The Uneven Evidence Debate: Responding to Paul Hoffer

The Uneven Evidence Debate: Responding to Paul Hoffer March 23, 2021

As I am sure you are aware by now, I have been embroiled in a debate with myself Dave Armstrong about the uneven apportioning of evidence to humanity over time and place. It moved more into the philosophical domain, so Armstrong invoked a comment from, one presumes, a more philosophical commenter at one of his social media sites. I’m somewhat surprised Dave was so impressed to provide it – I’m sure he could’ve done a better job himself. [EDIT: Thanks for the commenter, Paul Hoffer, for getting involved and defending his comments here – all of which I have only seen after completing this piece.] Nonetheless, I will respond interlinearly to Paul Hoffer:

My friend Paul Hoffer on my Facebook page, responding to Jonathan:

There are two separate issues here that Mr. Pearce appears to merge together. The question, does God exist? Is a separate question from is God fair or not? Moreover, he assumes that God’s notion of fairness is the same as ours. It is actually a dodge.

Well no, I actually clearly delineated both on the various syllogisms I have created on this series. In reality, however, I can combine both: Does a fair god exist? (I.e., Does classical theism hold?)

As for that last comment, I could switch that: “He assumes God’s notion of fairness is different to ours. It is actually a dodge.” What’s good for the goose…

But this conversation is pointless if he’s questioning the meaning of fairness in the way that he is doing it (i.e., just as a dodge). Sure, we can discuss the calculation method: How long is the time period over which it is calculated? How many people can be removed from a decision to still be accounted for fairness? And so on. These are common ideas when discussing consequentialism. Because this is a question about moral consequentialism.

But for him to question fairness as a concept in the way that he does renders any such conversation pointless.

When he dies, Mr. Pearce wants to go up the Pearly Gates and say to God,

Let me stop him there. I don’t want to do that. I think the whole notion of heaven and hell is morally reprehensible. It’s also childish, and theists should grow out of it (as it seems they are starting to do regarding hell).

“It’s not my fault that I didn’t look for you, lead a moral life, or accept the Gospel (even though I know it enough to criticize it). If only You had done a better job revealing Yourself to me, maybe I would have been a decent good person, seeking You out in all things and accepting the truth of Your words. But You suck, God because You weren’t explicit enough for my tastes, even though it was good enough or all those other billions of schlubs out there who did find Your evidence to be explicit enough. For that, I deserve to get into heaven, no matter what. It’s a question of fairness after all.”

Thanks for speaking for me. Since I was at the pearly gates 1) I assume I would have to have been a decent person and 2) Are you implying I am not a decent person? Wow, you’re nice. You don’t know me, but, apparently, I can only be a decent human if I am your sort of Christian.

I can probably do a better job myself of offering what I would say. If I met God at the pearly gates and was able to speak my mind, I would say:

“I appreciate you judging me worthy of being here, despite my atheism, so that answers the question of faith vs works. I knew it made more sense this way! That aside, I’ll be frank with you. I’m not really sure what your game is here and down there, what your purpose is. You have made a pretty disastrous world if the intent is even to get more than half the people in it, over time and place, to enter into a loving relationship with you. The pain and suffering down there is at shocking levels. And that’s by your design. Also, given causality, I don’t get how you can be judgemental, especially since you designed us this way and knew in advance what we’d do. And a digital judgement for a continuum of behaviour? What’s that about? But, really, how come you made better arguments and better evidence to conclude that you don’t exist than you do? What’s with that? Because, you realise (of course you do!) this makes most of your followers on Earth pretty stupid. And quite a substantial number of them have been not very nice. Is that why most of them are in hell, and heaven seems to filled with decent atheists? Nice plot twist there. Dark! I really am interested in what moral consequentialism you are using to justify this all – what the greater good is. That is the holy grail. I mean, I get that you are using people instrumentally (even though most theists abhor moral consequentialism – that’s deliciously dark irony again!), but what is that greater good at whose alter everyone is being sacrificed? Other than that, what ales have you got here? Also, I’m vegan – is that a problem? I mean, I don’t want to be too good for heaven.”

Pearce’s argument is a conman’s approach to things. He denies that he has any responsibility to practice the skepticism that he claims he measures all things. Man is not a moral agent with free will. He claims that he has no duty to look for the truth of things, see the beauty of things, or open his eyes to the universe’s order and pattern that screams that there is a Designer and a Maker. It is like a person going to the Louvre and pretending that the Mona Lisa painted itself by an accidental mixture of paints that coincidentally fell on a canvas. He is skeptical about everything except his own atheism, apparently. He no longer is interested in the truth of things. He’s got it all figured out, you see.

Okay, though there are some interesting ideas here to do with moral responsibility (MR) and fatalism, this is also a hot mess. Parsing things down, we have:

  1. How can I pat myself on the back for my supposed superior skepticism given causal determinism (CD)?
  2. With CD comes no MR.
  3. People have a duty to look for truth, adhere to design arguments for God, and see beauty in things. (??) As a skeptic, I don’t have this duty.
  4. Paley’s Watchmaker argument.
  5. Apparently, I don’t question my own beliefs.

Really, I don’t need to afford much time to this nonsense. I’ve changed my mind on literally every major aspect of philosophy due to doing philosophy – Good, morality, abstract objects, politics, immigration. truth, knowledge etc etc. Has he? Put your money where your mouth is. (3)-(5) are either nonsense (duty?) or utterly irrelevant. (1) and (2) are actually quite interesting, though not pertinent to the problem of uneven evidence as discussed over the series. However, this is also something Dave Armstrong has brought up and I will be dealing with this in another upcoming post.

Essentially, this is all sidetrackign irrelevancy with no discursive value.

I would submit that Mr. Pearce is unfair to God.

Aww, poor God, with his malaria, Covid-19, and plate tectonics.

He wants us to assume that he actually has not been given access to evidence that shows Him that God exists, that Jesus Christ died and rose from the dead, and that He too is God. He wants us to presume that God has not given him a fair chance without knowing anything about him whatsoever. Even if that is the case, so what? Maybe God is biding His time waiting for the proper moment to give Mr. Pearce what he wants. Maybe Mr. Pearce is not smart enough, or ethically fit enough, or morally straight enough to accept the truth now.

Maybe, perhaps, could, probably. It’s all they have got, with their appeals to skeptical theism and punting to “God moves in mysterious ways”.

I’m not really sure why Dave posted this guy’s comments as if they were somehow well-thought-out and compelling; they aren’t. Also, he bemoans atheists being mean to him and not using fideistic arguments, and yet resorts to mere insult himself…

However, we do have his first good point:

Mr. Pearce probably should have added to his EAOG that it should happen by the age of reason or something just to make things ceteris paribus, to borrow a phrase.

Yes, for proper parity across all individuals, there should be an equal moment in life that God gives sufficient evidence by; this constrains God even more, and actually shows how even more unfair God is. So thanks for that.

Let’s go through his argument and sees if it holds water.

1. God is far from explicit about anything,

Oh really, I guess he cannot see, smell, hear, taste, and feel Creation. He is the proverbial bubble-boy cut off from the sensory world. I would submit that Mr. Pearce’s existence is pretty explicit proof that God exists. Now where to put the exhibit sticker…

No. And at best this gets you to deism. Having written a book about the Kalam Cosmological Argument (Did God Create the Universe from Nothing? Countering William Lane Craig’s Kalam Cosmological Argument [UK]), I am pretty well-versed in creation arguments. I suggest he goes and reads my book.

2. It requires one to be intelligent enough to wade through a parochial ancient holy text with vast effort and intellectual acumen to even remotely start getting there. (Unfair apportion of evidence again! Elitism.)

I am not quite sure I understand this argument.

Hint, no you don’t. Read this: Christianity Is Elitist.

Is Mr. Pearce admitting that he himself is a dummy and is too stupid to figure out how to read the Bible or that he is assuming that one needs to read the Bible to understand whether He exists (which no Catholic would ever argue and which the Bible itself explicitly denies-I guess God proves Pearce a liar because God was pretty explicit about that) or that Pearce’s atheism is merely influenced by Protestant thinking that he does not even recognize in this statement? This is a how-many-licks-doe-it-take-to-get-to-the- center-of-a-Tootsie Pop argument. Mr. Owl’s example shows us that Mr. Pearce’s argumentation is just as fallacious.

So, not only is this a straw man, but it is juvenile and insulting. Again, go read the argument above, which was linked in the article to which he was retaliating. Essentially, if Dave Armstrong has to devote his life (whilst already being in an economic and educational context to being able to do so) to researching and gaining this knowledge to be able to properly access the True Christianity and its full range of meaning, including from source and form criticism, and from the theology of biblical exegesis, then the religion looks pretty elitist to me.

3. All the time you spend doing that, you are not devoting the same to other holy texts – this requires a presupposed favoritism.

Again, a co-opted Protestant argument that does not work so well in the Catholic theological system as we do not argue that one can’t come to an understanding that God exists or that He is fair through one of the other theological systems.

Same applies to Protestantism, I guess. And animism. Shamanism. Islam. Those ISIS guys with their fundamentalist theology sure are accessing that same Catholic god. There may be some other person, here and there, whom Catholics could mentally gerrymander to argue has accessed the Catholic god without being Catholic, and having a completely different understanding of the theology and god, but this would have to be really rare.

4. Even after millennia of some of the best minds on the job, Christians can’t agree on how atonement works or that it definitely works.

This premise assumes that it is necessary for Christians to have to agree for Jesus Christ’s atonement to be salvific. Do we have to understand how Christ’s atonement reconciles the world to God, or is it merely enough that it did? Scientists claim that bees should not be able to fly, but they do anyway. The question of how atonement saved us is merely ancillary to the notion of the Incarnation anyway.

In my Resurrection book (forthcoming), I talk about mysterianism as a leading contender; they don’t know how it works, but it does. Faith!

Except, for the keystone to the whole edifice that is Christianity to be mysterian makes a whole mockery of the religion. This is meaning after all, not some unknown in a quantum equation. And atonement merely being ancillary to incarnation, to Jesus, is not to understand the whole Easter story’s significance. Hoffer might want to go and read some theologians. Indeed, when William Lane Craig had a pop at me for the claim about the circularity of belief in faith in the New Testament, at least we agreed on the importance of the Resurrection and associated meaning. But, to remain Catholic, ho about some Raymond Brown?

5. Atonement is the basis of Jesus’ death and arguably his entire earthly existence.

No God’s love is the basis for Jesus’ life and death and resurrection. Atonement is merely a measure of that love.

So, if Jesus didn’t die (and thus fulfilling the function of atonement), this would still hold?

6. Divine hiddenness. Incoherent revelation. Etc.

I would add man’s moral blindness, his sinfulness, and hardness of heart. It is always easier to blame the other guy for their own personal faults and failings. I am just following Mr. Pearce’s example.

False analogy. I’m not just blaming the other guy – not either in my laying out of the unfairness for the other guy in belief variance, nor in blaming God. After all, with divine foreknowledge, designed and created everything in this universe – all that was, is, and ever will be – and he has full divine sovereignty over it. What’s not to blame?

See God’s Divine Foreknowledge, His Culpability and the Problem of Evil. Hoffer very much needs to contend with that argument.

For all of his smugness, Mr. Pearce certainly appears not to have examined the Catholic system, for he seems profoundly ignorant of it. He does not seem to know how Catholics know God exists or whether we see that God is fair or does it even matter in our system. That is not a good thing when one holds oneself out as a philosopher of religion and decides to interact with Catholics.

Good old Catholics. Now, what was I saying about elitism…? It’s worth pointing out that I got my teaching qualification from a Catholic university, with Masters’ electives in actual explicit Catholic education, and I’ve had a decade of teaching in Catholic education (the education system is not secular in the UK). I have books of catechism on my shelves…

So my question to Mr. Pearce is, is God unfair, or are you? The world may never know…or at least it won’t until the Last Day. And where is Mr. Owl when you need him?

I didn’t, with full divine foreknowledge, design and create the entire universe. So the question is broken – it’s a false equivalence. But it’s nice for him to think I am on a par with his god.

With all due respect (hmmm), this is pretty lame stuff. I always think that when you get hit early doors with Paley’s Watchmaker, you’re dealing with someone who probably needs to do a little more reading, to think a little more critically, and to up his game.

It would be nice to have someone deal rationally and robustly with the actual claims and arguments that I make, not use this as an excuse to laud Catholicism whilst trotting out tired old apologist arguments that are not really connected to the point in hand.

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