Divine Hiddenness: If a loving God existed, would God ensure we know it?
Clarifying the question
The so-called problem of divine hiddenness, or the "argument from non-belief" features primarily in the debate over whether God exists. It essentially argues that non-believers exist, and that this proves there is no God. Why? Because if there were a good and loving God, then that God would have ensured everyone at least knows he exists in order to better foster loving relationship with him. How could a loving God exists who fails to even try taking the first step of love?
So the most popular version can be roughly simplified like this:
1. If God exists (a greatest possible being), then God is all-good.
2. If God is all-good, then God is perfectly loving.
3. So if God exists, then God is perfectly loving.
4. But a perfectly loving God would ensure everyone1 is always able to be in relationship with God just by trying.2
5. And that ability requires belief that God exists.
6. So, if God exists, then God would ensure all believe.
7. So, if God exists, all persons believe God exists.
8. But not everyone believes that.
9. So no God has ensured everyone believes it.
10. So no God has ensured everyone is able to be in such relationship just by trying.
11. So no perfectly loving God exists.
12. So no all-good God exists.
13. So God does not exist.
Are premises (4)-(6) true? Are there any kinds of individuals who a perfectly loving God might choose to allow to be in non-belief, temporarily or permanently?
- J.L. Schellenberg (philosophy professor at Mount Saint Vincent University) is the primary advancer of the hiddenness argument against theism, and he replaces “everyone” with “all creatures capable of explicit and positively meaningful relationship with God who have not freely shut themselves off from God.” However, even with his modification, are premises 4-6 true?
- The problem of divine hiddenness targets the existence of God as defined in western philosophy. It does not presuppose the existence of an afterlife, salvation, or anything unique to Christianity. That said, some Christians argue that this problem can quickly reduce to a question of why God does not bring more people into a saving relationship with Him (where they are saved from their sins: see the Gospel):
• William Wainwright (Philosophy professor at Wisconsin-Milwaukee): “…the primary value of knowledge of God consists in the fact that it is needed to establish a proper relationship with Him, and [mere knowledge that God exists] won’t further that end. There is no reason, then, why God should increase it. There does appear to be a reason why God would wish to distribute saving knowledge more widely. But ... asking why God hasn’t made Himself savingly known to more people is equivalent to asking why He hasn’t bestowed the gift of salvation more widely. The problem of God’s hiddenness is thus not really a problem of evidence but of grace: Why does God bestow it on some and not others?” [“Jonathan Edwards and the Hiddenness of God,” Divine Hiddenness: New Essays (Cambridge, 2002), 106.]
Resources / Bibliography
There has been a relative explosion of publications on this topic in recent years from which this section of BeliefMap draws from.1
- Aijaz, I., & Weidler, M. (2007). Some Critical Reflections on the Hiddenness Argument. International Journal for Philosophy of Religion, 61, 1–23. Andrews, M. (2014). Divine Hiddenness and Affective Forecasting. Res Cogitans 5 (1):102-110. Coffman, E. & Cervatez, J. (2011). Hiddenness, Evidence, and Idolatry. In Raymond VanArragon & Kelly James Clark (eds.), Evidence and Religious Belief. Cullison, A. (2010). Two Solutions to the Problem of Divine Hiddenness. American Philosophical Quarterly, 47, 119–134. Cuneo, T. (2013). Another Look at Divine Hiddenness. Religious Studies 49 (2):151-164. Drange, T. (1993). The Argument From Non-belief. Religious Studies, 29, 417–432. Drange, T. (1998). Nonbelief and Evil: An Argument for the Nonexistence of God. New York: Amherst Prometheus. Dumsday, T. (2012). Divine Hiddenness and Creaturely Resentment. International Journal for Philosophy of Religion 72 (1):41-51. Dumsday, T. (2014). Divine Hiddenness and Divine Humility. Sophia 53 (1):51-65. Dumsday, T. (2014). Divine Hiddenness and the Opiate of the People. International Journal for Philosophy of Religion 76 (2):193-207. Dumsday, T. (2010). Divine Hiddenness and the Responsibility Argument. Philosophia Christi 12 (2):357-371. Dumsday, T. (2014). Divine Hiddenness as Deserved. Faith and Philosophy 31 (3):286-302. Dumsday, T. (2011). Divine Hiddenness as Divine Mercy. Religious Studies 48 (2):183-198. Dumsday, T. (2010). Divine Hiddenness, Free-will, and the Victims of Wrongdoing. Faith and Philosophy, 27 (4):423-438. Dumsday, T. (2015). Divine Hiddenness and Special Revelation. Religious Studies 51 (2):241-259. Dumsday, T. (2015). Divine Hiddenness and Alienation. Heythrop Journal 57 (1) Dumsday, T. (forthcoming). Divine Hiddenness and the One Sheep. International Journal for Philosophy of Religion:1-18. Dumsday, T. (forthcoming). Anti-Theism and the Problem of Divine Hiddenness. Sophia:1-17. Evans, C.S. (2006). Can God Be Hidden and Evident at the Same Time? Some Kierkegaardian Reflections. Faith and Philosophy, 23, 241–253. Henry, D. (2008). Reasonable Doubts About Reasonable Nonbelief. Faith and Philosophy, 25 (3):276-289. Henry, D. (2001). Does Reasonable Nonbelief Exist?. Faith and Philosophy, Faith and Philosophy 18 (1):75-92. Howard-Snyder, D. (1996). The Argument From Divine Hiddenness. Canadian Journal of Philosophy, 26 (3):433-453. Howard-Snyder, D. & Moser, P. (2002). Introduction: The Hiddenness of God. In D. Howard-Snyder & P. Moser (eds.), Divine Hiddenness: New Essays. Cambridge University Press Keller, J. (1995). The Hiddenness of God and the Problem of Evil. International Journal for Philosophy of Religion, 37, 13–24. King, R. (2008). Obstacles to Revelation: God and the Reorientation of Human Reason. London:Continuum. Lehe, R. (2004). A Response to the Argument From the Reasonableness of Nonbelief,” Faith and Philosophy, 21 (2):159-174. Maitzen, S. (2006). Divine Hiddenness and the Demographics of Theism. Religious Studies, 42, 177–191. McBrayer, J., & Swenson, P. (2011). Scepticism About The Argument From Divine Hiddenness. Religious Studies. McKim, R. (2001). Religious Ambiguity and Religious Diversity. Oxford: Oxford University Press. Meister, C. & Dew J. (2013) “Evil and the Hiddenness of God” in (eds.) C. Meister & J. Dew, God and Evil: The Case for God in a World Filled with Pain. InterVarsity Press. Moser, P. (2008). The Elusive God: Reorienting Religious Epistemology. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press. Moser, P. (2004). Divine Hiddenness Does Not Justify Atheism. In M. Peterson & R. VanArragon (eds.), Contemporary Debates in Philosophy of Religion. Blackwell Pub. 42. Murray, M. (2002). Deus Absconditus. In D. Howard-Snyder & P. Moser (eds.), Divine Hiddenness: New Essays (pp. 62–82). Cambridge: Cambridge University Press. Oakes, R. (2008). Life, Death, and the Hiddenness of God. International Journal for Philosophy of Religion, 64, 155–160. Poston, T., & Dougherty, T. (2007). Divine Hiddenness and the Nature of Belief. Religious Studies, 43, 183–198. Rea, M. (2009). Narrative, Liturgy, and the Hiddenness of God. In K. Timpe (ed.), Metaphysics and God: Essays in Honor of Eleonore Stump 76–96. London: Routledge. Schellenberg, J. (2015) The Hiddenness Argument: Philosophy's New Challenge to Belief in God. Oxford: Oxford University Press Schellenberg, J. (2007). On Not Unnecessarily Darkening the Glass: A Reply to Poston and Dougherty. Religious Studies 43 (2):199-204. Schellenberg, J. (2005) On Reasonable Nonbelief and Perfect Love: Replies to Henry and Lehe. Faith and Philosophy 22 (3):330-342. Schellenberg, J. (2005) The Hiddenness Argument Revisited (I). Religious Studies 41 (2):201-215. Schellenberg, J. (2005). The Hiddenness Argument Revisited (II). Religious Studies 41 (3):287-303. Schellenberg, J. (2008). Reply to Aijaz and Weidler on Hiddenness. International Journal for Philosophy of Religion 64 (3):135-140. Swinburne, R. (2004). The Existence of God (2nd ed.). Oxford: Clarendon Press. Tucker, C. (2008). Divine Hiddenness and the Value of Divine-Creature Relationships. Religious Studies, 44, 269–287. van Inwagen, P. (2006). The Problem of Evil. Oxford: Clarendon Press van Inwagen, P. (2002). “What Is the Problem of the Hiddenness of God?” in (eds) P. Moser & D. Howard-Snyder, Divine Hiddenness: New Essays. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.
Some would just immediately reject relationship
Some resistant non-theists, upon coming to belief, would immediately reject loving relationship.
This page analyzes two arguments:
This is relevant because God's specified motivation to ensure a given person would believe is to allow for relationship, and that motivation is lost insofar as God knows that the given person would immediately reject relationship even while becoming a theist.
But so what?
- After all, “even the demons believe” (James 2:19), and God ostensibly has no interest in securing from persons mere mental assent of His existence.
• Paul Moser (Philosophy professor at Loyola Chicago): “This means that God wants us to love God and thus to treasure God, not just to believe that God exists (see Deuteronomy 6:5; Mark 12:30; James 2:19). The Hebraic God wants all people to enter lovingly into God’s life, in action as well as thought. So production of mere reasonable belief that God exists does not meet God’s higher aim for humans. For our own good, God is after something more profound and more transforming than simple reasonable belief. As all-loving, God will not settle for anything less.” [“Divine Hiddenness Does Not Justify Atheism” (eds) M. L. Peterson, R. J. VanArragon Contemporary Debates in Philosophy of Religion (Blackwell, 2004), 44.]
• Robert T. Lehe (Philosophy professor at North Central College): “Given the complicated psychology of the process of moving toward religious commitment, it is by no means obvious that the most effective way for God to move a person to desire conversion involves the shortest possible path to belief that God exists.” [“A Response to the Argument from the Reasonableness of Nonbelief,” Faith and Philosophy 21(2) (2004): 163.]
• Travis Dumsday (Philosophy professor at Concordia): “…it is worth recalling something that all parties to the debate grant, namely that God’s aim is supposed to be that of enabling us to have a positive relationship with Him. His aim is not merely to convince us of His reality, but to allow for such a relationship.” [“Divine hiddenness and creaturely resentment” International Journal for Philosophy of Religion 72 (2012): 43.]
- After all, “even the demons believe” (James 2:19), and God ostensibly has no interest in securing from persons mere mental assent of His existence.
Some would instantly have an improper relationship (evil)
Some non-theists would just form a perpetually improper relationship with God if, in their current state, they suddenly believed and even entered into a kind of relationship with God.
This page analyzes five examples:
- Those who wouldn't recognize God as Good, and so fail to ever regard God as worship-worthy.
- Those who would reject moral transformation, and so would forever frustrate the vision of Heaven and God's desire to utterly destroy evil sooner than later. (Note: It is God's love for people that holds back His righteous judgement on mankind, but God can rightfully destroy evil at any moment and refrains despite a righteous desire to.)
- Those who would lack right desire for God, i.e. people who might praise God or pray to Him, but for relationship-prohibiting reasons. For example, they may do love-resembling things but.…
- …just to receive gifts, as if God is a coke-machine or sugar-daddy whose only value is what can be given, and would be dropped absent those gifts, or...
- …just to get religious experiences, as if God is just a source for a druggie to receive a fix while not actually caring for or valuing the person behind it, or...
- …just to escape punishment, like a woman who only gets married to a particular man simply to avoid financial ruin but has no real affection for him.
- Those who would be jealous of God's power, insisting that God should share (or share more), or distribute differently, or in general would think they could do better.
- The human considers himself authority in its formation
Some non-believers being such that they would have an instantly improbable relationship is relevant to our big question because such an improper relationship could be such that it is better for it to have never existed; it may even entirely lack value to God. In either case, God would plausibly lack the motivation to ensure that such a poor-quality relationship obtain.1
- • Paul Moser (Philosophy professor at Loyola Chicago): “God is exonerated from the charge of irresponsibly refraining from entertaining signs, so long as God reveals God’s presence to anyone suitably receptive.” [“Divine Hiddenness Does Not Justify Atheism” in (eds.) M. Peterson & R. VanArragon Contemporary Debates in Philosophy of Religion (Blackwell, 2004) 52.]
Some would just abandon the relationship later in life
Some non-theists, if they became theists, would enter proper relationship with God but then abandon it later in life.
This page analyzes four example ways:
This is relevant because if it will be abandoned later in life, then plausibly it holds no value (or even negative value) to God.
But so what? Plausibly that short time would be worth it to a loving God.
Greater goods of relationship obtain with divine silence
Plausibly, greater relationship goods ultimately obtain with God's existence being unclear to some non-believers
This page analyzes three ways:
- A greater total number of everlasting relationships obtain, e.g. because fewer reject God on grounds of their being turned off by his effrontery, or on grounds of his more overtly refusing to aid those who ask him for things (e.g. God not coming to aid a man who cries, “save my daughter!” is plausibly going to result in the man taking it much more personally if God's presence is more overt, or if the man demands reasons and doesn't like the reasons God gives; it can destroy a relationship that could've withstood such a trial if it was more developed).
- A greater total of everlasting quality in relationships obtain, e.g. because God allows us to participate in His work, and honors us with the ability to introduce others to their greatest good: God himself.
- A greater total of everlasting quality obtains in the relationship under review, e.g. because it can result in people everlastingly appreciating God more when the relationship is formed in a particularly compelling way, or when it goes through a trial period of not existing at all, thereby giving believer something to compare it to.
This is evidence that God would plausibly allow people to be non-theists because palusibly God might want to bring about these greater relationship goods that might require it.
Total, greater goods obtain with divine silence
Greater goods around the world ultimately obtain with God's existence being unclear to some non-believers
This page analyzes six arguments:
- Hiddenness can buy more relationship goods, either from there being a greater total number of everlasting relationships or a greater quality, or a conjunction. (See argument above.)
- Hiddenness can buy more justice, insofar as more evildoers are punished for their wrongdoings to the perfectly just degree. We can affirm this while simultaneously affirming that if God does show mercy to people that this is also good. God is free to do either.
- Hiddenness can buy more mercy in that people will plausibly be judged in part on the basis of what they know, and being less aware of God's existence could result in resistant non-believers being less culpable for their sins and rejection of God than they otherwise would've been.
- Hiddenness can buy more moral knowledge and insofar as God's existence being overly overt could result in the bad situation where all people would feel especially coerced to do what is good, thereby nullifying its value. Forestalling this requires either that God make people ignorant of good/evil or else ignorant of His existence (as, essentially, a Holy judge).
- Hiddenness can buy more seeking of God for the obvious reason that if they are overtly aware of God's existence seeking to know becomes impossible, taking with it all the goods in between (e.g. the goods of cooperative investigation, aiding others, self-discipline, the prizing of truth, the great value of having found it etc.).
- Hiddenness can buy more uncoerced moral choices insofar as explicit awareness of God's existence, for many, would translate into an intense pressure to do what God wants (e.g. because of fear of God), and this attitude could strip good acts of their value or at least much of their value. Most philosophers would agree that uncoerced choices are required for morally significant freedom.
This casts doubt on the claim that a loving God would ensure we know he exists, because plausibly God would want to bring about these goods which require some measure of hiddenness.
God can have relationship with some during their disbelief
God can have relationship with someone just fine even while the person is a non-theist.
See this page to examine five examples:
- E.g. Non-theists can propositionally-assume theism, which is all they need to relate to God if God exists.
- E.g. Non-theists can love/relate to “the Good”, i.e. God in disguise, and so very unwittingly be in relationship with God.
- E.g. Non-theists can accept God's existence which would foster relationship if God actually does exist.
- E.g. Non-theists can hope God exists which is plausibly enough to bring about relationship with the Divine.
- E.g. Non-theists can pragmatically assume God exists, which seems sufficient for relationship.
Being able to relate to God admist unbelief undercuts the Divine Hiddenness argument because the whole reason God allegedly would prove his existence is in order to allow for relationship. That reason would be gone insofar as these are sufficient.
But so what? Belief is required for a relationship that is deep and reciprocal.1
- One thing to note here is that the pros and cons of divine hiddenness are often weighed against each other. Even if it is granted that a non-theist cannot have a deep reciprocal relationship with God while disbelieving (which is not necessarily granted), it can radically affect the equation. No longer is relationship being sacrificed, but rather just a temporary depth of relationship, and that is far easier to outweigh for the sake of other goods than permanently and entirely cutting off the opportunity for relationship.
Greatest love seeks relationship first (like a mother)
The greatest kind of love is Earthly/motherly love.1(Forthcoming) This is relevant because,
J.L. Schellenberg: “The possibility of some form of personal interaction with the parent will (insofar as she is able to ensure it) always be there. What loving parent would ever willingly allow this possibility to be taken completely away? Parental love will not permit this to occur when it can be prevented.” [“What the Hiddenness of God Reveals,” Divine Hiddenness: New Essays (Cambridge, 2002), 24.]
- J.L. Schellenberg: “In examining [the] concept [of God's perfect love], [we must] develop our understanding of it … by reference to what is best in human love. [“Does Divine Hiddenness Justify Atheism” in M. L. Peterson & R. J. VanArragon (Eds.), Contemporary debates in the philosophy of religion (Blackwell, 2004), 39.]
- J.L. Schellenberg: “…reflection on the concept of divine love shows that a perfectly loving God would necessarily seek personal relationship with all individuals [who are not resistant] … [because] the seeking of personal relationship is an essential part of the best human love …[Therefore] Something similar must apply to God’s love for us. [“Divine Hiddenness Justifies Atheism” in (Ed.) M. Read, Evil and the Hiddenness of God (Cengage, 2015) 69.]