Episode 117: Why Are Atheists More Intelligent? »« Debate: Does the God of Christianity Exist? Max Andrews vs. Justin Schieber

Is the Divine Lies Argument Irrelevant in a Debate on the Existence of the Christian God?

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.

Comments

  1. iansharkey says

    Justin, I was the commenter on that thread. My intent was a version of your question; I specifically said the debate referred to the Christian God as opposed to just a deist God. Max himself acknowledged that the point of creation was to share God’s love. God’s Word is his mechanism of sharing. God is timeless, his word is timeless too. Therefore, the bible (God’s Word) is necessary for the Christian God to exist. No bible, not the Christian God. Perhaps the argument can be worded better; I’m all ears to counterpoints from you and Max. I haven’t gotten any from Max so far…

  2. julial says

    Thanks for the entertaining debate.
    I think that Mr. Andrews could have skipped the first 2 of his arguments (uncaused cause and fine tuning) because if the truth claims of the Bible are in fact True, then the Christian God exists. If False, then the mentioned existence is unproven and our knowledge thereof defaults to -don’t know/can’t tell.-
    It is endlessly amusing to speculate on the sincerity of Christian apologists. I cannot tell whether Max is a con-man or a true believer. Unfortunately, without knowledge of his inner state, those musings must remain speculative. There is a long and respected history of religious scammers and I can only tip my hat to such professionalism. I know I could never defend as he does. I couldn’t keep a straight face.
    I clicked over to his page on sententias.org. I didn’t read the transcript as I’d listened to the MP3 twice. However I found his responses in the comments bore a similarity to those Chris Langan returned to Mark Chu Carroll when Mark took apart the CTMU over at Good Math, Bad Math. Paraphrased: “how can you not understand and be convinced, you fool.” Aggression trumps logic any day. Just ask Uncle Joe Stalin.
    For myself, the arguments claiming historical veracity for the Bible are weak. There are too many simpler explanations for even the empty tomb to believe second thru nth hand accounts by people whose livelihoods depended on convincing the rubes. Who is to say that the Roman guards weren’t in on the deal after they’d been slipped a few denari? Five hundred saw the resurrected Christ? Maybe they were told that that guy on the hill in the white robe was Jesus, but I’ll bet there wasn’t a lot of forensics done on the event to show that the guy in the dress wasn’t Peter.
    I liken the apostles to Joe Isuzu.
    “WHAT! they axed our rabbi? Oh, man! What are we going to do now? There goes our meal ticket. OK, this is how we’re going to handle it… He meant to do that. No, really, just say he was more powerful than death and we’ll make it fly. We’ll get out of this OK. It may be a little tough at first, but don’t worry, we just have to keep our story straight. Yea, that’s it. Really.”

  3. Azuma Hazuki says

    @4/Julial

    There is a very good ebook called 10 Beautiful Lies About Jesus that might answer some of this. In particular, the 500 witnesses might be a mistranslation, as Carrier points out: pentakosiois (500 people) vs pentekostes (Pentecost). So this might be a reference to a pentecost-type experience.

    Also, if this were true, WHY don’t any of the Gospels mention it? Remember, Paul’s genuine letters come before the Gospels.

    Apologists are usually rather badly-read when it comes to historical-critical methods. Whatever other failings Carrier may or may not have, he points out some important problems like this…

  4. Joel Ballivian says

    Justin, how is the “divine lies” argument any different than a Cartesian deception scenario? Sure, it seems possible that God could be lying to Christians about the content and truth value of special revelation, but why stop there? It seems as though this kind of thinking is parasitic upon the rest of our epistemological endeavors. Perhaps God is deceiving Christians, but I don’t see how this kind of thinking stops with the sources of Christian belief. God may be deceiving atheists, agnostics, pantheists, and everyone else about the truth value of their epistemological sources and inferences. This kind of thinking is taking us back to preliminary epistemological considerations.

    I submit that the divine lies argument is possibly a good argument against people who assert something like this: “we can’t know what ‘the good’ really is.” Notice that this is an ontological proclamation about the nature of “the good.” Sure, if someone actually believes that, then they can’t be sure that the good doesn’t involve God deceiving them. Not all skeptical theists (I would venture to say that the majority of prominent theistic philosophers who espouse a form of ST) are claiming that we cannot know the good in an ontological manner. Rather, it is particular manifestations of the good that may be beyond our epistemic ability to grasp that gives ST it’s force. These theists, however, are committed to a robust and ontologically rich idea of what the good ultimately is. Thus, it is rather jarring to use the divine lies argument in response to someone who thinks a particular event is too probabilistically and epistemologically vague in order to make conclusions about how it does or does not uphold the good. It’s like someone saying, “oh, so you don’t think we have enough probabilistic resources to assess whether or not some event X does or does not contribute to the good? Well, then you don’t have enough probabilistic resources to say that you aren’t a brain in a vat of chemicals, being deceived by a mad scientist about the external world. Nor do you have enough probabilistic resources to say that an evil demon is not deceiving you about what you think is true!” …………..say what?! Again, many skeptical theists are reasoning in the domain of secondary epistemological considerations. To offer the divine lies argument to these thinkers seems inappropriate.

    Let me know how I might be off. Thanks again! I appreciate your thoughts.

  5. says

    Hi Justin, I greatly appreciate your good manners, and the kind way you treat your opponents during debates.

    I wish that Christians and theists interacting with each other would all follow this example, instead of using extreme rhetorical techniques and emotional bullying.

    I think the divine lie argument is a good objection against folks believing in Bible inerrancy and thinking the Bible is our ultimate source to decide how God is.
    My source of knowledge about God is the idea that he is a perfect being, and that our purest shared moral intuitions are right.

    I’m looking forward to learning your thoughts on that.

    Kind regards from Germany.

    Lothars Sohn – Lothar’s son

    http://lotharlorraine.wordpress.com

  6. says

    I’ve just found something else very relevant for the conversation at hand.

    While arguing against the doctrine that God predetermined people to land into hell, evangelical theologian Roger Olson wrote:

    “Calvinists commonly argue that God’s love and goodness are somehow “different” than ours. How different can they be and still be meaningful concepts? If God’s love and goodness are compatible with predestining people to hell, then the words mean something other than they say. And if God is not perfectly good, then he is not trustworthy. If he can hate, then he can lie. Why trust Scripture to be a true revelation and guide if God is not good in some way analogous to our best ideas of goodness? If God’s goodness is consistent with predetermining large portions of people to hell, then why might it not be consistent with deceiving us? Our very trust in the Bible as God’s true revelation depends on God being good, trustworthy, one who cannot deceive.
    The Calvinist, like the Arminian, approaches Scripture with the assumption that God cannot lie. He or she can trust the Bible to be a true revelation of God if it is inspired by God. The moment the Calvinist says “But God’s goodness is different from ours,” he or she undermines reason to trust the Bible.”

    Actually, it seems to be a better Divine Lies Arguments than the one presented by Justin, and I believe it is valid for every kind of eternal damnation doctrine (even without predetermination) for such a love is indistinguishable from hatred.

    Lothars Sohn – Lothar’s son

    http://lotharlorraine.wordpress.com

  7. Joel Ballivian says

    Lothars Son,

    your reference about Calvinism (and Olson’s quote) seems to be right on the money. Before you commented that, I was thinking to myself, “the divine lies argument would be really challenging for calvinists.” Calvinists usually try to appeal to the “mystery” of God’s will or to claim that God’s decrees about goodness and evil constitute and antinomy (I have a lot to say about antinomies). In the end, though, I think the divine lies argument is a problem for calvinist theology. I don’t think, though, that it is applicable to skeptical theism at large (see my comment above). CHeers!

  8. says

    Hey Joel, that’s completely true!

    I find Calvinism profoundly blasphemous, it describes God as a being the worst human criminals would have difficulties competing with for matters of wickedness and monstrosity.

    My main response to the problem of evil is the free gift of eternal life with God:
    ” Yet what we suffer now is nothing compared to the glory He will give us later”

    It will be offered to everyone, during this earthly life and after it, and only those refusing God will not inherit it.
    I believe the reasoning of Paul here is very strong. 40 years of suffering is nothing in comparison to 400000000000000000000000000… years of glory.

    It certainly does present some problems, and I’m going to write posts on the problem of evil in the future.

    Kind regards from Germany.

    Lothars Sohn – Lothar’s son

    http://lotharlorraine.wordpress.com

  9. Lausten North says

    @Joel; I don’t know if any argument against Christianity can do much more than get the Christian to think. The strongest defense then becomes that faith is not about thinking. I’m not too concerned if someone turns the divine lies argument back on me, it shows they are thinking, and I can say, “you’re right, I can’t prove that, that’s why I look to different ways of discovering truth other than just sitting in a room and thinking about what might be true.”

  10. BradC says

    So, I recall a portion of a Reasonable Doubts episode where you explicitly list passages in scripture that show God lying or deceiving or misleading people (I can’t remember which episode, unfortunately).

    Do you think that including some mention of these would support the “divine lies argument”? Or do you think that it would derail it into a discussion of justifying God’s behavior in that specific circumstance, missing the larger issue?

  11. Dave Mabus says

    groups.google.com/forum/#!topic/alt.prophecies.nostradamus/Czf7l8637ow

    for the lying MENTAL CASES at FTB….

    ,…,,.,.,

  12. Joel Ballivian says

    Justin, I’m just not convinced that the divine lies argument has appropriately distinguished between some important things and, thus, fails to deliver the force it is projected as having. From the looks of it, I’m not sure you are distinguishing between two possible kinds of skeptical theism. Consider the following forms of ST:

    ST1: We are not in a good position to access with confidence whether some event E is a case of meaningless suffering because our view of the good is ultimately different than God’s view of the good.

    ST2: We are not in a good position to assess with confidence the probability that some event E has no morally sufficient reason for it’s occurrence because of our epistemic vantage point.

    Notice two things. First, ST1 is suggesting that there might be an ONTOLOGICAL difference between what we, as finite beings, think is good, and what God, as an infinite being, thinks is good. Thus, it is the very nature of “the good” that we are not able to assess from our vantage point (ST2 would affirm your quote above). Secondly, ST2 is not making this kind of staunch ontological distinction. Theists of an ST2 sort will affirm that there are basic goods which God has revealed to us in various ways and which we can know. The problem is in accessing how the good is achieved in certain instances of suffering. It is here that an ST2 thinker will say that we aren’t in a good position to know HOW God is producing or securing the good in some instance of apparently meaningless evil. Notice that an ST2 thinker is not throwing out their knowledge of basic goods in making this claim. They are merely arguing that the way in which God brings about the good from E cannot be confidently appraised from our vantage point. This is not a rejection of our basic knowledge of what the good is, though.

    I submit that the divine lies argument needs to make this distinction or it succumbs to being too broad. Cheers!

  13. M can help you with that. says

    Joel Ballivian @ 15 —

    ST1 is classic reification of “meaning” (and then, for bonus points, “good”) and thus makes no coherent claim in the context of anyone who’s ever been within 10m of a linguistics textbook.

    ST2 demands an absolute suspension of all moral judgment as a trivial extension of its logic.

    Either way — it ain’t Shinola. It’s vulgar presuppositionalism in faux-intellectual drag.

  14. cpps says

    @7 One relevant difference between the Cartesian demon and the devine lies arguement is that the atheists and many other non-christians have no reason to believe that a Cartesian demon exists and have many ways of dealing with the philosophical problems posed by the mere possibility of its existence. Christians however have already granted both that an entity sufficently powerful to decieve us in such a fashion exists and that this entity frequently does things which seem horribly imoral to us because it is not possible for us to understand all the relevant factors that this entity must consider. It is a very small step to argue these immoral acts could include lying to us about its own nature (or deceiving us in other ways as you rightly point out). This is not necessarily a problem for non-believers since they at least never granted that such a thing existed in the first place, but for Christians who claim to know anything about God this presents a rather immediate epistemic problem.

  15. Joel Ballivian says

    @17

    cpps, thanks for those thoughts. You write, “This is not necessarily a problem for non-believers since they at least never granted that such a thing existed in the first place…” I don’t this gets non-believers off the hook. Just because a person withholds belief in the existence of something does not mean that that something is not epistemically related to them in relevant ways. My disbelief or belief in X is irrelevant to the epistemic implications X may actually have on me (assuming it exists…and no, this isn’t question begging. It is modally valid). Thus, it would have been completely irrelevant to DesCartes hyperbolical skepticism to say that “non-christians have no reason to believe that a Cartesian demon exists…” DesCartes would probably have said that the demon was deceiving you about the legitimacy of those reasons, or the demon was putting those reasons in your mind in the first place and getting you to belief them. The suspension of belief is irrelevant.

    Don’t get me wrong, I think there are great reasons to move beyond Cartesion deception scenarios (see Fesers book, “Philosophy of Mind: a Beginners Guide”). I should mention that DesCartes moved beyond his own deception scenarios as well. My point above is merely that the divine lies argument, if aimed at ST2 (see 15), is epistemically jarring and inappropriate. Skeptical theists of the ST2 sort have moved beyond Cartesian scenarios (preliminary epistemological considerations) and onto further probabilistic discussion (secondary epistemological considerations). Furthermore, it (the divine lies argument) can be applied to atheism, as well — regardless of whether atheists believe in God or not. Cheers!

  16. James S says

    Ok, I have a question, but before I ask it I want to make it known that I did not listen to this last debate.

    Justin’s argument seems, to me, to be an argument for consistency. Orme made Justin raise the same problem in a different way in a previous debate. The minute you make a statement that shackles you in epistemic handcuffs you are no longer in a position to make claims outside your self imposed reach. How can you say, “Well, we can’t know that, but we do know this!”? You know how? How can the source, of said knowledge, be trusted to be thinking in tune with us if its thinking is so far beyond anything we can contemplate? In that case, aren’t all bets off?

    How can I posit that God is essentially good, when I can’t understand what the “good” could possibly mean to a maximally great being? My idea of the “good” does not involve rape or genocide, obviously the deity has different ideas. So it can lie, cheat, steal, murder, molest at will because who can say it should do otherwise. I guess that’s just moral perfection hard at work, but hey, how can I claim knowledge of the deities moral perfection when I’ve removed the ground with which do to so? You can’t plaster a finite beings morality on an infinite being. That seems plain. But then! You have to be consistent. You can’t plaster a finite beings anything on an infinite being. All labels, all ideas and all notions are groundless. Deistic mystery soup.

    Can you say, “This is true because God told us so”, if that’s the case?

    That was way more then one question. It seems like a valid argument to me. If someone has the time, and inclination, I would really appreciate a simple argument explaining why they disagree.

  17. BradC says

    James- it seems to me that is a reasonable summary of the problem.

    The frequent apologetic claim is that we can’t know God’s reason for allowing evil (generally) or a specific evil or tragic act, because “his ways are so much higher than our ways”.

    Taking that position, however, opens the apologist up to Justin’s argument, asking how, then, we can rely on anything else he says?

    I even think that there are scriptures that can help bolster this argument, times that God was explicitly deceptive (I Kings 22:22, Jeremiah 4:10, Ezekiel 14:9, 2 Thess 2:11).

    See http://skepticsannotatedbible.com/contra/god_lie.html

  18. Joel Ballivian says

    James, you raise some good questions. See comment #15 above too see why I think the divine lies argument fails to make a needed distinction between kinds of skeptical theism.

  19. lotharson says

    Hello BradC,

    my reponse would be that God has to be perfect in order for Him to be God.

    If He might tolerate lies at all, this would always be for a good purpose, if considered from the perspective of eternity.

    Lovely greetings from continental Europe.

    Lothars Sohn – Lothar’s son
    http://lotharlorraine.wordpress.com

  20. Joel Ballivian says

    Lothars son, you write, “If He might tolerate lies at all, this would always be for a good purpose, if considered from the perspective of eternity.” The divine lies argument wants to capitalize on this kind of thinking and say that, for all we know, God could have good reasons for lying to us about the truth of Christianity. We may not know what the “good purpose” is, but it’s possible. I don’t buy it, but I think that’s what could/will be argued. See my comment (#15) above.

  21. cpps says

    @18

    It doesn’t automatically get non-believers off the hook, but it does mean that they have a great deal of leeway that is unavailable to believers. That is to say there are solutions to the demon problem available to non-believers that are not available to believers. Also, note that the devine lies arguement as presented in the OP is criticizing knowledge claims about the nature of god specifically, not knowledge claims generally. Even if everyone were on equal footing when it comes to general epistemology, theists would still have additional problems when it comes to making claims about the nature of god since the grounding for their knowledge is usually that God told them. Those wishing to make the move from general theism to Christianity must either find reasons for the move that do not involve simply believing what God tells them or they must explain why god would not lie to them (counter the DL arguement). Even if there are perfectly good ways to ground other kinds of knowledge claims available to both theists and atheists alike, claims specifically about the nature of god would STILL suffer from this problem.

  22. James S says

    Joel,

    I’m ready to chalk up my not agreeing with your argument to my not understanding your argument. It seems that the only difference between st1 and st2 is that st2 believes God has made some knowledge available to us, or some aspects of the good. Both arrive at the conclusion that we are not in able to confidently asses E as morally right based on our epistemic vantage point. Once that claim is made, you open yourself up to the divine lies argument. St1 sounds lost in the euthyphro dilemma, in desperate need of William Lane Craig, and St2 makes the claim that while God has made some basic “goods” available to us, we don’t have the advanced knowledge of the “good” necessary to understand “how” a ten year old girl getting raped or a child getting his limb cut off so he can be a better begger secures it. I would say that position does reject basic “goods”, and because it posits that God’s “how” is beyond are ability to comprehend, we are led right back to the divine lies argument. Maybe God secures the “good” by lying to us about what the “good” is.

    If I’m way off base here or have simply lost the plot let me know.

    – thanks

  23. Joel Ballivian says

    @18

    Thanks, cpps. You state, “It doesn’t automatically get non-believers off the hook, but it does mean that they have a great deal of leeway that is unavailable to believers. That is to say there are solutions to the demon problem available to non-believers that are not available to believers.” Could you unpack some of the advantages that atheists have over theists with respect to Cartesian deception scenarios? I’m not familiar with any and would appreciate some clarity on that issue. Thanks so much.

  24. Joel Ballivian says

    @18, again… :)

    cpps, you also stated, “…note that the devine lies arguement as presented in the OP is criticizing knowledge claims about the nature of god specifically, not knowledge claims generally. Even if everyone were on equal footing when it comes to general epistemology, theists would still have additional problems when it comes to making claims about the nature of god since the grounding for their knowledge is usually that God told them.”

    A few thoughts are in order. First, it is certainly true that the DL argument is attempting to shed light on an epistemic problem that theists face, but it is also broader than this — it challenges our most basic intuitions and inductive conclusions about “the good”, regardless of our belief in God. It doesn’t relieve the threat of the double-edged sword that the DL argument provokes. Consider the following proposition:

    (1) If you believe in God, you must demonstrate that he isn’t deceiving you with respect to your most basic beliefs about the good and about him.

    Now consider another proposition:

    (2) If you DO NOT believe in God, you do not have to demonstrate that he isn’t deceiving you with respect to your most basic beliefs about the good and about him.

    In my estimation, (2) is obviously dubious. Disbelief in God does not free one from the logically possible threat of a God (or some being like him) deceiving us about the good and also deceiving us about his reality. So while (1) seems fairly obvious (as we’ll see, it’s really a Cartesian deception scenario), (2) is really in the same boat.

    Consider the DL in propositional form:

    (3) Positing the existence of a divine agent who allows certain instances of evil to happen for reasons that are beyond our immediate understanding also implies that this agent could deceive us about our most basic knowledge of what is good and what he is like.

    Again, the antecedent part of this proposition (“positing the existence of a divine agent…”) is not the only way for the consequent of the proposition (“…implies that this agent could deceive us…”) to be a possibility. Whether you posit this agent or not, the possibility remains for all party’s. Thus, it is simply not the case that the DL argument can exclusively keep it’s scope on theism, even if it intended to from the start.

    Secondly, once we move beyond Cartesian deception scenarios (preliminary epistemological considerations), we must begin to grapple with the data we encounter from our experience as conscious agents (whether a priori or a posteriori data and knowlege). Moving beyond these preliminary considerations/scenarios will involve a number of considerations, including 1) the distinction between a logical might and epistemic might (even if it’s logically possible that we are being decieved by an evil demon or are merely brains in a vat of chemicals, it must be argued that this is actually the case, not just possibly the case. The skeptic would have to justify why he thinks this is the case, but in doing so he would be affirming the reliability of his cognitive faculties and simultaneously be pulling from a pool of assumed knowledge in order to support his point), 2) Ockams razor (the evil spirit hypothesis and other such scenarios are not hypotheses which are as simple as the hypothesis that our perception and basic intuitions of the world are generally accurate. This includes our intuitions about the good, as well as our evaluations about the data we encounter — whether revelation or not. See Edward Feser’s book, Philosophy of Mind), and 3) the idea that we are not obliged to have certainty with respect to our beliefs, but only probability. #3 leaves us with a defeasible trust in our inductive activity (actually, #1 and #2 do, as well). As a result of these considerations, we can move beyond preliminary epistemological considerations (can we trust our basic perception and intuitions about reality?) and into the domain of secondary epistemological considerations (what is probably true with respect to the data my experience gives me?)

    Many prominent philosophers have adopted an indirect realist position with respect to our knowledge of the physical world and any data that we experientially receive as living, thinking beings. Inductive and probabilistic activity is done in the secondary epistemological domain and accepts that 1) we can basically trust the use of our cognitive capacities, 2) that we can trust the inferred correspondence between the data we grapple with and the reality to which they point, and 3) that we know most things indirectly and in a defeasible manner (perhaps 2 and 3 are really the same). Skeptical theism of the ST2 sort (see my above post), is an effort to stay in this secondary domain and merely claims that certain instances of evil E cannot be said to justify the conclusion that “God does not have a justifying reason for E”, because, if God exists, it is possible that He has a justifying reason for E that is consistent with our basic intuitions of the good (or our knowledge of the good based on revelation), even if we aren’t in a position to ascertain the particular justifying reason. This kind of inferential activity is clearly done in the domain of secondary epistemological considerations, far beyond Descartes deception scenarios.

    Thus, it is quite jarring when the DL comes along and says, “God could be deceiving you about the good and about himself.” (proposition #3). This moves us right back to the domain of preliminary epistemological considerations and all the efforts made therein to address the problem of ultimate deception. It just isn’t appropriate. It’s one thing to grapple with the sources of “revealed theology” and point out instances where God seems untrustworthy (this kind of inferential activity is taking the data of our experience seriously, as any person in the second domain of epistemology would), but it’s quite another to make the claim, independent of inferential activity in the second domain, that God could be deceiving us about the good in general and about the inferential conclusions we come to about his nature.

    Let me know if and how I might be off. Thanks! (by the way, even though I don’t wholly buy Justins version of the DL argument, I’m still a big fan of his. I’m just waiting for him to make some needed clarifications and alterations to it. Maybe this is an overambitious expectation. Ah, the joys of doing philosophy. Cheers!)

  25. scott myers says

    It seems that another way to express the divine lies argument, given that it doesn’t explicitly address the existence of the xian god, is to ask Max Andrews, which version of the xian god is he defending, a deontological or consequentialist god?

    Is Max’s god a deontologist whose moral perfection precludes its ability to lie and permit thousands of child deaths per year?

    Or is Max’s god a consequentialist who could possess morally sufficient greater goods for lying and permitting thousands of child deaths per year (or for murdering a sinless man)?

    Only after Max identifies which god he is defending can Justin accurately address arguments for or against the existence of such a god.

  26. BradC says

    @27 Joel:

    (1) If you believe in God, you must demonstrate that he isn’t deceiving you with respect to your most basic beliefs about the good and about him.

    (2) If you DO NOT believe in God, you do not have to demonstrate that he isn’t deceiving you with respect to your most basic beliefs about the good and about him.

    In my estimation, (2) is obviously dubious. Disbelief in God does not free one from the logically possible threat of a God (or some being like him) deceiving us about the good and also deceiving us about his reality. So while (1) seems fairly obvious (as we’ll see, it’s really a Cartesian deception scenario), (2) is really in the same boat.

    What? In what way is (2) obviously dubious?

    The argument from divine lies is an argument about the (lack of) consistency of the Christian view of God. (Or even more narrowly, an argument against one popular Christian theodicy.)

    While I accept your claim that disbelief in god is not logically incompatible with some hypothetical deceptive deities (perhaps one that deceives us by concealing its existence and its nature from us), the non-believer isn’t making any claims about any of the supposed attributes of God or his supposed goodness (except for his lack of existence, which isn’t a claim about his attributes at all).

    So, while the non-believer might have a responsibility to demonstrate some of the reasons they don’t believe in a God, I can’t see why they’d have to defend some specific characteristic of that “non-godness”. That doesn’t even make any sense.

    So the responsibility is still on the believer to (first) demonstrate that they have a coherent picture of God and (second) show evidence for why we ought to believe that picture is actually true.

  27. cpps says

    @ 27

    There are entire branches of philosophy dedicated to attempting to ground knowledge in light of brain-in-vat and deceitful demon thought experiments as you well know. For those that make use of god (as with Descartes), you would be correct that the possibility of a deceitful god would undermine all knowledge so grounded. However, most do not involve god and these provide atheists and theists alike with plausible explanations for how we can claim to know things about the world even if there is a demon or a mad scientist or a god attempting to deceive us. However none of these approaches are likely to be helpful defending knowledge of god’s nature because believers depend upon god’s account of itself to get that knowledge. In short, a solution to the deceitful demon thought experiment does not necessarily entail a solution to the deceitful god argument and this is the case whether or not you think a solution to the former has actually been found. They simply are not the same argument.

  28. says

    The Divine Lies argument does not attempt to undermine all knowledge. I was only defending the effects it has on those pieces of claimed knowledge that have their only justification within the pages of their holy texts.

    This is not a ‘brain in a vat’ kind of argument, this is merely a demand for consistency. It leaves unaddressed the possibility of knowledge of other kinds of claims.

  29. James S says

    @27

    Ok, I’m with you, to a point, but what individual (theists) are we talking about that take the data of our experience seriously? Certainly not the guy who claims to know of God’s moral perfection. I think your argument is a good one but it seems to depend on everybody following the same set of rules. Revelation is hardly second-domain-of-epistimology material and if it is I would like to request that my gut feelings receive the same consideration. It seems to me the person sticking to the data gathered scrupulously is in a better position, to make claims about what we know, than the person who received their information through revelation. At the very least the latter individual has to be consistent about what they could possibly know from their respective revelation.

  30. Joel Ballivian says

    JOELS MAGNUM OPUS :)

    @25

    James S, thanks so much for the opportunity to clarify. I think you might have misunderstood ST2. You state, “…St2 makes the claim that while God has made some basic “goods” available to us, we don’t have the advanced knowledge of the “good” necessary to understand “how” a ten year old girl getting raped or a child getting his limb cut off so he can be a better begger secures it.”

    1.1 ST2 RE-CLARIFIED

    ST2 does not claim that we don’t have knowledge of the good necessary to understand how God might bring a great good out of E. Rather, ST2 would claim that we can trust our basic knowledge and intuitions regarding the good (whether derived from special revelation, moral philosophizing, or moral intuitions), but that we may not be able to know how God, if he exists, is going to work out such goods (or which goods) with respect to E. Such a theist affirms the continuity between our standards of good and God’s standards of good. Thus, such a theist will naturally formulate various theodicies that pull from the pool of our moral and teleological knowledge. HOWEVER (this is key), they may not agree that all instances of evil are able to be probabilistically or epistemically appraised for their relationship and accord with the good.

    For example, we take it as a basic good to be able to act freely (see Charles Taliaferro, Philosophy of Religion). Consequently, the freewill defense or theodicy is one option, among others, that aids our thinking with respect to the problem of evil. If someone robs a bank and steals a lot of many we can easily discern that that person exercised their freedom in a morally grotesque manner. Other theodicies have been considered, as well (ex. the soul making theodicy, the warefare theodicy (see Boyd, “God, Satan, and the Problem of Evil”), ecological theodicies, complete happiness theodicies (see Goetz’s contribution to the Blackwell Companion to Natural Theology), greater good theodicies, and so on). Thus, we have knowledge of some basic goods (freedom of the will, character development, and so on) and can devise theodicies based on this knowledge. When a seemingly meaningless instance of evil occurs, however, a theist may turn to a soft version of skeptical theism (the ST2 sort) and say that God is working to secure one of these goods (and for a very good reason), or that a particular theodicies is at play, even if we can’t discern which one (or one’s) it is. To say that we don’t know the kind of good God is securing is not a denial of our knowledge of the good, but merely a denial that we know exactly which good is being secured. Furthermore, to say that we don’t know HOW God is securing a good is not to say that He is not securing it. These kind of theists will affirm that God is securing a good even in the midst of some meaningless instance of suffering, even if we don’t have the vantage point to know exactly how.

    Lastly, notice how a lot of theistic philosophers use chaos theory as an illustration in support of their skeptical theism. They maintain that E may be used by God to bring about greater “ripples”, conducive to the good as we know it, even if we are unable to foresee what these “good-conducing-ripples” are. This lack of foresight is not parasitic to our basic knowledge of the good. It is only indicative of our inability to see the greater picture with respect to E.

    1.2. THE DL ARGUMENT IS REALLY A RESPONSE TO THE “ULTIMATE HARMONY” THEODICY/DEFENSE.

    A theist espousing an ST2 kind of skeptical theism believes that she has very good reasons for thinking that there is continuity between the standards of good we are cognizant of and the divine standards of good (let’s not get into a conversation about moral ontology with respect to god here). But not all theists are of this sort. According to the “ultimate harmony” theodicy (UHT), all-is-well from God’s point of view. The UHT asserts that “since God’s knowledge of the world is complete, whereas human knowledge is partial and fragmented, only divine judgment about the state of things is ultimately valid.” (Peterson, et. all, “Reason and Religious Belief”). Furthermore, with respect to moral ontology, the UHT “emphasizes the notion that God’s morality is higher than human morality. Even if we humans could see events of the world in a total context, we would not apply the same perfect moral standard as God would in appraising them.” (Peterson, et. all). Clearly, the DL argument comes in pretty handy here.

    However, a theist who espouses a soft kind of Cognitive Limitation defense (ST2) is not necessarily moving in the direction of the Ultimate Harmony theodicy. Rather, “while asserting the perfection of God’s morality, they no do not insist on complete discontinuity between divine and human moral standards. Indeed they see the reasonableness of our fallible human moral judgements as giving traction to the problem of evil in the first place.” (Peterson, et. all). Thus, while the DL argument may apply to the kind of skeptical theism that affirms the Ultimate Harmony theodicy, it does not apply to a theist who affirms ontological continuity between human and divine moral standards and who, nevertheless, affirms that we may not have enough probabilistic access with respect to certain instances of evil to know that they are ultimately meaningless. Perhaps it will be helpful to point out that thinking along the ST2 lines does not make one a skeptical theist as they are traditionally conceived, but it does mean that one is drawing a particular principle, albeit modified, from the skeptical theist arsenal. It’s a kind of skeptical theism, but not full blown skeptical theism.

    2.1. A NEEDED EXCURSUS: THE DL ARGUMENT AND MY BASIC THESIS

    Much to my embarrassment, I must admit that early on I too hastily asserted my thoughts (comment #7). I assumed, from the get go, that Justin was using the DL argument against any theist using a kind of Cognitive Limitation defense or skeptical theism. Admittedly, Justin understands that his aruguments may not be appropriate for all kinds of skeptical theism. He states, “I don’t pretend that these [arguments] are a problem for all possible conceptions of God.” Justin may be using the DL argument exclusively against the kind of skeptical theism that says, “our knowledge of the good is wholly different than the good God has in mind. Thus, we can’t make statements about whether some instance of suffering E does or does not contribute to the greater good.” (what I call ST1 skeptical theists, or what is called the Ultimate Harmony theodicy. See above). If Justin is exclusively dealing with these kinds of theists, then, as I’ve already agreed (see comment #15), his argument is warranted. However, I’m not convinced that the distinction I’m pushing for has been recognized. A few reasons support this hunch.

    First, citing a philosopher like WIlliam Lane Craig is hardly useful in supporting the second premise of the DL (the second premise states, “We limited humans have no good reasons for thinking that OUR knowledge of the Goods, Evils & the entailment relationships between them is even slightly representative of the Goods, Evils & the entailment relationships between them that actually exist.” When I first heard Schiebers proto-version of the DL argument in previous debates I was quite perplexed because it seemed like he was just taking us back to Descarte’s world of deception scenarios. My thoughts, however, rested on a confusion about the kind of skeptical theism Schieber was addressing. However, anyone familiar with Craig’s philosophical and theological work knows that Craig grants that we have basic knowledge about the good which is representative of God’s view of the good (see “On Guard” or “Philosophical Foundations for the Christian Worldview”). His use of skeptical theism is not parasitic to these other beliefs. Craig espouses skepticism with respect to our knowledge of how every instance of apparently meaningless should contribute to the good as we know it, not that we don’t know what the good ultimately is. It is this kind of citation that makes me nervous about how Justin uses the DL argument. It seems necessary to first inquire into the kind of skepticism a theist is espousing. One needs to distinguish between theists who espouse a softer version of the Cognitive Limitation response (such as ST2 sketched above) and those who do not (perhaps the kind espoused by Wykstra).

    The DL argument would NOT be appropriate to use in response to theistic philosophers/theologians like Paul Copan or Greg Boyd (and others) who espouse a kind of skepticism with respect to our knowledge of how certain instances of evil contribute to the good, but who, nevertheless, still claim we can have justified knowledge about the good and about God (see Copans book, “Loving Wisdom: Christian Philosophy of Religion,” and Boyds work, “God, Satan, and the Problem of Evil: Towards a Trinitarian Warfare Theodicy” or his condensed version, “Is God to Blame?” ). Their use of skepticism is not parasitic to our basic theological and moral knowledge because they are not the kind of theists who affirm a discontinuity between our standards of good and God’s (Boyd is worth quoting here: “Why does God intervene to stop evil in one instance but not in another? I dare to offer something of an explanation to this question. But I must confess at the start that what I’m actually attempting to explain is why there can be no final explanation to this question. The arbitrariness of life is a mystery…Behind every particular event in history lies an impenetrably vast matrix of interlocking free decisions made by humans and angels. We experience life as largely arbitrary because we can’t fathom the causal chains that lie behind every particular event. In Christ, God’s character and purposes are not mysterious, but the vast complexity of causal chains is. The mystery of evil, therefore, is about an unfathomably complex and war-torn creation, not about God’s character and purposes.” (Boyd, “Is God to Blame?”). You see, Boyd’s use of “cognitive limitations” is not about a moral discontinuity between us and God, but about the complexity of the world).

    More importantly, the claim that the DL argument is dealing with “bible only” claims is peculiar. I can see the point of the DL argument if it is used in response to skeptical theists of the ST1 sort, but to say that it is dealing with “bible only” claims seems to set it up for obvious criticisms. Schieber states, “This argument shows that while Christians can surely be invited to believe in the truth value of propositions that have biblical justification only, they cannot ‘know’ that these propositions are actually true.” To be sure, the belief in the salvific and divine identity of Christ is essentially a “bible only” belief (although some would argue that it is also existentially known). If and only if a theist is of the ST1 sort can Justin use the DL argument to thwart theological beliefs about Jesus (at least it seems to me). I do not think, however, that it can be leveled against theists who use a softer version of skeptical theism (more on this below).

    ***My basic thesis is the DL argument can easily be refuted by rejecting the second premise, and that any attempt to rebut a softer version of skeptical theism (one that affirms the continuity between our standards of the good and Gods standards of the good, even if we are not able to probabilistically appraise how certain instances of evil actually work out to affirm the good as we know it) by using the DL is inappropriate and not essentially different from preliminary epistemological considerations involving Cartesian demons and brain-in-the-vat scenarios. Sorry, Justin, if initially I misunderstood your argument, but it seems that further examination has reinforced my conviction that clarification on the part of any defender of the DL argument needs to be made. Not every theist who says, “we aren’t in a position to know that E does not contribute to the good,” is susceptible to the DL argument. If they are of an ST2 sort, then the DL argument simply becomes a Cartesian deception scenario under the guise of a different name (see my arguments above). Perhaps Justin agrees with this and I am merely preaching to the choir. Reasonable Doubts stressed that, “This is not a ‘brain in a vat’ kind of argument, this is merely a demand for consistency.” Great. If one is of the ST2 sort, then the demand for consistency is warranted. I am merely pushing for consistency and clarification of a different sort.

    I should add, in praise of the DL argument, that it can and should push theists to be more clear about the extent to which they are espousing the “cognitive limitation” response in regards the evidential POE. I think this is a very helpful aspect of Justin’s use of it.

    2.2 “BIBLE ONLY” ClAIMS AND THE NATURE OF CHRISTIAN REVELATION

    In wrapping things up, consider the following statement by REasonable Doubts: “The Divine Lies argument does not attempt to undermine all knowledge. I was only defending the effects it has on those pieces of claimed knowledge that have their only justification within the pages of their holy texts.” It seems to me that if the DL is successful against ST2‘ers, it has implications for more than just “bible only” claims. But I want to point out a few things regarding theological epistemology within the Christian tradition because I see this potentially creating future difficulties.

    First, ***the primary figure of Christian belief is the HISTORICAL person of Jesus of Nazareth.*** it seems as though Reasonable Doubts has a very specific and narrow vision of revelation in mind. It is not so much the written texts themselves which are revelation (although most christian thinkers, not-including Karl Barth, would go on to say that scripture is also revelation), but CHRIST HIMSELF who is the ultimate source of revelation (see Alistar McGrath’s, Studies in Doctrine). As such, a HISTORICAL APPRAISAL of the life of Christ is essential to the formulation of Christian belief and doctrine. This means that theological epistemology within the christian tradition is supremely concerned with assessing historical data. This is second domain epistemology.

    Furthermore, a probabilistic appraisal of the death and acclaimed resurrection of Jesus, among other things, serves to inform our understanding of Jesus’ identity. Historically, the christian community was founded, from the very get go, on the basic conviction that Jesus rose physically from the dead (see Ben Witheringons contribution to “Will the Real Jesus Please Stand Up?” ed. Paul Copan) and that this was a vindication of his divinity and claims.
    Let R be the hypothesis that Jesus rose from the dead. If, upon appraising the salient facts surrounding Jesus’ death and resurrection, working in conjunction with one’s general background knowledge of the world, one comes to the conclusion that R yields a high probability as an explanation (or > .5), then one is warranted in accepting the claims made by Jesus that He was in fact divine. Jesus can be seen as God’s revelation to us. Accepting R, along with an assessment of the authenticity of the gospel texts, will warrant further conclusions about what ultimate reality is like (this includes beliefs about God, salvation, etc.).

    The task of Christian theology, then, is to evaluate the reliability of the historical documents in which God’s revelation to us is contained and to exegetically appraise them for their theological content. Christian doctrine regarding salvation, the character of God and His will for humanity are discernible, primarily, through knowing Jesus (a historical figure). But discernment about how CERTAIN instances of evil could or could not contribute to God’s ultimate will or purposes is related to knowing the meticulous details and ripple effects surrounding these events and their relation to such purposes. So when a theist of the ST2 sort asserts that we aren’t in a position to know how God is bringing about the good with respect to some difficult case of evil E, or which theodicy is actually at play in the allowance of E, it is not appropriate for the DL argument to be brought into the discussion.

    In my estimation, understanding the nature of the christian revelation claim briefly sketched above is important with respect to further dialogue about the probabilistic appraisal of evil. If biblical theology is primarily grounded in historical considerations regarding the life of Christ, then our probabilistic conclusions about Christ (and the ensuing theological formulations) are not affected by our probabilistic conclusions regarding how the good is secured in E. The first epistemic task is a HISTORICAL appraisal dealing with the data surrounding a historical figure, while the second is an effort to probabilistically appraise the relationship of the good to some instance of evil E. The epistemic disconnect between the two should be obvious.

    CONCLUSION

    To restate my case, the DL argument is appropriate against SOME kinds of skeptical theism (the kind that is essentially similar to the Ultimate Harmony theodicy), but it cannot be used against ALL kinds of probabilistic skepticism espoused by theists without digressing back to Cartesian deception scenarios. We need to take seriously the distinction between a position espousing moral discontinuity between us and God, on the one hand, and moral continuity PLUS the concession that we aren’t always able to know how the good or goods are being secured in some instance of suffering, on the other. As always, I appreciate Justin’s work. Keep it up! cheers!

  31. Joel Ballivian says

    “These kind of theists will affirm that God is securing a good even in the midst of some meaningless instance of suffering, even if we don’t have the vantage point to know exactly how.”

    ***I meant to say “some APPARENTLY meaningless instance of suffering…”

  32. rocket says

    Joel , concerning getting off the hook and Decarte ….re-read Pascal’s ”Pensees ”. Pascal said that he would never forgive Decarte for what he wrote . The Pascal explains why . A great counterpunch to the founder of the mod who put existence before essence without an orthopraxis to carry it out .

  33. Mark701 says

    I’m not an atheist or a theist. I prefer the category of “nothing”.

    That said, there can be no “divine deception” if there is no “divine”. Consequently for an atheist to argue with a theist about the moral and/or immoral aspects of a god is meaningless because from the atheists point of view there should be literally “nothing” to talk about. The same is true for the theist. If they KNOW there is a god, why bother “debating” it?

    The REALITY of the situation is that theists can’t prove the existence of a god anymore than atheists can prove the non-existence of a god. Debating the point is like arguing how many angels can fit on the head of a pin. It’s also been my observation that ” believing” something is just another way of saying you don’t KNOW for certain. Absolute knowledge requires no belief because you KNOW. Forgive the caps but the point needs to be emphasized. As a race we argue based on belief, fear, speculation, anticipation,anger etc. But only rarely are we able to discuss anything from a point of absolute knowledge. If we had absolute knowledge of the existence or non existence of a god, instead of deducing it’s existence or non-existence based on our interpretation of information, there would be no debate. And given that deduction is the only thing that either side can claim as evidence the whole argument is pointless.

    My suggestion is go home, make love to your significant other, LIVE good lives and understand that all belief ephemeral and transitory.. LIVING is the only thing that matters.

  34. Joel Ballivian says

    @Mark701

    “My suggestion is go home, make love to your significant other, LIVE good lives and understand that all belief ephemeral and transitory.. LIVING is the only thing that matters.”

    Is that just YOUR interpretation of the data (caps is a substitute for italics)?

    “As a race we argue based on belief, fear, speculation, anticipation,anger etc. But only rarely are we able to discuss anything from a point of absolute knowledge. If we had absolute knowledge of the existence or non existence of a god, instead of deducing it’s existence or non-existence based on our interpretation of information, there would be no debate. And given that deduction is the only thing that either side can claim as evidence the whole argument is pointless.”

    If we can’t know anything from the point of “absolute knowledge”, then you can’t be arguing that your position about the pointlessness of the debate is absolute knowledge. If deductions based on interpretations are the only way we can engage in rational discourse (as you would put it), and this kind of discourse seems to be pointless (as your last sentence obviously affirms), then your argument above is pointless.

    Mark701, I submit that, while our knowledge is fallible (knowledge has traditionally been understood as “justified, true, BELIEF), we can still engage in meaningful discourse about what is probable and what is not. I hope this helps. :D

  35. says

    Jeff,

    I’ve been thinking about Jeff Lowder’s critique of your GodWorld argument. I’m still not convinced it fails for the reasons Lowder gives. I agree that the existence of the Christian god is consistent with independent goodness. It is also the case that a safe containing the MVB (a $100,000) is less valuable than a safe containing the MVB plus a $20 bill. I wonder if this analogy breaks down in light of Christian theology. Christian theology seems to say that a person’s value is derivative. We are valuable insofar as we have some of god or some feature of god in us. We seem to “share in” or “participate in” god’s goodness. There doesn’t seem to be an increase in the overall amount of goodness with the creation of human beings. William Lane Craig seems to hint at this belief when he says we are merely complex arrangements of particles without the existence of god. We have intrinsic worth insofar as we share in some feature of god. This means there can be no safe containing the MVB plus a $20 bill.

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