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:
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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”.