ARTICLES

Volume 44 - Issue 3

The God Who Reveals: A Response to J. L. Schellenberg’s Hiddenness Argument

by Daniel Wiley

Abstract

The challenge of divine hiddenness has become one of the greatest advocates for skepticism in modern philosophical debate. From this challenge, Schellenberg has developed the now acclaimed hiddenness argument. For Schellenberg, an all-loving God would be always open to personal relationships with finite creatures, and thus all nonbelief would derive from resistance to God. However, the existence of nonresistant nonbelievers, or those who have never resisted the idea of God, must prove that God does not exist, for surely an all-loving God would leave enough evidence of himself to convince finite creatures of his existence and prevent nonresistant nonbelief. In response, I argue that (1) openness to personal relationships and love are not as correlated as the hiddenness argument demands, (2) nonresistant nonbelief is not provable, and (3) Schellenberg fails to reason to God’s omni-benevolence apart from Scripture.

In 1993, J. L. Schellenberg, currently professor of philosophy at Mount Saint Vincent University and adjunct professor in the faculty of graduate studies at Dalhousie University, published the first edition of his now acclaimed work Divine Hiddenness and Human Reason.1 Presenting what he contended was a new argument against the existence of God, Schellenberg concluded that the existence of an all-loving and personal God is incompatible with the existence of nonresistant nonbelievers. This argument has come to be known as the “hiddenness argument.” In less than three decades, the hiddenness argument joined the problem of evil as a topic of great philosophical fever, appearing as the subject of numerous articles in peer reviewed journals and engraving itself into various significant handbooks and companions on the philosophy of religion.2 According to Dumsday, “Next to the problem of evil, the problem of divine hiddenness has become the most prominent argument for atheism in the current literature.”3

In 2015, Schellenberg released a new work, The Hiddenness Argument: Philosophy’s New Challenge to the Belief in God.4 The reason for this release, according to Schellenberg, was to present “a clear and crisp statement of an argument still rightly called new.”5 Based upon the hiddenness argument’s ability to withstand scrutiny, as demonstrated in Schellenberg’s various rebuttals to his opponents, it is evident that the argument is, as Schellenberg candidly states, “here to stay.”6 Beyond Schellenberg’s own objectives, the release of The Hiddenness Argument coincides comfortably with the rise and growth of secular humanism in western culture.7 As divine hiddenness is increasingly used to justify nonbelief, it will become increasingly essential for the Church to offer rebuttal.

The purpose of this article is to evaluate and respond to the hiddenness argument.8 This response concentrates upon its three core foundations: (1) The positive correlation between love and one’s openness to personal relationships, (2) Nonresistant nonbelief, and (3) The rationality of God as an omni-benevolent being. In response to the hiddenness argument, I propose the following: (1) The correlation between love and one’s openness to personal relationship is not as strong as the hiddenness argument demands, (2) Nonresistant nonbelief is an unprovable position, and (3) The hiddenness argument cannot establish the omni-benevolence of God apart from Scripture, and thus is consequently self-defeating.

1. The Hiddenness Argument Explained

Before presenting the rebuttal, it is essential to accurately present the hiddenness argument as defined by Schellenberg himself. Only an accurate representation of an argument can lead to a successful rebuttal. Furthermore, Schellenberg contests that his argumentation has been misconstrued, and this is something we do not desire to do here.9

Hiddenness logic is multifaceted, and many lines of reasoning from divine hiddenness have been proposed by philosophers.10 Furthermore, Schellenberg’s own version of the argument has gone through revision since 1994.11 Dumsday skillfully defines the basics of the hiddenness argument as follows:

God loves us and desires our ultimate well-being. Genuine love leads the lover to seek open relationship with the beloved (since that is entailed by the nature of love), especially if the ultimate well-being of the beloved requires such relationship (as is supposedly the case with us and God). Consequently, God would ensure that each of us had a rationally secure belief in Him and that each of us could, just by willing it, enter into conscious communion with Him. But as a matter of fact, some people fail to believe in God, and that through no fault of their own; that is, we find actualized the phenomenon of ‘nonresistant nonbelief’, nonbelief on the part of those otherwise willing to believe. This state of affairs contradicts what theism would lead us to expect a priori, which provides good reason to think that God does not exist.12

The force of hiddenness logic derives from the conclusion that an all-loving God would ensure that all people could have a belief in him (and especially if nonbelief has eschatological consequences) and thus would provide all people with enough compelling evidence to conclude that He exists and, in turn, believe in him. However, nonresistant nonbelievers, those who have not resisted a relationship with God but conclude that this necessary evidence does not exist, remain in our world. Therefore, God must not exist.13

From Dumsday’s definition of hiddenness logic, it is easy to comprehend Schellenberg’s version of the argument, which he conveniently presents by way of the following syllogism in The Hiddenness Argument (presumably the most up-to-date version of the argument):

  1. If a perfectly loving God exists, then there exists a God who is always open to a personal relationship with any finite person.
  2. If there exists a God who is always open to a personal relationship with any finite person, then no finite person is ever nonresistantly in a state of nonbelief in relation to the proposition that God exists.
  3. If a perfectly loving God exists, then no finite person is ever nonresistantly in a state of nonbelief in relation to the proposition that God exists (from 1 and 2).
  4. Some finite persons are or have been nonresistantly in a state of nonbelief in relation to the proposition that God exists.
  5. No perfectly loving God exists (from 3 and 4).
  6. If no perfectly loving God exists, then God does not exist.
  7. God does not exist (from 5 and 6).14

One must not underestimate the force of this syllogism. The conclusions logically flow from the premises, and thus the argument is valid. To respond to the hiddenness argument, one must demonstrate that one or more of the premises are in error.

2. Perfect Love and Openness to Personal Relationships

The first foundational point of the hiddenness argument is the relationship between love and openness. According to Schellenberg, “The hiddenness argument’s main premise, stated without analytical fretting or frills and with the aim of maximum intuitive force, is this: If a perfectly loving God exists, then there exists a God who is always open to a personal relationship with any finite person.”15 In this context, openness “means that it will be possible for creatures who haven’t made it impossible themselves through their own God-obscuring resistance of the divine, to participate in relationship with God; if they want to, they will be able to do so simply by trying to do so.”16 Thus, if God is open to relationship, then “God sees to it that nothing God does or fails to do puts relationship with God out of reach for finite persons at the time in question.”17 In short, if God is omni-benevolent, then he would always be open to personal relationships with finite creatures and do nothing to prevent relationships with finite creatures.

The heart of this argument is found in the correlation between love as expressed by human persons and love as expressed by God. As Schellenberg argues, if there was no possible analogy between God’s love and human love, then human language could not speak about God at all.18 This correspondence is best witnessed in a parent’s love for his or her children. In normal cases, the best parents always love their children, and this love manifests itself through a parent’s openness to relationship with his or her children. Now, if a parent is not open to relationship with his or her children, he or she is seen by others as a bad parent. Therefore, God, who is the perfect “parent,” much always be open to relationship with his “children,” lest he falls short of omni-benevolence.19

The force of this argument is strong, and especially because of its emotional angle. Those parents who refuse relationship with their children are seen as abnormal and less than truly loving. If that is so, then how can a perfect God avoid such scrutiny if he is not open to relationships with finite creatures? Nevertheless, the implied assumption with the above argument is that one’s openness to relationship is positively correlated with one’s love. To put that differently, love becomes the final arbitrator in one’s openness to relationships, i.e. if one is truly loving, then one will always be open to relationships. However, this correlation is not sustainable to the degree that the hiddenness argument requires.

2.1. Parents and Closed Doors

One example demonstrating the failure of the hiddenness argument’s openness-love correspondence is the relationship between parents and children. A good parent always loves his or her child. However, we can conceive of scenarios in which a parent’s love does not determine the openness of a relationship.20 For instance, a child could grow up and become delinquent in a way that would threaten the safety of his or her parents and family (examples include becoming a serial killer or a sex offender). A good parent will always love that child, but would a wise parent keep that relationship open considering the circumstances? It is highly unlikely (at best, there will be great restrictions upon the openness of that relationship), and this is for one very simply reason: Purpose is just as influential upon our openness to relationship as love. In this example, a good parent is loving, but a good parent also protects his or her family. Such protection could include restraining orders or even relocation to prevent contact depending upon the seriousness of the events. On the other hand, parents who do not act upon the situation could be threating the well-being of their spouses and other children. Would that be a loving thing to do? The irony of this scenario is that Schellenberg’s logic demands that one be open to a dangerous relationship, but that might not be a loving thing to do in regard to one’s other relationships. At the very least, this argument shows that the correlation between love and openness is more complicated that the hiddenness argument demands.

2.2. A Response to Potential Counter-Rebuttals

It is possible that Schellenberg would respond to the above example in a couple of ways. First, he could argue that God is perfectly loving, and thus his openness is never affected by the imperfections of human relationships or purposes that influence openness. Second, he could argue that God is sovereign, and thus can be open to any relationship that he wants to regardless of humanity’s sin or vice.21 Therefore, the dangers of human actions would not affect God’s ability to be open to any relationship with any finite person. Third, he could argue that the deviant child already knows of the parents’ existence, and thus the relationship is not truly “closed” in the sense that the child lacks awareness of their existence. To these potential counter-arguments, several points are made.

For the first counter-argument, such logic would contradict Schellenberg’s own thesis. As stated above, we can speak of God’s love because we understand human love. Furthermore, having proven that openness is also determined by purpose and not just love in man, it would be impossible to correlate human love with God’s love if God’s love is the final arbitrator in determining his openness but human love is not. Without this correlation between humankind and God regarding love, the logic behind the hiddenness argument cannot stand.

For the second counter-argument, to say that God can be open to relationship with all humanity says nothing about God’s necessity to be open to all humanity. The original version of the hiddenness argument draws the correlation between perfect love and openness, not ability and openness. This is changing the argument. Nevertheless, even if ability is included in the argument, it still does not override the fact that openness is also determined by purpose, as previously demonstrated. If human persons have various degrees of openness based upon purpose and not just love, then why can’t God’s openness also be dependent upon his purposes and not just his love?22

For the third counter-argument, such logic would run contrary to Schellenberg’s own reasoning. Giving an example of a child who is enthusiastic about parents who do not have any relationship with the child, he concludes, “Their attitude towards him, whatever it is, doesn’t amount to the most admirable love, since they are closed to being in a personal relationship with him.”23 At this point in the argument, openness vs. closedness is not indicative of existence vs. nonexistence, lest the above logic would make no sense (the closedness of the parents’ relationship in the example says nothing about their existence—they obviously exist!). Therefore, Schellenberg would have to retract his reasoning here (reasoning that is valuable to his argument) to make the rebuttal stand.

3. Nonresistant Nonbelief

The second foundation of the hiddenness argument is the concepts of resistance and nonresistant nonbelief. According to the third conditional proposition, “If there exists a God who is always open to a personal relationship with each finite person, then no finite person is ever nonresistantly in a state of nonbelief in relation to the proposition that God exists.”24 According to Schellenberg’s logic, a perfectly loving God who is always open to a personal relationship with each finite person will make His existence knowable, for surely a God who hides evidence of Himself cannot be perfectly loving. Therefore, those who reject this necessary evidence for God must be in a state of resistance towards God.25

However, Schellenberg also argues that there are many people who have not resisted or currently resist the idea of God but rather remained or currently remain unconvinced of His existence. These people include: (1) Early homo sapiens, who had no concept of or need to consider theistic religion, (2) Former believers, those who once held to theistic religion but converted out after reflection upon the evidence, and (3) Secularists who have felt no conscious desire to pursue discussion of God.26 Schellenberg confidently concludes, “So anyone with some acquaintance with evolutionary history and a willingness to look truth in the eye will be able to see that, in the actual world, many people in our history have failed to believe in God without resistance of God in any way coming into the explanation of their nonbelief.”27 In summary, if an all-loving God exists, then he would never close off relationships with finite creatures, and thus all nonbelief would be resistance. However, since there are some who do not resist God, then God must not exist. Unfortunately, as convincing as nonresistant nonbelief appears to be, this line of reasoning has numerous difficulties.

3.1. An Unprovable Assumption

The first difficulty is that nonresistant nonbelief cannot be proven in a meaningful way. The reason for the unverifiability of nonresistant nonbelief is that nonresistant nonbelief is a conceptual thought of the mind. Therefore, there is no possible way for one to prove that one possesses nonresistant nonbelief beyond stating that one has nonresistant nonbelief.

A non-emotionally charged example might be helpful in proving the point. If I were to state, “I am thinking about taking my beautiful girlfriend out for a ride in my brand-new convertible,” how would I go about proving that I am thinking about taking my beautiful girlfriend out for a ride in my brand-new convertible? The truth is, I cannot prove that I am thinking such a thought, for the mind cannot be observed in such a way to prove that I am thinking about taking my beautiful girlfriend out for a ride in my brand-new convertible. Theoretically, I could take my beautiful girlfriend out for a rise in my new convertible later and use my actions as “proof” for my prior thinking, but that still does not absolutely prove that I was thinking of such things at the time. I could have been lying, or perhaps I took my girlfriend out for a ride for an entirely different reason than for the fact that I was thinking about it earlier, and thus there is no true connection between my thought and later action. Ultimately, those whom I share this information with must simply take my word that I am thinking of this.

Now, let us take that idea into the debate concerning the existence of God. If a believer approaches an unbeliever and argues, “I just know God exists because God speaks to me,” do you suppose that the unbeliever would accept this statement as evidence that God does exist? Hardly. What if, instead of one believer, one million believers approached this unbeliever and made the same argument. Would the unbeliever then accept that as evidence that God exists. Probably not. Instead, the unbeliever would ask for objective evidence that God exists instead relying on the subjective statement of the believer that is impossible to verify.

At this point, my rebuttal is obvious: Nonresistant nonbelief as a provable state of mind is in no different a position than my inability to prove that I am thinking about taking my beautiful girlfriend for a ride in my new convertible or the believer trying to prove that God exists because he had a “personal encounter” with God. When this point is realized, Schellenberg’s proposed “evidence” simply becomes a “hand count” of all the people who claim to live or may have lived in a state of nonresistant nonbelief and not actual proof that nonresistant nonbelief exists. Even if one is truly in a state of nonresistant nonbelief and makes this claim with confidence, the fact that one cannot prove this claim makes the argument meaningless as an apologetic for atheism.

3.2. Ignorance of Resistant Nonbelief

The second difficulty is the assumption that resistance is always a conscious act. One’s personal belief that one is not resisting God is, alone, not proof of nonresistant nonbelief, for one could be deceived. Ironically, Schellenberg offers evidence for this rebuttal in his attempt to establish the existence of nonresistant nonbelief! Commenting on the nonresistant nonbelief of pre-theistic homo sapiens, Schellenberg argues,

Think about it. These are people who don’t believe in God. So they are nonbelievers–they are not in a state of belief in relation to the proposition that God exists. And how could they be resistant? It’s not even possible since resistance of God presupposes thinking about God, and their whole picture of the world is shaped in such a way that thinking about God just wouldn’t happen.28

The reader will notice that Schellenberg contests that “resistance of God presupposes thinking about God.” However, the reader will also notice that these pre-theistic homo sapiens had a whole picture of the world “shaped in such a way that thinking about God just wouldn’t happen.” By this statement, Schellenberg admits that the thinking of these pre-theistic homo sapiens is so directing and controlling of the minds of these individuals that they would never think about God.

This thinking that is so directing and controlling is clearly evidence of a worldview, and understanding how worldviews work is essential in recognizing the importance of the previous point. God may have very well left evidence of Himself, but these pre-theistic homo sapiens developed a worldview that does not recognize God (at least in a theistic sense) and thus construe the evidence to fit their own worldview. In this scenario, the lack of reflection regarding God by these pre-theistic homo sapiens says nothing about his existence or demands that resistance is active in a conscious sense. This puts Schellenberg in a dilemma: As the statement stands currently, it is inconsistent with the objectivity of nonresistant nonbelief, yet if he retracts his statement, he does severe damage to his thesis.

As a final thought to this rebuttal, pre-theistic homo sapiens are not the only ones who could have a worldview that removes God from discussion. Is it not possible that a secular humanistic view of the world, which, by its very nature, attempts to define all life and purpose apart from God, would shape one’s mind in such a way that God becomes unimportant? Might a secular humanistic culture suppress the idea of God and interpret all the evidence God left of himself thought a secular lens and thus reject the idea of God a priori? Secularists may be convinced that they are not resisting God, but how can they be sure of this when they have, just as the pre-theistic homo sapiens did, a whole picture of the world that is shaped in such a way that thinking about God just wouldn’t happen?

Of course, Schellenberg might respond that an all-loving God would leave strong enough evidence of himself to override any suspicion of his existence. However, this assumes the modernistic presupposition that an individual can reason independently and objectively to the truth. As Schellenberg has already admitted, culture greatly affects an individual’s thinking. Perhaps God has left enough evidence of himself, but that evidence is manipulated by worldviews.29 If so, then is God obligated to give more evidence for his existence? Schellenberg may believe so, but he must first resolve the consequences of his own arguments regarding the role of worldviews and their effects upon one’s thinking.

4. The Omni-Benevolence of God

The final pillar of the hiddenness argument concerns God’s omni-benevolence.30 That God is all-loving is revealed in Scripture (1 John 4:8) and is an essential truth of the Christian faith.31 God’s omni-benevolence is also important for the hiddenness argument. For Schellenberg, the effectiveness of the hiddenness argument stands or falls upon the omni-benevolence of God.32

However, arguing for the omni-benevolence of God apart from Scripture is Schellenberg’s challenge. At first, this challenge does not appear to be a challenge at all, since it is generally assumed, and especially in western culture, that God, if he exists, would be all-loving. In his article, “The Hiddenness Argument Revisited (1),” Schellenberg remarked, “We may note that there is little evidence of any inclination among philosophers to question the argument’s claim that perfect love is an essential property of God (where by ‘God’ is meant the personal God of traditional theism). I shall therefore give little attention to that claim.”33 The question, however, is this: Why would philosophers simply assume that God, if he exists, is all-loving? There is certainly much in the world that would suggest otherwise (this is why the problem is evil is so problematic!). Furthermore, love as an attribute of God has not been universally held by the world’s religions both past and present. Schellenberg admits as much and notes,

Christians clearly teach that God is love, but it isn’t—or isn’t as obviously—the case for other theistic traditions. Islam emphasizes divine mercy and compassion, which may in some ways be related to love but don’t amount to the same thing. And Judaism seems to get along with a God who—especially after the Holocaust—may be severely criticized and regarded as somewhat deficient in love.34

To add to Schellenberg’s admission, popular historical viewpoints on God have been fine without omni-benevolence as necessary for God, for example, Deism.35 Perhaps God’s omni-benevolence is not so obvious after all.

Nevertheless, Schellenberg is certain that it is “reasonable” to conclude that God, if he exists, is omni-benevolent. Commenting on the qualities a perfect person must possess, he remarks, “Contrary to what some of my critics have said, such reflection—and not just Christian prejudice—is what lay behind my claim in Divine Hiddenness and Human Reason that a God would be perfectly loving.”36 Since cultures have disagreed on the status of “love,” and thus “love” is not universally recognized as a perfection, Schellenberg bears of burden of proof in arguing that love as a perfection is not simply a Western cultural perspective but a proposition that can be proven by reason apart from Scriptural revelation and cultural influence.

4.1. The Urgency of Schellenberg’s Defense

One must not underestimate the urgency of God’s omni-benevolence for the hiddenness argument. If Schellenberg cannot prove that God must be loving, then he must rely on Scripture to prove that God is omni-benevolent. This, however, would be the death warrant for the hiddenness argument, for to be consistent, Schellenberg would have to use all of Scripture to define God and man rather than just what is convenient for the hiddenness argument. As even the most simple-minded Bible college student knows, the Scriptures present a worldview radically different than that presented by Schellenberg, a worldview that is purely modernistic. The most significant and obvious distinction between Schellenberg’s secular worldview and the biblical worldview is the nature of man. According to Scripture, man is not a morally-neutral being but is a sinner and in a natural state of rebellion against his Creator (Rom 3:9–19; Eph 2:1–3; cf. Gen 8:21; Col 2:13). Man does not reject God because there is no evidence for God, but because man twists the evidence to justify His own rebellion and hate of God (cf. Rom 1:18–23).

Of course, proponents of the hiddenness argument would hardly accept Scriptural testimony to the nature of man as a rebuttal of the hiddenness argument. For secularists, the Bible is a biased religious document and thus it is meaningless to reference Scripture to refute the hiddenness argument. Schellenberg follows the play-book well. For example, those who appeal to Scripture, the composition of which modernism has “proved” is suspect,37 do it out of loyalty “to preconceived views instead of a burning desire to know what’s true.”38 Schellenberg is not convinced regarding the biblical nature of man. In fact, he relegates this view to that of “cultish” status.39 For Schellenberg, man is not in rebellion against God and would be believe in God if only God would remain open to relationship.40 Clearly, the only valid reason why anyone would hold onto Scripture is because they have not been exposed to the “evidence” that secularism has given us. However, when one leaves his or her religious community and enters the city, the bastion of secular thought, and thus is exposed to other views, one can think for oneself and will likely develop doubt against the existence of God.41

Problems with this narrative aside,42 the radical distinction between a biblical worldview and the hiddenness argument forces Schellenberg to argue for God’s omni-benevolence apart from Scripture. If Schellenberg cannot do so, then it is obvious that he must rely on Scripture to form the idea of God as all-loving. However, if he does so, then he must also accept the rest of the biblical testimony regarding the nature of God and man.

4.2. A Rationally Loving God?

As urgent as the matter is, Schellenberg only offers one clear non-biblical argument in proof of God’s omni-benevolence in The Hiddenness Argument.43 This argument proceeds as follows:

Here’s one way to think about it. Bring before your mind the concept of the greatest possible person—a person so great that none could be greater—and suppose also that this person has created a world including finite persons. Think about this person’s attributes. Now either your conception already embraces perfect love towards those other persons among its attributes or it doesn’t. If it does, I’ve made my case. If it doesn’t, then ask yourself what is the result of mentally adding perfect love to the collection of attributes you’ve conceived.44

Schellenberg’s example fails to prove that love is a perfection for two reasons. First, the argument begs the question, for it assumes that a more impressive person would be “perfectly loving” without proving that love is a perfection. Second, it bases the judgment of love as a perfection completely upon the reader, as if the reader’s perception of the value of love determines whether love is a perfection. Just because Schellenberg’s reader assumes that the addition of perfect love makes one a morally impressive person does not actually make that person morally impressive. If the reader concluded “no,” then would love no longer a perfection? Western culture may value love (however it is defined by western culture), but western culture’s admiration for something alone does not make it “good” in an objective sense, much less a perfection.

Schellenberg’s failure to establish omni-benevolence as necessary to God apart from Scripture places his thesis in jeopardy. He cannot even begin to argue against the existence of God unless he can prove God’s omni-benevolence, but he has not done this. As it stands, his only foreseeable option is to approach the nature of God from the Christian worldview, but, as argued above, this worldview is not compatible with the moral neutrality of humanity as asserted by the hiddenness argument, and thus an appeal to the Christian understanding of God is self-defeating.

5. Conclusion

In this article, I have examined the three foundational propositions of Schellenberg’s most contemporary version of the hiddenness argument. As I have argued, Schellenberg’s hiddenness argument fails for three reasons:

  1. It assumes a correlation between love and openness that does not reflect the way men and women establish openness to relationships.
  2. It is not able to prove nonresistant nonbelief.
  3. It has not established God’s omni-benevolence apart from Scripture.

Although the argument is emotionally satisfying and comfortably coincides with a rising secularism in our culture, there are just too many unproven presuppositions in the hiddenness argument for it to stand scrutiny.

Nevertheless, even with its problems, the hiddenness argument is not likely to go away anytime soon. Just as the problem of evil remains in writing at the popular level in spite of its difficulties,45 so likely will the hiddenness argument also persevere, and especially as secularism continues to grow in Western culture. Schellenberg acknowledges that the hiddenness argument “is now quite regularly explored alongside the venerable old problem of evil in philosophy classrooms and texts.”46 Therefore, pastors, educators, and students of theology cannot be ignorant of this “new” argument and its shortcomings.


[1] J. L. Schellenberg, Divine Hiddenness and Human Reason (Ithaca, NY: Cornell University Press, 1993).

[2] See Schellenberg, The Hiddenness Argument: Philosophy’s New Challenge to Belief in God (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2017), x.

[3] Travis Dumsday, “Divine Hiddenness and the One Sheep,” IJPR 79 (2016): 69.

[4] Schellenberg, The Hiddenness Argument: Philosophy’s New Challenge to Belief in God (Oxford, United Kingdom: Oxford University Press, 2015). A softcover edition of The Hiddenness Argument: Philosophy’s New Challenge to the Belief in God was released in 2017. This softcover edition will be the primary reference in this article.

[5] Schellenberg, The Hiddenness Argument (Oxford, United Kingdom: Oxford University Press, 2017), xii. Schellenberg lists several other reasons for his new release, including distinguishing the hiddenness argument from the problem of evil (see xi).

[6] Schellenberg, The Hiddenness Argument, x. As implied by the preface of The Hiddenness Argument, it is likely that Schellenberg desired a publication clarifying and establishing the hiddenness argument due to the numerous rebuttals launched against the hiddenness argument. For a comprehensive list of these rebuttals and Schellenberg’s responses, along with other notable recent works exploring divine hiddenness, see The Hiddenness Argument, 133–39.

[7] Schellenberg admits as much. See The Hiddenness Argument, 83.

[8] Schellenberg’s The Hiddenness Argument serves as the primary object of the paper, although Schellenberg’s other works are referenced when necessary.

[9] Schellenberg, The Hiddenness Argument, 105. This section of the paper presents the basics of the argument. The relevant fine-points are addressed in the following sections.

[10] Robert MacSwain, “Sensus Divinitais or Divine Hiddenness? Alvin Plantinga and J. L. Schellenberg on Knowledge of God,” AThR 99 (2017): 359.

[11] See Imran Aijaz and Markus Weidler, “Some Critical Reflections on the Hiddenness Argument,” International Journal for Philosophy of Religion 61 (2007): 4.

[12] Travis Dumsday, “Divine Hiddenness and the Opiate of the People,” International Journal for Philosophy of Religion 76 (2014): 194.

[13] See also J. Caleb Clanton, “Alexander Campbell on the Problem of Divine Hiddenness,” SCJ 15 (Fall 2012): 192–93.

[14] Schellenberg, The Hiddenness Argument, 103.

[15] Schellenberg, The Hiddenness Argument, 38.

[16] Schellenberg, The Hiddenness Argument, 41.

[17] Schellenberg, The Hiddenness Argument, 41.

[18] Schellenberg, The Hiddenness Argument, 49.

[19] See Schellenberg, The Hiddenness Argument, 41–42.

[20] The following scenario could be modified slightly, for example, a man closes the relationship between himself and a delinquent brother or other family member for the sake of the safety of his family.

[21] Commenting on the ability of God to be open to all relationships in contrasts to the potential limitations of man to be open to all possible relationships, Schellenberg notes, “God has the resources to accommodate the possible consequences of openness to relationship with finite persons, making them compatible with the flourishing of all concerned and of any relationship that may come to exist between them.” See Schellenberg, The Hiddenness Argument, 45.

[22] At this point, we do not have to define God’s purposes, but only prove that purpose affects openness.

[23] Schellenberg, The Hiddenness Argument, 42.

[24] Schellenberg, The Hiddenness Argument, 57.

[25] Schellenberg, The Hiddenness Argument, 42.

[26] Schellenberg, The Hiddenness Argument, 76–86.

[27] Schellenberg, The Hiddenness Argument, 79.

[28] Schellenberg, The Hiddenness Argument, 77.

[29] Another question could be asked, “How much evidence is enough evidence?” Here, worldviews come into play. Secularists are generally convinced that they would “believe” if some “evidence” came along to prove His existence or God would reveal Himself in some miraculous way. However, according to Scripture, men reject the truth even in the face of the evidence (e.g., Matt 9:34; Luke 16:31). In a biblical worldview, submission to the Lord concerns more than simple “belief” in God.

[30] In truth, because of its importance, the omni-benevolence of God is rightly called the first pillar of the Hiddenness Argument. Nevertheless, a full discussion of the omni-benevolence of God is left for the final chapters of The Hiddenness Argument per Schellenberg’s own wishes (see Schellenberg, The Hiddenness Argument, 89), and thus this rebuttal follows suit.

[31] Love is essential to the believer’s walk and characteristic of his faith. For example, a believer is called to love both those of the faith (1 John 3:14) and his enemies (Matt 5:44). Love towards other believers and one’s enemies are described as “signs” that one is a true believer.

[32] Schellenberg, The Hiddenness Argument, 89.

[33] J. L. Schellenberg, “The Hiddenness Argument Revisited (1),” RelS 41 (2005): 201.

[34] Schellenberg, The Hiddenness Argument, 89–90.

[35] In Deism, God has no relationship with finite creatures, and thus it is nonsense to speak of God as omni-benevolent. Furthermore, the decline of Deism was not its lack of emphasis upon God’s love, as if deism could not be maintained because it did not include omni-benevolence as an attribute of God. Essentially, the God of Deism is closed to any meaningful personal relationship with finite creatures.

[36] Schellenberg, The Hiddenness Argument, 95.

[37] See Schellenberg, The Hiddenness Argument, 80.

[38] Schellenberg, The Hiddenness Argument, 50.

[39] Schellenberg, The Hiddenness Argument, 34. Schellenberg’s charge is especially interesting considering that the depravity of man is foundational to Reformed and Evangelical theology.

[40] In conformity to modernism, Schellenberg offers no evidence that man can interpret the world correctly but simply assumes it throughout.

[41] Schellenberg, The Hiddenness Argument, 86.

[42] The major issue with Schellenberg’s presentation of secularism (primarily in ch. 6) is the assumption that secularism is “neutral,” meaning that secularism has no control over the way people think but is a natural consequence of people thinking for themselves. This is in opposition to religion generally defined, which “controls” the way people think but something people grow out of as they become exposed to secularism. This failure to recognize the worldview of secularism and its influence upon those within its influence is clearly special pleading.

[43] Schellenberg does list several counter arguments or arguments for a loveless God and his responses to those arguments (see Schellenberg, The Hiddenness Argument, 97–102). However, this list presupposes that Schellenberg has established the reasonableness of God’s omni-benevolence apart from Scripture. As I argue, I am certain that he has not yet done this.

The only other possible argument for God’s omni-benevolence apart from Scripture as implied by Schellenberg derives from his conception of ultimism (see Schellenberg, The Hiddenness Argument, 18–22). For Schellenberg, “Within an ultimistic frame of reference, it’s all or nothing: because God must be perfect in every way, either God is loving or God is not loving at all” (97). Schellenberg is correct, but the point does not prove that God is loving, but only that He must be one or the other.

[44] Schellenberg, The Hiddenness Argument, 96–97, emphasis original.

[45] See Chad Meister, “God, Evil, and Morality,” in God Is Great, God Is Good: Why Believing in God Is Reasonable and Responsible, ed. William Lane Craig and Chad Meister (Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 2009), 108.

[46] Schellenberg, The Hiddenness Argument, x.

Daniel Wiley

Daniel Wiley is an adjunct professor at Grand Canyon University in Phoenix, Arizona, and a PhD candidate at Baptist Bible Seminary in Clarks Summit, Pennsylvania.

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