I was just reminded about the difference between philosophy and science. I've written about this topic before here and here. This particular reminder came in the form of Blake Giunta's challenge to the argument from "divine hiddenness" as stated in the Unbelievable Podcast episode. A very detailed summary of the argument and the counterargument can be found on the beliefmap website. Essentially the main argument goes that a loving God who wants to be in a personal relationship with the subjects he creates would not then choose to be hidden from anyone who is non-resistant. Thus the existence of anyone willing to be in relationship with God, but isn't, demonstrates that God doesn't exist. The challenge from Blake Giunta, broken up into many different parts in categories, is essentially that God may have reasons to hide if there's a greater good.

And further Blake will say that the atheist must defeat all of these possible exceptions -- show that they are all impossible -- in order to defeat his challenge. When he said this in the interview, it really struck me as shifting the burden of proof. However, he is technically correct. In a philosophical argument where you were trying to prove something you do you have to demonstrate that possible counter arguments are in fact impossible. But this isn't how we gain knowledge in the world. I've written about this before but I don't think that philosophy can produce new knowledge of things in the world. With philosophy, I can point out the possible contradictions in certain types of statements but I can never demonstrate the existence of a particular thing or phenomenon. We need science for that.

So the original argument really should be recast in probabilistic terms. Given the properties of God, namely his infinite love and justice, it is supremely unlikely that he would hide himself from so many nonresistant people. Further, it would be highly unlikely that, for the people who already believe in him, he wouldn't choose to be absolutely obvious. Instead, even most believers admit that the actions of God in their life -- although sometimes seemingly palpable -- are very hard to distinguish from their own thoughts or their projections onto events. Mysterious ways. This seems unlikely in the face of an all-loving God that wants to be a relationship with his subjects.

Recasting the argument in probabilistic terms modifies Blake's challenge. When he says that "maybe God has some reason for hiding" you can turn it around and simply ask "what evidence do you actually have that he's there and hiding?" or "what evidence do you have that these reasons for hiding are in fact salient?" Yes it's possible that God is hiding for some reasons but how have you demonstrated that these reasons are likely? One can make all sorts of excuses about why it's possible God would be hidden, but the reality is that God's actions are definitely hidden and, at best, this does not suggest the existence of a loving God.

The burden of proof needs to land squarely on the person making claims about God's motivations, and providing evidence of his existence in the first place. It is not the role of the skeptic to have to disprove every possible excuse the philosopher imagines, which is why the argument is much more useful in probabilistic rather than philosophical terms.