Skeptical theism and the appeal to divine supremacy fallacy

Often, people online say stuff like “God’s ways are higher than our ways”, “We can’t understand Him”, “We shouldn’t question Him”, “He might have reasons we don’t know about”, “Who are you, a human being, to talk back to God?”, etc. This article is about the problems with that argument.

The “Appeal to divine supremacy” or “Divine supremacism” is the following view:

“An action or view X claimed by the theist to be condoned or done by God should be accepted and may not be critiqued because we humans are not qualified to do so”

It basically says that autonomous, independent human reasoning is not sufficient for a view about X.

Skeptical theism is the view which, to solve the problem of evil, asserts that God might have reasons we don’t know and have no idea about for letting evil happen. I am writing about this here because it is basically a form of (or example of) what I described above. (X being the problem of evil).

In this article I opine that –

  • That argument is ad hoc and a form of the special pleading fallacy.
  • The situation of the theist might not be much better off, maybe even worse.
  • The argument is hopelessly trivial if we apply the same logic elsewhere and allows anything to be defended or dismissed and inevitably leads to global radical skepticism.
  • Most importantly, it – in appealing to an authority viewed to be perfect and unworthy of any possible criticism – sets a dangerous precedent.
  1. The argument

1.1 Ad hoc special pleading fallacy

I think it is an ad hoc special pleading fallacy because it appeals to something we have no idea about to undermine the best idea we have. (For all we know, God might not have a reason for X. Or He might have a reason NOT to.) Likewise, it is special pleading because it rejects the Epistemic Principle of Sufficient Reason, which says that a proposition should be accepted if and only if there is a sufficient reason for it.

In a normal rational debate ( https://anonofreason.wordpress.com/2019/03/02/this-is-what-a-rational-debate-looks-like/ ),

“Subject S asserts a proposition P and gives a reason R or a body of evidence E that supports P.”

In an argument with a divine supremacist or skeptical theist,

S asserts P and rather than giving a reason, just says, “You can’t show that there is no possible reason for P” to support P.

Normal logic:

P should be accepted if there is a reason R that supports P.

Divine supremacist logic:

P should be accepted unless one can rule out all possible reasons for P.

https://en.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/Argument_from_ignorance

https://en.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/Burden_of_proof_(philosophy)

Question:13
Who are we  to really know who or what God is?

 “You start from the assumption that there is a god who is so great that we are not supposed to question him. I think differently. I say let us doubt. Let us doubt in everything that we are told and accepted as true. Let us doubt even the existence of God. No one has seen God. What we know of God is what we were told. What if those who told us about God were wrong? Our ancestors were wrong about many other things, what if they were wrong about this one too? So let us question the notion of God. Then, free from all preconceptions and prejudices let us investigate the truth. And let us use the ONLY parameter that we have to find the truth, i.e. “logic”. “

-http://faithfreedom.org/faq/13.htm

Question:14
Human logic is fallible. It is not a reliable mean to know God.  

“Yes human logic is fallible, but that is the only means we have to find the truth. What is perfect in this world or in us? Are our eyes perfect? No. There are animals that have a better vision than us? Is our hearing perfect? Is our sense of smell perfect? There is nothing perfect in us humans. But that is all we have. We have to see the world with our own eyes, even if they are inferior to the vision of an eagle or an owl. Human logic is also imperfect, but that is all we have and we have to use it.

 When I use logic I see that God does not stand a chance. I don’t say, “who am I to question God”. I say that I am a human being endowed with a brain and responsible to use it. If God is true, it must stand the test of reason. If it doesn’t, it is fanaticism. I am not suggesting that human logic is the only means to know God but the real God cannot be contrary to human logic either.  “

-http://faithfreedom.org/faq/14.htm

1.2 Argument from analogy

Many proponents of ST argue for their position with analogues like:

  • A parent who does something that might be unpleasant to their child to benefit them.
  • An animal (e.g. a dog or even a worm) with poor mental capacities.

I think some better ones might be:

A parent who does something to cause their child to suffer when it clearly seems they could have not done so and refuses to give any reason why and shouts them down for asking questions. [1]

A government official who asserts things in a confident tone without giving any evidence and expects to be believed and berates anyone who dares argue. [1]

Dog A asking Dog B to believe that 4+4=5 “because Master said so.”

2. The state of the theist

“Drapers’ main objection to skeptical theism is that it doesn’t really change anything with respect to our epistemic situation. It’s true that, for all we know, God has a morally sufficient reason for allowing various evils in the world; however, it’s also true that, for all we know, God doesn’t have morally sufficient reason for allowing various evils in the world. In fact, for all we know, God is able to accomplish all she wants without all the evil in the world.”[2]

As I said, for all we know, God might not have a reason for X. Or He might have a reason NOT to.

One argument for divine supremacism is that it is impossible to condemn X because we can’t show that there is no possible reason for X because that would require us to be omniscient or better than a supposedly perfect and omniscient being.

Or,

1. To critique X, one must rule out any possible reason for X.

2. To rule out any possible reason for X, one must be omniscient or better than a supposedly perfect and omniscient being.

3. But that is not so.

4. Therefore one cannot critique X.

But even if we assume premise 1, (which I already argued against in Section 1), this could be turned around and applied to the theist: I could argue that it is impossible to support X because we can’t show that there is no possible reason for not-X because that would require us to be omniscient or better than a supposedly perfect and omniscient being.

Or,

1. To defend X, one must rule out any possible reason for not-X.

2. To rule out any possible reason for not-X, one must be omniscient or better than a supposedly perfect and omniscient being.

3. But that is not so.

4. Therefore one cannot defend X.

So these two claims are on par with each other:

  1. I cannot know that X and I cannot give a reason for X, but I believe that X because I can’t show that there is no possible reason for X because that would require me to be omniscient or better than a supposedly perfect and omniscient being.
  2. I cannot know that not-X and I cannot give a reason for not-X, but I believe that not-X because I can’t show that there is no possible reason for not-X because that would require me to be omniscient or better than a supposedly perfect and omniscient being.

Christian apologist Eve Keneinan asserted that she doesn’t have to know the plan if there is a planner who is absolutely trustworthy.[3] My response would be: How do you know that the planner is absolutely trustworthy if you don’t know that the plan is trustworthy, whatever it could possibly be? When pressed, she said “I’ve met the Planner”.[3] I would say she might do well to read the work of Jonathan David Garner:

“Finally, skeptical theism would defeat religious experiences/seemings. Once somebody comes to realize their knowledge of goods and evils isn’t representative of the totality of goods/evil, then they are in the dark about whether their experience is actually due to God. They are in the position that ifGod exists, then perhaps God is allowing them to be wrong in thinking their particular experience matches reality, instead, it could just be something like an hallucination. Also, skeptical theism defeats religious seemings. For all the skeptical theist knows, if God exists, then God has reasons to make it appear like religious seemings are correct. Just because it seems correct doesn’t mean it really is. Just because it seems like Yahweh exists (or it seems like the you’re saved by Jesus), that doesn’t mean he does exist; you’re now totally in the dark precisely because of skeptical theism.” [4]

3. Trivial argument that leads to radical skepticism

As Garner points out,

“The issue for the skeptical theist is that they need to come up with a reason to limit their skepticism; otherwise, the skepticism threatens to undermine all the knowledge of the theist [1]. For instance, for all we know, God has a morally sufficient reason to lie to us. We are not in a position to place probabilities on such a matter. Just because you can’t think of a good reason for God to lie doesn’t mean God lacks a reason. For all we know, God has a good reason to start a false religion…at least if we are going to be a consistent skeptical theist.” [5]

In the words of Daniel Linford and Jennifer Benjamin,

“Van Til concluded Christian theism is a necessary precondition for the possession of knowledge as such, a position we call “Van Tillian Presuppositionalism” (VTP).  VTP is now the basis for a variety of conservative Christian movements. We show the response VTP advocates offer to the problem of evil–a version of skeptical theism-results in ineliminble radical skeptical doubts. We conclude that VTP cannot ensure epistemic security. Only the autonomous use of human reason can avoid radical skepticism.” [6]

If humans are too finite to understand anything, the theist might as well stop talking. [7]

Simply put, the problem is that the ST’s view is that human reasoning is not sufficient for a view about X. But the same logic could be applied to other stuff – in fact, to anything.

For all we know, He might have a reason to command Islamists to kill the infidels. Just because we can’t think of one doesn’t mean there isn’t. Maybe He has a reason to lie to us about Christ and make us think He is the Messiah. Just because we can’t think of one doesn’t mean there isn’t. Maybe He has a reason to make a neo-Nazi ruler of the world and blow up the sun in a nova if everyone doesn’t submit. Just because we can’t think of one doesn’t mean there isn’t. Any reason you could give otherwise could be dismissed by saying that human reasoning is not sufficient.

So, the only options for the ST are,

  1. Accept radical skepticism, or
  2. Accept the principle that AIHR is sufficient as the best idea we have except for X.

And it gets worse. The ST has to explain why it is X specifically that is exempt and so what the difference is between e.g. the Holocaust, 9/11, the genocidal stuff in the Bible, ect., and the Islamist, fake Christ, and nova examples.

4. Conclusion

Skeptical theism is simply an ad hoc, unfounded attempt to discredit reason. At best it is an intuitive-sounding but poorly thought-out argument by people who have not taken it’s ramifications into account. At worst it is an attempt to shut down discussion. The problem with attempting to shield an ideology from criticism is that it is a short step to excuse anything.

Notes and references

[1] To be fair, there, unfortunately enough, seem to be some people who really do think these things.

[2] https://jonathandavidgarner.wordpress.com/2018/05/14/on-the-limitations-of-pure-skeptical-theism/

[3] <blockquote class=”twitter-tweet”><p lang=”en” dir=”ltr”>In short, I don’t have to KNOW THE PLAN, if I do know <br>(1) THERE’S A PLANNER and,<br>(2) the PLANNER IS ABSOLUTELY TRUSTWORTHY.</p>— Eve Keneinan 𝛗☦️ن (@EveKeneinan) <a href=”https://twitter.com/EveKeneinan/status/990710605819588608?ref_src=twsrc%5Etfw”>April 29, 2018</a></blockquote> https://platform.twitter.com/widgets.js

<blockquote class=”twitter-tweet”><p lang=”en” dir=”ltr”>But it means from our perspective, all these situations look and feel the same. How to discern which version we should believe?</p>— onnlucky🍀 (@onnlucky) <a href=”https://twitter.com/onnlucky/status/990714923855564800?ref_src=twsrc%5Etfw”>April 29, 2018</a></blockquote> https://platform.twitter.com/widgets.js

<blockquote class=”twitter-tweet”><p lang=”en” dir=”ltr”>I’ve met the Planner.</p>— Eve Keneinan 𝛗☦️ن❌ (@EveKeneinan) <a href=”https://twitter.com/EveKeneinan/status/990715413494484993?ref_src=twsrc%5Etfw”>April 29, 2018</a></blockquote> https://platform.twitter.com/widgets.js

[4] https://jonathandavidgarner.wordpress.com/2018/12/26/the-convenient-special-pleading-of-skeptical-theists/

[5] https://jonathandavidgarner.wordpress.com/2017/12/10/skeptical-theism-and-pandoras-box/

[6] https://www.dropbox.com/s/4iojx3honcv4mv4/On_Knowledge_Without_God_Van_Tillian_Pre.docx

[7] <blockquote class=”twitter-tweet”><p lang=”en” dir=”ltr”>Christian Apologists:<br><br>If your answer to any question is that humans are too finite to understand something then stop talking, because the second you make a claim, you fall into the trap you just set yourself.<br><br>If we can’t comprehend it, then neither can you, no claim is valid.</p>— 🌽The REAL Godless SJW🌽 (@TheGodlessIowan) <a href=”https://twitter.com/TheGodlessIowan/status/1083753012168966145?ref_src=twsrc%5Etfw”>January 11, 2019</a></blockquote> https://platform.twitter.com/widgets.js

<blockquote class=”twitter-tweet”><p lang=”en” dir=”ltr”>Exactly! The only way you could conclude that God is too vast or smart or good for you to understand is if you observed him doing things that met your existing personal understanding of vastness/intelligence/goodness.</p>— Prophet of Zod (@Prophet_of_Zod) <a href=”https://twitter.com/Prophet_of_Zod/status/1083755890962907136?ref_src=twsrc%5Etfw”>January 11, 2019</a></blockquote> https://platform.twitter.com/widgets.js

<blockquote class=”twitter-tweet”><p lang=”en” dir=”ltr”>Absolutely. If god cannot be understood by humans, then nobody can understand god. <br><br>Similarly, if satan has everyone decieved and they don’t know it, then nobody can argue that what they say isn’t a deception of satan.</p>— Water U Luke Ingot (@LAWeaber) <a href=”https://twitter.com/LAWeaber/status/1083758071208464384?ref_src=twsrc%5Etfw”>January 11, 2019</a></blockquote> https://platform.twitter.com/widgets.js

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