The Evil God Hypothesis

Stephen Law has recently published an article in Religious Studies showing how many of the arguments used in theodicy (meaning, in attempts to prove that there is a good God, despite the existence of evil) could equally well be employed to prove that there is an evil God.   Listen to Law explain and defend the view here or read his derivations here and here.  Manicstreetpreacher nicely sums up Law’s arguments:

In defence of the Evil God hypothesis, we can use reverse versions of the theodicies that Christians use to defend the Good God hypothesis:

  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 maximise 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 you 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.

The Conversational Atheist and I made similar arguments last summer.  Law beat both of us to the idea in 2007 on his blog, here and here, and on the spectacular philosophy radio show Philosophy Bites even further back.

Your Thoughts?

About Daniel Fincke

Dr. Daniel Fincke  has his PhD in philosophy from Fordham University and spent 11 years teaching in college classrooms. He wrote his dissertation on Ethics and the philosophy of Friedrich Nietzsche. On Camels With Hammers, the careful philosophy blog he writes for a popular audience, Dan argues for atheism and develops a humanistic ethical theory he calls “Empowerment Ethics”. Dan also teaches affordable, non-matriculated, video-conferencing philosophy classes on ethics, Nietzsche, historical philosophy, and philosophy for atheists that anyone around the world can sign up for. (You can learn more about Dan’s online classes here.) Dan is an APPA  (American Philosophical Practitioners Association) certified philosophical counselor who offers philosophical advice services to help people work through the philosophical aspects of their practical problems or to work out their views on philosophical issues. (You can read examples of Dan’s advice here.) Through his blogging, his online teaching, and his philosophical advice services each, Dan specializes in helping people who have recently left a religious tradition work out their constructive answers to questions of ethics, metaphysics, the meaning of life, etc. as part of their process of radical worldview change.

  • Mario

    Stolen from Bertrand Russell and he meant it as a joke. sad to see that we’ve now reached a point where this sort of argument is being taken seriously (same goes for the “Good God” side).

  • http://camelswithhammers Camels With Hammers

    It’s not a matter of taking the argument seriously in the sense of believing there really is an “evil God”. The point is to show that the arguments regularly marshaled on Good God’s behalf can equally well prove “evil God”. It’s a problem only for those who think the Good God argument is plausible. The one using the evil God hypothesis need not accept the argument as a justification for the existence of an evil God. It’s just a way of showing his opponent that his opponent’s own reasoning is capricious and prejudicial since he operates from premises that could equally prove their opposite if taken seriously. It’s not a justification to actually take such argumentative categories seriously.

    Put simply, it’s the employment of an internal critique rather than an external one. Hypothetically adopt the opponent’s categories in order to show their internal dissolution. Doesn’t require actually accepting them oneself in fact.


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