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This is a continuation of my debate with Catholic Paul Hoffer concerning the unfairness in God in apportioning various people different evidences and punishing them (or not rewarding them intrinsically or extrinsically) in so doing. What this means is that either people go to heaven/hell on the basis of their belief in God (or belief plus works – but bear in mind that you cannot have a loving relationship with God if you don’t believe in God), and this belief is predicated upon evidence (we can discount belief in a god without any evidence whatsoever, since you would know nothing about your belief), and evidence is unfairly and/or unevenly distributed. But also, people are rewarded in life (i.e. not having to wait to the afterlife):  the intrinsic reward and value of entering into a loving union with God whilst alive on Earth.

Please read the previous pieces for context. There are quite a few:

And then the last one:

Here are a couple of useful syllogisms I have employed:

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


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.

Debating Fairness

The two main takeaways from his position discussed in my first post are:

  1. Fairness is not part of omnibenevolence (and omnibenevolence itself not being a dogma of Catholicism).
  2. God is not and need not be fair. This is especially so given my apparently dubious definition of fairness.

In his section “B. Does God Have to Be Fair?”, Hoffer states:

As I have stated already, your argument’s underlying enthymeme is that the “classical version of God” is supposedly fair. I reject your unspoken premise and state that fairness, at least as you describe it, is not an attribute of God at all.

I really do wonder how many Christians would adhere to this statement. My guess is, well, probably none. I mean, really, this is a pretty controversial statement. My idea of fairness is that God treats everyone fairly and equitably, and does not exhibit favoritism. As I said previously, in defining a particular aspect of fairness pertinent to this debate:

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.

The problem is that Paul Hoffer appears to completely misunderstand my idea of fairness and misinterpreted it by giving this account of what I had previously said, an account that appears to be quite incorrect (he’s got it the wrong way round):

Before we discuss whether God is fair, we need to grasp what your definition of fairness is. In your debate with Dave Armstrong, you argue that since our destination in the afterlife depends on accepting the existence of God, then God owes us EOAG (equality of access to God), meaning that somehow God should apportion the evidence of His existence to each person in the same was, in the same measure, and ensure that each person equally believes in Him. Equality in outcomes seems to be your definition of fairness.

In fact, I very clearly expressed my position in this previous article:

Remember, for God to be truly fair, every single human would have to have exactly the same balance of the combination of:

  • rejection disposition

  • access to evidence

  • biological environment to be able to deal with evidence etc

  • non-biological environment

Let’s call the above selection of variables “equality of opportunity of access to God”, or EOAG….

If God was truly fair, every human would have to have identical EOAG. This would not look like merely exactly the same evidence for everyone, but a quantifiable equivalent matrix output given all of the above variables.

This would be hellishly complex and perhaps impossible, and you would have to be able to quantify “rejection disposition” so it is able to be used in the same equation as “(access to) evidence”: all variables need to be quantifiably comparable in order for one to be able to balance out the other to a required exactitude. Moreover, because we like science and explanations and causality, it would be nice to understand what actually underwrites variance in “rejection disposition”. Gervais and Norenzayan, at least, offer explanations as to why men, scientists and certain autistics reject God. It’s not just “free will wot did it” nonsense. See “Mentalizing Deficits Constrain Belief in a Personal God” to understand how variables affect whether one believe in God or not – that it’s not just one person “deciding”, ceteris paribus, to reject God where another identical person in an identical causal circumstance would accept God. That’s pretty juvenile and naive psychology and philosophy if you believe that.

I’m not sure that such a calculation can be done, at any rate.

Assuming it can, though, you would start moving towards a sort of homogeneity….

Which is not what Hoffer claims that my own position is. He says that my idea of divine fairness is to give equality of outcome. This is a massive problem within equality activism that the right-wing usually accuse the left-wing of being, without properly understanding the philosophy involved. The right always accuse the left of arguing for equality of outcomes when the left is far more often involved in arguing for equality of opportunity. That is not to say that all people should have the same and be the same at the end, but rather that they should have the same access to those given scenarios. For example, though, that is not to say that men and women should all do the same jobs in the same proportions but that woman should have the same opportunity to access those same jobs even if, on balance, many women choose not to become, say, construction workers.

So what I am saying here is that to give someone a 95% evidence provision and someone else a 3% evidence provision is completely unfair because they have an unequal opportunity of access to God’s love.

To clarify, I’m not saying that everyone needs to believe in God if God existed. My opinion would be that this shouldn’t matter a jot. That problem comes in when you are punishing people or rewarding them on the basis of whether or not they believe, and you have stacked various causal circumstances differently. In that case, you should definitely give equality of opportunity of access to God’s love using a matrix such as indicated above.

Hoffer then continued:

However, there is a false assumption that needs to be disabused at the outset. Whether we go to heaven or hell is not based solely on a belief that God exists. We are judged not on our intellect but on loving God and our neighbor according to our circumstances.

Which is odd, because it seems like he is now accepting the importance of causal circumstances. (And for the record, it makes no difference whether you believe it is faith or works, or both, that leads to judgement – call it the decision(s) to do stuff.) “Circumstances” imply things outside of our control, otherwise Hoffer would just say “the agent” – so that’s a little problematic.

Doxastic Voluntarism

Hoffer needs to look at the issues surrounding doxastic voluntarism since it looks like he adheres to it. This is a problem. We simply can’t choose to believe something. I cannot choose to actually believe the moon is made of cheese. I need evidence to reach a certain threshold in order for my mind to subconsciously switch from disbelieve to believe. Thus belief is determined by levels of evidence, and though those thresholds are variable, at the point of believing or not believing, they are not consciously controllable by the agent.

Hoffer needs to look into this because this is the crux of the evidence–>belief debate. Without solving the problem of doxastic voluntarism, his 20,000-word piece is a pointless exercise. He hasn’t done so; therefore, his piece is a pointless exercise.


Which is all rather related to the free will problem.

Free Will. Again.

Drilling down further, the added problem with Paul Hoffer here is that he inserts free will as a nebulous and supposedly coherent idea that unjustifiably does an awful lot of legwork for his thesis. Indeed, it is crucial. However, as we shall see, it is incoherent at best.

What apologists like Hoffer do is dismiss the whole notion of causal circumstances and actual causality in favour of “free will did it”. Such people would accept, one would imagine, going into a psychologist’s office and saying, “Doctor, I have this problem, what do you think is going on? Why do I do it and what can you do about it?” “Well,” says the psychologist, “do you freely choose to do X? Yes? Well, it’s free will. There’s nothing I can do. In fact, I’m quitting because my job here is redundant. Turns out everyone’s got libertarian free will.”

Of course, psychology is dependent upon notions of determinism and causality.

What Hoffer no doubt thinks is that if you have Della And Ellie and they both have the same level of evidence, but Della believes and Ellie doesn’t, then it is down to Ellie’s free will that she doesn’t, and she is thus culpable for punishment. Of course, that is not what goes on – there are always different causal circumstances – different histories, biologies, learning, environments and all sorts.

This is best analogised by the 10-minute thought experiment. (Forget whether this is doable or not in reality, given quantum etc.) This is better exemplified by taking one agent rather than two. Let’s take Ellie. She is in causal circumstance CC1, where this is everything about the universe – its past and present – down to every wave function and every piece of prior learning etc., now being unable for Ellie to affect. Ellie chooses to reject God in CC1. Hoffer would claim she freely chooses to do so. The problem, as we shall see, is that this is contra-causal free will and depends upon a coherent account (quantum notwithstanding) of the garden of forking paths principle (the Principle of Alternate Possibilities).

Now imagine Ellie living for, say, 10 minutes, and then rewinding the universe back to CC1 again. Everything about the universe is identical to the original play-through. This is the same causal circumstance, after all. Hoffer would now say that Ellie really has the ability to choose otherwise – to accept God in CC1.

This breaks the law of non-contradiction since reject God (rG) and accept God (~rG) are both true in CC1. What could underwrite these two choices in identicl scenarios?We can imagine CC1 underwrites the rejection in the first playthrough. But if CC1 is also true for acceptance, we have an incoherence. To merely say “free will did it” is to add nothing – it is synonymous with acausality or random. Either something is caused (determinism) or it is uncaused (random). There is no middle ground.  You cannot defer to causality involving anything outside the agent, nor inside the agent (biology, genetics, learning, personality etc.) becaue these are all identical in both scenarios. This leaves nothing, and is why religious people often invent the soul as a vehicle for this (and thus create the soul of the gaps scenario). This just pushes the problem back into another nebulous entity that can have no connection to the world, causality, or determination. In other words, this would look like random too.

This is also why virtually every philosopher disbelieves in libertarian free will (LFW), apart from religious philosophers. They need it to make sense of a judgemental god (see the Philpapers 2009 survey and its metadata).

Personally, I think it is lazy argumentation and lazy thinking. Most theists are prepared to jettison logic and philosophy in light of allowing for LFW without any justification.

I could go on but you’ve heard this from me before. Suffice to say that Hoffer, unless he can do what no other philosopher has done, and establish epistemic warrant and philosophical justification for libertarian free will, does not have a leg to stand on for his thesis. I need not go on.

Problem is, there’s another 15,000 words to go, and he’s already basing his argument on a misunderstanding of me, and an incoherent philosophical notion of LFW that simply does not stand up to any kind of scrutiny. This is why I have often said that if I was to debate any theist about the existence of God in a fmoral debate, my opening salvo would be to demand that they coherently explain LFW, or the rest is irrelevant.

I guess I’ll persevere with this series monetheless, but without Hoffer addressing his misinterpretation and the massive issues with free will, we have something of a sticking point.



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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,...

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