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

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

  1. The evidence is very strong for God. Especially in a day of science. But all the proof by DNA of design or any other form of prood is written off is work of aliens, or what do you expect in a multiverse world.

    I tend to see the argument of lack of evidence as proof that the person has not engaged in thought about the topic and doesn’t want to believe in God.

    So move on to a person that is willing to engage in the listening to your witness regarding God.

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  2. But as the article was referring to it is that Christianity demands you have a proper relationship with God. Even demons believe in Jesus and they will be going to hell. Neither does belief in God save a person.

    If someone wants to remain in darkness to the existence of God he will allow them to as an act of their own free will

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  3. The binary, i.e. yes or no, question as whether God exists or not strikes me as an _a_priori_ subordination of the concept of “God” to the concept of “existence”. That is, it assumes, firstly, existence as a given and then, secondly, asks whether that entity includes God. If we de-specify God from the Judeo-Christian entity and generalise to something like a philosophical concept of “ground of being”, then the pseudo-issue of the “existence, or not, of God” becomes vacuous to be replaced by questions of the _attributes_ of God. (I am not advocating pantheism here, by the way. I am still allowing for a dualism of the natural and the supernatural.) Thus, under this rubric, the true atheist can assert that the attributes of God, as being other than an empty set, lack any evidence, or that the evidence for such is so weak as to have no import. By contrast, the Christian, following Paul, can argue from the evidence of the Resurrection (which, in my view, is to build on rock; to re-affirm, or to re-construct, Christianity without the Resurrection, or to demote it to mere allegory or mythical moral narrative, is to build on sand).

    Within the above framework, the question of “why does not God make His existence more obvious” turns from a question to an empirical observation about one particular attribute of God, and the challenge is to integrate that attribute with other attributes. I speculate that that may not sound odd to those, who like myself, have some working background in quantum mechanics. Both full Christianity (Incarnation, Crucifixion, Resurrection) and quantum mechanics indicate that there
    is something odd and unexpected about the world regarding what and now much we can know for sure. And why should we, in humility, expect otherwise ?

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  4. “Blessed are the pure in heart, for they will see God.” (Matthew 5:8)

    The main problem with today’s atheists is they fail to take into account in their reasoning the problem of pride. If atheism is seen as the pinnacle of human thought and endeavor and then you pile on top of that the endless conspiracy theories, (i.e. the formation of the cannon to alternative theories of the resurrection, lack of evidence for the exodus, etc.), unmet expectations with God (see Bart Ehrman), hypocrisy in the church and all other manners of existential angst Christianity ends up suffering from a massive deficiency right from the get-go and therefore just isn’t going to be plausible in the final analysis.

    Yes, atheists will claim they’ve looked at all the evidence available as far as the arguments go, but you never hear about them doing a heart check and when you read their works or see them online it is dripping sarcasm, scientism (worship of nature), and cynism that really drives them.

    I think that the reason why Jesus repeatedly said, “He who has ears to hear let him hear” was meant as a warning to us about what we are really open to even for religious people. I have often said to atheists that I dialog with that we aren’t Doctor Spocks from Star Trek and we should be honest with ourselves about that reality.

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    1. Yes.

      What ice found us that the twin desires for autonomy and peer-apprival basically cause them to leap at anything that either distracts them from God or provides a superstitious basis for avoiding God. So if I ask how much they’ve looked into the irigin of the universe, the fine-tuning, or the origin of life, the answer is “not much”. But they know a lot about star wars and Star trek and superheroes.

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  5. Using his argument for free will, the formulation needs to change to:

    God is all powerful
    God is all loving
    God wants all people to know about him
    God gave people free will
    Some people choose the knowledge of God
    Some people do not
    Therefore, God values free will over coercion.

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  6. Think of this.

    The Hebrews were led out of Egypt with God before them, as a column of fire or cloud, night and day. When the Egyptian army came for them, God blocked their path until the Hebrews safely crossed the Red Sea through waters He parted for them.

    How much more “in your face” could God have been? And yet, the Egyptians didn’t say, “wow! The Hebrew God is real, we should abandon our false gods and follow Him!”

    Meanwhile, the Jews were provided with manna and quail to eat, water from a stone to drink, and clothing that did not wear out. Yet all it took was for Moses to be late coming down from the mountain, and they were building a golden calf to worship.

    It’s right up there with people saying, “if Christians acted more like Jesus, people wouldn’t hate them so much”, forgetting the Jesus was hated by lots of people, and even betrayed by one of his own apostles; someone who saw His miracles, heard His words, and followed Him constantly for 3 years!!

    If people experiencing God first hand like this *still* fail to accept him and *still* fall away from him, why would I expect any modern atheist to accept God, even if He stood in front of us with a sign saying “I am God” while flowers grew out of his footsteps and lightning shot out of His eyes?

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