The argument from divine hiddenness (ADH) is an intuitive problem for theism that some philosophers consider to be a sub-species of the problem of evil. The problem arises when we consider the fact that there are some people who seem to non-culpably lack belief in God. If God exists, the argument goes, then He would ensure that no one non-culpably lacks belief in Him. The empirical data runs strongly against this intuition (the argument goes). Quite the contrary: in the world we see that there are many people who lack belief in God. And a significant portion of them do so for what seems to be no morally-culpable reason.
Now, is ADH a good argument against theism for some subjects? Perhaps in some epistemic contexts. But I don’t think its a good argument against theism for a subject if (1) that subject considers there to be any “live” theistic arguments and (2) that subject is appealing to himself or herself as the exclusive evidence for the existence of inculpable nonbelief. By a “live” argument for a subject, I mean an argument that the subject either considers to be sound, likely to be sound, or equiprobable with respect to soundness or lack of soundness. By saying that a person appeals to himself or herself as the exclusive evidence for the existence of inculpable nonbelief, I mean that the only example that this person cites in support of the premise of the ADH which states “inculpable nonbelief exists” is himself or herself.
Consider a person who believes that there is at least one sound argument for theism, or believes that it is 50/50 that there is a sound argument for theism. This person may go on to reason that despite this “live” argument, his or her inculpable nonbelief with respect to theism is evidence that God does not exist, and hence that the conclusion of the “live” theistic argument is outweighed by the ADH argument against theism. But if there is a “live” theistic argument for this person, then for this person to accept the premise that he or she inculpably lacks belief that theism is true is premature; it assumes that he or she has decided already that there are no good arguments for theism. So we shouldn’t look at ADH as an undercutting or a rebutting defeater for theistic arguments (at least for subjects in the situation we’re considering). In the absence of “live” theistic arguments, an agent can view ADH as a rebutting defeater for theism. But in their presence, an agent who is appealing to himself or herself as the example that provides evidence for the existence of inculpable nonbelief is making a decision that falsely presupposes lack of evidence.
I suspect that a similar point can be made not just about particular people, but about intellectual cultures. If the climate of academia (American? Western? it doesn’t matter) regards at least one theistic argument as a “live” argument, then this means that said intellectual culture should not regard the argument from divine hiddenness as successful. How we would identify an intellectual culture as considering a theistic argument to be “live” is another question.
Finally, some notes on the intuitive problem raised by ADH. Yes, it does seem that there is inculpable nonbelief. It doesn’t seem like all people that reject the existence of God or the truth of Christianity do so out of culpable ignorance. Yes, Christianity would be counterintuitive if it were commited to denying the existence of inculpable nonbelief. But I think that Christians can embrace the existence of inculpable nonbelief in at least two ways. First, some cases of nonbelief may actually be cases of masked belief. As C. Stephen Evans suggested in an article once, it is possible that some who do not explicitly affirm the reality of God can at the same time love, trust, or be otherwise committed to God in some way. The fact that God Himself is the Goodness by which all things are Good makes it easy to see how this might be so: a person who has been tricked by uncontrollable circumstances into disbelieving in the existence of God may still love the Good and seek it. And in doing so, that person believes in God but does not call him by all his names.
Second, some cases of inculpable nonbelief may not be permanent. God could give a person who presently lacks sufficient evidence all of the evidence that they need at sometime in the future. This may even include postmortem revelation. If a person dies in a state of inculpable nonbelief, God may reveal Himself to him or her. Many early fathers believed in a view of the intermediate state between a person’s death and the universal resurrection that included the possibility of deliberation and habituation (at least for persons of unsettled character). Some even thought that the ignorance of some was compensated for in Christ’s harrowing of hell, and the subsequent preaching that those in Sheol who had seen Christ’s harrowing could give to those who died after Christ came.