The "Evil God" Challenge

Uploaded by deathray32 on 04.03.2012

Have you heard of the evil god challenge? It's a challenge put forward by the British
philosopher Stephen Law. It starts from the observation that many classical arguments
for the existence of God, such as the ontological or cosmological arguments, tell us nothing
about the moral nature of God. You can't say on the basis of these arguments alone whether
God is good or evil.
However, the standard conception of God as a so called 3 O God - omnipotent, omniscient
and omni-benevolent - faces difficulties from the problem of evil. Theologians attempt to
overcome these difficulties by constructing theodicies to explain the existence of evil.
But you could equally well start by conceiving God as being supremely evil. Then instead
of the problem of evil, we have to overcome the problem of good. For every argument that
attempts to justify belief in a supremely good god, there is a reverse theodicy which
one could use to justify belief in an evil god. It's a symmetrical situation.
So the challenge is to explain why belief in a good god is considered more reasonable
and justified than belief in an evil god.
Well, that's not much of a challenge. Any freshman theology student could defeat it.
God is supremely good by definition, so an evil god is an oxymoron.
I'm afraid you've missed the point of the challenge. Your definition comes from the
Christian theological framework. Law is challenging you to step outside of it and imagine a mirror-image
But God is the source of all creation. By definition, evil cannot create. It can only
destroy. That must be true in any framework.
You are still cocooned in your Christian framework. It's not as universal as you think. In the
evil god framework, Evil God creates in order to inflict suffering on his creation.
That's absurd.
Not at all. In Buddhism, for example, the first Noble Truth is that existence is suffering.
Of course Buddhism doesn't have a personal god like Christianity does, but you can imagine
a variation of Buddhism in which there is a god whose job it is to ensure that existence
is suffering.
Okay, I'll play along with this "challenge". The fundamental problem with it is that evil
is privation, that is to say, evil is not a positive attribute in itself. Evil is the
absence of good, just as darkness is the absence of light. Therefore an evil god is an incoherent
I find that theological notions of good and evil are rather simplistic when applied to
the real world. It's as if good is a simple variable that you can measure on a linear
scale, say from zero to 100, and then evil is 100 minus good. But in reality, good and
evil are much more complex. Any given act can have a mix of good and evil motives, and
good and evil consequences.
Which of course makes the evil god framework just as simplistic as the good god framework.
But the question is why we find the former much more likely than the latter, even though
they are symmetrical with respect to one another.
But they are not symmetrical. God is the greatest being that can be conceived of. Good is greater
than evil, so God cannot be evil.
You're still using definitions from the Christian theological framework. I could just as well
argue that God is the worst being that can be conceived of. Since it's worse for an evil
god to exist than not to exist, I can use a mirror image of Anselm's ontological argument
and say that an evil god must exist.
This is ridiculous. I don't think I need waste any more of my time on this foolishness.
Your reaction is pretty typical. Several Christian theologians have responded to Law's challenge.
They have all flunked it.