First, imagine someone who has always lacked belief and who has always lacked the capacity to relate personally with God but who is, nonetheless, nonresistant to God. Such a person might be a child who is at the dawn of her capacity to relate personally with God. Might there be good enough reason, consistent with perfect love, for God to do something by commission or omission that results in her being prevented from belief, even as she transitions to being capable of relating personally with God while remaining nonresistant?
Second, imagine a man who has had the capacity to relate personally with God for some time, and who was once a fulfilled nonresistant believer but who, for one reason or another, is now in a state of resistant nonbelief. Many a university student might satisfy this description, among others. Might there be good enough reason, consistent with perfect love, for God to do something by commission or omission that results in that man being prevented from belief of God even as, later in life, he transitions back to being nonresistant? Affirmative answers to these questions involve reasons for thinking it would be better if they remained nonbelievers, at least for a time, despite their transitions.
For example, what if the child never ever exercised any influence over whether she was nonresistant to God?
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Perhaps, in that case, it would be better—for her, and for God, and for their forthcoming relationship—if she were first to own her good disposition toward God through choices in the face of contrary inclinations, so that, among other things, her loving and obeying God was of her own accord when she came to believe. Or perhaps her non-resistance to God is grounded in improper motives, e.
Or perhaps her moral autonomy and freedom would be objectionably reduced if God were to bring her to belief at this time Hick ; Murray ; Swinburne Or perhaps, despite her non-resistance, if she came to belief now instead of later, the passion and intensity of her desire for God would be significantly less than it otherwise would be. Or perhaps she is disposed, upon coming to believe now, to think she has arrived at a proper understanding of God, and she would become complacent or relate to God at a superficial level.
Kierkegaard , ; cf.
Schellenberg ff. Or perhaps certain intellectual temptations would be lost on her if she were to believe now, and so she would not have the opportunity to respond to them virtuously Butler part 2, chapter 6; cf. Or what if the university student, despite his forthcoming return to non-resistance, was disposed to relate to God in presumptuous or arrogant ways upon regaining belief, and not with due contrition and humility, both of which are essential to a proper relationship with God? Or what if he was disposed to be significantly less apt to recognize the wretchedness of living life on his own, without God, if he were to regain belief now instead of later?
Pascal , Fragments , , , , ; cf. Dumsday b; Moser , b Or what if God does not bring him to belief because, as a general policy, God permits some people in positions like his to continue in nonbelief in order to increase diverse expressions of religious imagination, creativity, and devotion, or in order to increase opportunities for people to pursue knowledge of important matters together, even knowledge as important as knowledge of God, or in order to promote assisting each other in starting personal relationships with God Dumsday b; Schellenberg ff; Swinburne ; or because, under present circumstances, bringing all non-resistant believers to belief would force the truth of theism on the resistant Dumsday forthcoming-a.
And there are other explanations offered as well. Several points have emerged in the literature with respect to assessing these reasons or explanations. Different kinds of nonresistant nonbelievers, given the rest of their psychology, might call for different explanations. Moreover, each of these explanations, taken alone, might fail to provide a total explanation of any particular kind or instance of nonresistant nonbelief, and yet each of them might provide a partial explanation and, taken together with others, add up to a total explanation.
At least this is a possibility that must not be overlooked. Thus, if we are to reject these explanations, and others that might be proffered, we must claim that they fail, collectively as well as individually, to account for why God might permit nonresistant nonbelief. Second, in light of the foregoing point, even if there are some nonresistant nonbelievers, it may well be quite difficult to discern whether they possess or fail to possess those motivations, attitudes, and dispositions that allegedly explain their nonbelief in a theistically friendly fashion.
If the difficulty is severe enough, then it might be that no one—whether theists, atheists, agnostics, or what-have-you—is well-positioned to say that there are some nonresistant nonbelievers. Of course—and this is the third point—we might well argue that these explanations provide no good reason, individually or collectively, for God to permit nonresistant nonbelief. Fourth, one might worry that the whole enterprise of providing a theistically friendly explanation of nonresistant nonbelief is misguided.
Why would God create or permit resisters and nonbelievers in the first place? Surely he could have created persons who never resisted and always believed. On the one hand, we might wonder whether, if God exists, God perfectly loves anyone, at least as defined by how we understand love. It is certainly less than clear what a conscious, reciprocal relationship would look like with the God of apophaticism. Moreover, even if there is a personal God, God might be indifferent to finite created persons, and so not love them—an implication of some versions of Deism.
On the other hand, we might wonder whether, even if God is perfect in love, God would perfectly love such finite persons as there may be. For, in light of an idea suggested as worthy of consideration by Hud Hudson in private correspondence,. One might also wonder about premise 5 : necessarily, if God perfectly loves such finite persons as there may be, then, for any capable finite person S and time t , God is at t open to being in a positively meaningful and reciprocal conscious relationship with S at t. Whether this is true might depend on what sort of love is perfect, whether it is more like that of a mother for her child, or a grandparent for her distant descendants, or a benevolent reconstructive surgeon for her patient Cuneo ; McGinnis ; Rea ; Schellenberg One might argue that premise 5 is true only if perfect love is like the first, but wonder what follows if it is like the second or third.
In this connection, imagine that what it is for God to perfectly love us is for God to provide for our greatest good, and suppose that our greatest good consists in our being virtuous, caring for our environment and other creatures. In that case, it is not at all clear that a personal relationship of the sort Schellenberg imagines is necessary. Even so, we might wonder whether we should infer that a perfectly loving God would not permit nonresistant nonbelief.
After all, an open-minded and intellectually humble inquirer will want to satisfy her natural curiosity about whether she is in a position to tell whether there are any reasons for God to permit nonresistant nonbelief that, although inaccessible to her, would be accessible to God.
For suppose that she were to discover that, even if there is no good basis for thinking there is a God, and even if she does not know of any wholly satisfactory reason for God to permit nonresistant nonbelief, she should be in doubt about whether she is in a position to tell whether there are any unknown reasons. In that case, we would expect her open-mindedness and intellectual humility to lead her to refrain from accepting that a perfectly loving God would not permit nonresistant nonbelief and, in refraining from accepting this, she would refrain from accepting premise 5.
It has been explicitly used in relation to the argument from nonbelief in Howard-Snyder and McBrayer and Swenson For criticism, see Schellenberg a, Whether this assessment leads to objectionable skepticism elsewhere is a matter of ongoing debate. After all, might not a degree of confidence below the threshold of belief, or acceptance, or imagination-based assent, or belief-less assuming, or trust, or even hope suffice?
Even if states less than belief do suffice as the cognitive requirement for "getting started" in a relationship, however, we might wonder whether they are as good as belief as a cognitive foundation for a personal relationship with God; and, if they are not, we might well question why a perfectly loving God provides less than the best on this score.
Last but not least, we might wonder about premise 7 : are there really any nonresistant nonbelievers with a capacity to relate personally with God? Calvin famously posits that there is a sensus divinitatis that provides us with at least a basic sense of the divine. People bring such impairments on themselves Henry , ; Lehe ; Moroney However, if we deny the existence of nonresistant nonbelievers, we must square our denial with the evidence marshalled on behalf of their existence Schellenberg c.
Other countries and geographic regions display an uneven distribution of belief and nonbelief, even though it is not as stark as it is in Thailand and Saudi Arabia Pew Indeed, even if we grant, just for the sake of argument again, that there is great value in a diversity of belief and nonbelief of God,.
Naturalistic explanations, including cultural and political explanations offered by social science, have an easier time of it,.
Moreover, it seems implausible that God would be selective in the way God related to different people groups, as though God took considerably more pains to make sure that those in the Middle East, rather than Thailand or China or India, came to belief. So it is that the demographics of nonbelief are better explained naturalistically than theistically, and so those demographics constitute evidence for atheism cf. Zagzebski By way of reply, Marsh draws on Molinism in order to display how the demographics of nonbelief might be more likely on theism than Maitzen suggests.
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According to Molinism, God knows what free creatures would freely do in counterfactual situations, and God uses this information in the way God governs the universe. So, suppose that God knew that i there is a group of persons P. Furthermore, since God knows that. Finally, suppose that, given the counterfactual profiles of each individual essence, there is no better distribution of belief and nonbelief than the actual one. In this theistically friendly hypothesis, the demographics of nonbelief are at least as expectable on theism as naturalism.
Likewise for a Calvinist explanation:. Determinism is true and souls may be divided into two kinds, the Elect and the Non-Elect. Mawson — Many theists will find Molinist and Calvinist explanations unappealing since they depend on middle knowledge and double predestination respectively. But another difficulty is that the strategy appears, at least at first glance, more than a little bit offensive.
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One of the great triumphs of modern ethics is the widespread acknowledgement of the moral reprehensibility of considering some people groups inferior to others. For further discussion, see Maitzen ; Mawson , Mawson argues that, on theism, the demographics of nonbelief are expectable, given either of two auxiliary hypotheses. Of course, one of the things that people can use their freedom to do is either to spread theistic belief or to restrict the spread of theistic belief. Second, what if God wants more than anything everyone to believe, say, because it is necessary for salvation?
Mawson writes:. See Talbot for a Christian defense of iii. Baker-Hytch forthcoming: 3. Thus, given mutual epistemic dependence, we would expect to see considerable divergence in the content of religious beliefs and clustering of those beliefs along geographic and cultural lines.
So, i seems supported. The cognitive science of religion, combined with ethnographic data for pre-industrial cultures Barrett ; Bloom ; Stark , show that. As a result, many [such humans] failed to believe in God or anything like God. The nonbelief in question was both naturally occurring and nonresistant.
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