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Article in The Hindu

Article about my Evil God Challenge in The Hindu, India (circ 1.5 million approx, so good for research "impact") Original here.

Why must God be good?

In this talk, Philosopher Stephen Law weighs the arguments for and against a belief in an all benevolent Creator.

Here is a question most of us would have asked at one point of time or other: “If God is all powerful and all good, then why does evil exist and exist to the extents that it does?” Philosopher Stephen Law breaks the question into two kinds of problems: one he labels as the logical problem and the other as the evidential problem. The first finds it hard to reconcile a God to the evil and suffering in the world and the second wonders how an all powerful, all good God could make a world so full of suffering. The evidential problem deals with the quantity while the logical problem deals with the existence of any evil at all. Law further says we could confine ourselves to understanding evil as suffering, something which troubles anyone and everyone.

“The real problem of theists is the evidential problem. In terms of the logical problem, it would do to show that the all powerful all good god may create some suffering to make the world a better place to live in. But the evidential problem still does not find an answer because would a God create a world with so much suffering in it? This seems to be overwhelming evidence against God.”

Law makes a difference between what is reasonable and what is proof. He says beliefs can be measured over a scale of reasonableness. They range from the highly plausible to the impossible. “So,” says Law, “the question is not so much as to whether God exists or does not exist. We cannot conclusively prove it either way. Even if cannot prove it, it would be possible to say whether the belief in God is highly reasonable or whether it is highly improbable despite not being disproved. So proof is not the issue. It is a matter of reasonableness. It wouldn't do to say it is a faith issue and atheism is just as much a faith issue as theism.”

Law says that the most persuasive argument for the existence of God is the one which says there must be some sort of intelligence behind the Universe judging by its design, for it is most unlikely that all this has come about by chance. “If this is a good argument, which I do not think it is, what conclusions can we draw about the personality or moral character of that Intelligence? The answer is really none at all. What reason do we have to draw the conclusion that the Supreme Lord is all benevolent and compassionate? None at all. Similarly other arguments about the creator do not reveal anything else about his personality. One of the most popular is the free will version to explain suffering. It says God gave us free will and has not made us like puppets. We unfortunately choose to do wrong things, wage wars, cause suffering, etc. But this fails to explain a great deal of suffering, the natural suffering, produced by, for example, natural disasters. There was an earthquake in Pakistan where hundreds of thousands of children were trapped in a school and died. How would you explain this?” Law goes on to enumerate the different natural disasters over time that have close to annihilated life on earth.

“We could consider the hypothesis that there is an all powerful all evil God. But there is just too much of good things like rainbows and ice cream for the Supreme Being to be all evil. So if you believe in a good God you have to explain why there is so much bad stuff and if you believe in a bad god you have to explain why there is so much good stuff. On the scale of reasonableness I place the evil God very low down. But that is exactly where I place the good God too. A slightly less unreasonable belief would be that there is some sort of intelligence which is both good and evil, some good days and some bad days.


Dale said…
Stephen - thanks for sharing this. Is this the author's summary of a conversation with you? It starts in his voice but ends in yours...
Dillon said…
This got me thinking (for some reason)...about an argument *like* the evil God challenge, but instead being a 'monotheistic God' challenge. Since it seems all the arguments used for a monotheistic God (except the ontological argument) equally confirm polytheism.
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Anonymous said…
would a God create a world with so much suffering in it?
O wad some Pow'r the giftie gie us
To see oursels as god might see us!
Then, and only then. Might it be possible to appreciate, what it is we cannot possibly otherwise experience.

beliefs can be measured over a scale of reasonableness
If I am not aware of something it does not exist. If I believe that something exists it exists. Not really realistic, either of them.

the question is not so much as to whether God exists or does not exist.
But rather, does belief in and of itself serve some useful purpose.
Suppose an atheist and a priest are in a lifeboat adrift in an unfrequented part of the ocean. The atheist knows that rescue is unlikely. The priest knows it is certain. If even fraudulent belief sustains life for one second longer than might otherwise be the case. It has fulfilled a practical purpose.

God gave us free will.
But knows the outcome. Not much entertainment value there.
Rose said…
I'm inclined to think if there is a god he/she must be unpleasant, otherwise he wouldn't be able to stand aside and let bad things happen. I wouldn't, if I were god - which makes me nicer than him (her)!
Anonymous said…
I know happiness because I know suffering. I know goodness because I know evil. I am imbued with the knowledge that things weren't meant to be that way.
xenides said…
" There was an earthquake in Pakistan where hundreds of thousands of children were trapped in a school and died"

I've heard of large class sizes, but this is difficult to believe.
deathray32 said…
"I've heard of large class sizes, but this is difficult to believe."

With God all things are possible, oh ye of little faith. :-)

I've noticed that Christian theologians who have heard of the ECG tend to reject it out of hand, claiming that it is alien to Christian thought. Apart from missing the point of the challenge, they are betraying ignorance of their own church's history. Between gnosticism, Marcionism, Manichaeism and Catharism, the idea of an evil god was central to Christian debates for over 1000 years.

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