A Probabilistic Argument from Divine Hiddenness

In the literature, ‘divine hiddenness’ doesn’t mean that God exists and is hiding. Rather, what it primarily means is that there are some individuals who don’t believe that God exists, and their nonbelief isn’t merely the result of emotional factors towards the concept of God. In addition, ‘divine hiddenness’ is sometimes used to refer to the objective state of the world, insofar as the evidence for the God of classical theism seems to be, at best, ambiguous.

Nevertheless, the current literature is primarily focused on the former (subjective hiddenness) rather than the latter. In other words, if God exists, how can there be nonresistant nonbelievers? There are various types of nonresistant nonbelief. There are nonresistant nonbelievers who were once believers; there were/are nonresistant nonbelievers who don’t have a concept of God (natural nonbelief); there are nonresistant nonbelievers who have actively looked for strong evidence for God’s existence; etc.

Extending the Problem of Divine Hiddenness

However, I think the problem of divine hiddenness can be extended beyond merely nonresistant nonbelief and the various types of nonresistant nonbelief. For example, one may wonder why there is any nonbelief at all! Or, one may wonder why God, if God exists, permits resistant nonbelief. Or, one may wonder why God allows theists to undergo periods of doubt.

It’s here that I want to try and introduce some new observations in the hiddenness debate, which are as follows:

O1: There are autistic individuals (and others with disabilities) who have a difficult time understanding the concept of God and don’t have experiences of God.
O2: There are non-human animals who don’t have a concept of God.
O3: There are theists who undergo more regular periods of doubt as a result of their biological makeup and undergo periods where they feel abandoned by God

Now, I’m going to explain more about what I mean by each of these observations. O1 reports the fact that we know that those with autism (and others with disabilities) have a difficult time understanding supernatural concepts, including the concept of God in classical theism. O2 reports the fact that almost all animals, if not all animals, lack the concept of God of classical theism; it doesn’t seem logically impossible for there to be non-human animals who do/did have a concept of God. O3 reports the fact that many theists go through periods of doubt about God’s existence that is a result of the way they are biologically (genes, brain chemistry, etc.). Moreover, many of these same theists report feeling abandoned by God in their very times of doubt. O3 might be thoughts of as an existential/emotional problem, but it can also be thought of as an intellectual problem (to theism) as well. In fact, I think the existential problem of hiddenness (and O3) is an intellectual challenge to theism.

One might not think it’s obvious that these observations render the hypothesis of theism less likely to be true. Then again, one might see there is obviously a problem here, particularly when comparing the hypothesis of theism with some other hypothesis to explain these pieces of data. For example, does deism better explain these data than classical theism? It certainly seems so.

Classical theism is the hypothesis that there exists an omnipotent, omniscient, and omnibenevolent Being who is the sole creator and sustainer of the universe; this Being is also eternal, timeless, immaterial, spaceless, and not composed of parts.
Deism, as I’m defining it, is the hypothesis that there exists a timeless, immaterial, eternal, uncaused, spaceless entity who isn’t interested in the affairs of humans; this entity created the universe but does not sustain the universe.

My argument: 

1. It is a known fact that there are autistic individuals (and others with disabilities) who have a difficult time understanding the concept of God; that there are non-human animals who don’t have a concept of God; and that there are theists who undergo (more regular) periods of doubt as a result of their biological makeup and undergo periods where they feel abandoned by God.
2. (1) is much more expected on the hypothesis of deism than on the hypothesis of classical theism.
3. The intrinsic probability of deism is equal to that of classical theism.
4. Therefore, other evidence held equal, classical theism is probably false.

It’s important to notice that premise 2 is the claim that, from our epistemic standpoint, it’s surprising that we observe these pieces of data on the hypothesis that classical theism is true. (2). Hence, it doesn’t matter that we don’t know everything about God, don’t know of all the goods and evils that there really are, or that we have limited cognitive capacities, etc. God may have a reason for allowing these observations to obtain, but he may not have a reason. In fact, for all we know, God can accomplish all he wants to without any hiddenness at all.

Defense of Premise 2

One might wonder why these observations are surprising on classical theism. That’s because, at the very least, we have a very strong prima facie expectation that God wouldn’t allow these things to obtain. And, one of the (obvious) reasons for this is that God wants a relationship with her finite creatures.

With O3, we wouldn’t expect theists to feel abandoned by God in their times of doubt. Given that God is all-loving, we’d expect God to at least be a person’s side in times of doubt IF there will be times of doubt. But, in fact, theists going through periods of doubt is not expected on theism, specifically, doubt that is out of someone’s control! If we grant that there will be periods of doubts for some theists on theism, we wouldn’t expect the doubt to result from factors outside the person’s free will. God could create a world where doubt is only the result of factors that are part of one’s control. On deism, however, there is no expectation that god would do this, and there is no expectation that god could do this since the entity (so-defined) is not all-powerful. Moreover, God could have made a world where his presence was always felt to theists in times of doubt (that resulted from non-moral factors). Given the empathy and love of God, we immediately have the expectation that theists, at the very least, won’t feel abandoned by God in times of doubt. If theists are to feel abandoned by God in times of doubt, we’d expect this to result from doubt that is morally objectionable; however, the doubt under question stems from factors outside free will.

O2 reports the fact that it’s obvious that God, on classical theism, could have created a world where animals have a concept of God. And one would expect God to create animals with a concept of God, given that God has a bias towards a relationship with finite creatures. The upshot is that having a concept of God seems to be necessary in order to have a purposeful relationship with God. Whereas, on deism, we would actually expect god to not be interested in a relationship with finite creatures. In fact, deism entails divine indifference towards a relationship with finite creatures, but classical doesn’t entail this (it entails the opposite!).

O1 reports that some individuals have a much harder time understanding the concept of God of classical theism than other people, and this doubt is the result of natural factors. It’s hard to have a meaningful relationship with someone if you don’t believe they exist, and it’s impossible to believe that something exists if you think the concept is meaningless or incoherent. At the very least, it’s hard for someone to have a relationship with God if they are having trouble grasping the very concept of God. (Notice that O1 isn’t talking about certain aspects of God being mysterious, nor is O1 saying that we should expect to know everything about God). On theism, God could have made it the case that these individuals don’t struggle to understand the concept of God at a primitive level, and we’d prima facie expect this to be the case (because of the divine-creaturely relationship). On deism, however, we would (if anything) expect the exact opposite.

With O1, O2, and O3, all this can be explained by naturalistic factors like biological evolution. And, clearly, biological evolution seems to be way more surprising on the hypothesis of classical theism than the hypothesis of deism. That’s because the God of classical theism can do anything that’s logically possible, which includes a limitless number of ways for God to create life. On deism simpliciter, as we’ve defined deism, we have no expectation the god could do this. In addition, on classical theism, we have the expectation that God would only create life via biological evolution if God has some morally sufficient reason to do so. (1). Deism does not need this assumption. Nor does deism need this assumption when it comes to explaining the various specific observations (i.e. O1, O2, O3).

It’s important to recognize that this argument isn’t claiming that God’s existence is unlikely, all things considered. In other words, the argument isn’t saying that one can’t appeal to evidence for God’s existence to try and outweigh the argument at hand. To evaluate whether God’s existence is unlikely, all things considered, is a topic that goes well beyond the scope of this post. (3) (4).

(1) Some of the other reasons offered for why God wouldn’t utilize evolution are appeals to the problem of evil, the problem of poor design, etc.
(2) The probabilities used in the argument are ‘epistemic’.
(3) One might wonder what my view is of deductive arguments from hiddenness, such as J.L. Schellenberg’s argument. In my opinion, Schellenberg’s argument is reminiscent of Mackie’s logical argument from evil, and Mackie’s argument has a lot of issues.
(4). The argument formulated in this post was inspired by reading Paul Draper’s writings on the argument from evil.                                            (5). For more on Divine Hiddenness and Animals, see: https://jonathandavidgarner.wordpress.com/2017/04/04/applying-the-hiddenness-argument-to-animals/





4 thoughts on “A Probabilistic Argument from Divine Hiddenness

  1. Clever, but … there are very large collections of “arguments” for the non existence of gods already available and … nobody cares. (Actually not “nobody” as you and I do, but very few others.)

    When believers hear arguments for the existence of their god, they do not think of the argument critically, nor do they try to pick it apart, it is simply folded into their confirmation bias along with everything else. If they hear an argument for the nonexistence of god or gods, they know it is wrong because they know their god exists, so why examine the argument any further, that sounds like a tedious academic exercise?

    Currently I am looking at theological claims and asking myself: is that what an all-powerful god would do? So, A god who can make a universe with hundreds of billions of galaxies, each with hundreds of billions of stars and even more planets in a single day, would do what to exterminate all of the creatures he created and is now disappointed it? He would get together all who he wanted to save (or not) and snap his fingers and the others would be gone. Or he would manifest a “do over” button, like the restart buttons of video games, and press it and we would all start over, with or without memories to guide us, or … He would most certainly not use an totally improbable flood to kill humans he no longer approved of. Also, how could He be all-knowing and not have known this would happen?

    Of course, apologists, aka religious spin doctors, spin these things by telling us what their god was thinking, right after, of course, telling us the “no one can know the mind of god.”

    1. Philosophy of Religion blog (Does God Exist?)

      There are certainly people who are not willing to change their minds on a subject, specifically in cases where they should (which is irrational). But, many people do change their minds and are open.

      I think your right that one can’t both appeal to God’s mysterious reasons and, at the same time, read God’s mind. That would be ‘playing tennis without the net’.

  2. Hi Jonathan!

    I enjoyed your post a lot – you’re brave to explore the apparent disconnect between God’s proposed attributes and what God appears to have failed to achieve.

    It’s interesting and relevant that people with disabilities like autism or being deaf and blind from birth show little or no signs of being cognisant about the Theist God.

    For fully functioning humans, I’m not sure that the Theist God is hidden any more than the sun is hidden from us because our part of the globe is experiencing the night; we know it’s still there as the climate tells us this is so. Another question is: can we be aware of God when we are asleep?

    Have you considered the panentheistic view of God? Below is a link to a short video:

    If I’ve understood it correctly, the Theist God permeates all things living and non-living, and everything (including the universe or multiverses) is within God.

    I’ve often thought that the Theist Creator of everything may not be ALL of the three Omnis. I have in mind what Epicurus said about God,

    “Is God willing to prevent evil, but not able? Then he is not omnipotent. Is he able, but not willing? Then he is malevolent. Is he both able, and willing? Then whence came evil? Is he neither able nor willing? Then why call him God? Epicurus (341 – 270 BC).”

    I suppose you might say that such a god is a Deist rather than the classical Theist God but have we imagined a Being with an impossible combination of attributes?

    I would be interested in your thoughts.

    Peace and love to all,


    1. Philosophy of Religion blog (Does God Exist?)

      Thanks! I’ve considered panentheism, and I hope to make some posts about it in the future.

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