The Evidential Argument from Divine Hiddenness: The General Fact and 10 More Specific Facts


The General Fact of Divine Hiddenness (aka Reasonable Nonbelief)

Informal Statement of the Argument

There are many people, including myself, who don’t believe in God but who wish that some sort of a theistic God did exist. Now the Apostle Paul, in Romans 1:19-21, implies that the existence of God is just obvious to everyone, even atheists and agnostics. But just think about that for a second. How do you prove that something is obvious to another person? Lots of nonbelievers claim that the existence of God is not obvious to them. Indeed, many nonbelievers claim that it is just obvious that it is not obvious that theism is true! Why is this evidence for atheism over theism? Because if theism is true, we would expect nonbelief in God to be unreasonable. What possible reason could God, if He existed, have for not revealing Himself? God is not shy, God is not busy, and so forth. But if atheism is true, there is no God and we would expect nonbelief to be reasonable. Therefore, reasonable nonbelief is more likely on atheism than on theism.

Formal Statement of the Argument

(1) Necessarily, if God exists, anyone who is (i) not resisting God and (ii) capable of meaningful conscious relationship with God is also (iii) in a position to participate in such relationship (able to do so just by trying).

(2) Necessarily, one is at a time in a position to participate in meaningful conscious relationship with God only if at that time one believes that God exists.

(3) Necessarily, if God exists, anyone who is (i) not resisting God and (ii) capable of meaningful conscious relationship with God also (iii) believes that God exists.

(4) There are (and often have been) people who are (i) not resisting God and (ii) capable of meaningful conscious relationship with God without also (iii) believing that God exists.

(5) God does not exist.

Specific Facts about Divine Hiddenness (Reasonable Nonbelief)

In addition to the general fact of reasonable nonbelief (DH), J.L. Schellenberg has shown that there are other, more specific facts about reasonable nonbelief which are evidence favoring atheism over theism. The numbering/labeling scheme is mine; page numbers are references to Schellenberg’s impressive book, The Wisdom to Doubt.

DH1. Nonresistant Nonbelievers: Schellenberg describes “nonresistant nonbelievers” in this way: “in the actual world persons who do not believe that there is a God, and that in at least some of these people the absence of theistic belief is not in any way the result of their own emotional or behavioral opposition towards God or relationship with God or any of the apparent implications of such a relationship.” (See here).

DH2. Former Believers: As Schellenberg points out, such individuals, “from the perspective of theism, were on the right path when they lost belief. If theism is true, indeed, then these individuals already were in relationship with God and the loss of belief has terminated that relationship.(229)

DH3. Lifelong Seekers:””individuals who don’t start out in what they consider to be a relationship with God and may not even be explicitly searching for God, but who are trying to find out where they belong and, in their wanderings, are open to finding and being found by a Divine Parent–all without ever achieving their goal. These are individuals who seek but do not find.” (233)

DH4. Converts to Nontheistic Religions: individuals who investigate other serious conceptions of the Ultimate and who turn up evidence that produces religious belief in the context of nontheistic religious communities and/or on account of nontheistic religious experiences–and the truth of atheistic claims may be seen to follow by implication. (236)

DH5. Isolated Nontheists: “those who have never been in a position to resist God because they have never so much as had the idea of an all-knowing and all-powerful spiritual being who is separate from a created universe but related to it in love squarely before their minds–individuals who are entirely formed by, and unavoidably live their whole lives within, what must, if God exists, be a fundamentally misleading meaning system” (238).

In addition, Stephen Maitzen has identified other, more specific facts about divine hiddenness (the “demographics of theism”) which also favor atheism over theism.

DH6. The Geographical Distribution of Theistic Belief: The distribution of theistic belief is uneven around the world. Why does the epistemic or moral defectiveness of non-believers vary dramatically with cultural and national boundaries? For example, why is more than 95% of Saudi Arabia Muslim, while Thailand is 95% Buddhist and only 5% theist? Given the widely held assumption that, generically speaking, epistemic and moral defects are evenly distributed among the world’s peoples, it is hard to see how that question could be answered.

DH7. The Temporal Distribution of Theistic Belief. Maitzen argues that especially compared to naturalistic explanations, none of the theistic explanations of blameworthy or blameless non-belief accounts for how the global incidence of theistic belief has varied dramatically during the existence of the human species.

William Rowe has identified another, more specific fact about divine hiddenness. (Rowe used this argument in the context of his evidential argument from evil, but I think it may reasonably be categorized as yet another more specific about divine hiddenness.)

DH8. Divine Hiddenness during Tragedies. Just as loving parents would, say, comfort a child undergoing chemotherapy, we would expect a loving God to comfort human beings who suffer as the result of tragedies. If theism is true, then God loves his creatures and wants all of his creatures to love Him in return. However, many people find it hard to love God when they do not understand the reasons for their suffering and God seems so far away. In other words, even if God has a reason for allowing tragedies, He could still comfort victims of suffering so that they know He loves them. Yet there are many victims of tragedies who report not feeling God’s comforting presence. This is not at all what we would expect if theism were true. However, if atheism is true, we would expect victims of tragedies not to experience God’s comforting presence for the simple reason that there is no God. Thus, God’s silence in the face of tragedies is much more probable on atheism than on theism.

Next, Paul Draper has classified the history and success of science as an aspect of divine hiddenness.

DH9. The History and Success of Science. In Draper’s words, “The problem here is not the problem of why, if God exists, she would allow reasonable non-belief, but rather the more fundamental problem of why, if God or other supernatural beings exist, science can completely ignore them and still explain so much.” See here and here.

Finally, Brooke Alan Trisel argues that God, if He exists, has been silent about His purpose for creating humans.

DH10. God’s Silence about His Purpose(s) for Creating Humans. If humankind was created for a purpose by God and had a role to play in carrying out this purpose, then God would want us to have a possibility of achieving our role so that he would have a possibility of achieving his goal. For us to have a possibility of achieving the purpose for which we were created, we would need to understand our role in carrying out this purpose. The purpose for which humanity was created is unclear in the Bible and elsewhere. Despite the lack of clarity regarding the purpose of life, God has not provided any clarification about his purpose or our role. God would not have chosen to remain silent about our role in carrying out his purpose because, following from the first premise, this would be self-defeating. Therefore, humankind was not given a role to play in carrying out a purpose of God. See here.

This may also be categorized as another, more specific fact about divine hiddenness. Why? Despite the lack of clarity regarding the purpose of life, it is antecedently more probable on theism than on atheism that God not only created humans for a purpose, but that humankind would be given a role to play in carrying out that purpose. For the same reason, the lack of any role for humankind to play in carrying out a purpose of God is evidence favoring atheism over theism.

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