Wednesday, October 1, 2014

Is divine hiddenness an evil?

There is a discussion in the literature on whether the argument from divine hiddenness is a special case of the argument from evil. Here is an interesting difference. While many evils, like suffering and death, are evils no matter whether there is a God, divine hiddenness—the state of affairs of some epistemically virtuous agents not believing in God—can only be an evil if God exists. Indeed, if there is no God, then non-belief in God is intrinsically good.

This has an interesting implication. Say that an evil is "unjustified" provided that God does not (or would not?) have good moral reason to allow it. Then divine hiddenness is not an unjustified evil. For:

  1. Either God exists or God does not exist.
  2. If God exists, there are no unjustified evils.
  3. If God does not exist, divine hiddenness is not an evil.
  4. So, either way, divine hiddenness is not an unjustified evil.

This means that the hiddenness argument cannot be a special case of the argument from apparently unjustified evils. It's tempting to run the argument in counterfactual mode and make it a close parallel to the argument from apparently unjustified evil by contending:

  1. If there were a God, then hiddenness would be an unjustified evil.
But (5) is implausible in light of the fact that
  1. If there were a God, there would be no unjustified evils.

In fact, the following argument is valid and only the first premise is controversial:

  1. Divine hiddenness is an evil.
  2. If God doesn't exist, divine hiddenness is not an evil.
  3. So, God exists.

Hiddenness is not the only case where this logical issue comes up. It comes up in the case of any state of affairs that has the property that necessarily it is an evil only if God exists. In all such cases, the state of affairs simply cannot be an unjustified evil, and one has an argument from the state of affairs being an evil to God existing. Blasphemy against God is another such state of affairs.

(And if it could be shown that, necessarily, there is only evil if God exists, then this would mean that all arguments from evil are in this boat.)

None of this means that there is no argument from hiddenness for atheism that's worth discussing. It just means that one shouldn't see it as just a special case of the problem of evil. A much more cogent formulation of the hiddenness argument is this simple one (inspired by Trent Dougherty):

  1. P(this pattern of hiddenness | God) << P(this pattern of hiddenness | no God).
  2. So, probably, no God.
Here, "this pattern of hiddenness" includes all the relevant features of this world that might be taken to justify hiddenness if God existed.

That said, one needs to be cautious about (10). For a part of this pattern of hiddenness is that some people have thought long and hard about whether God exists. And it's not clear that they would have been likely to think long and hard about whether God exists if there were no God.

19 comments:

Mike Almeida said...

...Say that an evil is "unjustified" provided that God does not (or would not?) have good moral reason to allow it. Then...:

Either God exists or God does not exist.
1. If God exists, there are no unjustified evils.
2. If God does not exist, divine hiddenness is not an evil. So, either way, divine hiddenness is not an unjustified evil.


The argument is suspiciously powerful, since it generalizes to every evil. The problem (I think) is premise (2) and your view of unjustified evils. On the latter, the negation in the consequent should have wide scope.

You say,

a. An evil E is "unjustified" provided that God does not have good moral reason to allow it.

(a) entails that there are unjustified evils only if God exists. But that's not true. (a) should be replaced with (b).

b. An evil E is "unjustified" provided that it is not the case that God has good moral reason to allow it.

Given (b), premise (2) is false. Otherwise, that would be one heck of an argument against the problem of evil!!

Alexander R Pruss said...

Even on (b), premise (2) is true. For if God doesn't exist, it's not an evil that some people don't believe him to exist!

Heath White said...

When I present the standard problem of evil to my students, some fraction of them are moral relativists and believe that there is really no such thing as objective evil. Does that kill the argument? No, because it can be presented as a problem internal to theism: the theist wants to say that there is a 3-O God, and there is objective evil, and (the argument runs) this combination of views is inconsistent. The moral relativist presumably rejects both parts of the package.

Shouldn’t the arguer from hiddenness say the same thing? The theist has this internal problem: they believe in a 3-O God, and they believe this God is hidden, and this combination of views is inconsistent. The purveyor of this argument will presumably reject both parts of the package (plus more).

That is, the argument from hiddenness should run something like:

1. If God were to exist, then a state of affairs in which he remained unknown to people of good will would be an unjustified evil.
2. Such a state of affairs exists.
3. Therefore, if God were to exist, the actually existing state of affairs would be an unjustified evil. (from 1,2)
4. However, if God were to exist, there would be no unjustified evils.
5. Therefore, God does not exist. (from 3, 4)

Alexander R Pruss said...

Heath:

Something goes wrong by the time of your step 3, since the antecedent of the conditional in 3 clearly entails the falsity of the consequent.

Maybe if you turn the subjunctives into material conditionals, the argument does better.

1. If God exists, then hiddenness is an unjustified evil.
2. Hiddenness is actual.
3. If God exists, there are no actual unjustified evils.
4. So, God doesn't exist.

Here "hiddenness is an unjustified evil" doesn't entail that hiddenness is actual. One can evaluate non-actual states of affairs for their justification. (Indeed, presumably God does this, and doesn't actualize non-actual states of affairs that are unjustified.)

This might or might not be better than my probabilistic suggestion.

I am not sure about 1 in the revised argument, though. Isn't the following a reasonable thought: "Hiddenness is uncontroversially actual, so if God exists, hiddenness is justified, so why should I accept 1"?

Maybe what one needs here--and Schellenberg does something like this--is instead of 1, the stronger premise:
1*. Necessarily(if God exists, hiddenness is an unjustified evil).

But 1* is implausible. I don't see how to rule out possible worlds where God is hidden and is justified in being hidden. For instance, worlds where there is a very high probability that if he showed himself, people would have a poorer relationship with him than they do with him being hidden.

So probably what one needs is something like:
1**. Necessarily(if God exists, *this* pattern of hiddenness is unjustified).

And now it's closer to my probabilistic formulation.

MiloŇ° said...

To Heat: I don't see how problem of Divine hiddenness is internal problem for theist. Problem is formulated, in its strongest form, that there are instances of inculpable non-belief but there are not such instances among theists!

I understand this argument as some kind of teleological argument - it points to some feature of the world and argue that this feature is more probable on non-God than on God hypothesis (or something like that).

MiloŇ° said...
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David Gordon said...
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David Gordon said...

I'm not sure your premise 3 "If God does not exist, divine hiddenness is not an evil." is always true.

Suppose God doesn't exist. What rules out possible worlds in which the reasons to believe that God does exist are so strong that someone in one of those worlds who didn't believe in God would manifest a defect in epistemic virtue?

Mike Almeida said...

Even on (b), premise (2) is true. For if God doesn't exist, it's not an evil that some people don't believe him to exist!

That's clever! I think the hiddenness argument claims that divine hiddenness would be unjustified evil if God did exist (i.e, the impossible would be true). Since there is hiddenness, either God exists and there is unjustified evil or God does not exist. Therefore God does not exist.

Alexander R Pruss said...

Mike:

That MAY prove too much. It's widely accepted (though I am actually not so confident of it) that the only way a true counterfactual can have an impossible consequent is when the antecedent is impossible. If that's right, then the argument would prove not just that God doesn't exist, but that he can't exist. And yet it doesn't seem like hiddenness provides any evidence for the claim that God can't exist.

Mike Almeida said...

I don't offhand see the worry, Alex. How many theists do not believe that ☐(God exists iff God necessarily exists)? It's hard to think of one. So a proof that God does not exist just is a proof that he necessarily does not exist.

Alexander R Pruss said...

But nothing in the argument turns on God's necessary existence. Imagine a being with the same essential properties as God that are relevant hiddenness, but does not exist necessarily. The hiddenness argument would then show not only that this being doesn't exist, but that it can't.

Alexander R Pruss said...

Mr. Gordon,

The problem of hiddenness as we find it in the literature is the problem of epistemically virtuous people not having evidence of God's existence.

Mike Almeida said...

Alex,

Suppose, then, that God is a contingent being. In that case I deny (3), if God does not exist, divine hiddenness is not an evil. The fact that a divine being is not clearly present to me, comforting me or reassuring me in this particular world I inhabit, is a bad thing. It would be better if I inhabited a God-world.

When I say that divine hiddenness is a bad thing, then, I'm not making a claim that entails that God exists and is hidden. I am claiming that there exists no divine being clearly present in my world. That, I think many theists would agree, would be an evil (if we in fact inhabited such a world).

Alexander R Pruss said...

Hiddenness, though, isn't a thesis about comfort and the like. It's the thesis that some people do not have sufficient evidence for the existence of God.

I guess evidence for the existence of God might be instrumentally good even if God didn't exist if this evidence led to people being comforted. But it doesn't always: sometimes it scares people. And in any way, it's not so plausible that the lack of evidence would be the evil. Rather, if there is an evil there, it's the lack of comfort. (One could have the comfort without the evidence, since one could believe without evidence.)

Mike Almeida said...

Alex,

Unless you're discussing a hiddenness argument I'm not familiar with, such an argument assumes (i).

3. God is obviously present v God does not exist.

Your argument includes these,

1. God does not exist v there are no unjustified evils.
2. God does exist v hiddenness is not an evil.

Even granting your two premises, the fact that (4) is true gives us good evidence that God does not exist.

4. God is not obviously present.

5. :. God does not exist. (3), (4)

We could make the argument better by adding a less than certain probability to (3) making it an evidential argument for agnosticism.

Alexander R Pruss said...

This is a simplified version of the material conditional argument I gave in my comment to Heath on October 2, 2014 at 10:42 AM.

David Gordon said...

The conclusion of the argument "divine hiddenness is not an unjustified evil" does not entail 'There is a possible world that contains God, epistemically virtuous agents, and divine hiddenness." More generally,"there are no unjustified evils if God exists" is vacuously true and doesn't show that a particular state of affairs is compatible with God's existence. The fact, if it is one, that the state of affairs is not an evil if God doesn't exist leaves this point untouched.

Alexander R Pruss said...

David:

Sure. I am not here arguing the argument from hiddenness doesn't work. I am just arguing that it's not a special case of the argument from evil.