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Some of you may remember the recent spat I had with Dave Armstrong and others concerning Doubting Thomas and the fact that, if that account is true and there is an unequal distribution of evidence, God is unfair. For context, see:

The last one was a response to someone who is a Facebook friend of Catholic apologist Dave Armstrong who commented on Dave’s discussion of the above. He has now written a 20,000-word article attacking my claims. My!

Restating the Argument

It goes like this, based on the exposition that certain subgroups (men, certain autistics, etc.) are less likely to believe in a personal god:

How is it fair that certain subgroups of humanity have naturally less chance of being able to access God’s love? Autistic, and then scientists, and then men are less likely than other groups to believe in God – and this must be for a reason – in the case of autistic types, a mentalising deficit. This deficit can manifest itself as a lack of empathy, amongst other things, and carries over to men and scientists more so than women and non-scientists. In fact, this would appear to be the cause of why many similar such people ‘do science’ and is partly responsible for why so many more scientists are men. Let us look at a syllogism:

1) God is omnibenevolent and being such will have fairness as a benevolent attribute

2) God wants humans to enter into a loving relationship with him

3) God has designed people (or the system that designs people) to not have equal fairness and opportunity to access a loving relationship with him

4) God also has the power to level the playing field ex post facto but appears not to do so

C) God is not fair, and thus not omnibenevolent

Which is to say, given the same access to the same information, there is a natural variance in the ability to freely come to believe in God. And God is the ultimate designer and creator of this very scenario itself.

And this is pretty much how I couched Doubting Thomas – though instead of having a similar causal circumstance, Thomas was afforded a greater level of evidence than any other human being. This also applies to other humans who have had greater levels of evidence supplied to them. This might be a Catholic biblical exegete who has received education and understanding and perhaps even had a personal revelation or vision, compared to an Amazonian tribesperson from 1473, or a Saudi imam born and brought up in a staunch Islamic household.

The simple fact is that humans have both a variety of causal circumstances (including their own biological make-ups and varied brains) and a variety of evidence levels, all feeding into the eventual decision of “I do/do not believe in the Christian god” . And that also includes, as indicated, having NO access to evidence (all people before biblical times or in certain geographical locations throughout time).

You get the picture: God is unfair.

Paul Hoffer’s Claims

Paul Hoffer had now taken me to task on his blog Spes Mea Christus! It is a massive piece so I will only deal with part of it today. I will deal with his main points interlinearly:

Hoffer states (a synopsis of my words to begin with):

This is completely unfair and terrible double standards.

God is not fair.

Therefore, God is not perfect or omnibenevolent.

Note the premises in the argument.  Mr. Pearce presumes that a belief in the Resurrection is proof of God’s existence.

First off, I would not have said that. I would have talked of evidence but almost certainly not proof, or at most a common parlance usage of proof qua evidence. Just to clear that up (i.e., this does not prove God’s existence, but it is more evidence than, say, I am privy to).

Mr. Pearce presumes that fairness is an aspect of omnibenevolence (a term foreign to Catholic thought), and that omnibenevolence itself is an attribute of God.  Mr. Pearce also presumes that perfection is an attribute of God.

Although omnibenevolence does not feature in Catholic liturgy, it is sometimes used by Catholic writers (see Bishop Robert Barron) and the idea is very much discussed by Aquinas, who in Summa Theologica observed that God might allow evil for a greater good. This classic formulation of theodicy to answer the problem of evil does indeed imply omnibenevolence: God cannot be evil, so there must be a greater good to justify any existence of evil or suffering.

This much is obvious, so the point is utterly moot. Catholics do see God as omnibenevolent. I challenge any Catholic to claim God is not all-loving – that he falls short in some way – that God is not love.

Now to be clear, I agree that perfection is an attribute of God.  I might even agree that omnibenevolence could be an attribute of God, depending on the definition of omnibenevolence.  More importantly, I agree that God is not fair as Mr. Pearce seems to define the term.  That being said, I would add that God’s attributes do not require Him to be fair according to any human standards.  I would submit that Pearce’s definition of fairness excludes attributes like mercy that Christians ascribe to God.

The same point could be made about perfect being theology (PBT). Whilst some people prefer the dogma of divine simplicity and don’t care for carving up God into distinct properties, either way, Catholic or not, you would surely argue for God being perfect in some sense.  PBT is to say this being of God possesses the greatest array of compossible great-making properties. “Great-making properties” is generally used to signify those properties that it is intrinsically better to have than to not have, and God would have each of these to the maximal degree.

We know that Hoffer is happy to think of these distinct properties as he talks about me not considering God’s mercy. Apparently, God cannot be fair and merciful at the same time. There is the well-known dilemma of God’s perfect justice not according with perfect mercy. If God is to apportion just punishment, then he cannot show full mercy, perhaps? Of course, Hoffer’s point is to assume my understanding of fairness (in this context) is that it is synonymous with justice, and I don’t think it strictly is.

Moreover, Pearce’s definition of fairness ignores God’s gift of free will to humanity or the necessity of complimentariness resulting from our unique differences and individuality.  It is this complimentariness that makes it possible for individuals to relate to each other and God.

Libertarian free will does not exist. It’s that simple. No philosopher has ever shown contra-causal free will as working (since, you know, it’s contra-causal). This guy blithely asserting this concept as coherent does nothing to show it. So, before he goes on, he really needs to show this. And in so doing will get the Nobel Prize for Philosophy. I really get annoyed when apologists employ free will as an argument or point of refutation when they know damned well that it is philosophically incoherent and unsubstantiated. It’s lazy. Anyway, my first book was on the subject, as were chapters in other anthologies and plenty of writing here. He can knock himself out with that.

Hoffer goes on to detail the entire argument between Armstrong and myself. I won’t reiterate that. I summed up the argument from my point of view with my previously mentioned syllogism, to which he responded:

1)  God is omnibenevolent and being such will have fairness as a benevolent attribute. (Me- He needs to show that fairness is an attribute of omnibenevolence and that omnibenevolence itself is an attribute of God.)

2)  God wants humans to enter into a loving relationship with him. (Me-True, but the key to any relationship is consent, meaning free will.)

3)  God has designed people (or the system that designs people) to not have equal fairness and opportunity to access a loving relationship with him. (Me-He needs to prove this.)

4)  God also has the power to level the playing field ex post facto but appears not to do so. (Me-The answer to this argument depends on how the playing field is defined.)

C)   God is not fair, and thus not omnibenevolent. (Me-Again, assuming that fairness is a genuine attribute of omnibenevolence.)

Questioning Fairness…?

Hoffer takes issue:

The central feature of Mr. Pearce’s argument is his assertion that fairness is an aspect of God’s omnibenevolence.  However, he does not offer any proof for this assertion.

I’m not sure how you could do this or what he is really asking for. Proof that fairness is morally good? Surely this is axiomatic: a self-evident truth? Bizarre. It’s like he’s trying to pick holes without really knowing how to pick holes, or doing it for the sake of it.

Once he makes this claim without any empirical evidence to show that fairness is an attribute of God, he then sets out to show that God is unfair because God fails to offer empirical evidence of His existence necessary for true belief.  He then argues that God is fair only if he apportions the empirical evidence of His existence equally to everyone.

It would be bizarre if Hoffer thinks God is not (whether first-order fair, or second-order fair, overall if you will) fair or that fairness is not morally good. I think this approach is odd.

All I am saying is: A good God should be fair; God is not fair; therefore, God is not good or does not exist. I think my claims are fairly obvious and it should be him to offer proof or evidence to the contrary! How can he make sense of an unfair God?

Hoffer continues later by saying:

Elaborating on the above comment, I maintain that classical theism does not hold that God is fair, and accordingly, any such argument is a dodge because fairness, as you define it, is not an attribute of God. Your argument rests on a category error. By combining the two syllogisms, you compound this error.

Unless I missed it in his piece, this is the crux of his argument. I just don’t get it; he is refuting my argument by attempting to refute the givens that it rests on – that God is fair. It’s not even an argument over whether God must be fair; rather, we can simply have an argument over whether or not God is fair. Let me be clear here, Hoffer is trying a strange sort of dodge where he sort of baits and switches to argue about whether fairness is part of classical theism or not. Okay, odd, but whatever; fair enough, fairness isn’t, for sake of argument. Let’s just keep this to a descriptive argument: God isn’t fair (whether or not this is a characteristic necessitated by classical theism).

Hoffer later claims:

I do not accept the premise that your view of fairness is an attribute or operation of God.

Apparently, it is my view of fairness that is wrong.

And it is obvious how I talk of fairness: giving everyone the equality of opportunity to access God’s love.

But this is supposedly not necessary for God. God is warranted in assigning different quotas of evidence and then punishing people digitally on this account.

If God is front-loading people who would simply reject God’s love/existence no matter what into times before the Bible, then the apologist must answer what is it about those people that God knows before they are created that they would reject him no matter what, where another person (Thomas) doesn’t? And God creates them anyway. God creates them to fail. Let’s exemplify this. God knows (having designed this to be) that, indubitably, Ash will reject God (‘s existence/love etc.) no matter what, so God creates Ash anyway in pre-biblical times. This answers the problem of why God would create people prior to his revelation. But Ash has no say over their creation; they didn’t choose to be born, or choose the factors that must lead to the rejection (because there must be factors, otherwise the causality is random). Ash is punished eternally for this. Beth is created in biblical times and knows Thomas. She comes to believe in Jesus and is accepted into heaven. Beth did not choose to be born then with the factors that led to her belief.

Thus before creating, God knows Ash will reject and Beth will accept, and God creates anyway. God designs and creates a scenario where Ash is condemned for eternity.

The problem here is multifaceted. Someone like Hoffer has to do mental gymnastics and it gets them in a twist.

Let’s take Colt. Colt has 54% of evidence and doesn’t believe. There are two scenarios here. Either Colt could believe with more evidence, say 55%, or there is no scenario where Colt can believe. God has designed and created it thusly – after all, he has complete sovereignty over creation. God either refuses to allow Colt that extra 1% such that he would hypothetically have sufficient evidence – where he does for someone else – or God refuses to not create Colt and condemn him and sees it necessary to create someone who has no chance of accessing God’s love.

Any person without sufficient evidence who does not believe is not given that extra evidence by God to believe. And yet, other people with less evidence do believe. There are believers with less evidence than Thomas, so this is not controversial. God definitely affords different people different levels of evidence, and some absolutely none.

And please don’t give me the heaven as a recalibration dodge: See “Heaven Is Not a Moral Justification“.

How on earth does the apologist make sense of this? I offered some “theodicies” of this formulation of the problem of evil in my previous pieces.

I stated:

1. Classical theism’s conception of God only exists if He is omnibenevolent.

2. Fairness is an aspect of omnibenevolence.

3. If God is not fair, then Classical theism’s conception of God does not exist.

To which he said:

It would then be incumbent on you to offer evidence that God is omnibenevolent and that fairness is a necessary aspect of omnibenevolence. Of course, you could never prove that God does not exist, only that our human understanding of God is flawed.

Again, this is a really odd thing to say. What is evidence here? How can I evidence something that so clearly does not exist? If you want rational argument for why God would have certain attributes, it’s all out there, from Aquinas and Anselm to Plantinga and Craig.

Also: “Of course, you could never prove that God does not exist, only that our human understanding of God is flawed.” FIFY.

I would note, though, that since you are the prosecutor here, you would have the burden of proof to show that God’s notion of fairness is the same as yours and that He should be held to your standard. However, you, sir, have not proven either assertion. You ask your readers to assume them, but I reject both claims. If you are claiming that your notion of fairness is an attribute of God, there is the small matter of evidence to support your assertion.

Here it is again. Look, it’s surely axiomatic that fairness is…fair, that it is good. We teach that to our children, we yearn for it in society, we take it as a moral given. I dare Hoffer to teach to children that it is good to be unfair, that unfairness should figure in every gamer, that it is something we should strive for…! No, the burden of proof is not on me to show that fairness is indeed good. It would clearly be incumbent upon him to show its negation. It’s literally in the definition of the word. Here are the first two I came across (Cambridge and Merriam-Webster, my emphasis):

  1. the quality of treating people equally or in a way that is right or reasonable
  2. fair or impartial treatmentlack of favoritism toward one side or another

If you want to argue these have no moral dimension and that God is unfair, then fine. I’ve won the argument.

I will leave it here for now as Hoffer starts talking about the Resurrection as if it is somehow good evidence, perhaps not realising I’ve just written an entire book on the Resurrection showing precisely the opposite. Just read this insanely naive claim:

As a skeptic, you know how powerful the Resurrection argument is. Given the way you are attacking the argument, you know you cannot refute it philosophically. There is simply no natural or materialistic way to explain how a dead person was restored to life days later. You can only attack it if you call the eyewitnesses liars. Rather than doing that, you attempt to poison the well by blathering about historical criticism, form criticism, the Documentary hypothesis, blah, blah, blah. What you are complaining about is if the Resurrection story is true, why did God choose a bunch of middle-class 1st century Jews to start a Church and proclaim the story rather than give each person direct empirical evidence for His existence?

I don’t want to sidetrack onto the Resurrection, only to say he is incredibly wrong with virtually every claim he makes.

I will return to look at the rest of his claims in forthcoming posts. I’m not saying he doesn’t answer my points above in his piece, only that I haven’t got to them yet. I only have so much time in the day.

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Jonathan MS Pearce

A TIPPLING PHILOSOPHER Jonathan MS Pearce is a philosopher, author, columnist, and public speaker with an interest in writing about almost anything, from skepticism to science, politics, and morality,...