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Paul Moser and the Hiddenness of God (Part 1)

December 09, 2017
Paul Moser and the Hiddenness of God (Part 1)


Dr. Craig listens as two atheists interview Christian philosopher Paul Moser on the 'Hiddenness of God'


KEVIN HARRIS: Well, Bill, we are not the only ones with a good podcast. I've discovered some other good podcasts out there including a podcast from a couple of young atheist philosophers who I think are very civil and generous and really interact with the arguments in a very good way. They interact with you a lot and your work. Justin and Ben have this podcast called Real Atheology. In this interview they interview Christian philosopher Paul Moser of Loyola who has done a lot of work on the hiddenness of God. Let's listen to some of this interview and have you interact on it. Here we go with the interview on the hiddenness of God, or divine hiddenness.

PAUL MOSER: What I think is a starting place for all questions in this area, namely what should we expect God to be like if God exists? In my own case I start with the highest raising of the bar possible by saying that God would be worthy of worship. Notice I say would be, I don't start by saying God exists and God is worthy of worship. That would just beg the question and be pointless. Instead I say consider the concept of God entails that God is worthy of worship. It is just a notion of God. That is important, I think, because what it gives you then are certain features of God that you can test for, and you put the bar at the highest level so you can then ask later if necessary should we lower the bar to a lesser notion of God such as out of natural theology. Once you ask what God would be like if God is worthy of worship you can start asking about the airing of that notion of God on what's called divine hiding.

DR. CRAIG: I think it is very important that we understand what Paul is affirming here. When he says we need to ask the question What would we expect God to be like? he is not endorsing what has been called divine psychology where you sort of put yourself in the place of God and say, What would I do if I were God? I think that is a very misleading way to do philosophical theology. Rather, he said you look at the concept of God and then can deduce certain attributes or characteristics of God from that. That is very different from divine psychology. What he is talking about is what is conceptually required by an adequate concept of God? I think he is absolutely correct to say that any being that deserves to be called God must be worthy of worship. If a being is not worthy of worship then however powerful it is, eternal, omnipresent, it is not God if it is not worthy of worship. I think he is absolutely right in thinking that God is conceptually required to be a being which, if it exists, is worthy of worship.

PAUL MOSER: Is it the case that God is hidden in the sense that nobody ever at any place, at any time, has had an experience of God? Is God hidden in that way, or does it seem to be more selective and occasional? I think if you look at reports about religious experience we have to say there is no generalizable argument from divine hiddenness to anything near atheism. Because many people testify to religious experience of God, and we can't identify any defeaters of their evidence of their experience. If we can't then claims to hiddenness seem autobiographical. So if I say God is hidden for me, I am making a claim about my own experience. That may be true but how am I going to generalize it to everybody else's experience? That is a tough order to fill because experience varies from person to person. There is no reason to expect that God would give uniform experience to all people. People are in different places with different purposes with different interests, and God has different purposes for different people or different times. So there is a kind of complexity of the situation that is going to block any attempt to say God is hidden from me, therefore God is hidden from everybody, therefore God doesn't exist. That is just not going to work. The psychological reality of religious experience is just too complex and varied.

DR. CRAIG: He is making such a good point here. Current discussions of the problem of evil and suffering have really morphed into discussions of the hiddenness of God, namely if God exists then why doesn't he make his existence more obvious?[1] What Paul is emphasizing here is that if God's hiddenness is selective then there is no sort of generalizable argument from divine hiddenness to atheism – to saying there is no God. You can't defeat theism just because God is hidden from you. I would underline what Paul says about the importance of approaching God on his own terms. The Bible says God resists the proud but gives grace to the humble.[2] Therefore it is imperative that we approach God with an attitude of humility and respect and contrition. Arrogant, proud, rebellious atheists who say God hasn't revealed himself to me shouldn't expect to have a revelation from God because God resists the proud and isn't going to reveal himself to them if they do not approach him in the proper way. So often, and you know this, the sort of attitude of insolence and anger and arrogance that many unbelievers manifest is just inimical to finding God. If that is the way you think God is to be found I am afraid you are just pushing God away and holding him at arm's length.

KEVIN HARRIS: It occurs to me what he said might be applied to some of these prayer studies that are out, too. There is a complexity to the situation being that God has different intentions for different people and is not this cosmic slot machine – you pull the arm and then you will get . . . or a commodity or something.

DR. CRAIG: Yeah, I don't see any reason to think that God would allow himself to be trapped by sociologists.

KEVIN HARRIS: Let's continue the interview to the next segment.

PAUL MOSER: If God exists and is worthy of worship, God is an intentional agent. That is God intends to do certain things in relation to people. Now, some people may be receptive to that; others won't be. So God may give a certain religious experience in one case that God doesn't give to another person in a different case. That leaves you with variability in religious experience. Here is where a lot of people go wrong. They assume that evidence for God is like scientific evidence. So they assume that it is publicly shareable and shared so that all I have to do is somehow present it and everybody will have the religious experience or evidence that God has given. But that is a false assumption. Evidence doesn't have to be publicly shared or even shareable in that way. When someone like Dawkins says Let's treat the hypothesis that God exists as if it is a scientific hypothesis (and he says that in The God Delusion) you have to say that wrecks the whole project. If you require God and claims about God's existence to become part of scientific exploration you may be dooming the project from the start, and I claimed that you are.

DR. CRAIG: Paul here affirms that God is an intentional agent. By that he is assuming that any being that is worthy of worship must be a personal being. He must be a person. I think that is quite right. Persons are intentional agents who seek to do and accomplish things. He indicts people for the mistake of assuming that the evidence of religious experience has to be publicly shareable. I think he is absolutely right about that. There is no reason that my experience (and this is not just true of religious experience – of any sort of experience) needs to be publicly examinable or shareable in order to be a veridical experience. What Paul assumes here, however though, is that there can't be both. I don't see any reason to think that in addition to the so-called evidence of religious experience (which is not publicly shareable and examinable) that there could also be evidence of God's existence which is publicly shareable and examinable. So I want to affirm both. I think that we can know that God exists through the inner witness of the Holy Spirit but that we can also then show that to someone who asks us for a reason of the hope that is in us by giving publicly examinable arguments for God's existence.[3]

KEVIN HARRIS: Very good. Here is the next segment:

PAUL MOSER: We have in conscience (if we are attentive to it, we have to cooperate and be sensitive), we find there salient evidence of God's active reality in our lives. No argument is needed to have that evidence. I might need to construct an argument in a different setting for somebody else, but I claim that ultimately the evidence is foundational because it is non-propositional, it involves a presentation of God's moral character, and doesn't need anything like an argument of natural theology.

DR. CRAIG: Paul opens this section by saying that for the person who has a religious experience no further evidence is needed for him to have justifiable belief in God. But did you catch what he said? Perhaps for someone else in a different context there would be a need or a place for argument. That seems to contradict what he says later about the failure of arguments of natural theology, but it is right in line with what I would want to affirm. For the person who has an experience of the Holy Spirit, he doesn't need any further arguments or evidence in order for his belief in God or Christianity to be warranted. But in order to show someone else who does not have that experience that Christianity is true or that God exists, there the arguments of natural theology can be very useful. I like to distinguish between knowing my faith to be true and showing my faith to be true. It would be right in line with what Moser affirms here.

INTERVIEWER: So would this be similar to Plantinga's Reformed Epistemology?

PAUL MOSER: Not at all. Not at all. It is not similar at all because that is a whole story about we have a certain kind of belief that has a status and we don't need a response to the skeptic. I am invoking a kind of religious experience that the apostle Paul talks about in Romans 5, that is indicated by other writers in the New Testament, John's Gospel. John 16 talks of the convicting of the Spirit. This is an appeal to religious experience that goes all the way back to the New Testament and has been widely neglected by philosophy.

INTERVIEWER: I find it interesting that you distinguish this view from Plantinga's so sharply, and yet I hear terms like foundational and non-propositional. It sounds like Plantinga when he is saying that theistic beliefs can be rational in the sense that they are properly basic, and so we don't need the arguments of natural theology in order to authenticate the religious experiences that we have and take them to be true.

PAUL MOSER: I don't think any beliefs are properly basic. I think that is just a confusion. Beliefs aren't basic. Beliefs depend on evidence and the evidence is experience. I am a foundationalist. I am an evidentialist. Al is a moving target over the years. He has got the properly basic stuff and he has the proper function stuff but all along he has refused to say anything that could challenge a skeptic. I am also an abductivist. I endorse the principle of best explanations as a way to challenge skepticism. I pretty much have nothing in common with his approach to religious belief and his epistemology. He rejects evidentialism. He rejects foundationalism. He rejects abductivism. My account endorses all of those. Those are the center of the account.

INTERVIEWER: So you resist that sort of approach in order to have substantive responses to skeptics.

PAUL MOSER: Exactly. For me, skeptical questions drive the show. I think they are vitally important. They demand answers. You cannot brush them off in the way Al does by saying, Well, the New Testament doesn't talk about needing to test for truth. Well, it actually does. It tells us in 1 John to test the spirits, to see if they are from God. That is a test for truth, not just a test for Reformed rationality which appears to allow you to hold to anything like that which your proper basicality community lets you get away with. That is not what it is about. It is about testing for truth, for reality, and in 1 John we are told to test the spirits to see if they are from God. That is to say, to see if they are genuine. And that is a test for truth. So it is very different approaches. Admittedly at one time he held that natural theology was not needed or perhaps not even relevant to the project, but he has changed his view even on that.[4] He now thinks there are good arguments of natural theology. I don't think there are any. I think they are all bad from traditional natural theology because I've argued they don't give us a God worthy of worship. They give us at most some lesser god, and it isn't clear how we are going to get from that lesser god to a God worthy of worship. There is not even a hint of how you are going to make that move if you start with natural theology.

DR. CRAIG: Here my sympathies are with the incredulity expressed by the interviewers. I think that Moser's view is obviously very similar to Plantinga's Reformed Epistemology.

KEVIN HARRIS: All right. Let's expand on that, and we'll do that next time. We will pick it up right there on Reasonable Faith with Dr. William Lane Craig.[5]


[1]          5:03

[2]          c.f. 1 Peter 5:5, James 4:6

[3]          10:08

[4]          15:11

[5]          Total Running Time: 16:04 (Copyright © 2017 William Lane Craig)