Argument from nonbelief

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The argument from nonbelief, argument from reasonable nonbelief, and argument from divine hiddenness are a related set of arguments against the existence of God having the following rough form:

  1. If God existed, this fact would be more obvious.
  2. God's existence is not, in fact, as obvious as we would expect, if he existed.
  3. Therefore, God does not exist.


Arguments for the first premise

Argument for God's love

J. L. Shellenberg, the original proponent of the argument, has argued that a loving God would want to have a relationship with every person on Earth, which requires that his existence be made evident to everyone.

When it comes to the use of divine hiddenness as an objection or evidence against God, Daniel Howard-Snyder and Paul Moser in the introduction to a volume of papers dedicated to refutations of Schellenberg's argument, cite Nietzsche's question: "a god who is all-knowing and all-powerful and who does not even make sure his creatures understand his intentions — could that be a god of goodness?"

Arguments from evangelical doctrine

Theodore Drange, who defended the argument in his 1998 book, Nonbelief and Evil: Two Arguments for the Nonexistence of God, explicitly focused most of his book on the god of evangelical Christianity. He approvingly quoted David and Randall Basinger, who said, "[T]he philosophical community would be better served if it concerned itself primarily with... specific theological systems."[citation needed]

Drange cites a number of Biblical passages that suggest God strongly desires everyone to be aware of his existence:

  • A number verses, including John 3:16 Bible-icon.png and Romans 10:9 Bible-icon.png, suggest belief is required for salvation.
  • 1 Timothy 2:4 Bible-icon.png says God "wants all men to be saved and to come to a knowledge of the truth."

Drange also cites a number of divine commands which suggest God wants everyone to believe:

"(a) God commanded people to 'believe on the name of his son Jesus Christ' (1 John 3:23 Bible-icon.png). (b) God commanded people to love him maximally (Matt. 22:37 Bible-icon.png, Mark 12:30 Bible-icon.png), and called that his 'greatest commandment.' (c) Jesus directed missionaries to preach the gospel message to all nations (Matt. 28:19-20 Bible-icon.png) and to all creation (Mark 16:15-16 Bible-icon.png NIV)."[1]

In spite of his emphasis on evangelicalism, Drange has explained that he views his argument as a problem for anyone who would answer "yes" to two questions:

  1. Could God have done things that would have caused everyone, or almost everyone, to believe that he exists?
  2. Does God strongly desire that everyone, or almost everyone, believe that he exists?

Related argument from vagueness

  1. God either does or does not reveal his existence
  2. If God does not reveal his existence, there is no reason for belief
  3. If God does reveal his existence, there is no reason for belief, only knowledge
  4. The problem of vagueness indicates that there is an unclear ground for belief.

The argument's precise form

Though Shellenberg refers to his argument as dealing with "divine hiddenness," he has specifically formulated it in terms of reasonable or inculpable non-belief:

  1. If God existed, there would be no instances of reasonable or inculpable non-belief.
  2. But there are instances of reasonable or inculpable non-belief.
  3. Therefore, God does not exist.

Theodore Drange, in contrast, has argued the argument should be formulated simply in terms of non-belief. First, he argues that the distinction between non-belief and reasonable non-belief is unclear. Also, he argues that even if it could be made clear, it would be irrelevant:

"A perfectly loving deity would set vindictiveness aside and still want to help nonbelievers (by supplying them with evidence of his existence), despite their culpability."

Drange's argument from non-belief

1.God is omniscient.

2.God is omnipotent.

3.God wants everyone to believe in him.

4.Since God is omniscient, he knows exactly what demonstration would convince any given person that he exists.

5.Since God is omnipotent, he is capable of performing this demonstration.

6.Since God wants everyone to believe in him, he wants to perform this demonstration.

7.However, atheists manifestly exist.

8.Therefore, the god described by the first three conditions does not exist.


Free will

Probably the most popular objection to the argument from non-belief is that if God caused everyone to believe, he would be interfering with their free will. There are many problems with this defense (dubbed the Free will defense), however. We do not normally consider giving people evidence of something, or making them aware of something or someone's existence, as interference with their free will. Traditional scriptures show God frequently giving people (and even Satan, who nevertheless still rejects him) overwhelming evidence of his existence through miracles, and evidently this does not interfere with their free will — or, at least, God as portrayed in these texts does not value free will highly. Also, the free will objection seems to imply that God wants people to believe in him without sufficient evidence; however, there appears to be no good reason for him to want this.

In addition to these things, it seems that the free will objection is not effective against the argument from reasonable non-belief. For example, in his debate with Austin Dacey, William Lane Craig denied that "If god existed, he would ensure everyone who can have a loving relationship with him believe in him," appealing to free will in support of this point. However, Craig conceded that if God existed, everyone would have reasonable grounds for belief.[2] On other occasions, Craig has said, "If you're sincerely seeking God, God will make His existence evident to you." This is representative of evangelical claims that all unbelievers are choosing wrongly or being dishonest, "suppressing the truth" as the Bible says. Another example of Craig's perspective is William J. Wainwright, who responded to the argument from non-belief by blaming non-belief on, "human corruption… sinfulness… perversity… [and] tendency to idolatry." This view, however, is almost as difficult to square with the evidence as the view that there are no unbelievers. Among the ranks of contemporary, outspoken non-believers are many people who were once sincere orthodox Christians, including ministers (Dan Barker, Farrell Till, John W. Loftus, Matt Dillahunty) and aspiring apologist-scholars (Robert M. Price, Bart Ehrman).


Many Calvinists have claimed that the argument from non-belief is inapplicable to Calvinism, because Calvinism holds that God does not want all persons to be saved. This, however, requires an implausible understanding of Biblical passages such as 1 Timothy 2:4 Bible-icon.png. Also, while Calvinism may not claim God wants everyone to be saved, Calvinists have typically claimed that God wants everyone to be aware of his existence, and in fact all people are aware of God's existence. [3]

The unknown purpose defense

Alvin Plantinga writes that the statement "We can see no good reason for God to do X" only implies "There is no good reason for God to do X" on the assumption that "If there were a good reason for God to do X, we would be able to see it," which he suggests is absurd.

Let X be "having all humans to believe God exists before they die"

Not only is there no good reason for God to refrain from doing X, but it is also irrational for God- especially the Christian God- not to do X.

The Christian God supposedly cares terribly about matters of belief and interaction with humans, as depicted in the bible and other holy books; hence if such a God deeply desires to do X and attempts to do X but fails (as attempting to reveal a religion to all humanity and convince everyone about its validity), then this omnipotent and omniscient being does not exist.

Drange's formulation of the argument (see above) is also a good reply to these theodicies.


One can avoid the free will defense by reformulating the argument as follows (P=Premise, C=Conclusion):

P1. If God existed, he would want to ensure a situation where a person employing any reasonable epistemology, would be able to believe that he existed and to know at least some of his characteristics. Because of God's omnipotence, this would mean that such a situation would come about.

P2. An epistemology based upon methodologies shown to be successful in gathering knowledge usefully applicable in the real world in a publicly verifiable way is reasonable when contrasted with one that is not successful in said way, but an epistemology based upon methodologies NOT shown to be successful in gathering knowledge usefully applicable in the real world in a publicly verifiable way is UNreasonable when contrasted with one that IS successful in said way.

P3. Epistemologies may be divided into methodological naturalism and methodological supernaturalism.

P4. Based on P3 and the criteria in P2, methodological naturalism wins over methodological supernaturalism.

P5. Methodological supernaturalism (e.g. prayer, revelation, inspiration, reading an inspired book) is necessary to know any of God's characteristics.

C1. From P2-P4, methodological naturalism is a reasonable epistemology.

C2. From P5 and C1, there exists a reasonable epistemology within which God's characteristics cannot be known.

C3. From C2 and P1, God does not exist.

External link


  • Theodore Drange. Nonbelief and Evil: Two Arguments for the Nonexistence of God. Amherst: Prometheus Books, 1998.
  • Daniel Howard-Snyder and Paul K. Moser, eds. Divine Hiddenness: New Essays. Cambridge University Press, 2002.

v · d Arguments against the existence of god
Existential arguments   Argument from nonbelief · Problem of Evil (logical) . Who created God? · Turtles all the way down · Problem of non-God objects · Argument from incompatible attributes · No-reason argument · Santa Claus argument · Can God create a rock so heavy that he can't lift it? · Outsider test
Arguments from the Bible   Failed prophecy in the Bible · Biblical contradictions
Evidentiary arguments   Problem of evil (evidential) · Inefficacy of prayer
Reasonableness arguments   Occam's Razor · Outsider test · Argument from locality · Argument from inconsistent revelations
Other arguments   Emotional pleas
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