In this episode, Kurt talks with Blake Giunta of BeliefMap.org on the problem of Divine Hiddenness. Belief Map’s features are highlighted as both navigate the website’s map of the arguments.
Kurt: Good day to you and thanks for joining us here on another episode of Veracity Hill where we are striving for truth on faith, politics, and society. So nice to be with you here yet again. This is episode 81. I believe we are going to be talking about, the next two weeks we’re going to be talking about the problem of evil and phrased in a couple different ways. Today, we’re going to look at the problem of divine hiddenness or where is God and often times, although this doesn’t necessarily get into the problem of evil, I think I find that it often does. “Where is God when it hurts?”, people might be asking themselves, and so we’re going to talk about divine hiddenness today and then next week, we’ll be discussing the pastoral problem of evil and how different models of providence kind of play into recognizing how we might be dealing with evil and suffering in our lives or the lives of others. Before we jump into today’s show, and it will be an interesting show today because we’re going to be going through a special website that’s made wonderfully and helps guide people’s thoughts to have them well-ordered and well-structured. It’s very important I think to have well-ordered thoughts on any given topic and our guest today has done just that. We’ll be talking about that more momentarily, but first I must share this image that a guest put up on our Facebook page this week. For those that are long-time listeners, they know that my favorite beverage on the planet Earth is the one that has twenty-three flavors and it really does make the world taste better as the old slogan said, Dr. Pepper makes the world taste better. I believe Chris will be getting up here the image of the Dr. Pepper shirt, that it runs through my blood if ever I run low.
Just a couple of things. If you’d like to participate in today’s discussion. There are a couple ways you can do that. I’m following along here on the livestream. I’m looking at your comments. You can email me, Kurt@veracityhill.com and you could also check out our texting plan. Text the word VERACITY to the number 555-888 and I’ll get your text messages too.
We’re joined today by Blake Giunta. He is the founder of the beliefmap website, beliefmap.org. We got a little bit of a late start today here, Blake, but thank you so much for joining us on today’s show.
Blake: My pleasure. How are you?
Kurt: Good. So I’ve known you for I guess it’s been a few years now and I know a couple of years ago you’ve partnered with Defenders Media here being part of the Defenders Alliance, the Beliefmap website, and I’ve just really loved what you’ve done with it. Before we go through and even demonstrate in today’s show how the website works, tell me what your vision was for your ministry here.
Blake: Oh man. I as a young budding apologist, recently came to take Christianity seriously as a result of apologetics myself, would get on chat rooms, and I’d be talking with people, growing and learning there, and in the process I’d have a Word document that would have my notes because you need to be prepared to give an answer. I would develop this note system that I would use in my evangelism in this chat room and talking to people at CARM.org, Matt Slick’s site. In the process, it became unmanageable. It’s too much. I discovered a program that’s called an outliner and this allows you, writers use it normally. You have two panes. You have one pane for your articles which you can list hierarchically and you can click them and it loads the article on the right, so really cool tool and this particular outliner I could actually color the nodes as they’re called differently and I just hit upon this system. “Hey. What if I represented my claims in green, the possible responses in red, my counter-responses in green, I could map this whole darn conversation out.” And so I started doing this and building my note system and it blew me away at how powerful it was. I would come into this chat room and it would get to the point where the rest of the apologists would celebrate because I was the guy that would have all of the quotations ready for the conversation that they happened to be in at the moment.
Blake: This was happening. I was in high school. Anyways, I was doing this and it just dawned on me as I was working through building the resurrection section, having a conversation with someone on that, that man, I could stand up right now, walk away, and I had just heard my Mom in the kitchen, she could come in here and she could sit in this chair and she could complete this conversation just based on my notes. From that point, it was just like a big vision at that point. “Wow. What if I could create this sort of pocket apologist, this system, and empower apologists and bloggers and people everywhere with this thing to quickly learn how the debate unfolds and for them to be able to go into conversations feeling prepared, and at the same time offer something for non-believers who don’t like to read books, which unfortunately is a lot of the new atheist crowd today, but do like to argue, and they do enjoy the back and forth. I hit upon this idea and then I would spend the next several years just building out the system and figuring out how to make it work and then a couple of years ago, it finally launched, and people are loving it. It’s helping a lot of people too and we’re really excited about it and where it’s going to be going.
Kurt: Great. In addition to the website here, you have a speaking ministry aside from of course, interviews and talks that you give, you’ve done a number of different debates, so tell me about that and your interest in debating those in the atheist community.
Blake: Yeah. As far as my interest in public debating, it’s kind of zero. It’s one of those things, I don’t know if it’s God’s plan vs. mine, but it’s kind of foisted on me to have to have some of these debates. I guess I was on Dogma Debate radio a few times starting out or actually was one time starting out and I guess the hosts who weren’t well-trained in philosophy got enough negative feedback in terms of their interaction with me and feeling like someone who knows philosophy needs to interact with this guy, that they invited me back on the show and they pulled in a guy named Justin Schieber, who’s a very sophisticated atheist and we had a really good conversation and somehow that turned into, he wanted to do a debate at the University of Texas at Dallas and so lo and behold, I had a first debate. That was fun. Justin’s a great interlocutor, but from there I guess I had, I was known as a local Dallas debater and next they had the Bible and Beer Consortium, really interesting venue that they, a lot of times won’t go into churches to have these debates because the non-believer might feel uncomfortable. I don’t want go in there. They hold these things in bars and it’s neutral ground and everybody can come. It’s a really cool idea that Ezra put together. But anyway, Matt Dillahunty’s a really kind of prominent….
Atheist Experience is his show. Right?
Blake: Yeah. That’s right.
Kurt: And He’s been doing that for something like over a decade.
Blake; Yeah. That’s right. He’s like a YouTube personality, really prominent, and anyways, Ezra set up a debate with me and Matt Dillahunty on the existence of God and we’ve had that. Since then, I’ve debated Matt several different times. I debated him in San Diego, university there, and I debated him in Dallas again on the resurrection. I’ve been on radio in Dogma Debate, I’ve been on a few podcasts with him. I’ve been at his house and we recorded two episodes. I’ve had a lot of interactions with Matt. That’s been good.
Kurt: Good. Nice.
Blake: And then just a podcast here and there.
Kurt: Yeah. Including today’s.
Blake: That’s right.
Kurt: Before we jump into the website and going through today’s website on divine hiddenness, perhaps you could give us an overview on what do people mean when they talk about the problem of divine hiddenness?
Blake: Yeah. When laypeople hear it, they might think of the question of why doesn’t God make His existence more clear when salvation is on the line and there’s so many people out there that if they don’t hear the gospel then they don’t get saved and isn’t this, this doesn’t make sense if the Christian God exists. That’s not quite what the problem of divine hiddenness. The problem of divine hiddenness is broader. It’s related. It has nothing to do with the afterlife. Instead, it focuses on a property that God is supposed to have if God is all-good and the property in question is God’s being perfectly loving. This is how a guy named John Schellenberg frames the argument and he’s the most prominent advocate of this and so the gist of the argument is that if God’s all-good then God’s all-loving. If God’s all-loving, then He’s going to make sure that we have everything that we need in order to be able to enter into relationship with Him at any time. He thinks that this just falls out of the idea of God’s being perfectly loving which in turns falls out of God’s being a perfect being. If God exists, God would make sure we always have everything we need to be in relationship with Him.
Kurt: So from that broad perspective then we get the….
Blake; The next premise. Right. Not everybody has everything that they need to be in a relationship with God. In particular, people don’t have belief, and belief, the point is this is something that’s quite recorded in order to be in relationship with God. From this we get to the conclusion. Therefore, there is not this perfectly loving being and from there we obviously don’t have a perfect being. We don’t have God. That’s the gist of the argument.
Kurt: The argument as it’s structured. Of course, this has led people to be concerned about the eternal state or the eternal place of their neighbor or a family member or even as I had mentioned before we got going here on the problem of evil, that God, if God were perfectly loving He would make HImself more aware to me in this moment of my suffering.
Blake: Yes! I actually couldn’t hear the introduction so if you said something about relating it to Hell, then my apologies. It does tie into that ultimate question as well, especially that’s a concern for a lot of Christians. I know it’s a question that I struggled with, but the divine hiddenness issue proper is strictly an argument against a Western, the Western notion of God as a perfectly great being. It doesn’t limit itself to Christianity. The hiddenness argument runs against Islam. It runs against everything.
Kurt: Good. Why don’t we hop over to the website and I feel sorry for people that are listening to this on the podcast, the downloaded, I would encourage you if that’s you to go to over beliefmap.org right now so you can follow along. Those that are watching on the livestream. We’re going to get the website up for you and Chris, our technical producer, has got it already up. That’s good. Alright. I’m at the main website here. Blake. Tell me, where do I go next?
Blake: Yeah, and just to describe for people who are just listening what they’re seeing. Like I mentioned before, this resembles the notes that I mentioned a moment ago. On the right pane, this is where the articles are going to load and what are going to pop up are these kinds of quotes, saying, and they’re going to be either green or red depending on who’s saying it. On the left, you have miniature versions of the quotes and this is for fast navigation. Left of beliefmap, cause our ultimate goal, or at least at beliefmap goal is to get people. I want to remove those obstacles that would prevent them from accepting that Jesus is Lord, that they’re sins are paid for and they have an opportunity to be in a relationship with God through Him. Moving through those objections for most people to get them past basic skepticism to the gospel, I want to get them to understand that God exists. I want that to be an option for them. The next big topic on beliefmap in the menu is Jesus a real historical figure. Then does Jesus stand out like one chosen by God. Okay. I’m about to give you evidence for the resurrection, but if I give you evidence for the resurrection of my next-door neighbor, you’d be wary of that evidence, and what’s happening in the background is it would be very helpful to have a reason to think why God would raise Jesus uniquely. That’s what that one is. Finally, the last issue on beliefmap is did Jesus rise from the dead? If we can establish that Jesus rose from the dead, then it’s game over. Right? That takes you at least the trust from there, but that gets you to the basic message. Right now, this question goes under the first topic, so we’re going to click on God exists, this is a claim that green is making and when we click on this, what drops down are all the other speech bubbles of evidences for God’s existence and we also have here under that, the four objections to God’s existence which are in red. We’re going to go down to not that God’s properties require contradictiona, not that God’s extraordinary, not that God would assure less suffering occurred, but God would have insured more belief. Go ahead and click on that and you’re going to see a summary there. If you want to go ahead and click on my first response to this claim just below, the response is briefly in the left pane that no, they, this non-believer, would have just immediately rejected relationship. Go ahead and click on that. Let me summarize this particular response that people understand what this is. Remember the grand objection to a loving God existed, God would insure that we know He existed in order to foster relationship. Right? Here’s my first response is, you can’t say that Mr. non-believer because some people would just immediately reject relationship. Some resistant non-theists upon coming to belief would immediately reject loving relationship and people can dive into reasons why we know this, but it’s straightforward enough. Right? Many people testify that even if God existed, they’d still resist relationship with God. Right? We also have several historical examples of people who believe that God existed and yet chose not to follow God.
Kurt: Yeah. We could even think of it in terms of our human relationships. We have enough evidence that person A exists, but we still don’t want to be friends with them. We still don’t want to be in a loving, caring, relationship, one where we might have to humble ourself in any given situation. I know marriage is good for that sort of thing. I’m sure you know along with myself. Some people just don’t want that sort of relationship and for some people, it’s not about the evidence, because they would just immediately reject being in that relationship.
Blake: Yeah. And what’s key here is to understand God’s whole specified motivation to insure that someone believes He exists, the whole specified motivation was to allow for relationship, so if God knows that this person isn’t going to take advantage of that relationship, then clearly we have at least some people who we can’t expect to God to insure that they believe. He doesn’t have reason to. Right off the bat, the premise from the divine hiddenness argument is too strong. He would need to modify his claim to something like if a loving God existed He would insure that everyone knows it provided that everyone is limited to people who would choose to be in a relationship. That’s still a significant problem, but it’s a change from the original claim was.
Kurt: Nice. I like how you’ve nuanced that, cause you’re right. It goes from all people to, well really, just only the people that would want to be in a relationship with him.
Blake: Right, and that theme is going to continue as we work through the rest of these and it’s going to become a death by a thousand slashes. Here’s our next objection.
Kurt: Yeah. Let’s keep moving along here. See more about the website.
Blake: Again, the claim is if a loving God existed, God would insure we know it to foster a relationship. The second kind of objection would be to say that’s not right at all, because some people would just have an improper relationship. Okay? Some non-theists would just form, not at one moment, but a perpetually improper relationship with God if in their current state, they suddenly believed and even entered into a kind of relationship with God. I have a big chunk of examples that you can explore on beliefmap, but just to summarize them, you can have these relationships where I’ll be buddy-buddy with God, but I’m not going to recognize Him as God. Some people don’t even recognize God as good, and the thing is if you want to try to be in a relationship with God Almighty and reject God as good, this is the kind of relationship that at least plausibly is improper and would actually be worse to have than for God to just leave it alone. It can be the kind of thing that God would rightly avoid.
Another type of bad relationship, improper relationship, would be one where the human rejects moral transformation. Right? At the end of the day, as I understand things, God is wanting to eliminate evil in the world. He is tolerating evil for a time, but it will be destroyed. That’s where we’re heading towards. The whole idea behind heaven is we need to be able to enter in a situation where we can give ourselves over to God as God, and it’s precisely this giving ourselves over to God that will put us in a situation where we no longer sin. It’s only God that can transform us and make us heaven ready. If God took one of us right now and yanked us into heaven, we’d just destroy heaven because it’s supposed to be a place without sin. Once again, God has reason to reveal Himself more to people who are ready to be transformed and not all people, even if they claim they’re ready, actually are ready. They would reject that transformation.
Another kind of improper relationship that looms on the horizon for some people is that they would lack a right desire for God. We know that there are people out there who basically, they don’t love God. This isn’t an actual relationship in the strong sense that we ought to have with God. These are people that just pray to God and praise God to receive these religious experiences that they can conjure up in themselves. God is just a tool for them. It’s not real. It’s not a real relationship. Some people do this only to escape punishment from God, and there’s a question about whether this is a genuine kind of relationship. You haven’t recognized God. You don’t know God. You may believe that He’s there, but this is the kind of relationship that a demon might adopt. Sure. I’ll do what you want, but I’m only doing it to escape this.
Kurt: The stay out of hell free card.
Blake: Yeah. Exactly, and if that’s your reason, God would have reason to kind of hide Himself from you and He would lack motive to insure you believe. Before I continue, one of the things to keep in mind with this is this is often a mercy for people, because if God led them to come into belief in Him at this moment when they’re only going to enter an improper relationship, it could preclude an opportunity in the future that God could have set up where they would have been right-minded. Bringing them to belief now could actually sabotage their future relationship, interestingly enough.
Another kind of relationship, sometimes people enter into a relationship with God just because they think they’ll get gifts out of it. We all know about the prosperity gospel and things that are related to it. Once again, this isn’t about God. This is about using God as a tool.
Kurt: Like Santa Claus.
Blake: There you go. That’s right. Those are examples of when a human might lack the right desire for God. There are other examples of improper relationships outside of lacking right desire. We already covered moral transformation and not recognizing God as good, but also some humans, Travis Dumsday wrote an article on this and it’s interesting. Some humans actually would become jealous of God. This is the situation that Satan was in. There are reasons to think people have had this notion where you can recognize God is good, but at the end of the day, you can grow jealous of God’s power and the praise offered Him, and if that’s you, then once again, God has a reason to hold back on trying to start a relationship with you at this moment, more insuring that you come to belief.
Kurt: So someone of this might sort might be the person that thinks they could run the world better than God Himself.
Blake: Yeah. And how many Christians even think that right now as they approach the issue of homosexuality and so forth. They think, this is wrong. I don’t agree with God’s values. I could do better. That is the original lie. Humans are prone to fall into it. If you are such a human then there is not a clear reason why God would insure that you come to belief at this moment.
Finally, for this category of improper relationships that God might refrain from starting is one, and this is Paul Moser wrote a book on this called The Illusive God, he covers this in-depth. There’s actually something inappropriate in a situation where the human considers himself an authority in its formation. If you’re going to make God jump through hoops, right, like a pet lion, you’re not getting the right concept of God again, and this can be an improper relationship that God could have reason to avoid. That’s five examples of improper relationships and one of those five had three sub-examples, and these are all relevant again because an improper relationship of this kind could be such that it’s better for it to have never existed. If you’re going to modify the claim now it’s got to be something like, “If a loving God existed, God would insure that we know it as long as we limits it to people who wouldn’t enter into a relationship and would enter into a relationship that’s not any one of these relationships that I just covered.”
Kurt: Now you’re going from 100% of the population to, I don’t know, 15-20% of the population maybe.
Blake: Yeah, and what’s powerful about this is you don’t know. You’re not in a position to say if someone is such that they would come to believe jealous or they would be in jealous at that moment.
Kurt: Even from this first point alone about the improper relationship here, you can see just how complex the web of thought and argumentation is, but nevertheless how helpful a tool like beliefmap can be to help keep our thoughts and our arguments organized as a point-counterpoint website.
Blake: Yeah. And if you run into someone who raises this kind of objection, all I’m doing right now is, you can see it, I’m pretty much reading from the page. It’s just an outline. You can use it for your present apologetics presentations. It’s a great way to learn and if you don’t remember all the answers on the spot you can yank this up and it’s all in outline form ready for you.
Kurt: Yeah. Nice.
Blake: Want to move to the next one?
Kurt: Yeah. Let’s do it.
Blake: We’ve been talking about persons who would enter into a improper relationship, but it actually goes further than that, because God would also have reason to refrain who would leave proper relationship later in life. Some non-theists, if they became theists, would enter into a proper relationship with God, but then they’d abandon it later in life. Here we go through the same kinds of reasons that we discussed up above. They could come to disbelief in God’s goodness. They could come to grow jealous of God. One example you could see among Christians is I don’t like that God allows suffering. It falls into the category of kind of disagreeing with God’s approach with things, or because someone falls in love with their sin more than God eventually. Once again, we get to modify our big claim up at the top where the claim now has to be if God existed, God would insure that we know it as long as the person is open and desiring of relationship, they would enter into a proper relationship that doesn’t fit any of these categories, and not only would they enter into the proper relationship, they would stay in that proper relationship.
Kurt: Wouldn’t here though an atheist say something like, but wouldn’t that short time still be worth it?
Blake: Yeah. Incidentally, that is covered so if you click on….
Kurt: Of course it is!
Blake: If you click on this particular response. Red is saying, red is the non-believer, red is saying, “No. God doesn’t exist because God would have insured more belief”, then God says, “No. They would just abandon relationship later.” Red comes back and says “So what? A short relationship is worth it to God.” So I’m gonna click on that now and let’s see what it says.
Alright. Right below, we see a list of four points here. First is that God could hate this, much like we would hate divorce. I’m just reading from the site here, plausibly entering into relationship with God and abandoning it later, could be to God a great evil analogous to divorce, and this is relevant because such would have been better for it to never have existed. How does that sound? Does that make sense?
Blake: Alright. Good. Here’s the next point. It can also cause the human harm so God can know starting the relationship or starting it at this particular time would actually cause the individual harm in the long run, and again these open up into links, but for example it could preclude a better conversion time. It could also result for the person who comes into relationship, it could result in more crime and punishment, because remember this person is eventually going to exit out of relationship with God. That’s the whole premise of this objection.
Kurt: That’s right.
Blake: But now, we’ve basically made them more accountable, so they’ve come into relationship and now they’re rejecting it. Now they’re more accountable than ever and if they’re eventually going into a state of judgment and punishment for their sin because they’ve rejected the gift we’ve been given, more punishment is bad.
Kurt: And so hence, why God wouldn’t give this person more evidence of His existence or something like that, because in the long run it’s going to not be good for this person.
Blake: The idea is maybe God would bring into relationship for a period, because at least, even if they exit relationship eventually, that short period is worth it. That short period is good. I’m saying no, it’s actually not good. It’s like divorce on the one hand which is just wrong on its own right. God wouldn’t want to create a divorce situation, and secondly, it can hurt the person in the long run. It can preclude a better conversion time. We talked about that. Bringing some non-believers immediately into relationship could preclude this time of conversation which would yield better results. For example, it could yield a stronger relationship with God if God just holds off a little. Travis Dumsday, I’m going to go ahead and throw out a quote here. He says “God must moderate His self-disclosure. Delaying His personal revelations until we have some sense of our own fallenness and a measure of humility, and for those that do develop the necessary virtues such that they can handle open relationship with God, God will eventually grant such open relationship. In the meantime, uncertainty about ultimate questions brings home to us our own limitations, helping to build up the requisite virtue of humility and prompting us to seek diligently for the answers, which act of seeking if persisted in, will itself build humility and a greater love of truth.
Kurt: Yeah. Clearly, these are not ideas that people have not thought about before either.
Blake: Yeah. This is all, if you look at the top, the bibliography here, I’ve got probably over forty, this is my big research project at Moody, and for a few months of 2017, so I worked through a bunch of material and I basically mapped it all out so it’s all here now.
Kurt: I know I’ve engaged with a number of atheists online and I can’t help but get the impression for some of them that their thoughts are just so novel, as if, no one had ever thought of these ideas before. I wish that some of them were a bit more well-read because there’s nothing new under the sun. People have considered these issues before and ideas and maybe sometimes the ideas were phrased differently than they might have hoped, but nevertheless, the principle is there and so it’s great that you’ve kind of laid it all out for us from the people that have already thought about this subpoint of a subpoint of a subpoint.
Kurt: Nice. We’ve got to move on other points, but before we get to that Blake, we do have to take a short break from our sponsors. I hope for those that are following online you’ll stick with us through a couple minutes and then we’ll get a nice fun round of Rapid Questions for Blake. He’s probably thinking “What’s Rapid Questions?” Exactly. So stick with us through this short break from sponsors.
Kurt: Thanks for sticking with us through that short break from our sponsors. If you’re just joining us now, today we’re talking about divine hiddenness with Blake Giunta, the founder of beliefmap.org, a wonderful website that will guide you through the argumentation, the point-counterpoint, and various subpoints and really help keep your mind well-ordered, especially for some of these issues which for some of us can be quite personal and we might carry some baggage when exploring some of these ideas that might sometimes affect our thinking. That’s why I’ve appreciated Blake’s ministry here, not just his website, but his speaking ministry as well so I’m pleased to have him on today’s show. Before we get back to the discussion we do have to get to Rapid Questions here, but before we do that, I was told during the break here that our software program had a little hiccup and we weren’t able to show the image of the Dr. Pepper shirt. I’m wondering if Chris might be able to get that up here. There it is. Alright. In case of accident, what does it say there, my blood type is Dr. Pepper. Again, if you’re a long-time listener you know how much I love that beverage and in case I do get into an accident, make sure there’s a Dr. Pepper for me. Of course, I wouldn’t want to actually put Dr. Pepper through my veins, but figuratively speaking, that is the truth.
Okay. Now, Blake, if you are ready we have a round of Rapid Questions which are just goofy fun questions, and since you are a first-time guest you will have sixty seconds here to get through these questions. I will start the game clock which you won’t be able to hear, but we’ll know when it ends. Just try to get through these as quickly as you can. Are you ready?
Kurt: Alright. Here we go. What is your clothing store of choice?
Blake: Don’t have one.
Bell or KFC?
Kurt: What school did you go to?
song is playing on your radio these days?
Blake: I have not listened too long. Pass.
would you like to live?
Blake: Wherever my wife is.
Kurt: Nice. What’s your favorite sport?
Kurt: What kind of razor do you use?
Kurt: What’s your spouse’s favorite holiday?
Blake: She likes wine color.
Kurt: For favorite holiday?
Blake: No. Hair. Holiday? Christmas.
Kurt: What fruit would you say your head is shaped like?
Blake: A perfectly attractive orange?
Kurt: Okay. Have you ever planked?
Kurt: You haven’t planked? Last question. Do you drink Dr. Pepper?
Blake: Who doesn’t drink Dr. Pepper?
Kurt: Amen to that brother. Who doesn’t drink Dr. Pepper? Thank you for playing that round of Rapid Questions. They kind of threw you off there huh?
Blake: Like to keep me on my toes.
Kurt: That’s right. That’s the idea.
Blake: Keeps the brain young.
Kurt: It does. Let’s get back to the discussion here. We’re talking about the problem of divine hiddenness and broadly speaking it’s the concern that if God were to exist and that He be perfectly good and loving, that He would make His existence more known to people, whatever their life circumstance might be, and so this has implications for how we might deal with the problem of evil, how we might think about the eternal resting place of our neighbors or loved ones that don’t believe in God, and a host of other factors that the broad concept deals with and beliefmap.org, which is a website that we’re going through on the show today can lead us point by point going through those important issues, but also recognizing here how some of the objections raised in this argument might not be as strong as some suggest. There are some problems with thinking that, say, everyone would just believe if God wrote, “I exist” in the clouds or the stars. That wouldn’t guarantee what a person might suspect it would, so we’re going through these different points that Blake has prepared for us as part of a research project that he’s done and now has made available here on the website. If you’re following along on the livestream, we’re going to get this back up for you here shortly, and if you’re listening on iTunes or Google Play, which I hope you put in a good review for the show from time to time, you can also just load up your web browser, push play on your play right now, hop on a computer or your smartphone, and load up beliefmap.org and follow along with us as we go through this today. Blake. Let’s pick up where we lost left out. I believe would that have been point 3 or 4 here?
We’re on 4. You want me to just go right in?
Kurt: Take it away.
Blake: Once again, green is claiming God exists and red is coming back, “No. God doesn’t exist. Any God would have insured more people would have believed”, and in particular this is the hiddenness argument so they’re saying if a loving God existed, He would insure that we know it to foster relationship. That’s the ideas that they’re planting into make. We’ve raised a few objections with this bold claim of theirs and it’s forced them to modify their grand claim. We talked about how some people would just immediately reject relationship. Some people would just have an improper relationship with God, one that God wouldn’t want to exist, or that maybe they could turn to a proper relationship at first, but there are all these reasons why they might abandon proper relationship later in life, and then not enter into ultimate relationship with God in the end and that too is something that God has reason to refrain from bringing about. We have two more grand types of problems with Red’s objection, the atheist objection here, but both of these are very deep. They’ve got a lot of sub-topics to get in to. The first one is that total greater goods can obtain with God being silent. If God is silent to some degree, we have a massive list of good things that there can be more of in the world and you can only get this quantity of these goods in the presence of hiddenness. The next one’s going to be that God can have relationship with some people actually even during their disbelief. Let’s jump into, and this is where we’ll spend most of our time if not all of it, is that total greater goods can obtain with divine silence.
This does take kind of a utilitarian approach. If you want to argue from hiddenness from what’s called a deontological perspective and say God owes it to us, I think it has some pretty clear objections that you can come up with, but most people resonate with this consequentialist approach as well. For example, I’m going to go through the list and then we can dive into the ones that you’re interested in. Some examples are this. One, is there can actually be more relationship goods in light of some divine silence in the world. You can get more justice, it’s argued. It’s also argued that you can get more mercy ironically. You can get more moral knowledge. You can get more seeking of God, and you can get more uncoerced moral choices.
Kurt: So I could see here an atheist might say, “Well, if God, say, were to show up in physical form and just gave us instructions on how we should run our societies, we could have an easy way to understand justice, because God would just tell it to us.” Why doesn’t He do just that?
Blake: There’s two ways to approach that. If he’s just asking our of curiosity, I can speculate. I don’t have to know. If he’s raising it as an argument, I’m going to be pushing back on him just as a manner of keeping in mind who’s got the burden of proof here. You’re making an argument here about what God would do and you’re going to need to justify that a bit more. I recognize there can be some goods from doing this and coming in and being clear about how here’s how you can order society to have a better world overall. Here’s the perfect government for this particular country and this particular situation. I can see good in His doing that, but merely recognizing a good out of some situation is not nearly enough to justify the belief that this is what God would do, because you also have to take into account the goods that come about from not doing it that way and you also have to take into account, the relative harms from both options. In the case, when I talk about justice here, I don’t know if that’s what you’re referring it to, but when I say you can get more justice in the presence of divine hiddenness, more punishing of sin, and this is to back up real quick, what I’m articulating here are the responses that you’re going to find in the academic literature. Okay? This is a more Calvinistic approach whether you agree with it or not, this is at least an option for the Christian defender who wants to throw that option out at people, but what he’s going to say is it’s actually good. There is good when God punishes someone justly. If He punished them more than they deserved, that would be bad.
Blake: At the same time, if He punished them less than they deserve, you could also say that there’s a downside to that. One good of God not revealing Himself to some people is that the person does receive the right amount of justice. They don’t get the get out of Hell free card. They get punished to the perfectly just degree. I know, this will kind of rub some people the wrong way, but you can very plausibly argue that as long as God punishes them to the perfectly just degree, this is a good thing. Does that make sense?
Kurt: Yeah, and it strikes me too as a non-Calvinist that that seems compatible with a non-Calvinist approach, that God is just. I follow. In some ways, we might think that even according to the Christian tradition, that Adam and Eve were kicked out of the garden, that that was God’s act of justice by separating Himself from their unholiness, His holiness from their unholiness, and in that sense, that is punishing the human, not just condition, but all of humanity for our present state, because we won’t get access to the goods of the garden, according to the traditional story, and so I don’t think that’s something that should be of too concern for some people, but maybe people that think in sort of the lovey-duvey God,Jesus is my homeboy hypothesis, this idea of a God of justice, both retributive justice, but maybe also restorative justice, something they have yet to consider.
Blake: I’ve found even among really good devout Jesus-loving Christians, some of them have not fully come to grips with the idea that God’s punishment is a good thing. We’re grateful, incredibly grateful that we don’t undergo that punishment, the punishment that we deserve. We’re incredibly grateful, but I think that when we do look at other people who ultimately do get judged and they don’t receive that gift, as we mature in our Christianity we do want to understand that when God exemplifies His justice, that’s a good thing, just as when God exemplifies His loving kindness and mercy. These are both great-making properties of God. So here, when we’re thinking about would God insure that more believe, we went over a few different reasons why no, that’s not, you point to any particular person and I can give you all these plausible reasons for why God might not reveal Himself to this individual, but for this final category, we’re picking out a list of goods that we can even add together, and if we want to find out, what’s the ultimate value of hiddenness, one thing we want to think about is how much extra of God’s good justice comes into the world as a result of it. That’s just a fact. You just have to include it.
That’s the first one. Next, you also have to think about the mercy that hiddenness buys, so the more mercy refraining from just punishment may come at the cost of more divine hiddenness. You can get more moral knowledge. This is really popular.
Kurt: If I may Blake, the concept of mercy, I thought of an interesting analogy. When I was a kid and I got in trouble and I did my parents wrong, even if my father was not yet home because he was at work, boy would I fear when the time when my father would come home, because I knew punishment was coming, and so when you that there is a greater good here, that there’s more mercy, I know what that means, because some I think should be able to understand what that feeling’s like of just waiting for the impending judgment, the further extent of justice. I know earlier, just a couple of minutes ago I was thinking more of the justice in the now, but of course, the justice that is to come. Yeah, there is greater mercy in letting there be a longer period of time before my father were to come home from work. I remember that when I was a kid and maybe that would be an apt analogy here, that the mercy is greater in the longer period of time that there is to wait or to see things as they will become. Continue.
Blake: Another thing, and this is pretty straightforward, is that with more hiddenness, you have more of this really valuable virtue of seeking God, so I’ve got, this links to a whole article on why seeking God is a great good. The idea of a person, we get to order our lives how we want. That’s one of our decision is how we order our life and it’s a great good when we order our life so we pursue good and we pursue genuinely good things. God is the greatest good. Hiddenness allows us to pursue God in a very special way. What can come out of it is incredibly valuable as well. The story that gets involved with it. The value that you attribute to the object when you finally obtain it. There’s a lot written on there as well.
Another one is, and this is probably more is written about this anything else, is that there’s more uncoerced moral choices. I’m sure you’ve heard of this one in light of hiddenness. Morally significant freedom may come at the cost of more divine hiddenness. The idea here is that if God made His existence very very overtly clear to us, it’s actually going to sabotage the ability for us to express ourselves as children of God with free and moral choice. There are different ways it can sabotage it, all of them have been written on. Our choices could be coerced by fear of punishment. Imagine living life with this feeling that you’ve almost got a highway patrolman on your back in everything you do. That is a real threat in a world where God’s existence is overtly clear in the way that a lot of hiddenness arguers advocate. The other one is when you have too strong of an enticement of reward. It’s commonly believed that if you want to genuinely have free choices, you need to be able to see reasons to do A and not-A, to do both. It can’t be overwhelming one way or the other, because if it’s overwhelming then you don’t have a genuine alternative possibility. If the enticement of reward was too strong, this could snuff out free will as well, just like fear of punishment could. Similarly, the desire for God’s proposal, Richard Swinburne wrote a bit on this, can be something that can affect your free will in a kind of sabotaging way. On top of this, you have to take into account that even if none of them are sufficient them all on their own, if you collapse all of them together, how much would this affect peoples’ free will and their ability to order their lives in the world. People are different. Some people might be more affected by one of these than the other, but on the whole, a lot of free will would go out the window if not the vast majority of it.
Kurt: And that’s something that a good and loving God would work. Creatures that are free and would make decisions on their own and recognize what the rewards and what the punishments are. There’s a great good to that.
Blake: I have the same intuition. I know there are some people that think differently than us, but I do. I tend to think the image of God is ultimately the capacity to be stewards and representatives of God. I believe God is free. God has a nature, but within that nature is God’s freedom, and if we’re going to be real children of God, if God is going to be bringing more good into the world by creating mini-gods, God is maximizing value in the world. He’s creating a world where He’s making other things that are, like Him, incredibly valuable. That’s us. That’s a big part of where our value comes from is our being the image bearers of God. That means that we, I think also in addition to having knowledge like God, although to a limited degree, and power like God, although to a limited degree, having free will. If God made His existence too overtly clear in this period, then in the very phase where we’re supposed to be deciding freely who we’re going to order our lives and give our lives too, God will snuff it out and even if we come to by, people who obey God perfectly, which we will be in heaven, but if we do it here and now, we will never have had the free choice. It would have been snuffed out. There’s an important sense in which we no longer could be resemblers of God. The way God set it up now is we get to go through a phase so that our free decisions now echo through eternity. What that means is although we can no longer sin in heaven, we are rooted in our free decision that was made before. In Heaven, we get to be the image bearers of God, even though we have no capacity to sin in heaven. Does that make sense?
Kurt: Absolutely. We’re running low on time, but let’s look at this last point here. I think it’s really fascinating. The idea that, and if I’m following along correctly, that a non-theist can be in relationship with God.
Blake: Yeah. Remember this is not the Christian necessarily, the Christian perspective, but if you’re someone that’s raising an objection to the very notion of God and you want to say that with hiddenness or that hiddenness sabotages your ability to be in relationship with God, analytic philosophers are going to come and say, no, that doesn’t necessarily follow. There can be exceptions to that, and it’s really interesting how much has been written on this. Just to go through it here, God can have a relationship with someone just fine even while that person is a non-theist. This is relevant because the reason God would allegedly prove His existence is in order to allow for relationship, and once again that reason would be gone. Let’s look at these. I’m going through beliefmap here so I can read it with you. My browser’s loading a little slowly though. One moment. Do you have it open on yours?
Kurt: Yes. We’ve got a nice long quote from Daniel Howard-Snyder that I see.
Blake: Oh yeah. Great philosopher.
Kurt: But just going through the points here. He says, “Non-theists can still propositionally assume God exists. This is relevant because such assuming of God’s existence is sufficient for relationship.” It’s getting quite technical.
Blake: Yeah. Once again, this is the analytic philosophers coming in. There are different kinds of ways that you can not believe in God and still be in a relationship. Howard-Snyder goes through what is called propositionally assuming. The one that’s interesting, let’s see here. Here’s Wainwright’s, and he gives us Scripture. Let me preface his solution by reading this Scripture from Matthew 25:37-50. “Then the righteous will answer Him, ‘Lord, when did we see you hungry and feed or thirsty and give you something to drink and when did we see you a stranger and invite you in or naked and clothe you? When did we see you sick or in prison and come to you?’ The king will answer and say to them, ‘Truly I say to you, to the extent that you did it to one of these brothers of mine, even the least of them, you did it to me.’ ” What’s he suggesting here is take an atheist who doesn’t believe God exists. Nevertheless, he relates to, and this is like in scare quotes, the good. He doesn’t know what the good is, but he recognizes it as a thing. He doesn’t call it God and he tries to order his life in a way that follows it. Even though he doesn’t call it by the name of God or recognize it as God, because in Christian philosophy many of us believe that God is the good, this is the standard by which we measure good, and whenever we ascribe the property of goodness to something else, what’s happening in the background, what makes our property description true, is that it resembles God. The object in questions resembles God in some relevant way. That’s what the property of goodness is. When a person relates to the good in this way, whether they know it or not, they’re relating to God and they’re in a relationship with God whether they like it or know it.
Kurt: In this case, I would have in mind the atheist who says that they like some of the instructions of Jesus, and in this case, while I want to point out the inconsistency I think in only accepting some of them but not all, given who Jesus was, nevertheless, I want to encourage the atheist to do what Jesus teaches because in doing that, they are relating to God and they’re going to recognize these deep objective truths and that will then draw in them perhaps even, well certainly an experience of God, but also in the hope that maybe God does exist, it sort of draws that out or at the very least, they might sort of pull a Pascalian wager here that maybe they should just pragmatically live as if God exists.
Blake: Yeah. Absolutely. Listen to this question from Imran Aijaz and Markus Weidler, they published in the International Journal for the Philosophy of Religion called Some Critical Reflections on the Hiddenness Argument. They go in for this type of response. They say, “Suppose I’m an atheist and God speaks to me clearly through my conscience so that when faced with a moral decision I have no hesitations about the proper course of action. I then, respond to the voice of God in a firm and committed way. For example, in ending up doing the right thing, even though I do not believe that God exists. This state of affairs is certainly conceivable and it’s conceivable in a way in acting in accordance with the good, as Wainwright proposes, more or less extensional equivalent to acting on theistic belief, even though I do not hold the belief that there is a God. That’s just an example.
Kurt: We’re running short on time here, but certainly I want to encourage folks who have been following along today’s show to check out your website and continue exploring, I mean, I can get lost, and I mean that in a good way, I can get lost in the material here. I don’t mean, because it’s so well-ordered and structured, but I’d lose track of time I think.
Blake: It’s kind of like Wikipedia where one thing leads to another and if you enjoy learning, it keeps diving deeper. It’s a great way to learn and if you’re trying to familiarize yourself with the debate for and against, I think it’s one of the most powerful ways to train yourself and be prepared to give an answer for the hope that’s within you to others.
Kurt: Blake. Thank you so much for coming on today’s show and guiding us through the complex issue here of divine hiddenness, but really, when we break it down, it doesn’t have to be as complex as we might think it would be. It’s as you said, the argument might be sort of death by a thousand cuts, that really the scope here is more limited than people might expect and having put in the research yourself and making it available to us is just, in many ways, a labor of love, but of course, for those people that are interested you can go to Blake’s website and financially support his work as well so that he can afford more time and resources to building up the website even more and so I’m sure he’d love to get your support for that. Blake. Thanks so much and we’ll have to bring you on another time and go through some other topic that you’ve got on this site. Thanks for guiding us through that and I look forward to the next time.
Blake: My pleasure. Anytime.
Kurt: Thanks. Take care.
Blake: You too.Bye.
Kurt: I hope that was a good opportunity for you to maybe stretch your mind a bit more and to see how the point-counterpoint interaction works. I also hope and pray that you’ll have an opportunity to use Blake’s website in the conversations that you might have, you’ll see how helpful a resource it is in your discussions with people, because if we’re not having these types of discussions with people, I think we’re not really reaching out to the lost here. That reminds me of Paul when he visited Athens and he saw all the idols in the city. His spirit was moved and he wanted to share the gospel with people, and I hope that you can look around and your spirit will be moved as well to begin having conversations with people that aren’t Christians or who might call themselves Christian, but really might not understand, know, or even affirm what traditional historic Christianity has held in the core beliefs and so you’ll take that opportunity to have a conversation with them and then you’ll see how Blake’s website has already mapped out the conversation that you might be having with someone.
Kurt: That does it for the show today. I’m grateful for the continued support of our patrons and the partnerships that we have with our sponsors, Defenders Media, Consult Kevin, The Sky Floor, Rethinking Hell, The Illinois Family Institute, Evolution 2.0, Fox Restoration, and Non-Profit Megaphone. Thank you to our technical producer today Chris, and for our guest today, Blake Giunta, the founder of the beliefmap.org website and last but not least, I want to thank you for listening in and for striving for truth on faith, politics, and society.