Skeptical theism and Pandora’s Box

Skeptical theism is commonly pulled out as a response to the argument from evil. The skeptical theist says that just because we can’t think of a good reason for why God allows a particular evil, doesn’t mean there isn’t such a reason.

The issue for the skeptical theist is that they need to come up with a reason to limit their skepticism; otherwise, the skepticism threatens to undermine all the knowledge of the theist [1]. For instance, for all we know, God has a morally sufficient reason to lie to us. We are not in a position to place probabilities on such a matter. Just because you can’t think of a good reason for God to lie doesn’t mean God lacks a reason. For all we know, God has a good reason to start a false religion…at least if we are going to be a consistent skeptical theist.

A common response from the skeptical theist is to attack a strawman. They will say of course it’s logically possible that God a good reason to start a false religion; however, that doesn’t mean it is likely. The problem with this response is that it is ignoring the actual objection to the skeptical theist position. What the objection is actually saying is that the probability of God having a reason to lie is inscrutable. This is the same logic that the skeptical theist uses when claiming that God’s reasons for allowing certain instances of suffering are inscrutable.

In response to this, skeptical theist must be careful. If they are going to say something like, “We have pro tanto reasons to think that God wouldn’t start a false religion,” we could easily say that we have pro tanto reasons to think that God wouldn’t allow certain instances of suffering in the actual world. The skeptical theist might say that those reasons are defeated by the skeptical theist thesis, but that would mean the skeptical theist also has a defeater for their belief that God wouldn’t start a false religion.

For similar reasons, popular arguments for God’s existence won’t go through if one is a skeptical theist. This troubling implication is granted by many skeptical theists, including Michael Bergmann and Hud Hudson. One argument that obviously won’t work, if one is a skeptical theist, is the argument from fine-tuning; this should be easily apparent. We are in no position to say whether or not God would design/fine-tune a universe.

In addition, we can extend the skepticism to everyday knowledge like sense perception. It looks like there is a computer in front of me. But, for all I know, God has a good reason to make it only appear that there really is a computer in front of me. For all I know, there really isn’t a computer there. Just because I can’t think of a good reason for God to deceive me doesn’t mean there isn’t a good reason. Skeptical theists will typically respond by saying I can know there is a computer in front of me because my perceptual faculties are reliable. The problem with this is that the skeptical theist has acquired a defeater for their perceptual faculties being reliable precisely because of their skeptical theism. Given that, for all I know, God has a good reason for allowing my senses to be deceived, I now should be in doubt. The skeptical theist is totally in the dark, so it’s not just a matter of mere logical possibility.

Finally, skeptical seems to be ad hoc, at least at face value. It seems like a contrived reason to escape the evidential argument from evil, especially versions of skeptical theism that entail that the suffering in the world doesn’t count as any evidence against God’s existence. Skeptical theism also doesn’t explain anything or attempt to solve the problem of suffering.

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Notes
[1]https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=G3ev2DylCBo

2 thoughts on “Skeptical theism and Pandora’s Box

  1. “For instance, for all we know, God has a morally sufficient reason to lie to us. ”

    I think that this understates the implications of skeptical theism. What also follows from skeptical theism is that for all we know God has morally sufficient reason to allow us to be deceived. Suppose that, as many Christians believe, there are supernatural beings such as angels and demons. Such beings might desire to deceive humans about a great many very important things, including about the existence and nature of Jesus. Given skeptical theism, it is possible that God has good reasons to allow such supernatural beings to deceive us about such things.

    If you are interested, I’ve written an expanded version of this argument here:

    https://randalrauser.com/2017/01/okay-god-allow-horrors-dont-know-much-god-part-1/
    https://randalrauser.com/2017/01/okay-god-allow-horrors-dont-know-much-god-part-2/

    1. Philosophy of Religion blog (Does God Exist?)

      I think your claim is more plausible than what I argued. That’s because it doesn’t require that God can lie. God certainly could allow us to be deceived or be wrong. After all, if God exists, God allows us to murder! lol

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