Friday, March 18, 2016

A quick argument against extreme sceptical theism

Extreme sceptical theism holds that no evil is any evidence at all against theism. Here's a counterexample. Let E be this evil: Someone has no relationship with God. Then P(E | no God) = 1 (since if God doesn't exist, no one has a relationship with him, but it's certain that someone--say myself, for Cartesian reasons--exists) but P(E | God exists) < 1. So, E is evidence against the existence of God.


Drew said...

It doesn't seem like such a thing would be evil if there were no God.

SMatthewStolte said...

Does the evil have to be that someone has no relationship with God or can you get away with saying something like: someone lacks a particular relationship with God that she ought to have?

Having no relationship with God seems not to be an evil at all, since the only things that manage to do this don’t exist.

bethyada said...

I'm with Drew

P(E | no God) = 0

Alexander R Pruss said...

Matthew: Feel free to insert "positive" before "relationship".

Drew: Maybe, but that doesn't affect my point, I think. The sceptical theist should agree it's an evil, and the extreme sceptical theist thinks no evil lowers the probability of God's existence.

Bethyada: If there is no God, then no one has a relationship with him.

VeritasSeeker said...


It seems that your argument is as follows:

1. If Extreme Skeptical Theism (EST) is true, then evil is not evidence against God’s existence.

2. Pr(E|~G) = 1 & Pr(E|G) < 1.

This implies that

3. Evil is evidence against God’s existence.


4. EST is false.

Obviously, the crux of the argument is (2).

You let ‘E’ denote the following: “Someone has no relationship with God [and this is evil].” If ‘E’ just denoted the first part of this conjunction—viz., “someone has no relationship with God,” then clearly (2) would be true. But it does not—it denotes the conjunctive statement. So, it seems that while "Pr(E|G) < 1" is true, "Pr(E|~G) = 1" is false, and therefore (2) is false. This is because, as the above commentator stated, Pr(E|~G) = 0. Given God’s non-existence, lacking a relationship with him would not be an evil. Just as, given God's non-existence, worshiping Him would not be a good. Your response to the commentator above seems to be treating ‘E’ as denoting only the first conjunct of the conjunctive statement.

As an aside, since 0 < Pr(E|G) < 1, and Pr(E|~G) = 0, it follows that E is evidence for G. So the fact that someone suffers the evil of lacking a relationship with God is actually evidence that God exists. Of course, this may not be interesting since whether one believes that lacking a relationship with God is evil will depend on whether one is a theist!

bethyada said...

If there is no God there is no one, and no evil.

I think God is necessary, not certain how this assumption would modify your argument.

Alexander R Pruss said...


Assume God exists. Then there are two kinds of evils. Some of them are evils that would still be evil even if (per impossibile) God did not exist. Others are evils only because God exists. For instance, I would say that unjust suffering is an evil of the first kind while blasphemy and lack of union with God are evils of the second kind.

It seems to me that the sceptical theist ought to extend her thesis to all evils that can be used in an evidential argument against the existence of God. And BOTH kinds of evil can be used in such an argument. For instance, suppose that the world contained no evils other than blasphemy. Then the atheist could still rely on the presence of blasphemy to mount an argument from evil. Of course, the atheist couldn't say that blasphemy is an evil. But as long as it *would* be an evil if there were a God, it can be used in an argument against there being a God.

But if the sceptical theist ought to so extend her thesis, she cannot insist that E contain in itself the claim that the event in question is an evil. For that makes the response to the atheist too easy. If E is "blasphemy occurs and is evil", then E might actually entail the existence of God (since blasphemy is only evil if there is a God, let's say). So the atheist won't take *that* to be the evidence, but will simply take "blasphemy occurs" to be the evidence.


God is a necessary being, but it still makes sense to ask what would happen, per impossibile, if God didn't exist.

bethyada said...

I guess I would phrase it like this then (if my logic and notation is correct?).

"Let E be this evil: Someone has no relationship with God."

This is incomplete as it should be

Let T be this state: Someone has no relationship with God and God exists.
Let T' be the state: Someone has no relationship with God and God does not exist.

Only T is evil.

Then P(T | no God) = 0
And P(T' | no God) = 1

I would say evil is dependant on God's existence therefore

P(E | no God) = 0.