on May 19, 2000
If there is a God, why is his existence not more obvious? The traditional answer is that God is hidden. However, as John L. Schellenberg (DPhil, Oxon) points out, an all-good or perfectly loving God would not remain hidden. Therefore, he argues, the fact that it is *reasonable* to not believe in God is *evidence* for the non-existence of God.
What makes Schellenberg's book so interesting is that Schellenberg was forced to embrace atheism as a result of his own argument, despite the fact that Schellenberg has said that he finds atheism quite unpalatable. In the conclusion of his book, Schellenberg encourages theists to find a flaw in his argument so that he can once again believe in God.
Schellenberg's book has created quite a stir in the philosophy of religion. Just over a year ago, I attended a conference of the Society of Christian Philosophers; one of the themes for that conference was the argument from divine hiddenness. Indeed, I was told that Daniel Howard-Snyder and Paul Moser are editing a forthcoming analogy on the argument, in the spirit of Howard-Snyder's highly successful anthology, THE EVIDENTIAL ARGUMENT FROM EVIL.
If you are interested in arguments for and against the existence of God--whether you are a theist, atheist, or somewhere in between--this is one book you will want on your bookshelf. For more information, check out infidels.org.
on May 17, 2013
In the field of philosophy of religion, Divine Hiddenness and Human Reason hardly needs a review: it has already become a classic in the field, from a major figure. I thus write for those outside of professional philosophy. Here I should say that there is much to recommend this book. Most importantly, it (hereafter DHHR) develops what has since become one of the most important challenges to classical theistic belief, something that has often been acknowledged even by theistic philosophers. For instance, as Mike Rea of Notre Dame puts it, `Next to the problem of evil, the most important objection to belief in God is the problem of divine hiddenness.'
So what is the problem? As Schellenberg notes, the problem begins with a question: `Why, if a perfectly loving God exists, are there "reasonable nonbelievers?"; that is, why are there people who fail to believe in God but through no clear intellectual or moral fault of their own? (More recently, Schellenberg refers to reasonable nonbelief as nonresistant nonbelief and has reasons for doing so). Whatever one calls it, however, the problem stems from two basic considerations. The first has to do with the nature of divine love: an unsurpassably loving being will bring about divine-human relationship with non-resistant human persons just as soon as it is feasible for them. The second consideration has to do with the nature of a divine-human relationship: such a relationship presupposes some kind of belief and is frustrated by nonresistant nonbelief. These facts, when combined with evidence for nonresistant nonbelief, amount to a general argument for nonbelief in God. Although some will seek to explain away the problem in various ways, you won't likely think of an objection that Schellenberg hasn't already thought about and answered in detail. The result, once again, is a powerful challenge to classical theism -- one, I might add, that is far more powerful than anything Dawkins or the other new atheists have managed to put forth. In fact, even after 20 years, Schellenberg's challenge is still being wrestled with in the philosophical literature.
Two final points. First, don't be put off by the other reviewers' uncharitable comments (below) about the writing. DHHR is in reality a very well written and very well structured work. (I sometimes wonder whether those steeped in popular literature on theism/atheism have gotten used to writing that isn't so careful; such persons might have to work harder to grasp Schellenberg's important distinctions, but the end reward will be greater understanding). Second, it's worth noting that while DHHR is a very important and highly recommended work of philosophy, it's really just the beginning of Schellenberg's overall project in religion. See his more recent Trilogy for the details. Here you'll find further developments in the case for atheism, in addition to limitations in the case for naturalism, and much much more besides -- including the possibility of a kind of religious faith for religious skeptics.
on March 28, 2002
the best thing about this book, in my view, is that it is so extremely fair. from page to page, you can actually feel the author thinking, 'i wish there WAS a god, but...'. you won't find him falling towards atheistic fundamentalism (ie, bertrand russell's WHY I AM NOT A CHRISTIAN), and his treatment of the issue is far better than theodore drange's NONBELIEF AND EVIL. i heartily recommend this book, both to atheists, theists, and the undecided.
that said, i don't think the book puts forth a very strong argument for the non-existence of God. the author himself anticipated this, and tells us that he expects his argument to have primary impact on the undecided and those who already have a strong inclination to doubt the existence of God. yet there are a few things that schellenberg really ought to have examined. first, that for most folks divine hiddeness is not a problem, that is, most people believe in God and think there is good reason to believe in God. and this seems to be a problem. for there either is a God, or there isn't; schellenberg argues that if divine hiddeness constitutes an obstacle to belief in God, then that fact constitutes in itself good reason to deny the existence of God. yet most folks don't have that problem, hence, if we look at the world at large and apply schellenberg's argument to it, we, if anything, end up with a good argument for theism of some sort or another.
next, the idea of God's (possible) holiness, and the implications therefrom, deserved more attention. so too did the (possibility) that man is in a fallen condition of some sort. furthermore, the natural theology evident in certain portions of Scripture (Romans 1:19-20; Wis Sol; Acts 17:27-28) takes quite a bit of the 'sting' out of the dreaded consequence of the hiddeness of God. by that i mean, God need not be revealed in his totality, but to some extent, he has been revealed and can be understood via analogy from that which he has made, and we will be accountable to the extent to which we understand; since divine hiddeness is not in a dichotomous relationship with apprehension of the divine, it is a problem of degree, and therefore not a problem at all. most people rejoice in their existence and think the world beautiful, whether theist, atheist, agnostic, buddhist, or whatever. the implications of that fact certainly carry import into this issue, and unfortunately they are completely ignored.
et cetera. there are other issues, but these are the ones that stuck out for me. not to take anything away from schellenberg's auspicious and pioneering venture into this terrain, if divine hiddeness is to constitute a problem for theism, then it needs a considerable amount of development. along with this book, i recommend DIVINE HIDDENESS by daniel howard snyder et al, AN ESSAY IN AID OF A GRAMMAR OF ASSENT by john henry cardinal newman and THE INWARD MORNING by henry bugbee (this one simply to shake things up and reconnect the analytic logic chopping mind with sunlight and reality).
returning to the book at hand, i recommend it and consider it a necessary volume on any philosphy of religion reader's bookshelf.