Saturday, April 26, 2014

Draft paper on sceptical theism - part 1 for comments


Sceptical Theism and Divine Deception

1. Sceptical Theism

Evidential arguments from evil often take something like the following form:

If God exists, gratuitous evil does not exist.
Gratuitous evil exists.
Therefore, God does not exist

God is a being that is omnipotent, omniscient and supremely good. Gratuitous evil is evil there is no adequate reason for God, if he exists, to permit (the evil is not necessary to secure some compensating good or to prevent some equally bad or worse evil). Why suppose the second premise is true? A no so-called ‘noseeum’ inference has been offered in its support. It is suggested that if we cannot identify any God-justifying reason for much of the evil we observe, then it is reasonable to believe no such reason exists.


The sceptical theist challenges this noseeum inference. True, we are sometimes justified in inferring that there are no Fs given that there do not appear to be any Fs. I am justified in believing there are no elephants in my garage if there do not appear to be any elephants. But such noseeum inferences aren’t always sound. I am not justified in supposing there are no insects in my garage just because there do not appear to me, looking in from the street, to be any. Given my perceptual limitations, there could, for all I know, still be insects present. But then, given my cognitive limitations, there could, for all I know, be God-justifying reasons for the evils I observe despite the fact that I cannot identify any. Given my cognitive limitations, I can’t reasonably assign any probability to the thought that such reasons exist: neither high, nor low, nor middling. That probability is inscrutable. But then I must withhold judgement on whether the second premise is true.

We might think of those goods of which we are aware, those evils of which we are aware, and the entailment relations between them of which we are aware as the tip of an iceberg of reasons. According to the sceptical theist, we don’t know how much of this iceberg is accessible to us or how representative the tip is. But then the fact that the part of the iceberg to which we have cognitive access contains no reason for God, if he exists, to allow an evil does not justify us in concluding that there is, or probably is, no such reason in the remainder.

We might call the above attempt to block the noseeum inference the ‘anti-noseeum argument’. According to proponents of the anti-noseeum arument, the second premise of our evidential argument is not justified. Thus the argument fails.

As McBrayer and Swenson, two exponents of sceptical theism, point out, the sceptical theist’s anti-noseeum argument applies not just with respect to reasons to permit evils, but to reasons for any feature of the universe we might observe. If sceptical theism is true, then our inability to think of a God-justifying reason for God to bring about or permit such a feature fails to justify the belief that no such reason exists. What reasons God might have to create this or that feature is, for all we know, largely beyond our ken. Indeed, according to McBrayer and Swenson,

[w]hat a sceptical theist is committed to… is a general scepticism about our knowledge of what God would do in any particular situation. We don’t think that atheists or theists can say with any serious degree of confidence why God does what he does or why he would or wouldn't do a certain thing. ((2012), 145)

Thus McBrayer and Swenson are sceptical about Alvin Plantinga’s assumption that God would give us reliable belief-forming faculties (a key assumption of Plantinga’s Evolutionary Argument Against Naturalism in Plantinga (2000)) (McBrayer and Swenson (2012).

2. Sceptical theism and knowledge of God’s goodness

As McBrayer and Swenson acknowledge, sceptical theism appears to threaten a number of arguments for the existence of the God of traditional monotheism. How are we to know that, not only is there an omnipotent and omniscient creator of the universe (a ‘g’ god, shall we say) but this creator is good (the ‘G’ God)? According to these authors, not by observing the universe and drawing conclusions about God’s moral character on that basis. Sceptical theism has the consequence that what we observe of the universe and what goes on in it provides little if any clue as to the moral character of our creator, if any.

Michael Bergmann, another defender of sceptical theism, concurs that arguments for God’s goodness based on identifying something as an all-considered good are undermined by sceptical theism. According to Bergmann, anyone who supposes the order we see in the natural world or the joy we witness in people’s lives give us reason to think that there is a benevolent God who is the cause of such things is failing to take into account the lessons of sceptical theism. ((2009), 617) If sceptical theism is true, the probability that God would, or would not, bring about such goods is as inscrutable as the probability that he would, or would not, bring about the evils we observe.

However, the fact that this particular route to justified belief in a good God is blocked by sceptical theism does not rule out our possessing such a justified belief by some other route. As Bergmann says: ‘We needn’t conclude … that the sceptical theist’s scepticism is inconsistent with every way of arguing for the existence of a good God’ ((2009), 25). Alternative ways by which we might come to hold such a reasonable belief might perhaps include divine revelation, and perhaps also some other form of inference invulnerable to sceptical theism.

Notice how the sceptical theist’s defence of belief in a good God against the evidential problem of evil can be applied in defence of belief in an evil god against the evidential problem of good. Suppose we attempt to justify our belief that there is no omnipotent, omniscient and supremely evil deity by pointing to the vast quantities of good that exist. We might argue:

If evil god exists, gratuitous good does not exist.
Gratuitous good exists.
Therefore, evil god does not exist

Gratuitous good is good there is no adequate reason for evil god, if he exists, to permit. In support of premise two, we might argue that the fact that we cannot think of any reason why an evil god would allow many such goods justifies us in believing there are no such reasons. But of course sceptical theism blocks this noseeum inference too. If sceptical theism is true, the probability that there exist evil-god-justifying reasons for the goods we observe is also inscrutable. If a sceptical theist can reasonably rule out the existence of such an evil deity, it will not by means of the evidential argument from good.

3. Wielenberg on Divine Lies

In his paper ‘Sceptical Theism and Divine Lies’ (2009), Erik Wielenberg points out what appears to be an interesting and, for many theists, worrying consequence of sceptical theism. If the fact that we can’t think of a God-justifying reason for a given evil fails to justify the belief that no such reason exists, then, similarly, the fact that we can’t think of a God-justifying reason for God to lie to us fails to justify the belief that no such reason exists. It appears that, if sceptical theism is true, then the probability that God has reason to lie to us is also inscrutable. But then, according to Wielenberg, sceptical theism has the consequence that, for all we know, God’s word constitutes not divine revelation but rather a justified, divine lie.

And this in turn implies that sceptical theism is at odds with any religious tradition according to which there are certain claims that we can know to be true solely in virtue of the fact that God has told us they are true. ((2009), 509)

Wielenberg suggests such claims include:

(L) All who believe in Christ will have eternal life.

Thus a Christian who, in response to the problem of evil, expresses scepticism about our ability to discern what reasons God might have to allow evil, but, in response to God’s utterances, fails to be similarly sceptical about our ability to discern what reasons God might have to lie to us, would appear to be employing their scepticism in an inconsistent and partisan way. Wielenberg would appear to have impaled the sceptical theist on the horns of a dilemma: either they give up their claim to know propositions such as (L) or else they give up their sceptical theism and again face the evidential problem of evil.

4. Historical arguments for the truth of Christianity

According to some Christians, the (as they see it) firmly established historical fact that God raised Jesus from the dead supplies Christians with a solid foundation for believing such Christian claims as that God revealed himself in the person of Jesus and that those who believe in Christ will be redeemed.

Sceptical theism would appear to block such an inference. Perhaps we are unable to think of any reason why God would raise Jesus from the dead other than to reveal the truth of Christianity, but of course, if sceptical theism is true, it seems we cannot reasonably conclude on that basis that there’s unlikely to be such a reason. If sceptical theism is true, it seems we can reasonably assign no higher probability to the belief that God’s reason for raising Jesus from the dead was reveal certain truths than to the belief that God’s reason for raising Jesus from the dead was to propagate certain falsehoods. It would seem that if sceptical theism is true, then, for all we know, the execution of God’s plan requires that he foster a false religion in this way.

5. How does the sceptical theist know God is good?

How does the sceptical theist know that God is good? As we saw above, not, it seems, by observing the universe and what happens in it and then drawing conclusions about God’s character on just that basis. Nor, if Wielenberg is correct, can the sceptical theist know that God is good on the basis of what God tells us about himself (through scripture, and so on). For all we know, God might be lying.

Indeed, how does the sceptical theist know that God is not evil? After all, for all we know, an evil god would have reason to create the many goods we observe, lie to us, and perhaps also perform certain actions such as create a puppet Jesus and raise him the dead?

As we saw above, sceptical theists allow that God’s goodness may be established other than on the basis of what we observe of the world and what goes on in it. Perhaps, for example, God’s goodness can be established by means of some sort of a moral argument from the existence of objective moral values. Or perhaps some version of the ontological argument might achieve that end. Many who believe in a good God are not optimistic about this sort of inference, however. As Peter Van Inwagen notes,

[w]hatever the individual merits or defects of [the arguments for the existence of God] none of them but the moral argument (and perhaps the ontological argument) purports to prove the existence of a morally perfect being. And neither the moral argument not the ontological argument have many defenders these days. ((1996), 154)

Alternatively, perhaps God’s goodness might be revealed to at least some of us directly and non-inferentially, possibly through the operation of some sort of God-sense, or perhaps through the internal activity of the Holy Spirit. According to Alvin Plantinga, individuals need not infer that God exists. In some cases God just directly makes himself known to us via a properly functioning sensus divinitatis. Indeed, according to Alvin Plantinga, it can be ‘perfectly sensible’ for someone who takes themselves to be the recipient of such an experience to believe in God:

[suppose] that I have a rich interior spiritual life… it seems to me that I am in communion with God, and that I see something of his marvelous glory and beauty, that I feel his love and his presence with me. Then (unless I’ve got some powerful defeater, and we need not hypothesize that I do) a response that involves believing that there is such a person is clearly perfectly sensible. ((1997) 387)

Plantinga offers a similar explanation for how Christians might come reasonably to believe the great truths of the Christian Gospels. On Plantinga’s extended A/C model of how belief in the great truths of the Gospels might be warranted (see Plantinga (2000)), Plantinga suggests that knowledge of and reasonable belief in those truths might be had through the internal instigation of the Holy Spirit (IIHS). On reading the Gospels, the Holy Spirit illuminates what is read and causes the Christian to recognise that it is true. Again, if this is very much how things seem to a subject, then, in the absence of any defeater, it is reasonable for them to take that appearance at face value.

Plantinga is here offering one version of what Dougherty (2008) has called a ‘common sense epistemology’. Common sense epistemologies (which Dougherty associates with G.E. Moore, Chisholm, Swinburne and others) allow that knowledge, justification and reasonable belief are all relatively easy to come by. At the core of such epistemologies is some more or less refined version of the principle of credence, such as:

(PC) If it seems to s as if p, then s thereby has at least prima facie jus­tification for believing that p. [ii]

Dougherty:

What all these views have in common is that experiences, inclinations to believe, appearance states and the like are sufficient to justify the beliefs they give rise to. (2008, 174)

Given that some version of common sense epistemology is correct, reasonable belief in God existence and goodness, and even in the great claims of the Gospels, would appear to be open to those who are unable to provide any evidence or otherwise construct a good argument in support of what they believe. As long as it seems to them that God exists, is good, etc., then (assuming certain conditions are not met, e.g. that the agent is not in possession of some powerful defeater for their beliefs) they can justifiably hold those beliefs.

The adoption of a combination of sceptical theism and common sense epistemology might seem to place many who believe in a good God on a fairly secure epistemic footing. As long as they are not presented with a defeater for their belief in a good God, it appears that they can reasonably believe God is good (and also in the great claims of Christianity) if that’s very much how things appear to them. Moreover, their sceptical theism allows such individuals to brush aside any potential defeater for that belief based on observation of the world and what goes on in it – including the evidential problem of evil.[iii]

I will now suggest that not only does sceptical theism appear to have (for the traditional theist) the scary consequence that, for all we know, God is lying to us, it also has the consequence that we ought to suspend judgement about the accuracy of what God and/or The Holy Spirit might seem to have reveal to us – including what they might seem to reveal about God’s goodness.

6. Divine assertion

Let’s begin with the suggestion that sceptical theism has the consequence that we cannot know or justifiably believe propositions having word of God justification only. It seems to me that Weilenberg’s argument, mentioned above, turns on a plausible-looking assumption concerning epistemic defeat. As we saw above, the common sense epistemologist signs up to a principle of credence – something like:

(PC) If it seems to s as if p, then s thereby has at least prima facie jus­tification for believing that p.

There is of course a similar principle concerning e.g. testimony. For any testifier t, subject s and proposition p:

(PT): If t testifies to s that p, then s has at least prima facie jus­tification for believing that p.

Now might not (PT), or something like it, offer the sceptical theist a way to deal with Wielenberg’s argument? A sceptical theist who signs up to (PT) might say: granted (PT), surely I can justifably believe propositions having word-of-God justification only. True, sceptical theism blocks a noseeum-based justification for trusting divine testimony – e.g. if we cannot think of a reason why God would lie to us on a given occasion, then that justifies us in concluding that there is unlikely to be such a reason. But why suppose the sceptical theist must rely on such a justification? Surely they might appeal to (PT) instead? And if that is how the sceptical theist justifies their belief in divine pronouncements, then surely their sceptical theism constitutes no threat to that belief?

Indeed, our sceptical theist might now push their argument further. They might say: Given that I do justifiably believe propositions having word-of-God justification only, but can do so only if I am justified in supposing the probability of God lying to me is low, I can now justifiably conclude that the probability that God is lying to me is not inscrutable, but low (I note that something along roughly these lines is suggested by Segal (2011, 92)).

This manoeuvre fails, it seems to me. For, notwithstanding the plausibility of (PT), sceptical theism appears nevertheless to provide its adherents with an undercutting defeater for such beliefs.

Consider an analogous case. Suppose Sally testifies to me that p. I have no other justification for believing that p. (PT) says that, given Sally’s testimony, I am now prima facie justified in believing that p.

But suppose I now go on to discover the truth of the following backstory to Sally’s testimony. Sally picked at random a ball from an urn containing 100 balls. If Sally’s ball was black, she lied to me. However, I am clueless concerning how many black balls are in the urn. They may all be black, or none may be black, 50% may be black, etc. I can assign no probability to any of these hypotheses. Thus the probability that Sally told me a lie is inscrutable to me.

On discovering this backstory to Sally’s testimony, can I still reasonably believe p? Surely not. If the only reason I have to believe that p is that Sally asserts that p, then the inscrutability of the probability that Sally lies provides me with an undercutting defeater for that belief. Notwithstanding the truth of (PT), given this further information, I can no longer justifiably believe that p. On learning the backstory I acquire a defeater for my belief that p.

Perhaps we are generally justified in believing what other people tell us, but obviously not on occasions when we know the probability the testifier lies is high. Under such circumstances, if we have no independent justification for the belief in question, we possess an undercutting defeater for that belief. But then it appears that our belief is also defeated - effectively, even if not quite so powerfully - if we know that the probability that the testifier lies is inscrutable.

Notice it won’t do for me to argue that, as (PT) allows me justifiably to believe that p given only Sally’s assertion, and given that I am justified in believing p only if I am justified in believing the probability that Sally lies is low, therefore I am justified in believing the probability that Sally lied is low. Clearly, such reasoning is muddled: it overlooks that fact that the probability that Sally lies is otherwise inscrutable provides me with a defeater for p, notwithstanding (PT).

But then it appears that, notwithstanding (PT), sceptical theism similarly supplies the sceptical theist with a defeater for any belief that p where p has word-of-God justification only. For, if sceptical theism is true, then, other than where we have independent reason to believe that what is asserted is true, the probability that God has reason to lie on any given occasion is inscrutable. But then the probability God lies on such occasions is inscrutable. But then, notwithstanding (PT), it appears we cannot reasonably believe what he asserts.[iv]

7. Act guaranteeing reasons

Before proceeding, let me deal with a fairly obvious objection. In the preceding paragraph, I moved from the inscrutability of the probability that God has reason to lie to the inscrutability of the probability that God lies. But, it may be objected, perhaps we can know that even when has reason to lie, he very rarely does so. But in that case sceptical theism fails to generate a defeater for beliefs having word-of-God justification only. We can still justifiably believe propositions having word-of-God justification only even while acknowledging that the probability that God has reason to lie on such occasions is inscrutable.

I believe this objection is easily sidestepped.[v] We might distinguish two kinds of reason God might have for acting: reasons that would justify God in acting, though he might still not act, and reasons such that God is guaranteed to act on them. Call the latter sort of reasons AG reasons (act guaranteeing reasons).

That there are reasons of the latter sort is often assumed in setting up the evidential problem of evil in the first place. That’s to say, it’s often assumed that the existence of gratuitous evil guarantees there is no God. Why so?  Presumably because the gratuitousness of an evil gives God not just a reason to prevent it, but a reason he is guaranteed to act on: an AG reason.

Now if sceptical theism is true, then presumably not only are we not justified in concluding that God has no reason to act given only that we cannot think of such a reason, neither are we justified in concluding God has no AG reason to act given only that we cannot think of any. But then sceptical theism has the consequence that not only is the probability that God has reason to lie inscrutable, so too is the probability that he has AG reason to lie (other, of course, than when we have independent reason to suppose that what God asserts is in fact the case – for then we have reason to suppose he has not lied, and thus reason to suppose he lacks AG reason to lie). If the probability God has AG reason to lie to us is inscrutable in such circumstances, then so too is the probability that he is indeed lying to us. But then my point remains: the inscrutability of that probability does indeed appear to supply the sceptical theist with a defeater for any belief having word-of-God justification only.

In order to deal with the above objection, then, I would like, within this essay, any reference to God’s ‘reasons’ for acting to be understood as a reference to AG reasons to act.

8. Divine revelation

Let’s turn now from divine assertion to divine revelation. Can I justifiably believe that p where my only basis for believing that p is that what p asserts would appear to have been revealed to me via a religious experience?

Not, it seems, if I am wedded to sceptical theism. For I run into much the same problem as beset the above appeal to (PT) to explain why sceptical theists might still be justified in believing propositions having word-of-God justification only. Beliefs that are prima face justified given (PC) may be defeated, and it appears sceptical theism does indeed supply such a defeater for any belief grounded solely in religious experience, as I explain below.

Consider the following two hypothetical cases.

The dollar bill

Ted is gambling at a casino. A cashier hands what seems to Ted to be a genuine dollar bill. Given (PC), it seems Ted might justifiably believe the bill is genuine. However, suppose Ted now learns the following. The mob owns the casino and has produced a great many counterfeit dollar bills that a non-expert such as himself will be unable to distinguish from the genuine article. Ted has no clue what proportion of dollar bills handed out at the casino are counterfeit. For all he knows, the mob might want to ensure the bills cannot be traced back to them, and so will ensure no fake bills are handed out; on the other hand, for all Ted knows, the mob may have no such concerns given the local police are in their pocket and so all the bills are fakes. So Ted, let’s suppose, can’t reasonably assign any probability to the hypothesis that the bill he is holding is counterfeit: neither high, nor low, nor middling. The probability he is holding a fake bill is simply inscrutable to Ted. Now consider: under these circumstances, if Ted believes that the bill he is holding is genuine just because that is very much how it appears, is his belief justified? Does Ted know he holds a genuine bill?

The vase

Ted is looking at what appears to be a vase on the table before him. Ordinarily, given (PC), Ted would be justified in supposing there is a vase there. However, Ted now discovers the following backstory to this appearance. Sally has either placed a real vase, or else projected an entirely convincing-looking holographic image of a vase, on to the table before him. She has an urn of 100 balls from which she selected one ball at random. If the ball was black, Sally projected the hologram; otherwise she placed a real vase on the table. Ted is clueless as to what proportion of balls in Sally’s urn are black. The probability that Sally picked a black ball, and so projected a hologram, is inscrutable to Ted. Now consider: is Ted justified in believing that there is a vase on the table?

It strikes me as obvious that, notwithstanding (PC), in neither of the above cases can Ted reasonably take appearance at face value once he comes to believe the backstory. Ted can’t reasonably believe he holds a real dollar bill in his hand. Nor can he reasonably believe there is a vase on the table before him. Under other circumstances, (PC) might make it reasonable for Ted to believe these things. But if Ted comes to believe that the probability that he is being presented with a convincing fake is in each case inscrutable, then that belief in each case generates a defeater. Ted is no longer justified in believing he’s looking at a real vase/dollar bill.

So now suppose Ted has a religious experience of the sort Plantinga has in mind. It seems to Ted that not only is there a god, but that this god is a gloriously good (is God). This seems to Ted to have been revealed to him in a direct and immediate fashion by means of some sort of sensus divinitatis. Given (PC), perhaps Ted might now reasonably believe in God. However, suppose Ted comes to embrace sceptical theism. Sceptical theism would appear to have the consequence that, other than when we possess independent grounds for believing that what seems to have been be revealed is in fact the case, the probability that a good God (or god) has reason to produce a deceptive religious experience is inscrutable. But then how can Ted reasonably believe, or be said to know, that a God exists solely on the basis of his experience? For all Ted knows, the divinity responsible for his experience is rather less than gloriously good but nevertheless has reason to create such a misleading impression of himself. But then it appears that, notwithstanding the truth of common sense epistemology and (PC), if Ted has no other grounds for believing in God, his sceptical theism provides him with an undercutting defeater for that belief.

More generally, even granted the truth of common sense epistemology and (PC), it appears that sceptical theism supplies its adherents with a defeater for any belief of theirs rooted solely either in divine revelation and/or divine testimony.

If you suspect there is some relevant disanalogy between Ted’s trusting his religious experience and Ted’s trusting his experience in the dollar bill and vase examples, consider a still more closely analogous case:

The case of the mysterious alien

Suppose a mysterious alien[vi] being presents himself to us. We know very little about this being. We do know that his faculties, knowledge and abilities vastly exceed our own. In particular, we know that he possesses the ability to reveal his innermost character by psychic means (the alien can create a psychic connection between us and himself). However, we also know that the alien has, by such means, the ability to create a highly misleading impression of himself. So, for example, we know the alien has the ability psychically to appear wonderfully benevolent even if he is, in fact, horrifically malevolent.

Suppose we are also in possession of the following information. For all we know, this alien has excellent reason to create a highly misleading psychic impression of himself (e.g. to appear good when in reality he is evil, or vice verse, etc.). The probability that he has reason to create such a misleading impression of himself is inscrutable to us.

Now suppose you and I both have a psychic experience in which the alien does indeed appear to be marvellously good. Indeed, he appears, via the psychic connection has forged, to be profoundly loving and benevolent. However, setting aside this psychic experience, we possess no other clues to the alien’s character. For all we can otherwise tell, this alien might be wonderfully benevolent, horrifically malevolent, or anything in between.

Now ask yourself: given just this alien-induced psychic appearance, plus the inscrutability of the probability that alien has reason to deceive us, are we justified in believing the alien is good?

The intended analogy is clear enough. Rather than considering a God who has the ability to reveal his character to us through some sort of sensus divinitatis, we are considering an alien being who has the ability both to reveal his character to us through a psychic sense, but also to create a very misleading impression of himself. In each case, we are considering whether we are justified in believing that the being in question is good given no more than that that is how he thus appears. And in each case, we are supposing that the probability that this being has reason to deceive us about his character is inscrutable.

It seems clear enough to me – and, I suspect, most of us – that we would not be justified in believing this alien is good just because that is how he psychically appears. Even assuming some version of common-sense epistemology is correct, any suitably-refined principle of credence ought not to deliver the verdict that we are justified in believing the alien is good. Given we know both that the alien has complete control over his psychically-mediated appearance plus the inscrutability of the probability that he has AG reason to mislead us, we ought not to take his appearance at face value. We should, for the time being at least, suspend judgement on whether his psychically-induced appearance can be trusted.

But if that’s the correct verdict in the alien case, then surely, given sceptical theism, it’s the correct verdict in the God case too. That’s to say, we should similarly suspend judgement on the question of God’s goodness if we have no clue to his character other than how - via a sensus over which he has complete control - he appears to us.

So, given sceptical theism, it appears that not only can we not justifiably believe in divine goodness on the basis of some inference grounded in observation of the universe, neither can we justifiably believe in it on the basis of what God might (through scripture, etc.) tell us or indeed seem to have revealed to us via religious experience.

Perhaps a theist whose belief in divine goodness is grounded wholly in religious experience might justifiably believe in God. Perhaps that is what (PC) allows. However, if that same theist then goes on to embrace sceptical theism, it appears they thereby come to possess an undercutting defeater for their belief.

The following dilemma now looms for the theist. Without sceptical theism, the evidential problem of evil threatens to supply a rebutting defeater for belief in God. Once sceptical theism is embraced, however, it threatens to generate an undercutting defeater for belief in God (i.e. if the belief in divine goodness is grounded solely in any combination of (i) inference based on observation of the world and what goes on in it, (ii) divine testimony, (iii) religious experience).

It appears that a sceptical theist’s knowledge of divine goodness, if possessed at all, will have to be grounded in some other sort of argument: i.e. a moral or ontological argument. But, as Van Inwagen notes above, ‘neither the moral argument not the ontological argument have many defenders these days.’ ((1996)154)

For the Christian sceptical theist, a further problem looms: it appears that given sceptical theism, belief in such Christian doctrines as that God revealed himself in Jesus and that those who believe in Jesus will be redeemed etc. cannot justifiably be believed on the basis of (i) inference based on observation of the world and what goes on in it (e.g. Jesus being raised from the dead), (ii) divine testimony, (iii) religious experience. In each case sceptical theism appears to generate an undercutting defeater. But then how are such doctrines to be justifiably believed by the Christian sceptical theist? Their cupboard of justificatory resources appears to have been stripped bare.

9. Anticipating some replies



29 comments:

Paul R Evans said...


Without sceptical theism the evidential problem of evil threatens to undermine God.

but also-

If sceptical theism is embraced this also undercuts God ?

Are Mcbrayer, Swenson and Bergman the definitive versions of sceptical theism from where one establishes this apparent no-win situation for theism ?
Could an alternative version of it leave room for theism despite the deadly sense of geometry with which Stephen paints it into an ever decreasing corner ?
Keith Ward is a good bloke who Stephen debates at Heythrop.(So is Stephen actually.) He recently wrote a book called 'Morality, Autonomy and God' which explores a wide range of issues and I remember there were areas raised which could be relevant to this.
I'm going to have to think about a lot of the above long and hard. I doubt my own compentence here and I wouldn't want to get caught in the crossfire at Heythrop !
This could be the centre of the next debate actually.

Angra Mainyu said...

Hi, Stephen

Excellent points.

I think your arguments show that from the assumption that God exists and skeptical theism (as you describe it at least, but that seems to be the usual description afaik) is true, it follows that (for example), if God claims (via scripture, sensus divinitatis or whatever means) that Jesus is the second person of a trinity, or that Christians (or Muslims, etc.) will be saved, etc., then the the probability that his claim or claims are true is inscrutable unless we have other means of establishing that they're true, or probably true – or false (i.e., one should not assign any probability to such claims).

That said, I think that there is a point that might use some clarification (though you might be planning to address it in the objections, so this is just a suggestion), which is the following one:

You say: “Sceptical theism would appear to have the consequence that, other than when we possess independent grounds for believing that what seems to have been be revealed is in fact the case, the probability that a good God (or god) has reason to produce a deceptive religious experience is inscrutable.”

As I see it, your arguments clearly show that the consequence is that probability is inscrutable in the case of God or a maximally evil god. I have the impression that the general case (i.e., that the skeptical theist is committed to the view that if a god exists, then the probability that he will produce a deceptive religious experience is inscrutable) might use some further clarification – i.e., why it is inscrutable in general.
I think you gave some reasons for that, though, so maybe you consider that specific enough So, it's just a suggestion.

Tige Gibson said...

What is the meaning of Good and Evil? Isn't that concept deliberately left as undefined as God, and for the same reason? They are trying to impose a pseudo-definition of God based on some other similarly undefined concept, maintaining the traditional house of cards.

Sceptical theism climbs up on a heap of dung incapable of acknowledging how they started to argue for the existence of God in the first place.

Mike Baldwin said...

The whole argument here appears based on the premise that God might be morally justified in doing what, to us, seems evil, by the apparent need to avoid some greater evil. But that implies that there must be some other evil god (devil) with whom our (good) God is trying to thwart. If God is the ultimate Creator, where does this evil force come from? To argue that God might be justified in committing an evil in order to achieve some greater good is equally false, based on the false consequentialist moral argument that ends justify means. Furthermore, a God who is incapable of achieving a particular desired level of good without committing an evil seems to be less than omnipotent.

frances said...

Aren't most theists when pushed sceptical theists? The argument that "His ways are not our ways (etc)" is essentially just that argument. And isn't that what WLC is arguing in his "Closing Doors" analogy? (I hadn't got around to watching that film before I heard him use it, so gee, thanks for the spoiler, Dr C....)

Theists seem to have no problem assigning motives to God which make him comparable to humans when it suits them. Especially Christians - if your son asks you for bread, would you give him a stone? But when it doesn't suit them, then God is completely incomprehensible to his creation. If your son was dying from cancer, would you stand by and watch when you had the power to cure him? Apparently you would if you were God, who we are told loves us all like his children.

If we can't understand God in some respects, then we can't understand him in any respects, absent some clear way of distinguishing those respects which fall outside our ability to understand from those which don't.

It's interesting that you refer to Plantiga's EAAN in this context. It's always seemed to me that if Natural Selection might produce unreliable cognitive abilities with us lacking the insight to see that they are unreliable, then the same could apply to God. Why shouldn't God cause humans to think that they have reliable cognitive faculties when in fact their faculties are unreliable? To argue that he doesn't based on what you can deduce about his nature & agenda using those very faculties surely begs the question?

Stephen Law said...

many thanks to all

conscience of the society said...

Hi Stephen, The subject you have chosen itself is too particular, like that of a cannibalistic tribes-man might puts-forth pertaining to the very particular issues around his different habit. Sceptical theism might be a very special stand that certain followers of the philosophers of religion might keep, like the certain special stand of cannibal tribes-men.
If we come out of such constrained bubble-domes of our approach about God, evil, human knowledge etc, we could adopt more universal and open stand on these issues.
First of all, what Bertrand Russell stated about the crucial difference between 'logical forms'
and the actual 'content' of argument deserves mention here:
" it is obvious that the knowledge of logical forms is something different from the knowledge of existing things...We may have knowledge of the 'form' without having knowledge of the constituent"( his essay ' logic as the essence of philosophy') It means, God or evil as concepts, can not be deducted from simple logical premises. It needs much broader understanding on human knowledge and the means of man for gaining such knowledge.
I politely invite you to share my blogs that touches Mind and man's means of gaining knowledge in new lights, from links: http://hiddenobserveronthelimitationsofmind.blogspot.in/,
http://philosopherskorner.blogspot.in/

conscience of the society said...

Hi Stephen, The subject you have chosen itself is too particular, like that of a cannibalistic tribes-man might puts-forth pertaining to the very particular issues around his different habit. Sceptical theism might be a very special stand that certain followers of the philosophers of religion might keep, like the certain special stand of cannibal tribes-men.
If we come out of such constrained bubble-domes of our approach about God, evil, human knowledge etc, we could adopt more universal and open stand on these issues.
First of all, what Bertrand Russell stated about the crucial difference between 'logical forms'
and the actual 'content' of argument deserves mention here:
" it is obvious that the knowledge of logical forms is something different from the knowledge of existing things...We may have knowledge of the 'form' without having knowledge of the constituent"( his essay ' logic as the essence of philosophy') It means, God or evil as concepts, can not be deducted from simple logical premises. It needs much broader understanding on human knowledge and the means of man for gaining such knowledge.
I politely invite you to share my blogs that touches Mind and man's means of gaining knowledge in new lights, from links: http://hiddenobserveronthelimitationsofmind.blogspot.in/,
http://philosopherskorner.blogspot.in/

Tony Lloyd said...

A couple of thoughts:

In the Sally example you’re arguing, in effect, that an absence of inscrutability should be added to PC/PT. We end up with something like:

PC1 = if
A: it seems to s on evidence e as if p; and
B: the reliability of the evidence e is not entirely inscrutable
then s thereby has at least prima facie justification for believing that p.

I think there is another way of arguing for the inclusion of “B” which is that B is assumed in the sceptical theist defence against the problem of evil.

Stephen: “On the discovery of
this backstory to Sally’s testimony, can I still reasonably believe p? Surely not.”
Theist: “Au contraire, PC and PT stipulate nothing about inscrutability”
Stephen: “But inscrutability is your whole argument against the problem of evil! On PC “as is” it seems to me that a good god doesn’t exist and so… ”
Theist: “Bugger. So it is. Ok, we’ll accept PC1. Please crack on with the rest of your paper”

(Maybe put something in section 9?)

The other thing is with Ted. Ted doesn’t just have no good reason to believe the divinity responsible hasn’t created a misleading impression of himself. Ted also has a good reason, independent of the revelation, to believe the deity has created a misleading impression of himself: all the apparent evil in the world. He’s not just got an “undercutting defeater” but a direct one.

Philip Rand said...

Dr Law

Unfortunately, for your thesis to work you have to examine the a priori in the thesis...namely "Causality", i.e. is it a real thing in the world? Or a world-image view that humans possess...

For example in your quote:

"Gratuitous good is good there is no adequate reason for evil god"

What definition of "causality" are you using?

Causality is the ground on which your thesis is based...

So what is it?

i.e. why is this statement true?

Philolinguist said...

"it appears that given sceptical theism, belief in such Christian doctrines as that God revealed himself in Jesus and that those who believe in Jesus will be redeemed etc. cannot justifiably be believed on the basis of (i) inference based on observation of the world and what goes on in it (e.g. Jesus being raised from the dead), (ii) divine testimony, (iii) religious experience."

(i)-(iii) are not the reasons why most people believe in a religion. Most theists believe in God because (iv) they were brought up to, or grew up in societies where that was the default belief. When pressed, they may cite (i)-(iii) as 'reasons', but in most cases these are not the real reasons, and are just cited in attempts to rationalize an existing belief that is held largely because of (iv). So for the majority of believers, your arguments are irrelevant.

Some may argue that if someone believes in a religion simply because he was brought up to, then he's irrational for doing so. But how is that less rational that believing in atheism because you were brought up to, or grew in a predominantly atheist culture or sub-culture? No doubt many atheists reflect critically on their own beliefs, but so do many theists. Most atheists would probably justify their atheism by reference to (i), and apparently you just shot that down as a good reason to believe anything. After all, how does the atheist know his experiences are veridical? Perhaps the alien fooled the atheists too.

For those who BEGIN with belief in God, there is an assurance by faith in his goodness. For the atheist, there is the prospect of the evil alien. BTW, I notice that in the forums I've visited, the atheists are usually the ones who resort to personal insults and ad hominems (and often little else). If they think they have good reasons for their beliefs, why not just state them like you do? Where does the malice come from?

Stephen Law said...

Hi Philolinguist

Many atheists justify their atheism re (i) and there is not problem in doing so given they are not sceptical theists (nor embrace the sceptical part of sceptical theism).

(i)-(iii) supply the justification of belief for many theists. They lose that justification if they embrace scpetial theism to deal with the problem of evil. So for them, my argument is very relevant indeed. (You are muddling the causal explanations for belief with the justification for it, it seems?)

Begin with God if you like and then your trust in God leads justifiably to trust in senses, which deliver the problem of evil, which leads to atheism.

Compare. I BEGIN with belief in fairies that created me to have reliable senses. But my senses reveal ample evidence there are no fairies. So I shouldn't believe in fairies then. Despite the fact that is where I begin.



Philolinguist said...

Hi Dr Law, thx for the reply:

"(i)-(iii) supply the justification of belief for many theists. They lose that justification if they embrace sceptical theism to deal with the problem of evil. So for them, my argument is very relevant indeed."

You're right. That's why I qualified my comment by saying "in MOST cases these are not the real reasons", though perhaps I was overly optimistic about 'most'. Many people hitch their faith to the wrong wagons.

"Begin with God if you like and then your trust in God leads justifiably to trust in senses, which deliver the problem of evil, which leads to atheism."

Your argument has a missing premise. 'Trust in God' does not entail unqualified 'trust in senses'. E.g. if someone is a theistic idealist, they distrust their senses when it comes to the apparent mind-independence of the material world. This may have implications for their interpretation of the problem of evil.

For example, one such idealist interpretation is given in this thought-provoking 12-minute video: http://youtu.be/7eKG_OZuAkw?t=12s

I don't know if the video's theory is true, but it illustrates that the kind of God one believes in can make a difference in one's interpretation of the problem of evil; in the sense that one may see evil and suffering as part of a larger emerging picture, even if one cannot yet see the details of the picture (and may not now always find comfort in it. After all, the truth isn't necessarily pleasant).

Philip Rand said...

Hmmmm, interesting premis:

"Begin with God if you like and then your trust in God leads justifiably to trust in senses, which deliver the problem of evil, which leads to atheism."

The problem with this a priori is that if one accepts this...then one also has to accept that the human "sense" of time is the same as the theoretical physics time we use in physics...

The problem with this is that human perceived sense of time is not the same as physics time we use in theory (because human sense time bears no relation whatsover to physics time as physics time is related to entropy and human sensed time is not).

And that's where you are correct Philolinguist (your idealism idea is spot on!)...this leads to an idealisation of time and therefore of all senses...which is not a very good state of affairs for physics if it is supposed to describe the material world...now is it?

The physicist Eddington had some interesting things to say about the status of time...so did the philosopher Ramsey...these ideas should be considered in this evil God thingy...

Philip Rand said...

Dr Law

I BEGIN with belief in my colour sense of "green".

But science reveals ample evidence that there is no such green colour existing in reality.

So should I believe in the colour green then? Despite the fact that the colour doesn't really exist?

Philip Rand said...

Actually, this is interesting...

If I take:

1/ I BEGIN with a "non-belief" in fairies that created me to have reliable senses.

2/ My senses reveal ample evidence there are no fairies. So I shouldn't believe in fairies then.

Sounds OK to me...but is it saying anything? Not sure...

Now, say I write:

1/ I BEGIN with a belief in perceived "time", i.e. past,present,future.

2/ My "senses" (i.e. no use of memory here) reveal to me ample evidence there is no such thing as perceived time. So I shouldn't believe in perceived time.

This needs some clarification...but if I compare this with the case of "downness" and "upness" with ones local direction of gravity...we have no direct sense of "downness", though we can see spatial relations of objects with each other.

Fact is, we know which physical direction is down immediately without inference (i.e. we just sense it), we don't have a perceptual "downness" the way we have a perceptual "past" that makes up the intrinsic nature of what characterises what is being direclty perceived.

Which means that one could say that "downness" is some relation in the physical world known through causality.

But perceived time is different...here our sense of time is useless (we don't have a sense of time)...instead we have to look at past events and determine how the past is related to pastness in physcial events, i.e. it requires cognition, memory, etc.

I think the use of "Fairies" is conceptually similar to "Time", i.e. Fairies cannot be "directly sensed" and nor can Time be "directly sensed".

Which means, that if causation is a relation that is only valid within the perceived world, then it can't be used to explain "things-in-themselves", i.e. Fairies, Time to "things-as-perceived", i.e. upness and downness, objects interacting with other objects, etc.

And if you can't use causation...what can you use?

And yet, we still do hold to the belief in perceived time as real.

And if that is the case...what is the difference between Fairies and Time?

Philip Rand said...

Which means...what exactly is "gratuitous evil", i.e. the "thing-in-itself"?

Philip Rand said...

Dr Law...the dollar bill thought experiment in your paper is interesting...

One thing though...Ted wants to first gamble right? i.e. he wants to play a game and win some money...to interact with his environment.

Later, he finds out that the game he wishes to play might be unfair or fair (i.e. good god v evil god)...he has no way of knowing...i.e. the probability of either case is 0, i.e. p=0. (i.e. could be an evil god or a good god)

What you have done is to insert two questions being asked by Ted:

1/ An ontological question, i.e. is the dollar bill a real note or a fake note, epistematic uncertainty...BUT not that the dollar bill he holds will suddenly de-materialise in his hands. Of this he is certain, i.e. p=1 i.e in your model god ontollogically exists though we have no way of knowing the god's intentions, i.e. good or evil.

2/ A causality question, can I win more money using the dollar bill,i.e. predictive uncertainty of a future event.

But, the ontological question surely shouldn't stop him from playing (it is real information after all)...not if he has the correct strategy...because he really isn't interested in the ontological question (though it affects his strategy)...

And if this case, it means that he should optimally play 3 times if he wants to win.

The thing is, one can prove this result...and most probably prove the best strategy to deal with your other examples as well...

Because, essentially all your examples fall under game theory.

I would say that to determine whether a good god or evil god exists is to look at the certainty that the dollar bill will not de-materialise.

I write this because your method appears to me to be equivalent to the Wittgenstein duck-rabbit drawing thought model...i.e. if one draws the duck-rabbit picture badly it ends up looking more a duck rather than a rabbit...or vica versa...

Draw the duck-rabbit picture perfectly...one doesn't get an average...the result is instead ambiguity...

Philip Rand said...

Ambiguity is a Continental Philosophical approach to philosophy (i.e. Barthes, Foucault, etc.)...in that what these chaps do is to destroy the concepts of the opposition.

I follow more the English philosophical tradition...more an exploration of differing concepts.

Philip Rand said...

Actually, what is the crux of Dr Law's thesis is this "evidential problem of Good or Evil existing", i.e. it is empirical.

Now, look at the opening series of propositions:

"If God exists, gratuitous evil does not exist.
Gratuitous evil exists.
Therefore, God does not exist"

OR

If God exists, gratuitous good exist.
Gratuitous good exists.
Therefore, God exists.

Both propositions at first glance look like empirical statements.

But are they really?

The thing is that both statements are also logical statements.

So the propositions are both logical AND empirical at the same time.

The problem with this is that when the propositions are looked at as logical propositions it is the grammar of the propositions that make them appear true,i.e. the result is simply the result of the grammar nothing else.

This means that when the propositions are looked at empirically they are really simply a doppelganger of the grammar of the logical proposition, i.e. they are not really empirical at all...though they look empirical...what they shew is an illusion of an empirical probability.

It is this "doppelganger" appearance in the propositions that defeats (I don't like using this word, but this seems to be the grammar one should use) Dr Law's paper, i.e. the propositions are not empirical propositions they are logical propositions...and the logic IS the grammar.




Philip Rand said...

On another thread in this blog concerning this "gratuitous evil" thingy...Dr Law did debate with a Believer concerning this thingy existing...

Naturally, the confrontation led to an impasse...so much so that the in the end Dr Law did state to his opposition that "gratuitous evil" was a result of a "definition", i.e. the logic of gratuitous evil was defined by grammar used...

I am not sure if Dr Law was really aware at the time that this statement undermined his thesis.

This is the problem about doppelgangers...they look empirical if one is not careful.

Philolinguist said...

Further to my comment above (raising the possibility of theistic idealism) thought I'd share my latest peer-reviewed article (link below). It considers the possibility that materialism rests on a mistaken view of causation, a view which lies at the root of several classic philosophical problems (including the 'hard problem' of consciousness, free will, mental causation, and the 'external world'). The paper ends on a favorable note for idealism, but as it is beyond the scope of the article, detailed analysis of that topic will have to be left to another occasion.
http://philpapers.org/rec/GIBCRI-2

Philip Rand said...

Thanks for the paper link Philolinguist...I shall have a looksy...

My view is that Dr Law's paper (though he covers many concepts concerning this God Thingy...a weakness in the paper) is flawed mainly because he ignores human experience....

In my view, philosophy must be anthropolocial if it is to say anything about the world.

For many reasons I believe his (and it appears to me all the philosophers he sites, both for and against) approach to the Evil or Good God question will lead nowhere.

For example, a good place to start with this Good/Evil God
question is for Dr Law to examine his own experiences...

Here, I mention that Dr Law is on record as stating:

"Prof John Lennox is the world's nicest man." (or something to that effect).

This is interesting...why should Dr Law make such a statement towards a man whose views on God are diametrically opposite to his own?

Now, if one looks at a statement in the Bible:

"When a man's ways please the Lord, he maketh even his enemies to be at peace with him."

[Proberbs 7,16]

Clearly, what the statement is refering to is the path such a man (i.e. the Believer) follows.

According to the Bible this path is the righteous path, i.e. God's will (i.e. whatever God wills is good because the Believer accepts it)...one could say that this path is the "just" path.

This is easily seen if one looks at the word "just"...or "justice"...interestingly justice or the Greek term dike originally meant a "bi-furcating path"...so to be righteous in the eyes of God is simply to accept this bi-furcating path in life.

Now, one could not say that Dr Law is righteous in the same manner...he is instead "self-righteous", i.e. he does not believe in the righteous path as I have defined it...his path is his own.

So, say we accept that Prof Lennox
is righteous, i.e. his ways please the Lord.

What the proverb says is that if this is the case then Prof Lennox's enemies will be at peace with him...and that seems to be with case with his and Dr Law's relationship, i.e. Dr Law really likes him despite the fact that his views are opposed to his own.

Now, one could not say this of Dr Law's relationship with WL Craig...here Dr Law is not at peace with Craig...

What is interesting here, is that if one uses the proverb then it is clear that Craig's path is NOT pleasing to God...which explains Dr Law's animosity towards Craig...

But, let's go back to the Lennox/Law relationship...

If God is Evil...why does Dr Law like Prof Lennox so much?

If Prof Lennox is attempting to align his life with the path of God and Dr Law likes Prof Lennox...then surely this could be a measurement of a Good God and not an Evil God...is Dr Law even aware of why he likes Lennox so much? If he looks at the reasons...what are they? Would it be possible for Dr Law not to be at peace with Lennox? Could he will himself to dislike the chap?

I mean, does Dr Law have any choice in the matter of liking John Lennox?

I mean, why does Dr Law like the chap so much?

And if he likes him so much...does he really believe at a later date John Lennox will turn on him with spite, i.e. will John Lennox's intentions toward Dr Law change, i.e. become evil.

Here, I think one could examine these ideas philosophically in a human experience sense to this Good/Evil God Thingy question.

Philip Rand said...

Philolinguist

I have just had a look at your summary...the paper soulds very interesting...

Causality, is indeed an odd one...

Two things I have always found interesting here is:

1/ The fact that the inevitable uncertainty in one observers finding of an object say, is compatible with a bystanders description of the combined system of observer and the observed object.

2/ By the limiting process h->0 (h:Plancks constant) we have two worlds, i.e. the flexible world-to-be-acted-upon, i.e. objects > h that turns into a rigid world-to-be-contemplated, i.e. h->0.

Philip Rand said...

Philolinguist

Your comment that:

"Causal anti-realism denies the possibility of ontological reduction and is therefore incompatible with materialism."

Is spot on!!!!!

In science one can only use causality in the scientific world-image, i.e. causality is completely theoretical...it is a catagorical mistake to apply causality to the real world, i.e. the world of the senses, etc.

The nexus between the theoretical world-image and reality in a causality sense ONLY occurs if a theoretical prediction of a future event matches reality (within a given measurement tolerence).

One thing though...if humans did not exist on the earth would the Sun still shine?

Clearly, we would all agree that it would...is this where your idealistic model fits in?

conscience of the society said...

Hi Philip Rand,

There is much more to the contemporary notion of the infallibility of scientific causality. I would like to share one of my peer-reviewed, accepted paper for an international seminar scheduled to be held in July here, that exclusively speaks against scientific positivism. The link is:http://argumentsagainstscientificpositivism.blogspot.in/

Philolinguist said...

Because of the word-limit, this post is in two parts.

Part I -

In an earlier post above, I mentioned a response to the problem of evil that appeals to monistic idealism, as outlined in this video: http://youtu.be/7eKG_OZuAkw?t=12s
(feel free to fast-forward thru the slow bit from 10:42 to 11:44). Perceptive readers may have noticed a problem with this response. According to monistic idealism, God is 'the All', in the sense that all consciousness is God's consciousness, and everything is a state of that consciousness. This appears to entail the paradoxical conclusion that evil is a state of God's consciousness.

The video's commentator tries to get around this problem by appealing to 'privatio bono', that evil does not exist in its own right, but is a privation of good (e.g. as darkness is merely the absence of light). I don't think this proposed solution succeeds, because if God is the All, and God is Good, then there can be no privation at all (because otherwise there would be a greater Good than God, namely the All that has no privation). So evil would be impossible. But evil exists.

I would like to (tentatively) propose a solution to this paradox, based on the concept of 'dreaming'. Saint Augustine was concerned about some of the immoral acts he carried out in his dreams. He proposed a distinction between 'happenings' and 'actions', in which dreams fell into the former category. So based on this distinction, the 'evil' acts that Augustine performed in his dreams were things that happened to him, not things that he did. This seems to be a reasonable conclusion (with the exception of special cases such as 'lucid' dreaming, where someone deliberately chooses what to dream about. The criteria that render these cases exceptional would seem to support Augustine's distinction).

In an Idealist paradigm, 'dreaming' would be defined in terms of a discontinuity in conscious experience, a radical break in an otherwise consistent and coherent narrative. More can probably be done to fill out this definition, but suffice it to say that because it is such an abrupt departure from the overarching narrative, we don't regard things that happen in a dream to have happened at all, and the acts performed in a dream to have been done by the dreamer, but rather by an involuntary process called 'dreaming' in which the dreamer is, as it were, 'along for the ride'.

Philolinguist said...

Because of the word-limit, this post is in two parts.

Part II -

It is arguable that the concept of 'dreaming' allows for evil to occur as a conscious, yet unintended, state in the universal consciousness of Monistic Idealism. Just as Augustine can be a good person despite behaving badly in his dreams, it may be possible for the All to be the greatest Good, yet contain evil conscious states which are themselves unintended (as in dreams). Even if the universal consciousness were to enter a dream state intentionally, knowing in advance what would occur in the dream, the consciousness would not be morally culpable for acts in the dream if that is left to chance (even if the role of chance is bounded by certain pre-set parameters, put in to limit the amount of possible evil). Indeed, nothing in the dream can be said to have happened, in the context of the overarching narrative (though not, of course, from within the dream).

This kind of approach to the problem of evil features in certain idealist philosophical traditions, such as the Advaita school of Hinduism, which maintains that "every seemingly separate person is in fact a thought, dream, or experience of God; God creates and becomes / experiences each creation, deliberately limiting it to a specific identity in space and time to undergo a particular life experience. In Advaita, it is God who experiences every pain, suffers every indignity, dies every death, and experiences the illusion of being each separate individual." Source: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Problem_of_evil_in_Hinduism

The reason for the universal consciousness having such experiences can be explained in terms of the All being the greatest Good. Without the knowledge of evil, The All would not know it was Good (having nothing to compare the Good with), and would therefore be less than the Good which knows it is Good. The knowledge of evil is therefore, arguably, intrinsic to the All being the greatest Good. Because the All is Good, it cannot intend evil. However, a dreamer does not intend the evil he dreams, but through that dream, he has knowledge of evil.

Some may object that it is morally bad to believe that what is ordinarily called 'real life' is a dream, because one might end up believing that one's actions have no real consequences. This may be true of some consequentialists, who believe the morality of an act is determined by its outcomes. For example, a consequentialist might think, "It doesn't matter if I hit this guy, because he doesn't really exist, so there's no real harm." I'm skeptical that any sane consequentialist would really think that way, but perhaps there are a few exceptions. I don't think the objection holds at all for deontologists or virtue ethicists, who believe that morality is governed by rules or character respectively. They would think along the lines of, "I shouldn't hit this guy because that's wrong, even if I'm dreaming right now."

Larry Esser said...

As some have come close to saying, no one even knows what is meant by the word or name "god" to begin with. What is this "god" so many speak of? In order to even start trying to find evidence for the existence of something, we need to know what that "something" is. Since no one seems to be able to do that, going any further than that is moot.