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divine hiddenness

The Problem of God’s Hiddenness, where God wants a relationship with us and knows that hell awaits those who don’t know him (but refuses to make his existence obvious), is the most powerful argument against Christianity.

We’ll continue our critique of a rebuttal of this argument by apologist Greg Koukl. (In part 1 we analyzed the free will response and the “Yeah, but that wouldn’t convince everyone” response).

What requests for evidence are reasonable?

Koukl said that the evidence people have today for God is “fully adequate.” He clarified his position this way:

[Doubting] Thomas had fully adequate evidence but then made the ridiculous request that I wouldn’t believe until I stick my finger into the nail holes. . . . That was really above and beyond what was really required.

Bullshit. Beyond a certain point, apologists’ making excuses for God just gets embarrassing.

So Thomas had clues indicating that his teacher had validated his claim to be the creator of the universe in human form, but it would be rude to check them out? Wouldn’t Thomas have been smart to firmly ground his evangelical message with solid answers to the questions skeptics would obviously ask about the facts of the resurrection? “How do you know it wasn’t a lookalike?” “Did you make sure it really was the same guy?”

It’s not like God has a rule against providing public evidence. In Elijah’s contest with the priests of Baal, God lit Elijah’s waterlogged sacrifice (1 Kings 18). God enabled Moses to perform magic tricks to convince the pharaoh (Exodus 4). Later, “The Lord would speak to Moses face to face, as one speaks to a friend.” Jesus did his miracles in public, in part to convince people of who he was. But today God won’t even show us that he exists?

I wonder if Koukl is this gullible in response to claims from other religions. Would he read the Book of Mormon without making the ridiculous request to see if its claims of horses and elephants in the New World held up? Would he accept that the “Hindu milk miracle,” where statues drank milk from spoons, was indeed a miracle, or would he make the ridiculous request to see if scientists have a natural explanation?

Skeptical Thomas demanded strong evidence for an unbelievable claim. No apology is needed for this reasonable request. Gullible Greg makes quite a contrast. God gave you that big brain to use, Greg.

In his quest to denigrate evidence, Koukl then said that if God appeared right in front of you, you wouldn’t go to God, you’d go to a psychiatrist.

Wow—that’s a great point! What does that tell you about the plausibility of the Christian message and the reasonableness of atheists’ demands for excellent evidence?

Rhetorical tricks

Throughout his response, Koukl added an undercurrent of bluster. Every couple of minutes, he dropped in a confident, evidence-free, off-topic claim that his position was the right one:

I’ve seen what people have done with enormous evidence and how they’ve often rejected it.

My evidence for God is quite good, and I think it’s available to many people.

Atheism’s not even in the running for me because the problems are so much bigger than anything I face in Christianity.

There is so much evidence all over the world, and we’re constantly offering that kind of evidence as apologists. . . . We have lots to say, but for some people it just simply isn’t adequate, and I wonder why because the rational aspects (it seems to me) are certainly covered here. There must be something else going on in the minds of people who reject it.

If he were backing the winning argument, he’d let the evidence do the blustering.

He complains when non-Christians are given “enormous evidence” but reject it. I’m pretty familiar with Koukl’s work, and I’ve responded to some of it in this blog (for example, here, here, here, here, here, here, and here). No well-informed atheist would be impressed by his tired, retread arguments.

I presume he wants to shift the conversation to his hand shadow figures rather than the topic at hand, God’s hiddenness, to which he has responded poorly. His argument has become, “Yeah, but Christianity is true, so it doesn’t matter that I can’t respond to this problem!”

Koukl again:

From where I sit, I think the evidence is absolutely overwhelming, and the problems with atheism are so much more massive than anyone can come up with for theism that there’s no contest between the two.

Yet again, this is stated without evidence, and our Problem of God’s Hiddenness alone defeats Christianity. If God wants a relationship, where is he? Christianity has promised too much, its god is a no-show, and Christianity is no longer a worldview candidate.

Thought experiment: God World

Koukl says that if God appeared to us now, some people would have a hard time believing. He imagines that people like me wouldn’t want to believe because we enjoy sinning so much, but Koukl’s thought experiment is flawed.

To see the problem, consider an Earth-like planet without natural disasters—let’s call it Gaia. If you visited Gaia and asked the people there to imagine tornadoes, hurricanes, volcanoes, earthquakes, tsunamis, and so on, many couldn’t. For them, a violent and unpredictable Nature would be inconceivable because the concept is completely foreign.

Now suppose that on this gentle planet natural disasters began to happen like they do in our world. An earthquake that kills 20,000 people? A tsunami that kills 200,000? Disasters that we think of as inevitable natural events would be to them unbelievable tragedies. They’re familiar to us but inconceivable to them.

Natural disasters on Gaia would be hard to accept, just like God suddenly appearing on Earth would be hard to accept. The lesson from the Earth vs. Gaia comparison is that natural disasters are easy to accept if they’re simply an ever-present part of reality. And God would be easy to accept if he were an ever-present part of our reality—if we lived in God World.

The lesson here can be seen from two viewpoints.

  • Telling people on Earth about God is like telling people on Gaia about natural disasters. The people of Gaia would have a hard time accepting the idea, and they’re justified in doing so. It’s a completely foreign idea without precedent.
  • Telling people on Earth about natural disasters is easy. We already know all about them. But convincing people on Earth about God is difficult. They’ll have a hard time accepting the idea, and they’re justified in doing so.

If Koukl wanted to preach the idea of natural disasters, Gaia is not the place to do it. And if he wants to preach the idea of God, Earth is not the place to do it. For each place, these are foreign concepts that should come with evidence but don’t.

He wants it both ways. He wants to imagine God making his existence known but many people still not believing. He also wants to imagine that “the evidence [for God] is absolutely overwhelming.”

Concluded in part 3, where we discuss other apologists’ approach to this problem plus some unexpected weaknesses in the apologists’ position.

Man to pastor as he leaves church:
“Oh, I know He works in mysterious ways,
but if I worked that mysteriously I’d get fired.”
— Bob Mankoff cartoon


(This is an update of a post that originally appeared 8/11/16.)

Image from Old Book Illustrations, public domain


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CROSS EXAMINED In his first career, Bob Seidensticker designed digital hardware, and he is a co-contributor to 14 software patents. For more than a decade, though, he has explored the debate between...