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.