Ryan Stringer’s “Evil and Skeptical Theism”

The following was just published in the Secular Web’s Modern Library:

“Evil and Skeptical Theism” by Ryan Stringer


In this paper I critique a response to atheistic arguments from evil that has been called “skeptical theism.” I start by formulating a simple atheistic argument from evil and briefly justifying its two premises. Then I defend the argument against a skeptical theist’s potential response. First, I indirectly defend my argument by arguing that skeptical theism is both intrinsically implausible and has problematic consequences, which makes it an unreasonable response. Second, I directly defend my argument by presenting arguments supporting its second premise. I conclude that skeptical theism does not undermine my argument.


Evolution vs. The Argument from Providence
Swinburne’s Argument from Religious Experience – Part 2
Index: Draper’s Evidential Argument from Pain and Pleasure
Lessing’s Broad Ditch and Brad’s Lesser Ditch
About Jeffery Jay Lowder

Jeffery Jay Lowder is President Emeritus of Internet Infidels, Inc., which he co-founded in 1995. He is also co-editor of the book, The Empty Tomb: Jesus Beyond the Grave.

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/10800003038409390673 Shivankit

    Hi. Good work
    Here is my blog on atheism

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/08733557675273087950 Patrick

    Quote from Ryan Stringer’s paper: “(E2) God has morally sufficient reasons for evil that remain mysterious, so he (a) intentionally created us with a thirst for this knowledge yet without epistemic access to it and (b) remains silent instead of explaining it to us or even providing comfort and reassurance that such reasons exist.”

    In my view God HAS informed us why He allows suffering; the reasons are presented in the Bible. The following theodicy called “Theodicy from divine justice” points to Biblical texts as explanations why God allows suffering, although it could also be formulated without reference to such texts, purely on philosophical grounds:

    (1) God’s perfect justice prevents Him from relieving people with unforgiven sins from their sufferings (see Isaiah 59,1-2).
    (2) Unlike God Christians are not perfectly just. Therefore, unlike God, they are in a position to help people with unforgiven sins. By doing this they may make those among them who haven’t yet accepted God’s salvation receptive of it (Matthew 5,16, 1 Peter 2,11-12, and 3,1-2), which in turn frees these persons from suffering in the afterlife.
    (3) The greater God’s beneficial power due to His love, the greater God’s destructive power due to His justice (see Matthew 13,27-29). Striving to prevent as much suffering as possible God can only interfere to such a degree that the beneficial effect of the interference is not neutralized by the destructive effect of it.
    (4) Someone who dies before he or she reaches the age of accountability, i.e. before he or she can distinguish between good and evil (see Genesis 2,16-17, Deuteronomy 1,39, and Isaiah 7,16) faces no punishment in the afterlife, as he or she would not have been able to commit sins. So, God may not be inclined to prevent such a person’s death.
    (5) A person’s suffering in this life may have a redeeming effect (Luke 16,25) and consequently contribute to a decrease of the respective person’s suffering in the afterlife; the amount of suffering in this life is so to speak subtracted from the amount of suffering in the afterlife. So, God may not be inclined to relieve this person’s suffering.
    (6) A person’s suffering in this life may make the person receptive of God’s salvation (Luke 15,11-21), which in turn frees this person from suffering in the afterlife.
    (7) There are degrees of punishment in the afterlife depending on one’s moral behaviour (Matthew 16,27, 2 Corinthians 5,10), one’s knowledge of God’s will (Matthew 11,20-24, Luke 12,47-48), and, as mentioned before, one’s amount of suffering in this life (Luke 16,25).
    (8) Those people who suffer more in this life than they deserve due to their way of life are compensated for it by receiving rewards in Heaven.
    (9) As for animal suffering, animals will be compensated for it on the “new earth” mentioned in Isaiah 65,17-25, 2 Peter 3,13 and Revelation 21,1.

    Points (1), (2), (3), and (6) show, if true, that God’s existence is compatible with the existence of gratuitous suffering. If points (4), (5), (7), (8), and (9) are true, there is no gratuitous suffering.

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/16641266062186767500 Keith Parsons

    I offer a response to skeptical theism in my Secular Web essay "An Elementary Statement of the Problem of Evil." This is pitched at an undergraduate level because it is based on a presentation done for undergrad students.

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/00422596746771378835 Larkus

    Hello Patrick,

    have you renounced your claim, that suffering is proportional to sin?


  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/08733557675273087950 Patrick


    With respect to your question I still hold the view that I expressed in my comments in the thread you mention. In order to prevent confusion, the principle behind my theodicy may have to be reformulated as follows: “The total amount of heavenly bliss or lack of heavenly bliss is proportional to sin.”

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/08733557675273087950 Patrick

    Interestingly, in the chapter entitled “(2) Other Problematic Consequences of Skeptical Theism” Ryan Stringer rejects an objection concerning sceptical theism, according to which it undermines man’s obligation to prevent evil. As for this objection the following link is very informative:


    Ryan Stringer points out that there are two possibilities why God may not have the same moral obligations to prevent evil as men have:

    “Either (a) God's act of preventing the evil has negative consequences that our acts of prevention do not, or (b) our acts of preventing the evil have positive consequences that God's act of prevention does not.“

    Based on the ideas expressed in points (1) and (2) of the theodicy outlined above in the thread mentioned before I explained that preventing evil can have different consequences, depending on whether it is God or man behaving this way:

    “Why should God help a sinner in this life and punish him in the afterlife? Wouldn’t the sinner interpret God’s help as an approval of his way of life?


    I don’t think that a sinner would interpret the help he receives from Christians as an approval of his way of life, so the situation here is quite different. Moreover, as I pointed out earlier, the help he receives from Christians may make him receptive of God’s salvation, which clearly is a strong motivation for Christians to help sinners.”

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/00422596746771378835 Larkus

    Hello Patrick,

    that doesn't work either:

    You claim that children dying before the age of accountability are unable to sin, therefore 'sin'=0.

    Since you also claim that heavenly bliss is proportional to sin, it follows that 'heavenly bliss'=0 for these children.

    In other words, no heavenly bliss for children.

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/00422596746771378835 Larkus

    This comment has been removed by the author.

  • wissam h

    Why don’t atheists use the moral argument from evil (by Dean Stretton) more?? Is it not forceful? I think the article on the Secular Web should respond to the two most significant objections to it: One by Craig which appeals to divine command theory to answer why one must intervene to stop evil; the Second by Plantinga which claims that God’s existence is compatible with gratuitous evil.

    Craig responded to the basic idea of the argument: //As for God’s own actions, I don’t think that God has any moral duties to fulfill, since He presumably doesn’t issue commands to Himself! So it is meaningless to speak of the moral rightness or wrongness of God’s actions. What we can ask is whether His acting in a certain way would be consistent with His character. Would it be consistent with His character, for example, not to intervene to save a baby from dying of a horrible disease or someone from perishing in a tsunami? And I think the answer is, yes, God can have good reasons for not intervening in such situations and so does not act contrary to His character.

    So suppose that I am a person who wants to do his moral duty. I am a doctor who can save a baby from dying of a disease. Do I have an obligation to do so? Of course, all things being equal. For God has commanded us, “You shall love your neighbor as yourself.”//

    Read more: http://www.reasonablefaith.org/gratuitous-evil-and-moral-discernment#ixzz2Zz4xdpQS

    Plantinga says that God’s existence is compatible with the existence of gratuitous evil. God doesn’t need to have a moral justification; he only needs a moral excuse- as in, it’s not his fault! Humans are responsible for the evil. But he goes on to say that God considers free will a great good which is worth the price of evil resulting from it (which sounds like a moral justification, not an excuse).

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