There is a worry, however, which has been aptly stated by Trent Dougherty. He argues that what is truly at issue when assessing the parent analogy is which of the following incompatible theses is rendered more probable by the considerations of the parent analogy.
Obscurity If the world is made by an omnipotent, omniscient God, then it is highly likely that if evil is permitted, most of the goods for the sake of which it is permitted will be obscure to humans.
Transparency If the world is made by an omnipotent, omniscient God, then it is highly likely that if evil is permitted, then most of the goods for the sake of which it is permitted will be transparent to humans.Footnote 9,Footnote 10
Dougherty argues that if skeptical theism is to succeed in establishing that there is a defeater for the reliability of one’s experience of apparently gratuitous evil when it comes to identifying actually gratuitous evil, then the parent analogy must support Obscurity over Transparency (where Obscurity is equivalent to my Q in the parent analogy of the previous section). And so conversely, if the parent analogy supports the truth of Transparency over Obscurity, then skeptical theism will be in trouble. To understand why, think about which types of disputants concerning the problem of evil would support a thesis like Transparency. There are at least two types of interlocutors that come immediately to mind. First, anyone who simply finds themselves with the intuition that skeptical theism is false (i.e. what I call an ‘anti-Agnostic’)Footnote 11 will likely find themselves in a position to think that Obscurity is improbable given the parent analogy. Second, anyone who defends theodicies of various sorts will likewise defend Transparency. Theodicists take themselves to be able to identify the goods (or types of goods) for the sake of which various evils are permitted, and they assume that they can do so in a reliable way (i.e. given sufficiently earnest and sustained attempts to find such goods). But to engage in the project of identifying the possible goods to which apparently gratuitous evils might lead is to engage in a project deemed likely to fail by any skeptical theist. Thus, engaging in theodicy (loosely)Footnote 12 implies that one accepts Transparency.
Now, here is the problem as Dougherty succinctly summarizes it in terms of the above theses:
The central problem for [the skeptical theist’s] expanded defense of the Parent Analogy is that even if it is true that ability to plan for the future will increase in proportion to the scale of the three properties he mentions, the probability of Transparency will also increase in proportion to the scale of those three properties. (Or at least it is at least as plausible that the latter will as that the former will.) This completely undercuts the usefulness of the Parent Analogy to support Obscurity. For the more benevolent a being, the more they would want sufferers to understand the reasons for which they are permitted to suffer. And the more wisdom they had, the more likely they would know how to do it. And the more power they had, the more likely they would be able to make it happen.Footnote 13
Thus, as Dougherty understands the parent analogy, it only establishes a good argument for skeptical theism if the probability of Obscurity given the parent analogy is greater than the probability of Transparency given the parent analogy. But at best, he thinks, both theses end up equally probable given the parent analogy, and so, the argument cannot support skeptical theism over its competitors (i.e. anti-Agnostics or theodicists).
I agree with Dougherty that as he’s presented the argument,
Footnote 14 the parent analogy fails to support skeptical theism; however, there are two importantly different ways of understanding the conclusion of the parent analogy. The first way, which Dougherty adopts, is to equate the conclusion with Obscurity. The second way of understanding the conclusion, however, is subtly (though not insignificantly) different. Consider the following premise from Stephen Wykstra (i.e. Dougherty’s main interlocutor and the primary defender of the parent analogy), which most closely resembles Obscurity:
Obscurity Light—It is likely that the goods for which O [i.e. an omni-God] permits many sufferings are beyond our ken.Footnote 15
And now, compare Wykstra’s Obscurity Light with Dougherty’s Obscurity:
Obscurity—If the world is made by an omnipotent, omniscient God, then it is highly likely that if evil is permitted, most of the goods for the sake of which it is permitted will be obscure to humans.Footnote 16,Footnote 17
Notice the presence of the word ‘many’ in Obscurity Light. Wykstra is not necessarily claiming that we should expect most of the evils we encounter to be inscrutable as Obscurity states. His claim, and the claim of skeptical theists, is plausibly much weaker. They only require that many of the evils encountered in the world turn out to be inscrutable. And this is not insignificant, for if Obscurity Light indeed represents the intended conclusion of the parent analogy, then Dougherty’s claim that Transparency is more probable than Obscurity will be beside the point, for while Obscurity is inconsistent with Transparency, Obscurity Light is not. And thus, even if Dougherty is correct to think that Transparency is supported by the considerations advanced in the parent analogy, Obscurity Light could simultaneously be well supported by those same considerations.
Moreover, Obscurity Light does seem reasonably well supported by the parent analogy, for surely there would be some cases, as I suggested earlier, where children simply fail to appreciate the value of some future good for which they are currently suffering, even if most of the time such children do see the reasons for which their parents permit their suffering. As a result, as long as we can think of at least two dozen (or so…)Footnote 18 instances of this sort of arrangement, then that would suffice to justify the analogical argument Wykstra advances in support of Obscurity Light, even if Transparency were well supported as well.
So what does this alternative interpretation of the strength of the parent analogy’s conclusion imply concerning Dougherty’s argument? Only that his argument is incomplete, for it is not entirely unreasonable to read Wykstra’s description of the parent analogy as supporting the stronger thesis, Obscurity,
Footnote 19 and if a skeptical theist were to advance the parent analogy in this way, then Dougherty’s criticisms would indeed be apt. However, for Dougherty’s criticisms to fully remove the power of the parent analogy to motivate skeptical theism, further scrutiny must be directed towards an Obscurity Light construal of the parent analogy. To this we now turn.