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Thursday, 4 August 2016

My Oxford BPhil Thesis

before I became a poet I was an academic philosopher. I threw in the towel as a result of various *life events*. My Masters thesis was a thorough and (I thought) groundbreaking treatment of an important topic in the philosophy of religion. At Oxford our work was anonymously marked, and the following was granted a pass, but ONLY JUST. It did not get a good mark; I had taken two years out of my life at considerable personal expense, and was unable even to find out who had marked the damn thing, still less get any meaningful feedback. Anyway, I recently and unexpectedly found my old thesis, and am posting it here. Share, cite, criticise and ignore with abandon. 

Introduction

Skeptical theism constitutes a popular method for disarming the evidential argument from evil. The view holds, very roughly, that we should not expect to comprehend whatever reasons God may have for allowing what seems to us to be utterly pointless evil. Criticisms of skeptical theism are rife in the literature. My purpose in this thesis is to develop what seems to me an underexplored line of criticism, yet one which, if successful, would be highly damaging – that skeptical theism leads to full-blown Cartesian skepticism, and, via this, to the moral skepticism that skeptical theists have devoted much energy attempting to avoid.
   Now I do not claim that the contention that skeptical theism leads to full-blown Cartesian skepticism has gone hitherto unnoticed. For example, John Beaudoin (2000, pp298-299) and Stephen Maitzen (2009, pp96-97) explicitly mention it, and philosophers such as Ian Wilks (2009, pp67-68), Wes Morriston (2009, p265), Jim Stone (2003, pp263-265; 2011, pp65-66), Theodore Drange (1998, p207), Mark Bernstein (1998, pp160-161), Bruce Russell (1996, pp196-197) and Richard Gale (1996, p209) make related observations. Yet most of these authors devote little more than a paragraph or two to the contention. Nowhere, to my knowledge, has it been given the kind of extended, detailed treatment it is my purpose in this thesis to give it. Furthermore, although the allegation that skeptical theism leads to moral skepticism has been much discussed, nowhere, to my knowledge, has it been suggested that it does so via the contention that God could be deceptive, and hence deceiving us with regard to moral matters. I thus intend this thesis to provide a novel and valuable contribution to the numerous and growing literature on skeptical theism.
   In Chapter 1 I adumbrate an example of an ‘evidential argument from evil’, explain and motivate the skeptical theist position, show how this view enables a response to the evidential argument, and briefly defend the view from an initial objection.
   In Chapter 2 I discuss the allegation that skeptical theism leads to moral skepticism, and hence to a kind of ‘paralysis’ when it comes to making moral decisions. I attempt to provide the skeptical theist with some ways of countering this allegation. These appeal both to the scriptural considerations which, given her theism, the skeptical theist may well be attracted to (and which helped motivate her position in the first place), and to the view that her epistemic position in fact enables the skeptical theist to have various justified beliefs about morality.
   In Chapter 3 I argue that these lines of response, whilst perhaps initially persuasive, are powerless against the claim that skeptical theism leads to the view that, for all we can tell, we are being radically deceived by God, a view from which moral skepticism in turn follows.
   Chapter 4 draws some connections between what I shall thus call ‘the maximally deceptive God hypothesis’ and another skeptical hypothesis often discussed in the contemporary literature – the ‘brain-in-a-vat’ hypothesis. I argue that some of the most powerful and popular methods for disarming the skepticism supposedly engendered by this latter hypothesis are, for various reasons, not available to the skeptical theist.
   Throughout Chapters 1-4 I deal with various objections as they arise. What I take to be the most important ones, however, are saved until Chapter 5, by which point I shall have the resources to develop and tackle them. Thus, if I may flatter myself by appropriating the words of the good Bishop Berkeley (2008, p67):
I make it my request that the reader suspend his judgement, till he has once, at least, read the whole [thesis] through with that degree of attention and thought which the subject matter shall seem to deserve. For...there are some passages that, taken by themselves, are very liable (nor could it be remedied) to gross misinterpretation, and to be charged with the most absurd consequences, which, nevertheless, upon an entire perusal will appear not to follow from them...

In dealing with the relevant objections, I thus clarify and solidify my case for the conclusion that skeptical theism leads, via considerations of deception, to moral skepticism.
   Of course, as Robert Nozick (1974, pxiii) notes, “[t]here is room for words on subjects other than last words”. My argument in this thesis may well therefore trail several loose ends in its wake. I shall largely leave the discovery of and dealing with these loose ends as possible areas for future research. However, in Chapter 6 I shall mention three areas in which they may arise, and briefly say something as to why I think their prospects for creating problems for my argument seem dim. This chapter also contains my concluding remarks, in which I (tentatively) suggest that the case put forward in this thesis may amount to a moral argument against theism itself.
   Now I shall often have occasion to discuss ‘theism’, or ‘the theist’. I shall understand the theist as committed to the following claim:
(T)       God exists, and is the unique, omnipotent, omniscient, morally perfect creator of the universe.

However, I take it that someone who endorses (T) is likely to be a theist also in a broader sense, i.e. to subscribe to one of the great religions. Thus, in talking of ‘theism’ I shall largely be concerned with Western (i.e. Judeo-Christian) monotheism. I shall also often have occasion to mention ‘scripture’ or ‘scriptural considerations’. By this, I shall understand the Old and New Testaments (references to which will be from the English Standard Version). Investigating whether the arguments put forward in this thesis gain any support from Islam and the Koran, or indeed any other religion or religious text, might itself be an interesting project for future research, but is unfortunately one which limitations on time, space and expertise prevents me from undertaking here.





1: Skeptical Theism and the Evidential Argument from Evil

In this chapter I adumbrate an example of an evidential argument from evil, motivate the skeptical theist position, and show how this view is commonly invoked as a response to the evidential argument. I then go on to respond, on behalf of the skeptical theist, to an objection levelled by Richard Swinburne (1998).

1:1 The Evidential Argument from Evil
The ‘evidential argument from evil’ has evolved through various incarnations. The following is representative of the general form of William Rowe’s original (1979) version of the argument, where an instance of evil is ‘pointless’ just in case it could have been “prevented without thereby losing some greater good or permitting some evil equally bad or worse” (Rowe 1979, p336):[1]
(1)         Pointless evils exist.
(2)         Pointless evils would not exist if God exists.
(3)         God does not exist. (from 1 & 2)
This argument is clearly valid. The aim of what I shall call the ‘evidentialist’ is to lend rational weight to each of its premises. Both theists and atheists typically hold that no possible world contains both God and pointless evil – that is, they typically hold that (2) is true. Let us look, then, at how (1) is commonly supported by the evidentialist.
   Consider Rowe’s famous example of a fawn, horribly burned in a forest fire and left to die a slow, lingering death. Rowe (1979, p337) claims that “[s]o far as we can see, the fawn’s intense suffering is pointless” – there are no greater goods we can conceive of such that the fawn’s suffering is logically connected to these goods, and thus such that sparing the fawn’s suffering would diminish them, and there are no other evils (either equally bad or worse) we can conceive of such that sparing the fawn’s suffering would necessitate their occurrence. Call an instance of evil ‘inscrutable’ just in case we are unable, after careful consideration, to conceive of the goods or evils by dint of which it would have a point. The fawn’s suffering seems to many to be an example of an inscrutable evil.
   In order for this to lend rational weight to premise (1), the evidentialist seems to need some inference to the effect that if E is an instance of inscrutable evil, then we are rationally justified in viewing E as an instance of pointless evil. With this inference in place, we will be rationally justified in accepting (1), and thus, given (2), in denying God’s existence. What skeptical theism does is deny that any such inference from inscrutable to pointless evils will work.

           1:2 Motivating Skeptical Theism
The core claim of theism was expressed by (T) in the Introduction. Let us understand by ‘skeptical theism’ (ST) the conjunction of (T) with the following claim:
(S)       For all we can tell, there are lots of facts about goods, evils, and the connections between goods and evils, of which human beings are unaware.

Some philosophers contend that (S) is plausible independently of (T). Michael Bergmann (2001, p279), for example, claims that “[i]t just doesn’t seem unlikely that our understanding of the realm of value falls miserably short of capturing all that is true about that realm”, and that “[o]ne can recognize this even if one is not a theist”. Furthermore, William Alston’s (1996a, p120) reference to our ignorance of “the secrets of the human heart, the detailed structure and constitution of the universe, and the remote past and future, including the afterlife if any”[2] seems to support (S), as does Daniel Howard-Snyder’s (1996, p301) observation that
[k]knowledge has progressed in a variety of fields of inquiry, especially the physical sciences. The periodic discovery of previously unknown aspects of reality strongly suggests that there will be further progress of a similar sort. Since future progress implies present ignorance, it is very likely that there is a good deal of which we are now ignorant.

Given the progress that it seems reasonable to think has been made in matters of morality, Howard-Snyder thus argues, it would not be surprising if there were aspects of axiological reality of which we are presently ignorant. Presumably, one can appreciate Alston’s and Howard-Snyder’s points even if one is not a theist.
   Not everyone, however, agrees that (S) is so plausible. Joel Tierno (2006, p171) argues that “no good reason can be offered to support [it]”, whilst Richard Gale (1996, p210) goes further, offering a reason to reject it with the claim that “[a] hidden morality is no morality”. In response to these points, we can note that if (T) were true then this itself would render (S) highly plausible. Jim Stone (2003, p259) claims that (S) “has the force of a mere skeptical hypothesis[3] unless it is motivated by a plausible theory”, and (T) may provide just such a theory. The first thing to note is that, in the light of God’s existence, to think that (S) is false would surely be to evince “a human chauvinism that is certainly out of place in a world of [God’s] super-human moral sensitivities” (Sennett 1993, p225). In other words, given that God is one of the ‘participants’ in morality, it seems unreasonable to be so sure that none of the moral realm should be hidden from us: “[o]n the theistic conception, our cognitive powers, as opposed to God’s, are a bit slim for that” (Plantinga 1996a, p73).
   And whilst (S) may seem plausible even in the absence of (T), what also seems true is that a denial of God’s existence may accommodate itself more readily than theism to a denial of (S), i.e. to Gale’s intuition about morality. For example, it is often argued[4] that only theism can accommodate objective moral facts (or, at any rate, that theism can accommodate them more easily than can a denial of God’s existence). An ‘objective’ moral fact would be one whose obtaining is “prior to and logically independent of” (Mackie 1977, p30) human beliefs, attitudes and conventions, one which is part of “the fabric of the world” (p15). One common line of thought is that, in the absence of God’s existence, there would be nothing to ground such objective moral facts; they would be left floating in a ‘queer’ sort of way.[5] Interestingly, J. L. Mackie, who famously denies the existence of objective moral facts (in part on the grounds of queerness), seems to endorse something like this view with the claim “that if the requisite theological doctrine could be defended, a kind of objective ethical prescriptivity could be thus introduced”, maintaining furthermore that “[s]ince I think that theism cannot be defended, I do not regard this as any threat to my argument” (p48).
   Now this would lend weight to my earlier claim that (T) supports (S), which might be questioned on the grounds that it doesn’t follow from God’s superior epistemic power that there are any extra moral facts that God grasps. The point is that if such facts themselves depend on God for their existence, then skepticism concerning our awareness of such facts is licensed simply by an awareness of our cognitive deficiencies in comparison with God’s. And were moral facts not objective then (S) might be rendered implausible, on the grounds that there are no human beliefs, attitudes and conventions about morality of which human beings are unaware. Thus, inasmuch as a denial of theism would bring with it, or at least lend weight to, the denial of objective moral facts, such a denial “accommodates more readily [than theism] the claim that the very nature of morality is such that morality can’t outstrip what human beings could ever know” (Maitzen 2009, p97).
   With these points in mind, we can also note scriptural reasons for viewing (S) as a natural concomitant for many people subscribing to (T), thus providing at least some evidence against Hugh McCann’s (2009, p177) objection to skeptical theism on the grounds that “[t]he Western religious tradition is not one according to which God leaves us in the dark about his purposes”. We have, for example, God asking of Job the following question, which presumably is to be answered in the negative: “Do you know the ordinances of the heavens?” (Job 38: 33).  Likewise, Isaiah 55: 9: “For as the heavens are higher than the earth, so are my ways higher than your ways, and my thoughts than your thoughts”, 1 Corinthians 1: 20-21: “Has not God made foolish the wisdom of the world?” and Romans 11: 33-34: “Oh, the depth of the riches and wisdom and knowledge of God! How unsearchable are his judgments and how inscrutable his ways!” Even if not all of these points are explicitly directed specifically at the difference in moral knowledge between God and humans, they seem naturally applicable to it. Indeed, God’s decree at Genesis 2: 17 that Adam may eat the fruits of any tree, except that of the knowledge of good and evil, may well seem to imply that at least a degree of ignorance concerning matters of good and evil is our proper condition.
   Furthermore, without (S) much of God’s activity in scripture would not to make sense. Take, for example, God’s command at Genesis 22: 1-2 that Abraham prepare to kill Isaac, or His command at Joshua 6: 16-21 to destroy Jericho. True, God’s “reasons for giving some of the most shocking commands are often quite explicit” (Morriston 2009, p264), but what is commanded still seems “obviously disproportionate to these objectives” (Murphy 2010, p156). In the absence of (S) it should therefore strike theists as inconceivable that a morally perfect God should issue such commands. Given (S), however, we should not be surprised to find God commanding things whose goodness we, even after revelations as to God’s reasons, are still unable to fathom, which is what, in considering the relevant passages, many find to be the case.
   Now as regards God’s command to Abraham, Kant (1979, p115) famously claimed:
Abraham should have replied to this supposedly divine voice: ‘That I ought not to kill my good son is quite certain. But that you, this apparition, are God – of that I am not certain, and never can be, not even if this voice rings down to me from (visible) heaven.’ (my italics)[6]

But, crucially, Abraham did not reply in this way. I thus suggest that a tacit awareness of (S) can plausibly be seen as at least part of what compelled the people of the Book to endeavour to obey God’s commands, and indeed to refrain from doubting that they are God’s commands. James Rissler (2002, p141) hence writes:
To suppose that it is true that an abhorrent command really is good, may require faith approaching Abraham’s (or Isaac’s) in strength, but I see no reason to think it impossible, especially if we remind ourselves how meagre our epistemic abilities are.

   These considerations show that, irrespective of the independent plausibility of (S), for many with a prior commitment to (T), (ST) seems a natural position to adopt.

1:3 The Skeptical Theist Response
Several philosophers[7] have argued that, given (S), we are not entitled to make the inference from the existence of inscrutable evils to (1). For given (S) it seems to follow that, for all we can tell, there exist unknown goods such that inscrutable evils are logically connected to these goods, and thus such that God’s preventing inscrutable evils would diminish them, or that there exist unknown evils, equally bad or worse, such that God’s preventing the inscrutable evils would necessitate them (or that there exist known goods/evils that inscrutable evils are related to by unknown connections). In other words, skeptical theists contend that our epistemic position does not entitle us to infer pointless evils from inscrutable ones: “we are in no position to rule out that there are moral reasons for God’s allowing the world’s evils to occur” (Pereboom 2004, p161). What I want to do now is to adumbrate a particular, famous example of a skeptical theistic strategy for blocking this inference.
   Stephen Wykstra (1984, 1996, 2009) denies that the inference from inscrutable to pointless evils is a good one on the basis of an epistemic principle he terms ‘CORNEA’ (‘Condition Of ReasoNable Epistemic Access’). According to CORNEA, person P is entitled move from the claim that “I see no x” to the claim that “it is reasonable to believe that there is no x” just in case it is reasonable for her to believe that the presence of x would be discernible by her (Wykstra 1996, p126). To illustrate: I am not aware of any Buddhists living in my area. But, according to CORNEA, I would not be entitled to conclude, on the basis of this, that it is reasonable for me to believe that there are no Buddhists living in my area: were there Buddhists living in the area, it is not reasonable that I should expect things to seem any different to how they in fact seem. Buddhists generally don’t go out of their way to make themselves conspicuous to others, and besides, the area in which I live is very large, and I have only met a very small percentage of its population. Thus, my epistemic position is such that I lack access to the data that would make the presence of Buddhists discernible.
   It easy to see how the CORNEA principle, in conjunction with (S), would block the inference from inscrutable evils to premise (1). By CORNEA, such an inference would be reasonable only if there is good reason to think that were the instances of inscrutable evil not pointless, they would not be inscrutable, that were there to be some overriding justification for God’s allowing such evils, we would be cognizant of it. But, given (S), it is unreasonable to think that such a condition is met: given (S), for all we can tell it is the case that were inscrutable evils not pointless, they would still be inscrutable. Our epistemic limitations are such that we simply may not be privy to the relevant data regarding goods, evils, and the connections between them, that would enable us to make the inference from inscrutable evils to premise (1).
      Now I do not claim that all skeptical theists will want to accept CORNEA, but it does sound quite plausible. Furthermore, Justin McBrayer (2010a, p61) notes that “many skeptical theists...defend similar sounding principles”. In §4:5 I shall argue that accepting CORNEA seems to afford the skeptical theist with an initially promising line of response to my argument in chapter 3.

1:4 Swinburne’s Objection
Before proceeding, however, I want briefly to offer, on behalf of (ST), a reply to a different line of argument. The skeptical theist’s response to the evidential argument from evil seems based on the view that, for all we can tell, there is some unknown good the obtaining of which justifies God in allowing inscrutable evils, or some unknown and even worse (or equally bad) evil the prevention of which likewise justifies Him. Thus, the skeptical theist’s response to the evidential argument seems based on the view that we may well see the world as worse than it really is. Writing in direct response to Wysktra, Swinburne (1998, p27)  thus objects: “Why should our inadequacies of moral belief lead us to suppose that the world is worse rather than better than it really is?” (my italics).
   Viewing the skeptical theist’s response to the evidential argument from evil in the light of the aforementioned scriptural grounds for (S) enables a ready response to Swinburne. For as well as God’s commands at Genesis 22:1-2 and Joshua 6:16-20, consider God’s prohibitions at Leviticus 19:19-20. Here, the fact that God prohibits what to us seems morally innocuous implies that the world can seem better to us than it really is: we ordinarily see nothing wrong with breeding cattle with other livestock, and with people wearing garments containing both linen and wool, but, given God’s commands here, these states of affairs are worse than they appear.
   It might further be objected that these states of affairs are only bad inasmuch as they constitute a disobeying of God’s commands (i.e. that interbreeding of livestock and wearing garments containing both linen and wool are not of independent moral significance), and that the failure to obey God’s commands is an evil of which we are aware. But why should God issue the commands He does? The point is that, in the absence of (S), God’s commands at Leviticus 19: 19-20 would be arbitrary, supported by no independent reasons. Thus Maimonides (1904, p310) wrote:
[O]ur Sages generally do not think that such precepts have no cause whatever, and serve no purpose; for this would lead us to assume that God's actions are purposeless. On the contrary, they hold that even these ordinances have a cause, and are certainly intended for some use, although it is not known to us; owing either to the deficiency of our knowledge or the weakness of our intellect...[T]he giving of these commandments is not a vain thing and without any useful object; and if it appears so to you in any commandment, it is owing to the deficiency in your comprehension.

Given that (S) enables the skeptical theist to view God’s prohibitions at Leviticus 19: 19-20 as based on independent moral principles, even where we can’t ourselves think of what such principles could be, the skeptical theist is able to meet Swinburne’s objection. 
   We have already seen that, for the theist, (ST) is a natural position to adopt. When this natural position is combined with the apparently plausible CORNEA principle, it seems that we have an attractive response to the evidential argument, a response that, given the scriptural considerations that motivated it, need not succumb to Swinburne’s objection. The following chapter looks at a different objection, and marshals some further responses on behalf of the skeptical theist.



2: Moral Skepticism?

It is sometimes alleged that (ST) leads to the following implausible sort of moral skepticism:
(MS)    No human being is ever rationally justified in believing any moral proposition.

Skeptical theists, of course, adduce a range of considerations in favour of the view that (ST) does not lead to (MS). In this chapter I shall attempt to provide the skeptical theist with some persuasive manoeuvres for blocking (MS). Before I get to this, however, it will be useful briefly to consider the ways in which her position might seem to lead to it.

2:1 The Allegation of Moral Skepticism
Recall that the skeptical theist attempts to block the evidentialist’s inference from inscrutable to pointless evils. The skeptical theist claims, in effect, that the fact that a given evil seems pointless to us is no evidence for the claim that it is pointless. But if such an inference is successfully blocked, then so too might seem to be any inference from the way things (morally) seem to us to the way we are rationally justified in believing they are; fallibility in inferring pointless evils might thus seem to imply that “one might be wrong about the rightness or wrongness of any particular act” (Rissler 2002, p127). As Jeff Jordan (2006, p408) notes, (ST) “drives a wedge between the appearances of good and evil, and what it’s reasonable to believe about good and evil”. In other words: if, as (ST) holds, our most powerful intuitions and arguments for the claim that certain evils are pointless are not good enough in rendering us rationally justified in believing that they are, then it seems that these same intuitions and arguments will not suffice to render us rationally justified in believing any moral proposition whatever. If our faculties may be “systematically misleading” (Jordan 2006, p414) when it comes to inferring pointlessness, then what else might they be systematically misleading with regard to? And if we may be mistaken in our judgements concerning, say, the moral status of things such as wearing both linen and wool, then we could be equally mistaken when it comes to things such as “the apparently morally neutral state of affairs of wearing a cap” (Jordan 2006, p412), “going for a pleasant walk” (Stone 2003, p255), or even the “relationships of love and mutual concern between parents and children” (Hasker 2010, p23).
   The lesson to be drawn from (ST)’s treatment of the evidential argument from evil, it thus seems to some, is that we are cognitively limited beings, and as such are simply unreliable when it comes to making moral judgements. All our most carefully thought-out moral theories founder on the recalcitrant data that are the inscrutable things that a nevertheless perfectly-good God does/commands, and thus “our moral compass is all but useless. For all we know, up is down and down is up” (Aikin & Ribeiro, forthcoming, p5). And if this is true, (MS) surely follows.[8]
   Now (MS) not only seems counterintuitive but also downright pernicious, for “our actions in any given situation are based, at least in part, on our beliefs regarding certain aspects of that situation, these beliefs supplying the reasons for acting the way we do” (Da Costa & French 1988, p4). From (MS) it would follow that we are not smart enough or well-equipped enough to rationally determine the moral status of any action or situation, so it seems that we can have no moral basis for deciding to do one thing rather than another in any given situation. In other words, (MS) leads to moral paralysis.[9] Ought I to rescue the drowning child, if doing so would come at no obvious cost to me or to anyone else? Given (MS), I simply cannot say – my moral faculties are unreliable, so “I cannot use the resources that I have at hand in order to reason my way to a choice” (Almeida & Oppy 2003, p510); I have “lost [my] grip on the possibility of using moral judgements as a guide to action” (Fales 1992, p302). But this, obviously, is ridiculous: in such a situation, it is manifestly clear what, from a moral perspective, I ought to do.

2:2 Responding to the Allegation
2:2:1 Scriptural Considerations
So the skeptical theist is at the very least presented with a challenge: she must show that her position does not lead to (MS), with its pernicious consequence of moral paralysis. How, then, might the skeptical theist go about doing this? One crucial thing to note is that (ST) is a conjunction of theses. As Michaels Bergmann and Rea (2005, p244) highlight, “skeptical theists, after all, are theists”, and thus it may well be that the theistic element of (ST) serves to constrain its skeptical element.
   An initial point is that once one accepts (T), the scope of (MS) is thereby immediately attenuated. Since (T) refers to God’s moral perfection, it might plausibly be maintained that (T) itself is a moral proposition. So anyone with a prior commitment to (T) will see themselves as justified in holding at least this moral proposition to be true. But it clearly wouldn’t be good enough if this were the only moral proposition that the skeptical theist is justified in believing – were this the case, then the unacceptable consequence of (MS), that we have no moral basis on which to make decisions, would still obtain. We shall therefore have to see what else her antecedent commitment to theism will enable the skeptical theist to salvage.
   Given the “standard theistic background assumptions” (Bergmann & Rea 2005, p245) against which (ST) is usually adopted (i.e. the standard assumptions of Judeo-Christian monotheism), it seems that the contention that (ST) leads to a kind of paralysis when it comes to making moral decisions can indeed be undercut. Recall the discussion of Genesis 22: 1-2 and Joshua 6: 16-21 in §1:2, as well as Leviticus 19: 19-20 in §1:4. Bergmann and Rea (2005, p244) note that “theists very typically believe that God has commanded his creatures to behave in certain ways; and they also very typically believe that God’s commands provide all-things-considered reasons to act”. And commands such as Leviticus 19: 16, which states: “you shall not stand up against the life of your neighbour”, would seem to require us to rescue the drowning child. Thus, the proponent of (ST) can argue that her position needn’t commit her to the kind of moral paralysis seemingly entailed by (MS). As Ira Schnall (2007, p63) writes, “since God, in effect, told us to save lives and relieve suffering, we can be confident that, from our religious perspective, that is what we ought to do”.
   The skeptical theist can also use her standard theistic background assumptions in order to attack (MS) directly. Just as it can be argued on the basis of certain scriptural passages that a degree of ignorance concerning matters of good and evil is our proper condition, it can also be argued on a similar basis that, contra (MS), we are not in a state of total myopia on this issue. After all, Adam did consume the fruit of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil (Genesis 3: 6), implying that mankind thus ingested a certain amount of knowledge in such matters. Furthermore, Romans 2: 14 holds that persons can be led “by nature” to do what morality demands, and Genesis 1: 27 depicts mankind as being created “in the image of God”. Again, this latter claim may not explicitly concern morality, but again it seems naturally applicable to it: rather like the relationship between Plato’s particulars and the Forms, we may very well ‘fall short’ of God’s infinite (moral) wisdom, but we may also nonetheless ‘participate’ in it.[10]

2:2:2 Justification Relative to Epistemic Position
In rejecting (MS), the skeptical theist could also simply appeal to the way her skeptical thesis is formulated. Here it is again:
(S)       For all we can tell, there are lots of facts about goods, evils, and the connections between goods and evils, of which human beings are unaware.

This principle as stated does not seem to entail that we cannot tell of many goods that they are goods, that we cannot tell of many evils that they are evils, and that we cannot tell of many connections that they are connections. All it holds is that there may be, for all we can tell, facts about goods, evils, and the connections between goods and evils of which we are unaware, in addition to the ones of which we are. Consider an analogy: I am standing on the shore looking at an iceberg. For all I can tell, a large portion of this iceberg is invisible to me. This does not imply, however, that none of the iceberg is at all visible to me. In a similar way, it could be argued that “even if [(S) implies] that we do not know much about the realm of value, [it does] not at all imply that we know nothing about that realm” (Bergmann & Rea 2005, p244).
   Now, given that scripture licenses the view that human cognitive capacities are weak in comparison with God’s, but that they are not so weak as to imply that we humans need be totally ignorant about everything to do with morality, and given that the skeptical principle (S) seems consistent with this same view, the proponent of (ST) could formulate a notion of justified belief relative to epistemic position. In order to illustrate what I mean here, let me focus on two scenarios. The first is discussed by Walter Sinnott-Armstrong (2006), who in turn adapted it from Bertrand Russell (1948). Suppose Bethany is looking at a clock, sees that the clock reads 8:00, and thus comes to form the belief that the time is 8:00. Suppose also that, unbeknownst to Bethany, the clock in fact stopped some time ago. Is Bethany justified in believing that the time is 8:00? Sinnott-Armstrong (2006, p71) writes:
She does seem justified in one way. Bethany has strong grounds for believing that it is 8:00, and her grounds are neither overridden nor undermined by any information that she possesses. Bethany does base her belief in the time on a false belief about the clock, but she lacks any information that should make her suspect that the clock has stopped....[C]areful rational people who are limited to the same experiences, information and access as Bethany would use the same process or procedure to reach the same belief.

The crucial point is this: given everything that Bethany has discovered about clocks and about how to tell the time, and in the absence of any information available to her that should lead her to believe she is going wrong in this particular instance, she seems justified in believing that it is 8:00; relative to her epistemic position she seems justified in believing this.
   The second example draws on Howard-Snyder’s observation regarding the progress that has been made, and is likely still to be made, in various fields of inquiry. When we apply this to the moral realm, we uncover various examples of practices that used to be accorded a certain moral status, but are now accorded quite another. Mark Piper (2008, p138) discusses an example: “cannibalism has been considered a good before the higher notion of the good of respect for human persons has recast the activity as evil”. Now Piper seems to think that this supports the allegation that the skeptical theist has no grounds for avoiding (MS): for all we can tell, those things we deem good/evil might be trumped by unknown higher goods/evils, rendering our initial evaluation of them as goods/evils mistaken. I think, however, that Piper’s example is actually helpful in enabling the skeptical theist to avoid (MS). The crucial point is this: given everything that our cannibalistic ancestors had discovered about morality, i.e. given the state of their epistemic development with respect to such matters, they do seem justified in viewing cannibalism as morally permissible. They were not in possession of any information or concepts that should have caused them to doubt such a thing; relative to their epistemic position they were justified in believing it. And it is due to this notion of justification relative to epistemic position, I suggest, that we do not view the ancient Assyrians with the same sense of moral revulsion as we view, say, the Nazis.[11] Both were capable of exceptional cruelty, but the epistemic limitations of the former with respect to moral matters may well have rendered the beliefs on which they acted justified.
   In the light of these two examples, it could be argued that, given everything that we as humans have discovered about our world and about the consequences of our actions – and (S), recall, is consistent with our having discovered various things – we can be rationally justified (relative to our epistemic position) in believing, for example, that the drowning of an innocent child is a pointless evil. This would just be to say that we are rationally justified in believing that there are no goods/evils that we as humans are aware of such that preventing it from occurring would diminish/increase them (and to invoke CORNEA: were there such goods/evils, then it is likely that we, as humans, would be aware of them). And this would seem both to obviate the allegation that (ST) leads to (MS), and to undercut the allegation that the skeptical theist is in a state of paralysis when it comes to making moral decisions. For, as Bergmann and Rea (2005, 247) note, the following line of reasoning seems plausible:
(i)                 There are many reasons available to us (i.e. given our epistemic position) for rescuing the drowning child.
(ii)               We have found no reasons for failing to rescue the drowning child.
(iii)             There is no reason to think (and, indeed, good reason to doubt) that any investigation that we could possibly conduct before having to make a decision about whether to prevent the drowning would turn up evidence pointing to even a weak pro tanto reason to permit the drowning of the child.
(iv)             Therefore, we ought to rescue the drowning child.[12]
   Crucially, (i), (ii) and (iii) are consistent with the view that, relative to God’s epistemic position, the drowning of the innocent child is not a pointless evil, and thus (iv) is consistent with the view that God, unlike us, is not required (or even able) to prevent it. Nick Trakakis and Yujin Nagasawa (2004, p35) thus argue that there are “differences...between a perfect being and a human being in virtue of their disparate roles”, and therefore that “the skeptical theist need only hold that it is God’s purposes or intentions that often elude us” (Trakakis & Nagasawa 2004, p23) – Romans 11: 33-34 refers, after all, to the inscrutability of God’s ways, not to the inscrutability of our ways. Keith Yandell (1993, p237) makes a similar point with the observation that
...it does not follow that because we ought not to allow something, God ought not to allow it, or that because it is permissible or right for God to allow something, it is permissible or right for us to do so,

as does Howard-Snyder (2009, p48), with the following claim:
The proposition that we should not be in doubt about whether intervention is for the best given just those things that we have considered is in no tension whatsoever with the proposition that we should be in doubt about whether intervention is for the best given just those things that God has considered.[13]

   Given all this, the skeptical theist seems able to maintain that we as humans are justified in believing various moral propositions whilst at the same time retaining a degree of skepticism sufficient to undermine the view that it is reasonable to believe that certain evils are pointless relative to God’s epistemic position. Thus, Bergmann (forthcoming, p17) claims that
...we have no good reason to deny that our perspective, when we contemplate [inscrutable evils], might differ significantly from a perfectly loving God’s perspective...Moreover, we have no good reason to deny that if we were able to have God’s perspective on the horrific suffering in question, we might wholeheartedly approve of his permission of it.

To relate this to our examples: given everything that Bethany has discovered about clocks, telling the time, etc, Bethany seems justified in believing that the time is 8:00; but were she cognizant of all the facts about her situation, including the fact that the clock has stopped, she would not seem justified in believing this. And given everything that they had discovered about the moral realm, our cannibalistic ancestors were justified in viewing cannibalism as morally permissible, but were they in possession of moral facts that we in our age are in possession of, they would not have been justified in believing this.
   Peter van Inwagen (1996a, p162) makes the point that “for all we know our inclinations to make value-judgements are not veridical when they are applied to cosmic matters unrelated to the concerns of everyday life” (my italics). Crucially, the evidentialist’s inference from inscrutable evils to pointless evils conflates the ‘cosmic matters’ and the ‘concerns of everyday life’. The evidentialist wants to argue, in other words, that the inscrutability of certain evils makes it reasonable to believe that such evils are cosmically pointless (i.e. pointless relative to God’s epistemic position), whereas all she would in fact be entitled to is that they are pointless with respect to the everyday concerns of human beings. She wants to argue that God should have prevented such evils, whereas all she would in fact be entitled to is that (in the absence perhaps of divine commands to the contrary) she should endeavour to prevent them.












3: The New Problem: Divine Deception

I have tried to provide the skeptical theist with some plausible suggestions as to how (MS) can be avoided. The dialectic could no doubt be continued: is it really good enough that we are only justified in believing moral propositions relative to our epistemic position? Aren’t there at least some such propositions that we take ourselves to be justified simpliciter in believing, for example (recalling Hasker’s quotation) that the “relationships of love and mutual concern between parents and children” is a good thing, and that the rape and killing of a five-year-old girl is wrong, as is
...the rape of a woman and the axing off of her arms, psycho-physical torture whose ultimate goal is the disintegration of personality, betrayal of one’s own deepest loyalties, child abuse of the sort described by Ivan Karamazov, child pornography, parental incest, slow death by starvation, the explosion of nuclear bombs over populated areas...(Adams 1999, p26)?[14]
  
   Now justification relative to epistemic position seems to me the best a skeptical theist can do, given that she endorses (S). I shall take up this issue again at various points, and in due course. For now, however, I want to continue the dialectic in a different way. What I argue is this: regardless of the success up until this point of the responses adduced in §2:2, they are powerless against the allegation that (ST) leads to a more pervasive type of skepticism. Since this extreme skepticism entails (MS), it follows that these responses will nonetheless allow (MS) to slip in ‘through the back door’.

3:1 Divine Deception
What we need to focus on is the issue of deception. Consider the kind of radical deception discussed by Descartes in the First Meditation. Descartes (2007, pp78-79) briefly considers the possibility that God is deceiving him:
[F]irmly rooted in my mind is the long-standing belief that there is an omnipotent God who made me the kind of creature I am. How do I know that he has not brought it about that there is no earth, no sky, no extended thing, no shape, no size, no place, while at the same time ensuring that all these things appear to me to exist just as they do now?

Of course, Descartes goes on to conclude that his notion of God is such that “God is supremely good and the source of all truth” (my italics), and thus that, whilst it may initially seem that he could be being deceived in this way, such deception cannot originate from God.
   But if (ST) is true, such confidence seems unfounded. Erik Wielenberg (2010) has recently gestured in this direction, arguing that, if (ST) is true, then we cannot justifiably believe that any divine assertion is true, since, for all we can tell, there is some unknown reason that  justifies God in lying to us with regard to it: “for any divine assertion that p, we lack justification for believing that it is false or unlikely that God’s act of intentionally asserting that p when p is false has beyond-our-ken justification” (p513). Wielenberg himself thinks that this argument does not support the view that, for all we can tell, God is deceptive in the way envisaged by Descartes; he argues that (ST) leads to an unpalatable overflow of skepticism regarding divine revelations, but that “this overflow remains within fairly definite limits” (pp515-516). The reason, according to Wielenberg, is that our evidence for various propositions, in contrast to our evidence for certain divine revelations, “is not limited exclusively to the word of God; we have plenty of empirical evidence that supports [them]” (p514).
   However, I would simply want to suggest that this evidence could itself be mistaken. My purpose in this chapter is thus to argue that Wielenberg’s considerations can easily be extended to full-blown Cartesian skepticism. For in response to Descartes’s contention that radical deception cannot originate from God, one can simply ask: granted that there may be many goods, evils and connections between them of which we are unaware, what would justify us in believing that radical deception on the part of God is not necessary for securing such unknown goods or preventing such unknown evils? Adopting (S) seems to deprive us of any basis on which to make this claim; it seems to deprive Descartes of his license to make the confident assertion that God’s goodness precludes His being deceptive.
   In the previous chapter I adumbrated some of the responses available to the skeptical theist in safeguarding her position from (MS). We can now ask: are such responses also helpful in defending (ST) against the allegation that it leads to the view that we cannot justifiably believe that we are not being radically deceived by God? I argue now that they are unhelpful.

3:2 Scripture and Divine Deception
We have seen that the skeptical element of (ST) is “not deployed in a vacuum” (Bergmann & Rea 2005, p244). Other theistic commitments, in particular the typical commitment to the truth of certain scriptural passages, serve to attenuate the scope of (ST)’s skepticism so as to filter out full-blown (MS). Now an important methodological point arises here. It might be objected that it is an unacceptable move on the part of the skeptical theist to make doctrinal assumptions that her opponent would reject, and thus that the appeal to scripture is an illegitimate argumentative tool in the defence against the allegations of §2:1.[15] This contention seems motivated by the claim that good arguments “are marked by a capacity not merely to confirm the belief of an ally but change the belief of an opponent. To do the latter requires that the argument begin on grounds acceptable to the opponent” (Wilks 2004, p309). But then this same claim would dictate that I accept (for the sake of argument) the scriptural assumptions which the skeptical theist is likely to want to make. That is why I have so far been taking them seriously, and I shall continue thus to do so. 
   With this in mind, what we find is that if the skeptical theist is to appeal to scripture in defending her position, she shall have to contend with the fact that, at various points, God is apparently presented in scripture as a deceiver. Interestingly, some of the passages that simultaneously lent support to (S) and obviated the allegation of moral paralysis seem themselves to be examples of divine deception: in Genesis 22: 1-2, God seems to have created in Abraham what later transpires to be the false impression that Isaac is to be killed, whilst in Genesis 2: 17 God declares what similarly transpires to be false – that “in the day that you eat of [the fruit] you will surely die”. And elsewhere, Jeremiah sees fit to complain: "Ah, Lord God, surely you have utterly deceived this people and Jerusalem, saying, 'It shall be well with you,' whereas the sword has reached their very life” (Jeremiah 4: 10), and again: “O Lord, you have deceived me and I was deceived” (Jeremiah 20: 7).
   Another apparent example of divine deception occurs at 2 Thessalonians 2: 11, which describes God as sending certain people a “strong delusion, so that they may believe what is false”. This ‘strong delusion’ is described as being sent by God to those who have “refused to love the truth”. When this is combined with the fact that scripture repeatedly emphasises our ‘fallen’ nature as humans, and our proneness to sin,[16] it seems reasonable to think that we are just such candidates for divine deception. Indeed, our tendency in modernity to accept what might be seen as just the sort of counterfeit signs and wonders deserving of divine deception is beautifully encapsulated by Simon and Garfunkel (1965) in their song ‘The Sound of Silence’:
And the people bowed and prayed
To the neon god they'd made
And the sign flashed its warning
In the words that it was forming
And the sign said the words of the prophets are written on the subway walls
And tenement halls
And whispered in the sounds of silence.

   Now recall Bergmann and Rea’s point that “theists very typically believe that God has commanded his creatures to behave in certain ways; and they also very typically believe that God’s commands provide all-things-considered reasons to act”. Whilst it is true that Leviticus 19: 11, for example, issues the general command not to “deal falsely”, and Proverbs 12:22 states that “Lying lips are an abomination to the Lord”, what also seems true is that there are nonetheless circumstances in which God commands that humans do engage in deceptive activity. For example, in Exodus 3:18, God commands Moses to ask the Pharaoh for a three day trip into the wilderness. This request is significantly less than the complete freedom promised to Moses by God, suggesting that Moses has been instructed deliberately to deceive the Pharaoh into believing that Moses’ proposed trip will be for merely three days. Similarly, in 1 Samuel 16: 2 God seems to be commanding that Samuel claim to the people of Bethlehem that he has come there merely to offer a sacrifice to God, so as to disguise from Saul his true purpose – to anoint a new king. Furthermore, following on from His command that Joshua destroy Jericho, Joshua 8: 2 has God commanding: “Lay an ambush against the city [Ai], behind it”. Joshua then lures the army of Ai out of the city, before the ambush troops emerge and destroy it. The king of Ai, of course, “did not know that there was an ambush against him behind the city” (Joshua 8: 14). It thus seems that God has commanded that Joshua create a false impression.
   Now, it seems plausible that God issues the commands He does based on the goodness of that which He commands – that there should be some goods that justify God in issuing what to us are inscrutable commands was part of what, I argued in §1:2 and §1:4, lent support to (S). So it follows from God’s commanding that humans deceive that deception can sometimes be a good thing. It could be objected that this applies merely to human deception (i.e. to the deception of humans by humans), but we can now take the observation, mentioned in §2:2:1, that humans are created “in the image of God”, and use it this time to our advantage, arguing that the potential goodness of human deception likewise speaks in favour of the possibility of divine deception. Thus Lee Basham (2002, p233) writes: “I suspect that God would lie, and probably does, for the same reasons we sometimes should”.
   Given all this, if an appeal to scripture is to be successful in shielding (ST) from (MS), then by parity of reasoning it should also be successful in establishing that deception is the sort of thing within God’s remit. If scripture is to be taken at face-value – and, as we have seen, many defenders of (ST) will feel the attraction of taking it this way – then van Inwagen (1996a, p161) seems incorrect when he claims that “it is plausible to suppose that deception…is inconsistent with the nature of a perfect being”.

3:3 Our Epistemic Position on Deception
Having softened the case against the possibility of divine deception, we can turn now to the second consideration in favour of limiting (ST) so as to exclude (MS). This was the view that we can justifiably believe various moral propositions relative to our epistemic position as human beings. The key question now is this: what does our epistemic position tell us about deception? Well, going back to ‘the concerns of everyday life’, it seems clearly to be the case that deception can be justified; echoing Romans 2: 14-15, we are often led “by nature” to view deception as such. Basham (2002, p234), following on from his above quotation, thus claims that “[s]ometimes we literally owe others a lie on their behalf”, whilst Robert Solomon (2009, p17), writing in a recent anthology on the philosophy of deception, similarly claims that “[t]he truth hurts. Sometimes it destroys. Lies can protect and inspire, and deception can serve noble ends”. Sissela Bok (1989, p45), in her wide-ranging study Lying, notes that “while Jewish texts regard lying as prohibited, certain lies, and especially those told to preserve the peace of the household, are regarded as exceptions”.[17] Such exceptions surely seem plausible. Bok concurs, claiming that “there are at least some circumstances which warrant a lie”.
   Consider also Nozick’s (1981, p179) case of the grandmother deceived about the health of her grandson so as to spare her from unnecessary anguish, or consider the famous (if hackneyed) objection to Kant’s strictures against deception: it would surely be good to deceive a potential murderer as regards the whereabouts of her intended victim. Indeed, this latter example is of clear relevance to the passage from 1 Samuel 16: 2: it seems reasonable to interpret Saul here as deserving of deception, since it has been claimed by Samuel that “If Saul hears it [i.e. Samuel’s intending to anoint a new king] he will kill me”. The point is that deception surely seems permissible (if not obligatory) as a means of staving off this threat.
   Now I noted above that we ourselves may be candidates for the sort of deception described at 2 Thessalonians 2: 11, since, due to our fallen nature, we may have forsaken our right to the truth. The relevant point now is that there do seem to be circumstances in which deception is justified toward a person who “has forfeited his or her right or has no legitimate claim to [the] truth” (Kaiser 1983, p225). And as this was applicable to 1 Samuel 16: 2, so too is it applicable to Exodus 3: 18. As regards this latter passage, Richard Patterson (1999, p394) suggests that
...trickery in the form of deliberate deception, whether in word or deed, appears to be justified under the normal circumstances of wartime activities. The same would apply where a quasi-wartime situation exists involving clear opposition to God and his people by a godless regime or individual.
                                                                                               
Presumably the Pharaoh is just such an individual, so common moral sensibility dictates that deceiving him is justified.
   That deception is often justified in circumstances of conflict is further evidenced in various other scriptural passages. I have already mentioned Joshua 8, in which success in battle seemed to rely essentially on creating a false impression. A further example is Gideon’s victory over the huge Midianite army (Judges 7), which likewise relied essentially on deceiving the unprepared Midianites into believing that Gideon’s mere three hundred soldiers were a formidable force. And referring to Rahab’s deceiving the king of Jericho with regard to the whereabouts of the Israelite spies (Joshua 2: 4-7),  James 2: 25 states: “was not even Rahab the prostitute justified by works when she received the messengers and sent them out by another way?” The point of these passages is that deception seems to have been justified under certain circumstances. Indeed, according to at least one interpretation,[18] Paul the Apostle had precisely this in mind when he proclaimed that conversation should be “seasoned with salt” (Colossians 4: 6).
   And of course, the relevant point here is that it is not only scripture, but also our common moral sensibility, that tells us that this is the case. Consider a case described by Diane Komp in her book Anatomy of a Lie. Komp (1998, pp18-20) tells the story of H. Clay Trumbull, a soldier taken captive at the Battle of Gettysburg. Fellow soldiers suggested an escape route, but Trumbull declined to take it, on the basis that doing so would require impermissibly deceiving his captors. I submit that, for most people, Trumbull’s stance will seem bizarre (especially given that Trumbull’s aversion to any form of deception was based on his strict religious viewpoint, a viewpoint which, as we have seen, seems in fact to sanction deception in precisely the sorts of circumstances in which Trumbull found himself). Indeed, Article 3 of the United States Military Code of Conduct proclaims it one’s duty to attempt escape, by all means available, in the event of capture. Thus, whilst God’s reasons for allowing pointless evils (and for issuing certain commands) may be inscrutable, I submit that God’s reasons for apparently commanding deceptive activity in the relevant scriptural passages are scrutable.
   Consider next an analogy sometimes appealed to by skeptical theists. It is sometimes claimed that the cognitive situation of humans in relation to God is analogous to that between a young infant and her parents.[19] This analogy is then used to illustrate the fact that, just as an infant can’t be expected to comprehend the goods/evils by dint of which her parents allow her to suffer certain pains – for example “when they bring her the Man with the White Coat, who sticks needles into her” (Wysktra 2009, p12) – we cannot be expected to comprehend the goods/evils by dint of which God allows us to suffer inscrutable evils. But the analogy between God and human parents itself lends weight to the view that deception can be justified, since “scenarios in which parents lie to their children for the good of the children present some of the most plausible cases of permissible lying” (Wielenberg 2010, p516). This was a point levelled against Descartes by both Mersenne and Hobbes in the Objections to the Meditations, the latter of whom claimed that “[i]t is the common belief that no fault is committed...by parents who mislead their children for their own good” (Descartes 1912, p77). And if the infant/parent analogy is pertinent in elucidating our cognitive relation to God, then the fact that parents are sometimes justified in deceiving their children will seem to speak in favour of the possibility of God’s sometimes being justified in deceiving us. Thus, Origen (1998, p217) proclaimed that “[w]e are all children of God and we need the discipline of children.  Because of this, God, since he cares about us, deceives us”.
   Given everything that our epistemic position tells us about the moral realm – i.e. “given our cognitive faculties, and the use we have made of them” (Wysktra 1984, p85) – we thus come to the conclusion that deception can be justified.

3:4 Taking Stock
Once all this has been allowed – that both scripture and ordinary moral practice seem frequently to show that deception can be justified – we can see that the replies adumbrated in §2:2 on behalf of (ST) will not rule out the possibility of divine deception; they encourage the view that divine deception is consistent with God’s goodness. Furthermore, since “skeptical theists, after all, are theists”, they are committed to (T), and hence to God’s omnipotence. Given all this, it seems strange that Wielenberg does not extend his argument to what seems to me its natural conclusion: since God is omnipotent, and deception is consistent with His goodness, we could be the victims (or beneficiaries?) of massive and wholesale deception – indeed, we could be deceived about everything. Call this ‘maximal deception’. (S) ensures that, for all we can tell, such maximal deception is necessary for securing some greater good or preventing some evil equally bad or worse, and hence that, for all we can tell, God is maximally deceptive.
   But if this is the case, then the responses discussed in §2:2 won’t rule out (MS) after all. For consider:
(4)         God is maximally deceptive.
(5)         If God is maximally deceptive, then everything any human believes is false.
(6)        Everything any human believes is false. (from 4 & 5)
(7)        Every moral proposition any human believes is false. (from 6)
Note how this argument mirrors the evidentialist’s argument from (1)-(3): in each case, we have a logically valid argument, and in each case the job of the argument’s proponents is to lend rational weight to its first premise. What I’ve in effect argued is that the skeptical theist’s attempts to shield (ST) from (MS) lend rational weight to (4), inasmuch as they lend weight to the view that divine deception is consistent with God’s goodness, which in turn allows (S), coupled with the view that God is omnipotent, to show that for all we justifiably believe (4) is true.
   But if, for all we justifiably believe, (4) is true, then, given (5), it follows that for all we justifiably believe all the propositions we believe are false (including all the moral propositions), from which it follows that (MS) is true: no human is ever justified in believing any moral proposition since, for all we justifiably believe, God is maximally deceptive, and the falsity of the propositions we believe follows if God is maximally deceptive. This seems to undermine the skeptical theist’s attempts to safeguard (ST) from (MS).
   Before proceeding let me broach some initial objections. It might be objected that the consequent of (5), and hence (6), could not be true, because some humans believe p, and other humans believe not-p, and these beliefs can’t both be false. However, to press this objection is to overlook the fact that, if one is not justified in believing not-(4), then one is not entitled to the assumption on which the objection rests, since if (4) is true then (as far as each of us is concerned) it is false that there are any other humans at all: that there are other humans is something I believe, and if (4) is true then everything that I believe is false.
   I have been using, and will continue sometimes to use, the first person plural. However, it must thus be understood that such usage is purely stylistic; it is not intended to bring with it any ontological commitment.
   It might further be objected that the consequent of (5) could not be true if one’s set of beliefs is coherent, because, as some idealists have held, “it is not possible for a genuinely coherent set of beliefs to include any false beliefs” (Foley 1979, p256); coherence is the criterion of truth.[20] But, as above, we can note that if she is not justified in believing not-(4), then the proponent of such a view would not be entitled to appeal to it in objecting to my argument, since, given (4), such a view itself would be false (as would the belief that the relevant belief-system is genuinely coherent, i.e. that the criterion is satisfied – God would be deceiving me into thinking it was). The same goes for a coherence theory not of truth but of justification,[21] which might seem to enable justified beliefs even given maximal deception – a totally false set of beliefs can still be coherent, and hence each belief within it could be justified. Once again, if one is not justified in believing not-(4) then the believer in the coherence theory of justification is unable to appeal to the theory in objecting to my argument.
   On the other side of this same coin, and related to the first objection above, it could be argued that individuals themselves may well in fact not have coherent but instead have contradictory beliefs. For example, one may both believe p and (simultaneously) believe not-p, and this would “guarantee that one has a true belief” (Foley 1979, p247), and thus that the consequent of (5) is false. Let me briefly note a reason for doubting that the skeptical theist will want to press this objection. My primary concern here is with (MS). It might thus be argued that persons may have contradictory moral beliefs,[22] but the existence of contradictory moral beliefs itself seems to lead to moral paralysis. The inability justifiably to believe not-(4) means that premise (ii) of Bergmann and Rea’s reasoning in §2:2:2 will not be satisfied (the reason for failing to rescue the drowning child being that our epistemic position is such that for all we justifiably believe we are mistaken in believing that we should). But even aside from this, the belief in both p and not-p means that (ii) will not be satisfied anyway in any situation in which one’s moral deliberation is based on either of these beliefs, and this without even the need for a divinely deceptive middleman.
   So these initial objections do not seem promising. I shall pick up some of the threads again, and deal with related objections, in chapter 5 (and, in the case of the latter coherentist proposal, in chapter 6). How, then, might the skeptical theist go about extricating herself from the situation?




4: Divine Deception and BIV Skepticism

4:1 Dealing with the Problem
In motivating the skeptical theist position by an appeal to the inscrutability of many of God’s commands in scripture, one is likely to be struck by the lingering question of how we can tell whether or not any putative divine command really is from God.[23] I will come back to this problem in §5:3, but for now we can note a related one: it follows from the inability justifiably to rule out (4) that Bergmann and Rea’s appeal to divine commands, and Schnall’s (2007, p60) contention that “revealed theistic religions…have a…satisfactory solution to the moral problem for skeptical theism”, will not be sufficient in dealing with my argument, since they leave us with no basis for justifiably believing that God is not deceiving us into thinking that He has issued the relevant commands and revelations when in fact He hasn’t. The skeptical theist thus cannot deal with the predicament merely by invoking “standard theistic background assumptions”.
   Now John Beaudoin (2000, p299) claims, with respect to the sort of problem with which I am concerned, that the skeptical theist “can enlist...whatever anti-skeptical considerations are available to anyone else”. But Beaudoin himself does not explore the options here, and I contend in this chapter that his claim is incorrect. In arguing for this, I shall consider the brain-in-a-vat (BIV) hypothesis. The BIV is a contemporary variant on Descartes’s skeptical hypothesis.[24] The basic idea is this: given all the experiences I am having, I cannot be rationally justified in believing that I am not a mere BIV, having its neurons stimulated by super-scientists so as to have exactly these experiences – all my current experiences are consistent with this possibility. But if I cannot be rationally justified in believing this, then it seems to follow that I cannot be rationally justified in believing many ordinary propositions, for example that I have a hand, since the falsity of such propositions follows from the BIV hypothesis. I argue now that some of the most common ways of responding to this problem are unavailable to the skeptical theist.

4:2 Inference to the Best Explanation
One line of response to the above argument is to reject the BIV hypothesis in favour of the common-sense hypothesis that my experiences are veridical, on the grounds of the explanatory inadequacy of the former hypothesis. Jonathan Vogel (1990, 2005) advances this type of response. In this section I outline Vogel’s argument, and show that it will not avail the skeptical theist with a satisfactory response to the skepticism engendered by the maximally deceptive God hypothesis.

4:2:1 Vogel’s Response
Vogel argues that skepticism based on the BIV hypothesis has its genesis in the underdetermination of theory by evidence. My belief, say, that I have a hand can equally be explained by the hypothesis that my experience as of a hand is veridical, and by the hypothesis that I am a BIV. Now, in cases of such underdetermination, Vogel (1990, p658) argues that “principles of inference to the best explanation can licence the choice of one theory over others”. Vogel thus argues that what he calls the ‘real-world hypothesis’, which is the common-sense view that my experiences are veridical and thus that the beliefs that I base on them are true, is a better explanatory hypothesis than the BIV hypothesis. This is seen, for example, when we consider that “our ordinary view of things involves beliefs in the existence of objects with familiar spatial characteristics” (1990, p663). Our experiences of such spatial characteristics is easily explained by the hypothesis that there really are objects with such characteristics, but the BIV hypothesis will have to account for the relevant phenomena in some other way. This other way, Vogel argues, “runs the risk of taking on a more elaborate explanatory apparatus than [the real-world hypothesis]”. Vogel (1990, pp663-664) sums up his case thus:
[N]iceties aside, the fact that something is spherical explains why it behaves like a sphere (in its interaction with us and with other things). If something that is not spherical behaves like one, this will call for a more extended explanation.

Since any such explanation will be inferior in terms of simplicity, coming across as contrived and indirect, Vogel thus argues that we are justified in rejecting the BIV hypothesis.
   Is this type of response open to the skeptical theist? Could the skeptical theist argue that she is justified in believing not-(4), on Vogel’s grounds that the maximally deceptive God hypothesis is a worse explanation for our common-sense experiences than is the real world hypothesis? Now it might be argued that Vogel’s style of argument is unsatisfactory as a response to skepticism generally,[25] and that for this reason it cannot be utilized by the skeptical theist. I shall not argue this. What I shall argue is that, even if it is successful as a response to BIV skepticism, Vogel’s move is unavailable to the skeptical theist.
   One possible line of thought is that, if (4) is true, then Vogel would be mistaken in thinking that “inferences to the best explanation licence the choice of one theory over others”. This may be correct, but I shall simply leave this type of response to one side.[26] With this in mind, consider once again the primary ground on which the skeptical theist seemed unjustified in believing not-(4). The reason was that the skeptical theist endorses (S), and (S) ensures that, for all we can tell, the obtaining of some unknown good or the preventing of some unknown evil justifies God in carrying out maximal deception. Now if the skeptical theist wants to apply Vogel’s strategy to the maximally deceptive God hypothesis, it seems primarily applicable to the principle on which such a hypothesis is based – (S). In other words, Vogel’s considerations should cause the skeptical theist to question her licence to her very skeptical thesis.
   Let me explain. Recall that, for the skeptical theist, (S) ensures that we are not entitled to infer pointless evils from inscrutable evils. To do so would be to conflate ‘cosmic’ concerns with the concerns of ‘everyday life’. But many people will still maintain that there are evils that seem cosmically pointless. Consider, for example, the following claim by Rowe (1979, p338):
In the light of our experience and knowledge of the variety and scale of human and animal suffering in our world, the idea that none of this suffering could have been prevented by an omnipotent being without thereby losing a greater good or permitting an evil at least as bad seems an extraordinary absurd idea, quite beyond our belief.” (my italics)
Rowe is claiming in effect that it seems to many of us as though there are evils that are cosmically pointless.  And this type of point seems behind the intuition, mentioned at the very beginning of the previous chapter, that there are some propositions which we seem justified in believing regardless of our epistemic position; to many, “one [must] recognize certain evils as unjustifiable from any moral point of view” (Wachterhauser 1985, p167 – my italics).
   So now we have some data, i.e. the fact that certain evils seem cosmically pointless, and we are faced with constructing a theory to explain this data. We have two competing hypotheses. Recall Gale’s claim that “a hidden morality is no morality”. This was essentially the denial of (S): it is not the case that, for all we can tell, there are facts about morality of which human beings are unaware. If this is true, then it is easy to explain why certain evils seem cosmically pointless: humans cannot conceive of a justification, because there is none. But adopting (S) renders such an appearance harder to explain. Once we are made aware of the plausibility of the view that, for all we can tell, our knowledge of the moral realm falls short of capturing all that is true about that realm, why should it still seem to us that the notion that God has a justification for allowing certain evils is “an extraordinary absurd idea, quite beyond our belief”? Reminding someone of the truth of (S) seems very unlikely to erase the appearance of cosmic pointlessness (Dougherty 2008, p175). The proponent of (S) therefore faces an explanatory burden that someone like Gale, who denies (S), doesn’t face: she must explain why such appearances remain.
   Vogel’s claim that the fact of something’s being spherical best explains its appearance as spherical seems applicable here: denying (S), which allows us to maintain that apparently cosmically pointless evils really are cosmically pointless, better explains their appearance as cosmically pointless than does any theory on which (S) is adopted. Bruce Russell (1996, p198) thus claims that
...failure to find any morally sufficient reasons for allowing certain instances, amounts, or types of suffering, after trying hard to come up with them, [is best explained by the view that] there are none. Barring other reasons for thinking there are, we should believe our sample of reasons is representative and that the best explanation of our failure to find a justifying reason is that there are none.[27]

Thus, Vogel’s response seems unavailable to the skeptical theist in responding to the maximally deceptive God hypothesis. If she wants to adopt this line of response at all, then it should cause her to question her licence to the very skepticism that constituted her primary weapon against the evidential argument from evil.

4:2:2 Objections and Responses
But (S) seems a very plausible thesis. Thus, it might be objected that a denial of (S), such as Gale’s and Russell’s, is independently highly implausible, and for this reason does not constitute the best explanation for the appearance of pointlessness in certain instances of evil. Analogously: the hypothesis that there is a pink elephant floating around in my room is independently highly implausible, so it does not constitute the best explanation for my seeming to see such a pink elephant there.
   Let me offer three responses to this objection.
   Firstly, as Trent Dougherty (forthcoming, p8) notes, “[t]here is something intuitive about[(S)]. Yet for some, this intuitive idea does not seem to have the same weight as the overwhelming impression of the gratuity of the profusion of inscrutable evil”. Indeed, Jerome Gellman (1992, p215) recalls that, in his teaching experience, similar intuitions were “very widespread and deeply felt” amongst students. Thus denying (S), for many, does not seem as implausible as the notion that certain horrific evils have a point.
   Secondly, waiving the point that the skeptical theist is not entitled to the view that other people exist (a point which will be waived for the rest of this section, not least because the relevant type of inference to the best explanation may well itself support the view that other people exist)[28], we might note that “skeptical theists, after all, are theists”, and insofar as they are Christians, might well hold that an inference to the best explanation would support the view that, if enough people were to bear witness to something highly implausible, it would be reasonable to view such a thing as in fact the case.[29] The obvious connection here would be with the Resurrection. Given this, we can undercut the ‘pink elephant’ objection by noting that if many, many people experience an overwhelming impression of the pointlessness of certain evils, and if the best explanation for this involves the denial of (S), then the type of theist we are considering here should reject (S).
   Thirdly, we saw at §1:2 that (T) is in fact part of what rendered (S) so highly plausible; in the absence of God’s existence (S) became easier to attack. Given this, if the denial of (S) enables a less “elaborate” explanation for why certain evils retain a strong appearance of pointlessness for many, many people; if (as seems to be the case) Vogel’s strategy would dictate favouring a denial of (S) for this reason, and if (T) strongly supports (S), then Vogel’s strategy would seem to dictate that we throw the baby out with the bathwater – that (T) is abandoned as well as (S). Thus, Vogel’s strategy would seem to speak in favour of what the evidentialist has wanted to claim all along – that the appearance of pointlessness in certain instances of evil makes it reasonable to believe that God doesn’t exist.
   But why did theism seem to support (S)? Part of the reason was that, as some have contended, only theism can accommodate objective moral facts, which in turn rendered (S) plausible. Indeed, if a denial of (S) brings with it a denial of objective moral facts, then the human inability to conceive of a justification for certain instances of evil may well render the evils in question pointless, which would in turn easily explain why they seem that way. But it might be objected that the skeptical theist could simply maintain a belief in objective moral facts the existence of which does not require theism.[30] And we might also note well that a common intuition regarding morality is surely that objective moral facts do exist. William Lane Craig (2004, p17) glosses the kind of objectivity that he thinks only theism can support this way:
[T]o say, for example, that the Holocaust was [objectively] wrong is to say that it was wrong even though the Nazis who carried it out thought that it was right and it would still have been wrong even if the Nazis had won World War II and succeeded in brainwashing or exterminating everyone who disagreed with them.

Now a denial of (S) will not readily explain the intuitions behind Craig’s claim that the Holocaust was wrong in this way if such a denial brings with it the denial of objective moral facts. Indeed, Mackie (1977, p30) himself notes that “the main tradition of European moral philosophy includes the...claim, that there are objective [moral facts]” (my italics), a view which “has also a firm basis in ordinary thought (p31), and explaining why this is nonetheless so in the absence of objective moral facts will clearly be a significant burden, a burden which Mackie attempts to discharge (pp42-46). Thus, it could be argued that Vogel’s considerations do not clearly favour a denial of (S) over (S), since both views carry heavy explanatory burdens.
   Two replies, I think, are in order. Firstly, it could be argued that a denial of objective moral facts, whether or not such facts are supposed to obtain independently of (T), can itself be reached via an inference to the best explanation. Recall Howard-Snyder’s claim that inference from past experience supports (S) by rendering the existence of currently unknown moral facts likely, and recall my subsequent discussion of cannibalism in §2:2:2. It could well be argued that the relevant data here in fact more readily support, via an inference to the best explanation, the denial of objective moral facts than they support (S). Thus as well as the ‘queerness’ objection we have Mackie’s (1977, p37) ‘Argument from Relativity:
[T]he actual variations in the moral codes [of different individuals and groups] are more readily explained by the hypothesis that they reflect ways of life than by the hypothesis that they express perceptions, most of them seriously inadequate and badly distorted, of objective values (my italics).

Of course, as Sinnott-Armstrong (2006, p200) notes, “everyone does seem to agree on some claims, such as that it is morally wrong to torture babies just for fun” (my italics), and, recalling my previous example, that the rape and killing of a five-year-old girl is wrong. But to attack Mackie’s point by arguing that the best explanation for the agreement here is the objective fact that such things are morally wrong would, by parity of reasoning, pave the way for the claim that another objective fact best explains another moral belief upon which it seems plausible to think that many people seem to agree: that certain evils are pointless. Now of course, those theists who endorse premise (2) of the evidential argument will not agree that certain evils are pointless. I come back to this point at the end of §4:4:1, but the relevant point here is that (assuming what to me seems questionable – that most of these theists are not victims of a kind of ‘bad faith’ or self-deception in disagreeing with the pointlessness of certain instances of evil) any such disagreement would itself be grist for Mackie’s mill. So I claim that the skeptical theist faces a dilemma: either an inference to the best explanation supports the denial of objective moral facts, or it supports the objective fact that certain evils are pointless.
   Secondly, suppose that, in spite of all this, we grant the skeptical theist that Vogel’s considerations do not require her to abandon (S). For example, it might be argued that a denial of objective moral facts is in fact consistent with (S), because human beliefs and conventions may have implications of which human beings are not aware.[31] I suspect that the skeptical theist will not be attracted to this line of argument, since “skeptical theists, after all, are theists” and as such are likely to want to maintain that many moral facts are altogether above “the shifting sands of human preference and convention” (Morriston 2009, p249). Be this as it may, the relevant point now is that if (S) is allowed to stand then the skeptical theist seems unable to respond to the maximally deceptive God hypothesis by adopting Vogel’s strategy anyway, since (S) (along with God’s omnipotence) was what rendered her unjustified in believing that this hypothesis is false. The BIV-type skepticism discussed by Vogel, on the other hand, does not appeal to anything like (S). Vogel’s proposal that skeptical scenarios be dealt with by noting that “principles of inference to the best explanation can licence the choice of one theory over others” presupposes that the relevant sort of skepticism has its genesis merely in the “underdetermination of theory by evidence”. But the skepticism engendered by the maximally deceptive God hypothesis is based on something extra – (S). Thus, if Vogel’s strategy does not licence a rejection of (S), then it will not constitute an adequate response to the skepticism engendered by the maximally deceptive God hypothesis, a hypothesis which gains its support from (S).



4:3 Other Options
So the prospect of the skeptical theist’s appropriating Vogel’s response seems somewhat dim. Let’s look at some other lines of response to BIV skepticism, and see if the skeptical theist can adopt them. Two further lines of response to BIV skepticism are the following:
(A)    I can be justified in believing many ordinary propositions, so it follows that I can be justified in believing that I am not a mere BIV, since the falsity of this hypothesis follows from the truth of the ordinary propositions.

(B)    I cannot be justified in believing that I am not a mere BIV, but this does not imply that I cannot be justified in believing many ordinary propositions, even though the falsity of these propositions follows from the BIV hypothesis.

What I want to do now is to argue that it will likewise be difficult for the skeptical theist to apply these types of responses to the argument adumbrated in chapter 3. Obviously I do not have space to discuss all the possible strategies that may be open to the skeptical theist. What I want to do is to provide prominent examples of (A)-type and (B)-type responses to BIV-type skepticism, and to give a general picture as to why these responses will not help the skeptical theist.

4:4 Strategy (A)
4:4:1 Pryor’s Response
Let’s take (A) first. An example of this type of response comes from James Pryor (2000), building on previous work by G.E. Moore (1939). Pryor argues for Dogmatism, which is a theory of perceptual justification according to which the mere fact that something seems to be the case – i.e. is represented in perceptual experience as being the case – provides (prima facie, defeasible) justification for the belief that it is the case. So the fact that I seem to see a hand attached to (what seems to be) my arm provides prima facie justification for the belief that I have a hand. Since it follows from my having a hand that I am not a (handless) BIV, my experience as of a hand provides prima facie justification for my belief that I am not a BIV. I do not need to have already ruled out the BIV hypothesis before I can have the original prima facie justification for my belief that I have a hand. Perhaps the skeptical theist could adopt this strategy, and argue that the fact that many propositions seem to be true justifies me in believing them, and thus in believing an implication of this: that God is not maximally deceptive.[32]
   Now it may be that Pryor’s response is unavailable to the skeptical theist, because it fails generally as an anti-skeptical strategy.[33] I do not want to argue this. Once again, I argue that, even if it is successful as a response to BIV skepticism, the skeptical theist seems precluded from adopting it. For Pryor’s response would seemingly license the view that the fact that certain evils seem pointless confers prima facie justification on the belief that they are pointless, and thus that the relevant skeptical view, (S), is false, whereas the skeptical theist’s response to the evidential argument from evil was based on the opposing claim that the fact that certain evils seem pointless is not in itself enough to confer justification on the belief that they are. In order for it to confer justification it must already be the case that (S) is denied. So in responding to the evidential argument from evil, the skeptical theist seems to want to contend what Pryor denies – that skeptical views must be ruled out before appearances confer justification.
   Notice that it would not do to object that an application of Pryor’s Dogmatism to the appearance of pointless evil needn’t imply that we are justified in believing that (S) is false, but merely that, even if (S) is true, any axiological facts of which we are unaware do not serve to justify these evils.[34] For even though this would preserve the consistency of skeptical theism with Pryor’s brand of so-called ‘common-sense epistemology’, it of course renders skeptical theism useless as a response to the evidential argument from evil.[35] But there are further worries. It could be objected that Pryor’s Dogmatism applies merely where “one’s justification doesn’t seem to depend on any complicated justifying argument”. Thus “when one is asked ‘What justifies you in believing there are hands?’ one is likely to respond, ‘I can simply see that there are hands” (Pryor 2000, p536), whereas a belief in pointless evil seems based, as we have seen, on an ‘inference to the effect that if E is an instance of inscrutable evil, then we are rationally justified in viewing E as an instance of pointless evil’. However, this ignores what is surely undeniable – that there are instances of evil of which people have an impression of “its sheer seeming gratuitousness” (McCann 2009, p180), without employing or indeed considering any ‘complicated justifying argument’. In other words, there are surely many people – Gellman’s aforementioned students, for example – for whom a belief in pointless evil “seems immediately obvious, not by any (conscious) inference” (Dougherty, forthcoming, p6). Indeed, this is evidenced when we consider my discussion of Vogel’s response above, where I claimed that, for many, the impression of pointless evil remains even after one is informed of the fact that, by dint of (S), such a justifying argument is not forthcoming.[36]
   It might be objected instead that Pryor’s Dogmatism applies merely to positive seemings, whilst (S) only blocks justification based on negative seemings. To see that such an objection would be problematic, we need merely note Wykstra’s (1984, p84) point that “the distinction between positive and negative seemings depends so much on formulation”. In other words, there seems to be no non-arbitrary way of drawing such distinctions. And Wykstra’s point here gains weight in the light of a recent objection. Drawing on Wykstra’s own examples, Trakakis (2007, pp87-88) argues that the statements ‘there is no table in the room’ and ‘the room is bare’ are not equivalent, since the latter statement entails the former but not vice versa. However, it in fact seems easy to reformulate the latter statement in a way which bypasses this objection – consider: ‘the room is empty-of-tables’. Thus, given the ease with which apparently negative statements can be reformulated as positive ones, Wykstra does seem correct in not appealing to any such distinction between positive and negative seemings in his original response to the evidential argument, and the skeptical theist therefore should not do so in responding to my argument.
   It could further be objected that Pryor’s Dogmatism applies merely to perceptual seemings, and the seemings involved in cases of inscrutable evil are intellectual seemings. Thus it could be argued that the cases are relevantly different, and that in the perceptual case, skeptical views do not need to be antecedently ruled out before the justification based on the seeming is in place, whereas in the intellectual case they do.
   This objection is likewise problematic. Firstly, there is the possibility that moral seemings are perceptual. This itself presents problems for the skeptical theist, and I shall come back to the issue in §5:2:2. For now we can note that Pryor intends his account of perceptual justification to be an example of “sensible philosophical conservativism” (Pryor 2000, p538), and such conservativism seems to dictate that any instance (perceptual or otherwise) of its seeming that p confers prima facie justification on the belief that p. Thus Elijah Chudnoff (2010) extends such conservativism to intuitions that p, whilst Michael Huemer (2005) extends it into the moral realm (which he doesn’t think involves perception); and we have Swinburne’s (2001, p142) ‘Principle of Credulity’, which claims that
...every proposition that a subject believes or is inclined to believe has (in so far as it is basic) in his noetic structure a probability corresponding to the strength of the belief or semi-belief or inclination to believe. Understanding ‘seems’ in the epistemic sense...then put more aphoristically, the principle says: things are probably as they seem.

The objection, then, owes us an account as to why such ‘sensible philosophical conservativism’ should not be applicable across the board.
   One such account might appeal to the fact that there is not the same level of perceptual disagreement as there is intellectual disagreement, thus rendering conservativism in the latter realm less appropriate than conservativism in the former realm. I have argued that the skeptical theist is not entitled to the view that there are others with whom to agree or disagree, but perhaps Pryor’s response would allow for justified belief that there are (especially since the existence of other people is surely something about which everyone, if they exist, agrees!). So I do not want to beg the question by arguing that the skeptical theist cannot adopt the aforementioned account for this reason; let us therefore waive it once again. The proposed account is still problematic. The main reason for doubting that the skeptical theist will want to press it is that it would not enable her to avoid moral skepticism. For morality itself is surely a primary locus of disagreement, in which case the above proposal would disqualify the skeptical theist from appealing to Dogmatism in order to rehabilitate moral justification. Nor would it do to argue that there are certain moral claims about which there does seem to be widespread agreement, and thus that convervativism would be appropriate at least here. For one thing, judgements concerning pointless evils are surely things about which a great many people agree. As I claimed above, many theists will disagree about such things, but there is of course something else about which, as we have also seen, it seems reasonable to think that theists (and everyone else) will agree: that deception can be justified. This leads us nicely into our next section.

4:4:2 Justification Relative to Epistemic Position (Again)
In §2:2:2 I talked about the notion of justification relative to epistemic position, and claimed that this notion may be open to the skeptical theist in her attempt to shield (ST) from (MS). Given this, perhaps the skeptical theist could after all argue along the lines of (A) – that, relative to her epistemic position, she is justified in believing many propositions (and thus that (6) is false) and thus, given (5), that she is justified (relative to her epistemic position) in believing that (4) is false.
   I see three problems with this response.
   Firstly, we saw that an appeal to certain scriptural passages – for example Genesis 3: 6, Genesis 1: 27 and Romans 2: 14-15 – was part of what licensed the claim that we can justifiably believe things relative to our epistemic position. In order for these passages to be taken seriously, it must be the case that (4) is false. But then the notion of justification relative to epistemic position will not enable the skeptical theist to use the strategy suggested in (A); she won’t be able to argue that her epistemic position licenses her in believing that (4) is false, since (4) must already be assumed to be false in order for her to have the scriptural grounds for invoking the notion of justification relative to epistemic position in the first place. (Furthermore, part of what rendered the skeptical theist unjustified in believing not-(4) was scriptural considerations themselves. The appeal to scripture thus undermines itself.) 
   Secondly, even assuming that the notion of justified belief relative to epistemic position can be appealed to, the epistemic position of humans is part of what lends rational weight to (4). Perhaps the following comment by Pryor (2000, p523) will elucidate what I have in mind here:
Why on earth should we accept [the claim that I am not justified in believing that I’m not a BIV]?[37] Even if we can’t know for sure whether or not we’re [a BIV], isn’t it at least reasonable to assume that we’re not being so deceived, absent any evidence to the contrary? (emphasis altered)
   
Recall also the quotation from Sinnott-Armstrong concerning Bethany’s belief that the time is 8:00:
She does seem justified in one way. Bethany has strong grounds for believing that it is 8:00, and her grounds are neither overridden nor undermined by any information that she possesses. (my italics)

The crucial phrases here are ‘absent any evidence to the contrary’ and ‘any information she possesses’. The point is that we would only be justified relative to our epistemic position in believing propositions if there is nothing in our experience to indicate that such beliefs may be mistaken, and our epistemic position provides us, as we have seen, with just such evidence that deception can be justified. Sure, our epistemic position also tells us that people sometimes win the lottery, but we are nonetheless also justified in thinking that we won’t – the chances are just too slim.[38] I take it, however, that we can all agree that situations in which deception seems justified are much more frequent than situations in which people win the lottery. Any parent (to go back to the relevant analogy) who has both lied to their child about Santa Claus and lamented their own lack of ability to pay for a better Christmas present will attest to this. It would thus seem strange to think that the same epistemic position that reveals this could provide us with evidence that God would not be justified in deceiving us in the manner suggested by (4). Our epistemic position with respect to deception is in effect part of what defeats whatever justification we may have for believing not-(4)[39] – it provides us with reason to think that God could be deceptive. And if we are not justified, relative to our epistemic position, in believing not-(4), it will follow that we are not justified, relative to our epistemic position, in believing any proposition – our epistemic position, like the appeal to scripture, therefore undermines itself.
   Suppose, however, that one were to attempt to obviate my second point by pressing Trakakis and Nagasawa’s claim that there are “differences...between a perfect being and a human being in virtue of their disparate roles”. This might enable the skeptical theist to claim that the fact that our epistemic position sometimes speaks in favour of deception does not defeat my justification for believing that (4) is false, in the same way in which my belief that it is good for me to discipline my child doesn’t defeat my justification for believing that it is wrong for you to do so[40] – we have ‘disparate roles’. This would also mean that, contrary to my claim in §3:2, the fact that God sometimes commands that humans engage in deceptive activity does not speak in favour of the possibility of God’s Himself being deceptive.
   Even aside from the fact that God Himself is sometimes presented in scripture as deceptive, we can see that this response will not help the skeptical theist with the proposed line of argument. This is because (and this is my third point) to infer that we can justifiably believe – relative to our epistemic position – that (4) is false, on the grounds that, relative to such a position, we are justified in believing many propositions, and thus that (6) is false, would be to undertake the same type of move as the evidentialist, who claims that relative to her epistemic position (recall Rowe: “in the light of our experience”) she is justified in believing that (1) is true, and hence, given (2), that she is justified in believing that God doesn’t exist. The problem for this was that the evidentialist is conflating the ‘cosmic’ and the ‘concerns of everyday life’. If the skeptical theist wants to claim that such a move is impermissible, then appeal to the notion of justification relative to epistemic position cannot enable her to use the line of response suggested in (A). The point was that the epistemic distance between us and God, and the fact that we have ‘disparate roles’, is such that we simply cannot appeal to our human understanding of the world in order justifiably to believe things like (1).[41] By parity of reasoning, I argue, it is such that we cannot do such a thing in order justifiably to believe not-(4).
   It could be objected that it is surely implausible to commit the skeptical theist to the view that inferences about what God would do from premises concerning our human understanding of the world are to be ruled out tout court, since this would undercut, for example, the Design Argument for God’s existence, which relies “on claims that God would be likely to create a world which contains order or beauty or conscious beings” (Draper 1996, p188). It is here that we can begin to see my third point as symptomatic of a more general problem for the skeptical theist. For if God and humans really do have entirely disparate purposes, then God’s purposes are rendered entirely inscrutable to us. Thus it does seem to be a consequence of the skeptical theistic response to the evidential argument from evil that inferences about what God would do are ruled out tout court; as Ian Wilks (2009, p71) writes:
Skeptical theism invokes the inscrutability of divine purposes without suggesting limits on how inscrutable those purposes are, or constraints on how extensively that consideration is to be employed.

Scott Sehon (2010, p79) likewise claims that
...you can’t insulate our epistemic humility and assume that it only applies when God fails to prevent suffering. If God’s ways are mysterious when it comes to earthquakes or allowing 25,000 people a day to starve to death, then his ways are mysterious simpliciter, and the theist no longer has any particular reason to expect that God would want a universe with life or with beauty or with anything else.

Robert Lovering (2009, p101) generalises these points with the following claim:
From the broadest case regarding what God would do – the case of what kind of universe(s), down to the smallest details, God would create – to the narrowest of cases – such as the case of, say, whether God would perform a miracle in this situation or allow evil in that situation – each will have to be compatible with God’s perfect goodness.  

Now the skeptical theist claims in effect that “we should not expect to understand how it is that God’s governance of the universe accords with His goodness” (Pereboom 2004, p159). Any judgement regarding what God would do, Lovering thus claims, would seem to rely on our having complete knowledge of the correct account of the good (i.e. an understanding of the ‘cosmic’ account of the good), which (S) of course precludes us from having. Some skeptical theists recognise that they are committed to extending their epistemic humility regarding judgements about what God would do to areas other than inferences from inscrutable to pointless evils.[42] My point here is that the skeptical theist seems to have no principled way of not extending it to the inability to rule out (4).
   These considerations show that the skeptical theist will not be able to embrace a version of (A) whereby she is justified, relative to her epistemic position, in believing various propositions, and therefore justified, relative to such a position, in believing not-(4).

4:5 Strategy (B)
What about option (B)? To adopt (B) would be to deny the following principle:
(Closure)         If I am justified in believing that p, and I am justified in believing that p entails q, then I am justified in believing that q.

According to (B), I can be justified in believing many ordinary propositions (for example, that I have a hand), justified in believing that these propositions entail that I am not a (handless) BIV, and yet not be justified in believing that I am not a BIV. One might argue that no account which relies on the falsity of the highly intuitive Closure principle can succeed, and for this reason that (B) is not open to the skeptical theist in responding to the argument in chapter 3. I shall not argue this. Again, what I want to do is to argue that adopting the course of action suggested in (B), even if plausible as a response to the skepticism supposedly engendered by the BIV hypothesis, will not afford the skeptical theist with an adequate response to the skepticism engendered by the maximally deceptive God hypothesis. 
   How, then, might (B) work as a response to BIV skepticism? Consider the well-known ‘sensitivity’ requirement for knowledge, according to which P knows that x only if, were x false, P wouldn’t believe that x.[43] Given this, my belief that I am not a BIV does not count as knowledge because it is not sensitive – were I a BIV, I would still believe that I was not one (the BIV hypothesis is deliberately designed to make its truth indistinguishable from its falsity). Now it follows (and I can know that it follows) from my being a BIV that I do not have a hand, but my belief that I do have a hand can nonetheless count as knowledge because this belief is sensitive – were I not to have a hand I wouldn’t believe that I have one. Crucial to this response is that the ‘closest possible worlds’ in which I don’t have a hand are not worlds in which I am a BIV; they are worlds in which, for example, I lost my hand in an accident, or was born without it (Nozick 1981, pp199-200). Since my belief that I have a hand is sensitive throughout the relevant, closest worlds, I can know that I have a hand, even though I do not know an entailment of this: that I am not a BIV.
   Is this type of response open to (ST)? Notice that (B) refers to justification rather than to knowledge. Could the skeptical theist thus argue along the above lines that for all she justifiably believes (4) is true, and yet that she is justified in believing many propositions (and thus that (6) is false), even though, given (5), the falsity of such propositions follows if (4) is true? Recall that in §1:3 I adumbrated an example of a particular skeptical theistic strategy for blocking the inference from inscrutable to pointless evils. This strategy involved adopting the CORNEA principle. Now the aforementioned sensitivity requirement is closely related to this principle, which states in effect that for P to be justified in believing that x, it must be reasonable for P to believe that the sensitivity requirement is met with respect to this belief.[44] This might plausibly be seen as a necessary condition for justified belief, even if the sensitivity requirement itself is not. Given this condition, perhaps the skeptical theist could argue that, for many propositions she believes, it is reasonable for her to believe that the sensitivity requirement is met, i.e. that the falsity of such propositions would be discernible by her, even though it is not reasonable for her to believe that the falsity of an entailment of such propositions – i.e. not-(4) – would be discernible by her. In other words, it seems that if the skeptical theist is willing to embrace CORNEA then she should see (B) as a viable type of response to the problems adduced in chapter 3.
   But despite this initial appearance, the asymmetries between BIV skepticism and the skepticism engendered by the maximally deceptive God hypothesis are such that CORNEA is in fact unlikely to be of use in enabling the skeptical theist to reply along the lines of (B). For it to be of use, it must be reasonable to believe that the closest possible worlds in which the ordinary propositions I believe are false are not worlds in which the skeptical scenario obtains. Now in the BIV case it seems, as we saw above, that this condition holds: had I not had a hand, it would not have thereby been the case that I am a BIV. A world in which BIVs exist, let alone a world in which I am a BIV, whilst logically possible, seems a very strange one indeed, and thus irrelevant to the assessment of the relevant counterfactuals. Bergmann (2001, p291), in comparing (ST) to full-blown Cartesian skepticism, makes essentially this point when he claims that
[t]he possibility that the goods we know of aren’t representative of the goods there are is a live possibility, one that we are sensible to consider and take seriously. It is not remote and far-fetched in the way the Cartesian demon and the 100-year-old earth [and presumably the BIV] possibilities are. (my italics)  

Van Inwagen (1996b, p235) similarly makes the point that “all ‘Cartesian’ hypotheses (hypotheses about evil geniuses, brains in vats, and so on) are highly improbable on what we think we know”.
   However, recall that appropriating Vogel’s response seemed problematic, in part because it is intended as a response to a variety of skepticism that lacks the crucial feature of the skepticism with which I am concerned, that feature being (S). A similar point seems applicable here: it is not (or, at any rate, not merely) our obvious lack of sensitivity that renders us unjustified in believing not-(4); it is the fact that (S) obtains. But – and this is the crucial point – (S) at the same time renders us unable justifiably to believe that the worlds in which (4) is true, like worlds in which the BIV hypothesis is true, are ‘remote’. This is something neither Bergmann nor van Inwagen consider in their quotations above. For according to Bergmann (2009, p387), (S) means that “we just don’t know how likely it is that there is a God-justifying reason for permitting [inscrutable] evils”,[45] whilst van Inwagen (1996a, p163) claims in effect that, given (S), “we do not know what to say about the probability of [inscrutable evil] on theism”.[46] But if this is true, then I submit that, by parity of reasoning, (S) is such that we simply have no idea what to say about the probability of (4), and thus the skeptical theist has no grounds for ruling it ‘far-fetched’ or ‘improbable’.
   So we have good reason to think that (B) will be a problematic option for the skeptical theist. Going back to BIV skepticism, consider now another point: what if our experience represented to us a world in which brains in vats do exist, along with scientists with the power and potentially good reasons for inducing the requisite kinds of experiences in them? Or what if our experiences were punctuated by occasions on which “a message starts moving across my visual field, ‘You are a brain in a vat, part of an experiment’...” (Stone 2011, p68)? In these cases, it seems that we would lose our license to maintain that the BIV hypothesis is not relevant to the assessment of the relevant counterfactuals, and thus to reasonably believe that the sensitivity requirement is met with respect to the ordinary propositions we believe. Indeed, Wykstra (2007, p93) himself makes comments which support this point. It might seem, for example, that I can be justified in believing that the animal in the cage in front of me is a zebra, and yet not be justified in believing an entailment of this: that it is not a cleverly disguised donkey. If this is indeed the case,[47] the reason why I don’t need justifiably to believe the entailment in order justifiably to believe that the animal is a zebra seems to be that
...our background evidence gives us no reason to think that there has ever been, in the entire history of the universe, a painted donkey substituted for a zebra in a real zoo. If this is so, our...visual data of seeing a striped equine in the zebra cage may be needed to rule out the possibility that the zebra is convalescing at the animal hospital, or out for breeding; it won’t need to rule out there being a painted donkey in the cage.

The point, presumably, is that if my background evidence did give me reason to think that painted donkeys were sometimes put in zebra cages, it would need to be the case that it is reasonable for me to think that my belief that there is a zebra in the cage is sensitive to there being a painted donkey there. Applying this to the BIV hypothesis, we can likewise note that “we are not in an evidential vacuum about the general hypothesis that there are envatters, and our actual evidence surely tilts very strongly against this hypothesis” (Wykstra 2007, p95). The point, again, is that if our background evidence told us that that BIVs and super-scientist envatters do exist, we would need reasonably to believe that our ordinary beliefs are sensitive to this possibility in order for such beliefs to be justified.
   Now it seems that the skeptical theist is in just this sort of position with regard to the maximally deceptive God hypothesis, and thus we have another reason to think that (B) is inapplicable to the argument in chapter 3. Nobody believes, or has any reason to believe, in BIVs, but the skeptical theist does believe in a God who presumably has the power to carry out radical and extremely convincing deception such that my belief that I am not being deceived by God in not sensitive, and (as I argued in the previous chapter) should believe, on both scriptural and moral grounds, that deception is very much within God’s remit. In other words, the skeptical theist has what Pryor above called ‘evidence to the contrary’. Thus, it is much harder to see in the case of the maximally deceptive God hypothesis that any of our ordinary beliefs meet the sensitivity requirement than it would be in the case of the BIV hypothesis.
   I argued above that, given the skeptical theist’s ways of dealing with (MS) discussed in §2:2, it will follow that for all we justifiably believe (4) is true. Since (B) is a problematic option for the skeptical theist, it seems that the fact that we are not rationally justified in believing that God is not maximally deceptive will imply that we are not rationally justified in believing any proposition, since the most prominent and initially promising way of disarming this implication – the ‘sensitivity’ version of (B) – runs into problems when applied to (ST). Given the failure of (B), (MS) follows from the fact that, for all we justifiably believe, (4) is true.
   So it seems that some of the most prominent ways of responding to BIV skepticism, even if successful as responses to BIV skepticism, will not enable the skeptical theist to avoid the skepticism generated by the maximally deceptive God hypothesis. In the following chapter I refine and solidify my case by considering three possible objections.













5: Solidifying the Argument

5:1 First Objection and Response
The first objection is as follows. Descartes, as we observed, claimed that “God is supremely good, and the source of all truth”. It could be argued that it is not God’s goodness that precludes His being deceptive – (S), along with our epistemic position according to which deception can sometimes be justified, at least seems to render this claim unavailable. Instead, it could be argued that what precludes God’s being deceptive is His role as the source of all truth.
   I mentioned in §3:4 the idealist view that coherence is the criterion of truth. George Berkeley (2008, p95) makes a similar point, albeit one which the skeptical theist seems more likely to want to endorse, claiming that “[t]he ideas imprinted on the senses by the Author of nature are called ‘real things’”. If this is read as claiming that God’s imprinting ideas on the senses is a necessary and sufficient condition for those ideas constituting reality, then this would seem to imply that divine deception is a logical impossibility – reality is essentially defined in terms of that which is caused and sustained by God. Now I am not claiming that Berkeley’s Idealism is necessary in order for the first objection to be pressing; Berkeley’s Idealism is merely an example of why divine deception may be thought impossible. But if divine deception is a logical impossibility, then my claim in §4:4:2 that inferences about what God would do are ruled out tout court is not strictly true; (4) will of course be false, and my argument can’t proceed.
   This objection would require that passages such as 2 Thessalonians 2: 11 be reinterpreted, since taking such passages at face value entails that divine deception is a logical possibility. Thus we have what seems to me a hitherto unnoticed tension between Berkeley’s Idealism and his religious commitment that scripture be understood in “a plain obvious sense” (Berkeley 2008, p235). Furthermore, since taking scripture at face value was part of what lent support to (ST) in the first place, and part of what obviated the subsequent allegation of moral skepticism and paralysis, this objection might not be particularly attractive to the skeptical theist. But since scripture also seems to hold in places that divine deception is impossible,[48] at least some scriptural claims will inevitably need to be abandoned or reinterpreted, so I don’t want to place too much weight on passages such as 2 Thessalonians 2: 11 in dealing with the objection.
   One could perhaps respond to the objection in the manner suggested by my response to the coherentist proposal – that God could be deceiving us into thinking that divine deception is impossible. But I think a much more interesting response is available: the objection will not enable the skeptical theist to avoid my conclusion, for even if God’s Himself being deceptive were impossible, God could nonetheless allow deception to occur. Thus, we can replace (4) with the following:
(8)        God allows maximal deception to occur.
This, along with the relevant alteration to (5)’s antecedent, would allow my argument to bypass the first objection. We can now investigate whether the same considerations that supported the claim that for all we justifiably belief (4) is true likewise support the claim that for all we justifiably believe (8) is true.
   Now consideration of free will might seem to dictate that it is possible that God allow something and yet for that thing not to occur, so we shall need to add to (8) the qualification that the relevant sort of deception goes on to occur.[49] And in support of this we can note the following conceptual claim, borrowed from Lovering (2009, p91):
(C)       “[i]f God exists and X exists or is the case, then God allows X to exist or to be the case”.

In support of (C), Lovering writes:
[B]y “God” we mean a sovereign, omnipotent, omniscient being; one who, as such, serves as the final arbiter of what things exist or are the case, at least with respect to logically possible things. Accordingly, if God exists and, say green cars exist, then God allows green cars to exist.

Given (C), any instance in which deception does occur would count in favour of the view that God sometimes allows deception to occur. And support for the view that humans are often deceived is not hard to come by. Furthermore, the scriptural support in favour of God’s sometimes allowing deception to occur is of course even stronger than that in favour of the view that God could Himself be deceptive, since, given (C), any passage in which humans are deceived, even if God Himself is not explicitly implicated in such deception, would count in its favour.
   Consider once again the scriptural passages I appealed to in §3:2 to lend weight to the case that deception is within God’s remit. In spite of what we subsequently saw – that deception can be justified – some theists are still likely to want to resist the prima facie appearance of deception in these passages. For example, it might be argued that in Exodus 3: 18 God is not commanding Moses to deceive the Pharaoh, since God knows in advance that the Pharaoh will not be deceived into releasing the Israelites – after all, Exodus 3: 19 reads: “But I know that the King of Egypt will not let you go unless compelled by a mighty hand”. Thus, it could be argued that Exodus 3: 18 is not even an example of God’s allowing deception to occur, and for this reason is not an example of God commanding deceptive activity (it arguably does not make sense, or is at least uncharitable, to interpret God as commanding something He knows will not be successful).
   So Exodus 3: 18, if it fails as an example of God commanding deceptive activity, will not count as an example of God allowing deception to occur. This is not true, however, of some of the other passages in which God apparently commands deceptive activity. For example, regardless of whether or not God in fact commanded that Joshua deceive the king of Ai, the success of the ambush indicates that the king was in fact deceived, and this, in conjunction with (C), implies that God thus allowed such a thing to occur.
   Consider furthermore some of the apparent examples of divine deception. It might be argued, for example, that Jeremiah’s complaints of divine deception at 4: 10 and 20: 7 are simply unjustified, and that Genesis 22: 1-2 need not be interpreted as a case of divine deception, since deception implies the intention to create a false impression, and there is no evidence that God intended to create a false belief within Abraham (as opposed, say, simply to having Abraham obey His command).[50]
   However, pressing the point about intention seems orthogonal to my argument: the relevant feature of deception is that a false belief be place, i.e. that the inference in (5) be valid. Given this, and with (C) in mind, I submit that the relevant passages would have to be interpreted, if not as instances of divine deception, then as examples of God’s allowing deception to occur. For were Jeremiah’s complaints unjustified, then we would have to interpret God as allowing Jeremiah to falsely believe that he has been deceived by God,[51] and regardless of whether or not God intended Abraham to have the false belief that Isaac was to be killed, God nonetheless allowed that Abraham, for a time, wound up with such a false belief – Abraham, after all, “reached out his hand and took the knife to slaughter his son” (Genesis 22: 10) and arguably at the point of performing this action had no reason to believe it would not be successful.
   Furthermore, 2 Thessalonians 2: 9 has God allowing people to be deceived by “false signs and wonders”, before (arguably) engaging in deception Himself, and we might also consider 1 Kings 22: 21-23, which explicitly shows God allowing other spirits to deceive humans:
Then a spirit came forward and stood before the Lord, saying, 'I will entice him.' And the Lord said to him, 'By what means?' And he said, 'I will go out, and will be a lying spirit in the mouth of all his prophets.' And He said, 'You are to entice him, and you shall succeed; go out and do so.’ Now therefore behold, the Lord has put a lying spirit in the mouth of all these your prophets; the Lord has declared disaster for you.

The book of Job similarly depicts God allowing Satan to cause evils to befall the eponymous character, which shows that there are circumstances in which God allows other spirits to interact with humanity, and this could easily be applied to the issue of deception. Therefore, viewing divine deception as impossible will not aid the skeptical theist’s cause, since she will nonetheless not be able to rule out on scriptural grounds the possibility of God’s allowing deception to occur.
   Consider also my discussion in §3:3. I argued there that, relative to our epistemic position, deception sometimes seems to be justified. Suppose that my arguments for this failed, and that H. Clay Trumbull was in fact correct in his view that there are no circumstances which justify deception.[52] Such a view would not dislodge the claim that there are nonetheless circumstances which justify allowing deception (even with the proviso about intention built in).[53] Recall my claim in §4:4:2 that the fact that it is good for me to discipline my child seems not to defeat my justification for believing that it is wrong for you to do so. A similar point seems applicable here. Even if parents are never justified in deceiving their children (about Santa Claus, say), this would not at all imply that no one else is ever justified in allowing parents to deceive their children. To fail to allow such a thing (i.e. to take active steps to prevent it), as with disciplining someone else’s child, may very well constitute unwarranted interfering.
   Frances Howard-Snyder (2008) makes the general point that “[t]he claim that doing harm is no worse than allowing harm flies in the face of powerful intuitions to the contrary”. Even assuming what seems highly implausible – that to deceive is necessarily to cause harm – Howard-Snyder’s point seems relevant here: it seems that our epistemic position is such that there are circumstances which justify allowing deception to occur, even if there are no circumstances that justify deception. I argue therefore that the first objection fails to dislodge my argument. Indeed, it may even strengthen it, inasmuch as it allows us to invoke the notion of God’s allowing deception, which enables my case to proceed even if my arguments in §3:2 and §3:3 fail. I see no reason to grant Michael Martin’s (1990, p36) claim that “the idea that God...would allow an evil demon to [deceive us] surely verges on the incoherent”, and we can add to this that even if all deception were to originate not with God but with “deceitful spirits and teachings of demons” (1 Timothy 4: 1), (S) seems to imply that for all we can tell there are some greater goods/evils the obtaining/preventing of which justifies God in allowing the demons to do their dirty work.

5:2 Second Objection and Response
The second objection takes umbrage with the notion of maximal deception, and is along similar lines to the first: is maximal deception even a coherent notion? This objection picks up another thread left at the end of §3:4, and we can note that, even granting the responses that I gave there, there do nonetheless seem to be some propositions – ‘at least one of my beliefs is false’, for example – such that it is impossible that I be deceived into falsely believing them.
   Furthermore, it is sometimes held that, with respect to various beliefs, persons are infallible, in the sense that “it is not possible for the person to believe a proposition of the relevant type and yet be mistaken in one’s belief.” (Timmons 1998, p229). In other words, merely holding the belief is sufficient for its truth. Thus, recalling Descartes’s cogito, it is plausibly held that it is not possible for me to believe ‘I exist’ and yet for this belief to be mistaken. It is also plausibly held that it is not possible for me to believe ‘I am in pain’, and yet for this belief to be mistaken, or for me to believe ‘it seems to me that p’ and yet for this belief to be mistaken.
   Now it may be (as I claimed above) that God allows what does not occur, but it seems reasonable to think that God, being perfectly rational, would not allow what He knows to be impossible – indeed, it is hard even to think of what it could mean to speak of ‘allowing’ such a thing. Thus, it seems that we can justifiably believe, if God exists, that God would not allow maximal deception, since there are some things we believe such that we cannot be deceived with regard to them (and, in the case for example of ‘God exists’, such that God cannot allow us to be deceived with regard to them). Given this, my claim in §4:4:2 that inferences regarding what God would do are ruled out tout court is once again not strictly true, and Wielenberg was thus correct not to have considered the possibility of maximal deception.
   However, suppose we replace (8) with the following:
(9) God allows widespread deception to occur.
Let us understand by ‘widespread’ deception ‘the most deception that is logically possible’. I do not think such a shift will substantially affect my argument. My ultimate concern was with moral skepticism, and I do not think the shift to (9) will enable the skeptical theist to avoid it. By way of substantiating this claim, let me adumbrate six points, which I hope form a cumulative case for accepting it.

5:2:1 Infallibility
Consider first the view that we are infallible with respect to certain beliefs. Such a view is perhaps most plausibly held with regard to beliefs ascribing occurrent mental states. Now some philosophers, for example Bruce Aune (1967) and D. M. Armstrong (1968), have argued that we are not infallible even with respect to these beliefs. If this is the case, then it “should make us antecedently dubious about the prospects of infallibility with respect to moral propositions” (Timmons 1998, p229). However, let us grant that we are infallible with respect to beliefs ascribing occurrent mental states. This would only go any way toward showing that we are infallible with respect to moral propositions if the truth of moral propositions somehow consisted in our being in these mental states. But recall that in §1:2 I argued that the plausibility of (S) seems to require precisely the opposite view; it seems to require objective moral facts, i.e. moral facts which obtain “prior to and logically independent of” human mental states. In other words, if one holds, as the skeptical theist apparently must, that
...the truth of a moral statement is independent of the attitudes, beliefs, and conventions of human individuals and groups...then these individuals cannot be in a state of infallibility with regard to (non-trivial) moral statements; error in moral belief is always possible. (Timmons 1998, p229)[54]

The skeptical theist’s response to the evidential argument seemed based on precisely the fact that there are at least some moral beliefs with respect to which we are not infallible, and I see no reason for not extending this to all (substantive) moral beliefs.
   It is also interesting to note that, if it is true that we are not infallible with respect to beliefs about our own mental states, then we have another reason to think that (S) could hold even in the absence of objective moral facts. Pressing this won’t help the skeptical theist however, for even if her skepticism doesn’t require objective moral facts, her theism seems to. Furthermore, the fact that we are not infallible even with respect to the mental states in which moral facts consist would mean that we could be deceived about them.

5:2:2 Perceiving Moral Facts
Consider now the following exchange from the famous BBC radio debate between Bertrand Russell and Frederick Copleston, which seems to echo Pryor’s claim that he can just see that he has hands:
Copleston:       What’s your justification for distinguishing between good and bad...?

Russell:            I don’t have any justification any more than I have when I distinguish between blue and yellow. What is my justification for distinguishing between blue and yellow? I can see they are different. (Russell 1996, p143)

Russell’s response seems perfectly natural, and is the progenitor for increasingly popular empirical moral epistemologies, which are often motivated by the desire to provide a plausible epistemology to accompany objective moral facts.[55] But in rendering moral belief on a par with (or indeed a form of) perceptual belief, one has cleared the path for applying Cartesian considerations of deception to the former as well as to the latter, which involve propositions regarding which no one thinks it is logically impossible that we be deceived.
   Now the skeptical theist may or may not be attracted to the view that we perceive moral facts – she may be attracted to it qua objectivist, but she obviously will want to limit the view so as to exclude pointless evils, which (she claims) lack “reasonable seeability” (Wykstra 1996, p126). My argument in §4:4:1 was intended in part to show that she cannot constrain the view in this way. Be this as it may, what surely does seem plausible is that, even if we don’t perceive moral facts themselves, we apprehend them in virtue of things we do perceive. For example, I believe that giving money to charity is a good thing, and this belief is based in large part on things which I come to believe through perception, for example that the money is used to build new schools, or to undertake medical research. Now these beliefs, upon which our substantive moral judgements are based, are surely candidates for deception; it is surely possible that I am mistaken in believing such things. As Sinnott-Armstrong (2006, p78) writes, “[a]lmost everyone believes that it is morally wrong to torture babies just for fun, but we might be deceived in our beliefs that babies feel pain”. F. J. Fitzpatrick (1981, p34) makes a similar point with regard to Rowe’s fawn – we cannot rule out that God is deceiving us with respect to its apparent suffering. And if I were mistaken in believing that babies feel pain then it does seem that I would not be justified in believing that torturing babies is morally wrong. Indeed, as we have seen, the skeptical theist is not even entitled to the belief that the baby, the fawn, or anyone else that we seem to perceive, exists. This would obviously be problematic for morality. For one thing, it would make a mockery of the famous injunction to “love your neighbour as yourself” (Leviticus 19: 18).[56]

5:2:3 Indubitability
Now it might be argued that it is impossible that we be deceived about many of our substantive moral beliefs because these beliefs often express what seem to be logically indubitable truths, which would be to say “that it is not possible for [someone] to believe a proposition of the relevant type and yet have any grounds for doubting that the proposition is true” (Timmons 1998, p230). In other words, if I believe a logically indubitable truth, then (if I consider the matter) I must appreciate that such a truth just has to obtain. Going back to the point I made at the beginning of chapter 3, and again in §4:2:1, it might thus seem that the rape and killing of a five-year old girl is so obviously wrong as to be indubitable. Indeed, it might even be argued that such a thing is obviously wrong in a similar way to its being obvious that a triangle has three angles – such a thing could not but be the case.[57] And just as it could be argued that I could not be deceived into believing that a triangle has three angles when in fact it doesn’t, it could also be argued that I could not be deceived into believing certain moral propositions that seem, in a similar way, indubitably true.
   In response to this it could simply be argued that, even if the denial of the claim that the rape and killing of a five-year old girl is wrong bespeaks some sort of perverted outlook, it is not actually incoherent; whatever the faults of someone who denies this claim, logical incompetence seems not to be among them. Mark Timmons (1998, p230) thus notes that “[i]t just does not seem plausible to suppose that there are any logically indubitable moral beliefs”. Be this as it may, the skeptical theist cannot attack my argument with the claim that certain substantive moral propositions are so obvious as to be logically indubitable. For let us consider the candidates for such moral propositions. Among those moral propositions (if any) which we might deem indubitable in this way are surely judgements concerning the pointlessness of certain evils. Thus, with reference to the evils described by Dostoyevsky (1950, p283), Brice Wachterhauser (1985, p172) proclaims that “[i]f anything is truly unjustifiably [i.e. pointlessly] evil, such acts are self-evidently so”. Now of course the skeptical theist claims that it is not logically indubitable that certain evils are pointless. But given the overwhelmingly strong impression many people have concerning the pointlessness of certain evils, it is hard to see what other substantive moral propositions could count as logically indubitable, if not these ones. So if, for all we can tell, there is some justification for God’s allowing evils that seem to us so obviously pointless, then for all we can tell there is some justification for God’s allowing us to be deceived with regards to moral propositions that seem, in a similar way, obviously true.

5:2:4 Modal Skepticism
The fourth point also concerns the supposed indubitability of certain moral propositions. Dougherty (2008, p174) claims that “what many people claim to experience is that it seems to them that it is not the case that, possibly, there is a justification for this evil” (my italics), but the skeptical theist might claim that such intuitions are unreliable. Recall van Inwagen’s claim from §2:2:2 that “for all we know our inclinations to make value-judgements are not veridical when they are applied to cosmic matters unrelated to the concerns of everyday life”. As well as advocating skepticism about such value-judgement, van Inwagen (1996b, p237) also advocates a form of modal skepticism, claiming that “[i]f the subject matter of p is remote from the concerns of everyday life, then our ordinary powers of ‘modalization’ are not reliable guides to the modal status of p”. Alston (1996a, p120) likewise seems to endorse this point of view with the claim that “[o]nce we move beyond conceptual or semantic modalities...it is notoriously difficult to find any sufficient basis for claims as to what is...possible”.
   Now this kind of modal skepticism implies in effect that its seeming impossible that certain evils have a justification is an unreliable guide to whether such a thing is impossible. But then, by parity of reasoning, it should imply that its seeming impossible that we be deceived about certain moral propositions (i.e. that its seeming that certain moral propositions are so obvious as to be logically indubitable) is not a reliable guide to whether such a thing is impossible. Thus, inasmuch as the skeptical theist finds van Inwagen’s and Alston’s modal skepticism attractive, she should be skeptical about her own ability to maintain that certain moral propositions are logically indubitable, and thus that God is not allowing her to be deceived with respect to them.
   The skeptical theist has a possible line of response here. Against Gale’s (1996, p212) charge that he (van Inwagen) is a “self-servingly selective modal skeptic”, van Inwagen (1996b, p238)  argues that “[t]here is nothing at all puzzling about knowing the modal status of a proposition without having applied one’s powers of ‘modalization’ to it”. Thus, van Inwagen could perhaps argue that he can know that certain moral propositions are logically indubitable, and he can know this on grounds independently of his holding the relevant proposition before his mind and ‘modalizing’. Analogously:
I believe that it is possible for human beings to know what the stars are made of because I know that they do know this, and not because I have held the concept of a human being who knows what the stars are made of before my mind and applied to it my powers of ‘modalization’. (van Inwagen 1996b, p238)
  

5:2:5 An Error Theory
This brings us to the fifth point. In §4:2 I discussed Vogel’s response to BIV skepticism, and noted how this line of response seems unavailable to (ST). I argued there that someone who endorses (S) faces an explanatory burden that someone who rejects it does not face – explaining why certain evils nonetheless seem pointless. In a forthcoming paper, Bergmann attempts to carry this explanatory burden. Just as Mackie provides an ‘error theory’ explaining why we mistakenly think that there are objective moral facts, Bergmann provides an error theory explaining “the temptation to think, of some particularly horrific evil, that a perfectly loving God wouldn’t permit that” (p16). Whether or not such an argument succeeds was not relevant to my argument in §4:2 – the point would remain that even if Bergmann does explain the strong appearance of pointlessness for many people in certain instances of evil, he seems not to do so in as simple and straightforward a manner as does the denial of (S), which enables the claim that seemingly pointless evils really are pointless; Bergmann’s explanation is, to use Vogel’s terminology, more “elaborate” and “extended”. (In a similar way, even if the BIV skeptic does somehow come up with some alternative explanation as to why things appear spherical, it would not explain such a thing in as simple and straightforward a way as the view that such things are spherical – this is exactly Vogel’s point.) But Bergmann’s attempt to carry the explanatory burden may well be relevant here. Here is what he says:
Sometimes, when we are exposed to a vivid portrayal of some actual instance of horrific suffering E, we are tempted to think that a perfectly loving God wouldn’t permit E. I think it is a mistake to think that we can see that this is true or even likely. The reason we make this mistake is, first, that we have only that evil, E, vividly before our minds with no worse evil (seen to be avoidable only by permitting E) grasped in any detail at all...Secondly, in grasping E vividly, we are already nearing the limit of the amount of horror we are able to take in, which tempts us to think that nothing could be more hateful than E is. But our inability to take in greater horrors is not a good indication of how bad horrors can be. (pp19-20)

The relevant point now is this: if the line of thought above does successfully account for why certain evils that aren’t pointless nonetheless seem pointless, then it also undercuts any of the independent grounds van Inwagen, or anyone else, may take himself to have for believing of certain substantive moral propositions that they are logically indubitable. For consider some moral proposition that seems obviously true, for example:
(P) The rape and killing of a five-year-old girl is wrong.
Bergmann’s line of reasoning above could be paraphrased so as to account for any intuition one may have that it is impossible that we be deceived about (P), as follows:
Sometimes, when we are exposed to some apparently obvious moral proposition, for example (P), we are tempted to think that we couldn’t be deceived about (P). I think it is a mistake to think that we can see that this is true or even likely. The reason we make this mistake is, first, that we have only that proposition, (P), vividly before our minds with no worse evil (seen to be avoidable only by our being deceived about (P)) grasped in any detail at all. Secondly, in grasping (P) vividly, we are already nearing the limit of the amount of horror we are able to take in, which tempts us to think that no moral fact could be more obvious than (P) is. But our inability to take in greater horrors is not a good indication of how bad horrors can be, and, for all we can tell, there are horrors avoidable only by our being deceived about (P).

What Bergmann’s argument shows, then, is that the same explanation for why certain evils seem so obviously pointless can also explain any intuition the skeptical theist may have to the effect that it is impossible that we be deceived about certain moral propositions.

5:2:6 Moral Paralysis and ‘Substantive’ Moral Propositions
Recall Alston’s claim above regarding ‘semantic and conceptual modalities’. I have been talking of ‘substantive’ moral propositions because there could perhaps be some moral propositions, e.g. ‘bad things are bad’, or even ‘God is morally perfect’, regarding which it is impossible that we be deceived. It might even be claimed that (P), like ‘bad things are bad’, is an analytic truth – it is true simply by virtue of the meaning of the word ‘rape’. If this is the case, then it might indeed be impossible, despite what I have argued above, that we be deceived about (P).
   The problem with pressing this (and this is my sixth point) is that “skeptical theists, after all, are theists”, and surely no theist would find it acceptable to hold that the only moral propositions one is justified in believing are these types of moral propositions. If moral propositions such as these were the only ones we are justified in believing, then the unacceptable consequence of (MS) – that we are in a state of paralysis when it comes to making moral decisions – would still obtain. ‘Bad things are bad’, for example, doesn’t tell us specifically which actions are bad, and thus it doesn’t tell us which actions to refrain from performing. ‘Rape is wrong’, supposing such a claim is analytic, would not tell us which actions count as rape, and thus which actions are impermissible. ‘God is morally perfect’ might well seem action-guiding for us inasmuch as it gives us reason to obey God’s commands, but this will only help us if it is assumed that we are not being deceived as to what God’s commands are, and it is this very assumption which, as I claimed in §4:1, we are not entitled to.
   But perhaps there are nonetheless substantive moral propositions regarding which we could not be deceived. Let me thus outline and defuse some lingering objections.
   Consider once again my discussion of infallibilism. Suppose p is a substantive moral proposition. It might be argued that ‘it seems to me that p’ is thus itself a substantive moral proposition, about which we cannot be deceived.
   Pressing this won’t enable the skeptical theist to avoid moral paralysis, however. Recall my comparison in §2:2:2 between the Nazis and the ancient Assyrians. The Nazis, I suggested, in contrast with the ancient Assyrians, weren’t justified in acting on what seemed to them to be the case because the beliefs based on such seemings were not justified relative to their epistemic position. In a similar way, I claim, the inability of the skeptical theist justifiably to believe not-(9) will always present a barrier to her justifiably believing that p, and hence acting on its seeming to her that p. Perhaps the following analogy will be helpful: it seems to me that there is a book in front of me. But my awareness that for all I can tell I am in a room full of extremely convincing holograms means that for all I justifiably believe the thing I seem to see is itself a hologram, and thus my decision to reach for it is not “anything more than the equivalent of tossing a coin” (Almeida & Oppy 2003, p512).
   But now consider principle (C). I described this as a ‘conceptual claim’ – we can recognise its truth simply by reflecting on the concepts involved. So, qua conceptual claim, (C) itself may well be a truth regarding which it is impossible that we be deceived. And (C), in conjunction with its seeming to me that p, implies that God allows things to seem to me this way, which might seem to imply that it is permissible for me to act on the basis of things seeming this way.
   However, given an inability justifiably to believe not-(9) I am not entitled to this last inference (just as I am not entitled to the inference to the conclusion (iv) in Bergmann and Rea’s argument in §2:2:2 – for all I can tell I am being deceived with regard to its following from the premises). Furthermore, consideration of the Nazis, and the fact that God allowed them to believe what they believed, shows that this line of reasoning is obviously unacceptable anyway.
   With my point at the very beginning of this section in mind, consider next the belief that ‘at least one of my substantive moral beliefs is false’. Howard-Snyder’s ‘progress’ argument in §1:2 seems to support such a belief, and it might be argued that it is required by the rejection of moral infallibilism above. Given this, however, we may well have a further substantive moral belief regarding which we could not be deceived.
   The problem with pressing this objection, though, is once again that ‘at least one of my substantive moral beliefs is false’ is obviously unhelpful in enabling me to decide what to do in any given situation.
   Finally, I allowed above that our own existence may be something regarding which it is impossible that we be deceived. Combining (C) with the fact of our own existence yields the entailment that God allows us to exist, from which a substantive moral proposition seems in turn to follow – that our own existence is not all-things-considered too evil for God to allow.
   But the problem here is that the moral proposition in question concerns merely what God does, not what we should do, and we might come back once again to the fact that there are “differences...between a perfect being and a human being in virtue of their disparate roles.” So (yet again) the suggestion will not enable moral paralysis to be avoided.
   Given all this, the inability to justifiably believe not-(9) means that (ST) leads, if not to (MS), then to the equally damaging:
(MS*)  No human being is ever rationally justified in believing any (substantive, action guiding) moral proposition.

Given that the conclusion that (ST) leads to a more pervasive moral skepticism than will be acceptable to any theist can be reached either way, I do not think it behooves the skeptical theist to press the second objection.

5:3 Third Objection and Response
So we have replaced (8) with (9). One could now object that my considerations in favour of the possibility of divine deception in §3:2 and §3:3 were nonetheless limited to localized, isolated instances of deception. Thus it might be argued that such considerations say nothing in support of the possibility of widespread deception.[58] This objection also gains weight given the shift from God’s being deceptive to God’s allowing deception to occur. God’s omnipotence might seem to lend weight to the possibility of widespread deception, but in the case of (9) it is not God who is doing the deceiving.
   One might argue in response to this latter point that scripture in fact presents deceptive influences as extremely powerful. For example, whether or not it originated from God, the ‘delusion’ referred to in 2 Thessalonians 2: 11 is described as “strong”. Furthermore, Matthew 24: 24 talks of “great signs and wonders” by which people are deceived, and Revelations 12: 9 goes so far as to talk of an evil spirit deceiving “the whole world”.
   One might also respond that the same sorts of considerations that led us to the view that, from our human perspective, instances of deception can be justified also support the view that allowing widespread deception can be justified. Going back once again to the parent analogy: to the extent that a parent would allow her child to undergo widespread deception rather than having her obliterated, or suffer excruciating and unrelenting pain; to the extent that we would see such a parent as justified in doing so, and to the extent that the parent analogy is a pertinent one in the first place, then our epistemic position is such that allowing widespread deception is potentially justified.
   But it must be admitted that intuitions here are unlikely to be clear. What I shall thus argue is that, even considering merely localized, isolated instances of deception (and not widespread deception) we can still reach the relevant conclusion. In order to bypass the third objection let us thus consider the following:
(10)      For any proposition x such that it is logically possible to be deceived with regard to x, no human being who believes x is ever justified in believing that God is not allowing him to be deceived with regard to x.

In order that (10) doesn’t simply entail an inability justifiably to believe not-(9), one should perhaps add the qualification ‘except where x is the proposition that God does not allow widespread deception’.[59] Given this, (10) allows that each possible instance of deception be an isolated, localized occurrence, an exception rather than the rule.
   In §3:4 I mentioned, and briefly tackled, the objection to (4) according to which some individual people may have contradictory beliefs. The shift to (10) enables a further response to this objection, for (10) is not true by dint of the fact that, for all I can tell, I am being deceived with regard to everything I believe, but by dint of the fact that, for each thing I believe (such that it is logically possible that I be deceived with regard to it), for all I can tell I am being deceived with regard to it. Thus, given (10), for all I justifiably believe I am being deceived with regard to p, and for all I justifiably believe I am being deceived with regard to not-p; it is not that, for all I justifiably believe, I am being deceived with regard to both of these things. Analogously: I have not looked out of the window, so for all I can tell the car parked in the single space outside the house across the street is a Honda. Yet again, for all I can tell, it is not a Honda. But it is not the case that, for all I can tell, it is both a Honda and not a Honda.
   Now according to (10), as with (9), it is of course not God who is engaging in the deceptive activity. Thus, it might be argued that were there some criteria available by which to tell apart truth from “the Devil’s lying wonders”[60] – and repeated injunctions in scripture not to be ‘taken in’ by false signs and wonders,[61] despite their power, would seem to imply that such criteria are available – then one might justifiably believe that (10) is false.  But recall my claim at the beginning of §4:1 regarding the difficulty of identifying God’s commands: since “the God of scripture sometimes issues orders that common sense would make one think could only come from a malevolent being” (Beaudoin 2007, p121), what criteria could  be available by which to tell apart God’s work from that of deceptive demons? If that which is in fact true can, for reasons beyond our ken, be made to appear devilish, then that which is in fact devilish can surely, again for reasons beyond our ken, be made to appear true (especially given the power which, as we have seen, scripture grants to deceptive demons). Thus, what ultimately lends weight (10) is, once again, that skeptical theists endorse (S), and (S) ensures both that, for any proposition I believe (such that it is logically possible for me to be deceived with regard to it), for all I can tell there are reasons for the demons to deceive me into believing it, and that for all I can tell there are outweighing goods/evils the obtaining/preventing of which justifies God in allowing me to be deceived with regard to it.
   And this indeed applies to any such proposition. Bergmann (forthcoming, pp2-3) makes the claim that his brand of skeptical theism is consistent with the view that “it is clear that we know many of the most obvious things we take ourselves to know ” and that “we also know (if we consider the question) that we are not in some skeptical scenario in which we are radically deceived in these beliefs” (my italics). But assuming that Bergmann is not talking here about infallible or logically indubitable beliefs, there seems to be an uncomfortable juxtaposition between his claim and the skeptical theist’s response to the evidential argument from evil. Bruce Russell (1996, p197) thus writes, with respect to the skeptical hypothesis that the universe was created 100 years ago:
[I]f it is not reasonable to believe that God deceived us [or allowed us to be deceived], for some reason beyond our ken, when he created the universe, it is not reasonable to believe that there is some reason beyond our ken which, if God exists, would justify him in allowing all the suffering we see. (my italics)

Dougherty (manuscript, p9) also notes, in a reply to Bergmann, that the juxtaposition of Bergmann’s claims with skeptical theism
...is hard to take. We are to suppose that God has an all-things-considered good reason for [allowing inscrutable evils], but not for making it seem like we have hands when we don’t. You’d think the latter would be trivial in comparison with the former...We can know, if God existed, that God wouldn’t permit hand-deception, but we can’t know, if He existed, that He wouldn’t permit the Holocaust. This is a consequence of Bergmann’s view. It is a cost to have to say such a thing. (my italics)

Interestingly, Basham (2002, p232) notes that it seems more plausible to interpret a perfectly-loving God as Himself deceptive than it would be to interpret Him as sincere in His promises that certain horrific evils will befall humanity.[62] At any rate, let us consider Russell’s and Dougherty’s quotations. I submit that any proposition we believe (and with regard to which it is logically possible that we be deceived) is such that it could take the place of the italicized phrases, and the quotations would retain their ring of plausibility. “But why on earth should God allow me to be deceived specifically into believing, for example, that I have hands when I don’t, or that llamas live in South America when they don’t, or even that the Holocaust happened when it didn’t, that Rowe’s fawn is in pain when it isn’t, or that the rape and killing of a five-year old girl is wrong when isn’t?” I have no idea. But nor do I have any idea why God permits inscrutable evils. And if my having no idea the reason why God permits inscrutable evils doesn’t enable me justifiably to believe that there are no reasons, then my having no idea, for any proposition I believe (and with regard to which it is logically possible that I be deceived), why God should allow me to be deceived with regard to it,[63] will not render me justified in believing that God has no such reasons, especially given what my epistemic position tells me – that allowing instances of deception can be justified. In other words, if (S) blocks the inference from inscrutable evils to (1), then it renders (10) true.
   But if (10) is true and we accept the following:
(11)      If, for any proposition x such that it is logically possible to be deceived with  regard to x, no human being who believes x is ever justified in believing that God is not allowing him to be deceived with regard to x, then, for any proposition x such that it is logically possible to be deceived with regard to x, no human being is ever justified in believing x

then we can derive
(12)No human being is ever justified in believing any proposition such that it is      logically possible to be deceived with regard to that proposition. (from 10 &  
     11)

from which it follows, given my argument in §5:2 above, that
(MS*)  No human being is ever rationally justified in believing any (substantive, action guiding) moral proposition. (from 12)

Now the problems discussed in the previous chapter regarding any skeptical theistic attempt to utilize common responses to BIV skepticism seem likewise applicable to the argument I have constructed so as to bypass the third objection. The skeptical theist won’t be able to object to (10) on Vogel’s grounds that an inference to the best explanation justifies ruling out skeptical hypotheses, for reasons identical to those adumbrated in §4:2. Likewise, the skeptical theist can’t argue, as in (A), that (12) is false and thus, given (11), that (10) is false, for reasons identical to those given in the §4:4 (and bolstered in §5:1 above). Nor can the skeptical theist argue, as in (B), that (11) is false, and thus that the inference from (10) to (12), and hence to (MS*), does not go through, and this for the same reasons discussed in §4:5 (and again bolstered in §5:1 above). Thus, I contend that my argument can be constructed so as to avoid the objections discussed in this chapter, and such that my original conclusion, that the initially promising responses discussed in §2:2 will not enable the skeptical theist to avoid an unacceptable moral skepticism, can be reached.







6: Loose Ends and Concluding Remarks
I hope to have provided a persuasive case that skeptical theism leads, via considerations of deception, to an unacceptable moral skepticism. Of course, in the spirit of the very humility that helped motivate the skeptical theist position in the first place, I do not claim that my case is anything approaching decisive. In this closing chapter I shall indicate three areas in which I think problems/issues may arise, and say something as to why I think my argument is equipped to handle them.  Considerations of space dictate that this undertaking remain extremely cursory. There is, however, “a place and a function in our ongoing intellectual life for a less complete work, containing unfinished presentations, conjectures, open questions and problems” (Nozick 1974, pxii). I am therefore content in large part to leave these problems/issues as potential areas for future research.

            6:1 Loose Ends         
6:1:1 Accounts of Justification: Between Scylla and Charybdis?
            I have talked throughout this thesis about justified belief, but I have left this largely as a primitive notion. This leaves open the possibility that some accounts of justification may escape my argument.
   I doubt this will create problems, since an account of justification must be found which both escapes my argument and renders belief in pointless evil unjustified, and I conjecture that this cannot be done. By way of illustrating this, consider once again the coherentist account of justification mentioned in §3:4, which one might well think was dismissed far too easily there. This seems to be just one example of an account of justification which, if it rules out justified belief in pointless evil, is also ineffective against my argument. For a belief-system to be coherent, “the components must be reasonable in the light of one another” (Elgin 2005, p158). It might thus be argued that a belief in (cosmically) pointless evil does not cohere well with a belief in (S), in which case the belief in such pointless evil is not justified. However, a set of beliefs which includes (S) will likewise seem not to cohere well with, and thus to rule out justified belief in, the view that we are not being deceived (with regard to any proposition such that it is logically possible that we be deceived), especially since (allowing) deception seems, given both scripture and our epistemic position, itself often to be justified. To deny parity here would seem to land us with precisely the sort of uneasy juxtaposition highlighted by Russell and Dougherty at the end of §5:3.
   Consider furthermore Bergmann’s (2006, p135) own ‘externalist’ brand of justification, according to which S’s belief that p is justified just in case:
(i)                 S does not take p to be defeated; and
(ii)               The cognitive faculties producing p are functioning properly, truth-aimed and reliable.
The problem here is twofold. On the one hand, (i) should not be satisfied for any belief if S is a skeptical theist. On the other hand, if (ii) enables a response to Cartesian skepticism generally, as Bergmann (2006, pp213-241) thinks it does, then it also enables justified belief in pointless evil: in both cases it could be true that the relevant beliefs meet the requirements laid down therein, despite the fact that in neither case need we, or even can we, have ‘higher-level’ awareness that this is so. Thus we have what seems to me a fundamental tension at the heart of Bergmann’s general philosophical enterprise.
   I should also note that I have not had space to discuss the view that justification comes in degrees.[64] For this thought to be of use to the skeptical theist, she must argue that a belief in pointless evil has a lower degree of justification than do many other beliefs. Perhaps, recalling my discussion in §4:4:1, she will say that beliefs in pointless evil have prima facie justification only, whereas other beliefs have all-things-considered justification. But the fact that my reasons for denying justification to these other beliefs were based ultimately on (S), which would presumably be the same reason for imputing to beliefs in pointless evil a low degree of justification, it is hard to see how the skeptical theist can make this point.
   Perhaps there are other accounts of justification for which these patterns of argument are ineffective. I leave it as a challenge to the skeptical theist to unearth them.

6:1:2 Skepticism and Contextualism
            My point in §4:3, that there are various responses to BIV skepticism that I have not had space to discuss, leaves open the possibility that there may be a response to BIV skepticism that would also avail the skeptical theist with a response to my argument, even though the responses I have discussed do not. Conspicuous by its absence is perhaps the contextualist response. Contextualist responses to BIV skepticism are usually concerned with knowledge, holding that the propositions expressed by sentences such as ‘S knows that p’ vary according to the context in which they are uttered. Applying this to the BIV hypothesis yields (very roughly) the view that in skeptical contexts – contexts in which skeptical scenarios are salient – knowledge-attributing sentences express false propositions, otherwise they can express true ones.[65] I am of course concerned here instead with justification; the contextualist response would thus hold that whether a belief is justified (strictly: whether ‘S is justified in believing that p’ is true) varies according to context,[66] with a belief being justified – i.e. with (12) being false – in contexts in which skeptical scenarios are not salient.
   I do not have space to discuss this proposal in any detail, but I think that what I have said so far provides strong grounds for doubting that it will work as a response to my argument. The first issue concerns delineating ‘context’. If by context we mean simply epistemic position, then the contextualist proposal has not been absent from my discussion at all. If we don’t mean this but something else, it is not clear what. I leave it as a challenge to the contextualist skeptical theist, if such there be, to provide an account.
   Another question arises for any contextualist: when do skeptical possibilities become ‘salient’? I submit that on any plausible conception of salience the skeptical scenario articulated in (10) will be salient to the skeptical theist, if not qua skeptic then at least qua theist; this was just my point in §5:1 regarding the frequency with which God allows deception in scripture, and the alleged power of the said deceptions. It should also be salient to anyone ascribing justified belief to the skeptical theist, since typically on contextualist proposals what is salient to the subject will usually be salient to the ascriber.[67] Thus, when I in this thesis talk of the skeptical theist, her “standard theistic background assumptions” will be salient to me in my decision whether or not to ascribe justified belief.
   But it may be insisted that there are cases in which the skeptical scenario articulated in (10) is clearly not salient, even where the skeptical theist is concerned. The skeptical theist, after all, is in most respects an ordinary human being, and when standing in line and forming the belief that the queue is long, she may well not have God, scripture, or anything ‘moral’ before her mind at all. Similarly, when I ascribe justified belief to her, I may view her simply as a woman in the queue in front of me, rather than as a skeptical theist. Thus, contextualism may allow her to have justified beliefs in such circumstances.
   I have two reservations with this proposal. Firstly, the proposal may well underestimate the extent to which her theism permeates the life of a typical theist. For example, in a recent BBC documentary, Ann Widdecombe (2011) spoke of “a faith that informs everything I do”. Secondly, and more importantly, my concern here has been with moral skepticism, and in any moral context the skeptical theist’s theism, as well as her epistemic position with respect to morality, is likely to be salient to her (and thus to me in ascribing or withholding justification). This was just what I tried to show in §2:2:1 and §2:2:2.
   The contextualist response, to the extent that it differs from the responses I have already considered, therefore does not seem promising. Of course, there may be still other responses that are. Perhaps the shift from global to local skepticism in §5:3 in fact masks hidden difficulties potentially exploitable by the skeptical theist. These issues will have to await future research.

6:1:3 Skepticism and Paralysis
Beaudoin (2005, p51) notes that “[s]keptical theists might hold widely divergent views about the nature of moral decision-making”. The link between moral skepticism and moral paralysis could thus perhaps be further explored. I have taken it that the former leads to the latter, but if this is not true then perhaps my argument in this thesis need be of no great concern to the skeptical theist.
   I’ll restrict myself to the following points.
   Firstly, Sinnott-Armstrong (2006, p14) in particular writes that “it is not at all clear that moral skepticism has bad consequences overall”, and this in part because some beliefs are good for us to hold, even if they are not justified (p196). But if (MS*) is true then of course Sinnott-Armstrong is not entitled to this latter claim.
   Secondly, even if (MS*) does not lead to paralysis, perhaps because, as Hume (1975, p160) famously thought, “[n]ature is always too strong for principle”, I submit that it would be problematic anyway, since there would be nothing that “backs up and validates” (Mackie 1977, p22) our own or anyone else’s decisions to perform certain actions. (MS*) thus deprives us of the ability justifiably to criticise those who perform actions with which we do not agree.[68]
   Thirdly, let me simply borrow from a forthcoming paper by Scott Aikin and Brian Ribeiro:
[B]y accepting the skeptical theist’s claims about the limitations on our knowledge of value...we seem to be faced with moral paralysis in everyday life.  Nor is this connection between avowed moral ignorance and moral paralysis new.  It constituted one of the ancient objections to both Academic and Pyrrhonian skepticism.  The apraxia (or inaction) objection held that the (Academic or Pyrrhonian) skeptic will not be able to determine how to respond to moral choices in life. Of course, the ancient skeptics deployed various responses to the apraxia objection, but those responses offer no comfort at all to the skeptical theist, since the ancient skeptics were happy to concede our inability to make any reasoned and justified response, while only insisting that the skeptic can nonetheless act (and hence is not actually paralyzed with apraxia).  The problem is that the skeptical theist – unlike an ancient skeptic – presumably wants to act self-consciously as a moral agent and in a morally reasonable way. Can the skeptical theist do so, given her axiological skepticism? (p6)

The skeptical theist is of course free to pursue this matter. Once again, I leave it as an area for future research.

6:2 Concluding Remarks
            So where does all this leave us? I suggest that my arguments in this thesis have uncovered something of a puzzle:
(a)         Given (T), (S) is highly plausible.
(b)        (MS*) is unacceptable; yet
(c)         (ST) leads to (MS*).
How should we deal with this predicament? I want, very tentatively, to offer a suggestion: we should abandon theism, and its scriptural accoutrements. Doing so will enable us to avoid (S), and thus the primary basis from which (MS*) followed. But even were one to insist that (S) is plausible in the absence of theism, the abandonment of theism would mean that there would be no God (and most likely none of the deceptive demons mentioned in scripture) with the power to act on unknown moral reasons for deceiving us with regard to the moral matters that     seem to us so obviously true. Such appearances would thus be allowed to stand. I suggest, then, that in this thesis I have presented not only a critique of skeptical theism, but also something like a new kind of moral argument against theism, an argument which, given the loose ends mentioned in this chapter, I hope to develop in the future.




















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[1] See Trakakis (2007) for a thorough discussion of Rowe’s updated versions. As Bergmann (2001) and Wysktra (2009) note, the skeptical theist’s response is equally applicable to the updated versions, so I focus here on the original, ‘classic’ version.
[2] For related points see Durston (2000).
[3] A prescient point, given what I go on to argue.
[4] See Craig’s argument in Craig & Sinnott-Armstrong (2004), and Wainwright (2005).
[5] See Moreland & Craig (2003, p492).
[6] See also Curley (2010).  
[7] For example, Fitzpatrick (1981), Lewis (1983), Wykstra (1984, 1996, 2009), Christlieb (1992), Alston (1996a&b), Plantinga (1996a&b), van Inwagen (1996a&b), Howard-Snyder (1996, 2009), Bergmann (2001, 2009, forthcoming) and Bergmann & Howard-Snyder (2004).
[8] Sehon (2010, p71) notes that the moral propositions referred to in (MS) include both articulations of general moral theories and of particular moral judgements.
[9] I borrow this phrase from Sehon (2010).
[10] For similar points, see Lewis (2001, pp29-30).
[11] This seems so even for historians who have detailed knowledge of ancient Assyrian practices.
[12] This argument has been paraphrased. See also Kraay (2007, pp217-218) and Bergmann (2009, p392).
[13] See also Pruss (manuscript).
[14] Adams herself provides a theodicy, which in my view fails for reasons discussed in Earl (2011).
[15] See Rowe (2006).
[16] See, for example, Psalms 51: 5, Job 14: 1, Romans 5: 15-20 and Ephesians 2: 3.
[17] For more on this, see Friedman & Weisel (2003).
[18] The interpretation is that of Hilary of Poitier, discussed by Ramsey (1985, pp519-520).
[19] See Wykstra (1984, p88).
[20] See Blanshard (1939).
[21] See Sayre-McCord (1996, 2007).
[22] See Da Costa & French (1988).
[23] See Maitzen (2007), Seigal (forthcoming) and Aikin & Ribeiro (forthcoming) for related issues.
[24] For a thorough discussion of skepticism in its contemporary guise, see DeRose & Warfield (1999). Many discussions of skepticism focus on knowledge. I am of course concerned here with justification.
[25] See Almeder (2010, pp177-178).
[26] As does Vogel (2005, p74).
[27] See also Drange (1998, pp206-207) and Maitzen (2009, p94).
[28] See Pargetter (1984).
[29] See Elgin (2005, p157).
[30] Wielenberg (2009) provides an argument for such objective moral facts.
[31] Thanks to Rachel Fraser for this point.
[32] Bergmann (forthcoming) seems to argue along these lines.
[33] See White (2006).
[34] Mark Bernstein (1998, p161) argues along similar lines.
[35] This problem seems equally applicable to any attempt to argue that a denial of (4) on Vogel’s grounds is consistent with maintaining (S).
[36] For related points, Tucker (forthcoming).
[37] The skeptical scenario Pryor actually considers is the evil demon hypothesis. His points are easily extended to the BIV hypothesis.
[38] See Hawthorne (2004).
[39] Thus, contra Matheson (forthcoming), an appeal to defeaters actually works against the skeptical theist. 
[40] See Bergmann (2009, p392).
[41] Where (1) is given the relevant ‘cosmic’ gloss; i.e. where (1) is read as ‘there exist evils that are pointless relative to God’s epistemic position’.
[42] See Bergmann (2009, p389).
[43] See Nozick (1981) and Drestske (2003, 2005).
[44] Andrew Graham and Stephen Maitzen argue that the sensitivity account and the CORNEA principle fail for the same reason – both entail “intolerable violations of closure” (Graham & Maitzen 2007, p83).
[45] This claim forms Bergmann’s response to the objection by Swinburne discussed in §1:4.
[46] See also Alston (1996b, p314).
[47] Wykstra himself draws a distinction between ‘dynamic’ and ‘static’ senses of justification, which will not be relevant to my argument.
[48] See, for example, Hebrews 6: 18.
[49] This qualification will henceforth be left implicit, as it will be in my discussion of (9) and (10).
[50] Thanks to Brian Leftow for this objection.
[51] This assumes that John Calvin (2007, p19) was incorrect in describing Jeremiah’s complaints as “ironical”. As Wielenberg (2011, p13) notes, Calvin’s suggestion here is “particularly desperate.”
[52] For an historical account of the controversy here, see Ramsey (1985).
[53] We can also note that my argument in §3:3 seemed to go through even with this proviso.
[54] See also Wainwright (2005, p53).
[55] See Prinz (2007) and McBrayer (2010b).
[56] See also Matthew 7: 12 and Luke 6: 31.
[57] See Bergmann (forthcoming, p3).
[58] Thanks to Dave Leal for this objection.
[59] This will be left implicit in what follows.
[60] This phrase comes from Beaudoin (2007).
[61] For example, Matthew 7: 15-16.
[62] See, for example, Isaiah 66: 24.
[63] Or why the demons should deceive me in the first place.
[64] See Wedgwood (2008).
[65] See DeRose (1999) and Lewis (1999).
[66] See Cohen (1999, p60).
[67] See, for example, Lewis (1999, p227 & p233). Even if the claim is incorrect, the skeptical theist will not be able truly to self-ascribe justified belief, the implications of which are gestured at in Aikin and Ribeiro’s quotation below.
[68] See Burnyeat (1983, p128). 

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