Date of Award

8-2013

Degree Type

Dissertation

Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy

Major

Philosophy

Major Professor

E. J. Coffman

Committee Members

Richard E. Aquila, John E. Nolt, Carl G. Wagner

Abstract

I argue that the philosophical discussion over William Rowe’s evidential argument from evil needs to take a closer look at the epistemology of religious trust—i.e., the rationality of the theist’s resilient confidence in God’s goodness in the face of inscrutable evils. This would constitute a significant change of emphasis in the current literature away from “skeptical theism,” the in vogue response to Rowe’s argument among theistic philosophers today. I argue that the skeptical theist approach is inadequate for two reasons. First, in trying to defeat even the atheist’s grounds for accepting Rowe’s argument, skeptical theists seem to seriously underestimate the degree of skepticism they must motivate all reasonable persons to take regarding the human competency to detect God-justifying reasons for allowing evils. Second, I show that even a successful skeptical theism would be inadequate to defend the theist’s actual doxastic stance towards inscrutable evils—a stance that goes beyond mere skepticism of that human competency. In place of the skeptical theist approach, I offer theists the “religious trust” approach—a way of defending theism against Rowe’s argument that focuses solely on defending the rationality of the theist’s committed trust in God. I then explore the nature and epistemology of committed interpersonal trust more generally before turning my attention to religious trust in particular. I argue in the end that there is enough promising (from the theist’s point of view) underexplored territory in the epistemology of religious trust to render too hasty the view that the world’s inscrutable evils make the theist’s trust in God unjustifiable. I think my religious trust approach thus affords theists a viable alternative to skeptical theism in defending the rationality of theism against Rowe’s evidential argument. Importantly, it is also an approach that is willing to uphold, in a way skeptical theists refuse to do, just how powerful a defense of atheism Rowe’s argument truly is.

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