Why Isn’t God’s Existence More Obvious?

Some religious theists (though by no means all) try to explain the apparent lack of strong evidence for the existence of God by dismissing it as merely a human problem. Strong evidence, they say, is abundantly available, so the inability to see it must issue from some kind of personal defect or irresponsibility.These theists claim that unbelievers blind themselves to the reality of God by erecting barriers that are designed to keep belief at bay. Why? Because they find the existence of God to be a threatening or inconvenient reality.

In my view, the above explanation has some merit, but it is also very incomplete. It fails to do justice to the nuances and complexities involved in sifting through the evidence, and it does not engage what atheists have been saying about the issue. So what have they been saying?

The argument that a loving God would make his existence more apparent in this world is not a new one. Atheists like David Hume and Friedrich Nietzsche viewed the apparent lack of sufficient evidence as grounds for unbelief, but only until recently has this argument been given a rigorous formulation, specifically in J.L. Schellenberg’s book Divine Hiddenness and Human Reason (1993). He contends that a perfectly loving Being would provide evidence of His existence to any creature capable of entering into a personal relationship with Him. But since there are persons who lack adequate evidence for belief (through no fault of their own), and because there are likely no justifying reasons why God would allow such people to lack belief, Schellenberg concludes that God probably doesn’t exist. This, in a nutshell, is the problem of divine hiddenness.

My hunch is that Schellenberg’s argument will resonate with most of people who’ve spent a considerable amount of time and energy examining the evidence for and against God, and find the conclusion of theism to be less than obvious, or at least easily resistible. Whether or not you are convinced by Schellenberg will depend on how you answer these two core questions: first, do some people lack belief in God through not fault of their own? And second, is there likely no justifying reason God that would have for allowing such persons to exist? How might you respond to these questions?

4 thoughts on “Why Isn’t God’s Existence More Obvious?”

    1. Basically, these questions come from the premises of Schellenberg’s argument from divine hiddenness. His first claim is that some people do not believe in God and their lack of belief hasn’t come from any neglect of their investigative duties. The question is, are there such people? The second question gets at which reasons God might have for not making his existence more obvious to a person who is capable of relating to Him. Could there be some reasons why God would remain hidden from a person (i.e. by not providing adequate evidence of his existence), at least for a time? Perhaps some goods are served by God’s delaying a relationship with someone who is capable.

      I hope that clarifies things,
      HBR

      1. God. Jahwe. Allah. Elohim. the wholly Other …
        May I reformulate the question: Do some people have belief in God through fault of their own? What I mean is: This transcendent being, which – if existent (can we use “exist” for such a being?) – surpasses us in many ways, is being used and “believed in” in so many different ways. Billions of people shout: I believe. There must be some errenous believs out there, and I think, if he exists, ,many non-believers might be more true about him, than those who claim to know him. What do they mean wtih knowing? Did he see him? Did they interact with him? Even if so, does that justify to say to know him?
        Many people claim to know him but don’t understand any thing about him.
        It seems to me that God remains hidden to all of us. Maybe there are some moments when there is something beyond. Maybe that was good. But we cannot know and that is why we have so many different attitudes about God.

  1. Sisyphos,

    Thank you for your response to this post. You raise several important issues that deserve attention.

    First, the existence of erroneous believers seems (empirically speaking) obvious. Many religious traditions even claim that certain people will be ill-motivated and irresponsible in their embrace of religious ideas; and more to the point, some non-believing persons appear to be more virtuous (intellectually and morally) in their investigation of such matters than supposed believers. I think it’s pretty fair to say that these types of erroneous believers fall short of true knowledge of God. By “true knowledge” I mean that God desires more than mere intellectual assent that he exists, but rather a deeply serious, morally transformative, devotion to him.

    However, I am not sure what conclusions you are trying to draw from the above points. On the one hand, you infer that “we cannot know.” On the other hand, you say that “many people claim to know [God] but don’t understand anything about him.” If you take the first view, then what criteria are you using to say we cannot know? Are you taking the position of complete religious skepticism which says we cannot have any reasonable beliefs about God since none of them can be certain? If you take the latter view, then by saying that many people don’t understand anything about God, you are at least granting the possibility that we can have reasonable beliefs about God – i.e. to say “they don’t understand” requires some level of confidence about what God isn’t.

    Correct me if I’m wrong, but my hunch is that you are opting for a more moderate view which says that humility in religious claims should be our stance because so many people have searched vigorously but arrived at different conclusions about God. Is that your position, Sisyphos?

    Again, thank you for your contribution

    HBR

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