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?