A perfectly loving God, says J.L. Schellenberg, would ensure that a personal relationship existed between Him and every human being who would not, as God might foresee, refuse an offer of that relationship. But in order for a relationship to have a chance to develop, a person must first believe in the existence of God. But there is, he claims, such a thing as inculpable or reasonable non-belief. That God exists is not self-evident, and a person may without violating any epistemic duties hold that God does not, in fact, exist or at least that His existence is improbable. (4.7-9) But God would have overriding reasons not to permit inculpable non-belief. Hence God does not exist, etc.

Now there is a quote attributed, perhaps falsely, to Will Rogers:

There are three kinds of men. The ones that learn by reading.

The few who learn by observation.

The rest of them have to pee on the electric fence for themselves.

Suppose that I, entirely inculpably and innocently, indeed relieve myself on a naked electrified wire and fry to death. In this case, God will permit an inculpable death; why shouldn’t He allow something seemingly less consequential: inculpable non-belief?

It seems to me that God might at times not allow it only if non-belief entailed something much worse than physical death, but the only thing that comes to mind is the spiritual “second” death, i.e., damnation, eternal torment in hell. But non-belief, especially the inculpable kind, does not entail this, as any reasonable theist or even Christian will tell us. As a result, non-belief falls under the rubric of the general problem of evil and is amenable to treatment with similar theodicies as the problem of evil.

Regarding the more particular arguments in these papers, they are undone by bad theology.

First, Schellenberg assumes that God is a loving Father. In fact, of course, God is not our Father in this life:

a man is a hell-bound corpse in the state of corrupt nature:

“The Son of Man will send his angels, and they will collect out of his kingdom all who cause others to sin and all evildoers. They will throw them into the fiery furnace, where there will be wailing and grinding of teeth.” (Mt 13:41-42);

slave of God in the state of pure nature:

“And do not presume to say to yourselves, ‘We have Abraham as our father.’ For I tell you, God can raise up children to Abraham from these stones.” (Mt 3:9);

servant of God in the state of grace:

“For whoever does the will of my heavenly Father is my brother, and sister, and mother.” (Mt 12:50); and

child of God only in the state of glory in heaven:

“The victor will inherit these gifts, and I shall be his God, and he will be my son.” (Rev 21:7).

Second, it’s not an overriding purpose of God to achieve a loving relationship with a person; there are many other ends that living this life serves. I would warn our author not to ascribe definite intentions to God as regards His providence so casually.

Third, natural knowledge of God and thus generic theism by itself are insufficient for a loving relationship; one needs grace — faith, hope, charity, etc. — to build on top of nature. For example, Aristotle believed in a god that shared some features with the Christian God, but presumably lacked any such relationship. It is plain that God need not always bestow grace even upon a suitable pure nature to make one a Christian. Neither therefore is there any law that God is bound to obey that He must heal a given person’s nature from corrupt to pure so that the person becomes a theist.

Fourth, what evidence does our author adduce for the proposition that there exist honest seekers who are ultimately disappointed in their search for God? There isn’t even anecdotal evidence or case studies. It is ironic that Schellenberg mentions atheist philosophers who “have long since concluded that God does not exist and think the world is better off that way.” (419, italics added) These guys are supposed to be inculpable? It seems that their guilt is greater than that of an average run-of-the-mill unbeliever.

Pascal is quoted to the effect that “I look around in every direction and all I see is darkness,” but he was a devout Christian, at least after his night of fire, and it was precisely Pascal who said that

There are only three sorts of people: those who have found God and serve him;

those who are busy seeking him and have not found him;

those who live without either seeking or finding him.

The first are reasonable and happy, the last are foolish and unhappy, those in the middle are unhappy and reasonable.

It remains to add the 4th permutation to these: Schellenberg’s atheist philosophers are both foolish and happy, which is admittedly the mentality of an idiot or half-wit.

Just as a man is guiltier to the extent he rejoices in an evil done, so the atheistic philosophers, by “happily” paying no heed to God, make their intellectual errors more perverse.

This concludes my live-blogging of Martin & Monnier’s The Improbability of God.


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