The Convenient ‘Special Pleading’ of Skeptical Theists

Skeptical theism is a double-edged sword. As any honest and consistent skeptical theist would tell you, skeptical theism would undermine (some/all) arguments for the existence of God. (And as Michael Tooley, and one commenter on this blog have noted, the Bible seems to tell us some of Yahweh’s reasons for allowing suffering; therefore, we are not in the dark about God’s reasons contra skeptical theism.)

By the skeptical theist’s logic, we can’t say whether God would fine-tune a universe; that’s because we have no good reason for thinking our knowledge of goods and evils is  representative of all the goods and evils there really are. So- for all we know- God has a good reason not to fine-tune a universe, not to create a universe, not to make conscious beings, not to give creatures reliable cognitive faculties, not to give creatures a sense of the Divine, etc. This is more than just a possibility; instead, per skeptical theism, you are now totally in the dark regarding how likely (between 0 and 1) it is that God has a good reason. As I’ve said before, skeptical theism is supposed to be closer to asking whether the number of stars in the cosmos is odd or even…we can’t say! It’s NOT supposed to be closer to asking whether you are uncertain that other minds exists, or whether it’s logically possible that other minds don’t exist.

And what about an afterlife? Well, for all we know, according to skeptical theism, God has a reason not to give persons an afterlife. Just because you can’t think of a reason, that doesn’t mean one isn’t there. And what about the Bible and divine/special revelation? Just because you can’t see a reason why God would allow some to think the Bible is inspired, that doesn’t mean there isn’t a reason. After all, the Christian doesn’t believe the Koran is inspired. Would God perform miracles or raise Jesus from the dead? Just because it might seem to you that God would doesn’t mean that’s actually the case. Perhaps God has a good reason not to perform miracles. After all, you have no good reason for thinking your knowledge of goods is representative of all the goods there are.

Finally, skeptical theism would defeat religious experiences/seemings. Once somebody comes to realize their knowledge of goods and evils isn’t representative of the totality of goods/evil, then they are in the dark about whether their experience is actually due to God. They are in the position that if God exists, then perhaps God is allowing them to be wrong in thinking their particular experience matches reality, instead, it could just be something like an hallucination. Also, skeptical theism defeats religious seemings. For all the skeptical theist knows, if God exists, then God has reasons to make it appear like religious seemings are correct. Just because it seems correct doesn’t mean it really is. Just because it seems like Yahweh exists (or it seems like the you’re saved by Jesus), that doesn’t mean he does exist; you’re now totally in the dark precisely because of skeptical theism.

The upshot is that skeptical theism inevitably becomes just one big dose of special pleading.



17 thoughts on “The Convenient ‘Special Pleading’ of Skeptical Theists

  1. Skeptical theism is not a compelling response to the “problem of evil”. Raising “limited cognitive ability” as an argument undermines EVERY argument, including the argument of limited cognitive ability. Skeptical theism is a convoluted way of saying, “I don’t know”.

    As any honest and consistent skeptic would tell you, suggesting that “evil” exists but “God” does not is paradoxical bordering on incoherent.

      1. By saying that the only way to account for X is Y.
        Correct me if I’m wrong, but it seems like that’s what you said here:

        “As any honest and consistent skeptic would tell you, suggesting that “evil” exists but “God” does not is paradoxical bordering on incoherent.”

        “If there is another way that X can be true, say by Z being true instead, then Y is not a necessary precondition for X. So part of showing that Y is a necessary precondition for X means showing that there is no Z which is a different precondition for X.”

      2. 1. I would agree that evil is anything contrary to good. The issue is that atheism lacks an objective standard of good.
        2. Can you show that only life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness can account for it?

    1. Yes, there is. An agnostic is a person who fails to either affirm or deny the existence of God. A skeptical theist affirms God’s existence but denies that we are in a position to know God’s reasons for permitting evil.

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  3. easternhealingroom

    Hello there! First I want to say how much I love your blog it really gets the mind ticking over. I am a Buddhist therefore I don’t accept the idea of God because logic tells me it simply isn’t possible. It isn’t that I don’t want to believe, in fact I have always said, if I could be convinced beyond doubt that God exists, I would gladly accept – as His Holiness the Dalai Lama says, that Buddhist science & Philosophy need to change. So as I approach this subject with an open mind, I have to ask 3 fundemental questions. 1) If God created the universe and everything in it, where was he when he created it? 2) Is God in human form? Some refer to God as the father indicating he is in human form. If this is the case, he must have been born therefore he couldn’t have created man. 3) Is God an energy? Omnipotent & Omnipresent. If so, the energy must have existed somewhere of course when it created the universe – so it could not have created the universe and everything in it. So you see from an analytical point of view the God theory doesn’t work for me. I love your posts though and look forward to more of them. Julie

  4. Pingback: Skeptical theism and the appeal to divine supremacy fallacy – AnonofReason

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