Learning Not to be Naïve: A Comment on the Exchange between Perrine/Wykstra and Draper
Skeptical Theism: New Essays
Does postulating skeptical theism undermine the claim that evil strongly confirms atheism over theism? According to Perrine and Wykstra, it does undermine the claim, because evil is no more likely on atheism than on skeptical theism. According to Draper, it does not undermine the claim, because evil is much more likely on atheism than on theism in general. I show that the probability facts alone do not resolve their disagreement, which ultimately rests on which updating procedure
... ng or updating on a conditional -fits both the evidence and how we ought to take that evidence into account. Does postulating skeptical theism undermine the claim that the amount and type of evil in our world is evidence (strong or weak) against God's existence? Participants in this debate are ultimately interested in the relative probability of theism and atheism; whether evil confirms atheism over theism; and if it does, to what degree. A crucial issue is how the probabilities of these two hypotheses shift when we come to believe, through trying to construct a theodicy, that no satisfying positive account of why God permits the amount of evil in our world is forthcoming: that naïve theism is false and thus that skeptical theism is the only viable version of theism. 2 According to Perrine and Wykstra, the relevant comparison is between the best version of each theory, and comparing skeptical theism with (the best version of) atheism will show that evil does not strongly confirm atheism over theism. According to Draper, the relevant comparison is between atheism and theism full stop, and comparing these will show that evil does strongly confirm atheism over theism. Their disagreement is spelled out in a particular example of belief updating which they both discuss. 3 Examining how the probability facts change in this example will help us see what the disagreement ultimately rests on, and whether there is a way forward for the skeptical theist. Here is the example. Consider two aliens, Natty (a naturalist) and Theo (a theist), who learn the empirical facts about our world in a particular order, while making some predictions on the basis of their theories N and T (I will use TS to stand for skeptical theism and TS ̅ to stand for naïve theism, making the simplifying assumption that these are the only two theistic options). They "first make predictions about pain and pleasure. Then, taking into account what they've learned about pain and pleasure, they make predictions about flourishing and languishing...Finally...they make predictions about triumph and tragedy" (Draper 5). According to Draper, Natty's predictions will be on the whole more accurate than 1 Forthcoming in Skeptical Theism: New Essays, eds. Trent Dougherty and Justin McBrayer (OUP). 2 What participants in this debate typically hold is that naïve theism is very unlikely to be true, given that we lack a positive account of why God allows evil. It will simplify the discussion to assume that naïve theism has been ruled out entirely, and that skeptical theism is the only alternative. 3 Original example Draper. Here I follow Draper (2014: 5).