Wintery Knight

…integrating Christian faith and knowledge in the public square

Why doesn’t God gives us more evidence that he exists?

Welcome, Please Convince Me listeners! This post was mentioned in Please Convince Me Podcast #190.

Have you ever heard someone say that if God existed, he would give us more evidence? This is called the “hiddenness of God” argument. It’s also known as the argument from “rational non-belief”.

Basically the argument is something like this:

  1. God is all powerful
  2. God is all loving
  3. God wants all people to know about him
  4. Some people don’t know about him
  5. Therefore, there is no God.

You may hear have heard this argument before, when talking to atheists, as in William Lane Craig’s debate with Theodore Drange, (audio, video).

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.

What reason could God have for remaining hidden?

Dr. Michael Murray, a brilliant professor of philosophy at Franklin & Marshall College, has found a reason for God to remain hidden.

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

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. God places a higher value on people having the free will to respond to him, and if he shows too much of himself he takes away their free choice to respond to him, because once he is too overt about his existence, people will just feel obligated to belief in him in order to avoid being punished.

But believing in God just to avoid punishment is NOT what God wants for us. If it is too obvious to us that God exists and that he really will judge us, then people will respond to him and behave morally out of self-preservation. But God wants us to respond to him out of interest in him, just like we might try to 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 and draw us to him. But I do think that 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. In order to derive a contradiction, God MUST NOT have any possible reason to remain hidden. If he has a reason for remaining hidden that is consistent with his goodness, then the argument will not go through.

When Murray offers a possible reason for God to remain hidden in order to allow people to freely respond to him, then the argument is defeated. God wants people to respond to him freely so that there is a genuine love relationship – not coercion by overt threat of damnation. To rescue the argument, the atheist has to be able to prove that God could provide more evidence of his existence without interfering with the free choice of his creatures to reject him.

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) For those people who don’t want to know him, he allows them to speculate about unobservable entities like the multiverse. He allows them to think that all religions are the same and that there is nothing special about Christianity. He allows them to believe that God has no plan for those who never hear about Jesus. He allows them to be so disappointed because of some instance of suffering that they reject him. God doesn’t force people to love him. If they don’t want to look into these things because they want to avoid having to care what he thinks, then he lets them think anything they want that “works for them”. What they think is false, but so long as they don’t investigate anything, then they can keep doing what they want and thinking it’s fine.

Michael Murray’s work

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).

Here’s more terrific stuff from Dr. Murray:

Filed under: Polemics, , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

14 Responses

  1. Here’s a thought for atheists: IF there were a God, defined as He is, an eternal Being, powerful beyond human belief and thought, immense beyond the Universe. IF such a Being were to suddenly appear in front of you right now, what do you think would happen to your mind?

    • And then ask them what their plan is for changing their lives to account for this. I have asked several atheists this question about what would happen if Jesus appeared physically to them, and the universal answer (except for one person who CHANGED his answer after my triumphant note-taking alerted him that he gave the wrong answer) was that they would not change their pursuit of pleasure ONE IOTA. And that, my friend, is EVERYTHING you need to know to understand atheism. The science-talk and reason-talk is completely superfluous. What atheism is, in essence, is the desire to pursue pleasure without having to care about relationships, responsibilities and moral obligations. Morality isn’t something objective and prescriptive OUT THERE, it’s just relative and you choose the “morality” and “meaning” that gives you happy feelings. They want to ONLY do what makes them happy, moment by moment, and to avoid having to admit or care that there is anyone else who might be able to make a claim on their behavior that pulls them away from hedonism. Even the embrace of subjective “morality” and subjective “meaning” is done SOLELY on the basis of what makes them feel good.

      • Indeed, it’s all chaff.

      • Em says:

        I agree with the article. But I must say that I know three atheists who would explode with joy at seeing “proof” of God’s existence. If Christ appeared to them in some physically understandable way, I believe would become active in the church and direct their charity toward His kingdom. They would pray and praise. These three live wholly committed to relationships, responsibilities and all of their obligations. But only God can know what they harbor in their heart, of course. So far, the veiled revelation of God has kept them from belief.

        Of course, this is just how I think they will respond, based on their past actions. I think I will ask them that clever question next time I see them. Thank you for the idea.

        • Show them debates! Just go onto Youtube and send them the links to the William Lane Craig vs James Crossley debate and the William Lane Craig vs Christopher Hitchens debate.

  2. By the way, have you heard of Arizona Atheist? http://arizonaatheist.blogspot.com

  3. In the Thomistic tradition, love is an attractive force. We, and everything, is attracted to the good. God is simply good. The unmediated presence of God would attract us purely and ineluctably, like a black hole attracts matter. So, yes, God has to be “hidden” if their is to be freedom to not choose Him.

    • Micah says:

      On top of that, if God made Himself known to them, then those with hardened hearts would just grudgingly do whatever God asks of them because He’s always there like a helicopter mom as opposed to freely doing it on their own accord and proactively seeking God out. It’s still a problem of “inner transformation”.

      And I think this issue ties in with another, namely the question/objection of God “just forgive sins anyway even if they were hardcore atheists and let everyone into Heaven”. One of the problems is that “inner transformation”, as I think of it anyway, would demand of the atheist to give up all earthly accomplishments, accolades, and awards, and live for others and for Christ in complete humility. I think C.S. Lewis’ “The Great Divorce” covers some of these issues nicely.

  4. [...] What happens to people who never hear about Jesus and the gospel?; Why doesn’t God gives us more evidence that he exists?; Researchers link rise in some cancers to increased sexual activity; Does dispensing the [...]

  5. Jerry says:

    I love how you (first) Assume there is a god, (second) assume some philosophers speculation about the lack of direct proof of god must be right, then (third) assume the reason there is no direct proof of god proves the second assumption, thus proving the first!! That is ingenious, even if it’s neither logical nor scientific.

  6. Desmognathus says:

    No one has suggested that a lack of direct proof for God proves the existence of God. What has been implied is that the lack of Him holding a press conference every evening on the news is entirely reasonable and consistent with what we do know of God.

  7. mike singer says:

    The fool says there is no God (Psalm 14:1). It is self evident ( take a look around outside or better yet look in the mirror – the human body is amazing).

    A couple of points:
    -God is a Spirit
    -Mankind is spiritually dead

    It isn’t that God hasn’t provided enough evidence – the problem is one of seeing and hearing ( ie ability to perceive) on the part of mankind.

    I dont even go there – it is a waste of time due to a lack of intellectual and spiritual honesty.

  8. Mike Singer,~
    I for ONE – agree with what you said WHOLEHEARTEDLY, thank you for writing this article for Christians & Atheists alike – I dont see why we cannot co-exist. I am a Christian. My friends come from ALL backgrounds & beliefs.

    They KNOW where I stand in terms of GOD/JESUS. We respect & accept one another. In short of having a personal RELATIONSHIP with God – isn’t LOVING one another all he wants?

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