Thursday, May 02, 2013

The argument from divine hiddenness: A noseeum argument at best?


1. Suppose that God exists—that is, suppose that
there is a perfectly powerful, perfectly wise
being who loves us like a perfect parent.
2. God is mostly hidden from people: Our evidence is inconclusive; religious experience of the interesting and unambiguous sort is rare.
3. There is no good reason for God to remain hidden.
4. If God is mostly hidden and there is no good reason for God to remain hidden, then one of
the following is true:
a. God exists but, like a negligent father, does not love us enough to make himself known.
b. God exists but, like an inept lover, lacks the wisdom to appreciate the importance or proper way of revealing himself to us.
c. God exists but is too weak to reveal himself in the ways that he should in order to secure his relational goals.
5. Premises (1)–(4) are inconsistent.
6. Therefore: God does not exist.

Can Steven Wykstra's critique of  noseeum arguments, which he develops in response to the problem of evil, be applied here? 

In the Midwest we have "noseeums" — tiny flies which, while having a painful bite, are so small you "no see 'um." We also have Rowe's inductive argument for atheism. Rowe holds that the theistic God would allow suffering only if doing so serves some outweighing good. But is there some such good for every instance of suffering? Rowe thinks not. There is much suffering, he says, for which we see no such goods; and this, he argues, inductively justifies believing that for some sufferings there are no such goods. Since it gives such bite to what we cannot see, I call this a "noseeum argument" from evil. ("Rowe's Noseeum Arguments from Evil", in The Evidential Argument from Evil, p. 126.)

In other words, if we can't see why God would not make himself more obvious, is that sufficient grounds for rejecting his existence? Should we expect to know the answer to this, if theism is true?

31 comments:

B. Prokop said...

The argument is fatally flawed from the get-go. The first sentence of premise 2 is simply stated, but is by no means a given. I could offer a counter premise, “God is evident to all, but most people choose to ignore (or even deny) Him.”

Our evidence is inconclusive.” To whom? There are billions who find it conclusive. And as for the evidence-deniers… shoot, there are still people who think we didn’t land on the Moon, or that the Boston Marathon bombers are being framed!

Religious experience of the interesting and unambiguous sort is rare.” Again, what counts as “interesting” (interesting word choice there) or “unambiguous”? And one could easily make an argument that it should be rare.

Premise 3 appears to be just pulled out of thin air, and is in any case moot if one goes with my own version of premise 2.

Thus making premise 4 complete nonsense.

Where did this “argument” come from, Victor? Did you compose it as a strawman? Has someone actually argued this way? In any case, it is weak dishwater – there’s no “there” there.

TheWedge said...

Don't we have a pretty obvious answer if Christianity is true? i.e. the epistemological consequences of sin

Discounting Christianity and working with just bare theism, the hiddeness of God seems easily explained by his transcendence. God can easily be understood as the Good without assuming the extreme benevolence of the God of Christianity, witness Pagan monotheism.

Addressing the substance of the question itself, why ought we assume that God's existence is hidden? Is that what the Bible says on the issue? Is that what Plato thought? Cicero? Augustine? Thomas? Anselm?

toddes said...

Would it be inappropriate to refer to Jeremiah 5:21 (and the surrounding chapter as well)?

ingx24 said...

“God is evident to all, but most people choose to ignore (or even deny) Him.”

How is God "evident"? What is this "obvious" evidence supposed to look like? To me, the only thing that can establish God's existence is either a logical argument or a direct personal revelation - what is it that I'm missing that's making me not see clearly that God exists?

Martin said...

ingx24,

Try the argument i presented to im-skeptical in the previous "hiddenness" thread.

B. Prokop said...

ingx24,

I was mainly trying to show how absurd premise 2 is, standing on its own. I happen to believe my own counter premise, but that is entirely beside the point. The fact is that the premise stated in the argument has no founding, and is not a matter which is itself beyond dispute. Therefore, the remainder of the argument is rather pointless until that opening premise is first settled. But it cannot simply be taken on assumption.

unkleE said...

Others have shown that this "argument" is very much less than conclusive. But it still has some force, I think.

My response would be to say that there are many reasons why we might think God exists, and many reasons (including hiddenness) why we might think he doesn't. We each make a judgment, and my judgment is that the reasons to believe are way stronger than the reasons to disbelieve.

That is a strong conclusion, but it doesn't mean I can, or have to, explain every argument for disbelief, including this one.

Victor Reppert said...

Bob: This was from the Rea article I referenced in the hiddenness thread.

http://debunkingchristianity.blogspot.com/search/label/argument%20from%20ignorance


B. Prokop said...

Hah! And here I was wondering that with an argument as lame as this one, whether you were perhaps presenting us with a strawman to knock down!

Victor Reppert said...

Well, it also seems to be an argument that Loftus uses when he argues that there are no bad reasons to reject Christianity. The idea is that if someone rejects Christianity because, say, they want to have sex with someone who is married to someone else, but don't like the idea of getting in trouble with the Almighty if they do, then God, being omnipotent, could do something to make this reason go away.

ingx24 said...

ingx24,

Try the argument i presented to im-skeptical in the previous "hiddenness" thread


But that's hardly self-evident - I certainly wouldn't have noticed it if it hadn't been pointed out to me. Bob seemed to be implying that God is obvious to everyone and that anyone who denies that He is obvious must be unconsciouly fighting to deny that God exists at any cost.

B. Prokop said...

"Bob seemed to be implying that God is obvious to everyone and that anyone who denies that He is obvious must be unconsciouly fighting to deny that God exists at any cost."

No, I wasn't. Read my posting again, and this time actually pay attention to the words. I wrote that premise number two was an unwarranted assumption, and offered up a counter premise to show how easily that game can be played. No more, no less.

Now... That said, as to "God is obvious to everyone and that anyone who denies that He is obvious must be unconsciouly fighting to deny that God exists at any cost." Yes, I very much believe that. I take St. Paul at his word, when he writes, "What can be known about God is plain to all, because God has shown it to them. Ever since the creation of the world his invisible nature, namely, his eternal power and deity, has been clearly perceived in the things that have been made. So [those who choose to not acknowledge God] are without excuse." (Romans 1:19-20)

So sorry, ingx24, but this is between the non-believer and Him. I'm not a party to this argument. If a person fails to acknowledge God, it is a conscious choice on his part and his alone, and he is without excuse. God hasn't left anything undone, and He certainly hasn't hidden Himself.

Dan Gillson said...

No, I don't think that the argument, by itself, gives us sufficient grounds to reject theism. In the words of Charlie Peirce, an argument is only as strong as its weakest link. I think that the argument from divine hiddenness works well when its a cable or a fiber, twisted around, like a rope, with other arguments of its kind.

Speaking of Peirce, anybody else here read the catalog of his works?

Zach said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
B. Prokop said...

Zach,

A person would be a fool to respond to your posting with anything but sympathy and understanding. I myself lost my wife less than 5 years ago to cancer, and the pain is there every single day. One of my closest friends is going through the same thing at this very moment. I am also watching my father go through the inexpressible pain of full-blown dementia, with all that that entails. (Trust me, the details are awful.) So I know, and I'm not going to do something so stupid as to say, "Oh, but you only need to understand" or the like. The last thing in the world I want to do is to imitate Job's "comforters".

HOWEVER (And I am in no way directing this to you, Zach. In fact, you ought to just stop reading right here.) For all you out there who use such stories as Zach's as a basis for a "generic concern" - unless you have personally experienced such, you have no business even commenting on the subject. I would indeed and without any apology respond to such persons' "generic concerns" not only with cavalier references, but with contempt.

Crude said...

Bob,

I think the problem is that the argument Victor is noting is a general argument, while you're zeroing in on experiences of tragedy and pain and sorrow. The OP argument is general - it makes no mention of pain and is apparently supposed to apply regardless of any of those experiences.

That's where I think the noseeum reply may have some force - with an argument that is supposed to apply even to the guy who manages to swing an entirely happy life, sans tragedy, and dies peacefully in his sleep.

B. Prokop said...

"while you're zeroing in on experiences of tragedy and pain and sorrow"

No, I wasn't. I was addressing the specifics of Zach's posting, completely aware that it was veering somewhat off-topic (or at the least to a very narrow subset of the topic). He nevertheless deserved a response.

The OP itself does indeed posit a "generic" issue, and (as I stated in my very first comment) is built on sand.

Crude said...

Bob,

No, I wasn't. I was addressing the specifics of Zach's posting, completely aware that it was veering somewhat off-topic (or at the least to a very narrow subset of the topic). He nevertheless deserved a response.

Alright, mea culpa then, I misunderstood. I thought you were saying the OP would have force if it were posed with an emphasis on the pain and suffering in response to God's hiddenness.

I have additional problems with that view upon reflection, but if that's not what you're advancing, that's fine.

Dan Gillson said...

Crude,

The general, philosophical problem of God's hiddenness is derived from a specific, existential one. Without having ever felt the latter, how can one ever truly believe the answers of the former? I think that that's Bob's point.

Bob,

No, the argument isn't built on sand. It's built on human experiences. I feel as though there is an absence of evidence for God, not because science says so, but because the my experience intimates as much.

Dan Gillson said...

Late to the party, as usual

Crude said...

Dan,

The general, philosophical problem of God's hiddenness is derived from a specific, existential one. Without having ever felt the latter, how can one ever truly believe the answers of the former? I think that that's Bob's point.

Could you explain this more? I want to make sure I know exactly what you mean before I respond.

B. Prokop said...

Damn, this is what I get for allowing myself to get off-topic.

No, Dan's comment is not what I was getting at. At least, it's not what I believe, which is that God's presence can be perceived in pain and want as well as in beauty and pleasure.

To quote myself (from my bookEyes to See: Observing the Nearest Stars, page 46):

The prophet Habakkuk's encounter with God was through absence: “The fig tree does not blossom, nor is there fruit on the vines, the produce of the olive oil and the fields yield no food, the flock is cut off from the folds, and there is no herd in the stalls” (Habakkuk 3:17). Yet this bleak ledger of famine and want is immediately followed by the prophet’s ecstatic vision of the glory of God. In a blaze of comprehension, the whole universe quite literally sings with joy amidst deprivation. Habakkuk even goes so far as to provide stage directions! “To the choirmaster: with stringed instruments” (Habakkuk 3:19).

Many of my own clearest perceptions of the divine presence were in moments of personal disaster.

Dan Gillson said...

Crude,

In general, I see the 'generic' issues of philosophy stemming from the kinds of existential failures that make us feel isolated from others, or from the world, or in some cases, from God. When we have started at the generic issues, when we haven't actually felt first the problems from which they stem, I don't think that we can actually believe the answers we give.

Bob,

Do you see the suffering of others as an instance of divine absence?

Crude said...

Dan,

In general, I see the 'generic' issues of philosophy stemming from the kinds of existential failures that make us feel isolated from others, or from the world, or in some cases, from God. When we have started at the generic issues, when we haven't actually felt first the problems from which they stem, I don't think that we can actually believe the answers we give.

Alright. As far as feeling goes, I've had the feeling. On the intellectual level, I experienced as much a while ago - though sorting out the intellectual aspect has actually managed to reduce the feeling aspect.

B. Prokop said...

Dan,

No.

Dan Gillson said...

Bob,

I don't, or I didn't, either. I see, or used to see, the suffering others as God wearing the devil's mask, as God creating evil (Isaiah 45:7). Whatever I think It is, I think that God is first and foremost a terrifying force.

B. Prokop said...

Well, I can't say I see it as either of those... but as C.S. Lewis wrote, "He's not a tame lion!"

ingx24 said...

Now... That said, as to "God is obvious to everyone and that anyone who denies that He is obvious must be unconsciouly fighting to deny that God exists at any cost." Yes, I very much believe that. I take St. Paul at his word, when he writes, "What can be known about God is plain to all, because God has shown it to them. Ever since the creation of the world his invisible nature, namely, his eternal power and deity, has been clearly perceived in the things that have been made. So [those who choose to not acknowledge God] are without excuse." (Romans 1:19-20)

So sorry, ingx24, but this is between the non-believer and Him. I'm not a party to this argument. If a person fails to acknowledge God, it is a conscious choice on his part and his alone, and he is without excuse. God hasn't left anything undone, and He certainly hasn't hidden Himself.


Again: What is this "obvious" evidence for God supposed to look like? I think there are good arguments for God's existence, but it's far from "obvious" to any normal person that there is a God. I've heard of something called a "divine sense" or something that certain people have that allows them to clearly "feel" that God exists, and to them His existence is as obvious as the existence of the external world. But not everyone has that sense - I certainly don't, at least.

Hal said...

ingx24,

"But not everyone has that sense - I certainly don't, at least."

Neither do I.



Papalinton said...

""But not everyone has that sense - I certainly don't, at least.""

And neither do I. But I did once. Fervently. For about 30 years. And in the comfort and ease of cheap retrospection, it was hallucinatory self-delusion all along. And mightily powerful. To the point of being compulsive addictive

Chris W said...

The argument given in the OP doesn't really capture what Schellenberg says in the original version of the hiddenness argument. Ambiguous evidence is part of the argument, but the meat of it comes from the existence of reasonable, nonresistant nonbelief. See versions (1) and (2) in this paper: http://philpapers.org/archive/SCHDH