Tuesday, February 14, 2017

The Problem of Divine Hiddenness

I just read a strange argument from BK, over at Christian Cadre.  In praising Tom Gilson's review of John Loftus' forthcoming book How To Defend the Christian Faith, BK inadvertently undermines Gilson's argument.  But BK's thought process is thoroughly irrational.  He doesn't even recognize that he has abandoned all logical argument in favor of an emotional knee-jerk reaction against the atheist Loftus. 

Before we get to any discussion of divine hiddenness, BK starts out by expressing his dislike of Loftus.  He says:
I don’t like to give the aforementioned Mr. Loftus any recognition on this blog because he is remarkably uninformed about Christian thought even by atheist standards. - BK
Apparently, BK is completely unaware that Loftus was raised as a Christian, and was a fervent believer for more than half of his life.  He holds a Bachelor of Religious Education degree, a Masters of Divinity, and a Masters of Theology.  He was an ordained minister.  He studied under William Lane Craig, and taught apologetics.  In BK's view all this amounts to being "remarkably uninformed".  He then goes on to make the childish proclamation:
For the remainder of this post, I will treat him like Lord Voldemort in Harry Potter by referencing him as “he-who-shall-not-be-named”. - BK
And this sets the tone for the intellectual content of the remainder of his post.

Let us turn to Gilson's review, in which he focuses on one particular argument made by Loftus: the Argument from Divine Hiddenness.  Loftus makes the point that if God wants us to freely choose to love him, he doesn't do an effective job of giving us the opportunity to make that free choice.
My argument is that God, if he exists, failed to effectively communicate his will. He failed to provide the sufficient evidence we need to believe. - Loftus
But in trying to refute Loftus, Gilson claims that by revealing himself to us, God would be coercing us into belief, thus depriving us of the humanity that comes from free will.
God created humans to be able freely to love and follow him. Such freedom necessitates the possibility of choosing otherwise.  This is impossible on Loftus’s suggestions here. ... John wants a God who would coerce all of us by the irresistible power of deity into believing in him, while leaving us free to make our own choice whether to like God or not. Either that or else he wants a God who would force us both to know and to love him. So much for being human. - Gilson
If Gilson wants to be charitable and give Loftus the benefit of the doubt, he should recognize that Loftus is not arguing for the latter of those choices.  Loftus is saying that we can only choose to love God if we first know that he exists.  I have never seen any rational argument that makes a compelling case for why we should love a God (or any being) that doesn't exist in our best estimation.  So we can agree that if God forces us to love him, that would be a deprivation of our humanity.  But there is no reason say that coercion is involved in the case of a God that makes himself known to us, and then gives us the freedom to choose whether we want to love him.  In fact, the bible is full of stories where this is exactly the case.  There is no lack of humanity bestowed upon the person who is still faced with the choice to exercise his free will in following God.  It would appear that the bible undermines Gilson's point.

And in fact, as we turn our attention back to BK's post, we see that BK himself undermines Gilson's argument (apparently without realizing it) by making the case that we can be presented with evidence and still refuse to believe.  And on this point, I agree completely with BK.  But his problem is with exercising one's skepticism:
Now, I am not suggesting that skepticism isn’t appropriate, but for some people ... skepticism has become an end and not the means to an end. ... God's full revelation wouldn't change anything for the unbeliever. - BK
So if that's true, then why should God not reveal himself?  Wouldn't Christians have a much stronger basis for defending God's retribution against sinners if they could say that God has made himself known to us, and by our own choice, the evil ones among us refuse to follow him, or perhaps even refuse to believe in him?  In this situation, you might be able to argue that some kind of divine retribution is justified because of the willing rebellion of the sinner.  On the other hand, who could blame someone who uses the intellect he was born with to follow the available evidence to what he honestly believes is the most reasonable conclusion?  If God's existence is not known to us through the evidence of our senses, what reason do we have to believe?  And if we don't believe, what reason do we have to choose to love God?  Yet this is the logical path for someone who doesn't have evidence as the basis for belief.

Given that we have the intellectual capacity to examine evidence and make rational decisions based on the evidence we see, it is inevitable that some of us will follow the evidence and reject God-belief, not out of rebellion, but because that is what we sincerely believe, based on the evidence we have available.  And for this, God, after having hidden himself away from us, would punish us for making use of our intellectual capacity to come to the most reasonable conclusion.  This is not willing rebellion, and it does not merit God's retribution.

And that's where we get to the real point of BK's post.  There is no rational argument for divine hiddenness.  There is no reason God should refuse to make himself evident to us, as BK has already shown, but in fact it would make more sense if God revealed himself unambiguously, and allowed us to make an informed choice about whether to follow him.  What remains, then, in the way of apologetic argument is irrational in nature.  There is only BK's assertion that failure to love God is equivalent to placing yourself above God.
No, God has not revealed Himself too little. Billions of people throughout history have responded to the call of the Gospel and recognized that loving God is far better than loving one’s-self based upon the evidence we have been given. The evidence is more than sufficient to any who is truly seeking God rather than seeking to elevate themselves. - BK
If someone like Loftus doesn't believe, it's because he is conceited.  That's what BK's argument has come to.  He can't offer any offer a logical argument, so he reverts to the irrational, emotionally based assertion that “he-who-shall-not-be-named” is simply placing himself above God by being skeptical.  Evidence be damned.

Not only is BK reacting in an emotional way to Loftus and failing to respond to the intellectual content of his argument, but he is actually arguing against intellect.  He is demanding that we set aside our intellect, and just believe.  If you just believe, then you'll have all the evidence you need.  To a religionist, faith is what constitutes evidence.  It isn't things that we can detect with our senses.  As the bible says, "Faith is the evidence of things unseen."  And as the church has known for ages, intellect is the enemy of faith.  They all know it, and that's the real reason they hate people like Loftus.  I just wish these religionists would be honest enough to come out and admit it.


  1. Divine Hiddenness? That doggedly persistent jejune characteristic attributed to an inexplicable, out-of-this-world disembodied entity that goes bump in the night, that risible anachronistic thought bubble spawned from the days when people did not know any better and ignorance the standard criterion for discourse.

    This silly nonsense has been has been thoroughly dispensed with, chiefly through the philosophical acumen of one, J L Schellenberg

    And HERE is something extra to read.

    I think this one can be put to bed right here and now, despite Mikey et al.

    1. Thanks. I'll read Schellenberg's paper later today.

      Meanwhile, the "discussion" goes on over at Christian Cadre.