A Response to the Argument from the Hiddenness of God

While some take arguments of this sort to be prima facie cogent, a closer look, however, demonstrates otherwise. The argument is based on a gross theological misunderstanding; it also relies heavily upon an unjustified assumption.

Let us start by stating the argument in a formally valid structure. In so doing, we will make explicit the hidden assumptions underlying this instantiation of improper reasoning:

  1. If God exists (P), He is omniscient, omnipotent, and omnibenevolent (Q).
  2. If God is omniscient, omnipotent, and omnibenevolent (Q), then He is willing and able to provide the evidence He knows I need in order to be convinced of His existence (R).
  3. If God is willing and able to provide the evidence He knows I need in order to be convinced of His existence (R), then He will provide it (S).
  4. If God exists (P), then He is willing and able to provide the evidence He knows I need in order to be convinced of His existence (R).
  5. If God exists (P), then He will provide the evidence He knows I need in order to be convinced of His existence (S).
  6. God has not provided me the evidence He knows I need in order to be convinced of His existence (¬S).
  7. Therefore, God does not exist (¬P).

When stated as such, the argument exemplifies the formal validity of a proper deductive argument. Put symbolically:

  1. P → Q (pr)
  2. Q → R (pr)
  3. R → S (pr)
  4. P → R (HS, 1, 2)
  5. P → S (HS, 3, 4)
  6. ¬S (pr)
  7. ∴, ¬P (MT, 5, 6)

Now, since there can be no question as to whether the conclusion follows from the premises, the only question left to ask is, Are the premises true? Let us examine each of them one at a time.

Premise 1 is clearly true in light of traditional Christian theology. For the Christian understanding of God has always been that God, if He exists, possesses these attributes necessarily.

Premise 2 is the point of the argument at which the fatal errors lie. First, there is the equivocation of “evidence He knows I need in order to be convinced of His existence” with “evidence He knows I need in order to come to a loving, personal relationship with Him.” That is to say, God is not interested in merely convincing us that He exists; even the demons are convinced of this. Rather, what God wants is for us to have a saving, personal relationship with Him through Christ’s atoning sacrifice. Obviously, for one to have such a relationship he must be convinced of God’s existence; but it does not follow that just because one is convinced of God’s existence, he will, therefore, willingly enter into such a relationship.

Secondly, even if we were to modify the premise so that “He is willing and able to provide the evidence He knows I need in order to come into a personal relationship with Him” replaces “He is willing and able to provide the evidence He knows I need in order to be convinced of His existence,” it is not at all obvious that the premise would be true. For why think that such evidence exists? How does the atheist know that there exists some body of evidence that would lead him to come into a saving relationship with God? For all we know there is no possible world in which the atheist freely comes into a personal relationship with God. Thus, despite God’s being willing to provide the atheist with evidence that would lead to him coming to a saving knowledge of Himself, He may still be unable to provide such evidence due to there being no possible world in which said evidence exists.

Hence, premise 2 is demonstrably false in light of the fact that the truth of its antecedent—Q—does not entail the truth of its consequent—R. Whether or not there exists a body of evidence sufficient to bring the atheist into a saving relationship with God, depends solely upon the atheist’s freedom of the will.

With respect to premise 3, if we modify the antecedent—R— so that “He is willing and able to provide the evidence He knows I need in order to come into a personal relationship with Him” replaces “He is willing and able to provide the evidence He knows I need in order to be convinced of His existence,” then the truth of the premise seems uncontroversial. Insofar as such evidence exists, all else being equal, an omniscient, omnipotent, omnibenevolent God will provide it.

Again, if we modify R, premise 4 makes the unjustified assumption that such evidence actually exists. If it does not, then not even an omnipotent being can provide it.

Premise 5 is clearly false due to its (modified) consequent—S—being based on the unjustified assumption that such evidence actually exists. If there is no possible world containing such evidence, then it cannot possibly be provided.

(Modified) premise 6 is clearly true: for if God had provided the evidence sufficient for the atheist to enter into a saving relationship with God, the atheist would no longer be an atheist! However, we need to keep in mind that the reason that God has not provided said evidence is due to the fact that no such evidence exists; a fact which is itself solely dependent upon the free response of the atheist, and not in any way upon God.

Finally, premise 7 draws its inference from the truth of premises 5 and 6. But as we have seen, premise 5 is demonstrably false. Therefore, the argument is logically unsound.

In sum, the improper reasoning behind this unsound argument is based on the assumption that being convinced of God’s existence is the same thing as having a personal relationship with God; the former does not entail the latter.

Posted in Defensive Apologetics, Logic.
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