Monday, October 7, 2013

The Quiverfull movement and Skeptical Theism

The latest Reasonable Doubts series with Vyckie Garrison (who blogs at No Longer Quivering) is really compelling because her story is so painful, but because things seem to have worked out well in the end for her and her children. 

Her interview in RD Episode 119 where she started talking about “spiritual abuse” it struck me as being related to a counter-apologetic argument – the idea that skeptical theism leads to moral paralysis

This seems to be a very real instantiation of that argument playing out in real life, much to the detriment of Vyckie and other women like her in the Quiverfull movement.

For those that don’t know Skeptical Theism is the idea that humans have such a large chasm of knowledge between themselves and the mind of an infinite god that they should not expect to know what reasons god has to permit evils to obtain some greater good. 

The argument is that such a view would lead to moral paralysis because on this view, we don’t know whether or not any given evil that we seemingly come across is being used by god to fulfill a greater good. So if we were to come across an instance of evil (like say a mugging), we wouldn't know whether or not to intervene or otherwise act on our moral intuitions because the mugging may be part of gods greater plan.

This relates directly to Vyckie’s account of “spiritual abuse” where she internalizes the problems with her marriage and the problems with her children that came about as a result of following what she thought was “god’s plan” for the family.  When she speaks about recognizing opportunities to object to or escape the Quiverful doctrine she wouldn’t do so, because she would think “what if god needs me here to intervene in the life of my husband/child/etc.” 

It seems to be a terrible real life instantiation of the epistemic problems that would plague someone who took the skeptical theist answer to the problem of evil seriously and consistently.  I think this is significant because the kinds of problems that pop up in the Quiverfull movement would probably be acknowledged as problems by more progressive or moderate Evangelical Christians.  The issue for them is they would then have to deal with the epistemic problem that arises from the skeptical theism view that the people in the Quiverfull movement take so seriously.

I’d even start to wonder if people in the Quiverfull movement go to such extreme lengths because they take the epistemic issues brought up by their views on the bible so seriously.


  1. Hello John. This is a good point you already mentioned in your talk with Jon Pearce and Justin Schieber.
    But it is important to notice that this is, this time, a pragmatic and non-evidential argument.

    My landsman existentialist Albert Camus realized this more than 60 ago in his novel "The Plague" where a priest adamantly opposed all efforts to combat the epidemic because this would be "acting against God."

    I certainly have no clear answer.

    It seems to be more of a problem for those (like Calvinists) who believe that evil is God's product rather than a by-product.

    As a human being, I see it as my duty to love my fellow humans (even my enemies) as myself, ideally in a self-sacrificial way.

    I believe that God is bound by His perfect nature to always seek the eternal happiness of all his creatures
    but I don't see why He cannot tolerate temporary suffering and hardships, given the perspective of eternity everyone of us lacks.

    1. Lothar,

      I think you may have misunderstood things. Skeptical theism is a response to the evidential problem of evil. You don’t have to embrace it yourself, and indeed it appears you don’t:

      “I believe that God is bound by His perfect nature to always seek the eternal happiness of all his creatures but I don't see why He cannot tolerate temporary suffering and hardships, given the perspective of eternity everyone of us lacks.”

      This is its own response, separate from Skeptical Theism, but then it isn’t addressing the problem of gratuitous evil which is what Skeptical Theism tries to avoid specifically (though many extend it to the general evidential problem of evil).

      I think your response is especially flawed since there’s no reason put forward that would prevent god from realizing everyone immediately into the state of eternal happiness, so there’s no need for suffering. You can try to claim a process of soul-making is necessary, but then the “goodness” of soul-making is ungrounded or you have to admit a source of goodness exists outside of god, since god by definition couldn’t have gone through such a process of soul-making.

      This is however a completely side issue from the point of this post. The point is that Skeptical Theism IS a bad response, and that most people who embrace it do not apply the logic consistently in their lives. The point of this post is to show how terrible it is when a fringe extremist brand of Christianity DOES apply the logic of Skeptical Theism consistently.

      The point is to show the absurdity of Skeptical Theism, and to show that moderate/progressive Christians can’t both embrace Skeptical Theism and also condemn the logic used by the fringe members of the Quiverfull movement.

  2. I recently engaged in a bit of a discussion about Psalm 127 for which the Quiverfull movement is named.

    "Like arrows in the hands of a warrior, are children born in one’s youth. Blessed is the man whose quiver is full of them."

    Incredible that the Catholics commenting either could not accept that the passage was describing children as weapons in possession of their father, or that this actually was a good metaphor somehow!

    I think you are right. Theistic skepticism is just an idea put out to deflect the problem of evil/suffering. No one really applies it.

    1. Ehh, I can see various interpretations being possible, but I think that's immaterial. Flowery language written millenia ago is going to be "open to interpretation".

      This is part of the problem with the bible and hermeneutics, but that's its own issue. :)

  3. This is not the worst things you can find the psalms.
    You can also find one psalmist praying that God will dash the children of his foes against rock.
    On the other hand you also find beautiful passages about love, forgiveness and hope.

    These are, to use Thom Stark's wonderful expressions, the human faces of God, as contradictory as our own lifes.

  4. Why aren't you making YouTube videos anymore?

    1. I hope to be making more soon, largely it's just a combo if my daughter being nearly a year old now, and work going insane.

      Hardest part for me is making the slides to go with the audio, that takes a ton of time lately, and when I get home I (happily) have to spend a lot more time taking care of my daughter now that she's almost a year old.

      The other part is that we had layoffs at my job, which means that I've had my work load increase.

    2. Thanks for your explanation. I wish you and your daughter the best.