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Answering the Divine Hiddenness Argument for Atheism

Michael Egnor
Photo credit: Drew Hays via Unsplash.

In my recent debate with Matt Dillahunty about the existence of God, Dillahunty invoked his favorite argument against God’s existence — the Divine Hiddenness argument. We didn’t have a chance to go into that argument in detail in the debate, and Dillahunty is unwilling to have any more debates with me (even if he’s paid, apparently). So this is a good forum to look at that argument in more detail.

What Is the Argument for Atheism from God’s Hiddenness?

This is a standard form of the argument from Divine Hiddenness against God’s existence:

Necessarily, if God exists, then God perfectly loves such finite persons as there may be.

Necessarily, if God perfectly loves such finite persons as there may be, then, for any capable finite person S and time t, God is at t open to being in a positively meaningful and reciprocal conscious relationship with S at t.

Necessarily, if for any capable finite person S and time t, God is at t open to being in a positively meaningful and reciprocal conscious relationship with S at t, then, for any capable finite person S and time t, it is not the case that S is at t nonresistantly in a state of nonbelief in relation to the proposition that God exists.

There is at least one capable finite person S and time t such that S is or was at tnonresistantly in a state of nonbelief in relation to the proposition that God exists.

So, it is not the case that God exists. 

STANFORD ENCYCLOPEDIA OF PHILOSOPHY

In precis, without the logical jargon, this is the argument: If God exists, He would not allow anyone receptive to His existence to remain ignorant of Him. However, there are people receptive to His existence who are ignorant of Him, so He must not exist. This argument is central to Dillahunty’s atheism. In a conversation with another atheist, Dillahunty said this about the Divine Hiddenness argument:

The biggest reason, apart from just applying skepticism and critical thinking to what I believed, the biggest reason that I’m an atheist is because of crickets. Because of divine hiddenness… I’ve spent a long time sincerely trying to get God to answer anything.My goal was to convince atheists. My goal was to fill out my obligation under 1 Peter 3:15, to be the best representative for Christ I could be, to lead people to the Lord because that’s what I thought He wanted me to do. And every time I came up with a problem I’d be like, “OK, God. I’m stuck.” Nothing…

[The theists’] position is that there is a God who has an important message for mankind. And, somehow, he only reveals it to certain individuals, who then write this down, and then 1000s of years after this initial revelation we have to rely on copies of copies of translations of copies, by anonymous authors, with no originals. And the textual testimony to a miracle (for example, the loaves and fishes)… there’s no amount of reports (anecdotal, testimonial reports) that could be sufficient to justify believing that this event actually happened as reported… no amount. And anything that would qualify as a God would clearly understandthis, and if it wanted to convey this information to people in a way that was believable, would not be relying on texts to do so. And this, for me, is the nail in the coffin for Christianity. The God that Christians believe in is amazingly stupid if it wants to actually achieve its goal of spreading this information to humanity by relying on text, by relying on languages that die off, by relying on anecdotal testimony. That’s not a pathway to truth. And anything that would qualify for a God would know this. Which means either (A) that God doesn’t exist or (B) it doesn’t care enough about those people who actually understand the nature of evidence to actually present it. Now which one of those possibilities do you think is accurate?

REDDIT/DEBATE A CHRISTIAN

Why the Divine Hiddenness Argument Is Nonsense

While even the most devout and convinced theists struggle with knowing God and understanding His will, the Divine Hiddenness argument is nonsense.

Danish philosopher Søren Kierkegaard (1813–1855) believed that struggle with Divine Hiddenness — the authentic struggle of a believer with God — is in fact the deepest kind of faith. He wrote:

… For he who struggled with the world became great by conquering the world, and he who struggled with himself became great by conquering himself, but he who struggled with God became greatest of all… Faith is the highest passion in a person. There perhaps are many in every generation who do not come to faith, but no one goes further. Whether there are also many in our day who do not find it, I do not decide. I dare to refer only to myself, without concealing that he has a long way to go, without therefore wishing to deceive himself of what is great by making a trifle of it, a childhood disease one may wish to get over as soon as possible. But life has tasks enough also for the person who does not come to faith, and if he loves these honestly, his life will not be wasted, even if it is never comparable to the lives of those who perceived and grasped the highest. But the person who has come to faith (whether he is extraordinarily gifted or plain and simple does not matter) does not come to a standstill in faith. Indeed, he would be indignant if anyone said to him, just as the lover resents it if someone said that he came to a standstill in love; for, he would answer, I am by no means standing still. I have my whole life in it. Yet he does not go further, does not go on to something else, for when he finds this, then he has another explanation.

FEAR AND TREMBLING, 1843

Divine hiddenness is a struggle for all of us — theists and atheists alike — but this struggle is by no means evidence that God doesn’t exist. It is, rather, evidence of the immeasurable gulf between creature and Creator. A God with whom we do not struggle — a God who is not in some substantial and painful way hidden to us — is not God but is a mere figment of our imagination. God in Himself is immeasurably greater than we are, and He transcends all human knowledge. This is the basis for God’s Hiddenness to those who honestly seek Him, but it is not evidence for His nonexistence. We can know Him only indirectly and partially — by knowing what He is not, by knowing Him from his effects in the world, and by knowing Him by analogy. I discuss these ways of knowing Him in nature in more depth here.

Read the rest at Mind Matters News, published by Discovery Institute’s Bradley Center for Natural and Artificial Intelligence.