Stop me if you’ve already heard this one. There is an atheological argument that goes something like this:
- If the Christian God exists, He would want everyone to know that He exists.
- If the Christian God exists, He could easily let everyone know that He exists.
- Therefore, if the Christian God exists, we would already know that He exists.
- But not everyone knows that the Christian God exists.
- Therefore, the Christian God does not exist.
A far more thoroughgoing version of the argument has been laid out by Dr. Ted Drange, my kickass atheist mentor from the old GODEXIST listserve, who literally wrote the book on this. It may be sentimental on my part, but I feel that this argument needs to be far more widely known and broadly used than it is at present.
Since premise (2) is undeniable on most any definition of what it means to be omnipotent (or Almighty), Christians are pretty much stuck with having to deny premise (1) or (4). Very often, they will deny premise (1) by saying that it would be violative of our free will for God to directly give us information about his existence, He must instead leave us epistemic breathing room to deny His existence. I’ve never understood why this is considered persuasive, since we do not chide anyone for giving others good evidence leading to truth in other situations. Free will is violated by coercion rather than information. (Oddly enough, these same pro-free-will apologists often see no problem with preaching to children about Hell, which is the ultimate threat of force.)
Another way to deny premise (1) would be to claim that God wants something (or some collection of things) even more than He wants everyone to know that He exists. Calvinists, for example, have no problem with the idea that some (most) people are simply preordained for damnation. In my experience, though, most Christians cannot stomach the idea that God is only loving towards those pre-selected for salvation. They want to believe that God really loves everyone and desires that all people be taken into a salvific and personal relationship with Him. They understand, intuitively, that the metaphor of a Heavenly Father does not work well when the kids are left home alone wondering whether or not Dad actually exists.
The most bizarre response that I get when I talk to evangelical Christians about the problem of unbelief is a straight up denial of premise (4). They proclaim boldly that atheism is not really a position that people actually hold, despite a plain reading of Psalm 14:1. They say everyone already knows, deep down, that God exists, and typically start quoting from Romans 1:18-20. This is an incredibly arrogant response, because they are claiming to have more knowledge of your inner mind than you do, and it is a terribly frustrating response, because it immunizes them against the most direct evidence you can provide for the existence of unbelief, namely, your own personal experience thereof. I’ve no idea how to really cope with flat-out denialism like this, but the obvious smart-ass response is this: “I don’t believe that you really believe, deep down, what you are saying right now.”
There are other holes to be poked in any given formulation of the argument from nonbelief, of course, but these are the issues that I’ve seen raised time and again. Go try it on your Christian friends and family, and let me know how it goes.