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#221 Is God’s Existence Evident to Every Sincere Seeker?

July 11, 2011
Q

This is an argument i read on the forum, and I'm wondering how you would respond, in my opinion its not a very strong argument. But here it is :

1. If God exists, then his existence would be evident to anyone who sincerely seeks God.

2. God's existence is not evident to everyone who sincerely seeks God.

3. Therefore, God doesn't exist.

I take it that most Christians accept (1) -- I know WLC does. Hence, to deny the conclusion, Christians must reject (2), but (2) is evidently obvious to anyone who sincerely gave Christianity a chance and yet is not convinced of God's existence. To me, the truth of (2) is far more plausible than its denial: if (2) were false, then it would have to be true that every person who claims to have sincerely sought God, but couldn't find him, must be lying - either to others or themselves. Do Christians really believe this?

Edit:

As expected, most who resist the argument claim that premise (2) is false, which I find extraordinary. To hold that (2) is false, one would have to believe that every non-Christian is lying, either about God's existence being evident or about being sincere. Compare premise (2) with the following:

1. Allah's existence is not evident to everyone who sincerely seeks Allah.
2. Brahman's existence is not evident to everyone who sincerely seeks Brahman.
3. Bigfoot's existence is not evident to everyone who sincerely seeks bigfoot.
4. Santa's existence is not evident to everyone who sincerely seeks Santa.

And so on.

Most of us would not doubt these statements, since we generally take people at their word about what they believe. Why, then, shouldn't we generally take the word of non-Christians who claim they sincerely sought to find God? Without an adequate answer to this question, those who reject premise (2) are just guilty of special pleading.

sorry if it's a little bit long. look forward to hearing from you.

sincerely.

Tapji

Canada

Dr. craig’s response


A

I believe that God’s existence—that is to say, the existence of the God described in the Bible—is or will become evident in this lifetime to anyone who sincerely seeks Him. Now by “evident” I don’t mean obvious or certain. I mean that the sincere seeker will come to saving faith in God; his search will be successful; he will not only come to believe that God exists but will come to know God.

Why do I believe such a thing? Well, primarily because that is what Jesus taught, and I have good reasons for believing that Jesus is the revelation of God to mankind and therefore to be believed in what he taught. You can find my reasons for so thinking in Reasonable Faith. As for Jesus’ teaching, consider this saying from his Sermon on the Mount:

Ask, and it shall be given you; seek, and you shall find; knock, and it shall be opened to you. For every one that asks receives; and he that seeks finds; and to him that knocks it shall be opened (Matthew 7.7-8).

By “seeking,” Jesus obviously didn’t mean a merely intellectual inquiry but a genuine search of the soul, a spiritual quest in humility and with a contrite heart. This teaching comports well with the universal salvific will of God (I Timothy 2.3-4; II Peter 3.9).

Of course, God’s providence in each person’s life plays itself out over time. God’s existence may not be evident to someone at certain stages of his life but may become evident when and through what means God chooses. If a person is truly seeking God, he will persist in his search and will eventually find God.

So I would replace premiss (1) with

1´. If God exists, then His existence will become evident to anyone who sincerely seeks God.

So to those who say, “I’ve sincerely sought God and haven’t found Him,” I say, “Don’t give up! Keep searching, and you will find God.”

If we have, as I think we do, good reasons to believe that Jesus was who he claimed to be, then we have good reasons to believe that what he taught is true. So what defeater is offered by the detractor of this doctrine?

It’s the claim that

2. God's existence is not evident to everyone who sincerely seeks God.

But (2), even if true, is not incompatible with (1´). From (1´) it follows only that God’s existence will become evident to a sincere seeker after God. Of course, (2) is easily adjusted to the claim that

2´. God's existence never becomes evident to some people who sincerely seek God.

But why should we think that (2´) is true? How do we know that? It’s obviously inadequate to say that (2´) “is evidently obvious to anyone who sincerely gave Christianity a chance and yet is not convinced of God's existence.” For perhaps his lack of persistence is an indication that his search was not as earnest as he imagines (he gave Christianity “a chance”?) or perhaps that person will yet find God.

To establish (2´) it seems we’d have to appeal to cases in which a person was a sincere seeker but at the end of his life failed to come to faith in God. The problem with such an argument, however, is that we’re just not in a position to look into the human heart and judge a person’s sincerity in this regard. This would require a kind of psychological insight that is not available to us. Only God is capable of doing the spiritual cardiogram necessary for answering this question.

Your “Edit” tries to support (2´) by saying that “we generally take people at their word about what they believe. Why, then, shouldn't we generally take the word of non-Christians who claim they sincerely sought to find God?” I’ve already answered that question: if a person persists in unbelief until his death, then the evidence for Jesus’ identity and the truth of his claims gives us reason to think that that person was not as sincere as he imagined himself to be. Notice that in so saying, we do not presume to have the sort of psychological insight that the atheist claims to have.

Notice as well that this answer is not to say that “every non-Christian [who persists until death in unbelief] is lying, either about God's existence being evident or about being sincere.” Rather such a person may be self-deceived. He imagines himself to be sincere and earnest in seeking God, when in truth he may not be. There is a large literature on the incredible human capacity for rationalization and self-deception that is relevant here. We all see the remarkable blind spots in others; but of course we do not see our own. Pride, the desire to be right, and the wish for self-autonomy all conspire to subvert our vaunted sincerity. It is not at all implausible that those who persist in unbelief until their deaths have not truly sought God.

As for the four examples of other things whose existence is not evident to every sincere seeker, the last two are just silly, and there is every reason to think that the existence of Bigfoot and Santa Claus should not be self-evident. By contrast, the first two examples, especially the first, deserve to be taken very seriously. A Muslim might well claim that Allah will make his existence evident to anyone who sincerely seeks him. I don’t find that claim at all implausible, given that Allah exists. The problem is, we have good reasons to think that the God described in the Qur’an does not exist. We have good reasons to think that the God revealed by Jesus of Nazareth does exist. So in contrast with the four examples, we have good reason to believe that (1´) is true and no comparably good reasons to think that the claims offered on behalf of Allah, Brahman, Bigfoot, or Santa Claus are true.

Now I realize that my saying these things makes atheists see red! But that is no argument, and they need to ask themselves honestly whether their anger and indignance at Jesus’ wonderful promise that everyone who sincerely seeks God will find Him may not be an indication of just where their hearts really are in regard to God.

- William Lane Craig