Why doesn’t God make his existence more obvious to people?

Sherlock Holmes and John Watson are going to take a look at the data
Sherlock Holmes and John Watson are going to take a look at the data

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.

In this argument, 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.

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).

Positive arguments for Christian theism

22 thoughts on “Why doesn’t God make his existence more obvious to people?”

  1. “The Irresistible and the Indisputable are the very weapons which the nature of His (God’s) scheme forbids Him to use. Merely to override a human free will (as His felt Presence in anything but the faintest and most mitigated degree would certainly do) would be for Him useless. He cannot ravish. He can only woo.”

  2. So am I overriding my wife’s free will by showing her indisputably that I exist?

    What do you folks do with people like me who searched for God for decades until I concluded he was not there. Jeremiah 29:13 says that cannot happen. I’m here to tell you that it does.

    1. Your wife is not the sovereign Lord of heaven and earth, Who dwells in unapproachable Light, in Whose Presence all sin is destroyed, Who alone is worthy of worship, the Creator King of the universe, perfect in all His ways, infinitely righteous, holy, loving, pure , immutable, eternal, omniscient, omnipotent, omnipresent, transcendent over all His creation and yet immanent, and the Creator, Sustainer and righteous Judge of all living.

    2. Hey Arthur, I left some links to evidence at the bottom of the post. I don’t know you, so I don’t know what books you’ve read. I find that debates are the best way to learn.

      Who is your favorite atheist? Maybe I can find you a debate between him/her and someone on my team?

      1. Let me answer you as Sarah Palin might. “All of them.” I have watched (and listened to) several dozens of such debates. Chistopher Hitchens was very good and so is Sam Harris. Matt Dillahunty is very good. The best who is currently debating is Sean Carroll.

        On the other side, William Lane Craig is the gold standard. He is an excellent debater though I find myself talking back to him on facts which I think he distorts. I have watched all of his debates that are generally available. However, I think Ray Bradley was very effective against him on the question of hell.

        I listen to many apologetics podcasts. Most of them capture my attention for months or a couple of years before I grow tired of them. Justin Brierley’s Unbelievable podcast is far and away the best. I attended his Los Angeles conversation between Ryan Bell and Sean McDowell though I had to come from Washington State to do so.

  3. I did not suggest that either my wife or I can be equated with God or a god. My point is that it is very easy to prove that I exist and I am just an ordinary person. Mark asserts that there is a being who “alone is worthy of worship” and he describes in great detail the attributes of this person. He seems to “know” these attributes, but those attributes are hidden from people like me who have searched for decades for evidence of such existence. For some reason, this God was constantly revealing himself to primitive peoples, who assumed his existence, but does not reveal himself to everyone now.

    Mark’s comments are not an argument. They are assertions only. There are myriad of problems that his assertions simply do not address. It is wonderful for him that he “experiences” God. But, I do not see him nor do I even see any evidence that is not better explained by some natural explanation. I wanted to see that God.

    Mark’s comments also fail to address my question. How does it violate my free will to be given sufficient evidence to convince me that God exists? Did God strip the Israelites of their free will by the Shekinah glory he demonstrated to them?

    1. You have been given sufficient evidence for His existence, Arthur. And His character. The Bible tells us that the world around us tells us of His power, and the Moral Law within us tells us what He is like (Rom. 1:20). And that therefore WE ARE WITHOUT EXCUSE.
      You say you prefer “natural explanations”. Tell me, what CAUSED the universe to begin to exist at the moment of the Big Bang? It can’t have been natural, for nothing can cause ITSELF to begin to exist.
      You say you have been searching for God for decades. In what way? On His terms, or on yours? Have you been demanding a sign? Jesus told the religious leaders of His day that the only sign they would get as proof of His claim to Deity was His resurrection.
      AND THAT’S THE ONLY SIGN WE NEED TODAY. Remove the resurrection of Christ, and the whole New Testament collapses. Have you investigated the claims of Christ? If not, you should. For if He truly is Who He claimed to be, God with skin on, THEN HE HAS A CLAIM ON YOU.
      And as for your free will, didn’t you read my first quote? He wants you to FREELY come to Him, not be FORCED to your knees by an overwhelming demonstration of His power, or destroyed in an instant by His utter holiness. He wants your heart, which is why He gave you His only Son to save you, to prove His love for you, in the hope that you would FREELY come to Him to be saved, and just maybe, FREELY love Him back, in gratitude for all He has done for you.
      He doesn’t want you to simply believe He EXISTS, Arthur. He wants your love. And love can’t be forced. So He loves you first. “We love, because He first loved us” (1 John 4:19).

      1. Mark, how do you know that I have been given sufficient evidence for God’s existence? Aren’t you asserting it because a set of writings by authors of whom you know very little compiled by unknown person or persons say everyone is given sufficient evidence? Usually when such assertions are made, the believing person first believed in the Bible as a special book delivered to us by the will of God as his special communication to us. I have read the Bible since I was a young child (and now I’m 64.) I was taught as a child that the Bible was God’s Word. We weren’t even allowed to set anything on a Bible, other than another Bible.

        From my earliest memories and until I went to college my ambition was to be a minister. (My senior high school yearbook lists my ambition as Minister.) I took 30 quarter hours of college credit in Biblical studies and earned a minor in Religion. The more I learned about and read the Bible (and when I read it without my presuppositional glasses) the less convinced I was of its truth claims. (More accurately, I should say the truth claims that religionists make for the Bible. There are hundreds of contradictory interpretations of it held by people each of whom claims to have a personal relationship with Jesus.)

        I’m open to a discussion of your beliefs and my beliefs. We can contrast and compare them and the reasons we hold them. I think we should each strive to accept the other’s sincerity. I won’t tell you what evidence you have been presented for God’s existence and the adequacy of it and ask that you accord me the same courtesy.

        1. Very well, then let me ask you this:
          What do you believe about one Jesus of Nazareth, and why?
          Note I’m not asking what you THINK about the man (your opinion), but what do you really truly BELIEVE is the truth about this man?
          (Note also that I didn’t say Jesus Christ, for that would be begging the question).

          1. I have a very hard time differentiating between what I think and what I believe. Doing my best to relate what I believe about Jesus of Nazareth, my best answer to you is that I am truly an unbeliever.

            To take it a step beyond what you have asked, I think it is possible there is some type of greater power, perhaps an entity we might think of as god, I am as confident as I can be that Yahweh and Jesus are not that entity.

          2. So when Jesus of Nazareth claimed to BE God, was he lying, or was he merely insane?

  4. I’ve seen these arguments and I would suggest one more.

    3) Supposing that God appeared today to someone — in all of His majesty and splendor.

    He could then rightly say, “I am the LORD your God, the King of Kings and Lord of Lords, and I demand your submission.”

    Unfortunately at this juncture, disobedience or refusal would be an act of disloyalty … or treason, which could warrant judgment.

    Thus I would suggest that God not only to allow people to seek Him and thus find Him — but also to not render immediate judgment.

    1. Yes, it would be treason. What is the penalty for treason? Death. Doesn’t God treat my inability to see or sense him the same way? Doesn’t he consider it treason. He promises not only to exact the death penalty, but the majority of Christians assert that he will torture me for eternity. Since that is the punishment, don’t you think he ought to be a little more obvious about his existence?

  5. The article that started this thread deals with the problem of the hiddenness of God. It is a problem that God doesn’t reveal himself to all people. After acknowledging that, the believers on this thread go on to say that God does reveal himself sufficiently to all people, but is subtle about it so that he doesn’t compel us to believe in him. Some imply and others assert that God cannot be obvious about his existence. Why is that? God did not operate under those standards in the days of the Old Testament. What constrains him from operating in the same way now, if he exists? In those days, and in the pre-scientific days of the Christian era, people saw evidence of God’s direct action in the world in literally thousands of ways that we now recognize as natural phenomena.

    I do not prefer naturalism, but if there is a naturalistic explanation for an phenomenon, I am compelled to accept it. As to the big bang, I don’t have an explanation for it. Neither do you, except to say that “God did it.” If God did it, the big bang may support a deistic god, but to believe that a god did it, does not support a theistic god.

    The Christian arguments are founded on the Bible. To buy into those arguments, one must accept the Bible as the Word of God. Those arguments are convincing to those who believe in the Bible. I know the Bible well. The Bible and my own observations are the reasons I am not a believer.

    1. Arthur, God does operate the same as in the old testament, but a little more homework is needed. In the old pre-scientific days, we had nature miracles like the parting of the red sea. Today, we have telescopes that reveal that the universe came into being out of nothing (no space, no matter, and time began 14.5 billion years ago). So the nature miracles are being revealed by science. Or, the constants and quantities specified in the Big Bang are finely-tuned from a wide range of possibilities to permit life, e.g. – the cosmological constant. The origin of life is another case where protein sequencing is simply beyond the reach of chance, given the short period of time from the cooling of the planet to when first life appears. The Cambrian explosion – the sudden origin of the basic body plans – is another.

      Like I said, a little digging into the science of it is necessary to find the miracles. And the progress of science in the last 50 years has made a naturalistic explanation for these cases even LESS likely, e.g. – more evidence for a cosmic beginning, more constants and quantities finely-tuned, more body plans appearing with no precursors in the Cambrian explosion, more probability studies making the odds of generating a functioning protein in the time available even longer.

      The Christian arguments I outlined at the bottom of the post have nothing to do with the Bible, they come from the progress of science.

      Regarding moving beyond a deistic God to a theistic God, you would have to take a look at the the best attested miracles, for example the resurrection of Jesus. Far from assuming that the Bible is inerrant, you just treat it as an ordinary ancient book, filter out the particular books that match the genre of “ancient history” and then filter out the handful of facts that pass historical criteria, and are corroborated by non-Christian historians and/or archaeology. From those “Minimal Facts” that everyone agrees on, you compare the resurrection hypothesis with the naturalistic alternatives, e.g. – hallucination theory.

      Note that the origin of life and Cambrian explosion arguments are not for a deistic God, but a theistic God who has intervened in nature in a way that is detectable by science.

  6. I disagree with your assertion that God acts the same way in the OT as he does in the NT. If you think that, I suggest that you are not reading your OT enough. Show me a modern, even a NT equivalent, of God causing water to gush from the rock at the command of his leader (or a striking of the rock by a staff.) Show me the equivalent of Elijah summoning fire from heaven to burn up the water-soaked altar. Show me the equivalent of manna being provided every day to his people. Show me the equivalent of Balaam’s talking donkey. Show me the equivalent of Uzzah being struck dead for touching the ark. Show me the equivalent of the Hebrew young men surviving the fiery furnace. I could write a much longer list limited only by my (and your) patience.

    I expect you will cite some of the claimed miracles of Jesus. That is not convincing to me. Jesus promised that his followers would be able to move mountains if they had faith the size of a mustard seed. He said his followers would replicate and even outperform his miracles. Other than Benny Hinn I haven’t seen such miracles. Why aren’t Jesus’ followers doing obvious miracles today when Jesus promised they would do so?

    I don’t accept the premises of Gary Habermas’ “minimal facts” argument.

    Your assertion that the currently unexplainable proves God does not convince me. I see no reasonable distinction between a deistic god and a theistic god except for your assertion. You have provided no proof for a theistic god or his actions. The mere fact of the universe would be just as compelling evidence for an evil god as it is for a good one. To the best of our knowledge, the entire unimaginably massive universe is hostile to life and is fine-tuned, if at all, for death.

    The very fact that apologetics websites even exist seems to be evidence of the non-existence of God. There should be no need for such assertions if his existence is obvious.

    I have heard many major apologists, even Gary Habermas, admit to having had periods of doubting. If they are in relationship with the most powerful being of the universe and that being’s existence is obvious, one wonders how they could ever doubt. I just celebrated my 36th wedding anniversary. I have never doubted my wife’s existence, not even for a moment. Why not? Because, I have an actual relationship with her.

  7. Hi Arthur! My name is Martin.

    First off I want to say that I genuinely love your investigative spirit! How many atheists don’t take time to at least look at the God of the Bible (or other faiths) in any detail and despise faith or faithful believers by just resting on the word of the ‘lords and saviours’ for their cause (Dawkins, Dennett, Hitchens, Carrier, etc.) I have a great respect for you for the above-noted reason AND the fact that you have never responded with ‘snark’ … you seem to be a genuine seeker – like Phillip of the disciples who asked Christ himself, “Show us the Father – God as we’ve been taught in the synagogue – and that will be enough for us!” (Sidebar: What an interesting display of doubt/belief tension is found in this Gospel narrative. Here you have disciples who have been watching either the greatest mass-fooler/magician or God-in-the-flesh do all these remarkable physical healings and yet, for all the evidence, the one guy voices that he doesn’t ‘get’ who Jesus is. You remind me a bit of dear ol’ Phillip – if’n you don’t mind me sayin’. :-) That’s not a put down at all! But I’ll get to that later …)

    Been reading the above responses and feel I may (or may not?) have something unique to say that you may never have heard out of the mind/mouth of any/many Christ-follower, not yet, anyhow.

    I hope you don’t mind me taking the time to first address some of your statements in your last entry.

    1. “I disagree with your assertion that God acts the same way in the OT as he does in the NT. If you think that, I suggest that you are not reading your OT enough. Show me a modern, even a NT equivalent”

    A good N.T. scholar may argue that you are actually right! The God of the O.T. and the God of the N.T. may not be acting the same – and for good reason.

    Think of a teacher who, for years, wanted to show his students an object lesson by dressing up every day like an hard-ass, curmudgeonly military man while teaching every class lesson on this, that and the other thing in harsh, overbearing tones. He well-knows that while ‘in this form’ he will, at first, be taken seriously for the students fear of him. The students claim that they ‘came here to learn’ but in reality, they just want to do their own thing and party their own way … “Screw learning, dude!” No matter how many threats and warnings and admonishings the students get, they never improve, really. Some stick out as good kids, but for the most part, the rest just get by and never know if they’re any good.

    One fine day, this same teacher then strips off the military garb and declares, “Students – attention! Check this out!” And lo and behold, the teacher looks a little younger, a little more receptive – has a smile on his face now and then – and promises to teach via a wholly new method – with a ‘lower burden factor and with a lighter yoke’. The students ask, “Why? Weren’t things fine the way they were?” He says, “Look around, you tell me?” Did my hammer-fisting my lessons get you to be the students you hoped to be?” They respond, “Uh, no … now that you mention it!” The teacher goes, “Right you are! I had to SHOW YOU that your thoughts about how I should teach would NEVER ever bring you into a fullness of skills and learning that you thought it would. Brutal as it was, (I was only working within the framework of brutality your culture deemed acceptable, by the way) my heavy hand was not how you would improve on yourselves or your studies. HERE I AM in a whole, relatable way that you’ve never seen before. Come out from behind your desks. Sit here with me – I’ll sit down too and we’ll get in some learning with some culturally relevant stories, I’ll bandage a few of your hurts and if you follow me in my example, you’ll find that the ‘old way’ was not ever what was meant to get you where you needed to be in any full sense. In a short while, I have one last trick up my sleeve to show you how much I really care about you and it’s a biggie!”

    Need I say what the biggie is?

    So Arthur, I hope this helps – via illustration – to see that what we as Christians believe is the SAME God but Who has chosen to manifest Himself in a different way, for a different reason in order to make the system ‘fair’ and workable for all who approach Him. He has just chosen a different kind of play to act out his purposes – a ‘passion play’ in fact.

    “Jesus promised that his followers would be able to move mountains if they had faith the size of a mustard seed. He said his followers would replicate and even outperform his miracles.”

    Recently reading a book by Philip Yancey on the nature of prayer. He covers this ‘problem’ of unanswered prayer with a brilliance that I’ve yet to see matched. (https://www.amazon.ca/Prayer-Does-Make-Any-Difference/dp/0310328888)

    Let’s clarify the ‘moving mountains’ deal. There are numerous times the N.T. alludes to ‘praying within the will of God = results’. As exemplified in “Bruce Almighty”, a god who answers all requests, willy-nilly, ends up lookin’ silly. There has to be a ‘context’ to prayer, in the same way that you cannot ask to have your fuel-injectors repaired at a computer store. Please research ‘praying within the will of God’ and you’ll see that Jesus himself intimated this, but in a wider, fuller sense, the apostles expanded on it. See 1 John 5:14-15, James 4:3, Romans 12:1-2. Yancey notes that Jesus – who COULD HAVE called down angels to save Himself instead of getting crucified, did NOT ask for that, as He didn’t believe such a request fulfilled the will of God. That didn’t stop his scared-sh*tless human self from praying, “Lord, if this cup can pass from me, please let it!” … we know how that turned out. (Incidentally, I find that it’s this kind of narrative, found only in the Gospel accounts of Jesus, you see such incredible transparency. No glossing up things like a Romanesque hero story. No, the bible shows the dirty, gritty side of everyone and everything. If you were trying to manufacture a faith – would you go to this kind of effort to make the account more realistic?)
    3. The disciples DID replicate his miracles – there is an account in the N.T. that Paul pulled a Lazarus on a guy and even his hanky was being utilized by some to bring about healings (via an act of faith on the recipients parts, presumably). Peter and John – the infirm beggar at the gate – got up and walked at their bidding (in Jesus’ name). All this happening some time after Jesus’ resurrection. As for ‘doing more/greater’ things, well that’s an easy one! Jesus did what he did, taught what he taught in a mere three years. But the power he handed over to the disciples after His ascension allowed some pretty remarkable things to go on – HUGE conversion numbers that were due to some pretty amazing teaching – some of it coming from the mouth of guys who’d never spoken another language before but who suddenly could after the Holy Spirit fell upon them. It was never recorded that Jesus led 5000 people to him in one short evangelistic period or ever spoke in another language in miraculous fashion. Benny Hinn and other faith-healers and (no offence to Pentecostal Christians!) charismatic teachings have distorted this ‘greater things’ to quite the level of debasement – FAR flung from the sense Jesus intended in his talk with the disciples in John 14. It can also be said that the time of multiple miraculous dispensations has, for the most part, come to a close at the end of the first century. God, it seems, only allows certain periods (the time of Moses, the time of Elijah and the time of Jesus) to convince the masses of His presence and to make a proclamation of Himself (whereby SOME faith is elicited) via miraculous signs, though such never proved to be a guaranteed means of evoking faith – not even to his own disciples at times! See Mark 16:14) This does not mean that SOME miracles of healing cannot or do not happen in our present day. Any doctor could tell you they DO happen, but rarely (and there is no evidence that God is behind it of course – just that ‘the cancer went away?!’). Could some of these physical healings be a result of someone’s fervent prayer? Truly – yes! But if, as in Bruce Almighty, miracles were made ‘ubiquitous’ there would be no need to put one’s faith in God.

    Which brings me to my last point. “Why faith? Why does God only want/require our ‘faith’ that He exists rather than eliminating the need for faith through clear, delineated evidence that we could at least measure scientifically?”

    And this is your issue, is it not Arthur? I’m going to work on this answer and post it next, if Wintry Knight will let me (and thank you sir for your blog-site and for this opportunity to express our thoughts with respect to your many posts!)

    I think what I’m about to post will really cock your head to one side – God willing! :-)


  8. ‘But believing in God just to avoid punishment is NOT what God wants for us.’

    To which my first response was: in that case, wouldn’t the best tactic be that of not punishing people for not believing in him? I mean, this is a genuine issue with the idea of a divine being who wants us to have free choice of whether to follow him or not, yet dooms unbelievers to eternal punishment; yes, there is a contradiction there. Either you can set things up so that there are horrible consequences for people in not acting a particular way, or you can give them free choice of whether or not to act that way; but, as you’ve just pointed out, doing the first does in effect preclude the second.

    But it also seems to me that there’s another, and less obvious, problem with the strategy of God hypothesised by Murray. If the issue is that God wants us to love him but wants us to do so for reasons other than threat of damnation, surely the obvious thing to conceal there would be the threat of damnation? We can’t love that which we don’t know exists, so hiding his existence from people would hardly be a good strategy for maximising the number of people who fall freely in love with him; but hiding the threat of damnation would practically *ensure* that no-one would love him just for that reason. So surely that would be what such a God would do?

    And yet, what we see is the exact opposite. There is no compelling evidence that a divinity with a deep personal interest in history even exists (and I say this having spent many, many, many hours over a period of many years on investigating theist and Christian arguments in detail). And yet, at the same time the writings that are alleged to be this divinity’s message to us are *crystal clear* on the existence of eternal damnation for those who don’t believe. Based on that evidence, it seems that either this particular alleged divinity is extraordinarily incompetent in achieiving the aim that Murray hypothesises for him, or that he does not, in fact, exist.

  9. God does not punish people for not believing in him. He punishes them for stuff they did. He seems to be quite vocal that people are doing actual acts for which they will punished.

    What he does could be described as a suspended sentence for those who bother to ask. You can’t ask if you insist there is no one to ask or that the judge has no authority over you. The catch is that you have to 1) admit that there is someone to ask forgiveness from, 2) that you have done something that needs to be forgiven, 3) promise to stopping that thing.

    You may miss out on forgiveness through non-belief but it is not the non-belief that gets you punished. It is like not getting a vaccine, because you don’t believe it works. If you die because of that, the lack of vaccine didn’t kill you. The condition that the vaccine was meant to correct killed you. The lack of vaccine merely indicates that you did not accept an available means of not dying from that condition.

    The most fervent believer deserves punishment, and would receive it if they refused to ask for a freely available alternative, even if they believed in him.

    After many years of study I have concluded that I lack belief that naturalism sufficiently describes the universe.

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