Stephen Law’s Incoherent “Evil God”

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Stephen Law brought an “evil God” challenge with him to his debate with William Lane Craig, claiming that Craig’s arguments for God are next to worthless in that they could prove the existence of a supremely evil God just as well as a supremely good God. Practicing his typically admirable discipline, Craig refused even to take the bait. That particular debate, he said, was about the existence of God, not about God’s character.

Leave it to Edward Feser then to dispense with this argument, which he does rather handily:

No doubt Law gets away with presenting his “evil-god challenge” as if it were a threat to theism in general because most of his readers and listeners are as ignorant as he evidently is of the classical theistic tradition. But while that may be good rhetorical strategy, it is bad philosophy.

It’s bad philosophy, says Feser, because classical theism is completely incompatible with an evil God. Many readers here are undoubtedly flummoxed by the very thought, and well you might be! If you’re scratching your head, wondering why anyone would think an “evil God” is worth talking about, I won’t mind if you skip the rest of this article. I’m only bringing it up here because some Ph.D. philosopher thought it worth discussing. Thankfully other Ph.D. philosophers know better. I’m not one of them, but I have reasons to think I know better, too; reasons that ought to make sense even to a complete unbeliever.

Law himself should know better. Elsewhere Feser points out, most reasonably,

I am not here attempting to convince the uninitiated or hostile reader that this complex metaphysical picture I have been describing is correct or even plausible. That would take at least a book…. I am also not saying that no reasonable person who familiarizes himself with it could disagree with that picture. I am merely saying that before one disagrees with it, one ought at least to try to understand it. And the things Law says seem to me to show that he does not understand it.

Dr. Feser’s answer to Law is perfectly adequate and decisive, yet I wonder whether more might be added to it, an additional argument that might show that Law’s conception is impossible even for the “uninitiated or hostile reader.” For it seems to me there’s something incoherent about an “evil God,” even apart from the arguments that can be made for classical theism.

The incoherency of which I speak has to do with the nature of evil. Classically, evil is understood to be privation; a lack or failure in the created thing to be ordered rightly with respect to the Creator, to its own nature, and to the rest of creation. On this view God could hardly be evil, unless God is eternally opposed to himself, ordering himself against himself. This seems to be a problem with Law’s position, and it’s that he does not appear to address, at least not in the article in which he introduces the “evil God.” It seems to me he bears the burden of showing how his alternate “evil God” conception has any meaning whatsoever. Perhaps he has tried to do so somewhere else. Since I don’t know, I’ll give him the benefit of that doubt.

But Law tells us he means something else by “evil:” not privation, but rather pain and suffering. It could be that his hypothetical “evil God” is one who takes supreme delight in causing the maximum possible misery among his creatures. There’s something self-contradictory about that, too, I’m quite sure, even if we take it only as some atheist’s twisted conception of what some hypothetical god might possibly be like. It seems to me that Law’s own treatment of this issue (pages 19-20 in his article) fails to fully address the problem. This god of whom he conceives (not the capital-G God of any monotheistic religion) would be a supreme being who maximizes his own delight by creating a world where delight is minimized among his creatures. He produces his own greatest joy by producing his creation’s greatest misery. He creates from himself only, and makes his creation utterly unlike himself in the most important way possible.

I won’t pretend I’ve done all the philosophical work I’m touching on here, but I have an intuition that this, too, is simply incoherent and self-contradictory even for a non-believer to propose. If I’m right, then there is yet one more response we could make to Law’s challenge. He says, “The arguments for God are worthless because they prove an evil God just as much as they prove a good God.” But “evil God” is a strictly incoherent, impossible, and therefore meaningless pairing of words. No argument, under any evidential or reasoning basis whatsoever, could ever count in favor of a self-contradictory state of affairs.

Or in other words, if I am right, then his argument is logically equivalent to something like this: “The arguments for God are worthless because I can use them to prove a round square just as easily as you can use them to prove a good God.” I don’t think he can do that. Does he think he can? Or have I missed something?

(Update: the argument I am making is incomplete at this point; I continue it below.)

137 Responses

  1. Jeremiah Nunn says:

    My impression is that he was claiming that the argument doesn’t prove any particular god, and therefore can’t be used to prove Craig’s god. If you could show something other than an intuition that the evil god concept is not valid, perhaps you’ve defeated Law’s specific argument. But the bigger point remains: the jump to Yahweh is a non-sequitur.

    To your specific argument against the evil god concept, I’d mention that some people could (rightfully) point out that the people in this world do suffer quite a bit. God either delights in it (making him evil), or he refuses to stop it (still making him evil), or he’s unable to stop it, or he’s unaware.

  2. Sault says:

    Christians are not the only theists, though, a fact lost when you limit “classical theism” to mainstream Christianity. For instance, within Persian beliefs, Ahriman was the evil god opposing Ahura Mazda, the uncreated creator.

    You know, the Christian Gnostics believed that the god of the Old Testament was evil…

  3. Tom Gilson says:

    Sault,

    “Classical theism” is by definition limited to monotheism of a certain sort; not just Christian, but theism based in one supreme self-existing creator God. That’s what the term means. “Theism” could conceivably apply to the belief in more than one deity but in actual philosophical practice it’s almost never used that way. The “Christian Gnostics” were not Christian in any proper sense of the term.

  4. Tom Gilson says:

    Jeremiah, Craig was arguing for theism, not for Christianity. That’s what the debate was about. He does debates on Christianity, too, but this wasn’t one of them.

    Your response to the evil god argument has nothing to do with my argument–did you notice that? I can’t get into the rest of it further right now, though I would encourage you to study Christian responses to the problem of evil.

  5. G. Rodrigues says:

    @Tom Gilson:

    I have not read Law’s argument but I will ask anyway: what exactly is this evil God challenge suppose to prove above and beyond the Argument from Evil? Certainly he is not arguing that there actually is an evil God. If he wants to argue that it disproves that God is Good, and therefore classical theism is also disproved, how is this not the Argument from Evil in disguise? Maybe some other option I am missing?

    And by the way, what evidence does he adduce to suggest that the existence of an evil God is about as probable as that of The Good One? The presence of suffering and pain in the world? That is an inductive argument that in *no way* scathes the *deductive* metaphysical proofs — but I am sure Prof. Feser deals with this in his response.

    note: I will also channel Crude, in a comment he made in another blog. If Law’s argument is successful then he has just undermined the Argument from Evil and atheism is *still* false. Not bad for an opponent of theism.

  6. Tom Gilson says:

    I had linked to his article, G. Rodrigues, but it’s disappeared. I don’t think I can summarize it for you, so I’ll make the link again.

  7. G. Rodrigues says:

    @Tom Gilson:

    Thanks for the link.

  8. d says:

    @G. Rodrigues:

    There is an excellent, exceedingly clear write up from blogger John D. on just what the Evil-God argument can (possibly) do, which to summarize, includes:

    1) a reductio ad absurdum of theism
    2) support for the problem of evil
    3) support the argument from indifference

    For more explanation:
    http://philosophicaldisquisitions.blogspot.com/2011/10/what-can-laws-evil-god-challenge-do.html

    @Tom

    I’m not seeing an immediate or obvious logical contradiction with the idea that a creator God could take delight in the suffering of his creation. Maybe its implausible for one reason or another, I don’t know – but what’s logically impossible about it?

  9. Tom Gilson says:

    Thank you for that link, d.

    Concerning the reductio, John D. writes,

    When confronted with the idea of an Evil God, most classical theists will be inclined to simply dismiss it as being absurd. But if all other arguments fail to support the existence of a Good God, and if the evidential problem of good is just as strong as the evidential problem of evil, shouldn’t they then accept that idea of a Good God is absurd too?

    To his credit he recognizes the theist’s position that the evidential argument is not the theist’s main argument for a good God. We have the evidence of God’s actions in history, especially the Cross of Christ, for which there is no evil god counterpart. Unfortunately he forgets the metaphysical arguments in the Feser articles I linked to; and he seems not to be aware that “evil god” might just be a contradiction in terms, as meaningless as “square circle,” and thus a useless thing to bring up in debate. (I’ll share more on that last point in a moment, since you asked.)

    Concerning his use of the EGC as support for the evidential problem of evil, and for the Indifference Hypothesis, the above metaphysical objections still apply. Additionally and with regard specifically to Christianity, he fails to see just what it is that causes Christians to reject the skeptic’s use of the principle of warranted induction in this case. In a word, we have information that he does not take into account. We have the demonstration of God’s love and goodness throughout revelatory history, and especially in the life, death, and resurrection of Christ. Absent that, of course we would have to take an agnostic position on the ultimate goodness of reality. The EGC position is indeed absent any such information to support it, so it must be agnostic, but the situation is not symmetrical, and it’s invalid to take it as if it were.

    I’ll be back with the other response shortly.

  10. G. Rodrigues says:

    @d:

    You write that the evil God challenge lends

    Support for the problem of evil.

    *Without* having followed the links (yet), how can this be? If Prof. Law’s argument is successful (EGC for short), it shows that the presence of pain and suffering in the world makes the existence of an evil God as probable as that of a good God. Let us leave aside for the moment that no theist asserts that God is Good (in the relevant sense) *given* the amount of good in the world, that is, he does not offer this evidential argument for the goodness of God. In order for the EGC to be successful, the evil in the world must be a good inductive argument for the evilness of God. Now, since Prof. Law concedes that an evil God is absurd (on what grounds, given his assumptions, I do not know — maybe he has not heard of the heresies of the Manichees or the positing of a demiurge as the creator of the world by several Gnostic schools?), it follows that the evidential argument cannot of itself have that much force; by symmetry, and for the EGC to have traction, the symmetry between evil and good *must* hold, it follows that the evidential argument against the goodness of God is likewise piddling.

  11. d says:

    @G. Rodrigues:

    Well, when you have time, check out the link. The blogger does feel that it is a “suspicious” route to take with the EGC. I’m not particularly sold on it either.

    In short though, if the theist agrees, through warranted induction, with a premise in the ECG – that gratuitous joy exists – he also must accept through warranted induction that gratuitous evil exists, given the state of the empirical evidence.

    It’s suspicious that this can support the EPOE because of the evidential symmetry that the ECG relies upon, as you pointed out. He notes in the comments:

    “It only intended for the theist who thinks the evidential problem of good defeats the Evil God hypothesis. It just spells out in more detail how they would, in that case, be forced to accept the evidential problem of evil.”

  12. JAD says:

    In his debate with Sam Harris, Craig connected his moral with an ontological argument for God’s existence. (Though he used the argument in a conditional sense: “[IF] God exists, then we have a sound foundation for objective moral values and duties.”)

    First, theism provides a sound foundation for objective moral values. Moral values have to do with what is good or evil. On the theistic view objective moral values are grounded in God. As St. Anselm saw, God is by definition the greatest conceivable being and therefore the highest Good. Indeed, He is not merely perfectly good, He is the locus and paradigm of moral value. God’s own holy and loving nature provides the absolute standard against which all actions are measured. He is by nature loving, generous, faithful, kind, and so forth. Thus if God exists, objective moral values exist, wholly independent of human beings.

    I think Craig made a mistake in his debate with Law by not using this line of reasoning to refute Law’s concept of an evil God. In other words, as others have already said, the very idea of an “evil god” is an absurdity because it contradicts the “definition [that] the greatest conceivable being” is the highest conceivable Good. An “evil God” therefore cannot be God.

  13. Tom Gilson says:

    Regarding your closing question in your 9:43 am comment, d, this is an argument yet to be explored, as far as I know. Note well that implausibility is not something to ignore: if the definition of terms, as such, makes an evil god metaphysically implausible, and if at the same time the definition of terms, as such, does not make a good God implausible, then the symmetry that Law hangs his hat on just doesn’t exist. There is plenty of philosophical weight behind the idea that the terms “good” and “God” are a good fit with each other, so I think the asymmetry really does exist, and it poses a problem for Law’s position even if an evil god is not a logical contradiction.

    Now I think it’s clear that if evil is privation, then an evil god is a self-contradictory pairing of terms. I don’t see you asking about that, and I trust we’re in agreement on that point.

    If we define evil instead as inflicting maximal pain and suffering (“maximal” is Law’s term), then the logical inconsistency is less obvious. So let’s take it a step at a time.

    First, it could not be that this evil god has it in its nature to impose the greatest possible pain and suffering upon itself. That would require it to be divided against itself, and at that point we’re moving into some Manichaeism or polytheism, which destroys Law’s presumed evil-god symmetry with the God of theism. But I think the same argument applies even if one proposes that this evil god would seek to impose any net increase of pain and suffering upon itself in any degree. It would be impossible for the eternally unitary being to turn back upon itself in that way.

    You recognized this, I think, when you used the word “desire” in your question. This hypothetical evil god would necessarily have it in its nature to be consistent with its own nature, which would preclude it from causing itself any net pain or suffering.

    So this evil god would act in accord with its own nature in all that it did. Classical theism makes the argument that necessarily the eternal being would maximize its own satisfaction, but we need not go through that discussion; we can proceed with the more modest proposal that this being’s nature would necessitate that it minimize its own dissatisfaction.

    Therefore prior to its creating anything, this maximally evil god would have necessarily been a good god or at worst a morally neutral god. Thus it’s self-contradictory. And if “evil god” is self-contradictory, does it mean anything at all? Does it have carry any more argumentative force than a square circle objection would carry? Sure, “evil god” sounds more relevant to the issue than “square circle;” but if the term means literally nothing, it couldn’t possibly be relevant to anything, which is to say that its seeming relevance is illusory, just as its seeming meaning is also illusory.

  14. d says:

    @JAD:

    I think Craig made a mistake in his debate with Law by not using this line of reasoning to refute Law’s concept of an evil God. In other words, as others have already said, the very idea of an “evil god” is an absurdity because it contradicts the “definition [that] the greatest conceivable being” is the highest conceivable Good. An “evil God” therefore cannot be God.

    Things can be easily complicated by Craig’s divine command ethics. His definition of “good” rests upon God’s nature. So on Craig’s definition of “good”, of course, its trivially true that there could be no evil God – because no matter what properties God has, they would so be defined as “good”. Whether those properties have anything to do with what we tend to think of as “good” or not, in the usual sense, needs to be established somehow. And one aim of the ECG is to show that, on empirical grounds, there’s little reason to think it has.

    I’d guess that’s why Law was careful to say that by “evil”, he means “takes delight in suffering” (or something like that). So the question is, is there some argument that demonstrates that God’s nature can’t include taking delight in suffering?

  15. JAD says:

    d:
    Where are you getting your concepts of good and evil?

  16. G. Rodrigues says:

    @Tom Gilson:

    Good argument for the thesis that an evil God is a self-contradictory concept. It really seals the deal, as it makes no assumptions that the proponent has not already conceded and every escape route breaks the purported symmetry between the evil God and The Good One.

  17. d says:

    Therefore prior to its creating anything, this maximally evil god would have necessarily been a good god or at worst a morally neutral god. Thus it’s self-contradictory

    Well, to quote your OP, we’re talking about something more specific than just delight in causing maximal pain and suffering (including the self-inflicted kind). We’re talking about “delight in causing the maximum possible misery among his creatures”. (it appears the “among his creatures” part has been left off in some of my other posts – not purposefully though)

    Delight in OUR suffering seems to be the operative meaning of “evil” in the ECG. I don’t think its meant to suggest that an evil god would delight in maximizing his own suffering. If it did, I might more easily see the contradiction.

    There’s a further undeveloped thought that springs to mind – I’m not sure exactly if and how it can be applied here, but its worth noting. Some Christian theologies would say that God delights in perfect justice, and that not all will achieve salvation. And of course, some of them claim that those who fail to achieve salvation will face an eternity of maximal suffering. So for those unfortunate folk, it seems that God, by implication, delights in their maximal suffering. (Moot point for universalists or annihilationists)

    So is it that much of a stretch to logically conceive of a God who simply delights in *everyone’s* suffering (barring himself)?

    If there’s a logical contradiction there, I’m still not quite sure that I see it.

  18. d says:

    As for privation… it the spirit of the ECG, maybe it could be claimed that good is the privation of evil.

    Whether that makes sense or not, I’d have to think on it more

  19. G. Rodrigues says:

    @d:

    Well, to quote your OP, we’re talking about something more specific than just delight in causing maximal pain and suffering (including the self-inflicted kind). We’re talking about “delight in causing the maximum possible misery among his creatures”. (it appears the “among his creatures” part has been left off in some of my other posts – not purposefully though)

    You missed the thrust of Tom Gilson’s argument. Given that creatures, *any* created beings at all, are not co-eternal with the evil God, there would be a time he would be alone and thus not acting according to his nature, that is, inflicting pain on other creatures. Given that he was not acting according to his nature, he cannot be described as an evil God, ergo it is self-contradictory. Every way out of this conundrum will break the supposed symmetry between the evil God and The Good One — but you are invited to try.

    Let me add that in special-pleading that the evil God only inflicts pain on created beings, you are already breaking the symmetry with the God of classical theism.

  20. d says:

    You missed the thrust of Tom Gilson’s argument. Given that creatures, *any* created beings at all, are not co-eternal with the evil God, there would be a time he would be alone and thus not acting according to his nature, that is, inflicting pain on other creatures. Given that he was not acting according to his nature, he cannot be described as an evil God, ergo it is self-contradictory. Every way out of this conundrum will break the supposed symmetry between the evil God and The Good One — but you are invited to try.

    Let me add that in special-pleading that the evil God only inflicts pain on created beings, you are already breaking the symmetry with the God of classical theism.

    You’re right I did miss that point, but I have to wonder why an evil-god proponent couldn’t invert the argument.

    If a God, in pursuit of maximizing His delight, created this world, it follows as long as He failed to create this world, he would fail to maximize his delight. At any point prior to creating this world, a good God would be living contradictory to his nature, or so it seems plausible to me (borrowing Tom’s reasoning).

    Why is it a problem to be malevolent and alone, but not loving and alone?

    And there’s no stipulation in the evil-god argument that would say we aren’t co-eternal with evil-god. We just might be co-eternal in a very unpleasant way (for us).

  21. G. Rodrigues says:

    @d:

    Very quick response as I have to go AFK:

    If a God, in pursuit of maximizing His delight, created this world, it follows as long as He failed to create this world, he would fail to maximize his delight.

    But under classical theism, God’s nature is *not* the pursuit of maximizing his delight; He is not a super-sized all-powerful hedonist . As I said, you are repeatedly breaking the purported symmetry between the evil God and the Good God.

  22. d says:

    But under classical theism, God’s nature is *not* the pursuit of maximizing his delight; He is not a super-sized all-powerful hedonist . As I said, you are repeatedly breaking the purported symmetry between the evil God and the Good God.

    This seems slightly at odds with what Tom presented in #14: Classical theism makes the argument that necessarily the eternal being would maximize its own satisfaction…

    So to it stands to reason, that any point prior to creating the world, good-God would be living contradictory to His loving nature.

    And I’m not really committed to the ECG at all, there may indeed be asymmetries as you say – I just don’t see them (yet).

    I can sort of see the outline of an asymmetry in the notion that it seems a loving God could love both Himself and His created creatures, but a malevolent God might not be malevolent towards himself – but it still seems plausible that good-God would be living in contradiction to his nature, if there was a time where He was loving ONLY himself.

  23. JAD says:

    d:

    I can sort of see the outline of an asymmetry in the notion that it seems a loving God could love both Himself and His created creatures, but a malevolent God might not be malevolent towards himself – but it still seems plausible that good-God would be living in contradiction to his nature, if there was a time where He was loving ONLY himself.

    Christians believe in the Trinity, which means that God was never alone.

  24. d says:

    Ha! Now that’s an interesting, novel approach!

    Though, does it make a difference to the point at hand?

    1) The EGC is aimed at classical theism, which does not assume a Triune God.

    2) In so far as the Triune God existed before the creation of the world (whatever that can possibly mean for a timeless being), still could it not be said that He was not necessarily maximizing His satisfaction (by fully expressing his loving nature)?

  25. Melissa says:

    d,

    I think you have misunderstood Tom. When he said:

    Classical theism makes the argument that necessarily the eternal being would maximize its own satisfaction, but we need not go through that discussion; we can proceed with the more modest proposal that this being’s nature would necessitate that it minimize its own dissatisfaction.

    He was referring to the hypothetical eternal being that has as part of it’s nature a delight in inflicting maximal pain and suffering. As G. Rodrigues pointed out:

    But under classical theism, God’s nature is *not* the pursuit of maximizing his delight; He is not a super-sized all-powerful hedonist .

  26. d says:

    He was referring to the hypothetical eternal being that has as part of it’s nature a delight in inflicting maximal pain and suffering. As G.

    If I’m not mistaken, it seems like Tom is referring simply to the classical theist God, in that sentence.

    But its no matter.. the evil God would have feature parity with classical theist God in all ways (barring his malevolence), unless it can be logically demonstrated otherwise. So both EG and GG should necessarily move in ways that maximize their own satisfaction. As one goes, so does the other.

    Now, if GG really isn’t the super-hedonist – then EG shouldn’t be either, making it rather un-problematic that EG existed for a time when there was no one to torment. Still seems like its a problem for both, or neither.

  27. Tom Gilson says:

    d,

    The “interesting, novel approach” of which you say “Ha!” has been around for centuries, and thank God for it.

    You say,

    But its no matter.. the evil God would have feature parity with classical theist God in all ways (barring his malevolence), unless it can be logically demonstrated otherwise. So both EG and GG should necessarily move in ways that maximize their own satisfaction. As one goes, so does the other.

    I think that logical demonstration has been made. A good God can be good in that good God’s relation to himself, but no hypothetical evil god could be evil in relation to itself, for reasons I have already provided.

  28. JAD says:

    d @ 19 wrote:

    As for privation… it the spirit of the ECG, maybe it could be claimed that good is the privation of evil.

    An example privation of something would be a piggy bank half full (vs. full) of dimes and nickles. A further privation of something would be an empty piggy bank… a further privation would be no piggy bank… etc. etc. Now what would a privation of nothing be? Something cannot be a privation of nothing because according to the dictionary privation is “the state of being deprived; especially : lack of what is needed for existence.” The same definition holds when we say that evil is a privation of good. Therefore, it is absurd then to say that good is a privation of evil. In other words, privation is a one way street or another example of assymmetry.

  29. G. Rodrigues says:

    @d:

    As for privation… it the spirit of the ECG, maybe it could be claimed that good is the privation of evil.

    Classical theologians, going as far back as Augustine, did not stipulate that evil is a privation just because they thought the idea really kewl, but based on a coherent set of metaphysical ideas (specifically, the idea that things have essences), whether they were of a neo-Platonic bent such as Augustine himself or later, Aristotelian as Aquinas. To quote from Prof. Feser, the privation view is not based on how we use words like good and evil, but rather a metaphysical theory about good and evil. If ECG is supposed to be a challenge to classical theism, you have to show how this view is wrong, not simply recourse to the childish trick of flipping definitions.

  30. Crude says:

    Heya all. Some quick comments.

    From the Philosophical Disquisitions site: When confronted with the idea of an Evil God, most classical theists will be inclined to simply dismiss it as being absurd.

    Two problems. First, as has been pointed out: The reasons classical theists reject an evil God’s existence is, as far as I understand, due to the metaphysical arguments given and understandings had by classical theists. Not due to their simply asserting “Well clearly that’s silly, and I don’t have – or need – an argument why that is silly.” So it seems like there really is, or there is argued to be, a real asymmetry between considering a Good God and an Evil God right away on classical theism.

    I think there’s another problem that’s even more severe: I get the impression that Law puts a tremendous amount of emphasis on the idea that theists ‘just regard it as absurd that an evil God could exist’. In other words, this isn’t some throwaway line. It’s an extremely important assumption that Law is relying on to get where he wants to go with his argument, because (as G. Rodrigues noted I pointed out elsewhere) if the Evil God isn’t ruled out as absurd, all Law has done is present an argument for another God. Not exactly benefiting atheism, that move.

    Here’s where I think Law’s argument not only fails to get where he wants it to go (inference to atheism), but actually spins around and starts running in the dead opposite direction. As I said above, Law’s argument relies on an Evil God being dismissed as absurd right out of the gates, at least by theists.

    To see what I mean about how crucially Law’s argument depends on granting this assumption, just do this: Consider Law’s argument with the absurdity assumption removed. (Remember, Law doesn’t give any arguments in the EGA that the existence of a non-good God is absurd. He just asserts that it is, or asserts that he thinks theists take it to be.) Let me spell out what happens in that case: The Problem of Evil dies immediately, and Law’s entire line of attack becomes an attack on behalf of some form of theism. An evil God is still a God. A God that is partly but not wholly good or evil is still a God.

    That’s why I think that, while Feser is correct that Law’s argument leaves the God of classical theism untouched, Law’s argument is poison for atheism. All you have to do is reject an extremely weak premise and you can turn his entire line of argument into a broadly theistic weapon. Further, the suggestion that theists generally regard a non-Good God’s existence as absurd is tremendously weak: you only have to look as far as the Intelligent Design movement to see numerous theists being very comfortable with treating a non-good creator as an intellectually live option.

  31. Melissa says:

    d,

    But its no matter.. the evil God would have feature parity with classical theist God in all ways (barring his malevolence), unless it can be logically demonstrated otherwise. So both EG and GG should necessarily move in ways that maximize their own satisfaction. As one goes, so does the other.

    No that is incorrect. Evil God must maximise his satisfaction because of the definition of evil being proposed (one I don’t agree with), as delighting in inflicting maximum suffering, there is no necessity for GG to maximise his satisfaction.

  32. TimelessAwakening says:

    Law’s argument could be torched by turning the tables on him and using “The Problem of Good” on his Evil God.

    If this world we live in right now was ran by an Evil God *aka* A maximally evil being, then this Evil God is beyond pathetic. Also what is the sense of having an after-life? Wouldn’t it be more plausible to assert an Evil-God sending everyone to the same place of suffering?

    If an Evil God rewards those who still do his bidding he is still showing compassion, therefore I don’t see how a Maximally Evil being can be compassionate.

    For those who are promised a reward, why on Earth would you trust this Evil God.

    To defeat this argument that Law present all one has to do is call it’s bluff. It is actually a terrible argument that helps the theist in the end.

  33. d says:

    @Tom:

    I think that logical demonstration has been made. A good God can be good in that good God’s relation to himself, but no hypothetical evil god could be evil in relation to itself, for reasons I have already provided.

    But where is this notion coming from that the malevolence of evil-God needs to be pointed at himself?

  34. Crude says:

    But where is this notion coming from that the malevolence of evil-God needs to be pointed at himself?

    If I understand him correctly, what Tom is getting at is that if the evil-God’s malevolence is not pointed at himself, you’re losing yet more “feature parity” between the Evil God and the Good God.

  35. d says:

    Short on time today, so i don’t have time to respond to everything, but…

    G. Rodrigues:

    Classical theologians, going as far back as Augustine, did not stipulate that evil is a privation just because they thought the idea really kewl, but based on a coherent set of metaphysical ideas (specifically, the idea that things have essences), whether they were of a neo-Platonic bent such as Augustine himself or later, Aristotelian as Aquinas. To quote from Prof. Feser, the privation view is not based on how we use words like good and evil, but rather a metaphysical theory about good and evil. If ECG is supposed to be a challenge to classical theism, you have to show how this view is wrong, not simply recourse to the childish trick of flipping definitions.

    It’s also my understanding that privation wasn’t dreamed up because they thought it was “kewl” – it was dreamed up to wash the hands of an ex-nihilo creating God… so that He could not be called the author of evil.

    But I’m not familiar with all arguments for the privation view. Do you have any particular arguments for privation in mind, that could not be easily inverted by the EGC?

    Melissa:

    No that is incorrect. Evil God must maximise his satisfaction because of the definition of evil being proposed (one I don’t agree with), as delighting in inflicting maximum suffering, there is no necessity for GG to maximise his satisfaction.

    Well, perhaps the “evil”, as formulated in this thread has some limitations. Maybe it needs to be more robust. Maybe we should think of the moral properties of God (He is perfectly loving, perfectly selfless, perfectly merciful, etc), and invert each one in the case of the EG.

    Instead of being loving and selfless, he is malevolent and selfish. Instead of being just and merciful, he is unjust and vengeful.

    Sure, we might run into some interesting paradoxes with respect to his properties, but there’s no shortage of paradoxical seeming properties in GG either.

    Theologians have spent a lot of time trying to resolve apparent paradoxes, obviously – but is it possible that an EG-theologian might borrow their work?

    How can a merciful God not offer everyone salvation? Well, because He is just. How can a malevolent God not hate himself? Well, he is selfish.

  36. d says:

    I should probably amend that last question, to something like, “How can a merciful God not save everyone?”, lest anyone object on the grounds that a merciful God does offer everyone salvation… even though not everyone will be saved.

  37. G. Rodrigues says:

    @d:

    It’s also my understanding that privation wasn’t dreamed up because they thought it was “kewl” – it was dreamed up to wash the hands of an ex-nihilo creating God… so that he could not be called the author of evil.

    Historically, yes, that was one of the motivations. But although I was a bit sloppy in my speaking, I was not speaking in historical terms but in theoretical terms — the privation view is just one idea in a network of interlocking metaphysical ideas; not an ad hoc addition to solve a specific problem.

    But I’m not familiar with all arguments for the privation view. Do you have any particular arguments for privation in mind, that could not be easily inverted by the EGC?

    Repeating myself: The privation view is not a single isolated fact, it is connected with other metaphysical ideas such as that things have essences. So the whole inversion childish ploy is shot dead from the get go. But really, you are asking me to find ammunition for your guns? It is you who made the claim that the privation view can be flipped, so the burden of proof lies with you.

    As far as I am concerned, I think the ECG hopelessly bad with Tom Gilson delivering the killing blow. In all honesty, I do not have the time nor the patience for this bait-and-switch game you are playing. You want to prop the ECG? Then do the work needed; do not expect me to respond to every maybe, might, could and if that you throw away in the hopes that it will stick.

  38. d says:

    Actually, this is what I specifically said with respect to the inversion of privation:

    As for privation… it the spirit of the ECG, maybe it could be claimed that good is the privation of evil.

    Whether that makes sense or not, I’d have to think on it more

    That’s a pretty far cry from making a certain claim that it is a valid, or sensible move.

    As for the interlocked web of metaphysical ideas… its possible that the ECG go viral, inverting them all, resulting in the same interlocking network of metaphysical ideas in support of EGC. But then again, it might not, if there are particular places where it cannot get a proper foothold.

    I’m open to either outcome. The ECG has never been operative in my worldview. So maybe hold the aspersions to my intellectual honesty (eg, “bait-and-switch games”)… I’m just exploring the territory here.

  39. Melissa says:

    d,

    Well, perhaps the “evil”, as formulated in this thread has some limitations. Maybe it needs to be more robust. Maybe we should think of the moral properties of God (He is perfectly loving, perfectly selfless, perfectly merciful, etc), and invert each one in the case of the EG.

    You state this as if it is some minor issue, but this is the heart of the matter. Unless you can formulate a concept of evil that does not generate a contradiction in the phrase Evil-god, the ECG is dead in the water.

    As for your “inversion” theory, please do some reading. If you are going to argue in this way you first need to understand why God as Being Itself must also be good.

  40. JAD says:

    I understand d’s thinking… When all else fails you can always construct strawmen.

  41. The objection that the evil god argument is self contradictory is dealt with by me in the academic paper “The evil god challenge” (available online if you google it). In fact that suggestion, even if correct, entirely fails to deal with the evil God challenge. As I also briefly explain here (my notes from the debate – see response 1…

    http://stephenlaw.blogspot.com/2011/10/notes-for-responding-to-craigs-possible.html

    (as you can see I anticipated Craig might also raise this very objection ans was ready for it).

    So you’ll need to come up with a better response to the challenge. This one doesn’t work.

  42. Tom Gilson says:

    Thank you for the comment, Dr. Law. Just a quick response while I take time for a closer look at your notes for a response to Dr. Craig. This is for other readers’ benefit, mostly. I believe that academic paper you’re referring to is the one I mentioned and linked to in the original post. Another commenter missed that link previously, so I’m going to edit the post just to add more words into the linked portion and make it more visible. The URL is http://journals.cambridge.org/action/displayFulltext?type=1&fid=7247672&jid=RES&volumeId=-1&issueId=-1&aid=7247664&fromPage=cupadmin&pdftype=6316268&repository=authInst.

    If that’s not the paper you’re referring to, Dr. Law, please let me know. Thank you.

  43. TimelessAwakening says:

    @Stephen

    Actally Stephen your challenge is already in question once someone uses “The problem of Good” on this Evil God of yours.

    I’m shocked that a Top philosopher can’t see that all one has to do to put your Evil God objection into question is call your bluff, and ask why this Evil God is so pathetic at his job?

    The Logical problem of Evil (Alvin Plantinga) answers the logical question on why does a good God allow Evil, but when we flip the scenario around to assert an Evil God I don’t see any reasonable answers on why this Evil God of yours allows Good in the world?

    Your Evil God doesn’t appear to be a God that is practicing his maximally Evil attributes efficiently.

    You mention an afterlife which doesn’t make any sense at all, here’s why:

    Why would an Evil God have an afterlife in the form of a heaven and a Hell to begin with? What is the purpose when one would think we would all experience a place like Hell right off the bat?

    So in regards to your Evil God, are we looking at a scenario in which a World that Evil reigns supreme by humans who serve this God, and those Evil human-beings get rewarded for their tasks or is it a world where everyone get screwed in the end, because their are no laws to follow?

    Even if this God did lay down the rules, why one trust this God if rewards were presented?

    So I’d like to hear your reply on this, because right now I’m just calling your bluff. Looking around and wondering why there are so may happy people that I know off-hand?

  44. TimelessAwakening says:

    Con’t

    Meanwhile I understand why people suffer in this world, but I don’t see how if the tables were turned why there would be a shred a good allowed in the world from an Evil God.

    The only answer I could come up with is building a persons goodness, and then God breaking them down over and over, but wouldn’t we see a totally different world than what we live in today?

  45. Tom Gilson says:

    Thanks for that, TimelessAwakening. For my part, though, I’m going to take considerably more time to work this through and see if Dr. Law’s response really succeeds against my argument. My impression is that my argument still stands, but I’m not going to rush to respond.

    Part of the issue here for us theists is that we have to separate out our gut reaction from the logical arguments involved here. An evil god is absurd to me, but is that really because it’s as illogical as I’ve argued here?

    There’s a reason I have that gut reaction, of course: I have a living relationship with a good God, and the suggestion of an evil god is impossible in view of that knowledge. I know how unimpressed Dr. Law would be by that, though! So the question is whether an evil god is also impossible in terms that Dr. Law would respect and agree to; and (just as important) if its impossibility would be of the sort that would invalidate its use in an argument like the one he offers. So the hard work I will have to do will be to disassemble and separately analyze the one kind of absurdity/impossibility from the other, and then to think through the implications. I’m going to take some time with this one.

  46. d says:

    TimelessAwakening:

    It’s hardly obvious that this world contains more good than evil. It becomes especially challenging for anybody making that claim when one considers not only moral evil, but natural evil as well (including non-human suffering).

  47. timelessawakening says:

    D

    Natural Evil is not ‘Evil’ in the ethical sense, which does nothing to the character of God.

    Do you look at tornadoes and call them evil?

    When tornadoes don’t do any damage at all and just run their course on open land, are they evil?

    If a person receieves a hurricane warning, but yet ignores the warning, still goes out and surfs in the ocean later on to drown, is the hurricane still evil?

    That has nothing to do with moral character, therefore that argument is very question begging from the beginning, because it doesn’t involve ANYTHING with God’s character.

  48. d says:

    Melissa:

    You state this as if it is some minor issue, but this is the heart of the matter. Unless you can formulate a concept of evil that does not generate a contradiction in the phrase Evil-god, the ECG is dead in the water.

    As of right now, its not obvious to me how inverting the properties of GG to conceive of EG would create a contradiction.

    GG-theologains have long recognized the many apparent paradoxes in the nature of God.. it seems a little hasty to simply dismiss EG as logically impossible without considering potential responses, many of which (if not all) can be borrowed directly from GG-theologians.

  49. timelessawakening says:

    “It’s hardly obvious that this world contains more good than evil.”

    Actually it is pretty obvious and if that isn’t the case then perhaps we should all return to theocracy, because you just openly admitted that this new system FAILS.

    So you just opened up the door to new arguments. But the most obvious question to you here is:

    Are you a moral realist?

  50. d says:

    TimelessAwakening:

    Well, yea – Natural evil is natural evil and “ethical” evil is moral evil.

    But, presumably, a theist God wouldn’t like natural evil any more than He likes moral evil. So both need to be accounted for, and the POE usually includes both.

  51. timelessawakening says:

    The easiest response that basically kills any implication of philosophers who commit to Law’s EG is:

    Why an afterlife?

  52. timelessawakening says:

    “But, presumably, a theist God wouldn’t like natural evil any more than He likes moral evil.”

    really what “Divine Cambridge Companion to how God’s should act” are you using?

    What other Good God are you comparing this too, in which you got this information from?

    Natural evil isn’t evil, it doesn’t “think”. And if it DOES think then you just conceded to the Supernatural….

  53. d says:

    November 5th, 2011 at 12:45 pm

    “It’s hardly obvious that this world contains more good than evil.”

    Actually it is pretty obvious and if that isn’t the case then perhaps we should all return to theocracy, because you just openly admitted that this new system FAILS.

    Huh? It seems like you are suggesting that, should I maintain that the world does not obviously contain more good than evil, that democracy is a failure, and I should endorse theocracy?

    I’m inclined to ignore the post, since its rather silly, but oh well – I’ll take the bait:

    1) Democracy may be an improvement over theocracy, but it could be that it is not such an improvement that it sways the balance enough to say there is more good than evil. There’s still plenty of war, crime, disease, economic injustice, and other forms of suffering, despite democracy.

    2) One also needs to consider the entire history of the world, not just the brief snapshot that is the present.

    3) There are many places where there is no democracy – war torn, tribal societies abound, where many suffer horrendously, starving to death, or dying of incredibly hideous diseases that most of us cannot truly fathom.

    4) Natural evil still exists.

  54. d says:

    Timeless Awakening:

    I don’t really care to go down this road any more. But do think about the fact that even many theologians and theists philosophers both agree that there is natural evil, and that theism must account for it, somehow. “Many” might be modest: I’d be willing to bet its “nearly all”.

  55. JAD says:

    Let’s suppose that the God of Christian theism does not exist. Do we still have evil and suffering in the world?

  56. timelessawakening says:

    1) It implies that the superpowers are doing a bad job in this aspect, and you just shot yourself in the foot. You just said that it’s not obvious that a world with all this nice technology and democracies has more good than evil. All or most of The superpowers are democracies correct?

    The superpowers have alot to do with whats goinng on in this world, so you just admitted that they aren’t really doing a good job at getting rid of “evil”, either that or they just don’t care.

    My personal opinion is a happy medium, but I think this world HAS more good than Evil, so I’m not complaining about anything. I’m actually helping your case of secularism by stating this world we live in has more good than evil, but you just argued against it.

    So right now you admitted that secularism does a bad job at getting rid of evil, because this world obviously doesn’t have much more good than evil and it’s strongest nations are secular.

    2) Wait a minute if you are going to commit to history then this hurts alot of your atheist buddies who don’t think there is enough evidence that Jesus was the Son of God, or now the new “myth” argument. Well then that means EVERYTHING in history is in question, because we barely have any history to read about past that point. I don’t see why all other history that had God’s in the picture as well, receive a free pass of skepticism.

    So I wouldn’t recommend looking at history, because if we do this, then it poses a problem for your position not mine. Plus I don’t really see many surveys that were done over the years on how everyone loves the world they live in.

    3) So what makes that bad under your position? Are you even a moral realist? There are places such as the US where we have this fancy technology, but yet still have alot of poverty and problems as well.

    For some strange reason though, these poor countries haven’t died off after all these years and I give them alot of respect for making it through. And yet we have people in the US who complain when they don’t recieve a million dollar bonus check, and those people call their bosses evil. I can take the NBA situation and just laugh at how 10 million dollars a year isn’t enough for some players.

    So I have to ask you again, are you a moral realist, because there is a possibility of people in this world that would call their parents evil for not buying them the right color of their Mercedes. Perhaps a simplier question what makes something Evil under your view and why?

    4) So what’s your point? You never answered my Hurricane scenario with the surfer.

    Last point, I see it more as a natural “bad”, that seems like a better word than “Evil”…

  57. d says:

    Timeless Awakening – your posts are getting so confused, I don’t even know where to begin to address them. None of this is even close to relevant to this thread.

  58. d says:

    JAD:

    Let’s suppose that the God of Christian theism does not exist. Do we still have evil and suffering in the world?

    We’d certainly still have suffering, malevolence, hate, selfishness, etc.

    Whether you think its plausible to call those things “evil” without a God (I certainly think it is)- that depends on the moral theory to which you subscribe.

  59. Has anyone defined good yet?

  60. Blake Anderson says:

    I wholeheartedly agree with Dr. Law’s statement on page 19 of his paper when he says, “I believe Daniel’s argument trades on an ambiguity in his use of the word ‘good.'” Unfortunately, I believe Dr. Law does the same and this is the crux of this matter in what he terms the “Impossibility arguments” against his EGC. The concepts of good and evil and God used by Dr. Law are anemic. As others have mentioned in the dialog above these terms do not come without context in Classical Theism and are interwoven in a tight metaphysical philosophy that is ignored only to our detriment. When these concepts are “correctly” understood I believe it will be very apparent that the EGC is contradictory on its face. When I say “correctly” I not only mean in a “classical” way as understood historically, I also mean in a philosophically supportable way within a proper metaphysical framework.

    Dr. Law lays out 4 ways in which the Impossibility arguments fail and I believe all 4 of his answers themselves fail as I will try to show. However, I will first mention some things about definitions. Please note that I am not reacting entirely to Dr. Law’s argument in what I say below (i.e., not using a straw man); much of it will be preliminary to the debate and dealing with classical theism and good definitions in general and does not directly correspond to Dr. Law’s writings (unless specified).

    “Good” as attributed to God does not mean “He performs beneficial stuff.” He is not said to be good because He is perfectly virtuous. He is not good because He “behaves” or “because of His ability to always perform His duty in the right circumstance (Reed).” It is not a moral category (e.g., He is sinless). [Don’t misunderstand – I am not saying He can sin!]

    God’s goodness (and perfection) is based on God’s being. Let me try to succinctly (probably not) and in a cogent (mostly likely not) way give the train of thought that leads to God’s goodness being tied to being. [I won’t be filling in all the gaps.] First, from various forms of the cosmological argument we surmise from the contingent being of creation that there is a Creator being. Further, this being is infinite; that is, He must be infinite. This is not derived from definition such as Perfect Being Theology but from actual contingent reality arguing to a necessary and limitless ultimate reality. Because this God is underived and necessary He is purely actual; that is, there is no mixture of imperfections or possibility of change. In other words, God IS Being. He IS Existence. [To the theologians among us, this was communicated to Moses and should sound familiar.] Etienne Gilson shows how important this concept is to classical philosophy when he says, “In this principle [Being Himself] lies an inexhaustible metaphysical fecundity; all the studies that here follow will be merely studies of its results. There is but one God and this God is Being, that is the cornerstone of all Christian philosophy…” He goes on to say, “But now we have to see for ourselves how these consequences are implied in the principle [God is nothing but total being, true being]. . . . it can only mean this: that He is the pure act of existing. Now this pure act of existing excludes all non-being a priori.” Now, this is critical to the argument against Dr. Law’s EGC. “Just as non-being is absolutely void of all being and of all the conditions of being, so also Being is wholly unaffected by non-being, both actually and virtually, both in Itself and from our point of view.” Evil, therefore, as a lack of being (and not simply dis-pleasure/pain) is directly contradictory to God. On this the EGC fails. (Others, such as Feser, have done a much better and more eloquent defense than I have here.)

    Further, to clarify, good is, in the classical view, “that which all things desire” or “that which is desired for its own sake.” A thing is good in as much as it desired as a goal. But there is more; the desired goal for anything is its completeness (i.e., its perfection). The goal is actuality and existence. When something reaches the perfection of what is supposed to be it has reached the good. Now, something can be mistaken (deceived or self deceived) about what it the highest good, but nothing seeks its imcompleteness per se. This is likely akin to Daniels’ notion (mentioned on page 19 of Dr. Law’s paper) “that we always do what we judge to be good.” While I might agree that this is still too ambiguous, Law adds ambiguity to ambiguity and says “‘good’ here need mean no more than, ‘that which I aim to achieve’. We have not yet been given any reason to suppose I cannot judge to be ‘good’, in this sense, what I also deem to be evil, because I desire evil.” And thus, says Law, “there is no contradiction involved in an omniscient being judging evil to be, in this sense, ‘good’.”

    Yet ‘good’ DOES mean “more than that [‘that which I aim to achieve’].” The goodness of something is tied to its perfection which is tied to its actuality/being/existence. Goodness is not a goal simply as an arbitrary aim as Law says is possible. It is a goal which leads to ones fullness of possible existence. To be evil then (i.e., lack of existence), is necessarily to lean away from existence and once again the contradiction is evident. As all contingent being is derivative of God as creator being (refer to cosmological arguments), to cause unnecessary evil to creatures would be to militate against being. Tom Gilson’s original point was that “It could be that [Law’s] hypothetical “evil God” is one who takes supreme delight in causing the maximum possible misery among his creatures.” It would seem that Gilson is correct that “There’s something self-contradictory about that, too. . . ” and “Law’s own treatment of this issue (pages 19-20 in his article) fails to fully address the problem.” One can not “maximizes his own delight by creating a world where delight is minimized among his creatures” or produce “his own greatest joy by producing his creation’s greatest misery.” This is a metaphysical impossibility. I am not sure that I nailed Gilson’s point, and I don’t think one can properly object to Law’s claims without proper (grounded) definitions of evil and goodness, but Law’s first objection to ‘Impossibility arguments’ fails.

    His second objection (bottom of page 19) further equivocates on what good is. He says the claim is that “the satisfaction of a desire is an intrinsic good” and calls dubious the “assumption that the satisfying of any desire – even an evil one – is an intrinsic good.” I agree that this is dubious, and that is not the claim of classical theism. The claim rather is that the “good is that which all things desire.” People may or may not find that object, but it is there nonetheless and they desire it. The “satisfying of any desire” is an altogether different thing. [And the discussion of primary and secondary goods is here relevant.] Law goes on in this second objection to misconstrue another classical conception of God. He says that perhaps “there are certain logical limit’s on God’s evilness (just as there are also logical limits on His power: He can’t make a stone so heavy that it cannot be lifted. Evil god can still be maximally evil – as evil as it is logically possible to be.” First, God is not maximally good or powerful as Law’s god is maximally evil. God is not maximally anything. He is not the creaturely kind of good “to the max.” He is not powerful like a creature “to the max.” He is not “maximally loving.” He is love without limit. He is power without limit. He is limitless in His attributes and has no restrictions. The heavy stone scenario is not a limit, but a logical contradiction that does not impinge on His power. He can’t create said too heavy rock, not because He is limited logically by this, but because it is logically absurd and poses no limit. It is not a real thing. So it doesn’t set a cap on anything. An understanding of the classical notion of “Divine Infinity” would clear up Law’s objection. So if Law has only a “maximally evil” god, this is a far cry from the infinite God alluded to in the cosmological arguments.

    Law’s third objection seems to me to fall apart under the previously mentioned definitions. There is no symmetry between the EGC and the GG, and we don’t have to reject the EGC due to the ‘problem of good’ (observable good), but because it is contradictory. We don’t have to observe the presence or balance of good and evil to make a determination as to whether God is good of not. [I would say on the side, however, that given the fact that evil can’t even exist without the good of existence, the balance is hardly in question.]

    As to Dr. Law’s fourth argument, I must say I don’t disagree with much that he says. Given that I don’t define God as “a being which possesses every positive attribute,” but by way of what He does, I don’t perceive this as a challenge. I don’t assume that logically possible equals possible in reality.

    Obviously, not all the relevant points in classical philosophy have been expounded on adequately here. My aim is simply to point out that Dr. Law’s arguments haven’t in any way defeated the concept of a good God as understood within certain metaphysical systems and that in order for his EGC to be a defeater to a good God he needs to address these issues head on. An evil God is a direct contradiction within classical theism and this is not due to simple assertion of definition, but due to a comprehensive and rigorous set of arguments working from contingent creation back to a necessary Creator God.

  61. JAD says:

    d,

    We’d certainly still have suffering, malevolence, hate, selfishness, etc.

    Whether you think its plausible to call those things “evil” without a God (I certainly think it is)- that depends on the moral theory to which you subscribe.

    In other words, from an atheist perspective, getting rid of God doesn’t get rid of evil and suffering. So is there anything that can be done, from an atheistic perspective about the evil and suffering in the world? Or, must we just fatalistically accept evil and suffering as facts of our existence?

  62. G. Rodrigues says:

    @Tom Gilson:

    I have only skimmed the notes Prof. Stephen Law, not the online paper. With this caveat, about any purported self-contradiction in the evil God he writes, and I quote:

    Even if it could be shown that an evil god is impossible while a good god is not, that would not deal with the evil god challenge that I set Prof Craig. For it remains the case that, irrespective of whether an evil god is impossible, the amount of good that exists would clearly be more than enough in any case to show that belief in such a god is downright unreasonable. But then why isn’t the amount of evil we observe more than enough to show that belief in a good god is downright unreasonable?

    In short, the claim that an evil god is impossible, even if correct, does nothing to show that belief in a good god is any more reasonable than downright unreasonable!

    Prof. Stephen Law seems to cling tenaciously to the idea that it is a fundamental claim of theists that God is Good because we evidence good in the world, which is simply *not* true. Now whether the presence of good in the world is enough to disqualify an evil God I do not know; How Prof. Stephen Law knows that, I do not know either. But then as Crude mentioned the argument fails.

    But more importantly; if it is shown that the evil God is self-contradictory then ECG fails, *independently* of showing that belief in The Good One is reasonable or not. And I believe that that has been shown, or in the very least that there is a real asymmetry between the evil God and The Good One, which also counts as a failure because it shows that you cannot simply invert good for evil and get a God on par with that of classical theism.

  63. Tom Gilson says:

    Edward Feser heard from Dr. Law, too, and sent him a very similar response.

  64. Tom Gilson says:

    Dr. Law, I have looked at your notes for the debate. You address the objection of the “impossible” evil god, but that does not seem to touch on what I’ve argued, that the term “evil god” is strictly meaningless or else uselessly asymmetrical (for your purposes) with the good God. That remains unanswered at this point, and it seems to me that unless you can answer it successfully, the problem I’ve identified might just be fatal to your argument.

    I know that my saying so doesn’t make it the last word by any means—and I also know that you’ve subscribed to these comments by email—so I’ll be interested to hear how you will respond.

  65. Tom Gilson says:

    I used the first-person singular inappropriately just now. Blake Anderson, G. Rodrigues, and others have echoed and expanded the same argument.

  66. JAD says:

    I think atheists are very disingenuous in the way they use the so-called problem of natural evil. I don’t think many of them lose any sleep over the millions and billions of animals, and people, who have died through out the history of the world. Indeed I think most of them just accept that that is just the way the world is. Rather the argument is an emotional polemical argument directed against a belief system they do not like.

    For example, in his 1985 Gifford lecture, The Varieties of Scientific Experience: A Personal View of the Search for God, astronomer Carl Sagan explains to us,

    The word “religion” come from the Latin for “binding together,” to connect that which has been sundered apart… And in this sense of seeking the deepest interrelations among things that appear to be sundered, the objectives of science and religion, I believe, are identical or very nearly so…

    By far the best way I know to engage, the religious sensibility, the sense of awe, is to look up on a clear night. I believe that it is very difficult to know who we are until we understand where and when we are. I think everyone in every culture has felt a sense of awe and wonder looking at the sky. This is reflected throughout the world in both science and religion. Thomas Carlyle said that wonder is the basis of worship. And Albert Einstein said, “I maintain that the cosmic religious feeling is the strongest and noblest motive in scientific research.

    Sagan then shows, and comments upon, several pictures of astronomical objects that invoke in him a sense of awe and wonder. As an amateur astronomer many of them are very familiar to me. Indeed, I personally share Sagan’s experience of awe and wonder.

    However, Sagan then ends his lecture in an odd way. After showing us what an awesome and wonderful world we live in he tells us:

    “…as Ann Druyan [Sagan’s wife] has pointed out an immortal Creator is a cruel god, because He, never having to face the fear of death, creates innumerable creatures who do. Why should he do that? If He’s omniscient, He could be kinder and create immortals, secure from the danger of death. He sets about creating a universe in which many parts of it and perhaps the universe as a whole, dies… There is a clear imperative in Western religion that humans must remain small and mortal creatures. Why?”

    Do you see the the bait and switch? To me this seems to be totally contradictory. As long as the God of traditional religion doesn’t exist, the universe is a place of awe and wonder. But then He shows up and suddenly those wonderful thoughts and feelings disappear. The cup suddenly goes from more than half full to less than half empty. In other words, the universe becomes a dreadful place.

    The question is, why should the existence of God suddenly create the problem of natural evil?

  67. JAD says:

    It appears to me that Dr. Law is not really using his EG argument, (since most of the theists here an elsewhere aren’t buying it) rather he is arguing for the argument. That is not a strong position.

  68. d says:

    @JAD:

    I often note the same tense dichotomy from apologists quite regularly. All the wonders, awe and joys of life are strangely inverted into cosmic absurdities the second one considers that it might be deity-less.

    Suddenly the birth of a child isn’t a wonderful, awe inspiring miracle – its a pointless cosmic accident, mere mechanistic drudgery of particle swarms interacting purposelessly, and as a consequence, all is just as well if you killed the baby, instead of loving it.

    The nihilistic, hyper-reductionism of an apologist on a fuming polemic against naturalism is always comical, if not for how desperately they trot out and cling to guys like Neitzche (as if atheist philosophy lived and died with him or his like minds), and if not for the often humorous, dramatic rhetoric – but because – on Sundays – many of those same people will be drinking in sermons about how grand this whole existence is.

    Either way I think life *can* be wonderful, though obviously, it isn’t always, for everyone.

    Whether we naturalists wake up in cold sweats thinking about distant natural evil isn’t the point of that line of inquiry. The fact remains, natural evil is a puzzling thing for an omni-benevolent, all powerful being to put up with, and it has to be explained satisfactorily in the theist worldview. Well, that takes some doing (and in my opinion, it hasnt been done well yet). Under naturalism, one simple explanation suffices – the universe is indifferent.

  69. JAD says:

    Over at Ed Feser’s blog Law has tried to clarify his position.

    [Law] Well, first off let me just set the record straight on what the evil god challenge involves. I’m afraid you’ve at least partly misunderstood it. You say:

    [Feser] “So, while you might intelligibly put forward evil as evidence against the existence of God, you cannot intelligibly put it forward as evidence that God might be an “evil god” rather than a good God.”

    [Law] At no point have I ever put forward evil as evidence for an evil god. I didn’t even try. I simply take the evil god hypothesis (without arguing for it at all) and ask – is this god not pretty conclusively ruled out on the basis of the good we see? And if the answer is “yes”, then I ask: “So why should we consider belief in a good god significantly more reasonable than this empirically ridiculous belief? That’s the challenge I’m asking theists to meet.

    http://edwardfeser.blogspot.com/2011/11/crickets-still-chirping.html?showComment=1320582629477#c6102572712164224387

    My first reaction is that the evil god hypothesis is really superfluous. Considering all the confusion the EG hypothesis causes, why not stick to a straight up evidentiary argument of the problem of evil?

  70. JAD says:

    d @69,

    Either way I think life *can* be wonderful, though obviously, it isn’t always, for everyone.

    The fact remains, natural evil is a puzzling thing for an omni-benevolent, all powerful being to put up with, and it has to be explained satisfactorily in the theist worldview. Well, that takes some doing (and in my opinion, it hasnt been done well yet). Under naturalism, one simple explanation suffices – the universe is indifferent.

    So, if I am understanding you here correctly, under naturalism you accept the world the way it is.

    Under theism I accept the world the way God created it.

    I don’t see any difference of logical validity between our positions. In other words, the existence of an omnipotent, omnisicient and beneficent Creator does not logically turn the world into an unhappy place by his presence. The only difference that I see is that you don’t personally like my postion. If your reasons are personal and subjective there is not much I can do by way of logical argumentation. But neither is your personal dislike for theism a reason for me to dislike it.

  71. stephen law says:

    Hi guys
    Jeez there’s some pretty persistent misunderstanding of my argument going on here. E.g.

    “Prof. Stephen Law seems to cling tenaciously to the idea that it is a fundamental claim of theists that God is Good because we evidence good in the world, which is simply *not* true.”

    Nope. That’s not my view at all.

    My argument is that there is, on the face of it, overwhelming empirical evidence AGAINST the good god hypothesis (whether or not this god is thought of as a person, as being morally responsible, etc. personhood is not required). Most people accept this, unless (i) they’re religious, and (ii) it dawns on them what the consequences of this are re their belief in a good god, when many suddenly get radically skeptical!

    The challenge is, then to explain, why, if the evil god hypothesis is ruled out pretty conclusively on empirical grounds, the same is not true of the good god hypothesis.

    Perhaps this challenge can be met. But I cannot see how. Which is one reason I don’t believe in a good god. Personal or not.

    Tom you also say:

    “But more importantly; if it is shown that the evil God is self-contradictory then ECG fails, *independently* of showing that belief in The Good One is reasonable or not.”

    No this misunderstands the nature of the EG challenge. My point re impossibility arguments is this: even if it could be shown that an evil god is an impossibility, we might still ask, “But supposing it wasn’t an impossibility, would an evil god not in any case be pretty conclusively ruled out on empirical grounds – e.g. given the amount of good we observe?” If the answer to that question is “yes”, then the challenge remains to explain why a good god is not similarly ruled out.

    BTW, if you are still not sure what my point above is – compare this. Craig thinks he can show an actual infinite is impossible. It’s ruled out conceptually, a priori.

    However, Craig ALSO thinks there’s excellent empirical evidence that the universe is of finite age (started with the Big Bang). Similarly, even if an evil god was ruled out conceptually, there could still ALSO be overwhelming empirical evidence against such a being. Actually, there is. THAT’s my point. But then why is there not equally good evidence against the good god hypothesis? THAT is the challenge.

    Can you meet it? Pointing out an evil god is conceptually impossible or even that the phrase is meaningless won’t work.

  72. Melissa says:

    Dr. Law,

    I’m not sure what you’re trying to get at with the comparison with Craig’s position, it actually supports us not you.

    Craig’s argument: an actual infinite is impossible plus there is evidence for a finite universe.

    Us on EG: EG is impossible plus there is evidence for a good God.

  73. G. Rodrigues says:

    @Stephen Law:

    The sentences you quoted and whatever “persistent misunderstanding” they betray are to be blamed on me, not on Tom Gilson.

    No this misunderstands the nature of the EG challenge. My point re impossibility arguments is this: even if it could be shown that an evil god is an impossibility, we might still ask, “But supposing it wasn’t an impossibility, would an evil god not in any case be pretty conclusively ruled out on empirical grounds – e.g. given the amount of good we observe?” If the answer to that question is “yes”, then the challenge remains to explain why a good god is not similarly ruled out.

    I cannot make heads or tails of this (maybe someone else can help me?). If the concept of evil God is self-contradictory how is it meaningful to ask “if it wasn’t then etc. and etc.”? And if indeed it is self-contradictory, why should I even bother to think whether his existence is conclusively refuted on empirical grounds? Given that the evil God is rejected not on empirical grounds but on metaphysical ones, what challenge is there to be met?

    The analogy with W. L. Craig’s arguments against a past-eternal universe fails as Melissa points out, but instead I will go on to another matter which is probably closer to addressing the points in the post. Near the beginning of the post,

    My argument is that there is, on the face of it, overwhelming empirical evidence AGAINST the good god hypothesis

    and then near the end of the post:

    Similarly, even if an evil god was ruled out conceptually, there could still ALSO be overwhelming empirical evidence against such a being. Actually, there is.

    So the evil around us is overwhelming evidence against a good God and the good around us is overwhelming evidence against an evil God. But if you grant for the sake of argument that God exists and do admit that the good around us is evidence against an evil God, then it follows that the good around us is evidence in *favor* of a good God. And if you reply, that you can rerun the argument with the evil God instead, I will say exactly! For surely, the correct inference to take is that the amount of good or evil around us does not allow us to draw any certain conclusions about the goodness or badness of God.

    In fact, why exactly does the amount of good in the world disqualify an evil God? That you must hold this, is understandable given the symmetry hypothesis and your position on the evidential problem of evil, but it is not clear to me why that is so — a question that the ECG must address. The classical theist need not bother because an evil God is a metaphysical impossibility and his arguments for the existence of God are not inductive arguments, or inferences to a best explanation, but deductive metaphysical proofs.

  74. JAD says:

    From Feser on his blog:

    Consider that the classical (Platonic, Aristotelian, and Thomistic) arguments for God’s existence are arguments to the effect that the existence of compounds of act and potency necessarily presupposes the existence of that which is Pure Actuality; that the existence of compounds of essence and existence necessarily presupposes the existence of that which is Being Itself; that the existence of that which is in any way metaphysically composite presupposes that which is absolutely simple; and so forth. Given the doctrine of the convertibility of the transcendentals, on which being is convertible with goodness, that which is Pure Actuality or Being Itself must ipso facto be Goodness Itself. Given the conception of evil as a privation – that is, as a failure to realize some potentiality – that which is Pure Actuality and therefore in no way potential cannot intelligibly be said to be in any way evil. Given the principle of proportionate causality, whatever good is in the world in a limited way must be in its cause in an eminent way, shorn of any of the imperfections that follow upon being a composite of act and potency. Since God is Pure Actuality, he cannot intelligibly be said either to have or to lack moral virtues or vices of the sort we exhibit when we succeed or fail to realize our various potentials. And so on. All of this is claimed to be a matter of metaphysical demonstration rather than probabilistic empirical theorizing, and the underlying metaphysical ideas form a complex interlocking network that is (as anyone familiar with Platonism or Aristotelianism realizes) motivated independently of the problem of evil or the question of God’s existence. That is to say, the concepts are not introduced in an ad hoc way so as to get around objections of the sort Law raises. They are already there in the underlying metaphysics, and rule out from the get-go objections of the sort Law raises, at least insofar as they are directed at classical theism.
    http://edwardfeser.blogspot.com/2010/10/laws-evil-god-challenge.html

    Once again, with classical theism’s view of God’s moral nature, Law’s evil god (EG) hypothesis is not even a logical possibility. Furthermore, it is absurd to consider the EG hypothesis even provisionally as Law suggests. (In other words, to consider Law’s argument one has to abandon the classical concept of God and embrace a view that is anthropomorphic.) I pointed out earlier, Dr. Law is not really using his EG hypothesis here as an argument, rather he is arguing for the argument. That seems desparate to me. Is this the only argument that he has? If it is, then Theism is in pretty good shape.

    P.S. Law ended is paper stating that “[t]he problem facing defenders of classical monotheism is this: until they can provide good grounds for supposing the symmetry thesis is false, they lack good grounds for supposing that the good-god hypothesis is any more reasonable than the evil-god hypothesis – the latter hypothesis being something that surely even they will admit is very unreasonable indeed.”

    In my opinion Feser has answered this challenge.

  75. d says:

    So, if I am understanding you here correctly, under naturalism you accept the world the way it is.

    Under theism I accept the world the way God created it.

    I don’t see any difference of logical validity between our positions. In other words, the existence of an omnipotent, omniscient and beneficent Creator does not logically turn the world into an unhappy place by his presence. The only difference that I see is that you don’t personally like my position. If your reasons are personal and subjective there is not much I can do by way of logical argumentation. But neither is your personal dislike for theism a reason for me to dislike it.

    Its important to note that we’re really just talking about how we calibrate our emotional reactions to certain truths about the world here, not matters of logic or reason.

    I’m a contented naturalist, for the most part – my life is enjoyable – I’m glad I’m alive. And if I found myself staring at pearly gates after I’m dead, I’d like to think that I would humbly admit I was wrong, and utter, “Thank God for that” (living forever as a perfect version of yourself is far preferable to even annihilation, don’t you think?). So whether theism or naturalism (or something else) is true – I’d like to think that I could make something good of life.

    But raising the problem of evil is not angry fist-shaking or dissatisfaction with this life, or any emotional issue at all – its a logical problem, given the purported nature of the divine being that some claim created it. It doesn’t go away just because one has emotionally come to terms with the state of this world. So in that respect, I would say our positions are not logically similar.

    At the moment, I think it far more logical to conclude, upon reviewing the evidential POE, that gratuitous evil exists (by warranted induction), and therefore, a tri-omni God doesn’t.

  76. bossmanham says:

    Dr. Law,

    My argument is that there is, on the face of it, overwhelming empirical evidence AGAINST the good god hypothesis

    Isn’t this doing exactly what you’re saying it’s not doing? We don’t base the conclusion that God is good by looking at the world we’re in. It’s extrapolated from the idea of the greatest conceivable being.

    The challenge is, then to explain, why, if the evil god hypothesis is ruled out pretty conclusively on empirical grounds, the same is not true of the good god hypothesis

    Who has done this? We rule out the evil god by definition. Not possible to have an all good evil being.

    No this misunderstands the nature of the EG challenge. My point re impossibility arguments is this: even if it could be shown that an evil god is an impossibility, we might still ask, “But supposing it wasn’t an impossibility, would an evil god not in any case be pretty conclusively ruled out on empirical grounds – e.g. given the amount of good we observe?” If the answer to that question is “yes”, then the challenge remains to explain why a good god is not similarly ruled out.

    You seem to fail to understand that empirical anything here is irrelevant regarding the nature of God.

    BTW, if you are still not sure what my point above is – compare this. Craig thinks he can show an actual infinite is impossible. It’s ruled out conceptually, a priori.

    …yeah. Because he shows that it’s a logically incoherent idea. Similarly, so is the idea of an evil god…

    Actually, there is. THAT’s my point. But then why is there not equally good evidence against the good god hypothesis? THAT is the challenge.

    …because the evil god is ruled out conceptually. The good God isn’t. Then we present empirical and logical arguments FOR God, who can only be conceived of as good.

    In other words, Dr. Law, the evil god isn’t worth considering because it’s a logically incoherent idea. Proper God is not a logically incoherent idea and can be considered as a real possibility in the context of OTHER (see independent) arguments.

    Your evil god hooey isn’t an issue at all. It’s an uninteresting irrelevant tangent.

  77. d says:

    Since the ontological argument was brought up, is there actually anything in that argument, or any other argument that can actually do some work to fill in the blanks as to what “goodness” or “greatness” actually mean? If not, then the ontological argument can just as easily get us to believe in a “greatest” being who is selfish and malevolent.

    What infuses things like maximal love into the definition of good/great other than our own subjective preferences?

  78. JAD says:

    d,
    What exactly do you mean by gratuitous evil?

    A couple months ago my cat came into the house meowing excitedly. When he is really excited and happy he has a loud chirpy meow which he repeats over and over again. He runs up to me and lays a dead mouse at my feet. He has been trying to catch birds for years, with no success. I guess the mouse was something of a consolation prize. Did my cat murder the mouse?

    Are animals moral agents? Is animal predation in the wild immoral and evil? Are supernova’s natural evils? Law talks about the deaths of other sentient beings throughout the earth’s history as if it was the holocaust. I don’t see it that way. I think that is the way God created the natural world, and as such it is good. However that is not God’s purpose for mankind… In the Genesis account God offered man immortality. It is mankind who has rejected that offer. God, however, has never completely redrawn that offer. That is what the gospel message is all about. So how can God be evil if it is man who has messed up?

  79. Melissa says:

    d,

    Since the ontological argument was brought up, is there actually anything in that argument, or any other argument that can actually do some work to fill in the blanks as to what “goodness” or “greatness” actually mean? If not, then the ontological argument can just as easily get us to believe in a “greatest” being who is selfish and malevolent.

    Brian Anderson discussed good fairly extensively in his comment earlier in the thread.

  80. stephen law says:

    Hi Bossmanham

    “Isn’t this doing exactly what you’re saying it’s not doing? We don’t base the conclusion that God is good by looking at the world we’re in. It’s extrapolated from the idea of the greatest conceivable being.”

    Yes I know, some people do that. Though incidentally there’s a greatest conceivable being argument for an evil god:

    1. I can conceive of a maximally evil being.
    2. It’s more evil for such a being to exist in reality than in my imagination.
    3. Therefore the maximally evil being exists.

    Also, the ontological arguments are very poor arguments. No one takes them seriously outside of religious circles, and even inside many consider them poor. Moreoever, some actually help me out. If I can show beyond reasonable doubt there is actually no good god (which I can) then the ontological argument (in the Plantingian version that argues from metaphysical possibility of god to the metaphysical necessity of god) allows me to establish beyond reasonable doubt that it’s metaphysically impossible for God to exist.

    “The challenge is, then to explain, why, if the evil god hypothesis is ruled out pretty conclusively on empirical grounds, the same is not true of the good god hypothesis

    Who has done this? We rule out the evil god by definition. Not possible to have an all good evil being.”

    Almost everyone rules out an evil God on empirical grounds, whether or not also on conceptual grounds, when they first consider the idea. Only when they recognize the consequences of this for their theism, as you now have, do they suddenly get radically skeptical about what conclusions can be drawn re god hypotheses on the basis of empirical observation.

    “No this misunderstands the nature of the EG challenge. My point re impossibility arguments is this: even if it could be shown that an evil god is an impossibility, we might still ask, “But supposing it wasn’t an impossibility, would an evil god not in any case be pretty conclusively ruled out on empirical grounds – e.g. given the amount of good we observe?” If the answer to that question is “yes”, then the challenge remains to explain why a good god is not similarly ruled out.

    You seem to fail to understand that empirical anything here is irrelevant regarding the nature of God.”

    You seem to fail understand that most people do not consider the empirical irrelevant re the evil god hypothesis. So if you want to get skeptical, the onus is clearly on you to justify the kind of radical skepticism you need to save your belief from empirical refutation. Can you? Craig couldn’t.

    You need to show that we cannot reasonably draw the conclusion that there’s an all-powerful, maximally evil god on the basis of empirical evidence. Almost everyone thinks we can do this – at least until it dawns on them what the consequeneces of this are. As it has clearly now dawned on you.

    I wonder why Christians have spent millennia trying to explain away the evil they see in the world if it never constituted any sort of prima facie evidence against what they believe. Why do you suppose they did this? After all, if you are right, there just is no evidential problem of evil. What a bunch of morons, eh?

  81. Tom Gilson says:

    Dr. Law, I’m no expert on ontological arguments, but I have real trouble believing that this is one worthy of the name:

    1. I can conceive of a maximally evil being.
    2. It’s more evil for such a being to exist in reality than in my imagination.
    3. Therefore the maximally evil being exists.

    If it’s hard for Anselm and etc. to show that being is a perfection, how much harder is it to show that the concept of maximal evil implies its real existence! Further, I don’t think you can conceive of a maximally evil being. That was the thrust of my argument up to now: no real god (all-powerful, all-knowing, eternal, etc.) could be maximally evil toward itself.

    And so in that respect, as an aside, I have to wonder: Doesn’t it seem rather too trivial and flippant for you to say there is an x argument, when you know full well that x has no merit whatsoever? I could say there is an argument for an invisible planet just like earth orbiting the sun exactly opposite our earth. I’d be laughed at, and deservedly so. I’m quite surprised you would open yourself up for the same kind of response as you have done here with

    Now, if your point was to illustrate how poor ontological arguments are, then you need to do some work on defining the class of arguments that can properly be called ontological. Then we can work on what they can prove or disprove. In the meantime, it is no embarrassment to the theist if ontological arguments for anything other than God turn out to be failures. Surely you recognize that’s precisely what theism predicts!

    You say,

    Almost everyone rules out an evil God on empirical grounds, whether or not also on conceptual grounds, when they first consider the idea. Only when they recognize the consequences of this for their theism, as you now have, do they suddenly get radically skeptical about what conclusions can be drawn re god hypotheses on the basis of empirical observation.

    I have more work to do on this, which I might get done in the next hour or so, but if not, it will probably take until tomorrow, because of the kind of day I have ahead of me. It would help me if you wouldn’t mind answering a question about this evil god. First, a couple of observations: The strength of your challenge depends on the symmetry between good God and evil god. You rely on persons’ judgments concerning the likelihood of either kind of god, in view of the good and evil we observe. When you ask people to judge the likelihood that an evil god exists, they can point to the good in the world as disconfirming evidence. You recognize that and you respond that the good we experience exists for (a twisted version of) morally adequate reasons for the purpose of maximizing evil, so therefore the good in the world should not be taken as disconfirming the evil god. And I think that’s as far as you go with it.

    Significant features necessary for symmetry are missing from this picture, if I understand it correctly. Obviously it’s parasitic on theistic theodicies; you intended it that way. But these theodicies do not exist in a vacuum. There are strong reasons besides empirical experience to take it that a good God exists, reasons that include the various philosophical arguments, the revelation God has given of himself through Scripture, and the good that persons experience in direct relationship with God.

    Absent these supporting reasons to believe in a good God, theodicies would be as worthless as the evil god anti-theodicies. But we do not live in a world where those supporting reasons are absent. Conversely, when people rule out evil god on empirical grounds, they do not do that in a vacuum, either. If they’ve given any thought to the matter, they know that there are no background, supporting reasons that give footing for any anti-theodicies.

    With all the weight you place on persons’ judgments, I wonder if you have ever met anyone who has actually done what you claim: to rule out an evil god on purely empirical grounds. I am quite sure no one has ever accepted a good God’s existence on purely empirical grounds. It’s impossible for anyone to make any kind of empirically-based decision without at the same time drawing upon some theoretical framework. Now if there is no sensible theoretical framework supporting some interpretation of experience, no one will land on that interpretation.

    So you have set up a false situation for us. There is no purely empirical decision made either for or against a good God, and none either for or against an evil God.

    Here’s another way to look at the same thing. You point us toward the empirical evidences for one kind of God or the other, and you say, “see, it’s ambiguous, undecided, and if we allow theistic theodicies into the picture, it’s still undecided. Therefore we ought not to conclude that either kind of God exists.” To that I say, thank you for your generosity in allowing us to enter some of the rest of our evidences into the picture. Why, though, do you pick and choose? How about if we bring in all of our evidences and reasoning for a good God? What if we admit all of that theoretical framework into the discussion?

    You make the good God and the evil god seem parallel, symmetrical, precisely by truncating everything out of theism that makes it non-symmetrical with your evil god. Frankly, if all I had to believe in were the good-god (small g) counterpart that you’ve presented to your evil god, then I’d be right there with you, pronouncing it not worth believing in. I don’t believe in that chopped-off god any more than you do.

    If we compare the real God of theism to the evil god, however, we bring in the whole set of theological/philosophical/theoretical reasonings that support theodicy in a way that the evil-god anti-theodicies cannot parallel. The symmetry fails. Again.

    This did not end up being the quick question I thought it was going to be when I started with it. I have further disputes with Dr. Law, based on just what it is that the argument from evil is supposed to accomplish, and whether the evil-god challenge can do that or not. I’ll save that for a fresh blog post, probably tomorrow, unless something intervenes and I change my mind about that.

  82. bossmanham says:

    Dr. Law,

    Yes I know, some people do that. Though incidentally there’s a greatest conceivable being argument for an evil god:

    1. I can conceive of a maximally evil being.
    2. It’s more evil for such a being to exist in reality than in my imagination.
    3. Therefore the maximally evil being exists.

    That’s not even my point. The greatest conceivable being could not be evil because I can conceive of a greater being than an evil one; namely a good one. The ontological argument really isn’t the issue other than using the same definition of God as Anselm. It doesn’t matter to me whether the OA is valid or not here. What matters is that when conceiving of the greatest conceivable being, evil cannot enter the equation.

    No one takes them seriously outside of religious circles, and even inside many consider them poor

    That doesn’t surprise me seeing the weird mistakes you seem to be making with simple definitions here. Also, are you arguing ad hominem here, Dr. Law? You can’t trust the ontological argument because religious people made it. Tut tut, sir. That doesn’t seem to follow at all.

    If I can show beyond reasonable doubt there is actually no good god (which I can) then the ontological argument (in the Plantingian version that argues from metaphysical possibility of god to the metaphysical necessity of god) allows me to establish beyond reasonable doubt that it’s metaphysically impossible for God to exist.

    Uhm…no it doesn’t.

    Almost everyone rules out an evil God on empirical grounds, whether or not also on conceptual grounds, when they first consider the idea. Only when they recognize the consequences of this for their theism, as you now have, do they suddenly get radically skeptical about what conclusions can be drawn re god hypotheses on the basis of empirical observation.

    I really don’t care what almost everyone does, Dr. Law, and it surprises me that you’re infatuated with this appeal to popularity. I care about what the logic dictates.

    You seem to fail understand that most people do not consider the empirical irrelevant re the evil god hypothesis

    Then most people aren’t reasoning correctly.

    So if you want to get skeptical, the onus is clearly on you to justify the kind of radical skepticism you need to save your belief from empirical refutation. Can you? Craig couldn’t.

    What on earth are you talking about? I am fine holding my belief up to empirical critique. What I’m not fine doing is using an incoherent idea to try to critique it.

    You need to show that we cannot reasonably draw the conclusion that there’s an all-powerful, maximally evil god on the basis of empirical evidence.

    Why would I need to worry about empirical evidence or otherwise of an incoherent notion, Dr. Law? I don’t look for empirical refutation of a square circle. I know it can’t exist.

    I wonder why Christians have spent millennia trying to explain away the evil they see in the world if it never constituted any sort of prima facie evidence against what they believe.

    No Christian has ever claimed that evil doesn’t pose some sort of on-the-face-of-it challenge to their belief that I know of. The reality is it doesn’t pose an insurmountable challenge, and even lends support to belief.

    So now maybe you can explain what this has to do with the incoherent notion you’ve been attempting to defend.

  83. d says:

    @JAD:

    Gratuitous evils are forms of evil (suffering, pain, etc) that are not necessary to bring about some better state of affairs.

    Natural evils are evils inflicted upon sentient beings (ie, beings that feel pain, pleasure, fear, etc) by non-moral forces. Predators (other than humans) are not moral agents, so they cannot commit moral evil, but they simply act as non-moral forces that cause natural evil. They can also be victims of natural evil.

    But… a cat (in the wild) who fails to prey, will starve to death. Starving to death is an instance of natural evil. The very structure of the predator/prey relationship entails that natural evil will occur, whether the predator starves or the prey is eaten.

    One burden that advocates of the evidential POE would like to impose upon the theist is the claim that every instance of evil (natural or moral) must be logically impossible for God to avoid, or else He would have avoided it. That is, if God could have achieved his maximally good ends (ie, the redemption of man-kind) with one less instance of a baby deer dying painfully in a forest fire, He would have.

    But given the actual configuration of the world (moral evil is abundant, and natural evil perhaps even more abundant still), it seems like a warranted inference that many instances evil in the world, both moral and natural, could have been avoided by God, and are therefore gratuitous. To say it another way, it seems implausible that every instance of evil (moral and natural) was necessary for God’s maximally good ends. The take-away, of course, is supposed to be that God probably does not exist.

  84. G. Rodrigues says:

    @d:

    But given the actual configuration of the world (moral evil is abundant, and natural evil perhaps even more abundant still), it seems like a warranted inference that many instances evil in the world, both moral and natural, could have been avoided by God, and are therefore gratuitous. To say it another way, it seems implausible that every instance of evil (moral and natural) was necessary for God’s maximally good ends.

    In order to deduce that there is in fact a *single* gratuitous evil, you would have to have an omniscient view over the entire span of human history, both past and future, to assert that. I will assume that you do not claim to have such a view; so maybe you have been given a vision by such an omniscient Viewer? By all means, please share with us. Assuming you have not received such transcendental knowledge all you have is an inference to a best explanation that happens to agree with your intuitions. Color me impressed. It is an elementary point of logic, that an inductive argument cannot ever by itself defeat a deductive one, such as the historically most important arguments for the existence of God are.

    Note: not to mention the equivocal uses of the word “good” — see Blake Anderson’s post #61 above.

  85. d says:

    @G. Rodrigues:

    Any deductive argument which hopes to establish anything more than an analytic truth, must have premises say something true about the real word.

    But in order to say something true about the real world, and not just something true about relationships between various statements, some form of intuitional appeal to abduction or induction about the facts of the matter of reality, must be made.

    In short, deductive arguments are either going to rely on premises which themselves are vulnerable to inductive/abductive reasoning (and can conceivably be defeated by it), or they only say something true about the meaning of words and sentences – which really tells us nothing persuasive or interesting about reality.

    Most arguments for God (ontological, moral, etc) can be interpreted in both respects. But the minute they are departing from purely analytic truths (uninteresting), they open themselves up to defeat through induction/abduction.

    Sure, I make no bones about the fact that the hypothesis that gratuitous evil exists is an inductive inference – but I think that asks comparatively little from the prowess (or lack there of) of our intuitions, when compared with other arguments, like the Kalam – which asks us to push our intuitions to their limits (and beyond) and require us to speculate heavily about some major, major things, like the nature of time and timelessness, infinity, causality, etc.

  86. G. Rodrigues says:

    @d:

    Any deductive argument which hopes to establish anything more than an analytic truth, must have premises say something true about the real word.

    We are not really in disagreement; of course the premises in a logically valid argument are in dispute. But if you want to refute an argument that is what you have to do, refute the premises. Presenting an inferential argument that bears no relation to the premises does not fit the bill.

    About the status of the premises for the historically most important arguments (which does *not* include the Kalam), R. Garrigou-Lagrange has this to say specifically about Aquinas’ Five Ways (“The One God: commentary on the first part of St. Thomas’ Theological Summa”):

    The five proofs given by St. Thomas are most universal in scope, being deduced from the highest metaphysical principles. The starting point, which is also the minor, and which is previously enunciated in each of these proofs, is the fact as established in any created being whatever, namely, the fact of corporeal or spiritual motion, of causality, of contingency, of composition and imperfection, and of ordination in the passive sense. But the principle or the major in each of these a posteriori demonstrations is the principle of causality with its corollary: that there is no process to infinity in directly subordinated causes.

    As far as your comment:

    Sure, I make no bones about the fact that the hypothesis that gratuitous evil exists is an inductive inference – but I think that asks comparatively little from the prowess (or lack there of) of our intuitions, when compared with other arguments, like the Kalam – which asks us to push our intuitions to their limits (and beyond) and require us to speculate heavily about some major, major things, like the nature of time and timelessness, infinity, causality, etc.

    You have made a little mistake in the pronouns: the “us” and “our” should be replaced by “me” and “mine” as you do not speak for my intuitions, or of anyone besides yourself for that matter. Furthermore, speculations about gratuitous evil involve the nature of good and evil, surveying the whole past and the still-to-come future, what an Omniscient benevolent mind would or would not do, etc. Tit for tat, if you think the Kalam so intractable, the evidential problem of evil is likewise intractable.

  87. d says:

    Well, sure there is a burden to refute premises (and to establish them) – but I’m not going to get all that ambitious as to go after them all in this comment thread!

  88. JAD says:

    d,

    One burden that advocates of the evidential POE would like to impose upon the theist is the claim that every instance of evil (natural or moral) must be logically impossible for God to avoid, or else He would have avoided it. That is, if God could have achieved his maximally good ends (ie, the redemption of man-kind) with one less instance of a baby deer dying painfully in a forest fire, He would have.

    Your argument seems to be assuming that because he is omnipotent and benificent, God must micromanage his creation, but that is neither logically or theologically necessary. For example, in the Genesis account God creates the world then steps back from his creation (He rests). Curiously, the seventh day unlike the other days has no ending, implying (at least in my mind) that God is still standing back from his creation. Why is that a problem for an omnipotent God who has sufficient reasons in creating such a world?

    But given the actual configuration of the world (moral evil is abundant, and natural evil perhaps even more abundant still), it seems like a warranted inference that many instances evil in the world, both moral and natural, could have been avoided by God, and are therefore gratuitous. To say it another way, it seems implausible that every instance of evil (moral and natural) was necessary for God’s maximally good ends. The take-away, of course, is supposed to be that God probably does not exist.

    But are humans even capable inductively making such a judgement. For example, I have been scuba diving many times in the Florida Keys and the Caribbean. On just about every dive I have observed an underwater world teeming with life. I can’t remember observing any predation even once, and even if it happens as we know it does, that does not establish predation in the animal world as being evil. I don’t agree on the basis of what I have observed that there is gratuitous pain death and suffering of sentient creatures in the natural world. So, working inductively, how do we even establish the premise that there is gratuitous pain suffering and death. It seems to me any such claim is a totally subjective judgement.

  89. d says:

    @JAD:

    … For example, in the Genesis account God creates the world then steps back from his creation (He rests). Curiously, the seventh day unlike the other days has no ending, implying (at least in my mind) that God is still standing back from his creation. Why is that a problem for an omnipotent God who has sufficient reasons in creating such a world?

    In that case, it may be that Genesis actually contradicts a (possible) implication of classical theism. 🙂

    As far as thread is concerned, I think I’m tapped out. I’ll make a quick mention, however, that the rest of your reply (that mirrors what G. Rodrigues said earlier) is what’s called a skeptical theist response to the problem of evil, and it could easily spur another lengthy side discussion. Much ink has been spilled that issue too, and as of right now, I’m more persuaded that it actually causes problems that are nearly (if not completely) fatal for theism.

    Here’s a good link for a fair (but cursory) glance at skeptical theism:

    http://www.iep.utm.edu/skept-th/

    We also know that predation (and other natural evil) is abundant – and been so for several billion years… so while you may not have seen any while scuba diving, that does little to say anything about its abundance.

  90. Crude says:

    Craig’s response impresses me. His final paragraph alone constitutes one hell of a reply to Law, or at least the basis of a very interesting reply. I didn’t see that coming.

  91. JAD says:

    Law gives a point-by-point rebuttal of Craig’s response on his blog.

    http://stephenlaw.blogspot.com/2011/11/craigs-website-response-re-our-debate.html

    Apparently the debate didn’t end with the debate. That’s okay with me. 😀

  92. Tom Gilson says:

    One further point, d,

    When you say this,

    One burden that advocates of the evidential POE would like to impose upon the theist is the claim that every instance of evil (natural or moral) must be logically impossible for God to avoid, or else He would have avoided it. That is, if God could have achieved his maximally good ends (ie, the redemption of man-kind) with one less instance of a baby deer dying painfully in a forest fire, He would have.

    you mistake the form and purpose of the evidential POE, which is to prove that the theistic conception of God is either unlikely to be true. I

    Now it seems evident that in order to accomplish that, the anti-theist must in fact prove that the theistic conception of God is unlikely to be true. The advocate of the evidential POE cannot get away with “imposing” claims upon theist; she must establish claims. And “it seems implausible that every instance of evil (moral and natural) was necessary for God’s maximally good ends” does not amount to establishing that claim, as G. Rodrigues has already explained.

  93. Crude says:

    Glancing at Law’s response to Craig, I’ll say this: that Law relies so much on what amounts to armchair psychoanalysis to respond to Craig’s skepticism about analyzing the moral character of God based on what we see in the world, doesn’t speak well of Law’s argument. To hear him talk it’s as if there were no skeptical theists until his evil god argument arrived.

    The short version is that Law’s argument requires a variety of things to get off the ground, but central is the idea that the idea of there being an evil god is absurd. Reject that it’s absurd and Law’s argument basically becomes another theistic argument, albeit an inconclusive one. But when you reject that it’s absurd and Law suddenly starts amateur mind-reading and telling you why you’re rejecting that it’s absurd. Not very convincing.

    He also insists that Craig is making an argument from authority merely by pointing out that he’s glad several philosophers specializing in the relevant field agree with him. But that’s no argument from authority. That would be similar to one of Law’s responses to the moral argument for God.

    I also suspect he misunderstands or misrepresents Craig’s take on the evil god: Law says that Craig holds the existence of an evil God to be absurd. But where does Craig say that? He says, based on the teleological and cosmological arguments, it’s entirely possible God may be “a complete stinker.” He says further in his post that “we’re just not in a position to make these kinds of probability judgements with any sort of confidence”, apparently in reference to making reliable judgments on whether God is evil or good based on what we see in the world. But if that’s the case then it seems Craig’s view is that no, the existence of an evil god is not ruled out as absurd after all, at least given the evidence Law is using to make such a judgment. If anything makes the existence of this god absurd by Craig’s lights, it’s apparently based on other arguments (the moral argument). But remove such arguments, and it’s not clear Craig would agree with the absurdity.

    I’ll say it again: Law is, unwittingly, just bolstering the arguments for Intelligent Design and for theism broadly with this argument. Reject the absurdity and, psychoanalysis aside, his whole argument goes in a direction he really doesn’t like.

  94. JAD says:

    d,

    In that case, it may be that Genesis actually contradicts a (possible) implication of classical theism.

    Just one clarification… God’s stepping back/resting from from his creative activity does not mean that he doesn’t continually sustain his creation, nor does it mean that he does not care or is not aware of it (Matthew 10:29). Neither does it rule out his intervening supernatually (or miraculously). My argument is that he is not obligated to intervene in every instance of animal or human suffering.

  95. d says:

    you mistake the form and purpose of the evidential POE, which is to prove that the theistic conception of God is either unlikely to be true.

    Yes, but I’m not sure exactly why you think I’m mistaken in its purpose – all my comments were made while holding that purpose in mind.

    The advocate of the evidential POE cannot get away with “imposing” claims upon theist; she must establish claims. And “it seems implausible that every instance of evil (moral and natural) was necessary for God’s maximally good ends” does not amount to establishing that claim, as G. Rodrigues has already explained.

    Right – that is the conclusion, not an argument which establishes one of the premises in the POE. By “hopes to impose upon”, I really just meant that the EPOE proponent believes the premise to logically follow from the nature of the tri-omni classic theist God, and thinks the theist should agree.

  96. Tom Gilson says:

    When you said that the proponent of the EPOE wants to impose a burden on theists, d, I took it that the burden you were imposing was one of proof. There is no other kind of burden you could even propose to impose on us in this context, after all. You could not impose on us the necessity of claiming there is no gratuitous evil in the world; we take that claim up readily enough for ourselves.

    So if I was wrong to suppose you meant that as imposing a burden of proof upon us (and illegitimately so) I trust that at least you’ll understand why I interpreted it that way.

  97. d says:

    Ahh, I see why that was confusing. Bad choice of words on my part. No, I don’t think the theist necessarily has any burden of proof there – it’s squarely on the EPOE proponent to establish that premise. Glad I could clarify.

  98. JAD says:

    In his 1972 book, He Is There And He Is Not Silent, philosopher/theologian Francis Schaeffer explored an evil God hypothesis. He writes, “how can we escape the conclusion that the personal God who made man cruel is himself also bad and cruel? This is where the French thinkers Charles Baudelaire and Albert Camus come on the scene. Baudelaire… has a famous sentence: ‘if there is a God, he is the Devil.’ At first, Bible-believing Christians may react negatively to this sentence. But after thought a real Christian would agree with Baudelaire that if there is an unbroken line between what man is now and what he has always intrinsicaly been, then if there is a God, he is the Devil.” (p27 & 28)

    Schaeffer goes on to argue, “that man created by God as personal has changed himself– that he stands at the point of discontinuity rather than continuity not because God changed him but because he change himself. Man as he now is by his own choice is not what he intrinsically was. In this case we can understand that man is now cruel but God is not a bad God… There was a space-time, historic change in man… Man made in the image of God and not programmed, turned by choice… at a certain time in history. When he did this man became something that he previously was not, and the dilemma of man becomes a true moral problem… and we have a true moral situation: morals suddenly exist. Everything hangs upon the fact that man is abnormal now in contrast to what he originally was.” (p. 30)

  99. JAD says:

    I think it is a little confusing when Craig describes his cosmological, teleological and moral arguments as cumulative. In one sense that is true but in another it isn’t. As I see it, Craig constructs his arguments like engineers might design and build a long bridge. The arguments are designed to start at opposite ends and meet somewhere in the middle. For example, Craig himself admits that his moral argument is not directly built upon his cosmological or teleological argument. So, he builds it independently. Indeed, sometimes he alludes to the ontological argument.

    For example, earlier in this thread (#13), I wrote: “In his debate with Sam Harris, Craig connected his moral with an ontological argument for God’s existence…”

    First, theism provides a sound foundation for objective moral values. Moral values have to do with what is good or evil. On the theistic view objective moral values are grounded in God. As St. Anselm saw, God is by definition the greatest conceivable being and therefore the highest Good. Indeed, He is not merely perfectly good, He is the locus and paradigm of moral value. God’s own holy and loving nature provides the absolute standard against which all actions are measured. He is by nature loving, generous, faithful, kind, and so forth. Thus if God exists, objective moral values exist, wholly independent of human beings.

    Craig’s cosmological and teleological arguments argue that an eternally existing transcendent mind is the best explanation for the origin and fine-tuning of the universe, but these 2 arguments tell us nothing about the moral character of the Creator.

    I was critical of Craig after I listened to the debate the first time because it appeared to me that he let Law off the hook. Rather than just dismiss Law’s evil-god hypothesis, as many of us have done, as a crude caricature of the classical Christian concept of God, Craig seemed willing, for at least for the sake of argument, take up Law’s EG challenge. But now after reading the post-debate responses of both Craig and Law, I think Craig made a wise move here, which apparently caught Law a little off balance.

    Craig explains that “the ‘evil god’ hypothesis is not suggesting that God could be evil. For, by definition, God is a being which is worthy of worship, and so no being which is evil could be God. That’s why Peter Millican, who independently formulated a similar argument, refers to the evil supreme being, not as “God,” but as “anti-God.”vii That is less misleading than Law’s terminology. One can refer to this being as “god” only by using the lower case “g,” as I have done. The idea is that there is a Creator/Designer of the universe who is evil. You can see immediately why this argument, which properly belongs to concerns of theodicy, gets conflated with arguments for God’s goodness. Notice, too, that Law is not giving reasons to think that an evil god exists. On the contrary, it is essential to his argument that such a supposition is absurd.”
    http://www.reasonablefaith.org/site/News2?page=NewsArticle&id=9162

    In other words, unlike Feser and other critics, Craig assumed that Law’s EGH was referring to lower case “g,” god. But, if we stop with the cosmological/ teleological arguments we honestly cannot say whether the creator/designer is good, bad or indifferent.

    Of course Law is indifferent to any of this. On his blog he writes:

    Big “G”, small “g”. Frankly. Who cares?

    I think that what confused a lot of us about Law’s EGC was that he appears to claim in his Cambridge Journals paper that the EGC applies to classical monotheism.

    Many argue that not only is there little reason to suppose that the god of
    classical monotheism exists, the sheer quantity of evil that exists provides us with overwhelming empirical evidence that he doesn’t. Those theists who maintain that belief in God, if not proved, is at least not unreason-able, are mistaken. Far from being a question reason cannot decide, the claim that the god of classical monotheism exists seems to be straightforwardly empirically falsified.

    Apparently Law is not as mindful of distinct theologies as we are. But, as he said above, he doesn’t really care.

  100. It is interesting reading the remarks here. It is not as far as I know an issue of whether God is a good or evil. Many people assume one extreme or another on this topic and both sides are wrong. It is more or an issue is that we seem to be compartmentalizing who God is and try to limit God by our pathetic attempts to explain him. I recall a story where a teacher was teaching young seminarians and asked them to describe God. Each and every one of them when they finished with their explanation were told they were wrong. When the teacher came to another teacher and asked his opinion, the teacher answered, “I don’t know.” The teacher then told him, “You truly understand God better then the rest of us.”

  101. Tom Gilson says:

    Demetrios, thank you for your comment, but I’m wondering some things about it.

    How is it limiting God to describe him as essentially and necessarily good?

    How does the teacher understand God well enough to know that the one who does not understand God knows him best?

    How is it that you can say both sides are wrong when you say that no one can understand anything about God? That’s blatantly contradictory.

    Truly it is false to think we have any kind of grasp on the fullness and majesty of God. That does not, however, make everything we might say about God false. We can know nothing about God exhaustively, but we can still know some things about him truly.

    The aversion to limiting God is noble, but not every definitional or descriptive statement about God limits him. I can say that God is Creator, that he is Spirit, that he is infinitely good, wise, and powerful, and that does not limit him. It’s hardly putting a fence around God if we acknowledge and agree with what he tells us!

    I can say that God cannot sin, and though that is limiting in one sense, it is actually a statement of infinite perfection. Besides that, it’s not my thought; not my opinion. I’m not limiting God if I agree with his own self-description. He is God, and being God, hadn’t he ought to be the one who knows who he is?

    For the same reason, I can say that God revealed himself supremely in Jesus Christ rather than in (for example) the Buddha, and that too does not limit him; for it is God himself who has made that true. If on the other hand (contra reality) God had revealed himself in the Buddha rather than in Christ, it would not be limiting God to say that, either, for if that had been the case (which it wasn’t, but if it had been) then it would have been God’s doing, not mine.

  102. Tom Gilson says:

    I need to re-emphasize the difference between true and exhaustive knowledge. A statement like “God is infinitely powerful” does not limit God in itself. If I thought that my conception of infinite power were exactly like the infinite power that characterizes God, then that would be limiting. God is much, much more than what I conceive by that statement, but he is not less than what I can conceive by it. I cannot comprehend the extent of his power, but if say that the power is his to create and sustain the universe, I can say that truly.

  103. JAD says:

    One of the things that deeply influenced Darwin’s thinking was the suffering that he witnessed in the in the world around him. Darwin was not able to reconcile the suffering that he witnessed with a benevolent Creator.

    Darwin is said to have lost his faith completely after the death of his ten-year old daughter Annie in 1851. Later in a letter to American botanist Asa Gray he would write: “I cannot persuade myself that a beneficent God would have created the Ichneumonidae” (whose larvae feed on the inside of living caterpillars and gave inspiration to the sci-fi movie The Alien) “or that a cat should play with mice.”

    On the other hand, he thought that suffering could be reconciled with natural selection. For example, in his Autobiography he writes:

    “Such suffering, is quite compatible with the belief in Natural Selection, which is not perfect in its action, but tends only to render each species as successful as possible in the battle for life with other species, in wonderfully complex and changing circumstances.

    “That there is much suffering in the world no one disputes. Some have attempted to explain this with reference to man by imagining that it serves for his moral improvement. But the number of men in the world is as nothing compared with that of all other sentient beings, and they often suffer greatly without any moral improvement. A being so powerful and so full of knowledge as a God who could create the universe, is to our finite minds omnipotent and omniscient, and it revolts our understanding to suppose that his benevolence is not unbounded, for what advantage can there be in the suffering of millions of the lower animals throughout almost endless time? This very old argument from the existence of suffering against the existence of an intelligent First Cause seems to me a strong one; whereas, as just remarked, the presence of much suffering agrees well with the view that all organic beings have been developed through variation and natural selection.”

    A world view based on natural selection would inevitably lead Darwin to reject the idea of objective moral standards, stating that one “can have for his rule of life, as far as I can see, only to follow those impulses and instincts which are the strongest or which seem to him the best ones.”

    Does Darwin’s view of morality do anything to solve the problem of suffering? Atheists and agnostics are very good at pointing out problems, but for some reason I never hear them offer any solutions. Are they all nihilists or fatalists? In other words, if you are going to destroy faith and hope what do you have to offer in it’s place?

  104. Bill R. says:

    Hey all,

    This conversation reminded me of the following quote, taken from a Christian science fiction novel by Stephen Lawhead (I’m assuming no relation to the Dr. Law in this thread?). This passage (especially the last couple paragraphs) is just about the most succinct and poignant theodicy I’ve ever read.

    The scene is a conversation between two women: one (Ianni) a human living in a 3000 year-old colony on a distant planet and belonging to a tribe/race called the Fieri, and the other (Yarden) a visitor from Earth to the Fieri. In the symbolism of the novel, the Fieri are analogous to Christians (they worship God, by the name of the Infinite Father), and despite having suffered horrific persecution in the distant past at the hands of the other humans on the planet, they live with a joy so deep that Yarden does not even find out about their painful past until she has been with them for a long time. When she does, she has the following conversation with Ianni, her Fieri friend:

    This pain, Yarden suspected, stemmed from the Burning— the nuclear holocaust visited on their noble race by the monsters of Dome centuries ago. It was a scar the Fieri bore, a pain that would never heal. As playful as the Fieri could be, Yarden often wondered whether the humor was not alloyed of feelings of profound grief. She asked Ianni about this one evening, and Ianni’s answer surprised her. “You are very perceptive, Yarden. Perhaps our merrymaking does spring from the hurt of the past.”

    “But wouldn’t it be better to forget the past, to let it go so the wound can heal?”

    “Time will not heal it; nothing can. The hurt is too deep.”

    Yarden didn’t understand this, so pressed the question again. “But that doesn’t make sense. You say the Infinite Father cares for you. Can’t He do something?”

    Ianni only smiled and shook her head. “You see, but do not see yet. Look around you, Yarden.” She lifted a palm upward. “All of life is pain. We are born to pain and death, and there is no escape from it. Every living thing must bear the pain of life.”

    “That sounds very pessimistic,” snapped Yarden. “What’s wrong with you? You’re the one who’s always telling me. Trust, believe, have faith. What good is any of that if there is no escape from pain and death?”

    “Ah, but we do not attempt to escape from the pain.”

    “No?”

    “No. We know it for what it is; we embrace it. We take it to ourselves, and through the Infinite’s love we transform it into something else. In the end we transcend it.”

    “What is the suffering transformed into?”

    “Love, compassion, kindness, joy—all the holy virtues. Don’t you see? As long as one tries to escape, the pain will consume and destroy. But if it is accepted, it can be transformed.”

    “I don’t know if I want to accept it,” said Yarden. “You make it sound so … so hopeless.”

    “Never hopeless. Hope is born of grief, Yarden. Without the suffering, there can be no striving for something better. Hope is the yearning for a better place where pain can no longer hurt.”

    “Is there such a place?”

    “Only with the Infinite. He has promised us His presence in this life and the life to come. He helps us bear the pain of our creation—it is no less His pain, after all.”

    They spoke of other things after that, but Yarden remembered and thought about this part of their conversation often. It had affected her deeply, although she didn’t know it at the time. The idea of hope springing from the basic pain of life was foreign to her. Not that Yarden was naive—she knew that life was tough, that one was born to hardship, that strife was the nature of things. But she had always believed that only through struggle could one overcome the pain and hardship.

    The notion that pain must be embraced was difficult for her to accept. But the more she saw of the Fieri, the more she began to understand. The Fieri professed that the creation of the cosmos had cost the Infinite Father something; He had paid a tremendous toll to bring His beloved universe into existence. He had labored, and suffered the pain of His laboring. In this suffering, love itself was born.

    “What else is love,” Mathiax had asked her one day, “but taking the pain of another as your own—especially when you are not obliged to?” Thus, pain was woven into the very fabric of the universe—because there could be no love without it, and because the Infinite Father had set love as the cornerstone of His creation.

    Lawhead, Stephen (1985). Empyrion II: The Siege of Dome

  105. JAD says:

    Atheists think that unless there is a sufficient explanation for the suffering we see in the world they are justifed in not believing in a beneficent Creator. The traditional Biblical answer, on the other hand, is that God created man in an morally unfallen state but granted him, unlike other sentient creatures, the freedom to make moral choices. Then somewhere at the very dawn of human history man began to make some bad moral choices and he has been making bad moral choices (along with some good) ever since.

    The fact is that most of the suffering that mankind experiences is self inflicted; it is because of our bad moral choices. Animals don’t build aircraft carriers, jet fighters and bombs so that they can kill and maim members of their own species– we do. Think of the all good we could do, using modern science and technology, if we could learn to live in peace. In other words, man has the potential to mitigate most of the suffering, both moral and natural, that exists in the world.

    Of course, I have no explanation as to why God set it all up this way in the first place. Even the patriarch Job, when God answered him out of the whirlwind, received no answer to that one. But that didn’t stop him from believing God and living his life. We beleivers may not have the ultimate answers but we do have a way to confront the fact of suffering– Faith. What answer do atheists have for the fact of suffering?

  106. Brap Gronk says:

    “What answer do atheists have for the fact of suffering?”

    Suffering is a consequence of actions. Nothing more, nothing less. Sometimes this suffering occurs as a result of human actions, other times as a result of natural occurrences in the world. No God is required for any of that.

  107. JAD says:

    “What answer do atheists have for the fact of suffering?”

    Brap Gronk: Suffering is a consequence of actions. Nothing more, nothing less. Sometimes this suffering occurs as a result of human actions, other times as a result of natural occurrences in the world. No God is required for any of that.

    So, in other words, getting rid of God doesn’t get rid of the suffering. Does getting rid of God make coping with suffering easier? We still have the problem of moral and natural evil and suffering. If that’s the case, what are we suppose to do about it?

  108. Tom Gilson says:

    Brap Gronk,

    You answered one question: where suffering comes from (on atheism).

    But even that answer is inadequate, at least your atheism is of the sort that includes naturalistic evolution. I won’t go into it in full depth here, but I’ll outline what I think you were missing.

    On naturalistic evolution, suffering exists precisely and purely for the purpose of reproductive success. That’s what suffering is for: the propagation of populations and their genes.

    How do I know that? It’s all evolution knows how to do. Other than the occasional more-or-less accidental spandrel that gets carried along with some evolutionary reproductive strategy, evolution is incapable of producing any biological structure, function, or behavior except for those that serve reproductive success. Period.

    (Okay, evolution can also make things happen through genetic drift, and maybe some other essentially statistical flukes. Feel free to raise them as objections to what I just wrote if you think it helps make it all that much more meaningful to all of us.)

    Don’t think that suffering was a necessary fact of the natural world. Evolution could have produced some other means to spur on competitive success among populations. Apparently it didn’t. And that’s the meaning of suffering, on that version of atheism: it’s what evolution happened to provide us so that we (taken broadly) would make more babies who would make more babies.

    Meanwhile there remains the question JAD asked: What answer do atheists have for the sufferer?

  109. Brap Gronk says:

    “So, in other words, getting rid of God doesn’t get rid of the suffering. Does getting rid of God make coping with suffering easier?”

    For some people it might, but for others, probably not.

    “We still have the problem of moral and natural evil and suffering. If that’s the case, what are we suppose to do about it?”

    If you’re looking for how to comfort someone who is currently suffering, I’ll defer to the grief counselors for that. I would assume their methods don’t all revolve around explaining to the sufferer that their suffering is part of God’s master plan, but I definitely don’t know that with any degree of certainty. When I’m faced with that situation as an individual, since I have no training in anything like counseling or psychology, I try to listen, say as little as possible beyond expressing my sorrow for their suffering, and meet any immediate needs that I can.

    Now for my callous and direct answer to the question “what are we supposed to do about it?” (Bear in mind this is not what I would say to someone currently suffering and seeking comfort. This is answering the question in a general, or generic, sense.) My answer is that we aren’t “supposed to” do anything about it. However, we “can” do pretty much whatever we want to in reaction to suffering (to the extent that the laws of nature and your definition of free will allow . . .) Those reactions will have their own consequences, so some will appear better than others.

  110. G. Rodrigues says:

    @Brap Gronk:

    Your whole post, as far as an answer to Tom Gilson’s answer can be resumed in a single word: nothing.

    Now, you may have all sorts of justifications (“toughen up, kid, life’s hard then you die”, “better face the harsh facts of reality than embrace an illusion” or whatever nonsense naturalist atheists are peddling these days), but that is what your answer is.

  111. Brap Gronk says:

    G. Rodrigues, what is the goal of the theist’s answer to what should we do about suffering? In other words, what is the desired outcome when a theist comforts a sufferer? Is it a change in the mental state of the sufferer?

  112. d says:

    Whether its more challenging or not for a naturalist to placate a sufferer than it is for a theist, is really irrelevant to the truth of either.

    One can easily placate the broke, by giving them your certainty that they’re holding a winning lottery ticket – but chances are, its not true.

  113. G. Rodrigues says:

    @Brap Gronk:

    I do not know what you are aiming with your question as the goal of any would-be answer is rather irrelevant to the point I made.

    As far as the answer, isn’t it obvious?

    @d:

    Did I imply that the issue of how to placate the suffering is relevant for the truth of atheism or theism?

    I just find it ironic that naturalist atheists (and last I remember, you are a self-avowed determinist and consequentialist), who usually find the evidential problem of evil a decisive refutation of theism, when pressed on the question of what meaning or relief we can give to pain and suffering, have nothing, nada, zilch, to say in answer.

  114. Brap Gronk says:

    @G. Rodrigues, I asked my question about the theist’s goals when comforting a sufferer to see if the same goals might be achieved by a non-theist. If the theist’s goal is simply some combination of a) convincing the sufferer that their suffering is part of God’s master plan, and b) they or their lost loved one are either in or headed toward some sort of eternal paradise, then no, atheists can’t compete with that. I do wonder how a theist would comfort a suffering atheist, though.

    Incidentally, I don’t consider the problem of evil to carry any weight at all when refuting theism. I think our opinions of all things fall along a spectrum we label “good” at one end and “evil” at the other end, and you can’t have one without the other as long as you have opinions.

  115. Tom Gilson says:

    Brap Gronk, you asked,

    I do wonder how a theist would comfort a suffering atheist, though.

    I think there are clearly two options (with a spectrum in between). It’s either (a) successfully or (b) unsuccessfully. Theism doesn’t guarantee that it can do everything successfully. To tell someone that God loves them and will care for them no matter what may be no comfort at all, if the person rejects belief in God.

    But there are two other ways to look at it. The theist can comfort the atheist either (c) with what is true or (d) with what the atheist finds comforting instead. The problem with (d) is that that which is comforting yet false will not sustain comfort in the long run.

    So the theist will offer (c) what is true, knowing that the atheist might or might not accept it.

  116. Brap Gronk says:

    Tom, can you provide an example of (d), something false the atheist finds comforting that will not sustain comfort in the long run?

  117. Tom Gilson says:

    Easy. “Your actions have no eternal consequences, so you have nothing to bother preparing for and nothing to fear in the long run.”

  118. Brap Gronk says:

    Easy. “Your actions have no eternal consequences, so you have nothing to bother preparing for and nothing to fear in the long run.”

    Although atheists believe that to be true (assuming “in the long run” means after death), why do you think an atheist who is suffering would find that comforting in the short term but not long term? I think it would be just the opposite, actually.

  119. Tom Gilson says:

    Your question was, what could a theist tell an atheist that would be comforting in the short run although false. I gave an example. An atheist could easily believe it was a point of comfort that his actions had no long-term consequences, if that atheist had done some things he knew were really wrong. But the the long-term effect would not be comforting, because the effect of it, barring a turn toward God, would be serious and lasting suffering after death.

  120. Brap Gronk says:

    An atheist could easily believe it was a point of comfort that his actions had no long-term consequences, if that atheist had done some things he knew were really wrong.

    I thought we were talking about an atheist who is currently suffering? To avoid confusion, let’s assume the atheist’s current suffering is not due to his actions. How is your statement comforting?

  121. Tom Gilson says:

    You asked for an example, BrapGronk, and I gave you one. I’m not sure what the value is in providing two. Could you tell me what the purpose is? Thanks.

    (Alex, I’ll have to get back to your extended analysis later.)

  122. Brap Gronk says:

    Tom, I don’t understand how this statement:

    “Your actions have no eternal consequences, so you have nothing to bother preparing for and nothing to fear in the long run.”

    would comfort an atheist who is currently suffering due to a recent tragic occurrence in his life that was not directly related to his actions (for instance, losing a spouse due to a traffic accident caused by a drunk driver.) That’s why I’m still wondering how a theist would comfort a suffering atheist. (#118)

  123. Tom Gilson says:

    I answered you in #119, Brap Gronk.

    I could get into an extended discussion of pastoral care as it applies to people who do not share Christian beliefs. It would involve things like being with the person, providing a lot of personal care, warmth, emotional support, and so on. It would also include, at a very carefully selected, appropriate time, and in a very sensitive manner, encouragement to trust God in spite of the tragedy, for God is good no matter what we experience.

    But you see where this would lead us if I started down that path? You would probably want to know how I would explain God’s goodness to the person in that situation, and that would be a whole difficult and complicated topic to enter into. It’s not one I would even attempt in a hypothetical sphere like this one, because I wouldn’t begin to know how to do it in anything like abstract, general terms. It would be something I would hope to know how to do in a very personal manner when the time came. It would not be easy, and I wouldn’t pretend that it would be.

    Anyway, your question in #126 takes a left turn on me. You asked me in #120 for an example of something false that atheists would find comforting in the short run but that would not sustain comfort in the long run.

    Then in #124 you asked me how a theist would comfort someone who is currently suffering. These are not, by any stretch, the same questions. I would not comfort someone who is currently suffering by telling them something false.

    That’s why I’m not sure what your point is, and why, in the context of the current discussion, you are asking this question.

  124. Brap Gronk says:

    My question in #120 was intended to be the same question I asked in #118, #124 and #126. If we put the words “currently suffering” in front of “atheist” in #120, then it becomes clearer. My bad. Let’s move on . . .

    In any case, your #127 is what I was originally getting at with #115 and #118. It’s that initial phase of pastoral care as it applies to people who do not share Christian beliefs, before God is mentioned in the discussion. (I don’t want to discuss what happens after that point either.) Let’s call that the pre-God phase of the comforting session. Is there anything in that phase that an atheist couldn’t do while comforting a currently suffering atheist (or while comforting a theist, for that matter)? If not, then I think the claims that atheists have nothing to offer in terms of comforting someone who is suffering don’t have much merit. If there is something done in the pre-God phase that atheists can’t do, I’d be curious to hear about it.

    It’s certainly reasonable for a theist to claim that the atheist’s comforting falls short of the theist’s comforting, since it never gets to the post-God phase. No argument there. But certainly there must be some benefit (for the sufferer) to the pre-God phase of a pastoral comforting session.

    Thanks for the continued discussion. I realize we’re somewhat removed from Stephen Law’s “Evil God” at this point, but I sometimes can’t resist tossing out an answer to seemingly simple questions like JAD’s in #108 and learning how simple it really isn’t.

  125. JAD says:

    Putting the shoe on the other foot consider something like this: A Christian businessman picks up his twenty year old daughter from the airport. She has been away touring with a Christian music group for a year. The very afternoon that she arrives home she complains of a head ache. A few hours later she dies of a cerebral hemorrhage. Her father begins to experience some doubts about his faith. If you were a non-believing friend of this man how would you console him? Would you (or should you) tell him the truth about what you believe? Would you tell him that there was no hope?

  126. Brap Gronk says:

    If you were a non-believing friend of this man how would you console him? Would you (or should you) tell him the truth about what you believe? Would you tell him that there was no hope?

    I initially wouldn’t share any of my feelings or beliefs with him, other than my sorrow about his loss. Later on, if I feel like enough time has passed since the tragedy, and if and only if he brings up the subject of faith and asks me some direct questions about it, then I might be willing to gently nudge him over toward the Dark Side.

  127. JAD says:

    Brap Gronk,

    I guess I should have warned you that the example that I shared with you above was based on a real life person and his experience. Here is a lttle bit more of the story.

    In July of 2000, after a year of international travel, Stephanie called to inform her parents that the tour was finished. She was coming home. When Steve picked her up from the airport in Orlando, she was the same beautiful, healthy, excited girl that he had said goodbye to a year earlier. Of course, seeing her dad for the first time in over a year must have made it extra exciting and special for Stephanie .

    At home Stephanie was greeted by family and friends who had thrown together an impromptu welcome home party. However during the celebrations she complained of a head ache. Her parents suggested that she go back to her bedroom and lay down.

    When they came to check on her, Stephanie complained that her head was pounding. To comfort his daughter Steve put his arm around her and began to pray for her. Suddenly he felt her body tense and heard her make a little yelp. Then both Steve and his wife noticed that Stephanie’s eyes had rolled back in her head. Something was very wrong with their daughter. This was more than a headache. This was something serious.

    It took a few minutes for the ambulance to arrive. It took a few more minutes for the ambulance to reach the hospital. Steve insisted to the EMS crew that he be permitted to ride along in the ambulance with his daughter.

    At the hospital while Steve and his wife were waiting in the emergency room, he began to sense that things were not going to turn out well.

    In his book he writes, that as a “black cloud of despair shrouded me I could feel my faith slipping away… I felt my lifeline trust in God’s power and protection slip through my numb fingers… The great blackness was covering me. The cord of faith I had trusted and followed since my dad had been jerked from life was running out. The end would soon pull through my hand and I would be lost.”

    As he struggled with his faith he turned to his wife and told her what he was thinking. “Ginny,” he said, “I think Steph is dying. I don’t think she is coming back.”

    Shortly, afterwards a doctor with tears in his eyes confirmed what Steve already knew. Stephanie had experienced a massive cerebral hemorrhage. Her brain was no longer functioning. She was brain dead.

    You write, that if Steve had been your friend, “I initially wouldn’t share any of my feelings or beliefs with him, other than my sorrow about his loss.”

    Okay, that sounds sensitive.

    Steve writes that he resolved the struggle over his faith the night daughter died before he left the ER. Here is what he wrote in his book:

    “If God is all powerful and all-knowing, none of this is happening without his knowledge or permission. This had to be part of His plan for Stephanie and for us… This had to be part of the story God was writing for our lives. It was an excruciating chapter in our story, but I suddenly found I believed that somehow– beyond our ability to comprehend– this terrible trauma would eventually and mysteriously prove to be the cornerstone of God’s plan for out lives.”

    Faith is described by skeptics as something irrational, something that opposes reason. But the faith the Steve is describing here was something that goes “beyond our ability to comprehend“ , or beyond reason. In other words, rather than faith conflicting with reason, it compliments it.

    While he was thinking about these things another doctor, somewhat nervously, approached Steve and Ginny. Steve knew what he was about to ask. He was there to ask him and his wife if they would permit the organs from Stephanie’s still living body be made available for transplant. The grieving couple gave the young doctor their consent. But then Ginny whispered in her husbands ear, “Please don’t let them take her heart.”

    That was it. It was now final. But both Steve and Ginny accepted their daughter loss. They had let her go.

    Steve concludes his account by writing, “As our precious daughter’s organs were taken so others could live, Ginny and I walked out of the hospital holding hands and at peace. It was a totally absurd reaction to what was happening in our lives.”

    You continue: “Later on, if I feel like enough time has passed since the tragedy, and if and only if he brings up the subject of faith and asks me some direct questions about it, then I might be willing to gently nudge him over toward the Dark Side.”

    Do you really think that your atheism has anything to offer to this man? Was Steve being rational here? Is his faith like a belief in fairy tales? If atheism truly has a better way to deal with the suffering in our lives, I’d be curious to what it is.

  128. Brap Gronk says:

    Do you really think that your atheism has anything to offer to this man?
    Yes.

    Was Steve being rational here?
    In my opinion he had some irrational thoughts (all the God stuff, naturally), but he didn’t do anything irrational as far as I know. (I probably would have allowed the heart to be donated, but I don’t consider Steve’s decision to be irrational. I don’t think I could fault any family’s organ donation decision under any circumstances.)

    Is his faith like a belief in fairy tales?
    There are some trivial similarities (atheists don’t believe in either one, for instance), but beyond that, faith in God is quite different than belief in fairy tales.

    If atheism truly has a better way to deal with the suffering in our lives, I’d be curious to what it is.
    I think steering clear of unverifiable supernatural explanations for suffering is better, but it’s unlikely any theist would agree.

  129. SteveK says:

    If atheism is restricted to lack of belief, as we are instructed it should be, then atheism has nothing to offer. What might be offered to comfort someone comes not from atheism. There is no hope in atheism. There is only lack of belief – so we are told. I don’t buy it, but that is what we are told.

  130. Tom Gilson says:

    Atheism has something to offer, sure: life might seem okay, might life stink, but hey, life doesn’t matter for long anyway. Get over it. Or not: for it won’t be long before you get over it whether you want to or not.

  131. JAD says:

    One has to wonder who Stephen Law’s Evil God Challenge (EGC) was designed to convince. If he had bothered to do a fair and honest reading of the Old and New Testament he would have discovered that several Jewish and Christian authors confront the problem of evil and suffering. For example the book of Job deals with the suffering of an innocent man. In the New Testament we have the Garden of Gethsemane and the Crucifixion, as well as a lot of discussion about suffering by the apostle Paul in his expistles (Romans 5:1-5). The cross a symbol of suffering is the symbol of the Christian faith. It’s not like Christians have never thought, talked and written anything on the subject. Nevertheless, Dr. Law thinks that his EGC is a knock-out argument. But maybe the argument was never meant to convince anyone. He might be just preaching to the choir.

    Christians don’t have all the answers, but they do have answers to the fact of suffering. The fact that suffering does not destroy the faith or undermine the hope of Chritians that I know or know about (see comment #131 ) is the one thing that convinces that there is something very real about the Christian faith. I don’t need to believe in the New Testament miracles (though I do); the miracles of faith that I have witnessed in my life is more than enough evidence.

    Like I said earlier getting rid of God does not get rid of the fact of evil and suffering in the world. The Christian faith offers a solution. What solution does atheism have to offer? For me cynicism is not a solution.

  132. Brap Gronk says:

    Like I said earlier getting rid of God does not get rid of the fact of evil and suffering in the world. The Christian faith offers a solution. What solution does atheism have to offer? For me cynicism is not a solution.

    JAD, what exactly is the problem for which you seek a solution? Is it the mere existence of evil and suffering in the world? I don’t see that as a problem at all. It just is.

  133. Tom Gilson says:

    Quick note on continuing this conversation: there is more to be done, but I have deadlines on four large projects all converging on this two-week period. My next response to Dr. Law will require more preparation time than I have been able to find. I’m hoping to write it in the middle of December.

  1. November 8, 2011

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