Steelmanning the evil god challenge

The evil god challenge has been outright dismissed by many philosophers of religion. I feel some of the answers aren’t really theologically satisfying, but I’ll get to that in future posts.

The Catechism of the Catholic Church asserts that there isn’t a single part of Christian doctrine that doesn’t in some way relate to the problem of evil. Which makes one wonder whether Law’s challenge could possibly match up to three and a half thousand years of theology building, after all, it’s only twenty one pages long. When I first read it I was fascinated, not so much by what it said, but by what it didn’t say, and thus I’ve been considering steelmanning it for a while, although initially that word wasn’t part of my vocabulary.

Law covers some basics, like free will, which allows people to choose to be evil, thus making the evil far worse than if they’d simply been forced to do it. The evil god would also allow for good in order to allow second order evils like jealousy to exist. Jealousy can only exist in a situation with good, thus one can be better off than another allowing that other to be jealous. He has other reverse theodicies, he also adapts ideas that can’t simply be turned around, arguing his version is more reasonable than the original theodicies. He even adds an adaptation of Anselm’s ontological argument, but like I said, I’m more interested in what he didn’t say.

Someone added the privation of evil argument in response to the privation of good argument. Simply put, there is no evil, only an absence of good, this can be turned to there is no good, only a lack of evil. This addition although at face value seems good, isn’t really necessary, unless you accept the maths analogy I mentioned in the previous post (linked on the first line). If evil god made an immoral law, rather than a moral law, that argument collapses immediately. There are other ways around the analogy though, without even having to argue it is bad. I will cover further arguments in a future post.

I did mention in the previous post the benefit of adding a pantheon of rebellious good angels who challenge the evil god’s authority. This would result in the problem of good not being a problem at all, since every instance of good could be ruled out to the actions of these beings. This would then put the evil god’s hypothetical followers in a position to say, like Christians; Muslims or Jews, that good (evil in the Abrahamic case) actually isn’t a problem, but rather exactly what you would expect. I will also have to commit a post to this, as it talks to one of the arguments that I feel Law missed.

Another issue is the afterlife, what happens after judgment? Do those who are judged evil enough get sentenced to an eternity of misery and hate, while those who weren’t evil enough get sentenced to an eternity of bliss? This is clearly absurd, in fact, it would be good enough to say that the evil god isn’t that evil at all. That said, is it any more absurd than a good God sentencing people to an eternity of pain and misery? Of course, as an annihilist, I don’t have a problem here. I believe that the wicked are destroyed, so maybe the good are in this analogy, since their presence may make things not maximally bad as they’d be trying to spread good. That’s fine, but surely the evil god wouldn’t want to let them off so lightly, since they have rather upset him. He could have the especially evil being tortured into making the good people particularly uncomfortable, but even that implies levels of evil, not all round maximal evil and suffering. Perhaps it is free will that prevents God from allowing the wicked into Heaven, they haven’t chosen to obey the rules, in order to see how this squares up to the evil god challenge, I will need to examine, in more detail, Law’s discussion on free will.

Perhaps something else that needs to be examined at length, is morality, game theory and a Kantian type moral argument. It could (quite easily actually) be argued that immorality is empirically rewarded. In which case one might be tempted to say this is evidence of an evil god. Of course, the problem is, why would a maximally evil being reward with good stuff? The Kantian argument argues that it ought to be rational to be moral, and since it probably isn’t, then it might be reasonable to accept an afterlife and supreme judge to make it so. Law could have adapted this argument to since it isn’t rational to be moral, we’re not meant to be, which points to his hypothetical evil god.

I haven’t really given any answers here (except maybe the annihilist viewpoint), but the point wasn’t to do that. I will attempt to better answer the evil god challenge in the light of these, and any other additions anyone would like to make, in future posts.

Please comment: how can you see this challenge being beefed up? What theodicies do you prefer? Can they be used in reverse? Can you answer the issues I’ve brought up here?


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