Episode 117: Why Are Atheists More Intelligent?

The Doubtcasters return from their ridiculously long, unannounced break to dissect  the research behind the much reported headline that non-religious people are, on average, more intelligent than the religious. While the available data makes it clear that religion is negatively correlated with intelligence, the reasons behind this relationship are less clear. We will review some of the best theories advanced to explain this relationship for this episodes “God Thinks Like You” segment. Also, a new counter-apologetics segment asks “What is the probability that God would want to raise a first century religious leader from the dead?”; and the laughter is contagious in this weeks “Stranger Than Fiction”

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Episode Links:

Zuckerman, Silberman & Hall’s Meta-Analysis on Intelligence and Religiosity

In mother Russia, feelings hurt you!

State Department’s office of “religious engagement”

Atheism is warning sign for suicide according to Marine Corps

Can Atheists be military chaplains

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.

Debate: Does the God of Christianity Exist? Max Andrews vs. Justin Schieber

andrews_v_schieberDoes the God of Christianity Exist? 

This debate was not a live debate, rather it was a series of audio exchanges that took place through the months of June and July of 2013 between Max Andrews of (Sententias.org) and Justin Schieber (Doubtcast.org). The exchanges were according to agreed upon time limitations on each section. For each of their several sections, the debaters were given at least a week to analyze, script and record their entries before submitting it to their opponent. Each submission, has been edited together in the agreed upon order for your listening interest. As one speaker ends, the next will follow without interruption.

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RD Extra: A Skeptical Review of Religious Prosociality Research with Luke Galen

This RD extra features a lecture by Luke Galen “A Skeptical Review of Religious Prosociality” delivered to CFI Michigan June 26th 2013

It is often suggested that religion leads individuals to be more prosocial, that is, more cooperative, generous, friendly, and happy. A commonly held belief is that “religion makes better neighbors”. However, a closer examination of the research supporting these claims yields important qualifications to this relationship. Dr. Galen will offer some common examples of these types of studies and invite the audience to ask critical questions regarding the types of conclusions that can be drawn from the “religion makes you good” literature.

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And for everyone who asked for references…get a load of this:


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A response to Randal Rauser’s criticisms of the Problem of Non-God Objects.

Listeners of the Reasonable Doubts Podcast will know that I (Justin Schieber) often use an argument I sometimes call ‘The Problem of Non-God Objects’.  This argument has gone through many different versions over the last few years.  Put in its most recent, simplified form, the argument goes like this:



P1: If the Christian God exists, then GodWorld is the unique best possible world.

P2: If Godworld is the unique BPW, then the Christian God would maintain GodWorld.

P3: GodWorld is false because the Universe (or any non-God object) exists.

-Therefore, the Christian God, as so defined, does not exist.

Note: The term ‘GodWorld’ refers to that possible world where God never actually creates anything.  This argument takes for granted that God’s initial act of creating the universe (or any non-God object) was a free act and not born out of necessity.)



Because the Christian God is to be understood as a maximally great being – he must be absolutely and essentially perfect both morally and ontologically.
What is meant by ontological perfection?

There are things called ‘great-making properties’ – things like power, being loving, having knowledge etc.  And God, if he exists, has these properties to their respective maximally compossible degrees.  The words of Christian philosopher, J.P. Moreland can shed some light on this…
 “To say that God is perfect means that there is no possible world where he has his attributes to a greater degree… God is not the most loving being that happens to exist, he is the most loving being that could possibly exist so that God’s possessing the attribute of being loving is to a degree such that it is impossible for him to have it to a greater degree.”
So the question being pressed by the argument is, If the Christian God were to exist, could he possibly have motivating reasons to intentionally create a universe?
I argue no.


If God exists, he is the best possible being – meaning he has those great-making properties to their maximal compossible degrees and no such properties to any lessor degree. A world composed entirely of the single best possible being existing alone for eternity would be a world composed entirely of all those great-making properties to their maximal compossible degrees and no such properties to any lessor degree – Now, unless there is some source of unique Goodness – Goodness that exists outside of and fully independent of God then GodWorld must be the unique best possible world.  It is the richest and, quite literally, the godliest of all possible worlds and since no other world can compare, it is the unique best possible world – one that God, if he is maximally great, would certainly maintain.  The empirical fact that there are things that exists that are not identical to God show us that the possible world of GodWorld was not maintained and so the Christian God does not exist.


Roughly six months ago, Randal Rauser (RandalRauser.com) wrote a blog post wherein he forwarded several challenges.  Here I want to look at those objections to see if they carry any weight.


Randal’s First Objection:
Randal’s first objection is to perform a kind of Moorean shift. Randal argues that because people believe that God is the creator of the universe (Perhaps by philosophical arguments or revelation etc.), they will be more likely to think that something must be wrong with the argument rather than simply accepting its conclusion.
Essentially, Randal rewrites the argument.  But, because of the deductive nature of the argument, Randal still has work to do.  If the argument is valid, then clearly I must be misunderstanding Randal’s particular nuanced version of God in some important way.  Perhaps P2 or P1 is in error?  The entire point of the argument is that, given this particular way of thinking about God and creation, God can not exist. I hope I can be forgiven for not finding the “But God does exist!” response to be one deserving of more attention.




Randal’s Second Objection
Randal’s second response is a bit more substantive.  He expresses skepticism that ‘GodWorld’ is a greater possible world than a World where God exists along with the Universe (Or a non-God object).  He injects his skepticism with some horsepower by providing an illustration about muscle car museums.


“Imagine two automobile museums devoted to the muscle car. Each museum has a perfect model of every muscle car ever built from the 1964 GTO straight up to the 2013 Shelby Mustang. However, the second muscle car museum also has an unrestored, rusty 1970 Camaro in the backlot. Which is the greater muscle car museum?”


Curiously, Randal doesn’t think that either museum has the upper hand.


To see why Randal’s intuitions about the car museum are poorly-formed, we need to think about how one might plausibly place relative values upon the particulars of a category like muscle car museums.  The value of any particular muscle car museum must be evaluated according to how well it fulfills the goals and purposes of the general category of muscle car museums.  Relevant factors might include educational value, number of exhibits, aesthetic appeal, average age of the cars, variety of make/model and condition of cars.  Given the fact that both museums are dedicated to fulfilling these goals, and given the fact that the museum with an unrestored, rusty 1970 Camaro in the back lot has more variety of make/model and condition and a greater number of exhibits so, all else being equal, the second museum is clearly better.


If Randal was at a fork in the road with each of these museums an equal distance in opposite directions and both were identical outside of the addition of a rusty 1970 Camaro, are we to think that Randal would be totally in a state of indifference as to which one to actually attend?




Here is where the analogy to God and possible worlds breaks down.  We evaluated the relative merit of each museum according to how well they fulfill the expectations of that category but that is not at all how we evaluate the relative ontological merits of two worlds consisting of God and a world consisting of God alongside non-god objects.




Because, If we take God to be the ONLY instance of essential and absolute moral perfection, moral grounding and the standard of all possible value, then a world where there exists something ontologically distinct from God is a world where there exists something that isn’t morally or ontologically perfect.  A world containing just one non-god object is a world whose overall quality can now be improved as it has been degraded. In GodWorld however, it simply makes no sense to talk about the improvement of absolute ontological perfection.


Episode 116: The Outsider Test For Faith with guest John Loftus

OutsiderTestforFaithHow can one accept the Bible at face value but reject the Quran’s teachings? How can one accept Christian miracles as evidence but reject Hindu miracles? John Loftus, author of the Christian Delusion and God or Godless, joins us on the show to discuss the Outsider Test For Faith, which challenges believers to thoughtfully consider why they reject the claims of other religions and then apply the same critical standards to their own beliefs. Also on the show, its the Gospel of Superman! Why has Hollywood decided to promote the latest superhero film specifically to evangelical churches? And for God Thinks Like You, can just thinking about Superman turn you into a hero? All that plus a polytheism that is , quite frankly, a little twisted.

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Episode 115: The Myth of Martyrdom (Part 3)

The doubtcasters wrap up their “Myth of Martyrdom” series by discussing the evidence of others (non-apostles) who supposedly witnessed the resurrection, other miracle claims from antiquity and the false dichotomy at the heart of the “die for a lie” argument. Also, the Dr. Professor makes up for lost time by reviewing numerous studies on the psychology of religion, including: religious rationalizations of criminal behavior, cognitive overlap between deontological and consequentialist moral reasoning, and the different paths that lead people to doubt the supernatural.

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RD Extra: Etcetera debate: The Status of God in the 21st Century – Featuring Justin Schieber & Scott Smith

schiebervsmithLast month Justin Schieber was invited by Etcetera to Traverse City, Michigan to debate/discuss with Scott Smith (CApologetics.org) the ‘Status of God in the 21st Century‘.  The lively discussion touched on a wide range of topics from moral intuitions to the strength of positing a God as an explanation.


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Episode 114: The Myth of Martyrdom (Part 2): Who Would Die for a Lie?

peterWould anyone knowingly die for a lie? Christian tradition teaches us that many of Jesus’ disciples were persecuted and martyred for their faith. But if Jesus did not really rise from the dead why would the apostles be willing to sacrifice their lives over claims they knew were false? To many Christians, the apostle’s martyrdom is compelling confirmation that the message they preached was true. But is there any reliable evidence that the apostles actually were martyred for their faith in the resurrection? Also on this episode: The Pew Research Center releases a global study on the views of Muslims world-wide. We’ll take a look at the survey and what it suggests about the source of Islamic extremism.

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Episode Links:

Pew Research Center Report: The World’s Muslims: Religion, Politics and Society
Triablogue: Early Sources on the Death of the Apostles

Episode 113: The Myth of Martyrdom (Part 1) with guest Candida Moss

myth_of_persecutionJesus famously told his disciples “take up your cross and follow me” and the church has proudly circulated stories of Christian martyrs ever since. Stories of believers who refused to renounce their faith in the face of persecution inspire some to great acts of heroism but can also promote a spirit of victimization. In her new book “The Myth of Christian Persecution” Candida Moss argues that the martyrdom stories from the first centuries of the Christian church have been exaggerated, and in many cases completely fabricated. Contrary to popular accounts of church history there never was any widespread systematic persecution of Christians in the first centuries of the common era. Join us as we discuss her fascinating book.
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