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I started off this debate the other day with a short piece about the unfairness of the distribution of evidence as exemplified by the Doubting Thomas episode in gJohn. Catholic Dave Armstrong replied, and I duly responded. I then finally found a comment in one of my threads, by Dave, that actually dealt with my points in some way (a novel idea, I know), so have decided to look at that. It was a comment in reply to Geoff Benson who also noticed how Armstrong failed to deal with my points in any substantive way… Please read those previous pieces for context.

Over to Armstrong:

I think God does provide sufficient evidence (of all sorts) for every human being, but human beings have various mechanisms by which they rationalize such things away or reject them. If it’s not efficient enough to bring about belief (I’m not a Calvinist and believe in human free choices and free will) then one can either criticize God or point out that perhaps the person involved has an irrational demand. The fault can conceivably be on either side. God’s not to blame for everything (as many of His critics seem to think).

This is actually contradictory. “Sufficient” does not entail a range. Sufficient means “enough for a particular purpose”. If I need to put oil in my car for the engine to run, then I put in, say, 1 litre. Ceteris paribus, this is sufficient. Of course, if my car has a hole in a pump somewhere, then this is not sufficient. To get to the next town, I need to put in 2 litres to overcome the leak. 2 litres is the sufficient (i.e., required) amount. 1 litre is not sufficient. It should be sufficient if we made inaccurate assumptions about my car by comparing it to another car of the same make and model, but without the leak.

Ceteris paribus.

All other things remaining equal.

But…all other things are not equal. They almost never are.

So, a sufficient amount of oil will change from car to car (as well as the type of oil).

Sufficient evidence (and type of evidence) will change from person to person, no matter what the belief you are talking about.

What Dave is erroneously saying is that 10 units of evidence that the moon landings never happened is sufficient for Harry to believe in the conspiracy theory; therefore, 10 units of evidence is sufficient for Julie.

But Julie is a scientist and a skeptic whose uncle worked on the NASA team. 10 units simply isn’t sufficient for her.

This is skeptical thinking 101.

Dave’s contradiction is ovbious:

I think God does provide sufficient evidence (of all sorts) for every human being, but human beings have various mechanisms by which they rationalize such things away or reject them.

should be translated as:

I think God does provide sufficient evidence for every human being, but all humans are different meaning that the evidence isn’t actually sufficient.

Or A ≠ A.

Which he almost begrudgingly accepts, and then says of the entity who knowingly created and designed everything in existence in the full knowledge it would do what it would do because he designed it that way:

The fault can conceivably be on either side. God’s not to blame for everything (as many of His critics seem to think).

I utterly contest that claim. He needs to explain that in light of classical theism and OmniGod. See:

He continues, unabated:

I think Jesus appeared to Thomas because He knew (knowing all things) that he would respond to such an appearance. But not everyone would or does, as Jesus Himself taught in Luke 16. Therefore, it follows that God would not be required to provide spectacular confirmations to all and sundry. Most of them won’t accept it anyway, and God knows that. A consistent theme in the New Testament is that Jesus performed miracles and taught without parables with and to those He knew would be receptive to both. Hence we have passages like these:

Whoah there. Let’s unpick this theological hot mess

So, Thomas was at evidence level 90%, but needed to reach a really really high threshold of 95% to believe. God decided to allow his this. Dave seems to be on board with this.

But not everyone needs 95%.


So God doesn’t allow supernatural evidence for them.


But some do. And God doesn’t do that for them. This is the crux of the unfairness argument, and I think Dave secretly gets this, but is struggling to wriggle his way out of it.

It’s not about providing supernatural evidence to all and sundry (though Thomas got it, so why shouldn’t everybody?), but sufficient evidence for everyone. Time to continue our analogy.

If I fully designed the transportation network from scratch, and I wanted my vehicles to run smoothly, I would probably design them without needing oil. But if that was somehow necessary, I would make sure they all ran optimally, not having inconsistency across the fleet. There would be sufficient oil need and provision for all vehicles.

Matthew 13:58 (RSV) And he did not do many mighty works there, because of their unbelief.

Mark 8:11-12 The Pharisees came and began to argue with him, seeking from him a sign from heaven, to test him. [12] And he sighed deeply in his spirit, and said, “Why does this generation seek a sign? Truly, I say to you, no sign shall be given to this generation.”

Which is to admit double standards. God/Jesus did do mighty works for Thomas because of his unbelief. A sign was given to “this generation”: hence the Resurrection and the Gospels!

This doesn’t make much sense, I’m afraid.

Then Dave tried some tit-for-tat responding to Geoff and went rather off-topic to Tired Tropesville to discuss Einstein’s religious beliefs.

The key to understanding any of this (and you can apply this to my teacher or transport analogies) is: “What is God’s goal in creation?”

As I say, morality is goal-oriented. Purpose is goal-oriented. For God, why he would do anything that seems unfair is a version of the problem of evil, and defences or theodicies of and for the problem of evil are consequentialist in nature: God allows (or designs in) this evil/suffering for a greater good. And that greater good serves a purpose for an even larger overarching purpose or intention.

You work out that, everything else falls into place.

You work that out, and you might get an answer as to why God is being unfair. But the case is closed for me: God is being prima facie unfair. I really don’t think you can contest that.

But this is just another version of the divine hiddenness problem. God is far from explicit about anything, and it requires one to be intelligent enough to wade through a parochial ancient holy text with vast effort and intellectual acumen to even remotely start getting there. Whilst not doing this for all the other holy texts. And even then, the best minds in the world can’t even agree on how or whether the atonement even works – why Jesus died or even existed!

It’s all such nonsense.

Atheism is way more coherent. Problem is, with being a full-time Catholic apologist, Dave has way too much invested in the belief – too much motivated reasoning – to remotely see the light.

One hopes that articles like this open a chink in the curtains to let a ray of light in.

Problem is, Dave’s still asleep upstairs.

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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,...