Christian Colligation of Apologetics Debate Research & Evangelism

A Bit of Undigested Beef

Does the Existence of Non-Belief Prove God's Non-Existence?

By William Kesatie, J.D.



“You don’t believe in me,” observed the Ghost.
“I don’t,” said Scrooge.
“What evidence would you have of my reality beyond that of your senses?”
”I don’t know,” said Scrooge.
“Why do you doubt your senses?”
”Because,” said Scrooge, “a little thing affects them. A slight disorder of the stomach makes them cheats. You may be an undigested bit of beef, a blot of mustard, a crumb of cheese, a fragment of an underdone potato. There’s more of gravy than grave about you, whatever you are.”

--A Christmas Carol, by Charles Dickens.

Suppose that I were to argue: “I believe God exists, therefore He exists.” What's wrong with the argument? Such an argument is specious, irrational, and rather silly. I think you would be right. Putting it into a syllogism, you would see the unstated premise is the problem.

Argument (A)
Premise 1: I believe God exists.
(Unstated) Premise 2: What I believe exists must exist in actuality.
Conclusion: Therefore, God exists.
Now, suppose I were to argue “I don’t believe God exists, therefore He doesn’t exist.” Am I being any less specious, irrational, or silly? Of course not, because the middle term remains in only slightly unaltered form.
Argument (B)
Premise 1: I don't believe God exists.
(Unstated) Premise 2: What I believe doesn't exist must not exist in actuality.
Conclusion: Therefore, God doesn't exist.
Now, suppose that I were to expand it to say that the fact that some people don't believe means that God doesn't exist. Obviously, the middle unstated term is altered again, somewhat slightly, but the same flaw in the argument remains.
Argument (C)
Premise 1: Some people don't believe God exists.
(Unstated) Premise 2: What some people believe doesn't exist must not exist in actuality.
Conclusion: Therefore, God doesn't exist.
Since the argument is so apparently flawed, it raises the question of why Theodore Drange, a Professor of Philosophy at West Virginia University, in his Internet essay “The Argument from Evil and Nonbelief” on the Internet Infidels’ website (http://www.infidels.org/library/modern/theodore_drange/aeanb.html) would find there to be even a somewhat rational basis for asserting the fact that some people don't believe as a "sound argument establishing the proposition that God (conceived of in a certain way) does not exist". His essay argues against God’s existence based on the existence of evil (argument 1), and the existence of non-belief (argument 2), but exerts more effort on the second portion of his argument which he calls the “Argument from Nonbelief (ANB)” which he believes to be "the stronger of the two".

Since his essay has already been responded to on at least two occasions [“Concerning Theodore Drange's Argument from Evil for the Non-existence of God” by Shandon L. Guthrie (http://examinedlifejournal.com/archives/vol3ed10/drange.shtml) and “Response to the Arguments from Evil and Nonbelief” (1998) by Paul F. Pardi (http://www.infidels.org/library/modern/paul_pardi/response.html)], I do not propose to respond to each and every point raised. Rather, I want to focus on the main weakness of his argument (the reliance on inferences that God has no higher interest than that all people are saved), and his dismissal of the free will defense as a valid rejoinder to his argument.

THE ARGUMENT FROM NON-BELIEF (ANB)

Dr. Drange’s phrasing of the Argument from Non-Belief (ANB) is set forth in his essay as follows:

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

Using the above definitions, ANB may be expressed as follows:
(A) If God were [sic] 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 all the propositions of set P 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)], God does not exist.

The Argument Rises or Fails on the Truth of Premise (A3)- “not wanting anything else that conflicts with his desire to bring about situation S as strongly as it.”

While each of the four propositions found in Premise A may potentially be the subject of dispute, I believe (and Prof. Drange apparently agrees) that the lynchpin of his argument is found in premise (A3) which asserts that if God exists he would not want anything else that conflicts with his desire that all, or almost all, humans would come to believe the three propositions of set P by the time of their physical death as strongly as that desire.

Set P has three propositions that he argues one must believe in order to have belief in God. Since I have no plans to discuss in this essay exactly what is needed to have a belief in God, I will accept for purposes of this essay that Set P is true, and instead shorten his argument to saying that God would want people to believe He exists. Thus, I would restate his main argument in a syllogism of my own:

Argument (D)
Premise 1: Some people don't believe God exists.
Premise 2: If God exists, his highest desire would be that people come to believe in him.
Premise 3: Being omnipotent, God would be able acheive His desires.
Conclusion: Therefore, God doesn't exist.
Saying it differently, if God exists, his strongest desire would be to have people come to know and believe the three propositions set for in Set P. Since there exist people who don't believe in Him, it follows that God doesn't exist. I will now proceed to examine his argument more closely.

A. Stacking the Deck

In discussing Premise (A3), Prof. Drange first notes that Premise (A2) (which is largely uncontroversial), if standing alone, only asserts that God has as one of many competing desires the desire that all men be saved.

“ANB's premise (A2) states that if God were to exist then he would want to bring about situation S, where that is to be understood in a kind of minimal way, meaning only that the bringing about of situation S is among God's desires."

He then states that Premise (A3) is included to make God’s general desire for people to be saved--Premise (A2)--stronger than any other desires that God may hold.

"So, it is a desire that might be overridden by some other desire, which creates a need for premise (A3)."

Let's explore this a little. Prof. Drange starts with the proposition [Premise (A2)] that God wants all people to believe the three propositions of Set P. But if that is as far as it goes, then that may merely be one among God’s many desires. But obviously if it were only one of many desires which may be subordinated to other appropriate desires, then Prof. Drange cannot use people's failure to recognize the three propositions of Set P (their unbelief) as an argument against His existence. In other words, if God has other desires that He ranks higher than His desire for the actualization of Situation S, for whatever reason, then the fact that God does not actualize the salvation of all people is not an argument for God’s non-existence. Instead, the fact that God doesn’t save everyone becomes a simple reflection of choice, i.e., God chose some competing desire as more compelling than the desire for situation S. Looking at my restatement of his syllogism [Argument (D)], Premise 2 fails because it is not God's strongest desire. Without (A3), the best that Prof. Drange could contend is that God made a bad choice in choosing something as being more important than the actualizing of Situation S. Prof. Drange concedes the same:

"I would say that if there is some desire on God's part that overrides a desire to bring about situation S, then ANB's premise (A3), and ANB along with it, could be thereby refuted. In that case, the issue would be moot: it would matter very little whether or not we declare ANB's premise (A2) also false." (Emphasis added.)

Thus, Prof. Drange admits that his case rises or falls on the truth or falsity of (A3). If God has a conflicting desire that overrides his desire that all, or almost all, humans come to believe all three propositions of Set P by the time of their physical death, then his argument fails.

What compelling reason does Prof. Drange assert to show that God’s desire that all people come to believe Set P is paramount? As will be seen, neither logic nor the Bible provide a compelling reason to believe that Premise (A3) is true. Rather, Prof. Drange includes proposition (A3) solely because it is needed to make his argument work. He is stacking the deck so that the cards will fall against the existence of God.

B. Proving Too Little.

Since Prof. Drange asserts that his syllogism sets up a case against the existence of God, he bears the burden of demonstrating the truth of his lynchpin proposition. To meet this burden, Prof. Drange makes two arguments to support (A3), but not before he first concedes that his arguments are not based directly on any Biblical teaching, but are inferences.

There are no Biblical verses that support [Proposition (A3)] directly. If (A3) is to receive any support at all from the Bible, it would need to be of an indirect nature. (Emphasis added.)

1. The First Argument (Argument 8)

The first argument, which Prof. Drange labels argument (8), restates an argument which he earlier labeled argument (6). Argument (6) can be stated in the following syllogism:

Argument (E)
Premise 1: God wants all humans to be saved.
Premise 2: In order for people to be saved, they must believe in God and His Son.
Conclusion 1: Therefore, God must want all humans to believe in God and His Son.
Premise 3: To believe in God and His Son, one must believe (a) there exists a being who rules the entire universe; (b) That being loves humanity; and (c) Humanity has been provided with an afterlife.
Conclusion 2: Therefore, God wants all humans to believe (a) there exists a being who rules the entire universe; (b) That being loves humanity; and (c) Humanity has been provided with an afterlife.

Although I agree with Prof. Drange’s assessment that Calvinists would be inclined to object to Argument (6)’s first premise as the result of their acceptance of “double predestination”, I will accept Argument (6) as proven for the purposes of this essay. However, the acceptance of Argument (6) does not lead to the acceptance of Argument (8). Prof. Drange continues:

". . . Argument (6) appeals to the matter of people's eternal destiny. Since there can be nothing regarding humanity of a "weightier" nature than that (Matt. 10:28, 16:26; Mark 8:36-37; Luke 12:15-21), it follows that God can have no wants regarding humanity that outweigh his desire for its redemption and eventual salvation, which (on the exclusivist assumptions of most Christians) call for situation S." (Emphasis added.)

Having conceded that no Bible verses directly support his proposition, Prof. Drange attempts to use Bible verses which teach that people should be less concerned with their earthly lives; rather they should focus on God above because one day all will die and those who are not saved (who do not hold to Set P) face hell. I certainly concede that these verses teach that for humans there should be nothing "weightier" than concern about our souls. In Christian belief, even if you spend your life pursuing the good things of this world, you won’t be taking any of it with you. So, for us humans, our utmost concern ought to be God and both our own and other people's eternal destiny.

But does it follow that because humanity needs to spend its time pursing God that “God can have no wants regarding humanity that outweigh his desire for its redemption and eventual salvation”? Just because something should be most important to us from our human standpoint, does it necessarily follow that it is equally the most important thing to God? Isn’t it possible that these verses are directed to humanity to instruct us that we should be most concerned about our eternal destinies, but that God may have other things that concern Him more?

By way of example: suppose I have children and it is very important to me that they grow up to be good, kind and moral as adults. To that end, I instruct them on being good, punish them for being bad, and stress to them the need to be good, kind and moral. Does that necessarily mean that my highest priorities are that they grow up to be good, kind and moral? Not necessarily. My highest priorities may be to succeed in business or to excel at a particular musical instrument or even to watch reruns of Seinfeld on television. The fact that I have made it their highest priority in no way binds me to hold it as my highest priority. Likewise, even though God has made it clear that what he wants for us is to believe those things needed for salvation, it doesn't necessarily follow that God's highest desire is to save each and every person.

Prof. Drange continues:

"And since God wants everyone to be saved and to come to a knowledge of the truth, as shown in Argument (5), we may infer that there is no overriding want on God's part that would suppress his desire for situation S. This, then, provides some indirect support for ANB's premise (A3)."

With all due respect, this constitutes a huge inference on Prof. Drange’s part. While I concede that Prof. Drange has made a good case—-a powerful case, in fact-—that God wants everyone to be saved, Argument (8) does not support the key proposition of his argument, i.e., that this desire is his strongest desire (or, at least, stronger than any competing desire). Instead, based on undeniable evidence that it is important to God that all humanity be saved, Dr. Drange effectively assumes the truth of his lynchpin proposition.

2. The Second Argument (Argument 9)

Prof. Drange’s second argument, which he labels Argument (9), is actually four separate sub-arguments, but they fare no better than Argument (8):

"[A]ccording to the Bible, God has commanded people to believe in his son, which is quite forceful. Although that may not prove it, it does suggest that God's desire for situation S is not overridden by any other desire. [A]ccording to the Bible, God's commandment that people love him maximally is described as the greatest of all the commandments (Mt 22:38, Mk 12:29). That too suggests that God wants people to be aware of what he has done for them, which calls for them to believe set P, and that this is not a matter overridden by other considerations. Further, . . . according to the Bible, God not only sent out missionaries to spread all over the world the gospel message (which includes set P), but also provided some of them with miraculous powers in order to help get their listeners to accept the message. That suggests that situation S must have been such a high priority in God's mind as not to be overridden by anything else." (Emphasis added.)

These first three sub-arguments (which make up three-quarters of Argument 9) fail for the same reason as Argument 8. Even accepting the truth of each of the sub-arguments, i.e., that God has commanded us to love his Son, that loving God is the highest commandment, and that God sent missionaries to the world to accept the message, Prof. Drange still assumes that simply because God has made knowledge of Him a priority for us it follows that God has made it His own priority as well. But as I pointed out previously, that conclusion does not necessarily follow. Prof. Drange is obviously aware of the weakness of his own position by his repeated statements that these things “suggest” that the salvation of all men is God’s number one priority. While I admit that it suggests it, it is hardly the same as demonstrating it convincingly. Since the proof of Premise (A3) is the lynchpin of his argument, I think that the fact that the premise is only supported by “suggestions” hardly makes for a strong case.

I separated out his final sub-argument because I actually think it is more powerful, but it also fails for the same reason.

"Finally, Argument (4) has to do with the mission of God's son to the planet earth, indicating that a large part of that mission was to get a message out to the whole world that includes set P. It is hard to see how God could have any purpose regarding humanity that might override his son's mission to the planet earth. Evangelical Christians regard Jesus's mission as the key to human existence and the meaning of life, so it does not seem they could view it as overridden by something else."

This is a more interesting argument because the fact that God sent His only Son to die for our sins certainly suggests that God is very interested in our eternal destiny. But as has been previously discussed, the fact that God has a desire that all people be saved and was willing to die on the cross to allow for the possibility of the desire to be accomplished does not mean that such a desire is the paramount desire of God. It certainly does not prove that such desire is so weighty with God that He will allow nothing else to influence who and how many will be saved. More importantly, as will be shown below, the fact that God sent Jesus to die on the cross for the sins of man actually works against Prof. Drange’s point of view.

Prof. Drange, to his credit, admits that Argument (9) is inconclusive and that Premise (A3) receives no "direct explicit support from Scripture." Having made that admission, one would think that he would acknowledge that his earlier assertion that the ANB is a "sound argument establishing the proposition that God (conceived of in a certain way) does not exist" to be erroneous (or, at minimum, overstated. But rather than admit that his argument fails or is weak, he disingenuously tries to shift the burden of proof to the Christians to show what could be more important to God based upon what he has previously stated.

"On the other hand, this weakness may not be fatal, first of all because any support, even of an indirect nature, is better than none, and secondly because (A3) is put forward not just as a claim but also as a challenge. It says that if God were to exist, then he would not have a certain type of desire, one which both necessarily conflicts with and also outweighs his desire for situation S. It is certainly a challenge to even conceive of possible candidates for such a specialized desire, for it is hard to understand what God might want from humans as much as their belief in propositions, including set P, on which depends their love and worship of him, and possibly even their own salvation. There is absolutely nothing in the Bible to imply that God might have such a desire. To deny its existence, then, appears not to be such a terribly bold claim. It should be taken as a challenge by anyone who wishes to attack ANB's premise (A3) to describe a plausible candidate for the specialized desire called for in it." (Emphasis added.)

I am surprised that a University Professor would put forth an argument which he claims constitutes "a sound argument" where the most important proposition of the argument is not only unproven, but based largely on inconclusive inferences. I am even more surprised that he would, after recognizing that the argument is deeply flawed, attempt the amateurish trick of trying to shift the burden into a challenge to theists to overcome his own leap of logic by demanding that the theist supply the other desires that God may have. Moreover, he does so with a claim that there is "absolutely nothing in the Bible to imply that God might have such a desire" when the Biblical evidence for the existence of such a desire is at least as strong as the Biblical inference that he raises to find that God would have no other desire higher than the desire that Situation S is actualized.

But the real shame is that Prof. Drange lays out the challenge knowing full well that there exists an answer to his demand for a plausible candidate since he shortly thereafter launches into an attack on that candidate: the “Free Will Defense.”

The Free-Will Defense

While I do not believe that Prof. Drange has a perfect explanation of the “Free-Will Defense”, with the exception of the portion of his explanation that I have highlighted in bold print below, I will adopt the majority of his explanation. My objection to the highlighted language will become clear later. But with this exception, and accepting the general statement that God does knows that there is a point that if his existence is too patent it will amount to coersion, even using Prof. Drange's own explanation of the Free-Will Defense, his objections fail.

"According to this objection, which may be called 'the Free-Will Defense' or FWD for short, premise (A3) of ANB is false because there is something that God wants even more strongly than situation S and that is the free formation of proper theistic belief. God wants people to come to believe the propositions of set P freely and not as the result of any sort of coercion. He knows that people would indeed believe those propositions if he were to directly implant the belief in their minds or else perform spectacular miracles before them. But for him to do that would interfere with their free will, which he definitely does not want to happen. Since God's desire that humans retain their free will outweighs his desire for situation S, it follows that premise (A3) is false, which makes ANB unsound."

1. When God Becomes An Undigested Bit of Beef.

"There are many objections to FWD. First and foremost, assuming that God wants to avoid interfering with people's free will, it is not clear that that desire actually conflicts with his desire for situation S. Why should showing things to people interfere with their free will? People want to know the truth. It would seem, then, that to show them things would not interfere with their will, but would conform to it. 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."(Emphasis added.)

Prof. Drange makes a huge, unsupported statement here, to wit, people want to know the truth. At best, this statement is highly controversial. The wisdom of the ages has not supported it. Consider the following:

"All truth passes through three stages. First, it is ridiculed. Second, it is violently opposed. Third, it is accepted as being self-evident." -- Arthur Schopenhauer

"When one has one's hand full of truth it is not always wise to open it." -- French proverb

"The terrible thing about the quest for truth is that you find it." -- Remy de Gourmont

"He who tells the truth must have one foot in the stirrup." -- Armenian Proverb

From: Quotes About the Truth, (http://www.10ktruth.com/the_quotes/truth.htm).

The truth is a dangerous thing. In the old world, the harbringer of bad news could be put to death. Even today, people don't want to know the truth. In the words of one movie character played by Jack Nicholson: "The truth? You can't handle the truth." Consider how many people have strong reason to believe that their spouse or significant other is cheating on them, but ignore the evidence because they don't want to know the truth. Consider how many people working in business can see a downward spiral that is leading them towards bankruptcy, but they ignore the obvious thinking that it will get better next month. No, it is not in the least obvious that people want the truth.

From a Biblical point of view, the assumption that people want to know the truth is unsupportable. Since Eve first ate from the fruit of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil, we have been in active and total disobedience to God. The Bible teaches that people don’t want to know the truth about God, and possibly the clearest statement of this truth can be found in Romans 1:18 through Romans 2:16. These verses teach that God has given us sufficient knowledge to know that He is real and that knowledge is “clearly seen” (Romans 1:20) so that those who sin are “without excuse” (Romans 2:1), people choose to suppress the truth (Romans 1:18-19). Thus, the person who fails to acknowledge God knows the truth of His existence, but refuses to accept it.

This teaching leads to a couple of different conclusions. First, the Bible teaches that contrary to Prof. Drange's assertion, even the implanting of belief of the propositions of Set P does not necessarily lead to Situation S. The Bible teaches that God has written the knowledge of the truth of God in our hearts (Romans 1:18-20; Romans 2:14-15), so God has, in fact, done the very thing that Prof. Drange contends God ought to have done. Second, the verses show that God has given people the "free will" to "suppress the truth by their wickedness." (Romans 1:18) People, knowing the truth about God clearly, "neither glorified him as God nor gave thanks to him . . . ." (Romans 1:21) If it is the people who choose to ignore the obvious truth of God and suppress it, isn't that a clear, undeniable statement that people can choose against following God? Thus, I contend that Romans 1 and 2 not only confirms that the Free Will Defense is valid, but it shows that even with the direct implantation of the truth into each person (one of Prof. Drange's proposed solutions that God could have used to have people accept Set P), some (even many) reject the truth through their free will.

But what about the skeptic who contends that God’s existence is not “clearly seen”? Such people argue that they do not see God's existence as obvious and therefore the Bible must be wrong on this point. While I understand the nature of the problem, there is a very simple answer that explains the inability of the skeptic to see what the Bible asserts is "clearly seen": denial.

An analogous situation would be the situation of a person addicted to either alcohol or drugs. Many, many drug users are in denial about their addictions:

Millions of Americans are in denial about their drug use and should seek treatment, according to a 2001 survey. The National Household Survey on Drug Abuse found that 4.6 million drug abusers do not believe they have a problem. The number of people in denial has grown significantly from previous years.

"That's not uncommon," says Sherry Knapp, Ph.D., of the Ohio Hamilton County Alcohol and Drug Addiction Services Board. "There are probably more people who are in denial than that. It's a difficult thing for people to accept that they have a problem."

“Drug Use: Who Me? What Problem?” Provided by Psychology Today (http://health.yahoo.com/health/centers/addiction/2288.html).

From a Biblical point of view, we have an addiction: sin. Just as the drug addict or drunkard is in denial about a drug or alcohol problem, so the person who denies God’s existence is addicted to sin. They don’t see God because God’s existence would present an unwanted obstacle to leading the life of sin that they have chosen. And so the non-theist, like Ebenezer Scrooge, chalks up the belief in God to some defect in the Christian. God, they assert, isn’t real, and the belief in him is equivalent to Mr. Scrooge’s “undigested bit of beef” that has affected the senses.

So, where does this leave Prof. Drange’s first objection to the Free-Will Defense? Well, first and foremost it guts his argument that says that man, in his free will, wants to know the truth. If people really don’t want to know the truth and God forces the truth on them, their free will is definitely being violated. Moreover, God has already implanted the truth of his existence into their lives so it is no objection to say that God "could have" done so. It is simple denial by rebellious individuals that prevents them from seeing the truth of God.

2. You Can Lead A Horse To Water

Prof. Drange’s other objections to the FWD are largely the same as his first objection and fail for similar reasons. For example, he continues:

"Even if there were people whose free will would be interfered with by God showing them things, it would seem that such people would be benefitted [sic] by coming to know how things really are. Quite apart from the issue of salvation, just being aware that there is a God who loves humanity and who has provided an afterlife for it would bring comfort and hope to people. A loving God would certainly want them to have such comfort and hope. So, even if it were granted that showing things to some people interferes with their free will, FWD would still not work well, for it has not made clear why God should refrain from showing them things of which they ought to be aware. Such 'interference with free will' seems to be just what such people need to get 'straightened out'."

As shown in the immediately prior, this objection assumes that God hasn’t already made knowledge of Him clear. But the Bible says it has, and certainly many people and many philosophers have agreed that God’s existence is, in fact, obvious. It is the old adage of leading a horse to water. No one has to believe anything they don’t want to no matter how obvious it is.

But assuming for the sake of argument that God has not made it sufficiently clear, this second objection doesn’t overcome the FWD. Instead, all it does is assert that God should overcome our free-will if it is to our benefit to believe in Him. But that begs the very question that Prof. Drange attempts to discount: whether God can value free will equally with or more important than His own desire that all people be saved. It is a value judgment as to which desire is more important, and while Prof. Drange may find that in his value system overcoming the free will to make sure that we are saved is more important, he has no basis for claiming that God must make the same judgment.

3. God Wants Us To Believe The Irrational?

Prof. Drange next asserts that the “FWD seems to claim that God wants people to believe the propositions of set P in an irrational way, without good evidence.” With all due respect to Prof. Drange, this is an unsupported claim. The existence of God has been supported by many good and reasonable arguments over the years: the cosmological argument, the moral argument, the ontological argument, the teleological argument, the argument from miracles, the argument from the meaning of life, the argument from the mind, the argument from first principals, and on and on. Now, it is certainly true that these arguments have been attacked on a number of bases, but to my knowledge they have never been shown to be irrational. Individually, they make a strong claim for existence of God, but taken together as a cumulative case, they are very formidable. The arguments for God’s existence are rational and reasonable and certainly more “sound” than Prof. Drange’s Argument from Non-Belief.

4. Informing The Will; Not Overpowering It

"As another objection to FWD, even if it were true that showing people things interferes with their free will, that seems not to have been a very important consideration for God. According to the Bible, he did many things, some of them quite spectacular, in order to cause observers to have certain beliefs. An advocate of the argument needs to explain why God was willing to do such things in the past but is no longer willing to do them in the present."

First, the Bible does not present a God who regularly used miracles in ancient times to bring people to faith in Him. Long stretches of time pass in the Bible between outward manifestations by God of miracles that can only be accorded to Him and which were widely seen. The destruction of Sodom and Gomorrah, the ten plagues upon Egypt, the burning of the wetted alter of Baal are some of the few examples from the Old Testament of spectacular miracles, but the time separating each of these events were chronologically quite far apart. Moreover, most miracles were very individual, presented to one person, when few others were around, so it can hardly be said that the Bible presents an image of a God who regularly and consistently used miracles to make himself known.

Moreover, this is somewhat of a red herring because no one, to my knowledge, contends that God has done nothing that would give people the evidence that they need to know that He really exists. The miracles of the Bible are there as part of the proof for God’s existence. Without the active intervention of God in our natural world as authenticated by miracles, while we would know that God exists as the result of his implanting of the knowledge of His truth in our hearts, there would be little intellectual reason to believe in the God of the Bible over Allah, Zeus or Zoroaster. Christians are not saying that God does not make Himself known or try to inform the will of every person. Quite the opposite: in the words of the late Francis Schaeffer, “He is there and He is not silent.” He has made himself known, sometimes quite spectacularly. But simply because He has not made Himself known spectacularly to every single person does not mean that there is insufficient evidence to show that He is God to each and every person. The difference is between informing and overpowering. God has made Himself known in such a way that every person knows (but for their denial) that God is real. He has simply chosen (as the result of a value choice He has made) to not overpower people and force them to a belief in Him.

In the book The Case for Faith, J.P. Moreland gives an example of the difference. Suppose that you have a young son who does something wrong. If you tell him to apologize or you will spank him, you would expect that he would apologize. Why? Because he fears punishment. The apology would be disingenuous and a mere attempt to avoid punishment. Likewise, if God made Himself too obvious such that a person could not choose to disbelieve, then that person would not necessarily be lovingly coming to God. Rather, that person would choose to follow God because he would have no choice to do otherwise. That is overpowering the will which is what God apparently does not want to do.

5. The Stretch

"Finally, the claim that God has non-interference with human free will as a very high priority is not well supported in Scripture. According to the Bible, God killed millions of people. Surely that interfered with their free will, considering that they did not want to die. Furthermore, the Bible suggests that God knows the future and predestines people's fates. That, too, may interfere with human free will. In addition, there are many obstacles to free will in our present world (famine, mental retardation, grave diseases, premature death, etc.) and God does little or nothing to prevent them. This is not conclusive proof that God does not have human free will as a high priority, but it does count against it. It is at least another difficulty for the Free-Will Defense. Considering these many objections, the argument seems not to work very well."

Here is another stretch by Prof. Drange. First, when Christians speak about free will, it does not mean that God will not interfere with their lives in any way. It has been appointed for all men to die. Does the fact that people die interfere with their free will? Does the fact that people sometimes have to suffer through famine, disease or premature death interfere with their free will? Of course not. God interferes with free will when He overpowers the will and forces people to believe in Him. Accepting that God caused the deaths of many people (millions may be a stretch) in times such as the flood of Noah, that does not constitute an interference with their will. Each and every person who died in the flood could continue to disbelieve in God all the way up to their deaths. Now, it may be that people came to realize that they should have believed as the water overtook their refuges, but as I noted before, Christians do not say that God never reveals Himself. Rather, God has at times revealed Himself a bit more clearly to further a particular purpose—His plan of salvation, for example. To cite isolated examples as proof of a general rule is wrong.

Also, earlier Prof. Drange noted that the idea of double predestination is a view held by Calvinists and does not represent the view of all of Christianity. By his own admission, if double predestination is true, then we never reach the issue of free will with respect to his argument since premise (A3) fails. Thus, to raise the specter of double predestination as an objection to the FWD (which is itself a theory set forth by people who don’t accept double predestination to explain why God doesn’t save everyone) certainly fails to advance his case.

The Purpose Of Jesus’ Death On The Cross

Earlier, Dr. Drange argued that “it is hard to see how God could have any purpose regarding humanity that might override his son's mission to the planet earth” as evidence that God held no interest in higher regard than the salvation of humanity. But now, having shown that his objections to the free will defense are flawed, it should be noted that free will is the only thing that makes sense of Jesus’ death. If God’s strongest desire was to make sure that all people are saved such that He should be willing to override their free will, then what was the purpose of sending the Son at all? Why force a cosmic soap opera requiring the death of Jesus in order to pay for the sins of the world if, from the very beginning, God, if He exists, should have been directly infusing belief into all people since that is His highest priority? Could it be that the Biblical account of Jesus’ mission, life and death is itself the strongest argument for the existence of a value choice by God to give humanity the freedom to say no to God? Prof. Drange wants it both ways: he wants to accept the Bible account as evidence that God cares, but deny the obvious implications which follow from the Bible account.

Conclusion

Prof. Drange’s article raises an interesting challenge to Christianity, but his argument is not particularly compelling or even, as he asserts, “sound”. While he makes a very good case that the Bible teaches that God cares whether people have the necessary beliefs to gain salvation, his argument that God desires that people all, or most all, of the people come to believe Set P as His highest priority is very weak. Given that it is the lynchpin of his argument, the failure to support this argument with solid Biblical evidence rather than inferences from God’s statements as to what should concern us as humans makes his case remarkably weak.

His attack on the Free Will Defense fails because it assumes without argument that men want to know the truth, and because it assumes that God has not already made His existence sufficiently clear that anyone can rationally believe in God. He is utterly wrong in his belief that God’s extremely rare forays into humanity’s affairs constitutes proof that God has no concern about overpowering the wills of people. In fact, the account of Jesus’ ministry shows quite powerfully that God has the utmost concern for people while concurrently having determined that it is inappropriate to overpower their free will to suppress the truth.

©2004 William J. Kesatie




 
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