I 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:
- 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.
- 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 your 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.
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.