In my last post, I summarized 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? Now I turn to some Christian responses to the Evil God Challenge.
Christians might say that an all-good god is more probable because certain arguments – arguments from miracles and religious experience – do indicate, specifically, a good god. Only a good god would respond to our prayers, or reveal himself to us.
But we can easily construct mirror arguments for an evil god, Law writes:
Suppose the evil god hypothesis is true. This malignant being may not want us to know of his existence. In fact, it may help him maximize evil if he deceives us about his true character.. Taking on a ‘good’ guise, he might appear in one corner of the world, revealing himself in religious experiences and performing miracles in response to prayers, and perhaps also giving instructions regarding what his followers should believe. He might then do the same in another part of the globe, with the exception [that] the instructions he leaves regarding what should be believed contradict what he has said elsewhere. Our evil being could then stand back and watch the inevitable conflict develop between communities to whom he has now misleadingly revealed himself, each utterly convinced by their own stock of miracles and religious experiences that the one true all-good god is on their side. Here we have a recipe for ceaseless conflict, violence and suffering.
…While a good god might create miracles and religious experiences, it is difficult to see why he would produce them in this way, given the predictably horrific consequences.
The Christian might respond: “But surely nothing is worse than hell. Why wouldn’t an all-evil god send us straight to hell?”
The obvious atheist response is: “And why wouldn’t an all-good god send us straight to heaven?”
Well, what about the moral argument for God’s existence? Doesn’t this show that a good god is more likely than an evil god? Only a good god would endow us with a moral sense that can tell right from wrong. But, no:
…an evil god might well also have an interest in providing such a sense. For by providing us with both free will and knowledge of good and evil, an evil god can allow for the very great evil of our freely performing evil actions in the full knowledge that they are, indeed, evil.
Okay, but what about a different kind of moral argument which says that a good God is necessary for the existence of moral values? Here we face the Euthyphro dilemma. Is goodness good because God says so, or does God say so because it is good? If God says so because it is good, then there is a standard of goodness independent of God, which is equally compatible with a good or evil god. But if goodness is good because God says so, then this makes the commands of God arbitrary, which is equally a problem for a good god and an evil god.
So, the symmetry between the good god hypothesis and the evil god hypothesis remains unbroken.
Now, what about ontological arguments? Don’t they demonstrate, specifically, a morally perfect God? Law’s first response is to say that many – perhaps most – theistic philosophers don’t think ontological arguments succeed (let alone atheist philosophers). Law’s second response is to say that some ontological arguments are reversible, too:
I can conceive of an evil god – a being whom no worse can be conceived. But it is worse for such being to exist in reality than in the imagination. Therefore, the being of which I conceive must exist in reality.
Law briefly engages many other possible objections: additional theodicies, impossibility arguments against the concept of an evil god, and so on. Really, Law discusses so many points that he cannot engage any of them in much detail. Now, we wait for the philosophical community to write response articles that engage specific points of Law’s article in greater detail.
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 far more probable than either an evil god or a good god.