Why Do We Have This Problem In The First Place?: Evolution, Creation, and Divine Hiddenness, Part 2
I would like to suggest that when the elephant (as discussed in Post 1 of this article) is so unabashedly pointed out, the discussion must turn to the problem of divine hiddenness and possible solutions to it. It may be that the best solution is to turn hiddenness itself from an apparent liability into an enduring asset by learning to regard it as something we should expect from God, not something that should surprise or confound us. The idea is that God may actually want to remain hidden to a significant but non-debilitating degree, and that his desire to remain hidden constrains the manner in which he creates. A non-gradual creation, once it is detected, would make it obvious that we do not live in a purposeless, unplanned universe, and God does not want the fact that we do not live in such a world to be quite so obvious to everyone. So we should expect him to create gradually, and we should not be surprised when we find, through scientific inquiry, that he has. This has the effect of neutralizing any attempt to use evolutionary biology as support for atheism.
But it will now occur to just about everyone to ask precisely why would God want to remain so hidden. It is a difficult problem, but we may remain open to a variety of possible reasons. The preservation of conditions that enable the expression of human freedom is presumably crucial, and it is easy to think that something very valuable is lacking in a faith that is formed under the force of rational compulsion. But there is no need to specify God’s reasons precisely here.
Also, we are not lacking in traditional resources. There is important historical backing for the Deus absconditus (hidden God) coming from the likes of Pascal, Kierkegaard, Luther, Aquinas, and Scripture itself (see Isaiah 45:15, 1 Cor. 13:12, and John 20:29)! It is, indeed, a theological tradition in its own right, but it is an intriguing and perhaps startling fact that it is common to the Catholic, Protestant, and Orthodox traditions alike.
Divine hiddenness can be invoked to explain why God might want to create gradually. But the question raised by the children’s Bible teacher was slightly different, and possibly even more vexing. “Why do we have a problem of origins in the first place?” Or, “Why is it at all difficult to reconcile divine revelation regarding origins with our rational investigations into origins?” This issue simply should not be so hard to understand, one might think, even if we do think that we have a plausible explanation for God’s decision to create gradually.
It is but a small step, at this point, to at least wonder whether the appeal to divine hiddenness can help explain both the fact of a gradual creation and the confusion about origins. We have a significant problem of origins because, again, God wants to remain significantly hidden. The problem is not intractable and the confusion is not debilitating, but God himself may indeed be taking active steps to ensure that his presence and activity are not overwhelmingly obvious to us. Can we say that? Reasonably? And faithfully?
I think so. If God really wants to remain hidden to the general human population (but of course allow for certain exceptions where individuals may be granted overwhelming private evidence), it will not be a hiddenness that appears in one place but not another. It will be a pervasive hiddenness that applies to all our publically available evidence, or it will be useless. If there remains even one way in which publically available evidence rationally compels us to acknowledge God’s presence or activity, then he will have failed to remain significantly hidden. So, if it makes sense to expect that God will not make his creative activity overwhelmingly obvious to us, then it also makes sense to expect that he will not allow there to be any overwhelmingly obvious matches between ancient Scriptures and our best biological science. Any such obvious matches would make it far too obvious that Scripture has a supernatural origin. There will not be any insurmountable mismatches either of course, and there would be enough consonance between them to make it reasonable to think that the Scriptures do have a supernatural origin. So we should expect to find ourselves in a state of ambiguity, very much like the one in which we actually find ourselves.
At this point, reasonable objections will be made by reasonable people. For example, it might seem that the “strategy” of invoking divine hiddenness is a lazy-person’s panacea, i.e., an all-purpose explanation that can be brought in at any time to explain any difficulty at all, but only when everything else has failed. I doubt very much that the appeal to divine hiddenness can be used as a universal solvent for any theological problem one might have. However, even if it could be so used, that would be no reason to think that God does not hide himself, or that his hiddenness does not have important consequences (one of which is that we should expect him to create gradually). In fact, for Christians, it is beyond doubt that God does conceal his presence to some degree (see the above “proof-texts”). The questions before us, then, are why he does this, to what extent he does it, and what follows from it.