Spring 2020: Human Suffering and the Divine Hiddenness

For centuries, philosophers and theologians have been debating the question of why God, who is all-knowing, all-powerful, all-good, is hidden, absent or silent in the face of human suffering. In our lecture series, we have invited prominent scholars from a range of disciplines and from different parts of the world to address and help us understand an array of topics pertaining to the problem of Divine Hiddenness.

Michael Rea

January 28

Michael Rea
Rev. John A. O’Brien Professor of Philosophy and Director of theCenter for Philosophy of Religion at University of Notre Dame

February 11

Eleanore Stump
Robert J. Henle Professor of Philosophy at Saint Louis University and Honorary Professor at Wuhan University and at the Logos Institute, St. Andrews

“Suffering and Flourishing”

Even when we praise a person who suffers for not sinking under his suffering, we suppose that the sufferer is to be ranked more among life’s losers than among life’s winners. From the Patristic period onward, however, the Christian tradition has held that those who endure serious suffering are not the pitiable losers of life or even the heroic overcomers of tragedy but rather are those specially loved by God. Clearly, there is something right about the contemporary unreflective rejection of suffering as bad. Someone who valued suffering as an intrinsic good would be perverse at best and mentally disturbed or evil at worst. But I want to look closely at the relevant Christian doctrines to see what can be said to explain and defend the attitude towards suffering found in the Christian tradition that sees suffering as part of flourishing.

Eleonore Stump is the Robert J. Henle Professor of Philosophy at Saint Louis University. She is also Honorary Professor at Wuhan University and at the Logos Institute, St. Andrews, and a Professorial Fellow at Australian Catholic University. She has published extensively in philosophy of religion, contemporary metaphysics, and medieval philosophy. Her books include Aquinas (2003), Wandering in Darkness: Narrative and the Problem of Suffering (2010), and Atonement (2018). She has given the Gifford lectures at Aberdeen (2003), the Wilde lectures at Oxford (2006), the Stewart lectures at Princeton (2009),and the Stanton lectures at Cambridge (2018). She is past president of the Society of Christian Philosophers, the American Catholic Philosophical Association, and the American Philosophical Association, Central Division, and she is a member of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences.


February 18

Hassan Nadhem
UNESCO Chair for the Development of Interreligious Dialogue Studies in the Islamic World at the University of Kufa-Iraq

“The Power of Dialogue in Encountering the Sectarian Violence in Iraq”

Dr. Hassan Nadhem is a university professor (University of Kufa -Iraq), writer, and translator. He is the Chairholder of UNESCO Chair for Interreligious Dialogue Studies at the University of Kufa, the editor-in-chief of Kufa Review and founding director of ‘Intellectual Studies’ (series of books published by the University of Kufa). He has taught in many institutions and universities across the Arab world and the West: he is an at-distance lecturer and supervisor of the course on Quranic and Hadith sciences ICAS at Middlesex University in London. Dr. Nadhem has published twenty authored and translated books, six chapters in books, 10 peer-reviewed articles, 1 encyclopedia entry, over 5 book reviews, presented paper in 10 conferences, and published several pieces at various newspaper and magazines. His current teaching and research activities mainly involve modern Arabic language and literature, inter-cultural studies, hermeneutics and critical theory.

Dr. Wendy Farley

March 3

Wendy Farley
Rice Family Chair of Spirituality, San Francisco Theological Seminary and Graduate School of Theology, University of Redlands


Jon McGinnis

March 31

Jon McGinnis
Professor of Classical and Medieval Philosophy Chair, Department of Philosophy, University of Missouri-St. Louis

“The Hiddenness of ‘Divine Hiddenness’: Divine Love in Some Medieval Muslim and Jewish Thinkers”

The issue of divine hiddenness has come to the forefront of philosophy of religion as one of the more pressing arguments against theism. The central idea of the argument is that the notion of an all-loving God is incompatible with the simple fact that some people, through no fault of their own, never experience God—God is hidden from them. In this talk,I look at certain presuppositions hidden within the argument itself. Particularly I consider how the concept of divine love and especially God’s desire for a personal relationship with us work in the argument. Those who defend the argument from divine hiddenness either provide little explanation of what divine love is or simply assume that it is obvious what it is. Yet, as I hope to show, historically there have been good even devout theists within both Judaism and Islam who would have questioned many of the argument’s assumptions about divine love. I focus on the medieval Muslim philosopher and scientist, Avicenna, and the Jewish philosopher and theologian, Moses Maimonides, and what these two thinkers have to say about divine love and God’s seeking a personal relation with us.

John Schellenberg

April 21

John Schellenberg
Professor of Philosophy at Mount Saint Vincent University and Adjunct Professor in the Faculty of Graduate Studies at Dalhousie University

“Progressive Social Values and the Divine Hiddenness Debate”

”In contemporary philosophy “divine hiddenness” is primarily associated with an argument for the nonexistence of a personal God. This argument – the hiddenness argument – suggests that a common way of being undecided about the God issue itself decides the issue. Since God would be supremely loving and thus open to personal relationship with beings like us, and because such relationship presupposes belief in God, many more of us would believe in God,if there were a God. This talk will seek to elucidate the hiddenness argument more fully. But its main aim is to explore how the interest the argument has provoked can be linked to changes in our social and moral life. The openness to relationship emphasized by the argument is something that in another time might have been shrugged off as optional, especially for males and fathers. And of course in earlier times it would have been easier to think of God as both Male and Father. But it isn’tbeing shrugged off now.Has recent cultural evolution, perhaps in various ways, had a role to play in producing an intellectual climate hospitable to hiddenness reasoning? What can we learn from this about making progress in the God debate?

Philosopher J. L. Schellenberg teaches at Mount Saint Vincent University and is Adjunct Professor in the Faculty of Graduate Studies at Dalhousie University. His first book, Divine Hiddenness and Human Reason (Cornell 1993),introduced the hiddenness argument, initating a long-running debate in philosophy that continues today. In 2015 Oxford University Press published a book by Dr. Schellenberg about this debate called The Hiddenness Argument: Philosophy’s New Challenge to Belief in God. In 2019, Bloomsbury published his book on the evolutionary context in which to view the hiddenness issue and related issues: Progressive Atheism: How Moral Evolution Changes the God Debate.

Schellenberg’s work of the last 20 years is largely devoted to fundamental investigations in philosophy of religion. One result is a trilogy: Prolegomena to a Philosophy of Religion (Cornell 2005),The Wisdom to Doubt: A Justification of Religious Skepticism (Cornell 2007), and The Will to Imagine: A Justification of Skeptical Religion (Cornell 2009). His recent work from Oxford, Evolutionary Religion (2013) places the ideas of the trilogy into an evolutionary framework. Further implications of Schellenberg’s approach are set out in his 2019 book from Cambridge University Press: Religion After Science: The Cultural Consequences of Religious Immaturity.