Tuesday, February 19, 2013

Skeptical Theism and the Problem of Natural Evil



I am preparing (again!) to teach section 2 of my MCCC Philosophy of Religion classes, which is: the Argument from Evil Against the Existence of God.

Thus I've been reviewing some things I have written in the past, especially when it comes to the problem (supposedly for theism) of "natural evil." See the two recent posts I've made on Joel Feinberg and Greg Boyd.

I've also been following what's happening at the University of Notre Dame's Center for Philosophy of Religion. If you wanted to study Philosophy of Religion today the place to do it would be Notre Dame.

UND's Center for Philosophy of Religion has been granted (in 2009) a $1.4 million Templeton Grant for their project “The Problem of Evil in Modern and Contemporary Thought.” "According to [UND philosopher Michael] Rea, who is also director of the Center for Philosophy of Religion, the multi-faced project will place special emphasis on questions about how the problem of evil was raised and addressed by important historical figures in the 16th and 17th centuries, on philosophical problems raised (then and now) by the existence of natural evil, and on strategies for explaining—or showing why we shouldn’t expect to explain—why God might permit the kinds and amounts of evil we experience in the world."

One focus is on Skeptical Theism's response to evil, especially of the natural variety. From their website:


"Theists often maintain that God permits the evils we see in the world for the sake of greater goods. But when pressed to say what greater goods might possibly be served by evils like the pain and suffering that follows in the wake of a horrible earthquake or a terrorist’s bomb, theists often come up short. Such evils seem to be absolutely pointless, and contemporary atheists have forcefully argued that the prevalence of apparently pointless evil provides strong evidence against the existence of God.
In response to this challenge, “skeptical theists” express skepticism about our ability to determine whether the evils we encounter really are pointless. Emphasizing human cognitive limitations, they argue that we have no reason to think that we could discern divine purposes in allowing horrendous evils if there were any, and so we have no warrant for believing that such evils do not serve a divine purpose.
In contemporary philosophy of religion, skeptical theism has emerged as a prominent form of response to evidential versions of the argument from evil. However, it is not without its own share of challenges.
This component of the Problem of Evil research project funds independent research, including fellowships, workshops, conferences and public events, on both the promise and the pitfalls of skeptical theism."
I am very much looking forward to the studies being generated out of this project!