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The Evil God Challenge – Flipping Arguments5 min read

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In a recent, highly publicized series of debates in the U.K. between William Lane Craig, Christian philosopher and apologist, and a series of atheists, resulted in some very interesting outcomes.

One new emphasis that came from the seemingly exhausted subject of God’s existence was what atheist and philosophy professor Stephen Law calls “the evil god challenge.” He discusses it at length in this episode of the Unbelievable Podcast (worth listening to).

As I understand it, the Evil God Challenge is not a challenge to the existence of God, per se, but to the arguments supporting a GOOD God. That is, Stephen feels that, for this argument, you don’t have to defeat the arguments for theism, but only for the Christian version of a Good God.

Specifically, Stephen argues that if the arguments for an omnipotent evil god are as a likely as those for a good god, then both arguments can be dismissed as spurious, since accepting one or the other would violate the Law of Non-Contradiction – or at least, you would have no real reason to say that a good God is more likely.

Flipping Theodicies

Note that Stephen is not arguing against any of the main philosophic arguments for the existence of God (Cosmologic, Ontologic, Moral, Teliologic), but instead, is attacking Christian answers to the Problem of Evil (i.e. theodicies). As we shall see in my next post, this is one of the main weaknesses of his approach.

Stephen’s method is based on flipping the normal theodicies for explaining the Problem of Evil to show that most of them can also make sense in defending the existence of an all powerful EVIL God who allows good in order to maximize suffering (as opposed to the Good God who allows evil for a host of supposedly noble or mysterious reasons).

Here’s some more detail on my understanding of his argument. The syllogism goes like this:

  1. Most theodicies that explain why God is all powerful and good can be flipped to explain why god is all powerful and evil.
  2. Since both lines of argument are so similar, you must either accept them both as equally plausible (and in doing so, break the law of non-contradiction), or dismiss both as spurious.
  3. Ergo, we must logically dismiss both as spurious.

Flipping the Ontological Argument

Stephen hasn’t added this yet, but he might as well. Recently, I wanted to present the classic philosophic arguments for the existence of God, but at the time, decided not to present the Ontological argument because I thought that flipping it seemed to be the same argument.

The Ontological Argument is one of the toughest to understand, and is really just an exercise in philosophic reasoning, and not typically understood by most people. However, once understood, it becomes a relatively strong argument if you are logically minded.

Here’s the syllogism, as I understand it, mixing God’s existence and his goodness into one argument:

  1. A maximally great Being would have at least these two attributes – He must be Good, because Good is, by definition, greater than Evil, and he must be Necessarily Existent in all possible worlds, since this is greater than existing Contingently (i.e. depending on something or someone else to bring you into being).
  2. Since it is POSSIBLE that this Necessary being exists, then it follows that He MUST exist.
  3. Therefore, an omni-benevolent, self-existing God exists.

Naturally, Premise 2 is hotly debated, but I was interested in Premise 1 – why is a maximally good god better or more ‘maxi’ than an evil one. I posed that question to William Lane Craig during a question and answer period, and his response forms my response.

Weaknesses in the Moral Argument for God

Law also attacks the moral argument in a related but different argument, which I think should be included here. His argument is this:

  1. The Moral Argument for God rests on the Propositions that (a) Absolute morals can not exist without an external law giver, and (b) objective morals do exist.
  2. Proposition one is debated by philosophers, and other claims to grounding objective morals exist, so it is not a sure thing.
  3. Evolution could explain the moral sense and imperative in humans – that is, this sense is NOT good enough evidence for objective morals, since it could just be a biological survival mechanism. No other direct evidence for objective morality exists
  4. Therefore, the claim that there is a good God defining or grounding objective good is inconclusive at best, spurious at worst.

In my next post, I will attempt to debunk Law’s arguments, as well as the Ontological one I supplied for him above.