THE ARGUMENT FROM LOGIC FOR THENONEXISTENCE OF GOD

by

Steven J. Conifer

Author's Note: The following essay isderived from the rough draft for a book entitled (tentatively) TheArgument from Logic for the Nonexistence of God, which I haverecently completed and begun to revise for publication. Although thetreatment presented here is far less detailed than that contained inthe book, I have attempted to retain its essential elements andprovide the reader with an overview of the AL, the various theisticdefenses thereto, and the objections to those defenses (each ofwhich, I believe, is refuted by at least one of the objections). Inaddition, while the AL as presented in the book is applied to manydifferent concepts of God, within this essay (chiefly for spaceconsiderations) it shall be applied only to the sort of deity whodesires that humans believe in him (i.e., the sort in which mosttheists profess a belief).

1. Prefatory Comments

I shall herein propound an atheological argument which I havedubbed "the Argument from Logic" (to be abbreviated AL). The primarydifference between AL and most other atheological arguments is thatAL appeals not to a lack of action on God's part (e.g., his failureto provide good evidence for his existence, to prevent or reducesuffering, etc.), but rather to a particular feature of human beingsfor which theists must presume God is either directly or indirectlyresponsible. (The only possible exception to that assertion would bethose theists who do not believe God to be omnipotent, a smallminority whose view I shall address briefly toward the end of theessay). As AL attempts to show, said feature is incompatible with thesort of deity in which the vast majority of theists profess abelief[1] (i.e., one who desires that humans believe in him);of course, there are other concepts of a deity (or definitions of"God"), but they are far less common than the aforementioned sort andare beyond the scope of the present essay, which aims exclusively toprove beyond a reasonable doubt the nonexistence of the God in whommost claim to believe.

Let us now examine a precise formulation of AL.

2. The Argument from Logic (AL) Formulated

(A) If God (that is, a deity who desires that humans believe in him) were to exist, most humans would not possess any capacity, ability, or predisposition by virtue of which they could disprove (or at least doubt) his existence.

(B) Most humans possess the following:

(1) The capacity to reason, which has often led many to question God's existence, based primarily upon the fact that reason suggests that if God were to exist, there would probably be clear, objective evidence for his existence; that because nobody remembers anything prior to the start of his physical life, probably nobody experiences anything ensuing his physical death; that, therefore, it is likely that people's minds are merely an epiphenomenon of their brains; that because humans appear to have evolved from simpler organisms, they are merely the product of a natural evolution, rather than the special creation of a deity; and that if God's existence were apparent to humans, there would be far less confusion among theists regarding his nature and far fewer nontheists than actually exist.

(2) The ability to ascertain empirical data, analyze that data, and draw from it logical inferences, many of which indicate that only physical entities exist[2] and that supernatural beings and realms are purely fictitious; that, therefore, there exist no such places as heaven or hell; that laws of nature cannot be violated; that human beings are subject to, and governed by, said laws; that everything can be explained scientifically; that miracles do not actually occur; and that no deity was necessary for the creation (or existence) of the universe as we know it.

(3) A predisposition to skepticism in general, especially of positive assertions which seem to be grounded more on "wishful thinking" and popular superstitions than sound arguments, cogent analyses, and tangible proof; of claims which are difficult to verify or outright unfalsifiable, or which seem vague, incoherent, or even meaningless; and of virtually all propositions which lack good objective evidence, seem to contradict scientific principles, or simply appear far-fetched and undeserving of serious consideration.

(C) Most humans possess a capacity, ability, and predisposition by virtue of which they can disprove (or at least doubt) God's existence. [from B1, B2, & B3]

(D) Therefore, God does not exist. [from (A) & (C)]

3. Comments on AL

There are, of course, several objections which could be raisedagainst premises (A) and (B). I shall label the first set "Challengesto Premise (A)" and the second "Challenges to Premise (B)." It shouldbe noted that those in the first group represent theistic attempts tojustify humans' possessing the capacity, ability, and predispositionexplicated in premise (B), whereas those in the latter representtheistic attempts to refute that premise and thereby show premise (C)to be false.

Also, I should like to underscore the fact that AL, as it is beingconsidered here, aims to refute the existence of any deity whodesires that humans believe in him; all other attributes (with thepossible exception of omnipotence, as was mentioned in "PrefatoryComments," above) are irrelevant. Some might challenge the semanticaccuracy of implying that a desire- in this case God's desire forhumans to believe in him- somehow constitutes an "attribute." This issomething I am happy to grant, leaving for another occasion thelinguistic difficulties that might arise from such phraseology. Inany case, my point here is that on the basis of that desire alone, ALconstitutes a strong evidential argument for the nonexistence of Godso conceived.

With those remarks in mind, let us proceed.

4. Challenges to Premise (A)

As I see it, AL most clearly presents a problem for those theistswho concede that humans possess the capacity, ability, andpredisposition explicated in premise (B) but who believe that God hassome justification for their being so endowed. As Pascal Bercker hasqueried, "[H]ow could... God allow for the evidence tosupport a position of nonbelief based on solid intellectualfoundations....?"[3]

However, Bercker has, so far as I know, posed this question onlyin relation to the belief held by many evangelical Christians thatGod sends nonbelievers to hell, which Bercker (quite rightly) argueswould be grossly unfair in light of the evidence to which he refers;apparently, he fails to appreciate the correlation between thatevidence (and, more pertinent to the thrust of AL, the obviousconsequence of that evidence, namely, nonbelief in God on the part ofhumans) and the very existence of a deity who desires that humansbelieve in him. In other words, rather than reason merely that nosuch deity could punish people for not believing in him, Berckershould go a step further and conclude that, given the relevant data,it is probable that no such deity even exists. Put simply, if Godwere to exist and indeed were to desire belief in his existence onthe part of humans, what sense would it have made for him to do sucha thing (i.e., endow them, or permit them to be endowed, with thecapacity, ability, and predisposition explicated in premise[B])?

In the ensuing sections, I shall explore the matter in as muchdetail as space permits, examining four[4] theistic defensesagainst premise (A) and attempting (as thoroughly as possible) toshow why each of them fails.

5.1. The Fairness Defense (FD)

The essence of this defense is that in order to make things "fair"(or "even"), it was necessary for God to afford humans (or permitthem to possess) the capacity, ability, and predisposition explicatedin premise (B) of AL. That is, in order to allow humans the freedomto make their own decisions regarding his existence, it was essentialfor God to "level the playing field" by endowing them (or pemittingthem to be endowed) with the sort of intellectual capacities (i.e.,the capacity to reason, analyze empirical data and draw from itlogical inferences, etc.) contained in premise (B). Had he not,humans would be naturally disposed toward theistic belief, whichwould eliminate (or at least considerably diminish) the kind offreedom in question. (In this way, what I here refer to as the"Fairness Defense" somewhat resembles what has been called the"Free-will Defense," which states essentially that for God to in anyway influence humans' beliefs or environment would necessarilyinterfere with their free will, which he desires more than theirawareness of his existence.)

There could be raised against FD at least six substantialobjections, each aiming to significantly weaken it so as toconstitute, when combined with the others, a fatal blow thereto. Thetheist, I submit, must inevitably concede that appealing to"fairness" in order to reconcile God's existence with premise (C) ofAL is fruitless.

Let us now take up those objections.

5.2. The Determinism Objection (to FD)

One of the fundamental assumptions upon which FD rests is thathumans possess free will,[5] as is evidenced by its assertionthat people have the freedom to "make their own decisions." However,that people actually possess free will is by no means established oruncontroversial. It is a matter which is frequently debated amongboth philosophers and scientists of various fields (particularlywithin quantum physics). To simply assume it to be true isquestion-begging.

Moreover, quite a strong case can be made for determinism, or atleast "human-action determinism," also known as "near-determinism"(i.e., the theory that every human action and decision is completelycausally determined by events and conditions of the past, leadingback, eventually, to the remote past, including causes prior to theperson's own birth).[6] For instance, indeterminism (i.e.,the theory that not every human action and decision is completelycausally determined by events and conditions of the past) postulatesthe occurrence of uncaused choices, ostensibly a sort which areentirely spontaneous and random and occur "out of the blue," by purechance. But such an idea is incoherent; nobody can really grasp whatit means. Indeed, it would seem to make nary a shred of sense tosuggest that somebody performed a given action for no reasonwhatsoever. To be sure, we often, in ordinary language, use the word"random" to describe arbitrary or unexpected behavior (e.g., if a manwere to suddenly begin screaming in public and subsequently attacksomeone with his shoe, it might later be said that he performed acompletely "random" action), but all we typically mean by this isthat such behavior appears random, that it has no apparent cause. Weknow, of course, that there exists some explanation for it, even ifit is not readily ascertainable. To claim that no explanation couldever be discovered would be unjustifiably hasty, and almost certainlyinaccurate.

In addition, the theory of indeterminism has been forcefullyattacked by science for centuries. Few rational individuals wouldhesitate to grant that most theories so persuasively challenged byscientists (both at present and in the past) are probably false. Putanother way, because indeterminism appears to be inconsistent withscience, it follows that indeterminism is likely an incorrect theory.Of course, it does not follow from that that determinism isnecessarily true, but it certainly lends strong support to such ahypothesis.

Furthermore, the goal of this objection is not to prove thatdeterminism is true, but rather to show that free will is far from agiven, which, of course, severely undermine's FD's backgroundassumption that humans do, in fact, possess free will. Because thatassumption is questionable, FD can be reasonably doubted.

5.3. The Divine-foreknowledge Objection (to FD)

This objection is analogous to the previous one in that it appealsto humans' lack of free will (or at least the possibility of theirnot having free will) in order to refute one of FD's keypresuppositions. However, unlike the "Determinism Objection," thepresent one makes no references to scientific theories or anything ofthe like. Rather, it appeals directly to one of the propertiescommonly ascribed to God, that of "divine foreknowledge" (i.e., God'sability to foresee, or know in advance, everything which will happenor exist in the future, including humans' actions, thoughts, beliefs,etc.).

The question which naturally arises from that property in relationto FD should be obvious: how can human beings possibly have genuinefreedom of volition if God possesses such an ability? If God knowseverything that a person will do before he does it, it would belogically impossible for that person to perform any action contraryto God's foreknowledge. In other words, if God foresees that person Xwill perform action Y at time T, person X must perform action Y attime T. For example, if God knows that I am going to wear aparticular shirt tomorrow, it would be impossible for me not to wearthat shirt. Hence, I would not truly possess free will (i.e., theability to choose among actions all of which are avoidable), whichwould make FD doubtful.

Of course, an advocate of FD could simply deny that God possessesforeknowledge. But such a claim would be inconsistent with another ofFD's chief assumptions, namely, that God foresaw the need to endowhumans (or permit them to be endowed) with the capacity, ability, andpredisposition explicated in premise (B) of AL in order to allow themthe freedom to make their own decisions regarding his existence,thereby making things "fair." At the very least, FD presupposes thatGod, at the time humans entered existence, possessed a substantialamount of knowledge concerning the beliefs they would form and themanner in which they would form those beliefs; that is, according toFD, God either foreknew or accurately predicted at least thefollowing three occurrences: first, that most humans would come topostulate the existence of a deity; second, that they would benaturally disposed toward a belief in such a deity; and third, thatby endowing them with the capacity, ability, and predispositionexplicated in premise (B) of AL, he would be able to offset thatinherent leaning and "level the playing field." (One might argue herethat since God designed and created humans, it would not have beenparticularly difficult for him to predict such occurrences, but suchan idea seems totally incompatible with FD's central theme: that Godgave humans unrestricted free will because he wanted them to thinkand behave however they desired; that is, if God truly wanted allhumans to be free, it would have been conspicuously inconsistent forhim to have designed them in such a way as to inhibit that freedom byimposing upon them certain intrinsic inclinations.)

Is it possible that God could have predicted even those threeoccurrences were he not in possession of foreknowledge? Although mostwould doubtless concede that it is at least conceivable that he couldhave done so (i.e., that he could have speculated based on theavailable data that those things would happen), surely few wouldcontend that it is likely. Therefore, FD probably requires that Godpossess foreknowledge, and so probably it cannot consistentlypresuppose also that humans have free will. Hence, FD can bereasonably doubted.

5.4. The Scriptural Objection (to FD)

This objection has relevance only for Christians, particularlythose who believe the Bible to be the inerrant word of God and freeof any errors or defects. All other readers are urged to skip thisobjection and move on to the next one.

FD rests on the assumption that God wants humans to come tobelieve in him of their own accord, without any interference by Godhimself. However, numerous biblical passages seem to contradict thisview.[7] For instance, in the Book of Exodus, God performedspectacular miracles before the Israelites and the Egyptians in orderto prove to them his supreme power and authority. According to Exodus7:5, "the Egyptians will know that I am the Lord when I stretch outmy hand against Egypt and bring the Israelites out of it." And Exodus10:1-2 states the following:

Then the Lord said to Moses, "Go to Pharaoh, for I have hardended his heart and the hearts of his officials so that I may perform these miraculous signs of mine among them, that you may tell your children and grandchildren how I dealt harshly with the Egyptians and how I performed my signs among them, and that you may know that I am the Lord."

Several verses expressing a similar theme could becited.[8]

In addition, God proved things to Gideon by way of astonishingmiracles. For example, he made fire come out of a rock (Judg. 6:21).Subsequently, in order to meet Gideon's own challenge, God proceededfirst to place dew overnight only on some fleece and nothing else andthen the next night he placed dew on everything else but the fleece(Judg. 6:37-40). God also revealed himself to Samson's parents byperforming a miracle for them (Judg. 13:19-23). And he furtherdemonstrated his divine nature to the hundreds of people assembled onMount Carmel by means of another amazing miracle (1 Kings 18:1-39).In the New Testament, Jesus employed miracles so as to persuadepeople to adopt certain beliefs.[9] He also miraculouslyappeared before a skeptical Thomas (John 20:24-28), and bestowed uponthe Apostles the capacity to perform an abundance of miracles(sometimes even resurrections) in order to convert people to the newreligion. Acts 14:3, for example, contains the following passage:"Paul and Barnabas spent considerable time there, speaking boldly forthe Lord, who confirmed the message of his grace by enabling them todo miraculous signs and wonders."[10] Paul himself came toacquire new beliefs as the consequence of a miraculous occurrence onthe road to Damascus.

In light of these passages from Scripture, it seems that eitherthere is no real conflict between the observers' free will and Godcausing beliefs in the given way, or else God is no more concernedabout the interference with free will than he is with people'snonbelief. In either case, FD's assertion that God fails to revealhimself to humans because to do so would be unfair (i.e., it wouldeliminate or at least greatly diminish their free will) is erroneous.Not only does the Bible in no way refer to God's desire to makethings "fair" or "even" by endowing humans with the capacity,ability, and predisposition explicated in premise (B) of AL, it seemsto strongly suggest just the opposite: that God desires belief in hisexistence on the part of humans to such a great extent that he is (orat least was) willing to directly cause such belief by bothperforming miracles himself and enabling select individuals ("thechosen few," it might be said) to do the same. Hence, FD (at leastwithin the context of Christianity) clearly stands refuted.

5.5. The Irrationality Objection (to FD)

Advocates of FD would surely have to maintain that if God were toprovide any sort of sign that he exists, people would no longer havea real choice in the matter of whether or not to believe in him. Inthat way, then, FD seems to presuppose that since God is unwilling tosupply everyone with good evidence for his existence, he wants atleast some people to come to believe in him without good evidence(and in spite of the capacity, ability, and predisposition explicatedin premise [B]). But would God really want such a thing? Ifso, why? Most would probably agree that for people to believeanything without good evidence is irrational, especially when thereexists considerable evidence which contradicts that belief. And forthose who claim that God wishes for people to believe in him basedstrictly on "faith," the question ought to be put to them: Why? Whywould God create us in such a way that our natural tendency is tobelieve only those propositions for which there exists good objectiveevidence, yet desire that we make a significant exception in the caseof "God exists"? Put another way, why should we believe in God on thebasis of faith but not believe in anything else on that basis? Whatgood reason is there to have faith in God, but not have faith in,say, the Loch Ness Monster, or Big Foot, or unicorns? As drasticallymisguided as such comparisons might initially seem, there is no realdifference between the two kinds of entities being considered: theformer is supposed to be some sort of nonphysical being whichmysteriously created the universe and now hides from its inhabitants,and the latter a group of mythical creatures that conceals itselffrom humanity with all the thoroughness of an invisible deity.

There is, in fact, no better evidence for the existence of Godthan there is for any of those mythical creatures (the onlysubstantial difference being that humans generally want to believe inGod, presumably because they find such a belief comforting, pleasing,and perhaps somehow proper, whereas a belief in the Loch Ness Monsteror Big Foot yields no such psychological benefits). Therefore, it isjust as irrational (at least epistemically) to believe in God as itwould be to believe in the types of creatures described above; nogood evidence exists for either. [11] Hence, if FD iscorrect, God must want at least some humans to come to believe in himon an irrational basis, a contention which seems highly unlikely andwith which I imagine most advocates of FD would themselves vehementlydisagree. Thus, FD appears to be unsound.

5.6. The Desirability-of-Truth Objection (to FD)

It would be fair to say, I think, that human beings generally wantto know the truth. We frequently exhibit this desire in our everydaylives: we read informative books to gain knowledge of our world; weattend educational classes and seminars to learn the facts of varioussubjects; and on a more personal level, we ordinarily expect ourspouses, family members, and friends to be honest with us,particularly in matters of great consequence. This appreciation fortruth seems an inherent and universal characteristic of our species,much like our desire for acceptance, or affection, or comfort.Moreover, we want to know the truth not only because it satisfiesthat innate desire, but because it serves a number of essentialpractical functions as well: when we know the truth, problems are fareasier to solve, obstacles can be more readily overcome, and harmonyis much easier to achieve. Virtually everyone should agree, then,that discovering and understanding the truth is both prudentially andepistemically desirable.

Further, we do not typically complain that our free will has beeninterfered with when we are taught a new fact or shown something ofwhich we were previously unaware. It would seem quite peculiar indeedif someone were to object to being shown or taught something (thatmight conflict with one of his existing ideas, beliefs, orassumptions) on the basis that it somehow hinders his ability to"make his own decisions." For instance, suppose there exists a ratherunenlightened fellow who has always believed that the earth isactually flat rather than spherical. Upon being told that the earthreally is spherical (and being presented with good objective evidencefor that), the fellow becomes angry and protests his having beeninformed of the fact in question on the grounds that his free willhas been interfered with. "I do not appreciate this new knowledge,"the man might grumble. "Now I have no choice but to abandon my falsebelief and accept that the world is, in fact, spherical in shape. Ino longer have the freedom to believe what I used to, what I likedbelieving. Therefore, my free will has been violated; I have beenforced to know the truth."

Does that really sound like a plausible scenario? Does thefellow's argument have any force or validity? I strongly suspect thatmost, like I, would answer "no" to both questions, and that mostwould regard the situation described above as positively strange, ifnot downright ridiculous. If the sort of reasoning such a fellowembraces were to be taken seriously and adopted by the masses, itwould become exceedingly difficult to justify the existence ofschools, encyclopedias, newspapers, and anything else of a comparablyinformative nature.

Obviously, few would advocate the abolition of any of those. Infact, nearly everyone is of the opinion that learning new facts andgaining new knowledge is beneficial, even indispensable to aproductive and succesful life. Many even dedicate their entire livesto the pursuit of knowledge and imparting to others what they havelearned. Thus, there can be no doubt that humans, by and large, placean enormous value on education and the acquisition of knowledge. Evenwhen acquiring it necessitates that one modify his beliefs andconvictions, almost everyone views the process as favorable andproper. So how, then, could it ever constitute (as the fellow in theabove example asserts) a violation of one's free will? As Theodore M.Drange writes:

Why should causing true beliefs in people by, say, showing them things, interfere with their free will? On the contrary, people want to know the truth. It would seem, then, that to show them things and thereby cause them to have knowledge, would not interfere with their free will, but would conform to it. Most people realize that knowldge makes a person more, not less free. (Jesus himself, according to John 8:32 [of the Revised Standard Version of the Bible], said, "the truth will make you free.") Even the performance of spectacular miracles, leading to knowledge or awareness, need not interfere with free will. Since people want to know the truth and how the world is ultimately set up (especially insofar as it affects them), for God to perform miracles before them would only conform to that desire and would thereby not interfere with their free will. (Original italics) [12]

Still, one might object to this line of thought by pointing outthat knowledge of the truth, though certainly in many ways beneficialand desirable, can often be so psychologically distressing as tooutweigh the advantages it normally carries with it. An example ofsuch a case might be a patient who is terminally ill, and whosedoctor is unsure as to whether or not he ought to apprise thispatient of his circumstances. The doctor wrestles with the decision,torn between being honest and sparing the patient of tremendous worryand despair. On one hand, informing the patient of his conditionwould allow him time to put his affairs in order and complete anyimportant tasks which require his attention. On the other hand,telling him the truth might dishearten him so greatly as to ruin whatlittle time he has remaining.

Indeed, the doctor appears to be in quite a dilemma; there seemsno clear way to determine what course of action is best in such asituation. However, the analogy fails miserably, and the reasonshould be evident: the disparity between the doctor's predicament andthe situation in which we are here assuming God finds himself isindisputably vast. The doctor, by notifying the patient of hiscondition, would be conveying bad news (perhaps even the worst sortimaginable), whereas God, by making his existence known to humanity,would be conveying good news[13], if not unsurpassablywonderful news. (Incidentally, that very idea is conveyed by manyChristians' reference to the gospel message as "good news.") Byrevealing himself to mankind, God would be providing all of humanitywith unparalelled hope and joy, a clear and gratifying purpose forliving. Surely even nontheists who were already perfectly contentwould be delighted to learn that God is real, even if it requiredthat they adjust their worldview so as to render it compatible withtheir new awareness. This would be particularly likely if it werealso revealed that eternal bliss awaits everyone in the hereafter,wherein each shall be reunited with his deceased loved ones andreceive ample compensation for his earthly suffering (assuming such aconcept is even intelligible).

But suppose God is of the sort in which most evangelicalChristians believe, the kind of deity who admits only a certain group(or groups) of humans into heaven and damns the rest to hell foreternity. Certainly that kind of knowledge would not please everyone(or even a majority of people), considering that Christians atpresent comprise only a third of the world's population.[14]But the difficulty here is a superficial one. Because the deity inwhich even evangelical Christians (most of whom subscribe to thedoctrine of exclusivism) profess a belief supposedly wants all humansto be saved (damning nonbelievers to hell only because of theirfailure to accept Christ as their Lord and Savior), he must also wantall humans to be aware of his existence, so it would be perfectlyconsistent for him to enlighten them by means of miracles or someother such device.

This brings us to a different kind of response to the"Desirability-of-truth Objection," one I shall call the"Feigned-allegiance Reply." This reply suggests, essentially, that ifGod were to reveal himself too clearly to humans, their obedience tohim would become unduly prudent or rational, that their allegiance tohim would become too easy and self-serving. Put another way, if Godwere to make his presence known to humanity, people would be greatlytempted to "do the right thing" simply to please God, rather than asthe result of more commendable and altruistic motivations. This mightalso be dubbed the "Sleeping-policeman Reply," because it portraysGod as a sort of furtive law enforcer who apprehends suspects byallowing them to commit crimes (unknowingly) in his presence.(Presumably, within the framework of this analogy, those whotransgress God's law are "apprehended" in the afterlife, where theyare justly punished for their misdeeds.)

I find this response terribly misguided. First of all, theistscomprise well over half of the world's population, and the vastmajority of them subscribe to some kind of objective moralitydependent upon God which, if violated, occasions significant andadverse consequences for the violator. Therefore, at least half ofthe human beings alive today are already susceptible to thetemptation described above (i.e., to behave in the way they believeGod desires more out of self-interest than any sort of genuinealtruism).

Second, assuming that God is omniscient (as nearly all theistsdo), it would be ludicrous to suppose that those apt to obey his willmerely for selfish reasons could somehow dupe him into thinking theirobedience sincere. Obviously, it would require little effort on hispart to distinguish the "real" do-gooders from the "phony"do-gooders; no feigned philanthropy could possibly escape the noticeof an all-knowing deity.

Third, it would seem only fair for God to explicitly convey whatis moral and immoral, what constitutes a trangression of his law andwhat is acceptable. Or, if not explicitly convey that information, atleast provide some rough guidelines as to what he expects from us;how else can we possibly know how to conduct ourselves? There arecurrently circulating among theists seemingly countless ideas aboutjust what constitutes God's "infallible law," many of them quiteconfusing or incoherent and some even self-contradictory. To be sure,most of the major religious views (i.e., those of the variousChristian, Jewish, and Islamic denominations) appear to conflict inone way or another, which serves only to exacerbate the ambiguity andcontroversy surrounding the issue of God's "code of ethics" (as itmight be called). Thus, it would seem quite expedient for God tosomehow clarify these matters and thereby assist people inunderstanding (at least to some extent) what is required of them.

Fourth, and perhaps most substantial, no part of the"Desirability-of-truth Objection" is at all relevant to the kind ofdeportment God wishes for humans to display. Nowhere does theobjection call for God to reveal his preferences regarding humans'behavior. Although, as was just shown, it would greatly improve ourability to act properly (i.e., in accordance with God's desires), itis by no means necessary that God provide such information in orderto simply reveal his existence to humanity, a move which the"Desirability-of-truth Objection" argues would in no way interferewith humans' free will (which, according to FD, would be unfair).

Yet another response to the "Desirability-of-truth Objection" isone which might be labeled the "Epistemic-distance Reply." One writerwho seems to advocate this line of thought is John Hick, who says thefollowing:

In order to be fully personal and therefore morally free beings, [humans] have... been created at a distance from God- not a spatial but an epistemic distance, a distance in the dimension of knowledge. They are formed within and as part of an autonomous universe within which God is not overwhelmingly evident but in which God may become known by the free interpretative response of faith. [15]

What Hick may be intimating here (among other things) is that,quite apart from the fact that humans naturally want to know thetruth, for God to reveal himself to them would in a way overwhelmtheir consciousness, as his is a nature so complex and awesome as topreclude comprehension on the part of humans. Thus, it is not thatGod is unwilling to make himself known to humanity, but rather thathe cannot do so.

As with the other replies to the "Desirability-of-truthObjection," Hick's (and others of a similar ilk) can be quite easilyrebutted, particularly within the context of Christianity. As wasdemonstrated in the "Scriptural Objection," God at one timefrequently employed spectacular miracles so as to reveal hisexistence and cause certain beliefs in people. That theme isespecially prevalent in the Old Testament, according to which Goddiligently endeavored to make the Israelites aware of him as theirLord. He performed a series of miracles as he led them out of Egypt,aiding their efforts to survive in the wilderness,[16] andsubsequently assisting them in battle. And yet, all of God'sastonishing feats notwithstanding, not only were the Israelites lessthan "overwhelmed," but they deserted him soon thereafter and beganworshipping other gods. Others who were less than stupefied by suchsupernatural events were those dwelling in the cities of Korazin,Bethsaida, and Capernaum for whom Jesus performed miracles (Matt.11:20-23); John 12:37 describes a similar incident. And in Luke16:31, the assertion is put forth that a man could return from thedead to tell people about the afterlife and perhaps still encounteronly skepticism and distrust.

In view of all this, it seems clear that Hick is way off the markby suggesting that God's revealing himself to humans wouldnecessarily cause them to be "overwhelmed." Hick apparently fails torealize the extent of some people's obstinacy. Quite contrary to whathe maintains, for God to demonstrate his existence, even by means ofspectacular miracles, would far from "overwhelm" them, at leastinsofar as the Bible is concerned. That alone is sufficient reasonfor Christians (who believe the Bible to accurately depict the mannerin which God thinks and operates) to reject the "Epistemic-distanceReply."

As for theists in general, they would fare only slightly better inpursuing the given reply. First of all, it almost certainlypresupposes a strong form of voluntarism (i.e., the theory thatbeliefs are often directly subject to the will, or that people oftenchoose their beliefs), which is a highly dubious view. I shall notanalyze this matter in detail because I do not wish to formulate anyof the objections to FD on the basis of involuntarism; nonetheless,it is certainly a relevant and significant challenge to the"Epistemic-distance Reply" which would deserve serious considerationif the reply in question were pressed.

Furthermore, it would hardly seem plausible to contend that God isincapable of revealing his existence without "overwhelming" humans(especially since we are, for the time being, assuming him to beomnipotent). Not even spectacular miracles of the sort describedabove would be necessary to accomplish the task. He could simplyenable missionaries (or even just a select group of individuals) topresent their case for theism so convincingly that everyone (or verynearly everyone) would eventually come to believe in him. Or perhapshe could reveal himself in something of a piecemeal fashion (so as toprevent "overwhelming" people with a single astonishing miracle), atfirst providing only extremely subtle evidence for his existence andgradually supplementing it until it became so clear to humanity thatvirtually no one would deny it. Surely any deity worth his salt couldmanage to devise some process by which to make himself known withoutparalyzing people's senses. Hence, the "Epistemic-distance Reply"appears to be a failure.

One last response to the "Desirability-of-truth Objection" issimply an appeal to the kind of stubbornness mentioned in connectionwith the "Epistemic-distance Reply." This response might be calledthe "Futility Reply." It is basically the argument that even if Godwere to reveal himself to humans (particularly nontheists), theycould nonetheless refuse to believe in him through some sort ofself-deception or "denial." That is, they could irrationally deny hisexistence no matter how obvious God rendered it, and therefore evenattempting to make himself known to humans would be futile.

The most substantial problem with this idea is that it imposes arestriction upon a being whom most believe is omnipotent (as we havethus far assumed him to be). Clearly, to suggest that an all-powerfuldeity has no means at his disposal by which to eliminate nonbelief onthe part of humans would be exceedingly difficult to defend; howcould such a being not succeed in convincing people of his existence?It seems perfectly reasonable to conjecture that people would bestrongly inclined to believe in him if he simply provided them withadequate proof. Few rational nontheists, I imagine, would cling totheir skepticism if God were to make his existence known throughclear, objective evidence. So the suggestion that God's revealinghimself to humanity would likely be futile seems totallyerroneous.

In any case, what is important to remember here is that AL is notan argument which stems from God's failure to provide adequateevidence for his existence. Rather, it appeals simply to the ideathat humans' being endowed with the capacity, ability, andpredisposition explicated in premise (B) is incompatible with theexistence of a deity who desires that humans believe in him. So evenif it could be shown that such a deity may have some justificationfor his failure to clearly reveal himself to humans, that would in noway explain humans' being so endowed. In other words, not even astrong argument against the "Desirability-of-truth Objection" wouldcast doubt over the truth of AL's premise (A). In order to createsuch doubt, one would have to be present some legitimate reason tobelieve that God not only desires to refrain from clearly revealinghimself, but that he has some compelling motivation for havingendowed humans (or permitted them to be endowed) with the capacity,ability, and predisposition explicated in premise (B). Therefore, ifthe "Desirability-of-truth Objection" is itself successful, it seemsundeniable that FD is a lost cause.

5.7. The Optimum-World Objection (to FD)

In order to formulate this objection as clearly as possible, Ishould like to divide it into two parts, the first directed at FD'sclaim that God, by endowing humans (or permitting them to be endowed)with the capacity, ability, and predisposition explicated in premise(B), somehow made things "fair" in the realm of belief formation withregard to his existence; the second pertains to two hypotheticalworlds both of which, as I shall attempt to show, would be far moreconducive to optimizing humans' ability to "freely" form beliefs withrespect to God's existence than is the actual one (contrary to FD'simplicit claim that it is ideally suited for such beliefformation).

Part I: FD explicitly states that God endowed humans(or permitted them to be endowed) with the capacity, ability, andpredisposition explicated in premise (B) of AL in order to makethings "fair" (or "level the playing field"), which presumablyimplies an attempt on God's part to balance the evidence and/orinformation available to humans regarding his existence, or at leastto optimize their freedom to decide for themselves whether or not heexists and, assuming he does, what his nature might be.

However, it seems very doubtful that the evidence and/orinformation is actually balanced. All of the traditional argumentsfor God's existence (i.e., Cosmological, Teleological, Ontological,the Argument from Morality, the Argument from Miracles, etc.) havebeen amply refuted. As George H. Smith has noted, "Most philosophersand theologians now concede that belief in a god must rest on faith,not on reason."[17]

Conversely, many atheological arguments, such as the Argument fromEvil, Theodore M. Drange's Arguments from Nonbelief and Confusion,the Incompatible-Properties Arguments, and the Lack-of-EvidenceArgument (which is itself an attempt to show that there exists nogood evidence for God's existence) have never, to my knowledge, beenseriously challenged. In addition, assuming that premise (B) of AL istrue, it is quite clear that there are far more reasons to doubtGod's existence than defend it. Also, along with being entirelyunverifiable, it seems likely that so-called private "religiousexperiences" (or virtually any other subjective basis for theisticbelief) could be explained naturalistically (e.g., hallucinations,emotional stress, the consumption of mind-altering drugs, etc.).

Some might object to those claims on the grounds that they aremore a matter of opinion than fact, that although I (and otherlike-minded individuals) may believe atheological arguments to bemuch stronger than the aforementioned theistic arguments and thatprivate religious experiences can be explained naturalistically, thatin no way makes those statements factual. They might contend that Ihave somehow misconstrued the available evidence and/or informationregarding God's existence (whether unintentionally or deliberately,perhaps so as to accomodate some belief or desire of my own), andthat such evidence and/or information really is perfectly balanced,or at least very close to it.

To such people I would reply that they are simply mistaken,perhaps because they have been misled in some way or because theyfail to reason well; the truth of the matter is that there exists anextremely important distinction between the assertions put forthabove and the contention that those assertions are, or probably are,inaccurate: the former are based on objective truths, whereas thelatter is merely a misguided view. That is, according to anyreasonable criteria, atheological arguments are generally much morecogent (i.e., more philosophically sound and more likely tocorrespond with reality) than are theistic arguments: there is farmore evidential support for them, they typically contain more readilyverifiable claims, and so forth. It is because of that fact that somany philosophers embrace atheism: the converse is entirely withoutmerit. As George Smith has succinctly explained the matter: "Quitesimply... belief in a god is unreasonable."[18]

Likewise, it is a fact that most alleged religious experiencescould be explained naturalistically, and it is probable that theycould all be so explained; people who claim to have had suchexperiences themselves frequently admit later that they were probablywrong in thinking those experiences genuine, and sometimes evendiscover precisely what induced them. Many of them who retain theirtheism will readily grant that they base it strictly on "faith." Andfor those who maintain that their experiences were genuine (i.e.,that they have actually in some way experienced God or somethingsupernatural), that would have no relevance for anyone else, for itcould not be assessed or analyzed in the way that theistic argumentsin the public arena can be. If someone asserts that he has "directlyfelt God's presence" (or something analogous thereto), that doesnothing to support God's existence or render theism more plausible.Such claims are totally unfalsifiable and therefore meaningless; theyare no more beneficial to a discussion of whether or not God existsthan would be a statement such as, "Only need meat if the fencesmokes olives," or "Fred Flinstone on the head of rabbits cooked atStone Henge." Obviously, proclamations to that effect are neither inprinciple empirically verifiable nor analytic, and as such proveimmune to meaningful discourse.

Theodore M. Drange, addressing the subject of what is sometimescalled the "mumbo-jumbo" theory of some forms of religious language,says the following:

If a sentence is unintelligible, then either it does not express any proposition at all or else it expresses a proposition that is inconsistent or in some other way unthinkable. Therefore, it does not express anyone's belief. If people go around saying, 'I believe there is a personal being who is outside space and time,' then my reaction is to deny that they really believe that. Rather, such people are apparently mistaken about their own beliefs. To have a belief requires more than just the disposition to assert... given sentences. It is also required that there be some thinkable set of ideas to serve as the object of the belief. But if a sentence is unintelligible, then it does not express any such set of ideas. It cannot express anything which anyone could entertain in thought and which could thereby be the object of a belief. (Original italics) [19]

The question might again be raised why faith alone cannotconstitute an adequate justification for believing in God. ("Don'tfeelings count for anything?" a person might ask. "Doesn't the factthat I feel God exists justify my belief in him?") The answer to thatquestion depends on the manner in which the word "justification" isdefined. If by "justification" one means simply "any reason putforward for something," then certainly faith on its own would besufficient to justify theistic belief. By the same token, then, onecould justify his belief in elves by saying, "I find the notion ofelves to be very pleasant and enjoy films in which little actorsportray elves; therefore, I believe in the existence of elves." Ofcourse, that is a completely irrational justification for a belief inelves, but according to the given definition, it would suffice tojustify such a belief.

However, if the word were taken in a sense which refers only torational justifications (as I believe it is usually taken), thenfaith would in no way justify a belief in God, or anything elsesupernatural. As was mentioned in the "Irrationality Objection,"there is no better reason to believe in God based on faith than thereis to believe in any other mythical creature on such grounds. Anyrational person would dismiss out of hand the idea of believing infairies or leprechauns simply on the basis of faith, and he should dono differently in the case of God. In the fact, the very concept offaith is in sharp opposition to a rational mindset, renderingimpossible a reasonable approach to anything. For the individual whodesires sound beliefs and a view of reality unmarred by warpedperceptions and faulty logic, faith poses a serious threat indeed.Writes George H. Smith on the perils of blind acceptance:

[To] believe on faith is to defy and abandon the judgment of one's mind. Faith conflicts with reason. It cannot give you knowledge; it can merely delude you into believing that you know more than you really do. Faith is intellectually dishonest, and should be rejected by every person of integrity. [20]

It should be clear by now that there are much better reasons todeny God's existence (or at least suspend judgment on the matter)than to subscribe to it. From an objective standpoint, no theisticargument is any good; even a believer of the most zealous lot wouldbe reluctant to endorse any of them (assuming he is fair and rationalin his assessments). And with regard to subjective reasons forbelieving God, the above comments should render it quite evident thatsuch reasons are either immune to a meaningful analysis or simplyirrational (or both). Coupled with the force of most atheologicalarguments, then, there should be little doubt that the evidenceand/or information regarding God's existence is, at the very least,substantially unbalanced, with rational justifications for atheism(or agnosticism) far outweighing such justifications for theism.

Part II: As indicated at the beginning of thepreceding segment (Part I), in this second half of the "Optimum-worldObjection" I shall propose two hypothetical worlds (or situations),both of which, I think, would be far better suited to God's putativedesire to balance the evidence and/or information regarding hisexistence, thereby optimizing people's ability to "freely" form theirbeliefs in relation thereto.

The first is a world in which there exists a clear anduncontroversial balance of evidence and/or information for andagainst God's existence. The evidence and/or information for bothsides is exactly proportional, or at least so close to being exactlyproportional as to prevent any appreciable disparity. It is almostuniversally accepted that the evidence and/or information in questionis so balanced. Virtually everyone agrees that there is just as muchevidence and/or information that implies God's existence as there isevidence and/or information that implies the contrary. It is widelyheld by both philosophers and the general public that there existgood objective reasons for both theism and atheism, and that thosereasons are so evenly matched that neither view is more tenable thanthe other.. Noncongnitivists[21] are a nonexistent breed;practically everyone understands the given proposition and regards itas meaningful, but the data relevant thereto renders theism andatheism equally tenable beliefs. In short, the "playing field" ofbelief formation regarding God's existence is perfectly level.

The second is a world in which there clearly and uncontroversiallyexists no evidence and/or information whatsoever regarding God'sexistence. It is widely held by both philosophers and the generalpublic that there are no good objective reasons to either accept ordeny the proposition "God exists." Noncognitivists are a nonexistentbreed; practically everyone understands the given proposition andregards it as meaningful, but there is simply no data relevantthereto (i.e., there is zero data to support theism or atheism).There exists absolutely no evidence and/or information on which tobase theistic or atheological arguments. (None of the argumentsreferred to in this essay even exist.) In short, the very absence ofrelevant data necessarily renders the "playing field" level.

It should be noted that in neither of the hypothetical worlds (orsituations) just described is there any call for God to interferewith anyone's free will. No spectacular miracles would be performed.No angels would be sent to earth to convey the news of God'sexistence. No beliefs would be directly implanted in people's brainsby God or any other supernatural being(s). In both scenarios, humanswould retain just as much free will as advocates of FD presume theyactually have. There would simply be either a perfect balance ofevidence and/or information regarding God's existence (as in thefirst world) or a total lack thereof (as in the second world); both,I submit, would offer a greater and more equitable opportunity forpeople to "freely" believe in God than does the actual one (i.e., theone in which we live). Both, in other words, would do a much betterjob of creating the level "playing field" to which FD refers.

Therefore, if FD were a correct view, it would be reasonable tothink that God, defined as being who desires belief in his existenceon the part of humans, would have caused one of the two hypotheticalworlds (or situations) to obtain. But, as was shown earlier, it isnot the case that either of those worlds (or situations) hasobtained; atheism is a far more tenable belief than is theism. (Atthe very least, it is far from universally accepted that the evidenceand/or information regarding God's existence is perfectly balanced ortotally nonexistent; the fact that debates on that very topic occuras frequently as they do makes that abundantly clear.) Hence, FD mustbe an incorrect view.

6.1. The Testing Defense (TD)

The basic idea behind this defense is that God, although hedesires belief in his existence on the part of humans, is testingthem to separate those who believe in him despite the capacity,ability, and predisposition explicated in premise (B) of AL fromthose who fail to believe in him (presumably because of the givencapacity, etc.). Theodore M. Drange discusses a similar defense bythe same name in his Nonbelief & Evil (pp. 156-170), insofar asits applicability to the God of evangelical Christianity. Althoughthe deity being considered here is restricted only by theaforementioned desire (i.e., that humans believe in him), some of theissues therein addressed shall be relevant to the present topic.

Let us now examine four objections to the defense.

6.2. The Unpopular-view Objection (to TD)

This objection is a refreshingly simple one: that God is testingpeople in their earthly lives to see who comes to believe in himdespite the imbalance of evidence regarding his existence is not aview which seems at all popular among philosophers ortheologians.[22] So far as I know, no one in the literaturehas ever seriously advocated this or any analogous defense against anatheological argument which alludes in some way to either saidimbalance or, as in the case of AL, the very fact that humans areendowed with the capacity, ability, and predisposition explicated inpremise (B). While this certainly does not in and of itself serve torefute TD, it nevertheless casts a decidedly inauspicious shadow oversuch an approach. That the defense is as deeply flawed as should beexpected is precisely what I intend to show in the ensuing threeobjections.

6.3. The Divine-foreknowledge Objection (to TD)

The issue of God's supposed foreknowledge (or omniscience) can beraised against TD just as it was against FD; that is, if God issupposed to know everything that will ever exist or occur, what couldpossibly be the purpose of his testing people to see who comes tobelieve in him despite the given capacity, ability, andpredisposition? Obviously, assuming that God indeed possessesforeknowledge, he must know the outcome of these "tests" before theyare even conducted, so why would he bother with them at all?

As indubitably cogent as this objection appears to be, Theodore M.Drange regards it as inadequate, saying:

[W]e can think of possible reasons why God might have tests performed on people even though he already knows beforehand the outcome of the tests. In the case of Job, God wanted to prove to Satan that Job would pass the sort of test that Satan thought he would fail (see Job 1:8-22, 2:3-10). It could be like that with people generally. Maybe angels or saints are watching and God wants them to become enlightened about human nature, just as Satan became enlightened about Job. Or maybe God wants people who are being tested to become enlightened about themselves. For example, perhaps they are being tested so that they may come to know about their own sinful nature. On the basis of such possibilities, the given objection can be dismissed. [23]

I think Drange is mistaken here. First of all, I would say thatmost theists who believe God to be omniscient also think of Satan(assuming they believe in such a being at all) as possessing thatproperty. The claim is often made by Christians that Satan is awarethat he shall ultimately lose his "battle" with God, but continues totempt people into committing acts of evil merely because he wants tocause as much suffering as he can (i.e., he wants to ensure that asmany people get damned as possible). But how could Satan know that hewill eventually be defeated if he lacks foreknowledge? Did Godprovide him with this information, and if so, why? If God has alwaysknown that Satan would engender as much misery as is within his powerto bring about, what good would it have done to apprise him of hisimpending failure? From a Christian standpoint, then (despite theverses pertaining to Job, which seem to imply that Satan does lackforeknowledge), there is good reason to believe that Satan mustpossess omniscience, especially when he is viewed as being nearlyequal to God in his abilities (or attributes) but not quite powerfulenough to oust him.

Second, quite apart from scriptural considerations, if God issupposed to be omnipotent (as we are, for the moment, assuming him tobe), it would be rather suspect to contend that he has at hisdisposal no means by which to enlighten "angels or saints" abouthuman nature other than the tests in question. Could he not (by wayof, say, divine will) simply furnish them with the knowledgenecessary to comprehend how humans think and operate, therebyeliminating whatever function these so-called tests are designed toserve? And with regard to enlightening humans about their own sinfulnature, how exactly is such an endeavor supposed to work? At whatpoint are such people supposed to come to grasp their "sinfulness,"and what are they then supposed to do about it? If the goal is toinduce them to repent, it would doubtless be in God's interest tomake them aware of what it is they are supposed to be repenting for.Most nontheists probably adhere to their nonbelief (or disbelief) forthe entire duration of their lives, so it could hardly be said thatthe sort of tests described above often aid such people in coming torealize their own ignorance (regarding God's existence) andconsequently atoning for it.

Another difficulty with this line of thought is that itpresupposes doxastic voluntarism (i.e., the theory that people atleast sometimes choose their beliefs and are therefore sometimesculpable for them) insofar as it assumes that beliefs themselves canbe "sinful" (obviously, to claim that believing something is "sinful"would make sense only if beliefs were somehow subject to the will).While I shall not pursue this issue here, it is certainly relevantand would constitute a significant challenge to anyone who elected toembrace the type of reply suggested by Drange. (In fairness, Drangeis himself skeptical of strong voluntarism,[24] so it islikely that he simply overlooked the given implication of such aposition instead of actually assuming it to be correct.)

Thus, it has not been shown that the "Divine-foreknowledgeObjection" applied to TD (or any analogous defense) is untenable, andit therefore remains a formidable obstacle for any advocate of TD whoasserts God's omniscience.

6.4. The Inequity Objection (to TD)

In order to briefly expound this objection, I shall cite a passagefrom Theodore M. Drange's Nonbelief & Evil which succinctlyillustrates the point:

If there were any test going on of the sort described within [TD], it would be very unfair to non-Christians. Quite apart from the issue of whether or not they are fools, non-Christians have powerful inducements to stick with the religion or belief-system of the family into which they happened to be born. It would be unfair to punish those with the "wrong" religion for not rebelling against their family and culture and switching to Christianity. To suggest that God is engaged in such a practice runs contrary to his being loving and just....[25]

Similarly, it would constitute a flagrant injustice on the part ofGod to punish (or exclude from any benefit[s] which theistsreceive) those who happened to be born into nontheistic families,individuals who are obviously more inclined to dismiss theism thanaccept it (i.e., succumb to the capacity, ability, and predispositionexplicated in premise [B] of AL rather than resist them). Inaddition, millions of humans die at too young an age or are toomentally ill to be tested in the way TD suggests; their belief in God(or lack thereof) could not be meaningfully or accurately assessed.Clearly, then, the world in which we live is far from being ideallysuited for such a test, rendering its feasibility extremely doubtful.For these reasons alone, TD ought to be rejected.

6.5. The Degree Objection (to TD)

Another major problem which arises in relation to TD is the extentto which one must believe in God (despite the capacity, ability, andpredisposition explicated in premise [B] of AL). In otherwords, what degree of conviction (or certainty) is necessary forone's belief to qualify as "true"? What degree is sufficient to avoideternal damnation or receive whatever benefit theistic belief mightyield? Suppose, for example, that person X believes in God to degreeA, whereas person Y believes to degree B (where B is greater than A);both believe in God, but the latter is palpably more confident in hisbelief than is the former. So does only person Y qualify as a "true"believer, or do both? Or is it that a still greater degree ofconviction (say, degree C) is required for such a qualification?(This could itself be referred to as the "Sufficient-convictionObjection," as when entertained independently of the issues addressedbelow.)

Closely related to both this matter and the issues mentioned abovein the "Inequity Objection" is the fact that some people, for variousreasons, lack the intellectual capacity to properly (or fully)comprehend the proposition "God exists." It seems hopelessly unclearhow such people's theism (or lack thereof) might be fairly andeffectively evaluated by means of the sort of test described in TD.In his Nonbelief & Evil, Theodore M. Drange discusses thisconsideration as it relates to the God of evangelicalChristianity:

[A] problem emerges in the case of a person who readily assents to and asserts the sentence "God's son saved humanity" but who does not, from a theological perspective, understand it properly. For example, suppose what the person actually believes is that God's son defused an atomic bomb by means of which Satan, the father of all terrorists, was attempting to blow up the earth. Would such a person pass the test or fail it?... The whole idea of belief-tests seems filled with unclarity and conceptual snares. (Original italics) [26]

He continues in the following paragraph:

If God were really interested in identifying people who willfully refuse to believe the propositions of the gospel message, then he ought to have made the evidence for [the truth of] those propositions quite good and quite convincing. It is only then that the reason for nonbelief would have to be something other than "unconvincing evidence." So it is only by providing a lot more evidence... than there already is that God could reasonably perform the sort of tests that TDN[27] attributes to him. What this shows is that there is no real conflict between God's desire [for all or most people to believe the gospel message] and his alleged desire that people's false pride be revealed. God could have gone ahead and provided a tremendous amount of evidence for the gospel message, enough to cause all or almost all people to accept the [the truth of] the propositions, and then see who the "holdouts" are. The ones who still do not believe the gospel message after all that may very be "willfully refusing to believe." In that way, God could have both of his desires fulfilled: he could have [all or most people believe the gospel message] and also perform the sort of test described in in TDN. Since those desires do not really conflict, it is proven that TDN is actually irrelevant to [the Argument from Nonbelief] and clearly does not refute it. (Original italics) [28]

Likewise, God could have simply made the evidence for hisexistence much stronger than it actually is, thereby greatlyimproving his ability to ascertain which humans are truly "stubborn"(and who therefore deserve censure of some kind). However, within thecontext of AL, not even that would have been necessary; as wasunderscored earlier, AL is not an argument which proceeds from thelack of good objective evidence for God's existence and the resultantnonbelief in his existence on the part of some humans.

Although most dispassionate and sensible people would assuredlyagree that such a lack of evidence in and of itself lends a certaindegree of plausibility to nonbelief in God, AL bypasses that issuealtogether and merely inquires: irrespective of the alleged evidenceregarding God's existence (or nonexistence), why is it that a deitywho wants humans to believe in him would endow them (or permit themto be endowed) with the capacity, ability, and predispositionexplicated in premise (B)? That is, why would he give them any meansby which to even doubt (for what seem to be good reasons) hisexistence, even if it should be that such means somehow lead theminto error? (And even if it were really the case that the capacity,ability, and predisposition explicated in premise [B] are allin some way deceptive or misapplied by humans[29]- which byall equitable accounts seems enormously implausible- it would stillhave to be explained why God has given people so many ways by whichto arrive at the false conclusion that he is nonexistent [or atleast probably nonexistent], ways that even the most religiouslyand philosophically impartial individuals regard as legitimate.)

As I have attempted to show, AL is different from any traditionalatheological argument which derives simply from the fact that thereexists (or occurs) what J.L. Schellenberg calls "reasonablenonbelief"[30] in that it entirely sidesteps the mereexistence (or occurrence) of such nonbelief and goes directly to theheart of the quandary: if God were to exist and were to want humansto believe in him, people would have no way of rationally doubtinghis existence; yet, by the mere use of logic (as is demonstrated byAL), people can rationally doubt his existence. And the inference tobe logically drawn from that pair of facts is that no such Godexists.

In this way, where other atheological arguments- including,perhaps, Theodore M. Drange's Argument from Nonbelief- might bevulnerable to the admittedly groundless but nonetheless rather commonidea that God is "beyond logic and reason" and therefore incapable ofhaving either in any way meaningfully applied to him, AL iscompletely immune to it, for anyone who put forth such an assertionwould remain obliged to explain why, if God indeed desires thathumans believe in him, they are able to so drastically misapply thoseconcepts to God's existence according to a methodology which appears,at least to rational individuals, so clearly and honestly fitting;and to accuse such individuals of deliberately employing thatmethodology in the fashion which best pleases or suits them wouldsurely be an egregious mistake, as so few of them probably approachthe matter with anything other than an open and wholly unprejudicedmind. (One exception to the aforementioned vulnerability might beSchellenberg's "Argument from Reasonable Nonbelief,"[31]which is in many respects comparable to AL, but, so far as I know,Schellenberg has never constructed that argument in any manner whichdoes not include as one of God's properties omnibenevolence, which ALdoes not; while it would likely be strengthened somewhat if the deityto which it were applied were assumed to possess that attribute, thesoundness of AL in no way relies upon that assumption. Schellenberg,on the other hand, seems to think that such an assumption- i.e., thatGod is omnibenevolent- is essential to any atheological argument thatproceeds in some way from the concept of "reasonable nonbelief."[If that is not, in fact, what he thinks, he has failed to makethat clear.] In this way, then, although the differences betweenAL and Schellenberg's argument are far less substantial than thosebetween AL and other atheological arguments, the two in question aresignificantly separate from one another.)

In any case, the point remains that TD fails to disprove premise(A) of AL not because God has neglected to provide adequate evidencefor his existence (even though that alone suffices to show that theworld is considerably ill-suited for the purpose of the sort of testdescribed in TD), but rather because humans are endowed with thecapacity, ability, and predisposition explicated in premise (B); ifGod were to exist and truly desire to conduct such a test so as toidentify people who "willfully" refuse to believe in him, it seemscertain that he would not have so endowed humans (or permitted themto be so endowed). As we have seen, to suggest that he desires toseparate from everyone else those who believe in him despite thegiven capacity, ability, and predisposition would be exceedinglyimplausible, implying that God is grossly unfair, totally irrational,and without foreknowledge, none of which the vast majority of theistsbelieve him to be. Furthermore, hardly any nontheists "willfully"refrain from believing in God, but instead do so because it is themost tenable stance on the issue (as was demonstrated in the"Optimum-world Objection," above). Hence, TD stands refuted.

7.1. The Necessary-byproduct Defense (NBD)

What I shall call the "Necessary-byproduct Defense" can besummarized as follows: in order for human beings to possess sometrait or feature indispensable to their intellectual and/or moralnature (i.e., something essential to their "humanness"), it waslogically necessary for God to endow them (or permit them to beendowed) with the capacity, ability, and predisposition explicated inpremise (B) of AL. Put another way, it would have been impossible forGod to create humanity (or allow it to evolve) in the way he/itactually did had he not enabled them (or allowed them to becomeenabled) to employ those and similar capacities, etc. [32]Therefore, premise (A) of AL is false, which makes the argumentunsound.

There are at least three significant objections to NBD, whichtogether ought to confirm its inadequacy beyond a reasonabledoubt.

7.2. The Conceivability Objection (to NBD)

NBD states that it was "logically necessary" for God to endowhumans (or permit them to be endowed) with the capacity, ability, andpredisposition explicated in premise (B) of AL in order to causehumanity to possess some specific (essential) trait or feature. Butwhy believe that? It hardly seems plausible to suggest that humanscould not either intellectually or morally resemble basically thesame kind of species if they were to lack the given capacity,ability, and predisposition. How would the absence of any one of themin any way alter the fundamental characteristics of their intellector moral intuition (if such a thing even exists, which is itselfdebatable)?

Certainly it seems reasonable to speculate that a person couldstill apprehend that a right angle equals ninety degrees or perceivethat murdering children is evil without also discerning that, say,nothing exists outside of the physical universe; that is, it would beunduly hasty to assume any type of intrinsic or law-like correlation(or relationship) between the former capacities (or abilities) andthe latter sort. I myself am inclined to deny such a correlation,especially when certain empirical considerations are taken intoaccount. For instance, many people who, due to certain mentalimpairments, lack the capacity, ability, and/or predispositionexplicated in premise (B) of AL nonetheless appear to performcompetently enough in their everyday tasks and to possess what mostwould regard as an adequate (i.e., fairly conventional) sense ofmorality. Such people seem to function in basically the same way thatmost people do and yet are appreciably endowed with no capacity,ability, or predisposition of the sort explicated in premise (B).Obviously, if all three were somehow essential to the intellectual ormoral structure of human beings, such people (apparently) could notexist, so it must not be the case that there is really the kind ofcorrelation mentioned above.

Thus, there seems no good reason to think it was necessary for Godto endow humans (or permit them to be endowed) with the givencapacity, ability, and/or predisposition. Moreover, assuming that Godis omnipotent (as we are for the time being), he could have createdany world in any fashion he desired, including one in which thecapacity, etc. were exceptionally rare or even altogether useless, ifnot simply nonexistent. For example, he could have created a world inwhich logic, reason, and science were either trivial or totallyabsent, endowing humans (or permitting them to be endowed) withdispositions so tremendously emotional that they would normally viewreality and everything associated therewith as being negligible (andrightly so, given a world in which their earthly lives wereultimately of far less significance than their existence in theafterlife). Or, perhaps preferably, he could have constructed a worldin which logic, etc. were of as much consequence as they are in theactual one but in which they (quite naturally) could be employed soas to corroborate his existence (or at least not disprove [orcast significant doubt over] it) , rather than the contrary. Thatis, they would generally serve the same purpose as they actually do,but would either fail to justify premise (C) of AL or somehow falsifyit. Whatever the case, there is surely a vast (if not infinite)number of alternate worlds that he could have created wherein humans'possessing the particular traits and features they do would in no waynecessitate that he endow them (or permit them to be endowed) withthe capacity, ability, and predisposition explicated in premise(B).

Therefore, it is conceivable that God could have created such aworld; there is nothing logically impossible about his ability tohave done so. Thus, NBD fails.

7.3. The Deficient-result Objection (to NBD)

NBD seems to imply that there is something particularly desirableor beneficial about God's creating (or allowing to evolve) humans ashe actually did; by suggesting (inaccurately, as was demonstratedabove) that it would have been impossible for him to create (or allowto evolve) humans essentially identical to those which came to existhad he not caused them (whether directly or indirectly) to possessthe capacity, ability, and predisposition explicated in premise (B)of AL, it further suggests that he had some compelling motivation forcausing the existence of a species with specificially the kind oftraits and features that humans possess. But what traits and featuresmight they be, and what is so good about them?

One possible candidate for such a trait is free will (or moralfreedom). But the view that humans actually possess anything likethat was shown to be questionable in both the "Determinism Objection"(to FD) and the "Divine-foreknowledge Objection" (to FD), above. Andeven if it were assumed for the sake of argument that free will is agenuine attribute of mankind, the idea that there is someirreconcilable conflict between humans' possessing free will andtheir not being endowed with the capacity, ability, andpredisposition in question was decisively refuted in the"Desirability-of-truth Objection" (to FD), as was the immenselypopular belief that there exists such a conflict between humans'possessing both free will and an awareness of God's existence(although such a belief need not even be challenged within thecontext of AL). It should be evident, then, that any appeal to freewill in an attempt to support NBD would be no less futile than it wasin the case of FD.

Another possible example of a favorable human trait would be thealtruistic tendencies which many people seem to exhibit. Forinstance, some people frequently donate to charities, volunteer theirtime at hospitals, homeless shelters, homes for abused and/ororphaned children, or assist people living in areas affected bynatural disasters or other calamities. Such compassion is undoubtedlya feature of humans most would consider desirable; few, I imagine,would prefer to belong to a species with an overt proclivity forselfishness or malice.

Nevertheless, there arise major problems with this line ofthought. First of all, what could possibly be the connection betweenthe capacity, ability, and predisposition explicated in premise (B)and the benevolence to which some appear given? If anything, it wouldseem that the given capacity, etc. hamper whatever inclination peoplemight have to perform kind deeds; some who understand and accept thatatheism is the most tenable belief regarding the alleged existence ofa deity (or deities) have probably at least once attempted toconstrue that fact in such a way as to justify their lack of charity(or perhaps even cruelty) toward others. As unfortunate and misguidedas such attempts might be, it seems likely that those who engage inthem would behave much differently if atheism were not the mosttenable belief in the sense described (i.e., if theism were moretenable than atheism, as tenable as atheism, or if neither beliefwere tenable). Clearly, the fact that humans are endowed with thecapacity, ability, and (as AL attempts to show) predispositionexplicated in premise (B) constitutes one of the primary reasons thatatheism is the most tenable belief in the aforementioned sense, sotheir not being endowed with the capacity, etc. would remove much ofthe existing support for atheism. Of course, this would, in turn,substantially undermine what such people take to be a justificationfor their apathy or truculence. So the fact that people are endowedwith the given capacity, etc. seems generally to diminish theiraltruism (or at least not increase it); hence, even if there were apalpable connection between that feature of humans and the capacity,ability, and predisposition explicated in premise (B), it wouldcertainly not be a desirable one.

Moreover, just as some humans are apt to perform great kindnesses,many seem more disposed toward committing unspeakable atrocities. TheHolocaust would be a paradigm example of the barbarity of which ourspecies is capable. Another would be the Spanish Inquisition.(Torquemada was alone responsible for the executions of more than twothousand people.) Still other examples could be cited, including theCrusades and the various slave trades established in earliercenturies. In addition, there seems no end to the violent crimeswhich occur with disturbing frequency: murder, torture, rape, sexualmolestation, cruelty to animals, and so on. Whether it be perpetratedby individuals, groups, or governments, the infliction of harm uponinnocent victims is plainly a universal occurrence. There can belittle doubt that whatever the particular traits and features of ourspecies, many of them produce situations that are far from favorable(by virtually any account). So if God intended to create (or allow toevolve) humans as he actually did for the sort of purpose intimatedby NBD (i.e., to ensure that they would possess some clearlydesirable set of inherent traits or features), one need only peruse ahistory book or a newspaper to ascertain that the result is markedlydeficient.

Hence, one of NBD's underlying assumptions having been demolished,the defense itself appears unsound.

7.4. The Radical-view and Further-restrictions Objections (toNBD)

A final pair of objections, the first similar to the"Unpopular-view" issue mentioned above in connection with TD, I shallcall the "Radical-view and Further-restrictions Objections." AlthoughI believe the task of disposing of NBD has already been accomplished,I include these objections here simply to "seal the lid" (so tospeak) on this third defense.

First, the basic idea behind NBD is not one which receivesparticularly great support from philosophers of religion or eventheists in general. That God had to create the world or human beingsin a certain way is a view that generally runs counter to themainstream belief that he could have created any world or species hedesired, in any way he liked, or even created nothing at all. Whilethis no more proves NBD to be a failure than the "Unpopular-viewObjection" alone refutes TD, it offers a comparably grim prognosisfor the defense at hand.

Second, NBD asserts only that God was restricted in the givensense due to the logical impossibility of the alternative (a notionthat has been shown to be totally bogus), but it seems to suggestother restrictions as well. For instance, the same sort of reasoningtherein employed might be used to justify the claim that God couldnot have made lions unless he had also endowed them with manes, orthat he could not have created an earth without also creating onewith mountains. While it is obviously true that not even anomnipotent deity could have created the lions which actually came toexist or the earth that actually exists unless he had endowed theformer with manes and the latter with mountains (both constitutingactions which entail logical impossibilities, like creating a squarecircle), it certainly does not follow from that that he could nothave created any lions without manes or any earth withoutmountains.

Perhaps an advocate of NBD might contend that the defense makesonly the assertion mentioned above and in no way hints at any furtherrestrictions (i.e., any that do not stem from a logicalimpossibility), but there seems reason for suspicion; if such anadvocate is prepared to argue that humans would not be essentiallythe same creatures if they were to lack the capacity, ability, andpredisposition explicated in premise (B), he could easily be preparedto argue that virtually any attribute of anything in existence issomehow essential to the nature of that thing, which would almostcertainly be erroneous. More important, there is a great deal ofunclarity surrounding the whole issue of what constitutes an integralcharacteristic of something, an obscurity which would severely damageNBD even if the first two objections thereto could be refuted.Numerous questions would need to be addressed: what is the criterionor criteria for determining what attributes of a being or thing are"essential," and who is to formulate it? Assuming any kind ofcriteria could be formulated, could a being or thing be properlyreferred to as that being or thing if it were to lack one of thoseattributes? If so, how? And if not, what exactly would it become onceit lacked that attribute? And finally, despite the fact that NBDrefers explicitly only to what it (inaccurately) assumes to be alogical impossibility, is there not a chance that it really doessuggest the further restrictions discussed above? (Such a questionwould introduce a kind of "slippery slope" problem for an advocate ofNBD, requiring that he satisfactorily answer the preceding questionsin order to draw a clear line beyond which said restrictions neverextend; that is, for him to argue simply that God is restricted onlyto that which is logically possible would be insufficient, for hewould first need to clarify precisely what constitutes an essentialproperty of a being or thing and then show how such a property mightnecessarily entail a particular capacity, ability, and/orpredisposition, as some essential trait[s] orfeature[s] of humans, according to NBD, necessarilyentail[s] their being endowed with the capacity, ability, andpredisposition explicated in premise [B] of AL.)

Coupled with the first two objections to NBD, these furthercomplications make it clear that the defense should be rejected, ifnot on the basis that it is unsound (as it has been amply shown tobe), then on the grounds that it appears irretrievably nebulous.

8.1. The Unknown-Purpose Defense (UPD)

The final defense which I shall examine herein is one Theodore M.Drange calls the "Unknown-purpose Defense." As with the "TestingDefense" (above), although Drange's emphasis is on the strength ofUPD as applied to the God of evangelical Christianity, some of hisremarks on the subject shall be relevant to the present topic.

UPD, concisely formulated, is as follows: God (conceived as abeing who desires that humans believe in him) does have some purposefor endowing humans (or permitting them to be endowed) with thecapacity, ability, and predisposition explicated in premise (B) ofAL, but it is a purpose of which we are unaware, whether it benecessarily unknowable to humans or merely unknown to them atpresent. (Those who subscribe to the former hypothesis would probablyargue that this purpose is incomprehensible to humans, as is probablyGod himself, whereas those who think the latter to be correct wouldlikely say that the data relevant to God is currently incomplete andtherefore precludes the reliability of any judgments concerning hismotives or intentions.) In short, God has some rational justificationfor his endowing humans (or permitting them to be endowed) with thecapacity, etc. in question despite his desire that they believe inhim, but exactly what it is (or even what it might be) is unclear tous.

An equally concise explanation of the issues surrounding UPD isoffered by Drange:

[W]hat are we to make of... the claim that God exists but has some unknown purpose which, if known, would adequately explain why he has chosen to remain hidden? It would be a purpose which necessarily conflicts with his desire for universal theistic belief among humans but which outweighs and overrides it, thereby falsifying [the assertion that God, if he were to exist, would want nothing that necessarily conflicts with his desire for humans to believe in him]. Is there any good reason to deny that there is a deity who has such an unknown purpose? [33]

In an earlier part of his book, he expounds two different versionsof UPD:

[Those versions] may be called the actualist version and the possibilist version. Both affirms God's existence. But it is only the actualist version which declares that there actually exists a purpose on God's part which explains and justifies [the fact that humans are endowed with the capacity, ability, and predisposition explicated in premise (B) of AL]. The possibilist version claims not that God definitely has such a purpose, but only that it is possible that he does, in which case [AL's premise (A)] is merely possibly false. It thereby aims to show only that [AL] fails as a conclusive proof of God's nonexistence because it does not establish a necessary connection between God's existence and [his not having endowed humans (or permitted them to be endowed) with the capacity, ability, and predisposition explicated in AL's premise (B)]. (Original italics) [34]

Well, this is a point I shall gladly concede. After all, AL wasnot intended to be a conclusive proof of God's nonexistence to beginwith. It purports merely to demonstrate that there is good reason todeny God's existence, as does Drange's Argument from Nonbelief.(However, it is unlike ANB in that it aims to show that there is goodreason to deny the existence of any deity who desires that humansbelieve in him, whereas ANB targets chiefly the God of evangelicalChristianity, along with the deities of Orthodox Judaism and liberalChristianity.) I would say, in fact, that AL provides very goodgrounds for denying the existence of such a deity, perhaps evenstronger than those provided by ANB and the traditional atheologicalarguments. In any case, it is by no means supposed to be conclusive,so the possibilist version of UPD is irrelevant to AL.

So the issue here is that of which view, the relevant form oftheism (i.e., the belief in a deity who desires that humans believein him) or its denial, is the more reasonable one to embrace in lightof the available evidence. The question now becomes one ofprobability: is it more probable that God actually has the sort ofunknown purpose described in UPD or that no such God exists? In thefollwing four objections, I shall endeavor to show why the latter ismuch more likely true than the former.

8.2. The Burden-of-proof Objection (to UPD)

UPD claims the existence of something, namely, that of a certainpurpose which God has that adequately explains his having endowedhumans (or permitted them to be endowed) with the capacity, ability,and predisposition explicated in premise (B) of AL. Anyone who claimsthe existence of something automatically assumes the burden ofproving that the given thing actually exists. But UPD fails to provethat God really has such a purpose. Hence, UPD can be reasonablydoubted.

Is that a sound argument? I believe so, but the matter is notquite as simple as it might appear to those who instinctively agreewith it. One might attack such an argument on the basis that, whileit is certainly true that advocates of UPD have a burden-of-proofthey must meet, so do advocates of AL, for it, too, puts forth apositive assertion: that if the type of deity in question (i.e., onewho desires that humans believe in him) were to exist, humans wouldnot be endowed with the capacity, ability, and predispositionexplicated in premise (B) of AL. This is a point well taken, but theobstacle it presents is only a temporary one. AL has numerousadvantages that UPD lacks, which, as I intend to demonstrate, bothsatisfy the burden-of-proof incurred by advocates of AL and render ita far more plausible hypothesis tham UPD.

8.3. The Loving-God Objection (to UPD)

Most theists believe that God loves humanity maximally and that hedesires a close, personal relationship with people. Obviously, forGod to endow humans (or permit them to be endowed) with the capacity,ability, and predisposition explicated in premise (B) of AL wouldcreate something of a barrier between him and humanity, making itunnecessarily difficult for them to know and love him. Yet, peopleare, in fact, generally endowed with the given capacity, etc., so itis unlikely that any such deity exists.

Advocates of UPD could, of course, simply accept this and contendthat God does not desire any sort of intimate relationship withpeople. In that case, the "Loving-God Objection" would carry noweight against UPD. However, as was indicated above, most theists doconceive of God in the given way, and for those people such anobjection would pose a serious problem indeed. Therefore, thosetheists who view God as desiring the aforementioned kind ofrelationship with humanity ought to reject UPD.

8.4. The Superior-explanation Objection (to UPD)

AL offers a reasonable explanation for why humans are endowed withthe capacity, ability, and predisposition explicated in premise (B):there exists no deity who desires that humans believe in him; thecapacity, etc. are merely the product of naturalistic causes. UPD, onthe other hand, can only explain that fact by an appeal to a kind of"great mystery": God, who desires belief in his existence on the partof humans, has some unknown purpose for endowing them (or permittingthem to be endowed) with said capacity, etc. Clearly, AL is a simplerand more plausible explanation than UPD. As Theodore M. Drangewrites:

For an explanatory hypothesis to appeal to mystery is self-defeating, inasmuch as the purpose of explanation is to enlighten and thereby remove any mystery that surrounds a phenomenon. [UPD] conceives of God as a doubly mysterious being, failing to explain not only why he [endowed humans (or permitted them to be endowed) with the capacity, ability, and predisposition explicated in premise (B) of AL], but also why he keeps his motivations on this matter secret from us, including his motivation for the secrecy itself. Since we appeal to hypotheses for illumination, to solve mysteries and to eliminate anomalies, we naturally prefer those that do not leave us in the end with new anomalies and even greater mysteries. So that is a [good] reason... to prefer [AL] over [UPD] and for saying that [AL] is the more reasonable hypothesis of the two. Just the fact that there is a phenomenon which [AL] can adequately explain but which [UPD] cannot... makes [AL] the preferable hypothesis. [35]

As Drange has more recently commented, "Mere appeal to parsimonywould dictate that we prefer the explanatory hypothesis of God'snonexistence to a story about a 'mysterious God' which leaves therelevant facts totally unexplained." [36]

There can be little doubt, then, that AL (at least as anexplanation) is superior to UPD. Hence, UPD should be rejected.

8.5. The Probability Objection (to UPD)

This objection is closely related to the previous one in that itappeals to the likelihood of AL's truth compared to that of UPD'struth. Virtually any rational person would agree that AL has agreater a priori probability than does its competitor (UPD). This isdue to the fact that AL appeals to fewer contingencies than UPD;whereas the former suggests that the capacity, ability, andpredisposition explicated in premise (B) came about as a result ofpurely naturalistic occurrences, the latter claims all of thefollowing: first, that God exists; second, that God desires belief inhis existence on the part of humans; third, that God has some unknownpurpose for endowing humans (or permitting them to be endowed) withthe given capacity, etc.; and fourth, that God has some unknownpurpose for the secrecy surrounding his reason for doing so (which,if known, would adequately explain both the secrecy surrounding thatreason and the reason itself). Because AL makes only one claim whileUPD makes at least four, AL can be thought to have a far betterchance of corresponding with reality than can UPD. Theodore M. Drangeoffers an analogy:

[There exist] ten boxes. One hypothesis simply states that that at least one of the boxes is empty, whereas another hypothesis states that none of the boxes is empty. Without any further information about the matter, it is obvious that the first hypothesis is more likely to be true than the second, for we could assign a probability of one-half to the proposition that any given box is empty. Then the probability that at least one of the ten boxes is empty would be over 99 percent. It is for a similar reason that [AL] is much more likely to be true than [UPD] and is therefore the more reasonable of the hypotheses. [37]

Together with the "Superior-explanation Objection," this furtherobjection should suffice to show that UPD is considerably weaker thanAL.

8.6. The Omnipotence Objection (to UPD)

This objection addresses the idea that the unknown purpose inquestion is (or may be) beyond humans' ken (i.e., beyond theircomprehension). Such a view seems common among theists who advocatesome version of UPD (even if they do not refer to it by that name),as is evidenced by John Hick's suggestion (in connection with "TheDesirability-of-truth Objection" [to FD], above) that adivine being and his purposes would probably "overwhelm" humanconsciousness.

An obvious problem with such a claim is that God, an omnipotentbeing (as we have thus far assumed him to be), should have no troubledevising some method by which to enable humans to comprehend theaforementioned purpose. There are a number of ways in which he couldgo about undertaking that task. One particularly effective techniqueis proposed by Theodore M. Drange:

[An omnipotent deity could, for example,] give people enough of a "brain boost" or else use his infinite power of explanation (or both) to get them to comprehend the given purpose. [Advocates of UPD] need to postulate still another unknown divine purpose to explain why God does not do that, which further weakens their theory.[38]

Indeed, the contention that God has some (other) unknown purposefor not revealing the original purpose only deepens the "GreatMystery" mentioned above, compounding the dilemma to such a greatextent that UPD becomes exceedingly difficult to defend, if notaltogether untenable. So if God is conceived as being omnipotent (ashe has thus far been supposed to be), UPD is almost certainlyunsound.

8.7. The Reasonableness Objection (to UPD)

A final objection to UPD is what I shall call the "ReasonablenessObjection." It is a kind of agglomeration of the previous objections,serving to emphasize the underlying distinction between UPD and AL:the former is a far less reasonable hypothesis than the latter, asshould be overwhelmingly evident by now. But perhaps this distinctionhas eluded some readers, in spite of what has already been said. Ifso, then some remarks made by Theodore M. Drange should help toclarify the matter:

[W]e need to "call 'em as we see 'em." If humanity has tried as hard as it can to discover something, but without success, then it does seem reasonable to hypothesize (for the time being at least, until new evidence comes in) that the thing probably does not exist... Consider an analogy. Suppose Mr. X were to believe that there is a worldwide conspiracy against him. He thinks that people all over the world are plotting against him, as their main occupation in life. Mr. X's psychiatrist points out to him that they are not in fact exhibiting such "plotting" behavior. They do not gesture or glance at Mr. X when he is in their vicinity or try to follow him. Suppose Mr. X concedes that point, but counters with the claim that people are sly and crafty. Although they are plotting against him, they are smart enough to conceal that fact. Then the absence of "plotting" behavior would not be evidence against the plotting. The claim that people are sly and crafty makes Mr. X's conspiracy hypothesis unfalsifiable, for Mr. X could always say, "They effectively conceal their plotting." (Original italics) [39]

Similarly, the theory that God has some unknown divine reason forhaving endowed humans (or permitting them to be endowed) with thecapacity, ability, and predisposition explicated in premise (B) of ALis unfalsifiable; no matter how obvious it might seem that a deitywho desires that humans believe in him would not allow them to be soendowed, an advocate of UPD could simply respond by saying, "Well, hehas some justification for having done it, however arcane it mightbe." Without even a shred of good evidence for God's existence, thereis no reason to regard UPD as any more rational or plausible than the(assuredly absurd) conspiracy theory which Drange's Mr. X espouses.Therefore, UPD is not only much less likely true than AL, but isactually quite ridiculous.

Clearly, then, advocates of AL have provided a sufficient case fortheir assertion that any deity desiring belief in his existence onthe part of humans would not endow them (or permit them to beendowed) with the capacity, ability, and predisposition explicated inpremise (B), thereby satisfying the burden-of-proof mentioned above.But advocates of UPD have not, as yet, satisfied the burden-of-proofwhich they face. On that basis alone (if not on the grounds suppliedby the previous four objections), UPD should be rejected.

9.1. Challenges to Premise (B)

The foregoing defenses were attempts of various kinds to disprovepremise (A) of AL, ways that theists might try to justify humans'being endowed with the capacity, ability, and predispositionexplicated in premise (B). As we have seen, all such defenses arefailures.

This brings us to a different set of objections to AL, whose aimis almost the reverse of those we have thus far examined. I shallcall them "Challenges to Premise (B)," for they attack, in one way oranother, the legitimacy of the alleged capacity, ability, andpredisposition explicated therein. Put another way, rather thanattempt to justify humans' being endowed with the given capacity,etc., these objections flat-out deny that humans actually possessthem. One such line of attack, which I shall dub "TheMisapplication-of-reason-and-science Defense" (to be abbreviatedMRSD), is to argue that humans misapply reason, science, etc. whenevaluating the evidence and/or information surrounding God'sexistence. That is, when it comes to speculating about the existenceof such a being, they should not be employing such methods at all,for God is beyond reason and science, either necessarily or becausehumans are not yet sufficiently intellectually advanced (i.e., theydo not yet possess an adequate knowledge of their own species and itsrelationship with the cosmos, how, in short, everything is ultimatelyset up) to properly apply such methods to a deity. An advocate ofMRSD would probably make the claim that God is an incomprehensiblebeing, that he "transcends" logic, so all atheological argumentsbased thereupon are, in fact, hopelessly misguided and totallyirrelevant to the issue.

Another challenge to premise (B) may be called the"Invalid-inferences Defense" (to be abbreviarted IID). It isanalogous to MRSD in that it calls into question the legitimacy ofthe alleged capacity, ability, and predisposition explicated inpremise (B). But it is unlike MRSD in that its contention is not thathumans misapply the aforementioned methods with regard to God'sexistence, but simply that all (or at least most) of what are claimedwithin premise (B) to be valid inferences and assertions (upon which,of course, the soundness of AL directly depends) are, in fact,invalid. Whether reason and science could be accurately applied toGod's existence is a separate concern, one of no consequence to thedefense in question; it suggests merely that in the case of premise(B), reason and science have been improperly employed.

A final and rather extreme challenge to premise (B) is what Ishall call the "Illusion Defense" (to be abbreviated ID). The basicidea behind it is that reason and science are simply "illusions,"that they have no real basis in fact and that humans somehowmisperceive their true nature. According to ID, we are mistaken inthinking that they serve any useful purpose, no matter how much theymight appear to. In truth, they are deceptive and fallacious,seemingly of value only because our limited, finite minds are unableto penetrate the sophisticated mask behind which their actual(erroneous) nature lies.

9.2. The Misapplication-of-reason-and-science Defense(MRSD)

There are at least three substantial objections which could beraised against MRSD. First, quite simply, what good reason is thereto think that humans in any way misapply reason and science whenevaluating the evidence regarding God's existence? Similarly, whatmotivation have we to assume that God is exempt from either? If Godis indeed responsible for the existence of the world and its humaninhabitants (whether directly or indirectly), he must therefore beresponsible for the natural laws and forces to which those creaturesare subject, and likewise the capacity, etc. which are within theirpower to employ. Thus, God must be ultimately responsible for scienceand reason both, from which it is surely legitimate to infer thatboth ought to be compatible with his existence. But, as we have seen,neither is compatible with his existence, which brings us back to AL.And as the argument aims to demonstrate, mere logic should thereforemake it clear that God (defined as a being who desires that humansbelieve in him) does not exist.

Second, it would be erroneous to claim that theists havetraditionally attempted to substantiate the existence of a deitythrough appeals to faith alone. In fact, many theologians haveendeavored, at various points throughout the ages, to prove theexistence of such a being by appealing directly to reason. Anselm'sOntological Argument is a perfect example of such an attempt. Otherrational attempts to confirm God's existence include virtually allthose arguments which proceed, in one way or another, from naturaltheology. All the traditional theistic arguments (e.g., Cosmological,Telological, etc.) constitute such efforts. It seems, then, that manytheists throughout history have not taken God to be "beyond reasonand science" (as MRSD claims), trying, in fact, to demonstrate hisexistence by employing those very methods. Furthermore, I doubt thatmost theists in the world today would deny that any knowledge of Godcan be attained by means of rational thought and observation. Such ahypothesis receives strong support from some of the remarks commonlymade by those who profess a belief in the existence of a supremebeing. For instance, many such people often make the claim that the"rational and orderly" nature of the universe provides good evidencefor a rational deity, and sometimes assert that "nothing could existunless God were to exist" (or something to that effect). Whethermisguided or not, those views make it clear that at least sometheists would disagree with the idea that God's existence can beascertained strictly through faith. Hence, even some theists wouldhave to reject MRSD, a fact which significantly weakens it.

Third, and most substantial, as was pointed out above (in the"Degree Objection" [to TD]), even assuming that God doessomehow transcend reason and science, advocates of MRSD (or ananalogous defense) would still need to explain why people are able toso drastically misapply them to God's existence. In other words, evenassuming that humans do misapply them in the given way, why would Godallow that to happen? Why would he allow them to so frequently arriveat false conclusions by improperly employing the capacity, etc.contained in premise (B) of AL? Certainly that does not seem likesomething one would expect from a deity who desires that humansbelieve in him. (I should like to remind the reader that appealing inany way to humans' free will in an attempt to defend MRSD [or ananalogous defense] would be ill-advised in light of theobjections to FD, above.)

For all of these reasons, MRSD fails to cast any reasonable doubtover the truth of AL's premise (B), which thus remains intact.

9.3. The Invalid-inferences Defense (IID)

IID suggests not that God is necessarily beyond reason andscience, but instead simply that they have been misapplied (ormisinterpreted) in the context of AL's premise (B). That is,according to IID, all (or most) of the inferences and assertionsactually contained in that premise are invalid. Obviously, in orderto refute this defense, it shall be necessary to examine in greaterdetail the premise under scrutiny. Let us proceed to do so.

The first part of the initial claim made in (B1) is that thecapacity to reason has often led many humans to question God'sexistence. Well, this is simply an empirical matter; it is a factthat the given capacity, whether justifiably or otherwise, has beenemployed by many as a means by which to challenge the popular beliefthat there exists a supreme being of some kind. It has been soemployed by countless philosophers, and surely by millions in thegeneral public. Hence, there can be no doubt that this part of theclaim in question is true.

The second part of that claim is that reason suggests that if Godwere to exist, there would probably be clear, objective evidence forhis existence. But does reason really suggest that? Why should Godhave any motivation for providing such evidence? There are two mainreasons for this. One is that God, as he is here being considered,desires that humans believe in him, so it would be greatly beneficialfor him to supply humans with clear, objective evidence for hisexistence. Another is that, quite simply, there is good evidence forvirtually anything which exists; things which exist typically seem toyield some indication of their existence. (This would seem especiallytrue in the case of a supernatural being whom most believe to be theall-powerful creator of the universe, though I shall refrain frompursuing here the implications of such divine attributes in relationto this matter, as the only property of God relevant to AL asformulated in the present essay is his desire that humans believe inhim [in addition, possibly, to omnipotence, an issue I shall takeup shortly].) Both of these ideas are challenged by Theodore M.Drange, who says the following:

[T]here are other ways for God to bring about belief than by means of good objective evidence. One way, for example, would be by direct implantation of belief in people's minds. Another way, emphasized by Schellenberg, is for God to reveal himself to people by means of private religious experiences... [Also], the fact that we do not as yet have evidence [of God] does not entail that we will never acquire such evidence or that [God does not exist]. [40]

While I certainly accept all of this, I think Drange is mistakenin his contention that neither of the given reasons (for why it seemslikely that there should be good objective evidence for God, assuminghe exists) is valid. I shall readily grant that there are ways bywhich God could cause humans to believe in him other than providinggood objective evidence for his existence, such as those suggested inthe quote above (i.e., direct implantation and religiousexperiences). But what Drange apparently fails to appreciate is thefact that God, assuming he exists, has not employed any such method.People have not had such belief directly implanted in their minds,nor have they, by and large, undergone the sort of experiences inquestion (as far as we know, at least). And there is no evidence tosuggest that God has brought about said belief by any other method,either, seeing as how there are so many nontheists in the world.Thus, since God desires that humans believe in him, it stands toreason that providing such evidence is precisely the method he shouldemploy for the given purpose. But, as has already been established,no such evidence exists. Hence, it is reasonable to declare that thelack of good objective evidence for God's existence on its ownconstitutes some degree of justification for nonbelief in God (asherein defined).

With regard to Drange's reply to the second reason for believingthe aforementioned assertion (i.e., that if God were to exist, therewould naturally be good objective evidence for his existence),although it is logically possible that humans might one day acquiresuch evidence, there is no good reason at present to believe thatthey will. And, indeed, our experience clearly shows that thingswhich exist tend to somehow reveal themselves; for everything whoseexistence was once unknown to humans (or which remains unknown tothem), there are surely thousands of things which have been known tothem since the dawn of man. Why? Because, in Drange's own words,things which exist generally "leave clear tracks."[41]Moreover, irrespective of the various attributes which one ascribesto God, practically every concept thereof is one of a being thatwould almost certainly produce some kind of evidence for itsexistence. Therefore, it is most definitely reasonable to assert thatif God were to exist and desire that humans believe in him, therewould probably be clear, objective evidence for that.

The next inference contained in (B1) is this: because nobodyremembers anything prior to the start of his physical life, probablynobody experiences anything ensuing his physical death. This could beattacked from two different angles. The first is to simply deny thatnobody remembers anything prior to the start of his physical life.Some people (usually those who believe in some form of reincarnation)claim to clearly remember events which occurred before they wereborn; it has become almost commonplace for people to talk about their"past lives," suggesting a substantial increase in the number ofthose who subscribe to the rather bizarre notion of "souls" thatinhabit numerous bodies at different times. Of course, some whoengage in what I call "past-lives talk" are not serious about it,really meaning that they occasionally experience some queer form of"deja vu" or observe a particularly remarkable coincidence that onthe surface might be construed as the result of "fate." But certainlysome people honestly assent to the occurrence of such multiple lives,and might therefore challenge the statement in question.

The problems facing such an attack are grave. Foremost among themis the fact that there is no way to reliably verify one's claim thathe/she experienced something before his/her birth. How can we knowfor sure that such a person is telling the truth? His/her claim is nomore falsifiable than the assertion that there is presently aninvisible man walking on the moon, detectable to neither our sensesnor any scientific equipment. Additionally, the vast majority ofthose who claim to have experienced something in a "past life" areimpartial on the matter of whether or not such lives really occur,favoring the view that they do occur. Many probably even presupposethat, accepting it as readily as they accept the fact of their ownrespiration. So there is good reason to be suspicious of anyone whomakes such a claim. Second, it is undeniable that most people do notallege to have experienced anything prior to their birth. Rarely doessomeone born in 1960 seriously suggest that he/she recalls World WarII. No more often does someone born in 1983 claim to rememberReagan's first year as president. Hence, virtually everyone wouldaccept the assertion that it is impossible for one to haveexperienced anything prior to the start of his physical life.

The second and far more likely way that the inference in questionmight be attacked is by challenging its validity on the grounds thatthere is currently either no available data concerning what oneexperiences (if anything) ensuing his physical death, or that suchdata is available but that it indicates just the opposite of thegiven inference: people probably do experience something after death.The latter view is addressed by Theodore M. Drange:

Some think that empirical evidence has been found that supports the existence of an afterlife. They may point to reports of near-death experiences or reincarnations or ghosts summoned by mediums. But as I see it, all this is misguided. Near-death experiences are not relevant to the concept of [life following reducible death, as opposed to mere technical death, the former occurring only when one's body and brain have been totally destroyed], for the situation does not even involve technical death, let alone the complete destruction of the body and brain. With alleged reincarnations, the main issue has to do with identifying the person as someone who had died... So far as I know, this has never been accomplished satisfactorily in any of the cases studied. And alleged ghosts summoned by mediums have been shown to be hoaxes in many cases. It is possible that that they are all hoaxes or in some other way explainable naturalistically. [42]

Perhaps most germane to our discussion is Drange's nextcomment:

It doesn't make sense to try to find evidence for a proposition before before one has rendered intelligible what that proposition is supposed to be. Before one can even make sense of the evidential problem (i.e., the problem of whether or not there is any evidence for an afterlife), one first needs to solve the conceptual problem, which is the problem of what the term "afterlife" might mean in operational terms, or what an afterlife could possibly be like if there were such a state. [43]

These points are all well taken, particularly the last. The factis, there exists neither uncontroversial evidence for any sort ofafterlife wherein one retains his earthly identity and consciousnessnor any clear way to resolve the conceptual dilemma to which Drangerefers (i.e., that of first coherently defining the term "afterlife"and then explaining precisely what such a state might entail). Thatdilemma is a serious one not only for those who postulate theexistence of an afterlife, but also for those who postulate even thatone might exist. For that reason (and others Drange presents in hisNonbelief & Evil, pp. 364-377), the hypothesis that there existssuch a state ought to be rejected.

Moreover, there are good reasons to accept the inference inquestion (i.e., that probably nobody experiences anything ensuing hisphysical death). One such reason is that scientists have ascertainedthat certain types of brain damage are invariably followed by a lossof mental function, which seems to suggest that complete destructionof the brain results in total annihilation of the mind. Also, othercorrelations between the brain and mind have been discovered,including connections between specific brain states and particularkinds of thoughts, emotions, dreams, etc. And as far as the idea of a"soul" is concerned, it is doubtful that the term could be any morecoherently defined than the term "afterlife"; just what such anentity might constitute is extremely vague, and even if someintelligible explanation for it could be constructed, there wouldseem to be no clear, objective way to determine the correctness (orincorrectness) thereof. It, like UPD and the"invisible-man-on-the-moon" theory, appears entirely unfalsifiable.Thus, to appeal to any sort of "soul" as a means by which to defendthe possible existence of an afterlife would almost certainly beineffectual.

The third inference contained in (B1) (i.e., that people's mindsare merely an epiphenomenon of their brains) could be defended alongsimilar lines, so there is no need to analyze it further. The fourth,like the claim that reason has led many to question God's existence,rests strictly on empirical considerations: the theory of evolutionis now widely accepted by both philosophers and scientists, as wellas a substantial segment of the general public (if not the majoritythereof). Even Pope John Paul II has declared evolution to be part ofGod's "master plan" for humanity. This is due primarily to theexcellent evidence that has been discovered to support Darwin'shypothesis: the fossil evidence of the geological column, the factthat there are many million different species of organisms in theworld, anatomical similarities among animals, etc. At the very least,the theory in question is far more tenable than any proposed bycreationists. So the aforementioned inference (i.e., that humans werenot specially created) seems perfectly legimitate.

The fifth and final inference which appears in (B1) is that ifGod's existence were readily apparent to humans, there would be muchless confusion among theists regarding his nature and far fewernontheists in the world than there actually are. Why should webelieve this? The reasons are closely akin to those put forth inconnection with the initial claim made in (B1) (i.e., that if Godwere to exist, there would probably be clear, objective evidence forthat). That is, because there is evidence for virtually everythingwhich exists (as well as the nature of most things which exist) andsince God desires belief in his existence on the part of humans, itis reasonable to suppose that, if God were to exist, theists wouldgenerally be in agreement concerning his nature and there would bevery few nontheists in the world. But it is not the case that theistsare generally in agreement concerning his nature and that there arevery few nontheists in the world; dissent among believers is quiteextensive, and there are probably at least a billion nontheists inthe world (one-fourth of whom describe themselves as atheists).Hence, there is no good reason to doubt the validity of the inferencein question.

The first part of the initial claim made in (B2) is that humanspossess the ability to ascertain empirical data, assess that data,and draw from it reasonable inferences. This I take to beself-evident. The second part of that claim is that many suchinferences indicate that only physical entities exist and thatsupernatural beings and realms are purely imaginary. Why should weaccept this? Well, simply put, no good evidence has ever been foundfor any nonphysical entity which exists indepedently of matter (whichis what I think most people mean by "nonphysical entity"). Even if weassume thoughts and emotions to be nonphysical (an assumption whichmaterialists would challenge), it has already been shown that suchentities almost assuredly cannot exist apart from matter (i.e., thebrain). And with regard to supernatural beings and realms, no goodevidence has been discovered for those, either. They seem more thestuff of fairy tales and fantasy books than any actual constituent ofthe universe. In fact, the very idea of something existing outside ofspace and time separate of anything physical is in a way incoherent;if something neither exists within space and time nor depends for itsexistence on something which does, within what and how does it exist?Any attempt to intelligibly answer this question seems doomed fromthe outset, the basis for any such response being almost certain tocrumble under the weight of both empirical and conceptualconsiderations.

Thus, the next inference contained in (B2) (i.e., that there existno such places as heaven or hell) has already been adequately dealtwith. The next claim proposed therein is that natural laws haveneither exceptions nor deviations. Well, why should we believe this?I would say there are at least three good reasons to do so. First ofall, every law of nature is supported by a vast body of evidence,whereas all alleged violations of any such law have been supported byeither no evidence at all or else evidence that most would considernegligible. (It should be noted that even when a certain law ofnature is discovered to have some exception or qualification, that isin no way equivalent to a violation of said law; rather, it is merelya particular feature thereof, one of the properties which serves todefine it. As a rough comparison, just as one of the characteristicsof automobiles is that they require gasoline in order to operate, somight certain laws of nature require a special condition [orconditions] in order to obtain; and just as no rationalindividual would view the former as a violation of the "axiom" that"automobiles possess a capacity for operating," none should view thelatter as a violation of any law of nature. In order for something toqualify as a legitimate violation of any such law, it would need tonecessarily defy scientific explanation, i.e., be incapable of beingexplained naturalistically.) Second, since there is no good evidencefor any sort of nonphysical entity (as defined above), then itfollows that all entities which exist are probably physical, or atleast dependent on some physical entity for their existence. And,obviously, everything which is physical must conform to the laws ofnature. Hence, it is impossible for there to occur a violation of anysuch law. Lastly, quite apart from scientific considerations, everyday we witness the laws of nature at work: when we drop things,gravity consistently pulls them to the earth. When we exert uponthings a certain degree of pressure, they consistently move atprecisely the velocity and travel precisely the distance (allvariables taken into account) occasioned by the energy transferredfrom our bodies thereto. On the other hand, remarkable it would beindeed if we were to drop an ordinary pencil and then observe it sailoff into outer space, or if we were to kick an empty cardboard box(assuming there is nothing obstructing it) with all our strength andyet scarcely cause it to budge. So, just based on the experience ofour everday lives, there is good reason to believe that the sort oflaws in question are most certainly immutable.

I have, I believe, already duly addressed the issues surroundingthe next two claims contained in (B2) (i.e., that everything can beexplained naturalistically and that miracles do not actually occur);my previous remarks should suffice to dispose of any objections whichmight be raised against those claims, my defense of the firstconstituting, by virtue of its logical consequence, a justificationfor the second. That brings us to the final claim made in (B2): thatno deity was necessary for the creation (or existence) of theuniverse as we know it. There are several approaches that could betaken in order to substantiate this assertion. Perhaps the oldest andmost familiar among them was suggested by the pre-Socratic atomistDemocritus: that matter, energy, and space are irreducible componentsof the universe which necessarily exist.[44] That wouldsatisfy any demand for a "first cause" of the present universe (anidea to which nearly all theists subscribe, quite naturally holdingGod to be the originator of the aforementioned components, presumablyalong with time) without in any way appealing to the existence of asupreme being. A more recent and thorough approach (i.e., that theuniverse came into existenced uncaused), which I shall here brieflypursue, seems popular with a large number of philosophers. One ofthem is Quentin Smith, who says the following:

The claim that the beginning of our universe has a cause conflicts with current scientific theory. The scientific theory is called the wave function of the universe. It has been developed in the past ten years or so by Stephen Hawking, Andre Vilenkin, Alex Linde, and many others. Their theory is that there is a scientific law of nature called the Wave Function of the Universe that implies that it is highly probable that a universe with our characteristics will come into existence without a cause. All of the numbers cancel out except for a universe with features our universe possesses. For example, [one which] contains intelligent organisms such as humans. This remaining universe has a certain probability very high- near to a hundred percent- of coming into existence uncaused. [45]

Therefore, that no deity was necessary in order for our universeto come about is not only possible but actually very probable. Infact, as Smith makes clear, most likely there was no "first cause" atall; the universe simply began to exist (about fifteen billion yearsago) without any antecedent whatsoever. Thus, there is no good reasonto doubt the final claim made in (B2).

(B3) consists entirely of statements (i.e., that most peoplepossess a predisposition to skepticism, especially of positiveassertions for which there exists no concrete or convincing proof,etc.) that can be verified empirically, so it would be superfluous toinvestigate it at great length. Mere observational evidence shouldsuffice to confirm it: people hardly ever (in general) acceptanything as true unless they have good reason to believe it. Ifsomebody asserts, for example, that there is an evil spirit causinghavoc in his cellar, it is rather expected that his friend should ask(assuming he takes the claim seriously to begin with), "What proof doyou have?" (or something to that effect). Granted, such situationsrarely occur, but the incredulity with which most naturally approacharguable claims is evidenced in our everyday lives, as well. Forinstance, if someone were seeking to purchase a new car, it isdoubtful that he would readily accept everything the salesman toldhim about the first automobile he considered buying; and if he wereto, most people would probably accuse him of being gullible. Anotherexample would be that of a school teacher discovering that one of herstudents has cheated on a test. Suppose the student, in an attempt tojustify his infraction, were to submit that strange voices inside hishead commanded him to cheat. Unless she were particularly naive, thatthe teacher would scarcely hesitate to believe such an excuse seemsquite improbable; what is far more likely is that she would send thestudent directly to the principal's office, convinced of the boy'sculpability and rather disgusted by his (inept) effort to bamboozleher. Likewise, people are generally mistrustful of any assertion thatcannot be adequately supported at least inferentially; many (staunchempiricists, for the most part) even require physical evidence beforethey will assent to something. But the best support for the givenassertion (i.e., that most people refuse to accept out of hand anyclaim that is not obviously true) is one that may have escaped thereader altogether: ironically, any suspicion regarding that assertionserves only to strengthen it. That is, the very fact that saidassertion is apt to be questioned helps considerably to substantiateit, the assertion being that most people are apt to question arguableclaims.

The only other item in (B3) that I suppose might call for someclarification is "wishful thinking": what, exactly, is meant by this?Well, just what it usually means: strongly desiring that somethingexist or occur in spite of good evidence that it does not exist orthat it will not occur. Another name for it might be "blind faith,"although the connotation of that expression might differ slightlyfrom that of the other (most, I imagine, would equate "blind faith"with a frame of mind somewhat more irrational than the sort suggestedby mere "wishful thinking"). In any case, the truth of the premise inquestion ought to be evident by now.

It should be clear, then, that IID is a failure. As we have seen,none of the inferences or assertions contained in premise (B) can bereasonably doubted, let alone all (or even most) of them. Moreover,as has already been explained, even if those inferences andassertions could be disproved, advocates of IID, like those of MRSD,would still be confronted with the burden of having to explain whyGod, who desires that humans believe in him, has permitted them to beso drastically led astray. Hence, AL remains a sound argument for thenonexistence of any deity desiring belief in his existence on thepart of humans.

9.4. The Illusion Defense (ID)

ID denies the validity of the inferences and claims made inpremise (B) of AL on the basis that reason and science are simply"illusions." No matter what they might seem to reveal about reality,in actuality they reveal nothing; they are deceptive and misleading,the unfortunate product of fallible human minds.

What is one to say about such a theory? For one thing, it istotally groundless. There is no reason whatsoever to believe thateither reason or science is an "illusion," or anything analogousthereto. It is no more plausible than, say, subjective idealism: theview that matter is dependent for its existence upon perception(i.e., that things do not exist when they are not perceived by somesentient being, including the being itself). For another, it istotally unfalsifiable, just like UPD, the "invisible-man-on-the-moon"theory, and the hypothesis that there exists an afterlife (as definedabove); even if they were merely an "illusion" (which, of course,there is no good reason to believe), how could we possibly discoverthat? And finally, anyone brave (and foolish) enough to seriouslyadvocate ID would be just as susceptible as advocates of the previoustwo defenses to the burden of having to account for why God, whodesires that humans believe in him, has allowed them to be sountowardly duped by the "sophisticated mask" of reason andscience.

Therefore, ID appears irreparably flawed.

10. The Omnipotence Question

Now that all of the defenses against AL (as herein applied) havebeen refuted, it shall be worthwhile to consider the property ofomnipotence as it relates to the argument at hand. As was mentionedearlier (in "Prefatory Comments," above), it is debatable whether ornot AL relies for its soundness upon the assumption that God isall-powerful. Throughout the present essay, I have operated underthat assumption, partly to avoid confusion but mostly because, as wasalso stated earlier, the vast majority of theists view God as being(among other things) omnipotent. As the reader has likely alreadyascertained, the phrase "endowed humans (or permitted them to beendowed)," which I have used repeatedly herein, could not be properlyapplied to a deity incapable of even preventing that endowment. Sothe question might be raised: does AL, in fact, presuppose theomnipotence of the deity to which it is applied?

I am inclined to think not. My reason for this is simple: for Godto be able to prevent humans from being endowed with the capacity,ability, and predisposition explicated in premise (B) in no waynecessarily entails an ability to do everything else that islogically possible, which is, of course, required by omnipotence. Itcould simply be that God is able to create anything he wishes (andhowever he wishes) but lacks the ability to perform more difficultand complex actions (whatever they might be). Or perhaps God is notdirectly responsible for the existence of the universe as presentlyconstituted (and therefore not responsible for humans as presentlyconstituted), but is nonetheless able to modify the nature orcondition of anything (or any being) therein. Even that would serveto render AL sound, for if God, who desires that humans believe inhim, could have at least prevented them from being endowed with thegiven capacity, etc. (or could eliminate the capacity, etc. at anytime), then the problem of why humans are so endowed remains.

That having been said, AL no doubt requires that God possess asubstantial amount of power, whatever degree or amount theaforementioned ability (i.e., the ability to modify anything or anybeing within the universe) necessitates. It would be impossible,obviously, to determine that degree or amount (even if we weresomehow able to quantitatively measure "power," we would have no dataregarding the degree or amount needed for the ability in question),but for our purposes it shall suffice to say that if God possesses Xamount of power (where X is sufficient for said ability), then AL issound. And without even ascertaining what X is, it seems reasonableto suppose that virtually all theists believe God to possess it.Thus, AL presents a formidable challenge to virtually alltheists.

11. Closing Remarks

As I hope to have shown, AL is a strong evidential argument forthe nonexistence of any deity reputed to desire that humans believein him. Such a deity, of course, is precisely the sort of beingposited by most theists. And many such theists ascribe to God anumber of properties in addition to that desire, particularly thoseof possessing foreknowledge and a disposition incompatible withsecrecy and remoteness. Although there is no definite or reliable wayto calculate the force of a philosophical argument numerically (i.e.,by assigning to its conclusion a certain probability, e.g., eightypercent), I would say that, as a very rough measure, for each suchadditional property that is ascribed to God, the strength of ALincreases by five percent. (The reason for that is because each ofthe properties weakens one or more of the defenses against AL; divineforeknowledge weakens FD and TD, and the type of disposition inquestion weakens UPD, whose strength I would judge to be roughlyequal to that of FD and TD combined.)

Therefore, assuming that AL's conclusion has an initialprobability of fifty percent, and that the argument confers upon it afurther probability of roughly forty percent, when both of theadditional properties described above are included in the concept ofGod to which it applies, its probability is very close to one hundredpercent: virtually a conclusive proof. But, as I said, I think suchnumerical measurements are misguided in the context of philosophicalarguments, so suffice it to say that AL constitutes just what hasbeen claimed: a forceful attack on the world's most popular form oftheism. And unless AL can be refuted, that form of theism should beregarded as erroneous.

Notes

[1] According to the 1998 World Almanac, Christians, Jews,and Muslims comprise fifty-three percent of the world's population(roughly three billion people); another seventeen percent (just overa billion people) consists of nontheists. Therefore, at leastsixty-three percent of theists are of the sort in question; andbecause an abundance of theists professing no particular religionview God in a similar way, the figure is probably around eighty oreighty-five percent.

[2] As I shall later explain (in the "Invalid-inferencesDefense"), I am not here suggesting that any empirical data indicatesthe truth of materialism; while that may very well be the case (andmaterialism may be a correct view), all I mean by this assertion isthat although there are possibly some exceptions to the statement"only physical entities exist" (e.g., propositions, mental states,etc.), no such exception is at all comparable to a nonphysical beingcapable of performing actions and interacting with the universe.

[3] Pascal Bercker, "[God] hell for unbelievers?-a presupposition?," p. 1. Bercker can be reached atbercker@ucsu.Colorado.EDU.

[4] In my book, I assess eight such defenses; the fourexcluded from the present essay are the "Devil Defense," "CuriosityDefense," "Other-gods Defense," and "Irrationality Defense." I havechosen to halve the number of defenses presented here for two mainreasons: first, because of space limitations; and second, because Ithink the four presented here are by far the most likely to beembraced by theists, as well as the most plausible (relativelyspeaking). Although some evangelical Christians and other "extreme"believers might propose something like the "Devil Defense" (whichhypothesizes basically that Satan, not God, endowed humans with thecapacity, ability, and predisposition explicated in AL's premise[B]), I imagine that most would prefer a defense moreanalagous to TD or UPD. And as for the other three not included here,the "Curiosity Defense" is similar enough to TD that once the latterhas been disposed of, so pretty much has the former; and the last twonearly everyone, theists included, would view as so radical as to bealmost certainly unacceptable.

[5] It should be noted that the term "free will" normallyrefers only to actions; however, in the present essay it shall betaken in a sense which encompasses both actions and beliefs, if sucha concept is even coherent. I myself am inclined to believe it isnot, but for the sake of argument, I shall simply allow that it mightbe and attack FD without pursuing the issue of belief formation inconnection with the will. In other words, rather than criticize thedefense in question on the basis that beliefs are in no way subjectto the will (an outlook to which I am highly sympathetic), I shallassume that a reasonable case for an opposing theory could beconstructed and attack FD on grounds unrelated to what philosopherssometimes call "doxastic involuntarism." What is important toremember here is that even if advocates of FD could somehow provethat humans possess free will with regard to actions (a prospectwhich seems quite improbable), they would still be faced with theformidable challenge of demonstrating that free will extends tobeliefs. Unless they were able to accomplish that, FD would remainuntenable, irrespective of the strength of any of the objectionsthereto.

[6] This definition I respectfully borrow from Theodore M.Drange's Some Essays and Outlines (1998).

[7] The biblical passages herein cited are as they appearin the New International Version of the Bible, and are discussed inTheodore M. Drange's Nonbelief & Evil, p. 134.

[8] Exod. 6:6-7, 7:17, 8:10,22, 9:14,29, 11:7, 14:4,17-18,16:6,8,12. See also Ps. 77:14, 106:8.

[9] John 9:3-32, 10:37-38, 14:11.

[10] See also Acts 3:6-18, 5:12-16, 9:33-42, 13:7-12,14:1-11, 28:3-6.

[11] Those who would challenge this statement (i.e., thosewho believe that there does exist good evidence for God's existence)are urged to read on to the "Optimum-world Objection."

[12] Drange, Nonbelief & Evil: Two Arguments for theNonexistence of God. (Amherst, N.Y.: Prometheus Books, 1998), pp.122-123.

[13] Assuming, of course, that the type of deity inquestion were benevolent. However, even if that deity were less thanall-loving, that would in no way necessarily bear on his desire thathumans believe in him; a deity could be omnimalevolent and still wantpeople to believe in him. So how God's personality is conceived,though certainly relevant to this particular point, would beimmaterial to the objection as a whole (so long as he possesses thegiven desire).

[14] In 1998 (according to the World Almanac for thatyear), Christians accounted for approximately thirty-three percent ofthe world's total population.

[15] John H. Hick, Philosophy of Religion, 4th ed.(Englewood Cliffs, N.J.: Prentice Hall, 1990), p. 44.

[16] For instance, providing manna from the sky (Exod.16:11-18,31-35; Num. 11:9; Deut. 8:16), quail by the millions (Num.11:31-32), water out of a rock (Exod. 17:6; Num. 20:8-11; Deut.8:15), and leading people as a pillar of cloud by day and as a pillarof fire by night (Exod. 13:21-22; Num. 14:14).

[17] George H. Smith, Atheism, Ayn Rand, and OtherHeresies (Buffalo, N.Y.: Prometheus Books, 1991), p. 63.

[18] Ibid., p. 63.

[19] Drange, Nonbelief & Evil: Two Arguments for theNonexistence of God. (Amherst, N.Y.: Prometheus Books, 1998), p.88.

[20] Smith, Atheism, Ayn Rand, and Other Heresies(Buffalo, N.Y.: Prometheus Books, 1991), p. 63.

[21] Those who assert that the sentence "God exists"expresses no proposition whatsoever, that it is, in fact, totallymeaningless. Most such people subscribe to logical positivism (orsome variation thereof), espousing the verifiability theory ofmeaningfulness.

[22] Drange, Nonbelief & Evil: Two Arguments for theNonexistence of God. (Amherst, N.Y.: Prometheus Books, 1998), p.156.

[23] Ibid., p. 157.

[24] Ibid., p. 125. See also pp. 329-349.

[25] Ibid., p. 165.

[26] Ibid., p. 166.

[27] Drange's abbreviation for "The Testing DefenseApplied to ANB."

[28] Ibid., p. 166.

[29] See the "Misapplication of Reason and Science Defense[MRSD]."

[30] J.L. Schellenerg, Divine Hiddenness and Human Reason(Ithaca, NY.: Cornell University Press, 1993).

[31] Ibid.

[32] This theory vaguely resembles the hypothesis(decisively refuted by Schellenberg in his book) that God, byremaining hidden from humanity, indirectly brought about theexistence of those people who actually exist, and God wantedspecifically those people to exist.

[33] Drange, Nonbelief & Evil: Two Arguments for theNonexistence of God. (Amherst, N.Y.: Prometheus Books, 1998), p.278.

[34] Ibid., p. 198.

[35] Ibid., p. 215.

[36] Theodore M. Drange remarked thusly in his 1999Internet debate with Pastor Douglas Wilson; it can be accessed via<URL:http//www.infidels.org/library/modern/theodore_drange>

[37] Drange, Nonbelief & Evil: Two Arguments for theNonexistence of God. (Amherst, N.Y.: Prometheus Books, 1998), p.213.

[38] Ibid., p. 206.

[39] Ibid., p. 206-207.

[40] Drange, "Nonbelief vs. Lack of Evidence," pp. 4-5:<URL:http//www.infidels.org/library/modern/theodore_drange/anbvslea.html>

[41] Ibid., p. 5.

[42] Drange, Nonbelief & Evil: Two Arguments for theNonexistence of God. (Amherst, N.Y.: Prometheus Books, 1998), p.377.

[43] Ibid., p. 377.

[44] Jacques P. Thiroux, Philosophy: Theory and Practice.(N.Y.: Macmillan Publishing Company, 1985), p. 343.

[45] Quentin Smith, "Two Ways to Prove Atheism," p. 2:<URL:http://www.freethinkers.org/library/modern/quentin_smith/atheism.html>