Thursday, April 7, 2011

Divine hiddenness and absence

  1. (Premise) God is hidden.
  2. (Premise) If x is hidden, then x exists.
  3. Therefore, God exists.
This argument is logically valid, of course. Moreover, it's hard to dispute premise 2. So the question is whether premise 1 is true. Here is an argument for premise 1.
  1. (Premise) Many people experience that God is hidden.
  2. (Premise) If many people experience that s, then probably s, barring further evidence to the contrary.
  3. So, probably, God is hidden, barring further evidence.
The important thing in connection with 4 is to distinguish the experience that God is hidden from the lack of experience that God is manifest. Obviously, the lack of experience of God as manifest will not do as the start of a theistic argument. But to experience God as hidden is different from just failing to experience God as manifest. It is a genuine kind of spiritual experience of God.

Here is another valid argument:

  1. (Premise) God is absent.
  2. (Premise) If x is absent, then x existed, exists or will exist.
  3. (Premise) God is an essentially eternal being.
  4. (Premise) If an essentially eternal being existed or will exist, then that being exists.
  5. So, God existed, exists or will exist. (7 and 8)
  6. So, God exists. (9, 10 and 11)
I don't know if this argument is sound, because I don't know if God is absent. But there may well be some sense of "absent" in which it is correct to say that God was absent in Mother Teresa's time of darkness (presence and absence after all are things that can hold in various respects), and that sense of "absent" is sufficient, I think, to yield premise 8. (We wouldn't say of a being that never exists, such as the Tooth Fairy, that it is absent.) Again, to support 7, one would need an argument based on experience akin to 4-6, and one would need to distinguish experience of absence from the absence of experience of presence.

I think this shows that the so-called atheological "argument from divine hiddenness" should really be called the "argument from divine non-manifestness." That God is hidden entails that God exists, after all.


Brian Auten said...

This post brings to mind another point - that is, if we are talking about the God of the Bible, then God is one who hides Himself. (Isaiah 45:15)

So, if one is looking for evidence for the God of the Bible, His hiddenness should not count against Him. Instead, we should be looking for "evidence of a hidden God."

Brian Auten said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Paul said...

Doesn't (9) alone imply that God exists? Would you argument still work if (9') If God exists, God essentially exists?

Anonymous said...

Isn't the argument question begging? If you use "God" as the subject of premise 7, you're attributing a property to a thing who's existence is in question unless you already assume that being exists as a target for property ascription.

So isn't 7 saying that a being who's existence we're questioning has the property of being absent?

Couldn't we use this argument to demonstrate the existence of anything we define as an essentially eternal being?

7' The Flying Spaghetti Monster is absent
9' The Flying Spaghetti Monster is an essentially eternal being
12' So, The Flying Spaghetti Monster exists

Alexander R Pruss said...


As I said: "to support 7, one would need an argument based on experience akin to 4-6, and one would need to distinguish experience of absence from the absence of experience of presence."


I mean (9) in a sense that doesn't carry existential commitment, in the same sense in which one might say that unicorns are essentially mammals, whether or not there are any unicorns.

Anonymous said...

As I said: "to support 7, one would need an argument based on experience akin to 4-6, and one would need to distinguish experience of absence from the absence of experience of presence."

I saw that but I'm not sure how it helps. If the argument is intended to provide support for the existence of God from absence, how does an experience of hiddenness help here on any definition (wouldn't an experience of hiding necessarily be based on a belief that the thing hiding exists)? Are you suggesting that "absence of experience of presence" could imply non-existence?

Alexander R Pruss said...

Experiences are influenced by beliefs, but can come apart from them. I may believe that I am the only person in a dark room and yet experience the presence of someone else.

Likewise, it is possible to experience someone's absence without any particular beliefs about them.

Anonymous said...

Thanks. If experiences of the type you're interested in don't involve belief, then I'm not clear how your argument works. So P experiences God's absence but doesn't believe she does. But in premise 5, you want to go from an experiential proposition to an ontological one (without any epistemological proposition to bridge them).

This would seem to mean that P experiences the absence of God but neither she nor anyone else believes (knows) that she does since the experience of absence without any epistemic component wouldn't enable one to say "I now experience the absence of God." To this person, there may be no god. They simply have an experience of the absence of some being without any subsequent belief about that being.

But since anyone who experiences God's absence never believes or knows that they do (and this certainly means that no one else knows that they do either), how can you support premise 7 that people have experienced the absence of God without begging the question?

Miles Andrews said...

This seems to be a blatant misunderstanding of the best version of the argument, at least as put forth by J. L. Schellenberg (I have in mind his recent treatment in two chapters of The Wisdom to Doubt). As Schellenberg writes, "As I shall often put it, there is much nonresistant nonbelief, or, in a proposition here treated synonymously, God is hidden" (205).

Alexander R Pruss said...

This post is not a response to Schellenberg's argument. I am using "hidden" in the ordinary sense of the word. Schellenberg is not (and he's aware of that). He's entitled to his technical usage, of course. But the phenomena that he and I are appealing to are different.