Paul Moser and the Problem of Divine Hiddenness Part 1

Paul Moser has a take on the Problem of Divine Hiddenness that is very unique. In the subsequent parts, I will get deeper into his view; but, for this post, I want to focus on the problems he sees for alternative theistic accounts of divine hiddenness.

Moser sees issues for the two most popular theistic views on divine hiddenness: the freedom response and the proper-motivation response. The freedom response holds that God’s hiddenness is there to allow us to have morally significant free will. Imagine that you had a policeman following you around for the entirety of your life. It turns out that you never break a law in your life because of this. Would you be morally praiseworthy if such an event took place? Of course not! You were only a model citizen because you were being forced to do so. You never really had a choice, just as a cashier who gives all the money in the cash register to the nice man with the shiny gun had no choice in the matter, at least not a morally significant choice. She could not be held morally blameworthy for giving the money away. And, those who hold to the freedom response, would say that you would be in a similar case were God to make His presence more known.

The proper-motivation response is similar. Proponents of this view claim that God’s hiddenness exists so that we make decisions for the right reasons. I shouldn’t choose to become a missionary to a third-world country because of my selfish fear of punishment or jealousy of the rewards that God shall give to His faithful servants. I need to make this decision for the right reasons such as my deep love for God.

Moser thinks that both of these views force us to hold to very implausible disjunctive propositions. In the case of the freedom response, we must hold to the proposition that, “Either God is hidden or human freedom in responding to God is lost.” And, the proper-motivations view forces us to believe that, “Either God stays hidden or humans would be more likely to respond to God out of improper motivations.” According to Moser, both of these seem false. It certainly seems like God could have just a bit less hiddenness without coercing us or making it more likely for us to respond with improper motivations.[1] I found this to be very persuasive when I first read his book a couple years ago, but I see a new issue with it.

I take it that Moser’s argument amounts to the following: “If either the freedom or proper-motivation response is true, then there would be gratuitous hiddenness, hiddenness that would be serving no divine purpose at all; and, this gratuitous hiddenness is incompatible with God’s existence. Therefore, both of these views are false.” His argument is very similar to Rowe’s argument from gratuitous evil. So, Moser must hold to an incompatibility principle such as the following: “If God exists, then gratuitous hiddenness does not exist.” This is, of course, an exact parallel to Rowe’s principle: “If God exists, then gratuitous evil does not exist”; and, as an exact parallel, it is open to objections that are very similar to the ones raised against Rowe.

In particular, I am thinking of Peter van Inwagen’s rejection of Rowe’s principle. Rowe’s incompatibility principle entails that there is a minimum amount of evil that God could allow. This is, according to PVI, like saying that, if God willed there to be a very tall prophet at some particular place and time, there is some minimum amount of height that he could be or else God’s purposes would not be served. Or, it is as if the state’s purposes of fining violators of the parking law requires a minimum amount of money; and, if someone were fined just one cent below that minimum, it would be inadequate.[2] I admit that his examples are a little strange; and, if you are having difficulty with them, think about it this way. Imagine that God plans for some woman to be in poverty so that people have the opportunity to give her money. Her suffering allows for others to have morally significant freedom because, if there were no poverty, there could be no generosity. But, maybe the proponent of the argument from gratuitous evil could argue that she has gratuitous poverty. Certainly, God could have let her have five more dollars and had his purposes met. That wouldn’t have prevented someone from donating to her. Thus, we have an instance of gratuitous evil, which is supposedly evidence against God’s existence.

This looks like it might be a strong argument, but the issue is that we could keep using this argument in a Sorites-fashion (for those unfamilar with the Sorites paradox, look it up) to show that there is no minimum evil. Even if God allowed her to have 5 more dollars, it would still seem that giving her 5 more dollars wouldn’t hurt. Once we eventually reach the point that she has 5 million dollars, it becomes obvious that God’s purposes could no longer be met. Since proponents of the argument from gratuitous evil must hold that there is a gratuitous amount of evil God could allow for His purposes to be served, they must believe that, at a certain point, it is literally true that God could  not give her one more cent and still have his purposes be fulfilled. And, this just seems false. (A number of issues arise with PVI’s position because it is so closely related to vagueness and the Sorites paradox. I will be doing a post on PVI’s no minimum thesis and vagueness sometime in the future.)

Since Moser’s argument requires that there is a minimum amount of hiddenness God could allow to fulfill His purposes, the proponents of the freedom and proper-motivation responses are in a perfect position to parallel PVI by arguing that a minimum amount of hiddenness is just as ridiculous as a minimum height of a tall prophet. And, if there is no minimum amount of hiddenness God could allow for His purposes, then it is just not the case that the proponents of the freedom and proper-motivation responses must hold to the implausible disjunctive propositions that Moser argued that they must.

1. Moser, Paul, The Elusive God (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2008), 109-110.

2. Van Inwagen, Peter, “The Magnitude, Duration, and Distribution of Evil: A Theodicy,” Philosophical Topics (1988): 67-68.


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