Reading Time: 4 minutes A perfectly acceptable graven image on the lawn of the Clarke County Baptist Association's offices in Quitman, Mississippi. (George Bannister, CC.)
Reading Time: 4 minutes

To continue the theme of evidence with relation to convincing believers and non-believers to either maintain their belief or take on belief in God, after the recent set of articles concerning Doubting Thomas, let me bring philosopher Walter Sinnott-Armstrong into play with a quote from his book with William Lane Craig entitled God? A Debate between a Christian and an Atheist:

Here is where Craig’s second response kicks in: “there is no reason at all to think that if God were to make His existence more manifest, more people would come into a saving relationship with Him.” (109) no reason at all? Here’s one: Those who now love and believe in God would not lose their fatal love for God if His existence were made more manifest in the proper way. Some others who do not now believing God would come to believe in Him if His existence were more manifest all of these new believers will love God, but some will, especially if God reveals His goodness. So there would be more people who believe in God and love God if His existence were more manifest.

The only way in which this argument could fail is if the new evidence made enough people lose their love of God. Craig talks about “a neon cross in the sky” and “brazen advertisements” that make people “chafe” and “resent such effrontery.” (109) this parody misses my point. Such bungling is beneath God. Surely an all-knowing and all-powerful God could find and use some way to make Himself more manifest, at least two non-believers, without undermining believers’ love for Him. God could appear to each person with just enough evidence of the right kind to convince that individual. Or, at least, God could provide rapists and murderers with enough evidence to dissuade them from their rampages. This evidence need not be seen by non-criminal believers, in which case the evidence for non-believers could not turn those believers against God. Moreover, even if God did give extra evidence to believers, possibly in order to relieve their doubts, this evidence could be limited to whatever is appropriate. An all-powerful God wouldn’t need to be open quotes brazen” in order to give better people evidence than they now have for His existence if God gave additional evidence in some proper way, then “more people would come into a saving relationship with Him” (109), and humans will benefit in many ways at little or no cost to anyone. I might not be able to specify exactly how God would do this, but an all-knowing God could figure out how to do it, and all-powerful God could do it, and an all-good God would do it. (p. 133-34)

We have this ever-present issue of why God would create a world where most people would not come to believe in God and enter into a loving union with him. Especially problematic since he designed and created everything in this world and is ultimately responsible for it. The usual defence from theists is the free will defence whereby this is a corollary of free will. However, God could create a form of free will that had 5% fewer or 5% more people believing in him. He could manifest a universe in any way that gives you more or fewer believers. But he settled upon this one. He doesn’t seem to want more people coming to believe in him and enter into a loving union with him otherwise he would produce a universe whereby there were more! Yet it appears that this is the sole purpose of humanity, as far as theists are concerned!

I think the whole problem for theists in these sorts of debates is the fact that God is, indeed, ultimately responsible for his creation. Any reliance on free will deflects away from the simple fact of the matter for theists that God created free will and the universe in which that form of causality exists. Of course, I deny libertarian free will as it is philosophically incoherent, as does pretty much every single philosopher worth their salt. That is, as according to the metadata for the PhilPapers survey, apart from theistic philosophers, and this is because they need free will as a foundation for belief in a judgemental God.

The free will defence is a very weak deflection away from the fundamental problem that God is ultimately responsible for everything in this universe. Especially since, if, as a theist, you adhere to divine foreknowledge: God knew every single event that would come to pass in the universe, every single decision and person and counterfactual, and designed and created that universe anyway.

The free will, divine foreknowledge and unfair distribution of evidence arguments are insoluble for the theist, in my opinion. Apologists like Dave Armstrong can protest all they like, but they appear to do nothing to solve these problems.


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Bert Bigelow is a trained engineer who pursued a career in software design. Now retired, he enjoys writing short essays on many subjects but mainly focuses on politics and religion and the intersection...