In “A street apologist puts me in my place” I provide a link to an extended critique of my critique of Bill Craig, courtesy of Pinecreek Doug. I’m laboring under some work deadlines at the moment so I asked my readers to view Pinecreek Doug’s extended critique and summarize the gist for me. Bilbo wrote the following:
The Theistic apologist’s reply (and I think this would include Randal) to the problem of evil is to say that God could have sufficiently justifiable reasons for allowing evil that we do not know about.
Doug is using that argument against Randal’s position of the Canaanite genocide stories in the Hebrew Scriptures. Doug is asking Randal, couldn’t God have sufficiently justifiable reasons for commanding the Israelites to commit genocide, that we do not know about?
If Randal agrees that God could have such reasons, then why doubt the historical accuracy of those stories?
If Randal thinks that God could not have such reasons, then why think the argument is any good against the problem of evil?
And here’s perhaps the most important part. Pinecreek Doug replied: “Bilbo, you nailed it!”
Okay, here’s a quick response. The question “Couldn’t God have sufficiently justifiable reasons for…” translates to “Is it possible that your putative moral knowledge that-p [e.g. that genocide is always wrong] could be in error? And if so, how do you know it isn’t in error?”
From that perspective, we see that Pinecreek Doug’s dilemma is, in fact, a token example of a general type: how do you know that your fallible beliefs have not failed you in this instance?
That, of course, is a problem that applies to everyone whatever their beliefs. Consider the secular rule utilitarian who insists that raping a child could never be morally justified because such a heinous act could never lead to an increase in the overall good (happiness; pleasure; or whatever) for the most people. But then along comes Pinecreek Doug to ask, how do you know that your fallible beliefs have not failed you in this instance?
The answer is, the mere possibility that one could be wrong in believing that-p is not sufficient to provide an undercutting defeater for that-p. Just as one need not show definitively that solipsism is false to believe it is false (and know it is false if it is, in fact, false) so one need not show definitively that one could not possibly be wrong in believing that rape could never increase the collective good in order to believe (and know) that it could never increase the collective good.
And the same goes with claims that God commanded genocide. The mere claim that one could be wrong in this belief is not, in itself, sufficient to consider that one might indeed be wrong as a live possibility, one which could undercut one’s current belief that one is correct.
Since that mere possibility of fallibility is insufficient to undercut one’s belief/knowledge, what is really required is either a stronger undercutting defeater that provides a good reason to question the reliability of our beliefs in these matters or a substantive rebutting defeater which provides a good reason to believe that our moral convictions in these matters are, in fact, false.
For further discussion of these themes, see my article “Could God command something morally heinous?“