Another Attempt to Explain God’s Hiddenness (or Nonexistence) Fails (2 of 3)

Another Attempt to Explain God’s Hiddenness (or Nonexistence) Fails (2 of 3) September 25, 2019

Update: commenter Ubi Dubium of the Question With Boldness blog pointed out that the “Lawrence Krauss” quote used by Tom Gilson in part 1 actually came from their blog. To minimize confusion, I’ve left the Krauss reference in (but now you know the actual source).

Gilson’s error doesn’t diminish the value of the quote, but it should encourage him to be more careful in his future research. Or, given the unconvincing argument that he put together, maybe not.

Why doesn’t God make himself more obvious? Christian apologist Tom Gilson attempted an answer, and this is the second part of my response. (I’ve responded to other articles by Tom Gilson on different topics here and here.)

At the end of part 1, Gilson considered a response by cosmologist Lawrence Krauss. Krauss made a (seemingly) reasonable request for evidence, and Gilson had to step in to defend God, silent as always, to declare that that was somehow inappropriate.

Suppose God assented to your request for evidence—then what?

But Gilson is a reasonable guy. Krauss’s demand for evidence for remarkable claims is obviously out of line, but imagine that God gave him what he asked for anyway. Gilson says:

From what I’ve read of Krauss’s writings, he would admit he’d been wrong, and that God exists after all. Then from denying God, he would move immediately to resenting Him.

So our atheist would go from having no God belief to having a God belief. He wouldn’t be an atheist anymore. Isn’t that a really, really good thing from Gilson’s standpoint? Why not celebrate that? It’s because this would make Krauss’s demand for evidence reasonable and God unreasonable for not providing it, as common sense would dictate.

God just wants love

Gilson hurries on to his next complaint.

Bibles growing on crabapple trees [one example of the evidence Krauss asked for] wouldn’t make anyone love God or trust Him, which is what God really wants.

The issue is God’s hiddenness, so don’t change the subject. God’s providing evidence would resolve the Big Problem, which is God being indistinguishable from nonexistent. Stop apologizing for him. Stop putting words in his mouth. Does he exist? Then let him speak for himself.

And no, love isn’t what God wants. Read about the destruction of Sodom and Gomorrah. About God condescending to Job from the whirlwind. About the Flood. About God as the creator of hell. It’s like Gilson imagines God thinking about us when he looks at his “I wuv you THIS MUCH!” statuette on his desk. No—if God wants any reactions from us, it’s not love but some combination of fear, awe, adulation, and/or respect.

Gilson again:

He doesn’t just want people [to] believe that He is, but that He does good for those who seek Him (Heb. 11:6). He wants us to love Him.

Wow—that ship has sailed. Love is something you earn, and we would love God if he were love worthy. Love isn’t an intellectual project but follows from the conditions being right. Read the Old Testament, and you’ll discover that God is not worthy of our love.

Here again, you’re putting words in his mouth. The Yahweh of the Old Testament demanded genocide, supported slavery, and didn’t bother following his own moral code. He wouldn’t be distressed to discover that he wasn’t loved. Bronze Age storm gods and war gods didn’t care about such drivel. Feed them with food offerings and grovel appropriately, and they’re good.

A Christian correspondent once demanded to know what I’d need to accept that God exists. It was a more provocative question than I realized at first. I’d need to reshape reality to remove immovable obstacles to God belief. In response, I wrote a series of posts titled, “25 Reasons We Don’t Live in a World with a God,” which explored the things that would have to have been different in our reality for us to accept the God hypothesis. Similar reasoning could explore things that would have to be different in Christianity, the Bible, and reality for the Christian God to be lovable.

Is it possible that the God of the Old Testament actually does want us to love him and is worthy of that love? No, but suppose that’s the case. Suppose we’ve misjudged God by reading what he says about himself in his own book. Such a misperception can be corrected. We misjudge people all the time, perhaps because of a hasty first impression, and we’re accustomed to correcting that impression with new information. God, it’s your move.

Let’s return to God’s hiddenness, the point of Gilson’s article. Knowing that God exists would be the first step to Gilson’s goal of us loving him. Instead of changing the subject, Gilson should acknowledge and support our need for more evidence as the foundation of his goal to get us to (step 1) understand that God exists and (step 2) love him. He’s hurrying on to step 2, where he can argue that the lack of love is our fault and not God’s, and he’s hoping we don’t notice that he has nothing for step 1.

The reason, of course, is that good evidence for God’s existence doesn’t exist. If there were good evidence, he’d drop the misdirection and just point to it.

You wouldn’t want God to force his existence on you, would you?

Gilson moves on to another complaint.

God can only force so much on us. Yes, he could force the knowledge of His existence upon us just as the sun forces awareness of itself on us during the daytime, or as much as we’re compelled to believe that 2 plus 2 equals 4.

Yeah, lemme tellya—what I wouldn’t give to be able to turn back the clock to those blissful days before I knew that 2 + 2 = 4! And don’t get me started about what a burden it is to know that the sun exists.

God could make Dr. Krauss know His existence with the same complete certainty; He could “force assent” on him, as the philosophers say it, making it impossible for him not to believe.

Why bring in philosophers? Ordinary people have the superpower of believing in things for which there’s sufficient evidence. It’s not that tough.

Next, he again tries to dance away from the evidence question and return to what he thinks is his stronger point, the love question.

But [God] cannot force anyone to love Him. Knowledge can be pressed upon a person; love cannot.

Yeah, we’ve been over this. First, we have no good reason to believe the ridiculous supernatural claims of Christianity. And second, God is a dick. He gets what he deserves. Love happens for good reasons, and we don’t have those reasons with God.

Gilson approaches this another way. Notice his odd perspective in the second sentence:

God can’t force Krauss, or anyone else, for that matter, to love Him. Love must be freely offered, or it’s fake and ugly.

Gilson wants to see this from the person’s standpoint: “Love must be freely offered” by the person. This perspective allows Gilson to assign blame to the person if the result isn’t right. Of course, he goes into this topic unable to consider that God’s role might be imperfect. (Aren’t things so much easier when you assume your conclusion first? Here, Gilson assumes both that God exists and that God is without fault.)

Let’s recast that second sentence according to how love actually works in healthy human relationships. It goes from “Love must be freely offered” to “Love must be earned.” The burden goes from the person to God, where it should be. If love isn’t happening, the first thought isn’t to criticize the lover but to ask what’s wrong with the lovee.

Gilson is stealing a powerful word and redefining it in the context of battered-woman syndrome. God is a Bronze Age tyrant, and you must love him. If you don’t, the fault is yours.

Concluded in part 3.

If God loves the aroma of burnt offerings,
why don’t they burn money in churches?
— commenter Greg G.


Image from WATARI, CC license

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  • eric

    He doesn’t just want people [to] believe that He is, but that He does good for those who seek Him (Heb. 11:6). He wants us to love Him.

    “Empirical data” is the solution to both problems, Tom. I form a loving relationship with people who interact with me. What God is doing right now is more like catfishing (via written text instead of the internet).

    He could “force assent” on him, as the philosophers say it, making it impossible for him not to believe…
    …But [God] cannot force anyone to love Him.

    That’s actually great news from the philosophy side, because it means there is no free will problem with proof of the divine. The standard defense of hiddenness is that empirical proof will make ‘real’ faith impossible, which prevents us from gaining salvation. But Mr. Gilson is saying that proof does not create or force love, and love is the really important thing for salvation. Problem avoided; give us proof, and we’re still free to come to our own decision about love. Mr. Gilson’s point about love ironically undermines the defense of hiddenness, instead of supporting it.

    • JustAnotherAtheist2

      Great response.

  • Lex Lata

    1. First, it’s rather uncool of Gilson to simply assume that Krauss–or Ubi Dubium, rather–would “resent” a God who demonstrated his/her/its existence. Kinda strawmannish, especially if that position is imputed sub silentio to atheists generally. I, for one, don’t have any reason to think I’d resent a deity for which there’s sufficient evidence. Depends on the deity, I suppose.

    2. “God wants us to love him.” By not communicating with us, by not answering our questions, by hiding, by having his minions threaten us with eternal torment if we don’t love him the right way? I trust Gilson knows that’s not how love actually works. Maybe that’s how gaslighting and rule by fear work, but not anything like parental love.

    3. With regard to the whole “forced assent” thing, as we’ve discussed here recently, this is simply a red herring and ad hoc rationalization for divine hiddenness, belied by both scripture and the history of Christianity. The Bible is chockablock with examples of God “forcing assent” of his existence on people, directly and indirectly, through any number of signs, wonders, visions, visitations, miracles, etc. (The same goes for the various saints’ lives of late antiquity and the Middle Ages, come to think of it.) Moreover, for most of Christendom’s existence, belief in God was mandatory. Until fairly recently, Christians had no problem using social, legal, financial, and physical compulsion to make unbelief or misbelief an unpleasant–sometimes painful or even fatal–option. Centuries, literally, of “forced assent.”

  • Well, authoritatively speaking as pseudo-Krauss here, let me respond to this bit:

    “God could make Dr. Krauss Ubi know His existence with the same complete certainty; He could “force assent” on him, as the philosophers say it, making it impossible for him not to believe….But [God] cannot force anyone to love Him. Knowledge can be pressed upon a person; love cannot.”

    If I’ve asked for knowledge, then it’s hardly “forcing”, isn’t it? If my daughter asks me what’s for dinner, and I tell her, that’s not “forcing knowledge”. And simple knowledge that a god exists still leaves a lot of unanswered questions, before I could make a decision as to whether this god was worthy of being loved, or followed.

    Particularly, once we establish that a god exists who is willing to communicate that fact to humans, then we need to go about determining which denomination’s version of god is the correct one, if any. Gilson is just assuming that the god who exists is his god, but I do not make that assumption. If I found that the lovey-dovey, non-literalist, liberal protestant god I was raised with was the real one, I wouldn’t have much problem loving or following such a god. But if it turned out to be the judgmental hate-mongering genocidal god of the Evangelicals, then that god would have a lot of explaining to do! I don’t see any way that such a being would deserve to be “loved”. Or maybe it’s the Islamic version of god, or Thor, or Anoia, or some other version of god we’ve never heard of, in which case I’d have a lot of research to do to figure out what this god is like, what it wants, and whether it’s reasonable for humans to follow its orders.

    We don’t currently have a method for figuring out which preacher has the correct interpretation. Most likely, none of them do. But since we’re imagining a god who is no longer playing hide-and-seek, we can also imagine a god who is willing to give us the tools we need to work this out.

    • Jim Jones

      “God loves the side with the biggest battalions.”

    • HairyEyedWordBombThrower

      Funny how they seem to conflate knowledge with assent.

      I can know something and decide it should be bitterly opposed, even if it’s a losing battle objectively.

  • Ficino

    How is the kitten going to come to trust and love (Thomists need not say cats don’t love) humans?

    other cats, who heard from other cats, etc., tell it about humans?
    it reads a book about humans?
    it looks around the garbage dump and deduces the existence of the creators of the dump?
    it knows about humans by innate ideas?
    its concept analysis shows it that the concept, human, implies the existence of humans?
    cat traditions and rituals of thousands of years standing pass down stories of the Egyptians?

    Or ..
    maybe a human went to the garbage dump and started petting the kitten and brought some food and, the next thing you know, the kitten had moved in. Like, the human wanted to do something and so the human entered the experience of THAT KITTEN.

    • HairyEyedWordBombThrower

      I love kittens, but that’s downright 42stupid, IMHO.

      Play with the kitten a little, let him/her *come to* a human hand (playing ‘dead hand’ and letting the kitten examine the fingers works for me often enough), don’t just bull in and start petting him/her without permission!

      • Ficino

        True. Cats taught me just the method you describe. (:

      • “Request permission” applies to animals as well as humans.

  • grasshopper

    “Love must be earned.”

    That sounds very much like love is conditional. Which in my book, is not love at all.

    • Illithid

      I wonder how love could be otherwise. I love my wife, and AFAIK she loves me, but we didn’t love each other when we met. And if I began to persisistantly be disrespectful and abusive, and wouldn’t stop, wouldn’t change… eventually she’d not love me.

      • Yes, love is always conditional. If I serially murdered people (or to be honest if I consistently refused to share an equal burden of household chores!), then my wife would no longer love me, and almost certainly leave me as well. It doesn’t help that there are two definitions of “love” here.

        Does God want us to desire to be with him? (In the above example, the love of my wife has vanished.) Or does God seek, regardless of our feelings, us intending to follow his will or do what is best for him in all circumstances? In which case again, there is an ungrounded and atypical definition of love, but it is more aligned to the biblical idea of our relationship to God.

        After all, Esau is one who certainly God didn’t unconditionally love, unless hatred is actually redefined incoherently as *not* the opposite of love, as it says that Esau he has hated in the same breath as Jacob he has loved.

        But again, this is Step 2 and anything else is – whether you intend it or not (I’m sure you are trying to help us see your point of view) – it *is* misdirection. You cannot love someone who you don’t havr reasonable certainty of their existence. We need Step 1 before Step 2. The fact that so many “lovers of God” struggle with Step 1 doesn’t give me much hope for Step 2.

        • Illithid

          Oh, I agree; I’m an atheist. Sorry if that wasn’t clear.

          I don’t think the deity depicted in the Torah is one I could love, if he existed. Either they got it totally wrong, or he’s a monster… or, much more likely, it’s just stories, and genocide didn’t seem like a problem to the people who told them. “And this one time, YHWH wiped the floor with our enemies, yay G-d!”

        • Jim Jones

          Stories which are excuses for why the Jews are so unlucky.

        • Clearly I pressed “reply” to the wrong commenter. Oops! I was agreeing fully with your “love is conditional” line and meaning to respond to the poster ‘Grasshopper’ above. My bad! =)

    • HairyEyedWordBombThrower


      Loving someone / thing that either doesn’t exist or is harmful to the self is dangerous infatuation.

    • If you have a different phrasing that would capture things better, feel free.

      Love as I see it just happens when the conditions are right. If the conditions aren’t right (love isn’t earned, in my parlance), it doesn’t happen. It’s not an intellectual thing. It’s like trying to fall asleep by force of will.

  • RichardSRussell

    “God wants us to love him.”

    How do we know this if he won’t show up to confirm it? Sounds like bait-and-switch to me! Not to mention kinda insecure, whiny, and pathetic.

  • Doubting Thomas

    “God wants us to love him.”

    Then god has himself quite the problem. That being, I can’t love something that I don’t believe exists. So if god wants some love he better introduce himself to me before he moves on to the wining and dining part.

    • Greg G.

      It’s kind of like the emails from a prince in Africa who needs you to help him getting his fortune out of Africa. The email is far better evidence of his existence than the evidence for god thingies but still not good enough for me to send him money.

    • epeeist

      So if god wants some love he better introduce himself to me before he moves on to the wining and dining part.

      “Next! We start by removing your clothes.”
      “Not without dinner and flowers.”

      — Dr. Franklin and Ivanova in Babylon 5:”The Quality of Mercy”

  • Otto

    But [God] cannot force anyone to love Him. Knowledge can be pressed upon a person; love cannot.

    He is correct; you can’t force someone to love you. But if the person does not know you exist they are certain not to love you. Understanding another exists is the first step on that road. This argument he is proposing makes zero sense.

    • ThaneOfDrones

      He is correct; you can’t force someone to love you…

      Of course I can’t. But then, I’m not an omnipotent deity.

  • Jim Jones

    Since ‘God’ goes out of its way to remain hidden, surely all true believers should respect this and pretend it doesn’t exist. No?

    • HairyEyedWordBombThrower

      There you go using *logic* again!


  • DingoJack

    ‘Love must be freely offered, or it’s fake and ugly’.
    So we’ve got to freely love a being not shown to existent, otherwise that imaginary being will kill us and/or torture us because it’s love is conditional on our grovelling to it.
    OK – I’ll buy it! [/sarcasm]

  • Michael Murray

    Ah so God has looked on His Creation and realised we are an ornery and cantankerous lot and He doesn’t want to get into an argument about any of His actions. Well that does explain divine hiddenness. Of course He could just give set piece press conferences and refuse to take questions from anybody but the Vatican Press Correspondent. This God reminds me of someone …

    • HairyEyedWordBombThrower

      Ah so God has looked on His Creation and realised we are an ornery and cantankerous lot

      Made in his ‘image’, don’t forget that!


  • Phil Rimmer

    He’s just a Creator not standing in front of his creations asking them to love him…

  • Phil Rimmer

    Our real dad was decidedly chimpish, a bit of an underachiever, but loving enough. This alleged godfather has form. The whole son sacrifice thing, the respect or else…. Lovable? He’ll have to do more than show up once in a while.

  • Rudy R

    “God wants us to love him” is a damning statement for the belief in an omnipotent god. Lacking or needing love from his creation is really pathetic.

    • Chuck Johnson

      That whole “love thing” is really just an “obedience thing” in disguise.
      Understand that, whenever a Christian speaks of God’s love or the love of Jesus.

  • ThaneOfDrones

    God can only force so much on us.

    Omnipotence ain’t what it used to be.

    Amazing how Gilson knows exactly what God wants and what God can do; and yet some other Christians acknowledge that we can’t know anything about God, and ‘mysterious ways’.

    • Jim Jones

      It’s almost as if they’re telling us what they want and pretending that’s what god wants. Cynical, right?

      • HairyEyedWordBombThrower

        *Perish* the thought…. (which is what they want to do to *all* though, come to think of it)

      • MelindaF

        Cynical, right?

        No – just honest.

        • Jim Jones

          There’s always the question; are they deluding us or themselves as well?

        • MelindaF

          In some cases, I know there are dudes in the pulpit who don’t believe. In others – I DO think they sincerely believe what Christianity is preaching. It’s a con game from the get go.

        • I Came To Bring The Paine

          The best way to validate/enable your delusion is to get others to play along with you.

    • John Grove

      Compare that to the works of Christians before like Arthur Pink in his book ‘The Sovereignty of God” which God impinges onto the wills of men and even the devil does God’s work. The modern Christian’s god is nothing more than some guru who just cannot quite cut it.

      • Ficino

        As a new Christian in the Assemblies of God, I was bitten by the “God’s calling me to preach” bug. With a fellow AG chap, I visited Westminster Seminary. A seminarian who talked with us, upon learning that we were Arminians, bought us copies of Pink and of some other Calvinist thing. Heady days, those.

        • epicurus

          It was those kind of books, specifically “Tulip: The Five Points of Calvinism in the Light of Scripture” by Duane Spencer, that started my slide away from believing the Bible was inerrant, and then years later, right out of Christianity.
          My first thought was “is God evil?” But then, of course, pastors I asked would reassure with the typical Arminian response. Then it seemed the Bible contradicted itself. I was assured it didn’t. But it planted the seed and more and more I would notice other places where things didn’t seem to jibe, to the eventual place where I didn’t trust it to get anything right.

      • epicurus

        I used to own that book back in the day, and it was old then! Christians have to continually hamstring their god (without making him less than omni powered) in an attempt to explain why the Bible doesn’t mean what it says.

    • Chuck Johnson

      God the ventriloquist’s dummy, again.

  • Chuck Johnson

    God’s existence is quite obvious.
    This is only true, though when the God that you refer to is a fictional character and a human invention.
    This God is not at all hidden.

    • God is hard to find, you say? Well, I’ll just define God as love! Not so hidden now, is he?!

      Checkmate, atheists!

      • Michael Neville

        But what if we’re looking for love and not finding it? As Johnny Lee put it so well: “Lookin’ For Love In All The Wrong Places”. You’d be dumbb as a rock if you ignored the folk wisdom expressed in country music.

        • I’ll bet there’s more valuable wisdom in country music than in the Bible.

        • Doubting Thomas

          The Gambler has more valuable lessons in under three minutes than the Bible does in 66 books.

        • ThaneOfDrones

          Or maybe not.

          “Drop-kick me Jesus, through the goalposts of life”

        • Greg G.
      • Chuck Johnson

        And just like the Cheshire Cat, there’s nothing left of God but His smile.

        This is a face-saving way to exit religion.
        The faithful are then spiritual, but not religious.

  • zenmite

    There is a science fiction story about a man who created synthetic / simulated conscious beings in a computer. He called them personoids. He never interfered with their evolutionary development or announced his presence to his creation. The man was able to view and listen-in on their personoid conversations though.
    At the end, the ‘Creator’ states that he couldn’t imagine needing his creatures to love him or obey him. And while he held a certain affection for his personoids, he didn’t really love them. Nor did he care whether they believed he existed or not. It’s a fascinating story, because it allows us to put our self in place of ‘God’. I heartily recommend it.
    Here is an excerpt followed by a link to the story itself:

    … not the hope of reward, nor the fear of retribution. Nothing is due Him. A God who craves such feelings must first assure his feeling subject that He exists beyond all question. Love may be forced to rely on speculations as to the reciprocicity it inspires; that is understandable. But a love forced to rely on speculations as to whether or not the beloved exists is nonsense. He who is almighty could have provided certainty. Since He did not provide it, if He exists, He must have deemed it unnecessary.

    • Michael Neville

      The story is “Non Serviam” by Stanislaw Lem.

  • Michael Murray

    It struck me tonight that there are similar questions of “alien hiddenness” arising from the Fermi Paradox. Is the resounding silence we hear from the rest of the universe a sign there is no other intelligent life or is it perhaps hiding from us? Lots of stories one can invent like

    • Greg G.

      Have you noticed that all of the other galaxies in the universe are moving away from us? Maybe the rest of the universe knows something. My guess is that it is because earth creatures fart.

      Or it could be that interstellar species are not interested in species that have never traveled past their moon or moons.

      • Michael Murray

        I quite like the books by Becky Chambers set in a universe where humans are basically refugees amongst more advanced civilisations because we made the Earth uninhabitable. Turns out in the third book that the more advanced civilisations while helpful prefer to keep their distance from humans because they stink.

  • JustAnotherAtheist2

    So, does every person I encounter force me into a similar quandary? “Now that I know you exist, I am forced to love you! Oh no!!!!!!!”

    • Well, you’re just a loving person, I guess.

      • JustAnotherAtheist2

        I have no choice.