Saturday, April 17, 2021

The Uneven Evidence Debate: A Reply to Jonathan MS Pearce.


I.          Setting the Table. 

Before I respond to Mr. Pearce’s post about me, I wanted to thank him for allowing me to share and defend my Catholic faith. Anytime one is called to share and defend what they believe is a real blessing.  I hope my remarks provide a worthy defense of the Catholic faith. 

Preliminarily, Mr. Pearce credits me with having some philosophical training.  I will let the reader decide.  I received an undergraduate degree in political science when political science was finishing its transition from a philosophical inquiry to a social science endeavor.  I have a Juris Doctor, and my coursework emphasized litigation and rhetoric.  I was a litigation attorney for 36 years until I retired for health reasons.  Finally, I am one thesis paper away from obtaining my Masters Degree in Theology from St. Meinrad Seminary and School of Theology.  I do not regard myself as a philosopher, but I do have a philosophy like everyone else.

II.        Statement of the Argument. 

This debate started when Mr. Pearce wrote an article entitled The Double Standards and Involving Doubting Thomas.  He argues that God is unfair and guilty of double standards because God provided St. Thomas the Apostle more evidence that the Resurrection happened than the rest of humanity.  Only after he got this additional evidence did he believe.  Mr. Pearce contends that although the rest of humanity gets less evidence than Thomas did, God will punish them with damnation if they fail to believe.   As a result, Mr. Pearce states:

This is completely unfair and terrible double standards.

God is not fair.

Therefore, God is not perfect or omnibenevolent.

Note the premises in the argument.  Mr. Pearce presumes that a belief in the Resurrection is proof of God’s existence.  Mr. Pearce presumes that fairness is an aspect of omnibenevolence (a term foreign to Catholic thought), and that omnibenevolence itself is an attribute of God.  Mr. Pearce also presumes that perfection is an attribute of God. 

Now to be clear, I agree that perfection is an attribute of God.  I might even agree that omnibenevolence could be an attribute of God, depending on the definition of omnibenevolence.  More importantly, I agree that God is not fair as Mr. Pearce seems to define the term.  That being said, I would add that God’s attributes do not require Him to be fair according to any human standards.  I would submit that Pearce’s definition of fairness excludes attributes like mercy that Christians ascribe to God. 

Moreover, Pearce’s definition of fairness ignores God’s gift of free will to humanity or the necessity of complimentariness resulting from our unique differences and individuality.  It is this complimentariness that makes it possible for individuals to relate to each other and God.  It is for these reasons that I commented as follows to an article that Dave Armstrong wrote, entitled Pearce’s Potshots #17: Doubting Thomas & an “Unfair” God: 

Mr. Pearce claims that God is unfair and has double standards. But this begs the question, what is Mr. Pearce’s definition of fairness, and more importantly, why should we accept his definition of what is fair as the proper metric to judge God’s actions? Why does Jonathan Pearce get to be the final arbiter of what is fair and what is not fair?

Mr. Pearce’s remarks demonstrate a failing that many lawyers who are not trial lawyers make. He dos not understand the difference between the sufficiency of evidence and the credibility of evidence. Unlike St. Thomas, Mr. Pearce got to read the witness statement of the events that transpired in the locked room in John 20 with the other disciples before he got to see Jesus for himself. He got to read the testimony of the witnesses as contained in the four Gospels about Jesus’ death and resurrection. That testimony would be admissible in any court of law. Mr. Pearce’s problem is that he simply chooses not to believe it. Using his metric for belief, if he was on a jury, he would refuse to believe that a suspect murdered someone unless he witnessed the murder himself first. Now how often does that happen?

What Mr. Pearce seems to be saying is that if only God gave him more evidence, he would believe too. If he was in Thomas’ shoes and put his fingers into Jesus’ side, would he have us seriously believe that he would accept Christ? Or would he find some other excuse not to believe?

If God was so unfair, how is it then that the billions of people who came afterwards have accepted the truth that Christ died on the cross, rose from the dead and is the Son of God based on the same evidence that Mr. Pearce has had access to? It was sufficient for me, why is not enough for him?
No, his argument is not a sufficiency argument, his is a credibility argument. And if that is the case, he is not really an atheist now is he? He has accepted Pascal’s wager and is just too cowardly to admit it.

I stand by my remarks and take ownership of them.

III.       The Context and Milieu of the Debate 

In the article above, Dave argues that God showed Thomas a special act of mercy (God's attribute that Christians recognize).  He then rejects the premises of Pearce’s argument.  While he acknowledges that there are more flawed premises in the argument, Dave chose to focus on  the first three that came to his mind: 

1)  The notion that empiricism is the only way to verify or prove anything as if there are no other ways of knowing.

2)   Pearce’s denial that God is already known by observing the universe, as Romans 1 states. (The teleological and cosmological arguments)

3)   The idea that every atheist would immediately believe (and respond as Thomas did) if only they had the “100% sure!” experience of Thomas: with the risen Jesus standing there, bodily so that he could touch Him. (Free will provide argument)

Dave then points out a fourth flawed premise in Pearce’s argument, that certainty in the knowledge of God is a prerequisite to getting to heaven.  Dave shows that in the Catholic system, God does not put people in hell for doubting.  He concludes: 

Therefore, an atheist can possibly be saved, and there is a big biblical distinction between the not-convinced seeker after truth and the outright rejecter of God. But they can’t be saved if they know God exists (are conscious of that belief) and reject Him and His free offer of grace and salvation. How much one “knows” is obviously the key. And only God knows that for any given person. It’s not for other persons to judge that or to condemn people to hell. They don’t have nearly even knowledge to make that determination.

Mr. Pearce replied to Dave’s response with a second article, Doubting Thomas: A Response to Catholic Dave Armstrong.  In this second article, Mr. Pearce refines his argument a bit.  The point is that:                       

[A]ll sorts of people react differently to the same level of evidence, and all sorts of people get different levels of evidence. It’s all a bit of an unfair mess.

He goes on to state:

The only fair option for an OmniGod designing and creating all humanity from nothing is to give everyone the same chance; and when we control for causal circumstances, this translates to the same score.

In other words, Mr. Pearce thinks that God owes us something, and unless He gives us what we are owed, He is a mean Infinite Being.  Mr. Pearce wants God to give every person the same evidence of His existence, and he wants God to guarantee that everyone will believe it.  There are so many problems with this notion, I doubt that I can rebut them all. 

Dave rebutted this article with Pearce’s Potshots #18: Doubting Thomas & Evidence.  In Dave’s article, he attacks Mr. Pearce’s emphasis on giving everyone the same direct empirical evidence that St. Thomas got as the only way for God to be fair.  Dave states: 

It’s claimed that God must provide ironclad “evidence” (of course as atheists define the term) of everything related to God and Christianity, lest He be brutally “unfair.” We say that He does, but in ways in addition to those atheists concentrate on. My point here is one of “epistemological hypocrisy.” That is: atheists certainly don’t apply such a “strong” criterion to everything they believe.

Mr. Pearce offered the third reply, Doubting the Lessons from Doubting Thomas: Responding to Dave Armstrong Again.  Here, Mr. Pearce offers the following definition of sufficient:  “Sufficient” does not entail a range. Sufficient means “enough for a particular purpose.”  After a bit of interaction with some of Dave’s other articles, Mr. Pearce concludes that because God offers some people sufficient evidence of His existence and others not, God is unfair.  He then offers this paragraph: 

But this is just another version of the divine hiddenness problem. God is far from explicit about anything, and it requires one to be intelligent enough to wade through a parochial ancient holy text with vast effort and intellectual acumen to even remotely start getting there. Whilst not doing this for all the other holy texts. And even then, the best minds in the world can’t even agree on how or whether the atonement even works – why Jesus died or even existed!

It’s all such nonsense.

To this additional sur-reply, Dave offers another response, Pearce’s Potshots #19: Doubting Thomas & a “Mean God.”  In this article, Dave defends this contention: 

I think God does provide sufficient evidence (of all sorts) for every human being”: meaning that He considers each person in their uniqueness and communicates to them enough for them to know (taking into account their particular background and outlook) that He exists and that He gives grace for salvation, and indeed is the key to human joy and fulfilment, and happiness.

Dave criticizes Pearce’s insistence on a one-size-fits-all solution where everyone receives the same amount of evidence for His existence: 

People have many different outlooks and presuppositions; therefore, lesser or greater needs for particular forms of evidence and proofs and indications of any given thing (not all of which are empirical). God meets each of them where they are at (this is what we Christians believe).

The problem is that some people choose to reject the evidence and proofs: 

[B[ecause of human free will, we have the freedom to pursue erroneous ideas and go down wrong paths of thinking and behaving. And these work against the knowing of God: both His existence and Him, personally.         

The point of Dave’s argument is that people are given “sufficient” evidence to choose to accept that there is a God as well as a free choice to try to know Him better.  However, because God chose to give us free will, we also get to choose whether to accept the evidence or not. 

It is here that Pearce finally gets around to the point that he was trying to make in all the back-and-forth.  What is God’s goal in designing the system this way?  Why allow people to choose wrong?  Why does He seem unfair? 

As I say, morality is goal-oriented. Purpose is goal-oriented. For God, why he would do anything that seems unfair is a version of the problem of evil, and defenses or theodicies of and for the problem of evil are consequentialist in nature: God allows (or designs in) this evil/suffering for a greater good. And that greater good serves a purpose for an even larger overarching purpose or intention.

Not only does Mr. Pearce call God unfair for not providing each person equal access to the same evidence for His existence and for not guaranteeing that the evidence is so overwhelming that no one could choose not to believe, but Pearce claims God is unfair because He did not tell us the details of His plan for creation.  

Mr. Pearce then expands his argument again in another sur-reply to Dave’s last paper, Putting the Doubting Thomas Episode to Bed, and Opening a Can of Worms.  It is in this article, Mr.Pearce claims, “I have provided a philosophical argument, based on one biblical example and abstracting it, to show how God is unfair; if God is unfair, the god of classical theism is invalidated.”  

In support of this claim, he offers the following syllogism: 

1)  God is omnibenevolent and being such will have fairness as a benevolent attribute. (Me He needs to show that fairness is an attribute of omnibenevolence and that omnibenevolence itself is an attribute of God.)

2)  God wants humans to enter into a loving relationship with him. (Me-True, but the key to any relationship is consent, meaning free will.)

3)  God has designed people (or the system that designs people) to not have equal fairness and opportunity to access a loving relationship with him. (Me-He needs to prove this.)

4)  God also has the power to level the playing field ex post facto but appears not to do so. (Me-The answer to this argument depends on how the playing field is defined.)

C)   God is not fair, and thus not omnibenevolent. (Me-Again, assuming that fairness is a genuine attribute of omnibenevolence.)

The central feature of Mr. Pearce’s argument is his assertion that fairness is an aspect of God’s omnibenevolence.  However, he does not offer any proof for this assertion.  Once he makes this claim without any empirical evidence to show that fairness is an attribute of God, he then sets out to show that God is unfair because God fails to offer empirical evidence of His existence necessary for true belief.  He then argues that God is fair only if he apportions the empirical evidence of His existence equally to everyone.  He then sets the conditions of fairness: 

Remember, for God to be truly fair, every single human would have to have exactly the same balance of the combination of: 

            ~rejection disposition           

            ~access to evidence (or EOAG)           

            ~biological environment to be able to deal with evidence etc           

            ~non-biological environment                           

He then concludes with this argument:   

1. God is far from explicit aboutanything,

2. It requires one to be intelligent enough to wade through a parochial ancient holy text with vast effort and intellectual acumen to even remotely start getting there. (Unfair apportion of evidence again! Elitism.)

3. All the time you spend doing that, you are not devoting the same to other holy texts – this requires a presupposed favouritism.

4. Even after millennia of some of the best minds on the job, Christians can’t agree on how atonement works, or that it definitely works.

5. Atonement is the basis of Jesus’ death and arguably his entire earthly existence.

6. Divine hiddenness. Incoherent revelation. Etc.

After reading this paper, I commented on Dave’s Facebook page on these last six points.  Dave decided it was worthy enough to share it on Mr. Pearce’s blog, and I attempted to defend my comment by responding to some criticisms of it by commentators who frequent Mr. Pearce’s site.  Mr. Pearce then collected my comments and wrote a new article responding directly to my commentary, The Uneven Evidence Debate: Responding to Paul Hoffer.  Since he has termed our interaction a debate, I felt obliged to pick up the gage and turn my commentary into an honest debate.

IV:       The Debate

To organize the material, I felt it necessary to refer to Mr. Pearce’s posts and reformat them to make the arguments and assertions more diabolic.  MP refers to Mr. Pearce’s comments.  PH refers to myself and my interlineations to that post.  The original text of my comments is in bold.

A. Rearming the Issues.

MP:  Here is the thing – we often hear that God would not put a cross on the moon as overwhelming evidence for his existence because it is just too overwhelming and doesn’t give people the “choice” to believe. But this is thoroughly problematic, as I discussed in this video:

PH: In the video, you explicitly reference your book, which I own, and I used it to form the hypothetical fictional factual genuine I used in the comment that caused you and your readers so much consternation. The hypothetical is based on Questions 50-53 he referenced in the video and Questions 135-136 from your book. I would have thought you would be happy I read your book rather than throw a hissy-fit because I used you instead of Mark or Jill as God’s interrogator.

MP: Let me lay some of this out in writing. God saw fit to convince Doubting Thomas, who – after all – knew – Jesus and saw him do his miracles. He was a disciple – one of Jesus’ inner circle. And yet even he didn’t believe in the Resurrection, attested to by his friends and eyewitnesses, until he had Jesus standing in front of him until Jesus made him touch the wounds.

As John 20 relays: 

24 But Thomas, one of the twelve, who was called Didymus, was not with them when Jesus came. 25 So the other disciples were saying to him, “We have seen the Lord!” But he said to them, “Unless I see in His hands the imprint of the nails, and put my finger into the place of the nails, and put my hand into His side, I will not believe.” 26 Eight days later His disciples were again inside, and Thomas was with them. Jesus *came, the doors having been shut, and stood in their midst and said, “Peace be to you.” 27 Then He *said to Thomas, “Place your finger here, and see My hands; and take your hand and put it into My side; and do not continue in disbelief, but be a believer.” 28 Thomas answered and said to Him, “My Lord and my God!” 29 Jesus *said to him, “Because you have seen Me, have you now believed? Blessed are they who did not see, and yet believed.”

And yet almost the entirety of the rest of humanity is not remotely afforded this level of evidence and is expected to believe, arguably on pain of hell.

Thomas got to poke Jesus, bodily resurrected in front of him, in the hands. He got to feel the skin of the real and resurrected God, and only then did he believe.

He’s now a Saint.

This is completely unfair and terrible double standards.

God is not fair.

Therefore, God is not perfect or omnibenevolent.

The only way God could deal with the potential unfairness is by having some kind of metric for judgement that allows for everyone’s causal circumstance to be taken into account. Person X believed in God 69% but only with a 32% evidential basis. But what of person Y who believed 90% on evidential basis 12%? And how about person Z who believed on 15% but only had 2% evidential basis? And all combinations thereof.

So on and so forth. I’m not sure that this is either evidenced in there Bible or elsewhere, or even works as a coherent test basis for the classical version of God (who would know this in advance anyway and would not need to create so to test his infallibly predicted hypothesis).

Doubting Thomas is another example as to how easy some had it getting through those pearly gates.

PH: I offered your first article's text to show your argument's outlines and why Dave Armstrong responded the way he did to it. I urge the reader to read all of the assertions and responses by both gentlemen. While I agree with Dave’s arguments, I thought it essential to defend my comments and put flesh on them.

MP: As I am sure you are aware by now, I have been embroiled in a debate with myself Dave Armstrong about the uneven apportioning of evidence to humanity over time and place. It moved more into the philosophical domain, so Armstrong invoked a comment from, one presumes, a more philosophical cementer at one of his social media sites. I’m somewhat surprised Dave was so impressed to provide it – I’m sure he could’ve done a better job himself. [EDIT: Thanks for the cementer, Paul Hoffer, for getting involved and defending his comments here – all of which I have only seen after completing this piece.] Nonetheless, I will respond interlinearly to Paul Hoffer:

PH: I must ask, at this juncture, since you have seen my responses to the commentary by other folks on your site since you wrote your response, would it in any way change your response? I do not wish to be unfair to you.

My friend Paul Hoffer on my Face book page, responding to Jonathan:

There are two separate issues here that Mr. Pearce appears to merge together. The question, does God exist? Is a separate question from is God fair or not? Moreover, he assumes that God’s notion of fairness is the same as ours. It is actually a dodge.

MP: Well no, I actually clearly delineated both on the various syllogisms I have created on this series. In reality, however, I can combine both: Does a fair god exist? (I.e., Does classical theism hold?)

PH: Elaborating on the above comment, I maintain that classical theism does not hold that God is fair, and accordingly, any such argument is a dodge because fairness, as you define it, is not an attribute of God. Your argument rests on a category error. By combining the two syllogisms, you compound this error.

Furthermore, God’s existence can not be combined with the question of what attributes God has because one does not need to show what God’s attributes are to prove He exists. Since you raised the Resurrection and Saint Thomas's matter, let us use that as the test case.

Claim: God exists.

Premise 1) The resurrection would be evidence of God’s existence.

Premise 2) The resurrection occurred.

C: Therefore, the resurrection is evidence for God’s existence.

We shall assume that Premise 1 is valid as Mr. Pearce appears to concur with it by his use of Doubting Thomas's example.

Premise 2 can be reasonably demonstrated through research into the historical evidence (the New Testament accounts and the Early Church's history) about the resurrection. The summary of that evidence is as follows:

1) Jesus was crucified and died.

2). Jesus was placed into a tomb.

3) The tomb was found to be empty three days later.

4) The disciples ALL claimed to have seen the risen Christ after the tomb was found empty and give witness and testify to support that claim.

5) If Christ did not rise from the dead, the disciples and their followers were willing to be killed or tortured for something they knew was a lie. (St. Thomas the Apostle himself was martyred in India by stoning and being stabbed with a lance. Of course, Catholics would also argue Apostolic Succession, the fact that bishops who preached the Gospel were followers of the apostles who knew Jesus Christ or knew people who lived in that age and carried on their message. The New Testament itself is the product of their preaching and preserving what they taught.)

The conclusion follows from the premises, and the conclusion is sound. If the evidence is factual, then the logic is pretty unassailable. Note that there is no mention whatsoever about God’s attributes. This is not a philosophical musing at all, but a question of evidence, or more precisely, a question of fact. The consequences of accepting the evidence as factual may have philosophical ramifications, but the Resurrection story, as you call it, either happened or did not.

As I stated previously, what you are arguing against is the evidence's credibility in Premise 2. It is not a sufficiency argument at all, because sufficiency assumes that the evidence adduced by the party bearing the burden of proof (in this case, theists like myself) is true. In other words, if the Resurrection of Jesus Christ did happen, would It be sufficient to prove the existence of God? Only after that assessment is made would the question of credibility arises. Then one would set out to examine and evaluate the evidence's veracity and determine what weight to assign it. Only after these questions are answered would you get to question whether the Church has carried out of the Great Commission at Matt. 28:16-20 is a fair way for God to present the evidence of His existence to the world through the preaching and proclamation of Christ’s Incarnation, birth, life, ministry, and the Resurrection story. Furthermore, you are not attacking the Resurrection story itself, but how it has been disseminated to a worldwide audience.

As a skeptic, you know how powerful the Resurrection argument is. Given the way you are attacking the argument, you know you cannot refute it philosophically. There is simply no natural or materialistic way to explain how a dead person was restored to life days later. You can only attack it if you call the eyewitnesses liars. Rather than doing that, you attempt to poison the well by blathering about historical criticism, form criticism, the Documentary hypothesis, blah, blah, blah. What you are complaining about is if the Resurrection story is true, why did God choose a bunch of middle-class 1st century Jews to start a Church and proclaim the story rather than give each person direct empirical evidence for His existence?

To top it off, you interject the issue about God’s attributes into the argument to obfuscate. You know, as someone with your reputed philosophical pedigree that one can accept the Easter Story as true, admit that God exists, but deny Christians got it right on understanding Who God is. Unfortunately, even if we Catholic Christians got His nature wrong, such a misunderstanding does not lead one to atheism, but rather pantheism or Deism in a worst-case scenario.

In other words, accepting atheism would be illogical. You positing the argument that God does not exist because He supposedly is not fair is faulty logically as the question of His nature does nothing to advance or negate the argument about whether God exists. This faulty logic is why I said it is a dodge to merge the two arguments.

Even assuming, arguendo, that you could argue that knowledge of the existence is predicated on the attributes of God (rather than vice-a-versa), I do not accept the premise that your view of fairness is an attribute or operation of God. What you should have argued is:

1. Classical theism’s conception of God only exists if He is omnibenevolent.

2. Fairness is an aspect of omnibenevolence.

3. If God is not fair, then Classical theism’s conception of God does not exist.

It would then be incumbent on you to offer evidence that God is omnibenevolent and that fairness is a necessary aspect of omnibenevolence. Of course, you could never prove that God does not exist, only that our human understanding of God is flawed.

MP: As for that last comment, I could switch that: “He assumes God’s notion of fairness is different to ours. It is actually a dodge.” What’s good for the goose…

PH: My contention is not a dodge. I do assume that fairness according to any human standard is not an attribute of God. Moreover, I am prepared to defend that assumption. Let us debate then.

I would note, though, that since you are the prosecutor here, you would have the burden of proof to show that God’s notion of fairness is the same as yours and that He should be held to your standard. However, you, sir, have not proven either assertion. You ask your readers to assume them, but I reject both claims. If you are claiming that your notion of fairness is an attribute of God, there is the small matter of evidence to support your assertion.

B. Does God Have to be Fair?

MP: [After citing John 20: 24-29] And yet almost the entirety of the rest of humanity is not
remotely afforded this level of evidence and is expected to believe, arguably on pain of hell.

Thomas got to poke Jesus, bodily resurrected in front of him, in the hands. He got to feel the skin of the real and resurrected God, and only then did he believe.

He’s now a Saint.

This is completely unfair and terrible double standards.

God is not fair.

Therefore, God is not perfect or omnibenevolent.

The only way God could deal with the potential unfairness is by having some kind of metric for judgement that allows for everyone’s causal circumstance to be taken into account. Person X believed in God 69% but only with a 32% evidential basis. But what of person Y who believed 90% on evidential basis 12%? And how about person Z who believed on 15% but only had 2% evidential basis? And all combinations thereof.

So on and so forth. I’m not sure that this is either evidenced in there Bible or elsewhere, or even works as a coherent test basis for the classical version of God (who would know this in advance anyway and would not need to create so to test his infallibly predicted hypothesis).

PH: As I have stated already, your argument's underlying enthymeme is that the “classical version of God” is supposedly fair. I reject your unspoken premise and state that fairness, at least as you describe it, is not an attribute of God at all.

Before we discuss whether God is fair, we need to grasp what your definition of fairness is. In your debate with Dave Armstrong, you argue that since our destination in the afterlife depends on accepting the existence of God, then God owes us EOAG (equality of access to God), meaning that somehow God should apportion the evidence of His existence to each person in the same way, in the same measure, and ensure that each person equally believes in Him. Equality in outcomes seems to be your definition of fairness.

However, there is a false assumption that needs to be disabused at the outset. Whether we go to heaven or hell is not based solely on a belief that God exists. We are judged not on our intellect but on loving God and our neighbor according to our circumstances.

For that matter, God does not put us in heaven or hell. We get to pick where we go based on how we live our lives. Caiaphas, the high priest, and the other Sanhedrin members all “knew” that God existed, but they chose to condemn Jesus to die on the cross anyway unjustly. So tell me, do you think that God judged them on whether they knew He existed or on their actions despite knowing He existed? Thus, knowledge is not a prerequisite, but faith is. Jesus tells us that one needs only a “mustard seed faith” to accomplish what we need to do to attain heaven (Matt. 17:20).

No, what you are demanding is no fairness at all. What you want is to know God’s providence beforehand rather than experiencing it. You want to know the end of the story. You are like a high schooler writing a book report on War and Peace who is too lazy to read the book. You want someone else to tell you how it ends. You are mad that God did not reveal to you the great all-knowing philosopher-king, the deals of His plan for the creation, or how you fit into it. However, even if He did, would you understand it fully? Can a finite being fully comprehend the knowledge of an infinite being? Your complaint is nothing more than a dress-up version of the stupid question, can God make a stone so big that He could not lift it?

Your complaint is just selfishness masquerading as fairness. So let us see how God deals with similar examples of such fairness in the Scriptures.

In the parable of the Prodigal Son:

Then [Jesus] said, “A man had two sons, and the younger son said to his father, ‘Father, give me the share of your estate that should come to me.’ So the father divided the property between them.

 After a few days, the younger son collected all his belongings and set off to a distant country where he squandered his inheritance on a life of dissipation. When he had freely spent everything, a severe famine struck that country, and he found himself in dire need.

So he hired himself out to one of the local citizens who sent him to his farm to tend the swine. And he longed to eat his fill of the pods on which the swine fed, but nobody gave him any.

 Coming to his senses he thought, ‘How many of my father’s hired workers have more than enough food to eat, but here am I, dying from hunger. I shall get up and go to my father and I shall say to him, “Father, I have sinned against heaven and against you. I no longer deserve to be called your son; treat me as you would treat one of your hired workers.”’

So he got up and went back to his father. While he was still a long way off, his father caught sight of him, and was filled with compassion. He ran to his son, embraced him and kissed him.

His son said to him, ‘Father, I have sinned against heaven and against you; I no longer deserve to be called your son.’

But his father ordered his servants, ‘Quickly bring the finest robe and put it on him; put a ring on his finger and sandals on his feet. Take the fattened calf and slaughter it. Then let us celebrate with a feast, because this son of mine was dead, and has come to life again; he was lost, and has been found.’ Then the celebration began.

Now the older son had been out in the field and, on his way back, as he neared the house, he heard the sound of music and dancing. He called one of the servants and asked what this might mean. The servant said to him, ‘Your brother has returned and your father has slaughtered the fattened calf because he has him back safe and sound.’

He became angry, and when he refused to enter the house, his father came out and pleader with him. He said to his father in reply, ‘Look, all these years I served you and not once did I disobey your orders; yet you never gave me even a young goat to feast on with my friends. But when your son returns who swallowed up your property with prostitutes, for him you slaughter the fattened calf.’

He said to him, ‘My son, you are here with me always; everything I have is yours. But now we must celebrate and rejoice, because your brother was dead and has come to life again; he was lost and has been found.’” (Luke 15:11-32 NAB)

Now, was the Father fair to the eldest son here? In contrast to the younger son, who was undeserving, who made numerous bad choices, and was a total embarrassment to his family, the older son remained home, appears to have been a good son in every way, worked hard, and did all of the right things. He did not ever try to take advantage of his father. However, the prodigal son got the feast and his father’s love; the older son got a lecture and a dressing-down.

Most people seem happy for the prodigal son in this parable, and the father’s love for the prodigal son indeed reminds us about God’s love and mercy for those who sin and turn back to Him. Nevertheless, in reality, does not the father’s seemingly preferential treatment of the prodigal challenge our notions of fairness? Doesn’t this make us “elder sons” somewhat jealous of how God seems to love and show mercy to some and not to others? It is not fair, right, deserved, or earned! The fact is the parable is not just about the prodigal sons and daughters of the world. It is about the rest of us who look down on such people. We are the older son in the parable. Rather than being happy for the prodigals of the world, we are mad that they got preferential treatment, just like you are mad that God gave Thomas preferential treatment. That is where your definition of fairness fails. Your notion of fairness does not account for God’s generosity, mercy, or grace. In truth, these things are wholly foreign to our human notions of equality-fairness. Simply put, your vaunted utilitarianism can not account for either mercy or grace.

While God freely offers grace to all in some form, not everyone chooses to accept it. God accepts that because He respects the exercise of our free will (Because of His foreknowledge, HE has already accepted it.) However, if we seek goodness or happiness, we are in reality seeking Him as opposed to material things. If we seek Truth, we seek Him Who is the Way, the Truth, and the Life. If we seek to treat others the same way we hope to be treated ourselves, we are, in reality, worshipping God. Classical theism holds to the notion of the Imago Dei. Even if we fail to see God in creation, we still see Him every day in our neighbor, for all of us are made in His image. If we truly love others, we are, in reality, loving God. And all things being equal, these are things every person, regardless of their identity, attributes, and circumstances, can seek. According to your standards, it might not be fair that God chooses to give some people more grace than others, but there it is. God’s notion of fairness is not the same as yours.

However, in case you think that this is not a “fair” example of what I am talking about, let us look at another example from that parochial holy book that by happenstance has been translated into every written language on the planet: 

[Jesus said,] “The kingdom of heaven is like a landowner who went out at dawn to hire laborers for his vineyard. After agreeing with them for the usual daily wage, he sent them into his vineyard.
Going out about nine o’clock, he saw others standing idle in the marketplace, and he said to them, ‘You too go into my vineyard, and I will give you what is just.’

 So they went off. [And] he went out again around noon, and around three o’clock, and did likewise.

Going out about five o’clock, he found others standing around, and said to them, ‘Why do you stand here idle all day?’

They answered, ‘Because no one has hired us.’ 

 He said to them, ‘You too go into my vineyard.’

When it was evening, the owner of the vineyard said to his foreman, ‘Summon the laborers and give them their pay, beginning with the last and ending with the first.’
When those who had started about five o’clock came, each received the usual daily wage. So when the first came, they thought that they would receive more, but each of them also got the usual wage. And on receiving it they grumbled against the landowner, saying, ‘These last ones worked only one hour, and you have made them equal to us, who bore the day’s burden and the heat.’

 He said to one of them in reply, ‘My friend, I am not cheating you. Did you not agree with me for the usual daily wage? Take what is yours and go. What if I wish to give this last one the same as you? [Or] am I not free to do as I wish with my own money? Are you envious because I am generous?’

Thus, the last will be first, and the first will be last. [Matt. 20:1-16 NAB]

 Doesn’t this parable make you want to scream, “God, that is not fair!  The workers who worked all day under grueling conditions got paid the same amount of money as the workers who labored for an hour!  How is ‘the last will be first, and the first will be last’ fair?”  If the landowner/God was fair, wouldn’t he have given the workers who worked the most extended more money than those who did not?  Instead, the landowner/God chose to give everyone the same wage.  This may offend our sense of fairness, but the landowner/God did not cheat anyone in reality.  He may not have been fair, but He was just.  He gave each worker what was promised.  God gives each of us enough evidence of His existence.  You can see God at the minimum in each person you meet.  He gave you a conscience, an innate sense of right and wrong.  Is it His fault if you do not exercise your conscience to do right?  God instills in each of us a desire to seek the truth.  Is it His fault if you choose not to seek the truth?  God gives each of us the capacity to love one another.  Is it His fault if you choose not to do so?  He gives us all that He promises 

Are any of us entitled to receive more? If God chooses to be generous or merciful to whom He wills, are we really in a position to begrudge Him? You complain about the amount of evidence God has given you to consider whether He exists, but why should you get more than the rest of us? I got the same amount of evidence as you, yet I believe. He gave you far more intellect than the average Joe who also chooses to believe in Him. How selfish are you to argue that you deserve more evidence than what I got? The way I see it, God respects your freedom to acknowledge His existence far more than you respect His magnanimity in giving you what you already have.

As I said before, grace must be taken into account. It is not something God owes us or that we can earn it, nor can we demand it. We are not entitled to it. God’s grace is freely given to those who ask for it. Luckily for an intellectual atheist like you, a cradle Christian does not receive a greater reward or higher status than someone who turns towards Him later in their life or even on their deathbed. We all have the opportunity to receive the same wage whether one is a cradle Catholic or a lifelong atheist who may labor but an hour. That is God’s notion of fairness.

Here is one more example to show that God’s standard of fairness is not the same as humanity (there are many examples I could give, but I limit myself here to three examples). Let us consider the parable of the talents.

“[The kingdom of heaven] will be as when a man who was going on a journey called in his servants and entrusted his possessions to them. To one he gave five talents; to another, two; to a third, one—to each according to his ability. Then he went away.

Immediately the one who received five talents went and traded with them, and made another five. Likewise, the one who received two made another two.

But the man who received one went off and dug a hole in the ground and buried his master’s money.

After a long time the master of those servants came back and settled accounts with them. The one who had received five talents came forward bringing the additional five. He said, ‘Master, you gave me five talents. See, I have made five more.’

His master said to him, ‘Well done, my good and faithful servant. Since you were faithful in small matters, I will give you great responsibilities. Come, share your master’s joy.’

[Then] the one who had received two talents also came forward and said, ‘Master, you gave me two talents. See, I have made two more.’

His master said to him, ‘Well done, my good and faithful servant. Since you were faithful in small matters, I will give you great responsibilities. Come, share your master’s joy.’

Then the one who had received the one talent came forward and said, ‘Master, I knew you were a demanding person, harvesting where you did not plant and gathering where you did not scatter; so out of fear I went off and buried your talent in the ground. Here it is back.’

His master said to him in reply, ‘You wicked, lazy servant! So you knew that I harvest where I did not plant and gather where I did not scatter? Should you not then have put my money in the bank so that I could have got it back with interest on my return? Now then! Take the talent from him and give it to the one with ten.

For to everyone who has, more will be given and he will grow rich; but from the one who has not, even what he has will be taken away. And throw this useless servant into the darkness outside, where there will be wailing and grinding of teeth.’ [Matt. 25:14-30 NAB]

This parable appears just before when Jesus tells us how God is going to judge us.  He will not judge how much we know about His existence contrary to your arbitrary made-up notion that God is fair.  He will judge us according to the effort we make to know, love Him and our neighbor according to our talents. 

In the parable, we see the master (God) giving each of his servants (us) an unequal distribution of talents based on our unequal abilities.  In other words, God creates us unequally and treats us unevenly. 

For people like you, all inequality is wrong.  You demand that God give us all the same amount of talents (evidence), and you demand that God make us the equal ability to consider and accept the evidence of His existence.  However, we already know that knowledge about God’s existence, or lack thereof, is not the key to the “pearly gates” of heaven or the gates of hell.  Does our lack of knowledge regarding God’s existence prevent us from seeking truth?  Does it prevent us from following our conscience?  Does it prevent us from loving each other?   It follows the way, the truth, and life as best we can that makes us all equal, not the stuff you focus on.   

Not only is your view contrary to our reality as singletons, your view unfairly assumes that God is incapable of taking into account the differences that come from our individuality when He does judge us.  As Fr. Paul Scalia, the son of Justice Antonin Scalia, writes:

We are both equal and unequal: equal in dignity and unequal in talent. It is true that God shows no partiality and that all men are created equal because every human person is created in God's image and called to union with Him.

All members of the Church have equal rights because all have an equal call to heaven. A pope is not “more called” to heaven than a janitor. From the lowliest altar boy to the pope, every person is called to holiness. The Catholic Church is the most egalitarian institution globally: everyone is called to be a saint … no one is off the hook.

At the same time, there is a clear diversity — and, yes, an inequality — of talents and tasks. God has not given every person the same talents. Some excel in one area, some in another. Nor do the states of life share an equal dignity. It is better to marry than to remain single, and better to enter religious life than to marry. The work of a pope is more important than that of an altar boy.

So we find in God’s design both equality and inequality. To emphasize one aspect more than the other disturbs the harmony of God’s design. Harmony requires both equality and inequality.

 If God does have a plan of salvation, God has already worked out to account for both equalities inherent to us and inequality from our individuality.  Moreover, since we are all made in God’s image, it does not matter whether we are Christian, Jew, Muslim, Hindu, Buddhist, Animist, agnostic, or atheist.  As we are all made in His image, He offers all the salvation gifts if we choose to accept them.  That is equality.  God shows no partiality. 

 Now the only way that God would be able to satisfy your kind of equality in the knowledge of His existence would be to give us the same direct empirical knowledge that He gave the angels because of sufficiency vs. credibility issues discussed earlier.  However, if God had given us that sort of evidence, there would be no latitude in His judgment of us.  For God to be fair, he would have to cast us all in hell for even a single sin like he did Satan and the other angels who rebelled against God.  There would be no room for mercy.  Because we do not have such direct empirical evidence, God can be both just and merciful.  So if you want God to be fair, you should expect to be treated like God treated Satan.  I choose the classical version of God, Who is merciful as well as just instead.

 As for myself and other folks who prefer mercy over fairness, God will judge us according to our talents and how we use what we have been given.  As Christians, since we have accepted the evidence so-to-speak, we will be judged based on a higher standard of responsibility than others who have not, whether they be atheists, Muslims, Buddhists, or whatever.  God expects more from us than He would from others, as shown above.  On the other hand, you folks will be judged based on the information you have been given and how you responded to it.  All are judged on how we treated our neighbors according to our given talents, abilities, and knowledge.  See, Matt. 25:31-42.  In short, God judges us according to a standard of mercy that far exceeds any human standard of fairness, taking into account our individuality and abilities, respecting our free will, and impartially judging our actions.  Your EOAG does none of that.

 As God said through His prophet Ezekiel:

You say, “The LORD’s way is not fair!” Hear now, house of Israel: Is it my way that is unfair? Are not your ways unfair?

When the just turn away from justice to do evil and die, on account of the evil they did they must die. But if the wicked turn from the wickedness they did and do what is right and just, they save their lives; since they turned away from all the sins they committed, they shall live; they shall not die. [Ezek. 18:25-28 NAB]

Alternatively, as He stated through Isaiah:

Seek the LORD while he may be found, call upon him while he is near.

Let the wicked forsake their way, and sinners their thoughts;

Let them turn to the LORD to find mercy; to our God, who is generous in forgiving.

For my thoughts are not your thoughts nor are your ways my ways—oracle of the LORD.

For as the heavens are higher than the earth, so are my ways higher than your ways, my thoughts higher than your thoughts. [Isaiah 55:6-9 NAB]

MP: But this conversation is pointless if he’s questioning the meaning of fairness in the way that he is doing it (i.e., just as a dodge). Sure, we can discuss the calculation method: How long is the time period over which it is calculated? How many people can be removed from a decision to still be accounted for fairness? And so on. These are common ideas when discussing consequentialism. Because this is a question about moral consequentialism.

PH: I disagree since we first needed to discuss why your argument is a dodge, which I laid out above. Then I showed you why your fairness argument fails. Fairness is not an attribute of God. Refuting a false assertion is a classic strawman argument.

Addressing your other remarks here, you claim to adhere to a philosophy of moral consequentialism, but you do not state if it is the indulgent sort, a preferential sort, or a pluralistic sort. However, to save you some time here, I will tell you that I do not accept the ramifications of moral consequentialism as I believe in an objective good. I do not accept the premise that ends justify the means. Human beings are not a means to our ends but are ends in themselves. I am also not a Pelagian nor a Semi-Pelagian. I do not accept the premise that I can earn my way to heaven by being good enough.

Moreover, being moral to produce the right kind of consequence is not feasible because a person can not foresee all the consequences of their actions. I am not good merely because I desire to go to heaven and avoid hell. I try to be good because I love God and want to be good regardless of the consequences. In other words, I am called to be faithful, not successful. I am called to love God and neighbor, regardless of the consequences to myself.

Just as I do not accept your argument's premise based on a utilitarian notion of fairness, I do not accept the notion of good predicated solely on outcomes. Natural law, the Good, and rights are universals and are not constrained by subjective outcomes. Consequentialism can lead to a kind of fortune-telling. If I just do just enough right things, I can earn my way to heaven. Moral consequentialism is just a reiteration of an old heresy.

That being said, I will concede that I do need to develop my thinking more about this, but like all things, my worldview is a work in progress. Like Alisdair MacIntyre, I too see a place for considering consequences in virtue ethics. Motives do matter, and people will engage in specific actions to achieve certain telos. I will also concede that my ego and sinful nature sometimes get in the way of why I want to be moral. Christians often get caught up in consequentialist sorts of thinking, much like the Pharisees did in Jesus’ day. Catholics admit as much when they go to Confession and recite the Act of Contrition that acknowledges such.

MP: But for him to question fairness as a concept in the way that he does renders any such conversation pointless.

PH: No, my original remarks were commentary and not an actual argument. All someone had to do was invite me to debate as you have in this instance and explain my remarks, and put a foundation under them. I do not question fairness as a concept but whether that concept applies to God. Moreover, while you claim that conversation is pointless here, we are still having one, so there is indeed a point to it.

When he dies, Mr. Pearce wants to go up the Pearly Gates and say to God,

MP:  Let me stop him there. I don’t want to do that. I think the whole notion of heaven and hell is morally reprehensible. It’s also childish, and theists should grow out of it (as it seems they are starting to do regarding hell). 

PH: I am not an Origenist, although one of my oldest friends is. However, it is not a question of wanting to stand before God; but whether one will have to do that. In my faith tradition and most of the other ones out there, we will answer yes.

Now to disabuse you of some things. There are many ideas about heaven and hell that are indeed childish. I do not believe in a hell where devils are running around poking people with pitchforks, nor do I believe that hell is a pit of fire where souls are roasted on a rotisserie. Such a view is indeed morally reprehensible as it minimizes the horror that is hell.

Hellfire is a metaphor that people can understand to convey a complex idea of the pain caused by eternal separation from God and one’s fellow creatures. Such a voluntary separation is a horrible fate for one to choose. However, to be fair to God, He does not put people in hell; we put ourselves there willingly. Hell is something some folks want to have happened to them. It is a cell they put themselves in and throw away the key. For reasons that God has determined to be good, they get what they wanted. BTW, time as a concept has no meaning in hell either. Hell is the completion of time where one exists in a state of being that separates themselves from God.

Regarding heaven, I believe in some form of religious pluralism where the Trinitarian God who desires to be in a relationship with His creation provides a way for all to enter into that relationship. Whether one calls it invincible ignorance, prepatio evangelica, the anonymous Christian, or something along the lines of what Jacques DuPuis and Strafford Caldecott write about, there is a path for people who never become Christians. I do not know what that path entails, but in Catholic thought, it is there:

All men are called to this catholic unity of the People of God … And to it, in different ways, belong or are ordered: the Catholic faithful, others who believe in Christ, and finally all mankind, are called by God's grace to salvation. (CCC 836)

 So we are all God’s creation, and are part of his Church, some in full communion,

and some imperfectly. The Church teaches that, “Those who, through no fault of their own, do not know the Gospel of Christ or his Church, but who nevertheless seek God with a sincere heart, and, moved by grace, try in their actions to do his will as they know it through the dictates of their conscience – those too may achieve eternal salvation.

Although in ways known to himself God can lead those who, through no fault of their own, are ignorant of the Gospel, to that faith without which it is impossible to please him, the Church still has the obligation and also the sacred right to evangelize all men. (CCC 847-848)

 Sorry, Mr. Pearce, you are simply wrong about who may get to go to heaven according to the Catholic tradition.        

 “It’s not my fault that I didn’t look for you, lead a moral life, or accept the Gospel (even though I know it enough to criticize it). If only You had done a better job revealing Yourself to me, maybe I would have been a decent good person, seeking You out in all things and accepting the truth of Your words. But You suck, God because You weren’t explicit enough for my tastes, even though it was good enough or all those other billions of schlubs out there who did find Your evidence to be explicit enough. For that, I deserve to get into heaven, no matter what. It’s a question of fairness after all.”

 MP:     Thanks for speaking for me. Since I was at the pearly gates 1) I assume I would have to have been a decent person and 2) Are you implying I am not a decent person? Wow, you’re nice. You don’t know me, but, apparently, I can only be a decent human if I am your sort of Christian.

PH:      As I stated before in my defending my comment from your other commentators' attacks on your blog, it was not an actual judgment of your character or an assertion regarding you personally.  After all, you are not dead, are you?  It was a hypothetical fictional factual genuine to demonstrate the silliness of your insistence of using a contrived notion of fairness.  Lawyers, debaters, and rhetoricians use this device to illustrate a flaw in an opponent’s argument.  Considering the points you were drawing from your book, The Little Book of Unholy Questions, in the video, I decided to create a hypothetical based on Questions 50-53 and 135-136 from the book. No more, no less.  I am not implying that you are a vicious person.  Quite frankly, I often use myself in such examples, but I could not resist poking fun at you for using “pearly gates” to denigrate heaven.  Please do not blame me; blame causal determinism.

As for whether you are a decent human being, I imagine you are. A bit myopic and pompous for my tastes, but I dare say, there is a good possibility that you are a more decent bloke than me ceteris paribus. Although, to be fair to me, if you deep-down-to-the-depth-of-your-toes believe in causal determination to the degree that folks have no moral responsibility, you and your fans should not have gotten indignant over the comment because you know I have no moral responsibility concerning the content of my comments. :)

Nevertheless, whether you are a decent bloke is not relevant because decency alone is not the criterion to get into heaven. One needs faith too, which is why I assumed in my second hypothetical fictional factual genuine below that you were still trying to seek Him, which is an act of faith that with God’s grace may be sufficient to allow you into heaven.

MP: I can probably do a better job myself of offering what I would say. If I met God at the pearly gates and was able to speak my mind, I would say:

“I appreciate you judging me worthy of being here, despite my atheism, so that answers the question of faith vs works. I knew it made more sense this way! That aside, I’ll be frank with you. I’m not really sure what your game is here and down there, what your purpose is. You have made a pretty disastrous world if the intent is even to get more than half the people in it, over time and place, to enter into a loving relationship with you. The pain and suffering down there is at shocking levels. And that’s by your design. Also, given causality, I don’t get how you can be judgmental, especially since you designed us this way and knew in advance what we’d do. And a digital judgement for a continuum of behaviour? What’s that about? But, really, how come you made better arguments and better evidence to conclude that you don’t exist than you do? What’s with that? Because, you realise (of course you do!) this makes most of your followers on Earth pretty stupid. And quite a substantial number of them have been not very nice. Is that why most of them are in hell, and heaven seems to filled with decent atheists? Nice plot twist there. Dark! I really am interested in what moral consequentialism you are using to justify this all – what the greater good is. That is the holy grail. I mean, I get that you are using people instrumentally (even though most theists abhor moral consequentialism – that’s deliciously dark irony again!), but what is that greater good at whose altar everyone is being sacrificed? Other than that, what ales have you got here? Also, I’m vegan – is that a problem? I mean, I don’t want to be too good for heaven.”

 PH:      Your hypothetical fictional factual genuine is a tad darker than mine.  It does have a certain Job-ishness to it (he is another guy God was not very fair to in the Bible).  Now, mind you, I am not comparing you to Job, but his judgmental friends.  I am confident that God would answer all your questions, give you a satisfactory account of Himself, and then hand you a cookie.  Then, He will say to you,

 “For Me there is only try.  Because of the mustard seed faith that kept you seeking despite calling yourself an atheist, I love how you kept trying to know and love your neighbor and Me, which is all I can ask of any of you..”

However, to answer your question about who is stupid or not, I would remind you what I told humanity through St. Paul:

The message of the cross is folly for those who are on the way to ruin, but for those of us who are on the road to salvation it is the power of God. As scripture says: I am going to destroy the wisdom of the wise and bring to nothing the understanding of any who understand.

 Where are the philosophers? Where are the experts? And where are the debaters of this age? Do you not see how God has shown up human wisdom as folly?

Since in the wisdom of God the world was unable to recognise God through wisdom, it was God's own pleasure to save believers through the folly of the gospel. While the Jews demand miracles and the Greeks look for wisdom, we are preaching a crucified Christ: to the Jews an obstacle they cannot get over, to the gentiles foolishness, but to those who have been called, whether they are Jews or Greeks, a Christ who is both the power of God and the wisdom of God.

God's folly is wiser than human wisdom, and God's weakness is stronger than human strength. 

Consider, brothers, how you were called; not many of you are wise by human standards, not many influential, not many from noble families. No, God chose those who by human standards are fools to shame the wise; he chose those who by human standards are weak to shame the strong, those who by human standards are common and contemptible -- indeed those who count for nothing -- to reduce to nothing all those that do count for something, so that no human being might feel boastful before God. (1 Cor. 1:18-29 NAB)

Then God will say to you,” 

However, Jonathan, I am a merciful God, not a fair one.” 
Then He will let you in.  Afterward, I will meet you at the Golden Harp pub there, and we will marvel at how wrong we all were being finite beings trying to fit an Infinite Being into little finite boxes of our design.  

To be clear, that is the real problem with your whole argument. As the Anglican divine, JB Phillips, states, your version of God is too small for me. Your fairness argument anthropomorphizes God. You turn God from an infinite being into an idol. Your God is not the Father and Creator of all things, but a petty and arbitrary Zeus. As for whether he will let vegans into heaven since God lets eunuchs into heaven, I imagine that vegans will have only a bit more difficulty getting in too.

Pearce’s argument is a con man’s approach to things. He denies that he has any responsibility to practice the skepticism that he claims he measures all things. Man is not a moral agent with free will. He claims that he has no duty to look for the truth of things, see the beauty of things, or open his eyes to the universe’s order and pattern that screams that there is a Designer and a Maker. It is like a person going to the Louvre and pretending that the Mona Lisa painted itself by an accidental mixture of paints that coincidentally fell on a canvas. He is skeptical about everything except his own atheism, apparently. He no longer is interested in the truth of things. He’s got it all figured out, you see.

MP:     Okay, though there are some interesting ideas here to do with moral responsibility (MR) and fatalism, this is also a hot mess. Parsing things down, we have:

PH:      I agree that a comment is not an argument.  It is editorializing.  A comment is like a guy sitting on a couch drinking beers watching football (American- style) in a T-shirt and his underwear.  It is not dressed up with someplace to go.  Since you were kind enough to see some merit in interacting with it, I am obliged to put clothes on the comment as if on a date and turn it into an actual argument.  

By the way, how far does your determinism go? Is it the guard-rail type of determinism where past choices limit the number of choices we can make concerning the here-and-now, which I could cotton to, or is it more akin to living in a Skinner box type of determinism which I could not? Did a butterfly in China a hundred years ago munching on a leaf lead to a series of events that caused me to comment on your blog article? Or, to put it in a more contemporary way, how many nights did your determinism cause you to sleep on the couch when you told your wife that it was not your idea to date her, marry her, or have children with her since falling in love with her was not something you freely chose to do?

MP: How can I pat myself on the back for my supposed superior skepticism given causal determinism (CD)?

PH: So you are not a skeptic? You are not a rational being capable of making choices? Are you not able to pick the words and phrases you use in forming your questioning? Furthermore, you believe that you and everything about you is nothing more than the sum of an infinite causal chain going back to the dawn of time? Being someone who has to deal with the paradox of having free will and yet being predestined in some respect according to God’s salvific plan, I recognize the appeal of a multiple-choice or guard rail type determinism that in my mind solves part of the paradox, but full-blown causal determinism does not account for why we human beings have rationality. By the way, is Calvinism anything more than a version of causal determinism gussied up in religious garb? Are you a Calvinist sans God?

MP: With CD comes no MR.

PH: Well, that is an exciting notion! I am sure that every convicted rapist and murderer will be using that argument in their appeal. “Your Honor, I cannot be held to account for raping and killing that woman because a dinosaur farted 200 million years ago and started a causal chain that led to me to do it.” Is not causal determination nothing more than a philosophical reiteration of Flip Wilson’s “The Devil made me do it!”? I chuckle when Dawkins makes that sort of argument. Your version is no less humorous.

MP: People have a duty to look for truth, adhere to design arguments for God, and see beauty in things. (??) As a skeptic, I don’t have this duty.

PH: As a skeptic, you have to follow the evidence. I just stated things slightly differently. I referenced what kind of evidence you should be following. So yes, you do have that duty if you call yourself a skeptic. BTW, I never used the word “adhere.”

MP: Paley’s Watchmaker argument.

PH: Well, what about Paley’s Watchmaker argument? Please do not leave me in suspense! It is an elaboration on Aquinas’ fifth way. Most philosophers who attack it, particularly the atheist flavors, attack the analogy he uses rather than the abductive argument he makes. If you want to talk about Paley’s Watchmaker argument, that is fine, but I am not a mind reader and can not guess from the laundry list of fallacies which one you are going to use to attack it.

BTW, Paley did not invent the argument. Folks like St. John Damascene, St. Maximus the Confessor, and St. Thomas Aquinas crafted similar ones. Paley’s Watchmaker Argument still causes atheists fits, considering how much you folks still try to refute it but to be clear, my argument was not a Paley’s Watchmaker Argument. I happen to believe that evolution/natural selection is not incompatible with the idea of a Creator God. They are like peanut butter and jelly (I am using an analogy to support my argument, but it is not the argument itself). They taste great on their own but taste better together.

C.        The Paley Watchmaker’s Interlude. 

PH:      We take this break from the debate to discuss William Paley and his famous argument in a bit more detail.

 Mr. Pearce labels my Mona Lisa example as Paley’s Watchmaker Argument.  While folks who do philosophy are familiar with William Paley, folks here might not be.  William Paley was an Anglican clergyman who was also a philosopher.  Around the beginning of the 19th century, he wrote a book titled Natural Theology or, Evidences of the Existence of and Attributes of the Deity, Collected from the Appearances of Nature. I own a Kindle copy of the 1854 American edition.  A link to the original version can be found here.  It is a compelling read.  Charles Darwin claimed to have memorized it.  Richard Dawkins wrote a book not too long ago critical of the theory.  The war between Creationists and atheists in the Intelligent Design/Evolution debate still rages over the argument's merits.  For each of them, the positions between evolution and an Intelligent Designer are mutually exclusive.   Based on remarks I have seen, Mr. Pearce is a weary warrior from those battles.

 The argument for God’s existence from design is an old one.  It is an argument about teleology. As noted earlier, St. Paul makes the argument in Romans 1.  Even earlier,  Plato argues the same in Timaeus.  Cicero, too, makes the argument in De Natura Deorum.  Of course, I have already mentioned St. Thomas Aquinas, who made the same argument as his fifth way of showing God’s existence in the Summa Theologiae.  Interestingly, Paley’s Watchmaker Argument attempted to take the day's actual science and use it to prove a philosophical and theological idea.  Of course, St. Augustine did the same thing when he questioned the literalness of the Genesis account, considering the known science of his day. 

 One thing that stands out for me, who is familiar with evidence and rhetoric, is Rev. Paley’s argument is not an argument from analogy, as Pearce and other atheists have stated.  Paley certainly does use analogies to support his argument, but the watchmaker analogy or the grist mill analogy that Paley also uses in his book is not the same thing as his argument itself.  Paley does not use the example of the found watch to argue similarities from effects. Instead, he uses it to show that artificial things share some identical characteristics as natural things.  One hears the echoes of the Platonic idea of forms in the argument.  It is an exercise in abductive reasoning; that is, one concludes that they believe the best possible explanation is inferred from a particular set of facts.  Thus, attempting to refute the argument by claiming it is a false analogy misses the point with all due respect to Messrs. Hume, Pearce, and all those shade tree atheist philosophers making YouTube videos out there.  Of course, Mr. Pearce could argue that abductive reasoning is a logical fallacy itself, and he could be right.  However, the Darwinian theory of evolution upon which he relies as a defeater to Paley’s Watchmaker Argument is itself an exercise in abductive reasoning.     

 Mr. Pearce has addressed William Paley’s argument, apparently several times.  He does not seem to be a fan of it and is rather dismissive of it:

There are so many criticisms of the arguments, and the argument itself stretches into areas of fine tuning and physics and cosmology. I don’t have the time or particularly the patience to deconstruct the watchmaker argument to that degree here. I’ve already done so in other posts over the years. Take a good read of the SEP piece if you have time. However, I think the design argument in the form of Paley’s watchmaker is not a good one. It is pretty easily refuted and any passing knowledge of evolution is enough on its own to put it to bed. So, really, I would implore theists who adhere to such arguments to do a heck of a lot more reading on evolution. It is always frustrating that creationists immunise themselves against the facts of evolution. Indeed, one of them last night invoked the devil. I then produced my typical argument against the devil in that he must be the management executive of God, and I didn’t hear any comeback on the issue. Heads get buried in the sand until the theist argues on a different thread on a different day and the devil will come out again. Water off a duck’s back. That is truly frustrating thing about these arguments.

There are a couple of problems here, however.  There are numerous articles at the Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy (SEP) regarding the 19th-century Anglican divine.  One article I read that seems to fit the arguments here is Teleological Arguments for God’s Existence.  A “fair” reading of the article suggests that Paley’s Watchmaker Argument has not been blued, screwed, and tattooed as thoroughly as Mr. Pearce would have the reader believe.  However, perhaps he is talking about something he wrote that made it into the SEP.  If so, he might want to share the link.

Furthermore, more sad news for Mr. Pearce, I am not a creationist. I happen to believe that based on the best available evidence, there seems to be an evolutionary process operating in creation. Furthermore, such a belief is permissible in my Church’s teaching. As long as I believe that God is the first cause, it is permissible for me to believe in evolution. And yes, I understand the objections to the first cause argument that atheists make, and I find them as unpersuasive as Bishop Robert Barron does.

Evolution does not explain many things very well.  It provides a decent description of how an aspect of the universe works, but it does not explain how the universe came into being in the first place.  It can not answer the question of how life evolved from non-living things.  I have not yet seen evolution adequately explain why or how rational beings evolved from non-rational beings.  Heck, it cannot even explain the evolutionary reason why something like philosophers exists.  How could evolution possibly explain those characters? 

There is a story that Ronald Knox liked to tell about a little girl who, upon seeing a cow for the first time, asked her mommy what that was. Her mom told her it was a cow. To which the little girl asked, Why? Substitute philosophers for cows, and you might understand the point I am making.

Since evolution supposedly just happens incrementally and has no goals, why are human beings so caught up in them? What is evolutionary about that? Science and evolution do not explain why we try to give meaning to origins; science and evolution can only explain the whens and hows. CCC 284.

Moreover, my Mona Lisa analogy is not a Paley’s Watchmaker’s Argument. My example introduces randomness that neo-Darwinists seem to rely upon to refute Paley’s argument. I am passingly familiar with the arguments of Bernard J.F. Lonergan, which seem to fit the evidence better than the notions of Hume, Darwin, Dawkins, and Pearce. See, Patrick Byrne’s Quaestio Disputata: Evolution, Randomness, and Divine Purpose: A Reply to Cardinal Schönborn; “Lonergan, Evolutionary Science, and Intelligent Design,” Revista Portuguesa de Filosofia, Oct. - Dec., 2007, T. 63, Fasc. 4. See also, Cynthia Crysdale and Neil Ormerod, Creator God, Evolving World, Philadelphia: Fortress Press (2013), pp.57-82. See also, Lonergan, Bernard J. F, and Lonergan Research Institute. 1992. Insight: A Study of Human Understanding. Edited by Frederick E Crowe and Robert M Doran Fifth edition, revised and augmented ed. Collected Works of Bernard Lonergan, Volume 3. Toronto: Published for Lonergan Research Institute of Regis College, Toronto, by University of Toronto Press.

That said, William Paley’s Watchmaker Argument in my mind is a great starting point for those who wish to make the teleological argument for God as the creator, but it is an argument that one needs to fine-tune as there is more evidence out there than when the argument was first made. Quite frankly, the fact that atheists of all stripes interact with it some 300 years later shows that the argument is still a powerful one. I appreciate and accept the basic argument that Paley makes but have added my gloss within my Church’s teaching framework in my philosophical worldview.

E. Resumption of the Debate.

 MP:     Apparently, I do not question my own beliefs.

 PH:      I wrote that you no longer question your own beliefs.  There is a difference.  From what I have seen, all you do is question everyone else’s beliefs.  I have not seen you question your own at all.  When you believe in something or Someone, there is always room to grow in belief.  However, when you are an atheist, your fideism keeps you from doing that.  You cannot afford to do otherwise without upsetting the philosophical house of cards you have devised for yourself.

 MP:     Really, I don’t need to afford much time to this nonsense. I’ve changed my mind on literally every major aspect of philosophy due to doing philosophy – Good, morality, abstract objects, politics, immigration. truth, knowledge etc etc. Has he? Put your money where your mouth is.

 PH:      As I stated at the beginning of this post, not all people are philosophers, but all people have a philosophy.  Yes, by questioning, by experiencing, by learning, I have fine-tuned my philosophical outlook, but I have never jettisoned my core beliefs.  I do adhere to a notion of justified belief that I am still working out.  God is about as core as it gets.  Since God is Love, and I believe in love, I believe in God.  There has nothing in the global disaster scenarios that you morbidly paint about malaria, COVED-19, plate tectonics, or damnation of people who choose to be damned that shakes that core belief in a loving God which I believe is justified based on the evidence I have observed, experienced, or learned in my life. 

 You claim that you changed your mind about every significant aspect of your philosophy over your life due to doing philosophy.  It does not sound like you were doing philosophy.  It sounds more like you suffered from something like an auto-immune disease or cancer that attacked everything you believed in until you believed in nothing at all.  Furthermore, once you stopped believing in anything, you stopped questioning yourself and started hectoring others to stop believing what they believe.  To be an atheist is to stop questioning oneself.  And look what you do?  God is not fair based on a contrived definition that predetermines the conclusion that you want to reach.  That is not philosophy; that is poor semantics.  There is a difference between healthy skepticism and the morbid kind. 

 As a Catholic, I do not believe in a laundry list of beliefs and truths. Instead, I believe in a system that embodies a set of beliefs built upon the human person being made in the Image of God.  Accordingly, I do not need to know every aspect of my faith to live my life, but I try to learn more to give a good account of myself.  1 Peter 3:16. 

 And here is the summary of my knowledge in my faith system.  Not only are we made in the Image of God, but because we are capable of relationship with others, we are made in the image of a Trinitarian God.  Because I have that understanding, I try to see Christ in every person I meet, even atheists, and I try to live my life in a way that allows others to see Christ in me. 

 As a part of the Catholic system, I have an awareness of mystery or sacramentum that allows me to accept as true things that I can not fully know or prove, like the central mystery of the Incarnation or the Real Presence.  Accordingly, such an understanding allows me to state that I do not fully understand how atonement works to know that it does. 

 Finally, based on what I can deduce from seeing the vitality, order, and beauty of the universe and how the empirical evidence seems to support my belief, I think I am justified in believing in a Designer or Artist we call God.  I have observed nothing so far that undermines that justified belief which is another word for knowledge. 

 And lest you want to scoff, mock, or deride why I call my belief knowledge, it is because I believe in the Imago Dei, and see Christ in each person, I can put my finger in the wounds of Christ by tending to the wounds of the sick I help; the naked I cloth; the poor I house, feed, and give drink to; the comfort and care I give to those imprisoned, homebound, and shackled by the chains of mental illness and addiction.  I have seen joy come out of suffering, peace out of anxiety and fear, and the healing that comes from acknowledging others' dignity.  It is that whole ‘whatsoever you do yo the least of your neighbors; you do unto Me’ thing.  See, Matt. 25: 31-46.  

 It is one thing to sit on one’s philosophical throne, doing philosophy and coming up with thought experiments to cause oneself to doubt everything, but it is quite another to living one’s philosophy and getting one’s hands dirty.  It is what we lawyers and rhetoricians call real empirical evidence.  I know God exists because I encounter Him in the people I meet every day.      

MP:     Essentially, this is all sidetracking irrelevancy with no discursive value.

PH:      As a trial lawyer, it has been my experience that it is in irrelevancies that allow you to get to know someone honestly.  In your case, as I have responded to your points, I have come to learn that you have no room for mystery in your life, and accordingly, you have no room for God in it either.  Since you have no understanding of kenosis, you have filled yourself up with yourself and left no room for God.

I would submit that Mr. Pearce is unfair to God.

MP:     Aww, poor God, with his malaria, COVED-19, and plate tectonics.

PH:      Yes, nature is almost as evil bad as Donald Trump, and it is all God’s fault that you cannot possibly see anything good that that could be found in those things, or as a result of those things, or despite those things.  Earthly existence for you is nothing more than one giant iceberg waiting to sink your Titanic life.  However, despite all of the shit things we happen to experience, we still struggle to overcome, to strive, to achieve, to accomplish, to laugh, love, and care, to be something more and better.  Like all good stories, there has to be conflict, climax, and resolution.  See, ST I q.49.

Nevertheless, to address your laundry list of natural woes, conflating the notion of moral good or evil as a privation of moral good with a natural good which about things that exist and fulfill the ends toward which their natures are directed is genuinely a category error.  As a secular materialist, what is your explanation about why such things exist?  Do not these things all play a role in keeping a natural world and its eco-systems healthy?  Are not these benefits good in some respect?  But really, if you want to argue theodicy, do not be so coy and just say so.

He wants us to assume that he actually has not been given access to evidence that shows Him that God exists, that Jesus Christ died and rose from the dead, and that He too is God. He wants us to presume that God has not given him a fair chance without knowing anything about him whatsoever. Even if that is the case, so what? Maybe God is biding His time waiting for the proper moment to give Mr. Pearce what he wants. Maybe Mr. Pearce is not smart enough, or ethically fit enough, or morally straight enough to accept the truth now.  (This is from another comment I made.)

MP:     Maybe, perhaps, could, probably. It’s all they have got, with their appeals to skeptical theism and punting to “God moves in mysterious ways”.

PH:      Skeptical theism is far superior to skeptical atheism—Pascal’s Wager and all.  At least, our existence seems to have a point.  Your last comment merely proves another of my points-you have no room for mystery in your life.

MP:     I’m not really sure why Dave posted this guy’s comments as if they were somehow well-thought-out and compelling; they aren’t. Also, he bemoans atheists being mean to him and not using fideistic arguments, and yet resorts to mere insult himself…

PH:      And one of your commentators accused me of Gish galloping!  With all of your talk of causal determinism, you know why Dave posted this guy’s comments.  A fish crawled out of the ocean 500 million years ago that set off a chain of events that inexorably caused him to do it—as for the quality of my comments-sticks and stones—resorting to insults?  Tu quoque much? 

And, of course, I am going to use fideistic arguments.  One, we are talking about God, and you are questioning the Christian faith.  Two, atheism is the most fideistic of ideologies there are. Three, calling my point an insult to answer the charge of why God gave Thomas direct evidence and not you does not make it insulting.  It appears that you are very close-minded at this point in your life, so I am just following the evidence and concluding that you cannot handle the truth of God’s existence right now.   

MP:     However, we do have his first good point:

Mr. Pearce probably should have added to his EAOG that it should happen by the age of reason or something just to make things ceteris paribus, to borrow a phrase.

MP:     Yes, for proper parity across all individuals, there should be an equal moment in life that God gives sufficient evidence by; this constrains God even more, and actually shows how even more unfair God is. So thanks for that.

PH:      You are welcome.  Like St. Thomas Aquinas, I try to put an interlocutor’s argument in its best light to deal with it (although there was some sarcasm involved).  Since I agree that God is not fair, strengthening your argument does not negate any aspect of my argument that God can not be fair if He is just and merciful.

And that is the question you need to answer.  Is God required to be fair according to your metric in order to be God?  Your metric of fairness excludes the possibility of mercy.  Mercy and fairness are incompatible.  Unlike fairness, mercy is an attribute of God according to my faith tradition.  The Father sending the Son to be incarnated and die on the Cross to redeem our sins and heal up our wounded nature seems unfair to God.  Also, a gift by its nature is “unfair” to the giver. 

Moreover, you spend much time laying out various arguments about fairness and formulate a standard you think should be applied. Why should anyone accept your standard of fairness as the correct one?  My standard of fairness is that we should all suffer the pains of death and be punished eternally for our sins, but God disagreed and offered us grace instead.  And yes, I know, I just offered another fideistic argument, but so what?  Why should I argue solely using your rules of engagement?  That is a bit rude on your part after just arguing for fairness,

MP:     Let’s go through his argument and sees if it holds water.

1.         God is far from explicit about anything,

Oh really, I guess he cannot see, smell, hear, taste, and feel Creation. He is the proverbial bubble-boy cut off from the sensory world. I would submit that Mr. Pearce’s existence is pretty explicit proof that God exists. Now where to put the exhibit sticker…

MP:     No. And at best this gets you to deism. Having written a book about the Kalam Cosmological Argument (Did God Create the Universe from Nothing? Countering William Lane Craig’s Kalam Cosmological Argument [UK]), I am pretty well-versed in creation arguments. I suggest he (Paul Hoffer) goes and reads my book.

PH:      Citing yourself as an authority rather than argue the point?  Now that it is what I call elitist.  As for your Deist assertion, I have never argued otherwise.  As a Catholic, I acknowledge that observation of the created universe only gets me to the knowledge that a Creator exists from His effects in it.  See St. Paul, St. Athanasius, St. Augustine, St. Maximus, St. Thomas Aquinas, St. Bonaventure, and William Paley, to name a few.  Knowledge of a Designer's existence and a plan or purpose for that design tells me very little about God’s attributes or what His plan is.  Revelation tells me Who God is and tells me far more about His nature and His plan. Only after I am aware of God’s Self-Revelation through His Son and the Scriptures, I then can go back and see how the universe supports the claims about Who He is and His nature  (St. Bonaventure, Journey of the Soul into God ).  Such revelation also allows me to look at other religious traditions and see how they, too, contain many of the truth claims that Christianity makes.  See the writings of Jacques DuPuis, Stratford Caldecott, Hans Ur Von Balthasar, etc.

As for Kalam’s Cosmological Argument, why should I be impressed that you wrote a book refuting it?  St. Thomas Aquinas refuted it 700 years ago needed only one paragraph to do so.  Now you may be as bright as Aquinas, but there is no question that you are not as succinct.  As someone more of a Thomist than anything else, I am not exactly thrilled with it either.  Thus, claiming that you have refuted some Protestant philosopher’s modern-day rendition of a Medieval Muslim scholar’s argument does not affect me one way or another.    

Now just to be clear here, I do not think that Kalam’s Cosmological Argument holds up philosophically, but it may work abdudctively based on the best scientific evidence available.  As a trial lawyer, I know that evidence is what wins cases, not arguments.  Moreover, it is how I can recognize St. Thomas’arguments with St. Bonaventure’s.

2. It requires one to be intelligent enough to wade through a parochial ancient holy text with vast effort and intellectual acumen to even remotely start getting there. (Unfair apportion of evidence again! Elitism.)

I am not quite sure I understand this argument.

MP3:   Hint, no you don’t. Read this: Christianity Is Elitist.

PH3:    Thank you for clarifying.  I read the article.  I disagree with the premise of it.  I have been exposed to historical biblical criticism, form criticism, the Documentary Hypothesis, etc.  I even own every single book Raymond Brown wrote, and I have read them all. All that stuff seems to rely primarily on a false premise that Christianity is hard to understand.  It is a premise that was dreamed up by people who have multiple degree-level qualifications to justify why they wasted all that money and time to earn those degrees.

Understanding the Scriptures in the manner you write about is good, but living the Gospel message is far superior.  The former gets you cited in a paper; the latter helps get you to heaven.  I would suggest that if all you got out of that studying is that Christianity is elitist, you really do not understand Christianity, and you should demand your money back from the schools you went to. 

Based on your remarks, I would also suggest that there is far more elitism in academia than in Christianity itself.  For example, shilling your books in a debate and citing them as an authority to suggest that people should accept your opinions because of your purported credentials seems somewhat elitist to me.  

As a Benedictine Oblate and a Vincentian, Christianity is relatively simple.  As Jesus said:

You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your soul, with all your mind, and with all your strength. The second is this: ‘You shall love your neighbor as yourself.’” (Mk 12:30-31).

 All of that other stuff you talked about in your Christianity is Elitism article is pretty much unnecessary.  Most of the folks we call saints never did the studying you claim is necessary.   St. Germaine and St. Maria Goretti were illiterate peasant girls.  St. Therese of Lisieux is both a saint and a doctor of the Church, and she never got any of the degrees you have.   

That being said, I do acknowledge that loving God and neighbor is much more complex than reading a couple of books, even if those books are one of yours or Raymond Brown’s, but having a spirit of Diakonia and acknowledging objective virtues does help.  You can learn far more about Christianity loving one’s neighbor~feeding a beggar, helping the poor, spending time with terminally ill kids, visiting an inmate~than doing philosophy, or reading 100,000 books on the Bible.

Is Mr. Pearce admitting that he himself is a dummy and is too stupid to figure out how to ead the Bible or that he is assuming that one needs to read the Bible to understand whether He exists (which no Catholic would ever argue and which the Bible itself explicitly denies-I guess God proves Pearce a liar because God was pretty explicit about that) or that Pearce’s atheism is merely influenced by Protestant thinking that he does not even recognize in this statement? This is a how-many-licks-does-it-take-to-get-to-the- center-of-a-Tootsie Pop argument. Mr. Owl’s example shows us that Mr. Pearce’s argumentation is just as fallacious.          

 MP:     So, not only is this a straw man, but it is juvenile and insulting.

PH:      And referring to the Bible as a “parochial holy text” that takes “vast effort and intellectual acumen to even remotely start getting there” is not a strawman argument?  A strawman argument distorts an opponent’s argument to make it easier to refute.  Instead of refuting the argument the opponent makes, one refutes the weakened argument.

 So how is my argument a strawman?  You assert that it takes great effort and intellectual acumen to even remotely understand the Scriptures leading one to infer that you either lack the energy or acumen to read it.  First, I contend that Christianity is not at all hard to understand.  I summarized my whole faith in two passages from the Bible in my previous response.  In my comment here, I disputed your proposition by suggesting that your assertion is not true by using an interrogative.  Based on your academic credentials and the fact that you write books interacting with the Biblical texts, you contradict yourself.  Heck, peasants, slaves, and illiterate people understood the Bible throughout the ages and could not even read it!  I would suggest that reading it may perhaps become more challenging than it needs to be when one is an intellectual and a philosopher who tries hard to read things into the text that are not there.  I also suggest that not reading the text prayerfully makes it a much harder endeavor as well.

The second assertion I touch upon is your claim that God is not explicit about anything.  However, the Word of God, aka the Bible, is very explicit that you do not need a parochial holy text to know that God exists as Dave Armstrong pointed out in every single one of his posts by citing this passage:

The wrath of God is indeed being revealed from heaven against every impiety and wickedness of those who suppress the truth by their wickedness. For what can be known about God is evident to them, because God made it evident to them. Ever since the creation of the world, his invisible attributes of eternal power and divinity have been able to be understood and perceived in what he has made. As a result, they have no excuse; for although they knew God they did not accord him glory as God or give him thanks. Instead, they became vain in their reasoning, and their senseless minds were darkened. While claiming to be wise, they became fools and exchanged the glory of the immortal God for the likeness of an image of mortal man or of birds or of four-legged animals or of snakes.  (Emphasis added. Romans 1:18-23)

I know of no Catholic theologian or philosopher who has ever argued that God’s existence can be known only by reading the Bible. The notion of “The Bible alone” is a Protestant thing which is what I asserted. The fact that your assertion is based on that premise is what makes it a false premise.

Finally, my statement about the learned Mr. Owl. The young lad asks him how many licks it takes to get to the center of a Tootsie Pop. Mr. Owl suggests that they can find out by licking it. Mr. Owl takes three licks and then chomps down on the lollipop to get to the chocolate center and declares to the boy that it only takes three licks to get to the center. It is a false result. Anyone who has licked a Tootsie Pop knows it takes more than three licks to get to the center. Your whole argument is no different. You define the test of fairness, and after taking a few licks at the problem, you chomp down and declare God is unfair. Skimping on the data is in itself unfair and only leads to a false result. It is called suppressing the evidence, which is a fallacy too.

MP: Again, go read the argument above, which was linked in the article to which he was retaliating. Essentially, if Dave Armstrong has to devote his life (whilst already being in an economic and educational context to being able to do so) to researching and gaining this knowledge to be able to properly access the True Christianity and its full range of meaning, including from source and form criticism, and from the theology of biblical exegesis, then the religion looks pretty elitist to me.

PH:  Dave is an apologist. It is both his job and his vocation. Learning the apologetics tools and how to exegete and to use those tools is not required to “properly access the True Christianity and its full range of meaning.” Learning those tools is required to be an apologist, particularly a good one like Dave. One learns to be an apologist to defend the faith, but one does not need to be an apologist to be a good Christian. Your argument is just intellectual Three-card Monte. I acknowledge that apologetics like Dave Armstrong and many others do meaningful work, and doing it can make a person a better Christian, but it is not required to access “the True Christianity properly.” As I have known Dave Armstrong for over 25 years, I can tell you that he does not merely know the Catholic faith and defends it as an apologist; he also lives it. He would tell you himself that the latter is more important than the former to access “True Christianity.”.

3. All the time you spend doing that, you are not devoting the same to other holy texts – this requires a presupposed favoritism.

Again, a co-opted Protestant argument that does not work so well in the Catholic theological system as we do not argue that one can’t come to an understanding that God exists through one of the other theological systems

MP: Same applies to Protestantism, I guess. And animism. Shamanism. Islam. Those ISIS guys with their fundamentalist theology sure are accessing that same Catholic god. There may be some other person, here and there, whom Catholics could mentally gerrymander to argue has accessed the Catholic god without being Catholic and having a completely different understanding of the theology and god, but this would have to be really rare.

PH: Now you are shifting the goalposts, which is another serious logical fallacy. Catholics believe that you can know the existence of God without recourse to ANY holy text regardless of tradition. You and some Protestant sects claim otherwise. Bringing up other religious traditions does not refute my contention. Prove to your readers that Catholics require that a person know the Bible to know that God exists. You cannot, and you should know it considering your laurelled credentials and attendance at Catholic institutions.

4. Even after millennia of some of the best minds on the job, Christians can’t agree on how atonement works or that it definitely works.

This premise assumes that it is necessary for Christians to have to agree for Jesus Christ’s atonement to be salvific. Do we have to understand how Christ’s atonement reconciles the world to God, or is it merely enough that it did? Scientists claim that bees should not be able to fly, but they do anyway. The question of how atonement saved us is merely ancillary to the notion of the Incarnation anyway.

MP: In my Resurrection book (forthcoming), I talk about mysterianism as a leading contender; they don’t know how it works, but it does. Faith!

Except, for the keystone to the whole edifice that is Christianity to be mysterian makes a whole mockery of the religion. This is meaning after all, not some unknown in a quantum equation. And atonement merely being ancillary to incarnation, to Jesus, is not to understand the whole Easter story’s significance. Hoffer might want to go and read some theologians. Indeed, when William Lane Craig had a pop at me for the claim about the circularity of belief in faith in the New Testament, at least we agreed on the importance of the Resurrection and associated meaning. But, to remain Catholic, ho about some Raymond Brown?

PH: I did not know you were a fan of Japanese sci-fi! Seriously, the Incarnation is far more than the Easter story. Yes, the Easter story is essential. Pope Benedict XVI called Catholics an Easter people, but the whole Christ event is far more than the Easter story. The Incarnation of Our Lord makes the Easter story possible. No Incarnation, no Easter. That is why folks like St. Athanasius wrote books called, On the Incarnation, rather than books entitled the Easter Story. That is also why the Gospels offer far more than the Resurrection story in their accounts of Jesus’ life. The Incarnation's importance is also what the first seven ecumenical councils of the Church were all about. Moreover, the Catechism of the Catholic Church states:

Belief in the true Incarnation of the Son of God is the distinctive sign of Christian faith: "By this you know the Spirit of God: every spirit which confesses that Jesus Christ has come in the flesh is of God."

CCC 463 quoting 1 Jn. 4:2.

 However, since you brought up Raymond Brown:

The Incarnation, then, means that the Church, which is the Body of Christ, is just as inextricably bound to this world as was it's Master. Once the Word became flesh, a purely spiritual religion, or one with its vision too farsightedly fixed on next world, became impossible. No one can find Christ outside the world; nor can one find the real world outside Christ, because the Incarnation has changed the nature of the world. The reality of the world, as Bonhoeffer insists, involves the God who has become manifest in Jesus Christ. And today perhaps more than any time since the Incarnation, the Church must fight to prove the place of Christ in this world. The Church must open the eyes of the world to see that it is the world of Christ. If the church is where Jesus reigns over the world, the Church cannot turn its back on this world. And indeed the only way the Church can defend its place in the world is not by settling for an existence on the fringes of life, but by assuring Christ's place in all of life and in the whole world.

"The Theology of the Incarnation in John" in New Testament Essays, First Edition, p. 100.

 You might want to either rethink your book or add a chapter or two to it.

 5. Atonement is the basis of Jesus’ death and arguably his entire earthly existence.

 No God’s love is the basis for Jesus’ life and death and resurrection. Atonement is merely a measure of that love.

 MP:     So, if Jesus didn’t die (and thus fulfilling the function of atonement), this would still hold?

 PH:      As I just stated, the atonement of Christ is the measure of God’s love for us.  The Incarnation and the Easter story are inextricably linked; however, without the Incarnation, Christ’s death on the cross would not have meant a whole lot.  Jesus would have been just another guy the Romans executed.  

For God so loved the world that he gave his only Son so that everyone who believes in him might not perish but might have eternal life. (John 3:16)

 6. Divine hiddenness. Incoherent revelation. Etc.

 I would add man’s moral blindness, his sinfulness, and hardness of heart. It is always easier to blame the other guy for their own personal faults and failings. I am just following Mr. Pearce’s example.

 MP:     False analogy. I’m not just blaming the other guy – not either in my laying out of the unfairness for the other guy in belief variance, nor in blaming God. After all, with divine foreknowledge, designed and created everything in this universe – all that was, is, and ever will be – and he has full divine sovereignty over it. What’s not to blame?

 See God’s Divine Foreknowledge, His Culpability and the Problem of Evil. Hoffer very much needs to contend with that argument.

 PH:      Sorry, as the proponent, the burden of proof is on you.  But to answer your volley, your stress on “full divine sovereignty” suggesting God is some puppet master is the hallmark of a Calvinist and Muslim error (Islam is little more than a Christian heresy, by the way).  Yes, God’s sovereignty means that He has a plan, but your pseudo-Calvinist assertion denies that humanity participates in God’s plan of salvation.  Unlike Calvinists and you, the Catholic system notes humanity’s voluntary participation in God’s plan.  In order to give humanity free will, He self-limited His sovereignty.  It is the basis of Catholic teaching going back to St. Irenaeus (You might want to read him).  See, also, Stratford Caldecott’s The Radiance of Being, starting pp. 218-234; Clement Yung Wen, “Maximus the Confessor and the Problem of Participation,” The Heythorp Journal, Vol. 58:1, pp. 3-16 (January 2017); Alfred J. Freddoso, Introduction to the Problem of Free Will and Divine Causality Aquinas Philosophy Workshop, Mt. St. Mary’s College, 2013; Dave Armstrong, Dialogue on God’s Middle Knowledge & Foreknowledge; Byron Stefan Hagan, Creation and Participation: The Metaphysical Structure of the World-God Relation in Aquinas.

 For all of his smugness, Mr. Pearce certainly appears not to have examined the Catholic system, for he seems profoundly ignorant of it. He does not seem to know how Catholics know God exists or whether we see that God is fair or does it even matter in our system. That is not a good thing when one holds oneself out as a philosopher of religion and decides to interact with Catholics.

 MP:     Good old Catholics. Now, what was I saying about elitism…? It’s worth pointing out that I got my teaching qualification from a Catholic university, with Masters’ electives in actual explicit Catholic education, and I’ve had a decade of teaching in Catholic education (the education system is not secular in the UK). I have books of catechism on my shelves…

 PH:      Having books on your shelves does not mean you read them.  And going to Catholic schools does not mean you paid attention in class either.  For all of your bluster, you do not seem very familiar with Catholicism, as I assert.  In your debate with Dave, you set up Protestant strawmen to blow over instead of dealing with what Catholicism teaches—arguing based on Protestant errors that Catholics reject is not a very sound strategy.  You argue against a sola scriptura position that Catholics object to as much as you do.  You assert a Protestant form of elitism to discount religious pluralism, contrary to the Catholic view.  You ascribe attributes to God that Catholics do not claim He has and ignore ones we state He does have.  Finally, you fashion an argument against God’s fairness based on a Calvinist notion of God’s sovereignty that Catholicism itself eschews.  Might you see why I stated what I did?

 So my question to Mr. Pearce is, is God unfair, or are you? The world may never know…or at least it won’t until the Last Day. And where is Mr. Owl when you need him?

 MP:     I didn’t, with full divine foreknowledge, design and create the entire universe.

 PH:      Now a red herring.  You are just full of fallacious reasoning.  You claim that Christianity teaches that God is fair.  It does not, or at least; Catholicism does not hold that position,   So your question starts from a false position.  The question is undoubtedly broken~on your part.  And yes, it is a false equivalence~on your part.  The real questions that need to be asked preliminarily are:

1) Does Christianity teach that God is fair? Or, to be blunt, is fairness even an attribute of God?

2) If not, what does Christianity assert about divine fairness?

3) Are there differences of viewpoints in the Christian system of belief on the issue of fairness of God?

4) If there are different viewpoints on whether God is fair in the Christian system, which of them are more tenable and better explain the data one observes?

5) Where do the notions of grace, free will, and mercy fit into your notion of fairness?

MP:     But, it’s nice for him to think I am on a par with his god.

PH:      It is a gift to humanity. God the Father allowed the Logos to heal our wounded natures through the Incarnation so that creation may be reconciled to God, and through theosis or deification, we may become like God.  Or as St. Augustine says,

 “We carry mortality about with us, we endure infirmity, we look forward to divinity. For God wishes not only to vivify us, but to deify us.” (Sermon 23B) 

God does not have to be fair in this life, only in the next.

Do not like St. Augustine, here is St, Athanasius:

 De Decretis:

 And as, when we hear of Him as Lord and God and true Light, we understand Him as being from the Father, so on hearing, ‘The Lord created,’ and ‘Servant,’ and ‘He suffered,’ we shall justly ascribe this, not to the Godhead, for it is irrelevant, but we must interpret it by that flesh which He bore for our sakes: for to it these things are proper, and this flesh was none other’s than the Word’s. And if we wish to know the object attained by this, we shall find it to be as follows: that the Word was made flesh in order to offer up this body for all, and that we partaking of His Spirit, might be deified, a gift which we could not otherwise have gained than by His clothing Himself in our created body, for hence we derive our name of men of God and men in Christ. But as we, by receiving the Spirit, do not lose our own proper substance, so the Lord, when made man for us, and bearing a body, was no less God; for He was not lessened by the envelopment of the body, but rather deified it and rendered it immortal.                    

On the Incarnation of the Word:

For He was made man that we might be made god; and He manifested Himself by a body that we might receive the idea of the unseen Father; and He endured the insolence of men that we might inherit immortality.”

With all due respect, if God were fair, none of this would be possible.

MP:     With all due respect (hmmm), this is pretty lame stuff. I always think that when you get hit early doors with Paley’s Watchmaker, you’re dealing with someone who probably needs to do a little more reading, to think a little more critically, and to up his game.

It would be nice to have someone deal rationally and robustly with the actual claims and arguments that I make, not use this as an excuse to laud Catholicism whilst trotting out tired old apologist arguments that are not really connected to the point in hand.

PH:      That is a pretty neat trick; pretend that someone’s comments constitute a full-blown debate and then judge that you won the non-argument by calling it an argument.  Well, I have put the flesh of an argument on the bones of the comments I made.  I have addressed your argument with one of my own. 

V.        Conclusion.

I conclude as follow:

1)   Your argument about the Doubting Thomas and fairness is based on several false premises.

A) Merging the two questions about God’s existence and whether He is fair is a dodge as one can argue God’s existence without the necessity of knowing anything about the attributes of God. The question of His fairness is irrelevant to the question of whether He exists.

B) Your argument about God being unfair is based on a false assertion that fairness is an attribute of God. It is not. Because God is just and merciful, He can not be fair as well.

C) Sufficiency is not the same thing as credibility. Sufficiency goes to what the average person would think of the evidence. Credibility is an individual exercise. Moreover, we are all given sufficient evidence to accept the existence of God. Some choose not to accept the evidence.

2) Assuming you clear the above hurdles, you have not proved why God should be judged according to your particular metric of fairness instead of some other metric of fairness.

3) Further, your argument assumes that God judges us according to a certain standard that does not consider our individuality or our differences. Again, this is another false premise in your argument.

4) Finally, I have fully addressed and rebutted the 6 points you raised in your last article in the argument between you and Dave arguing that God does not exist. I agree with Dave’s points as stated in his articles, and stand behind my original comments and the arguments I made, fleshing them out here.

As for your characterization of my comments as nonsense and lame stuff, thank you. My faith tradition teaches me to turn the other cheek. Any time I get insulted for defending my faith, it is a good day. I appreciate debating you, and I will pray that God grant you the wisdom you are seeking and that He plants that mustard seed of faith into your heart

Completed on Divine Mercy Sunday 2021; Posted on the Feast of St. Bernadette Soubirous.

UPDATE 4/23/2021:  Mr. Pearce has responded to my article here: