Thursday, August 2, 2012

Some Thoughts on the Argument from Divine Hiddenness

The atheistic argument from divine hiddenness (ADH) may be summarized like this:

1. If God exists, he would want everyone to believe in him. (Premise)

2. If God wants everyone to believe in him, then he will provide compelling evidence of his existence. (Premise)

3. God has not provided compelling evidence of his existence. (Premise)

4. Therefore, God does not exist. (From 1 – 3)

As a theist, I'm happy to grant premises (1) and (2).  However, (3) is obviously in contention for those of us who take Romans 1:18-20 seriously and have offered arguments for God's existence.  We maintain that various cosmological, teleological, axiological and many other types of arguments provide us with rationally compelling reasons to believe in God.

The wrinkle to this whole debate is that the atheist may modify (3) like this: 3*. God has not provided compelling evidence of his existence that meets everyone's criteria of compelling evidence.

This would be a most curious claim.  Is God supposed to bow down to our standards, and upon his ingratiating us with proving his self-evident existence, finally go back to being God?  Is that really what God is like?  If so, it hardly seems appropriate to say that God is as great as we say he is, much less maximally great.  The fact of the matter is that his standards are not our standards.  Our demand for evidence is already manifested sufficiently, even if some continue to demand more.

My claim here is not intended to be antagonistic.  It's just that it's not at all uncommon for people (myself included) to suppress our knowledge of things we'd rather not have to deal with.  Sometimes this suppression of knowledge is intentional, and other times unintentional.  To my atheistic friends, I want you to know that I believe you are sincere and that your suppression of the knowledge of God is unintentional.  God promises us that if we continue to seek him with an open mind and an open heart, he will reveal himself to us (Deut. 4:29).  All I can ask you is that you continue to remain open.  God will reveal himself to you at the appropriate time.


  1. May I say you make at least one former Bible teacher giddy just knowing you still think about such things. The depth of your insight humbles me.
    Now, may I add a thought that extends your contemplation of the divine. The self-sufficiency of God actually negates or at leasts sublimates premise one. He only desires our belief in him as it will benefit us and under the condition of our free will. Compelling evidence of his existence undermines my freedom to choose him. A lover seeks the beloved and celebrates their every reunion. A love potion of evidence would diminish the relationship formed in the seeking and finding.

  2. Mr. Johns, it's great to hear from you! I appreciate your thoughts on the issue of divine hiddenness. I'm aware of the problem that free will throws into this. To me, the existence of God is obvious, but I still have to use my free will to embrace him. It's sort of like a man saying, "I know my wife exists, but I have faith she loves me." If you prefer, "sufficient evidence" may be substituted for "compelling evidence."

  3. If I may, why should anyone be granted premise one? For sake of argument, it may be granted to consider what follows. But beyond that, How am I off when my gut reaction is to laugh at the notion of premise one? (Upon reading Mr. Johns' comment and your response, I am not seeing that my question is addressed directly- but maybe I am failing at seeing the answer.) Why is presmise one necessary?

    Glad to have found your blog- just discovered it!

  4. Further- I can see why for sake of some arguments in some contexts you may wish to, as a theist, grant premise one. But that seems unnecessary / unwarranted generosity to grant the premise to an atheist. Starting from scratch, why is this premise true? (Although since they are already through and through committed naturalists, most such discussions take place on entirely different wavelengths anyhow.)

  5. Hi MrMosis,

    Thanks for your comments and the kind words. Premise (1) should be interpreted as God's desiring everyone to believe that he exists. He has done so according to Romans 1, so for the natural theologian who is also a Bible-believing Christian, we have to ask: why does God make his existence apparent to everyone, contra premise (3)?

    I think we can infer that God chooses to do what he wills and desires to do. Taken from that perspective, we can infer that God desires everyone to know that he exists.