Saturday, August 2, 2008

Divine Invisibility

This was previously posted here.

One of the more common objections to theism concerns God’s “invisibility.” Many atheists insist that if God existed, we should expect his presence to be undeniably obvious. For instance, if God is all-powerful and wants us to believe in him, why not provide a steady stream of miracles, that we might see and believe?

There are many problems with this argument. One, as has often been noted, is that it would reduce God to a cosmic vending machine: Just enter the right prayer and—every time!—he'd have to oblige. But God is not a machine to be manipulated, but a person. Another problem is that miracles are always open to interpretation. No matter how improbable an event, its very improbability leaves it open to doubt. The atheist can always insist that even the most far fetched natural explanation is “infinitely more probable” than a miracle. In fact, Jesus himself highlighted this, saying: “If they do not believe Moses and the Prophets, they will not be convinced even if someone rises from the dead” (Luke 16:31).

For sake of argument, however, let's assume this is mistaken. Let’s assume that if only God provided enough miracles (say one miraculous answer to prayer every week, for every person in the world) that would be enough to prove his existence. Is that really the kind of world we would want?

Many atheists claim that, if God exists, they just want him to prove it to them. Perhaps this is true of some of them, but I don’t think this makes up the majority. No, for many atheists the absence of God is something to be glad of. With no God, we are free to choose our destiny as we see fit (unless we’re not free, of course), whereas if he did exist, we’d have to submit to his authority. The existence of God, many claim, would forever reduce us to the status of children, unable to care for ourselves.

I do not say this in a derogatory manner, nor am I assuming that all atheists think this way, but many do, and it is to these that this argument is directed. The problem is that these two objections work against one another. For what would it accomplish, really, if God were to provide us with a constant stream of miracles? It might convince us of his presence (or perhaps we would simply dismiss it as another, rather odd, law of nature), but it would certainly reduce us to infants.

For if God were to bombard us with constant miracles, not only would he render the world completely unpredictable, but he would undermine our own freedom and responsibility. What motivation would we have to study or grow, if we knew God would solve our problems for us? What need would we have to advance or learn in such a world? For instance, why would anyone become a doctor, if they knew that God would cure every illness within a week? Why would anyone avoid getting sick or injured at all? How could we learn to take care of ourselves in any way, if God did it for us? Indeed, if he ever failed to do so, would we not complain of his inconsistency: “you perform miracles every day, how can you not take care of this as well”?

Occasional miracles are one thing—they can give evidence of God’s power, though only to those who look for them—but if God were to reveal himself as constantly and predictably as many atheists seem to demand, he would in fact be denying us the very thing these same atheists treasure: our freedom to live and learn for ourselves.


Hugh said...

"With no God, we are free to choose our destiny as we see fit ..."

The purely imaginary character of the million and one gods has had no effect on my failure to become Wimbledon champion.

Bird said...

This reminds me of when the Father spoke to JESUS from Heaven. Some who were there said, "It thundered."

Richard said...

On a Similar theme MadPriest has posted what I think is a very poignant sermon on the same theme if you're interested

Ken Brown said...

Thanks for the link, Richard!