Response to Skeptical Theism

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The basic thesis of evidential problem of evil is that because there is probably so much pointless evil in the world, it is rational to think that God does not exist.  Wykstra’s skeptical theism attempts to show that it is, in fact, more rational to believe there is no pointless evil at all, which means every evil has a point that we may not have any clue of, because of the gap between our human knowledge and divine knowledge. In this essay, I attempt to defend evidential problem of evil against the criticism of Wykstra’s skeptical theism. More specifically, I will argue that it is more pragmatically rational to believe there is probably pointless evil than to believe every evil has a point, given the epistemic gap between human and the divine.

Firstly, I will introduce the evidential problem of evil. The argument comprises 3 premises.

  • (1) Probably, there are pointless evils.
  • (2) If God, as omnipotent, omniscient and omnibenevolent being, exists, there are no pointless evils.
  • (3) Therefore, probably God doesn’t exist.

Secondly, several things to take note. There are 2 kinds of evil or suffering. A pointed suffering and a pointless suffering. A pointed suffering is a suffering that is logically necessary for the subsequent greater good, meanings the later greater good cannot happen without the occurrence of the suffering. For example, the pain you have to experience when a dentist fixes your teeth problem is logically necessary for a greater good which is the avoidance of more tooth pain in the future. This is to distinguish with the pointless suffering that doesn’t seem to generate any greater good whatsoever. For example, a child is kidnapped and tortured to death; a baby is physically suffered horrendous pain during a tsunami or an earthquake. The evidential problem of evil only deals with the second kind of suffering, namely pointless suffering.

Both Wykstra’s skeptical theism and proponent of evidential problem of evil agree on (2). However, Wykstra denies (1). Wykstra thinks that it is more rational to think that every evil has a point for a greater good than to think there is pointless evil. Here is the reason why. Wykstra argues that the only reason why we think there is pointless evil is because we don’t actually see the greater good as the ultimate consequence of the suffering. Just because you are not able to see the greater good, you are not warranted to say that there is no greater good. We, as human being, are bounded by our cognitive limitation. We are not in a good position to fully acknowledge the greater good that comes from the suffering. Only God whose knowledge is incredible knows the greater good that is logically associated with the suffering God allows.  Wykstra gives the examples of fleas in the room and a dog in the room. He says we are rationally justified to believe that there is no dog in the room if we cannot see a dog there. However, we are not rationally justified to claim that there is no flea in the room if we cannot see any flea. Our eye sight is so limited that it prevents you from being aware of the appearance of the fleas while in fact the fleas are actually apparent. Wykstra thinks that it is more rational to believe our situation is like that of the fleas rather than that of the dogs. He concludes that it is more rational to replace (1) with (1) there is probably no pointless evil. He thinks that the probability of (1) is actually higher than (1), given our cognitive limitation, relative to our divine’s supreme knowledge.

As I have said earlier, I will argue against Wysktra’s sceptical theism that, even if there is an unbridgeable gap between human knowledge and divine knowledge, it is still more pragmatically rational to think that (1) is having a higher probability. Wykstra thinks that it is more rational to believe that every evil is necessary because they will serve a better good, which is unknowable to us because of our cognitive limitation. It seems to me from this claim that it is actually okay to let sufferings happen, no matter how outrageous they are, because there is one thing that we can be rationally justified to be sure of, which is the suffering will lead to a greater good. The consequence of this mindset will generate less motivation for us to actually be proactive in preventing such suffering. What I mean is that if it is more rational to believe that every suffering all serves a greater good, then there is no motivation or no point in the fact that Bill Gate or Mark Zuckerberg have already been spending millions of dollars on research to invent the cure for naturally caused disease such as malaria that has caused pointless suffering for millions of children on earth. Or there will be less motivation for research on weather forecasting to prevent natural disaster results from a tsunami. Even if we are bounded by our cognitive limitation to comprehend the greater good that only knowable to God, it is more pragmatically rational for us to believe in (1) because it helps us to appeal to ourselves, our own ability to solve our own problem. Let’s think of an infant terribly suffering during a tsunami, if we think that the suffering is pointless, it will create more motivation for us be more proactive in inventing technology, scientific methods to prevent such horrendous pointless suffering from happening again.  Given the speed of current advancement in technology, we will get to better understand our world without appealing to an explanation from God. There may be a time in future that we come to acknowledge that there is no greater good generated from the suffering of a child being tortured, or a baby suffered from the tsunami. Therefore, I believe that it is more pragmatically rational to believe in (1) because it would be detrimental to believe in (1*).

In conclusion, I have argued against Wykstra’s skeptical theism and provide reasons why it is more pragmatically rational to believe in (1) even given our present cognitive limitation to comprehend the greater good hidden from the suffering that is only knowable by God

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