bookmark_borderWe Don’t Have Father-ist Apologetics; Why Do We Need Theistic Apologetics?

Anyone who has (or had) a loving father in their lives did not spend their time studying abstract, philosophical arguments for the existence of their father. In fact, the whole idea of “father-ist apologetics” as a thing seems weird as soon as you think about it.
Compare theistic apologetics. I suspect that many people — or at least many theists — don’t think there is anything odd about the idea of theistic apologetics. But I think the idea of theistic apologetics is odd for the same reason I think “father-ist apologetics” is odd.
For the theists who are reading this, I want to clarify my point. I am not saying that theistic apologetics is incompatible with God’s existence; on the contrary, I think theistic apologetics is logically consistent with God’s existence. Nor am I saying that, on theism, theistic apologetics is necessary for belief in God’s existence. On the contrary, I’m aware that many people believe that God exists wholly apart from or in the absence of exposure to apologetics. Rather, my point is this. If theism — especially Abrahamic theism — is true, then it is surprising that theistic apologetics exists for the same reason it would be odd if people were to engage in apologetics regarding the existence of their own (earthly) father.

bookmark_borderThe Demographics of Evidence About God: A Novel Argument Against Theism

Christian apologist Tom Gilson attempts to turn the tables on proponents of the argument from nonresistant nonbelief (aka the argument from divine hiddenness). According to Gilson, the fact of divine hiddenness is evidence for God’s existence. Before I quote Gilson’s argument from divine hiddenness to Christian theism, I first need to provide some context.
1. Gilson’s Defense Against the Argument from Nonresistant Nonbelief
In The Blackwell Companion to Philosophy of Religion, the eminent philosopher J.L. Schellenberg makes a distinction between objective and subjective types of divine hiddenness.

Though others have spoken of ‘Divine hiddenness’ or the ‘hiddenness of God’ differently, contemporary philosophers who employ such expressions usually have in mind either (1) that the available relevant evidence makes the existence of God uncertain or (2) that many individuals or groups of people feel uncertain about the existence of God, or else never mentally engage the idea of God at all. The first sort of hiddenness may be called objective and the second subjective. Of course there are various possible connections between these two, and both may consistently be affirmed.[1]

Gilson argues that the following is a successful defeater of Schellenberg’s argument.

An Answer To the Divine Hiddenness Argument
With that as background I begin to explore an experimental thought:
(1) Judaism and Christianity teach that God desires to make himself known to those whose hearts seek him.
(2) Judaism and Christianity teach that God’s self-revelation will be hidden from those who reject his holiness and righteousness.
(3) Therefore (1 and 2) knowledge of God is a matter of heart attitude as much as (or more than) evidences.
(4) But Christianity teaches that God is creator and true; therefore his creation should give a true witness (evidences) concerning his reality.
(5) Given (3) and (4), we would expect the world to provide evidence for God, but not to compel belief in God, leaving room for a decision of the heart.
(6) Therefore (5) we would expect God to have created a world in which evidences could be interpreted either as supporting or not supporting his existence.
(7) Those who know God affirm that there are objective evidences to support their belief in his objective reality, and deny that purported evidences against God are decisive.
(8) Those who deny God deny that those evidences count adequately for the existence of God, and/or affirm that evidences against God are decisive.
(9) Therefore (7) and (8) the world is such that, it is humanly possible to conclude either that God exists or he does not: belief in God is not compelled by the evidences.
(10) The world is such that the conditions in (5) and (6) are met.
(11) The state of the evidence is consistent with Judeo-Christian teachings (1) through (6).
The argument so far is a defeater for Schallenberg’s [sic] hiddenness argument against God, and I think rather solid as far as it goes.

Notice that, at best, Gilson’s argument only addresses objective hiddenness: it attempts to explain why the available, relevant, and objective evidence makes “God exists” uncertain in a way that “the sun exists” is not. It says nothing about subjective hiddenness, which, again, refers to the fact that “many individuals or groups of people feel uncertain about the existence of God, or else never mentally engage the idea of God at all.” Why does this distinction matter? Because there can be nonresistant nonbelievers with or without objective hiddenness.
Again, consider Schellenberg’s example of people who “never mentally engage the idea of God at all.” Gilson’s answer to the hiddenness argument does not explain nonbelievers of that type. (In fairness to Gilson, he might appeal to some other explanation for that fact or he might deny it is a fact.)
Or consider former believers who lost their their belief in God as a result of examining the evidence about God’s existence.  They had a good relationship with God when their doubts began to increase. Gilson’s “decision of the heart” theodicy does not explain them.
Thus, Gilson’s answer to the hiddenness argument is, at best, incomplete.
2. Gilson’s Divine Hiddenness Argument for Christianity
Let’s now consider Gilson’s divine hiddeness argument for Christianity.

(12) The Judeo-Christian understanding of God in (1), (2), and (3) was developed thousands of years ago.
(13) The state of the evidence in (11) having persisted for centuries, it is remarkable for its endurance.
(14) Both believers and unbelievers in God must acknowledge that no matter how strongly they hold to their own beliefs, thoughtful persons can hold to the opposite. Neither belief for nor against God is compelled by the evidence.
(15) Thus (from (14) the state of the evidence in (11) is also remarkably fine-tuned.
(16) This persistence (13) and fine-tuning (15) are suggestive of an intelligent guiding intentionality ruling over them.
(17) This guiding intentionality could only come from a personal God who has intended that state of affairs.

That’s the argument in outline. Steps (1) through (11) are defensive: they answer and undercut an argument against God. In (12) through (17) I attempt to go beyond that and show that God’s “hiddenness” may hint at something more positive. I do not claim it as a proof for God; it is not that strong. But it is at least intriguing, and, as I have said, suggestive. (emphasis mine)

I agree with Gilson that this is an intriguing argument. What should we make of it?
I think it would be difficult to support premise (13), even if we assume that (11) is true in the present day. But, in fact, I would go further and argue that (13) is probably false. Consider Richard Dawkins’s famous words about the link between Darwin and atheism.

Although atheism might have been logically tenable before Darwin, Darwin made it possible to be an intellectually fulfilled atheist.

I am not exactly sure what Dawkins has in mind by the expressions “logically tenable” and “intellectually fulfilled atheist,” but I agree with him that biological evolution is evidence favoring naturalism over theism, evidence that humans did not “have” prior to Darwin. Overall, it seems to me that the weight of the evidence for and against theism has not “persisted for centuries.” Rather, it seems to me that for most of human history, the available evidence favored supernaturalism or theism. Most of the (alleged) evidence for naturalism (which entails atheism) wasn’t even discovered before two centuries ago, whereas most of the (alleged) evidence for theism was known before two centuries ago.
To support my point, I’m going to list a representative summary of the (alleged) evidence for theism and naturalism, along with the approximate date of its discovery.

(Alleged) Evidence (Allegedly) Favors When Discovered
Big Bang theory (universe has a beginning) Theism 20th century
Scale of the Universe Naturalism 20th century
Life-Permitting Data (aka so-called ‘fine-tuning’ data) Theism 20th century (?)
Hostility of Universe Naturalism 20th century (?)
Evolution (common ancestry) Naturalism 1800s
Biological role of pain and pleasure Naturalism 20th century
Flourishing and Languishing Naturalism Late 20th century
Problem of Evil Naturalism Thousands of Years Ago
Beauty Theism Thousands of Years Ago
Consciousness Theism Thousands of Years Ago (?)
Mind-Brain Dependence Naturalism 20th century (?)
Types and Distribution of Moral Agents Naturalism 20th century (?)
Objective Moral Values Theism Thousands of Years Ago (?)
Ethical Disagreement Naturalism Thousands of Years Ago (?)
Religious Experience Theism Thousands of Years Ago (?)
Intelligibility of so much of the universe without appealing to supernatural agency Naturalism 20th century

The precise dates of these discoveries are not important; what is important is the distribution of these discoveries over time. If this distribution is roughly correct, then that is evidence against (13).
In fact, the demographics of evidence about God is itself evidence against theism. Other than the problem of evil and perhaps ethical disagreement, most of the (alleged) items of naturalistic evidence became known only in the last two centuries and then only because of scientific discoveries. That state of affairs is antecedently much more probable on the assumption that naturalism is true (and the progress of science involves more and more correct scientific explanations, explanations which do not appeal to supernatural agents) than on the assumption that theism is true (and a correct scientific explanation could involve supernatural agency and so antecedently there is no reason to predict the progress of science would involve an increasing number of correct naturalistic explanations).
[1] J.L. Schellenberg, “Divine Hiddenness,” in Charles Taliaferro, Paul Draper, and Philip L. Quinn, ed., The Blackwell Companion to Philosophy of Religion (second ed., Wiley-Blackwell, 2010), 509-518 at 509.

bookmark_borderGeisler & Turek Rebuttal, Part 7: Chapter 8

Chapter 8. Miracles: Signs of God or Gullibility?

As I read them, Geisler and Turek (G&T) seek to establish four points: (1) If God exists, then miracles are possible; (2) Hume’s argument against the credibility of miracle claims is a failure; (3) miracles can be used to confirm a message from God (i.e., as acts of God to confirm a word from God); and (4) we don’t observe Biblical-quality miracles today because such miracles are not needed to confirm a new revelation from God.
(1) The Possibility of Miracles and Legends: As Geisler and Turek rightly argue, if God exists, then miracles are possible. Furthermore, Spinoza’s pantheistic objection to the possibility of miracles fails. There’s nothing here I want to dispute. Indeed, I want to expand their point. As New Testament scholar Robert M. Price asks, “If miracles are possible, are legends impossible?”[1] If some skeptics are guilty of an a priori commitment to metaphysical naturalism (and so rule out even the possibility of miracles), some Christians are guilty of an a priori commitment to Biblical inerrancy (and so rule out the even possibility of errors in the Biblical miracle stories). But both sides are wrong: miracles and legends are possible. The lesson to be learned here is that we should try to avoid a priori commitments per se and instead look honestly at the evidence.[2]
One Evangelical Christian scholar who looked honestly at the historical evidence about Biblical miracles is Michael Licona. Licona is the author of the 700-page book, The Resurrection of Jesus: A New Historiographical Approach.[3] While Licona defends the resurrection of Jesus, he proposes that the story of the resurrection of the saints described in Matthew 27 just might be metaphorical rather than literal history. To his credit, Licona did not allow the potential implications of his commitment to Biblical inerrancy to get in the way. While some Evangelical scholars, such as Paul Copan and Craig Blomberg, rallied to Licona’s defense, others were highly critical. As reported by Christianity Today,[4] other evangelical scholars, most notably Norman Geisler, publicly accused Licona of denying the full inerrancy of the Bible. As a direct result, Licona lost two jobs. Not only did he lose his job as research professor of New Testament at Southern Evangelical Seminary, but he was also ousted as apologetics coordinator for the North American Missions Board (NAMB).
In light of what can only be described as Geisler’s instrumental role in getting Licona fired (twice!) for following the historical evidence wherever Licona thought it leads, skeptics can hardly be blamed for questioning Geisler’s open-mindedness when it comes to evaluating the historical evidence about alleged Biblical miracles.
(2) Hume’s Argument Against the Credibility of Miracle Claims: Even if miracles are possible, it doesn’t follow that they are probable. Geisler and Turek know this and so they consider one objection against the credibility of miracles: Dave Hume’s famous argument against miracles. Following Geisler’s reconstruction of Hume’s argument, Geisler summarizes his critique, originally delivered at Harvard University’s divinity school: (i) Hume confuses believability with possibility; (ii) Hume confuses probability with evidence; and (iii) Hume, without justification, makes it impossible to have sufficient evidence for rare events (205-08).
(a) The Nomological Evidence Argument (against Miracles): Since I have no interest in defending Hume, I shall ignore Geisler’s critique.[5] Instead, I want to present my own argument for the prior improbability of miracles. I call this argument the Nomological Evidence Argument; its name is derived from the Greek word nomos, which means “law.” The argument is not called the “Nomological Argument,” however, since the focus of the argument is not the laws per se, but the evidence for the laws.
Following Geisler and Turek, let’s define a “natural law” as a description of “what happens regularly, by natural causes” and a “miracle” as a description of “what happens rarely, by supernatural causes” (201). The basic idea of the Nomological Evidence Argument is not that the natural laws themselves are evidence against miracles; rather, the evidence for the laws of nature is evidence against the occurrence of miracles. For example, all of our observations and other evidence for the law of gravity is evidence against Superman flying through the air. Similarly, all of our observations and other evidence for the laws of statistical mechanics is evidence for the complete post-mortem decomposition of Jesus’ body and hence evidence against Jesus’ resurrection.[6] In this sense, then, the evidence for the laws of nature is evidence against the occurrence of miracles. We can generalize these points into a simple inductive argument against miracles according to the following schema:

For any law of nature L, the vast majority of relevant observatons (O) has been such that God did not will that events happen contrary to L.

Therefore, prior to investigation, the (epistemic) probability that the next O will be consistent with L is high.

While even many theists would admit that the above argument follows from the definition of “miracle,” Geisler and Turek might object. Allow me to consider some potential objections.
The Naturalistic Fallacy Objection: This argument confuses believability with possibility (207).
Reply: The whole point of the argument is probability (and hence, in Geisler’s and Turek’s terms, “believability”); it says nothing about possibility. As an objection to the Nomological Evidence Argument, this objection commits the “Naturalistic Fallacy” Fallacy, by falsely accusing the defender of the Nomological Evidence Argument of committing the naturalistic fallacy, viz., presupposing that naturalism is true.[7] Even if a defender of this argument were a ‘committed’ metaphysical naturalist, however, it doesn’t follow that the argument presupposes that naturalism is true. In fact, this argument is logically compatible with the assumption that God exists and that we know God exists with certainty. It could be the case that God exists and, for whatever reason, God often wills that all or almost all Os are consistent with L. Rather than assuming that miracles cannot occur, this argument presents defeasible, prima facie evidence that God, for whatever reason, often wills that miracles do not occur.
The Irrelevance Objection: The argument confuses probability with evidence. Prior probabilities are irrelevant to assessing whether miracles have actually happened.[8]
Reply: This objection is itself based upon a confusion, for the Nomological Evidence Argument is solely about the prior probability of miracles. The argument says nothing about the final (or posterior) probability of any given miracle. In any case, using Bayes’s Theorem, we can mathematically prove that final probability is determined by multiplying prior probability and likelihood (i.e., how likely the evidence is to obtain, on the assumption the miracle actually happened). So assessing the prior probability of miracles is not only appropriate, but necessary for a proper assessment of their overall (final) probability.
The Extreme Skepticism Objection: The argument makes it impossible to have sufficient evidence for rare events.
Reply: This is false. First, since the final probability is the product of prior probability and likelihood, we can have sufficient evidence for rare events if the likelihood is sufficiently high. Second, there is another, technical reason why this objection fails, a reason which will probably only be of interest to philosophers. I’ll mention it briefly. This objection presupposes a frequentist interpretation of probability, whereby probability means relative frequency.[9] But that’s not the only definition of probability. According to an epistemic interpretation of probability, probability means “degree of belief.” The epistemic interpretation makes it possible to have a high probability (i.e., high degree of belief) for rare events.
The Divine Interference Objection: The argument confuses the probability of miracles, which are by definition supernatural events, with the probability of unusual natural events. It only shows that miracles as natural events have low prior probabilities. It does not show that miracles as supernatural events have low prior probabilities. Therefore, the evidence for natural laws provides no evidence at all against God’s intervention in natural affairs.[10]
Reply: Consider the following hypothetical conversation between Christi, a Christian, and Skep, a skeptic.

Christi: Jesus walked on water.

Skep: What’s the evidence for that?

Christi: The report in Matthew 14:22-33.

Skep: That’s pretty weak evidence for a miracle.  Besides, the evidence for gravity is evidence against that miracle ever occurring.

Christi: You’re confused about the nature of the miracle claim.

Skep: What do you mean?

Christi: The claim of Matthew 14:22-33 is that Jesus supernaturally walked on water. It is not the claim that Jesus walked naturally on water. That Jesus walked naturally on water is fantastically improbable. But I see no reason whatsoever to think it is improbable that God enabled Jesus to walk on water.[11]

Skep:  All of the evidence in which natural laws provide an accurate description of natural affairs are “ipso facto cases in which an external agent (i.e., God) has not intervened in natural affairs” and hence cases where God has not willed a miracle. So the observed frequency of non-miracles “automatically factors in the frequency with which external agents (e.g., God)” will that miracles do not occur. [12]

Christi: But the only antecedent factor that is relevant for a miracle is whether He wills for a miracle to happen. If God wills a miracle to happen, then there is a 100% chance it will occur.[13]

Skep: I agree that if God wills a miracle to happen it must happen. But that does not refute the Nomological Evidence Argument; it supports it. The empirical evidence—the extremely high observed frequency of non-miracles—shows that God  “has an exceptionally strong tendency not to supernaturally intervene in natural affairs.”[14] Therefore, the prior probability that God would will a miracle is “astronomically low.”[15]

The Free Will Objection: Whatever the probabilities are, God is free to choose otherwise.
Reply: This objection fails for essentially the same reason as the previous objection. Yes, God, if He exists, can will that a miracle occur “anytime He wants” (216). The observational-relative frequency of non-miracles shows that God has an extremely weak tendency to will that miracles occur. It is beyond reasonable doubt that, prior to investigation, the evidence we have for any law of nature L is at least some evidence against God’s miraculous intervention contrary to L. But this entails that miracles have a low prior probability, conditional upon the evidence for natural laws, which serves as the relevant background information.
In sum, then, Geisler and Turek are able to create the appearance that “disbelief in miracles is probably more a matter of the will than of the mind” (209) only by ignoring arguments other than Hume’s. The Nomological Evidence Argument isn’t dependent upon Hume’s argument, however.  Furthermore, mining Geisler’s and Turek’s material for other potential objections turned out to provide no good reason to reject the Nomological Evidence Argument. Geisler and Turek are going to need to come up with bettter arguments for the credibility of miracles if they are going to answer contemporary skeptics.
(3) Miracles as Authenticated Messages from God: As I read them, G&T make two points. (i) On the assumption that theism is true, we should expect that God would “reveal more of himself and his purpose for our lives”(200). (ii) Miracles provide a way to confirm that such revelations are “message[s] from God” (201).
Regarding (i), I’m inclined to agree with Geisler and Turek that theism provides us with reasons to expect that God would reveal His existence and His purpose for our lives. It isn’t obvious, however, why God would need to use a miracle to reveal His existence and purpose, as opposed to some other, mundane alternative.
Furthermore, the theistic expectation that God would reveal His existence and purpose is a double-edged sword for theism; it raises the “problem of divine hiddenness” and associated arguments for atheism. For now, I will mention two. First, if a perfectly loving God exists, then why are there reasonable nonbelievers? As J.L. Schellenberg has argued, this fact implies atheism.[16] Second, in addition to the general fact of divine hiddenness, the more specific fact that God is silent about His purpose(s) for creating humans is evidence favoring atheism over theism.[17]
As for (ii), Geisler and Turek present a very interesting discussion of six different categories of unusual events: anomalies, magic, psychosomatic, Satanic signs, providence, and miracles (210). Overall, I agree with what I consider to be Geisler’s and Turek’s most important point (albeit one they didn’t state in quite this way), namely, that there’s a difference between an unusual event and a bona fide miracle; in order to establish that a miracle has occurred, one has to do more than show that a mere anomaly has taken place.
In his book, The Improbability Principle: Why Coincidences, Miracles, and Rare Events Happen Every Day, David J. Hand describes what he calls the “Improbability Principle,” a set of laws of chance which, together, tell us that

extremely improbable events are commonplace. It’s a consequence of more fundamental laws, which all tie together to lead inevitably and inexorably to the occurrence of such extraordinarily unlikely events. These laws, in principle, tell us that the universe is in fact constructed so that these coincidences are unavoidable: the extraordinarily unlikely must happen; events of vanishingly small probability will occur. The Improbability Principle resolves the apparent contradiction between the sheer unlikeliness of such events, and the fact that they nevertheless keep on happening.[18]

(4) The Lack of Biblical-Quality Miracles Today: Finally, Geisler and Turek seek to respond to a common objection to Biblical miracles: “If there are no public, biblical-quality miracles happening today (and if they were, they’d be on the Fox News Channel), then why should I think they happened in the past?” (215).
According to Geisler and Turek, most of the Bible’s 250 miracles occurred

in very small windows of history, during three distinct time periods—during the lifetimes of Moses, Elijah and Elisha, and Jesus and the apostles. Why then? Because those were the times when God was confirming new truth (revelation) and new messengers with that truth. (216)

They speculate that, “if the Bible is true and complete,” then God may not have a reason to perform miracles today because God is not confirming any revelation today (216).
Speculative as it is, this “What If?” explanation amounts to a quasi-theodicy, viz., an attempt to offer a theistic explanation for potential evidence against theism.[19]  I agree with Geisler and Turek that their explanation is logically possible; the fact that Biblical-quality miracles do not happen today does not contradict or disprove the historicity of Biblical miracles.
But Geisler and Turek ignore a philosophically more interesting question, namely, “Is the lack of contemporary Biblical-quality miracles evidence favoring naturalism over theism?” It seems to me that the answer is very likely, “Yes.” If metaphysical naturalism is true, then there are no supernatural beings to perform miracles. Thus, metaphysical naturalism entails that there would be no Biblical-quality miracles today. In contrast, if theism is true, miracles are, at the very least, possible. (And note that this is true even if Geisler and Turek are correct that Christian theism provides very little or no antecedent reason to expect Biblical-quality miracles today.) Thus, if there are indeed no Biblical-quality miracles today, that is more probable on naturalism than on theism and hence evidence for naturalism and against theism.
Summary and Conclusion

  1. Both miracles and legends are possible. If some skeptics are guilty of an a priori commitment to metaphysical naturalism (and so rule out even the possibility of miracles), some Christians are guilty of an a priori commitment to Biblical inerrancy (and so rule out even the possibility of errors in the Biblical miracle stories).  We should try to avoid a priori commitments per se and instead look honestly at the evidence.
  2. Both nontheists and theists alike have good reason—a reason not based on Hume—to be skeptical of an alleged miracle prior to an empirical investigation. This reason is the Nomological Evidence Argument, which states that the evidence for natural laws is defeasible, prima facie evidence against alleged miracles. This argument does not presuppose naturalism; on the contrary, it is logically consistent with the presupposition that God exists and that we know God exists with certainty.
  3. In this chapter, we read about three new lines of evidence (or potential evidence) for metaphysical naturalism and against theism: (i) the reasonableness of nonbelief (i.e., nontheism); (ii) God’s silence about His purpose(s) for creating humans; and (iii) the fact (if it is a fact) that there are no Biblical-quality miracles occuring today. Each of these three lines of evidence are more probable on the assumption that naturalism is true than on the assumption that theism is true and so are evidence against theism and for naturalism.


Rebuttal to Geisler’s and Turek’s “I Don’t Have Enough Faith to be an Atheist”

[1] Robert M. Price, “By This Time He Stinketh: The Attempts of William Lane Craig to Exhume Jesus” The Secular Web (1997),
[2] It is noteworthy that this philosopher of religion lists Geisler’s book, When Critics Ask, as one of several books which contain just-sostories to explain away indicators of errors in the Bible.
[3] Michael Licona, The Resurrection of Jesus: A New Historiographical Approach (Downers Grove: InterVarsity Press, 2010).
[4] Bobby Ross, Jr., “Interpretation Sparks a Grave Theology Debate” Christianity Today (, November 7, 2011.
[5] For a technical critique of Hume’s argument, see John Earman, Hume’s Abject Failure (New York: Oxford University Press, 2000). For a defense of Hume against Earman’s critique, see Peter Millican, “Hume, Miracles, and Probabilities: Meeting Earman’s (July-August 2003), Cf. Elliott Sober, “A Modest ProposalPhilosophy and Phenomenological Research 118 (2004): 489-96.
[6] Robert Greg Cavin and Carlos Colombetti, “The Great Mars Hill Resurrection Debate” The Secular Web (2013),, 316-21.
[7] Cavin and Colombetti 2013, 15.
[8] Norman L. Geisler, “A Critical Review of The Empty Tomb: Jesus Beyond the Grave (Amherst, NY: Prometheus Books, 2005), ed. Robert Price and Jeffrey [sic] Lowder” Dr. Norman L. Geisler (n.d.),
[9] See, e.g., “Frequentist Probability” Wikipedia,
[10] I owe the name of this objection to Robert Greg Cavin and Carlos Colombetti 2013, slide 15.
[11] Cf. William Lane Craig’s similar objection to skeptics who claim that the resurrection of Jesus has a low prior probability, as stated in several of his debates, e.g., his debate with Bart Ehrman.
[12] Cavin and Colombetti 2013, 271.
[13] Geisler n.d.
[14] Cavin and Colombetti 2013, 103.
[15] Cavin and Colombetti 2013, 105.
[16] J.L. Schellenberg, Divine Hiddenness and Human Reason (Cornell: Cornell University Press, 1993, 2006).
[17] B.A. Trisel, “God’s Silence as an Epistemological ConcernThe Philosophical Forum 43 (2012): 383-393. doi: 10.1111/j.1467-9191.2012.00433.x.
[18] David J. Hand, The Improbability Principle: Why Coincidences, Miracles, and Rare Events Happen Every Day (New York: Scientific American / Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 2014), 5.
[19] I call this a “quasi-theodicy” and not a “theodicy” since the word “theodicy” is normally used only in the context of arguments from evil. The (alleged) lack of contemporary, Biblical-quality miracles is not a species of the genus known as arguments from evil, however.

bookmark_borderSwing and a Miss: Another Failed Refutation of Schellenberg’s Hiddenness Argument

Philosopher of religion J.L. Schellenberg is the foremost defender of an argument for atheism known as the argument from nonculpable nonbelief (aka the argument from divine hiddenness). As I’ve explained before, Schellenberg’s most recent formulation of that argument is as follows.

(1) Necessarily, if God exists, anyone who is (i) not resisting God and (ii) capable of meaningful conscious relationship with God is also (iii) in a position to participate in such relationship (able to do so just by trying).

(2) Necessarily, one is at a time in a position to participate in meaningful conscious relationship with God only if at that time one believes that God exists.

(3) Necessarily, if God exists, anyone who is (i) not resisting God and (ii) capable of meaningful conscious relationship with God also (iii) believes that God exists.

(4) There are (and often have been) people who are (i) not resisting God and (ii) capable of meaningful conscious relationship with God without also (iii) believing that God exists.

(5) God does not exist.

Tom Gilson, the National Field Director of Ratio Christi and the man behind the Thinking Christian website and blog, wrote a 2011 blog post on divine hiddenness. I’m going to comment on part of this article.

There is an argument against Christianity based on God’s “hiddenness:” …

This is accurate, but misleading insofar as the argument is an argument not just against Christian theism but (general) theism.

… that if God existed and wanted people to believe in him, he would make himself known more plainly; he would not be hidden as he is now. J.L. Schellenberg presented the question in Divine Hiddenness and Human Freedom.

When I first read this sentence, I got excited. I thought to myself, “Hey, he’s going to actually address Schellenberg’s argument!” Schellenberg has slightly revised his formulation of the argument in a more recent book, The Wisdom to Doubt, but I was excited that he was going to address Schellenberg at all. Or was he?

An atheist blogger who goes by “Ebon Musings” wrote the best web-accessible article I know of on the topic.

It turns out my excitement was premature. Instead of Schellenberg’s argument, Gilson is going to interact with the argument presented by Ebon Musings.

In paraphrased form, he says,

  • There is no visible work of God, in the form of miracles, in the world today.
  • Events formerly considered miraculous are now thought to be myth, fable, or misinterpreted acts of nature.
  • Believers claim that God can nonetheless be known and perceived through some faith sense. It is most likely the case, however, that this faith sense does not actually exist, due to the unanswerability of questions like, What is it? Where is it? How is it validated or verified, especially in view of contrary reports by different people?
  • Even if God exists, if there is no verifiable way of detecting his presence and activity, he may as well not exist.
  • God, if he exists, can and should want to reveal himself in some unambiguous way.

With all due respect to Ebon Musings, there are a number of significant differences between his argument (at least, as summarized by Gilson) and the argument formulated by Schellenberg.

  1. Schellenberg’s argument makes a distinction between culpable and nonculpable nonbelief, i.e., nonbelief that is not due to resistance to God and nonbelief that is not due to resistance to God, respectively. Ebon Musing’s argument, as summarized by Gilson, does not.
  2. Premise (2) of Schellenberg’s argument states the important fact that the belief that God exists is a necessary condition for belief in God. Ebon Musing’s argument, as summarized by Gilson, does not.
  3. Ebon Musing’s argument, as paraphrased by Gilson, makes a number of highly specific (and so intrinsically less probable) claims, claims not made by Schellenberg’s argument. First, Ebon Musing’s argument (as summarized by Gilson) makes a claim about the specific mechanism by which someone could come to have a belief that God exists. Second, Ebon Musing’s argument (as summarized by Gilson) claims that God’s existence is not verifiable. In contrast, Schellenberg’s argument depends on neither of these claims. Third, Ebon Musing’s argument (as summarized by Gilson) makes a claim about the alleged non-occurrence of miracles todays, whereas Schellenberg’s argument does not.

In short, there are several philosophically significant differences between the two arguments. Even if Gilson succeeds in refuting Ebon Muse’s argument, it’s far from obvious that that refutation succeeds against Schellenberg’s argument also. Does it?
As I read him, Gilson’s critique consists of the following points: (a) “the billions of people who believe God’s existence is well evidenced”; and (b) “The only evidence some atheists/skeptics would accept would be of the sort that absolutely compels belief.” According to Gilson, the latter point is especially important because “knowledge of God is a matter of heart attitude as much as (or more than) evidences.”
It seems to me, however, that Gilson has failed to defeat Schellenberg’s argument. Indeed, both of his objections are not of obvious relevance to Schellenberg’s argument, which states that “There are (and often have been) people who are (i) not resisting God and (ii) capable of meaningful conscious relationship with God without also (iii) believing that God exists.” The fact that “billions of people” believe in God does not imply that there are no nonculpable nonbelievers. And Gilson gives no reason to think that the quantity of believers somehow makes it improbable that there are any nonculpable nonbelievers. Furthermore, even if some atheists or skeptics would resist evidence of God’s existence, it hardly follows that all atheists or skeptics would do so. And Schellenberg’s argument is about people who are not resisting God. The upshot is that, however successful Gilson’s refutation of Ebon Musings may be, it fails against Schellenberg’s argument.