The Hiddenness of God Objection to Theism
Given the inadequacy of so many “old” philosophical arguments against God’s existence, atheists are increasingly turning to the “hiddenness of God” (HoG) to argue that God does not exist (or that His existence is highly improbable). The essence of this argument is that God’s existence is not as obvious as it should be. If God existed, we would expect to find more evidence of His existence than we in fact do. Given the inadequacy of the evidence, rational persons should conclude that God (probably) does not exist. Some HoG proponents go so far as to argue that if God existed He would prevent unbelief by making His existence obvious and undeniable. He does not do so, therefore, He does not exist, or if He does exist, the fault of human unbelief is to be laid at His feet.
There are a number of ways to respond to the HoG argument. One could agree with the HoG advocate that God’s existence is not as obvious as we might think it should be, but deny that the conclusion—“God (probably) does not exist”—follows from such an observation. After all, absence of evidence is not evidence of absence. Perhaps there is insufficient evidence on which to conclude that God exists, but God may exist nonetheless. At best, an insufficient amount of evidence for God’s existence should result in agnosticism, not atheism. To conclude that God does not exist one needs positive evidence against His existence, not a mere lack of evidence for it.
Secondly, the HoG argument presupposes that God is desirous that all people believe He exists. Maybe God is indifferent to what humans believe or fail to believe about Him (although admittedly, this would rule out the existence of the Christian God). Maybe God purposely hides Himself from humanity so that those who do believe in His existence must do so via a blind leap of faith.
Thirdly, perhaps God has predestined that only select humans come to a saving knowledge of God, and thus God provides evidence of His existence discriminately. To the elect God makes His existence obvious, but to the unsaved God is hidden. One might contest that such a discriminate provision of evidence is unbecoming of a just God, but this is not obvious either. Perhaps God knows how each individual would respond to Him if provided with (more) evidence of His existence, and He provides evidence accordingly. For those whom He knows would respond in faith to evidence of His existence, He provides such evidence. For those whom He knows would not respond in faith to such evidence, however, He does not provide them with any evidence (or evidence sufficient to convince them of His existence). While such individuals will complain that there is no/insufficient evidence for God’s existence, the fact remains that they would not be persuaded by it even if presented with it because they do not want to believe there is a God to whom they are subject.
Fourthly, the premise that God’s existence is not as obvious as it should be can be challenged. After all, who is to say what the appropriate level of obviousness is? How much evidence is needed? These are subjective questions. What one person considers sufficient evidence, another may not. Indeed, theists would argue that the field of natural theology provides an abundance of evidence for the existence of God. As William Lane Craig asks, should we expect more evidence than the contingency of the universe, the origin of the universe in the finite past from nothing, the fine-tuning of the universe for intelligent life, our apprehension of an objective realm of moral values, the historical evidence for the resurrection of Jesus, and the ability to experience God immediately without recourse to rationality (one could also throw miracles and answered prayers into this mix as well)? I have no reason to believe we should. There are many sound, cogent arguments/evidences for God’s existence—enough to convince those who are open-minded on the issue.
Fifthly, it is possible that the defender of the HoG argument is expecting the wrong kind of evidence. Perhaps God has provided metaphysical rather than physical evidence for His existence (given the fact that He is an immaterial being). If so, then surely it is pure hubris to claim He has failed to provide enough evidence of His existence simply because He has not provided the kind of evidence we might prefer. To conclude that an immaterial being such as God does not exist because there is no physical evidence of His existence makes as much sense as concluding that there is no invisible man in your house on the basis that you have not seen him. If he could be seen, he would not be invisible. If one is going to detect or invalidate the presence of an invisible man, one must appeal to metaphysical rather than physical evidence.
So far I have provided what I consider to be reasonable responses to the HoG objection. Now I want to discuss a couple of popular responses I find inadequate for the task. The first is to assert that God has provided enough evidence to convince those who are willing to believe in and submit to a relationship with God, but not so much so as to compel the unwilling. The idea here is that if God were to provide more evidence of His existence, people would be compelled to believe in Him, and thus be robbed of their free will. But what exactly would they be compelled to do? At best, they would be compelled to believe that God exists (a rational obligation); however, such knowledge does not coerce one into a relationship with God. Rational obligations tell us what we ought to believe given the evidence; they do not coerce us into believing or doing anything in particular. Our beliefs and actions continue to be free.
To claim that an abundance of evidence for God’s existence would rob people of their freedom to believe or disbelieve, is like saying the abundance of evidence for a round Earth robs people of their freedom to believe or disbelieve it. Freedom of choice is not eliminated by evidence, but rather directed by the evidence. Because the evidence for X is so good, we freely choose to direct our belief toward X rather than -X. To claim otherwise is to say we cannot freely choose to believe any X for which the evidence is overwhelming that X is true. But surely this is mistaken. If we consider evidence on a scale of one to ten, with one being “poorly evidenced” and ten being “overwhelmingly evidenced,” would it make any sense to say one freely chooses to believe X when it has an evidential factor of nine, but loses the freedom to believe X when its evidential factor increases to ten? Clearly not! All but a few truths are corrigible, and thus no matter how good the evidence may be for any X, there is always the possibility that X may be false, and thus we must choose to believe X is true (even incorrigible truths must be believed by choice since one can doubt or deny an incorrigible truth, even if their doubt/denial is unfounded). The difference between a well-evidenced belief and a poorly-evidenced belief is not that the former is determined while the latter is freely chosen, but rather that we can freely form the former with a high degree of confidence that it is true.
The second response I wish to discuss is theologically accurate, but unlikely to persuade anyone other than Christian theists. This response asserts that God has not made His existence more obvious because He is not particularly interested in whether people believe He exists, but rather that they enter into a loving relationship with Him. It’s not obvious, they say, that if the knowledge of God was as obvious as the nose on their face, that more people would come to a saving relationship with Him. Some might even resent God for “throwing” His existence in their face. God’s constant reminders of His existence might even be perceived as an annoyance that interferes with their ability to freely engage in moral rebellion.
While I agree that God is more interested in humans entering into a loving relationship with Him than He is interested in their mere acknowledgment of His existence, and while I agree that a clear knowledge of God’s existence does not guarantee that people will enter into such a relationship with God, non-theists will respond that it stretches credulity to suggest that the number of people who would come to a loving relationship with God would be no different if God’s existence was more obvious than it is. After all, one cannot enter into a relationship with someone they do not know (or are not sure) exists. Knowing that someone exists logically precedes a relationship with that individual. Are we to think that not even a single individual throughout the history of mankind failed to enter into a relationship with God because—for whatever reason—they were unsure of His existence, but would have entered into a relationship with God had they been convinced He existed? It seems incredible to think all such individuals would persist in their unbelief even if God’s existence was obvious (or more obvious than it is).
The theist may counter that given the amount of evidence God has provided us for His existence, skepticism regarding God’s existence is unwarranted. To this the non-theist might respond that there are various lines of evidence for God’s existence, but many of those “evidences” are ambiguous and subjective, while others are quite philosophical in nature and not readily apparent to those who have not been instructed in them. In response, the theist may counter that the knowledge of God belongs to all men by nature, so even if someone is unaware of some of the more nuanced philosophical arguments for God’s existence, non-theists are without excuse for their lack of belief. Indeed, according to Romans 1-2 God has made His existence known to all people via creation and conscience. The non-theist is unlikely to accept that premise as true, but even if he did, he could point out that some people are persuaded out of that knowledge by seemingly cogent arguments to the contrary. Perhaps the problem of evil has caused them to doubt God’s existence. Perhaps arguments for Darwinian evolution caused them to think God is superfluous. Whatever the reason, some people have come to doubt or disbelieve in God, either because of what they perceive to be a lack of evidence for His existence, or because of evidence they think disconfirms His existence. Perhaps if the existence of God was more obvious, such individuals would not be deceived by such arguments. As a Christian theist, I do not think this is true. According to the Bible, the ultimate reason people reject God is because they do not want to accept Him as their sovereign, not because of intellectual arguments against His existence. The problem is volitional, not intellectual. While they might appeal to the problem of evil or the evidence for evolution as justification for their rejection of God, these are excuses rather than reasons. The real reason for their unbelief is their moral rebellion against the Creator. While this makes for good theology, it will not be effective in convincing the defender of the HoG argument that God exists, and thus I do not recommend offering this response to an unbeliever. It is, however, an appropriate response for Christians who question why God doesn’t make His existence more plain.
In conclusion, the HoG objection to theism is multiply flawed. The conclusion is a non-sequitar; it presupposes that God wants people to believe He exists; it does not consider the possibility that God provides evidence of His existence selectively according to His knowledge of the condition of each person’s heart; it ignores the abundance of evidence for theism we do have; it presumes physical evidence is the only valid form of evidence. For these reasons the HoG objection is not successful.
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