Someone recently argued that if God exists, he should make himself self-evident.
But very few things that people take for granted are self-evident. Even my existence as a human being is not self-evident to my readers, but only deduced based on premises that they take for granted, i.e. that only a human being could type the kinds of things that I am typing in this post. Nevertheless my existence as a human being is obvious to you; you don’t waste time doubting it.
Perhaps by “self-evident” my interlocutor meant that God should appear before us in physical form, as we appear to each other. When another living person is physically present, that person’s existence is self-evident to us — assuming we’re not skeptical of our own senses. The problem is that God is not a physical being. Therefore, if a physical being appeared before us claiming to be God, it still would not be self-evident that he was God. It still would require a chain of reasoning, and probably some kind of physical proof such as miracles, to arrive at the conclusion that the physical being standing before us is the non-physical, non-contingent being who is the cause of all that exists.
In short, there is no way that a non-physical being can make his existence self-evident to beings like us, who are dependent on their physical senses for knowledge. It’s impossible even in theory.
What this illustration also shows is the necessity of faith in the Christian religion (and some others as well). A lot of people imagine that God appearing in physical form, performing miracles and proclaiming himself to be God would be conclusive, that there would be no room for doubt. But there are a couple of problems with this.
First, that’s what Jesus did: He was God appearing in physical form, performing miracles, and proclaiming himself to be God. Yet many if not most people still didn’t believe in him.
Second, the fact that a being appearing in physical form performed physical miracles and wonders, still would not constitute proof that he is the non-physical, non-contingent, omniscient and omnipotent being who is the cause of all that exists. It might be obvious that he is some kind of a supernatural being, but it still would require faith on our parts to believe that he possessed all of the aforementioned attributes. After all, how could you possibly prove such things?
How could I know that this being claiming to be all-powerful, really is all-powerful? He may demonstrate beyond a doubt, by performing various feats, that he is powerful. But there is an infinite gulf between “powerful” and “all-powerful”. Similarly, how could I know whether this being claiming to be God is really omniscient? He may be able to answer any question I have, but that doesn’t prove he can answer any question whatever. And how would I know that his answers were correct? The only answers we could verify are those to which we already knew the answers.
Believing these things would require taking his word for it. Or in other words, faith. Faith would be required to believe in God, even were he to appear before us in the form of a burning bush, or a man with the power to make the lame walk and the blind see.
[This was modified from a comment I posted on another blog.]