Saturday, December 01, 2018

Benevolence and reciprocity

The divine hiddenness argument is a newer argument in the atheist arsenal. Atheists don't have many new arguments. John Schellenberg put this on the map in 1993. Other atheists have tweaked the argument, and his argument has undergone various permutations at his own hands. But his core argument remains the "canonical" version, the frame of reference for most discussions. Here's a recent formulation:

Suppose God perfectly loves Anna. That love would minimally involve benevolence, caring for Anna’s well-being. But it would also involve aiming “at relationship—a conscious and reciprocal relationship that is positively meaningful, allowing for a deep sharing” between them. Moreover, it would involve valuing that relationship for its own sake, and not merely for the sake of something else. Furthermore, it would never cease, and so God would always value, seek, desire, promote, or preserve personal relationship with Anna, although God would not force himself on her. At the very least, says Schellenberg, all this requires that God will always be open to personal relationship with her...even if one does not actively seek or promote personal relationship with another person capable of participating in such relationship…, one makes sure that there is nothing one ever does (in a broad sense including omissions) that would have the result of making such relationship unavailable to the other, preventing her from being able to relate personally to one, even should she then try. So for God to always be open to personal relationship with a relevantly capable created person such as Anna in a manner expressing unsurpassable love is for God to ensure that there is never something God does that prevents her from being able, just by trying, to participate in personal relationship with God...

1. As I've often remarked, the hiddenness argument is primarily an argument against freewill theism. Calvinism isn't committed to the proposition that God aims at having a reciprocal relationship with every human being. 

2. In addition, the whole notion of reciprocity between God and man is peculiar given the extreme disparity between God and man. It's not analogous to friendship in the usual sense. God has something to share with us but we have nothing to share with him. 

3. Finally, consider the elements of the divine hiddenness argument:

i) Love would minimally involve benevolence, caring for another's well-being

ii) Seeking a reciprocal relationship, characterized by mutual sharing

iii) Remaining open and available to such a relationship

But these are separable. As I mentioned in the past, there are two kinds of friendship: unilateral and bilateral. An anonymous benefactor is an example of unilateral friendship. He befriends someone for their own sake. He isn't cultivating their friendship. He seeks nothing in return. That's in contrast to a bilateral friendship, based on mutuality. So (i) is independent of (ii-iii). (ii) and (iii) are not entailed by (i). 

Suppose, before the fall of the Berlin wall, parents living in E. Berlin want a better life for their newborn child. So they give their child up for adoption, by entrusting him to someone who has free passage between E. Berlin and W. Berlin. Perhaps that individual is just a conduit who will convey the newborn to a loving but infertile couple in W. Berlin. The child will never know the identity of its biological parents, yet their action was an expression of sacrificial love. 

In principle, God could be benevolent towards somebody, caring for their well-being–without aiming to be known or loved in return. After all, God doesn't benefit from such an arrangement. He has nothing to gain by their gratitude. So the syllogism, as it stands, requires more argument for each premise as well as more argument for how (ii) and (iii) follow from (i). 

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