Too often, discussion about skeptical theism focuses on whether there are likely to be unknown goods which could outweigh the evils we know of (Officially, I have problems with the notion of “knowing of” an evil, but I’ll set that aside). That can create the impression that an affirmative answer is reached, skeptical theism wins. But that would be a misunderstanding.
Some skeptical theists are quite clear about the need for skepticism about the *entailment relations* between possible goods and possible evils (Bergmann is, Howard-Snyder is not). But even then, I find that most of the discussion is focused on God’s ability to see *goods* that are beyond our ken.
The reason this is problematic, is that that’s too easy to come to the affirmative on. *Of course* there are possible goods we can’t think of and I’m inclined to think that *of course* some of them would be so good as to counter-balance all the bads that are likely to have occurred (this is a much better way to talk that about “bads we know of”). For one thing, it is likely (nearly certain to me) that there have only been a finite number of bad states of affairs which have obtained.
The hard sell in skeptical theism, though, are those entailment relations and the role they play in moral permissibility. So take one of these possible goods we don’t know of but which would surely outweigh all the bads there have ever been and call it Supergood (homage to Superbad). It is not as though it would be permissible to allow all the bads just because you could trump them with Supergood.
Suppose I’m a super-rich 1%er–like a movie star, a pro athlete, or a senator. Now think what price you’d put on a broken nose. Let it be $n. I can’t just walk up and punch you in the face and throw $2n at you and walk away. Nor can I just stand by and watch it happen when I know I could prevent it and then pay you $2n for the “enteratainment.” This issue is under-treated in the literature.
But the real focus of this post is the fact that it is *not* obvious that we don’t know that there are no entailment relations between the bads there are likely to be (timeless) and any possible good. Rowe makes this point (2001: 301) pretty eloquently I think, and I don’t think Bergmann’s reply is adequate. It can seem utterly implausible–even after considerable reflection–that the greatest goods–of which I also think we are aware: perfect fellowship with God–that this greatest of goods *entails* the existence of as much bad as there is likely to be (timeless), especially in a way that it would be permissible for God to use as a justification. This, too, I think, is under-treated in the literature.