Argument from nonbelief
The argument from nonbelief, argument from reasonable nonbelief, and argument from divine hiddenness are a related set of arguments against the existence of God with the following rough form:
- If God existed, this would be more obvious
- However, God's existence is not in fact as obvious as we would expect, if he existed
- Therefore, God does not exist.
Arguments for the first premise
Argument fro 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, and this requires that his existence be made evident to everyone.
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."
Drange cites a number of Biblical passages which suggest God strongly desires everyone to be aware of his existence: A number verses, including John 3:16 and Romans 10:9, suggest belief is required for salvation, and I Timothy 2:4 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). (b) God commanded people to love him maximally (Matt. 22:37, Mark 12:30), and called that his 'greatest commandment.' (c) Jesus directed missionaries to preach the gospel message to all nations (Matt. 28:19-20) and to all creation (Mark 16:15-16 NIV)."
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: "Could God have done things that would have caused everyone, or almost everyone, to believe that he exists?" and "Does God strongly desire that everyone, or almost everyone, believe that he exists?"
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 nonbelief:
- If God existed, there would be no instances of reasonable or inculpable nonbelief.
- But there are instances of reasonable or inculpable nonbelief.
- Therefore, God does not exist.
Theodore Drange, in contrast, has argued the argument should be formulated simply in terms of nonbelief. First, he argues that the distinction between nonbelief and reasonable nonbelief is unclear. Also, he argues 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."
Probably the most popular objection to the argument from nonbelief is that if God caused everyone to believe, he would be interfering with their free will. There are many problems with this defense, however. We do not normally consider giving people evidence of something, or making them aware of our existence, as interference with their free will. Traditional scriptures show God frequently giving people overwhelming evidence of his existence through miracles, and evidently this does not interfere with their free will, or else 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, and 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 nonbelief. 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. 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 respsonded to the argument from nonbelief by blaming nonbelief 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 nonbelievers are many people who were once sincere orthodox Christians, including ministers (Dan Barker, Farrell Till, and John W. Loftus) and aspiring apologist-scholars (Robert M. Price and Bart Ehrman).
Many Calvinists have claimed that the argument from nonbelief 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 I Timothy 2:4. 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.
- [Argument from (Reasonable) Nonbelief] at Internet Infidels
- 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.