A Divine Hiddenness Argument for Christianity

Take this post as a conversation-starter, please. I think there may be something to it, but it’s just a first stab at it.

The Divine Hiddenness Argument Against Christianity
There is an argument against Christianity based on God’s “hiddenness:” that if God existed and wanted people to believe in him, he would make himself known more plainly; he would not be hidden as he is now. J.L. Schellenberg presented the question in Divine Hiddenness and Human Freedom. An atheist blogger who goes by “Ebon Musings” wrote the best web-accessible article I know of on the topic. In paraphrased form, he says,

  • There is no visible work of God, in the form of miracles, in the world today.
  • Events formerly considered miraculous are now thought to be myth, fable, or misinterpreted acts of nature.
  • Believers claim that God can nonetheless be known and perceived through some faith sense. It is most likely the case, however, that this faith sense does not actually exist, due to the unanswerability of questions like, What is it? Where is it? How is it validated or verified, especially in view of contrary reports by different people?
  • Even if God exists, if there is no verifiable way of detecting his presence and activity, he may as well not exist.
  • God, if he exists, can and should want to reveal himself in some unambiguous way.

In his own words, he writes,

I would certainly begin to believe in God if I were to witness an unambiguous manifestation of the divine, and the vast majority of atheists probably would as well…What further harm could it possibly do for him to appear and attempt to convince them otherwise?

Because God has not done this, Ebon Musings concludes there is probably no God. This is (in compressed form) the divine hiddenness argument against Christianity.

Is God So Hidden?
One glaring weakness in this argument is the billions of people who believe God’s existence is well evidenced. We affirm the “faith sense” of which Ebon Musings spoke, and we deny that it is as hard to define as he says it is. It is the touch of God himself upon his people; and if it is hard to explain to others, it is difficult in about the same way it would be to explain “red” to someone blind from birth. God is evident to us in the beauty and design of nature, in his revelation through Scripture, in the extra-biblical historical support that revelation receives, and in a host of philosophical arguments.

The situation, then, is this: we have one group saying that if God existed he would have made himself more evident than he has, and another group saying he has made himself perfectly evident.

What Kind of Evidence Would Suffice?
The first group is looking, perhaps, for what Ebon Musings called “an unambiguous manifestation of the divine.” It’s not clear to me what that might be, though I have heard people speak of God appearing like Santa in the Macy’s parade, or writing his name in the sky without an airplane. I’m quite sure committed atheists would set out immediately to show those manifestations were ambiguous, too; if they were to happen, even then there would have to be some natural explanation for them. For them, God’s signature would have to be completely unmistakable and undeniable. If the non-coding portions of DNA were found to be codes after allcodes that spelled out the text of the gospel of John—maybe that would do it for them. Then there would be no longer any room for doubt.

I don’t think I’m overstating the standard of evidence some skeptics want of God. The fine-tuning of the universe points clearly to a fine-tuner, but those who do not want a God can nevertheless find a way out of that conclusion: an untested, untestable, massively theoretical, Ockham’s-razor-violating “multiverse.” They will gladly violate basic scientific principles to find a “scientific” alternative to God. The only evidence some atheists/skeptics would accept would be of the sort that absolutely compels belief. Jut as it is impossible to doubt that the sun exists, they want it to be impossible to doubt that God exists. Only then they will believe. Not all are as adamantly opposed to belief in God, but many are.

Christianity teaches of a different kind of relationship with God, in which the believer relates to God through faith and love. In so doing the believer expresses a morally significant choice, not a compelled belief or behavior. God is perfect in holiness and righteousness. Those who love holiness and righteousness will seek him and know him (John 14:20); those who hate it will hide from him. God makes it possible for us to choose either response, according to Christian teachings.

An Answer To the Divine Hiddenness Argument
With that as background I begin to explore an experimental thought:

  1. Judaism and Christianity teach that God desires to make himself known to those whose hearts seek him.
  2. Judaism and Christianity teach that God’s self-revelation will be hidden from those who reject his holiness and righteousness.
  3. Therefore (1 and 2) knowledge of God is a matter of heart attitude as much as (or more than) evidences.
  4. But Christianity teaches that God is creator and true; therefore his creation should give a true witness (evidences) concerning his reality.
  5. Given (3) and (4), we would expect the world to provide evidence for God, but not to compel belief in God, leaving room for a decision of the heart.
  6. Therefore (5) we would expect God to have created a world in which evidences could be interpreted either as supporting or not supporting his existence.
  7. Those who know God affirm that there are objective evidences to support their belief in his objective reality, and deny that purported evidences against God are decisive.
  8. Those who deny God deny that those evidences count adequately for the existence of God, and/or affirm that evidences against God are decisive.
  9. Therefore (7) and (8) the world is such that, it is humanly possible to conclude either that God exists or he does not: belief in God is not compelled by the evidences.
  10. The world is such that the conditions in (5) and (6) are met.
  11. The state of the evidence is consistent with Judeo-Christian teachings (1) through (6).

The argument so far is a defeater for Schallenberg’s hiddenness argument against God, and I think rather solid as far as it goes. But there is more:

A Divine Hiddenness Argument For Christianity

  1. The Judeo-Christian understanding of God in (1), (2), and (3) was developed thousands of years ago.
  2. The state of the evidence in (11) having persisted for centuries, it is remarkable for its endurance.
  3. Both believers and unbelievers in God must acknowledge that no matter how strongly they hold to their own beliefs, thoughtful persons can hold to the opposite. Neither belief for nor against God is compelled by the evidence.
  4. Thus (from (14) the state of the evidence in (11) is also remarkably fine-tuned.
  5. This persistence (13) and fine-tuning (15) are suggestive of an intelligent guiding intentionality ruling over them.
  6. This guiding intentionality could only come from a personal God who has intended that state of affairs.

That’s the argument in outline. Steps (1) through (11) are defensive: they answer and undercut an argument against God. In (12) through (17) I attempt to go beyond that and show that God’s “hiddenness” may hint at something more positive. I do not claim it as a proof for God; it is not that strong. But it is at least intriguing, and, as I have said, suggestive.

Issues and Questions
There are issues here for us to discuss. The oddity in this argument is that it uses perceived lack of evidence for God (8) as positive evidence for God. That would be an issue if this were an argument for some generic theism, but it is not; it is for the Christian God, who desires humans to be able rationally to believe yet not be compelled to believe. I believe the argument stands in that regard.

A second difficulty lies in the Christian doctrine of God’s sovereignty over election of believers. I am going to name that as a potential problem and leave it as an item for discussion.

A third difficulty is that this argument (steps 12 through 17) can be viewed as a member of a class of arguments that have failed spectacularly in other usages. Richard Dawkins once said, “The universe that we observe has precisely the properties we should expect if there is, at bottom, no design, no purpose, no evil, no good, nothing but pitiless indifference.” Another atheist, Victor Stenger, said (PDF File), “The laws of physics are just what they would be expected to be if they came from nothing.” My argument here could be paraphrased, “The world has just the properties we would expect if it were created by a God who wanted belief in him to be supported but not compelled by the evidences.”

Dawkins’s and Stenger’s arguments share this weakness: they propose that we know just how universes can be designed, that we have compared possible universes, and that we have discovered—eureka!—ours is just right for our preferred metaphysical position. It’s unlikely that this kind of analysis is possible. My argument may share the same weakness. (Dawkins’s and Stenger’s arguments have other serious problems besides, but they are less relevant to the current discussion.)

Nevertheless, in spite of those potential weaknesses, I think it’s remarkable that today, thousands of years after the formulation of Judeo-Christian views of God, we find ourselves still in a world where the evidences are fine-tuned the way they are. This fine-tuning is not objectively measurable the way the fine-tuning of physics and cosmology are. Still I think it is interesting and suggestive. It might even be positive evidence for a fine-tuner. What do you think?

Comments 27
  1. Bryan

    Point 3 hits the nail on the head: “Therefore (1 and 2) knowledge of God is a matter of heart attitude as much as (or more than) evidences.”

    Behind every believer or unbeliever is the will to believe or not believe. I remember asking my atheist friend one time, do you want there to be a God and an afterlife? And he said plainly, ‘no.’ If there were not a subjective element to belief or non-belief, then we’d all be drawing the same conclusions from the evidence.

    Well done, Tom.

  2. Jeff Burton

    I recently read a statement from an atheist that if he were confronted with something like the DNA evidence you hypothesize, he would doubt his sanity rather than his philosophical materialism. I think Abraham’s rejoinder at the end of the parable of Lazarus and Dives is appropriate here.

  3. woodchuck64

    Tom,

    An Answer To the Divine Hiddenness Argument

    If God does not exist, I still grant (1)-(11). (In fact, I would argue that (1)-(11) are the way they are because God does not exist.) But that means (13) is remarkable only in the sense that, say, elephants, and not mammoths are remarkable for having surviving centuries to this day. Fitness, whether species-specific or meme-specific, must have been present. All religions that persist to this day are fit in that sense. Thus I reach (15) without finding the evidence fine-tuned, but rather the most likely state of affairs.

    BTW, a more bullet-proof version of ADH is here:
    Divine hiddenness and the demographics of theism by Stephen Maitzen.

  4. Tom Gilson

    Then you are arguing that the “meme” (a stupid word, but I’ll run with it) of evidences that originated all those thousands of years ago was a very fit one. In that case this is an argument of a different sort, not unlike the two that I offered here. You acknowledge the astonishingly prescient wisdom of ancient people, who did a stunningly effective job of coming up with a religion that would last through all the eons, through all the unforeseen evidential challenges that science, philosophy, and outright opposition would raise against it.

    Instead of turning the Divine Hiddenness argument against itself, I could turn your response to it around against skeptics who claim the ancients were too simple and naive to have anything to offer us moderns. If my argument here does not succeed, I would willingly settle for your admission here as a consolation prize.

    You say,

    All religions that persist to this day are fit in that sense.

    No, for Christianity’s orientation toward evidence is unique among all religions. Other religions survive regardless of evidence; Christianity welcomes the pursuit of evidences and thrives on it. Its fitness is not the same kind as the other religions’ at all.

  5. Tom Gilson

    On second thought I’m disavowing that idiotic concept “meme” altogether. Christianity’s evidences are not just words floating through the air from one brain to another. They are actual records of events in history, subject to historic investigation. They are actual conditions of human experience, subject to rational philosophical investigation. They are actual states of time and space, of the cosmos, of all reality, also subject to rational philosophical investigation. They are records of actual people down through history, and the actual experiences of believers today.

    This “meme” thing is destructive of rationality, for if there were anything to it as Dawkins has proposed it, then it would eat itself alive. If memes propagate like viruses, then the “meme” meme would owe its own existence to its being a virus, and it would be of no more rational significance than a virus. If memes are what Dawkins says they are, then they cannot be what Dawkins says they are; for he claims they have some rational reality to them, while proving at the same time that they don’t.

    You cannot wipe any belief aside by calling it a meme. You must treat its actual reality, whatever that reality may be, as actual reality—unless you believe language constructs reality, in which case you ought to admit it so we can answer you according to what you are really trying to communicate.

  6. woodchuck64

    Tom,

    You acknowledge the astonishingly prescient wisdom of ancient people, who did a stunningly effective job of coming up with a religion that would last through all the eons, through all the unforeseen evidential challenges that science, philosophy, and outright opposition would raise against it.

    Are you astonished by the fact that every single one of your ancestors over the last 10,000 years lived to bear children? One could be tempted to think that there is something extraordinary special about your great-great-great-…grandfather living 10,000 years ago to give birth to such an extraordinarily long-lived lineage, but there really needn’t be. In the same sense, many modern religions are descendants of ancient religions that just happened to survive.

    But, yes, it is also possible that central ideas in successful religions, such as monotheism and reincarnation, have surely played a part in the success of Christianity and Hinduism, respectively. So in that sense, modern successful religions hit upon concepts long ago that have a natural affinity with human culture.

    In evolution, mammals survived because they were better able to cope with climate change. Did they have prescient wisdom to see the impending ice ages? No, but they happened to have features that allowed them to survive while other species did not. We might think mammals came up with a stunningly effective biological design to ensure that they would last through the eons, eventually culminating in homo sapiens, but this is fallacious thinking.

    Note that I’ve been assuming your original argument doesn’t require me to give up naturalism in advance to find it persuasive, so I’m coming at this with naturalistic assumptions.

  7. Tom Gilson

    woodchuck64:

    Are you astonished by the fact that every single one of your ancestors over the last 10,000 years lived to bear children

    I’m astonished that you think that’s a parallel case. My ancestors over the last 10,000 years did not each survive. Not even one of them older than my father’s generation has survived. But he actual teaching, theology, and evidences that the ancients produced have survived. These teachings, theology, and evidences did not produce malleable offspring that adapted generation upon generation to meet changing circumstances; they survived as they were originally developed; and not as memes, either. The parallelism fails utterly.

  8. woodchuck64

    Tom,

    On second thought I’m disavowing that idiotic concept “meme” altogether.

    There’s no reason to get worked up about it, the definition of meme says nothing about its truth. Memes can be true or false, all that matters for a meme to be a meme is that it replicates in human minds. The meme concept is useful as a means to study the transmission and adoption of ideas in human thought with the concepts of biological evolution, i.e. variation, mutation, competition, inheritance.

  9. woodchuck64

    Tom,

    I’m astonished that you think that’s a parallel case. My ancestors over the last 10,000 years did not each survive. Not even one of them older than my father’s generation has survived.

    The last three words are important: are you astonished by the fact that every single one of your ancestors over the last 10,000 years lived to bear children. See also my mammal analogy. You are free to prefer not to accept mammal evolution, but that helps me know what sort of assumptions/premises your original argument is making.

  10. Tom Gilson

    Re your 6:28 comment:

    If you still think there is some parallelism between Christianity and organisms’ lineages, it behooves you to do more than to tell me again that you still think it. I gave you an argument, to which you have not substantively responded. The burden of proof is on you.

    Re your earlier comment, the definition of meme is self-defeating. In Dawkins’s definition, it cannot be true. I explained that.

    The meme concept is useful perhaps in some contexts, but not when it distorts reality as it does in your usage here.

  11. woodchuck64

    Tom,

    These teachings, theology, and evidences did not produce malleable offspring that adapted generation upon generation to meet changing circumstances; they survived as they were originally developed; and not as memes, either.

    Sure, some teachings and theology did not change, but some clearly did. For example, it is no longer necessary to sacrifice animals for the forgiveness of sins. I would call that a kind of adaptation or mutation, even if it also happens to be newly revealed divine wisdom.

    I’m not certain what argument you’re making since it seems impossible to argue that modern Christianity is exactly the same as ancient Judaism. Any changes at all over the millenia can certainly be viewed as change in response to circumstances or change that happened by chance (or divine plan and/or revelation) that improved the religion’s fitness for converts.

    The only difference I expect to see between us is that you would suggest intelligent design as an explanation behind each change, while I would suggest natural processes.

    This “meme” thing is destructive of rationality, for if there were anything to it as Dawkins has proposed it, then it would eat itself alive. If memes propagate like viruses, then the “meme” meme would owe its own existence to its being a virus, and it would be of no more rational significance than a virus.

    No. The success of a meme is entirely due to whatever makes it attractive to a human mind. Since human minds can value rationality, rational memes can be very fit. For example, libraries help spread rational memes.

  12. Tom Gilson

    If you’re not sure what argument I’m making then we’re at least even, because you never did develop your analogy in any convincing way.

    I’m not arguing that Judaism and Christianity are the same. Why would you think I was trying to do that? I wrote what I mean to write, which was not about doctrines remaining the same, it was about evidential circumstances remaining stable over centuries. That is, the evidential circumstances surrounding belief in God, which were developed thousands of years ago, have remained finely tuned through all those years such that a person could rationally and reasonably believe in God yet not be compelled to believe. (By “compelled to believe,” I mean something like the compulsion upon me to believe there is light in the room where I’m sitting; I could never choose whether I believed that or not.) This is the argument I stated, and it has nothing to do with the changes in doctrine from the OT to the NT.

    You keep talking about the success of individual memes, while I keep telling you the term “meme” is itself a nonsense term in the way Dawkins presented it. You can’t convince me that some memes are “fit” or “rational” when the term “meme” itself is neither rational nor “fit” for rational discussion.

    You could speak of ideas, or thoughts, or currents of opinions, or other similar things without resorting to Dawkins’s self-referentially incoherent term. There’s a whole world of incoherence, for example, lurking underneath your sentence, “Since human minds can value rationality, rational memes can be very fit. For example, libraries help spread rational memes.” To the extent that memes or like genes (or viruses, to which Dawkins has also compared them) to that extent their fitness has to do with their success in reproduction, not with their rationality. Now, if that seems like an odd thing to say, then you’re catching on. I don’t think that there is such a thing as a “meme” whose “fitness” is defined according to its reproductive fecundity. Rather there are ideas that spread for various reasons.

    I think you missed my main point there. It was not a typo when I placed the same word twice in a row: the “meme” meme. My point is that if the word “meme” means anything at all, then it means something that undermines its own meaning. The term “meme” is suicidal; it cannot help but kill itself. So why use it?

  13. Tom Gilson

    More on memes here, including:

    The term `thought contagion’ is neutral with respect to truth or falsity, as well as good or bad. False beliefs can spread as thought contagions, but so too can true beliefs.

    If meme theory is correct, then the term meme has itself spread via thought contagion, which is neutral with respect to truth or falsity. If meme theory is true, it is indeterminate whether meme theory is true. That’s irrational.

    See also here from scienceblogs.

  14. woodchuck64

    Tom,

    Since my first comment, I’ve been reacting to your comment about “the astonishingly prescient wisdom of ancient people, who did a stunningly effective job of coming up with a religion that would last through all the eons”. I’ve explained that there is no necessary need to appeal to prescient wisdom when examining the success of modern religions, natural evolution of memes (yes, you hate that word, more below) will also do. Although you may be reluctant to see Christianity that way, I’m sure you can agree with me that Hinduism at least demonstrates how a religion can originate thousands of years ago and surpass “all the unforeseen evidential challenges that science, philosophy, and outright opposition would raise against it” to evolve into its modern form without requiring prescient wisdom or divine help.

    That is, the evidential circumstances surrounding belief in God, which were developed thousands of years ago, have remained finely tuned through all those years such that a person could rationally and reasonably believe in God yet not be compelled to believe.

    In what sense are you talking about evidential circumstances developed thousands of years ago? The evidence that God allowed the Israelites to see in the Old Testament is vastly greater than anything we see today and would certainly make it difficult for rational disbelief. The miracles of Jesus presented a much greater quality of positive evidence to the early disciples than we have today.

    If you mean evidential circumstances for modern Christianity have only in recent centuries reached some sort of balance between evidence and rational belief/disbelief, I would first look at the historical trend and wonder if the current situation is only a temporary condition. After all, doesn’t it appear that evidence has been decreasing steadily since Old Testament times? Couldn’t we expect evidence to decrease further?

    However, even if evidential circumstances today are stable, I would still argue that religions (true or false regardless) always need a good explanation for why rational people do not believe. The explanation that God does not want to compel belief but instead leave a decision for the heart is just such an explanation. In a world where God does not exist, or in a world where God exists but false religions also exists, a false religion must come up with an explanation for why rational people do not believe. Therefore, I believe a false religion that grants that unbelievers may be rational will have something like your points (1) – (11) in which it is explained why rational people disbelieve. That means a situation in which people rationally disagree on the existence of God can be a natural state of affairs and therefore undermines the conclusion of fine-tuning.

    If meme theory is correct, then the term meme has itself spread via thought contagion, which is neutral with respect to truth or falsity. If meme theory is true, it is indeterminate whether meme theory is true. That’s irrational.

    One key misunderstanding I think you have is that “memes” are some kind of new entity that Dawkins has discovered or has theorized its existence. I don’t think that’s accurate. Rather memes are just another way of viewing the already existing phenomena of information spreading between human minds. There is nothing controversial about ideas or beliefs being transmitted from one person or group to another, we know ideas and beliefs exist, and we know they are transmitted. What could be controversial is how to apply biological concepts such as self-replication, mutation, and selective pressure to memes. For example, comparing religion to a virus is not scientifically justified.

    So your comment to me is basically a rehash of the naturalistic origin of reason conundrum I’ve heard before from you: if ideas and beliefs originated through natural means, how do we know that ideas or beliefs are true. This of course is a book-length topic. Naturalistic philosophers have many answers, but the one I subscribe to is, in short, that (inductive) truth is never absolute but merely possibly true (and, yes, that statement is also possibly true, and also this parenthetical one, and so on). Pragmatic usefulness is to be preferred over truth; therefore ideas and beliefs expressing propositions that are useful are to be preferred over those that are less useful.

  15. woodchuck64

    I didn’t really answer this directly:

    If meme theory is correct, then the term meme has itself spread via thought contagion, which is neutral with respect to truth or falsity. If meme theory is true, it is indeterminate whether meme theory is true. That’s irrational.

    Memes may spread regardless of truth or falsity, but that doesn’t mean we can’t determine whether a given meme is true or false. For example, if we believe the tools of science lead to provisional truth, we can test a meme with the tools of science. If we don’t believe science leads to truth, we can pray for divine revelation about the truth of a meme. Either way, meme theory is not irrational in the above sense.

  16. Holopupenko

    Tom:

    Woodchuck’s last paragraph is a great example of atheistic self-delusion masking an underlying will-to-power that echoes Nietzsche.

    Let’s leave aside the clear empirical evidence of this as reflected in the 20th-century body count numbering at least 120 million people ascribable directly to worldviews formally and explicitly animated by atheism. Let’s also leave aside the tremendous questioning-begging in Woodchuck not defining precisely what he means by “information” and “ideas”… which permits him to manipulate the situation to serve his personal purposes. Finally, let’s also leave aside the sheer dumbness of acceding or subscribing to the meme of “meme.”

    The much more serious problem lies precisely in Woodchuck’s last two sentences—a begged question left ambiguous for manipulation purposes that results in self-refuting irrationality par excellance:

    Naturalistic philosophers have many answers, but the one I subscribe to is, in short, that (inductive) truth is never absolute but merely possibly true (and, yes, that statement is also possibly true, and also this parenthetical one, and so on). Pragmatic *usefulness* is to be preferred over truth; therefore ideas and beliefs expressing propositions that are useful are to be preferred over those that are less useful.

    First, what does he mean by “usefulness” or “pragmatic”? Surely, since Woodchuck ascribes to a naturalistic (read: scientistic) vision of reality, then he should be able to specify which modern empirical science measures, correlates into predictive formalisms, and at least produce testable hypotheses to support his point. (Don’t hold your breath: it’s a “pragmatic” emotional desire on his part.)

    Moreover, is it not true that what is “useful” for a Christian is not “useful” for an atheist… or is that merely an inductive wholly-contingent claim on my part? Worse, what could possibly arbitrate what is “more” useful, and hence “to be preferred”? Would Woodchuck be so foolish as too suggest “usefulness” is somehow quantifiable, and hence reduce truth to a matter of book-keeping? (We all know how easily atheists tend to “cook” the books on truth in their favor, by the way.)

    What is “useful” for a pedophile or a Nazi or a cannibal? That’s easy, for it is, at base, the same thing as for atheists: a will to power over others. It is precisely because atheists a priori demand linguistic and epistemic ambiguity that this leaves them room to manipulate the situation in their favor. If there is no objective means by which truth claims can be arbitrated, the might-makes-right wins… every single time. That is the undeniable road down which Woodchuck is enticing us to descend: pragmatism and power win.

    Is not what Woodchuck is doing with his dictum is telling us how it is with truth? Is he not purporting to tell us the truth (in the old sense) about truth (in the disordered “pragmatic” sense)? What Woodchuck explicitly asserts is that there is no truth “in itself”—there are only various interpretations from the varying perspectives of power-hungry individuals, interpretations that serve to enhance the power of these individuals. (Cue: “ughs” from the echoes of our old “friend” Jacob’s postmodern nonsense.)

    At bottom, for Woodchuck the world is a vast constellation of ever-changing power-centers vying with each other for dominance, and what a particular power-center calls “true” for the purposes of “pragmatic usefulness” are merely those interpretations that enhance and preserve its power. (Now, we can reference the empirically-verifiable body-count noted above.) But if that is the way it is, then there is an absolute truth after all. Woodchuck will never be able to extricate himself from this contradiction. And where he fails, atheists have failed since the time the repugnant meme of atheism began impose its foul, festering and deadly nonsense upon humankind.

    Don’t ever buy a used car from Woodchuck.. or (per Chesterton) any atheist.

    P.S. Here’s the smoking-gun quote from Nietzsche’s Will to Power: “The criterion of truth resides in the heightening of the feeling of power.” And, for atheists in particular, “pragmatic usefulness” (over others) = power = “truth”.

  17. Bill R.

    Holopupenko:
    Whatever merits your comments have (and I do agree with the thrust of them), their truth is totally soured by the rhetorical slap-in-the-face to woodchuck64 of talking about him in the third person. Surely, you could have made your point just as well to his face, and, just as surely, Tom is not the intended audience of your remarks (as if he were on the cusp of actually agreeing with woodchuck64, and you needed to warn him of the danger). To be clear about my position: I am a Christian, and I largely agree with you and disagree with woodchuck64, but shouldn’t our grace be as evident (or more) to others as our wit?

    To woodchuck64: I think the comparison between Christianity and Hinduism is actually quite illuminating. In the first place, the Hinduism of today bears essentially no resemblance to the Hinduism of 2000 years ago, which, in turn, bears no resemblance to the Hinduism of 4000 years ago. Today’s Hinduism is devotional (emphasizing commitment to a particular god among the pantheon); the previous iteration was philosophical (emphasizing asceticism and giving birth to Buddhism); the one before that was ritualistic (emphasizing priestcraft and formula). While Judeo-Christian theology has certainly undergone revolutions of its own, the theological core has remained the same – a transcendent yet immanent Creator choosing his people out of “the nations” and pursuing/redeeming/rescuing/wooing them again and again. As evidence of the continuity, you have Christians today of all denominations looking to the 3500-year-old Scriptures with the same respect and attention as the 2000-year-old Scriptures. My impression of Hinduism (I could be mistaken) is that today’s devotional Hindu would consider it a waste of time to study the philosophical musings and ethical formulae of earlier traditions.

    Second (and perhaps most important), Hinduism is a highly syncretistic religion: over the millennia, it has demoted gods that fall out of favor, promoted minor deities to prominence, and assimilated the gods of all the other religious traditions it has encountered (including Jesus). In that sense, Hinduism might be considered a highly “adaptive” religion, and its survival may even be plausibly credited to a kind of evolutionary mechanism: when in danger of becoming irrelevant, it has dispensed with much of its history, reorganized its pantheon, and reinvented its theology to become more accessible. Christianity, on the other hand, strongly resists syncretism and theological innovation. Even the great revolutions in Christian thought, like the Reformation, have targeted a return to the roots of Biblical faith. So while I can see how Hinduism “demonstrates how a religion can originate thousands of years ago and surpass ‘all the unforeseen evidential challenges that science, philosophy, and outright opposition would raise against it’ to evolve into its modern form without requiring prescient wisdom or divine help”, I find that explanation harder to apply to Christianity. Hinduism has survived precisely because it has evolved, whereas Christianity has survived in spite of the fact that its essence has remained the same.

  18. Holopupenko

    Bryan: Thanks–appreciated.

    Bill R: Thanks–mostly accepted and fully appreciated. However (this is not a justification), there is a history here…

    Tom: sorry.

    Woodchuck: Does saying “sorry” (not for the message but for the means) mean anything objective to your world view? If not, then no one can be truly apologetic about anything, can they…

  19. Bill R.

    Holopupenko: I guess I am relatively new here, so I don’t know all the history. I do hope to hang around, though 🙂

  20. woodchuck64

    Bill R.,

    I don’t know if Holopupenko’s comments have merit or not, they’re too deeply buried in sarcastically condescending invective for me go digging. I think he prefers to preach to a choir rather than engage in friendly but spirited discussion.

    Hinduism has survived precisely because it has evolved, whereas Christianity has survived in spite of the fact that its essence has remained the same.

    That’s a matter of some perspective, though. If you look at Hinduism’s own mostly unchanging essences– reincarnation, karma and dharma– the evolution that has occurred in Hinduism over the centuries need not be considered crucial to what it really means to be Hindu. Clearly, there are very special ideas at the core of great religions, but I’m not certain how we go from recognizing those special ideas to seeing them as divinely inspired.

    I think this particular topic originated when Tom said in 4:53pm “If my argument here does not succeed, I would willingly settle for your admission here as a consolation prize.” In his latest comments, I’m not sure he’s
    granting that his argument (A Divine Hiddenness Argument For Christianity) does not succeed, so this may be moot.

  21. woodchuck64

    Bill R.,

    Holopupenko: I guess I am relatively new here, so I don’t know all the history. I do hope to hang around, though

    BTW, Holopupenko means I have a history of being an atheist and making atheistic comments; not that I have a history of personal animosity or cheap shots taken towards him (as “history” often means). You can examine that history if you wish with google search:

    site:www.thinkingchristian.net woodchuck64 Holopupenko

  22. Reidish

    Tom,

    Interesting argument! I offer the following comments:

    3. Therefore (1 and 2) knowledge of God is a matter of heart attitude as much as (or more than) evidences.

    I think this needs to be clearer. I think you mean “objective evidence”, yes? Subjective experience can quite obviously give us justification for certain beliefs about God. I think you allude to the objective nature of these evidences later (in 7), but suggest you be more explicit about this throughout.

    Given (3) and (4), we would expect the world to provide evidence for God, but not to compel belief in God, leaving room for a decision of the heart.
    6. Therefore (5) we would expect God to have created a world in which evidences could be interpreted either as supporting or not supporting his existence.

    I don’t see how (6) follows from (5). Noting how we would expect the world to give evidence for the Christian God is not equivalent to saying we can infer how the Judeo-Christian God would create the world. Consider:
    (i) When I see a car, I expect that a human designed it.
    (ii) I expect humans to design cars.

    You can’t deduce (ii) from (i) alone, yet it seems like you’re trying to do something similar.

    14. Both believers and unbelievers in God must acknowledge that no matter how strongly they hold to their own beliefs, thoughtful persons can hold to the opposite. Neither belief for nor against God is compelled by the evidence.
    15. Thus (from (14) the state of the evidence in (11) is also remarkably fine-tuned.

    Here I think you’re basically saying that Judeo-Christian theism and atheism are both rational, correct?

    As a point of emphasis, I think you should stick with this mode of describing the fine-tuning qualitatively, not quantitatively. If understood quantitatively, the growth of Christianity since the first century might undermine your thesis!

    This persistence (13) and fine-tuning (15) are suggestive of an intelligent guiding intentionality ruling over them.

    Why? Not that I can think of a good counter-example yet, but this is an important premise that needs some defense.

  23. Bill R.

    woodchuck64:

    That’s a matter of some perspective, though. If you look at Hinduism’s own mostly unchanging essences– reincarnation, karma and dharma– the evolution that has occurred in Hinduism over the centuries need not be considered crucial to what it really means to be Hindu. Clearly, there are very special ideas at the core of great religions, but I’m not certain how we go from recognizing those special ideas to seeing them as divinely inspired.

    I suppose perspective does matter. I guess I’m just curious as to why Christianity and Hinduism are both flourishing, given that they have such different attitudes towards theological tradition. If you asked me to predict, a priori, which religion would survive and spread – one that emphasized continuity over adaptation vs. one that emphasized adaptation over continuity – I would have predicted the latter, and yet Christianity is, by all accounts, more widespread than Hinduism (but maybe we need to count Buddhism and New Age spirituality as Hindu, because of the emphasis on karma/dharma/reincarnation; I don’t know).

    But I get what you’re proposing: that a naturalistic/evolutionary understanding of religion predicts the apparent fine-tuning just as well as 3500-year old Jewish theology does, so we can’t necessarily conclude that the latter is a better explanation than the former. I’d like, however, to examine the two predictions and see if they are indeed equally good.

    A naturalistic/evolutionary understanding of religion does, to an extent, predict what we see today: that there will be people who believe in God and people who don’t. But it predicts that the people who believe in God do so because the idea of God appeals to some sub-rational human desire, not because they have rationally evaluated the evidence and come to an informed conclusion. In other words, the evolutionary model predicts the current state of belief (a mixture of belief and unbelief), but not the current state of the evidence (a mixture of evidence for and against God). The 3500-year old Jewish theology predicts both, and not just for the early 21st century, but for all the centuries before it. Unless you don’t agree that believers and unbelievers can honestly and rationally disagree in their interpretations of the evidence, or unless there is an evolutionary model that predicts that evidence (as well as belief) should remain roughly in equilibrium for millennia, then I’d say the Judeo-Christian explanation has more predictive power than the evolutionary model.

    So what of the comparison to Hinduism? An evolutionary model of religion predicts that belief in reincarnation/karma/dharma (just like belief in God) will persist in some people, despite evidence for or against it, because it resonates with us and seems intuitive. So the evolutionary model predicts the state of belief, but what about the state of evidence? There’s the difference: as far as I know, not many people spend much time marshaling evidence for karma/dharma/reincarnation, at least compared to the effort devoted to showing evidence for God. Maybe I’m not doing justice to the tradition, but it doesn’t seem like there is a Hindu equivalent of Christian apologetics. Thus, for Hinduism, there is no “state of evidence” to account for; there is only “state of belief”. That’s why I think the evolutionary model works in the case of Hinduism, but not in the case of Christianity.

    What do you think?

  24. woodchuck64

    Bill R.,

    Unless you don’t agree that believers and unbelievers can honestly and rationally disagree in their interpretations of the evidence, or unless there is an evolutionary model that predicts that evidence (as well as belief) should remain roughly in equilibrium for millennia, then I’d say the Judeo-Christian explanation has more predictive power than the evolutionary model.

    I think this is complicated by the fact that I have taken religious experience as part of the evidence in question. I see the balance of highest quality, strictly empirical evidence as not allowing belief in God or Christianity but I also admit that the evidence people have from religious experience certainly does make it rational for them to overcome any absence of empirical, non-experiential evidence. I would argue that religious experience makes it possible to accommodate and rationalize a great deal of counter empirical evidence so it’s not really a fine-tuned situation. (I prefer a naturalistic explanation for religious experience of course.) If you believe that evidence, completely apart from or assisted by religious experience, allows rational belief in Christianity or God, we do have a difference of view.

    There’s the difference: as far as I know, not many people spend much time marshaling evidence for karma/dharma/reincarnation, at least compared to the effort devoted to showing evidence for God.

    This is helpful and I agree that, as far as central ideas go, JudeoChristianity took a tougher route. Does that rule out a natural explanation, though? To strictly evaluate that I have to consider that modern Jewish thought still regards Christianity as a corruption and that the continuity between Yahweh and Jesus is controversial. If I consider Judaism alone, I see the great idea of monotheism, but considerable evolution in the theology of how God interacts with the world, so it seems possible to model it naturalistically.

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