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A very quick synopsis so far in this debate initially with Catholic apologist Dave Armstrong and then carried on by Catholic Paul Hoffer. Please read the previous pieces for context. This will be the last one. There are quite a few previously:

And then the last one:

This about whether God needs to be fair when designing and creating the world, and given the vast difference ranging from no evidence at all (people living before the Bible, etc) up to poking the resurrected Jesus after seeing him crucified and dying, God is unfair in the way he apportions evidence/gives people access to belief and God’s love. This is generally how I talk of fairness in this context: 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.

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.

Where are we at?

I have previously tried to grapple with the 20,000-word attempted rebuttal that Paul Hoffer wrote. It’s quite a lot to get through and so for this last instalment I am going to skip to the end. Most of what I have already said is relevant to the large swathes of the piece that I’m not dealing with because he builds his case on misunderstandings and faulty claims.

We have so far learned from debating my interlocutor, in my opinion, that:

  1. God is unfair, and should have to produce some kind of complex matrix to allow everyone Equality of Opportunity to Access God (EOAG). Either God does not exist or he is not omnibenevolent.
  2. Hoffer misunderstands my views on fairness.
  3. Hoffer thinks God does not have to be fair, at least in terms of my (misunderstood) version of fairness.=, such as crucially misunderstanding my position as equality of outcome when it is equality of opportunity!
  4. Hoffer doesn’t adhere to God needing to be omnibenevolent, except really he does.
  5. Hoffer does not understand or give a coherent account of the causal variables involved in belief.
  6. Hoffer’s case rests on both doxastic voluntarism and libertarian free will, neither of which he establishes, both of which are incoherent and problematic.
  7. Paul Hoffer is using moral consequentialism, which is fair enough, only that most Christians decry this because it is a secular moral value system.
  8. God, according to pretty much all Christians, must be fair in some sense of the word, even if that includes notions of justice. But since we cannot question the mind of God, we must just assume that God is being fair or just even given prima facie evidence that he is not.
  9. Trying to bypass this problem by saying God doesn’t have to be fair because God is just simply fails; this is because justice and fairness are inextricably linked.
  10. Paul Hoffer’s/the general Christian’s use of grace is incoherent, and doesn’t solve the problem with, which ends up looking like a two-horned dilemma:
    1. Either a given agent deserves more generosity/mercy than the next agent – if so, what underwrites this just desert? or
    2. A given agent does not deserve more generosity than the next agent but gets it anyway: God is random.
  11. Hoffer uses heaven as a moral justification for unfairness on Earth, which is an unsound move. See Heaven Is Not a Moral Justification.
  12. Which is to say that, over life and afterlife combined, Hoffer is actually declaring that God is fair, even if it looks like he is being unfair in his distribution of evidence on Earth. This is, again, to embrace consequentialism.


I’m going to jump to Paul Hoffer’s conclusions:

1)   Your argument about the Doubting Thomas and fairness is based on several false premises.
A) Merging the two questions about God’s existence and whether He is fair is a dodge as one can argue God’s existence without the necessity of knowing anything about the attributes of God. The question of His fairness is irrelevant to the question of whether He exists.
B) Your argument about God being unfair is based on a false assertion that fairness is an attribute of God. It is not. Because God is just and merciful, He can not be fair as well.
C) Sufficiency is not the same thing as credibility. Sufficiency goes to what the average person would think of the evidence. Credibility is an individual exercise. Moreover, we are all given sufficient evidence to accept the existence of God. Some choose not to accept the evidence.
2) Assuming you clear the above hurdles, you have not proved why God should be judged according to your particular metric of fairness instead of some other metric of fairness.
3) Further, your argument assumes that God judges us according to a certain standard that does not consider our individuality or our differences. Again, this is another false premise in your argument.
4) Finally, I have fully addressed and rebutted the 6 points you raised in your last article in the argument between you and Dave arguing that God does not exist. I agree with Dave’s points as stated in his articles, and stand behind my original comments and the arguments I made, fleshing them out here.
As for your characterization of my comments as nonsense and lame stuff, thank you. My faith tradition teaches me to turn the other cheek. Any time I get insulted for defending my faith, it is a good day. I appreciate debating you, and I will pray that God grant you the wisdom you are seeking and that He plants that mustard seed of faith into your heart.

As to his point 1) A), I’m not really sure what he is saying here. If he is demanding that I establish God’s existence or nonexistence before dealing with whether God is fair, this is patently ridiculous for two reasons. One, I have written a bunch of books and over 3000 blog posts on this topic. I think I’ve pretty much shown rather conclusively that God does not exist. Two, when arguing against a Christian from a Christian point of view, I take into account their assertion that God exists in order to show that if God exists and has these certain characteristics, and if certain phenomena cannot be properly explained, then we are left seriously doubting whether the assertions of existence are epistemically warranted.

1) B) is also thoroughly problematic because fairness is part of justice and mercy. In other words, if God does not administer justice and mercy fairly, then God is unfair. These notions are all inextricably linked and Hoffer merely tries a very disingenuous dodge to attempt to get out of the problem he faces.

1) C) seems a little bit incoherent to me. It also shows a total misunderstanding of the word “sufficient”. “Moreover, we are all given sufficient evidence to accept the existence of God” is clearly false due to the fact that most of the world do not believe in the Christian god and a significant proportion of the world do not believe in a god at all. Therefore, the evidence is insufficient, otherwise they would. Please refer to all my previous pieces that clearly show this and clearly expose both Hoffer and Armstrong’s lack of understanding of what the word means! “Some choose not to accept the evidence” shows a naive understanding of the causality of beliefs and decisions. Please refer to all previous points about free will and doxastic voluntarism.

2) – Yes, I have quite clearly jumped those hurdles. “[Y]ou have not proved why God should be judged according to your particular metric of fairness instead of some other metric of fairness.” Let’s turn this around onto Paul Hoffer. He has not done this. Indeed, what he is demanding that we do is assume that there must be an alternative understanding of fairness. Which is to bastardise the English language, but not really properly account for the bastardisation. But is also to play fast and loose with an ordinary understanding of morality qua fairness. I have no idea what metric of fairness Paul Hoffer is using; actually, he appears to be using none, since God apparently doesn’t have to be fair in any way that any ordinary human would understand.

3) – Again, I’m not really sure what he’s saying here. There is no real clarity to what he is saying , especially when I have explicitly – very explicitly – talked about God taking every single individual case into account in developing an incredibly complex matrix of evaluation. This leads me to believe that Hoffer isn’t really genuinely dealing with the problems I am expressing.

4) – Rather than dealing with my point about fairness, Hoffer prefers to piggyback on Armstrong’s hiding to nothing in challenging arguments over the existence of God. This is just an irrelevancy here, as Hoffer tries to score a cheap win that ends up not even achieving that.

So I really wanted to wrap up this debate. After 20,000 words from Paul Hoffer, I have had to spill even more words myself, and quickly I realised that there wasn’t an awful lot of points putting too much effort into the whole project because the claims were weak or explicitly dodging the bullet at best, and outright misunderstanding at worst.

I do, however, thank Paul Hoffer very much for putting in the effort to engage and attempt to rebut what I had said, even if he does miss the mark by a considerably large margin. I really think the first thing he needs to do is establish how libertarian free will works and then establish how doxastic voluntarism works before he can even begin to start his case. And even then, he needs to account for causality within belief structures and adherence, as well as in decision-making, given that he can even produce a coherent understanding of contra-causal free will. He also needs to fully embrace moral consequentialism, as this moral value system is essential for the coherence of his thesis.

For lots of other ruminations about the god of classical theism, please grab a copy of my very reasonably priced book The Problem with “God”: Classical Theism under the Spotlight. [UK]

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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,...