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.

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.

  • Bradley Robert Compton

    Interesting analysis so far. I got the feeling that his divine lies argument was constructed only because of Andrews’ espousal of skeptical theism, not necessarily because he thought it was a good all purpose argument.

    While it is true that the argument fails in the same way that skeptical theism does, this could be considered a feature of the argument, not a flaw. I.E. Given that ‘you’ accept skeptical theism as a response to the problem of evil, the possibility of divine lies logically follows. Rejecting the premises of the argument then means rejecting ‘your’ defense against the evidential argument from evil.

  • http://mountincompetence.wordpress.com/ Nolan

    Wow, that is a great analysis. Some of the above occurred to me, but the vast majority I totally missed. Thanks for taking such a close look.

    I think this and the last post are good evidence that it is very, very hard- even for intelligent and studies people- to construct an argument that actually works. My confidence in my own “disproofs” of God have been lowered.

    • http://secularoutpost.infidels.org/ Jeffery Jay Lowder

      Thanks, for the compliment!

  • staircaseghost

    “It seems to me that Schieber’s divine lying argument faces a parallel problem.”

    It seems to me that this is a feature, not a bug. In fact I thought it was the entire point.

  • Justin Schieber

    Jeff, thanks for this excellent analysis. I’d like to write a reply in an attempt at a defense but I think I will wait until the series is complete!

  • sam

    “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)… 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.”
    I agree with this analysis, but I suppose that Justin might bolster his argument with, “While we are initially left with a prima facie reason to believe that god is telling the truth (if we believe that yhwh has made some biblical assertion D), if we believe that yhwh has made some additional biblical assertion E, we now have additional evidence that increases the probability that yhwh is lying to us.”
    These biblical assertions would include admissions by yhwh that he regularly deceives (and kills) prophets in order to test others’ loyalty (EZ 14:9, DT 13:1-5), sends power delusions in order to condemn unbelievers (2TH 2:11-13), imprisons everyone in disobedience in order to afford himself the opportunity to express his mercy (a la a victim of Munchhausen syndrome by proxy; RO 11:32), revokes human freewill in order to initiate genocide (JS 11:20, DT 2:30), and otherwise prevent understanding in order to prevent forgiveness (JN 12:37-41, MT 11:25, MK 4:11-12, MT 13:10-15).
    And perhaps Paul is correct, maybe the greater goods that result from all of yhwh’s deception is for the purpose of making known the riches of his glory to those few objects of mercy (RO 9:18-24). Perhaps 600 Coptic Christians from the 4th century CE were the only ones who got it right, and all the rest of us will burn eternally in hell as objects of wrath for the delight of those 600 in heaven.

  • Brandon McCleary

    I do not believe that the parallel problem for the Divine Lies Argument results in a prima facie reason to believe that the Christian God is telling the truth, because it seems to me that the prima facie reason relies on a belief about the moral nature of the Christian God, which is dependent on the Bible or other special revelation for justification. It doesn’t seem obvious that the moral nature of the generic God of theism, as argued by some form of the Moral Argument, applies to the Christian God. Rather, it seems to me that to apply that moral nature to the Christian God, one would have to first have good reasons to believe that the Christian God has that moral nature(perhaps by being identified as that generic theist God), which is dependent on special revelation of some sort, which is the very thing that is being called into question.

    This all said, I would be perfectly fine with being shown to be wrong on some level. I am not very well-versed in these things, but I still wanted to share my thoughts!

  • http://notnotaphilosopher.wordpress.com/ Jason Thibodeau

    “(22) If God exists, he chose to create Hell and send the vast majority of people to suffer eternally within it.”

    I don’t think that all Christians agree with this. It is certainly open to Christians to believe that nobody suffers eternally in Hell, let alone the vast majority of people.

    Furthermore, I don’t see why a Christian has to understand Hell as a realm of suffering.

    This is a great argument against some versions of Christianity, but not all.

    • http://Doubtcast.org/ Justin Schieber

      I do not think the atheist is limited to arguments that only appeal to theological premises that all Christians hold to – that is unfair and unreasonable. Christians believe in so many different things – under your reasoning, I couldn’t even criticize the trinity.

      My argument was aimed at my opponent’s conception of God so questions of what really as the ‘Christian essentials’ (as if there were such a thing) are irrelevant here.

      • http://notnotaphilosopher.wordpress.com/ Jason Thibodeau

        Justin,
        I wasn’t trying to say that your argument was completely illegitimate. Indeed, I think that it is a very good criticism of the sort of Christianity that the vast majority of Christians believe in.

        I also certainly don’t think that you cannot criticize the trinity. It is an incoherent notion, and Christian who believe in it can and should be subject to criticism. However, there are Christians who reject the trinity, so these criticisms would not be useful against those forms of belief. But an argument against the trinity is not an argument for atheism, at least not directly. Nor is is an argument that shows that Christian theism is false (since that is too broad a category).

        So, and this may be a place that you and I might disagree (and I admit that I am quite possible wrong): I don’t think that your criticism of the doctrine of Hell (as understood by many Christians) is an argument for atheism or against Christian theism inasmuch as one can be a Christian theist without holding the doctrine that you legitimately criticize. So, it is a very good argument against many forms of Christianity, but not all. It is perfectly valid to raise as an objection to your opponents belief system. But it is not an argument for atheism, I don’t think.

        • http://Doubtcast.org/ Justin Schieber

          I don’t claim it be an argument for atheism, only an argument against Christianity. Granted not all Christians believe in hell but it is also true that not all Christians believe in the trinity or the physical resurrection for that matter. My point was that it seems unfair to limit contra-Christian arguments to criticizing only those things which ALL Christians agree on because, if we do that, then what is being considered ‘Christianity’ isn’t something the vast majority of Christians would recognize as Christianity.

          Under that view, Christianity = Monotheism… plus Jesus being, in some sense, ‘raised’ from the dead.

          I don’t know any Christian who thinks these are the only essentials of Christianity and so I feel that arguments from Hell for example are perfectly appropriate – esp. since my opponent in this debate does believe in hell and apparently sees it as being logically entailed by God’s perfect Justice.

          Hope that makes sense.

  • DannyW

    I think you may have slightly misrepresented Justin’s last argument. I don’t think it was independently supposed to be a “proof for atheism”. It was designed to head off Andrew’s objection to the problem of evil. I.e., if Andrews wants to defeat (2) using Skeptical Theism, he falls on the sword of (3).

  • http://www.infidels.org/library/modern/ed_babinski/babinski-bio.html EdwardTBabinski

    Hi Jeff, I can’t make heads or tails out of “God,”

    What kind of thought processes can an infinite Being have if it already instantly knows the results? And why create anything at all if you have an infinite mind and can envision things perfectly without even having to create them?

    Or take any property and claim it’s “infinite.” Infinite wisdom, What does that mean when you’re the only thing that really exists and out of which everything else comes? Such a God would simply be “it” as much as a godless cosmos is simply “it” rather than necessarily being “wise.”

    Speaking of wisdom, how wise is it to grant free will to Beings other than yourself?

    Or, if you’re Calvinist, what kind of wisdom tells you to create beings just so you can arrange for the eternal damnation of some?

    Why is either view necessarily an example of “infinite wisdom?” Universalists would certainly disagree with the Calvinists as to what constitutes wisdom in such cases.

    God is an infinite Being but cannot choose evil because there is no evil in Him, but God can grant that choice to lesser beings he creates, but cannot grant such a choice to Himself?

    As for arguments where theists claim God is “simple,” how can God be “simple” and still be everywhere, in all things, and sustaining all things? So I guess everything in reality is “simple,” or else God is infinitely complex just like the cosmos. Or maybe neither the term simplicity nor complexity is really saying much at all.

  • Hardaim

    Your first criticism really misses the entire point of the argument, and your analogy seems faulty. God’s properties are at a state to which they could not possibly be any better and they’re not as 2 dimensional as, “Oh we can just add 1 to that”, lol. Also, most if not all theistic Philosophers DO think that God is the only unique source of good in the world. Sure there will be a higher number OF great-making properties if he creates, but the overall QUALITY would have been degraded at the moment of creation.


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