Am I a Skeptical Theist?

I think I might be, but I’m not sure…

Skeptical theism is the view that God exists but that we should be skeptical of our ability to discern God’s reasons for acting or refraining from acting in any particular instance. In particular, says the skeptical theist, we should not grant that our inability to think of a good reason for doing or allowing something is indicative of whether or not God might have a good reason for doing or allowing something. If there is a God, he knows much more than we do about the relevant facts, and thus it would not be surprising at all if he has reasons for doing or allowing something that we cannot fathom.

Add some philosophy of science in here, and the cautionary tail of ID, and it sounds pretty close to what I think.

@structureoftruth , @dga471 , @Philosurfer , @jongarvey and the other philosophically inclined, amd I understanding this correctly, or am I mixing categories?

Should we therefore be skeptical of his reasons for being crucified and rising? Should we be skeptical of his supposed statements of those reasons? How far does this skepticism go?


I recently came across Skeptical Theism as a potential rebuttal when investigating the status of the Evidential Problem of Evil (after somebody claimed on another thread that the Problem of Evil had been “dealt with”).

It seems to be more of an Apologetic position than a genuinely skeptical one.

Like John Harshman, I question whether it is reasonable to be skeptical solely of “our ability to discern God’s reasons for acting or refraining from acting in any particular instance.”

The Evidential Problem of Evil states (Wikipedia):

  1. If an omniscient, omnibenevolent and omnipotent God exists, there should be no gratuitous evil.

  2. There exists instances of gratuitous evil.

  3. Therefore, an omniscient, omnibenevolent and omnipotent God does not exist.

Skeptical Theism simply appears to be a viewpoint that has higher belief in the existence of God than in the existence of gratuitous evil. I am not saying that this is not a valid viewpoint, I am however suggesting that it is not a genuinely skeptical viewpoint.

I would a suggest that a genuinely skeptical viewpoint should base that viewpoint on the evidence available, and would suggest that there is more evidence available for gratuitous evil than for God.

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A “skeptical theist” sounds like a general “almost-agnostic”, but in this context it seems specifically oriented around the Problem of Evil/Argument from Evil. In my world I think either “skeptical theist” or “agnostic with respect to …” would be career suicide. That said, the idea behind the “skeptical theist” in this context seems pretty close to the commonly used “His ways are not our ways”.


Skeptical theism is a joke. So many, I mean so many critiques of it out there. Here’s Nagel


This runs into the problem that when you disavow the ability to explain how God is good, it raises doubt, in the minds of many, over our ability to know that God is in fact good.

I have generally applied, as a ‘rule of thumb’ heuristic, to potential answers to the Problem of Evil, the question, “could this argument be applied, by a hypothetical believer in an Omnimalevolent God to a hypothetical ‘Problem of Good’?”

I could easily see this hypothetical ‘maleotheist’ likewise stating “His ways are not our ways” as an answer to the apparent Good in this world.

Whilst the ability to make this flipped argument still leaves an Omnibenevolent God (or an Omnimalevolent one) as a bare logical possibility, I do not see either bare possibility compelling belief.

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Tim, I’m processing the above statement and having trouble making it work. Are you saying that the statement “His ways are not our ways” is equivelant to disavowing “the ability to explain how God is good”? Can you expound on that a bit?

Hmm. I see now that it is highly oriented around the problem of evil. That isn’t how I was seeing this, so it might be a category error on my part.

Rather, I think I was keying into this:

I would add also that we should be skeptical about our ability to discern how and if He is acting too.

That seems to be a correct, but also separable point, from the larger skeptical theism project.


The claim that God “has reasons for doing or allowing something that we cannot fathom” (to make use of part of Joshua’s quote) would appear to be a disavowal of knowledge of how God’s actions that yield apparent gratuitous evil are good, and thus of the ability to explain how they are good. Also, if this principle is to be taken seriously, then it needs to apply to all God’s actions. If you claim that only God’s apparently gratuitously evil actions are inscrutable, then you are engaging in a special pleading.

I was taking Jordan at his word that this is “pretty close to the commonly used ‘His ways are not our ways’.” If it is not, then I should have used a different phrase.

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Thanks, Tim. I think I’m tracking.

Let me know if this is close to what you’re saying.

Sometimes when a tragedy strikes an individual or a group a friend will attemp to comfort the person(s) suffering by saying something like “God has a reason for everything. We just don’t always get to know what it is on this side of heaven.”

I hate that! I think it’s bad theology and it’s even worse in the friendship department.

Is this the kind of thing you’re talking about?

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Exactly. I find this argument is never deployed when anyone wants to praise the gods – it’s only used when somebody cannot explain away things which are attributed to gods but are patently evil, e.g., the OT genocides. One can have inscrutability, for sure – but the price of inscrutability is that if the gods are that poorly known, then there is no point in saying anything about them at all.

But disparity of scrutiny like that is what many forms of faith thrive on. Are the gods scrutable? It depends upon whether you have a good opinion of them. If so, yes. If not, no.

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Only tangentially. I was looking at it from the point of view of the Evidential Problem of Evil (“2. There exists instances of gratuitous evil”), not from the point of view of consoling people.

But I suppose the same issue applies – people only say “God has a reason for everything. We just don’t always get to know what it is on this side of heaven.” when something bad happens. But if that principle applies to the bad, it must also apply to the good and indifferent. At which point you have admitted not knowing what God’s reasons are for anything.

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This seems pretty close to how I see some Christians thinking. I agree with you and @Puck_Mendelssohn that it is for sure biased amongst Christians to use the “His ways are not our ways” or “we don’t know this side of heaven” phrasing when it comes to trying to explain evil in the world. However, I do think it’s also fairly commonly used to explain good things too.

Hmmm, that sort of sounds a bit like saying God is … God. I mean, I get it, and that can be taken to an extreme and abused, but it seems less than surprising that humans might not have a firm grasp on God’s reasons for things.

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It is, but I wasn’t so much thinking about “evil in the world” as “evil of gods themselves.” So, for example, divine endorsement of genocides is routinely, in my experience, chalked up to “nobody can really understand what the gods are up to or why they do what they do” while the good nature of the same gods is routinely and uncritically accepted as well established and understood. I never see anyone point to a kind act of a god and say, “well, hold your horses. We don’t know if FSM was being kind or whether he had some other unknowable purpose.”

For sure. If there’s a transcendent critter that drifts in and out of visibility according only to its own caprice, a certain amount of inscrutability will naturally follow. But people whose intellectual habits require forming and evaluating hypotheses in the face of incomplete knowledge don’t just throw up their hands and say that the phenomena under study are inscrutable. One might expect, for example, that people would readily accept that the OT genocides attest to a god which is malevolent and wicked, and that attempts to state otherwise would fail to have much persuasive power due to their lack of evidentiary support. That a god might have some unknown purpose surely is no basis to infer that it has one and that that purpose is something we would recognize as morally good. I’m surprised at how seldom, on subjects like that, people point out that it’s likely that the writings of barbarous people about uncorroborated events might be unreliable and that the excuse this god might have is that he wasn’t really involved, despite what the Oval Office tapes may say.


Sounds perfectly reasonable. Is an infant capable of judging the actions of its parents?

A flawed analogy if I ever saw one.


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