Preliminary Thoughts on Divine Hiddenness

June 12, 2011    By: Jacob J @ 2:58 pm   Category: Theology

If there is a God, why is there no objective evidence of his existence?

Asked from a skeptical perspective, this question becomes one of the strongest arguments against God’s existence, on par with arguments from the problem of evil. Trying to convince an atheist that there really is a God but he simply chooses to remain hidden can feel like trying to convince the child that the emperor really is wearing new clothes. Sometimes I tell my kids that I have super powers and then when they ask me to show them my powers I tell them “I could, but I don’t feel like it.”

Asked from a believing perspective, however, the problem of divine hiddenness may help answer the most vexing variations of the problem of evil. Supposing we have become convinced that there is a God, we still wonder why he chooses to remain so hidden from humanity. Surely there is some good reason God allows huge portions of his children to remain ignorant of his character, purposes, and existence.

The most obvious possibility is that he hides in support of free will and human development. By hidding, God makes us free even to deny his existence. Mormons often explain this life as a time of testing and development made possible by our separation from God. If your mom tells you not to take a cookie from the cookie jar the test gets decidedly more difficult when she leaves you alone with the jar — so said one of the primary teachers of my childhood. This was a justification of divine hiddenness, although I did not know it at the time.

C.S. Lewis said this in The Screwtape Letters:

[T]he Irresistible and the Indisputable are the two weapons which the very nature of His scheme forbids Him to use. Merely to override a human will (as His felt presence in any but the faintest and most mitigated degree would certainly do) would be for Him useless. He cannot ravish. He can only woo. For His ignoble idea is to eat the cake and have it; the creatures are to be one with Him, but yet themselves; merely to cancel them, or assimilate them, will not serve. He is prepared to do a little overriding at the beginning. He will set them off with communications of His presence which, though faint, seem great to them, with emotional sweetness, and easy conquest over temptation. Sooner or later He withdraws, if not in fact, at least from their conscious experience, all those supports and incentives. He leaves the creature to stand up on its own legs– to carry out from the will alone duties which have lost all relish. It is during such trough periods, much more than during the peak periods, that it is growing into the sort of creature He wants it to be.

This explanation for why God never uses the Irresistable nor the Indisputable resonates with Mormon explanations of the purpose of this earth.

If we believe that there is a God, we must believe there is some good reason for his choice to remain hidden. If God’s hiddenness is crucial to his purposes then perhaps this dictates the degree and manner in which he intervenes in human affairs. He never leaves a trace that is Indisputable. I am fascinated by how true this is in the restored gospel. There is just a ton of evidence both for and against the Book of Mormon and the prophetic call of Joseph Smith. I often feel that if you study all the evidence for the Book of Mormon you cannot help but come away convinced of its divine origins. And yet, if you study all the evidence against it you cannot help but come away doubting its divine origins. Everything is disputable.

Perhaps God’s desire to remain hidden limits his ability to intervene in preventing and averting evil. It is awfully difficult to solve the worlds problems without anyone noticing.

The problem with this explanation, I think, is that if some justification is not good enough to explain why God allows evil then why would it be good enough to explain why God must remain hidden. And yet, I often feel that there is something to this. I do not expect God to intervene in the world without leaving plenty of room for unbelievers to keep unbelieving in him.

What do you think of God’s hiddenness?

78 Comments »

  1. There also seems to be something requiring faith. I have been reading Kierkegaard lately, and he suggests that not only must God be hidden for us to have faith, but that at some level our faith must be based on something absurd – resurrection for example. There must always be some uncertainty for there to be faith.

    Comment by Eric Nielson — June 12, 2011 @ 3:28 pm

  2. I’ve also been perplexed by this question at times. A partial answer for me echoes what Eric said. If I take as premises that (1) God uses our mortal existence as both a test and a means for us to acquire godly attributes, and (2) that faith is a critical element in that plan (because God remains “hidden”), my conclusion is that faith must be either a critical part of the test or a critical godly attribute. More than likely it is both, as the test seems to be one of acquisition.

    The answer remains partial, though, in that I can’t wrap my head around exactly why faith would be such a paramount attribute. Until I figure that out, I suppose it continues to be a matter of . . . faith.

    Comment by Craig M. — June 12, 2011 @ 5:16 pm

  3. It seems to me that while many raise divine hiddenness most can’t give a good explanation. The Mormon explanation of the plan of salvation and a place without knowledge of God as necessary for our development gives a pretty coherent account as to why it was necessary. Now it hinges on a point not all will agree with (there is some “essence” to us God can’t control and that the only way God has power to develop requires ignorance). But it’s a pretty good answer.

    The next best answer is that hiddenness is required for freedom but I find that a much harder case to make.

    Comment by Clark — June 12, 2011 @ 8:25 pm

  4. I think some of it (the hidden-ness) may have to do with a practical approach to a heavenly husbandry of sorts. You’ve got to get the “seed” down into the ground as it were. If it gets full sunshine from the get-go it dies rather quickly.

    Comment by Jack — June 12, 2011 @ 8:36 pm

  5. It seems that the veil between us and God is something that we are constantly trying to overcome–our temple ritual leads us on a path to pierce that veil, which suggests to me that some glimpses of the divine in mortality are possible. One way I’ve worked at trying to put the veil that I wear in the temple in a good light is by considering it a symbol of humankind’s ability to move through the veil both spiritually (through prayer, which is the context in which the veil is worn) and temporally (our ritual motion toward light and understanding through piercing the temple veil). Ultimately, “hiding” invites “seeking”.

    Thanks for getting me thinking about this.

    (And in terms of hiddenness, God the Mother is much more obscured than God the Father. There’s another layer to consider.)

    Comment by Idahospud — June 12, 2011 @ 8:58 pm

  6. “It is awfully difficult to solve the worlds problems without anyone noticing.”

    Is it?

    That’s always been a bit of a stickler for me, cuz it’s always so easy to invent excuses which have yet to be refuted. We do it everyday.

    But that is me, coming from a person who doesn’t believe, but wish he did.

    I think that really is the issue though. If one believes and asks for proof why he is wrong, the answer is very different than one who doesn’t believe and asks why you are right.

    One thing which I have come to appreciate is that there are so many reasons to believe which have nothing to do with evidence. If we’re talking about a way of life, than evidence becomes a secondary issue at best. Some points of contentions are simply too “important” for evidence to be weighed impartially.

    That is what I think faith is: believing something not because of the evidence, but because of how important it is *to you*. I don’t see anything irrational about this from a believers perspective.

    BUT, once you find yourself on the other side of the line, it’s a bit different.

    Comment by Jeff G — June 12, 2011 @ 9:42 pm

  7. To me the question of divine hiddenness is simply an artifact of the question of divine power and economy. I really doubt that God is idling resources that he could equitably and economically bring to bear on any question.

    I tend to think that God is an expert at force multiplication, in other words how to take relatively subtle and omnipresent spiritual influence and turn it to much greater ends in the process of time.

    I also tend to think that our participation in this process is fundamental to his plan, to the degree that he hasn’t succeeded simply by dictating to us, but rather that he succeeds by gently persuading us to adopt our own understanding and implementation of more fundamental doctrines.

    So why doesn’t he come down and run the country? Perhaps he wants us to learn how, and in a manner the we derive rather than he prescribes.

    Comment by Mark D. — June 12, 2011 @ 11:06 pm

  8. Divine hiddenness is a major part of one of the Mormon theodicies I construct (I construct 3 very different Mormon theodicies in my next volume). John Hicks’ arguments for divine hiddenness have always seemed both sufficient and instructive to me. If God’s existence were obvious, surely we would feel forced to accept any relationship of any nature just to be on his good side. We would be constantly tempted to try to use god as our best weapon. How could we engage in the self-deception that god doesn’t see us or that it may be that no one is watching? It seems that our freedom to act wrongly would be severely truncated if God’s existence were obvious. However, the issue of coming to freely love God is much more decisive and important. I agree with Clark that the Mormon story of the plan of salvation is a pretty compelling argument for divine hiddenness.

    Most importantly, it seems to me that God has determined that we cannot freely come to him if his overwhelming glory and power are obvious to us. We would not be able to freely choose to enter into relationship with God; rather, our consent to relationship would be somewhat coerced by the mere fact of his obvious glory. Yet freely entering into relationship with God is what this life is all about — from a certain perspective.

    I much prefer the way God has adopted. God has given us an instrument that vibrates in knowing response at the core of our being to subtly detect his loving overtures and spirit if we are willing to soften our hearts but which can be disregarded or explained away if one chooses to have a hard heart. Thus, what is essential is not factual or objective knowledge, or even sense experience, but a choice of the heart to open and love. Religious faith cannot be the result of greater intelligence or scholarly acumen. That gets what really matters backwards. What really matters is a matter of the heart that God has asked us to freely give to him in response to the sense of his prior love. Come to think of it, God’s plan in this regard is pure genius. What else would we expect?

    Thanks for the opportunity to discuss these issues again Jacob.

    Comment by Blake — June 13, 2011 @ 7:21 am

  9. Divine Hiddenness is tricky for me because not because God is hidden, but because of those times when it has seemed to me that he is not hidden. It is those moments when I feel like I have had answers to prayers, when I feel like I have had the veil torn open and been in the presence of God and angels, etc. On the one hand, it is those moments that keep me going, but on the other, it is also those very moments which make me wonder that others are not having them. I don’t think it comes down to my personal righteousness. I know myself too well to believe that.

    One frustrating aspect of this is that I find myself often in the position of hypocritical deist, where I believe my own spiritual experiences, but find myself skeptical of the spiritual experiences of others, or at least those experiences which do not conform to my own experience.

    This is a good and challenging issue Jacob. I’m glad you brought it up.

    Comment by Matt W. — June 13, 2011 @ 8:22 am

  10. I don’t hve much to add, but this bothers me a bit:

    The most obvious possibility is that he hides in support of free will and human development. By hiding, God makes us free even to deny his existence. Mormons often explain this life as a time of testing and development made possible by our separation from God. If your mom tells you not to take a cookie from the cookie jar the test gets decidedly more difficult when she leaves you alone with the jar

    Although this argument seems to have a lot of traction (including Blake’s position), it seems to ignore the free agency of the third of the host of heaven who chose otherwise despite no hiddenness. If lack of hiddenness didn’t compel 1/3 of pre-mortal minds, there really isn’t reason to think that current hiddenness is what stands between us and freedom to choose.

    I honestly can’t think of any other venue that we think that our freedom to choose is adversely limited by a greater access to information. To me, this argument comes down to conflating access to facts (e.g., existence) with values. The first undoubtedly informs the second, but does not determine the agent’s choice.

    Comment by NorthboundZax — June 13, 2011 @ 9:54 am

  11. Northbound: did you feel as a child like you would do less mischief if you knew that your teacher or principal were watching you? Did you ever cheat when your teacher was hovering over your desk? Do you think anyone commits adultery when their spouse is standing there in disapproval?

    The hosts of the 1/3 are a different category. In my view, God gave them the choice to not move forward into relationship with Him. The 1/3 simply didn’t want to take the risks inherent in mortality. It wasn’t an immoral decision per se as I see it. What was mistaken was agreeing to give Satan the glory for a salvation that never could have been delivered. They were well meaning, a lot like people who want the government to solve all of their problems or who don’t realize that every dollar spent by government has to be extracted from those who make it and that amount taxed will have to (at some tie) come directly out of the economy.

    Comment by Blake Ostler — June 13, 2011 @ 11:23 am

  12. I cash out the problem as follows:

    The intuition is strong that there must be some qualitative difference between a world in which Mormonism is true and a world in which it is not. The problem is thus one of either articulating and justifying what this difference is supposed to be OR articulating why we really shouldn’t expect to see a difference after all.

    With regard to the free will issue, I have always been (unsurprisingly) suspicious. I don’t see what purpose is served by our making rational decisions while being less well-informed than we could be. I think in most cases we feel that the more informed we are, the more free we are rather than the other way around.

    Comment by Jeff G — June 13, 2011 @ 12:57 pm

  13. Jeff G: Generally I agree that the more information we have, the more free will we have because our choices range over a greater number of choices. However, the kind of knowledge at issue isn’t factual but interpersonal. How much factual or logical information do you need about your family in order to love them?

    Comment by Blake Ostler — June 13, 2011 @ 1:05 pm

  14. Great discussion so far, I will make some responses tonight.

    Comment by Jacob J — June 13, 2011 @ 3:49 pm

  15. Blake,

    I’m confused by your response. I don’t know how interpersonal knowledge differs from other knowledge and why a lack of the former does what a gain in the latter does.

    “It seems that our freedom to act wrongly would be severely truncated if God’s existence were obvious.”

    I don’t see it this way. Such obviousness would make many acts clearly irrational, but not forced in any way. Similarly, a *really* good detective force would not make us unfree. Rather, it would only make it pretty irrational to commit most crimes.

    Comment by Jeff G — June 13, 2011 @ 4:21 pm

  16. Here is the difference Jeff. Usually as we acquire information we come to form beliefs, mostly involuntarily. The more information we have, the more accurate are beliefs usually are. We can make better choices based on the information.

    But interpersonal relationships of the kind at issue are matter of choice, not involuntary belief formation once we gather enough information. I couldn’t possibly fail to believe that the earth is flat given my information. I could possibly fail to love my wife and kids.

    With respect to God, if his existence were obvious we couldn’t voluntarily come to a loving relationship because of the nature of disparity between us. We would have to choose him on pain of being so irrational that no rational person would do that. But no irrational person would do it either. But that makes it involuntary like belief formation based on mere information gathering. So the kind of knowledge at issue in interpersonal relationships ain’t like the knowledge that leads to involuntary beliefs.

    God wants us to choose him for him; because of the sense of divine love that moves us to respond in gratitude to his prior love.

    Moreover, no one acts wrongly with an authority present and watching because of the certainty of punishment. Our freedom would be very truncated if God’s glory were obvious because it would be like cheating while the teacher is hovering over your desk. If one has to be that stupid and irrational to act wrongly, I’d say that qualifies as a significant truncation of freedom. Even a 3 year old could figure that out.

    Comment by Blake — June 13, 2011 @ 5:15 pm

  17. Blake, likely I am missing something but I am not finding your stance nearly as compelling as you make it out to be, either. Your argument, as I am understanding it, is that if God wasn’t so hidden, we couldn’t be tempted to make wrong choices and could only rationally choose the right. This is demonstrated by the analogy of a child being forbidden to do something in the presence of a parent. I think this is weak both on theoretical and empirical grounds.

    Theoretical: Your child analogy suggests that the child’s choice is necessarily impinged because of the parent’s known presence. I tend to think it is not the presence per se, but the acknowledgement of swift (and often unknown and possibly asymmetric) punishment that effectively removes choice from the scenario. The scenario could be set up quite differently with the parent forbidding cookies, their presence known, and choice still part of the equation. Suppose the parent said something more along the lines of, “No cookie tonight. I forbid it, but nevertheless leave the choice to you. For if you do, you will surely have extra chores tomorrow”. Would you still maintain that the child has effectively no choice?

    Empirical: there are several scriptural examples of people not choosing “the right” despite God not being hidden. The third of the host of heaven being one example. (I am still failing to see why they deserve to be in such a different category when it comes to making a decision without a hidden deity). But even if you don’t like that one, the story of Jonah comes to mind. Or Laman and Lemuel with the angel. The Abrahamic test would also be completely non-sensical in the way it is portrayed in scripture. If we are to believe scripture, the argument that God must be hidden or choice is removed doesn’t seem to hold much water.

    I do agree with your statement that “The more information we have, the more accurate our beliefs usually are. We can make better choices based on the information.” In that vein, to argue that God must set up tests based on incomplete information or they would be rendered unreliable appears completely backwards to me. If God truly wants us to choose Him for Him, it seems that more information would be better than less.

    Comment by NorthboundZax — June 13, 2011 @ 8:09 pm

  18. I’ll comment a bit more later on, but I do want to articulate the main problem I see:

    Freedom isn’t about what you will do, but what you can do. The fact that nobody would cheat with their teacher watching says absolutely nothing about whether they can do so. I simply don’t see how God’s hiding makes us able to do more things.

    Now you might be able to argue that God’s hiding makes it so we will do somethings rather than others, but this has nothing to do with freewill.

    Comment by Jeff G — June 13, 2011 @ 8:12 pm

  19. Jeff, wouldn’t you acknowledge there are at least different sense of free and that for some merely being able to do something isn’t sufficient? I ask simply because this seems a common psychological fact of humans. We act differently when in the presence of some people as opposed to others. Maybe this isn’t freedom in certain senses but if we view freedom not in the absolutist senses that I think philosophy often focuses in on but rather in terms of the kinds of resistance to choice then I think discussion of presence matters.

    Of course by focusing in on freedom as tied to resistance I end up adopting a view of freedom different from either you or Blake. But I think we’ve been around and around in that discussion enough to know that doesn’t matter. Whatever we call it this issue of psychological resistance is significant. And I think this issue of psychological resistance is key to God’s hiddenness in LDS theology.

    I do think you raise an interesting point about Blake’s theology since he doesn’t tend to address this aspect of resistance as I recall. (It’s been a while since I last read your books Blake – so forgive me if I’ve forgotten something glaringly there)

    Comment by Clark — June 13, 2011 @ 8:28 pm

  20. To add to that last comment I think a good criticism of this notion of hiddenness resting on human psychology is the problem of human biology as determining human psychology. What Mormonism requires is something unchangeably by God in a spirit’s psychology that persists in human biological psychology but which is unaffected by the biology. This problem of the relationship of spirit to biology is a big one in Mormon theology (IMO). Further it’s one that seems impossible for the theologian to fully address.

    Zax, doesn’t your explanation of the issue also illustrate the issue? You effectively raise the epistemological card but doesn’t that end up justifying what you criticize? That is if we know God so easily and absolutely how could we not simultaneously know what he says is true? And in that knowledge could one act freely? Or, as the Book of Mormon puts it,

    Wherefore, man could not act for himself save it should be that he was enticed by the one or the other. (2 Ne 2:16)

    If only one side can be persuasive due to our level of knowledge how on earth could we be able to act?

    Comment by Clark — June 13, 2011 @ 8:36 pm

  21. To add to NorthboundZax’s examples, the entire New Testament is replete with examples of God not hiding,if one can consider widely-witnessed miracles as objective evidence of God’s existence. Certainly the participants considered them so. The analogy to a child’s actions in the presence of a parent doesn’t apply to the situations in which Christ was, in fact, present and performing miracles, or even when the apostles were after His death. Was the freedom of their contemporaries “truncated?”

    The child analogy isn’t persuasive for another reason. If presence makes it impossible to “voluntarily come to a loving relationship” with God, doesn’t this mean children also cannot do so with their parents because they are in their presence and subject to their guidance and discipline?

    The analogy also falls apart because the closer to God we become, the more apparent he is in our lives.

    Instead, it seems the reason for God’s hiddenness is our own disinterest in seeing him. The BoM teaches that people don’t see miracles because they “dwindle in unbelief.” This means both that they don’t experience the miracles and that they don’t “see” the objective evidence because they choose not to (such as Alma’s argument that all things denote there is a God).

    Comment by Jonathan N — June 13, 2011 @ 8:51 pm

  22. Clark #20. Clark, I completely agree with you about the broad and complex spirit/biology issue. That even gets at the question of objective evidence to the extent our biology determines our disposition to interpret evidence.

    However, your comment that only one side could be persuasive assumes that we would could only know God easily and absolutely. Why not the adversary as well? After all, right now they are equally hidden. The 1/3 hosts of heaven demonstrate that full knowledge of each side (and enticement by each) allows full and free choice. Do you think it’s solely a question of what is “true,” or is there an element of personal preference in the choice? Are you arguing that the less we know, the more free our choice is?

    Comment by Jonathan N — June 13, 2011 @ 9:01 pm

  23. Jonathan: Miracles are only seen by those who have eyes to see. The Jews weren’t convinced there were miracles and all miracles are easily explained as natural occurrences. So your miracles examples just doesn’t work.

    You examples with parental love is also mixed up. With respect to the kind of fellowship love at issue, we must first be able to choose whether we will love. Lots and lots of kids dislike and even loathe their parents. It is more than possible to not love and even dislike parents — it happens all of the time. Further, parents aren’t like God in this significant respect — the parent cannot always insure that benefits automatically follow from the relationship. Moreover, parents don’t have the kind glory and power that God has and they can’t be counted on to always act in the best interests of their children.

    It is true that the closer to God we become the more evident he becomes — that is a bit of a tautology. However, it hardly follows that we didn’t approach God freely initially because we weren’t close. The fact that it is up to us whether we are close to God is the key — since he has hardly moved away from us.

    Doesn’t your last point strongly support the view I proposed? If we couldn’t dwindle in unbelief because God’s presence were ubiquitous and obvious, then such dwindling would be impossible and we couldn’t choose to be disinterested in seeing him.

    Comment by Blake — June 13, 2011 @ 9:04 pm

  24. Let me say this about the 1/3 — show me where it says that they were in God’s immediate and obvious presence. Show me where it says that they weren’t given a choice about whether to be in God’s presence.

    Comment by Blake — June 13, 2011 @ 9:05 pm

  25. Northbound: All of the scriptural examples you give have nothing to do with freely coming to be in relationship with God. Laman and Lemuel don’t come into relationship with God freely. Jonah was already in relationship with God when his presence was readily apparent (if you believe the story is historical — which I doubt). Abraham was already in relationship with God at the times addressed in scripture so they ate just not relevant. What you need is an example of of someone who was able to first come to relationship with God where God power and glory were obvious already. Similarly, the 1/3 don’t come into relationship with God — quite the opposite, they reject relationship with God. In fact, they never get the opportunity to freely enter into relationship with God because they refused to become mortal where that opportunity would have been afforded. If your claim is that they were able to reject God though in his immediate presence, show me where it say that they were in God’s immediate presence.

    Comment by Blake — June 13, 2011 @ 9:16 pm

  26. Jeff: As Clark says, I fail to see why the kind of psychologically overbearing presence is irrelevant to freedom. Further, you misconstrue what I say. I said that the obviousness of God’s glory would truncate free will significantly, not obliterate even the logical possibility of choosing otherwise. Tho I have to admit that your argument is a strange one for a determinist who is also a compatibilist.

    Comment by Blake — June 13, 2011 @ 9:19 pm

  27. I have to say, the child/parent analogy falls flat with me because of the times my children disobeyed me in my presence. I’m happy for the lot of you that have never witnessed that personally. =)

    Comment by Téa — June 13, 2011 @ 9:32 pm

  28. Clark,

    “And I think this issue of psychological resistance is key to God’s hiddenness in LDS theology.”

    This strikes me as a bit more plausible than so much of the appeals to freewill, divine love, etc. I still have my reservations however. I just can’t shake the feeling that all of these attempts at dealing with the problem of hiddenness are simply just-so-stories illustrating the claim that ANY idea can be defended if we’re creative enough.

    I’m not sure that hiddenness really is a problem at all. I think the whole issue is too committed to evidentialism, whereas I see faith as believing for reasons other than evidence. This is probably why we don’t see any of these fancy just-so-stories in the scriptures, but only admonitions to faith.

    Comment by Jeff G — June 14, 2011 @ 12:11 am

  29. Is there not something to be said about testing? We are here to be proven at all hazards. This includes minor things (accepting an invitation to read the BoM) when personal knowledge of God is absent. This includes major things (sacrifice of Isaac) when personal knowledge of God is sure.

    It does not seem just for God to require the major things of those who have no knowledge of him. But if we were all well-equipped with sure knowledge of him, there would be no opportunity for minor tests. (And at what point on the spectrum would you say “we missed out on those minor tests, but at least THESE major tests are still difficult”? It’s the minor things that prepare us for the major things.)

    Fortunately we are introduced into this world as innocent blank slates. And if we can’t hack the minor tests of faith, we are protected by the justice of God from major consequences.

    Actually, what a wonderful plan for Telestial-bound souls! Were it not so, your average unrepentant murderer or rapist would be condemned to outer-darkness rather than given place in a degree of glory.

    (Hence the severe punishment for those who are cruel to children and shed the blood of the innocent. They may not be punished for being anti-Christ, but they sure are responsible for what they do to the good & the pure that they can recognize. And whatsoever is done unto the least of these…)

    Comment by britain — June 14, 2011 @ 5:21 am

  30. Jeff: I remain convinced that God remains “hidden” because of free will and the desire to allow us space to freely choose to come to relationship with him. The scriptures are clear that those in God’s immediate presence as mortals face mortal danger from his overwhelming glory. To gaze on God unprepared us to confront sure death. Moreover, I just don’t see how anyone chooses against God knowing that their entire future welfare depends on pleasing God.

    However, the ultimate issue remains simply self-deception (as I argue at length in vol. 2). Obviously, if God exists he is always present and always knows. Moreover, God is present to those who have open hearts. If God were interested in having a convinced mind, it is quite obvious he could write in gold letters in the sky “I am God.” But he is not interested as much in a convinced mind as in a changed heart. It seems very clear to me that a relationship with God made necessary by his overwhelming glory would not be a genuine relationship resulting from a changed heart that responds to God’s love rather than a desire to have a very powerful friend who can insure we always get what we want.

    Comment by Blake — June 14, 2011 @ 7:15 am

  31. 23. Miracles. The miracles in the New Testament stand out precisely because everyone saw them. Those not convinced attributed these miracles to the devil; they didn’t not see them. The miracles angered the Jewish leaders, not because the people didn’t see them, but because they did. Like the angel appearing to L&L, these accounts demonstrate that free agency doesn’t vanish when God is unhidden. In less extraordinary times, such as ours, miracles are more subtle and apparent to those with eyes that see.

    Parents. You distinguish God from earthly parents by saying “the parent cannot always insure that benefits automatically follow from the relationship,” but that’s looking at it backwards. The question is whether people want the “benefits” that follow from a relationship with God. Are you really arguing that God stays hidden because otherwise everyone would love him?

    The adversary is as hidden as God, which makes the enticings parallel and the choice possible. We see this in the scriptures as well as in the temple. If, as you seem to suggest, the only rational choice (assuming we have full knowledge) is God, then it seems all the more cruel to deprive us of knowledge; it’t more like a trick, or a guessing game. What does make sense is that we are enticed equally by both sides, at whatever levels of hiddenness, and we make our choices not on a rational basis but because we feel affinity to one or the other.

    Comment by Jonathan N — June 14, 2011 @ 8:22 am

  32. 25. Blake, you say on one hand, the 1/3 “never get the opportunity to freely enter into relationship with God because they refused to become mortal where that opportunity would have been afforded.” But you also say mortality offers this opportunity because God is hidden; i.e., we’re not in the presence of God.

    So when you say the 1/3 weren’t in God’s presence when they made their choice, you’re saying they were already in a condition like mortality; i.e., not in God’s presence.

    Why do you think it’s impossible that they made their choice when they were in God’s presence? Is it because you think that is the only rational choice, and that these choices can only be made on a rational basis?

    Comment by Jonathan N — June 14, 2011 @ 8:29 am

  33. Jonathan: Are you arguing that the less we know, the more free our choice is?

    A bit more subtle to that. Knowledge affects the level of persuasion. Absolute knowledge is absolutely persuasive. If we aren’t balanced between persuasion then yeah, we aren’t free. At some point we have to be balanced. As we move one direction or the other then we are more and more persuaded by one side or the other.

    This seems to be the point about spirit in the Book of Mormon. It is all about persuasion and the chains of hell are really being caught up in persuasion against God. There appear two senses of freedom at work in the text. One is this being balanced between persuasive directions. The other is that when we chose God we’re more free in that more choices are open to us. I think the two get conflated a bit. (Note I’m not talking the terminology of freedom here – although that’s tied to these. More just two notions I’d call difference senses of freedom)

    Regarding NT miracles or even certain BoM miracles I think it’s an interesting question. I admit I question how many of these miracles were public and even for those that were public how many were actually understood by most of those public. (i.e. the feeding of the thousand – how many understood it was actually a miracle beyond the disciples?) I ask that because some miracles in Mormon history, such as the day of Pentecost at the Kirtland Temple wasn’t perceived as such by many people. (I’m sure you’re familiar with that) My sense is that the majority of miracles probably were only to those who believe. And there are scriptural reasons to think that.

    I also add in that most of the accounts are written long after the event so there may be hyperbole and so forth involved as well.

    Comment by Clark — June 14, 2011 @ 10:30 am

  34. Jonathan: Why do you think it’s impossible that they made their choice when they were in God’s presence? Is it because you think that is the only rational choice, and that these choices can only be made on a rational basis?

    Because coming to this earth was the condition of the choice to be able to freely enter into a relationship of fellowship. However, note that all of the spirits already had a filial relationship with God that was not freely chosen. The question was whether they would be willing to take the risk for a new kind of more fulfilling an deifying fellowship relationship that must be freely chosen. So I am definitely not denying that the spirits already had some relationship with God. I’m saying that it wasn’t the kind of relationship made possible by entering mortality that could lead to exaltation and deification as a result of entering into indwelling unity with the divine persons in the Godhead.

    I am also making a subsidiary claim: any love that is freely chosen in circumstances where it can be rejected is more valuable than any love that is coerced or necessary as a mere result of nature.

    Comment by Blake Ostler — June 14, 2011 @ 10:36 am

  35. Miracles: the view you present won’t work. If miracles can be explained as being of the devil then they don’t make God’s presence or existence obvious. Moreover, I believe it simply mischaracterizes the nature of miracles both then and now. Your claim that miracles are “different now” is just not sustainable.

    It is important to note that I don’t claim that God is hidden to all; he is simply hidden to those who will not open their hearts.

    Maybe you don’t make your choice on a rational basis.

    Comment by Blake Ostler — June 14, 2011 @ 10:40 am

  36. Jonathan, one extra bit I didn’t address in your comment (22). I don’t think it can only be an issue of freedom. As you say there was a freedom of some sort in the war in heaven. I think the Mormon theodicy of progression is the only way to explain this. That is in some sense this life in the form it takes is necessary for progression. And that progression demands a sense of freedom as equal persuasion (within some sort of limit – I take the Atonement as suggestion what is unequal is resolved by God).

    How persuasive one takes this depends upon how much you buy some psychological core in a spirit but not our biology. The implication of this is that say a mentally ill person may be radically unfree at our level of experience but sufficiently free at the level of the spirit. That can be a hard thing to buy which is why I suspect the modern theology of spirit prison as offering a full choice perhaps not available on earth is so significant. (And arguably where most people will spend the majority of their “mortal” existence prior to judgment according to LDS theology) Exactly what the interplay between what mortality proper offers and what this spirit prison offers is completely unclear. Interestingly there’s been relatively little speculation on this matter in LDS theology either.

    Comment by Clark — June 14, 2011 @ 10:46 am

  37. Blake (35), I don’t think attributing miracles to the devil resolves the issue. However clearly there is a very different balance in the ancient world where atheism was rare versus the modern world. And that is a very interesting question. In the ancient world the big issue is having a relationship with God the Father versus most of the superstitions. In the modern world it’s either about the kind of relationship we have or thinking it’s all foolishness.

    Still I think you raise a very good point in that we tend, I think, to imagine this issue in terms of a debate with an atheist. (At least I often do) That’s probably not the best way to think about it. Rather the issue is really the kinds of persuasion that lead us to God or away from God regardless of our understanding about ontology of so forth. That’s the Book of Mormon model of dualism which I think I’ve often downplayed as being too simplified given modern revelation. Of late I’ve been coming to think the Book of Mormon is actually much more insightful here than I gave Alma or Nephi credit for. I think we emphasize correct understanding over a relationship (conscious or unconscious) and that distorts our analysis. The Book of Mormon dualism is thus perhaps more accurate and we’re just distracted by the Protestant tendency of thinking religion in terms of correct belief.

    Jonathan (32), I think the error in your analysis is touched upon in my comments above. I think we err if we analyze all this in terms of conscious rational deliberation. That’s why the term “relationship” is perhaps a bit better since most of a relationship isn’t about rational conscious deliberation. That’s not to say reason doesn’t play its part. However I’m not sure it’s the most significant part.

    Comment by Clark — June 14, 2011 @ 10:54 am

  38. Clark: I agree with your point about the difference between a world in the existence of the gods is assumed and our world where God’s existence in constantly in question. But does the assumption of God’s existence in, say the 14th century when belief in God was ubiquitous and state-sanctioned. really mean that we have come to know God?

    I also agree wholeheartedly about the Book of Mormon. It is insightful in extremis and when I was writing about the problem of evil I was surprised how Lehi’s arguments were so often very close to those given by the likes of Hicks and Swinburne. Maybe I’m seeing more than Lehi intended, but I think it really is there.

    I think it is important to note that we have much the same freedom and choice to love others as we do to love God. God’s existence is not hidden to those who seek relationship with him.

    Comment by Blake Ostler — June 14, 2011 @ 11:00 am

  39. Blake (38), that’s more or less the point I was getting at. “Knowing God” interpreted as personal knowledge rather than conscious rational information is a big distinction. We focus primarily on the latter which means we interpret knowing God in terms of facts. Which simply doesn’t work for a variety of reasons (not the least of which being most people have few facts and most of those are erroneous)

    14th century gets tricky too since that when I think atheism starts to become significant again. At least among the elite in the west.

    My primary thought is that while God is hidden we still relate to him. Indeed the fact he is so hidden highlights the whole philosophy of our relation with Other. The fact others are radically Other can be forgotten when it appears we have so many facts about them. When we really have few facts about a person (along with a lot of obviously wrong purported facts) it highlight what the nature of a relationship is.

    What’s interesting about this is that I think this is true of our regular day to day relations as well. It’s just that it appears in our day to day relations that we do have a person accurately represented with facts and we tend to think of relationships in terms of facts which is misleading in the extreme.

    Comment by Clark — June 14, 2011 @ 11:45 am

  40. Blake,

    “I remain convinced that God remains “hidden” because of free will and the desire to allow us space to freely choose to come to relationship with him.”

    I don’t really have much of an argument against such, but I don’t think one is needed either. If that is how you make sense of it, that’s fine. I just think that a lot of the ideas you marshal in it’s favor lie pretty far out on those limbs.

    I think Clark nailed it when he suggested that dealing with this problem is usually framed as dealing with an atheist. Granted, I think a lot of atheists will indeed what to pick a fight on this front, but I can’t help but think that the real atheist which is being confronted is the “Doubting Thomas” which lies in all believers to one extent or another.

    That’s kind of the assumption which is lying behind my response to your story. I don’t think its incoherent, just undermotivated by evidence, reason and doctrine. In short, I suspect that many people think it’s the best answer we’ve got, and we’d better have SOME answer because otherwise we’re in trouble. My position for the time being is that the last part is not true.

    Comment by Jeff G — June 14, 2011 @ 12:44 pm

  41. Jeff, I think we have to distinguish between a theodicy theory which just has to explain we have a plausible answer to evil versus what I’ll call the more empirical issue of this actually being the right answer. The latter obviously we have no evidence for. The former is the more interesting question. I think that, at least for a Mormon, having a plausible answer for why God is hidden is wrapped up with our theodicy.

    Now will this convince an atheist? Of course not since they want positive reasons to believe. However will it defuse an argument by an atheist against a Mormon believer? I think so. I just think we have to distinguish between answering the atheist versus a divine hiddenness directed towards the atheist. That is I think atheism is very much a minority view on even an intuitive or unconscious level. It’s easy to overlook that simply because the prime people we have to answer intellectually are atheists.

    Comment by Clark — June 14, 2011 @ 1:42 pm

  42. Jeff,

    “It is awfully difficult to solve the worlds problems without anyone noticing.”

    Is it?

    That’s always been a bit of a stickler for me, cuz it’s always so easy to invent excuses which have yet to be refuted. We do it everyday.

    I’m not sure I got the point you are making here, can you expand? I really do think it would be hard for God to prevent all evil without being noticed, so if you disagree I’d be interested in your reasons. Usually the argument focuses not about preventing all evil, but on preventing more evil.

    Surely God could prevent some of the evils we see without being noticed, it is argued. I don’t see any way for such a discussion to make headway, however. It is clear that experiencing evil can serve many purposes. It is a growth opportunity for the person harmed, it is a growth opportunity for the person harming, over time it firmly establishes the fact that we cannot rely on God to do all the good in the world which is important in establishing that our actions and decisions matter. It doesn’t seem like we can ever hope to be in a position in which we could say with certainty that some particular evil served no purpose. If it is taken at the macro level I think it is clear that removing all evil would change the earthly experience dramatically and would compromise divine hiddenness, but I don’t think it is possible to make a judgment about how much evil could be averted without impacting those things.

    Comment by Jacob J — June 14, 2011 @ 2:08 pm

  43. Jacob,

    “I really do think it would be hard for God to prevent all evil without being noticed”

    I just have beef with the “all” in your statement as with most of the claims made by Blake and others.

    The idea that God can’t find a way of preventing more evil than He actually does without anyone noticing is a claim I’ve never seen anybody defend.

    The idea that God can’t find a way of being a little more noticeable without being a huge infringement on people’s freedom is equally unsupported in my mind.

    These are the reasons why I don’t find so much of Blake’s theory compelling. By making such strong claims about what must or must no be the case, we are thereby placing indefensible limits on God’s creativity/ability. Basically, we are assuming that He isn’t able to work around these constraints that we can’t ourselves think our way around.

    Comment by Jeff G — June 14, 2011 @ 3:23 pm

  44. Jacob,

    “It doesn’t seem like we can ever hope to be in a position in which we could say with certainty that some particular evil served no purpose.”

    I strongly object to this claim. It’s a blank check whose only work is done by being vague enough to avoid all refutation. We would never allow a defense attorney to claim this for his client, nor should we allow people to make such claims for God.

    Again, I’m not saying the problem of evil or hiddenness win the day at all. Instead, I’m simply saying that they aren’t so pressing that we should just believe any old story that saves the phenomena.

    Comment by Jeff G — June 14, 2011 @ 3:27 pm

  45. I’m not using that argument as a defense attorney would, I am saying it is an unfortunate but inescapable consequence of our epistemological position. It really isn’t a claim for God.

    This reminds me of my “how much evil is okay” thread. I can see all kinds of evil in the world that I think God should be disallowing, I even made a concrete suggestion for what God should be doing better, but despite that I am still grateful that he got rid of natural lasers.

    Comment by Jacob J — June 14, 2011 @ 4:18 pm

  46. Jeff,

    We agree that God can’t prevent ALL evil without compromising his hiddenness and/or purposes. We agree that this fails to address in any way the suggestion that God could do more than he is doing to prevent evil.

    Your challenge to me is to defend the idea that God can’t do more than he is doing.

    My challenge to you is to tell me what God could do (without obviously ruining the Mormon conception of the plan of salvation) that would be enough to satisfy you. I have never seen anyone attempt to meet that challenge.

    Comment by Jacob J — June 14, 2011 @ 4:33 pm

  47. Jeff G: The idea that God can’t find a way of preventing more evil than He actually does without anyone noticing is a claim I’ve never seen anybody defend.

    Really? You haven’t read much theodicy literature then. I think we can agree that God could quietly stop just about any particular free act by quietly and unobtrusively causing an aneurysm anytime someone was acting badly. However, God could not stop all bad free acts without eliminating freedom to do good and evil and pretty soon we’d catch on — “hey, have you noticed every time you have a bad thought you have an aneurysm?” Further, imagine what a world would look like if we couldn’t ever harm one another. Baseball bats would be hard and pack a punch when hitting baseballs but turn to putty whenever we used them to hit people. The natural world would include things like water that provides refreshment but doesn’t drown us. Frankly, the notion that God could stop all evil without getting noticed is pretty far fetched.

    Comment by Blake — June 14, 2011 @ 6:31 pm

  48. I think I agree with Jeff that God could stop more evil than he does without getting noticed. But could he stop more evil and still achieve his purposes? I have never seen a good argument that provides a good cutoff point to show that there is too much evil. You might want to check out van Inwagen’s no minimum evil thesis wherein he argues that any cut-off point is rather arbitrary. Given that God must allow some evils to achieve any purpose that include free will or soul-making in a challenging environment, I don’t think we’re in a cognitive position to argue that God put the cutoff point in the wrong place.

    Comment by Blake — June 14, 2011 @ 6:35 pm

  49. I just don’t like arguments that appeal to marginal changes. They assume something has to be the best of all possible worlds. Which I’m really skeptical is possible if this is a world of freedom. (Note this is unrelated to divine hiddenness)

    I think it’s fine to ask why there are these evils. (Say earthquakes, pests, etc.) When the question becomes whether God could have slightly changed things and still be “good enough” I think it’s intrinsically impossible to answer.

    Comment by Clark — June 14, 2011 @ 8:07 pm

  50. Blake (47) I don’t think that persuasive. I think all the atheist has to ask is why we have bodies that tend towards certain classes of evil. To the atheists most of these tendencies arise out of evolution and there needn’t be a good reason for them. Say illnesses like bipolar disorder or schizophrenia. I think it very fair for the atheist to ask whether a world not created by evolution with a different brain structure wouldn’t allow for sufficient testing and sufficient hiddenness.

    While I think Mormons can answer most of the atheist’s charges I don’t think they can answer that one satisfactorily. (Which isn’t to say there isn’t an answer – I think there is – I just don’t think we have enough data to answer it)

    Comment by Clark — June 14, 2011 @ 8:10 pm

  51. Jeff (44). I actually am really sympathetic to rejecting “just so” stories. I think it fair to speculate a bit but at a certain point we have to just say we don’t have enough data to say much beyond appreciating the problem. However if the atheist wants a plausible possibility I think it fair to show there is one even if one shouldn’t commit to such theories.

    All that said I don’t think this is an example of that. Rather I think most of the things I said about divine hiddenness are actually demanded by most readings of Mormon theology. So it may seem like a “just so” story to an atheist it’s only because they already don’t buy into Mormon theology. To a person who thinks there’s some significant degree of accuracy to the scriptures I think they are usually led to some variation of what I outline.

    I’d be the first to admit that my solution is pretty vague and goes only so far. But I think one can offer pretty strong arguments for how far I did go.

    Comment by Clark — June 14, 2011 @ 8:21 pm

  52. NorthboundZax’s point about the 1/3 host of heaven being cast out is a very strong one I think. Without out doing some theological contorting that severely undermines the whole Mormon explanation for the the hiddeness of God.

    The standard Mormon position is:

    1. All of God’s children lived in his presence before the world.
    2. God presented a plan to build an earth that would allow us underdeveloped children become more like him.
    3. Jesus and Lucifer both offered to be saviors in different ways on earth. But God preferred Jesus’s plan.
    4. Lucifer was pissed and didn’t agree with God’s decision. A third part of the children of God sided with Lucifer and all were cast out as a result.

    So basically the standard Mormon narrative has free willed children of God living directly in the presence of God but choosing to reject and disobey God anyway.

    So much for the old “you wouldn’t be able to choose if you knew God (or your teacher or parent) were right there looking over your shoulder” argument.

    In order to get around this and keep the standard Mormon explanation for divine hiddeness here we are forced to reject or at least change the standard narrative about the premortal council/war. Blake in #24 moves down this road by rejecting the claim that we were ever in the presence of God at all. Also in #11 Blake sort of implies the spirits that rejected God were sort of some special category… or something along those lines…

    Anyway, as usual something’s gotta give. One model that could work would be to assume our spirits/minds/intellegences are not eternal (and that JS was wrong on that point) and thus 1/3 of the created spirits in our batch were just duds. Maybe the spirit atomists (like Brigham and Orson P) were right and the duds were simply deconstructed to their spirit atom parts and those raw materials would be used for future batches instead.

    (Sorry if that is too flippant but I just like my models to make sense.)

    Anyway, that could open the door to an explanation that says “you followed God when you knew he was there — how will you do when he remains completely hidden”. That’s a pretty standard Mormon explanation. But it only really works if spirits are not beginningless/eternal in my opinion.

    Comment by Geoff J — June 15, 2011 @ 1:07 am

  53. Clark,

    “Rather I think most of the things I said about divine hiddenness are actually demanded by most readings of Mormon theology.”

    This is where I’m most doubtful. My position is basically that there just isn’t enough data (be it scriptural, empirical, whatever) for any of these arguments to really stick. We can tell stories if we want, but we don’t really know what God’s reasons or constraints actually are with enough detail to say anything with much confidence.

    I think that other line of thought about the 1/3 of heaven has some merit to it as well. Another example might be Adam and Eve’s disobedience in the presence of God. But again, I think our understanding of the situation is so sparse that we would really just be telling ourselves stories again rather than presenting arguments.

    Comment by Jeff G — June 15, 2011 @ 2:24 am

  54. Geoff: Still waiting for someone to give me some reason to believe that the spirits were in God’s direct presence. I don’t think that this has any merit at all. In the absence of some reason to believe that these spirits could bear God’s presence, why make that assumption?

    Let’s assume you could produce the non-existent scripture that fills in the critical assumption that all spirits had direct epistemic access to God. What these spirits could do was reject moving further into relationship with God. It doesn’t follow that they could reject could tout court. It doesn’t follow that they could make any other morally significant choices — say like hitting someone real hard in the head and harming that person.

    Let me give an analogy. I watched my kids pretty closely. I made sure that they didn’t run into the street, throw rocks at cars or throw each other out windows. However, at some point I had to let go and let them make their own choices. It was essential to their growth as persons that I let go and let them do it on their own. It is the same with God. If we have immediate epistemic access to his presence and overwhelming glory it would be like a hovering parent. Yeah, I know that my little whippersnappers would do stupid things sometimes while I watched and they knew I was there [ha, ha, like I couldn't figure that out]. However, as my kids grew I had to give them more space and let them make more decisions on their own without me being there to make sure that they were OK. Moreover, there is the issue of loss of free. When was the last time you whacked off with our parents present. [Sorry, I know that's crude, but it's important to the point]. There are some bad things that we may do while we know others are watching, but there a very significant choices we could not make if we had immediate epistemic access to God’s existence.

    I just don’t get why you think the “let’s see what you do when you’re left on your own” view requires that spirits be created. If spirits jus are graded in intelligence as BofA states explicitly, then there may be some that are just less intelligent.

    Comment by Blake — June 15, 2011 @ 7:20 am

  55. Blake: Still waiting for someone to give me some reason to believe that the spirits were in God’s direct presence.

    I’m not your guy then because it doesn’t matter much to me if you believe spirits were in God’s direct presence or not. My point is that the standard Mormon narrative teaches it is so. I have not problem with you not buying that narrative.

    I find it interesting that your seem to be taking things a bit further and implying that we were not free willed moral agents (as we are now) before this earth though. I can see how that would help your model make more sense.

    As for the beginningless spirits vs created spirits thing — we have hit this impasse before so suffice it to say that the idea that we have been twiddling our thumbs for all eternity waiting for this short mortal experience makes zero sense to me. But that is a topic for another post.

    Comment by Geoff J — June 15, 2011 @ 9:59 am

  56. Geoff: We did have free will prior to this life; just very different since we didn’t have a moral body. We couldn’t inflict pain on one another. We couldn’t choose to commit adultery etc.

    I grant you your “standard Mormon narrative” I guess, tho I’m not really sure what it is. I thought the standard was the scriptures.

    No one says we have been twiddling our thumbs for eternity and why you believe that the view of eternal intelligences implies that I just don’t understand. I assume that we have been having various kinds of experiences for all eternity that led to our progress to the point we are now.

    Comment by Blake Ostler — June 15, 2011 @ 10:03 am

  57. Jeff, I’m pretty swamped right now. I’ll put together a post at my blog hopefully tonight on this. That way the argument is outlined in a more clear fashion than a comment could do justice.

    Comment by Clark — June 15, 2011 @ 10:38 am

  58. Blake: I assume that we have been having various kinds of experiences for all eternity that led to our progress to the point we are now.

    Yep I know. So rather than replaying our old disagreement about what an infinity of time should imply about “progress” I’ll just say I think I know what your stance is on the topic.

    Comment by Geoff J — June 15, 2011 @ 11:19 am

  59. I’m with Blake in rejecting the idea that we were in God’s direct presence in the pre-existence, not just for the reasons discussed here but for many others. So the 1/3 host of heaven argument doesn’t seem too compelling to me since it is essentially based on folk doctrine.

    Blake #47 – yes.
    #48 – yea, that cut-off point issue is what I was alluding to in #45-#46, I’ll have to look for Van Inwagen’s paper.

    Jeff #53, I agree we have a very limited data set here. The data for divine hiddenness seems pretty rock solid though given that Mormons are committed the fact of God’s existence and it is obvious from our experience that God is hidden from us. If we take those things as given then some argument is demanded, although we are immediately speculating, as you suggest, as to what God’s reasons or purposes are.

    The Adam/Eve story is similar to the 1/3 host of heaven story in that most of us here will agree that it is more parable/allegory than history. Ditto for Jonah and Abraham mentioned earlier in the thread.

    Comment by Jacob J — June 15, 2011 @ 1:22 pm

  60. I think that rejecting the idea that the 1/3 or any of us were in the direct presence of God before this world is fine too Jacob.

    In terms of overall models that works well enough with a “Batch” theory of spirits where we are part of a many-billion batch of spirits that were slated for this world. Other batches would be slated for other worlds I suppose (unless one assumes MMP). But in a non-MMP, batch model the idea would be that our spirits reached some limits to progress as spirits and thus needed to move move up another level. Each level up eliminates more and more spirits from the process and only a few end up reaching the pinnacle of being one with God.

    Is that the basic model you have in mind? If so it at least makes the standard Mormon explanation for God’s hiddeness here plausible.

    Comment by Geoff J — June 15, 2011 @ 3:22 pm

  61. In my opinion the debate is about how thick the veil of hiddenness between us and God is/ought to be. Whether or not we were all in the direct presence of God seems somewhat peripheral to me.

    Comment by Jeff G — June 15, 2011 @ 6:12 pm

  62. Haven’t had time to write things up yet. But how much “slop” are you allowing in the question of “how much.” Seems to me that when appeals to marginal changes are made the demand is for a nearly exact answer.

    Comment by Clark — June 16, 2011 @ 1:56 pm

  63. Sorry if this is beating a dead horse, but Blake is making me wonder if Sidney Rigdon’s story is to be understood via non-traditional Mormon narrative as well. I’m all ears waiting to hear how Rigdon either didn’t experience God unhidden enough or wasn’t the apostate he is made out to be.

    Also, given such reasoning, it is unclear to me why God would even be willing to appear to Paul or Joseph Smith. Wouldn’t it suggest that God just crimped Paul and Joseph’s free agency so neither was given a fair test to choose God with incomplete information?

    Comment by NorthboundZax — June 17, 2011 @ 1:19 pm

  64. Interesting point, NorthboundZax. It seems that Blake’s theory, if it does go through, proves too much.

    Comment by Jeff G — June 20, 2011 @ 5:41 pm

  65. NorthboundZax,

    I am not sure, but it seems like you construing divine hiddenness to be more than it is. No one is asserting that God must remain hidden at all times from all people or that if God ever reveals himself to a person their agency is taken away.

    It is fundamental to Mormonism that God can and does reveal himself, by degrees, to those who seek him and exercise faith. However, it is abundantly clear that if Mormonism is correct about God revealing himself, he is doing it in such a way that it can never be proven to a person who chooses not to believe. This gets to the CS Lewis quote from the post about the Irresistable and the Indisputable as the two weapons God’s nature forbids him from using.

    When someone asserts that divine hiddenness is important in keeping humans free I understand this in the sense Clark described in #19. Isolated experiences with God may actually reduce freedom in the sense described, but only temporarily. Thus we see some journal entries in the early church after some of the most significant revelatory experiences where participant report walking around for some days afterward with no inclination to do evil and some wondering if it meant the millennium had begun. I posted about this issue of faith and proximity long ago.

    The affect goes away, however, usually in tens of minutes (in my experience) and even the faithful who have been blessed to experience God by degree are left to themselves in the human condition. From this perspective I just don’t see how your comment raises an interesting objection.

    Comment by Jacob J — June 20, 2011 @ 7:26 pm

  66. Could you clarify what in the Rigdon story you see is problematic to Blake’s model? (I assume you don’t see it as a problem to my presentation)

    Comment by Clark — June 20, 2011 @ 10:12 pm

  67. Zax’s comment is not very clear, but I think I can at least get the gist of what he is asserting. It appears that Zax, and Jeff G. by guilt of association, claims that if God ever intervenes to reveal himself, then that would imply that he has made his existence obvious. But if that is the case, then my argument that divine hiddenness is important to allow us to freely come to a genuine relationship with God is either mistaken or God didn’t care about Joseph Smith and Paul having a freely chosen relationship with him.

    of course it doesn’t follow from the fact that God revealed himself that Joseph Smith couldn’t have a freely chosen relationship with God. In fact, Joseph Smith speaks in the 1832 account of the First Vision how the order of the cosmos impressed him that there must be a God and his efforts to seek out God and develop a relationship with him. Joseph began in faith and continued to seek out God. The fact that God’s existence is not obvious to Joseph when he begins his efforts to find God simply supports the view that God was somewhat hidden to him until the day of the First Vision. The notion of a cognitive distance in no way entails that God can never reveal himself — merely that we must begin by first exercising faith and also remain able to later reject God if we choose.

    Paul’s case (and by extension Alma’s as well) appears to be more difficult to explain because it appears that God knocked Paul on his rear and made his existence obvious to get Paul’s attention. However, Paul lived in a world where God’s existence was likely never in doubt. Saul was a devout Pharisee. He believed he already knew God and God’s will regarding eliminating Christians. God made it clear that wasn’t his intention.

    But let’s get real. I have identified the real problem of our ignorance of God as self deception. We live in a world where we can easily harden our hearts and deceive ourselves about both God’s existence and also what God desires of us and/or which or who God is. Paul argues in Romans 1 that God isn’t actually hidden — he has made his existence obvious enough to anyone who cares to see. However, we hide from God by deceiving ourselves just as Adam did. God is not hidden; rather, we hide from God.

    However, in this world we are at a cognitive distance from God which makes such self-deception possible. What does the agnostic believe of Paul’s experience? That it is the result of a frenzied mind — Korihor’s explanation and the explanation of our culture regarding the demons that used to inhabit the world in Jesus’s day. Well, why couldn’t Saul have chalked up his experience merely to a frenzied or overwrought or stressed mind instead of to God — like Laman and Lemuel did? Of course he could have done so. We are always free to disregard God.

    We need to distinguish two kinds of knowledge: knowledge of facts (Latin sapere; Gr. epistime) and having an interpersonal knowledge of people (Latin conoscere and Gr. gnosko). I would also add that the issue is really not about knowledge of God’s existence (sapere) but about knowing God (conoscere). God wants us not merely to believe that he exists — he could convince us of that by writing in the sky. He wants us to have a convinced heart that knows him. That requires a more subtle approach that requires God to give us cognitive distance to make it so that we can freely choose into relationship with him.

    Comment by Blake — June 21, 2011 @ 7:50 am

  68. If that’s what they are saying doesn’t it reduce to “why does a hidden God sometimes intervene?” It seems that Paul or Joseph aren’t good cases. Rather the example is Laman and Lemuel or perhaps even Alma the Younger.

    While one can always just say (as you note about Laman) that one is delusional – especially when events aren’t public – I don’t think that covers things sufficiently.

    Comment by Clark — June 22, 2011 @ 7:12 am

  69. Clark,

    I don’t think I know THE answer to your question, but it seems like there is plenty of room for an answer or multiple answers to the question. The arguments for hiddenness are made at the corporate rather than the personal level. In any individual example of one or two people there are all kinds of variables which would affect the wisdom and outcome of God intervening. It would be silly to think we can sort out the specific factors that justify God’s intervention with Laman and Lemuel or Alma the Younger. None of the arguments for hiddenness suggest that God can never intervene or reveal himself, rather, they talk about inescapable ramifications of systematically revealing himself. In other words, hiddenness must be the rule, but that does not exclude exceptions for a variety or reasons.

    Comment by Jacob J — June 22, 2011 @ 8:51 am

  70. I think that’s a fair answer (and it’s the one I typically give) except that then we’re back to the question of God’s justice. It’s the old Kantian vs. Utilitarian dichotomy. That answer works for an Utilitarian. It probably wouldn’t work for a Kantian.

    Comment by Clark — June 22, 2011 @ 11:04 am

  71. Maybe an interesting C.S. Lewis quote can answer your question:

    “…you now see that the irresistible and the indisputable are the two weapons which the very nature of [God's] scheme forbid Him to use. Merely to override a human will (as His felt presence in any but the faintest and most mitigated degree would certainly do) would be for Him useless. He cannot ravish. He can only woo. For His ignoble idea is to eat the cake and have it; [people] are to be one with Him and yet themselves; merely to cancel them, or assimilate them, will not serve.” [Screwtape Letter #8]

    Would people be free to believe or not to believe if God made Himself indisputably real?

    Comment by Melanie — June 22, 2011 @ 1:53 pm

  72. Did you even read the post Melanie? (Apparently not)

    Comment by Geoff J — June 22, 2011 @ 2:12 pm

  73. That answer works for an Utilitarian. It probably wouldn’t work for a Kantian.

    Then it will come as no surprise that I am a utilitarian and I think Kant was high on crack.

    Comment by Jacob J — June 22, 2011 @ 2:41 pm

  74. I’m neither an utilitarian nor kantian so I suspect that’s why I appreciate the problem so much.

    Comment by Clark — June 23, 2011 @ 3:38 pm

  75. I am an agape theorist so I see it in a very different light.

    Comment by Blake — June 23, 2011 @ 9:30 pm

  76. God of the Gaps Argument-From a New Perspective
    Or
    God’s Hiddenness Justified

    I will begin this article with two suppositions: 1) God has created this universe; 2) He has brought man in this universe with some purpose.
    I am not claiming here that these two suppositions are true, or that I can prove them to be true. But I want to show here that if these two suppositions are true, then God will always be the God of the gaps. Anyone who will be reading this article should not forget that there is an “if” clause in the last sentence.
    Now I begin with the supposition that God has created this universe. If God has created this universe, then He could have created it in four different ways: 1) He created it in such a way that there was no necessity for Him to intervene in it after creation, 2) After creation He intervened in it, but these interventions were a bare minimum, that is, He intervened only when these were absolutely necessary. In order to clarify my point here, I will say that He intervened only when He found that without His intervention the universe would come to a standstill, 3) He created the universe in such a way that in order to keep it going He had to make very frequent interventions in it, 4) God’s total intervention after creation.
    If it was the purpose of God to keep mankind crippled in every possible way, then He would have adopted either the third or the fourth way while creating the universe. This is because in these two cases man, in spite of his having sufficient intelligence and reasoning power, will fail to unveil the secrets of nature, because in almost every phenomenon of nature that he will decide to study he will ultimately find that there always remains an unknown factor, for which he will have no explanation. For him the book of nature will thus remain closed for ever. But if it were God’s purpose that man be master of His creation, then it is quite natural for Him that He would try to keep the book of nature as much open to him as possible, so that with the little intelligence he has been endowed with man will be able to decipher the language of nature, and with that acquired knowledge will also be able to improve the material conditions of his life. In that case God will try to adopt the policy of maximum withdrawal from His creation. He will create the universe in such a way that without His intervention the created world will be able to unfold itself. However that does not mean that He will never intervene. He will definitely intervene when without His intervention the created world would become stagnant. In such a scenario man will be able to give an explanation of almost all physical events in scientific language. But in those cases where God has actually intervened, he will fail to do so.
    So I think there is no reason for us to be ashamed of the “God of the gaps” hypothesis. Yes, if God has created the universe, and if God’s purpose was that man be master of His creation, then He would try to keep as little gap in His creation as possible. But the minimum gap that would be ultimately left can never be bridged by any sort of scientific explanation. God will also reside in that gap. Why should we be ashamed of that?
    The whole matter can be seen from another angle. Those who strongly believe that God has created this universe also believe that He has created it alone. Now is it believable that a God, who is capable of creating such a vast universe alone, is not capable enough to keep a proof of His existence in the created world? So I think it is more reasonable to believe that while creating the universe God has also kept a proof of His existence in something created. This proof is open to us all, but we have not found it, because we have not searched for it. So even if it is the case that God has never intervened in the created world after its creation, still then there will be a gap in this natural world, purposefully left by God, for which science will find no explanation. This will be the ultimate gap that can only be filled up by invoking God.
    So it is quite logical that a God who will create man with some purpose will always prefer to be the God of the gaps. Yes, if we were really created by some God, and if it was not God’s desire that we be some sort of semi-savage beast, then it makes quite a good sense if I say that in that case God would try to keep the book of nature as much open to us as possible (policy of maximum withdrawal). In such a case man will also be able to explain almost everything of nature without invoking God. But then this “ability to explain almost everything of nature without invoking God” will not prove that there is no God, because it might also be the case that this ability itself is God’s design, God’s plan.
    Here I will give an example in order to make my point more clear: Let A be one most obvious fact of nature, and let D be one natural phenomenon that follows from A. Let us also suppose that D does not directly follow from A, but there are some intermediate steps. A causes B, then B causes C, then C causes D. In order to be more precise here let us say that A means dark clouds gathering in the sky, and that D means lightning. We know very well that lightning does not always take place whenever there are dark clouds in the sky. So we will modify the above chain from A to D in this way: A causes B, but B does not always cause C. Instead of C, it sometimes causes C1. When B causes C1, there is no lightning. But when B causes C, in that case only lightning occurs. Now it might be the case that there is a God, and that after creating the universe He has not intervened in it at all. So all the processes from A to D will be natural. In that case if man wills then one day he will be able to understand the whole natural process here. He will understand what lightning is, how and when it occurs, and with that knowledge it can be hoped that one day he will also be able to protect himself and his property from lightning. Now let us suppose that after creation God has frequently intervened in his creation, but his intervention was not total, but only partial. Let us also suppose that God has chosen the above case of lightning for His intervention. That means lightning can never take place unless He wills. When He decides to punish mankind by sending lightning, then only B can cause C, otherwise in every other case B causes C1. In this case the whole chain from A to D will be broken at B. Man will never understand how B can naturally cause C, and so he will never understand how D naturally follows from A. So lightning will forever remain a mystery to him. Now let us suppose that God’s intervention in this universe is total, that is, behind every natural phenomenon there is hand of God. In that case man will understand nothing of nature, and he will remain as ignorant as a savage. In this world his fate will be no better than birds and beasts, and his condition will remain as miserable and helpless as those birds and beasts in the face of natural calamities. But if God wills that man be almost equal to Him in the knowledge of things in nature, and if He also wills that man live in this world with some dignity and not just like birds and beasts, then He will create the universe in such a way that almost all the phenomena in nature can take place naturally without His intervention. In that case He will adopt the policy of maximum withdrawal. He will intervene only in those cases where His intervention is absolutely necessary. One such case is genetic code. Genetic code is information code, and those who believe that there is a God try to make a point here. They say that information code cannot naturally arise from space, time, force, field, matter, energy. Some intelligence is required, and nature does not possess that intelligence. Only God possesses that intelligence, and therefore only God can generate information code. If what they are saying is true, then I will say that man will never understand how information code can arise from space, time, force, field, matter, energy. It will forever remain a mystery to him.
    My thesis presented here has at least one merit. It can successfully explain as to why nature has opened her secrets to man, whereas proponents of accidental origin of man cannot give any reason as to why nature has done so. If their theory was correct, then man also could have led a life just like other higher primates, chimpanzees, bonobos, gorillas and orangutangs. That man has not done so and that instead he has been able to raise a civilization and lead a life with some dignity and self-respect shows that nature has taken a special care for us and equipped our brain accordingly.

    Comment by Udaybhanu Chitrakar — September 4, 2011 @ 1:26 am

  77. “Trying to convince an atheist that there really is a God…”

    Why do you feel the need to convince an atheist there is a God? If there is a God, and God wants the atheist to know him, then it will happen. Otherwise it won’t in any meaningful way.

    Let God fight his own battles. It ain’t your job.

    Comment by bill long — September 28, 2011 @ 1:28 pm

  78. Reading comprehension fail.

    Comment by Jacob J — September 28, 2011 @ 11:12 pm

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