John Loftus has written a reply to my last post. As we’ve seen recently, John seems determined to make a genuine philosophical disagreement into some sort of personal attack, which, of course, it isn’t.
In spite of himself, he actually comes close to getting my motivation right. Because John is a prominent critic of Christianity, if I see him using an argument I think is weak, I think it’s valuable to point that out, for two reasons. First, it will help other critics of Christianity avoid embarrassing themselves by using weak arguments. Second, it will prevent Christian apologists from appealing to an argument from silence: “Well, John Loftus used argument X; his fellow atheists don’t seem to object; argument X is awful; therefore, look how silly you have to be to reject Christianity!”
With that clarified, let’s turn to John’s argument. John feels I was uncharitable in my interpretation of his argument. While my intent was (and always is) to be charitable, I can see in retrospect why John would feel that I was uncharitable. It’s now clear to me I misunderstood his argument. So please bear with me as I try to charitably discuss John’s argument again.
Again, here is the doctrinal statement (DS) which is the target of John’s argument:
There is an omniscient, omnibenelovent, omnipotent God who sent Jesus to atone for the sins of all who believe in him. This same God desires everyone should be saved and that no one should be lost (See 1 Timothy 2:4; 2 Peter 3:9).
Although the title of John’s post suggests an objection against Christianity per se, DS clarifies that John’s intent is to argue against just that subset of Christianity which affirms DS (hereafter, “Christianity-DS”). As John explicitly states, he is not attempting to provide an argument against other sects of Christianity, such as Calvinism. (With that clarification in mind, I do have one nitpick: I think the title of John’s original post was and is misleading. But let’s move on.)
John is concerned with “whether private, subjective, ignorant, irrational, rebellious and self-deceptive reasons to reject Christianity are good ones given DS above.” Note: my green cheese moon example was irrelevant to such private reasons; I was wrong to use that example and John is correct to point that out.
So let’s turn to the argument. According to John, “all personal reasons are good ones when it comes to rejecting the particular doctrinal beliefs represented in DS.” Why? Here is his “money quote”:
If God desires Pat to be saved, and if God knows Pat will be convinced by his dream because his God-given cognitive faculties are such that he would accept its message as true, then God should not have allowed Pat to have had such a dream in the first place. Allowing a vulnerable ignorant person like Pat to have had such a dream, knowing it would lead him to reject Christianity, makes that God just as culpable as if he himself caused Pat to reject Christianity.
On the assumption that DS is true, I cannot think of a non-ad hoc reason why the God of Christianity-DS would allow Pat to reject Christianity-DS on the basis of such a dream. So far, so good.
Where I disagree with John is the idea that examples such as this somehow show that all “personal reasons are good ones when it comes to rejecting the doctrinal beliefs represented in DS.” Here I am going to quote Matt DeStefano:
"I know Christianity is true, but I reject it because I don’t want to live my life like that. I want to live selfishly, focus on the accumulation of material possessions without worrying about the implications this sort of life will have on others or on my relationship with God. Frankly, I just don’t WANT Christianity to be true, therefore I reject it."
This does seem to be a good counterexample. While DS does entail that “God desires that everyone be saved and no one be lost,” it does not entail that God has no competing desires. As John himself knows, many Christians who affirm DS also believe that God values human freedom such that God allows people to freely choose to reject Him. So, on the assumption that DS is true, it’s not obvious why the person in Matt’s example (call him “Joe”) would have a good personal reason for rejecting Christianity-DS.
We need an argument which shows that Joe’s reason for rejecting Christianity-DS is a good one; I don’t find such an argument in John’s posts. (Hopefully, I haven’t missed it!) That doesn’t mean there is no such argument, of course. In fact, John may well have an argument he considers too obvious to have stated! So, rather than risk again being accused of reading him uncharitably, I’ll turn it over to John and let him take it from here.
Appendix: A Special Version of ANB?
I don’t know if John would endorse this argument or not, but it was inspired by him. It seems to me that that there is a special version of Ted Drange’s Argument from Nonbelief (ANB) lurking here.
Set DS = the following two propositions:
- (a) There exists an omniscient, omnibenelovent, omnipotent God who sent Jesus to atone for the sins of all who believe in him.
- (b) This same God desires everyone should be saved and that no one should be lost.
Situation S = the situation of all, or almost all, humans coming to believe both propositions of set DS by the time of their physical death.
(A) If the God of Christianity-DS 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).
(B) If a being who has all four properties listed above were to exist, then situation S would have to obtain.
(C) But situation S does not obtain. It is not the case that all, or almost all, humans have come to believe both propositions of set DS by the time of their physical death.
(D) Therefore [from (B) & (C)], there does not exist a being who has all four properties listed in premise (A).
(E) Hence [from (A) & (D)], the God of Christianity-DS does not exist.
Two brief comments about this argument.
First, I put (A)(3) in red font to emphasize what I think is a crucial, unstated premise in John’s argument. His argument would be strengthened, I think, by putting something like that in his argument.
Second, it’s important to notice that, with this argument, what constitutes the evidence against the God of Christianity-DS is not the bad private, subjective reasons some people have for rejecting DS per se. Rather, it’s the fact of nonbelief in DS.