In my recent debate with Matt Dillahunty about the existence of God, Dillahunty invoked his favorite argument against God’s existence — the Divine Hiddenness argument. We didn’t have a chance to go into that argument in detail in the debate, and Dillahunty is unwilling to have any more debates with me (even if he’s paid, apparently). So this is a good forum to look at that argument in more detail.
What is the argument for atheism from God’s Hiddenness?
This is a standard form of the argument from Divine Hiddenness against God’s existence:
Necessarily, if God exists, then God perfectly loves such finite persons as there may be.
Necessarily, if God perfectly loves such finite persons as there may be, then, for any capable finite person S and time t, God is at t open to being in a positively meaningful and reciprocal conscious relationship with S at t.
Necessarily, if for any capable finite person S and time t, God is at t open to being in a positively meaningful and reciprocal conscious relationship with S at t, then, for any capable finite person S and time t, it is not the case that S is at t nonresistantly in a state of nonbelief in relation to the proposition that God exists.
There is at least one capable finite person S and time t such that S is or was at t nonresistantly in a state of nonbelief in relation to the proposition that God exists.
So, it is not the case that God exists.– Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy
In precis, without the logical jargon, this is the argument: If God exists, He would not allow anyone receptive to His existence to remain ignorant of Him. However, there are people receptive to His existence who are ignorant of Him, so He must not exist.This argument is central to Dillahunty’s atheism. In a conversation with another atheist, Dillahunty said this about the Divine Hiddenness argument:
The biggest reason, apart from just applying skepticism and critical thinking to what I believed, the biggest reason that I’m an atheist is because of crickets. Because of divine hiddenness… I’ve spent a long time sincerely trying to get God to answer anything. My goal was to convince atheists. My goal was to fill out my obligation under 1 Peter 3:15, to be the best representative for Christ I could be, to lead people to the Lord because that’s what I thought He wanted me to do. And every time I came up with a problem I’d be like, “OK, God. I’m stuck.” Nothing…
[The theists’] position is that there is a God who has an important message for mankind. And, somehow, he only reveals it to certain individuals, who then write this down, and then 1000s of years after this initial revelation we have to rely on copies of copies of translations of copies, by anonymous authors, with no originals. And the textual testimony to a miracle (for example, the loaves and fishes)… there’s no amount of reports (anecdotal, testimonial reports) that could be sufficient to justify believing that this event actually happened as reported… no amount. And anything that would qualify as a God would clearly understand this, and if it wanted to convey this information to people in a way that was believable, would not be relying on texts to do so. And this, for me, is the nail in the coffin for Christianity. The God that Christians believe in is amazingly stupid if it wants to actually achieve its goal of spreading this information to humanity by relying on text, by relying on languages that die off, by relying on anecdotal testimony. That’s not a pathway to truth. And anything that would qualify for a God would know this. Which means either (A) that God doesn’t exist or (B) it doesn’t care enough about those people who actually understand the nature of evidence to actually present it. Now which one of those possibilities do you think is accurate? Matt Dillahunty, “The Argument from Divine Hiddenness demonstrates that God does not exist.r/Debate a Christian
Why the Divine Hiddenness argument is nonsense
While even the most devout and convinced theists struggle with knowing God and understanding His will, the Divine Hiddenness argument is nonsense.
… For he who struggled with the world became great by conquering the world, and he who struggled with himself became great by conquering himself, but he who struggled with God became greatest of all… Faith is the highest passion in a person. There perhaps are many in every generation who do not come to faith, but no one goes further. Whether there are also many in our day who do not find it, I do not decide. I dare to refer only to myself, without concealing that he has a long way to go, without therefore wishing to deceive himself of what is great by making a trifle of it, a childhood disease one may wish to get over as soon as possible. But life has tasks enough also for the person who does not come to faith, and if he loves these honestly, his life will not be wasted, even if it is never comparable to the lives of those who perceived and grasped the highest. But the person who has come to faith (whether he is extraordinarily gifted or plain and simple does not matter) does not come to a standstill in faith. Indeed, he would be indignant if anyone said to him, just as the lover resents it if someone said that he came to a standstill in love; for, he would answer, I am by no means standing still. I have my whole life in it. Yet he does not go further, does not go on to something else, for when he finds this, then he has another explanation. – Fear and Trembling, 1843
Divine hiddenness is a struggle for all of us — theists and atheists alike — but this struggle is by no means evidence that God doesn’t exist. It is, rather, evidence of the immeasurable gulf between creature and Creator. A God with whom we do not struggle — a God who is not in some substantial and painful way hidden to us — is not God but is a mere figment of our imagination. God in Himself is immeasurably greater than we are, and He transcends all human knowledge. This is the basis for God’s Hiddenness to those who honestly seek Him, but it is not evidence for His nonexistence. We can know Him only indirectly and partially – by knowing what He is not, by knowing Him from his effects in the world, and by knowing Him by analogy. I discuss these ways of knowing Him in nature in more depth here.
Atheists, as is their wont, misunderstand Divine Hiddenness and turn it into a nonsensical argument against God’s existence.
The Divine Hiddenness argument is nonsensical because divine hiddenness is inherent in the nature of the Creator and the creature, as noted above. Furthermore, the atheist Divine Hiddenness argument seems to imply a bizarre inference: if the disbelief of even one person in the world disproves the existence of God, then it stands to reason that the belief in God by that person — that one holdout — would prove His existence. The atheist Divine Hiddenness argument seems to imply that God’s existence is contingent upon the disbelief of even one recalcitrant atheist. This argument is a precis of atheist arrogance — the atheist argument that God’s existence depends upon atheists’ opinion of Him. Atheists can’t wish Him away that easily.
Hiddenness of God can be a consequence of our free will — a consequence of our blindness rather than His reticence. We can choose not to know Him. Sometimes this choice of ours is fully deliberate and explicit. Sometimes this choice of ours is less deliberate but implicit — we don’t want Him to exist (usually because we don’t want to be accountable to him) and we blind ourselves to His existence. But it is a cornerstone of Christian theology that all who honestly seek God find Him — the door is opened to all who knock. That has certainly been my experience.
This atheist misunderstanding of Divine Hiddenness certainly applies to His Hiddenness in personal experience (such as prayer) and in reading Scripture. But what about Divine Hiddenness in nature? Dillahunty and other atheists insist that God remains hidden in our everyday experience of the natural world. So, what exactly does it mean to “know” God in nature?
Perception vs. conception
By perception we know physical things in our environment — we see trees and cars and people. Perception is the way we know material things.
By conception we know the intelligible forms of things — we can understand logic and structure and other abstract concepts. Conception is a way that we understand the abstract characteristics of physical things and it is the way that we know immaterial things like God that have no physical instantiation.
God is not a physical thing in nature. God is Spirit. Therefore, we are unable to know anything about Him by perception alone. Our perceptual organs are not sensitive to immaterial (i.e., spiritual) things. Our perceptual organs by themselves are unsuited to knowledge of God.
God is immaterial and can only be known by the intellect — by our reason, not by our senses. Our perceptual organs can be of help by providing us with perceptions from which we can extract information that leads us to God, and both knowledge of God and action by God in our souls can alter our perceptual and emotional state. But by perception alone, by our nature we are blind to God.
We can know Him by using our intellect and love Him by using our will. So, if God exists, and He wishes to reveal Himself to us, one way He does so is by using our perceptions to provide information about Him to our intellect and thereby to move our will to love Him.
How God reveals himself to us
As I noted, God can show himself to us in several ways: by revelation (in Scripture and in personal experience) and by nature itself.
Does He do this? We will set aside Scriptural revelation and personal experience (given that atheists like Dillahunty discount these anyway) and consider the ways in which God shows Himself in nature (i.e., the ten ways that God’s existence can be known that I listed during my debate with Dillahunty. Here are three excellent references for the details of these various arguments: Aquinas: A Beginner’s Guide, (Edward Feser), Five Proofs of the Existence of God (Edward Feser), and Letters to an Atheist (Peter Kreeft).
These and other works cover evidence such as Aquinas’ First Way (by change in nature), Aquinas’ Second Way (by cause in nature), Aquinas’ Third Way (by contingent existence), Aquinas’ Fourth Way (by degrees of perfection), and Aquinas’ Fifth Way (by design in nature) as well as the Thomistic argument from existence, the Neoplatonic argument (from the order of things), the Augustinian argument (from abstract objects), the rationalist argument (from the principal of sufficient reason), and the argument for Moral Law (from the reality of objective moral obligation).
Each of these proofs of God’s existence is revealed to us through our intellect.
Is the information that God provides in these ways sufficient to convince a reasonable person of His existence? Consider the ten ways that simple everyday experience provides inexhaustible evidence for His existence:
Every change in nature proves His existence. Every cause in nature proves His existence. Everything that exists in nature proves His existence. Every degree of perfection in nature proves His existence. Every manifestation of natural design proves His existence. Every realization of possibility in nature proves His existence. Every manifestation of organization in nature proves His existence. Every abstract concept proves His existence. Every reason for anything in nature proves His existence. And every twinge of human conscience proves His existence.
Natural science provides massive evidence for His existence as well. The Big Bang — i.e., the creation of the universe from nothing in an immense primordial flash of light — is a remarkable confirmation of the beginning of the book of Genesis. Astrophysicists have discovered dozens of physical forces and properties in the universe that must have very specific values to permit human life — and of course these forces and properties do have exactly the values necessary for our existence (as if Someone rigged physics just for us). The DNA in living things is an actual code — in every meaningful sense like a computer code with letters and words, grammar and phrases, sentences and punctuation. And life forms’ intracellular metabolism is run by an astonishingly intricate and elegant system of biological nanotechnology.
So my question to Dillahunty and to other atheists who endorse the Divine Hiddenness argument against God’s existence is this: What is it about God’s existence that you still consider hidden?
The debate to date:
- Debate: Former atheist neurosurgeon vs. former Christian activist. At Theology Unleashed, each gets a chance to state his case and interrogate the other. In a lively debate at Theology Unleashed, neurosurgeon Michael Egnor and broadcaster Matt Dillahunty clash over the existence of God.
- A neurosurgeon’s ten proofs for the existence of God. First, how did a medic, formerly an atheist, who cuts open people’s brains for a living, come to be sure there is irrefutable proof for God? In a lively debate at Theology Unleashed, Michael Egnor and Matt Dillahunty clash over “Does God exist?” Egnor starts off.
- Atheist Dillahunty spots fallacies in Christian Egnor’s views. “My position is that it’s unacceptable to believe something if the available evidence does not support it.” Dillahunty: We can’t conclusively disprove an unfalsifiable proposition. And that is what most “God” definitions, at least as far as I can tell, are.
- Egnor now tries to find out what Dillahunty actually knows… About philosophical arguments for the existence of God, as he begins a rebuttal. Atheist Dillahunty appears unable to recall the philosophical arguments for God’s existence, which poses a challenge for Egnor in rebutting him.
- Egnor, Dillahunty dispute the basic causes behind the universe. In a peppery exchange, Egnor argues that proofs of God’s existence follow the same logical structure as proofs in science. If the universe begins in a singularity (where Einstein’s equations break down), what lies behind it? Egnor challenges Dillahunty on that.
- Is Matt Dillahunty using science as a crutch for his atheism? That’s neurosurgeon Michael Egnor’s accusation in this third part of the debate, which features a continued discussion of singularities, where conventional “laws of nature” break down. If the “supernatural” means “outside of conventional nature,” Michael Egnor argues, science routinely accepts it, based on evidence.
You may also wish to read: Science can and does point to God’s existence. Michael Egnor: Natural science is not at all methodologically naturalist — it routinely points to causes outside of nature. If we are to understand natural effects, we must be open to all kinds of causes, including causes that transcend nature.
Atheist spokesman Matt Dillahunty refuses to debate me again Although he has said that he finds debates “incredibly valuable,” he is — despite much urging — making an exception in this case. Why? For millennia, theists have thought meticulously about God’s existence. New Atheists merely deny any need to make a case. That’s partly why I dumped atheism. (Michael Egnor)