Comment: Tom Gilson and Divine Hiddenness

Over at his ‘Thinking Christian’ blog, Tom Gilson has a post up called “John Loftus and His Hypothetical God”. In essence, the post, and the comments that followed, concerned the so-called issue of divine hiddenness and why God does not make himself more “obvious” to human beings. I posted a lengthy comment in reply to this issue which I thought to share with you here (but please note that this is not the main project that I have been working on for the last few days…that project should be done and posted tomorrow). And so, here are my comments:


Good Day to All,

I know that I am late to comment on this post, and I know that some of what I say will be the same as what others have already mentioned, but given that this post concerns the so-called issue of “divine hiddenness”, I would like to comment anyway.

Point 1:  So, when speaking of the issue of divine hiddenness, and the issue of so-called ‘rational unbelievers’, the first point to note is that, technically, no amount of evidence that God could provide would ever be sufficient to non-coercively overcome a disbeliever’s doubt if the disbeliever did not wish to be convinced. Indeed, given the ability for hyper-skepticism to create doubt no matter what the evidence is, it must be pointed out that no matter what God did, a skeptic could always—if he wanted—attribute the event to aliens, or a hallucination, or that he was in a computer simulation, etc. And skeptic Michael Shermer even has a “law” which states that any sufficiently advanced alien intelligence would be, to us, indistinguishable from God; as such, atheism and naturalism are thus unfalsifiable if they wish to be given that any seemingly miraculous event could always be attributed to aliens rather than God. In fact, I know a prominent atheist who admitted that even if the stars spelled out the Apostles Creed and the whole world saw it, he would likely go mad or believe everyone had gone mad rather than believe that God had made a miracle occur. So, the point here is that even God could not freely convince certain unbelievers to believe in Him no matter how much evidence He might provide; and since God knows this to be the case, then this fact no doubt factors into His thinking when He provides the evidence that He does.

Point 2:  When speaking about rational unbelievers, it is actually questionable whether any such individuals exist, at least if they are neurologically-typical. Indeed, one can doubt both the “rational” part and the “unbeliever” part of the idea of a ‘rational unbeliever’. For example, I have seen some of the reasons unbelievers use to claim not to believe in God, and it is at least questionable whether those reasons can be considered rational. Next, for neurologically-typical individuals, it is plausible to question whether any such individuals truly are unbelievers. Indeed, I am actually just finishing up a 12,000 word essay which claims that it is plausible, and even reasonable, to believe that neurologically-typical individuals who claim to be unbelievers actually do believe in God, or, at the very least, do not actually disbelieve for rational reasons but rather for psychological and/or moral ones. So again, the idea of a rational unbeliever is at least open to debate.

Point 3:  If rational unbelievers with “open hearts” do indeed exist—and I do not doubt that some do—there is evidence to suggest that such unbelievers are neurologically-atypical, such as being high-functioning autistics, and so their unbelief is non-culpable, just like a color-blind person cannot be held responsible for not being able to see the color ‘red’. And indeed, there is mounting evidence to suggest that atheism is linked to autism; consequently, I think it can be predicted that rational unbelievers are also people who are neurologically-atypical. Thus, the rational unbeliever is neurologically-atypical, whereas the neurologically-typical individual is not actually a rational unbeliever.

Point 4: Now, with all the above points in mind, when it comes to the issue of the “non-obviousness” of God, not only are there a number of good reasons for God to not make Himself obvious, but, on Christian theism, we would actually expect God not to be obvious given what we are told God is and what God wants.   

Sub-Point A: First, when we understand that life is a test—a test concerning our desire to follow God’s rules or our own, and thus a test shown in our actions, which are a true manifestation of our character and our desire—we thus realize that, in such a situation, God’s existence (and all that it entails, such as heaven and hell) cannot be obvious or else this would skew the test to such degree that it would not be a legitimate test. To understand this, consider this analogy. Say that a person suddenly stumbles upon a million dollars. Now, the person could either steal the million dollars or not. But in the person’s particular world, which is a hyper-surveillance state, there are actually hundreds of cameras in the area filming everything, and, in fact, there are three police officers in the area looking directly at the person in question. Furthermore, the person in question knows that he is being watched and that the whole event is being recorded. The person also knows that the sentence for theft is life in prison. So, in such a situation, would the person truly be able to do what he really wanted to do concerning the million dollars or would the knowledge of certain capture and the fear of punishment be so overwhelming that the person would not steal the million dollars even though he wanted to. Furthermore, could the person’s true and free character come forth given that the person would always know that he would be captured and punished if he ever broke the rules. No, it could not. By contrast, if the person knew that the police might be in the area, but he was not sure if they were or not, then the person would be much freer to express his true character by either stealing the money or not. And so it is the same with God: if God is utterly obvious, then most people, in practice, would not be able to truly express their character and desires in the moral choices that they make given that the fear of punishment and certain capture would be so coercive that it would make them act a certain way even if they did not wish to do so. By contrast, if God is present, but not obvious, then there is knowledge of sin and potential punishment, but also doubt that the sin and punishment are actually real, thus leaving the person in a true state of non-coercive freedom where he can be tested in the most honest and genuine way possible.

Sub-Point B: Now, in saying all of the above, it should also be pointed out that even if God was obvious, there might still be people who would reject Him and chose disobedience over obedience. But in such a case, the rebel’s sin would be that much greater given his greater knowledge of God’s existence. Thus, in a way, God’s non-obviousness is also a mercy to sinners, for their punishment would be astronomically greater if God was obvious and they rejected him anyway. And I think the fact that Satan’s ultimate punishment is viewed as being much greater than man’s is a testament to this fact. Furthermore, this is in much the same way as would be the case when a criminal who is rather ignorant of the law that he breached is treated much more leniently by a judge than a man who was absolutely certain of the law, had been warned by the police about it, and breached it anyway. Indeed, the latter will be harshly punished, whereas the former, not so much. And so God’s non-obviousness is also done as a mercy to the sinners who would reject God no matter what.

Sub-Point C:  It can also be noted that God’s main desire is that all men be saved, and since God being obvious could actually lead some men to resent Him and deny salvation, then it is not clear that God being obvious is necessarily in keeping with His main desire and His loving nature. Again, think of the police. Although the police are there for the good of the people, someone who sees the police on every street corner, and watching everything that they do, might actually come to resent the police rather than appreciate them. Indeed, in certain people, a certain disdain and willful disobedience (see Point B) might come about precisely because the police are so obvious. And it could be the same with God. Thus, the non-obviousness of God could be leading more people to salvation rather than away from it.

Sub-Point D:  Finally—and I think this is the most important point, plus the most unique one—the non-obviousness of God is also necessary for believers! Why? Well, think about what unbelievers often accuse believers of doing: namely, believing merely for self-interested reasons and as a means of avoiding hell. So, in light of this, why is the non-obviousness of God relevant? Because by making His existence non-obvious, and possibly doubtful—although not reasonably doubtful—God thus creates the conditions for believers to love Him in a truly genuine and selfless way. Consider this illustration: when a husband loves his wife, but the wife loves the husband back and totes on him endlessly, it is always possible to view the husband’s love as self-interested rather than selfless. After all, the wife constantly gives back to the husband and he might be staying with the wife not because he genuinely loves her, but because she gives him stuff and treats him well. By contrast, now imagine that after five years of marriage, the wife suddenly falls into a coma and a vegetative state. Now, the husband has no idea if his wife, as a person, is even still alive or not, or if she will ever come out of the coma. But now imagine that for the next fifty years, the husband visits his wife daily, cleans her, takes care of her, and still loves her even as he is unsure if she still really exists or not. Now, in such a situation, the husband has the opportunity to truly and genuinely love his wife with no guarantee of reciprocation. The husband’s love is about as selfless as possible, with very little doubt that he is doing what he does simply because he loves his wife, not because he is getting something from her. But now think of this situation with God. Take Mother Theresa for example. Early in her life, she had a number of intense divine experiences, but then those experiences went away and she even doubted God during her long career. Why would God allow this? Because by doing so, Mother Theresa could show a selfless love which could not fully or deeply manifest itself if God constantly and continually reciprocated to her. After all, we are told to be perfect, like God is perfect, and God selflessly loves the very sinners who either hate Him or do not believe that He exists, and so by being non-obvious, God is also giving believers the chance to love Him just like He loves us: namely, in a truly selfless way.

Sub-Point E:  As a side-note, it should also be noted that even if a person does not believe in God’s existence, this does not necessarily stop the person from desiring that God exists and acting like He does, much the same way that a woman who does not know if she can get pregnant can nevertheless still hope to have a baby and prepare a room as if a baby is coming. So this is also a key point: that a person does not need to believe in God to act as if He does and desire that He does, and such a course of action, in my view, will count for much in the eyes of God.

So, in the end, when all these points are considered, it is clear that God has very good reasons not to be obvious.


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