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Doubting Thomas and Divine Hiddenness

April 12, 2021


An Atheist Blogger Asks Why We Don't All Get The Same Evidence That Doubting Thomas Got.

KEVIN HARRIS: Dr. Craig, we interact with Jonathan Pearce quite often. He’s an atheist blogger – A Tippling Philosopher. He seems to key off a lot of what you say as well. We are looking at this article, it is called “The Double Standard Involved with Doubting Thomas.”[1] Let me begin here just a little bit with this article. He says,

Here’s the thing – we often hear that God wouldn’t put a cross on the moon as overwhelming evidence for his existence because it is just too overwhelming and doesn’t give people the “choice” to believe. But this is thoroughly problematic, as I discussed in this video.

Let me lay some of this out in writing. God saw fit to convince Doubting Thomas, who – after all – knew ~Jesus and saw him do his miracles. He was a disciple – one of Jesus’ inner circle. And yet even he didn’t believe in the Resurrection, attested to by his friends and eyewitnesses, until he had Jesus standing in front of him until Jesus made him touch the wounds.

From there he goes to the account in John 20.

DR. CRAIG: Well, he does summarize the account, although it's not true that Jesus made Thomas touch his wounds. One of the striking things about the story is that even though Thomas said “I will not believe until I put my hand in his side and my finger in his wounds” he doesn't ever do so. When he sees Jesus it's so palpable and so real he just falls on his knees and says “My Lord and my God!” and never, in fact, does touch Jesus. But leave that aside. That's not the central issue here. I want to say that I agree with Jonathan that it's not a good response to those who say, “Why couldn't God put a cross on the moon as overwhelming evidence of his existence?” – “because that would take away our free will if God were to do that.” That is not my response to the question of overwhelming evidence. It's evident in the Old Testament that the Israelites who followed Moses through the wilderness accompanied by the pillar of fire by night and the pillar of cloud by day had palpable, obvious evidence of God's existence, and yet they fell into apostasy time and again with tiresome repetitiveness. So I don't think that getting overwhelming evidence is something that removes your choice to believe or disbelieve. Rather, the way I would answer this objection is that a God endowed with middle knowledge knows exactly what evidence would be sufficient for a person to come to rational faith in Christ, and God will provide such evidence for that person. He's under no obligation to provide more evidence if he knew that it wouldn't do any good. It would sort of be like having an epoxy glue that requires two parts – one part is the glue and the other tube is the hardener. If you knew that the person didn't have the hardener it would be pointless to supply the glue. Similarly, I would say that God knows just how much evidence to supply to people in order for them to come to rational belief in him, and when a person does not come to rational belief God is not obligated to provide any greater evidence if he knew that, in fact, it wouldn't do any good. So what the atheist needs to show here is that a more optimal number of people would come into a saving love relationship with God and find salvation if God were to make his existence more obvious. And I think you'd agree that that is something that no atheist is in a position to prove. It's sheer conjecture. We always need to keep in mind that God's purpose is not simply to get people to believe that he exists. He's not just trying to get them to add another item to their ontological inventory of things. Rather, he wants to draw people into a saving personal love relationship with himself, and he knows exactly what sort of evidence to provide people in order to make that possible and is under no obligation to make his existence more obvious to people who he knew would not respond to it and come into such a relationship if he were to provide it.

KEVIN HARRIS: He seems to be keying off of an illustration that you make from time to time – what if God put a glowing cross in the sky? At least you have yours in the sky, you know?

DR. CRAIG: Yeah, I didn't think putting the cross on the moon was so good. Nobody would notice it until space travel. But if there were a neon cross in the sky saying “Jesus saves” then everybody would see it and know about it. So that would truly be overwhelming. And I certainly agree that if God were to do such a thing that probably a lot more people would add that item to their ontological inventory of things – that God exists. But there is no guarantee whatsoever that that would lead to a more optimal number of people coming to know and love God personally and to find salvation.

KEVIN HARRIS: You got to credit Jonathan because he listens to what you say and what others have said. He goes, well, OK, now wait a minute. Is there anything in the Christian Bible that would refute that? And what he thought of was the Thomas episode.

DR. CRAIG: Sure. And with respect to the biblical testimony, the Bible is full of examples of where people see palpable miracles and yet it does not bring them to belief in God in terms of that personal love relationship with him. I mentioned the Israelites in the Old Testament, but in the ministry of Jesus, as well, think of the response of the Pharisees and the Jewish authorities to Jesus’ miracles such as his healing of the blind man in John 9 where the blind man having been healed says, “This is a marvel. This man opened my eyes.” It's never been heard of since time began that someone has opened the eyes of a man born blind. If this man were not from God he could do nothing.” And the Pharisees just cast him out saying, “You would teach us?” and they revile him. Clearly the Bible teaches that sheer miracles and overwhelming evidence doesn't lead to saving personal faith in God.

KEVIN HARRIS: And just to be fair to Jonathan, as well, he lays out the argument here, and you've addressed this but, he says,

Thomas got to poke Jesus, bodily resurrected in front of him, in the hands. He got to feel the skin of the real and resurrected God, and only then did he believe.

He’s now a Saint.

This is completely unfair and terrible double standards.

God is not fair.

Therefore, God is not perfect or omnibenevolent.

So that’s it. That's his argument there in response to it.

DR. CRAIG: And I think it is not unfair because, as I say, a God endowed with middle knowledge will know exactly what evidence would be conducive to bringing a person to saving faith in himself and whether or not provision of greater evidence would help. So I disagree with Jonathan when he says this, “The only way God could deal with the potential unfairness is by having some kind of metric for judgement that allows for everyone’s causal circumstance to be taken into account.” What I want to say is that via his middle knowledge God in a sense has such a metric. He knows exactly how people would respond to the evidence in whatever situation God were to place them. And for people who complain of lack of evidence, I think God would say to them on the Judgment Day, “I knew that even if I were to give you overwhelming evidence, you still wouldn't have believed.” So it's not the case that God has to give everybody the same amount of evidence – that everybody has to have a Thomas-sort of experience. God knows what amount of evidence to give us that will be conducive to a saving relationship with him.

KEVIN HARRIS: Would this be in the category of hiddenness of God or divine hiddenness?

DR. CRAIG: Yes, exactly. Because what the people who champion the hiddenness of God say is that God could have made his existence a whole lot more obvious. God has chosen to hide in a sense, and he could have made his existence more obvious. Why has he not done so? I've already addressed that by means of God's middle knowledge. I noticed later in his blog that Jonathan says of God, “who would know this in advance anyway and would not need to create so to test his infallibly predicted hypothesis.” And I'd want to say: Exactly right, Jonathan! A God endowed with middle knowledge would know in advance whether or not Thomas would respond to Jesus’ appearance to him, whether or not the Israelites would respond to the miracles of Moses in the desert, whether or not the Pharisees or the blind man would respond to Jesus’ miracles during his ministry. So he's exactly right that if God has middle knowledge God knows this in advance and so he doesn't need to tinker with the situations to causally affect the circumstances to see how people would respond. He knows how they would respond.

KEVIN HARRIS: I guess we can bring it down and just get perhaps very personal with Jonathan with his last line here. He says, “Doubting Thomas is another example as to how easy some had it getting through those pearly gates.” I can almost hear, “God needs to give me some kind of evidence. I'm having a hard time getting into the pearly gates.” I wonder what Jonathan should do?

DR. CRAIG: Well, that's a real good question. Remember in my debate with Keith Parsons at Prestonwood Baptist Church. He said, “If God were to appear to me as this gigantic figure telling me, ‘Repent and believe,’ I would believe in him.” And I said to Keith, “Come on. You would not. You would probably say, ‘Man, what an incredible hallucination I had last night. Man, it was an amazing delusion.” God knows what evidence to give us that will bring a person who is open-minded and who has a heart attuned to God to faith in him. He wants all of us to come to know him and to find salvation, and he can be relied upon to place us in circumstances which are conducive to our doing so if we seek out after him with an open heart and an open mind. Jesus says in John 7, “If any man's will is to do God's will then he'll know whether my teaching is from God or whether I'm speaking on my own authority.” God wants people to come to know him, so he is going to provide evidence that is sufficient (whether through the inner witness of the Holy Spirit or through external proofs or arguments of natural theology) to bring that person who wants God’s will to saving faith in him.[2]


[2] Total Running Time: 15:06 (Copyright © 2021 William Lane Craig)