How An Atheist Helped Me Overcome The Divine Hiddenness Objection

How An Atheist Helped Me Overcome The Divine Hiddenness Objection

Divine Hiddenness is one of the arguments that atheists give against the existence of God. I’ve considered this an even more potent objection than the problem of evil. The Divine Hiddenness argument goes like this: If the Christian God exists, and if He wants everyone to believe in Him (because not believing in Him results in eternal damnation), then why doesn’t He just make His existence more obvious. God, being omnipotent according to The Bible, could make it towhere everyone all over the world could not possibly deny His existence. So, why doesn’t He? The atheist’s answer, of course, is that there is no God. God not revealing Himself makes perfect sense if there is no God to reveal Himself.

Dan Barker propounded the divine hiddenness objection in the opening statement of his debate with Richard G. Howe at the National Conference On Christian Apologetics in October of 2017. Barker said, “If God really exists, why are we having a debate about it? Doesn’t this debate actually undercut the reality of God? Why are we talking about ‘proofs’ and ‘arguments’? Why are there all these books about ‘6 Arguments For God’s Existence”? Why doesn’t this God who exists make himself known to me? Why doesn’t he do that? That’s the question that Kora asked of Moses and that’s the question that Martin Luther asked of The Pope. Why do we need intermediaries? Why do I need you [gestures towards Richard G. Howe] to tell me about it? Doesn’t apologetics actually show that God is too weak to speak for Himself?“.

The objection wasn’t new to me, but somehow the way Dan Barker propounded it hit me harder than other atheists who have used it. Unfortunately, it planted a seed of doubt that I buried deep in my subconscious. Rather than dealing with it, I simply tried to sweep it under the rug. I repressed it. I don’t know why. Maybe subconsciously I was embarrassed about going through another spell of doubt. After all, at this point in my life, I had written over 400 blog posts on Cerebral Faith and had authored 2 books defending Christianity and had even publicly debated skeptics on the truth of Christianity. Apologists aren’t supposed to doubt, right? In fact, in hindsight, I had deceived myself into thinking that Barker’s comments did not bother me at all. In fact, most of what he said in the debate didn’t. His debate opening speech was basically the usual “Ha ha! You believe in talking snakes and donkeys!” typical new atheist jargon. However, the point about divine hiddenness and there not even being any need for apologetics and arguments if God really existed affected me, and I was disappointed that Dr. Howe completely ignored it. He never addressed it once throughout the whole debate. Unfortunately, as any psychologist will tell you, repressed feelings or thoughts always break free eventually, and then you have to deal with them. 

Help From An Unexpected Source

In this blog post, I will be talking about the topic of divine hiddenness. I came to a very satisfactory answer to this objection against God’s existence ironically from talking to an atheist about The Problem Of Evil. I posted a meme on The Cerebral Faith Facebook page a while back. The meme was of a man and he was in front of his house, the house was burning and the man said “Oh God! Oh God! Why!? Why God!?” and in the speech bubble that was pointing towards the sky (thus representing God’s response”, I put “The Butterfly Effect. It would literally take me a hundred years to explain to you the trillions and trillions of different greater goods that could come about from this one single instance of suffering.” and the man’s looks down and he says “Oh. Okay.” 

That’s one of the responses to the problem of evil; that I give (against The Probabilistic Version anyway) that we are not in a position to judge whether or not God has a good reason or permitting any instance of suffering. Why? Because every event that occurs sends ripples into the future, and so God’s reason for permitting any single given instance of suffering might have a good reason that comes about in the future. And had God not allowed that evil or that instance of suffering, the greater good that God wanted to bring about would not come about. So, if D is a greater good and God cannot get to D without allowing events A, B, and C, then God will allow event A in order to bring about B, and B in order to bring about C and therefore we get D. And in fact, I argue that there may be more than one greater good that God can bring about for any instance of suffering. There might be hundreds of greater goods that manifest themselves in different time periods, In different stages of history, in different people’s lives and even in different countries! 

Time travel enthusiasts know this full well! if you go back in time and you even so much as step on a butterfly, you come back to the present and a whole bunch of different things are different! We all know that everything that we do today, everything that happens today, has an effect on what would occur. For example, “If I had not pulled out into traffic then these events would follow.” Well, being omniscient, God knows everything that would occur in any given circumstance. So God might allow some instance of suffering knowing all of the various things that would occur if he allowed it to occur, and He knows all of the other things that would occur (or wouldn’t occur) if he if he stepped in to intervene. Given this fact, we are not in the position to say with any confidence that it’s improbable that God has a good reason for permitting X to occur. This is what I was trying to get my interlocutor to see; that given our finite cognitive standpoint, we are not in the position to judge whether or not God has a good reason for permitting X to occur. 

I won’t reveal his family name, but his first name is Sam. He’s been visiting this website and The Cerebral Faith Facebook page for a while. Sam and I have had a plethora of discussions and arguments on so many different issues. We’ve debated some topics more than once. They are always intellectually stimulating, and they are always civil and respectful.2 

We’ve argued over whether Tim Stratton’s Free Thinking Argument Against Naturalism is sound, we’ve argued over whether The Contingency Argument For God’s Existence is sound, we’ve argued over whether The Fine-Tuning Argument For God’s Existence is sound, we’ve debated The Moral Argument For God’s Existence probably 4 different times now, we talked about some Old Testament objections to God’s character, we’ve debated over whether or not God is just for sending people to Hell (both before AND after I became an annihilationist!), and we probably talked about the problem of evil on three different occasions. Most of these conversations took place either in the comment section of a Facebook post or in the comments section of CerebralFaith.net’s comment section. 

The Conversation About The Burning House Meme (Part 1 – The Problem Of Evil)

In the most recent discussion on the problem of evil, I posted the meme on March 26th I know the guy’s freaking out because his home is on fire, he cries out “Why?” to God and “Butterfly Effect. It would literally take me a hundred years to explain to you the trillions and trillions of different greater goods that could come about from this one single instance of suffering in the ripples of time and space.” and the man’s looks down and he says “Oh.” And so, Sam commented and we started debating about whether or not it was is feasible for God to actualize a world of Free Will where every single individual always freely chooses to do the right thing all the time, and whether or not we are in a position to judge whether or not all of the evils in the world render God’s existence improbable. He also took issue with my theodicy that one of the greater goods that Gods bring about through evil and suffering is people’s salvation. About 99.9999% of the coming-to-testimonies I listen to always involved immense suffering. These people go through a lot of suffering, they come to the ends of themselves, they cry out to God for help and for salvation. They go on to have a saving relationship with him.

He objected this saying that it’s manipulative coercive and I disputed that and I also pointed out that that’s not one of the only what the thing is not one of the only things that God permits suffering and evil for I’m not going to read our conversation but I’m just I’m just talkin about this because it leads up to my epipheny.3 

One of his argument was that if I say that God actualized this world he had to aclize some world where evil and suffering exist because God wanted a world with libertarian free creatures. Libertarian free creatures is necessary for there to be love. If there were no love and God just causally determined does all to love Him and each other, and to be nice to each other and always do the right thing all the time, to never do anything evil,  then it would be a robot world and our love would not be genuine either when directed towards God or towards each other. Our “love” would just be artificial. It would be superficial. it would be robot love (an oxymoronic term). By saying “I love you, God” would be no more meaningful to Him than getting a hand puppet and making thehand puppet say “Oh! You’re so handsome! I love you! You’re such a great guy!”

Atheists frequently conflate the logical version of the problem of evil with the evidential version, so in all our conversations including this one, I had to do away with the logical version first, and say “Hey, just because God’s all powerful, that doesn’t mean that He can create any world that he wants.”  Omnipotence is defined as being able to do anything that’s logically possible, and it’s possible that any world of libertarian free creatures that God could create, so matter how he arranged the pieces on the chess board, so to speak, whether he decided whether certain humans would be born much later in history and others much earlier in history, and decided to put us in different spacial locations, there would still be some people who abuse their free will and go wrong. That’s at least possible, so the premise of the logical version of the problem of evil that says “If God is all powerful, God can create any kind of world that He wants”4 is not necessarily true and therefore, the logical version of the problem of evil is not sound. And I also did the cognitive limitations argument against the evidential version saying “Hey look, every event sends ripples into the future. So how do we know that God doesn’t have a good reason for permitting X, Y, or Z?”. And this just kind of lead to the conversation regarding free will and divine hiddenness. 

Sam does not think free will is required for love, but he grants it for the sake of the argument.

The Conversation About The Burning House Meme (Part 2: Divine Hiddenness, Free Will, And Coercion)

His argument was basically “Yeah we need free will, but if God allows a lot of bad stuff to happen to you so that you end up coming to Christ, isn’t that a little bit coercive?” I don’t think it is because you still have the ability to choose to repent or to be hard-headed and endure your suffering. I don’t think it violates a person’s freedom to choose (A) accept Christ or (Non-A) reject Christ. It is certainly the case that God is giving people an extra shove knowing that if we endure what we endure, we would freely choose to come to Christ. Thus, he permitted our suffering because some of us were more hard-headed than others and we need an extra shove. But it’s still resistible (Acts 7:51). 

But then his argument was that the very fact that God issues an ultimatum is compulsory. He argued that for God to say “worship me or burn” , that’s compulsory. That’s coercive. He likened it to a man putting a gun up to a woman’s head and saying “Have sex with me or I will shoot you!” and my atheist friend said “We obviously would not consider a woman who had sex with a man in that instance to be free. She wouldn’t be free. She would have been coerced.” and after he argued that, I responded that, technically she was still free because she had the ability to choose either to (A) have sex with the man or (B) to choose death. Ergo, the PAP (principle of alternative possibilities) is not violated. 

He argued that even though the woman in his hypothetical scenario had the ability to choose to have sex with the man or to get a bullet in the head, nevertheless he said “It’s perfectly reasonable to say that her Free Will has been interfered with legal documents say this all the time it is certainly true that the rapist should not have put her in that situation but it is also true that she is being coerced into it“. 

He gave this illustration. He said “”A man named George was deeply in love with a woman named Eve. He had wanted to marry her since high school, but she wasn’t interested. She had rejected his advances multiple times. However, she ended up caught for murder, and George was the judge. After hearing the facts in the case, although it broke his heart he sentenced her as required by the law, the penalty was death.

        However, they lived in a Islamic country that also enforced Shariah law. This meant that the family of the murder victim could forgive the murderer and let them off with a small penalty, either as an act of charity or for blood money. (Diyya). The family demanded that Eve pay money or face the death penalty. Neither she, nor her family, nor even her entire community could pay the price required however. So she was doomed to pay the wages of her crime, which was death.

         However, after the trial was done George shed the robe of a judge and assumed that of a man who was deeply in love with her. He was extremely well payed for his services and therefore he offered to pay the blood price for her. However there was a catch. She would have to marry George forever and this included having sex with him. Also she would have to be ‘given a new heart’ by letting a nueroscientist reprogram her to love George. Her options were essentially marrying him forever (and all that entails) or dying. So Eve accepted his proposal, George payed the blood price and she was reprogrammed to love George and they married.”6

This is supposed to be an analogy to the situation that we’re in. We’re under God’s wrath, we’re sinners (Romans 3:23, Psalm 14:2-4), the wages of sin is death (Romans 6:23), God stepped down from the throne (John 1:1-14, Philippians 2:5-8), died on the cross and rose from the dead (Matthew 27-28, 1 Corinthians 15) to be punished in our place (Isaiah 53, 1 Peter 3:18), and gives us grace (John 2:32), and we can receive forgiveness but we have to enter into a loving relationship with him or else face the death penalty.

Sam’s point is that Eve couldn’t be said to truly enter into a free relationship with George because, although she technically can choose between this out and death, she nevertheless faces enormous pressure from her instinct to survive. Ergo, she might enter into a relationship with George just sheerly out of a desire for self-preservation. Yes, in one sense, she did it freely. But in another sense, she wasn’t. She was free in that the PAP was in place and she could choose to enter a relationship with George or to suffer the death penalty, but the fear of death we all have made the latter option extremely difficult. 

Now, as I was talking to Sam about this, something dawned on me. It occurred to me that divine hiddenness could solve the coerciveness problem. I responded “Here’s the situation; we’re all sinners (Psalm 14:2-4, Romans 3:23), we all deserve death (Romans 6:23). But God loves us and doesn’t want that for us so He provided all the means to give us life; by suffering the penalty in our stead and giving us grace to repent (John 3:16-18, John 12:32). God has got to punish sin somehow; either at the cross or in Hell. If He doesn’t punish sin at all, it would be unjust. We have a choice; repent or perish. And yes, the former requires and involves a relationship with God, but I don’t see how it is coercive. I mean, God is just saying ‘pay the fine or go to jail’.

You know, some have responded to the divine hiddenness objection by saying if God made his existence so obvious, everyone would obey Him out of fear. Perhaps God does indeed let people with the ability to doubt His existence and The Bible for that reason. This way if people choose to reject Christ, they can comfort themselves by talking themselves out of belief like the Pharisees did. I’ve always doubted this response to divine hiddenness but as I dwell on your objection, I’m starting to see the wisdom in it.”7

I think that Sam is correct. God’s ultimatum does seem to be coercive, but I think that divine hiddenness solves that problem. What God wants is for us to have a loving relationship with Him. He wants us to genuinely love Him and love each other. That’s why he gives us free will. That’s why gives us the ability to flip the bird at Him. That’s why He gives Richard Dawkins the ability to write so many nasty things about him in his books. We have the freedom to love God or hate God. Without that freedom, we wouldn’t be able to truly love Him. But what about the ultimatum!? Wouldn’t that pressure us to obey God out of fear for our own self-preservation? “Yes, God! I will serve you for all eternity! Just please don’t burn me!” Well, hide yourself just enough and the pressure is off! 

This is what Sam wrote in his proceeding comment; “But how much do they fear the gaze of the Omniscient himself? (This is probably the best proof that people aren’t subconsciously aware that God exists-most people are quite more afraid for their privacy in doing wrong around others, you can’t be clearly aware that God exists unconsciously while showing and having this complete lack of fear.)”8 

to which I responded 

“Dude! That’s the point of the hiddenness! It would be impossible for me to choose between good and evil if I had an overwhelming sense of The Holy Spirit watching me from above.

Let me ask you this; could you watch porn if Jesus were visibly sitting in the room staring at you? Could you commit tax fraud or anything else knowing all the while that His disapproving gaze is upon you? Of course not! It’s interesting to note that it was only AFTER Adam and Eve ate the fruit that God showed up in a theophany ‘walking in the garden’. If he was there beforehand, they might have obeyed out of fear. Sam, you just gave a good argument for why God maintains a certain level of hiddenness!”

Just try to put yourself in the shoes of someone who wanted to do Sin X, Y, or Z all the while The Holy Spirit visibly hovers over them as a giant dove. That would be unnerving and they would probably be functionally equivalent to someone who didn’t have the freedom to (A) sin or (Non-A) not sin. I know I’d watch my Ps and Qs WAY more carefully if God were in my face all the time.

If the Holy Spirit were overwhelmingly present to you at all times, could you, for example, watch pornography? Could you do that if you had a visible manifestation of the Holy Spirit sitting on your shoulder giving you a disapproving gaze? How much Freedom would you really have to choose between  good actions and evil actions if you felt that God was in your face all the time? I don’t think you would have that freedom. You would most likely do good probably just because you are very acutely aware that you are being watched at all times. 

As a Christian I believe Proverbs 15:3 “The eyes of the Lord are everywhere keeping watch on the evil and the good.” nevertheless when I want to sin, it’s very easy for me to pretend like God doesn’t exist or that He’s not watching.

We probably all have those moments where we are tempted to sin, we shove the knowledge of God into our subconscious, we send, and then we feel the conviction of the Holy Spirit letting us know that we should not have done that, and we ask God for forgiveness. But if I have an overwhelming sense of the Holy Spirit at all times, that probably wouldn’t be doable. I probably would just watch my p’s and q’s and do good all the time just because I’m acutely aware, not just not just consciously aware, but acutely aware that God is watching me. It’s that kind of feeling you have when you’re trying to surf the Internet and someone is watching over your shoulder. You’re very uncomfortable even if you’re not doing anything illegal online. 

The result of this conversation is that I came to conclude that divine hiddenness is a necessary prerequisite for us to enter into a loving relationship with God genuinely, not coerced. Divine hiddenness is necessary for our libertarian free will to be intact.

AN ARGUMENT FOR DIVINE HIDDENESS 

This provides evidence for a premise in an argument for divine hiddeness. I talked about this in my book The Case For The One True God

1: If God wants people to come to Him freely, He would not do anything that would coerce belief and worship.

2: If God were overwhelmingly obvious, He would coerce belief and worship.

3: God wants people to come to Him freely.

4: Therefore, God would not do anything that would coerce belief and worship.

5: Therefore, God would prevent Himself from being overwhelmingly obvious. 

Step 4 follows from steps 1 and 3. Step 5 follows from steps 2 and 4. This is a logically airtight argument. If the 3 premises are true, so are the conclusions.

I had argued vigorously for the third premise and Sam had inadvertently supplied reasons to believe the second. Premise 1 seems rather obvious. 

Conclusion 

I think it’s very interesting that God used an atheist to help strengthen my confidence in an argument against the divine hiddenness problem. He didn’t use a Christian philosopher. He used an atheist! Isn’t it just like God to do that kind of thing? That is just like Him. I was aware of it’ would-violate-free-will response before, but I thought it was very speculative and ad-hoc. I defended a stronger reason to affirm premise 2 in my book The Case For The One True God, but while I found it plausible, I can’t say that I was 100% satisfied with it. Now, I think that I can officially say that I can put this objection against the existence of God behind me. 

—————————————————-

NOTES

1: Dan Barker, Richard G. Howe, “Is There A God Who Speaks?”, a debate at the National Conference On Christian Apologetics, October 13th, 2017, as of the time of this writing, the debate can be viewed on Youtube –> https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=LD3-qK-2gu8 

2: I wish I could say this about all of my discussions and debates with atheists. Heck, I wish I could say it about more of my discussions with my fellow Christians! 

3: If you want to read it yourself you can. It’s publicly available it’s onThe Cerebral Faith Facebook page. Just click this link –> https://www.facebook.com/cerebralfaith/photos/a.824173181009499/2855467954546668/?type=3&theater

4: To see an in-depth rebuttal to The Problem Of Evil, see my paper “Why The Problem Of Evil Is A Failed Argument For Atheism” → https://www.dropbox.com/s/qg97r9zcipc66zb/Why%20The%20Problem%20Of%20Evil%20Is%20A%20Failed%20Argument%20For%20Atheism%20%281%29.pdf?dl=0

5: Tim Stratton makes a very compelling case that free will is required for love in two blog posts. The first is “Harley Quinn + The Joker = True Love?” https://freethinkingministries.com/harley-quinn-the-joker-true-love/  –>  and the second is “Does True Love Require Libertarian Free Will? A Response To Greg Koukl” → https://freethinkingministries.com/does-true-love-require-libertarian-free-will-a-response-to-greg-koukl/ 

6: https://www.facebook.com/cerebralfaith/photos/a.824173181009499/2855467954546668/?type=3&theater 

7: ibid. 

8: ibid. 

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This Post Has One Comment

  1. Josué Rodriguez

    Nice one. This tracks closely with Paul Moser’s work in The Elusive God, The Evidence for God, and The Severity of God. Have you had a chance to read them?

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