Wednesday, April 11, 2018

Sceptical theism and the infinity of God

I’ve never been very sympathetic to sceptical theism until I thought of this line of reasoning, which isn’t really new, but I’ve just never quite put it together in this way.

There are radically different types of goods. At perhaps the highest level—call it level A—there are types of goods like the moral, the aesthetic and the epistemic. At a slightly lower level—call it level B—there are types of goods like the goods of moral rightness, praiseworthiness, autonomy, the virtue, beauty, sublimity, pleasure, truth, knowledge, understanding, etc. And there will be even lower levels.

Now, it is plausible that a perfect being, a God, would be infinitely good in infinitely many ways. He would thus infinitely exemplify infinitely many types goods at each level, either literally or by analogy. If so, then:

  1. If God exists, there are infinitely many types of good at each level.

Moreover:

  1. We only have concepts of a finite number of types of good at each level.

Thus:

  1. There are infinitely many types of good at each level that we have no concept of.

Now, let’s think what would likely be the case if God were to create a world. From the limited theodicies we have, we know of cases where certain types of goods would justify allowing certain evils. So we wouldn't be surprised if there were evils in the world, though of course all evils would be justified, in the sense that God would have a justification for allowing them. But we would have little reason to think that God would limit his design of the world to only allowing those evils that are justified by the finite number of types of good that we have concepts of. The other types of good are still types of good. Given that there infinitely many such goods, and only finitely many of the ones we have concepts of, it would not be significantly unlikely that if God exists, a significant proportion—perhaps a majority—of the evils that have a justification would have a justification in terms of goods that we have no concept of.

And so when we observe a large proportion of evils that we can find no justification for, we observe something that is not significantly unlikely on the hypothesis that God exists. But if something is not significantly unlikely on a hypothesis, it’s not significant evidence against that hypothesis. Hence, the fact that we cannot find justifications for a significant proportion of the evils in the world is not significant evidence against the existence of God.

Sceptical theism has a tendency to undercut design arguments for the existence of God. I do not think this version of sceptical theism has that tendency, but that’s matter for another discussion (perhaps in the comments).

9 comments:

Walter Van den Acker said...

Alex

You seem to keep forgetting that God is claimed to be omniscient and omnipotent.
An omniscient and omnipotent being can do everything that is not logically impossible.
So, unless the theist has very good reason to think that X is impossible, she should believe that God can do X.
And that is the main reason why sceptical theism fails. Unless it is shown beyond reasonable doubt that good X cannot possibly be obtained without allowing for evil, there is no reason to think that evil is justified. And that holds for every instance of evil.
So, the fact that we cannot find justifications for a significant proportion of the evils in the world is significant evidence against the existence of God.
That's why the evidential problem of evil is still very much alive.

Alexander R Pruss said...

I am assuming that the types of good we know about will provide justifications for God to allow *some* evils. For instance, the good of freedom may justify God in allowing us some minor evil choices, or the good of the exercise of courage may justify God in allowing us some danger. Once that's granted, it is admitted that there can be logically necessary interconnections between goods and allowings of evil (e.g., no significantly free good choice without God's allowing a bad choice; no exercise of courage without either danger or the illusion of danger). But it is unlikely that only *known* types of goods enable such justifications, given that (if God exists) there are infinitely more unknown types of goods.

Scott Hill said...

"Sceptical theism has a tendency to undercut design arguments for the existence of God. I do not think this version of sceptical theism has that tendency, but that’s matter for another discussion (perhaps in the comments)."

Maybe this is a way that design arguments could be undermined: If you were to take one of us, with our limited knowledge of goods, and give us the ability to create a universe with life, we might very well do it. But for all we know, out of the infinite realm of goods of which we are ignorant, there is some strange good achieved by ensuring that there is no life. And so, for all we know, God would be very unlikely to create a world with life.

Alexander R Pruss said...

There epistemically could be such an unknown good. But there epistemically could also be an equally great unknown good that requires life. So at worst we lower the probability of life to something around 1/2. But the probability of life on naturalism--if the fine-tuning arguers are right--is much, much smaller than that. So the fine-tuning argument is not affected very much.

Note, too, that the unknown good to do the job you're imagining would have to exclude *all* life. If all it requires is a lifeless universe, then God could just create two universes, one with life and one without, and have the best of both goods--life and the hypothetical life-excluding good.

Walter Van den Acker said...

Alex

"For instance, the good of freedom may justify God in allowing us some minor evil choices, or the good of the exercise of courage may justify God in allowing us some danger."


What is wrong with assuming that God, being omnipotent and omniscient, could arrange things in such a way that we have freedom and courage without allowing evil? My point is that, given God's omnipotence and omniscience, the default position should be that God can achieve whatever He wants to achieve without allowing evil. So, unless there are very good reasons to think that here can be logically necessary interconnections between goods and allowings of evil we should assume there aren't any. And that's where sceptical theism goes wrong, because on ST alone, no such reasons are available.

Moreover, even if it is admitted that there can be logically necessary interconnections between goods and allowings of evil (and it can't be admiitted on the basis of ST), the default position for any good X is still that X can be achieved without allowing evil.

So, ST is still a failure.



Alexander R Pruss said...

"What is wrong with assuming that God, being omnipotent and omniscient, could arrange things in such a way that we have freedom and courage without allowing evil?"

It is logically impossible for a creature to non-derivatively freely choose between A over B when it's impossible for the creature to choose B. And it's logically impossible to have a full-blown exercise of courage without either an actual possibility of an evil befalling one or one's having a false belief (false beliefs are evils, too) about the possibility.

Walter Van den Acker said...

Alex

First of all, that those things are logically impossible is highly controversial. William Lane Craig, e.g. thinks Frankfurt's cases show that it isn't true that PAP is necesasry for freedom. Your claim that false beliefs are evil is even more controversial as they depend on a definution of evil that is not universally accepted.


Secondly, even if you could really prove your point, you would still have to prove that free choices and courage are good. That may be obvious for you, but it isn't obvious at all. Courage, e.g. is good when situations are present in which it sreves some purpose, but who says those situations should be present. Firemen are great if there are fires, but in a world in which there are no fires, they serve no purpose.

But even if I grant everything you claim here, it still follows that ST fails, because your conclusions about freedom and courage are not based on ST. So, I agree that if you find a way to prove that X cannot be achieved without allowing evil (and i don't think you did), we can conclude that allowing evil is necessary for X. However, we cannot conclude on the basis of X that allowing evil is probably also necessary for Y. And that's what ST proponents do, and that's why they are wrong.

Scott Hill said...

"There epistemically could be such an unknown good. But there epistemically could also be an equally great unknown good that requires life. So at worst we lower the probability of life to something around 1/2. But the probability of life on naturalism--if the fine-tuning arguers are right--is much, much smaller than that. So the fine-tuning argument is not affected very much."

I think I agree with this. One minor complication, however: The reply seems to invoke the principle of indifference. Maybe there is an unknown good that requires life. Maybe there is an unknown good that requires the absence of life. So the chances of the latter are around 1/2.

But maybe you could run your reply without indifference. You could say: We have no idea a priori whether God would create a world with life. But for all we know God might want to create life. On the other hand, we do know that life is really improbable given no creator at all. So maybe God is still a better hypothesis than no creator at all.

Alexander R Pruss said...

Walter:

Once we realize that some known goods logically require bads (I don't distinguish bad from evil), then if there infinitely many unknown goods, it is probably that many---probably, infinitely many---of them also logically require bads. (I know that some STers won't like this reasoning.)

The values of the exercise of courage and of significantly free right action are so obvious to me that it is hard for me to think how to argue for this. It seems that if we disagree on such things, then we aren't going to make any progress on the problem of evil, but should instead have a discussion of Socrates, Aristotle, Kant and virtue. But that's not my field. :-(