"If God Existed, You Wouldn't Have To Argue For His Existence."
The title of this post is a claim that I woke up to from an atheist in one of our debate groups. It is not a new statement, to say the least, but it seems that this claim is making the rounds once again. Although this claim has been shown fallacious in the past, that doesn't stop it from being parroted again after a short cooldown period. This is not the first time this claim has made the rounds, and it will not be the last time. So how do we, as Christians, respond to this? In short, it depends on the nuance behind the argument. Let me explain what I mean.
|The claim that was made in a theist/atheist debate group|
If, by this response, the person giving it means that, if you have to argue for something, it must not be true. Or, at least, it must not be obvious enough to accept. However, this nuance to the argument is simply a non-sequitur. This is easy to show by simply parodying the argument. Take some examples:
"If gravity were real, you wouldn't need scientists to argue that it exists."
I doubt that anyone who makes this argument would say that gravity does not exist. In fact, if they did, I wouldn't be so much worried about their argument as I would be about their mental state at the moment. The fact of the matter is that we would never argue that because scientists attempt to explain things like gravity, that therefore, gravity does not exist. It simply does not follow. Let's look at another example:
"If pizzas are real, you wouldn't need pizzerias to advertise their pizza."
The fact that pizzerias advertise their product does not mean that their product does not exist. If people thought this were the case, then pizzerias would have gone out of business a long time ago. No one would be eating there. The fact of the matter is that, when pizzerias advertise their pizzas precisely because they think that they have a good product. It is not because their product is nonexistent. It is because they believe the product is good!
"If the earth were not flat, you would not need people to argue that the earth is not flat."
If you are a flat-earther, I am sorry, but you will not find much support from me. The fact of the matter is that we have good reason to believe that the earth is, in fact, something of a sphere (even if not perfectly spherical). In the same way that those who argue with flat-earthers do so because they have good reason to believe that the earth is not, in fact, flat, so do Christians argue for their faith because we have good reason to believe that it is true.
"If the theory of evolution were true, then we wouldn't need people to tell us that it is true."
If the logic of the original claim is correct, then I guess that Richard Dawkins is out of a job. I am not here to get involved in the Intelligent Design vs Materialistic Evolution debate. That is a matter that can be discussed in another post. However, what I am trying to show is that a common belief among atheistic materialists would have to be abandoned if the logic were applied consistently. When I see atheistic materialists abandoning the theory of evolution, and their belief in a spherical planet, and even their belief in gravity, then I will take the original argument made here more seriously. However, if someone who makes this argument cannot apply it consistently, it tells me that there is an inherent recognition that the logic does not follow. We agree, then, that the original argument is a bad one.
The original argument can also be turned around on its head when it has this particular nuance. We can simply respond by asking the person making the claim, "Are you arguing that the statement, 'Are you arguing that my arguing that the statement "God exists" means that the statement is false?" If the answer is yes, their claim is false, because they are arguing that it is true. If the answer is no, then no challenge has been presented to the statement "God exists," and the person can be dismissed until they return with a challenge to the claim. Either way, as long as the argument has this first nuance, the point they are trying to make becomes self-defeating.
There is, however, another nuance that this statement can have. More probably, the atheist who makes this claim is assuming that, if God were to exist, he would make his existence known to all in an unmistakable way. Since that is not happening, and you have to argue for his existence, this counts as an argument against his existence. This is, in other words, simply a restatement of the so-called "Problem of Divine Hiddenness." Since this is the case, it suffers from the same issues that the "Problem of Divine Hiddenness" suffers from.
The atheist who takes this position has taken on a burden of proof, whether he or she wants to admit it or not. There is an inherent claim that if God exists, then he WOULD make his existence known. This implies that God has no morally sufficient reason to not make himself known to everyone. However, this is not an obvious conclusion. In fact, there are several reasons why God might NOT make himself known unmistakably to everyone, but rather provide sufficient, but not overwhelming, evidence of his existence to everyone.
First, simply knowing that he exists is not his end goal. Our turning away from sin and turning to Christ is. If someone is determined in their hearts not to trust in Christ, then God may be morally justified in simply saying, "have it your way, then." If someone simply wants to do things their own way rather than God's, why would we expect God to subject himself to that kind of ridicule? If a man pursues a woman who does not really desire him back, can we blame him if, at some point, he stops pursuing her? We would think it unjust if the woman urged him to keep pursuing her just so she could continue to reject him. Why should we expect that for God?
Along these lines, I recently saw a poll put out by an atheist personality on Twitter. This poll asked the question, "If it could be shown that the Christian God did exist, would you worship him?" Approximately 80% of the people responding at the time I saw the poll said they would not. In other words, even if a PERFECTLY GOOD, PERFECTLY JUST, ALL-POWERFUL, ALL-KNOWING, LOVING God existed, they would still not worship him. That was an interesting observation to make, and I don't think that the audience there realized how much they were tipping their hand when they responded. If there is moral justification in stopping the pursuit of someone who continues to reject you time and time again, then God does, in fact, have at least one morally justifiable reason to not reveal himself unmistakably to all people, in all places, at all times. Rather, it may be best in this scenario to give sufficient, though not overwhelming, evidence of his existence to all people, and then give additional reason to believe to those who respond to what he has already done.
Second, I have heard individuals say that, "If God exists, he knows what kind of evidence I want in order for him to show me that he exists." However, what are the implications of this attitude? Think for a minute: If God is perfectly good, it would not be a good thing for him to submit his sovereignty to anyone. If God were required to meet the intellectual demands that each person willed, that would make God subject to imperfectly good human beings, which is a very bad scenario to be in. Thus, it would be better for God to create a world in which there is sufficient evidence for his existence, but not evidence that bends to the demands of finite creatures.
It is conceivable also that finite creatures would ask for self-contradictory evidences of God's existence, which would be logically impossible to fulfill. For example, let's say you have two people. Person 1 (let's call him Bob) hates Person 2 (Let's call him Jim) and has always seen him as a threat to his family or marriage. Jim is on his deathbed with cancer, and has 24 hours to live. Bob says, "God, if you are real, then get rid of this threat to my family/marriage." Jim says, "God, if you are real, heal my cancer and get me off this deathbed." Omnipotence does not entail the ability to do contradictory things, so God may have to choose to reveal himself to one over the other, or else to provide a sufficient, yet not overwhelming, reason to believe in his existence to both. That is, when we make God grovel to our demands in regards to evidence for his existence, then we end up with self-contradictory scenarios, which cannot be fulfilled in any possible world.
As an aside, in relation to this explanation, it is interesting to hear stories from majority Muslim countries about people turning to Jesus after calling on him, and then having a spiritual experience. Practically speaking, this leads me to believe that seeing evidence for God and for Christ Jesus starts with not closing yourself off to him entirely to begin with.]
A third reason that would provide moral justification for God's not revealing himself unmistakably to each and every person at each and every time in each and every place in each and every scenario is that God is not a genie. His goal is not to give us everything we want. There are possible worlds in which the things that we ask for as "evidence" are actually not in our best interest. For example, someone who claims that he or she would believe if God blessed him or her with more "stuff" might actually be causing harm to himself or herself in the long run if God were to grant it. If that person ends up becoming more callous than before, it would have actually done harm rather than good.
The point is that, regardless of which position you take, the atheist has to show that there are no morally sufficient reasons for God to not simply grant you whatever kind of "evidence" you desire. The fact of the matter is that there are several scenarios in which there is an incredible amount of moral justification for God to not just give us whatever kind of "evidence" we arbitrarily want.
Now, let's turn this argument on its head. For those who do not know, I used to be part of a search and rescue group (I won't name them here because I don't want to give the impression that anything I say is endorsed by them). I held several qualification with this group, one of which was as a "Ground Team Leader." In short, one of my jobs was to oversee a team of 4-7 people who were responsible for searching, by foot, through the areas where a missing person/downed aircraft/etc were expected to be. One of the fascinating things about this experience is that we would often search and find nothing. However, if doesn't matter if we search Area 1 and find nothing. We move on to Area 2. If we search Area 2 and find nothing, we move on to Area 3, and so on. If we search 6 different areas and find nothing, it doesn't matter. It doesn't indicate to us that the person is not out there. If we search 6 different areas and find nothing, but we get to Area 7 and we find a single piece of evidence that this person was here, then we have enough evidence to show that the person was there, and likely still is (unless another team has found him/her). The point is this: THE ABSENCE OF EVIDENCE IS, IN FACT, NOT EVIDENCE OF ABSENSE. It does nothing to show that the person is not out there. Even when we search an area and find nothing, it does not show to a 100% certainty that the person is not out there. It simply means that we did not find the person in that particular area.
There are probably some non-theists who are reading this who will immediately think, "I don't claim that God doesn't exist. I simply lack belief in his existence." Fair enough, but it is important to note that if one of my teammates lacked belief that the person we were searching for was actually lost, or worse, that the person we were looking for actually existed, it would do absolutely nothing to determine whether or not the person was actually out there. In fact, the fact that the person was reported missing should be an indication that the person exists, just as there are things in our world that could not be the case unless theism is true calls for us to accept theism as true. Disbelief does absolutely nothing to show whether or not the thing you disbelieve is true or false.1
Now to my last point: just because an individual has not seen something that they understand to be evidence for God's existence does not mean that such evidence does not exist. There are an incredibly large number of arguments for the existence of God that have been documented.2 In addition, there are good reasons to believe that miracles have, in fact, occurred.3 There are also other valid reasons to believe that God exists. The so-called "Problem of Divine Hiddenness," then, turns out to be less of a problem than some would make it seem. For this reason, it does not bother me when someone makes the claim that our willingness to defend the existence of God is evidence that he does not exist. It does not follow logically, and it does not actually pose a problem for Christians. We should not run or jump ship when this objection to Christianity is presented.
---------------------------------------------------------------------------------------1 FOOTNOTE↩ Ultimately, the idea that a lack of belief is sufficient to hold or deny a particular view is self-defeating. One could simply say, "I lack belief that lacking belief is sufficient to hold or deny a particular view." If it is sufficient, the view is self-defeating. If it is not sufficient, the view is self-defeating. This is one of the core problems with the redefinition of atheism as merely a "lack of belief"--it does absolutely nothing to tell us whether a particular statement, such as "God exists" is true or false. That is, it cannot serve as a proper logical justification for someone to hold to nonbelief in the existence of God.
2 FOOTNOTE↩ For example here, here, here, here, and here.
3 FOOTNOTE↩ Craig Keener has done an excellent job of documenting and defending miracles in his two volume work, Miracles, as well as in his book Miracles Today.