For the previous installment, click here.
So far I have provided what I consider to be reasonable responses to the HoG objection. Now I want to discuss a couple of popular responses I find inadequate for the task. The first is to assert that God has provided enough evidence to convince those who are willing to believe in and submit to a relationship with God, but not so much so as to compel the unwilling. The idea here is that if God were to provide more evidence of His existence, people would be compelled to believe in Him, and thus be robbed of their free will. But what exactly would they be compelled to do? At best, they would be compelled to believe that God exists (a rational obligation); however, such knowledge does not coerce one into a relationship with God. Rational obligations tell us what we ought to believe given the evidence; they do not coerce us into believing or doing anything in particular. Our beliefs and actions continue to be free.
To claim that an abundance of evidence for God’s existence would rob people of their freedom to believe or disbelieve, is like saying the abundance of evidence for a round Earth robs people of their freedom to believe or disbelieve it. Freedom of choice is not eliminated by evidence, but rather directed by the evidence. Because the evidence for X is good, we freely choose to believe X rather than –X. To claim otherwise is to say we cannot freely choose to believe any X if the evidence is overwhelming that X is true. But surely this is mistaken. If we consider evidence on a scale of one to ten, with one being “poorly evidenced” and ten being “overwhelmingly evidenced,” would it make any sense to say one freely chooses to believe X when it has an evidential factor of nine, but loses the freedom to believe X when its evidential factor increases to ten? Clearly not! All but a few truths are corrigible, and thus no matter how good the evidence may be for any X, there is always the possibility that X may be false, and thus we must choose to believe X is true (even incorrigible truths must be believed by choice since one can doubt or deny an incorrigible truth, even if their doubt/denial is unfounded). The difference between a well-evidenced belief and a poorly-evidenced belief is not that the former is determined while the latter is freely chosen, but rather that we can freely form the former with a high degree of confidence that it is true.
James E. Bruce isn’t persuaded by this explanation of divine hiddenness either. He says the claim that God’s existence is so easily deniable because “God does not want the knowledge of God to be forced on people” is to say “because God wants people to love him freely, he makes it easy to think that he does not exist.” Well put!
The second response I wish to discuss is theologically accurate, but unlikely to persuade anyone other than Christian theists. This response asserts that God has not made His existence more obvious because He is not particularly interested in whether people believe He exists, but rather that they enter into a loving relationship with Him. It’s not obvious, they say, that if the knowledge of God was as obvious as the nose on their face, that more people would come to a saving relationship with Him. Some might even resent God for “throwing” His existence in their face. God’s constant reminders of His existence might even be perceived as an annoyance that interferes with their ability to freely engage in moral rebellion.
While I agree that God is more interested in humans entering into a loving relationship with Him than He is interested in their mere acknowledgment of His existence, and while I agree that a clear knowledge of God’s existence does not guarantee that people will enter into such a relationship with God, non-theists will respond that it stretches credulity to suggest that the number of people who would come to a loving relationship with God would be no different if God’s existence was more obvious than it is. After all, one cannot enter into a relationship with someone they do not know (or are not sure) exists. Knowing that someone exists logically precedes a relationship with that individual. Are we to think that not even a single individual throughout the history of mankind failed to enter into a relationship with God because—for whatever reason—they were unsure of His existence, but would have entered into a relationship with God had they been convinced He existed? It seems incredible to think all non-believers would persist in their unbelief even if God’s existence was obvious to them (or more obvious than it is).
The theist may counter that given the amount of evidence God has provided us for His existence, skepticism regarding God’s existence is unwarranted. To this the non-theist might respond that there are various lines of evidence for God’s existence, but many of those “evidences” are ambiguous and subjective, while others are quite philosophical in nature and not readily apparent to those who have not been instructed in them. In response, the theist may counter that the knowledge of God belongs to all men by nature, so even if someone is unaware of some of the more nuanced philosophical arguments for God’s existence, non-theists are without excuse for their lack of belief. Indeed, according to Romans 1-2 God has made His existence known to all people via creation and conscience. The non-theist is unlikely to accept that premise as true, but even if he did, he could point out that some people are persuaded out of that knowledge by seemingly cogent arguments to the contrary. Perhaps the problem of evil has caused them to doubt God’s existence. Perhaps arguments for Darwinian evolution caused them to think God is superfluous. Whatever the reason, some people have come to doubt or disbelieve in God, either because of what they perceive to be a lack of evidence for His existence, or because of evidence they think disconfirms His existence. Perhaps if the existence of God was more obvious, such individuals would not be deceived by such arguments. As a Christian theist, I do not think this is true. According to the Bible, the ultimate reason people reject God is because they do not want to accept Him as their sovereign, not because of intellectual arguments against His existence. The problem is volitional, not intellectual. While they might appeal to the problem of evil or the evidence for evolution as justification for their rejection of God, these are excuses rather than reasons. The real reason for their unbelief is their moral rebellion against the Creator. While this makes for good theology, it will not be effective in convincing the defender of the HoG argument that God exists, and thus I do not recommend offering this response to an unbeliever. It is, however, an appropriate response for Christians who question why God doesn’t make His existence more plain.
In conclusion, the HoG objection to theism is multiply flawed. The conclusion is a non-sequitar; it presupposes that God wants people to believe He exists; it does not consider the possibility that God provides evidence of His existence selectively according to His knowledge of the condition of each person’s heart; it ignores the abundance of evidence for theism we do have; it presumes physical evidence is the only valid form of evidence. For these reasons the HoG objection is not successful.
James E. Bruce, reviewing Natural Signs and Knowledge of God: A new Look at Theistic Arguments by C. Stephan Evans in Philosophia Christi, Vol. 14, Number 2, 2012, p. 480.