The Elusive God, Chapter 2, Sections 5-8: Divine Hiddenness, Attunement, and A New Argument for God’s Existence
July 14, 2009 — 0:55

Author: Joshua Thurow  Category: Atheism & Agnosticism Books of Interest Christian Theology Existence of God Religious Belief  Comments: 2

Moser does three main things in sections 5-8 of chapter 2:
1. He gives an explanation for divine hiddenness
2. He gives a deeper explanation of purposively available divine reality using the notion of attunement
3. He gives an argument for God’s existence.
I will briefly describe these three things and raise a few questions along the way.
1. Divine Hiddenness
Moser provides a handful of possible explanations for divine hiddenness, distances himself from two popular explanations, and then makes a move that is quite analogous to the skeptical theist response to the problem of evil.
Moser calls his reply to the problem of divine hiddenness the Divine Purposes Reply, which states, “God would restrain divine manifestations, at least for a time, to at least some humans in order to enhance satisfaction of God’s own diverse perfectly authoritative and loving purposes regarding humans” (110). Furthermore, there isn’t one particular purpose that God’s hiding satisfies. Moser suggests the following as some of God’s purposes:

“(a) to teach people to yearn for, and thus eventually to value wholeheartedly and above all else, personal volitional fellowship with God, (b) to strengthen grateful trust in God even when times look altogether bleak, (c) to remove human complacency toward God and God’s redemptive purposes, (d) to shatter destructively prideful human self-reliance, and (e) to prevent people who aren’t ready for fellowship with God from explicitly rejecting God” (107).

Of these possible purposes, only (e) seems to apply to those who don’t believe in God, so is Moser committed to saying that all atheists and agnostics are not ready, in some way, for fellowship with God, and this is why God is hiding from them? Moser rejects two other popular explanations that would have applied to atheists and agnostics: 1) God needs to hide to give us freedom to respond to him, and 2) God needs to hide so that people wouldn’t submit to him with the wrong motivations (e.g. fear, arrogance, desire for power). In response to these, Moser says that it seems God could be a little more evident without violating our freedom or causing us to follow him with the wrong motives.
So, is (e) really the only explanation for why God hides from atheists and agnostics? No, because “the exact details of God’s purposes could sometimes be unclear to us, as we should expect given God’s transcendent cognitive superiority relative to our meager cognitive position” (111). This is the skeptical theist move as applied to divine hiddenness.
2. Attunement
Moser gives a helpful analogy for how he conceives of purposively available divine evidence: his radio scanner. The scanner scans for active frequencies, and you can choose which you want to listen to, ignore, block. You can also choose whether to scan for new frequencies. If you don’t tune in to a given frequency, you miss out on a certain kind of evidence (namely, whatever information is available at that frequency) that is available to you. Analagously, God will gives us conclusive evidence of his reality if we only “tune to his frequency” – i.e. be willing to obey him fully and receive his call to love all people unselfishly. If we are looking for some other kind of God – one that justifies our own motives, or one that lets us do what we want – we won’t find evidence of God. He won’t give us evidence because his purposes won’t be served by giving people who have such conceptions of God evidence of his existence.
Perhaps this is a good, more detailed, analogy (this is my analogy, not Moser’s, but I think it makes his point pretty well): you’re searching your scanner for a station that plays cutting-edge indie music. You can quickly skip through the frequencies that don’t give you what you’re looking for until you find it, and when you do, you will receive loads of evidence of the goodness of recent indie-rock music. But, if you don’t value such music – if you have no desire for it – you will scan the channels and quickly skip the one that plays a snippet of “that weird music.” You will barely pay attention to it and will quickly forget ever having heard a bit of it. You need to be attuned to the music in order to find (or at least pay attention to) evidence of its existence. Likewise, if you aren’t attuned, at least to some degree, to God (in the way described above), if you ever hear whispers of the message of this God in your heart, you will quickly ignore it. You will block yourself from receiving evidence of the existence of such a God.
I think this analogy is helpful, but it is ambiguous in the following way: does God give evidence to everyone, but they choose to ignore it, or does he not give it until you are ready for it? Either interpretation is consistent with the analogy, and it isn’t clear which Moser has in mind.
The analogy also continues to leave open some questions that have come up in earlier discussions, especially: what is this purposively available divine evidence like? Is it phenomenally like listening to a radio station? Or, better, like listening to a radio station while being convicted of the moral uprightness of its message? Or is it more subtle than that?
The analogy raises another interesting and important question: if people are as self-centered as Moser thinks, how do people get attuned to God to receive his purposively available evidence? How do they become sympathetic to submitting to God and to sacrificial love for all? Can their moral reflection (perhaps implanted in them by God), get them attuned? Could some experience of their wretchedness get them there? Could experience of the love of another get them there? Perhaps there are lots of causes of people’s getting attuned to God, and it seems plausible that different causes would work for different people. But, then why not think that natural theology – which Moser has railed against – could be the cause (or at least part of the cause) for some people?
3. An Argument for God’s Existence
Moser defines what he calls “the transformative gift” as follows:

“=df. via conscience, a person’s (a) being authoritatively convicted and forgiven by X of all that person’s wrongdoing and (b) thereby being authoritatively called and led by X both into noncoerced volitional fellowship with X in perfect love and into rightful worship toward X as worthy of worship and, on the basis, transformed by X from (i) that person’s previous tendencies to selfishness and despair to (ii) a new volitional center with a default position of unselfish love and forgiveness toward all people and of hope in the ultimate triumph of good over evil by X” (134-5).

The transformative gift is Moser’s fullest statement so far of what one experiences, according to him, in purposively available authoritative divine evidence.
Now, here’s his argument (from page 135):
1. Necessarily, if a human person is offered, and unselfishly receives, the transformative gift, then this is the result of the authoritative leading and sustaining power of a divine X of thoroughgoing forgiveness, fellowship in perfect love, worthiness of worship, and triumphant hope (namely God).

  • [Interesting side note: I think he phrases the premise in this way to contrast it visibly with cosmological and design arguments that always have to make the big jump: “and this is what we call God.” No big, implausible jump is required here, according to Moser, because the transformative gift gives us all the content we need to identify X as God.]

2. I (that is, Paul Moser) have been offered, and have willingly unselfishly received, the transformative gift.
3. Therefore, God exists.
Premise 1 is true by definition (given what Moser means by ‘God’). So, everything rests on premise 2. Moser discusses whether he has a defeater for his evidence for 2 (argues that he doesn’t), and notes that he could try to support it for others (beyond his simple testimony) by appeal to the kind of best explanation argument that he discussed earlier in the chapter.
I will conclude by questioning a statement of Moser’s that, I think, identifies a limitation of this argument for God’s existence. He writes,

“The available evidence of God’s reality offered by profound agape transformation in a human cuts much deeper in a willing recipient than the comparatively superficial evidence found in spectacular signs, wonders, visions, ecstatic experiences, and philosophical arguments. We can readily and consistently dismiss and such sign, wonder, vision, ecstatic experience, or argument as illusory or indecisive, given certain alterations in our beliefs. In contrast, profound human transformation toward God’s unselfish love doesn’t admit of easy dismissal by a transformed recipient … Such rare transformation goes too deeply against our natural tendencies toward selfishness to qualify as a self-help or even a peer-help human construct” (132).

I’m not so sure about that. Couldn’t I chalk up my apparent call to universal love and forgiveness to a sudden realization of the consequences of my considered moral views? And, of course, just because I realize the consequences doesn’t mean I will follow through on them (this is parallel to Moser’s claim that just because we are offered the transformative gift doesn’t mean we will willingly receive it). I’m not saying that this is what is really going on behind apparent receptions of the transformative gift; all I’m saying is that one could “readily and consistently dismiss” an apparent reception of the transformative gift by explaining it as a kind of moral realization. Sure, this is rare and goes against many of our selfish tendencies, but we often are pulled against our selfish tendencies, sometimes severely. Case in point: many people, including some atheists, feel morally pulled toward veganism, which is intensely unselfish (at least in a certain way).
Here’s my point: it isn’t clear to me that an apparent reception of the transformative gift is any less resistant to dismissal as the “superficial evidence” that Moser mentions. This suggests, then, that to support premise 2 – both for himself and for others – Moser may have to rely more strongly on the kind of best explanation argument that he outlined earlier in the chapter.

  • Flavius Id

    “Here’s my point: it isn’t clear to me that an apparent reception of the transformative gift is any less resistant to dismissal as the “superficial evidence” that Moser mentions.”
    Agreed. It seems all too easy to explain away in terms of psychological needs and sociological expectations.

    July 16, 2009 — 13:33
  • jhouston

    Thanks Joshua,
    I’m not seeing how (1) is true by definition. It seems to me like Moser designed the definition of the transformative gift with the variable X to avoid implying God directly in the definition. He then states that necessarily the transformative gift comes only from God in (1) and that he has received it in (2) leading to (3). I think I could contest (1), as I think you have in your last point. It seems what you are saying is in the df of transformative gift, we could replace X with either the individual or society in general and not God. To me that means that (1) would be false (we may forgive and transform ourselves).
    Moser offers some points on pg.137 toward the end that the individual and society are not good candidates to deliver the transformative gift.

    August 4, 2009 — 17:50