Initial Impressions on the Andrews-Schieber Debate: Part 2

(Continued from Part 1)

Justin Schieber’s Case against Christian Theism

Schieber presents three arguments against Christian theism: (1) the GodWorld argument; (2) the soteriological argument from evil; and (3) an argument about the possibility of divine lies in the Bible. Let’s each argument in turn.

The GodWorld Argument

Schieber defines “GodWorld” as “that possible world where God exists alone (AND nothing else exists) for eternity.” The arguments runs as follows.

(17) If the Christian God exists, then GodWorld is the unique BPW.
(18) If GodWorld is the unique BPW, then the Christian God would maintain GodWorld.
(19) GodWorld is false because the universe exists.
(20) Therefore, The Christian God, as so defined, doesn’t exist.

I think this is an interesting argument. One worry I have about this argument is (17), which seems to based on a highly questionable assumption. It starts with the following, correct statement:

(17.a) If the Christian god exists, then then Christian god is the best possible being.

And then somehow arrives at this conclusion:

(17) If the Christian God exists, then GodWorld is the unique BPW.

What justifies the move from (17.a) to (17)?  Schieber suggests the following answer.

(17.b) If the Christian god exists, then there is no Goodness independent of God.

As I say, Schieber suggests that answer but it isn’t clear if he actually believes it.

The next step seems to be:

(17.c) If there is no Goodness independent of God, then any possible worlds which contained both God and other objects (or subjects)  would not be as good as Godworld.

From (17.a), (17.b), and (17.c) we then get:

(17) If the Christian God exists, then GodWorld is the unique BPW.

This argument fails, however, for two reasons. First, (17.b) is false. The existence of the Christian god (subject to various caveats) is logically compatible with Goodness independent of God. Second, even if (17.b) were true, (17.c) is false. Consider the following analogy. There various denominations of U.S. dollar bills: $1, $5, $10, $20, $50, $100, etc., up to a $100,000 bill. Let’s call the $100,000 bill the “most valuable bill” or MVB. Suppose someone said, “A safe that has “only” the MVB is more valuable than another safe that has the MVB plus a $20 bill.” Since $100,020 is greater than $100,000, we would reject that as absurd.  $100,000 may be the most valuable bill, but it doesn’t follow that a safe with only the MVB is the most valuable safe.

It seems to me that Schieber’s argument faces essentially the same problem. It equivocates between the value of a being (the Christian God) and the value of a possible world (GodWorld). The Christian god may be the best possible being (BPB), but it doesn’t follow that a world with only the BPB is the best possible world (BPW).

The Soteriological Argument from Evil

Next, Schieber appeals to the so-called “soteriological problem of evil,” namely the problem of why, if God exists, He allows eternal suffering in Hell. I shall Schieber’s argument the “soteriological argument from evil” because it turns the problem into an argument for atheism.

(21) If God exists, he is essentially morally perfect, omnipotent, omniscient.
(22) If God exists, he chose to create Hell and send the vast majority of people to suffer eternally within it.
(23) There is no moral justification for sending anybody to suffer eternally in Hell.
(24) A being who acts in a way that is morally unjustified cannot be essentially morally perfect.
(25) God does not exist.

So long as we modify all of the references to “God” to “the Christian God,” then I don’t have much to say, other than I agree with this argument.

Divine Lies and Greater Goods?

Finally, Schieber presents the following argument.

(26) If the Christian GOD exists, then he has exhaustive knowledge of all moral Goods, Evils – And the entialment relations between them.
(27) We limited humans have no good reasons for thinking that OUR knowledge of the Goods, Evils & the entailment relationships between them is even slightly representative of the Goods, Evils & the entailment relationships between them that actually exist.
(28) IF 1 & 2, THEN We are in no position to place probabilities on whether there is a beyond-our-understanding justification for GOD’s lying to us in asserting D. (D being some biblical assertion.)
(29) IF we are in no position to place probabilities on whether there is a beyond-our- understanding justification for GOD’s lying to us in asserting D, THEN we do not ‘know’ any proposition that has biblical justification only.

This argument fails for the same reason that so-called “skeptical theism” fails as a response to evidential arguments from evil: both “skeptical theism” and Schieber’s divine lying argument ignore the theorem of total probability. Let E be some statement about evil in the world. Evidential arguments from evil typically contain a premise like this:

(30) Some known fact about evil is much more probable on the assumption that atheism is true than on the assumption that theism is true, i.e., Pr(E | atheism) >> Pr(E | theism).

Critics of arguments from evil (like Wykstra) argue that we cannot know if  Pr(E | atheism) >> Pr(E | theism), because there may be greater goods which justify God in allowing E, goods that are too complicated for humans to understand. While such goods are possible, their mere possibility misses the point. It’s also possible that there may be greater evils which prohibit God from allowing E, evils that are too complicated for humans to understand. Since there’s no reason to believe that unknown greater goods are more likely than unknown greater evils, both types of unknowns “cancel out.” The result is that we are left with a prima facie reason to believe that known facts about evil are much more probable on atheism than on theism.

It seems to me that Schieber’s divine lying argument faces a parallel problem. While it is possible that the Christian God has lied to us (for unknown greater goods), it doesn’t follow that probably the Christian God has lied to us (for unknown greater goods). It’s also possible that the Christian God has extra reasons for telling the truth, reasons that involve unknown greater goods. Since there’s no more reason to believe that God has lied to us for unknown reason than to believe God has told the truth for unknown reasons, both types of unknowns “cancel out.” The result is that, if we believe that the Christian God has made some Biblical assertion D, we are left with a prima facie reason to believe that God is telling the truth.

Link: An Ontological Disproof of Anselmian Theism by Ex-Apologist
Jesus: True Prophet or False Prophet? - Response to Eugene - Part 2
Jesus: True Prophet or False Prophet? - Response to Eugene
My Recent Call-In Segment with Trent Horn on Catholic Answers Live
About Jeffery Jay Lowder

Jeffery Jay Lowder is President Emeritus of Internet Infidels, Inc., which he co-founded in 1995. He is also co-editor of the book, The Empty Tomb: Jesus Beyond the Grave.


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