Theodore M. Drange
In my opening statement I presented two arguments for the nonexistence of the Christian God. They were the Argument from Nonbelief (ANB) and the Argument from Confusion (AC). Pastor Wilson attacked them in his first rebuttal, I defended them in my second, and then he raised some further criticisms in his third. I shall now bring my side of this debate to a close by showing how Wilson's further criticisms are weak and miss their mark.
The premise of ANB that Wilson rejects is the one which says that the God of Christianity (if he were to exist) would have caused universal (or near universal) belief in the gospel message (among people prior to their physical death). Wilson says that isn't so. One would expect him to then say why it isn't so or what God really does want instead of getting people to believe the gospel message. However, Wilson never does tell us that! He hints that there is some refutation of ANB contained within the Calvinist literature (Calvinism being, to him, the "historic Protestant church"), but he never does tell us what it is. He only refers repeatedly to my "ignorance of the refutation."
Instead of explaining why he rejects the given premise of ANB, Pastor Wilson charges me with being "unaware of the basic issues involved in this particular debate." "How so?" we would like to know. No answer is forthcoming. This charge against me is repeated in various forms: my "understanding of Scripture is superficial," I am "ignorant of centuries of biblical scholarship," etc. Such name-calling continues with no examples given and no reasons supplied.
Even if it were true that I am "ignorant of biblical scholarship," what has that to do with refuting ANB? Wilson suggests that ANB contains the assumption "God loves you and has a wonderful plan for your life." But where he got that assumption we haven't a clue. It is not contained in ANB or in anything I said about ANB. The point behind getting people to be aware of the truth of the gospel message is not that it is part of any "wonderful plan for their life" but that they need to be in a situation where they can make a meaningful choice between following Christ and not following Christ. It was presumably to get people into such a situation that Jesus came to testify to the truth and issued the Great Commission to his disciples. We really do want to know from Wilson how people are supposed to make a "decision for Christ" (as Billy Graham calls it) if they are ignorant of the truth of the gospel message. The very fact that there are billions of such ignorant people seems to count against the existence of the Christian God.
Pastor Wilson still has not adequately explained why every translation of I Tim. 2:4 has "God wants all men to come to the truth" rather than (his preferred) "God wants all kinds of men to come to the truth." Also, a loving God, which the Christian God is supposed to be, would surely want all of his creatures, not just some of them, to have what they need, which would include being aware of the ultimate truth. Further support for the premises of ANB was provided in my opening statement, and there is still more on the topic elsewhere.
Pastor Wilson says the following:
God wants His elect to be saved, and the elect are called out of every tribe, nation, language, and people. ... A man who will be called tomorrow is a non-Christian today, but was elect from before the foundation of the world.
I find this predestination idea to be quite remarkable and I raised questions about it in my second rebuttal. How is it, for example, if the elect are called out of every nation, etc., that there are so many of them in North America, say, and so few of them (proportionately speaking) in Asia and Africa? Why were so many in those places "passed by for salvation" (to use Wilson's expression)? Does God have something against those geographical locations? Wilson gives no reply except to say, "there is no real need to chase all these answers down." And why is there no need? He says it is because I am ignorant of biblical scholarship, unaware of the basic issues, etc. As usual, no real answer is forthcoming.
Another question is how people's free will (if there is such a thing) could possibly be relevant to their salvation, seeing as their salvation is already predestined "from before the foundation of the world." In my second rebuttal I raised many such questions about Calvinism and how it is supposed to deal with ANB. None of them were answered. One of Wilson's "mere assertions" is that there is some refutation of ANB out there, and the "historic Protestant church" has had it for centuries. Never mind what the refutation is. There is no need to "chase that down," seeing that I am ignorant of all that stuff. Unfortunately, that is pretty much all that Pastor Wilson managed to come up with regarding ANB. It is a rather disappointing show. The argument stands unscathed and even untouched.
According to the Argument from Confusion (AC), there are facts about our world which are very hard to explain on the assumption that the Christian God exists. One of them is the fact that there are deep divergences among different Christian groups regarding important matters of doctrine (such as, among others, the status of Jesus, God's rules of morality, and the requirements for salvation). Another is the fact that the Bible contains much unclarity, and even inconsistency, regarding such matters. If the Christian God were to exist, then one would expect that he would have done something to prevent such divergences among his own people and such unclarity in his written revelation to them.
Pastor Wilson says the problem is not with God but with "the myopia of sinful men." But when we examine the divergences among Christians, we do not find that they can be explained by appeal to the sinfulness of either side in any of the disputes. For example, it does not seem that the split between Catholics and Protestants can be explained that way. And when we examine the unclarity of the Bible, we do not find that sinfulness has anything to do with it. On the contrary, it becomes quite evident that certain critical passages could have been written much more clearly and in a way which would prevent conflicting reasonable interpretations from being given to them.
Pastor Wilson also suggests that God does not care much about the disagreements and the biblical unclarity because it will all get straightened out in the afterlife. One objection to this which I expressed in my second rebuttal is that it seems to belittle our earthly existence, for it suggests that it is not important enough for Christians to have the truth (about, e.g., the status of Jesus, the rules of morality, or the requirements for salvation) during their earthly existence for God to have done anything to guarantee that they have the truth. Wilson's reply is that when people get to the afterlife, they will come to "see things in perspective," which is not the same thing as belittling the earthly life. I agree that those two things are not the same, but they are nevertheless compatible. Even if things are "seen in perspective" later on, the earthly life of Christians is still belittled if God does not regard it important enough to secure for them there the truth about doctrinal issues.
A closely related objection harks back to a point made above: that (according to Scripture) God sent his son to earth to testify to the truth and Jesus sent out his disciples to spread the truth to all nations. Those actions would not have been performed if God were not greatly concerned about Christians receiving the truth in their earthly life. So, Wilson still has no adequate explanation for why those actions were performed or for why God has permitted Christians on earth to be so divided and the Bible to be so unclear.
In the end, Pastor Wilson reverts to God's incomprehensibility. He quotes Scripture: "The secret things belong unto the Lord our God" and he writes, "If confusions exist among God's people, then it is because He has a good reason for decreeing that this come about." Such an appeal might be of value if one were already to have a strong argument for God's existence. Given that God exists, one could reasonably say that God must have some unknown reasons for permitting such-and-such. But Wilson does not have any such strong argument. In fact, as I showed in my third rebuttal, he does not have any argument whatever for God's existence! It follows that his Unknown-purpose Defense is pitifully weak and out of place. 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.
Consider now the matter of biblical contradictions regarding salvation. I alluded to a person who believes in God's son but who has not repented his sins. I pointed out that some biblical passages say such a person will be saved whereas other passages say he won't be. Wilson's reply is that there can't be such a person because "true believing always includes repentance." That is simply false. A person could be, for example, a universalist, declaring that God's son atoned for everybody's sins and so there is no need for repentance. Note that the truth of universalism is not at issue here. The point is that there could be such a person. He strongly believes in God's son (even ascribing to the son's atonement greater efficacy than Wilson himself would grant), and yet he has not repented his own sins, assuming that it is not needed. Is such a person saved or not? Some biblical passages say yes while others say no.
I gave other examples of biblical contradictions regarding salvation, none of which were adequately dealt with by Wilson. He simply alludes to the need to interpret some biblical passages "poetically" rather than literally. That won't do at all, for the main problem here is that of biblical clarity regarding doctrinal issues. One cannot defend biblical clarity by declaring that some passages (who knows which ones?) are to be taken in some non-literal way (who knows exactly how?). Such unclarity is an unholy mess which the God of the Bible could not have permitted, were he to exist. Maybe some other deity, one who does not care about humans having the truth, could permit his revelation to be like that. But certainly that would exclude the God of Christianity.
If the Christian God were to exist, not only would his written revelation be expected to be perfectly clear (at least regarding important matters of doctrine), but it would also be expected that the original manuscripts be preserved rather than lost, that copies of those manuscripts would all be alike, and that there would be a definite canon of books universally accepted as God's revelation. In our world, none of this is so! Hence, the facts regarding the Bible are actually good evidence for the nonexistence of the sort of deity that the Christian God is supposed to be. Pastor Wilson has not explained any of these anomalies. He has forsaken explanation and has instead merely appealed to "God's mystery." For the reader who is not already part of Wilson's "choir," that sort of move will be seen to be out of place in rational debate.
At the end of his third rebuttal, Pastor Wilson again appeals to his Transcendental Non-argument for God (TNAG), making some more of his "mere assertions," for example, that if I do not provide "an argument for the existence of logic and rationality," then I lose the debate. As usual, he gives no reason whatever to believe this. Perhaps what he means here is not an argument but an explanation, for we certainly do not need to have the existence of logic and rationality proved, as if it were in doubt. But what would an explanation of logic and rationality have to do with the existence of the Christian God? This seems to be an attempt to smuggle ART back into the discussion, but that sort of reasoning was refuted in my first rebuttal.
The only way for me to have "lost the debate" would be for me to have put forward arguments that Wilson has refuted and for Wilson to have put forward an argument that I failed to refute. But neither of those events occurred. Instead of refuting ANB and AC, or explaining any of the facts that needed to be explained, Wilson merely reverted to appeals to "God's mystery." And instead of putting forward an argument for God's existence, he refused to do that. Preaching to his "choir," he said that we must simply presuppose that the Christian God exists, not try to argue for it. If anyone has lost the debate by default, it seems to have been Pastor Wilson, not me.
 John 18:37; Matt. 28:19-20; Mark 16:15-16.
 See especially my book Nonbelief and Evil (Prometheus, 1998) and the internet essay located at: <URL:http://www.infidels.org/library/modern/theodore_drange/aeanb.html>
"The Drange-Wilson Debate" is copyright © 1999 by Internet Infidels, Inc. All rights reserved.
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Last updated: Tuesday, 30-Jul-2013 16:14:13 CDT