Wintery Knight

…integrating Christian faith and knowledge in the public square

Why doesn’t God provide more evidence that he exists?

UPDATE: Welcome visitors from Apologetics 315! Thanks for the link Brian!

Over at economist Robert P. Murphy’s blog, a recent post makes the point that Jesus had a reason for teaching in vague parables instead of giving detailed lectures like a university professor.

Jesus used parables to get across a watered-down version of His true message, because the masses were not prepared–as His apostles were–to literally discard their old lives and follow Him 24/7. So they couldn’t possibly understand what His mission really was.

This made me think about the problem of divine hiddenness. You may hear that argument when talking to atheists, as in William Lane Craig’s debate with Theodore Drange, (audio, video). Basically the atheist’s argument is that 1) God wants people to know about him, 2) reasonable people don’t know about him, so then 3) he isn’t there to be found.

Basically, the atheist is saying that he’s looked for God real hard and that if God were there, he should have found him by now. After all, God can do anything he wants that’s logically possible, and he wants us to know that he exists. To defeat the argument we need to find a possible explanation of why God would want to remain hidden when our eternal destination depends on our knowledge of his existence.

Well, Dr. Michael Murray, a brilliant professor of philosophy at Franklin & Marshall College, has found a reason for God to remain hidden. He argues that if God reveals himself too much to people, he takes away our freedom to make morally-significant decisions, including responding to his self-revelation to us. Murray argues that God stays somewhat hidden, so that he gives people space to either 1) respond to God, or 2) avoid God so we can keep our autonomy from him.

Doing the right thing just to avoid punishment is NOT what God wants. If it is too obvious that God exists and that he really will judge us, then people will respond to him and do moral things out of self-preservation. But God wants us to respond to him out of interest in him, just like we might get to know someone we admire. God has to dial down the immediacy of the threat of judgment, and the probability that the threat is actual. That leaves it up to us to respond to God’s veiled revelation of himself to us, in nature and in Scripture.

(Note: I think that we don’t seek God on our own, and that he must take the initiative to reach out to us. We are free to resist his revelation, at which point God stops himself short of coercing our will. We are therefore responsible for our own fate).

The atheist’s argument is a logical/deductive argument. It aims to show that there is a contradiction between God’s will for us and his hiding from us. The argument requires that God has no possible reason for remaining hidden. When Murray offers a possible reason, the argument is defeated. In order for the atheist’s argument to go through, he must be able to prove that God does not have any reason for being hidden. The atheist has to be able to prove that God could provide more evidence of his existence without interfering with the free will of his creatures.

Michael Murray’s home page is here.

His first paper on divine hiddenness is here:
Coercion and the Hiddenness of God“, American Philosophical Quarterly, Vol 30, 1993.

Murray has defended the argument in works published by prestigious academic presses such as Cambridge University Press, (ISBN: 0521006104, 2001) and Routledge (ISBN: 0415380383, 2007). The book chapter from the Cambridge book is here.  The book chapter from the Routledge book is here.

Michael Murray’s papers are really fun to read, because he uses hilarious examples. (But I disagree with his view that God’s work of introducing biological information in living creatures has to be front-loaded).

This exposition of the problem of divine hiddenness also touches on the topic of religious pluralism. One of the reasons why Christians are so soft on making exclusive theological claims is that we don’t talk much about evidence with non-Christians. Try it! It turns out that most people (even Christians) are pretty lazy about investigating what God is really like.

In fact, you can confront people with facts that disprove their religion and they may not care, especially if they are very distracted by day-to-day issues. For example, try telling atheists about the findings of science from the big bang and fine-tuning of the universe. See how quickly they deny that science has any bearing on religion? People don’t want to respond to evidence, and God gives them space to avoid the evidence.

People choose to separate themselves from God for many reasons. Maybe they are professors in academia and didn’t want to be thought of as weird by their colleagues. Maybe they didn’t want to be burdened with traditional morality when tempted by some sin, especially sexual sin. Maybe their fundamentalist parents ordered them around too much without providing any reasons. Maybe the brittle fundamentalist beliefs of their childhood were exploded by evidence for micro-evolution or New Testament manuscript variants. Maybe they wanted something really bad, that God did not give them. How could a good God allow them to suffer like that?

The point is that there a lot of people who don’t want to know God, and God chooses not to violate their freedom by forcing himself on them. God wants a relationship – he wants you to respond to him. (See Matthew 7:7-8)

If any Calvinists are reading this, I’m really sorry that I am wrong, but it was pre-destined that I would be wrong. That’s a little humor for you. Ouch! Stop hitting me!

Here’s more terrific stuff from Dr. Murray:

Who’s Afraid of Religion?“, Inaugural Lecture delivered March 30, 2006. Franklin and Marshall College.

Seek and You Will Find“, in God and the Philosophers. Thomas Morris, editor. Oxford: Oxford University Press. 1994.

UPDATE 1: Welcome visitors from the Anchoress! Thanks so much for the link! New readers may want to take a look around since I cover a lot of different topics here, from free speech to economics to science to public policies!

UPDATE 2: Welcome, visitors from Robert P. Murphy’s blog Free Advice. Please take a look around – the purpose of my blog is to help Christians to integrate their faith with other areas of knowledge, especially economics! For those of you who don’t know, Dr. Murphy is the author of the greatest book on economics ever written (and I’ve read The Road to Serfdom!). This is a book for everyone - and it’s the first book laymen should read on economics.

UPDATE 3: Welcome, visitors from Colliding Universes. Thanks for the link, Denyse! Denyse’s other excellent blogs are Post-Darwinist and Mindful Hack.

Filed under: Polemics, , , , , , ,

39 Responses

  1. scaryreasoner says:

    To make up for lack of evidence, you essentially claim, “oh, god chooses to remain hidden.” Yeah, and I have an invisible magic dragon in my garage who chooses to remain hidden.

    You haven’t defeated any argument by this, all you’ve done is make yourself ridiculous.

    • magi says:

      If that’s what you choose to believe.

      He wasn’t trying to “defeat” an argument, he was giving an answer to a question, the question of “Why doesn’t God provide more evidence that he exists”.

      If he “defeated” the argument, that question would be moot, wouldn’t it?

    • Deadgirl says:

      Oh really? is there a book that tells how the dragon existed? what actions it made? Prophets that helps proves its existence? Are there millions of people who believe that the dragon exists?

      Counterattacking a reason with something immature and stupid makes you sir, or madame, makes you ridiculous.

    • Paradox says:

      First, there is evidence. Your ilk seems to have a knack for systematic ignorance of such arguments as the Cosmological Arguments (three of them), Design Arguments (such as the Fifth Way of Thomas Aquinas’ Five Ways), Transcendental Arguments, and our refutations of the various arguments in favor of atheism. Why should we take your complaint seriously?

      Second, the argument is that God would make belief _coercive_, which is what WinteryKnight is denying. Your complaint is simply off the mark. The argument has been defeated simply by denying _coercive_ belief.

      Third, even if we grant that ‘non-belief’ could be made impossible, just consider the ancient Israelites! They had absolute proof God existed, and repeatedly turned away. It doesn’t matter whether belief is coercive for this reason alone. You can’t say “I wouldn’t be like that,” because God is omniscience and knows that you would.

      Fourth, let’s assume God’s existence has been proven; people like you still wouldn’t believe. We proved the Earth is round, but we still have the likes of the Flat Earth Society. Hmm….

      Lastly, I think I can safely deny this dragon since it has a complete lack of evidence. See my first paragraph. If you assert there is no evidence (and what I posted is not even the tip of the iceberg!), then the burden is on you that the arguments for God’s existence fail; we’ve already shouldered our burden.

  2. Remember that Murray was exegeting Pascal’s position- Deus Obsconditus or something to that effect.

  3. [...] Related: IrishTimes Why are so many of us mislead on vocations? H/T “Let us arise to Glorify Him; Benedictine Monastics” Why Doesn’t God Provide More Evidence that He Exists? [...]

  4. In persuasion, hitting people over the head with an argument often does not work. Instead, it creates and emotional reaction and defensiveness. So creating fictional stories (which is what the parables are–I don’t think Christians claim that the parables literally happened, even though they obviously could have) allows people to take from them what they are willing to accept without defensiveness.

    It’s a bit like the Socratic method, allowing people to think for themsevles of the idea you hope they will arrive at.

    That is why I like Jesus better than later Church fathers. A non-believer can see appreciate Jesus as a humanitarian who preached in a non-authoritarian manner. The church later turned in an authoritarian direction

  5. Robb says:

    Scaryreasoner,

    You aren’t puffing the magic dragon in your garage, are you? I couldn’t resist…:)

    There are no reasons to believe that a magic dragon exists. But, what if there WERE good reasons to think so? Let’s say you come home one day, and your garage ceiling is scorched, you find scales, things start to move around on their own or are knocked over, you find writings on the wall about a mythical disappearing dragon, and then one of your perfectly sane neighbors comes up to your door and claims that he saw what looked like an illusion of a huge beastly creature in your garage. Such circumstances would seem to give a pretty valid reason to suppose that a magic dragon could exist in some way shape or form. At the same time, you could CHOOSE to attribute such evidences to your own insanity, a trick your neighbor is playing on you, or perhaps something else. But you ultimately wouldn’t be forced to believe there is really a dragon.

    I say this because the reasons for believing that God exist are much better than the reasons I gave for supposing a magical dragon could exist. This blog is a great place to learn of those reasons, but to name a few:

    1. The argument for the existence and origin of the universe.
    2. The argument for the fine-tuning of the universe
    3. The argument for specified complexity in living systems.
    4. The evidence for nonmaterial entities (namely, souls)
    5. The argument for the existence of objective morality
    6. The argument for the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus of Nazareth

    At their core, all these things taken into account form an outstanding case for the existence of God. So it’s not as if there is no reasons for believing in him like there are in a magic dragon or the ‘flying spaghetti monster’. Doesn’t it feel good for you to have the freedom to believe that God doesn’t exist? Aren’t you glad you have that choice? What if you didn’t?

    Regardless, no offense but I think the evidence for God’s existence is good enough that I don’t consider him hidden at all. He is only hidden from those who want him to be hidden.

    • Martinb says:

      I realize this is an old thread, but i’m compelled to respond to this point:

      “Regardless, no offense but I think the evidence for God’s existence is good enough that I don’t consider him hidden at all. He is only hidden from those who want him to be hidden.”

      I can refute that easily. I myself am the refutation.

  6. Richard Ball says:

    There is no lack of evidence. The evident evidence so evidently before us is wilfully ignored due to the sinful disposition of the rebellious human heart. As a consequence, spiritual blindness sets in. The fact that you cannot “see” God is itself evidence of this awful condition.

    Atheists, inevitably and invariably, affirm what the Bible teaches.

  7. jasondulle says:

    Some, such as myself and William Lane Craig, would argue that God is not hidden. He has revealed Himself to all mankind in a number of significant ways. Furthermore, who is to say God must reveal Himself in X+1 or X+2 number of ways, rather than the X number of ways He has chosen? No one is in the place to make such a judgment.

    I’m not so sure Murray’s response is a good one. I don’t see how explicit and clear knowledge of God’s existence would result in our inability to make morally significant decisions. So long as our will is free, our decisions are morally significant. People reject what they know all the time because of the stubbornness of their will.

    You hinted that the reason our decisions would not be morally significant is because “doing the right thing just to avoid punishment is NOT what God wants. If it is too obvious that God exists and that he really will judge us, then people will respond to him and do moral things out of self-preservation. But God wants us to respond to him out of interest in him, just like we might get to know someone we admire.”

    I agree that God would rather have us submit to Him out of love, but even the Bible speaks of saving some by love, and others by fear. Many people submit to God because they don’t want to go to hell, and only later develop a loving relationship with Him (that was my experience). I don’t see anything wrong with that, and I don’t see how knowing for certain that God exists, and that He will judge the unrighteous, could make our decisions morally insignificant. There would still be many people who would choose to snub their nose at God, just like Satan does (who knows for certain that God exists, and he will be judged). Nobody would be coerced to do anything.

    • Believer says:

      Satan does believe in God, (which is my counter evidence for protestants saying that all you need is faith and no good works, Faith is believing that God is there and that he can help, Satan has faith …) but the reason satan is SATAN is because of pride, its very hard to explain, i believe humans are born good but are corrupted by the devil, but it was SATAN’s choice, he had pride and wanted to be Equal to God, so he wasnt influenced by pride, he chose to fall, and if people KNEW there were a God, they wouldnt be righteous and perfect I agree with that because the Devil would tempt with with stuff, but atleast I know the people will tyr harder because then they will KNOW that heaven exists and that there is a hell.

      • Canbuhay says:

        Wow those are bad Evangelicals if they can’t handle your comments on faith. Belief is not the same as faith. Satan believes God exists but does not trust God in faith.

        Scripture is quite clear that our good works cannot save us – but that saving faith causes us to do good works. Even going through Catholic interpretations of scripture, it becomes apparent that one cannot earn grace.

        If we truly are God’s people we will act like it, not because it gets us spiritual bonus points for our heavenly tally but because we’ve been transformed by the Holy Spirit.

        It is sad to think that the Catholic (they and the Orthodox are the only ones I know who use the term “Protestant”) church still teaches that you have to earn your way to heaven, when Jesus on the cross clearly said “It is finished.”

  8. Lotharloo says:

    Murray argues that God stays somewhat hidden, so that he gives people space to either 1) respond to God, or 2) avoid God so we can keep our autonomy from him.

    Once again, this is often claimed but theists fail to give any rebuttal to the following counter arguments:
    A) Why those reasons did not prevent God from explicitly revealing himself in ancient times? In other words, why the ancient people had the privilege of proving God through experiments? Us atheists ask for the same level of evidence that God provided for those people; it is only fair knowing that those people have claimed the existence of many imaginary creatures and mythical events.
    B) How on earth Murray can claim to know the mind of God? In other words, why limit the options to (1) or (2)? Why not (3) God does not exit (4) God exists but is playing a joke (5) God exists but is evil (6) God exists but lost interest in humanity and so on.

    Doing the right thing just to avoid punishment is NOT what God wants. If it is too obvious that God exists and that he really will judge us, then people will respond to him and do moral things out of self-preservation.

    This claim is also obviously false given that *many* religious people *do* immoral actions while believing they will go to hell for it. In other words, if God revealed itself through undeniable miracles, people would still have free will and some would still commit crimes. In fact, even your own bible rejects his point as it recites stories in which God revealed itself to many tribes in explicit and sometimes very threatening signs and people still chose to sin; according to your bible even God’s all powerful and eminent wrath did not stop people from sinning.

    The bottomline is there is no good reason for a God who wants to be known to remain hidden.

    • John says:

      if you took more than 5 seconds –you would have rebutted your own argument.

      You say why dont atheists get the privilege of the ancients? First, I hope your suggesting you would love God like a father if you were one of them because that would be fantastic.

      But Im guessing that would most atheists sick. I hope one day you realize this is not about how much evidence you have but that you have not gotten on your knees, sorry for your sin, and asked God to save you through Christ. God does not deny this request–this would all be over if you did that but then you couldnt argue with Christians any more.

      Your suggesting they were privileged when in fact most of them were Lost–they killed Christ for cryin out loud. Its only serves to strengthen the case for God’s hiddenness as well–as there was no technology at the time.

      Look, if the people crying for this CNN experience got what they wanted– what vehicle would God use to Judge and save? He chose the best way–Faith. Its a free pardon to those who believe. If it wasnt it would be like the man made religions—the scale of justice.

      Im sorry my friend–if the scale is used not one of us is left standing. Instead you go directly to God and ask for pardon free of coercion with just enough doubt for those who are not for God to just pretend he doesnt exist.

      It brings Gods children to him and leaves the pretenders to rule themselves. God wants so desperately for you to come to him as a child–drop the arrogance and ask him and be done with it. He will put Christ into your mind as a fact–you will know it better than your own name. To suggest Christians are not sure after God changes them is patently false—you come to God in faith but he makes your mind sure.

      If atheists would be honest with themselves they know they have Not done the above–AND it would make them sick to do so. Thats the poison that causes unbelief. This constant roaming of forums, trying to win arguments they have absolutely no stake in is a source of Lust. It has a “Crush my fellow mans dreams” sort of ring to it. Making it your mission to proclaim your creator is a joke is hardly a good way of receiving Gods grace and certainly could serve as way to assure yourself that you’ll never see anyone point concerning the God they love.

    • Paradox says:

      In reply to you, Lotharloo,
      A) This objection is manifestly flawed for two reasons: 1.Because the ancient Israelites still turned away, and you would, too (deny it all you want, but one can’t argue with an omniscient being, and win). Why should God give evidence that is completely meaningless?
      2.You assume that they thought the same way we do today. “Miracles” in ancient thought, were showings of Divine Strength. They did not necessarily defy the laws of physics, even though they _could_ break said laws. Today, we observe the laws of physics operating without any provable exception. Some of us take the constancy of these laws as a demonstration of Divine Strength, so see it as proof on the same level as what the ancients received.
      3.You argue that the proof must be empirical. Maybe the testimony of the Holy Spirit is all we need?

      B) This objection fails because although all but the third of the other possibilities cannot be excluded in generic theism, the Christian can reject them –in fact, his were the only two possibilities that are consistent with how Christians understand God. Option three has been refuted numerous times by various arguments; option four doesn’t make sense (it is ultimately a variant of option five); option five falls apart once we use the Moral Argument; option six raises the question of why God would create us, if He was going to tire of us.

      Your objections have been answered, and I’m not the first to answer them.

  9. Richard Ball says:

    “The bottomline is there is no good reason for a God who wants to be known to remain hidden.”

    You would have to know what God knows in order to be able to make this claim.

  10. Richard Ball says:

    God has said that no-one can look upon is face and live. Elsewhere, it is written that God dwells in unapproachable light. Not only would coming face-to-face with a holy God be terrifying, it would probably consume us, sinful as we are. Our God is a consuming fire — it is a fearful thing to fall into the hands of the living God.

    It is by God’s mercy that we are not consumed, and part of this mercy is in hiding us from his presence. The history of redemption is all about God making it safe for us to approach him. And that way is through his Son. Our sins sprinkled by his blood. His righteousness imputed to us. His Spirit imparted to us.

    How shall we escape, if we neglect so great a salvation?

    At the same time, the apostle John said that the Word was made flesh and tabernacled among us. And that the apostles touched and handled the Word of life. And, further, that our fellowship is with the Father and the Son. God was certainly not hidden from them, and neither is he hidden from the present-day believer who has his Spirit dwelling within him.

    God is both hidden and revealed.

    Holy, holy, holy! though the darkness hide thee
    Though the eye of sinful man thy glory may not see;
    Only thou art holy, there is none beside thee
    Perfect in power, love, and purity

    See Isaiah 53 — unto whom is the arm of Lord REVEALED. Also last book of Bible — The REVELATION of Jesus Christ. He who has ears, let him hear. The problem is not God not speaking. It is that people cannot hear. The problem is not God not revealing. It is that people cannot see.

  11. Betty says:

    How about this: It is not our right or our place to tell God, the Almighty, Perfect and Holy how HE is to make himself know to us. He has chosen His way to make himself known. He has given us factual history that proves the Bible and He has given us His word. We must choose wether or not He is a liar or telling the Truth. He says in Jer. 29 that He will make Himself known to us when we seek Him with all our heart.

    God is not hidden, we just don’t want Him on His terms, we want Him on ours. If you want to know Him then humble yourself and believe Him. Otherwise, if you choose not to then let it be and stop arguing He doesn’t exist. Your arguement is more compelling that you just don’t want Him to exist and so you argue against everything.

    If you don’t want Him to exist then just simply make that decision. Why argue it? If I choose to believe and other believe and we want to tell people about it why does that bother you? Why should you care?

    God is not hidden, just like Richard said, folks don’t want to see or hear. You think you do as long as it is on your terms and with what you want to see and hear not what He is and who He is.

    As for speaking in stories that cannot be understood, I understand them completely. The Holy Spirit gives insight into scripture. To those who are perishing it would remain hidden.

    18For the message of the cross is foolishness to those who are perishing, but to us who are being saved it is the power of God 1 Cor. 1:18

    The man without the Spirit does not accept the things that come from the Spirit of God, for they are foolishness to him, and he cannot understand them, because they are spiritually discerned. 1 Cor. 2:14

  12. Average Joe says:

    For God to prove His own existence it would be helpful for Him to do the following:

    1. Leave a written letter or message about Himself: how He created the universe, who He is and how we can know Him.

    2. Perform miraculous signs to numerous people to verify His authenticity and the authenticity of His written letter (see #1)

    3. Update people from time to time on His continual interaction with our universe through special messengers or something of the like

    4. Spend some time here in some kind of a physical form for us to see and feel – talking to us, explaining Himself and again performing miraculous signs to show His authenticity and His connection to the writer of the letter (see #1).

    I think that this would show beyond a shadow of a doubt that He exists.

    • I agree. That would definitely work. And I think that part of that explanation doesn’t necessarily have to come from words, but it can come from science, too. Science reveals some of the miracles God did in creating the universe out of nothing, fine-tuning it, creating biological information, and the so on.

      Oh and 5. It would help if he could suffer himself for our benefit, to show us that suffering is not pointless and that he loves us.

    • Racing Boo says:

      You know, once I really liked this girl, and with all my heart I wanted a relationship with her, so I:
      1) wrote her a letter, telling her how wonderful I am, and how blessed she would be to know me. She wrote back, saying, “That’s great, when can we meet?”

      So I
      2) Did some good deeds for people she’d never met or heard of, and wrote to her about it. Again she said, “You sound like such a great guy, so when can we meet?”

      So I
      3) sent messages via friends of hers, telling her how much I loved her, and how much I desired relationship with her, but that I was becoming just a little impatient with her demands to meet me. Didn’t she know me already? Hadn’t I already ravished her with my greatness?

      Then I
      4) Spent some time with some more random people, explaining in great detail to them how much I love this girl, and still she won’t declare her love for me.

      I think I’ll just kill her.

      • I don’t understand! The analogy will probably break down as soon as we identify who the people are, because the thing about God is when you’re in a relationship with him, he changes you, and people don’t want to be changed because they think they will have to give up pleasure.

        • Racing Boo says:

          We all know what a personal relationship is, and “relationship” with God isn’t it. Relationship entails personal one-on-one communication.

          • Well, I’ll leave it to others to explain how God communicates, but mainly God communicates to me in the following ways. 1) By the laws of logic, which I can use to separate errors from truth, 2) by science, which I can use to discover facts about God’s intentions in creating and designing this universe, 3) the Bible, 4) by experiencing the moral law which is evident to me by intuition and by observing the consequences incurred for fulfilling or breaking the moral law, 5) the history of the life of Jesus, 6) the writings of respected Christian scholars, 7) Specific events in my life that nudge me in one direction or another, 8) specific things that people I know tell me.

            You have to think about a relationship with God not as a face to face discussion, but more as someone laying out things for you like a trail of clues, and your job is to follow them and adjust your life accordingly. For example, when I read C.S. Lewis as a young man, I was alerted to the idea of what pride is, and I made a conscious effort to reduce mine in view of what I had read. This is what I mean when I say relationship with God. I’m busy finding out what he’s like, then I do something to respond. And the way he “talks” is by ordering the world in a way to show me new things to respond to.

      • Paradox says:

        The difference is that in your story, you didn’t warn her about your wrath. God _did_, so is justified. Ignorance of the law, although our courts say otherwise, _is_ a reason for exemption.
        We must first presuppose that you are, “the greatest person there is, and the ultimate standard for right and wrong,” before you can justify killing her. Under this view, it follows that even if we find it ‘abhorrent’, you would be justified. Your complaint is invalid, and based on the same social-conditioning that atheists like to use to explain our moral character. To the ancient Hebrews, going against the Ultimate Standard was to embrace pure evil (this is evident by their strict laws).

  13. Lenoxus says:

    1) In any case, if God were to reveal himself unequivocally, that certainly wouldn’t remove anyone’s free will to accept or reject him. Indeed, many theists frame atheism as solely the rejection/hatred of a God they secretly know exists. This is illustrated in a great short story by Ted Chiang called Hell is the Absence of God — in its world, there are no “atheists”, just the non-devout.

    2) Why is it that, when Spaniards first encountered natives of the American continents, the former had to introduce the latter to Christianity, instead of finding people who had already been Christian for 1400 years? Why did God restrict all his revelations to the Middle East? Why didn’t he think to send a solid revelation or two to ancient China?

    3) “Doing the right thing just to avoid punishment is NOT what God wants. If it is too obvious that God exists and that he really will judge us, then people will respond to him and do moral things out of self-preservation.”

    So why does God allow the idea of Hell to ever be taught to children?

    • 1) Read the paper on divine hiddenness in this post, it explains how God’s existence, if made obvious, removes the ability of people to freely refuse him.
      2) Read this post on the doctrine of middle knowledge which explains how this problem can be solved.
      3) The doctrine of Hell by itself doesn’t compel a person to convert unless God’s existence is obvious. But as the paper states, God’s existence is not obvious for those who are unwilling to expend the effort to look into these matters, and to bind their wills to what they find. It is obvious to those who have a willingness to go where the evidence leads. For those of us who look into the arguments, dig up the evidence, and watch a lot of debates, it becomes obvious what is really going on.

  14. Lenoxus says:

    Sorry this one’s so long… I guess I had a lot to say!

    1) I read the paper. It is very well-thought, and I believe it’s best represented by the following portion: “My claim is that the hiddenness of God is required in order for free beings to be able to exercise their freedom in a morally significant manner given the strength of the threat implied by knowledge of the threat implicit in the traditional Christian story. If God revealed his existence in a more perspicuous fashion we would be in a situation very much like the one in the standard robbery case, i.e. strong threat strength and strong threat imminence such that the level of wantonness of most, if not all, individuals would not significantly diminish their feeling compelled to act in accordance with the demand of the threatener.”

    For me, the crucial point is the part I bolded. Why this threat? Yes, I am aware of all the explanations for an infinite Hell, as well as the watering-down of its flames to a mere eternal mopeyness at the absence of God. But let’s assume Hell-agnosticism for the moment. God merely appearing would not amount to a message of Hell, because, despite the prevalence of Hell-belief, no one would be compelled to believe in Hell, just in God. (This brings up the crucial question of whether or not God has any hand in deciding which religions win over which populaces.)

    If freely accepting or rejecting God is the central criterion for our salvation, then it should make no negative difference if his existence is undeniable. Lots of people reject people they still know exist, such as their elected leaders (and like many atheists, I would argue that it is impossible to “reject” someone you don’t know exists, which is when theists start insinuating that we all know God, and atheists are just in denial). If it is moral to accept God and immoral to reject him, then God has zero to lose, and only informed consent to gain, by making his presence known. Of course, if what is really moral/immoral is belief in and of itself, we have a totally different kettle, but acceptance/rejection is how Christians usually phrase it.

    More than anything, theological treastises like this one — as with ones on the problem of evil or the problem of Hell — make me feel sorry for God, whose troubles seem like those of someone trying to pack for a trip. “Well, I could put in my dental floss, but then I have no room for the guitar.” “Well, I could decide not to condemn that soul to eternal Hell, but then I have to put it somewhere, plus word might get around that Hell is less than eternal, which would tempt even more people to sin…” And as you can tell, I’m not really buying it. God can always make a bigger suitcase. If a world can be imagined and worked out in logical detail (such as that of the short story I mentioned earlier, albeit with some improvements), God could pull it off.

    2) Okay, I’m going to turn my snark-machine down as low as possible, because I am genuinely impressed and fascinated by Molinism. I think it ties well with Newcomb’s paradox with the two boxes. If I open box A, could that cause box B to “have been” empty? (If I find Jesus, does that cause God to “have saved” me?) It’s wonderful mind-bending stuff.

    I think you could even have interpretations of it that allow for saved atheists — had Justine only been born into Universe 297, she would have found the evidence for Christ convincing — therefore, even “our” Justine is saved.

    Otherwise, what do you do with people like Nathan Phelps, son of the infamous Fred Phelps? In large part due to his father’s abuse, Nathan is an atheist, and I’ll bet even the occasional theist would have to admit he has a good excuse. Short of receiving a vision, Nathan Phelps will never “re”-convert — for him, Christianity is only tied to hate and abuse, and in a very primal way. (Conversely, if Nathan had remained a Christian, would he still go to Hell, on the grounds that his conversion did not arise from unfettered free will?)

    Not to mention the classic question all globalized religionists have had to ask themselves — had I been born in that country, can I honestly say I would have found my present religion? Would the evidence speak to me at such a cultural distance, or would I devote my inner divinity to studying the most immediate faith, ignorant of its falsehood?

    Of course, there is a sense in which Molinism invalidates both the answer to and question of hiddenness. Surely God could show himself and still know whether you would have freely chosen? But really, what’s the point either way…? (Also, haven’t you from time to time mocked certain atheists for their unfounded belief in multiple universes…? Of course, this one’s founded because it’s spelled out in the Bible. Except it’s not really spelled out — as with the problem of evil, theologians are left to do the gruntwork.)

    3) As you can maybe tell, while I do believe in free will, I also believe that some peoples’ beliefs have been forced on them. Some would even say that all beliefs are matters beyond the will — you can never “choose” to believe something. (I’m on the fence on that. I think we can “condition ourselves” to believe just about anything, one benefit of which is positive reinforcement — “… and doggone it, people like me!”)

    “It is obvious to those who have a willingness to go where the evidence leads. For those of us who look into the arguments, dig up the evidence, and watch a lot of debates, it becomes obvious what is really going on.”

    But not too obvious, right? :) Like, it can’t afford to be any more obvious than the “evidence” (which I don’t deny exists, just not proof) that the Veddas contain all modern scientific knowledge, for example. And but for the grace of God, that’s what we would be debating right now… :)

  15. cjsavvy says:

    If you were aware that someone, anyone, who isn’t aware of your presence, was naked in a room in your home or some place else, would you just troop in? I guess not if you had any civility. You might stomp your feet a little harder or fake a cough just to make the person aware of your presence. You see, in Genesis, Adam hid from God’s presence because he was ashamed of his nakedness. We are all naked in the sense that God can see right through our sinfulness. We’d be terribly ashamed if God made his presence clearly evident. God is simply being civil in staying just out of sight but providing more than enough signs of his presence. If God made himself evident, we’ll do the hiding.

  16. Michael says:

    Good post, WK, thanks.
    You might have seen this, I don’t know, but it’s a great response to a question at reasonable faith with some superb responses to divine hiddenness near the end. http://www.reasonablefaith.org/site/News2?page=NewsArticle&id=7249

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s

Click to see recent visitors

  Visitors Online Now

Page views since 1/30/09

  • 4,533,953 hits

Enter your email address to follow this blog and receive notifications of new posts by email.

Join 2,175 other followers

Archives

Follow

Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.

Join 2,175 other followers

%d bloggers like this: