Sunday, October 12, 2008

God is Hiding

God could have caused much more compelling miracles that would have been believable to a much wider range of people and far more impressive. God could have made the evidence for his existence, say in the details of nature, vastly more obvious than he did. If God wanted to, he could have made his existence obvious and manifest to everyone. If God had chosen to do so, he could have left compelling evidence that life came from him, not from evolution, and that the Earth was created 6,000 years ago. If God had chosen to, he could have created the world so that humans, allegedly his chosen, favored beings in the universe, were of obvious central importance in the cosmos. If God had chosen to, he could have had Jesus appear and provide much more evidence to people who were not his fanatical followers. If God wanted to, he could have caused the Big Bang and made it obvious that he was the cause. If God wanted to, he could have made it easier for us to discover the cure for polio, or for cancer, or for bubonic plague.

If he exists, he certainly has the capacity to make his existence known. Mere humans are able to manifest themselves far more obviously. He would know how to make his existence known. He would have perfect knowledge of the most effective means of revealing himself. Even the most impressive alleged cases of God’s presence in the world are utterly trivial against the scale of what a supernatural being with God’s extraordinary powers could have brought about. In all of the questioning, exploring, pleading, and seeking that billions of people have engaged in for centuries, he has refused to respond in any unequivocal ways. In every instance where someone claims to have contact with God, we can easily think of vastly more effective and unmistakable evidence that such a powerful being could have transmitted if he had chosen to.

But instead, if we are to believe that God exists and that he is the creator of the universe, then we must accept that a loving, powerful, caring God who wants us to believe in his existence set up the entire universe to look exactly as it would if there were no God. He deliberately obscured or hid every bit of information that might have made it possible for people to come to believe in his existence in a reasonable, sensible manner. Instead he devised a set of natural laws, a course of natural events, and a process of natural selection that when taken together render need for God as an explanation completely pointless.

God, if he exists, is hiding so effectively that the world looks just as we would expect it to if there were no God; it doesn’t have any of the features we would expect to find if there were a God. All of our attempts to confirm his existence have come up empty handed. God is hiding so effectively that even by their own admission, the vast majority of believers admit that in order to believe they must do it by ignoring the contrary evidence and having faith. He is hiding so effectively, we must conclude, among other things, that he does not want us to believe. If he wanted us to believe, things would be different in a thousand obvious ways.

So the believer can insist that there really is a God, and that he really wants us to believe in his existence, but he has gone to extraordinary lengths to make that difficult. Then the believer can construct some elaborate justification for thinking that this sort of God exists, but he has complicated reasons for keeping his existence perfectly hidden. And then the believer must engage in elaborate conceptual gymnastics and ad hoc justifications in order to make the whole implausible story consistent with the seemingly Godless world. Or the believer can ask himself this question: isn’t it more reasonable to just acknowledge that the world looks just like there is no God because there is no God?

19 comments:

D'ant said...

i bet the ant who in some possible world that could think would make the same argument to another ant about human beings. All they could ever see is big feet stepping on them. But the other ant with faith and by faith only knows there are humans that are stepping on them!

Bryan Goodrich said...

This reminds me of a discussion I am having with a Christian epistemologist (link). The basic idea of his concern is whether we can rationally believe on less evidence than, say, the most compelling case. I think the way he set it up like that is rather constructed, but underlying it is that God could come by and show miracles, or make it more obvious, as you point out, that he is behind evolution, say.

The reason I bring this up is because in that discussion I pointed out a critical factor. If we look at facts or evidence which compel us to believe in X, then the facts alone tell us that. The point the author was trying to make was that God need not give us the "whole enchilada" e.g., that he exists, for us to believe that he exists. We can form rational beliefs about such on less evidence. He says, consider this case:

I see my car lock tampered with, it is evidence enough that someone was trying to break in. I need not have a broken window and a stolen radio for me to rationally believe in that.

What seems to be that critical element is that there is intentionality behind the evidence we have. If the car lock is tampered with, that is something that only occurs given the intention of an agent to steal. If the evidence were merely a broken window but nothing stolen we might still think theft, but there is much more "noise" surrounding these facts. It could have been vandalism, an accident, an act of nature (or god!) or theft. We lose the critical intentionality behind the constructed case from this much more noisy one (using noise, here, in the statistical sense that we have information that conflicts with identifying the critical information we want to get out of it).

So to bring this together, if we were to have evidence from God about God and his involvement, then it seems to me we'd need to identify intentionality in the evidence. Precisely, we'd have to be able to discern the intentionality of God himself in the facts of the world! In a sense, we'd have to know "the mind of God" to do that. It seems an impossible feat put that way, and for good reason (i.e., it is impossible!). There is nothing in the objective facts we utilize to explain the nature of reality that lends itself to hint at the intentionality of God's action, if there were such a God to do such action of creation. We'd require a whole other rubric of facts that tell us about God and his actions and how they relate to the facts of the world such that we can infer from them information about God.

To make that last point more clearer given the example above, it is through the facts of the world that we can identify the intentionality of theft behind someone tampering with a lock. It is not a 100% claim, mind you, but it certainly is a highly plausible claim to make. The facts of the world which make that so are involved with also identifying the intentionality of the individual, what theft is, what cars are, how they work, etc. The reason the God case is so problematic appears to be that God is supernatural and supernatural things appear to require supernatural explanations.

Theist said...

Very good post Bryan.

I think the level of evidence for which we all accept things may just vary more than we would like it too. I do not see why the notion that god may be hiding is a bad thing. What treasure is there that is precious and yet out in the open for all to find? I actually think god is not hiding but that to grasp him requires a leap in evidence...faith. Why this process of acquiring faith is so troubling to some is really an interesting question. Sure, to accept Santa Claus as real or that the moon is made of green cheese are cases of being credulous. However, when the topic is about a divine being that is purported to be the greatest of all things then I see it as not being credulous to believe without evidence. Such a belief entails that we humans actually designate a being that is greater than the greatest of our notions. Evidence is for claims that reside within our sphere of comprehending i.e. our minds can fully contain propositions and all they entail. But god is the ALL and so we must be satisfied with the portion of understating we are allocated.

theist said...

Just an interesting idea that I saw being expressed on the Amazon forums about god. A theist suggested to an atheist that god may appear to be hiding because god made the atheist unable to sense god's existence. Think fellow Phil students back to the Cartesian demon and how that entity can manipulate your reality of perception. Why would god do this cried the atheist? To suppress your pride and arrogance replied the theist.

Just some thoughts

Reginald Selkirk said...

I do not see why the notion that god may be hiding is a bad thing. What treasure is there that is precious and yet out in the open for all to find?

Rather an odd metaphor. The reason people hide treasure is that it is a limited commodity. One person's possession of a treasure entails many other people not possessing it. Do you think that someone else believing in and worshipping your God makes it so that you no longer believe or worship yourself? Is there a limited amount of God to go around?

PhilStudent said...

Theist,

What would empirically be different about the universe if there was no god?

ChrisAC said...

"I actually think god is not hiding but that to grasp him requires a leap in evidence...faith. Why this process of acquiring faith is so troubling to some is really an interesting question. Sure, to accept Santa Claus as real or that the moon is made of green cheese are cases of being credulous. However, when the topic is about a divine being that is purported to be the greatest of all things then I see it as not being credulous to believe without evidence."

I'm sorry, this is just... absurdly odd to me.

You say it's unreasonable to accept things in which evidence is lacking or contrary. Then, you go on and say it's ok if that being is super-powerful and perfect (as though that being is somehow more plausible rather than less, which is absurd in itself)

There's a really simple reason why people have trouble with faith: It's the abandonment of logic and reasoning.

Faith is the belief of something without, or even in the fact of contrary evidence. By all means this is nothing but irrationality. If you're asking why irrationality is a problem with people, I don't see how it's a question that can be answered outside:

"Logic good. Nologic bad"

ChrisAC said...

"Think fellow Phil students back to the Cartesian demon and how that entity can manipulate your reality of perception. Why would god do this cried the atheist? To suppress your pride and arrogance replied the theist."

This is just an absurd ad-hominem here. How would hiding suppress someone's arrogant and pride? If anything I'd say believers are the most arrogant and prideful people there are.

I mean, surely I don't see many atheists condemning large swathes of people to eternal damnation while at the same time being utterly convinced that sky-daddy loves me so much I'll live forever in paradise.

And, even ignoring that point, how would hiding his existence somehow suppress pride and arrogance? I don't see how various holy-wars and church-splits due to the conviction that only they are right and everyone else are infidels is a helpful aspect. Would not knowing without a doubt there is a supreme being bring far more harmony to the world?

I can't even being to fathom how you could make the claim that hiding makes people humble.

Reginald Selkirk said...

If anything I'd say believers are the most arrogant and prideful people there are.

This reminds me of a debate between Rick Warren and Sam Harris in Newsweek:

WARREN: I talk to God every day. He talks to me.
...
HARRIS: It is quite possible for most people to be wrong—as are most Americans who think that evolution didn't occur.

WARREN: That's an arrogant statement.

Matt McCormick said...

Bottom line, the troubling thing about the difference between faith and science is that science is committed to checking itself and disproving all of its hypotheses to the best of our abilities so that can sift the mistakes from the truth. But faith and "talking to God everyday" so that he can talk to you has no self-checking mechanism whatsoever. If you allow faith as a route to belief, you open the door for any crazy ideas whatever that pop into your head when you are "talking to God" with no criticism, no doubts, no cross checking, no reality checking, no accountability, and no revision or defeasibility. And that, it should be glaringly obvious, is a really dangerous practice to accept given the preponderance of dangerous, misguided, mistaken, and absurd ideas that our over active imaginations cook up. When we don't hold ourselves and each other to standards of evidence and rational accountability there's nothing to keep us in check. Even you happened to get it right through this bogus method by some stroke of luck, acquiring your beliefs this way is reprehensible, irresponsible, dangerous, and immoral. You put yourself and the rest of us in grave danger.

MM

SaintStockton said...

Speaking of the formation of false a beliefs, a recent study linked the feeling of lacking control with illusory pattern perception to quote the abstract:

Participants who lacked control were more likely to perceive a variety of illusory patterns, including seeing images in noise, forming illusory correlations in stock market information, perceiving conspiracies, and developing superstitions.

I think the implications are pretty clear.

The whole abstract is here:
http://www.sciencemag.org/cgi/content/abstract/322/5898/115

Ben Barnett said...

Great Post! I'd like to do a permanent link exchange with you, if you're interested. I run www.createcognitivedissonance.wordpress.com and I think our readers would have a lot to share with eachother. Let me know, via the comment lines on my site.

Thanks,

Ben

SaintStockton said...

Here is the entire article about illusory pattern perception:

http://www.scribd.com/doc/6366664/Lacking-Control-Increases-Illusory-Pattern-Perception

jamie said...

for an atheist you sure seem to spend a lot of time thinking and talking about God.

Matt McCormick said...

I suffer and am persecuted so that those who are in the grip of fallacy and error might be saved.

MM

jamie said...

so you're an atheist martyr. seriously though, what kind of suffering and persecutions do you deal with? do people treat you poorly because you don't believe in God? I'm not an atheist so I don't know how atheists get treated.

Matt McCormick said...

I'm mostly kidding about the "suffering like Jesus" crack, Jamie. I liken myself to Jesus as often as I can to irritate the faithful.

About the worst I endure is a lot of personal, insulting abuse from Christians who are wound too tight who stumble on this blog and then vent about how stupid I am and how shocking it is that someone like me is a professor. There are a few folks who make me worry about my safety from time to time. A LOT of people really hate it when there are non-believers around and they make it clear. Polling shows that atheists are the most reviling and mistrusted minority group in America. I guess I'm doing my part to sustain that.

MM

Anonymous said...

Just an interesting idea that I saw being expressed on the Amazon forums about the Greek gods. A Greek polytheist suggested to a Christian monotheist that the gods may appear to be hiding because they made the Christian monotheist unable to sense their existence. Think fellow Phil students back to the Cartesian demon and how that entity can manipulate your reality of perception. Why would the gods do this,cried the Christian monotheist? To suppress your pride and arrogance,replied the Greek polytheist.

Just some thoughts

Two can play at this game, Theist.

Anonymous said...

Sorry, that just doesn't follow. The title reads "god is hiding" implying a dialogue between an atheist and theist and not a polytheist and theist.