Sunday, July 06, 2014

John Schellenberg's argument from hiddenness

  1. If there is a perfectly loving God, all creatures capable of explicit and positively meaningful relationship with God who have not freely shut themselves off from God are in a position to participate in such relationships--i.e., able to do so just by trying to.
  1. No one can be in a position to participate in such relationships without believing that God exists.
  1. If there is a perfectly loving God, all creatures capable of explicit and positively meaningful relationship with God who have not freely shut themselves off from God believe that God exists (from 1 and 2).
  1. It is not the case that all creatures capable of explicit and positively meaningful relationship with God who have not freely shut themselves off from God believe that God exists: there is nonresistant nonbelief; God is hidden.
  1. It is not the case that there is a perfectly loving God (from 3 and 4).
  1. If God exists, God is perfectly loving.
  1. It is not the case that God exists (from 5 and 6).

What, if anything, do you think is wrong with this argument. It seems to underly a lot of atheist argumentation these days. 

55 comments:

B. Prokop said...

I am forever astounded at the arrogance of such arguments. They all boil down to the following:

1) If I were God, I would do thus and so.

2) That is not how things are.

3)Therefore, there is no God.

But the real conclusion of such "arguments" ought to be "I am not God."

Keen Reader said...

I would like to see a refutation of this argument, if there is one.

B. Prokop said...

Keen Reader,

There is one: Job, Chapters 38-41.

JB Chappell said...

The argument seems valid to me. I see only two ways around the conclusion. Implicit in the argument is that God has all the typical omni-attributes. If one denies that God is omnipotent, omniscient, etc., then the conclusion does not follow. Of course, then one must ask if such a being is "God"?

The only other way I see is to say, similar to what B. Prokop states, that one cannot pretend to have the same knowledge as an omniscient being (again, that property is implied). That would mean one could deny either #1 or #3.

Possibly, one could try to deny #4, as some do. Some would say that there is no such thing as non-resistant belief. But I think that makes the same mistake as the advocate for this argument does: it assumes too much.

JB Chappell said...

*sorry, some say there is no such thing as non-resistant UNbelief

Ian Thompson said...

One possible response is to take it that God has made himself known to everyone, in some way. That means that anyone who does not believe God exists must have freely rejected him. And so #4 is wrong.

This response depends on the meaning of 'in some way' in my first sentence above. It would have to take 'God' more generally than Yahweh or Christ specifically, in order that it may be begin to be more obviously true. God, then, should then be referring to Truth or Love or Compassion for some people.
(Christians say that true Truth, Love, and Compassion all come from God, so this is not automatically a universalism.)

There is another response:
That everyone who has not freely rejected God, and who does presently not believe that God exists, will yet be found to readily accept God when that fact is later in life/afterlife made clearer.

That is: all God's hiddenness in these cases is temporary. This is to rewrite #2, to make it:

No one can be in a position to participate in such relationships without eventually believing that God exists.

Jakub Moravčík said...

Ian Thompson:
One possible response is to take it that God has made himself known to everyone, in some way. That means that anyone who does not believe God exists must have freely rejected him. And so #4 is wrong.

Sorry, but I really dislike this type of argument. The only thing it says is that anyone who does not believe in God is (apriori) morally wrong. Once you say this you have boarded the runaway train and you can apply this principle to anything (i.e. whoever disagrees with me in something is morally wrong or has evil will)

B. Prokop said...

Very good point, Jakub.

But on the other hand, I have long pondered "Why is Faith included amongst the Virtues?" And what does that inclusion imply?

Jakub Moravčík said...

B. Prokop: but is it a virtue of reason, or of will?

More, does absence of some virtue imply moral badness? When you are not brave, does it imply that you are coward? Isn´t there "something between"?

Ian Thompson said...

So you are saying that you don't like this argument, even if valid and also based on true premises?

B. Prokop said...

"When you are not brave, does it imply that you are coward?"

Once again, an excellent point. Not sure about that "in between" idea, however. Your analogy leaves intact the idea that Faith (or bravery, or generosity, or whatever) is still "virtuous", without disparaging a person lacking that characteristic.

But cowardice is still a negative (and undesirable) trait. So what is the undesirable opposite of Faith? I would say the scoffer possesses it - so does the blasphemer. Just not sure what to call it.

Jakub Moravčík said...

So you are saying that you don't like this argument, even if valid and also based on true premises?

The verity of its premises is arguable. How could you know whether God has made himself known to everyone? And if so, how could you know that the one who does not believe God exist have freely rejected him and that he did not recognised or noticed him so far?

Jakub Moravčík said...

Your analogy leaves intact the idea that Faith (or bravery, or generosity, or whatever) is still "virtuous", without disparaging a person lacking that characteristic.

I don't think so :-)

oozzielionel said...

This argument requires that Arminianism is true.

Dan Gillson said...

Bob,

The argument isn't arrogant. The fact is, the claim that "God is love" is completely contrary to experience. Luther even argued that point, going so far as to say that the hidden God is indistinguishable from the devil.

Dr Reppert,

I was never impressed by the Argument from Hiddenness. The trouble with the argument is that it leaves itself open on religious grounds. If someone can demonstrate that God is perfectly loving and available, then the argument is null. Lutheran theology in particular is well apt to respond to Schellenberg's argument because it embraces the Deus absconditus/Deus revelatus dichotomy. What you can know about God through reason is that God is terrifying; you can't reason your way to God being loving, much less perfectly loving. Where you learn about God being perfectly loving is by having your sins forgiven through participation in the means of grace, e.g., confession and absolution, communion, baptism. A good Lutheran learns to resist resolving the paradox one way or the other, saying that now we see in a mirror dimly, but one day we'll see face to face.

SteveK said...

If you can perceive objective goodness (or the lack of it), then God is not hidden.

B. Prokop said...

"The fact is, the claim that "God is love" is completely contrary to experience."

Two points:

1) John is not talking about experience here. The well-known quote should be taken in context. "Beloved, let us love one another; for love is of God, and he who loves is born of God and knows God. He who does not love does not know God; for God is love." (1 John 4:7-8) The passage as a whole is an exhortation - a creator, as it were, of reality, and not a comment on it. It (the entire passage) is not an observation.

2) "God is love" is a lead-in to the Doctrine of the Trinity. God, in and of Himself, is a community of loving Persons - Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. This is how John can say that God is love, and not just that He loves (as would be the necessary case were God to be unitary, as in Islam's conception of Allah). "God is love" is not a commentary on affairs in this world, but a theological statement about God.

Benjamin Thompson said...

I think Michael Murray presents a pretty good rebuttal here;
http://books.google.com/books?id=BkwNib2G9WEC&pg=PA42&lpg=PA42&dq=john+schellenberg+argument+from+hiddenness&source=bl&ots=WYElHFWNHU&sig=vnWO4bcf2uSgOO5H--tLPU-2ipw&hl=en&sa=X&ei=X-e6U9XyDsK_oQTqnoCYBw&ved=0CBwQ6AEwADgK#v=onepage&q=john%20schellenberg%20argument%20from%20hiddenness&f=false

B. Prokop said...

Benjamin,

Page 44 of your link pretty much says what I wrote in my first posting here.

Personally (And I do mean that "personally" quite literally here. I don't expect anyone to be swayed by the following.), the "killer" rebuttal to the Argument from Hiddenness is the story of the temptation of Christ in the wilderness. First of all, understand that I take that story to be an unambiguous account of actual events, and that no party was "just pretending", i.e., the three temptations were things that could literally tempt God.

The devil wishes to derail Christ's mission on Earth, and offers up three alternatives which will ensure that "all His creatures enter into a loving relationship with Him". The problem with all these diabolical alternatives is that they ultimately depend on the abrogation of Free Will. They are (in Matthew's order):

1) Make a world with no unsatisfied needs, no pain, no suffering ("Command these stones to turn into loaves of bread.")

2) Present people with undeniable miracles, a la "have the stars arrange themselves into verses from The Bible", etc. ("Throw yourself off the Pinnacle of the Temple.")

3) Naked force - simply compel people to know and love God. ("All these [kingdoms] I will give to you.")

But Christ saw through these deceptions, knowing full well that to agree to any one of them would nullify the very reason for creating human beings in the first place - which was for there to be creatures capable of freely accepting or rejecting a loving relationship with the Creator, since any other sort of relationship would be merely that of robot to master.

Papalinton said...

Schellenberg has reformulated [2008] the argument from hiddenness as follows because the earlier one Victor has used in his OP can be misleading if not read in context.

1. If no perfectly loving God exists, then God does not exist.
2. If a perfectly loving God exists, then there is a God who is always open to personal relationship with each human person.
3. If there is a God who is always open to personal relationship with each human person, then no human person is ever non-resistantly unaware that God exists.
4. If a perfectly loving God exists, then no human person is ever non-resistantly unaware that God exists (from 2 and 3).
5. Some human persons are non-resistantly unaware that God exists.
6. No perfectly loving God exists (from 4 and 5).
7. God does not exist (from 1 and 6).

St.Anselm, in his Proslogion, voices the deeply existential and spiritually depleting anxiety, worry, disquiet, apprehensiveness, unease, concern [pick one] about god's divine hiddenness.:
"I have never seen thee, O Lord my God; I do not know thy form. What, O most high Lord, shall this man do, an exile far from thee? What shall thy servant do, anxious in his love of thee, and cast out afar from thy face? He pants to see thee, and thy face is too far from him. He longs to come to thee, and thy dwelling place is inaccessible. He is eager to find thee, and knows not thy place. He desires to seek thee, and does not know thy face. Lord, thou art my God, and thou art my Lord, yet never have I seen thee. It is thou that hast made me, and hast made me anew, and hast bestowed upon me all the blessings I enjoy; and not yet do I know thee. Finally, I was created to see thee and not yet have I done that for which I was made."

The history of christianity is brimming with the unanswered and unanswerable concern about god's hiddenness. The belief in divine hiddenness is symptomatic of the unchecked and frightening extent to which unjustified faith can be taken.

Schellenberg has demonstrably and clearly argued that 'divine hiddenness' is an intellectually weak theistic proposition by which christians attempt to account for god's non-appearance, and that indeed, it is more a case of strong evidence against theism.




SteveK said...

"then no human person is ever non-resistantly unaware that God exists."

If you exclude individuals with degenerative cognitive abilities, then I agree with this.

"Some human persons are non-resistantly unaware that God exists."

Everyone with well-functioning cognitive abilities can perceive objective moral goodness (just ask them about it) - which means they are cognitively aware of God.

Hugo said...

Everyone with well-functioning cognitive abilities can perceive objective moral goodness (just ask them about it) - which means they are cognitively aware of God.

Are you serious...?

B. Prokop said...

"Are you serious...?"

I believe he is. After all, Steve's basically just paraphrasing St. Paul, who wrote much the same thing in Romans. I'm certain that Paul was serious.

Hugo said...

Ok... so 'objective moral goodness' = 'God'? why? what's the difference with 'truth'? Things that are objectively true are what they are and that's it... no need to invoke a god. Same thing with morality. We can agree that there is such a thing as objective morality yet not refer to God...

By the way, I think the 'argument from hiddenness' fails because it attempts to disprove the existence of God, or gods, in general by eliminating the possibility of 1 specific God, which is 'perfectly loving. There could still be a 'non-perfectly loving god' or our understanding of what 'perfectly loving' is could be flawed, so either way it fails. Terrible argument imho.

SteveK said...

Hugo,
I'm essentially paraphrasing the argument that says there can be no such reality as objective good without God. So, yes, I'm serious.

Hugo said...

"there can be no such reality as objective good without God"

Why?

Jakub Moravčík said...

B. Prokop:
any other sort of relationship would be merely that of robot to master.

a) do you really think?
b) does it mind?

(but, OK, there is no place to start a free will debate ...)

amorbis said...

Hugo,
I'm essentially paraphrasing the argument that says there can be no such reality as objective good without God. So, yes, I'm serious.


What about people who either are not aware of this argument or don't think it works?

SteveK said...

"What about people who either are not aware of this argument or don't think it works?"

The first would be someone with deficient or undeveloped cognitive abilities that make it impossible to be aware of the goodness around them. This would be someone like an infant or a severely handicapped person.

The latter would be someone who rationalizes away or mistakenly reasons the goodness they are aware of to be something other than God. Sin is the problem here. It makes you dumb.

That they don't think "it works" doesn't eliminate the fact that they DO have awareness - and that was the claim of the argument.

B. Prokop said...

"What about people who either are not aware of this argument or don't think it works?"

Whether or not a particular individual either is aware of some fact, or whether or not he believes it to be true, has ultimately no bearing on whether or not it is true.

"Eppur si muove!

brownmamba said...

The fact that the Judeo-Chrisitan God allegedly seeks a relationship with humankind and yet the existence of God can very well be doubted presents a very strong problem for this brand of theism. Potential rebuttals can claim all sorts of things,(such as "everyone really believes in God but they just repress it"), but these objections all strike me as ad hoc, hand waving answers that I cannot seriously entertain. At the end of the day, if being in a relationship with God is the ultimate purpose of human creation, then the state of affairs in which humans were created would have been set up to meet this end. The fact that in this state of affairs God's existence is easily called into question presents a defeater for belief in such a purpose.

SteveK said...

brownmamba,
Have you read Genesis? Does original sin mean anything to you?

Jakub Moravčík said...

Why should atheist or agnostic pay attention to christian original sin doctrine?

Papalinton said...

"brownmamba,
Have you read Genesis? Does original sin mean anything to you?"


Original sin only exists if Adam and Eve actually existed. But A & E is largely conceded to not to have been real live people, the alpha and beta of the human species, but allegory. Most thinking and level-headed christians accept the Adam and Eve story to be allegory. If no A & E actually existed to perpetrate the original sin, it stands to reason that there was no actual original sin committed. How does one commit a metaphor?

Equally, if there was no actual real live Adam and Eve to commit original sin then it stands to reason that no jesus could have died as a redemptive sacrifice for some original sin that was never actually committed after which all of humanity was vicariously saved.

The story simply does not hang together as a cogent narrative about actual events. The story is the smoke and mirrors manifestation of a primitive mythos believed as reality.

cl said...

The argument can't even get off the ground. 2 has no justification and ought to be questioned and/or rejected. 3 does not follow from 1 or 2, and also has no justification.

Some student emailed me through TWIM a while back asking what I thought of this argument. I took a longer look then and forgot all about it until now. And now I'm even more convinced it's bunk and that the vast majority of "atheist arguments" are just vapid straw grasping at best.

cl said...

A few more angles:

1) The argument requires that determinism be false to work (cf. "freely" in 1). This means that all determinists (read: most atheists) cannot honestly wage Schellenberg's argument. It also means the theist who wishes to reject this argument may simply deny that one can "freely" shut his or herself out. And it all ends there. Or...

2) 2 is easily demonstrable as false. I don't have to believe Victor exists in order to "be in a position to participate in [a meaningful] relationship" with him. By default, I'm already in the position to have a meaningful relationship with any other entity capable such relationships and communicating with me. In other words, reality is not contingent on belief.

The argument really strikes me as pedestrian. When you strip the verbosity it reduces to, "atheists exist, therefore God does not." And we all can agree that's bunk.

Sam Calvin said...

Recently there was a widely reported incident where a man had a heart attack (or at least gave the appearance of such) and another man, when he saw that other witnesses to this event were looking elsewhere, quickly pocketed the poor victim's wallet.

A surveillance camera recorded the incident.

How likely is it that this thief would have done what he did if he had observed that the camera was recording him?

I think this event is rather obviously relevant to the topic at hand.

cl said...

^^^^ Sam Calvin: exactly. In the same way, kids usually won't act "bad" in front of their parents, even when they want to. Rather, they act bad in secret, when they think their parents are watching. In such moments, true character bubbles to the top.

cl said...

**when they think their parents AREN'T watching**

...but i'm sure everybody gets the drift.

B. Prokop said...

"Recently there was a widely reported incident"

Urban legend? Has all the hallmarks of one.

Sam Calvin said...

*sigh*

http://fox2now.com/2014/05/15/suspect-steals-wallet-after-man-collapses-from-heart-attack/

B. Prokop said...

Well, no wonder I hadn't heard of the incident. I try to steer clear of Faux News.

Steve Lovell said...

I'm sure this isn't the best response, but it seems to me that the argument is invalid.

There is an implicit assumption that everyone who could believe in God "if they tried" has tried. That premise isn't only missing, it seems to me to be false.

SteveK said...

Jacob,
Why should atheist or agnostic pay attention to christian original sin doctrine?

brownmamba was criticizing Christian doctrine and it was clear that she knew nothing about it. You don't have to believe that Christianity is true, but at least understand it.

Sam Calvin said...

I don't get Fox News. I don't have cable or satellite. I get my news online. Fox just turned up close to the top on the Google list, and it also had the video. Some sites didn't. Search on "heart attack wallet stolen" and you'll see this incident was, as I said, WIDELY reported.

Thanks for promptly apologizing for your incorrect assumption that this was a bogus story.

By the way, I am a conservative Catholic and a liberal Democrat (pro-life), a combination of attributes that is rare in my experience.

brownmamba said...

I am familiar with the doctrine of original sin, but I do not see the connection between this doctrine and God's hidden nature. Enlighten me if I'm wrong, but I'm guessing the alleged connection is that humankind has fallen away from God because of Adam and Eve's sin. I don't think this appeal solves anything because even if humanity has fallen it still remains true that God can reach out and make his existence more evident. Punishing humanity with his absence is irrational if His purpose is to seek a relationship with all persons.

Moreover, the "original sin" response undercuts another Christian response found in the comments: Without the obvious presence of God, people can make meaningful moral choices, just as a child does without the presence of his parents. However, did not Adam and Eve make a meaningful moral choice? Wasn't God's existence clearly evident? If it wasn't, then the original sin response is false because God was hidden before the fall. If it was evident, then the "moral choice" response is false because moral choices can be made with the obvious presence of God.

Jakub Moravčík said...

Brownmamba: interesting point

Steve, B. Prokop and others:
OK, let´s take completely other way in dealing with the topic. Let´s say this:

"If anybody doesn´t believe in God´s existence, the only, sole reason and cause of this is that he is morally bad and has an evil will. And this has to be our apriori assumption".

No, if anybody disagrees, tell us why and with what.

Papalinton said...

brownmamba

Your point is precisely why the christian interpretation of Adam and Eve and 'original sin' is an apologetical fraud.

Adam and Eve knew god. He conversed with them regularly. They were fully conscious and aware of his presenc and of his dictat not to eat of the fruit of the tree of knowledge of good and evil.
And like any intelligent, intellectual, reasoning adults both Adam and Eve decided to find out for themselves as any responsible person should do. And rather being an act of original sin, Adam and Eve made a conscious decision to explore, to investigate, to use their brains.

That is not an act of original sin. That is a mark of adult maturation. We should be praising their strength of character, their bravery, their inquisitiveness, their curiosity, because these are the virtues that they exercised against an autocratic, dictatorial, totalitarian parent. They were not going to be his play things but independent, mature, adult persons capable of accepting responsibility for their own acts and deeds. Indeed we celebrate these exact same characteristics today.

What Adam and Eve did was to strike out on their own, to lead their own lives.

This is the proper interpretation of the Adam and Eve narrative, the growing up and maturing of children into adults.
The theological perspective is simply a rendition of vested religious leaders exercising and maintaining social control over a community by inculcating this story about paying deferential heed to those in authority.

I think this makes a whole lot more sense than inculcating self=loathing, and debasing oneself as inherently sinful, flawed and unworthy, in need of salvation for something you personally did not commit.

No the religiose have got this story arse-about.

B. Prokop said...

"We should be praising their strength of character, their bravery, their inquisitiveness, their curiosity" etc.

And people wonder why I speculate that Linton is possessed by a demon. Here we observe the "slippery slope" in action for all to see - from denial of God, to denial of objective morality, to actively cheering the Fall of Man, to...??? What's next? Imagination fails me. It truly does. Linton already praises deviant lifestyles and the disposal of unwanted children, whilst mocking everything good, true, and holy. The next rung down the ladder will be breathtakingly awful.

Papalinton said...

It seems your imagination is working just fine to me, Bob. Who would have thought that in the 21stC people still obdurately cling to primitive superstition as if their life depended on it. Quite perverse really. But there you have it.

It reads like a harangue from the pulpit with all the constituent elements of great Roman melodrama in the mix, demon possession, denial of Jupiter, prurient immorality, licentious behaviour, dismembered babies, whilst concurrently flipping the bird at all things christian.

Now that I think of it, it's even clearer. According to Bob, I have gone ...['Exorcist' soundtrack] ...... beyond: "Lasciate ogne speranza, voi ch'intrate"

No, Bob's capacity for Dante-esque imagination is beautifully unbounded.

SteveK said...

"I am familiar with the doctrine of original sin, but I do not see the connection between this doctrine and God's hidden nature."

Read what you wrote:

"At the end of the day, if being in a relationship with God is the ultimate purpose of human creation, then the state of affairs in which humans were created would have been set up to meet this end. The fact that in this state of affairs God's existence is easily called into question presents a defeater for belief in such a purpose."

Your first sentence is true, and this is what Christianity teaches and Genesis describes. Humans were created to meet this end, and were living like that for a short time.

Your second sentence is where you go wrong. Christian doctrine doesn't teach that they questioned God's existence. From the text it's quite plain that they knew God existed.

brownmamba said...

I think your objection is based on a misunderstanding. When I said "this state of affairs" I was referring to the state in which all humans found themselves not just Adam and Eve. Secondly, the fact that god made himself evident to Adam and Eve presents a problem for the idea that God's existence is not obvious to us beause he wants to give us meaningful moral choices. A and E still sinned with His presence made obvious. See the problem?

B. Prokop said...

brownmamba,

I may be dense, but I also fail to see the alleged problem. I'm not sure what the point is that you're driving at. Are you saying that Adam could not have sinned because God's presence was evident? I don't understand how this must be so. After all, Lucifer sinned in the very presence of God. In fact, he may have known nothing except God (and perhaps his fellow angels) when he fell.

Hal said...

Bob,
I believe blackmamba was responding to the exchange between Sam Calvin and cl:


[SamCalvin]
"How likely is it that this thief would have done what he did if he had observed that the camera was recording him?

I think this event is rather obviously relevant to the topic at hand."
[cl]
"Sam Calvin: exactly. In the same way, kids usually won't act "bad" in front of their parents, even when they want to. Rather, they act bad in secret, when they think their parents are [sic] watching. In such moments, true character bubbles to the top."


Here is blackmamba's original remark:
Moreover, the "original sin" response undercuts another Christian response found in the comments: Without the obvious presence of God, people can make meaningful moral choices, just as a child does without the presence of his parents.

brownmamba said...

If you read Hal's comment you could see where I was coming from. If you believe that sin can still be prevalent in the obvious presence of god then that is fine ( though I think sinners would be a bit irrational). All I was saying was that two different Christian responses to the argument from hiddenness were in tension with one another. One response was to say God is hidden because of original sin. Another was that God's hiddenness was necessary for people to have significant moral choices. If Adam and Eve made a significant moral choice in the obvious presence of God, then these two responses are difficult to reconcile.