Reply to Travis Dumsday: Does the argument from evil undermine the hiddenness argument?

Travis Dumsday has recently published a paper arguing that the argument from evil undermines the argument from divine hiddenness. Dumsday’s point is that the existence of vast amounts of suffering in the world will possibly make it to where some nonbelievers can’t be convinced of God’s existence no matter how much evidence God presents to them. Thus, the argument from evil can possibly make it to where the nonbeliever will never be convinced of God’s existence.

And if some nonbeliever wouldn’t be convinced of God’s existence, then it’s hardly surprising that God wouldn’t reveal himself to such a person. Why? Because God is concerned with a relationship. If someone isn’t even going to be convinced that God exists, then it’s pointless for God to try and convince that person that God exists. Yes, God wants a relationship. And yes, believing that God exists is necessary for a relationship with God. But if someone is never going to be convinced that God exists, then a relationship with God is not going to be possible.

The fundamental point is that the hiddenness argument assumes that God can convince all nonresistant nonbelievers that God exists. Dumsday argues that the existence of suffering will make it the case that God can’t convince all nonresistant nonbelievers that God exists.

Here’s Dumsday’s argument:

Premise 1 – If the evidential problem of evil carries great force (a force which can persist rationally even in the face of correct solutions, as some friendly theists admit), then God cannot fittingly prompt theistic belief in all (perhaps even most) non-resistant non-believers.

Premise 2 – The evidential problem of evil carries great force (a force which can persist rationally even in the face of correct solutions, as some friendly theists admit).

Conclusion 1/Premise 3 – Therefore, God cannot fittingly prompt theistic belief in all (perhaps even most) non-resistant non-believers.

Premise 4 – If God cannot fittingly prompt theistic belief in all (perhaps even most) non-resistant non-believers, then the evidential problem of divine hiddenness is unsound.

Final Conclusion – Therefore, the evidential problem of divine hiddenness is unsound.

Now, it must first be said that Dumsday’s argument concedes a lot. His argument concedes that the argument from evil carries very great force. He also later concedes that the existence of nonresistant nonbelief can even strengthen the argument from evil even more! Dumsday says, “I think this is actually a worry. If the amount of evil in the world really does inhibit God’s ability to make Himself known to us in a rationally indubitable way, that is indeed another reason, at least prima facie, why He shouldn’t permit that amount of evil in the first place. That doesn’t render the evidential problem of evil indefeasible; there may yet be workable defences out there. But it does apparently strengthen the problem.”

So the argument from evil appears to be a very persuasive argument. It is so persuasive the Dumsday says that the argument from evil by itself can rationally justify someone’s belief in God’s nonexistence. But, Dumsday walks a fine line with someone being able to be epistemically permitted to believe in God’s nonexistence (based off of evil) with someone being epistemically obligated to believe in God’s nonexistence. Afterall, if the argument from evil is so persuasive, why aren’t theists epistemically obligated to accept it? Dumsday might say the reason is because there are arguments for God’s existence. But, most of the arguments for God’s existence aren’t arguments for an omnipotent, omniscient, and omnibenevolent being which is the being that the argument from evil is concerned with. One notable exception is the ontological argument. But is Dumsday going to say that the ontological argument is more persuasive than the argument from evil? Moreover, when we look at the ontological argument, the being in question doesn’t have to be a personal being. A maximally great being or a being “for which none greater can be conceived” does not have to be personal.
Dumsday might try and say that one can make a cumulative argument for theism. This would mean that one can argue for the existence of a good being by appealing to the moral argument. One could appeal to the existence of a very powerful being by appealing to the cosmological argument. But, let’s suppose that collectively these arguments are more persuasive than the argument from evil (although, it’s not obvious that this is the case because Dumsday says the argument from evil has great force). Dumsday now has a huge problem. The argument from evil is not the only argument for atheism. There are also cosmological arguments for God’s nonexistence, moral arguments for God’s nonexistence, dysteleological arguments for God’s nonexistence, incompatibility arguments against God’s nonexistence. Couple the argument from evil’s great persuasive force (according to Dumsday) with the other arguments for atheism, it now looks like Dumsday and theists are epistemically obligated to accept that God doesn’t exist. So, ironically, there is something that is undermined by Dumsday’s argument. What is undermined is belief in theism. This is an implication that Dumsday is not going to want to accept. Therefore, he is not going to want to endorse his argument. Since his argument has led him to a conclusion that he is going to find false then that means the argument has gone wrong somewhere. In fact, I think I know exactly where Dumsday’s argument goes wrong.

Dumsday comes close to finding the key objection to his argument. As mentioned before, Dumsday grants that the existence of nonresistant nonbelief can make the argument from evil stronger. However, Dumsday misses the obvious objection to his entire argument. If God exists, God can create a world without nonresistant suffering and without horrific suffering. In a world without suffering, the argument from evil will not come up. In a world without nonresistant nonbelief, the hiddenness argument will not come up. And in a world without both, neither argument will come up. Dumsday fails to see that the hiddenness argument and argument from evil can be seen as re-enforcing each other. In a world without suffering, God can convince every nonresistant nonbeliever that God exists. The evidential argument from suffering will only carry great force if suffering actually exists. In a world without suffering, the argument wouldn’t care any force. The problem for Dumsday is that he’s trying to make God’s existence fit the actual data in the world instead of asking what the world would be like if God existed. That’s how his entire dubious argument has arisen. Schellenberg even notes this tendency, and it seems that Dumsday should be aware of this since he has read Schellenberg. To sum up, the atheist can argue that the hiddenness argument and argument from evil can be combined to yield the conclusion that the world should not contain suffering and should not contain nonresistant nonbelief.

And even if you don’t buy all of that, an atheist could run an argument from the existence of non-deities to couple the argument from evil and the argument from hiddenness, and the result is that Dumsday’s argument is irrelevant. The idea there would be that the fact that God didn’t create omnipotent, omniscient, and omnibenevolent beings is evidence against theism. Next, one could note that it is not possible for an omnipotent, omniscient, and omnibenevolent being to doubt that God exists. Since that isn’t possible, Dumsday’s argument is irrelevant because Dumsday’s argument is predicated on the notion that some persons might always doubt that God exists (because of suffering).

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