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In my recent series about the unevenness of evidence apportioning throughout time and place, Verbose Stoic (VB) called me out on my claim about fairness. His whole comment was much longer, but I want to narrow down to just one aspect here – the fairness. The context of this was my interlocutor (PH) claiming that my demands of God to be fair might be incoherent because my idea of fairness might be completely wrong.

I called this approach seriously into question:

[PH] Moreover, he assumes that God’s notion of fairness is the same as ours. It is actually a dodge.

Well no, I actually clearly delineated both on the various syllogisms I have created on this series. In reality, however, I can combine both: Does a fair god exist? (I.e., Does classical theism hold?)

As for that last comment, I could switch that: “He assumes God’s notion of fairness is different to ours. It is actually a dodge.” What’s good for the goose…

But this conversation is pointless if he’s questioning the meaning of fairness in the way that he is doing it (i.e., just as a dodge). Sure, we can discuss the calculation method: How long is the time period over which it is calculated? How many people can be removed from a decision to still be accounted for fairness? And so on. These are common ideas when discussing consequentialism. Because this is a question about moral consequentialism.

VB called me out on this, and I will respond interlinearly:

But for him to question fairness as a concept in the way that he does renders any such conversation pointless.

The problem I see with your argument here is more that you assume that the concept of fairness demands that God give evidence according to your view of it, when that view isn’t as obvious as you think it is.

That is sort of fair. I would like evidence; otherwise, we have some sort of elitist puzzle, which in itself is unfair. In the absence of evidence, I wouldn’t mind communication from God as to the reasoning for this. The least persuasive mechanism is some apologist on the internet telling me why God “might” do something because it is “perhaps” the case, “probably”. So, yes, one of the fundamentals for any belief – unicorns or a fair god – is evidence. Blind faith doesn’t cut it. And even if that faith is based on other components outside of the fairness debate, since I call into question all of those ancillary or unconnected claims, then just asserting God is fair based on your (as I see it, erroneous) faith is not persuasive for me.

You base it on the idea of “sufficient”, but define sufficient as being that which would convince someone even if the only reason they might need more is due to their own personal issues and things that they themselves could work on or need to fix. It is obviously NOT part of the concept of fairness to demand something unreasonable for someone because you yourself simply want it.

I’m not sure I completely understand him here. But I think he is perhaps wrong in that he thinks I want level 80% top believe in God as opposed to Dave Armstrong’s 35% because that extra 45% is just a desire – a luxury. As if my belief in God is just sort of plucked out of the air because it’s just what I desire.

I do not adhere at all to this sort of doxastic voluntarism (doxastic [pertaining to belief] voluntarism is a position whereby one believes that they have voluntary control over what they believe), as I have said elsewhere: On the Argument from Reason: Doxastic Voluntarism. We don’t choose to believe, belief is a conclusion from a whole bunch of things going on behind the scenes. I can’t “decide” to – to make myself – believe the moon is made of cheese or merely “choose” to take on any other such position. Belief is built on all those variables mentioned in previous posts in this series. If VB’s position is based on accepting doxastic voluntarism, no wonder he disagrees. But, also, he might need to show how it works.

As I noted in a previous comment, when God gives more evidence to one person over another it is because God wants that specific person to come to believe at that particular time.

Well, this is an assertion. We have the following choices:

  1. God doesn’t exist.
  2. God exists but is not omni, including that God is not so interested in this belief scenario, or is a deistic god.
  3. God is omni, but has a greater good to consider in not allowing equality of access to God.
  4. We are missing something and this really is prima facie fair in some way.

VB is asserting (3), without appealing to evidence – just some sort of rational necessity that allows him to maintain belief in OmniGod.

The thing is, by not knowing, and by not having a good idea, this acts as evidence and good reasons against the belief in God. Why would God, knowing that this is how my brain works, want to make it even harder for me to believe than for Dave Armstrong? Okay, I might not know my purpose as assigned by God (ignoring the fact that I deep teleological issues with the notion of being purposed as an individual in this manner), but this is begging the question of the existence of such a thing.

All I can tell you that I presently do not believe in God. I used to but I don’t any more. I would need a lot more evidence to flip me. I am in a position whereby the rational arguments for atheism are that much stronger than for theism that evidence, for me, would need to be much, much greater (obviously and, well, evidently) than for Dave Armstrong. And yes, there will be psychological heuristics and biases and mechanisms at play here for both of us. But God should be taking this into account when apportioning me the evidence.

We DO, in general, think that doing things like this is fair. For example, take the standard military cases, where everyone needs to buy into and act out their roles in the mission. That some need to be told more in order for them to fulfill their role doesn’t mean that the others are being treated unfairly, even if some of those who are not told would like more information to be convinced that the mission is right and will work.

Which is fine, if you think that God is giving us each missions and is using us instrumentally so that the theist has to accept some kind of moral instrumentalist qua utilitarianism. We then have a right moral argument on our hands because most theists abhor such morality. There are plenty of military exercises where information is withheld that is not prima facie fair, but the moral goodness is derived from the overall success. So Sgt Smith maybe the fall guy for the mission, without being told this. He dies in a sacrificial move enacted by command. Smith didn’t know this, and he took one for the team. His family, after an inquiry, found this out and sued the military for using their son’s life sacrificially and without his express permission. It doesn’t matter that the mission was an overall success or deemed “good”, Smith was used instrumentally and without his permission.

Only utilitarianism/consequentialism can square that circle. And that’s okay if, as a theist, you want to take that moral value system on, and do away with needing God for morality, and do away with the Moral Argument.

I think this analogy is deeply flawed.

You would define “need to know” as what a person would need to know to be convinced, while in general “need to know” is what that person needs to know for the overall mission to succeed. But the latter is indeed still considered fair.

Neither of these options take into account what they “should” know morally speaking. This only works if you:

a) accept moral consequentialism as your moral value system.

b) agree universally on what the consequences should be and what can be sacrificed to achieve that.

For example, I might say that one person dying is worth is for X to be achieved, but when told that will be one of my children, I no longer think it is acceptab|s not properly told everyone everything, has kept some information secret from certain people for his own reasons and has sent us off. It turns out that I am on this mission, but:

  1. I don’t know what the objective is.
  2. I don’t know who I am fighting for.
  3. I am left with, at best, coded information that needs decoding and I am not sure if I am able to do so, or if I get the right answer.
  4. It ends up being a suicide mission for me and not Dave Armstrong.

You can all think of plenty of other issues with the analogy. It’s problematic and I don’t think it works, other than to claim “God moves in mysterious ways”. Sure, I fully admitted this was really the only theistic device to use. Because it ALWAYS is. See Oh, Skeptical Theism. Again…

As eric stated in reply to VB:

Need to know is about preventing an adversary using your information to stop you. In fact the government places stringent restrictions on when people can use ‘need to know’ and classification to hide information, because we deem hiding information when there’s no adversary risk to be unethical and corrupt.

Atheists are not God’s adversaries, and nobody here is interested in using empirical confirmation of God’s existence to try and stop people believing in him. Quite the contrary, in fact – as empiricists, we are more than happy to change our own provisional rejection, should such new evidence arise. So there is no moral ‘need to know’ exception here. You’d have to think Jonathan is demonically out to get God and undermine his plan (…and that Jonathan has a chance of succeeding!) before the ‘need to know’ justification for withholding info from Jonathan makes sense.

So your argument from unfairness is weaker than the normal arguments that God does not give us enough evidence to believe in His existence, and so doesn’t seem like a good argument to hang your hat on here.

I disagree. Nothing said in this has convinced me that God is fair. The only way you could do this is to:

  1. Argue for consequentialism (fine by me, but I am an atheist. How does that square with God?).
  2. Establish that there is a greater good for the unfairness.
  3. Persuade me of a really reasonable – probable – hypothesis of what this greater good might precisely be, and show me why it is the most probable explanation fo the data. In other words, possibiliter rgo probabiliter is not good enough.

This would also need to square with all the other arguments and evidence I have against the existence of (Omni-)God.



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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,...