In This Article The Problem of Divine Hiddenness

  • Introduction
  • General Overviews
  • Divine Hiddenness in the Context of the Problem of Evil

Philosophy The Problem of Divine Hiddenness
Klaas J. Kraay
  • LAST REVIEWED: 08 October 2015
  • LAST MODIFIED: 27 November 2013
  • DOI: 10.1093/obo/9780195396577-0178


“The Problem of Divine Hiddenness” is an infelicitous phrase for two reasons. First, while it suggests that God both exists and hides, this phrase actually refers to a strategy of arguing that various forms of nonbelief in God constitute evidence for God’s nonexistence. Second, it suggests that there is only one problem for theistic belief here, while in fact this phrase refers to a family of arguments for atheism. This entry focuses on contemporary arguments from nonbelief to atheism. The most important of these is defended by J. L. Schellenberg. Schellenberg claims that a loving God would ensure that there is no reasonable or inculpable nonbelief in his existence, since this belief is required for human beings to enter into a relationship with God, and since (according to theism) having such a relationship with creatures is a great good, and indeed is one of God’s most important goals. But, Schellenberg argues, since such nonbelief occurs among those capable of belief in God, theism should be rejected. The citations collected under General Overviews all concern Schellenberg’s argument. Other authors have independently constructed different arguments from nonbelief to atheism, and these are surveyed under Other Arguments from Nonbelief. The final five sections of this bibliography survey responses to arguments from hiddenness to atheism. Most of this literature explicitly concerns Schellenberg’s argument, but many of these replies could also be directed against the other arguments surveyed here. There are important connections between the problem of divine hiddenness and the problem of evil, and the relevant literature is discussed in a preliminary section entitled Divine Hiddenness in the Context of the Problem of Evil.

General Overviews

The best entry point into the vast literature on divine hiddenness is Schellenberg 1993, a seminal monograph that contains his first statement of the argument and carefully examines a wide range of replies. Howard-Snyder and Moser 2002 contains eleven important papers on this topic. The editors’ introduction to this volume is a useful survey of possible replies to Schellenberg’s argument, many of which are discussed by the contributors to the volume. Although they are not listed in this section, Schellenberg 2005a (cited under God Hides for the Sake of a Later, Better Relationship) and Schellenberg 2005 (cited under God Hides in Order to Preserve Morally Significant Human Freedom) are worth mentioning, since they contain a clear presentation of the argument and careful replies to the criticisms discussed in Howard-Snyder and Moser 2002. Chapters 9 and 10 of Schellenberg 2007 also contain a careful presentation of the argument from divine hiddenness, along with a critical discussion of several replies. Schellenberg 2010 distinguishes five version of the hiddenness argument, and contains a clear survey of some of the most important literature to date. Howard-Snyder 2006 identifies fourteen possible responses to Schellenberg’s argument, but does not explicitly trace these through the published literature. Murray and Taylor 2012, Rea 2012, and Schellenberg 2011 are all good choices for introducing this topic to undergraduates.

  • Howard-Snyder, Daniel. “Hiddenness of God.” In the Encyclopedia of Philosophy. 2d ed. Vol. 4. Edited by Donald M. Borchert, 352–357. Detroit: Macmillan, 2006.

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    After distinguishing the problem of hiddenness from the problem of evil, and setting out the argument in Schellenberg 1993, Howard-Snyder identifies fourteen possible responses.

  • Howard-Snyder, Daniel, and Paul K. Moser. “Introduction: The Hiddenness of God.” In Divine Hiddenness: New Essays. Edited by Daniel Howard-Snyder and Paul K. Moser, 1–22. Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press, 2002.

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    A clear introduction to this important anthology. Contains a helpful discussion of the relationship between the problem of evil and the problem of hiddenness, and then distinguishes several strategies of reply to the latter argument. Concludes with an opinionated summary of the eleven papers in the volume.

  • Murray, Michael J., and David E. Taylor. “Hiddenness.” In The Routledge Companion to Philosophy of Religion. 2d ed. Edited by Chad Meister and Paul Copan, 368–377. London and New York: Routledge, 2012.

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    After setting out the problem of hiddenness, Murray and Taylor identify three strategies of reply: (a) deny that there is inculpable nonbelief; (b) appeal to the possibility of unknown goods for the sake of which God hides; and (c) appeal to known goods for the sake of which God hides. The authors doubt whether (a) can succeed, but defend strategies (b) and (c).

  • Rea, Michael. “Divine Hiddenness, Divine Silence.” In Philosophy of Religion: An Anthology. 6th ed. Edited by Louis Pojman and Michael Rea, 266–275. Boston: Wadsworth/Cengage, 2012.

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    A clear, undergraduate-level exposition and evaluation of the hiddenness argument. Closes with a brief statement of Rea’s own response, which is developed further in Rea 2009 (cited under Other Responses to the Problem of Divine Hiddenness): divine silence may serve the greater good of appropriately expressing God’s personality.

  • Schellenberg, J. L. Divine Hiddenness and Human Reason. Ithaca, NY: Cornell University Press, 1993.

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    Seminal presentation and detailed defense of the argument from reasonable nonbelief to atheism. (Paperback version, with a new preface, published in 2006.)

  • Schellenberg, J. L. The Wisdom To Doubt: A Justification of Religious Skepticism. Ithaca, NY: Cornell University Press, 2007.

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    Chapter 9 develops the argument from nonresistant nonbelief to atheism, and then considers and replies to several objections. Chapter 10 distinguishes four specific categories of people who exhibit nonresistant nonbelief: former believers, lifelong seekers, converts to nontheistic religion, and isolated nontheists.

  • Schellenberg, J. L. “Divine Hiddenness.” In A Companion to Philosophy of Religion. 2d ed. Edited by Charles Taliaferro, Paul Draper, and Philip L. Quinn, 509–518. Malden, MA: Wiley-Blackwell, 2010.

    DOI: 10.1002/9781444320152E-mail Citation »

    Distinguishes five versions of the problem of divine hiddenness. Argues that the problem of divine hiddenness is distinct from the problem of evil. Next, this chapter distinguishes four broad categories of reply, and comments on each.

  • Schellenberg, J. L. “Would a Loving God Hide from Anyone? Assembling and Assessing the Hiddenness Argument for Atheism.” In Introducing Philosophy for Canadians: A Text With Integrated Readings. Edited by Robert C. Solomon and Douglas McDermid, 165–168. Don Mills, Canada: Oxford University Press, 2011.

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    A brief, clear, undergraduate-level exposition and evaluation of the hiddenness argument.

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