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.