of the following disjuncts is true:
(a) there is no divine power of any sort, or
(b) there is such a power but it is not in the form of a single being, or
(c) there is such a being but it does not desire theistic belief on the part of humans, or
(d) the being does not desire theistic belief on the part of all (or almost all) humans during their earthly lives, or
(e) the being desires theistic belief on the part of all (or almost all) humans during their earthly lives but nonetheless endowed them (or permitted them to be endowed) with CR for some purpose(s) which is/are known (or knowable) to at least one human, viz., some purpose(s) other than the purpose which UPD posits.
UPH: All of the following conjuncts are true:
(a) there is some sort of divine power; and
(b) that power is in the form of a single being; and
(c) that being desires theistic belief on the part of all (or almost all) humans; and
(d) that being desires theistic belief on the part of all (or almost all) humans during their earthly lives; and
(e) although that being desires theistic belief on the part of all (or almost all) humans during their earthly lives, he endowed them (or permitted them to be endowed) with CR for some purpose unknown (or unknowable) to any human.
We may now formulate the following argument to show that AUPH is more likely true than UPH and thus that it is more likely than not that UPD is unsound:
(1) AUPH has a considerably higher a priori probability than does UPH.
(2) It follows from (1) that the negation of UPH is more likely true than is UPH.
(3) In order for UPD to be sound, UPH must be true.
(4) Therefore [from (2) & (3)], it is more likely than not that UPD is unsound.
And from (4) it follows that
(5) UPD can be reasonably dismissed and hence fails to show that INF is invalid (or weak).
Together with "the Superior-explanation Objection," this further objection should suffice to show that UPD ought to be rejected.
8.5. The Omnipotence Objection (to UPD)
This objection addresses the idea that the unknown purpose in question is (or may be) beyond humans' ken. Such a view seems common among theists who advocate some version of UPD, even if they do not refer to it by that name. This fact is evidenced by John Hick's suggestion (cited in section 5.5, above) that a divine being and his purposes would probably "overwhelm" humans' consciousness.
An obvious problem with that suggestion is that God, being omnipotent (as we have thus far assumed him to be), should have no trouble devising some method by which to enable humans to comprehend the purpose at hand, i.e., his purpose for endowing humans (or permitting them to be endowed) with CR. There are a number of ways in which he could go about undertaking that task. Drange describes one such method which would be particularly effective:
Indeed, the contention that God has some (other) unknown purpose for not revealing the original purpose only deepens the "great mystery" mentioned above, compounding the dilemma to such a great extent that UPD becomes exceedingly difficult to defend, if not altogether untenable. Hence, if God is indeed omnipotent, then UPD is almost certainly unsound.
8.6. The Reasonableness Objection (to UPD)
A final objection to UPD is what I shall call "the Reasonableness Objection." It is a kind of agglomeration of "the Superior-explanation" and "the A Priori Probability" objections, above, serving to emphasize the underlying distinction between AUPH and UPH: the former is a far more reasonable hypothesis than is the latter, as should be overwhelmingly evident by now. But perhaps that distinction has eluded some readers despite what has already been said. If so, then some remarks offered by Drange should help to clarify it:
Similarly, the hypothesis that God has some unknown purpose for having endowed humans (or having permitted them to become endowed) with CR makes it impossible to falsify the kind of theism to which advocates of that hypothesis hold, for no matter how obvious it might seem that a deity who desires that humans believe in him would not allow them to be so endowed, those advocates could simply respond by saying, "Well, he has some justification for having done it, no matter how elusive that justification might be and how counterintuitive it might seem that he should have done so." Without even a shred of good evidence for God's existence, there is no reason whatever to regard UPD as any more plausible than the (obviously absurd) conspiracy theory which Drange's Mr. X espouses. Therefore, UPH is not only much less likely true than is AUPH, but it is actually quite ridiculous.
Clearly, then, advocates of AR have provided a sufficient case for their assertion that probably any deity who desires belief in his existence on the part of humans would not have endowed them (or have permitted them to become endowed) with CR, thereby satisfying the burden-of-proof mentioned above. But advocates of UPD have not as yet satisfied the burden-of-proof that they face. Accordingly, I conclude that UPD fails.
9. Challenges to Premise (C)
The foregoing defenses were theistic attempts of various kinds to show that INF is invalid (or weak), ways in which theists might try to justify humans' being endowed with CR. As we have seen, all of those defenses are failures.
That brings us to a pair of defenses against AR of a different sort, one whose aim is almost the reverse of those defenses that we have thus far examined. That pair consists of defenses, radically disparate in their two lines of attack, which seek to undermine AR's premise (C). That is, rather than attempt to justify humans' being endowed with the given capacity, these defenses endeavor to refute AR on the grounds that either that capacity is irrelevant to the issue of God's existence or else that it cannot, in fact, render it difficult or impossible for anyone to acquire/retain theistic belief during his/her earthly life.
The first of the defenses, which I shall dub "the Misapplication-of-reason Defense" (hereafter abbreviated MRD), pursues the former grounds, arguing that humans misapply reason when evaluating the evidence and/or information regarding God's existence. In other words, when it comes to speculating about the existence of such a being, it is wrongheaded to employ reason at all, for God is "beyond" reason, either necessarily (viz., by his very nature) or else because humans are not as yet sufficiently intellectually advanced to properly apply such a tool to a deity, i.e., they do not as yet possess an adequate knowledge of their own species and its relationship with the cosmos, of how, in short, everything is ultimately set up. An advocate of MRD would probably make the claim that God is an incomprehensible being who not only "transcends" reason but who can be known to exist only by way of faith, and thus that all atheological arguments are hopelessly misguided and totally irrelevant to the issue of God's existence, from which it would follow, of course, that AR's premise (C) is itself irrelevant to that issue and hence that the argument is just "whistling in the wind."
The second challenge to AR's premise (C), which pursues the latter grounds, is one I shall call "the Illusion Defense" (hereafter abbreviated ID). The basic idea behind it is that reason is simply a kind of "illusion," that it has no real bearing on our coming to know the truth about anything and thus that most humans somehow misperceive its true nature. According to ID, we are mistaken in thinking that reason serves any useful purpose, irrespective of how much it might appear to. In truth, it is dangerous and deceptive, seemingly of value only because our limited, finite minds are incapable of penetrating the sophisticated mask behind which its actual (phony) nature lies. Hence, since AR's premise (C) entails that at least some humans possess a capacity to reason which could be exercised in such a way as to have some bearing on a certain belief (i.e., theism), that premise is false, which makes AR unsound.
Before getting into my objections to those defenses, let us first consider the premise in question on its own merits. What reason is there to believe it? I would say that since it is a largely empirical claim, it requires little more than empirical evidence to back it up. Consider, for instance, the following statistics. According to Adherents.com (the most up-to-date and second most frequently visited general religion site on the Internet), as of January 28, 2001 there were 240,310,000 self-described atheists in the world and another 609,690,000 people who described themselves as "secular, nonreligious, or agnostic." And according to Joanne O'Brien and Martin Palmer's The State of Religion Atlas, published in 1993, "Over 20 percent of the world's population does not claim any allegiance to a religion. Most are agnostics. Others are atheists, who deny the existence of God." At that time, twenty percent of the world's population constituted roughly 1.2 billion people. Furthermore, if we include adherents of non-Western religions and philosophies such as Buddhism, Hinduism, Taoism, and Confucianism (none of which posits the existence of God as conceived within the context of AR), then the combined total of humans who lack theistic belief (as defined in section 3, above) can be conservatively estimated at well over two billion. And let us not forget about the vast number of minor religions (e.g., Jainism) whose members also, by and large, lack the given belief. Such persons alone comprise tens of millions of people. In light of such data, it is clear that there is no shortage of nontheists on our planet today.
However, AR's premise (C) claims more than simply that there presently exists a relatively large number of nontheists. What it claims, in effect, is that it those nontheists' exercising their capacity to reason (viz., CR) which has rendered it difficult or impossible for them to acquire/retain theistic belief. Thus, what is needed here is some justification for supposing that at least a sizable portion of those people have arrived at their nonbelief via the given method, as opposed to merely adopting that view "by default" (i.e., by some means other than inferring it on the basis of evidence or experience, e.g., parental conditioning).
I would say that there are at least three good reasons for supposing that. First of all, it seems prima facie rather likely that at least, say, one-third to one-half of the people at issue have arrived at their nonbelief by way of exercising their capacity to reason to at least some extent, however limited in scope, duration, and intellectual rigor that exercise might have been. That is, it seems quite absurd to think that as many as nearly seven out of ten such people, if asked why they lack theistic belief, would simply shrug their shoulders and offer nothing more than blank stares of bewilderment. We should certainly expect that most of them would at least reply with something to the effect, "Well, I've never seen any good evidence for God's existence, so it seems reasonable enough to withhold from assenting to theism." Such a response would be quite elementary, to be sure, but that in no way whatever detracts from its having proceeded from the respondents' exercising their capacity to reason. Indeed, the very chain of reasoning (or steps in the process) whereby, if only on a dimly conscious level, they have reached the conclusion that nontheism is more tenable than the converse could be easily translated into a syllogism, as follows:
(1) If there is no good evidence for God's existence, then it is reasonable to withhold from assenting to theism.
(2) There is no good evidence for God's existence.
(3) Therefore [from (1) & (2) by modus ponens], it is reasonable to withhold from assenting to theism.
The point here is that people are generally rational creatures (or at least attempt to be rational creatures) insofar as their beliefs are concerned; they do not typically just "choose" their beliefs at random. Put another way, they are usually able to supply at least some grounds for believing what they do, even if those grounds should be somehow spurious. Moreover, whether or not nontheists have reasoned well in the process of arriving at their nonbelief is wholly immaterial to AR. All that is needed for its premise (C) to be true (and thus for the argument to go through) is for a relatively substantial number of them to have exercised their capacity to reason in such a way that it has rendered it difficult or impossible for them to acquire/retain theistic belief. Therefore, even assuming that only a negligible five percent of the nontheists alive today have exercised their capacity to reason in the given way, that would still yield roughly two hundred million humans for whom CR has rendered the acquisition/retention of theistic belief difficult or impossible.
Second, I myself know dozens of nontheists, none of whom, if pressed, neither could nor would attempt to support their nonbelief by appeal to reason. It seems that the heretics of the world for the most part possess at least some measure of interest in the issues relevant to their nonbelief and feel compelled to offer at least some reason(s) for adhering to it. I would attribute that to the fact that most people are raised in religious families and, consequently, they do ordinarily arrive at their skepticism "by default," viz., they give said issues considerable thought and, after a usually fairly lengthy period of deliberation, reach the conclusion that what they were taught as children is replete with dubious presuppositions, patent and frequently vile falsehoods, and even outright absurdities, and often times reflects a very poor understanding and/or application of science and logic. Thus, they adopt nonbelief not as a result of mere ignorance or indifference, but rather, as a result of at least somewhat careful and sustained contemplation. At least, that was certainly true in my case and the case of the numerous nontheists with whom I am acquainted, and it has also been true in the case of thousands of atheologians and other well-known nontheists throughout the ages. So, it seems quite plausible to suppose that likely it is true in the case of most nontheists.
Finally, consider the following responses to a recent survey in which nearly 2,000 American nontheists were asked to explain their reasons for withholding assent to the claim that God exists:
Given all this, I should think it quite safe to conclude that AR's premise (C) has been adequately supported. Let us now turn to my objections to MRD and ID.
9.1. The Misapplication-of-reason Defense (MRD)
There are at least three substantial objections which could be raised against MRD. First, quite simply, what grounds have we for supposing that humans in any way misapply reason when evaluating the evidence and/or information regarding God's existence? Similarly, what grounds might we have for supposing that God is somehow "exempt" from the application of reason altogether? If God is indeed responsible for the existence of the world and its human inhabitants (whether directly or indirectly), then he must also be responsible for the various capacities that are within their power to employ. Hence, God must be ultimately responsible for humans' possession (and exercise) of their capacity to reason, from which it is surely legitimate to infer that their possession (and exercise) of that capacity ought to be compatible with his existence. But, as we have seen, the possession (and exercise) of that capacity seems quite obviously incompatible with his existence, which brings us right back to AR. And as the argument aims to demonstrate, that very incompatibility provides good evidence for the nonexistence of God (defined as a being who desires that humans believe in him).
Second, it would be erroneous to claim that theists have traditionally attempted to support their belief in God strictly by appeal to faith. On the contrary, many theistic philosophers and theologians have endeavored down through the centuries to prove God's existence strictly by appeal to reason. Anselm's Ontological Argument is a perfect example of such an attempt. Other rational attempts to confirm God's existence include virtually all of those arguments which proceed, in one way or another, from natural theology. All the traditional theistic arguments (e.g., the Cosmological, Teleological, etc.) constitute such efforts. It seems, then, that many theists throughout history have not taken God to be "beyond" reason (as MRD claims), trying, in fact, to demonstrate his existence by employing that very tool. Furthermore, I doubt that most theists in the world today would deny that any knowledge of God can be obtained by means of rational deliberation and observation. Such a hypothesis receives strong support from some of the remarks commonly made by those who profess a belief in the existence of a supreme being. For instance, many such people often make the claim that the "rational and orderly" nature of the universe provides good evidence for an intelligent designer (whom they call "God") and sometimes assert that "nothing could exist unless God were to exist" (or something to that effect). Whether misguided or not, those views make it plain that at least some theists would disagree with the idea that God's existence can be ascertained solely through faith. Ergo, even some theists would have to reject MRD, a fact which significantly weakens it.
Third, and most important, as was pointed out in section 6.4, above, even assuming that God were to somehow "transcend" reason, advocates of MRD (or any analogous defense) would still need to explain why people are able to so drastically misapply that tool to the matter of God's existence. In other words, even assuming that humans do misapply reason in the given way, why would God allow that to happen? Why would he allow them to so frequently arrive at false conclusions by improperly employing their capacity to reason? Certainly that does not seem like something one would expect from a deity who desires that humans believe in him. (I should like to remind the reader that appealing in any way to humans' free will in an attempt to defend MRD [or any analogous defense] would be ill-advised in light of the potent objections to FD, above.)
For all of these reasons, MRD fails to cast any reasonable doubt over the truth of AR's premise (C), which thus remains intact.
9.2. The Illusion Defense (ID)
ID denies AR's premise (C) on the basis that reason is merely an "illusion." No matter what it might seem to reveal about reality, in fact it reveals nothing, as it is deceptive and misleading, the unfortunate product of fallible human minds.
What is one to say of such a hypothesis? For one thing, it is totally groundless. There is no justification whatever for thinking that reason is anything like an "illusion." In that way, the hypothesis at hand is no more plausible than, say, subjective idealism: the view that nothing exists apart from some perceiver's awareness of it. Another defect of it is that it is totally unfalsifiable, just like UPH, the hypothesis that there exist pink unicorns, and the notion that Cartesian demons are real entities. It is also more complicated than the commonsensical view that reason is precisely what it seems: an invaluable aid to critical thinking. Furthermore, if reason really were but an "illusion," then how could the advocate of ID possibly know that? Does he have some sort of privileged access to the truth, access which no one else has? And finally, anyone brave (and foolish) enough to seriously advocate ID would be just as susceptible as advocates of MRD to the onus of having to account for why God, who desires that humans believe in him, has allowed them to be so untowardly duped by the "sophisticated mask" of reason. It follows that, like all of the theistic defenses against AR which went before it, ID is irreparably flawed.
10. The Omnipotence Question
Now that all of the defenses against AR have been refuted, it shall be worthwhile to consider the property of omnipotence as it relates to the argument at hand. As was mentioned in section 5.1, above, it is debatable whether or not AR relies for its soundness upon the assumption that God is all-powerful. Throughout the present essay, I have operated under that assumption, partly to avoid confusion but mostly because, as was also stated earlier, the vast majority of theists view God as being (among other things) omnipotent. As the reader has likely already ascertained, the phrase "endowed humans (or permitted them to be endowed)," which I have repeatedly used herein, could not be properly applied to a deity incapable of even preventing that endowment. So the question might be raised: does AR, in fact, presuppose the omnipotence of the deity to which it is applied?
I am inclined to think not. My reason for this is simple: for God to be able to prevent humans from being endowed with CR in no way necessarily entails an ability to do everything else that is logically possible (or conceivable), which is, of course, required by omnipotence. It could simply be that God is able to create anything he wishes (and however he wishes) but lacks the ability to perform more difficult and complex actions (whatever they might be). Or perhaps God is not directly responsible for the existence of the universe as it is presently constituted (and therefore not responsible for humans as they are presently constituted) but is nonetheless able to modify the nature or condition of anything (or any being) therein. Even that would serve to make AR sound, for if God, who desires that humans believe in him, could have at least prevented them from being endowed with the given capacity (or could eliminate that capacity at any time), then the problem of why humans are so endowed remains a formidable one for the theist.
That having been said, AR no doubt requires that God possess a substantial amount of power, whatever degree or amount the ability in question (i.e., the ability to modify anything or any being within the universe) necessitates. It would be impossible, obviously, to determine that degree or amount (even if we were somehow able to quantitatively measure "power," we would have no data regarding the degree or amount needed for the given ability), but for our purposes it shall suffice to say simply that if God possesses X amount of power (where X is sufficient for said ability), then AR is sound. And without even ascertaining what X is, it seems reasonable to suppose that virtually all theists believe God to possess it. Thus, AR presents a serious challenge to virtually all theists.
11. Closing Remarks
As I hope to have shown, AR is a strong evidential argument for the nonexistence of any deity reputed to desire that humans believe in him. Such a deity, of course, is precisely the sort of god in whom most theists profess a belief. And many such theists ascribe to God a number of properties in addition to that desire, particularly those of foreknowledge and a disposition inconsistent with secrecy and remoteness. When God is conceived as possessing those additional properties, I would say that the strength of AR as applied to his alleged existence increases significantly. The reason for that is because each of the given properties weakens one or more of the defenses against AR. Divine foreknowledge weakens both FD and TD, and the type of disposition in question weakens UPD. Therefore, assuming that AR's conclusion has an initial probability of fifty percent and that the argument confers upon it a further probability of even thirty to forty percent, when both of the additional properties described above are included in the concept of God to which AR is applied, it seems reasonable to suppose that its conclusion's probability is very close to one hundred percent, thus rendering it a virtually conclusive proof.
However, I think such numerical assessments are misguided in the context of evaluating philosophical arguments. I offer such an assessment merely to furnish the reader with a more concrete grasp of AR's cogency, and so certainly it may be taken "with a grain of salt." Suffice it to say that AR constitutes just what has been claimed: a forceful attack on the world's most popular form of theism.
 According to the 2001 World Almanac, Christians, Jews, and Muslims comprise fifty-one percent of the world's population (or roughly three billion people). At least another seventeen percent (just over a billion people) consists of nontheists. Therefore, at least sixty-one percent of theists are of the sort in question, and since an abundance of theists professing no particular religion view God in a similar way, the figure is probably around eighty or eighty-five percent.
 The definition of "God" supplied in premise (A) can be regarded as a kind of stipulative definition of the term. It may be taken to mean that God, if he were to exist, would among other things possess the desire in question. So long as theists acknowledge that God has that desire, AR is applicable to their theism. With respect to those (rare) theists who are inclined to deny that God possesses that desire, AR is inapplicable to their type of theism.
 Pascal Bercker, "[God] hell for unbelievers?- a presupposition?," p. 1. Bercker can be reached at email removed.
 It should be noted that the term "free will" normally refers only to actions. However, in the present essay it shall be taken in a sense which encompasses both actions and beliefs, if such a concept is even coherent. I myself am inclined to believe that it is not, but for the sake of argument, I shall simply allow that it might be and attack FD without pursuing the issue of how free will might bear on belief formation, if at all. In other words, rather than attack the defense in question on the basis of doxastic involuntarism (i.e., the view, to which I am highly sympathetic, that beliefs are in no way subject to the will), I shall assume that a reasonable case for doxastic voluntarism could be constructed and attack FD, instead, on separate grounds. What is important to remember here is that even if advocates of FD could somehow prove that humans possess free will with regard to actions (a prospect which seems quite improbable), they would still be faced with the formidable challenge of demonstrating that free will extends to beliefs. Unless they were able to accomplish that, FD would remain untenable, irrespective of the strength of any of my six objections thereto.
 This definition I respectfully borrow from Theodore M. Drange's Some Essays and Outlines (1998).
 Drange, Nonbelief & Evil: Two Arguments for the Nonexistence of God (Amherst, N.Y.: Prometheus Books, 1998), pp. 320-21.
 The biblical passages herein cited are as they appear in the New International Version of the Bible, and are discussed in Theodore M. Drange's Nonbelief & Evil, p. 134.
 Exod. 6:6-7, 7:17, 8:10,22, 9:14,29, 11:7, 14:4,17-18, 16:6,8,12. See also Ps. 77:14, 106:8.
 John 9:3-32, 10:37-38, 14:11.
 See also Acts 3:6-18, 5:12-16, 9:33-42, 13:7-12, 14:1-11, 28:3-6.
 Those who would challenge this statement (i.e., those who believe that there does exist good evidence for God's existence) are urged to read on to the "Optimum-world Objection."
 Drange, Nonbelief & Evil: Two Arguments for the Nonexistence of God (Amherst, N.Y.: Prometheus Books, 1998), pp. 122-123.
 Assuming, of course, that the type of deity in question were benevolent. However, even if that deity were not particularly loving, that would in no way necessarily bear on his desire that humans believe in him, for a deity could be omnimalevolent and still want people to believe in him. So how God's personality is conceived, though certainly relevant to this particular point, would be immaterial to the objection as a whole (so long as he possesses the given desire).
 In 2001 (according to the World Almanac for that year), Christians accounted for approximately thirty-one percent of the world's total population.
 For instance, providing manna from the sky (Exod. 16:11-18,31-35; Num. 11:9; Deut. 8:16), quail by the millions (Num. 11:31-32), water out of a rock (Exod. 17:6; Num. 20:8-11; Deut. 8:15), and leading people as a pillar of cloud by day and as a pillar of fire by night (Exod. 13:21-22; Num. 14:14).
 Drange, "The Argument from the Bible" (URL:http://www.infidels.org/library/modern/theodore_drange/bible.html).
 Ibid., p. 63.
 Drange, Nonbelief & Evil: Two Arguments for the Nonexistence of God (Amherst, N.Y.: Prometheus Books, 1998), p. 88.
 Drange, p. 156.
 Ibid., p. 157.
 Ibid., p. 125. See also pp. 329-349.
 Ibid., p. 165.
 Drange's abbreviation for "The Testing Defense Applied to ANB."
 Ibid., p. 166.
 See section 9.1, above.
 This theory vaguely resembles the hypothesis (decisively refuted by Schellenberg in his book) that God, by remaining hidden from humanity, indirectly brought about the existence of those people who actually exist, and God wanted specifically those people to exist.
 Drange, p. 213.
 Ibid., pp. 213-14.
 One final objection to NBD is that it is not so very clear that humans' possessing a capacity to reason is preferable to their not possessing such a capacity at all. There are some good grounds for supposing that God might have desired, instead, to simply create (or allow to evolve) humans such that they would lack a capacity to reason but possess incredibly acute powers of intuition and perhaps acquire all knowledge via some sort of psychic (or telepathic) abilities, thus eliminating their need to reason about anything whatever. The most obvious of those grounds is that his so creating (or allowing to evolve) humans would have prevented whatever nonbelief has resulted from their exercising their capacity to reason. Another is that God himself is supposed to possess knowledge by virtue of some means akin to telepathy and it is often claimed by theists that God "created us in his image." Why, then, did he endow us with a faculty he himself presumably lacks, i.e., that of reason?
 Drange, p. 278.
 Ibid., p. 198.
 See Drange, p. 270.
 Ibid., 215.
 Drange remarked thus in his 1999 Internet debate with Pastor Douglas Wilson. That debate is located on the Secular Web at (URL:http//www.infidels.org/library/modern/theodore_drange).
 Ibid., p. 206.
 Ibid., p. 206-207.
 See (URL:http://www.adherents.com).
 Joanne O'Brien and Martin Palmer, The State of Religion Atlas (New York, N.Y.: Simon & Schuster, 1993), p. 41.
 Consider, for example, Thomas Paine, Voltaire, Robert Ingersoll, Mark Twain, Bertrand Russell, Kurt Vonnegut, Madalyn Murray O'Hair, Carl Sagan, etc.
 Michael Shermer, How We Believe: The Search for God in an Age of Science (New York, N.Y.: W.H. Freeman and Company, 2000), pp. 245, 243.
Steven J. Conifer can be contacted at <email removed>.
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