Theistic Critiques of Atheism, Part 2

We’re reading “Theistic Critiques of Atheism,” by William Lane Craig (available online, registration required), and yesterday we saw some of the problems an apologist gets into when trying to explain why evidence for God is missing whilst simultaneously claiming to have the missing evidence. Having begun by assuming that the burden of proof is on atheists, Craig now turns to his argument for why the evidence should not be there.

The debate among contemporary philosophers has… moved beyond the facile presumption of atheism to a discussion of the so-called “Hiddenness of God” —in effect, a discussion of the probability or expectation that God, if He existed, would leave more evidence of His existence than what we have… [S]ome atheists have argued that God, if He existed, would have prevented the world’s unbelief by making His existence starkly apparent. But why should God want to do such a thing? On the Christian view it is actually a matter of relative indifference to God whether people believe that He exists or not. For what God is interested in is building a love relationship with us, not just getting us to believe that He exists. There is no reason at all to think that if God were to make His existence more manifest, more people would come into a saving relationship with Him.

Do you know, there are apparently positions in the Philosophy departments of certain universities where you can be paid and even tenured for overlooking such obvious difficulties as the fact that you can’t have a relationship with someone if you don’t even know they exist! Why can’t I get a job like that?

Craig, needless to say, is conveniently forgetting his Bible here.

Hebrews 11:6
And without faith it is impossible to please God, because anyone who comes to him must believe that he exists and that he rewards those who earnestly seek him.

Given that belief in God’s existence is a Scripturally mandated prerequisite for coming to Him, one would think that it were perfectly reasonable for Him to provide us with valid reasons for arriving at that conclusion. That’s assuming, of course, that what God wants is genuine faith and not mere belief in whatever men tell us in the absence of any valid reason for believing (or in other words, not mere gullibility).

But notice how Craig has divorced his philosophical argument from the historical apologetic for God. The historical claim is that God did want man to know He existed, and that our knowledge of God is the result of God providing man with objective, real world evidence not just of His existence but of His love and His desire to be with each and every one of us for all eternity. The question of why God would want to provide us with this kind of evidence ought to be a moot point, if the historical apologetic were true. Whether or not we can explain the why of God’s evidence, it ought to be beyond debate that God does want to provide it.

Except of course that when we look at the real world, we can easily see that He does not do so, not even for believers like Craig. So it’s time for some backwards thinking. Reasoning forwards from what the Bible gives us as God’s motives and abilities, we arrive at a conclusion that does not match the real world, so we need to start with the real world absence of evidence, and reason backwards to a set of premises that tries to reconcile God’s existence with His failure to show up in real life. And that takes us to the argument from ignorance and speculation.

In fact, we have no way of knowing that in a world…in which God’s existence is…obvious…that more people would come to love Him and know His salvation than in the actual world… thereby undermining the claim that the absence of such evidence is itself positive evidence that God does not exist… God can have so providentially ordered the actual world as to provide just those evidences and gifts of the Holy Spirit which He knew would be adequate for bringing those with an open heart and mind to saving faith. Thus, the evidence is as adequate as needs be.

I think it’s obvious why Craig is so happy to see the “downfall” of Verificationism. He has imagined for himself a world in which genuine evidence is virtually worthless in distinguishing between truth and error. God, in His wisdom and foreknowledge, is sovereignly and indetectably ensuring that the True Believers obtain just the right evidence to convince them, while everyone else is left in the dark because presumably they wouldn’t believe it anyway. The Fable of the Sour Grapes meets The Emperor’s New Clothes.

Craig’s argument is so full of holes and inconsistencies that it is hard to know where to start. I suppose we could begin by pointing out that this is the novelist approach to theology: you take the story as it has unfolded thus far, and try to imagine a plausible-sounding scenario to fit into it. There’s no particular reason why God would require such a Gnostic approach to the truth, it merely provides a plausible-sounding excuse for why the evidence that ought to be there is so obviously missing.

Or we could point out that, even if atheists would reject the evidence given the chance, that’s no reason for God to hide it. This is a “The devil created fossils to fool people” argument, in reverse. Even supposing that an atheist could look God in the eye and say, “Hmm, I don’t believe I’m really seeing you,” that’s still no reason for God to hide from believers (and their volitionally neutral cameras and microphones).

Or we could point out that this is really a proof that Mormonism is the One True Faith, and that Islam is, and that Pastafarianism is—every sect is made up of believers who have secretly been shown the real evidence, and all those unbelievers have been left out because they wouldn’t accept the truth anyway. It’s even proof of atheism: atheists have seen the evidence that God does not exist, and believers have simply overlooked or discounted it because they wouldn’t accept the truth anyway.

We could also mention that, even if it were not God’s primary goal to provide men with proof of His existence, such evidence would be a natural and expected secondary consequence of His other attributes, motives, and behaviors. For example, God might want to be fair, and it would hardly be fair for Him to condemn unbelievers when He never provided them with a valid reason for believing that He even existed.

The nature of objective evidence is that it does not depend on the subjective mental state of the observer, so we could point out that whatever objective evidence God did sneak in to the lives and attention of believers ought to be accessible to all, whether or not they believe. If Craig wants to suggest that God is providentially supplying the believers with valid evidence for His own existence, then that evidence ought to be available for review by skeptics as well.

Of course, Craig still has a problem, even with his argument, because God’s evidence isn’t showing up for believers either. My own experience as a devout Bible-believing Christian was that I would have loved for some genuine, valid evidence of God’s existence to show up (and judging from the financial success of apologetics books and ministries, millions of other Christians feel the same way). But it doesn’t, which leads apologists like Craig to resort to muddled and abstract philosophical arguments trying to rationalize away the absence.

Just one more, because the list could go on and on: we could point out that Craig is only giving us an argument for why one reason might not work—he’s not proving that there is no reason that will. Craig is arguing that if God did show up in real life, it might not convince anybody who wouldn’t have believed even without the evidence. Not that we know that no additional souls would be saved, but that it might happen that way. It’s not that there is any reason for God to withhold vital information from the rest of us, but merely that it’s possible to conceive of the possibility that showing up might fail to achieve one specific goal on God’s agenda. It’s not even that there is no possible goal on God’s agenda that could be met by God showing up, but just that there might be one that might not be met that way.

Bear in mind, this argument is presented on Craig’s web site under the heading of  “Scholarly Articles,” and is the source for an abridged article which was published in The Cambridge Companion to Atheism, so we’re not talking about some off-the-cuff remarks by someone who wasn’t trying. Yet it’s clear that what we’re dealing with here is not so much a critique of atheism, but a desperate attempt to excuse Christianity and rationalize away a clear inconsistency between the impact a loving and involved God ought to be having on the world, and the undeniable absence of any such impact on real life.

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Posted in Unapologetics. 9 Comments »

9 Responses to “Theistic Critiques of Atheism, Part 2”

  1. Loren Petrich Says:

    Dr. Craig’s argument is strange. He talks about God trying to build “love relationships”, but if he is married, does he take that approach to his wife? Does he hide from her, ensuring that she has no clear evidence that he exists? And does he think it very important that she have Faith that he exists rather than making his existence readily apparent to her? And does he do that because he thinks that developing a “love relationship” with his wife is more important than clearly indicating his existence to her?

  2. Kenneth Says:

    The ‘God is hiding so I’ll love Him’ argument is just pathetic.

  3. David Says:

    “you can’t have a relationship with someone if you don’t even know they exist!”

    Lovely! I’ve struggled with people using Craig’s argument in the past. No longer. You have said all that needs to be said.

  4. » Theistic Critiques of Atheism, Part 3 Evangelical Realism Says:

    […] Theistic Critiques of Atheism, Part 2 […]

  5. Chris Says:

    Criag said, “On the Christian view it is actually a matter of relative indifference to God whether people believe that He exists or not. For what God is interested in is building a love relationship with us, not just getting us to believe that He exists.”

    A matter of indifference?! It’s the orthodox Christian view that those that don’t believe in God will suffer for eternity in Hell. And Christians are supposed to be indifferent about that? All they care about is that they supposedly have this relationship with God? (Or maybe all they care about is that it’s not them going to Hell?)

    Look, if God really exists and is going to toss me into a lake of fire for all eternity for not believing certain propositions, I wish this God fellow would stop being so mysterious!

  6. Brad Says:

    1. According to Molinism, God can see the results of every possible world he could put us in, and he decided to put us in the one which lead to the salvation of the most people.

    2. Under this view, it is still yet to be shown (if possible) that it logically follows God should be “fair” to us, or that we should expect him to sufficiently reveal himself to everyone. If gullibility plays a part in a grand plan that returns the most possible happiness, then why not go for it?

    3. No, atheists rejecting evidence wouldn’t be a reason for God to withhold it. Perhaps there could be other reasons, though?

    4. None of this is proof of anything. It is merely separating known fact, known fiction, and unknown proposition into distinct categories. Pure speculation.

    5. According to Craig’s theology, there is evidence universally accessible to all skeptics. The Holy Spirit allegedly tugs on all of our hearts. This isn’t internal inconsistency; it is verifiable counterfactual.

    To sum up: Inconsistency (lack of uniformity in substance) is not equal to conceptual incoherence, internal contradiction, or counterfactuality. Therefore, in purely logical terms, Craig’s is a partially successful critique of [gnostic] atheism.

  7. Deacon Duncan Says:

    1. Molinism appears to have some serious problems. Why should “salvation” even be necessary in the first place? Simply order creation in such a way as to put evil outside the range of free choices available to His creatures, and they can all go to Heaven.

    Jesus said that “few” would find the way to salvation, which makes Molinism unbelievably pessimistic. Out of all possible realities, an all-knowing, all-wise and all-powerful God couldn’t even find one alternative that didn’t involve damning most of His beloved children to eternal punishment?

    Even I can think of strategies that would work better than that. For example, if I have all of eternity to play around with, I could design creatures whose social needs didn’t develop until after their moral fiber was perfected, then just create them one at a time, raising each one to whatever state souls are supposed to be in when they go to Heaven, and then creating the next one, so that they’d be free from irresistible temptations and peer pressure.

    2. The problem with defending gullibility as part of God’s plan is that the gullible person is essentially rejecting the truth in favor of the words of men. God therefore has no moral basis for rejecting the “guilty” or saving the gullible, because the gullible are only putting their faith in men, and not in God. Besides, what’s the point of doing a whole “free will” charade if it’s going to end up limiting you to choices that are based the inconsistent words of men rather than on the truth?

    3. The problem with God withholding evidence is that (a) the evidence would be an inherent consequence of Him doing what the Gospel describes Him as being willing and able to do, and (b) the Bible frequently describes God as wanting to give us proof of His existence, and therefore any reason for consistently concealing the evidence would have to contradict the Bible.

    4. It is important to separate known fact, known fiction, and unknown propositions into their correct categories, however.

    5. It is the nature of evidence that it exists outside of theological speculations such as Craig’s claim of spiritual “tugging.” For example, we can observe whether, in the real world, this “tugging” pulls people to the same God. If this “tugging” is purely an artifact of the individual’s own subjective leanings, we would expect to see people being “tugged” in whatever direction seems right in their own eyes, to whatever god or gods seem most suited to their personal foibles. Since we see real-world behavior corresponding to the purely subjective “tugging,” rather than the consistent pull towards one objectively real God, I think it’s fair to conclude that this “evidence” is not objectively real.

    I apologize for using the term “inconsistency” in a less formal sense than is sometimes done in rigorous philosophical dissertations. I’m trying to bridge the gap between technical discussions and any readers who might be more of a “lay” audience.

  8. Brad Says:

    The only reason I bring these things up is that I find some theists that look to the very fringes of logical possibility space to find God. Ergo, I treat logical and normal consistency differently so as to be fair.

    What I find is that it is extremely difficult to define a God, whose motives and powers would or very likely could logically entail the world we live in. Why would God choose to run us rats through a maze for the grand cheese? And why do it on a tiny speck-to-a-speck planet in some arbitrary part of a universe, sprayed out from a single point, then allowing for evolution and survival of the fittest to create the world in which you will breathe your subjects into? Our mouths are slaughterhouses, our stomachs graves. There are diseases everywhere due to unfavorable evolution, poverty due to limited resources, ignorance, hate, war, and strife due to our imperfect brain designs plus limited resources. 99% of all humans throughout history have lived through horrible living conditions. (These and other facts about the world make me think that the religiously-significant conception of “free will” is a farce. How freely are we choosing to fight each other if we’re put in an arena to struggle for survival in an uncertain world?) The idea that a powerful, loving, intelligent creator made this world for us doesn’t make sense to me.

    But, to be honest, these arguments boil down somewhat to a kind of “policy debate,” where we make sweeping generalizations based upon sub-omniscient knowledge of the possibilities. I’m not giving logical proofs, but persuasive rhetoric for atheism. How certain am I that a O3 God wouldn’t make this world? Well, I can’t make sense of the idea, but that doesn’t mean I couldn’t make sense of it if I were omniscient.

    All I can say is that in the face of apparent nonsense, choose the sensible theory preferably.

    > Oh, and per #2: God could give us additional moral/metaphysical tests post-Earthly life but pre-heaven, and #3: If we’re assuming God can manipulate our gullibility, then we’re also assuming God could have lied in the Bible in an ends-justify-the-means fashion. The closer we get to the fringe of logical possibilities, the less our theories cohere and more shifty is the ground we stand on to support our ideas – but confusion does not preclude possibility in the end.

  9. John Morales Says:

    [1] How certain am I that a O3 God wouldn’t make this world? Well, I can’t make sense of the idea, but that doesn’t mean I couldn’t make sense of it if I were omniscient.
    [2] All I can say is that in the face of apparent nonsense, choose the sensible theory preferably.

    1. You should be certain if you’re honest – the problem of evil clearly contradicts the O3 deity-construct.
    2. Why choose any nonsense, when it provides no explanatory power? Apologists are in the position of justifying needless assumptions.