Edward Feser recently came out with a new book on arguments for God’s existence. In the book, he has a brief section where he responds to the argument from divine hiddenness. But, Feser objections seemed to be based on total misunderstandings at worst, or they are weak objections at best. The former is ironic because Feser constantly goes on about how certain arguments for God’s existence are misunderstood. So, what are the objections that Feser offers to the hiddenness argument?
First, he says the argument is based on two assumptions. One assumption is that if God existed, then his existence would be obvious to most people. The second assumption is that God’s existence isn’t obvious to most people.
To start, however, the second assumption isn’t an assumption of the argument at all. Schellenberg has been clear that there only needs to be one person of the relevant sort who did not or does not believe in God’s existence. The relevant person must be a nonresistant nonbeliever. In addition, it’s not as if God must make the person absolutely certain that God exists. The problem of divine hiddenness isn’t so much a problem of degrees of confidence or belief; rather, the problem is that certain people (i.e. nonresistant nonbelievers) don’t believe in God at all! Fundamentally, the problem of divine hiddenness is an epistemic problem relating to certain people who don’t believe that God exists. It’s not saying that the objective evidence is bad. We could grant that the objective evidence is relatively strong in some sense, but the hiddenness argument is a problem having to do with the subjects, specifically those certain subjects (i.e. nonresistant nonbelievers) who have evaluated the evidence (or even those who haven’t).
With regards to the first assumption, Feser asks why should we assume that God’s existence should be obvious to most people? But, this isn’t what the argument says. The argument says that everyone who is a nonresistant nonbeliever should believe that God exists. God’s existence doesn’t have to be “obvious” in the sense of certainty. God’s existence only has to be apparent enough to yield belief.
Feser questions why Schellenberg says God would seek a relationship. Feser rightly concludes that Schellenberg says that God seeks a relationship because of divine love. Feser says that this doesn’t cover all forms of theism, but this objection isn’t any more relevant or powerful than the person who claims that the problem of evil doesn’t cover all forms of theism. Feser might respond by saying that the hiddenness argument doesn’t work against classical theism per se, but against particular versions of theism like Christian theism. However, this is a misrepresentation of the argument. Schellenberg does indeed intend the argument to cover classical theism per se. Schellenberg argues in depth that an omnibenevolent being would seek a relationship. In fact, Schellenberg argues that the property of being all-loving necessarily follows from omnibenevolence. It’s arguable that an omnibenevolent being who doesn’t love his creatures is like saying there exists a married-bachelor; it’s incoherent, which Feser seems to agree with. Not only that, but Schellenberg argues that God being all-loving should be included in the basic conception of God like attributes of God being all-powerful.
Feser then has a more serious objection to the hiddenness argument in the form of the “Greater good response”. Feser says that God allows nonresistant nonbelievers in order to bring about certain greater goods. But, Feser totally ignores Schellenberg’s various responses to the greater good defense. For one, our deepest good is a relationship with God. So why would God sacrifice our deepest good for various finite goods? Secondly, we can have most of these finite goods (if not all) in a relationship with God! Schellenberg has more to say on the matter, but Feser justs ignores that altogether.