Skeptical Theism: If We Can't Win, Everyone Must Lose

It's hard to find relevant images to abstract philosophical concepts okay!?

Sceptical theism is the idea that the best way to respond to evil is essentially to say that God works in mysterious ways. I will try to express why I think this is a weak defense and why I think that the argument from evil still works. 

To put it another way, the sceptical theist responds to the argument from evil by saying that: 

We cannot know whether a particular event that causes suffering was permitted or executed by god in order to prevent a greater evil in the future or bring about a greater good in the future. 

My primary problem with this objection to the problem of evil is that it itself is a type of theodicy, because sceptical theists are not indifferent to the moral nature of god. There is still an inherent belief that god does not allow any unnecessary suffering. In the mind of a sceptical theist then, they have absolutely no justification for the apparent suffering in the world, and the moral nature of god is unknown. I would see sceptical theism as strong as it is exactly because it is a position that has retreated from more stronger claims that apologists usually hold. This also explains why it isn't mainstream. It's implication is that even though the problem of evil does not justify absolute belief that god does not exist, it is a good justification for agnosticism. 

To suggest that god's reasons are inscrutable to man creates a scenario where we cannot judge god as a character whatsoever. Such a lack of capability strikes a serious blow to a god with which you can have a personal relationship. How personal of a relationship do you really have with a being that murders babies and drowns kittens but you just don't know why they do that? It's even worse, because your belief that they have only good intentions when horrific acts happen under their watch is supported by blind faith alone.

Sceptical theism violates a central idea in scepticism, and that is the idea of withholding judgement. You can't claim scepticism and at once be committed to one side of an argument despite agreeing that you have no justification to hold a position. In a desperate attempt to grant the usual weakness of responses to the problem of evil sceptical theists essentially grant the problem of evil most of its power and cripple their own philosophical position in every other quarter. For apologists promoting the idea, it may seem like a victory. At best it is a pyrrhic victory, and at worst it is a devastating defeat with a good PR campaign back home. 

If you want to read more, the IEP has a pretty good coverage of Sceptical theism. What I've said is nothing new, but hopefully a good short primer to the subject.





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