The fallacy of the too convenient
Susan Haack in Defending Science – Within Reason (p. 286) quotes (in order to dispute) Richard Swinburne:
If God’s existence, justice and intentions became common knowledge, then man’s freedom to choose [to believe or disbelieve] would in effect be vastly curtailed. (Swinburne, The Existence of God p. 244)
What I immediately wondered (not for the first time) on reading that is: why is that important? Why is it even meaningful? Why is belief an issue? And why, being an issue, does it become an issue of freedom? Why is it treated as a test?
We have all kinds of common knowledge – and that’s not seen as a problem. We don’t worry about our freedom to choose to believe or disbelieve various items of common knowledge; why is it different with God? That is, independent of the fact that God is hidden and is not common knowledge?
Given the fact that God is hidden – and that billions of people claim to believe in it anyway – it becomes very difficult to see how to separate the claim about freedom (and other similar claims) from the need to explain the brute inconvenient fact that God is hidden. In my case anyway, it is impossible.
In other words – God is hidden – and this obvious fact is slightly inconvenient (though not as inconvenient as it ought to be) for people who believe in it and want others to believe in it, and espcially for people who want to rebuff and reprove and correct non-believers. That means there is a need for some kind of explanation. What would such an explanation look like? Well, like what Swinburne says. Therefore…it seems likely that that is why Swinburne says it.
1) God is hidden. 2) Non-theists consider this a reason not to believe God exists. 3) Theists need a counter-reason. 4) Therefore theistic explanations of God’s hiddenness are rendered suspect by this motivation.
An explanation can be suspect and still be correct, of course – but to a non-theist all these excuses for God’s non-appearance do tend to sound awfully…carefully crafted to fit the disconcerting and undeniable facts. (We keep inviting God to dinner and it keeps not showing up.)
An argument like this would show its fragility quite readily in real life. ‘You skipped work today, you’re fired.’ ‘No, I was there.’ ‘No you weren’t!’ ‘Yes I was, it’s just that we kept missing each other.’ ‘Uh huh – that’s a little too convenient – you’re fired.’
An explanation that is too convenient in that way is suspect.