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The Problem of the Problem of Silence
September 4, 2013 D.J. Clark

The Problem of the Problem of Silence

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The so-called “Problem of Silence” should be a real problem for Christians, or for anyone who accepts or acts on the claim that there exists a God who created human creatures in love, to love, and to be loved by — who plays the role of both Creator and Father. Before I explain why the Problem is a problem, however, I should say something about just what the Problem is, especially for those who are not familiar with it.

When put in the form of an argument, the Problem of Silence – or the gist of it – looks like this:

  1. If there exists a loving, fatherly God, then he would pursue communion with his human creatures.
  2. If a loving, fatherly God were to pursue communion with his human creatures, then he would make himself present or at least available to his human creatures (or at least those who do not oppose finding him and/or who earnestly seek him).
  3. But God is not thus present or available to (all or most of) his human creatures; plenty of us who don’t oppose finding God and/or who earnestly seek him do not, in fact, find him.
  4. Thus, there does not exist a loving, fatherly God.

One needn’t know deductive logic to grasp this argument; I grappled with it at age ten, and I’m sure many have grasped and handled it at even earlier ages. The Problem is clear enough: Silence just isn’t what we would – on first blush at least – expect from a God who supposedly merits the title of both Creator and Father. Imagine a human father who loved you with all his heart and who was able to make that love known in the most vivid ways; now try to imagine a father intentionally remaining apart from his children all his life behind a locked door, not even making his existence abundantly clear, let alone his love; now try to imagine these two fathers being one and the same person. Pretty hard, no?

So is this Problem a real problem for, say, the Christian whose life-commitment presupposes the existence of such a God? Without a doubt. But maybe that’s the wrong choice of words, for it is doubt that is a clear signal of the problem. This argument ought to – OUGHT TO, I argue – create at least some sort of doubt for the Christian. Perhaps the doubt will not be one over whether God exists or not – some may have had such a profound religious experience as to be incapable of doubting the existence of God -, but it will at least be doubt over the accuracy of our concept of God — and over the accuracy of a very important facet of our concept of God at that. Why do I say this argument ought to create such doubt? Because, for starters, the argument is valid (no logical problems), and because the premises seem initially quite plausible.

Now hear me: I am not saying that this argument disproves God; nor am I making the weaker claim that this argument renders belief in or acceptance of God irrational or inappropriate; nor am I making the even weaker claim that this argument should cause one to withhold judgment about God’s existence or his love; I am not even claiming that a Christian should take on an attitude of persistent doubt, or take on doubt of the divine as his modus operandi; I am only claiming that this argument should be troubling to a Christian in the way in which any sort of evidence that strikes against one’s dearest beliefs is troubling. It should feel troubling, it should bother one, it should give one pause. If it is not thus troubling, if it is dismissed with the wave of the hand, I do not think the Christian has fully appreciated the weight of this argument and – as I will argue later – the difficulty in giving a compelling objection or response to this argument.

In the next few blog posts, I want to do a few things as one who has struggled with this Problem since I was a child. First, I want to motivate my claim that this Problem is a problem for Christians (and their like) by looking beyond the initial plausibility of its three premises, and considering further reasons to find these premises plausible. Second, I want to continue the project of motivating my claim that this Problem is a problem by pointing out that it is no simple task to dismantle the Problem’s argument. But finally, I want to chart a path for a Christian to be able to appreciate the force of this argument and yet carry on – with integrity – in the project of following Jesus. Throughout I intend to share a good deal of my own grappling with this Problem and with the problem it has posed for me in my journey of Inquiry and in my practical reasoning.

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    David Clark 4 years ago

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