Theodore M. Drange notices that there are (and always have been) a great mass of non-Christians. But God (specifically of evangelical Christianity) seems greatly to desire that everyone converts. In fact, Drange insists it is clear from the Bible that this is His highest valued end as far as the human race is concerned. And yet not everyone believes. This indicates that God, if all-powerful and omniscient, is not good and hence does not exist.
In the first place, Drange appeals to the existence of an army of unbelievers. But St. Thomas propounds a similar but contrary argument:
… the Christian Faith is confirmed by God’s seal, which is to be seen in those works which no mere creature is able to do, namely, the miracles by which Christ confirmed the doctrine of the Apostles and of other saints.
And if anyone says that nobody has seen those miracles done, I reply that it is a well-known fact, related in pagan histories, that the whole world worshiped idols and persecuted the Christian Faith;
yet now, behold all (the wise, the noble, the rich, the powerful, and the great) have been converted by the words of a few simple poor men who preached Christ.
Now was this a miracle or was it not?
If it was, then you have what you asked for. If you say it was not a miracle, then I say that you could not have a greater miracle than the conversion of the whole world without miracles, and we need seek no further. (Aquinas Catechism, 1.I.A.5.d)
I see no reason to favor Drange’s argument over St. Thomas’.
Note that the argument from non-belief (ANB) seems unnecessarily strong, insofar as a simpler but equally potent argument is available: “If a good God existed, then He would long ago have informed me, Drange, of His existence. Since God hasn’t succeeded at this, He must not exist.” Drange’s ego is staggering indeed, but his plight need not convince a theist.
Further, natural knowledge of God can be obtained from reason alone; there is no need whatsoever for anything else. If God does miracles on occasion, it’s only as a sign that He lives and that His power endures, as an act of mercy to the wretched human multitudes who, through their own fault and foolishness, would reason badly.
In order to have the Christian revealed knowledge, one needs an infusion of grace, and God bestows it abundantly but not on everyone. The giving of grace is subtle and also requires no fantastic miracles-as-violations-of-laws-of-nature. The reasons for all the specifics of divine providence are obscure, but that’s fully expected.
How else could God have attained the end of universal Christendom? Drange replies:
For example, God could speak to people in a thunderous voice from the sky or use skywriting to proclaim the gospel message worldwide.
… the resurrected Christ could have appeared to millions of people, including Pontius Pilate and even Emperor Tiberius and others in Rome.
… he could have sent out millions of angels, disguised as humans, to preach to people in all nations in such a persuasive manner as to get them to believe… (343)
Here’s the most important reply: If God had shown Himself in such manners, many people would still have rejected Him:
- Christ’s miracles failed to convince numerous Jews, including their ultra-religious ruling class;
- Jews in the OT grumbled against the Lord and were stiff-necked, despite the fact that God had parted the Red Sea for them;
- Judas presumably saw the Transfiguration yet betrayed our Lord;
- Peter denied Christ three times; and so on.
Such rejection would have made the unbeliever far guiltier than Drange is now. Perhaps in His mercy, God is sparing these depraved people’s souls by not putting them through such a trial. Thus, right now God might not have a sufficient reason to kill Drange, but if Drange had been blessed by God as the Israelites were, God might say to him and his brethren: “You are a stiff-necked people. Were I to go up in your company even for a moment, I would destroy you.” (Ex 33:5) Again, in the Golden Calf episode, “Moses asked Aaron, ‘What did this people do to you that you should lead them into a grave sin?’ Aaron replied, ‘Do not let my lord be angry. You know how the people are prone to evil. They said to me, “Make us a god to go before us; as for this man Moses who brought us out of the land of Egypt, we do not know what has happened to him.”‘” (Ex 32:21-23) Then Drange would have been slain by Moses among the three thousand who fell.
And that would be bad, for how else would an interesting argument like the ANB have been invented? It is only by answering such objections that theism can advance. Drange is at least useful in the scheme of things, and I would be sorry to see him condemned by God.
Drange needs to accept the real possibility that those who are not ignorant invincibly are themselves at fault (while God is innocent); and that the corruption of our human nature can manifest itself in numerous astonishing perversions, including denying that God exists even upon spectacular evidence. Who is Drange kidding?
As for those who are invincibly ignorant, they may be saved by the light of general revelation alone. The savior, after all, is Christ not Christianity. Thus, it is written:
For when the Gentiles who do not have the law by nature observe the prescriptions of the law, they are a law for themselves even though they do not have the law.
They show that the demands of the law are written in their hearts, while their conscience also bears witness and their conflicting thoughts accuse or even defend them… (Rom 2:14-15)
Again, St. Thomas writes: “The natural law is promulgated by the very fact that God instilled it into man’s mind so as to be known by him naturally.” (ST, II-I, 90, 4, reply 1)
The only real question then is: Why are we not already beholding God face to face, in which case there could not be doubts at all? Well, maybe there are good reasons for us to be in this world. (The soul-making theodicy posits at least one such reason.)
Drange points out that the ANB is “both ‘from belief’ and also ‘for nonbelief,’ which implies circularity.” (347) The problem is worse than he thinks. The argument is as follows: There are many who disbelieve → God is not good → God does not exist, since His goodness is His very essence → I, Drange, should not believe, either. The crowd of atheists seems to be self-sustaining by each sucking the other guy’s dick. Everyone’s main reason to disbelieve is the existence of other atheists. It is ironic that Drange, who presumably knows enough about Christianity to work with its doctrines, himself refuses to believe, because other people don’t believe. Shouldn’t our distinguished doctor of philosophy come up with his own opinions rather than follow the herd? In fact, perhaps atheism based on ANB is unstable: as soon as 10% of atheists or heathens convert, the others will find the argument less persuasive and convert too; this snowballs quickly and in a few years all the world will be Christian. Maybe that’s just the effect God is going for.
As for the alleged inefficiency of letting humans spread the Gospel rather than through “performance of spectacular miracles” or through “sending out millions of angels,” (343) etc., once again, God will not do for any created nature what that nature can do for itself. The stunning success of Christianity cannot be denied. And now glory is due to those men and women, saints and martyrs who advanced the faith which would not be the case if God or the angels did it. The soul-making theodicy seems to absorb this “evil” well enough.