Jonathan Garner: Skeptical Theists Admit Defeat

Some of you may have heard of “Skeptical Theism,” the position that says that while God exists it may be impossible to discern correctly his motives for allowing things like evil in the universe. For a decent introduction to Skeptical Theism, check out this piece in the Internet Encyclopedia of Philosophy. Skeptical Theism seems to be a way to rescue God from the charge that he is absent or doesn’t intervene to prevent evil when he supposedly has the power to do so.

Over at his Philosophy of Religion blog, Jonathan Garner has an interesting post about Skeptical Theism that tackles four issues he has with it. Garner believes that Skeptical Theists necessarily throw in the towel because they don’t offer an explanation for the problem of evil. For example, he writes that

even if we grant that, for all we know, God has morally sufficient reasons to allow horrific suffering, it is also true-and antecedently no less likely– that for all we know, God does not have morally sufficient reasons for allowing horrific suffering. Therefore, we are left right back where we started, which is that suffering is surprising on the hypothesis of classical theism.  Not to mention, for all we know God is able to accomplish all she wants without the existence of horrific suffering. Furthermore, for all we know, there are worse evils that are gained by the existence of present evils. Thus, if anything, appealing to unknown reasons makes it antecedently unlikely that God really does have a good reason.

At this juncture one may assert some soul-building theodicy but that only addresses suffering in humans and avoids suffering in the rest of the natural world. What good reason could God have for allowing a fawn to die in a forest fire that no conscious mind (other than God’s) would have noticed?

Skeptical Theism is a perplexing position to me and, as Garner writes, is basically an admission of defeat. There is no good answer Skeptical Theists can provide and so they essentially appeal to mystery.

You can read the rest of Garner’s post here.

Featured image: By National Park Service, Alaska Region – Kristin Creek Fire, June 19 Photo by Arno KrummUploaded by AlbertHerring, Public Domain,

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