Does god need to stay hidden?

When atheists ask theists why their god doesn’t provide actual proof of his existence, the latter usually respond with something like the following:

‘Well, if an all-powerful god were to prove their existence to someone, then that person would obey out of sheer fear, whether they really want to do so or not. God doesn’t want that and instead wants people to make their own decisions on whether to follow him.’

The major problem here is, that isn’t what people are deciding!

The FIRST thing that people decide, is whether they believe god exists. But that has nothing to do with what sort of ethical system they admire, or what kind of person they want to be. It’s a question of ‘Is there an X?’ In other words, it’s like the question ‘Do you believe extraterrestrials have visited earth?’ People can answer it with ‘No,’ ‘Yes,’ or ‘maybe.’

The SECOND thing is, if people think god might exist, they need to decide if they want to follow him. According to the theist explanation, they’re supposed to feel like they aren’t being coerced. But if they really think god exists, then they will feel just as coerced into following him, as they would feel if he gave proof of his existence! In either case, they 100% believe he exists, and will feel the same amount of coercion in either case! (Which does not, incidentally, mean they will feel coerced to follow god. I would not follow the god of christianity or islam, because I would rather go to hell myself than kiss the arse of the god that sends people there).

At this point, the theist could back up and say ‘Well, the way the lack of coercion works is that if they don’t want to follow god, they can lie to themselves about the evidence. So in that way, it gives them choice without coercion. If he proved his existence they would follow him just to get out of going to hell [not true as I noted above], but this way, they can decide they don’t want god to be real and then deceive themselves.’ But I’m not sure that ‘letting’ people subconsciously or consciously deceive themselves should really qualify as ‘choice without coercion.’ Nonetheless, we will let that point pass. It’s a much more complicated defense of god staying hidden, but it’s… not entirely incoherent.

The THIRD thing people need to decide is just what god is like and what he wants. And this is incredibly problematic! Suppose a person is convinced that christianity is correct. But which kind? You’re taking rather a crap shoot in any way you go. If you go Orthodox, the Catholics and many Protestants will say you still go to hell. If you go Catholic, then the Orthodox and many Protestants will say you still go to hell. If you go with some form of Protestant (or baptist, Assyrian, and so on), the Orthodox and Catholics say you go to hell – and lots of other Protestants will say the same! And that is assuming you can jump from evidence that a god exists to the conclusion that some form of christianity is true! In fact, just because you conclude a god exists, does not eliminate judaism or islam or even a polytheistic religion – including perhaps some deity which no human in history has ever grasped!

This third point is, I think, the weakest one for the theist argument in defense of god staying hidden. The first two points can sort of be made to work in a muddled way, by suggesting that the ‘lack of coercion’ comes from being able to deceive yourself. Which is still really, really strange, but can perhaps be accepted. The third point, however, is what really gets things complicated. Just because you accept there is a god and that you want to follow him does not mean you can figure out who that god is or what they want!

In other words, if god exists and wants us to be able to find out the facts about himself by using our rational faculties, he’s done a piss-poor job of it! And if he doesn’t want our faculties to be useful for finding out the truth, then he is basically the deceptive Cartesian demon – in which case, we really have no grounds for thinking ANYTHING is true, at all!

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