Why doesn’t God give us more evidence of his existence?

Have you ever heard someone say that if God existed, he would give us more evidence? This is called the “hiddenness of God” argument. It’s also known as the argument from “rational non-belief”.

Basically the argument is something like this:

  1. God is all powerful
  2. God is all loving
  3. God wants all people to know about him
  4. Some people don’t know about him
  5. Therefore, there is no God.

You may hear have heard this argument before, when talking to atheists, or in debates, like in William Lane Craig’s debate with Theodore Drange, (audio, video).

Basically, the atheist is saying that he’s looked for God real hard and that if God were there, he should have found him by now. After all, God can do anything he wants that’s logically possible, and he wants us to know that he exists. To defeat the argument we need to find a possible explanation of why God would want to remain hidden when our eternal destination depends on our knowledge of his existence.

What reason could God have for remaining hidden?

Dr. Michael Murray, a brilliant professor of philosophy at Franklin & Marshall College, has found a reason for God to remain hidden.

His paper on divine hiddenness is here:
Coercion and the Hiddenness of God“, American Philosophical Quarterly, Vol 30, 1993.

He argues that if God reveals himself too much to people, he takes away our freedom to make morally-significant decisions, including responding to his self-revelation to us. Murray argues that God stays somewhat hidden, so that he gives people space to either 1) respond to God, or 2) avoid God so we can keep our autonomy from him. God places a higher value on people having the free will to respond to him, and if he shows too much of himself he takes away their free choice to respond to him, because once he is too overt about his existence, people will just feel obligated to belief in him in order to avoid being punished.

But believing in God just to avoid punishment is NOT what God wants for us. If it is too obvious to us that God exists and that he really will judge us, then people will respond to him and behave morally out of self-preservation. But God wants us to respond to him out of interest in him, just like we might try to get to know someone we admire. God has to dial down the immediacy of the threat of judgment, and the probability that the threat is actual. That leaves it up to us to respond to God’s veiled revelation of himself to us, in nature and in Scripture.

(Note: I think that we don’t seek God on our own, and that he must take the initiative to reach out to us and draw us to him. But I do think that we are free to resist his revelation, at which point God stops himself short of coercing our will. We are therefore responsible for our own fate).

The atheist’s argument is a logical/deductive argument. It aims to show that there is a contradiction between God’s will for us and his hiding from us. In order to derive a contradiction, God MUST NOT have any possible reason to remain hidden. If he has a reason for remaining hidden that is consistent with his goodness, then the argument will not go through.

When Murray offers a possible reason for God to remain hidden in order to allow people to freely respond to him, then the argument is defeated. God wants people to respond to him freely so that there is a genuine love relationship – not coercion by overt threat of damnation. To rescue the argument, the atheist has to be able to prove that God could provide more evidence of his existence without interfering with the free choice of his creatures to reject him.

More of Michael Murray’s work

Murray has defended the argument in works published by prestigious academic presses such as Cambridge University Press, (ISBN: 0521006104, 2001) and Routledge (ISBN: 0415380383, 2007). The book chapter from the Cambridge book is here. The book chapter from the Routledge book is here.

Michael Murray’s papers are really fun to read, because he uses hilarious examples. I should mention that I disagree with his view that God’s work of introducing biological information in living creatures has to be front-loaded.

Here’s more terrific stuff from Dr. Murray:

Is there any evidence of God’s existence?

Yes, just watch this lecture by Dr. William Lane Craig. It contains 5 reasons why God exists and 3 reasons why it matters.

Positive arguments for Christian theism

5 thoughts on “Why doesn’t God give us more evidence of his existence?”

  1. The more God reveals of Himself to us, the higher a standard to which we are held. “To whom much is given, much is required.”

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  2. Apart from the philosophy there are some Biblical points to make as well. 1) The assumption is that the more God reveals himself the more people will believe in him. However when God appears in the Old Testament it usually inspires terror. Look at Mount Sinai the people fall to the ground and beg for it to stop. Even when the Holy Angels appear to people they are terrified. Look at the account of Mary and Gabriel. We have every reason to believe that more of God’s presence would lead to more terror not more faith. 2) Look at the clear words of Christ as he talks to the Rich Man in the account of Lazarus. They have Moses and the Prophets if they won’t listen to them they won’t believe even if someone rises from the dead.

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  3. I have often said that everyone believes in the existence of God.

    Our very spirits are issued from Him. When people express non belief in God, it is nearly always (1) rooted in the desire to engage in a preferred sin, and they must rationalize away the chance of punishment, or (2) they are angry that the world is not being run they way they think it should be run, and they are actually “fitness testing” God, much the way a child tests his parents.

    If you shine a bright enough light of inquiry at an atheist’s argument, it throws a shadow that looks more like a tantrum than reason:

    Atheist: “I don’t believe in God because if there was a God, he would be doing something about starving children in Africa.”

    Atheist: “I don’t believe in God because I think there is nothing wrong with premarital sex.”

    It is interesting that the existence of the sick, the poor, income inequality, etc serve as justifications for their non-belief.

    NOTE CAREFULLY that most of them make no allowance for the logical possibility of a cruel God that likes to see people suffer. This is the most telling of all. Why would they assume that God, if real, would be good? Why the presumption?

    Because their spirit knows Him, because it came from Him. Do we presume that God designed all the animals of the world to be able to recognize their parents, but created the human spirit incapable of same?

    So, they assume that if there was a God, he would be a good God. They know. the typical atheist’s statements, therefore, are usually little more than the manifested anger at God for life not working as they think it should.

    You’ll never meet a devoted atheist who is a happy person. You’ll never meet a devoted atheist who does not have the edge of anger in them every time someone talks about God.

    And you’ll never meet a devoted atheist who is not royally ticked of at anyone else who does not believe as they do.

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