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.