The evidential argument from evil, skeptical theism, and the threshold problem

The evidential argument from evil says that the evils we see in our actual world count as good evidence against the existence of God. Rowe’s argument, in particular, says that the existence of gratuitous suffering, if it exists, would count as good evidence against God’s existence.

Skeptical theism is a response to Rowe’s argument which says that although it might seem that suffering is gratuitous, we should not conclude that the suffering is really gratuitous. Why? Because, given our cognitive limitations, should we expect to know that suffering really is gratuitous? Are we in a position? If there were good reasons for God to permit suffering would we expect to know those reasons? Are the goods we know of representative of the goods that there are?

One response to skeptical theism, that often gets overlooked, is whether God should still be considered all-good (or all-loving) if he allows so much horrendous suffering in order to achieve some greater good. Even if there is a greater good that requires horrendous suffering, would we not expect God to still not allow the horrendous suffering in question? One reason comes when we think about the empathy of God. Another reason might be that this sort of unknown greater good response is inconsistent with God’s goodness because the response assumes a type of “ends justify the means” reasoning. I suppose one could try to move skeptical theism up a level and not just focus on greater goods but also focus on what we can deduce from God’s nature. But this looks even more like an appeal to mystery/special pleading, and we are no longer talking about skeptical theism in its usual form.

Someone might wonder where we are to draw the line on how much suffering is too much suffering? Well, the short answer is that there is no definite line. Rather, there is a spectrum and we know how much suffering is too much suffering when we see it. For instance, it seems rather non-controversial that God wouldn’t allow a universe where there was nothing but everlasting torment from beginning to end. A person in that world might not know all there is when it comes to greater goods, but they know that God wouldn’t allow such suffering. One might try to get incredibly skeptical here as well, but (once again) one would be going beyond traditional skeptical theism.

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