The Instigator
Pro (for)
7 Points
The Contender
Con (against)
7 Points

The Argument from reasonable Non-Belief (ANB)

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Voting Style: Open Point System: 7 Point
Started: 6/11/2011 Category: Philosophy
Updated: 7 years ago Status: Post Voting Period
Viewed: 7,484 times Debate No: 16650
Debate Rounds (3)
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Christian God - Omnipotent, omniscient, omni benevolent personal creator of the universe.

Reasonable non-belief - non-belief in Christianity which is largely based on sincere and rational thought, which is amenable to reason.


The ANB, simply put, is the problem that non-belief causes for the God described, assuming of course that He values belief in the first place. Now, what I will try to show in this debate is that given Christian doctrines, and so forth, we would not expect non-belief to exist, if God wants us to be saved (1 Tim 2:4). Now, clearly one could always point to sinful pride or other kinds of dogmatic non-belief, which do exist and may be answered simply with a free-will type defence. However, the belief I want to focus on here is sincere, open-minded non-belief. The kind which is at least as honest and intellectually respectful as Christianity can be. Given that such belief does exist, it seems to me we have a problem. The argument runs like this:

P1 - If the Christian God exists, we have good grounds for thinking that reasonable non-belief in Christianity does not exist.

P2 - Reasonable non-belief in Christianity does exist

C - Therefore, we have good grounds for thinking that the Christian God does not exist.

What I’ll do in the remainder of my post is to summarise why I think both premises are true, beginning with P1.

Defending P1

A) Knowing God

As the first commandment states:

“I am the Lord your God . . . You shall have no other Gods before me.” (Ex 20:2-3)

Or as Jesus put it:

“Thou shalt love the Lord thy God with all thy heart, and with all thy soul, and with all thy mind. This is the first and great commandment.” (Matt 22:37-38).

Clearly, the personal relationship and devotional aspect to God is an important one even today. As Bill Craig point out, it is the single most reason for our existence on the Christian worldview (1), and given that some Christians do claim to have “properly basic“ knowledge of God, it seems certainly possible that all who seek shall indeed find. Also, given the traditional aspects of Christianity (prayer and communication with God, divine revelation and so forth), the importance of this point cannot be understated - God seeks a relationship with us in many different ways and for many different reasons. This part at least seems undeniable. Indeed the very foundation of the Christian faith (the resurrection) embodies this contention more than any other:

“For God so loved the world, that he gave his only begotten Son, that whosoever believeth in him should not perish, but have everlasting life.” (John 3:16).

So why is this relevant? Well, given that God wants us to know Him, the existence of reasonable non-belief is problematic in a couple of ways. To develop a meaningful and loving relationship with Him, we have to believe that he exists in the first place. Now, anyone who has had a personal relationship before knows that a necessary condition for the relationship described above is at the very least believing that they exist. I assume this all straightforward. Further, given that reasonable non-belief BY ITS VERY NATURE conflicts with God’s desire to develop this relationship, we see that the existence of such inculpable non-belief is troubling. For these reasons, it seems that we have good grounds for thinking that if God exists, reasonable belief does not.

B) The consequences of non-belief

In this section, I will attempt to argue both that the Christian concept of Hell gives us reason to doubt that reasonable non-belief would exist, given the Christian God, by arguing firstly that the most popular take on Hell is correct; and secondly that Con’s position is equally problematic.

B1 Hell

The traditional concept of Hell, described by Christian philosopher Thomas Talbot as a “torture chamber”, has extensive biblical support, with the Gospel of Matthew alone having around 20 or so references to it (2). Passages from John 3:18, Mark 16:16 and so on reveal that the construct of Hell is both frequently and explicitly mentioned in the NT. As Christian philosopher Jerry Walls explains:

“Since the doctrine is routed in the teachings of Jesus Christ Himself, it cannot easily be eliminated from Christian belief without undermining the very foundations of Christianity.” (3)

Now given this, obviously, reasonable non-belief creates a serious problem for an all-loving God who wishes all to be saved (1 Tim 2:4), because such a state of affairs both increases the likelihood of damnation (assuming we are rational to a degree), as well as eliminating culpability for action, as these people will be acting on what they justifiably believe to be true. Such a predicament impresses upon us that given the realisation of Hell, we have grounds to expect that reasonable non-belief does not exist, given the nature of God.

B2 No Heaven

Even if Con is successful with the predicament above, what makes us think that annihilationism is any better. Instead of the eternal torture chamber, we have the destruction of souls, again (at least in part) by reasonable non-belief. Providing that Heaven is an “unspeakable joy”, and that God wants everyone to be saved, we still have a massive problem here. As such, given the will of God explicitly expressed in the Bible and implicitly demanded by His own nature, we have good grounds for affirming P1.

Defending P2

Knowing my opponent I doubt he will contest P2, but I feel I owe it to the readers to give a brief defence of P2, as this is a crucial part of the ANB. In order to deny P2, the Christian has to hold that the truth of Christianity is so beyond question that all forms of non-belief (atheism, agnosticism, or different religions) are necessarily and transparently unreasonable. Obviously this is not the case. There are great philosophers, scientists and so on who doubt Christianity, and are sufficiently warranted in their non-belief in Christianity. Notice this argument does not assume which is more rational, merely that non-belief can be rational.

Another point here is religious diversity. Members of other religions (such as Islam) show a willingness to serve a God, and do so usually on the same kind of basis that the Christian does - be it through faith, reason or what they believe as personal experience of God. Obviously, the denial of such “properly basic” experiences would seem either self-defeating (as Christians usually base their own faith on this factor, among others) or incredibly selective, if one wants to deny that other religious adherents really do have such experiences.

The last point I want to mention here is ignorance. The most obvious kind is where an individual has never heard the Christian message, and I think we would all agree both that this exists and that one is reasonable to not believe in this case. But what of the unbeliever who has no connection with God, in terms of personal experience, even after seeking such a relationship. I myself I’m one such case and there are many others.

We can see that the case for non-belief here (though brief) is particularly strong, given that much of what constitutes reasonable non-belief in Christianity also allows Christians to reasonably reject alternatives to their own position, thus, as Schellenberg concludes:

" Given these different forms of support, it would take something like wilful blindness to fail to affirm that not all nonbelief is the product of wilful blindness (even if some of it is)."(4)


Given the support for P1 and P2, the fact is that we do seem to have strong reasons to believe that non-belief of the relevant kind is a problem for Christianity. Now, there are a couple of ways Con can tackle the problem, but, as far as I can see, there seems to be problems whichever way one turns.


1. God? Debate between a Christian and an atheist. P120
2. Contemporary debates in philosophy of religion. P288
3. ibid, P269


Preliminaries and Outline

Thank you to unitedandy for providing a rigorous and well-presented case. I look forward to a stimulating exchange! I'd like to lay all my cards out on the table so that it can be clear what angle I am attacking this argument from. I am a Christian inclusivist. [1] My rebuttal will largely focus on the nature of belief, and how when scrutinized, the ambiguities and implicit assumptions involved in Pro's use of the concept of belief undercuts his argument from reasonable non-belief. Thus, my objections will be launched squarely from the realm of epistemology. I have thought of much these epistemological objections to this kind of argument before, and luckily for me, I have found some philosophers (Trent Dougherty and Ted Poston) who agree with me. :) As their thoughts and arguments are much more clear than mine I will be using their papers as guidelines. [2] The objections focus on the kind of belief (or even lack of belief) needed for a personal relationship with God; if I can undermine Pro's seemingly implicit assumptions and bring out the clearly the kinds of belief that could be sufficient for a relationship with God pro's argument is undercut.

Degrees of belief

The first obvious thing to point about belief is that most of it comes in degrees. There are categorical beliefs to be sure, but, for the most part, most of are beliefs are probalisitic in the sense that you assign different probabilities/levels of credence to how sure you are that belief p is the case. For example, I believe much more strongly that I exist than that the sun is roughly 93 million miles away. On a scale of 0 - 1 (where 1 is absolute certainty) my belief in the former is at a 1 where my belief in the latter is at .8.

Pro's argument seems to rely on the implicit assumption that if God existed he would bring about a state of affairs where a those who are sincerely open-mind and reasonable will find the evidence sufficient for them to believe in God. In other words, that those people would have a reasonably or decently high degree of belief - say, .8 or over. What reason is there accept that this is the case? None that I can see as a person can be in a person relationship even if they have low degree of belief - say .5). A quick example [3] is where a prisoner is stuck in solitary confinement and they hear faint tapping through the walls. It kind of sounds to the prisoner like another person might be doing that but he's not sure and he might as well just be hearing dripping water or rats or it just might as well be all in his head. Nonetheless, he taps back in hopes that it's another person. The other person in the other solitary confinement cell is in much the same situation. She's not sure whether the taps she hears are coming from a person or not but she taps back in any case. Neither of them have a high degree of belief that the other even exists yet they can be said to be in some sort of personal relationship.

De dicto/De re belief

Another important point I want to make is the distinction between de re and de dicto belief. [4] De dicto literally means "of the word" and a de dicto belief will be will have a "that-clause" in it. De re literally means "of the thing" and a de re belief is one where the believer believes that something has a particular property.

An example illustrates the distinction clearly:

For instance, suppose that Mary Jane has the de dicto belief that Spiderman has the Spidey-sense. Mary Jane does not know that Spiderman is the same person as Peter Parker but she also has the de re belief that Spiderman has the Spidey-sense. She does not realize she has this belief but she does as she believes that Spiderman ("the thing") has the property of "possessing the Spidey-sense". If Peter Parker and Spiderman are the same person then it follows that he also has that particular property.

The relevance this has to rebutting the ANB argument can't be understated. The ANB seems to assume that a de dicto belief is required as unitedandy indicates in the first round: "To develop a meaningful and loving relationship with Him, we have to believe that he exists in the first place. Now, anyone who has had a personal relationship before knows that a necessary condition for the relationship described above is at the very least believing that they exist." What reason is there to accept the claim that there must exist de dicto belief to form a personal relationship? None that I can see in this case either.

So we have seen that neither a high degree of belief nor de dicto belief are required for a personal relationship and Dougherty and Poston have an example to make it the cases more clear: "Again in a moment of need some extra money shows up in your account. You do not know if this is a mistake or if someone has given you this money. For whatever reason, it just doesn’t occur to you to ask the bank to figure it out. You suspect, though, that someone has in fact transferred this money to you and you think to yourself, 'Thank you, whoever you are.' Now in this case you have neither de dicto belief nor a very high degree of belief, but—especially if the other person can read your mind—it is fair to say that the two of you have a meaningful relationship." [5]

Putting these two epistemological objections together seems to me to seriously hamper the ANB as it seems to rely on false assumptions. If we can see that a personal relationship can be had without either a high degree of confidence in a belief and without de dicto belief in cases of normal human relationships it's hard to see how either of those kinds of beliefs are necessary in the case of a personal relationship between God and humans. Indeed, if we accept that God has the essential property of goodness, that is, he is The Good - to put it in Platonic terms - it may be that people who believe in The Good and do the right things have a de re belief in God but do not have an explicit de dicto belief in God.

And, for the record, I do believe that this coincides nicely with biblical teachings. I think a strong case can be made, from the bible, that explicit, de dicto belief is a sufficient but not necessary condition for a personal relationship with God. [6] One verse I like to point to is this one that I think coincides with my philosophical case nicely:

Acts 17:23-28

"17:23 For as I went around and observed closely your objects of worship, I even found an altar with this inscription: ‘To an unknown god.’ Therefore what you worship without knowing it, this I proclaim to you. 24 The God who made the world and everything in it, who is Lord of heaven and earth, does not live in temples made by human hands, 25 nor is he served by human hands, as if he needed anything, because he himself gives life and breath and everything to everyone. 26 From one man he made every nation of the human race to inhabit the entire earth, determining their set times and the fixed limits of the places where they would live, 27 so that they would search for God and perhaps grope around for him and find him, though he is not far from each one of us. 28 For in him we live and move about and exist, as even some of your own poets have said, ‘For we too are his offspring.’ "

Hell and Heaven

I don't accept the traditional concept of Hell and I think a good case can be made for annihilationism based on both biblical and philosophical reasons. [7] However, I don't see how Pro's hell or heaven objections have much force if he cannot diffuse my epistemological objections.


[3] Ibid.
Debate Round No. 1



My thanks to Con for what was an excellent response to the argument presented. I will try to tackle the 2 points raised by Con together (as many criticisms apply to both points simultaneously) and to try to show that neither one of these points is successful against the ANB and as Con never attacked any explicit support for P1 and P2, all that is required for me to do here is to combat these 2 points in this round.

Now, Con’s position is to question whether de dicto belief is a necessary condition for a relationship with God, and also to maintain than even a certain level of non-belief is either compatible with (or at least not incompatible with) a relationship with God. This counter to the ANB usually leads to a defence of epistemic distance through a kind of greater goods response, not unlike the gratuitous evils in the PoE, but as yet Con has not really offered an account of this as such. What I can do however is to proceed to counter what Con has put forth and give several reasons why his response doesn’t seem plausible.


Con argues that the assumption of the ANB that de dicto non-belief and low degrees of belief are not necessarily incompatible with a relationship with God. He uses the examples of the prisoner and a masked man type scenario to try and demonstrate that this is the case. But the problems with this response are plentiful, and even best demonstrated by Con’s own example. In the case of the prisoner, he hears the tapping, and Con concludes that there is “some SORT of personal relationship.” What we can say about such a relationship is that it most certainly isn’t a personal one, nor is it optimal or fulfilling. There is no epistemic certainty that this is a relationship between persons, no ability to interact, no ability to discern particular properties of the tapping ,etc. Now, Con might be able to justify that this may be a significant relationship (in the context of the prisoner), but is this really the kind of relationship that involves love, trust, worship, etc. Hardly the relationship the bible, or most Christians for that matter have in mind, but more crucially, not the kind of relationship the ANB argues for. Now given the points I made about the first commandment and so forth, we are compelled to seemingly affirm that while low degrees of belief and belief de re may be compatible “with some sort” of relationship, it is abundantly clear that this is such a relationship described by Con is misleading as it is obviously not the kind of personal relationship an all loving father has with His children, and this it is argued, is what’s affected absent high degrees of belief and de dicto belief in Him.

Some benefits to de dicto belief in God

An addendum to this point is the benefits to be had with a relationship with God. Now, not only is such a relationship necessarily beneficial in its own terms, but surely knowledge of the Good and so forth help in other ways. As Trakakis explains:

"Other things being equal, someone who is consciously aware of the existence and presence of God has greater opportunities for developing morally and (especially) spiritually than someone who has no such conscious awareness . . . here are two such benefits: (i) acquiring true beliefs regarding the nature of ultimate reality, and (ii) acquiring a conscious awareness of the unconditional love of God, which awareness provides one with a deep sense of happiness, security, and peace of mind, because this (and only this) awareness affords one with the knowledge that the world is under the providential control of a perfectly loving being." (1)

As well as the benefits to belief in the Christian God, we also have the problems which are caused by de dicto (and possibly de re) non-belief. Things like nihilism, Social Darwinism, religious wars and so forth curtail any development expressed above through a de dicto denial of the Good, and thus we have a problem of evil of the back of a problem of non-belief. Now, there may be a greater goods response forthcoming from Con, but absent this, and all other things being equal, his distinction of belief cuts no ice, due to the absence of de dicto belief preventing goods or causing ills, and even arguably destroying de re beliefs about the Good and so forth. Again, absent a huge burden from Con, it seems reasonable to conclude, given all various problems associated with an absence of de dicto belief here, that non-belief is inharmonious with both a personal relationship with God and an acknowledgement of the Good.


The point I want to make here is that Christians like Plantinga believe we have a guarantor of our cognitive faculties as they are given by God. Now, if de dicto beliefs are not necessary to have a relationship with God, they most certainly are for rationality, and if we hold that epistemic distance is either allowed or actually sought for some greater good, which is what Con’s response implies, then our grounding for rationality has gone, as it may be possible (and indeed some situations would necessitate) false de dicto beliefs, and thus goes our confidence in cognitive faculties. The idea that God would implant or tacitly allow false beliefs for some higher good is prima facie implausible, given His attributes, and as we have no justification for this, and plenty of reason to doubt it. Thus, de dicto non-belief on its own presents various problems, and again, absent a defeater gives us grounds to reject Con's response.

More criticisms

Now, even these criticisms such as they are accept Con’s assumption that non-belief is not incompatible with a relationship with God, given de re beliefs, but surely this is contentious? Con’s own position not only necessarily assumes the truth of Christianity, but also requires that all non-belief (whatever its degree) is necessarily rescued by belief in God de re, but it seems to me that this claim, if not just patently false, is at the very least unjustified, and if this is the case, then this alone shows that it does nothing to account for non-belief and the consequences therein.

With regards to Acts, I would submit that it is at least inconsistent with various other messages in the bible (the first commandment, beatitudes and so on). But it seems to me that even the very next verse shows that such ignorance was regarded as (at the very most) temporary, and in the context of the passage, such belief was de re, but seen as necessary to be de dicto now that God had commanded an end to ignorance in Him:

Therefore, since we are the offspring of God, we ought not to think that the Divine Nature is like gold or silver or stone, something shaped by art and man’s devising. Truly, these times of ignorance God overlooked, but now commands all men everywhere to repent, because He has appointed a day on which He will judge the world in righteousness by the Man whom He has ordained. He has given assurance of this to all by raising Him from the dead.” (Acts 17:29-32)

So, it seems that while there may be biblical support for Con’s position, the passage given would suggest (agreeing with many others besides) that de dicto non-belief exists, and that it is malevolent with respect to knowing God.

Heaven and Hell

Here Con relies on his epistemological objections, but even if these were firm objections, it is unclear that de re belief in God is sufficient, with John 14:6 and Mark 16:16 being pretty clear that de dicto belief was required for salvation. As Con has completely neglected the consequences of belief section of my justification for P1, his epistemic objection to P1 is at best successful only for justification A, and is completely irrelevant to points B1 and B2.


With all of the points raised by Con extensively addressed, and the support for P1 and P2 given in R1, we must affirm that given the existence of non-belief, we have grounds for supposing God does not exist.




I thank unitedandy for his reasoned response to my argument.


Pro's case here seems to trade on the relative vagueness of the concept of what a "personal relationship" is and what it would entail. I'm highly doubtful that Pro is going to provide a list of necessary and sufficient conditions to specify what would count as a personal relationship - and considering the vast number of types and sorts of personal relationships (dad/mother, business/client, friends, etc) - I think it a little more than hasty to declare that the thought experiment relationship I presented is "not personal". Surely it doesn't follow from the fact that a relationship is not particularly fulfilling or is not optimal that it is not personal.

As to Con's objections to my example he seems to miss the point. The whole example was designed to show some elements of a personal relationship (like reciprocity) where the prisoners did not have a high degree of credence about each others existence yet they were interacting with each other through taps because they thought that it was just as likely as not that there was a discernible pattern.

Neither is it much an issue with my arguments that that type of relationship is neither optimal or substantially fulfilling at all times. This leads to another point of ambiguity in the way belief is used is Pro's P1. Does "...reasonable non-belief in Christianity does not exist" = "...reasonable non-belief in Christianity does not exist at any time"? This would be an incredibly strong claim and it's hard to see how Pro would argue for it especially considering the phases(s) of life that Christians call "the dark night of the soul". [1] This is a phase where people may doubt or even actively disbelieve in or be agnostic about God's very existence. Many have reported that after these phases they spiritually and morally grew which makes it especially hard to see how Pro could affirm the second reading of P1 that I proposed; yet this seems to be what his argument implicitly commits him to. So allowing for phases in which a personal relationship is neither optimal nor fulfilling isn't a strong objection against my case. Especially when you consider the fact that sub-optimal or not wholly fulfilling relationships (like my prisoner example) can blossom into something fuller and deeper when, for example, the prisoners finally make it out and meet each other face to face for the first time. It would add a whole new layer of significance when the prisoners weren't even sure if the other existed yet they were communicating with each other. This provides a nice analogy because, on Christianity, it is said that everyone will one day gain de dicto, explicit knowledge of God in the afterlife and surely the relationship between a de re believer and God would have a whole new type of significance added onto it.

Benefits of de dicto belief

Pro points to some benefits of de dicto belief in God but, yet, this seems to presuppose that reading of P1 as "...reasonable non-belief in Christianity does not exist at any time" and the problems with that reading have been noted. All that my arguments require is that the benefits of having explicit, de dicto belief in God will eventually be had whereas, now, in the case of some people, de re belief in God is sufficient. Pro is welcome to argue that God is/should be required to provide sufficient evidence to everyone at all times in order to prevent reasonable non-belief but I happen to think this move is not compelling due to some other benefits of not believing at certain times.

Problems of de dicto non-belief

My case was that the kind of belief that Pro's argument assumes is not actually a necessary condition for being in a personal relationship with God. Saying that certain kinds of de dicto non belief cause actions or beliefs that are antithetical to God doesn't at all even suggest that all cases of de dicto non belief cause actions or beliefs that are antithetical to God. This is just the nature of humans in general where we can have contradictory beliefs. For example, one can hate all Jews and think they are liars de dicto yet have positive affectations and think some particular Jewish guy (who one doesn't know is Jewish) is a truly honest person. That some de dicto non-belief causes evil doesn't give us any warrant to suppose that all de dicto non-belief is inharmonious with God.


To be honest, I can't really make much of this objection. Basically Pro argues that since Christians like Plantinga think God guarantees us having reliable cognitive faculties (as opposed to atheistic alternatives) and de dicto belief in God isn't required then we lose our grounding for thinking our cognitive faculties are reliable.

This confuses metaphysics and epistemology as put that way they are two clearly separate subjects. Saying God "grounds", or in layman's terms, God makes it so that it is the case that our cognitive faculties are reliable is clearly a metaphysical proposition. One need not know that that metaphysical proposition is true in order to have reliable cognitive faculties. As the ancients used to say the order of being is different from the order of knowing. [2]

Also, on no sensible account of "reliable cognitive faculties" does it follow from the fact we have some false de dicto beliefs that we have reason to doubt our cognitive faculties as a whole.

Criticisms extended

Pro seems to intimate that I'm making an illegitimate move by "assuming" the truth of Christianity. This is puzzling because I can't see the force of this. If I, for example, say "naturalism can't accommodate objective moral facts" and the naturalist replies with several different theories on how naturalism might do just that it'd be ridiculous for me to shout "But you're illegitimately assuming naturalism!" And furthermore, my position does not entail at all non belief is rescued by de re belief in God. Me presenting a situation in which a reasonable non-theist could be saved and have a personal relationship with God - by, say, unknowingly loving the Good - does not entail that my position commits me to the claim that all de dicto non-belief is rescued by de re belief.

Heaven and Hell

Assuming objections go through Pro claims that it's unclear de re belief in God is sufficient citing John 14:6 and Mark 16:16. Without any arguments for this is utterly begging the question by assuming that belief in question is de dicto. Inclusivists believe wholeheartedly in John 14:6 and Mark 16:16 but take a wider (I would say accurate) view of what belief really means.

John says, "Jesus answered, 'I am the way and the truth and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me.'"

Juxtapose that with this:

Matt 25: 34-40

"Then the King will say to those on his right, ‘Come, you who are blessed by my Father; take your inheritance, the kingdom prepared for you since the creation of the world. For I was hungry and you gave me something to eat, I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink, I was a stranger and you invited me in, I needed clothes and you clothed me, I was sick and you looked after me, I was in prison and you came to visit me.'

"Then the righteous will answer him, ‘Lord, when did we see you hungry and feed you, or thirsty and give you something to drink? When did we see you a stranger and invite you in, or needing clothes and clothe you? When did we see you sick or in prison and go to visit you?'

"The King will reply, ‘I tell you the truth, whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers of mine, you did for me.'"

Is there really any tension here? None that I can see. They followed the ways of Jesus and presumably believed in the Good yet they did not know it.



Debate Round No. 2



In the last round of the debate, I will try to highlight some of the contentious issues regarding the ANB, and to answer the objections laid out by Con thus far.

Personal relationship with God

To make it as clear as possible, the point I’m making here can be summarised as follows:

All else being equal, an optimal relationship with God (involving knowledge of Him, interaction, and so forth) requires de dicto belief in Him.

Con admits this but argues that epistemic distance can sometimes be necessary for people to grow spiritually and morally. In other words, de dicto non-belief can be logically necessary for an adequately compensatory good. This is where the crux of the conflict arises. Now given that the cost of de dicto non-belief (even if temporary) is a sacrifice of an optimal relationship with God, I would argue that only by meeting conditions above (that the non-belief be logically necessary for this spiritual/moral development) can Con deny P1. To be honest, it’s not that Con has failed to meet this burden, it’s more like he has not even constructed a framework for this to work. Secondly, I deny that de dicto non-belief is necessarily beneficial, and certainly not always beneficial enough to warrant separation from God for a significant period. Are there examples where de dicto non-belief causes character defects - depression from non-belief, rejection of objective moral values or familial bonds between humans, and so on? Surely there are, and if this is the case, our ability to grow morally or spiritually is prohibited in such cases, may result in a loss of moral sense. Con even argues this in a previous debate:

“Nonetheless, there is good examples of without religion some people would lose their moral sense. See: Stalin's murders.”

“(Morality) would seem to require religion and God. God to judge; religion to let us know of these morals.” (1)

Now, clearly Con is committed not just to the value of de dicto beliefs in religion, but monotheism and Christianity in particular, and obviously this is an expression of knowing the Christian God. Given the conflict caused by differences in de dicto beliefs (religious wars and so on), as well as the benefits gained from a Christian worldview, we need to be convinced that de dicto non-belief is compensated in all cases, lest we have a case of gratuitous non-belief.

Impact of non-belief

Now Con’s response to this was that the benefits would be realised anyway (in the long run) and that the costs were not necessarily the reason for depravity and so forth. As I said before, I don’t agree that the benefits/costs will be accounted for (see heaven and hell), but even if they were, Con would still have to show that their loss in the meantime would be logically necessary for an adequately compensatory good. He hasn’t even gotten this far, and I don’t think he would be successful if he were to sketch out a theodicy type defence. On his point about the effects of non-belief, I agree with him. Crucially, however, if these beliefs had ANY part to play in moral depravity (which even Con has argued they do), then ceteris paribus, we should affirm P1. Con must construct and defend that epistemic distance is for the greater good in all cases, yet has not done either. As Bill Craig points out,

“To them (people in the Bible), God was not an idea adopted by the mind, but an experiential reality which gave significance to their lives. Now if this is the case, then there’s a danger that proofs for God can actually distract your attention from God Himself. If you are sincerely seeking God, God will make his existence evident to you.” (2)

This gives us reasons to doubt a greater good response from the off. Lastly, it seems to me that there is just no support for this view in the bible at all, and plenty to mark against it. As Matt 7:7 unequivocally says:

“Ask, and it shall be given you; seek, and ye shall find; knock, and it shall be opened unto you”

Here, we can be sure that on this basis alone we can affirm what, in any other context, would be actively argued for by Christians themselves: that an optimal relationship with God is most desirable (including de dicto belief in Him), and that unless we have a massive paradigm shift, I see no reason to doubt it, and this together with 1 Tim 2:4 to affirm P1.


This point is more an implication of Con’s view, rather than direct support for P1, and despite Con protesting, it seems relevant here. Only belief is relevant here, not whether God actually governs our cognitive faculties. If we believe he does, and if we also affirm that God utilises false de dicto beliefs for some greater good, it follows that any belief we have could be used for some greater good even if false. Like the EAAN, it strips for grounding beliefs, because the guarantor of the grounding for our beliefs (God in this case) is unreliable, with regard to de dicto beliefs. As Con intimates the EAAN to be a strong argument (3), I maintain that it works in reverse, and that an unreliable de dicto belief system from God is just as groundless as he thinks blind nature is to the warrant of the naturalist.

More criticisms

My point here was that claiming that even some non-belief encompasses belief in the Good for example de re is (at least partly) an empirical statement which should be justified. I see no reason to think that the nihilist who rejects morality affirms the Good de re, and Con can’t just expect me to share his assumption here. Further, he says that he is not committed to de re belief in all cases. While this is true, I find it puzzling that he sees such a distinction to be favourable to him. Any circumstance which non-belief existed de re and de dicto not only would require explanation, but would destroy the distinction between de re and de dicto belief which his rebuttal has been solely based around. Con comes dangerously close here to undermining his own case, with one single sentence. I see no reason to conclude that non-belief de dicto is belief in God de re, and unless Con wants to justify this empirical claim, his whole distinction is of no use to defuse the ANB.

Heaven and hell

Con reacts here to cite a passage of his own and to accuse me of assuming de dicto non-belief with heaven or hell. First, I want to make clear that I fully acknowledge belief (of any kind) is not sufficient for salvation. This is all that Con's passage (Matt 25:34-40) shows, and my position is certainly compatible with this. The passages I provide however (John 3:18; Mark 16:16) strongly suggest that de dicto beliefs about Jesus specifically are necessary (if not sufficient) for salvation, as do these passages:

Knowing that a man is not justified by the works of the law, but by the faith of Jesus Christ, even we have believed in Jesus Christ, that we might be justified by the faith of Christ, and not by the works of the law for by the works of the law shall no flesh be justified. (Galatians 2:16)

If a man abide not in me, he is cast forth as a branch, and is withered ; and men gather them, and cast them into the fire, and they are burned . (John 15:6)

Now, all these quotes explicitly say faith in Jesus is a NECESSARY condition for salvation, and this is not solved by de re belief in Platonic concepts like The Good. Further, such passages are rife in the bible, and are often from Jesus himself. Given that non-belief is most certainly antithetical to salvation, together with 1 Tim 2:4 that God wishes all to be saved, it certainly seems like we have good grounds for affirming P1 on this point alone.


Given the level of support and resilience of P1, and Con's acceptance of P2, it seems that we must affirm we have good grounds to believe God does not exist.


(2) Above



Thank you, unitedandy, for the good debate.

Personal relationship with God

Pro says, "All else being equal, an optimal relationship with God (involving knowledge of Him, interaction, and so forth) requires de dicto belief in Him." In the previous round I asked if this meant de dicto belief must be maintainedat all times which his argument seems to commit him to. Even if Pro admits to one case where a sub-optimal relationship for a period of time can be beneficial (as many religious people have reported) then he's admitting that his principle (or premise) is false. Pro simply just hasn't motivated this statement because for his argument to work "at all times" needs to be added into to it which makes it incredibly implausible.

Second, in the last round I included another good that can come from a period of time in which there is a sub-optimal personal relationship with God. I said: "Especially when you consider the fact that sub-optimal or not wholly fulfilling relationships (like my prisoner example) can blossom into something fuller and deeper when, for example, the prisoners finally make it out and meet each other face to face for the first time...This provides a nice analogy because, on Christianity, it is said that everyone will one day gain de dicto, explicit knowledge of God in the afterlife and surely the relationship between a de re believer and God would have a whole new type of significance added onto it." As far as I can tell, this was not addressed.

Third, simply speaking, the truth is I don't even have to offer a "greater goods" defense (which I why I haven't focused much attention on them) in order to defeat the ANB. Note that if my epistemological objections work, and I think they do, then this undercuts the warrant anyone has for believing P1 of Pro's argument. If you have no good reason to believe "P1 - If the Christian God exists, we have good grounds for thinking that reasonable non-belief in Christianity does not exist." then that's it for the ANB. Notice that this P1 had to be suitably qualified to take into account Con's implicit assumptions like a high degree of credence, de dicto, belief that occurs that all times. Me undercutting the warrant for these assumptions means that no one has any reason to believe P1 is true.

Fourth, Pro asks about what about cases we non-belief causes character defects. It's hard to see how this a moral development good wouldn't cover this. For example, Saul clearly had character defects as a result of non-belief (what with killing Christians and the like) yet when he converted we get a new sense of how redemption is possible - even for the most depraved of us.

Fifth, I have to admit it was a fairly clever strategy of Pro to use my own words against me in one of my earlier debates...the problem is I was playing devil's advocate at the time. I implied as much when I said on the said on page 2 in the comments: "Well, I don't necessarily believe everything that I'm saying...I just thought it would be a fun exercise." That tactic must be considered a failure.

Impact of non-belief

As I said in my third point - I need not detail all the greater goods in order to defeat the ANB. All I'm doing is showing there is no good reason for believing P1 of the argument. All Pro is doing here is just saying is that how he conceives reasonable non-belief is incompatible with God and what I'm saying is that his conception is simply and flatly wrong and I've provided reasons why. Pro is just restating the whole point of contention here and not arguing for it.

When Pro quotes Matt 7:7 and Bill Craig to make bolster his case I can't help but think this is not actually helping him at all. This is because as I've been harping on - time matters. Matt says "seek, and ye shall find". What it doesn't say is "seek, and ye shall find right now." It doesn't imply that either. As I have said before sub-optimal forms of belief in God (low credence, de re) can be permitted and are compatible with God for a time(as evidenced by the "dark night of the soul") and Pro hasn't made a plausible argument to contrary that God must provide sufficient evidence for de dicto belief in Him at all times.


No Christian I know of believes that God actually "governs" our cognitive faculties. Neither does Plantinga, I would presume. And Pro just simply has it backwards - it's not that God utilizes false de dicto beliefs for a greater good; it's that he uses true de re beliefs for a greater good.


Pro's ANB alleges that reasonable non-belief is in some sense incompatible with God. The natural understanding of "incompatibility" here would have to be logical. This natural understanding would seem to affirmed by Pro's multiple attempts to show that explicit, de dicto belief is required to be in a personal relationship with God (and saved) which would imply that all who don't have this type of belief won't be saved (among other things). Pro seems to be arguing incompatibility. So, all I needed do in this debate is show how reasonable non-belief can be compatible with God existing; and considering the fact that beliefs are held by subjects who have "privileged access" [1] to their mental contents it seems absurd for Pro to ask that I justify this empirical claim, well, empirically. This is even more difficult in the case where implicit, de re beliefs are held because the subject often doesn't even know they hold those beliefs. One can't very well go around asking people if they have beliefs they don't realize they have - they might even deny they have those beliefs! Me making that distinction (that all de dicto non-belief need not be rescued by de re belief) does nothing to undermine my case as surely the difference would between the cases would be those involving moral considerations such as moral culpability, superogation, fulfilling obligations, having good virtues and the like.

Heaven and Hell

Honestly, Pro's case here seems to presume a shallow hermeneutic, non-sequiturs, and a confusion of necessary and sufficient conditions in making his case for exclusivism from the bible. Basically, Jesus and other biblical texts and verses say that one may get into heaven if you (de dicto) believe in him. (I say may because of verses like Matt 7:21: "Not everyone who says to me, 'Lord, Lord,' will enter the kingdom of heaven, but only he who does the will of my Father who is in heaven.")

I'll even make Pro's prima facie case stronger here and cite a verse he missed or was unaware of - Rom 10:9: "That if you confess with your mouth, 'Jesus is Lord,' and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved." Surely, this ruins inclusivism? Not so quick. Imagine if I said this: "If you get good straight A's in all your AP classes and apply you'll get into a good college." It hardly follows from this that getting straight A's in all your AP classes is the only way to get into a good college. It hardly follows it's a necessary condition for you to get into a good college. You could get into a good college by getting A's in all but two of your AP classes and having numerous extra-curricular school activities that you are involved in. All the first statement implies is that it is a sufficient condition that one gets straight A's in all of their AP classes that they will get into a good colleges; what it DOES NOT imply is that it is a necessary condition for getting into a good college. It simply doesn't follow from Rom 10:9 or the other verses Pro cites that de dicto belief in Jesus is a necessary condition. At all. Given that verse and other verses like Matt 25: 34-40 or Rev 5:9 the most reasonable conclusion to make is that there are multiple sufficient conditions for salvation. Pro's case here simply doesn't prove his conclusion.


Debate Round No. 3
53 comments have been posted on this debate. Showing 1 through 10 records.
Posted by unitedandy 6 years ago
It was part of a tournament, so I wanted to put a limit on the voting to encourage people to vote. Just out of interest, what's your take on the debate?
Posted by popculturepooka 6 years ago
Also, this came out of the blue. lol
Posted by popculturepooka 6 years ago
Well, it's pretty much mandatory that you do now. I'm not sure if it was still mandatory back at that time. I don't think so? I usually prefer (ed) to make an unending voting period though.
Posted by Kinesis 6 years ago
Dammit, this is why people shouldn't put limits on the voting period.
Posted by popculturepooka 7 years ago
Thanks for the compliments. You're definitely a challenge to debate! I'm definitely a bit disappointed as well but, eh, what are you going to do?
Posted by unitedandy 7 years ago
Bit disappointed that it ended up a draw, or even more so because there was only one vote each, but cheers anyway pop for the debate. BTW, the last round you gave was fantastic, one of the best single rounds I've seen on here. Up until my last post, I thought I was winning, but after that, I wasn't and am not so sure. Cheers to LF and Roy for voting as well.
Posted by Thaddeus 7 years ago
Tie sounds about right.
Posted by unitedandy 7 years ago
I was actually talking about responding to pop's last post. I obviously don't agree with your RFD but I respect that that it was your opinion, and it was a particularly fair and thoughtful RFD, so thanks again for reading the debate.

The only thing I would say is that the point about relationships (de re vs de dicto; optimal vs sub-optimal) is essentially a greater goods response, i.e. even though some relationships lack de dicto belief (sub-optimal), they have capacity to flourish and so on (a greater good) which explains non-belief. Therefore, I would argue that the greater goods point is vitally important, and as such, any loss to de dicto belief must be compensated adequately. Obviously, my point here would be that adequate compensation is not necessarily the case with de dicto non-belief, and that there are cases of gratuitous de dicto non-belief, which would short-circuit any attempt to make such a defence. If there are ANY benefits to de dicto belief, then a loss of this (even temporarily) must be either answered by a greater good response or dealt with in another way, lest we have gratuitous non-belief. Or so I think:)
Posted by LaissezFaire 7 years ago
A debate in the comments section probably isn't a good idea, but feel free to PM me if you have any questions or concerns about my RFD.
Posted by unitedandy 7 years ago
Obviously, I don't quite agree with you LF, but cheers not just for a thoughtful and extensive RFD, but for reading the debate, and being brave enough to vote against what you might have held initially held (even if this is against me). Thanks as well to Roy, who read the debate and obviously seen it my way a little more.

Again, cheers pop for the debate. The only downside is that I am itching to respond to the last post, but I think we would probably be best to avoid a debate in the comments section, as I done in my last debate.
2 votes have been placed for this debate. Showing 1 through 2 records.
Vote Placed by LaissezFaire 7 years ago
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Total points awarded:07 
Reasons for voting decision: Comments.
Vote Placed by RoyLatham 7 years ago
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Total points awarded:70 
Reasons for voting decision: In excellent debate. Both sides made clear arguments on a very obscure philosophical topic. Con's argument is that belief in attributes of God amount to belief in God. Pro' I think, sustains the case that such does not qualify as the "personal relationship" demanded by Christianity. The citations of the demands for personal relationship are compelling proof. This is a tournament debate, so I must award all seven points, though all but arguments are tied.