Hardening Their Hearts: Intentional Hiddenness Argument

The argument from Divine Hiddenness[1] put forth by J.L. Schellenberg argues that if a perfectly loving God exists, then all creatures (who haven’t freely shut themselves off from God) capable of having a meaningful relationship with God ought to be able to by just attempting to. In order to have a meaningful relationship with God, one must first believe in God. However, according to Schellenberg, there is “nonresistant nonbelief”, which means that there exist creatures who disbelieve God exists despite having surveyed the available evidence honestly and openly. Therefore, not all people can have a meaningful relationship with God by attempting to do so, and a perfectly loving God doesn’t exist.

A line of objection that has often been raised is similar to what we find in Michael J. Murray’s Coercion and the Hiddenness of God [2]. Murray argues that arguments from hiddenness are a species related closely to arguments from evil, and then utilizes a version of the free-will theodicy to attempt to rebut a version of Schellenberg’s argument. One of the main thrusts of his argument relies upon what he terms a “human defectiveness” approach, which argues that human beings can cause divine revelation to be less readily understood as a result of a “direct act or [as a result of] cultivating a sinful character” (Murray 16).  Further, according to Murray, this epistemic “hardening” is a punishment that results from moral misconduct.


It seems that this “punishment theodicy” actually generates another variation of the Divine Hiddenness argument.  Consider the “Intentional Hiddenness Argument”:

(1) If a perfectly loving God exists, it is in the best interest of human beings capable of freely pursuing a relationship with God to do so.
(2) Any action that impedes on the ability of a human being to pursue a relationship with God is an action against the best interest of that individual.
(3) God acts to impede the pursuit of a human being’s relationship with God by “hardening their hearts”. (Punishment Theodicy, restatement of epistemic hardening)
(4) God acts against the best interest of human beings. (From 2 and 3)
(5) If God acts against the best interest of human beings, he is not perfectly loving.
(6) It is not the case that a perfectly loving God exists. (From 4 and 5)

One possible objection a theist might raise is that failing to punish human beings for their sins would take away from God’s perfect justice. While this objection seems plausible, the punishment seems to serve as a way of continuing the undesirable behavior rather than alleviating it, hardly perfect. When parents punish their children for misbehaving, they (at least ideally) will explain to their children what they did was wrong, and encourage them to act differently in the future. God’s hardening of the heart will make the human in question more likely to sin and go away from God in the future rather than less likely. It makes them less receptive to rebuke, criticism, and reform. It hardly seems like perfect justice that a punishment would make men more inclined to commit the offense rather than less inclined. (Consider the punishment of prison for criminals, or the threat of a speeding ticket.)

About Matt DeStefano

Matt is pursuing his PhD in Philosophy at the University of Arizona.

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/16342860692268708455 Angra Mainyu

    My stance is that an omnipotent, omniscient, morally perfect being would not create anything like our universe, or humans for that matter, so the issue of hiddenness from humans does not arise.

    However, if we assume otherwise for the sake of the argument, and further assume that we can still trust our senses, memories, moral intuitions, etc., your objection to their looks solid.

    I'm not entirely sure objecting to the perfect justice of the hardening is better than objecting to the perfect loving-ness, in the context of a hiddenness argument, though. Granted, that wouldn't be perfect justice, but neither would be Hell, or a number of plain evil behaviors on the part of the Christian creator (and that's the one they're talking about in their defense), but Christians refuse to accept that (except for those who do not believe in Hell, etc., but they still refuse to acknowledge the immoral behavior of the Christian creator), and the hiddenness argument is perhaps supposed to use intuitions about loving-ness rather than justice.

    By the way, it seems to me that a variant of your argument would work as an objection to Hell (which is weaker than an objection to theism, of course): placing people in Hell would surely be a way of fostering the continuation of the failure to have a relationship with God, rather than alleviating it (of course, the most obvious objection to Hell is that it's profoundly evil, but leaving that aside once again).

    Still, the 'perfect justice' claim can be blocked in another manner: according to Christianity, some people manage not to be punished for their immorality by means of repenting (or confessing, or whatever), and so they avoid getting the punishment they deserve. So, is the Christian creator not perfectly just?

    Well, the answer is that he's not, for many reasons, but leaving that aside, a potential reply is that Yahweh wants to give them a chance to avoid punishment, because he's perfectly loving.
    But if a perfectly loving entity would try to give them a chance to avoid punishment, then it seems hardening their hearts (or placing them in Hell) would surely get in the way of giving them that chance.

    I guess a Christian might reply (ala WLC) that Yahweh knows in advance who will freely accept the chance and who wouldn't, so the hardening (and Hell) only goes for people who would never get into a relationship with God in the first place. That's of course not a reasonable reply, but then, that would hardly be surprising.

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/14408364244593519914 Matt DeStefano

    Great points, Angra. You said:

    But if a perfectly loving entity would try to give them a chance to avoid punishment, then it seems hardening their hearts (or placing them in Hell) would surely get in the way of giving them that chance.

    Exactly. I think that the hardening of hearts is a major blow to free-will theodicies, because if you are actively making it more difficult to be aware of one option (let alone choose it), how can your free will be in any way "morally significant"?

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/12909360575166964668 Joe
  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/16342860692268708455 Angra Mainyu

    Thanks, Matt

    Regarding the free will theodicies, I think you make a great point about 'free will' theodicies, and I
    think you identify a second problem with the hardening of the hearts, because the loving objection and the free will objection seem to be two separate ones:

    1) On the free will issue, by hardening their hearts, Yahweh actually hampers the exercise of freedom, just as if someone gives a person a drug that will interfere with her normal thought processes, making her prone to hold false beliefs, ignore moral rules, etc., that surely is an interference with free will.

    2) On the loving issue, by interfering with free will in this particular manner, Yahweh is behaving in a non-loving manner. That's independent of the free will issue.
    For instance, and to continue with the parent analogy, it may be that a loving father interferes with some of the free choices of his son out of love for him, at least in some extreme circumstances, for instance by preventing him from committing a crime that would land him in prison for a long time.
    But on the other hand, this particular hampering of freedom Yahweh engages in does not appear to be an act of love at all.

    That aside, in the case of theodicies involving the biblical creator, one could directly make a case against any claim that he's morally good (let alone morally perfect), based on the behavior described in the Bible. But that's a different objection.

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/12909360575166964668 Joe

    I would argue that God is not really "hidden" all that well. I find His existence fairly logically obvious. I can understand people arguing with certain attributes of God but I don't understand how you can go from "I don't think God has these attributes." to the claim that there is absolutely no God at all. I hear this line of argument all the time from atheists. It just seems strange that in the existence of God debate Gods attributes are even discussed. Its the kind of tactic someone would use to distract people form the fact that they are loosing the debate. Once you believe that there is a God then and only then should the debate over His attributes begin.

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/16342860692268708455 Angra Mainyu

    Joe,

    Arguments from suffering and/or moral evil are against the existence of God, where the word 'God' means something like 'an omnipotent, omniscient, morally perfect being, creator of all other beings', or that plus some other properties (though they may work against an entity without the requirement that he be the creator of all other beings).

    The argument from divine hiddenness is an argument against the existence of God, where the word 'God' means something like 'an omnipotent, omniscient, morally perfect, loving being, creator of all other beings'.

    Your claim is "Once you believe that there is a God then and only then should the debate over His attributes begin.".
    But then again, if you do not provide a definition of 'God', naming some properties, the question is: what do you mean by 'God', or 'a God'? (and why do you capitalize 'god' if you're using 'god' after 'a'?)

    How would you go about debating whether a god exists without explaining what you mean by 'god'?
    It's not as if everyone uses that word to mean the same, so clearly a definition is in order.

    Regardless of what you mean, others may be more interested in the debate over the existence of God as defined above (either definition), or particularly on the existence of Yahweh, rather than a debate on some other beings.

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/10289884295542007401 Jeffery Jay Lowder

    Joe wrote:

    I would argue that God is not really "hidden" all that well. I find His existence fairly logically obvious.

    A proponent of the argument from divine hiddenness can happily grant that you find God's existence obvious while also granting that many other people do not find God's existence obvious.

    I can understand people arguing with certain attributes of God but I don't understand how you can go from "I don't think God has these attributes." to the claim that there is absolutely no God at all. I hear this line of argument all the time from atheists.

    That seems odd; I'm assuming these atheists you mention are not philosophers. For a list of arguments for atheism defended by scholars, see here.

    It just seems strange that in the existence of God debate Gods attributes are even discussed. Its the kind of tactic someone would use to distract people form the fact that they are loosing the debate.

    I couldn't disagree more. In any debate, it's valuable to understand what the other side believes and doesn't believe. If the theist says God exists, it's valuable to clarify the attributes of God. It allows us to test whether the arguments for or against God's existence are relevant to the concept of God being discussed.

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/05034037930336299849 Mike Gage

    Matt,

    I can't remember if I mentioned this to you in a previous conversation, but I think Maitzen's argument about the demographics of theism is a good reply to any sort of purpose theists try to give (punishment, to bring about greater goods, etc.). The geographic dispersion of theistic belief seems more likely (much more?) under a naturalistic explanation than under an assumption of any given purpose. How would punishment or something similar explain why nearly everyone in one culture is a theist and nearly everyone in a neighboring culture is not? Maitzen uses that against the sensus divinitatus, if I remember correctly, but I think it works here too as a counter. The demographics of theism is so closely tied to the hiddenness argument, I think any theistic replies need to offer some consideration for why the dispersion would probably be the way it is under their explanation.

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/14408364244593519914 Matt DeStefano

    Mike,

    How would punishment or something similar explain why nearly everyone in one culture is a theist and nearly everyone in a neighboring culture is not?

    That's a good point.

    One response that I could see a theist might argue is that worshipping false gods is a sin, and therefore those who have accepted false religions are merely reaping what they sow. Of course, this punishment doesn't make sense, why would you punish someone for (if Maitzen's argument holds) for being born in a society where Islam was the predominant religion rather than Christianity?

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/16342860692268708455 Angra Mainyu

    Mike and Matt,

    Craig argues that perhaps Yahweh is able to know in advance who's going to reject the Gospel, even if libertarian free will is true (e.g., http://www.reasonablefaith.org/how-can-christ-be-the-only-way-to-god , http://www.reasonablefaith.org/middle-knowledge ).

    Even assuming that that is consistent, it seems too obviously ad-hoc and implausible…but then, that's common.

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/05799095055208759535 cl

    (3) is false. Sin acts to impede the pursuit of a human being’s relationship with God, resulting in the “hardening of their hearts.” The rest of the argument unravels from there.


CLOSE | X

HIDE | X