Argument From Nonbelief

I have been experimenting with this argument on forums for a while now, but I have yet to use it in a formal debate. Seeing as I am not totally convinced by it. Something about it just doesn’t sit right with me as far as on argument against God goes. I feel like its rhetoric isn’t strong enough, and can be easily dismissed. Theodore Drange proposed a version of the nonbelief argument in 1996. He considers the distinction between culpable and inculpable nonbelief to be completely irrelevant, and tries to argue that the mere existence of nonbelief is evidence against the existence of God. A semi-formal presentation of the argument is as follows:

  1. If God exists, God:
    1. wants all humans to believe God exists before they die;
    2. can bring about a situation in which all humans believe God exists before they die;
    3. does not want anything that would conflict with and be at least as important as its desire for all humans to believe God exists before they die; and
    4. always acts in accordance with what it most wants.
  2. If God exists, all humans would believe so before they die (from 1).
  3. But not all humans believe God exists before they die.
  4. Therefore, God does not exist (from 2 and 3).

As far as I have seen, I have not been given a reason to think that God would want all of his followers to believe in him before they die. The obvious answer to this argument that the theist would present would be the God gave us freewill. This however is also a questionable assumption. People have suggested that this is an unreasonable demand for God. But I also don’t see how it is unreasonable for the most powerful possible being to make his followers believe in him from birth. Seeing as how one could consider creating the universe to be unreasonable. What was his reasons for creating our universe? I think the obvious answer would be that he wanted a loyal group of followers to follow him. So that could also be an interesting objection. I haven’t looked much into this argument, but I will be making future posts on it. I will try to explore all objections I can find, and objections to those objections(and so on). Hopefully I can arrive at the appropriate conclusion.

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7 Responses to Argument From Nonbelief

  1. Nocterro says:

    J.L. Schellenberg’s formulation is considered much stronger by most. See his book “Divine Hiddenness and Human Reason”.

    I think Drange’s formulation is flawed because of the existence of “nonreasonable nonbelief”; that is, people who are “angry at God” etc. Of course God isn’t going to violate their free will to force them to believe.

    The only solution to this is to say that only reasonable nonbelief matters, which just leaves us with Schellenberg’s argument.

  2. The argument follows logically, which is to say that it is valid. But a problem arises the moment anyone questions whether or not it is sound. For instance, what God is the argument intending to address? Clearly a God who “wants all humans to believe God exists before they die,” but what God is that? Is it a God that Drange created out of whole cloth for the purpose of his own argument (i.e., did he simply create a straw man to defeat)? If so, then his argument does not commend itself to any thinking person. But if not, then is it a God that Religion X affirms? If so, what religion is that, and does the corpus of its tenets agree with his first premise? (Because if it does not, then we are back to the straw man bankruptcy.)

    And this critical analysis applies to each of the premises, for it is important to determine whether his argument applies to a God anyone actually posits. (Because if not, then straw man.) Moreover, there is also a very thorny problem inhering at premise (3); namely, whether or not it is true (still the soundness issue). On whose view is (3) true? Is this likewise something asserted by Religion X? Or is this premise asserted as objectively true?

    Perhaps all this is the weakness you sensed about this argument. The moment you began to consider whether or not it is sound, its weaknesses began to rapidly appear.

    Incidentally, this argument is bankrupt against the God of Christianity.

    (Hey there, Nocterro!)

  3. Nocterro says:

    (Sup Ryft!)

    B at least seems obviously false – God could not bring this about without violating free will. I myself know several people who are “mad at God”. Furthermore, it’s not even the belief that matters, at least not directly, and at least not for Christianity (as far as Schellenberg is concerned, anyway). The issue is that the Christian God wants *relationships* with people, and belief that X exists is a necessary condition for a relationship with X.

    Drange’s God may be made of straw, but Schellenberg’s is most certainly not – there are many, many verses in the New Testament that speak of God’s love. Not only that, none of the Christian theologians who have responded to Schellenberg’s argument (including Moser, Howard-Snyder, van Inwagen, and WLC) have objected on the grounds that God is not all-loving.

    • Noctorro,

      Do you have a small syllogism that you can show me? I may make a blog post on it in the future. Because that one intrigues me.

      • Nocterro says:

        Sure. In fact, here’s two formulations.

        A) Schellenberg, John L. (1993). Divine Hiddeness and Human Reason. Cornell University Press. pp. 83.

        1. If there is a God, he is perfectly loving.
        2. If a perfectly loving God exists, reasonable nonbelief does not occur.
        3. Reasonable nonbelief occurs.
        4. No perfectly loving God exists (from 2 and 3).
        5. Hence, there is no God (from 1 and 4).

        ————
        B) http://www.infidels.org/library/modern/john_schellenberg/hidden.html

        1. If there is a perfectly loving God, all creatures capable of explicit and positively meaningful relationship with God who have not freely shut themselves off from God are in a position to participate in such relationships–i.e., able to do so just by trying to.
        2. No one can be in a position to participate in such relationships without believing that God exists.
        3. If there is a perfectly loving God, all creatures capable of explicit and positively meaningful relationship with God who have not freely shut themselves off from God believe that God exists (from 1 and 2).
        4. It is not the case that all creatures capable of explicit and positively meaningful relationship with God who have not freely shut themselves off from God believe that God exists: there is nonresistant nonbelief; God is hidden.
        5. It is not the case that there is a perfectly loving God (from 3 and 4).
        6. If God exists, God is perfectly loving.
        7. It is not the case that God exists (from 5 and 6).

  4. The second one seems dragged out, and the rhetoric seems weaker. Though, I don’t see why reasonable nonbelief and love can’t coexist. Couldn’t God simply give His followers free will?

    • Nocterro says:

      The issue is that reasonable nonbelief and a perfectly loving God are *logically incompatible*. To quote Schellenberg:

      “Notice how our everyday use of the language of love pushes us in this direction. The perfectly loving mother or husband or brother or friend will see to it that nothing he or she does ever puts relationship out of reach for the loved one. That is just part of love. A perfectly loving human being might, to be sure, occasionally stand to one side and let the loved one take some responsibility for the relationship’s development, and would want to avoid suffocating the loved one with attention, and now and then might even withdraw for a time to make a point. But it is important to notice that these are important moments within a love relationship. We might also reluctantly accept the fact that our loved one is (at least for the moment) unwilling to participate in relationship or has deliberately taken steps that (at least until his attitudes change) put it out of reach for him, respecting his decision. But insofar as we are truly loving parents or spouses or siblings or friends, we will never take such steps ourselves, and thus, if the object of our love takes no such steps, he will always (insofar as we are able to ensure it) be in a position to interact with us. As we might also put it, the possibility of some form of meaningful contact will always be there for him. Surely this is overwhelmingly plausible. What loving mother or husband or brother or friend would ever, for any length of time, allow this possibility to be taken completely away, if he or she could help it? And to this we must surely add, given that God’s love for us would have to be far more unremitting and indefectible than the best human love (and given that ‘if she can help it’ has no application to the divine): What perfectly loving God would ever allow this possibility to be taken completely away?”

      Free will simply is not an issue, as people with reasonable nonbelief *want* to believe in God, if he exists, and *want* to enter into a relationship with him. However, as beliefs are non-volitional, they simply cannot make themselves believe for no reason.

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