Why won’t God show Himself to the world?

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Notice a lot of people arguing about religion these days? It’s nothing new. Arguments over the existence of God have been ongoing for thousands of years, and with good reason. Whether you believe in God or do not believe in Him, it is impossible to prove your position in such a way that everyone will be convinced. This is because God is not a part of the physical three-dimensional world in which our biological senses are able to detect stimuli. In that sense, if God exists, we must all agree He is to an extent hidden.

Yet, while many atheists see God’s hiddenness as a devastating quandary for theism, theists do not see God’s invisibility as a devastating problem for their faith. The perspectives are so different that to an equal degree the theist will wonder why the atheist sees God’s hiddenness as a such a problem, as the atheist will wonder why the theist can still rationally believe.

One rather famous skeptic who found the hiddenness of God to be too much to bear was a philosopher named Bertrand Russell. When asked what he would say if he ever came face to face with God and need to explain his agnosticism, he replied, “God, you gave us insufficient evidence.” The problem of the hiddenness of God is not simply His invisibility, but also the way some non-believers have defined belief in God as the presumption of theism in the absence of sufficient evidence. Through history atheists have often said that if God were real, He would give more evidence of His existence, and therefore a lack of positive evidence apart from revelation for God would count as evidence against His existence.

In recent times, particularly with the rise of new atheists and social media, statements regarding the hiddenness of God have taken a harsher turn. Some have even gone as far as to say that belief in a higher power is no different from the insanity of an adult believing in Santa Claus.

“The kindly God who lovingly fashioned each and every one of us and sprinkled the sky with shining stars for our delight — that God is, like Santa Claus, a myth of childhood, not anything that a sane, undeluded adult could literally believe in. That God must either be turned into a symbol for something less concrete or abandoned altogether.” - Daniel Dennett, Darwin’s Dangerous Idea

Is belief in God as deluded as belief in unicorns, Santa Claus and the tooth fairy? It is understandable why some atheists would come to that conclusion. Many of us were taught by our parents to believe in God and Santa Claus while not being given any evidence of either one. Yet virtually all children stop believing in Santa Claus. Many very intelligent adults (including scientists, doctors and philosophers) continue to believe in God, and consider the evidence quite good.

The claim that there is no rational difference between believing in either one is in part based upon Bertrand Russell’s celestial teapot, which supposedly shows that it is impossible to prove a negative. Is it really impossible to prove a negative truth claim?

Many modern atheists hold to this principle as though it were a time-tested fact, but this is not so. If I told you that I do not have a leopard in my backyard, or that I do not live in Wyoming, these are both negative claims that could easily be proved. It is also quite easy to prove that a fat man in a red suit does not travel the world in a sleigh with magical reindeer, as surely we would have caught him on camera by now. However, it is impossible to prove the non-existence of God. This is not because it is impossible to prove a negative, but rather because God is metaphysical and not an observable part of the universe.

Rather, there are truth claims to the Christian religion that are rooted in historical facts. It is the position of Christianity that  at a given point in time, God walked this earth in the second person of the trinity, Jesus Christ. It is the consensus of historians that Jesus was tried by Pontius Pilate, condemned to death, crucified, and reported to have been risen from the dead by countless eye-witnesses. During Jesus’ lifetime and even after His resurrection, it is recorded that He performed countless miracles, which served in part to attest to the truth of His claim that He was the Son of God.

While such miraculous signs from God may have been an everyday occurrence for a certain number of people at certain times and places of history, God does not seem to be making His existence as obvious through signs and wonders today. Has He forgotten to do His own public relations? Couldn’t He have done a better job in the first place? If God is all-powerful then it would stand to reason that He could have created the world in such a way that His existence would be obvious and undeniable to everyone, even the most incredulous atheists?

This is the crux of most arguments of divine hiddenness. In his book, “Divine Hiddenness and Human Reason,” philosopher John Schelenberg argues that since God has not made His existence perfectly evident to everyone, it is proof that He does not exist. His formula can be summarized as follows.

If there is a God (maximally perfect being), he is perfectly loving.

If a perfectly loving God exists, reasonable non-belief in the existence of God does not occur.

Reasonable non-belief in the existence of God does occur.

No perfectly loving God exists. There is no God.

At first glance, the logic might seem sound, particularly when compounded with the doctrine of eternal punishment. After all, if God truly does not desire that any should perish, one has to seriously wonder why God does not make His existence more obvious.

But there is more to this dilemma than meets the eye. Schellenberg fails to address the possibility that God would have sufficient reasons to allow unbelief, even if unbelief is not desirable to Him. Perhaps it could be shown that God would have sufficient reason to give evidence of His existence, but not make it impossible to deny. Philosopher Michael Murray of Franklin & Marshall College makes the case that if God stays hidden to a degree, He gives people the free will to either respond to His tugging at their hearts or remain autonomous from Him. This is what happens in the narrative of the Garden of Eden. When Adam and Eve are tempted by the serpent, God’s immediate proximity to them is not evident. Perhaps character is what you do when you think nobody is looking.

What if, in the words of Blaise Pascal, God has only revealed Himself enough to give us the choice of whether or not to believe? Pascal says, “There is enough light for those who desire only to see, and enough darkness for those of a contrary disposition.”

Those of us that are convinced that the universe offers such sufficient “light” for belief in God are not persuaded by the claim of atheists who say that God’s existence necessarily requires more evidence than what is available. Amongst these evidences is the improbable fine-tuning of the universe for intelligent life to exist. The evidence for this is so strong that the default position of virtually every atheist today is a multiverse where every possible type of universe exists. If this were the case, then we were just really fortunate to be in the one unlikely universe that is fine-tuned for life.

Furthermore, the simple principle of cause and effect tells us that everything that begins to exist has a cause. Science has shown that the universe began to exist, and even if the cause of the universe was not an intelligent being, that cause would need a cause, and that cause would need a cause. Unless there is a first uncaused cause, you have an infinite regress of causes. Infinite numbers can be counted theoretically, but they are not actually possible. There needs to have been a first cause.

In a future post I will demonstrate why I am persuaded that this first cause must have been a being with the same attributes as the monotheistic God of Christianity. This was the eventual and final conclusion of the greatest philosophical atheist of the twentieth century, Antony Flew, who came to the conclusion that there is a God based upon his lifelong motto to “follow the evidence wherever it leads.” Many other evidences exist by which a person may build a solid argument for the existence of God. If you continue to follow this blog, you will learn more about many of them. Perhaps such sufficient light is all God intended to leave us.

All that said, if you prefer being an atheist, I am convinced that God values your free will more than His desires for you. If you are really after truth, then have an open mind and follow the evidence wherever it leads, even if you don’t like the conclusion.

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DISCLAIMER: Blog entries made by individual authors reflect the views of the author and not necessarily the view of other CAA authors, or the official position of the group at large.
About Tony Wichowski

Tony Wichowski holds a Bachelor of biblical studies from Faith Evangelistic Christian School in Detroit, Michigan. He was victim of severe spiritual abuse that would have made most people atheists, but it was through studying the evidences for historical Christianity that he was not only liberated from the bondage of religious oppression, but is persuaded now more than ever that Jesus Christ is risen from the dead.

  • Dave

    God didn’t seem so concerned about messing with free will back when he was performing miracles and walking with men. Why did they warrant a free trip on the faith bus back then (and a totally unfree will, by your definition), but we are denied it now?

    • Tony Wichowski

      Dave, your original comment appears to be gone so I cannot respond to it, but please note that even in biblical times miracles were not shown to everyone. Many believed the credible testimonies of those who witnessed them.

      Furthermore, even if God were to perform a miracle for all of us, what is to stop many people from saying that it was just magic tricks, or as certain religious leaders said in the days of Jesus, that He was using the devil’s power.

      I don’t think witnessing a miracle guarantees a person will believe by any stretch of the imagination. What it would take for each person is subjective.

      • Dave

        That is actually my original comment. The conversation continued above, but I’ll reiterate some of my arguments for your benefit.

        You state that miracles were not shown to everyone, but that evades the point that miracles were shown to someone. Granted, however, these miracles could be ignored as magic tricks or the devils work. However, let’s take his disciples. They were not convinced of his divinity when they first began following Jesus. It was after many miracles that Peter was willing to suggest that Jesus was the messiah. How many licks does it take to get to the center of Peter’s free will? (Naturally, you will say it takes more, so… moving on.)

        God walked with Enoch and Noah, and maybe others I’ve forgotten. This isn’t confusing, what he did was make his presence known without a doubt. If god removes all doubt of his existence, then by your argument, he is interfering with free will for those three.

        Furthermore, Lucifer was created by god. He had intimate knowledge of god’s divineness, and yet he still betrayed him. This is even more evidence that knowing for sure that god exists does not interfere with free will.

        So, again, why did these get a free ride on the belief bus? And why are we denied it now?

        • Tony Wichowski

          I’m sorry. I do not intentionally evade points. Miracles were shown to someone yes. However, I would add that it is a rare occasion where God has shown Himself or shown miracles to get people who would rather He did not exist so that they will believe in His existence against their will. I am not saying that this is your position. Please don’t be offended.

          I do feel strongly that it is the work of the Holy Spirit to draw hearts to God, and it is our free will to respond. For those who are seeking or desiring God, who want to see tangible evidence of Him in their lives, Jesus has promised that, but it requires loving Him first.

          “Whoever has my commandments and keeps them, he it is who loves me. And he who loves me will be loved by my Father, and I will love him and manifest myself to him.” – John 14:21

          As for Noah and Enoch, I do not really get into defending the accounts prior to Abraham as necessary literal history. There is not a lot of biographical data about Adam, Noah etc.

          I know that some Christians think it is really important to think of those stories as being literal, but I do not think it is necessary. I think the theology we get from them is certainly literal. That would be a whole different post.

          • Dave

            You say it is a rare occasion that god has shown himself to convert people, but rare implies that it does happen and that you acknowledge that it does happen. Saul of Tarsus would be an example. The matter is, if it happens once, then, therefore, your hypothesis (that god remains hidden in order to preserve free will) is not a rule that god chooses to follow. This leaves you with two choices: either god isn’t terribly concerned with preserving free will, or direct evidence of god does not mitigate free will.

            Your second paragraph states that receiving evidence of god requires first believing in him. From where I stand, this is circular reasoning. How do you propose for atheist converts to christianity to manage to get their foot in that door?

            Also, your quoted scripture is in direct opposition to the story of Paul (Saul).

  • Brian Doerr

    Dave, good question but try to understand what people saw and felt at the time that Jesus walked this earth. They thought they knew Him because they thought they knew Joseph. It was actually much more difficult to be a believer at that time. God was silent for 400 years, meaning he hadn’t spoken through his prophets as the Israelites were accustomed. Even though Jesus was born in Bethlehem, he was raised in Egypt before returning again to Galilee.
    Think again about your question of free will for these people. Could the religious leaders of the day, or anyone for that matter, resist the will of God/Jesus? They most certainly had free will and many vehemently opposed Jesus, His disciples, and His work. Read through the Gospels (Matthew, Mark, Luke and John) and look closely at Jesus’ words when he would heal someone or raise someone from the dead. You will see that one’s faith was connected with Jesus’ miraculous work.

    I would encourage you to continue asking questions, but more than that I would encourage you to seek the answers to those questions with some vigorous research. You will be surprised at what you find.

    • Dave

      So what you are saying is that, in spite of Jesus performing miracles before their very eyes, there existed those who continued to reject his divinity. Therefore, god’s revealing of himself does not negate free will, and people continue to have the choice of accepting or rejecting him in the face of bald evidence.

      Also, you focus on Jesus, but I prefer to throw back to the likes of Enoch and Noah. God walked with them, and talked to them (I know a hymn just lit up in your head). Either their free will was compromised (and god was not concerned with violating them in this manner), or god’s physical and spiritual presence does not affect free will.

      If you like, I can throw back even further, to the creation of Lucifer. God created Lucifer, who had intimate knowledge of the divinity of god, and yet he wholeheartedly rejects god. On top of that, he led countless other angels to rebel. Intimate knowledge of god did not affect their free will.

      So, therefore, we can conclude that god revealing himself to me will not affect my free will, according to these examples. The OP will have to come up with a better reason for his god’s remaining out of sight.

      • Brian Doerr

        Ok, then I take your response to mean that you do agree with Tony’s blog about our free will. You have brought up some interesting points though. Lucifer is another matter entirely. He was created as the most powerful of any of God’s other creations. There is a whole set of issues there that do not apply to humans since we were made a little lower than the angels, however, they do impact us since Satan’s deceptions and lies are focused on us.

        Your conclusion is absolutely correct, God has already revealed Himself to you. But there need be no other “reason.” God remains out of sight of our physical eyes but do not misunderstand that as God is uninvolved in our life. He knows you intimately, better even than you know yourself. He loves you and your rejection of Him hurts at a level you and I would consider unbearable. He has such a plan for your life it boggles the mind.

        I’m not sure what to tell you, Dave. I feel your pain and confusion but I do not really believe you are seeking honest answers. It’s clear that you have made up your mind and will continue to pick holes in any argument and that is perfectly allowable. But do not then say that your unbelief is God’s fault. Accept it as your choice as a thinking and rational person.

        • Dave

          I’m starting to think that you never even read the article, or my posts. I plainly asserted that the article’s conclusion is wrong, and gave several reasons. You have replied to me saying, instead, that I agree with the article, and have given no reasons for that conclusion about me.

          If you wish to claim that my arguments have led a different direction from what I have stated, please write down the reasons why. If you are simply going to misrepresent me, I’d rather you not reply to me at all.

          Now, concerning the content of your latest post, we shall stray from the article’s topic, since I’ve already given arguments that you failed to address:

          Since we have determined that being exposed to god does not negate free will, god permits himself (he makes all the rules) to prove himself to me. Since he knows me intimately, he knows exactly what I need to be assured of his existence. Since he loves me, he will not fail to make the necessary effort to save my soul. Therefore, I can not possibly go to hell, unless I knowingly reject god.

          Seeing as I have no desire to burn eternally, why on earth do I still have no evidence of the existence of god?

          • Brian Doerr

            This article is attempting to define a reason why God chooses not to show himself. It’s a well thought out argument and it seems as though there is more to come from the author on this topic. You are selecting to disagree with his argument because, regardless of showing himself or not showing himself, there are those who still refuse to submit themselves to His will. This is not the same as belief vs. disbelief, which is what I think Tony is getting at. As imperfect humans with imperfect knowledge we have before us a choice and we exercise free will…believe there is an Almighty Creator of Heaven and Earth or do not. This is not the same choice that Lucifer, the angles, Adam and Eve, etc faced. Their choice was to submit or not to submit. Even now demons (the fallen angles) believe in God and it scares them. They believe! Read the interactions Jesus had with demon possessed persons. They recognized him instantly and were terrified.

            I’ve read the article and I’ve read your responses. I apologize if I took you off topic, I found your choice not to believe very interesting and so that is what I addressed. I hope this puts you a little more at ease.

            I’m glad you have no desire to be eternally separated from the Creator, me neither. The evidence is all around us though. I’m thinking perhaps you want to see him face to face, which would be a mistake. Moses wanted to see Him face to face as well but God would not allow it. Look at the evidence of a creator. Observe a delicate ecological system in perfect balance. Study the human hand or the human eye. You really don’t even have to look at such complex things to see design that points to a designer. Something as simple as a wheel & axle needs to be conceptualized, designed and created. We see in biology living things come from other living things. Dogs from dogs, people from people, etc. There are no exceptions. There are only fantasies sold by those who have exercised their free will to not believe in a creator.

            • Dave

              So, what you’re saying is that I disagree with the article’s conclusion – that maintaining free will is the reason that god stays hidden – because I refuse to submit to a god whose very existence is questionable? You continue to say that wether or not I believe is irrelevant, I must submit regardless. You then say that we have a choice, to believe or not, which was a different choice than fallen angels or Adam and Eve faced. This suggests that belief is, in fact, important, even though you just said it was irrelevant.

              Since you’re bouncing around in that first paragraph, I’m going to ignore it.

              Your third paragraph consists of common creationist assertions, which are disproved all over the internet (feel free to look them up). Being well learned in biology, I can assure you that complexity can arise from simplicity, and that evolution is a scientific fact.

              Unfortunately, this is the end for us. I am not willing to waste my time arguing with a creationist. I’ve done it before, and I’ve watched plenty of the debates. If you prefer the literal translation of a two and a half thousand year old book over the mutually supporting findings of thousands of biologists, all of whom would happily give an eye to become famous forever for proving evolution wrong, that’s on you.

              • Brian Doerr

                You’ve written me off as a creationist and that’s fine…I’m in good company. I contend that wether you believe is a choice – not that it’s irrelevant. By your own words you have no evidence of the existence of God. Dave, I’m only trying to help, you have the evidence. Complexity as the effect with Simplicity as the cause simply does not happen.

  • http://hausdorffbb.blogspot.com/ Hausdorff

    “It is also quite easy to prove that a fat man in a red suit does not travel the world in a sleigh with magical reindeer, as surely we would have caught him on camera by now.”

    Of course we don’t have pictures, his magic dust that allows him to fly also keeps his image from being captured either on film or on modern digital cameras.

    • Tony Wichowski

      Even if you grant this new addition to the Santa myth, you should visit the toy stores at Christmas time if you want to find out how the gifts got under the tree. The reason adults do not believe in Santa Clause is not because of simply a lack of evidence, but because we have good reasons to think that he does not exist. There is no magic toy shop at the north pole, and all of the gifts can be traced to other makers.

      • http://hausdorffbb.blogspot.com/ Hausdorff

        Well sure, some parents don’t trust Santa enough to bring presents, and they buy things from the stores even though it’s unnecessary. That’s why we can find toys in all of the stores and there will be sales figures that we can look up.

        • Tony Wichowski

          Find me a parent that trusts santa and I will find you one that trusts Jesus. ;)

  • Guest

    Dave, your original comment appears to be gone so I cannot respond to it, but please note that even in biblical times miracles were not shown to everyone. Many believed the credible testimonies of those who witnessed them.

    Furthermore, even if God were to perform a miracle for all of us, what is to stop many people from saying that it was just magic tricks, or as certain religious leaders said in the days of Jesus, that He was using the devil’s power.

    I don’t think witnessing a miracle guarantees a person will believe by any stretch of the imagination.

    • Guest

      This was my comment. Not sure why it says “guest.”

  • tildeb

    many atheists see God’s hiddenness as a devastating quandary for theism,
    theists do not see God’s invisibility as a devastating problem for
    their faith. The perspectives are so different that to an equal degree
    the theist will wonder why the atheist sees God’s hiddenness as a such a
    problem, as the atheist will wonder why the theist can still rationally
    believe.

    It isn’t that this supposed god is invisible; gravity is invisible and I don’t find any atheists refusing to respect its power. So it’s not a question of invisibility. The fact is that theists make causal claims about real effect in this world and attribute it to this invisible god without a shred of evidence that can be shared and tested against reality for validity. THAT is the problem.

    As far as the atheist is concerned, the theist is just making stuff up (like the invisible dust Santa uses to hide his travels from detection). Making a causal claim is not sufficient to support a claim unless one can back it up by linking cause with effect with (hopefully) a mechanism that works for everyone everywhere all the time. Where this invisible interventionist god is the supposed cause, the theist is unable to link the effect to this cause… except by assertion alone.

    Don’t believe me? Go ahead and demonstrate your prayer to your god is more efficacious that the prayer of another to a different god. And here we meet the problem reality reveals in its arbitration of your causal claims: there is no compelling evidence independent of your belief. Gods seem to exist solely in the minds of those who say they do. This is the problem, and does not belong to atheists who quite properly refuse to believe in something for which there is no compelling reasons to do so. Why should religion be granted such a special privilege that is withheld even from Santa?