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Divine Hiddenness

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Here is an article by Imran Aijaz and Markus Weidler which critiques J.L. Schellenberg

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Before I begin discussing the article, "Some Critical Reflections on the Hiddenness Argument", written by Imran Aijaz and Markus Weidler, I reckon some full disclosure is appropriate.

I have known Imran Aijaz for at least the better part of five years. We have discussed very many philosophical as well as Christian and Islamic theological issues in on-line groups, in personal communications, on the telephone, and in person, and we have become good friends. One reason why we have become friends is because of what might be described as shared intellectual mores largely centered around an acute awareness of the uncertainty at the core of the human epistemic condition.

The epistemology and ethic that emanate in accord with this uncertainty inform this article as seen on page 4 where it states:

... two claims about what to expect from God form the core of the hiddenness argument. Given that we have reason to question the first (in the form of an undercutting defeater) and to plainly reject the second (in the form of a rebutting defeater), Schellenberg's hiddenness argument is therefore unsuccessful. This does not mean, however, that other formulations cannot be given. Indeed, to the contrary, as Schellenberg (2002) writes, "the argument from divine hiddenness, as I have developed it, is only one among several arguments focusing on the hiddenness of God's existence". After showing why the hiddenness argument does not succeed, we shall conclude with some ruminations over variants of the argument. (emphases mine)

I have not yet read the entire article; I have not yet read those "ruminations", but it is refreshing to see in a philosophical piece what appears as if it might be an attempt at some type of alternative formulation that could provide a basis for the better development of an opponent's argument. I think that is reason enough to recommend the article.

Of course, it remains to be seen just how good are those "ruminations", but it is best to commence a review of the article at its beginning. For now, I only have time to address the paper's introductory section which notes that:

According to the hiddenness argument, broadly construed, the existence of a perfectly loving God entails (or, at the very least, strongly suggests) the absence of non-resistant nonbelief (or which 'reasonable' or 'inculpable' nonbelief is a species). Given, however, the fairly uncontroversial fact that there is non-resistant nonbelief in our world - a state of affairs that can also [be] described by saying 'God is hidden' - one can infer the non-existence of a perfectly loving God.

My review will likely often be a sort of stream-of-consciousness akin to the response (a series of notes) I have as I read through such a work; I find that this helps to identify variables which I think should be addressed in the work - or would be interesting to address even outside the piece.

What strikes me as most central to the introductory broad construal is an importance associated with "nonbelief" (and, therefore, of course belief). The modifier, "non-resistant" is also very interesting for its possible meanings, but in the paper referenced in footnote '2', Schellenberg has this to say about non-resistant nonbelief:

... there is plenty of nonbelief in the world (instantiated by doubt or disbelief or by the absence of any such mental state due to ignorance of the propositions involved) that does not reflect free resistance of God (indeed, some of it occurs in the context of a search for God). Much nonbelief, as we might say, is non-resistant nonbelief.

In light of this remark, it seems that Schellenberg wants to claim that not just nonbelief - but even human doubt - is incompatible with the existence "of a perfectly loving God."

This then brings up the question of just what it is, what it means, to be "perfectly loving", but, whatever it is, it is also clear that Schellenberg wants to claim that if a perfectly loving God existed then that God would certainly somehow impress Itself upon each of our individual awarenesses. Actually, Schellenberg would have to be making a stronger claim, one more along the lines that each of us would know with absolute certainty that God exists even if this knowledge is compromised into belief(s) by our not knowing all relevant matters that there might be to know about God.

Still, is it not possible to be perfectly loving to another even if that other does not acknowledge or reciprocate?

I'll continue as time permits.


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In the second section of the paper, it is noted that

Most of the relevant criticisms of the hiddenness argument ... [try] to proffer a reason (which is usually connected to the existence of some greater good) for the sake of which God does not bring about a state of affairs in our world where there is a complete absence of non-resistant nonbelief.

The article goes on to explain that Schellenberg responds to such criticisms "by what he calls the 'accommodationist strategy'", whereby, Schellenberg is reported to explain that, "the critic must ... concede that any such reason ... must be one whose dominant concern cannot be met within the framework of divine-human interaction". Such a concession apparently leaves God as expectedly withdrawn, and I suspect that the value of this withdrawal for Schellenberg's argument is that this withdrawal is not merely in terms of, or effected by, individual relationships, and that would leave the withdrawn God as one who is not perfectly loving inasmuch as being withdrawn from an entire group would fail to satisfy the requisite individual relationship within a belief system asserts a personal, perfectly loving God.

However, as Aijaz and Weidler correctly point out, while Schellenberg's accommodationist strategy

... might exhaust the sorts of objections raised against the hiddenness argument thus far, it should be clear that [this strategy does] not exhaust the list of candidate defeaters to the argument ... a theistic respondent ... need not think that a relevant objection ... has to provide a plausible reason for God's hiddenness ...

To see this, consider ... relevant objections that do not attempt to provide a reason for God's hiddenness (and therefore are not susceptible to a response which appeals to the accommodationist strategy) but which simply question the supposed entailment (or strong suggestion) between the existence of a perfectly loving God and the absence of non-resistant nonbelief ... the entailment can be questioned without providing a reason for divine hiddenness.

This manner of criticism can effectively set focus upon the notion, in this case, of "a perfectly loving God" and "on ... claims about what one can rightly expect from God". It could eventually redirect philosophy of religion to discovering what it is to be "perfectly loving" from "within the framework of divine-human interaction" in the actual world. Such an approach is in stark contradistinction to the all too common tendency among atheists and theists alike to act as if truths (or worthwhile arguments) are merely a definitional matter or simply analytic.

According to Aijaz and Weidler,

Schellenberg makes two fundamental claims about our expectations concerning the divine. The first claim ... is the supposed entailment (or strong suggestion) between the existence of a perfectly loving God and the absence of non-resistant nonbelief ... The second claim ... that the hiddenness argument refers to is the possession of the belief that God exists by all creatures capable of a relationship with God who have not freely shut themselves off from God ...

With regards to the first claim, the paper says that, according to Schellenberg,

... because "God, in willing a certain state, necessarily wills all of its conditions" ... all creatures capable of explicit and positively meaningful relationship with God who haven't freely shut themselves off from Him believe that God exists ... the belief that God exists is a necessary condition for being in a position to exercise one's capacity for relationship with God.

Maybe it is just the way Schellenberg's statements are presented, but the statement about God's willing is quite shocking -- so stunningly devoid of circumspection (apparently) that it seems suited only for a self-serving (and anything but necessary) definition or description. How God's will manifests is itself a matter of much consternation, so much so that Schellenberg's remark - as presented - comes off as far too facile. Likewise, the idea that the "divine-human interaction" necessarily depends on human belief in God seems to presume too much about God; it seems not to have considered that whether individuals believe in God might not be at all important to God even if such belief were to prove helpful to at least some humans in their relationships with God. To put it another way, Schellenberg seems not to have considered that belief in God might well not be necessary to holiness or wholeness - from God's perspective.

This, of course, ties in with Schellenberg's second claim about expectations, and Aijaz and Weidler remark that

We shall argue that ... elief [in God] is not a necessary condition to be in a position to exercise one's capacity for relationship with God.


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Aijaz and Weidler next present a "standard form" presentation of Schellenberg's divine hiddenness argument, and from this they discern three sub-arguments:

1. The expectations sub-argument;

2. The hiddenness sub-argument, and

3. The atheistic sub-argument.

Aijaz and Weidler note that "it is the expectations sub-argument that [they] focus ... on in critically evaluating Schellenberg's hiddenness argument", and they begin with some analysis of the "meaningful relationship with God" mentioned in Schellenberg's first premise which is presented as:

P1. If there is a perfectly loving God, all creatures capable of explicit and positively meaningful relationship with God who have not freely shut themselves off from God are in a position to participate in such a relationship - i.e. able to do so just by trying.

The analysis effectively begins by concentrating on the participation aspect that is entailed by at least some sorts of relationships. The authors claim that Schellenberg's first premise "appears to assume the truth of a prior (suppressed) premise in the argument", and they present this alleged suppressed premise as:

P1'. A perfectly loving God would seek explicit and positively meaningful relationship with all creatures who are capable of it and who have not freely shut themselves off from God.

To this point in the paper, Aijaz and Weidler can be seen as having been almost exclusively engaged in dealing with mere preliminaries, the sorts of almost plodding detail necessary to establish the conditions for there to be rational discourse, and, frankly, the first comments about the supposed suppressed premise also look as if they, too, will be further preliminaries.

However, what Aijaz and Weidler actually do is very quickly move from noting that there can be questions regarding what would be expected from God to pointing out that Schellenberg asserts that it is necessarily true that God would seek to:

facilitate relationship ... [in] any possible world containing human beings created by God - it strongly suggests that the conditionals in question reflect part of the very meaning of 'God unsurpassably loves human beings'. Hence that reasoning may be regarded as providing for those propositions a familiar sort of (defeasible) a priori justification.

Necessary truths are the ultimate goals of much philosophical endeavor, but this fact should give pause to asserting such necessity in a premise -- particularly the initial premise of an argument.

Nevertheless, as Aijaz and Weidler point out, Schellenberg essentially asserts that "it is part of the very meaning of 'God is perfectly loving' that God would seek an explicit and positively meaningful relationship with those who are capable of it and who have not freely shut themselves off from God." According to Schellenberg, God's love of humans "must include the proposition 'God seeks to be personally related to us.'" Schellenberg claims that his definition is "a conceptual truth about divine love", and his "must include" notion suggests that if this conceptual truth is actually true, then, as per the article authors, it "is also necessarily true", not to mention rationally asserted as "true based on a priori considerations."

The authors remark that

... despite his considerable discussion on the topic of love, there is very little in Schellenberg's work in support of the claim that the initial conditional premise in the argument, P1, is a conceptual truth.

This is important, because if Schellenberg's definition is not a conceptual truth, by which he appears to mean a necessary truth, then, clearly, his argument fails. He could still reformulate the same argument in a weaker form, one in which he would only be arguing that a certain notion of what it means to be perfectly loving might be shown to be false (maybe even impossible), but Schellenberg - at least at this point - appears to have his sights set on the much grander goals as set forth in

C2. It is not the case that there is a perfectly loving God ...

and possibly

C3. It is not the case that God exists ...

According to Aijaz and Weidler,

... it appears that Schellenberg's 'conceptual analysis' of divine love collapses into another, distinct strategy he uses to support P1 - using human love as an analogue for divine love ...

There is, of course, nothing necessarily objectionable about analogical thinking; it is a common feature of human thought. As Schellenberg says,

[W]hat we know of how these terms [such as 'divine knowledge' and 'divine goodness'] are used in human contexts provides a prima facie good reason for believing that talk of God is to be understood in the same way.

However, the analogical mode of thinking is firmly lodged in the actual world, and this fact can never be forgotten or ignored by someone trying to argue for or about a necessary truth. This may be why, as the paper notes, "it seems that, in his work, Schellenberg wants to keep the conceptual and analogical analysis distinct but mutually complementary".

Aijaz and Weidler clearly think (quite rightly, I expect) that Schellenberg fails to keep the conceptual and analogical analyses apart; indeed, it may well be that Schellenberg's sort of conceptual truth is a product of analogical thinking, a product which is not rightly regarded as distinct from its analogical base. Aijaz and Weidler write:

... according to Schellenberg, we form our conception of divine love with reference to human love, by extrapolating from the concept of human love. But it is obvious that we form our understanding of human love through our observations in the actual world. If this is correct, as it surely is, then to state that P1 of the hiddenness argument is necessarily true seems too bold a claim.

In a personal correspondence with the authors, Schellenberg continues to insist on his necessity condition by noting that "a proper understanding of human love ... holds in all (relevant) possible worlds ... [and] it is [an] understanding of not just any human love but rather the best human love that is pertinent". Actually, this sort of necessity is just the sort typically sought in much of philosophy, but in Schellenberg's case (as presented in the Aijaz/Weidler paper) this necessity is asserted rather than sought.

The authors state,

... for Schellenberg, to 'understand' something is to grasp the essence of it (for how else could merely understanding human love allow us to infer a relevant truth that is conceptually and necessarily true?). Now, if it turns out that we cannot be sure what the essence of human love is, or, in other words, if we cannot be sure whether our insight into human love is complete, then we cannot be sure whether what we take to be the best of human love is a conceptual truth that is necessarily true.

And, it would follow, that this actual world basis for analogue with divine love leaves us without knowing whether we really do have a necessary truth about God, and, yet, it is just this sort of truth which Schellenberg asserts that he has.

The uncertainty or common incompleteness to which Aijaz and Weidler refer strongly recommends that when a person thinks he understands something, surely when that something is as complex as love, then the person does well to realize that he

has an understanding ... there can be a logical gap between understanding something and having an insight into its essence; only the latter can allow us to infer a conclusion that is conceptually and necessarily true.

Aijaz and Weidler go on with further reiterations of this point with other examples and then come to the most enjoyable section yet of their paper. That section is entitled, "Varnished Vanstone: critiquing Schellenberg's analogy argument". I will take that up in my next review installment.


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Michael, thanks for this thread. I'll have some remarks as soon as I get a chance to read the linked work.

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Aijaz and Weidler report that Schellenberg's early work on divine hiddenness exhibits a greater interest in "the role of evidence in belief formation" than in "discussing and grounding the notion of love". Despite that emphasis, even in the early formulation, Schellenberg does not ignore "Implications of Divine Love". According to Aijaz and Weidler, Schellenberg's position rests "mostly with a single quote in passing from William Hubert Vanstone's book, Love's Endeavor, Love's Expense:"

If I love you ... I must also make it possible for you to draw on me personally - ... I wish to make available to you the resources of an intimate personal relationship with me. This, indeed, is part of what is involved in self-giving. As W. H. Vanstone puts it, "the authenticity of love must imply a totality of giving - that which we call the giving of self or self-giving. The self is the totality of what a man has and is: and it is no less than this that is offered or made available in love."

The first thing that strikes me about this passage is Schellenberg's own contribution. Essentially what he notes is that love entails availability, and from this it could be reasonably hypothesized that to be perfectly loving is to be available utterly, without reserve, as though one opens oneself up wholly.

What is not immediately evident is why to be perfectly loving in such a way would necessarily entail, or even strongly suggest, as per Schellenberg's later formulation, the absence of non-resistant nonbelief (including doubt) on the part of the one loved. Presumably, Schellenberg relies on some other attribute(s) of God as the one who loves in order to surpass the limitations of the analogous best human love. Schellenberg has to, because these limitations, in and of themselves, certainly make possible the presence of non-resistant nonbelief - contrary to what Schellenberg is asserting about the case of God.

Aijaz and Weidler claim that despite how Schellenberg tries to use Vanstone,

... Vanstone and the authors whom he overtly draws from, emerge as ... powerful philosophico-theological opponents of Schellenberg's atheistic venture ... our purpose is not simply to defend ... Especially with the recent version of Schellenberg's hiddenness argument in mind, the orientation of our criticism is more on the offence. Focused on the comparative method for devising arguments from analogy, concerned with the key traits of human love vis-a-vis divine love, we argue that Vanstone's position provides several powerful undercutting defeaters against Schellenberg's argument in support of P1."

The authors of the article being reviewed go on to note that Vanstone employs a "significant modification of the most common attributes of what John Bishop calls 'omniGod' (i.e. a personal Deity characterized by omnipotence, omniscience omnibenevolence)".

It is conceivable that Schellenberg might attempt to deny the undercutting defeater claim by arguing that inasmuch as that defeater relies on Vanstone's modified "omniGod", that argument is effectively a concession since Schellenberg is addressing only the "omniGod". This would still leave baseless Schellenberg's claim that his understanding of what it is to be perfectly loving is necessarily true, and the Vanstone quote to which Schellenberg referred poignantly helps to make this point; so, Schellenberg's argument is still capable of much less than what Schellenberg has claimed for it.

Even so, since we have already seen that something more than being perfectly loving is required to expect an absence of non-resistant nonbelief if God is perfectly loving, it is possible that one or some combination of these omni-attributes, in the context of God being perfectly loving, could provide for the entailment of an absence of non-resistant nonbelief.

Aijaz and Weidler note that Schellenberg says, "... if omnipotence means anything it means that God couldn't ever be prevented from responding to the cries of God's human creatures", and this seems as though it might be an attempt at providing for the entailment missing between God being perfectly loving and the absence of non-resistant nonbelief. But this is a very poor attempt. Schellenberg himself has noted that his hiddenness argument is a variant of the Problem of Evil, and this means that Schellenberg should be well aware that, "if omnipotence means anything", it does not mean able to do every imaginable thing.

As Aijaz and Weidler say, Schellenberg appears to claim "unlimited interventionist powers" for God, but such a notion about God far from exhausts even all the theistic so-called traditional positions.

Therefore, Schellenberg still has not provided for the claimed necessary entailment between God being perfectly loving and the absence of non-resistant nonbelief.

Vanstone, as presented in this article, has some very interesting things to say. Aijaz and Weidler are correct to say that Vanstone "raises several claims that fly in the face of traditional omniGod theism" and that this "should have given Schellenberg pause in importing Vanstone's conception of love", especially since Schellenberg very much seems to be claiming necessary truths for his argument. At some point I might like to address this idea of "omniGod theism" being "traditional" and to what extent being "traditional" is important, but for now I would like to highlight just a few of what I found to be Vanstone's most interesting notions.

[Vanstone put] particular emphasis on God's vulnerability qua Creator.

"It may be", Vanstone says, "that we have never met, in human experience, perfectly authentic love. Nevertheless we may extrapolate, from the distortions which are rejected, the form which authentic love must take ... When we give an account of the authentic by detecting a pattern in that which is rejected as mere appearance, then our method may properly be described as phenomenological ..." In short, Vanstone's phenomenological method works ex negativo ... For humans, as Vanstone says, are equipped with what he calls a "practical power of discrimination" which allows them to recognize the positive through the negative.

... God's love is characterized as 'total self-giving' ... Vanstone's notion of self-giving is embedded in a particular theory of kenosis, which interprets self-giving as total self-emptying. Along these lines, Vanstone's inquiry into the nature of love is expressly focused on the relation between Creator and creation, and here his main finding is that God unreservedly gives Himself over to His creation, without holding anything back. Hence, for Vanstone, 'love's expense' or cost (as announced in the title of his book) is epitomised by God's vulnerability as inevitably engendered by the activity of creation.

In Vanstone's own words:

If God is love, and if the universe is His creation, then for the being of the universe God is totally expended in precarious endeavour, of which the issue, as triumph or as tragedy, has passed from His hands. For that issue, as triumphant or tragic, God waits upon the response of his creation. He waits as the artist or as the lover waits, having given all ...

[The artist] is faced with the problem of working within a self-chosen form; and the solution to the problem must be worked out in the creative process. The problem arises not because the artist has chosen the 'wrong' form but because he has chosen some kind of form ... The problem is present in all creativity, in every process of imparting oneself to that which is truly other than oneself: one must 'find the way' in which, through risk and failure and the redemption of failure, the other may be able to receive.


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The next section of the Aijaz/Weidler paper addresses

The second premise of the expectations sub-argument (and of the overall hiddenness argument) [which] states that the belief that God exists is a necessary condition to be in a position to participate in an explicit and positively meaningful relationship with God.

Aijaz and Weidler say that the "clearest elaboration and defence of this claim can be found in" Schellenberg's work, Divine Hiddenness, and they cite a passage which states:

[A] personal relationship with God entails belief in Divine existence, that is, entails a disposition to "feel it true" that God exists. This claim seems obviously true. For I cannot love God, be grateful to God, or contemplate God's goodness unless I believe that there is a God. An adequate description of such attitudes and actions entails reference to belief in propositions such as the following: "God is the source of my being"; "God loves me"; "God is to be praised." And, clearly, one can only believe propositions such as these if one believes that God exists. It is important to note that my point here is a logical one ... Such attitudes and actions are not just contingently difficult but logically impossible for one who does not believe that God exists.

Schellenberg's insistence on the obviousness of his claim about belief is just one more assertion about necessity, and the explication he provides in the above passage fails to establish any substantial claim for necessity (or any claim for a substantial necessity).

The only thing that seems at all obvious in the examples Schellenberg gives is that someone who does not believe that God exists will not believe that "God is the source of my being", etc.

But what is it that distinguishes this point from one about a situation in which someone who does not think in terms of "God" or who has never even heard the term "God" and who, therefore, would never have occasion to say "I believe that there is a God" or express belief that "God is the source of my being"?

Apparently, for Schellenberg, belief is a matter of propositions. So, does this mean that, according to Schellenberg, a positively meaningful relationship with God requires that a person think in terms of propositions? Maybe it is supposed to mean that one has to think in terms that are reducible to, or expressible as, propositions in order to have a positively meaningful relationship with God.

It is possible that someone who thinks without reference to the term "God" could have their thoughts expressed in terms of propositions with reference to God by someone who is familiar with the term "God" as well as the concepts which may be included within the concept represented by the term "God". However, since the person who does not refer to "God" cannot, according to Schellenberg, be said to believe in God, it would appear that Schellenberg is claiming that a positively meaningful relationship with God requires use of the term "God".

Aijaz and Weidler note that "It is true that people tend to think that the heart of theistic faith rests on beliefs about God", and Schellenberg's argument might have some force against people with that tendency, but that would still leave Schellenberg a long way from the necessity which he claims for his argument about the perfectly loving God, since others could well argue that beliefs modifiable into expression in terms of "God" can effect a positively meaningful relationship with God even if the person holding the non-God-referencing beliefs never thinks in terms of God.

I interpret remarks by Paul K. Moser cited by Aijaz and Weidler to be suggesting a similar if not identical point:

Schellenberg claims that "it is logically impossible for you to hear God speak to you ... while not believing that there is a God. This is false. It rests on a confusion of (a) hearing God and (B) hearing God as (interpreted as) God ... One can hear a voice, for instance, without (correctly) identifying the source of that voice. So people may actually hear God through conscience without correctly identifying the "voice" of conscience as God.

This still leaves Schellenberg's argument as possibly having some force against people who insist that proper faith requires explicit expression of the belief that God exists, but even this very limited possibility for Schellenberg's argumentative force depends on what he means by a "positively meaningful relationship".

Aijaz and Weidler note an evolution in the expression of Schellenberg's claim from one requiring reciprocity to one demanding positive meaningfulness, and in an attempt to discern just what Schellenberg means they determine that, for Schellenberg, "[p]ositive meaningfulness is not synonymous with (mere) reciprocity", and they also determine that "positive meaningfulness [is not] the same as intimacy". They further note that "ince Schellenberg wishes to define a personal relationship with God with reference to 'explicitness' and 'positive meaningfulness' ... positive meaningfulness isn't the same as ... explicitness". As they say, "what, then, does [positive meaningfulness] refer to?"

Since Schellenberg is never explicit about just what is a positively meaningful relationship, Aijaz and Weidler try to bolster Schellenberg's argument by coming up with a position "which renders Schellenberg's claim impervious to" such criticisms as Moser's. Such an attempt is laudable; properly done such an attempt exemplifies what I regard as the sort of philosophical charity essential for truth to be discovered. Aijaz's and Weidler's attempt is based on the following:

... perhaps Schellenberg might grant here that, although it might be possible to acquire both explicitness and reciprocity in a relationship with God without believing that there is a God, such a relationship is not 'positively meaningful' because ... the reciprocity is not predicated on regarding it true that there is a God ... Schellenberg's claim can be narrowed down, therefore, to the claim that the belief that God exists is a necessary condition for regarding it true that there is a God, as a constitutive part of being in a [positively meaningful] relationship with Him.

Basically, what Aijaz and Weidler have done is narrow down Schellenberg's claim to one in which positive meaningfulness, essentially by definition, requires propositions explicitly referring to and acknowledging the existence of God. I guess this is supposed to render "Schellenberg's claim impervious to" such criticisms as Moser's by setting up the argument in such a way that Moser could be said to be begging the question against Schellenberg, but all such a narrowing down does, I reckon, is put the notion of positive meaningfulness beyond the scope of discussion.

In any event, Aijaz and Weidler announce that this "narrowed down" claim "is false", and I will take up their argument against the "narrowed down" Schellenberg in the next installment of my review.


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Despite the vagueness of what Schellenberg has in mind when he talks about a positively meaningful relationship with God, Aijaz and Weidler, after having analyzed other possible ways of considering aspects of what might be entailed with a positively meaningful relationship, come to an interpretation wherein:

Schellenberg's claim can be narrowed down ... to the claim that the belief that God exists is a necessary condition for regarding it true that there is a God, as a constitutive part of being in a relationship with Him.

Aijaz and Weidler counter this claim by asserting that:

All that is required is some sort of (positive) attitude towards the proposition 'God exists'. This propositional attitude may or may not be doxastic.

They then focus on William Alston's notions regarding "the possibility of faith without belief" with the "suggestion that acceptance can suffice for an authentic commitment to God" and note that:

... for Alston, one can accept that God exists rather than believe that He does, and indeed that "accepting basic Christian doctrines can undergird a full-blown Christian commitment" ... The main factor that distinguishes belief from acceptance, says Alston, is that if I believe that p then I feel it to be the case that p whereas accepting that p "will definitely not include a tendency to feel that p if the question of whether p arises". But accepting that p is not synonymous with merely acting on the assumption that p, for [accepting] involves a "more positive attitude" towards p which [merely acting] need not have.

According to Aijaz and Weidler, this all indicates that:

... a person can engage in an explicit and positively meaningful relationship with God (in the sense ... just elaborated) while accepting (and not believing) that there is a God.

I must say that, based on the discussion presented in the paper, with that being necessarily limited "[d]ue to restrictions of space", I am not certain that the argument for acceptance works against the narrowed down Schellenberg claim inasmuch as the paper does not explicate a definition or meaning for belief which would make acceptance something clearly apart from and in contradistinction to belief.

But, if we assume that there actually is such a clear distinction, and if we assume that the distinction is sufficient to establish "that the second premise of [schellenberg's] expectations sub-argument, P2, is false", then there is still a weakness in the "acceptance" argument; it is a weakness which Aijaz and Weidler recognize:

Consider a primitive Amazonian tribe whose members have not so much as even heard of 'God' ... Though such people have the affective cognitive equipment to enter into a relationship with God, they are not in a position to exercise this capacity because none of the various propositional attitudes we have looked at, such as belief, hope, or acceptance is available to them. They simply haven't been exposed to the conception of a theistic God, much less a perfectly loving one. And so our remarks on the possibility of acceptance as an adequate substitute for belief will not work in their case.

In light of this realization, I would suggest that the matter which actually requires attention is not so much what differences there might be between beliefs and attittudes; I would suggest that what requires attention is whether the beliefs or attitudes supposedly necessary for a positively meaningful relationship with God are properly regarded in terms of propositions.

In my previous review installment, I remarked that "Apparently, for Schellenberg, belief is a matter of propositions." I can also say that " Apparently, for Aijaz and Weidler, acceptance is a matter of propositions", and now to both of these apparent positions I slightly rephrase a passage from my previous posting:

So, does this mean that a positively meaningful relationship with God requires that a person think in terms of propositions? Maybe it is supposed to mean that one has to think in terms that are reducible to, or expressible as, propositions in order to have a positively meaningful relationship with God.

It is possible that someone who thinks without reference to the term "God" could have their thoughts expressed in terms of propositions with reference to God by someone who is familiar with the term "God" as well as the concepts which may be included within the concept represented by the term "God". However, since the person who does not refer to "God" cannot be said to believe in God, or accept propositions about God, or even think in terms of God, does it necessarily follow that such a person cannot have a positively meaningful relationship with God simply owing to the fact that the term "God" never gets used by the person for whom the term "God" is utterly alien?

The arguments based on belief and acceptance both seem to be claiming that a positively meaningful relationship with God requires use of the term "God", and I state that any such claim is false.

I hold this position, because, in brief, I expect that if the (relevant) non-God-referencing beliefs or thoughts are modifiable into expression in terms of "God", then those non-God-referencing beliefs or thoughts are essentially identical to the God-referencing variant. And, furthermore, it follows that if the God-referencing beliefs or thoughts are necessary for there to be a positively meaningful relationship with God, then the essentially identical non-God-referencing beliefs or thoughts would meet this necessity requirement.

This would be the case unless explicit God-referencing has what would amount to an objective deontological status.

Of course, there are certain theisms which seem to assert that explicit belief in terms of God is required, but many of these same theisms include teachings which could be seen as in tension with such a deontology. For instance, there is this passage by Alston cited by Aijaz and Weidler:

The accepter may pray just as faithfully, worship God just as regularly, strive as earnestly to follow the way of life enjoined on us by Christ, look as pervasively on interpersonal relationships, vocation, and social issues through the len of the Christian faith.

If nothing else, this Alston remark notes that there is much more to the concepts associated with God than just a claim to believe in God, and it is anything except immediately apparent how belief in or acceptance of God's existence is necessary for what might get regarded as the Godly "way of life" or Godly "interpersonal relationships, vocations", etc. All that is close to being immediately apparent is how belief in or acceptance of God's existence is necessary to speak in terms of "God" or "Godliness".

But, as Tolstoy said in A Confession:

A concept of God is not God ... A concept of God is something within me ... To know God and to live are one and the same thing ... belief seemed to comprise an arbitrary confirmation of various ... propositions ... I had strayed not so much because my ideas had been incorrect as because I had lived foolishly.

Concepts, beliefs, and the manner in which these get expressed can affect (and effect) how we live, and it may well be that belief in God could under certain conditions more efficiently produce a Godly life, but an explicit belief in terms of God seems unnecessary to live in accord with God.

Indeed, I would go so far as to say that if there is a God, and if this God is even remotely similar to that described variously by some theisms as Love, the Truth, the Sustainer, the Good, etc., then the injunction against taking God's name in vain can be understood more broadly than is usual. By this understanding, not only does mere reference to God (or God's "word") fail to genuinely justify, God's very necessity (not intended in the modal sense here) can effect and affect without there being explicit belief in terms of God. Response to, and a "positively meaningful relationship" with, God need not be in terms of propositions or with explicit reference to "God".


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Shortly after I ran across the Aijaz/Weidler paper about Schellenberg's divine hiddenness argument, I also saw mention of another article on Schellenberg and divine hiddenness which was written by Ted Poston and Trent Dougherty. That article, entitled, "Divine hiddenness and the nature of belief", was published in Religious Studies 43, 183-198. I just recently obtained a copy of that article along with a response by Schellenberg which was published along with the Poston/Dougherty paper.

The Poston/Dougherty paper expresses greater interest than does the Aijaz/Weidler article in the notion of a greater good that might be available as a consequence of God's hiddenness. Poston and Dougherty go so far as to posit the idea "that the kind of relationship God most desires ... is one which requires some epistemic distance".

I do not think that relationship with God is, ultimately, most fully understood in terms of greater goods, and, while epistemic distance might be actual, I do not think that this condition has to be regarded as required. But, these are matters which could be discussed separately.

The part of the Poston/Dougherty paper which immediately drew my attention was their distinction between belief de re and belief de dicto, and my interest in this part of their discussion is directly related to my own review of the Aijaz/Weidler article in which I indicated that God-referencing beliefs and thoughts do not seem necessary for Godliness and, therefore, for an actually positive and meaningful relationship with (or relation to) God.

Poston and Dougherty ask the question, "What kind of belief is required for a personal relationship with God?"

Reflecting on this question leads us to ... considerations that militate against [schellenberg]. The first consideration arises from distinguishing belief de dicto from belief de re. Belief de dicto (of the dictum or proposition) is the endorsement of some proposition that is preceded by a that-clause. For instance S believes that p indicates that S believes p de dicto. Belief de re (of the res or thing) is belief of a thing or individual that it has some feature even if the de re believer does not recognize the subject under some specific description.

As an example of the de dicto/de re distinction, Poston and Dougherty provide this:

we believe de dicto that Mark Twain is a great author. But even if we did not realize that Mark Twain is Samuel Clemens, we would also believe of Samuel Clemens that he is a great author. So we have the de re belief Sam Clemens is a great author.

Based on the foregoing, it would seem that someone could be said to believe, to hold the belief that, Clemens is a great author even if that person had never even heard of Clemens. Of course, by the Poston/Dougherty description, the de dicto/de re distinction seems to become a bit blurred, since the de re belief about Clemens can be expressed as a "proposition that is preceded by a that-clause"; the purportedly de re believer who has never heard of Samuel Clemens can be said to believe that Clemens is a great author. Hence, at least to the extent that the Twain/Clemens example sufficiently illuminates the de dicto/de re distinction, it may be that the distinction between these two types of belief depends on there being at least one proposition to which the person who has never heard of Clemens assents. In this case, that would be the proposition about Twain.

Similarly, it would seem possible for someone to believe in God even without ever having heard of God, without ever employing the term "God", without even thinking that God is actual. This would be, as per the Poston/Dougherty de dicto/de re distinction , a belief de re, but it would still be a belief, one which the person was not even aware of having.

However, if for a person to have a de re belief that person has to have a de dicto belief basis, if there has to be a proposition to which that person would have to - or would (in the right circumstance) reasonably be expected to - assent, does that mean that the person would have to assent to a proposition in terms of God, does that mean that the person must have a de dicto belief about God, in order to have a de re belief in God?


Of course, as I have already discussed, there can be forms or systems of belief in God which demand that a person explicitly proclaim a de dicto belief in God, but even that manner of belief does not establish that assent to a proposition about God is necessary before there can be a de re belief in God.

For instance, if God is actual, then from the conjunction of such common notions as "God's being good is just His being Himself" (see "Divine Simplicity" by Brian Leftow, Faith and Philosophy, Vol. 23, No. 4, October 2006, pp. 365-380) and "[God's] being and His life are identical" (see "Anselmian Eternalism" by Katherin A. Rogers, Faith and Philosophy, Vol. 24, No. 1, January 2007, pp. 3-27), it is possible to derive a realization that de dicto propositions about goodness or justice could, in effect, be propositions about God without reference to God.

Poston and Dougherty say that a

major question is whether de dicto belief is required for a personal relationship [with God]?

Referring to "the final section of William Wainwright's 'Jonathan Edwards and the hiddenness of God'", Poston and Dougherty note that Wainwright

switches gears to consider ... [whether] 'even where the good of theistic belief doesn't exist, God has provided sufficient light to make salvation a real possibility for everyone.' This is indeed a very different approach from the Edwardsian response that we sinners are in the hands of an angry God, who fail to believe not because there's not enough evidence but because we culpably ignore it. God makes salvation a real possibility by accepting people who lack de dicto belief.

It would be a mistake to think that to suggest that de dicto belief is not necessary for a meaningful relationship with God is to suggest that de re belief is sufficient for all God wants for us. De re belief could be the basis for some further kind of belief still short of de dicto belief. This seems to be what Wainwright has in mind, for he quotes Robert Holyer saying that he

... contends that it is reasonable to attribute an unconscious belief that p to A if A 'displays some of the dispositions constitutive of a belief p [acting in terms of it, experiencing emotions appropriate to it, drawing inferences from it or holding beliefs from which it can be inferred] without giving assent to it'.

Poston and Dougherty do not fully concur with the presented Wainwright/Holyer position, because, according to Poston/Dougherty,

those whom Wainwright seems to want to include will not, in fact, manifest the dispositions mentioned.

Unfortunately, Poston and Dougherty do not present an argument in support of this position of theirs; that may be because of the limited amount of space afforded for an article. They do say that

the concept of de re belief is sufficiently clear and powerful enough to do the work of 'unconscious belief' whatever that might turn out to be

but I think that they, in effect, seem to end up unnecessarily tacking on explicit assent as a requirement for de dicto belief - a requirement which was missing from their original description of that form of belief (unless "endorsement" is intended to mean explicit assent rather than assent in effect). Explicit assent does not appear to be essential to the success of their overall argument against Schellenberg even if they "firmly agree with Wainwright that 'implicit belief may be second best but it can be very good indeed'."


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