Sunday, 27 February 2011

The Evil God Challenge

God is usually defined as a perfect being. One of God's perfections is considered to be benevolence, ie. God is perfectly good. Is it not the case, however, that one of God's perfections could just as easily be malevolence, ie. God could be perfectly evil. People do not normally think of evil as a perfection but it can be seen as such. Eg. a cheetah is a perfect killing machine. From the point of view of a gazelle, a cheetah could be seen as perfectly evil.

Every argument for the traditional benevolent God can also be used as an argument for an evil God. The argument from design, eg, can be used to show that the Universe is perfectly designed to produce beings who are capable of evil.

Conversely, the argument normally used against God, ie the problem of evil, could, in its reverse form, be used against an evil God. This argument would be the problem of good. Why would an evil God create a world with goodness in it? Again the defence against the the argument would be the same. In order for the world to have true evil, people must be given free will so that they can choose evil. If they have free will then there is the risk that they will choose good instead.

It seems that the possibilities of an evil God and a benevolent God are completely symmetrical. Neither one is more probable than the other and if God exists it must considered just as likely that He is evil as that He is good.

I would be interested to hear your thoughts.

This is the “Evil God Challenge” of Stephen Law.

My reply to him was:
It seems to me that the most fundamental [problem of this view] can be seen if we consider the following statement:

A(LUC): Belief in a Loving Ultimate Creator is a worldview that is deeply satisfying for its hundreds of millions of adherents, provides richly articulated explanations of many fundamental aspects of their experience, and helps them lead happier, more satisfying and evolutionary successful lives.

Now first of all, whether or not you think that A(LUC) ought to be true in a rational world, it seems clear to me that it is true in this world and encapsulates many of the reasons why people believe in God. It also offers some explanation of why militant atheism is ultimately futile: any worldview of which A is true is likely to prosper. Of course A does not say anything directly about whether or in what sense this worldview is true. But I think it is plausible to argue that if there were a LUC then it is likely that the universe would be such that A(LUC) were true.

However for the present purposes what is notable about A is that every aspect of it is false if made into A(EUC): “Belief in an Evil Ultimate Creator is...”. Not only does the EUC idea have zero adherents, it isn’t a worldview, is in no sense “richly articulated”, offers only parodies of explanations of some aspects of our existence, and it is pretty clear that if anyone really believed it their lives would be miserable, unsatisfying and highly unlikely to encourage the successful raising of children. (Much the same applies to the silly Flying Spaghetti Monster)

Of course I'm not arguing that all ideas with zero adherents must be false or that something must be true because it has so many adherents or such a lot of literature. But I think this does rather squarely meet your challenge, and certainly shows the falsehood of the “symmetry thesis”

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