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9. The Skeptical Theist

Edited by Daniel HowardSnyder Indiana University Press ePub

PAUL DRAPER

The term skeptical theist is apt to be misleading. If one can resist the temptation to dismiss it as oxymoronic, then one is likely to associate it with fideism. But the theists whose views I intend to discuss are not fideists and accordingly do not defend theism by defending a general skepticism about human cognitive powers. Rather, their skepticism is supposed to extend only so far as nonskeptical standards of rationality demand. This is far enough, they believe, to undermine probabilistic arguments from evil against theism, but not far enough to undermine all rational grounds for theistic belief. By distinguishing different types of probabilistic arguments from evil, I will show that these skeptical theists have not yet solved the evidential problem of evil and that certain forbidding obstacles stand between them and future success.

Most skeptical theists attack probabilistic arguments from evil by arguing for something like the following skeptical thesis, which I will call “skeptical thesis #1” or “ST1” for short:

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15. The Argument from Inscrutable Evil

Edited by Daniel HowardSnyder Indiana University Press ePub

DANIEL HOWARD-SNYDER

But there are the children, and what am I to do about them? That’s a question I can’t answer. For the hundredth time I repeat, there are numbers of questions, but I’ve only taken the children, because in their case what I mean is so unanswerably clear. Listen! . . . what have the children to do with it, tell me, please?1

1. Only those lacking moral sensibilities, or those with twisted views of providence, could fail to feel the anguish apparent in Ivan Karamazov’s question. At least when most of us reflect on each of the particular horrors he describes—e.g., the boy eaten alive by the general’s hunting hounds or the girl habitually beaten, thrashed, and kicked by her parents “until her body was one bruise,” or some other brutal, debilitating, and undeserved evil—we find ourselves frustrated, unable to grasp what reasons God would have for permitting innocent children to suffer. As Ivan puts it, “it is beyond all comprehension that they should suffer.” Their suffering is, in a word, inscrutable.

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Introduction: The Evidential Argument From Evil

Edited by Daniel HowardSnyder Indiana University Press ePub

DANIEL HOWARD-SNYDER

Evil, it is often said, poses a problem for theism, the view that there is an omnipotent, omniscient, and perfectly good being, “God,” for short. This problem is usually called “the problem of evil.” But this is a bad name for what philosophers study under that rubric. They study what is better thought of as an argument, or a host of arguments, rather than a problem. Of course, an argument from evil against theism can be both an argument and a problem. Some people realize this for the first time when they assert an argument from evil in print and someone publishes a reply in which numerous defects and oversights are laid bare for the public eye. And if it turns out that there is a God and He doesn’t take kindly to such arguments, then an argument from evil might be a big problem, a very big problem, for one who sincerely propounds it. Typically, however, an argument from evil is not thought to be a problem for the atheist. But if not for the atheist, for whom is an argument from evil a “problem”?

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1. The Problem of Evil and Some Varieties of Atheism

Edited by Daniel HowardSnyder Indiana University Press ePub

WILLIAM L. ROWE

This chapter is concerned with three interrelated questions. The first is: Is there an argument for atheism based on the existence of evil that may rationally justify someone in being an atheist? To this first question I give an affirmative answer and try to support that answer by setting forth a strong argument for atheism based on the existence of evil.1 The second question is: How can the theist best defend his position against the argument for atheism based on the existence of evil? In response to this question I try to describe what may be an adequate rational defense for theism against any argument for atheism based on the existence of evil. The final question is: What position should the informed atheist take concerning the rationality of theistic belief? Three different answers an atheist may give to this question serve to distinguish three varieties of atheism: unfriendly atheism, indifferent atheism, and friendly atheism. In the final part of the paper I discuss and defend the position of friendly atheism.

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10. Defenseless

Edited by Daniel HowardSnyder Indiana University Press ePub

BRUCE RUSSELL

Evidential arguments from evil against the existence of God often take the following form:

1. If God exists, there is no gratuitous evil, that is, evil which God would have no morally sufficient reason to allow.

2. But there is gratuitous evil.

3. So God does not exist.

They are evidential because of the nature of the arguments given for the second premise. Those arguments are probabilistic or epistemic in nature, starting from the fact that even after careful reflection we see no morally sufficient reason for God to allow certain kinds, instances, amounts, or patterns of suffering or from that suffering itself. And they move from those starting points to the conclusion that there is gratuitous evil either by induction or by abduction, that is, by an inference to the best explanation. We can capture these four kinds of evidential arguments from evil by means of the following matrix:

William Rowe has given a version of the evidential argument from evil that is in category (1). He argues that because the goods we know of provide no morally sufficient reason for allowing certain instances of suffering, we have good reason to believe that no goods provide such reason and hence good reason to believe that allowing the suffering is not morally justified. Critics have responded that our knowledge that the goods we know of do not justify allowing the suffering gives us reason to believe that no goods do only if we have good reason to believe that the sample of goods we know of is a representative sample, and we have no good reason to believe it is.2 An argument that has been given to show we have no reason to believe the sample is representative is that “goods beyond our ken have no chance of belonging to Rowe’s sample [of goods which could justify allowing the suffering]; so the sample is not random.”3

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