I like to think of The Problem of Divine Hiddenness as atheism’s version of the Fermi Paradox. If God exists, where is he? If God is real and honestly wants me to come to know him, then he would give me the evidence I need to believe. Or, at the very least, he could have given me better evidence when I actually did believe so that I would not stray (the bar would have been much lower then).
An atheist might say it’s reasonable to think that God could show up in human form for everyone to see, proclaim himself to be God, and perform wonders to make us believe. Since he doesn’t, the reasoning goes, this counts as disconfirming evidence. Consider the following argument:
1. God desires as many people as possible to come to him (Christian premise).
2. God is omniscient and omnipotent to know how to reach non believers and is able to accomplish it (Christian premise).
3. There are numerous reasonable unbelievers who would accept sufficient evidence.
4. No evidence is presented to these unbelievers, and they do not come to God.
5. Therefore, either God does not exist or one/both of the first two premises are false.
The most popular Christian response[i] here is to say that our first premise is wrong. They would revise it to say:
1`. God desires as many people as possible to freely come to him.
The implication of this is that God revealing himself in such a direct way would be coercion, thus, we would not be making truly free choices. It’s kind of like that movie A Cinderella Story (don’t judge me). Hillary Duff just wanted to be liked for who she really was—not for the dolled-up version of herself at the ball. If she had revealed her secret, she wouldn’t know if he really wanted to be with her or was just smitten by their one magical night.
So, they conclude, God would not reveal himself in the way I described. This is a major component of Plantinga’s free will theodicy and other arguments that rely on a non-coercive or non-invasive God. They may phrase it in terms of free choices, soul-making, character-building, etc.
But wait. There is a serious problem here for Christians. Let’s construct a new argument that assumes this defense is true:
1. God desires as many people as possible to freely choose him. (restated from 1`)
2. God would not perform an act that would interfere with this free choice.
3. Therefore, God would not show up in person, proclaim himself to be God, and perform wonders so that we might believe.
4. Jesus showed up in person, proclaimed himself to be god, and performed wonders.
5. Therefore, Jesus was not God.
Now that can’t be the desired result for Christians.
[i] There are other responses, but in the interest of brevity, I’ll only tackle this one for now.
- The hiddenness argument revisited (I) by J.L. Schellenberg
- Free Will and Evil
- The Problem of Sincere Believers