I followed a link to the ‘The Official Blog of University of Missouri Sceptics, Atheists, Secular Humanists and Agnostics’ today. The article which had been recommended was called: ‘Are Christian Apologists Evidence Against Christianity?’ Since the only reply underneath the article was from a fideist I felt compelled to write something in reply.
So, Christian apologists are evidence against Christianity? How worrying! Could my very existence, or the existence of a blog like mine, count as evidence against God? Luckily, before deleting my blog I decided to read the argument being offered.
The argument is essentially this:
“Time should not have to be spent changing conclusions and premises when talking about an all-powerful being that wants to reveal himself. The God of the Bible should be rather self-evident if indeed true. The fact that many apologists have spent their lives and built careers on trying to prove it when one simply should be able to see it clear as day shows just how weak all of the arguments are.”
The key premise of this argument is the assertion that if the God of the Bible (Yahweh) exists then his existence would be self-evident to all. The problem is that the blogger gives no decent reason why one ought to accept this premise. Now, we could improve the situation for this blogger and give some reasons such as:
(a) God is powerful enough to prove his existence to all human beings.
(b) God desires human beings to know him.
These are two reasons why we might begin to take the argument seriously and the argument is often called the problem of God’s hiddenness. This question always reminds me of the scene from the film ‘Bruce Almighty’ where Bruce crashes his car whilst praying and then, after inviting God to “smite” him (which is quite funny to watch), demands in a huge roar “Answer me!!”
The question of God’s hiddenness is a fair one and some philosophers consider it to be an argument on a par with the problem of evil but it is, essentially, just that – a question. It is not a logical disproof. It does not ensure the theist is thinking illogically in holding to God being as powerful as (a) and as caring as (b). This is why this blog attempt at the argument fails so badly. The person writing it appears to think the mere raising of the question equals some logical disproof until refuted and that’s not what the problem is claiming especially when raised in academia.
What many Christian philosophers have pointed out, in responding to the question of God’s hiddenness (as defined as God’s existence not being obvious to everyone), is that Yahweh is not only concerned with being known. That is to say, the mere knowledge that God exists is not the primary goal of the God of the Bible. In fact, the Bible itself makes it clear that some of God’s worst enemies are certain he exists (see what Jesus says about demons). Peter van Inwagen states:
“Most theists hold that God expects a good deal more from us than mere belief in his existence. He expects a complex of things, of which belief in his existence is a small (although essential) part.”
Divine Hiddenness: New Essays [ed. Daniel Howard-Snyder and Paul Moser] p. 31
Here is Michael Murray from the same book:
“Many theists claim that ultimate human fulfillment requires not only belief in God, but a number of other beliefs about what it takes to be rightly related to God as well.” p.67
In his essay, Murray contends that the ideas of soul-making and moral freedom of the will are sufficiently good reasons to explain the phenomenon of God’s hiddenness. In fact, he goes further and claims that divine hiddenness is the only way to preserve such important features of human existence as the ability to make decisions about God without being unreasonably coerced. We should remember that the God of the Bible is not just another human being. Having his existence demonstrated to you would not be as mundane as discovering that there is someone living in the house next door to you and his name is Bill. That is not the kind of revelation you would receive. Richard Swinburne makes this point well when he says:
“Knowing that there was a God, men would know that their most secret thoughts and actions were known to God; and knowing that he was just, they would expect their bad actions and thoughts whatever punishment was just… In such a world men would have little temptation to do wrong – it would be the mark of both prudence and reason to do what is virtuous. Yet a man only has a genuine choice of destiny if he has reasons for pursuing either good or evil courses of action.”
(Quoted in Murray p.68.)
Now we can return to the question of whether a loving God would fail to reveal himself as obvious to everyone. This is where Laura Garcia, in the same book, makes the connection with what we have said already. She points out that:
p”…genuine love presupposes freedom, since love is a free gift of oneself to another; any psychological states causally necessitated in a person by someone else would not count as love. If love requires human freedom, then, it is logically impossible for God to bring about the salvation of anyone who refuses to love him.” p.84
Another assumption the whole argument from hiddenness more than often makes is that human beings have the right to know God on their terms.
Paul Moser has undermined this assumption in his paper ‘Cognitive Idolatry and Divine Hiding’. He points out:
“Many people proceed as if we have a right to know God on our preferred terms. This is, however, nothing more than a self-serving assumption. Nothing requires that God supply knowledge of God on our preferred terms. God evidently owes us no such thing at all, despite common expectations to the contrary.”
“Nothing requires that God allow for (i) our propositional knowledge that God exists apart from (ii) our filial knowledge of God as Lord and Father of our lives. Ideally the two emerge together, although philosophers have a bad habit of neglecting the role of filial knowledge of God. God can be all-loving in supplying evidence of God’s existence in a manner sensitive to human receptivity to filial knowledge of God. We have no right to demand evidence of God’s reality that fails to challenge us to undergo volitional transformation toward God’s character. So God’s hiding from a casual, or indifferent, inquirer does not count against the reality of God’s existence.”
pp.126,7 (Emphasis mine.)
There are a host of good, logical responses to the epistemic freedom God gives people and the divine hiddenness which logically follows from that and a few of them I have noted above. The demand, and it clearly is a demand, many current atheists make about having (what Moser calls) “epistemic control” over God suggests their demand, just like Bruce’s demand in the film, is seriously misplaced. Perhaps it indicates the opposite of the filial commitment God desires in being in relationship with him? This will, no doubt, annoy the demanding atheist but so what? God is not merely a propositional truth to be noetically nodded at and then ignored (this is not the knowledge of God God desires of us even if we desire it of him). This being is the creator of the heavens of the earth and genuine, morally responsible, knowledge of this fact can result in nothing less than our worship. I would suggest this is what John is getting at when he says:
“…these are written so that you may believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God, and that by believing you may have life in his name.”
Here is an April Fool’s Day version of this argument against God:
As well as John’s gospel I would highly recommend studying this book carefully: