Nov 29

The hiddenness argument revisited (II) by J.L. Schellenberg

In an earlier post, I outlined the argument from hiddenness by J.L. Schellenberg along with his responses to several criticisms of the argument. These criticisms were grouped together in virtue of being irrelevant, according to Schellenberg. They generally were either already covered by one of his premises or could be explained away by further clarification.

In this post, I’ll explain Schellenberg’s second article that covers criticisms he does find relevant. This should be quite simple to understand since he recommends using the same general approach to every such criticism. He calls this approach the Accommodationist Strategy (hereafter, AS). AS may need slight tailoring in each case, but the overall structure will be the same.

So, what is the AS and how does it work? Essentially, the AS works by placing an enormous burden of proof on the opponent who claims to have a defeater for the hiddenness argument. Such defeaters include offering a reason for the hiddenness (we’ll see one example). When presented with a reason for hiddenness, ask yourself whether the proposed good brought about by it can be achieved by any other means that does not result in reasonable non-belief. Remember that God is all-knowing and all-powerful, so can really use any means for achieving his ends. As Schellenberg says, “It comes up against the unsurpassable immensity of divine resourcefulness.”[i]

Let’s look at one quick example. Swinburne, in Providence and the Problem of Evil, argues that certain goods, like responsibility, flow from not having a constant or immediate knowledge of God. But can such goods, Schellenberg asks, really not be derived by any other means at this immensely resourceful God’s disposal? The fact that we can come up with ways to do it ourselves with all of our limitations would strongly suggest that God could indeed derive them in other ways. Schellenberg says these are just tokens of certain types of good. There are other ways to actualize the types of good without hindering a relationship with God. A perfectly loving and relationship-seeking God would necessarily prefer these other tokens, if available.

Similarly, the AS can be applied to soul-making and other relevant criticisms that posit some type of good achieved by hiddenness.


Further Thoughts

Since that strategy should be grasped pretty easily, I thought I’d include some bonus material for responding to reasons given for hiddenness. Atheist philosopher Stephen Maitzen, whose arguments I highly recommend, poses another difficulty for such objections. While Schellenberg’s AS makes it difficult to establish said criticisms as defeaters, we still might wonder how well they work as undercutters.[ii] I think Maitzen’s response to such criticisms gives us good reason to think they don’t even work well on that front. Maitzen argues that any explanation for hiddenness will have to also account for the geographic distribution of theistic belief and non-belief. For example, Afghanistan is almost uniformly theistic and Cambodia the opposite. If we assume that the reasons given for hiddenness are at work, then it’s hard to see why religion should be geographically distributed in a way that makes more sense under naturalistic explanations.

[i] “The hiddenness argument revisited (II)” p. 288.

[ii] A defeater renders a premise false outright where an undercutter renders it less probable.

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  1. The hiddenness argument revisited (I) by J.L. Schellenberg | Foxhole Atheism

    […] of this post—he is responding to a group of criticisms that he views as irrelevant, and then in Part II he considers the “relevant” […]

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