Friday 2 January 2015

Divine Hiddenness and Hitchens Worlds

It is often argued that the absence of decisive reason to believe in God is, in of itself, reason to disbelieve. This is known as the problem of divine hiddenness and, much like the problem of evil, identifies features of the world that are unexpected under the assumption of classical theism. One might note that, if God were to exist, he would want to cultivate a personal relationship with all of his creation. But many people, despite being open to theistic belief, find themselves unable to shrug off rational doubts. Because it's impossible to have a relationship with someone you don't even believe exists, these rational doubts stand as a inculpable roadblock for people entering into this loving relationship with God. Divine hiddenness offers a very different sort of challenge than the problem of evil, and incites theists to develop novel theodicies to explain why God would permit rational disbelief.

Some have supposed that, even if God made his existence apparent to all, it would only result in greater numbers of people who would reject him. Knowing God existed, people would beg him to save them from evil. But God would not do away with those evils anymore than he does now, and this would plausibly make people bitter against him. People like the late Christopher Hitchens, not simply being atheist but being anti-theist, might become the norm. Instead of simply not believing in God, they would hate God and actively resist him. Such is a Hitchens world, one in which a large portion of creation hates their creator and actively resists a relationship with him all the while accepting his existence.

Supposedly God can work around non-belief. If one does away with any idea of a hellish afterlife for non-believers, they can reasonably think God doesn't simply give up on his creation at their death. Rather God would pursue his creation into eternity, so that eventually every person would have opportunity to love and be loved by him. But a Hitchens world would be dastardly for God's goal of bringing all of creation to himself. Plausibly, these powerful negative emotions towards God could do more damage and stand as a much bigger roadblock to a loving relationship with God than mere non-belief.

While this theodicy has an air of plausibility, there are a number of holes that would have to be filled before it could be called a success. First of all, it would be rather strange for God to give us decisive reason to believe his existence, but not his moral perfection. Indeed, on classical definitions of God, any decisive reason to believe his existence would necessitate decisive reason to believe his moral perfection. And so in a Hitchens world, everyone would be fully aware and in agreement that God is morally perfect, and that every evil he permits he does so for very good reason. But how could people then hate God? It would require them to be incredibly petty, or immature, or irrational.

God, being the creator of man, is supposedly directly responsible for human psychology. If we responded immaturely or irrationally to his justified permission of evil, then it could only be because he chose us to be that way. God could have just as easily created us to be more charitable and humble in our attitudes and judgements. It's not clear why God wouldn't simply have created us with different (and, in fact, more noble) psychological tendencies. In light of this, it's still very unexpected that he would hide his existence from creation.

Secondly, the real world is populated by a great many religious people who are wholly convinced of God's existence. And yet, hatred of God doesn't run rampant within theistic communities. In fact, if anything, it seems conviction in theistic belief has the complete opposite effect.