The Argument from Nonbelief

27 February 2006

The Argument from Nonbelef (or, the Argument from Divine Hiddenness) is commonly considered by non-theists to be a persuasive argument against the existence of God. More particularly, the Argument from Nonbelief targets the Christian God, who possesses the characteristics of omnibenevolence and omnipotence. As such, it is critical for Christians to respond to this argument in order to remain justified in belief in God.

How is the Argument Formulated?

It is important to distinguish between two fundamentally different forms of the Argument from Nonbelief. The first type argues from the existence of reasonable nonbelief to the nonexistence of God. This form I will refer to as the Argument from Reasonable Nonbelief (or ARNB). There is a second form of the Argument from Nonbelief which is quite different, as it does not depend on the existence of “reasonable nonbelief.” Please see the second part of this article for Theodore M. Drange’s formulation of the argument (along with my response). However, the ARNB will be considered first, and I will therefore present a version of this argument here.

1. If God exists, He is all-loving, all-powerful, perfectly just, and He wishes for all to know Him personally.
2. If a person has reasonable nonbelief, then they are not given a fair opportunity to know God.
3. If God exists, He has both the power and motive to abolish reasonable nonbelief.
4. Reasonable nonbelief occurs.
5. Therefore, God does not exist.

As preliminary commentary, it should be mentioned that the Argument from Nonbelief only applies to a God that is all-powerful, all-loving, all-knowing, perfectly just, and has a wish that others know Him. These qualities happen to be attributes that I believe the Christian God possesses, but any God that does not possess all of the aforementioned qualities is not affected by the Argument from Nonbelief.

In any case, I think two separate refutations of this argument can be formulated.

Reasonable Nonbelief?

The simplest way to avoid the force of this argument is to question premise (4) and claim that reasonable nonbelief does not occur. This is quite offensive towards the atheist (as it basically claims that he/she is unreasonable with regards to the evidence for God’s existence), but it is nevertheless possible that it is true.

Now, it is apparent to me that God’s existence is obvious. I do not feel that God has provided me with too little evidence. If I were to deny that God existed, I would be irrational with regards to what I know.

What should I do when another individual claims that the evidence isn’t obvious to them? Is there any way I can know whether or not the individual is truly reasonable in his nonbelief? Of course not, because I would need to be them in order to understand their thought processes.

Actually, this argument closely parallels another common argument used by Christians- Personal Experiences. As I showed HERE, Personal Experiences are something that can be known only to the individual who has the experience. It may be evidence for the person, but it cannot be evidence for another individual. Likewise, then, though the Argument from Nonbelief may be evidence for the individual who feels that they have not been provided with an opportunity to know God, it can never be considered evidence to another person. Therefore, the Argument from Nonbelief is totally useless as a means to disprove the existence of God to another person. It is impossible, in principle, for me to know whether or not a person’s claimed reasonable nonbelief is actual.

My critique could stop here, but for the sake of completeness I will offer a few reasons why nonbelief may not actually be reasonable.

1. Bias

Human beings tend to be biased towards a certain viewpoint. Sometimes, this bias can get in the way of an objective analysis of the evidence. Bias can occur for a number of reasons, but whatever the case it is quite possible that those who claim that they have been provided with insufficient evidence are merely biased with regards to the evidence they have.

2. Pride

Another malady that affects a great number of humans is pride. Pride can occur because someone thinks they are superior to others. In the case of atheism, pride could occur because the nonbelievers do not like the idea of being considered sinners that have fallen short of God. Or, pride could occur because an individual does not feel like being “under” a higher power. Whatever the case, pride is a very real factor and could possibly affect an objective look at the evidence for God’s existence.

3. Anger

Perhaps the most common factor, I think, which leads to a lack of belief in God, is anger. This anger could take many forms. Perhaps a person is unsatisfied with the way things are going in their life and they feel that, if God existed, He should do something about it. Perhaps they are upset that somebody they care for died. Anger can often consume an individual and get in the way of rational thought. This could lead to an unjustified rejection of the evidence for God’s existence.

4. Ridiculous Expectations

Many times atheists suppose God should write “Jesus Christ lives. Repent and be saved!” on the moon. They may expect God to come down and have a chat. In both situations, the expectation of evidence is much too high. The individual may unreasonably expect more evidence for God’s existence then they would require for other propositions. This is obviously unfair and is thus not reasonable nonbelief.

5. Wish to disregard theistic morality

Another possibility is that nonbelievers do not wish to change their lifestyles to accommodate belief in God. They may feel that Biblical morality is too strict. For example, many nonbelievers express distress with the expectation that Christians avoid lust, even if it is hands-off. Christianities rejection of pre-marital sex is also an issue that brings up quite a bit of indignation. The wish to live one’s life in a particular manner may lead to an unfair analysis of the evidence for God’s existence.

6. Insufficient Effort

The question of whether or not God exists is possibly the most important issue humans face. However, many people (theist and non-theist alike) don’t give the issue the attention it deserves. Therefore, those atheists who give only a cursory examination of the evidence cannot be considered to have reasonable nonbelief.

I am not claiming that any one person necessarily is affected by all or even one of the aforementioned factors. I am simply claiming that the existence of so many potential factors makes it quite possible that reasonable nonbelief does not actually occur in the world. However, as I pointed out earlier, these factors need not be accurate or likely in order for the argument to be ineffective. The Argument from Nonbelief is already thoroughly discredited because it can never be considered evidence for anybody but the individual who has the complaint. However, my analysis of the Argument from Nonbelief is not yet complete. There is another important issue to discuss.


Is Reasonable Nonbelief Always Unfair?

Premise (3), which claims that God has both the power and the motive to abolish reasonable nonbelief, is not at all obvious either. It is my contention that God may have benevolent motives for nonbelief as long as it does not last for the whole lifetime of a person.

In other words, God may allow a person to have truly reasonable nonbelief for a certain time period in his/her life, as long as He makes sure that the person does not die without ever having reasonable evidence for His existence presented to them.

The ironic thing about the Argument from Nonbelief is that the only way somebody can ever truly claim that they have unfair reasonable nonbelief is if they have lived out their entire existence and are now dead! Of course, dead men aren’t able to argue against the existence of God, so no man alive is able to fairly claim that the existence of God should be doubted because He would not allow reasonable nonbelief.

Once again, the Argument from Nonbelief is completely discredited, but for the sake of completeness I would like to offer a few possible reasons why temporary reasonable nonbelief may occur.

1. Increased love and respect for God.

God knows that a state of complete love and respect between man and Himself is a very desirable thing. A person who has not been presented with enough evidence for a period of time may learn to love and respect God more than they ever would once they have such evidence. Ultimately, God’s decision to withhold evidence could actually be for the benefit of the individual.

2. Testimony

God’s ultimate goal is to get as many people as possible to know Him. The testimonies of former atheists are often very powerful in helping persons through periods of doubt or sowing the seeds of belief in an unbeliever. God may withhold the evidence from an atheist so that the person can later help hundreds of others to come closer to Him.

3. Inability to offer evidence.

Some individuals find themselves in positions where the offering of evidence is either impossible or dangerous. For example, a native living in the jungle could misinterpret any evidence God could provide and misconstrue it as a false religion (which could eventually mislead others as well). In this case, God may wait for a missionary to come until He provides the necessary evidence for the individual.

These three reasons are both possible and plausible, so we have every reason to believe that God may allow temporary periods of reasonable nonbelief.


Theodore M. Drange and the Argument from Nonbelief


In the article The Arguments from Evil and Nonbelief, Theodore M. Drange attempts to support the case for atheism. 1 The Argument from Evil is beyond the scope of this article and will be dealt with at another place. The following is the formulation of Drange’s Argument:

o ANB: To formulate ANB, I put first forward these two definitions:


o Set P = the following three propositions:
  • + (a) There exists a being who rules the entire universe.
  • + (b) That being loves humanity.
  • + (c) Humanity has been provided with an afterlife.


o Situation S = the situation of all, or almost all, humans coming to believe all three propositions of set P by the time of their physical death.

o Using the above definitions, ANB may be expressed as follows:
  • + (A) If God were to exist, then he would possess all of the following four properties (among others):
  • + (1) being able to bring about situation S, all things considered;
  • + (2) wanting to bring about situation S, i.e., having it among his desires;
  • + (3) not wanting anything else that conflicts with his desire to bring about situation S as strongly as it;
  • + (4) being rational (which implies always acting in accord with his own highest purposes).

o (B) If a being who has all four properties listed above were to exist, then situation S would have to obtain.

o© But situation S does not obtain. It is not the case that all, or almost all, humans have come to believe all the propositions of set P by the time of their physical death.

o (D) Therefore [from (B) & (C)], there does not exist a being who has all four properties listed in premise (A).

o (E) Hence [from (A) & (D)], God does not exist.

As Drange himself realizes, the premise most susceptible to attack is A(3). As it turns out, I think there are several desires God may have that override His desire to actualize Situation S. (Note: Throughout this critique I will refer to the potential situation where God interferes either miraculously or subtly in a way so as to ensure that all or almost all believe set P as “full revelation.”)

I. Free Will

As with the Argument from Evil, the so-called Free Will Defense is an important foundation for a theistic response. God may desire, not merely that all or most humans come to believe in the propositions of set P, but that they do so in accordance with their own free will. Since God does not wish to make people believe these propositions, it is possible that some people will fail to believe these propositions, even if it is one of God’s desires that all persons believe it.

The thesis that God values free will seems quite reasonable, but I would like to push the issue one step forward. As I have maintained elsewhere,2 free will in its barest sense is not what is valuable. After all, a man stuck in a box for all eternity has the free will to kick at the wall or make hand puppets. However, his actions cannot be very significant because he cannot interact with other people or change/improve his own situation. What is really valuable then, is “significant free will,” or the ability to make free will choices that have significant consequences. Thus, God’s desire to maintain significant free will may be an overriding desire that precludes God from actualizing S.

I will delay a thorough defense of the Free Will Defense for later on in this critique when I respond to Drange’s attack on it.

II. Quantity of Quality Relationships

Although I will concede that, minimally, God desires for people to develop beliefs in set P, I believe Drange makes a grave mistake in assuming that this desire is great enough to carry the argument. In fact, it is feasible to believe, both philosophically 3 and biblically 4 that God desires not knowledge of Him, but love of Him. Moreover, this quality relationship is also necessary for humankinds’ consequent satisfaction, as well. 5 Therefore, even if God has Situation S among His desires, his desire for S pales in comparison to his desire for a different state of affairs. In fact, Drange’s S may be modified to produce:

S’: The situation of all, or almost all, humans coming to love God with all their hearts, souls, minds, and strength by the time of their physical death.

As the old adage goes: ‘quality, not quantity.’ Since S’ is a greater desire of God’s, He will not do anything to establish S unless it does not interfere with S’. However, it simply may be the case that God’s efforts to actualize S will in fact interfere with maximization of Situation S.

If God made people know (either through interference of free will or through full revelation) that He exists and He offers Salvation, they may accept that belief. However, they would not necessarily love God. They could hate him with a passion, despite knowledge that He exists. Possibly, they could remain relatively indifferent. Perhaps they would like God, but not necessarily have a high quality relationship with Him. Some of these situations are as bad or worse than nonbelief, and, additionally, all situations are inferior to the situation described in S’.

Now, the defender of ANB may simply ask, “why hasn’t God actualized the situation in which all or almost all persons accept S’?” Here, however, the waters get much muddier. For although God could possibly use miracles to actualize S, even a full revelation could not guarantee that all or most people would come to love God with all their heart, soul, mind, and strength. 6 Therefore, the plausibility of the ANB is reduced significantly when we realize that God’s primary goal is not mere belief, but a quality relationship.

III. Quality of Quality Relationships

Although a bit more speculative, it is also possible that God is more interested in producing the best possible believers than in producing a large quantity of believers. Thus, God’s overriding goal may be to produce situation S’’

S’’: The situation where believers of God are the most loving, dedicated, pure people possible for them to be. 7

If this is the case, then once again Drange’s supposition that God has no overriding desire than S is disproved. Even under this model, of course, God wants the maximum number possible of maximally good believers, but of course it is not necessarily logically possible to ensure that all persons come to be maximally good believers, even if God were to give a full revelation. Once again, Drange is going to have to stipulate that God interferes with free will in order to carry his argument, which contradicts the Free Will Defense. (In fact, it is plausible to argue that a ‘maximally good believer’, by definition, is one whom has a free will. We would rather our spouse love us by free will then by necessity. If our spouses only loved us because they had no other choice, then it is reasonable to say that they would not be ‘maximally good spouses.’)

Now, the most reasonable supposition, in my view, is that God wishes to balance between quantity and quality of believers. It seems unlikely that He would want a high quantity of mediocre believers, and it also seems unlikely that he would want an extreme minority of really good believers. Thus, God plausibly constructs the world so as to strike a good balance between quality believers and number of believers.

If the preceding analysis is correct, then Drange will now have to argue that God has not brought out the best possible balance of quantity and quality of believers. But how is he going to make this argument? Viewed from this perspective, the ANB is much more speculative and presumptous than it first appears.

IV. Salvation and Justice

In Drange’s ANB, it appears that one of the main reasons he supposes that God has a desire to produce S is that our Salvation is dependent upon it. However, even if it is true that God’s primary objective is to save the maximum number of people, it is not clear that Drange’s ANB will work. If believing all the truth propositions in set P are not sufficient to secure Salvation, then the argument that God has no overriding desires against situation S is rendered much less likely.

Most of Drange’s arguments (biblical and philosophical) for A(3) assume that God would actualize S because it is an important component of overall individual Salvation. Thus, in order to love God you must know that He exists, in order to receive Salvation you must know that the afterlife exists, etc. Already, this has some problems. The inference from “Believing set P is necessary for Salvation” to “God has overriding reasons to ensure that most people come to belive set P” relies on the somewhat speculative claim that causing belief in set P will improve anything in the first place. If there are currently 2 billion saved Christians, is it necessarily true that there would be more than 2 billion saved Christians in the world in an alternate universe where God gives a full revelation and Situation S is actualized? No it is not, and thus it may be the case that God simply doesn’t have an overriding desire to actualize S.

This objection becomes even more acute when one reflects upon the situation and the nature of Salvation. Not only is there no reason to think that the actualization of Situation S would increase the number of saved Christians, there are actually good reasons to suppose that, on the contrary, it is likely that the actualization of S would have either no effect or a detrimental effect. If person’s were forced to believe set P (or were compelled to belief due to a full revelation), then it is highly possible that they might accept Christ, not out of love and respect for God, but for the pragmatic reason of securing eternal reward. This brings up a two-edged sword. For on the one hand, it is not clear that God saves those who believe in Him for selfish reasons. On the other hand, if God did save those who believed for selfish reasons, it may not be justice. It may be the case that it is unjust for persons to receive the benefits of Salvation when their motives are entirely unpure. If this is true, then God may have the overriding motive of preserving perfect justice that He values more than Situation S.

Drange’s Defense of Proposition A(3)

Drange considers several potential critiques of A(3), and the first one to be analyzed is the Free Will Defense. Drange claims that showing people miracles does not interfere with their free will. This much is true. By merely showing a miracle God leaves it up to the human as to whether or not such will be accepted as evidence. However, as I contended in my brief explanation of the Free Will Defense, significant free will is the thing that is valued. Thus, even though God may not eliminate free will, in its barest form, by providing a full revelation, He may eliminate or reduce significant free will by making belief in Him trivial and easy. If God bombarded our lives with overwhelming evidence that He existed, would our belief in Him really be significantly free?

In any case, Drange goes even further and claims that inserting belief in God into every human being would not be in violation of free will. He states,

“Even direct implantation of belief into a person’s mind need not interfere with his/her free will. If that person were to want true beliefs and not care how the beliefs are obtained, then for God to directly implant true beliefs into his/her mind would not interfere with, but would rather comply with, the person’s free will.”

I believe Drange has gone a bit too far here, for I cannot imagine a more flagrant violation of free will at all. If you force someone to love you by inserting a gene in their brain, you are, by definition, interfering with their free will to choose whether or not they have love for you. So I simply think that Drange is incorrect here.

However, even assuming Drange is right about this, there is certainly no way to know whether any humans who don’t already accept Salvation really do wish to know the truth. The unassuming claim that “People want to know the truth.” is simply speculation. Worse, the claim could probably garner very little support from the Bible,8 and, additionally, does not necessarily garner good support from general experience. In my own experience, the vast majority of people I encounter have spent little or no time investigating the existence or nature of God or the afterlife. It is certainly possible that my experience is not representative, but it seems that Drange should at least offer some evidence that his generalization holds up. I will definitely admit that some individuals are very concerned with issues of religion, but to claim that “people want to know the truth” seems unsupported for the general population.

Drange then claims that there is nothing wrong with God interfering with free will in this case because, “Such “interference with free will” seems to be just what such people need to get “straightened out.” This just begs the question of the importance of free will to God. In my mind, it is very doubtful that very much at all could be more important than free will because the lack of free will takes away the very thing that makes us humans.

Drange claims that a central problem of this argument is that it “seems to claim that God wants people to believe the propositions of set P in an irrational way, without good evidence.”

However, the Free Will Defense implies no such thing. In fact, FWD requires rationality. That is the whole point. To believe something because that belief is part of your very anatomy would not be a belief that is arrived at rationally, at least, it would not be a belief that was arrived at after careful consideration of one’s world and one’s nature. Since God demands that we accept His existence without forcing us, He is requiring us to be rational in order to come to that true belief. Yet, the lack of a full revelation allows us to ignore God if we so choose.

However, it still might be the case that belief in Christianity is rational based on the evidence we have. It is my contention that this is, in fact, the case. Therefore, since the Christian religion is rational to believe anyways, support of the FWD does not require the theist to believe that God wishes for us to believe irrationally.

From what I’m aware, the other two factors that I claimed could interfere with God’s wish for all to achieve Salvation (lack of love and respect and lack of justice) are not addressed in Drange’s article. I have, however, found a response to it in another article. 10 This response, however, is not very substantive:

“One objection to this defense, among others, is that a person’s immediate response to theistic belief may not remain fixed. People could come to believe in God and at first respond inappropriately, but after some time has elapsed, they may come to modify their response.”

This response is useless, because certainly God knows when or if a person will respond appropriately. Those who would never respond appropriately, therefore, are still the problem. It is certainly better (or equally bad) for a person to be ignorant of God’s existence than it is for them to hate God. (It must be mentioned that it is my contention that God does provide everyone with enough opportunity to come to know Him, as I explained previously. The rejection of that evidence could be due to the various factors I listed earlier in this article). Therefore my proposed overriding desires of actualizing S (II), (III), and (IV), along with my defense of the Free Will Defense (I) are all still valid and thus the Argument from Nonbelief is invalid.

Conclusion:

The Argument from Reasonable Nonbelief fails on two fronts. It is completely discredited as a rational objection against the existence of God. Although the Argument from Nonbelief as formulated by Theodore M. Drange is a much better argument, in the end it also fails to convince. The Christian remains fully justified in his or her belief in God despite the Argument from Nonbelief.

NOTES

1. Theodore M. Drange, The Arguments from Evil and Nonbelief, http://www.infidels.org/library/modern/theodore_drange/aeanb.html

2. See my defense of the FWD in The Problem of Evil HERE.

3. If God is omni-benevolent, then it is feasible to assume that he loves His creation and desires for His creation to love Him as well. Mere knowledge of existence does not entail love, thus, would not necessarily be an important goal of God.

4. See Matthew 22:37 and Deuteronomy 6:5. These verses do not command us to believe with our intellect that God exists, but to love him with everything we have.

5. See, for example, Psalm 63.

6. For an analysis of some reasons why persons may hate or ignore God despite a full revelation, see my article HERE.

7. This possibility can be illustrated by means of an analogy. When the United States trains Navy Seals, they subject them to rigorous and oftentimes brutal training. The goal of the U.S. is not to maximize the number of people that pass their program and become Navy Seals. Rather, their goal is to ensure that there are at least some men that are of extremely high quality for the task of being a Navy Seal.

8. See, for example, John 12:37; Matthew 11:20; and John 15:24 for a few examples of persons that saw miracles and yet refused to believe.

9.

10. Theodore M. Drange, Nonbelief as Support for Atheism, http://www.bu.edu/wcp/Papers/Reli/ReliDran.htm




For more on the Argument from Nonbelief:

1. Rebuttal of Horia Plugaru’s Article critiquing the Argument from Nonbelief’s counters HERE.

2. Questions for Christians by Brian Holtz HERE.

Also see the Forum Discussion:

The Argument from Nonbelief (Hosted at TheologyWeb)







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  1. This was excellent. Thank you!


    Jayme    Dec 1, 11:52 AM    #
  2. ballux.obfuscation is a logical fallacy. fucking twat!


    — athiest    Dec 4, 03:35 AM    #
  3. you make a good point, “atherist” you should do more than insult next time – like present an opposing side.


    — for above    Dec 5, 06:53 AM    #
  4. Just a few comments to chew on:

    You state, “It is impossible, in principle, for me to know whether or not a person’s claimed reasonable nonbelief is actual.” So? It’s hard to understand how you can take this as a serious rebuttal against the ARNB. Essentially you’re saying “I can’t possibly know that reasonable non-belief exists.” That’s it. That’s your counter-argument to premise 4. Well, let me simply point out something obvious: there are far more individuals who’ve reasoned out of god-belief than have reasoned into it. This presents a problem, because it’s evidence that there is reasonable non-belief. Simply dismissing the premise does not constitute an effective rebuttal.

    Since, in your view, reasonable non-belief can’t really exist, you posit a number of tendentious explanations as to why people unreasonably reject god-belief. None of these are supported by other than what you think. Let’s take a moment to go through them.

    1) Bias. Your argument applies to your own beliefs as well, more strongly so, since your god cannot be observed. You affirm that “God’s existence is obvious”. How can you be sure this god is the Judeo-Christian god you worship, and not some other super-powerful being(s), Zeus, Allah, etc.? Answer: bias.

    2) Pride. Your argument here is risible. For one, your own theology states that “everyone falls short of God.” Why would atheists not like the idea? Are you saying theists do? Second, to be prideful in the manner you describe requires a god-belief, which atheists lack in the first place.

    3) Anger. Perhaps it is a factor, but I doubt it’s the most common as you believe. Someone could have followed Mark 11:24, where Jesus promises “Therefore I tell you, whatever you ask for in prayer, believe that you have received it, and it will be yours” in the hopes that a loved one will be healed, but instead dies. In such a case, that person would be justified in being angry at a broken promise and therefore embark upon a path of non-belief. However, again, your view pre-supposes that someone held a belief in an omni-potent, all-loving god in the first place. What of those who never held such a belief? How can they be angry at something they never believe existed in the first place? You don’t explain how.

    4) Ridiculous expectations. I’m not sure how it’s a “ridiculous expectation” for god to come down and have a chat when he purportedly did just that 2,000 years ago. He also, allegedly, performed miracles in front of multitudes, walked through walls, and appeared alive after dying not only to Thomas, some close friends and family, but also to “500”. Somehow it’s fair to them, but unfair to the rest of us to expect the same standard of proof. In fact, you don’t provide any standard for determining what’s an unfair vs. fair expectation. I think the real ridiculous expectation here is that we should follow a god who speaks to us through history via an error-filled, contradictory, and largely fictional book.

    5) Wish to disregard theistic morality. Let me offer an alternate explanation: your Judeo-Christian morality has been deemed immoral, haphazard, and in some places, simply bizarre. How long did it take Christians to finally recognize that slavery is wrong? It would be odd to claim they got it from the Bible, which explicitly condones the practice in multiple verses. And how is a god that is said to drown everyone on the planet, find burnt sacrifices “delightful,” command his followers to commit genocide, and treat women as second-class persons worthy of worship? Don’t even get me started on Leviticus or homosexuals.

    6) Insufficient effort. Let me point out perhaps a Freudian slip on your part. You state that in this paragraph that theists don’t give the question of god’s existence the attention it deserves. Interesting. How did they become theists in the first place? Why wouldn’t they give it due attention, since, as you say, it “is possibly the most important issue humans face”? Nonetheless, the explanation fails to account for apostates. Also, since god-belief is so pervasive in our society and the world, it would seem improbable that atheists did not examine the question since god-belief is the default position. Most of the atheists I know are more knowledgeable of the arguments for and against the existence of god than theists are.

    Let me conclude here but saying I find it curious that, whereas before, you stated you couldn’t possibly know what someone actually believes because you’re not them, yet with the above, you essentially do just that: make assertions as to someone’s beliefs, attitudes, motivations, etc.


    Robert    Dec 8, 10:04 AM    #
  5. Robert,

    You seem to imply that my response to premise 4 is unsatisfactory. However, I merely pointed out that it is epistemically impossible for me to know if someone’s nonbelief is reasonable. I do think that this is an appropriate response. Consider this- many Christians claim that they have had a personal experience of God, which makes their belief rational. However, I hardly think that you would be willing to accept the existence of the Christian God on the basis of such a personal testimony. You would rightly ask, “How do I know that your experience was genuine? It is impossible for me to know whether your experience was veridical or hallucinatory. So I will not accept that evidence.”

    If you will admit this, then it is clear to see why the ARNB fails. Essentially, when an atheist comes up to me and says, “I have reasonable nonbelief. God wouldn’t allow reasonable nonbelief. Therefore, God does not exist.”- in essence, this is simply an atheistic testimony. So I reply, “How do I know that your nonbelief is actually reasonable? It’s impossible for me to know whether your nonbelief is completely reasonable or whether it is influenced by nonrational factors. In my experience, nonbelief is unreasonable. So I will not accept your testimony as evidence.”

    If you can find a relevant difference between these two scenarios, then by all means correct me. I think it is clear that the atheist claim of “reasonable” nonbelief is just a personal testimony- one which I have little reason to give credence to (since in my own case, nonbelief is very UNreasonable).

    Next, you critique several of my offered explanations. It is clear from the article that these are merely offered as a few potential factors. That is why I do not go to great lengths trying to defend them. However, they do all seem reasonable, your critique notwithstanding.

    BIAS: Your response to the charge of bias is that, well, it’s actually me who’s biased. Notice, however, that I never claimed that theists (including myself) aren’t influenced by these factors. Pointing the finger back at me does nothing to discount the possibility that these factors cause nonbelief either in you or in other atheists who claim that they are reasonable. Additionally, I deny the claim that bias is the only factor which causes me (or other Christian theists) to believe in the God of Christianity instead of Zeus or Allah- the belief in the Christian God is based on evidence.

    PRIDE: Not sure what you are talking about here, but it is clearly false that “god-belief” is needed to be prideful in the manner I describe.

    ANGER: I think that you are misusing Mark 11:24, but set that aside. The reason atheists might be “angry” is that they don’t like the way the world is. True, they may not believe in God, but their anger at the way the world works might prevent them from accepting His existence.

    RIDICULOUS EXPECTATIONS: The reason it is ridiculous to expect God to come and have a chat with you is that there is no reason to presume that you are that important. Consider, God only appeared to a very select few individuals and performed miracles in front of a (relatively) small number of people, according to the Bible. Why do you think that you are so important that you justify a personal visit? Are you as important as Moses or Paul or Abraham? You are not nearly as important as they were for enacting the history leading up to salvation.

    It is also a ridiculous expectation because it is more than is needed. You should believe in God if it is more likely than not that He exists. We can know this without receiving a personal visit. The atheist needs to examine the evidence for the existence of God on a fair playing ground, not expect an unreasonably high level of confirmation.

    WISH TO DISREGARD THEISTIC MORALITY: Your claim that Biblical morality (primarily as found in the Old Testament) is supposedly immoral has little to do with the claim, which is that people want to disregard moral commands like abstinence before marriage. However, your critique of Biblical morality is simplistic- for example, you claim that the Bible condones slavery, but a fair analysis of the text and the culture show that this was actually a form of indentured servitude, usually entered willingly, and for the mutual benefit of the owner and the “slave.”

    INSUFFICIENT EFFORT: I don’t know how I made a Freudian slip, I admit that theists usually don’t give the issue of belief in God enough attention. Many theists are theists because of the way that they were raised. I think that this fact is unfortunate, but it does not affect my article. I will also admit that, unfortunately, atheists are often more knowledgeable about the evidence for and against God’s existence. However, insufficient effort surely applies to at least some atheists.

    You conclude by questioning my use of these factors to explain nonbelief, even though I claim earlier in the article that I cannot know what someone actually believes. This is ironic- you object to my denial of the ARNB for epistemic reasons, and then you object to my use of explanations to explain away nonbelief. Heads you win, tails I lose. Nevertheless, it is clear from the article that I only offer these factors for the sake of “completeness”, so that the ARNB is doubly-refuted.

    Sincerely,

    Kyle.


    Kyle Deming    Dec 9, 10:10 AM    #
  6. wow!!


    — curious frrm scotland    Jan 2, 05:00 PM    #
  7. Your 6 reasons for people becoming atheists were horrible. Some of us atheists have just done our homework, we’ve examined all arguments for God and found them failing.


    Loi P    Jan 8, 06:17 PM    #
  8. Let’s create an interesting situation by changing the first argument a bit.

    1. If God exists, He is all-loving, all-powerful, perfectly just, and He wishes for all to know Him personally.

    2. If a person has not been exposed to the doctrine, then they are not given a fair opportunity to know God.

    3. If God exists, He has both the power and motive to expose everyone to his doctrine.

    4. There are people who have not been exposed to God’s doctrine.

    5. Therefore, God does not exist.

    I am speaking of people that are (and have been) born far outside our culture, and are never taught of the Christian God (an example, the argument applies to any deity). Is it fair that God requires them to accept Jesus, if they’ve never heard of him?


    — Nate    Jan 15, 09:55 AM    #
  9. You’re arguments are some of the most close-minded I’ve ever heard. Stop and think for a moment about what you put down as evidence. Just because you make your argument sound logical by expanding ideas that don’t prove anything, generalizing, and jumping to conclusions, does not make you right. You still didn’t really disprove the atheist theory that God does not exist. I would like to see evidence rather than flawed logic.


    — ???    Jan 17, 02:11 PM    #
  10. ???,

    Honestly, I find the author’s treatment of this particular argument very accurate. The argument is weak in the ways that the author described it as being. This is one of the reasons that I proposed an alternate argument.

    Of course disproving one argument against god doesn’t tell us that God exists, in the same way that disproving one theist argument doesn’t disprove God’s existence. It just tells us that this particular argument was weak.


    — Nate    Jan 17, 03:08 PM    #
  11. Loi P.,

    I did not mean to imply that all atheists were subject to one of my proposed unreasonable reasons for unbelief. They are simply mentioned as possibilities.

    Nate,

    I agree that your argument is much stronger than the ones considered in the main article. However, I think that this is a separate issue, since many Christians would argue that people who have no exposure to Christianity might still be saved. For example, although I am not entirely confident in my belief, I currently believe it is possible that those who have never heard the gospel are saved by their response to general revelation. See my book review for “What About Those Who Have Never Heard?” on this site. Thus, while your argument is a challenge to those who subscribe to exclusivism, inclusivists like me aren’t particularly troubled by it.

    Sincerely,

    Kyle.


    Kyle    Jan 17, 04:06 PM    #
  12. Ah, I hadn’t read that yet. In that case, I shall let it stand as an argument against exclusivism (although I’m not sure that the first premise applies in the case that one believes in exclusivism).


    — Nate    Jan 17, 05:03 PM    #
  13. Hi Kyle. I did enjoy this writing.

    Whenever I read a description of a God formulated by a debunker (I’ve seen similar descriptions by other atheists), I think, how can he describe something that does not exist? If it does not exist how can it be described? How can its attributes be listed?

    I feel Drange (as well as others) are setting up straw “Gods” and then knocking them down. What’s the use of that?

    He has set up a God that he feels he can knock down. Why does he feel so strongly that he should go to all this trouble?

    I think you have brought up a critical point when you talk about quality relationship, and of course loving God. If you will bear with me let’s step back from any arguments reasonable or unreasonable and stand right on the ground of love and relationship. This is where (I think you would agree) God is personally known and this is where the knowledge of His love is propogated between and among the human family.

    In this case, here is a certain man named Theodore Drange. He has taken all this trouble and gone to great lengths to deny the existence of this particular “God”. I will submit his root reasons are personal, not intellectual and any change in his belief system will come through the personal, by relationship and love.

    Now, he doesn’t live down the street from me or you, but someone else who has a problem with God does live on our street, or maybe goes to work with us every day. (Like the guy where I work who has a copy of Dawkins’ “God Delusion” on the break table every day.) What about getting to know that person better and listening with care and respect to their story? Salvation is not just intellectual belief but is a therapeutic process – sozo = healing.

    The creation and growth of faith is a process of love and relationship. If no relationship to God exists, there are always believing neighbors to represent Him. That’s where we come in.


    — OpenJoe    Feb 17, 02:14 PM    #
  14. Regarding the brief Free Will Argument in the Drange section.

    If God is intent on us not knowing him in an obvious fashion, why doesn’t Satan ruin his gig?

    Certainly, Satan, as a powerful, supernatural being has at his disposal the means to convince everyone on Earth of his presence.

    In fact, if God is REALLY intent on no one knowing of him (and he is perfect) then it follows that anyone who does believe in God probably really believes in Satan pretending to be God.

    The believer could say, “Yes, Satan could spill the beans but God doesn’t allow that one thing to happen”

    Yet, God will allow 300,000 to parish in a Tsunami, or millions die in war, or millions of fetuses and infants die. All for the sake of Free Will, and keeping his privacy.

    2. Satan DOES make himself known (apparently) to people. Certainly, the claims of people who have had Satan talk to them is equal evidence to people who claim God spoke to them… despite the claim that God doesn’t want to really prove himself to people…

    Very convoluted. You’d have to lobotomize me before I understood the meanderings of Xinanity.


    Daedalus    Mar 2, 02:08 PM    #
  15. Deadalus,

    Well, I don’t know about others, but because I am a preterist I’d say that Satan doesn’t do anything anymore. So that’s irrelevant.


    — Dane Parker    Apr 28, 12:49 PM    #
  16. openjoe: so you’re upset that a holy and just God who is beyond your finite comprehension isn’t your personal lap dog?

    You’d have to lobotomize me before believing that an infinitely sovereign eternal being would bow to his creation’s command at the drop of a pin (a creation who know less uses his human responsibility to deny the one he claims to disbelieve in!).


    geoff    May 26, 07:55 PM    #
  17. Dane:

    I’d love to see how that argument works with the whole Xian doctrine. Seriously, you don’t see many Preterists nowadays and I’d like to learn more.

    Geoff:

    I’m not upset that God isn’t my “lapdog”; that he doesn’t bow to “his creation”.

    I’m an atheist, it would be odd to get upset about something I don’t believe in.

    However, IF God did exist, how about he lets me know in a way that He would know would work out of simple courtesy? About professionalism, kindness, etc.?

    After all since he is the one threatening me with eternal torture, shouldn’t he play fair?

    Or is “Fairness” not one of God’s qualities? ;-)


    — daedalus    Jul 10, 08:04 AM    #
  18. .THE ONLY THING THAT EXISTS IS IDEAS..i have an idea that God exists. ....ergo GOD must exist. QED


    John    Oct 20, 07:30 AM    #
  19. openjoe:

    “Whenever I read a description of a God formulated by a debunker (I’ve seen similar descriptions by other atheists), I think, how can he describe something that does not exist? If it does not exist how can it be described? How can its attributes be listed?”

    Well, obviously the Bible and knowledgeable Christians supply all of the attributes. We atheists weigh the likelihood that a being such defined exists.

    The simplest response to your question is to apply it to something that you and I would both agree does not exist, such as a unicorn, or a leprechaun, or some Greek or Roman god like Zeus. I can clearly describe the attributes of Zeus: ruler of Olympus, womanizer, craps lightning, etc. This doesn’t mean he exists; it means humans have a capacity known commonly as imagination.


    — Stutz    Dec 21, 01:49 AM    #
  20. I have a way better argument than any that you have put up against atheism. Care to chat about it, “skeptic”?


    Derek    Oct 6, 07:50 PM    #
  21. Your premises are immediately subject to challenge. You assume bias, pride and anger and then use those manufactured charges to argue your case. Then comes point 4, “Ridiculous Expectations”. What is ridiculous about them? The semitic religions make some fairly extraordinary claims about a deity with the expectation that we should revere and worship that deity. While the documentation about that deity suggests that it is hardly deserving of reverence, the question of that deity’s existence demands some eveidence. According to the documentation, the deity made frequent personal appearances, stopped in for a chat, and even engraved some stone tablets. That sort of thing doesn’t seem to happen nowadays, which makes us question the veracity of those old accounts. Maybe they’re just fairy stories.

    Point 5, “Theistic Morality” is also subject to challenge. No way would I want to behave anything like the deity described in the documentation. Sometimes I wonder if the followers of these religions have ever read their sacred texts. Look in the Bible, the Torah or the Quoran and you’ll find a bloodthirsty, vicious, vindictive, vain entity given to arbitrary whims and and inconsistent justice Ior, more accurately, injustice.) You mention the Christian rejection of premarital sex but if we followed the commands given to the followers of the semitic deity we’d engage in murder, pillage and rape instead, as well as polygamy. We’d also keep slaves (or be kept as slaves). And you have to wonder why Christian morality is all about sex anyway.


    Aodh Buachaill    Nov 4, 06:26 PM    #
  22. Consider: every devout Muslim has the same reasons for being a Muslim that you have for being a Christian. And yet you do not find their reasons compelling. The Koran repeatedly declares that it is the perfect word of the creator of the universe. Muslims believe this as fully as you believe the Bible’s account of itself. There is a vast literature describing the life of Muhammad that, from the point of view of Islam, proves that he was the most recent Prophet of God. Muhammad also assured his followers that Jesus was not divine (Koran 5:71-75; 19:30-38) and that anyone who believes otherwise will spend eternity in hell. Muslims are certain that Muhammad’s opinion on this subject, as on all others, is infallible.
    Why don’t you lose any sleep over whether to convert to Islam? Can you prove that Allah is not the one, true God? Can you prove that the archangel Gabriel did not visit Muhammad in his cave? Of course not. But you need not prove any of these things to reject the beliefs of Muslims as absurd. The burden is upon them to prove that their beliefs about God and Muhammad are valid. They have not done this. They cannot do this. Muslims are simply not making claims about reality that can be corroborated. This is perfectly apparent to anyone who has not anesthetized himself with the dogma of Islam.
    The truth is, you know exactly what it is like to be an atheist with respect to the beliefs of Muslims. Isn’t it obvious that Muslims are fooling themselves? Isn’t it obvious that anyone who thinks that the Koran is the perfect word of the creator of the universe has not read the book critically? Isn’t it obvious that the doctrine of Islam represents a near perfect barrier to honest inquiry? Yes, these things are obvious. Understand that the way you view Islam is precisely the way devout Muslims view Christianity. And it is the way I view all religions.


    James    Jan 13, 01:05 PM    #
  23. I did enjoy both the article and the the arguments made for both sides.

    When it comes down to it what is the point in such an intellectual argument on the matter. I believe in God for reasons that I know and consider daily. I am obviously not going to change the mind of a person that so ademately defends their atheistic beliefs. It only creates animosity and pushes people further away from the understanding that we as christians have of God.
    Matt 10:14
    I know first hand as a former atheist that until you have the revelation of Christ in your life an argument doesn’t change anything. Its through friendships and love that people come to understand of what and why we believe what we do more often than not.
    This has just been my observation in my life and many others.

    My prayers go out to all of you.


    Shelby    Jan 15, 06:14 PM    #
  24. This sort of argument only develops when people abandon truth to the icy grip of rationality. There are no rational reasons for belief or non-belief, because there’s no pure reason. All reason will ever provide you are deductions made from assumptions. We, and we alone can provide the assumptions. That’s why I take issue with your site’s assertion that Christianity is a leap of faith. Everything, is a leap of faith, because every rational deduction we can make is based upon our assumptions, which ultimately can’t be justified by rational argument.

    I personally find the argument from non-belief absurd, because I think that if belief is easy, than it takes all the richness and poetry out of religion. I get so much more out of my relationship with God because I wake up each morning questioning his existence.

    I also think Christians do themselves a disservice by stooping to refuting the “debunkers.” neither atheist nor Christian has ever been argued into or out of faith, because it can’t be done, and honestly, I like it that way.


    NBailey    Feb 7, 02:12 PM    #
  25. What I find funny is that even though this is a christian website, a lot of atheists take time out of their day just to get on here and share their personal opinions on the subject.


    — T.j.    Oct 19, 07:58 AM    #
  26. Hi – you made a point about god proving his existence with miracles – what about ‘even if a man rises from the dead they will not believe’? I think that there is actually not a strong relationship between Miraculous Proof and Belief – certainly not biblically. The greater the ‘proof’, often, the greater chance of rejection. Thus, God must quietly ‘woo’ us into relationship with Him. This becomes about ‘reasonable non-relationship’, rather than reasonable non-belief. That could be an interesting discourse.


    mark    Nov 1, 02:58 AM    #
  27. A very well written article. Despite other comments straying from the point of the article, I found the arguments and counter arguments were formed well and logic based.


    — Joshua    Aug 2, 09:30 AM    #
  28. I read the article up to the heading “Theodore M. Drange and the Argument from Nonbelief”. Sorry if my laziness is a problem, but it seems that EVERY argument that you have made until there is defeated by considering one thing: nonbelievers who were once Christian. And I do not simply mean people who were brought up Christian and then stopped believing their parents. I mean devout believers such as clergy, who dedicated their lives to studying God and the Bible and preaching its message, who supposedly had a very strong relationship with God, etc. Google ‘atheist pastors’ and see for yourself. Quite a number of clergy deconvert, and some are unwilling to even reveal this because of the terrible position it puts them in. Pride, bias, unreasonable non-belief, all these arguments of yours fail when considering people such as this. If they had a genuine relationship, so much knowledge of the evidence, and SO much motivation to believe and fear of nonbelief, how did they lose their faith?


    Alex    Feb 3, 08:32 AM    #
  29. you say >>The simplest way to avoid the force of this argument is to question premise (4) and claim that reasonable nonbelief does not occur.<<
    What an odd thing to say. Why would you want to avoid the force of an argument?
    As well, do you really believe you can honestly make this claim? “that reasonable nonbelief does not occur.” How would you go about demonstrating this? Esp. when you said it yourself, that nobody knows the heart of another.
    If it’s your wish to win over the heart and mind of another then start by giving reasons that are compelling, rather than suggesting that the person is bias, proud, or angry. And yes I’m sure YOU find your arguments compelling but the best way to find out how compelling your arguments really are is to test them on those who disagree with you. and instead of simply writing them off, try giving careful consideration to what they say instead. You’ll find, I think, that people will be more receptive.
    You call yourself the Skeptical Christian, and that’s what drew me to your website, but you really don’t seem all that skeptical to me.
    respectfully,
    randy


    Randy    Jun 29, 10:33 PM    #
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