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I made some recent debate pieces about whether God is unfair because of the unequal distribution of evidence for his existence over time and place, in which I show that God is morally suboptimal because there is an unfair, unequal opportunity of access to belief in God, to God, and to God’s love. Verbose Stoic (VS), a theistic commenter, has replied to a few point I made. For example, I said in one piece:

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….

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.

He replied:

I think the point is rather that if you show that God is unfair in precisely this way, that wouldn’t show that God doesn’t exist, but that He’s unfair in this way. Then we’d have to get into whether or not this is an unfairness that Christians should be worried about. While you DID try to establish that, on pondering this I think he has a point here, that this ISN’T like evil or suffering where we’d have to conclude that God simply cannot be moral or good and that is required for Him….

This reply ignores that one explicit challenge that is made is that mercy REQUIRES, as part of its definition, that someone be treated unfairly in the sense that they don’t get what they really deserve. But when we think about it that way, if God was required to be unfair in order to be merciful, then it’s only in the technical contradiction case — God must be perfectly just which requires being perfectly fair, but also perfectly merciful which requires at least sometimes being “unfair” — that anyone would worry about it. The same thing applies here. I can tell you that Christians in general — and myself in particular — aren’t all that concerned about this sort of unfairness in the sense that some get access to more evidence than others. It’s only the argument that God deprives people of evidence and so the result is that they end up in Hell that would raise any concern, but as I noted that’s a different and standard argument that the Doubting Thomas example does little to support.

Firstly, I thought I was pretty clear in saying that my argument is about whether the God of classical theism exists: OmniGod, not whether a god of some description exists at all.

Secondly, with regard to mercy and fairness, this is odd. What VS is saying is that in order for mercy to be given, there must be unfairness. We have this weird asserted scenario whereby God must be unfair to people in order to show mercy.

I don’t think mercy supervenes on unfairness, and this whole account is problematic for a number of reasons:

  1. It is God who is setting this whole scenario up. God has to be morally bad in order to eventually show he is morally good. It’s like me punching someone in the face just so I can take pity on them, look after them, take them to a hospital (and in America, pay for their healthcare), and so on.
  2. God can be merciful even given an equal distribution of evidence for his existence.
  3. The case VS is presenting here seems to be that God can only be merciful if God has previously been unfair. Surely the mercy given can be the unfair part itself. If, as according to VS, mercy is necessarily unfair, it doesn’t require previous unfairness, but can itself be administered unfairly to an already equitable scenario.
  4. But mercy doesn’t have to be unfair. He already mentioned the idea that God can be “perfectly merciful”. Why cannot mercy be doled out to all who deserve mercy? This would be justice – all those getting mercy who deserved mercy. This would appear to me like perfect mercy and perfect justice.
  5. Remember our previous discussion about grace? Again, we have the issue of whether mercy is deserved or not. Either an agent deserves mercy and gets it, or deserves mercy and doesn’t get it (or doesn’t deserve it and gets it anyway). Perfectly merciful implies God gives mercy to all who deserve it – fairness. If not, then God is being unfair. If God is not giving out mercy to those who deserve it, or is to those who don’t (and there is no consequentialist reasoning for this), then God is morally suboptimal. I can’t see any other way of seeing this.
  6. If VS/the theist gives some consequentialist reasoning as to why God is being prima facie unfair/unmerciful/unjust, then fair play, but, if so, please admit to using moral consequentialism as a moral value system.

Let me now spend a wee while on the last claim: that this argument is only relevant if the unequal distribution of evidence leads to hell or punishment.

Agreed, this would be horrible. And it is a very important argument. However, as I have been very clear in saying throughout my pieces, this is not just about the fear of punishment from not believing in God due to unequal evidence distribution, but also the earthly opportunity cost of not accessing God’s love due to that same unequal distribution of evidence. As I very clearly introduced in a previous piece:

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. [emphasis for purposes of this piece]

What this means is that it is not just a case of going to hell on the basis of receiving less evidence than someone else for the existence of God (or being rewarded with heaven on account of receiving more evidence than someone else for the existence of God and therefore believing in him more easily), but the case of believing in him on earth and receiving the pleasure and rewards of living an earthly life in union with a supposedly loving God.

This gets onto the argument that looks at whether Christians are, by point of fact of believing in God, better people on balance than non-Christians. If there is no difference between humans on account of their beliefs insofar as their moral character and actions, then belief in God is irrelevant to evaluating the moral worth of any given human. In other words, you really do only go to heaven or hell based on faith in God. Thus an uneven distribution of evidence for the belief in God is very important.

If earthly belief in God does, on balance, make humans better, then an uneven distribution of evidence for belief in God does indeed have a direct impact on earthly value of human life, since belief (on balance) makes you a better human. Therefore, uneven distribution of evidence for the existence of God has a direct implication on the earthly value of human life. It’s not just about heaven and hell.

Either way, uneven distribution is vitally important.

So I definitely disagree with pretty much all parts of his comment above.

I will continue to analyse his further comments in future pieces in order to keep this one short.


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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,...