Last week, Reasonable Doubts released a lengthy debate between Max Andrews (Sententias.org) and myself, Justin Schieber. The debate was on the existence of the Christian God and can be found here. It was a fascinating exchange and I thoroughly enjoyed working on it. If you haven’t yet had the listening pleasure, I highly recommend it.
In the debate, I presented three arguments:
1. The Problem of Non-God Objects
2. The Problem of Hell
3. The Divine Lies Argument
A few days before we released the debate as an actual episode, Max Andrews posted the complete transcript with a few additional thoughts as to why he doesn’t find my arguments compelling (found here). In the debate and in his additional blog and commentary, Mr. Andrews pressed that my third argument was of complete “irrelevance to the debate” and “off-topic”.
Is this true?
If it is, it’s not at all obvious to me.
Because this post will concern itself with that third argument only, here is the portion from my closing statement wherein I review the argument, Max’s response and my counter to his response in the debate:
“First, recall that Mr. Andrews avoids the noseeum inference in the evidential problem of evil by saying that we are not in a privileged spacio-temporal position and so we shouldn’t expect to have epistemic access to the kinds of justifications God has for allowing certain evils – like children starving to death – to occur. I applauded Mr. Andrews for a strong view that lines up well with revealed scripture and is in great intellectual company.
I then noted that this has unwanted consequences. To be consistent, Mr. Andrews must agree that he is ALSO not in a position to know whether God has morally sufficient reasons beyond his understanding to lie to us in revealed scripture. This would of course prevent Mr. Andrews from being in a position to know that any claim with biblical justification only is ACTUALLY true.
Max responded by saying that it would contradict God’s moral perfection to lie. But when did God grant Mr. Andrews this special knowledge about the logical entailments of God’s moral perfection? Given Andrews‘ skeptical theism, he is left with little more than his moral feelings that lying is always wrong. Yet, presumably Mr. Andrews has much more potent intuitions about whether it is always wrong to allow children to starve to death as his God regularly does. If Mr. Andrews wants to appeal to skeptical theism when faced with questions about God’s potential justification for doing nothing while children are starving to death, then, as a matter of proper consistency,
he must also be epistemically humble when faced with questions about whether or not there exists a greater good beyond his understanding that justifies his God in lying to him about the necessary and sufficient conditions to be saved. All those claims to which Max confidently subscribes to but which only have biblical justification are claims whose truth or falsity Max can have no knowledge of.”
If there is anything obvious about these debates, it is that there are multiple kinds of argument that can be relevant to a debate on the existence of the Christian God. One kind of argument might attempt to show, either deductively or probabilistically, that such a God does not – or probably does not – exist. Another might attempt to argue in the reverse – that the Christian God does exist. Of course these do not exhaust the variety of kinds of arguments that can be relevant to such a debate. Another relevant argument type would be an argument that attempts to highlight a glaring inconsistency between an opponent’s positive case for the existence of God and their beliefs about that God.
I want to argue that the argument from Divine Lies is an example of this third kind of argument.
Indeed, Mr. Andrews is quite right in saying that the Divine Lies Argument has absolutely no bearing on the actual existence of the Christian God but that is not the same thing as saying the argument has no relevance to a debate on the existence of the Christian God. Sure, this is a subtle distinction but it should be obvious to anybody who has thought seriously about these issues.
To be clear, there is nothing logically impossible about the Christian conception of God existing in a world where nobody actually knows it. For example, Mr. Andrews would see no problem with some possible world wherein God exists but has not divinely inspired any texts.
This logical compatibility seems to be what Max is suggesting when he responds to a commenter further down on the post that I linked to above.
I’m afraid you’ve got your conditions backwards and it should be very obvious. Tell me, is the Bible a necessary condition for God’s existence?
The commenter should have answered “Of course not”. He didn’t.
The point Mr. Andrews was correctly drawing attention to was that the inability to ‘know’ the truth value of the assertions contained within Biblical revelation are perfectly compatible with the Christian God existing. There is no contradiction – I agree.
However, the supposedly inspired pages of the Bible do serve as the only epistemic access one has available to rationally justify an assent to exclusively Christian doctrines – which is what is needed in order to argue for the rational truth of – not just Theism – but specifically the Christian version of Theism.
For this reason, I think a more relevant question to ask would be…
“Tell me, is special revelation (The Bible) a necessary epistemic condition for rational/evidential assent to beliefs that are exclusively and essentially Christian?
Of course, if the answer to my question is yes, then an attempt to argue that you cannot have knowledge of the truth values of any assertion with biblical justification only would CLEARLY be relevant to a debate on the existence of the Christian God. This is because without knowing the truth values of such biblical assertions, you could never get past mere Theism.
In our debate Max voluntarily saddled himself with the burden of providing a case for specifically Christian theism – not just Theism. In order to meet this burden, he needed some rational/evidential argument or evidence to bullet past mere Theism and arrive at Mere Christianity.
The divine lies argument is useful and relevant to a debate on the Existence of the Christian God because, if successful, it sets fire to the bridge between uninteresting forms of Theism on the one side and a rational assent to specifically Christian conceptions of God on the other.
Without such a bridge, Mr. Andrews and his cumulative case are left standing on the cliff of Theism. Stretching out before them is a seemingly endless chasm which echoes back his arguments to serve as reminders of just how far away he is from justifying his specifically Christian version of Theism.