God’s Hiddenness

This video explains it:


As the above video nicely, if ironically, illustrates, the hiddenness of God is a serious problem. And academic books have been written on the issue. One is titled Divine Hiddenness: New Essays (edited by Daniel Howard-Snyder and Paul Mosner, Cambridge University Press, 2002).

And even if you don’t agree that God is completely hidden, most everyone agrees that God is elusive. Thus one way to think about the problem of God’s hiddenness/elusiveness is to observe the striking parallels with the problem of UFO hiddenness/elusiveness (for those who believe in UFOs). These parallels really are amazing, even sobering:

  • Like the God question, the UFO question could be solved by one mass visible sighting or clearly transmitted message. In other words, just as God could talk from the sky to everybody in a public announcement and eliminate all doubts about His (or Her) existence, so aliens in a UFO could land on the White House lawn with a big “We’re real!” written on its saucer belly, thereby sassing all UFO debunkers, past and present. That this doesn’t happen means that both religious movements and UFO movements tend to be stuck in a holding pattern; they’re both, as it were, “waiting for Godot.”
  • The fact that neither God, angels, nor UFOs show themselves in a dramatic public fashion stands in need of explanation, and consequently people who profess to believe in God, angels, and/or UFOs are in the tricky position of second guessing minds far in advance of their own. Both tend to speculate on the motives of such minds, and why those minds choose not to reveal themselves more obviously.
  • Both God and UFOs seem to have favorites among human beings, picking some for special direct encounters with them, and then leaving those individuals to testify to the masses what they have seen and heard. These testimonies are often vivid, and sometimes even compelling, but the events witnessed invariably leave no obvious physical traces in the environment, and thus no clear evidence that the experiences of the testifiers actually happened. Why God and UFOs communicate news of their presence to humankind in so indirect and ambiguous a manner is a total mystery.
  • Because neither God nor UFOs leave indisputable physical traces of their presence in our world, both God movements and UFO movements are easy prey for confidence men, hucksters, hoaxers, and cons who fake their religious or UFO experiences, and so ease money from the pockets and purses of the gullible. It’s very tricky to tell which people in God movements and UFO movements are sincere in their “witnessing,” which ones are taking you for a ride, and which ones are simply deluded.
  • If God and/or UFOs exist, we have to rethink our scientific paradigms, for some of the things that God and UFOs are said to do are hard to account for via our current understandings of what’s physically possible. Resurrecting the dead and time travel are two examples.
  • Like God, aliens presumably know an enormous amount about science and technology. But, curiously, whenever God or aliens are said to talk to individuals, they never actually share anything scientific with them. Their alleged messages are invariably spiritual, moral, or cryptic, and never: “Here’s how to make cold fusion to solve your energy problems.”
  • Neither God nor aliens, though in possession presumably of minds and emotions, never obviously intervene to reduce human suffering in the world, raising the question, How come? If they are good, and have the power to advance good things in the world, why don’t they? The Holocaust, for example, poses a problem for both God belief and UFO belief: Where were they when we most needed them?
  • Like many God believers, many believers in UFOs think eschatologically. That is, they think that the moment of public and final revelation is just around the corner. But whether it is God or a UFO coming in the clouds, the actual event always seems to be just beyond a receding horizon.
  • Because God is said to be invisible to us and has a supermind, and ETs are also invisible to us and have superminds, the rhetorical moves of God believers and UFO believers arrive at curiously similar apologetic convergences, and even similar social movement forms.

Thus, because the hiddenness/elusiveness of UFOs and the hiddenness/elusiveness of God are in need of explanation, both UFO cults and theist religious groups arrive at curiously similar chess moves (both intellectually and culturally).

Why would that be?

Might it be that, like UFOs, God, at least as traditionally conceived, is a delusion? An emperor-has-no-clothes phenomenon?

To put it even more directly, is God “a black cat in a dark room that isn’t there”?

About Santi Tafarella

I teach writing and literature at Antelope Valley College in California.
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17 Responses to God’s Hiddenness

  1. syrbal-labrys says:

    If “god” is testing faith by doing nothing about all the horrors his alleged people endure? Well, then he is a psychopathic entity and I’m surely not signing up for his team anyhow.

    • colinhutton says:

      Aren’t you being a bit hard on god? He faces an insoluble dilemma. If he relieved the suffering, that would deprive his followers of the opportunity to do so on his behalf and their chance to act sanctimonious – and to chalk up brownie points towards their heavenly redemption.

      • Santi Tafarella says:

        I never thought of that. So that’s why there’s suffering in the world! Actually, it occurs to me that your observation is a form of Utilitarianism: The greatest good for the greatest number (of saved people). The rest, of course, can go to hell. They don’t count in the happiness equation. They don’t matter. Maybe God made the cosmos to maximally benefit God’s happiness and the ultimate happiness of the saved. So, of course, the saved will be gleeful when they are in heaven and see the just punishment of the damned in hell. That too will maximize their joy and smugness. This is the best of all possible worlds.

      • syrbal-labrys says:

        Yeah, I’m a demanding sort. Hey, look at that — is that a case of “in god’s image”? No, me? I ‘m just as rational and demanding of any person — so if “god” can’t meet human standards? Not much of a god.

  2. colinhutton says:

    A serendipitous thought. Blend economics and Leibniz and you could establish a whole new academic discipline! Or, far more lucrative, an intellectually respectable variant of prosperity gospel!

  3. Peter Smith says:

    The closed nature of our Universe

    In 1927, the Belgian priest, Fr. Georges Lemaitre, a brilliant mathematician, first proposed what is now known as the Big Bang theory(he called it the ‘Primeval Atom’). Albert Einstein famously reacted by saying, ‘your mathematics is good but your physics is abominable’. He was wrong(to be fair, he did accept the concept some 10 years later) and by the mid-sixties the Big Bang hypothesis had become widely accepted, despite its strong metaphysical implications. It was confirmed by measurements of the cosmic microwave background noise, elevating it from hypothesis to well grounded theory.

    The Big Bang theory introduced a wholly new and very unsettling idea into science. This was the realization that there were indeed things hidden from our observation and from science. It was Sir Roger Penrose who articulated this idea most clearly. He calculated that the Big Bang must start with an exceptionally low entropy of one part in 2^10^10^123. This has the startling consequence that no information can pass through the Big Bang. We cannot ever, even in principle, observe events prior to the Big Bang or outside our Universe. This means that there could exist things that never could be observed, things that were always hidden.

    We have always proceeded on the assumption that all was, in principle, observable, and therefore explainable, by science. While this belief was true one could, with some justification, ask ‘where was God, why was God hidden?’. This was a comforting belief that still pervades today’s world, but it is, plainly and simply, untrue. This is the assumption that underlies Santi’s post, but his post is built on a false assumption.

    Now we know that not all is observable, that there can indeed be a hidden reality. God, the creator, would necessarily stand outside his creation, the Universe, and therefore would be unobservable, be hidden. We now no longer have any reason to believe that the hidden does not exist. Science has led us to the conclusion that the hidden(from science) can exist.

    And this is where we meet atheism’s fatal contradiction. In the last sixty years it became clear that the basic constants of physics were incredibly fine tuned, such that only a remarkably exact combination would permit the development of life. To answer this extraordinary fact, atheist physicists proposed that there had been an infinite number of universes, each with its own set of physics constants, and by good luck we were in the one with the right combination. Notice how quickly they abandoned the principle of Occam’s Razor!

    This is where the fatal contradiction comes in. Atheists deny God exists because he is hidden, and then loudly proclaim the existence of multiple hidden universes. This is called having your cake and eating it. It is the supreme irony that men who proud themselves on being rationalists can be so intellectually dishonest.

    But the problem gets worse for atheists. They are the first to claim the supremacy of science and yet they are the first to abandon this claim when it threatens their beliefs. You see, science is much more than constructing hypotheses. The essential element of science is to use observation to confirm the hypotheses. Without confirmatory observation it is simply not science. However, they cannot ever, even in principle, observe and confirm the multiverse hypothesis.

    The multiverse hypothesis is not science, it is speculation. Notice how quickly atheists, who proclaim science, abandon science, turning to unprovable speculation, in their desperate quest to avoid the metaphysical implications of a universe with a well defined beginning and finely tuned constants.

    The bulk of Santi’s post, about UFOs, is an elaborate smokescreen, constructed to avoid the core argument outlined above. To compare God with aliens is an anthropomorphological construct that is ludicrous. The hidden can exist, be unobserved by science. God can exist and would necessarily be hidden.

    • Santi Tafarella says:

      I wouldn’t say that God doesn’t exist because God is hidden, but that God, if God exists, is hidden. You’ve admitted that much, that God is hidden, but you believe that we have good reason to think that something exists beyond the seen, and that is the hidden God.

      But if God does not exist (which is a possibility), then the UFO analogy makes sense of why the similarities are present with religions. Both groups are trying to account for the behavior of the hidden.

      • Peter Smith says:

        Tomas Halik, the 2014 winner of the Templeton Prize said:
        “The chief task of faith and theology is to teach the art of living amid life’s paradoxes and the courage to enter the cloud of unknowing,” he said in a speech in London where the Foundation announced the prize.”

        “Halik said he believed life was made of paradoxes and the main dividing line in spiritual questions was not between believers and non-believers, but between what he called “seekers and dwellers.”

        When you seek in a world of paradox you are confronted, not with clear answers, but with a confusing signal buried in noise. The difference is that the UFO cultists cannot find a signal and thus confuse the noise with a signal, as they have made a prior commitment to the existence of the signal. On the other hand, Christians, such as the Catholic Church, believe there is good evidence for the signal that is buried in the noise. I believe that as well, which is why I turned from atheism to Catholicism, after a period of careful examination.

  4. Peter Smith says:

    But, curiously, whenever God or aliens are said to talk to individuals, they never actually share anything scientific with them. Their alleged messages are invariably spiritual, moral

    Surely that is not surprising to you?

    The sociologist, Christian Smith, made a strong case that we are moral animals, that this is our defining characteristic.

    Just think about it for a moment. History is the long catalogue of the awful wrongs that people have inflicted on each other. These wrongs were the outcomes of bad moral choices. Our prisons are full to the brim with criminals. This is the outcome of bad moral choices. We have a hugely costly police and judicial system. That is to protect us from people who make bad moral choices. We spend even more on an immense military. That is to protect us from other nations that make bad moral choices(or to enable our own bad moral choices). We have an inordinately inequitable distribution of wealth. That is the outcome of bad moral choices.

    Moral choices lie at the very heart of the functioning of society. All that has gone wrong in our societies can be placed at the door of bad moral choices.

    Is it so surprising then that God’s most important message to us is to give us moral guidance? After all that is what we most desperately need. I am sure that highly advanced aliens(if they exist, which I strongly doubt) would similarly realize we need moral guidance and not scientific guidance.

    The tone of your posts suggest that you believe all is well on the moral front. How do you square that with our history? How do you reconcile that with the fact that the US has the largest prison population in the world? How do you reconcile that with the extra-judicial murders conducted by the drones?

    Let me quote from Christian Smith’s conclusion for your benefit:

    Human persons, I have claimed, are nearly inescapably moral agents, human actions necessarily morally constituted and propelled practices, and human institutions inevitably morally infused configurations of rules and resources.
    Building on this model, in the foregoing pages I have suggested that one of the central and fundamental motivations for human action is to act out and sustain moral order, which constitutes, directs, and makes significant human life itself. This book has argued that human persons nearly universally live in social worlds that are thickly webbed with moral assumptions, beliefs, commitments, and obligations. The relational ties that hold human lives together, the conversations that occupy people’s mental lives, the routines and intentions that shape their actions, the institutions within which they live and work, the emotions they feel every day—I have suggested that all of these and more are drenched in, patterned by, glued together with moral premises, convictions, and obligations.

    • Peter Smith says:

      Santi, this article very nicely illustrates why, even today, we are so badly in need of moral guidance:
      The C.I.A. Torture Cover-Up
      It was outrageous enough when two successive presidents papered over the Central Intelligence Agency’s history of illegal detention, rendition, torture and fruitless harsh interrogation of terrorism suspects. Now the leader of the Senate intelligence committee, Dianne Feinstein, has provided stark and convincing evidence that the C.I.A. may have committed crimes to prevent the exposure of interrogations that she said were “far different and far more harsh” than anything the agency had described to Congress.

      Ms. Feinstein delivered an extraordinary speech on the Senate floor on Tuesday in which she said the C.I.A. improperly searched the computers used by committee staff members who were investigating the interrogation program as recently as January.

    • Santi Tafarella says:

      But God didn’t even bother to make, in the Hebrew Bible or New Testament, rape one of the ten forbidden things, or the raping of slaves, or of slavery itself. Think about that. Not a single word about protecting female slaves from their masters sexually. Not one word. Can you imagine how many times this form of rape occurred through history?

      There are blind spots in the whole moral program of the Bible. It doesn’t show any super mind at work, even at that level.

      • Peter Smith says:

        Santi, pointing to the supposed gap in moral teachings does in no way invalidate my reply, which is that the most important message that God could give us is moral guidance. The fact that people may have transmitted this guidance imperfectly is a wholly different discussion.

        Let me remind you that I was replying to your statement:
        “But, curiously, whenever God or aliens are said to talk to individuals, they never actually share anything scientific with them. Their alleged messages are invariably spiritual, moral””

        Your criticism was that religion’s message was not scientific, and I replied, of course not, pointing to the dreadful record of our species on the moral front and concluding therefore that moral guidance was our most important need.

        Your reply does not address my argument at all and is consequently a non sequitur.
        If you want to address my argument you need to show that some other message is more important than the moral message or that I have wrongly concluded that the moral message is more important than other messages. Good luck with that, I look forward to seeing how you try to navigate around this conundrum. Your non sequitur was a non starter.

        Consider this for a moment. Our entire system of justice, rule of law, human rights and democratic governance is grounded on moral concerns. This is the necessary prerequisite, indeed foundation for everything else. I would love to see how you could justify a scientific message as taking precedence over this(I believe both Hitler and Stalin tried this line). If you try I have some ammunition waiting in the wings!

  5. Peter Smith says:

    both UFO cults and theist religious groups arrive at curiously similar chess moves (both intellectually and culturally).

    What an extraordinarily false conclusion! When we look at the practical outcomes of their beliefs we see an astonishing difference that makes your conclusion much more than false. (Note, that as a Catholic, I speak only for Catholicism).

    So let’s compare the two and show how completely unlike they are and therefore how false your assertions are.

    1. History
    Catholicism: Has a 2000 year history, has survived persecution and remains strong today. Has proven to be very durable.
    UFO Cultists: Brief history of a few years with falling sightings in recent years.

    2. Adherents
    Catholicism: 1.2 billion.
    UFO Cultists: unknown but unlikely to be more than a few hundred thousand.

    3. Organization
    Catholicism: Highly organized, well structured with institutions in every part of the world.
    UFO Cultists: no discernible organization, at the most ad hoc.

    4. Intellectual foundation
    Catholicism: Strong and well worked out philosophical arguments.
    UFO Cultists: little to none.

    5. Intellectual tradition
    Catholicism: A long and deep philosophical history from St Augustine to St Thomas to today with intellectual heavy weights like Alisdair MacIntyre.
    UFO Cultists: none.

    6. Belief structure
    Catholicism: coherent, consistent, well worked out and founded on strong philosophical principles.
    UFO Cultists: vague and incoherent.

    7. Moral teachings
    Catholicism: Moral teachings are the heart of Catholicism and it has constructed a large body of well organized and coherent moral beliefs. It persistently and consistently advocates and advances its moral teachings, acting as the moral conscience to society.
    UFO Cultists: none.

    8. Role models
    Catholicism: Has a large body of people elected as role models for their sanctity, courage, self sacrifice and good works(Saints).
    UFO Cultists: none.

    9. Good works
    Catholicism: Conducts a vast programme of good works embracing charity, schools, universities, clinics, hospitals, etc. This is the largest programme of good works conducted by any one organisation in the world.
    UFO Cultists: none.

    10.Motivational power
    Catholicism: Strong, Catholics meet weekly for devotional purposes and to receive moral guidance. They are motivated to perform the largest programme of good works the world has seen.
    UFO Cultists: weak to nonexistent.

    11. Force for good
    Catholicism: Its inherent motivation, its raison d’etre, is to advance good in the world. The practical outworking of this can be seen in its consistent teaching of morality and its vast programme of good works.
    UFO Cultists: none.

    Santi, considering my points above, how could you even begin to make such a bizarre comparison?

    • Santi Tafarella says:

      UFO enthusiasts have their alpha males that are admired for their courage to speak up for the “truth.” They have their historical moments of wonder and rumor (Roswell), and moral moments (warning others of the coming end, trying to get legislation passed in Arizona, etc.).

      It’s not a total stretch, but if the analogy is weak with ethics, it’s not with epistemology. I focused on epistemology, and you shifted primarily to ethics.

      • Peter Smith says:

        and you shifted primarily to ethics.
        which is what religion is primarily about.

      • Peter Smith says:

        It’s not a total stretch
        It’s more than a stretch, its a bust.
        My points 1 to 11 show that they are so unlike that there is no useful basis of comparison. It is a little like comparing cockroaches with leopards because they are both living creatures with legs and eyes, to be found on Planet Earth. A true but useless comparison that ignores the defining differences.

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