The argument sometimes takes the following form:
Interviewer: But don’t you think there has to be some kind of ultimate justice for human beings? People who do wrong are not always punished in this world, and good is not always rewarded. Don’t these injustices require an afterlife to redress the imbalance: where good is ultimately rewarded and evil punished?
Mills: You’re undeniably correct that there is often grave injustice in this world. But that sad fact argues against, rather than for, God’s existence.
There is no reason to believe that the injustice we perceive in daily life is not typical of how the universe as a whole operates.
For example, suppose that a deliveryman places a large crate of oranges on your doorstep. You open the crate and discover that every single orange you see on top of the box is rotten. Would you then conclude that the remaining oranges on the bottom of the crate must be good?
No. You would conclude that the rotten oranges you see on top are probably quite representative of the shipment as a whole.
Likewise, the injustice we perceive in our world is evidence that we unfortunately live in an unjust world, rather than that justice is waiting “just beyond sight.” (55-6)
Mills’ response, of course, is the same Bertrand Russell gives in his “Why I Am Not a Christian.” I think that Mills was influenced by Russell quite a bit. Regardless, it is certainly false that there is only injustice in the world. There are also justice and just acts; what’s more, we deduce that someone has acted unjustly by comparing his actions with the ideal of justice. Injustice then is the absence of justice, exactly as evil in general is the absence of the good that ought to be there. Thus, not all the oranges on the top of the crate are rotten: some are, but some aren’t; in fact, most aren’t.
Let me propose three arguments for the immortality of the soul and possibly existence of God.
1. Consider a “perfectly unjust man.” As per Plato, he “makes no mistakes in the prosecution of his unjust enterprises, and he escapes detection; … while committing the grossest acts of injustice he has won himself the highest reputation for justice.”
Call him a T-man (for Thrasymachus).
Further, let’s describe a most miserable just man:
We must certainly take away [other people’s perception of his justice]: for if he be thought to be a just man, he will have honors and gifts on the strength of his reputation, so that it will be uncertain whether it is for justice’s sake, or for the sake of the gifts and honors, that he is what he is.
Yes, we must strip him bare of everything but justice, and make his whole case the reverse of the former.
Without being guilty of one unjust act, let him have the worst reputation for injustice, so that his justice may be thoroughly tested…
… in such a situation the just man will be [punished], and at last, after suffering every kind of torture, will be crucified; and thus learn that it is best to resolve, not to be, but to seem, just. …
[The perfectly unjust man], whenever he engages in a contest, whether public or private, he defeats and overreaches his enemies, and by so doing grows rich, and is enabled to benefit his friends and injure his enemies, and to offer sacrifices and dedicate gifts to the gods in magnificent abundance; thus… he is also more likely than the just man to be dearer to the gods.
And therefore they affirm, Socrates, that a better provision is made both by gods and men for the life of the unjust, than for the life of the just. (Republic, 361-2)
Call the latter S-man (for Socrates).
Here’s the argument:
1) All people ought to be ethical and lead holy lives (however understood).
2) Suppose the contrary: there is no afterlife or at least no afterlife with “ultimate justice for human beings.”
3) Then there is no definitive and compelling reason to recommend a just life to a T-man or to comfort an S-man who is tempted to regret his justice.
4) Therefore, there is no all-things-considered duty to be moral.
The contradiction between (4) and (1) now obtained will require Mills to give up either (1) or (2). If he gives up (2), then we have our conclusion.
If he gives up (1), then he must pay a steep price, namely of rejecting the seriousness of ethics and the absoluteness and categorical nature of moral law.
There are indications that Mills would be unwilling to do the latter: he agrees that murder is wrong (55);
he is eager to argue that atheists are at least as moral as theists (47);
he provides personal testimony that many atheists are “dynamic, highly optimistic men and women who enjoy life to the hilt.” (40)
2. The argument from “justice” can be cast as a version of the argument from desire: humans long for cosmic justice, and since no natural desire is futile, this longing must somehow be satisfied, and if not here, then in the next life.
3. Finally, ultimate justice could be not a rational deduction but an article of faith: “Blessed are they who are persecuted for the sake of righteousness, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.” (Mt 5:10)