Stephen Law’s Evil God Challenge (A Guest Post By John Lepp)

Stephen Law’s Evil God Challenge (A Guest Post By John Lepp) March 11, 2019

I went looking for different voices. Some I agree with, some not so much. All are younger than I am and are interesting. This argument comes from John Lepp. He has an MSc in Philosophy from the University of Edinburgh, specializing in the Philosophy of Science. He resides in Boca Raton, Florida, with his beautiful wife and cat.

The argument is also elegant.

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Stephen Law states his “Evil God Challenge” as follows:

“We can be pretty sure there is no ‘Evil God’, so why can’t we be pretty sure there’s no Good God either?”

The challenge supposedly shows observations used to prove a Good God can also be used to show an Evil God.  Displays of goodness are not evidence of God contends Law.  The  attribution of an agent –  eg God – is supposedly empty because both something and its supposed opposite can serve as evidence.

Law’s challenge isn’t faced by atheists.  It isn’t even faced by all Christians, Jews, or Muslims. “The Evil God Challenge” is only a challenge for a subset of those who believe in God.

Say the person faced with “the Evil God challenge” held that “good” is whatever God judges to be good.  According to somebody who holds a “divine command” theory, the very concept of an Evil God would be ill formed.  If anything commanded by God is good, and if anything good cannot be simultaneously evil, then anything commanded by God cannot be evil.  Hence, there couldn’t be an “Evil God” according to those that hold a divine command theory of “good.”  It simply would not make sense.

Need somebody prove the “divine command theory” in order to avoid “The Evil God Challenge?”  Strangely enough, no.   A theory on meta-ethics was not presumed when “the Evil God Challenge” was posed.  A person only need respond that an ‘Evil God’ cannot be formulated according to their beliefs.  If atheists needn’t prove their beliefs in order to be excused from the challenge, then neither should  other beliefs be forced to prove their legitimacy in order to be excused from the challenge.

What is ‘evil?’  It is more than just doing something poorly.  It is more than something being bad.  I can, for instance, say with the utmost confidence that the movie Xanadu is very bad.  Although I am very confident in the legitimacy of that judgement, I am not saying that the movie is evil (except, perhaps, in humor.)  So for the movie to be evil, it would have to be both bad and designed with malevolent purpose.

Were there an Evil God, a Good God would also be needed.  You can, however, have a Good God without there being an Evil God. The existence of a Good God is not logically dependent on the existence of an Evil God.

“The Evil God challenge”, therefore,  is only a problem for either

  1. people who believe in God, but who also believe good is not established by God’s authority and who also believe that the concept of evil is not dependent on a prior understanding of good, or
  2. The Evil God challenge is a problem for Polytheists (so long as we abandon Dr. Law’s premise that “the world is created by a SINGLE, all powerful God.”)

I leave “the Evil God challenge” for those people.  Everybody else needn’t be troubled.


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