Volume 8, Issue 2, Fall/Winter 2005
Keith M. Parsons
Evil and the Unknown Purpose Defense
Remarks Addressed to Theodore Drange’s Nonbelief & Evil
In his book Nonbelief & Evil, Theodore Drange argues that theists are likely to deploy the “unknown purpose defense” in the face of the existence of apparently gratuitous evils. That is, they will assert that God has morally sufficient reasons for permitting apparently gratuitous evil, but that humans do not know those reasons. Drange argues that by deploying the unknown purpose defense, and by challenging atheologians to prove that God does not have such unknown morally sufficient reasons, theists can achieve a stalemate with atheological challengers. I argue, however, that the epistemic burden of ascertaining whether God probably does or does not possess morally sufficient reasons for permitting evil falls asymmetrically on theists and atheists. Further, I argue that, given the failure of theodicies, the condition of nescience, the admission that we are in no position to assess whether God probably does or does not possess morally sufficient reasons for permitting ostensibly gratuitous evil, entails agnosticism about God’s existence. To escape agnosticism, theists will probably claim to have a warranted and properly basic belief in the existence and goodness of God. While I concede that theists may be doing their “epistemic best” in claiming such assurance, I argue that theists must concede that the existence of apparently gratuitous evil equally legitimizes nonbelief.