The Evil God Challenge (part 1)

by Luke Muehlhauser on June 6, 2009 in Christian Theology,Reviews

god_smitingI have often objected that Christian philosophers have no reason to assume their God is all-good. He might as well be all-evil, and then we atheists would assert The Problem of Goodness: How could an all-powerful, all-evil God allow so much good to occur?

Philosopher Stephen Law – a champion of making philosophy accessible to the common man1 – has just released his academic treatment of this objection, called The Evil God Challenge, to be published in the Cambridge journal Religious Studies.

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?

Better yet, why not assume there is one evil god and one good god, equally matched in power? This is the solution offered by Zoroastrianism. Zoroastrians don’t have to explain away all the suffering in the world, nor do they have to explain away all the goodness in the world.

Or, why not assume there is an all-powerful God who is indifferent to suffering and goodness? That fits with the world as we know it even better.

Stephen Law’s focus is on the comparison between the ‘good god hypothesis’ and the ‘evil god hypothesis.’ Most arguments for the existence of God – like the design or First Cause arguments – don’t stipulate God’s moral character. The arguments support the evil god hypothesis just as much as they support the good god hypothesis.

But isn’t there overwhelming evidence against the evil god hypothesis? Why would an all-evil God give increasing numbers of humans health, wealth, and happiness? Why would he cause us to experience so much beauty in nature, music, film, and poetry? Why would he allow us to help each other, and to discover new ways of improving the lives of humans and other animals?

None of us believes in an all-evil God. In fact, we think the idea is ridiculous. There is much evil in the world, but there is also way too much good to think there exists an all-powerful, all-evil God.

But wait a minute. In defense of the evil god hypothesis, we can use reverse versions of the theodicies that Christians use to defend the good god hypothesis. For example:

  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 maximize 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 your 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.

Most of us will simply laugh at these ridiculous reverse theodicies. But then, why should we think the original theodicies for an all-good god – which are exactly mirrored in these reverse theodicies – are compelling? Aren’t Christian theodicies just as ridiculous?

Next time, we’ll look at some Christian responses to the Evil God Challenge.

  1. See Law’s Philosophy (Eyewitness Companion), The Philosophy Gym, his journal Think: Philosophy for Everyone, and his blog. []

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{ 37 comments… read them below or add one }

Lorkas June 6, 2009 at 10:27 am

God actually doesn’t care about anything except for differential reproduction. He favors traits that have the tendency to create more offspring, regardless of what those traits are, and he despises traits that make an individual tend to die without leaving offspring.

That explains everything perfectly.

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blindingimpediments June 6, 2009 at 11:58 am

Lorkas: God actually doesn’t care about anything except for differential reproduction. He favors traits that have the tendency to create more offspring, regardless of what those traits are, and he despises traits that make an individual tend to die without leaving offspring.That explains everything perfectly.

so does this god despise homosexual traits, and favour traits which promote heterosexual promiscuity and forced sexual intercourse?

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Lorkas June 6, 2009 at 12:22 pm

I talk about that in the comments on this post, but I will post the comment here for convenience, and deleted some parts that are irrelevant to this conversation.

Lorkas: Actually, research into some other animal species, like wasps, suggests that there is an equilibrium level for genes that make a person less likely to reproduce and more likely to help their siblings raise children instead.

The way that this is promoted by natural selection is that your siblings each share 50% of your genes with you, on average. Therefore, if foregoing reproduction yourself can lead to an increase in the offspring produced by your siblings, then the genes will be preserved in the population.* Of course, it would no longer be a viable evolutionary strategy if too many individuals did this, so we would expect the incidence of genes that make a person tend to homosexuality to be low relative to alternative forms of the gene.

* A limitation of this hypothesis is that this strategy is only viable if the benefit to your siblings is greater than 2 times your own genetic cost. That is, if you have the capacity to produce 2 children, the strategy must increase the number of children born to your siblings by at least 4. Otherwise, it is always better to have children yourself.

In short, there is a hypothesis that suggests that homosexuality can actually be adaptive, at small percentages in the population (its prevalence is about 10% in the modern human population, but varies in different species). In other words, the “god” would reward homosexual behavior so long as it stayed at a low equilibrium in the population, but would stop rewarding it if homosexuality became too prevalent.

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Lorkas June 6, 2009 at 12:22 pm

Oops! I meant to put a link on the “this post” in the first sentence.

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Lorkas June 6, 2009 at 12:27 pm

And, re: forced intercourse and sexual promiscuity, the “god” (let’s be straight, I was just talking about natural selection) would “reward” them under certain circumstances. What that last sentence means in the joke I constructed is “If you have promiscuous heterosexual sex or rape people, it might result in you creating a child”. That’s obviously true, so I don’t see why you should act so incredulous about the claim.

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blindingimpediments June 6, 2009 at 1:43 pm

not incredulous. just curious and wanted clarification. just trying to reason out moral implications (if there really are any). that’s all.

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blindingimpediments June 6, 2009 at 1:53 pm

oops. forgot to say thank you for the response.
also, that’s an interesting hypothesis regarding homosexuality. are there any human studies that show that this hypothesis regarding homosexuality may be correct? (i.e.”foregoing reproduction yourself can lead to an increase in the offspring produced by your siblings, then the genes will be preserved in the population”).

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Ben June 6, 2009 at 3:01 pm

lmao.  Excellent.

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Louis June 6, 2009 at 7:46 pm

Hi.  Medium-time reader, first time commenter.  This post is so hilarious and well-done that I hate to point out the all too obvious fact that it doesn’t account for any halfway decent Ontological Argument.

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lukeprog June 6, 2009 at 8:13 pm

Louis,

Of course, that is coming in the next post. :)

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blindingimpediments June 7, 2009 at 5:09 am

can good exist without evil or evil exist without good or are they completely dependent on each other?

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Chuck June 7, 2009 at 5:37 am

Louis: halfway decent Ontological Argument

An oxymoron if I heard one.

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Steven Carr June 7, 2009 at 6:24 am

All Ontological Arguments are only halfway decent, as a maximally decent Ontological Argument does not exist in reality.
 
But if there is an all-evil God, why would it order whole tribes of men, women and children to be killed?
 
William Lane Craig writes ‘Can you imagine what it would be like to have to break into some house and kill a terrified woman and her children? The brutalizing effect on these Israeli soldiers is disturbing.’
 
No wonder an all-evil God would want to see such evils.

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Lorkas June 7, 2009 at 9:00 am

blindingimpediments: that’s an interesting hypothesis regarding homosexuality. are there any human studies that show that this hypothesis regarding homosexuality may be correct? (i.e.”foregoing reproduction yourself can lead to an increase in the offspring produced by your siblings, then the genes will be preserved in the population”)

Two things have to be verified by experiment for the hypothesis to be valid:

1) The genes make a person less likely to have children on their own
2) The genes make a person more likely to help care for siblings, nieces, and nephews

(1) just makes (2) possible, and I don’t think it will be a surprise to anyone to hear that a person with homosexual preferences will, on average, have fewer children than a person with heterosexual preferences (showing (1) to be true).
As far as I know, there is no evidence yet that (2) is true for human beings (although we have found it to be true in some insect species). This is still just a hypothesis right now, but I’m hoping to see research on it in the future. If verified, this would explain why we observe homosexual behavior in practically every sexually-reproducing species, and I don’t know of any other hypothesis that can account for that.

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Derek June 7, 2009 at 2:08 pm


The logical problem of evil assumes for the sake of argument what the theist already believes- namely, that God is all-good, all-knowing, and-all powerful.  It then tries to show how these three attributes form an inconsistent triad. The job of the theist, when presented with the logical problem, is to show that these three attributes are not inconsistent (e.g., Plantinga shows, convincingly I think, that these attributes are only logically inconsistent in conjunction with a suppressed premise: that God has no good reason to allow evil.  Plantinga then goes on to show why we might have reason to think that this suppressed premise is possibly false.)  But notice, when a theist is confronted with the logical problem, the argument can only be valid if both the atheist and the theist take for granted that God is all-good.  If you deny this premise, there is no logical problem of evil.
 
The probabilistic problem of evil does the same. It says that it’s not logically inconsistent to believe that god is all-good, all-knowing, and all-powerful, since it’s logically possible for the suppressed premise, that God has no good reason to allow evil, to be false.  But even though it’s logically possible for it to be false, we have probabilistic evidence (the quantity and quality of evil in the world) to think it’s unlikely that it would be false.  A theist who feels pressed to respond to the probabilistic argument either has to show that the inductive inference to the truth of the suppressed premise is underdetermined or counterbalanced, or that we do not, in principle, have reason to think we could ever know why God allows evil- either strategy, if successful, will cast doubt on the suppressed premise.  But notice, just like the logical argument from evil, the probabilistic argument must assume that God, if he exists, is all-good, or else the argument doesn’t even get off the ground.
 
Now it is true that theists have provided various strands of theodicy to show how God might be justified in allowing the various evils we are familiar with.  But the construction of a theodicy is not meant to provide positive evidence that theism is true, but rather to show the coherency of the theist’s beliefs.  These are two very different programs. 
 
So when you say that “But wait a minute. In defense of the evil god hypothesis, we can use reverse versions of the theodicies that Christians use to defend the good god hypothesis”, you seem to be confusing the reasons why Christians construct theodicies in the first place.  The theist is trying to show the coherency of her beliefs; she is not trying to use her theodicy as positive evidence for a hypothesis to be proved.  Theodicies are trying to show that “God, if all-good, may have some reason to allow evil”; not, “We have reason to believe, via a theodicy, that God is good”.  To defend the logical and probabilistic coherency of a thesis is not to provide any positive evidence to think that it’s true.  The theist is manifestly NOT treating theism as a hypothesis that explains the facts—not, at least, in constructing a theodicy.
Since your post ignores these distinctions, the “parody of evidence” exercise via the reversal of various theodicies is interesting, but irrelevant.

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lukeprog June 7, 2009 at 2:32 pm

Derek,

Stephen Law does not present these reverse theodicies as evidence for an evil god. He’s merely trying to show that an evil god is at least as plausible as a good god. If we cannot dismiss the existence of a good god on the basis of so much evil, we also cannot dismiss the existence of an evil god on the basis of so much good.

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Derek June 7, 2009 at 3:09 pm

Lukeprog.  This all fine and dandy.  But no published theist I know of tries to use theodicy-type reflections to show that theism is a plausible hypothesis. Nor do I know of any published theist who argues that the quantity and quality of good in the world is evidence for accepting the hypothesis of theism (theists have argued, of course, that the  very nature of goodness (or anything whatever) might depend upon God’s existence, but such arguments are not inductive inferences from a posteriori experience, but rather a priori enquiries into the very nature of goodness per se).  As such, I don’t see how Stephen Law’s project has any dialectical significance, a point which the tone of this post comes awfully close to misrepresenting. 

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Derek June 7, 2009 at 3:27 pm

I accused your post of misrepresenting Law’s project as being dialectically significant.   I suppose I should give a concrete example.  At the end of your post you say

“Most of us will simply laugh at these ridiculous reverse theodicies. But then, why should we think the original theodicies for an all-good god – which are exactly mirrored in these reverse theodicies – are compelling? Aren’t Christian theodicies just as ridiculous?”

As my original comment points out, theodicies are not meant to provide positive evidence that Good is good, but rather that, assuming God is good, the existence of evil doesn’t make the theists belief in good God irrational. 

But when you say ”[...] why should we think the original theodicies for an all-good god – which are exactly mirrored in these reverse theodicies – are compelling?”, you are implicitly accusing the theist, in virtue of providing a theodicy, with trying to prove as a matter of fact that God is good.  But this misrepresents why theists construct theodicies. The theist is trying to show the compossibility  of evil with a good God, not that the distribution and quality of evils which are compossible with a good God is a positive reason to believe God must be good. 

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lukeprog June 7, 2009 at 3:58 pm

Derek,

No, I understand the point of a theodicy. A theodicy does not try to show that a good god exists. What I’m saying is that, by analogy, if reverse theodicies are poor defenses to the Problem of Good for an evil god, then the original theodicies are equally poor defenses to the Problem of Evil for a good god.

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Derek June 7, 2009 at 4:34 pm

lukeprog: Derek,No, I understand the point of a theodicy. A theodicy does not try to show that a good god exists. What I’m saying is that, by analogy, if reverse theodicies are poor defenses to the Problem of Good for an evil god, then the original theodicies are equally poor defenses to the Problem of Evil for a good god.

How so.  If someone believed in Crap, a god who is all-powerful, all-knowing, and all-evil, it seems to me that Law’s considerations might count as the ground work for demonstrating the compossibility of Crap’s existence with the distribution and quality of the various goods we’re aquatinted with.  

Other than saying that they’re ridiculous, where do Law’s considerations go wrong in demonstrating the rational coherency of believing Crap exists? 

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lukeprog June 7, 2009 at 10:54 pm

Derek,

Law’s paper only means to demonstrate that the existence of an all-evil god is no more problematic than the existence of an all-good god.

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Steven Carr June 7, 2009 at 10:57 pm

‘The job of the theist, when presented with the logical problem, is to show that these three attributes are not inconsistent….’

If you are naked, you need to do more than put on a fig-leaf to cover your nakedness, no matter how much you are technically correct to say that you are not naked if you walk around wearing a fig-leaf.

Are these statements logically inconsistent?

1) My memory and and senses tell me that almost everybody has 2 legs.
2) Everybody except me has only one leg.

It is easy to Alvinise these statements and construct a logically possible world where my memory and senses are deluded about the bipedal nature of Homo sapiens.

So I have proved that unipedalism is a logically consistent belief, using the methods developed by Plantinga.

Does anybody think I have achieved anything of any note by doing that?

Have I proved that I am rational to believe that people only have 1 leg, despite my memory and senses telling me the opposite, although Christian apologetics shows me the way to make all my beliefs logically consistent?

Plantinga not only has to show that these attributes of his alleged god are logically consistent, but that it is also rational to hold them.

‘Logical consistency’ is just the first step on that process (although Plantinga does not even do that successfully)

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Derek June 7, 2009 at 11:18 pm

lukeprog: He’s merely trying to show that an evil god is at least as plausible as a good god.

lukeprog: Law’s paper only means to demonstrate that the existence of an all-evil god is no more problematic than the existence of an all-good god.

Your language in describing Law’s paper has shifted.  But, that’s fine, I’ll assume you think the second is a more accurate description.  Supposing that God’s existence and Crap’s existence are equally “problematic”.  Why do you (and not Law) think that Crap’s existence, given Law’s considerations, might be mostly problematic as opposed to “just a little bit problematic”? You seem to think that Law’s hypothetical “theodicy” for Crap’s existence is “ridiculous”.  But why do you think this? 

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Derek June 8, 2009 at 12:03 am


“Are these statements logically inconsistent?
1) My memory and and senses tell me that almost everybody has 2 legs.

2) Everybody except me has only one leg.
It is easy to Alvinise these statements and construct a logically possible world where my memory and senses are deluded about the bipedal nature of Homo sapiens.”
As is (and without the construction of a logically possible world), there is no logically inconsistency between (1) and (2).  (1) is a statement about what your senses and memory tell you, and (2) is statement about a fact, an actual state of affairs, that would be a fact even if your senses told you otherwise.  As such, the predicates in (1) and (2) are said of two different subjects—viz. the scope of predication (‘everybody has two legs’, ‘everybody except me has only one leg’) is in two distinct domains (what my senses/memory tell me’, the world as it is, independent of my senses’.  Hence, there is no logical inconstancy between (1) and (2) in any possible world, including this one. 
“So I have proved that unipedalism is a logically consistent belief, using the methods developed by Plantinga.  Does anybody think I have achieved anything of any note by doing that?  Have I proved that I am rational to believe that people only have 1 leg, despite my memory and senses telling me the opposite, although Christian apologetics shows me the way to make all my beliefs logically consistent?
Plantinga agrees that the following:
(1)  God is all-powerful.
(2) God is all-knowing.
(3) God is all-good.
In conjunction with
(SP) God has no good reason to allow evil.
Are logically inconsistent. But Plantinga denies (SP), and no one, too my knowledge, has argued that (SP) is necessarily true. So, as far as demonstrating the logical inconsistency of (1)-(3) is concerned, one must prove that (SP) is necessarily true; otherwise (1)-(3) are logically consistent as is.
“Plantinga not only has to show that these attributes of his alleged god are logically consistent, but that it is also rational to hold them.”
Not if Plantinga’s project is merely to demonstrate the logical consistency of (1)-(3).  You cannot fault him for not completing a task he never began.
“‘Logical consistency’ is just the first step on that process (although Plantinga does not even do that successfully)”
What’s your argument that (SP) is necessarily true?  If you cannot show that (SP) is necessarily true, then you should concede that (1)-(3) are logically consistent.
But all this misses the point of my comment.  The point I wished to make is that theodicy construction is never meant to be positive evidence for a hypothesis.  No theodicy itself says, “theism is the best explanation for all known facts”.  To say otherwise is a misrepresentation. 

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Steven Carr June 8, 2009 at 3:43 am

SO Plantinga has proved that belief in an all-powerful, all-knowing, all-good god is as logically consistent as belief that Homo sapiens only have one leg?
 
No wonder Mackie said that Plantinga’s defense was missing the point…..
 
Plantinga has put on a fig-leaf and is claiming that he is not naked.
His defense is the Doomsday device of apologetics taking all rational discourse down with it, even such basic claims as that we can believe that people have two legs.
 
 
 

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Derek June 8, 2009 at 9:38 am

Steven Carr: SO Plantinga has proved that belief in an all-powerful, all-knowing, all-good god is as logically consistent as belief that Homo sapiens only have one leg?

Right,  Mr. Carr.  That is exactly what I’m saying.  And now that you put things so clearly and cogently, I now see where Plantinga went wrong.  How foolish of me to think otherwise!

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Steven Carr June 8, 2009 at 10:54 pm

99% of people in the world would claim it is not logical to believe that people only have one leg.

But Christian apologetics lets people defend an all-good god and one-legged people using exactly the same ‘logical’ techniques in both cases.

And they boast about how they refute atheists with such sophistry.

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Derek June 9, 2009 at 1:53 pm


“99% of people in the world would claim it is not logical to believe that people only have one leg.”
 
Mr. Carr, you seem to be using “logical” here in the sense of “reasonable relative to the evidence”, or “highly probable given the evidence.”  But, technically speaking, to use “logical” in this way is to equivocate, and thus obfuscates the issue.
 
The issue is not:  “Is it reasonable (in light of the evidence) to believe the God of traditional theism (i.e., a God who is all-powerful, all-knowing, and all-good) exists?” That is, we’re not asking (or the problem Plantinga is addressing) is not “what evidence do we have to believe the God of traditional theism exists?” 
 
The issue is: Mackie, et al., have argued that the very attributes of the God of traditional theism form a logically inconsistent triad.  Even if the theist thinks she might have good evidence to think such a God exists, the theist must be seriously misguided. The very idea of such a God is logically incoherent, and ipso facto, there can be no good evidence to believe such a God exists.
 
These are two different issues.
 
The issue of logical coherence of X is the issue:  “Are the purported attributes of X coherent or contradictory?” 
 
The issue of evidence for X’s existence is: “Assuming X is logically possible, what reasons do we have to think that X exists?”
 
With these distinctions in mind, do you notice how saying, “99% of people in the world would claim it is not logical to believe that people only have one leg”, is using “not logical” ambiguously?
 
I understand the distinction is subtle.  So much so that that author of this post seems to confuse theodicies with an attempt to treat God’s existence as a hypothesis that explains the facts better than any other hypothesis.  

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Lorkas June 9, 2009 at 4:47 pm

Derek: So much so that that author of this post seems to confuse theodicies with an attempt to treat God’s existence as a hypothesis that explains the facts better than any other hypothesis.

Er… it seems to me that the author plainly states that theodicies are defenses against the problem of evil. He states that the point of theodicy is to “defend the good god hypothesis”–which is true. Would you point out which part made you think that the author was confusing theodicy for a positive argument for the existence of God?

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Derek June 10, 2009 at 12:38 pm

“defend the good god hypothesis”

It’s misleading to present the theist’s position, in context to the problem of evil, as a hypothesis. 

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Derek June 10, 2009 at 12:59 pm

Derek: So much so that that author of this post seems to confuse theodicies with an attempt to treat God’s existence as a hypothesis that explains the facts better than any other hypothesis.

“Though I am amused by the symmetry between the good god hypothesis and the evil god hypothesis, it is obvious to me that the hypothesis of a morally indifferent God is farmore probable than either an evil god or a good god.”

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lukeprog June 10, 2009 at 3:12 pm

Derek,

I’m not sure what the confusion is about hypothesis. The existence of a good God instead of an evil God is indeed a hypothesis proposed and defended by theists. Ask any apologist or philosopher. If they are not interested in considering and defending their belief in god, then they are not the type of person who does analytic philosophy or argues with atheists.

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Derek June 10, 2009 at 6:05 pm


Good.  Now I am pretty sure you’re confused about what “any apologist or philosopher” is doing when she constructs a theodicy.
 
If someone proposes a hypothesis H, she thinks H best explains the facts, as opposed to and in competition any other competing hypothesis H1-Hn.
 
So a hypothesis H says, “Given all of the uncontroversial data, entity X explains more than Y,…, Z would, therefore we ought to posit X’s existence, as oppose to Y,…, Z’s existence.”
 
Treating theodicies as “arguments to the best explanation” that an all good God exists (i.e., treating them as evidence for a hypothesis), they are an absolute failure. Why so?  Because theism qua hypothesis, as your post illustrates, explains the facts no better than the Crap hypothesis, or Zoroastrianism, etc.  And on your view the hypothesis of indifference might be “more probable” than all of these.
 
But framing theodicy construction this way misrepresents two thing: (1) the dialectical context of theodicy construction, and (2) the reasons (if any) a  “apologist or philosopher” thinks God is good. But, I’ll only discuss (1) here:
 
C0ncerning (1), the dialectical context of theodicy construction. The only time theodicies takes shape is when some atheologian says, “there’s no way an all good God exists, since the existence of evil is logically or evidentially inconsistent with the facts.”  At this juncture, all the theist is being asked to do is show why God’s goodness is compossible with the facts.  She manifestly is not proposing theism, in this context, as “the best theory going”—she’s not proposing theism as a hypothesis, but rather defending it at as a thesis.  This is why pointing out that there are better theories that explain the facts than a good God is dialectically irrelevant in context to theodicy construction.  A defense of a thesis’ coherence with a facts does NOT make it a hypothesis. Thus, pointing out how thesis Q doesn’t fair very well as a hypothesis, which is what your post is doing, is both misleading and uninteresting.  

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Lorkas June 10, 2009 at 7:23 pm

Theologian proposes a good God exists.
Skeptic states problem of evil.
Theologian defends his hypothesis using theodicy.

Theodicy is a defense of the hypothesis, because it is a defense against particular arguments used against it. It was never stated that the theologians were presenting theodicy as an argument for God, but as a defense of the God hypothesis against the problem of evil.

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lukeprog June 11, 2009 at 5:59 am

Derek,

No. I am not treating theodicies as arguments to the best explanation. I am treating theistic arguments as arguments to the best explanation. This is all quite clear in Law’s paper. He sets out the purpose of his agenda, and what he seeks to accomplish, from the very beginning.

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Bryon May 28, 2011 at 12:29 am

The evil god hypothesis completely cuts the force behind Plantinga’s defense of free-will argument. Here’s how:

Aside from the usual attributes of god and the limitation of omnipotence to logical consistency, the meat of Plantinga’s premises are as follows:

(Ag) God would allow evil to exist if the existence of evil brings about a greater good.
( that is, if you believe that the absence of evil isn’t already the greatest good)

and

(Bg) Morally relevant free-will is a good greater than the absence of evil.

So, according to Plantinga, evil is consistent with the existence of a god who has all the omni-attributes because the existence of evil entails free-will and free-will is a greater good.

Again, not to beat a dead horse but to truly buy into this argument you have to accept that free-will is a good thing. Most people seem to think so no real problems for Plantinga here; I’m not going to argue whether free-will is intrinsically good or bad here. The real reason this is so important is that it is key to achieving Plantinga’s goal, i.e., it is key to solving the logical problem of evil and thereby making the existence of god logically consistent .

The beauty of the evil god hypothesis is that it takes Plantinga’s exact logical moves and uses free-will, the very thing Plantinga says is a greater good, as a greater evil. Consider the following:

(Ae) Evil-God would allow good to exist if the existence of good brings about a greater evil.

and

(Be) Morally relevant free-will is an evil greater than the absence of good.

One might question whether (Be) is true; Certainly, (Bg) seemed reasonably true since most value the idea of being in control of their own actions. How does free-will also entail evil? First of all, we’re not concerned with just regular old evil here. Free-will gives use morally relevant evil. In other words, free-will can lead to evils that could not come from a world of predetermined actions. On inspection, it is easy to see that many evils arise from the existence of free-will. Our evil-god really relishes all the confusion, regret, guilt, and sins morally relevant free-will creates. Without allowing some good into the world there would be no truly fiendish moral depravity (a term Plantinga uses in his modal defense of free-will’s compatibility with omniscience).

Thus, you can demonstrate that Plantinga’s essential claim that free-will is a greater good is rather dubious given that there is no reason an evil-god could just as easily defend free-will as the greater evil.

Interestingly enough, Plantinga’s free-will defense has other issues that seem to dissipate when you posit the evil-god. For instance, how could evils that are not created by moral relevant free-will co-exist with an omni-benevolent god? Those natural evils, as they are deemed, seem to outweigh all the other good in the world.

Not a problem for evil-god; he loves that stuff too! He may not like it as much as morally relevant evil or he may. The important thing is that he gets both types with free-will and he certainly doesn’t mind evil outweighing good.

There’s also no problem of hell for evil-god because everyone goes! He wants it that way. Plantinga’s free-will defense conveniently looks the other way to the problem of hell.

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Bryon May 28, 2011 at 12:32 am

Sorry about the typos.

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