Stephen Law’s ‘Evil God’ Challenge

The Saturday, 1 May 2010 edition of Premier Christian Radio’s Unbelievable? is well worth a listen for philosopher Stephen Law’s ‘Evil God’ Challenge: Why is it more reasonable to believe in an all-good god than to believe in an all-evil god?

Law’s opponent on Unbelievable? was Denis Alexander of The Faraday Institute for Science and Religion.  You can download the PDF of Law’s paper.  Scanning the blogosphere, Luke over at Common Sense Atheism has published two discussions of Law’s challenge:  Part 1 discusses the ‘Evil God’ Challenge itself, while Part 2 gives some Christian responses.

It is hard to see why an all-powerful, all-good God would unleash so much suffering upon the sentient creatures of Earth over hundreds of millions of years.  Why not posit an all-powerful, all-evil God to explain all this suffering, as many religions have done?

In defence of the Evil God hypothesis, we can use reverse versions of the theodicies that Christians use to defend the Good God hypothesis:

  1. Free will. Evil God gave us free will, so we sometimes choose to do good, even though Evil God hates it.  And free will also allows us to be morally responsible for evil acts, which Evil God loves.  He could have made us into puppets that only do evil, but then he would not have the pleasure of seeing us choose evil.  To maximise evil, Evil God designed us so that we can perform evil acts from our own will.
  2. Character-destroying. Why does Evil God create some beautiful things?  For contrast.  To make the ugly things look uglier.  Why does Evil God make some of us unusually healthy and wealthy?  To make the suffering of the sick and poor even greater.  Why does Evil God let us have children that love us unconditionally?  So that we will worry endlessly about them.
  3. First order goods allow second order evils.  Some evils require certain goods to exist.  For example, jealousy could not exist without there being someone who has something good for you to be jealous about.  Evil God had to give some of us good things so that the rest of us could feel jealousy.
  4. Mystery.  Evil God has a plan for how all the apparent goods in the world will ultimately lead to maximal evil, but Evil God is so far beyond our reasoning ability that we cannot understand his plan.

The ‘Evil God’ Challenge is an ingenious exposition of how utterly vacuous theology is as an academic subject.  The theologians’ conclusions have been arrived at before they have conducted any research or put pen to paper.  They invent various models of gods out of something that does not even qualify as thin air and move the essential characteristics of that god around like the rows on a Rubik’s Cube so that their god is logically consistent and broadly conforms to the empirical facts of the universe.

However, like characters in a computer game with superhuman powers, the models of these gods have little application to the real world.  They exist very much in a world called “virtual reality”.

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8 Responses to “Stephen Law’s ‘Evil God’ Challenge”

  1. manicstreetpreacher Says:

    I have started a discussion thread on the Premier Christian Community Unbelievable? group page here.

  2. Fergus Gallagher Says:

    Good luck with that – I’ve posted Stephen Law’s challenge (directly and indirectly) many times on Premier. No biters. Surprised?

    • manicstreetpreacher Says:

      I asked David Robertson on the recent Premier threads how he was so sure that his God thought that the Holocaust was wrong. His reply was metaphorically to get up and leave the room as I clearly abandoned all rationality!

      But that’s the beauty of the challenge: we cannot prove that either hypothesis is correct, so in all probability both are completely wrong.

  3. Fergus Gallagher Says:

    There a few interesting asymmetries between evil and good. For example, an good person can be good all the time, but an evil person should probably pretend to be good most of the time so that others will trust him when it comes to some really big evil.

  4. MrMcStizzle Says:

    “Evil God gave us free will, so we sometimes choose to do good, even though Evil God hates it. And free will also allows us to be morally responsible for evil acts, which Evil God loves.”

    Does it make sense for an Evil God to “love” anything? In fact, does it make sense for an Evil God to create anything at all?

    “He could have made us into puppets that only do evil, but then he would not have the pleasure of seeing us choose evil.”

    Similar to the above question, why would an evil God seek pleasure?

    Y’see, God created mankind in His likeness. Since He is good, He requires that those made in His likeness also do good. It’s not a matter of “seeking pleasure” for God lacks nothing.

    Now if this evil-God is meant to be the opposite, surely he wouldn’t be seeking pleasure because he would lack nothing. Why would he create something for the sole purpose of propogating evil?

    “To maximise evil, Evil God designed us so that we can perform evil acts from our own will.”

    If his aim was to “maximise evil” wouldn’t it make more sense not to create at all seeing as he would be the absolute maximum of evil?

    “Why does Evil God create some beautiful things? For contrast. To make the ugly things look uglier. Why does Evil God make some of us unusually healthy and wealthy? To make the suffering of the sick and poor even greater. Why does Evil God let us have children that love us unconditionally? So that we will worry endlessly about them.”

    The odd thing about this is I haven’t heard the opposite of this argument made to support a good God. That He “creates” evil to highlight the good. Btw, is worrying endlessly about your children necessarily a bad thing? Would you prefer if parents were indifferent?

    “Some evils require certain goods to exist. For example, jealousy could not exist without there being someone who has something good for you to be jealous about.”

    Would it actually make a difference to the amount of suffering if people were instead just suffering in their “singleness” as it were?

    “Evil God has a plan for how all the apparent goods in the world will ultimately lead to maximal evil, but Evil God is so far beyond our reasoning ability that we cannot understand his plan.”

    This all comes down to the same thing for me. Why create at all?

    Perhaps I’m missing something, but it doesn’t make sense for such a being to create if his sole aim is absolute, maximum evil.

    The other problem I see, is that an evil-God requires goodness of some kind to exist and do anything it seems. A good-God does not. Good would be good, regardless of evil.

  5. Rhology Says:

    Howdy,

    I was looking at Stephen Law’s blog while listening to his appearance on the Unbelievable? radio program, and I saw your link to this post. I thought you might find this post of mine of interest.

  6. Martin Says:

    The purpose of the Problem of Evil is to show either logical inconsistency in the concept of God (logical problem of evil) or to show evidence against the concept of God (evidential problem of evil).

    The defenses and theodicies that theists offer are attempts to show that evil and God are not incompatible concepts. Defenses and theodicies are not supposed to be positive evidence for the existence of God.

    So it doesn’t seem to make any sense to parody them in this way. The theist could and should respond thus: “OK, your theodicies for the Evil God hypothesis show how the existence of good in the world is compatible with an Evil God; do you seriously believe in this Evil God? Is this a concept you are trying to rationally defend? If not, then your parody is pointless and seems to confuse defense of rationality with positive evidence.”

  7. The Evil God Hypothesis « Camels With Hammers Says:

    […] and defend the view here or read his derivations here and here.  Manicstreetpreacher nicely sums up Law’s view: In defence of the Evil God hypothesis, we can use reverse versions of the […]

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