Argument from non-belief

There are two well known versions of the argument from nonbelief or divine hiddenness

  1. J. L. Schellenberg argument from reasonable nonbelief
  2. Theodore Drange’s argument from nonbelief

J. L. Schellenberg’s argument from reasonable nonbelief

1993 Schellenberg famously argued as follows:

P1. If there is a God, he is perfectly loving.

P2. If a perfectly loving God exists, reasonable nonbelief does not occur.

P3. Reasonable nonbelief occurs.

C1. No perfectly loving God exists (from 2 and 3).

C2. Hence, there is no God (from 1 and 4).1

At first, the argument does not seem immediately clear and requires a little more explaining. In support of premise 2, Schellenberg gave the following reasoning (2):

P1. If there is a personal God who is unsurpassably great, then there is a personal God who is unsurpassably loving.

P2. If there is a personal God who is unsurpassably loving, then for any human person H and any time t, if H is at t capable of relating personally to God, H has it within H’s power at t to do so (i.e., will do so, just by choosing), unless H is culpably in a contrary position at t.

P3. For any human person H and any time t, H has it within H’s power at t to relate personally to God only if H at t believes that God exists.

C. So, if there is a personal God who is unsurpassably great, then for any human person H and any time t, if H is at t capable of relating personally to God, H at t believes that God exists, unless H is culpably in a contrary position at t (from 2a through 2c).2

This makes reference to any time, meaning that the “deadline” for belief is whenever the person is capable of relating personally to God.

To explain the main idea of the argument, Schellenberg has said:

If one is always open in the sense I intend then, even if one does not actively seek or promote personal relationship with another person capable of participating in such relationship…, one makes sure that there is nothing one ever does (in a broad sense including omissions) that would have the result of making such relationship unavailable to the other, preventing her from being able to relate personally to one, even should she then try. So for God to always be open to personal relationship with a relevantly capable created person such as Anna in a manner expressing unsurpassable love is for God to ensure that there is never something God does that prevents her from being able, just by trying, to participate in personal relationship with God…. Anna may not want relationship or even to be reminded of her religious options, and so may through resistance of God, which would have to involve self-deception, herself produce a situation in which she is unable to relate personally to God, just like that, without first undoing the behaviour that led to it. But unless Anna is resistant in this way at a time, she will find it possible to participate in personal relationship with God, and to do so then. Never will she find the door to such relationship closed. This, at the very minimum, is required if God unsurpassably loves Anna in a manner aimed at personal relationship with her. 3)

A more recent and alternative formulation of the main argument which is more detailed is as follows:

1. If no perfectly loving God exists, then God does not exist.

2. If a perfectly loving God exists, then there is a God who is always open to personal relationship with each human person.

3. If there is a God who is always open to personal relationship with each human person, then no human person is ever non-resistantly unaware that God exists.

4. If a perfectly loving God exists, then no human person is ever non-resistantly unaware that God exists (from 2 and 3).

5. Some human persons are non-resistantly unaware that God exists.

6. No perfectly loving God exists (from 4 and 5).

7. God does not exist (from 1 and 6).4

In clarifying Schellenberg’s original argument above, Michael J. Murray and David E. Taylor said :

But even if our expectations here are warranted, perhaps our acceptance of (2) is premature. What if God has good reason to withhold evidence for the truth of theism in spite of his similarly good reason to prevent reasonable non-belief? Since there might be such reason, premise (2) should be rejected in favor of the more cautious:

(2*) If a perfectly loving God exists, reasonable non-belief does not occur, unless God has a morally sufficient reason to permit the occurrence of such reasonable nonbelief.

Were we to revise the argument in this way, Schellenberg would need to adjust premise (3) of his argument as well to read:

(3*) (a) Reasonable non-belief occurs, and (b) at least some of it occurs for no good reason.

Now the crux of the argument lies in (3*) alone.5

So the argument really rests on the question as to whether there are any reasons for a perfectly loving God to do something (or not do something) that results in “nonresistant nonbelief” in someone who is capable of forming a relationship with God.

The argument carries a burden of proof so in order to be successful, it needs to show that it is more probable than not that God has no sufficient reasons to allow nonresistant nonbelief. Of course, as with the problem of evil, the limitations of human experience mean we can never be justified in saying that God has no sufficient reason. However it may be the case that we do not have a good reason to think that God has a sufficient reasons. This is no trouble as the burden of proof is not on the person arguing that God does has sufficient reason.

So is it more probable than not that God has no sufficient reasons to allow nonresistant nonbelief? If we answer yes then this is because we cannot see a good reason, but this is a noseeum inference and we are in no position to believe that if there was a sufficient reason we would know it.

Regarding the problem of evil, but equally relevant here, William Alston has explained the problems with believing we are in a position to see any goods if there were any:

Lack of data. This includes, inter alia, the secrets of the human heart, the detailed constitution and structure of the universe, and the remote past and future, including the afterlife if any.

Complexity greater than we can handle. Most notably there is the difficulty of holding enormous complexes of fact-different possible worlds or different systems of natural law-together in the mind sufficiently for comparative evaluation.

Difficulty of determining what is metaphysically possible or necessary. Once we move beyond conceptual or semantic modalities (and even that is no piece of cake) it is notoriously difficult to find any sufficient basis for claims as to what is metaphysically possible, given the essential natures of things, the exact character of which is often obscure to us and virtually always controversial. This difficulty is many times multiplied when we are dealing with total possible worlds or total systems of natural order.

Ignorance of the full range of possibilities. This is always crippling when we are trying to establish negative conclusions. If we don’t know whether or not there are possibilities beyond the ones we have thought of, we are in a very bad position to show that there can be no divine reasons for permitting evil.

Ignorance of the full range of values. When it’s a question of whether some good is related to E in such a way as to justify God in permitting E, we are, for the reason mentioned in 4., in a very poor position to answer the question if we don’t know the extent to which there are modes of value beyond those of which we are aware. For in that case, so far as we can know, E may be justified by virtue of its relation to one of those unknown goods.

Limits to our capacity to make well considered value judgments. The chief example of this we have noted is the difficulty in making comparative evaluations of large complex wholes 6

Even though it is not necessary at all, we can speculate reasons for a perfectly loving God not to do something (by commission or omission) that would result in nonresistant nonbelief in persons who are capable of relating personally with God in this way. (i.e. at the moment the person is capable of relating personally)

Blake Giunta suggests the following (and more):

Some resistant non-theists, upon coming to belief, would immediately reject loving relationship. – Ensuring that belief would arise in an individual who would reject God despite being a theist could hinder potential future relationship with God. This is relevant because God presumably would see no value in hindering future relationship, and plausibly would see value in refraining from hindering it –

Some non-theists would just form a perpetually improper relationship with God if, in their current state, they suddenly believed and even entered into a kind of relationship with God…This is relevant because such an improper relationship could be such that it is better for it to have never existed.

Plausibly, greater relationship goods ultimately obtain with God’s existence being unclear to some non-believers…This is relevant because it is not implausible that God might want to bring about these greater relationship goods.

Greater goods around the world ultimately obtain with God’s existence being unclear to some non-believers…This is relevant because it is not implausible that God would want to bring about these goods.

God can have relationship with someone just fine even while the person is a non-theist. This is relevant because the reason God allegedly would prove his existence is in order to allow for relationship—that reason would be gone. Non-theists can still “propositionally assume” God exists…This is relevant because such an assuming of God’s existence is sufficient for relationship.

Non-theists can be in relationship with “the Good”, responding to conscience, etc. (They can even have a fairly explicit and reciprocal relationship).2 This is relevant because, unbeknownst to them, “the Good” is God. 7

So in conclusion, we cannot be justified in saying God has no good reason because any inference to this conclusion is a noseeum inference which is unjustified in our current position. We also have good reasons to think that God may not ensure belief for anyone who is capable of forming a relationship, although these reasons are sufficient yet unnecessary.   

Theodore Drange’s argument from nonbelief

Theodore Drange’s version of an argument from nonbelief was formed in 1996. His reasoning can be presented as follows (8):

1. If God exists, God:

– wants all humans to believe God exists before they die;

– can bring about a situation in which all humans believe God exists before they die;

– does not want anything that would conflict with and be at least as important as its desire for all humans to believe God exists before they die; and

– always acts in accordance with what it most wants.

2. If God exists, all humans would believe so before they die (from 1).

3. But not all humans believe God exists before they die.

4. Therefore, God does not exist (from 2 and 3).8

Mormonism can reject premise 1a on the grounds that this life is not the only time for hearing the gospel.

D&C 138:30 says:

But behold, from among the righteous, he organized his forces and appointed messengers, clothed with power and authority, and commissioned them to go forth and carry the light of the gospel to them that were in darkness, even to all the spirits of men; and thus was the gospel preached to the dead.

1 Peter 3:18-20

18 For Christ also hath once suffered for sins, the just for the unjust, that he might bring us to God, being put to death in the flesh, but quickened by the Spirit:

19 By which also he went and preached unto the spirits in prison;

20 Which sometime were disobedient, when once the longsuffering of God waited in the days of Noah, while the ark was a preparing, wherein few, that is, eight souls were saved by water.

Therefore it is not necessarily true that God wants all humans to believe God exists before they die. We therefore have not been given sufficient reason to believe this premise and the argument fails.

Conclusion

In Mormonism both arguments against the existence of God fail, either through a noseeum inference, or on a simple matter of doctrine.

  1.  Schellenberg, J. L. (1993). Divine Hiddenness and Human Reason. Cornell University Press. p. 83. ISBN 0-8014-2792-4.[]
  2. Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy. 2016. Hiddenness of God. [ONLINE] Available at: https://plato.stanford.edu/entries/divine-hiddenness/. [Accessed 25 June 2017].[]
  3.  Schellenberg, J.L. 2016, “Divine Hiddenness and Human Philosophy”, in Green and Stump 2016: 13–32. (substituting “Anna” for “P”[]
  4. Schellenberg, J. L. (2011). “Would a Loving God Hide from Anyone?”. In Solomon, Robert; McDermid, Douglas. Introducing Philosophy for Canadians. Oxford University Press. pp. 165–166. ISBN 978-0-19-543096-7[]
  5. Michael J. Murray and David E. Taylor. 2011. Hiddenness. [ONLINE] Available at: http://www.apologeticsinthechurch.com/uploads/7/4/5/6/7456646/murray_taylor_hiddenness.pdf. [Accessed 18 June 2017].[]
  6. William Alston. 1991. The Inductive Argument From Evil and the Human Cognitive Condition. [ONLINE] Available at: https://pdfs.semanticscholar.org/c059/5a6cd84e892c7f8ce0a9e04d18d8b6484b7c.pdf. [Accessed 13 June 2017].[]
  7. Giunta, Blake. 2017. Divine Hiddenness: If a loving God existed, would God ensure we know it (to foster relationship)?. [ONLINE] Available at: https://beliefmap.org/god-exists/divine-hiddenness/. [Accessed 25 June 2017].[]
  8. Drange, Theodore (1996). “The Arguments From Evil and Nonbelief”. Archived from the original on 10 January 2007. Retrieved 2007-01-13.[]