Friday, October 28, 2016


1. I'd like to say a bit more about the "evil-god" challenge. It's been popularized by Stephen Law, but he didn't originate the argument. Other atheists like Peter Millican, Christopher New, Edward Stein, and Charles Daniels have toyed with that argument. 

The basic idea is for an atheist to concoct a thought-experiment in which he postulates an evil god that has the same explanatory power as the Christian God (or the equivalent). Millican dubs the two candidates God and Antigod respectively. 

If successful, the idea is to neutralize theistic proofs, for even if theistic proofs are otherwise strong arguments for God's existence, because Antigod mimics God, the theistic proofs are equally consistent with the existence of an evil God. An atheist doesn't even have to directly evaluate or critique theistic proofs. He can concede, for discussion purposes, that these are good arguments. But unless they can discriminate between God and Antigod, they don't count as arguments for God.

2. There are two ways of responding to the evil-god challenge. One way is to demonstrate a flaw in the argument. To show that the evil-god hypothetical doesn't have the same explanatory value as Christian theism. The two positions are not systematically symmetrical. 

3. However, I don't think the onus is on Christians to disprove the hypothetical. We can just shrug it off. 

i) For one thing, there's a difference between paper doubts and real doubts. Just because you can imagine a delusive scenario isn't a rational basis to be skeptical. Humans have the ability to devise mind-traps. Concoct imaginative scenarios in which an illusion is indistinguishable from reality. But other than illustrating the limits of what's provable or disprovable, I don't see the point of thought-experiments which propose scenarios in which we cant know what reality is like. Suppose the thought-experiment is successful? What does that accomplish?

ii) In addition, global skeptical hypotheticals are paradoxical. An atheist is implicated in the same hypothetical. If Antigod exists, then the atheist is just as deluded as the Christian. Indeed, the evil-god argument is, in itself, part of the global illusion, foisted upon us by Antigod. It keeps us off-balance. Keeps us guessing. 

iii) If reality is unknowable, what are we supposed to do about it? What purpose does the hypothetical serve? It has no affect on anything one way or the other. What you believe or disbelieve makes no difference. It's a kind of epistemic fatalism. 

I'm mean, the thrust of these hypotheticals is not, "How can you know that you're not a brain-in-a-vat, trapped in the Matrix, or deluded by the Cartesian demon?" but, "You can't know that you're not a brain-in-a-vat, trapped in the Matrix, or deluded by the Cartesian demon!"

Suppose we dream up a radically skeptical thought-experiment that we can't disprove. Where do we go from there? Nowhere! 

It's like being told that you're caught in a time warp. But if you are caught in a time warp, there's nothing you can do to break the vicious cycle. You don't remember the last time warp, so you can't do anything different this time around to break out. Indeed, each time the cycle repeats itself, you're told that you're caught in a time warp. That, in itself, is factored into the time warp. 

iv) What does Law think his challenge is supposed to achieve? He's generated a self-dilemma. If his argument is successful, then there's nothing we can do in response to his argument since we can't outwit Antigod. 

On the face of it, the purpose of his argument is to make people doubt Christian theism. He deploys the argument to influence belief. To change what people believe about Christian theism. To dissuade them from believing Christian theism. 

But his argument is self-defeating. If his argument is flawed, it proves nothing. If his argument is sound, it changes nothing. For it puts us at the mercy of Antigod. There's nothing we can do to overcome the illusion. We can't even recognize the illusion. 

An atheist believes there is no deity, but if the argument propounded by the atheist is sound, the atheist is hopelessly deluded! Both he and the Christian are in the same boat to nowhere.  


  1. I think the correct solution to the evil God argument is that (according to the Christian worldview) everyone knows that God is good because, as is made clear in Romans 1, God has revealed his nature to us in a way that we know is true. Therefore, all men are without excuse. If we didn't have genuine knowledge of God's nature then on judgement day, men would have an excuse before God. They could say to God "I didn't really know it was you. I thought maybe you were actually an evil God lying to me". But Paul makes clear this is will not be the case. Everyone, in their heart of hearts, knows the true nature of God. His pure, perfect, holy nature. Which is why they suppress the truth.

  2. While I agree with MikeT's comments because they are Biblical (and well developed in Van Tillian presuppositionalism of which I subscribe), I think we can also answer skeptics in another way.

    Christians posit the existence of the Good God partly because of the evidence for design in the universe. Proponents of the Evil-God argument are trying to give a mirror argument. However, it seems to depend on their agreeing to the reality of design in the universe.

    An Evil-God would require vast intelligence to create such a world where he ingeniously sets creatures up for great misery, suffering and disappointment. However, such intelligence would seem to imply that that God is highly rational. Only that he uses his high (even infinite?) rationality for evil. When it comes to finite fragile creatures with limited resources and power sometimes the "rational" thing (uninformed by the truth of Christianity) is to hurt a fellow creature for one's benefit. For example, given atheism it can be "rational" to kill (even eat) the other person(s) in the classic lifeboat situation to stretch out supplies.

    However, an infinitely powerful and intelligent being is not limited in those ways. Given such powers it would seem that an infinitely rational being would have no rational purpose for making his creatures miserable. If he does it for pleasure, then that being ISN'T like the Christian God who is complete and infinitely blessed sans creation. In which case, the parity of argument fails and breaks down.

    It seems to me that the Evil-God proponent would need to provide a rationale for why their Evil-God would want make his creatures miserable. In Christianity, it makes perfect sense for an all satisfied God to want to share His blessedness with His creatures. Creation is the overflow of God's goodness into goodness. He blesses His creatures by creating them, and then blesses at least some of them (the elect in Calvinism) by granting them eternal access to God's Intra-Trinitarian blessedness via relationship (whereby God share His zoe life with them (2 Pet. 1:4).

    It seems to me that a truly and supremely Rational being would want to make others blessed not miserable. Even some atheists argue this way in order to avoid having to depend on God for the basis of their moral ontology.

    Better Christian apologists could develop my argument. But even in this rudimentary formulation it seems that a Good God is more plausible than an Evil God given the common and equal premises of omnipotence, omniscience (all knowing). A truly Omniscient God would seems to also be Omnisapient (all-wise). Wisdom and Rationality would seem to require such a being to want create creation and creatures in a way that reflects his own perfection, not imperfection. Blessing creatures would be a manifestation of its perfection. Making them miserable would imply imperfection and so again break down the parity of the argument.

    1. I wrote: When it comes to finite fragile creatures with limited resources and power sometimes the "rational" thing (uninformed by the truth of Christianity) is to hurt a fellow creature for one's benefit.

      Presumably the Evil-God is "a se" like the God Christians propose. Meaning, God is independant, self-sufficient and not dependent on other things for His existence, happiness or fulfillment. So, the Evil-God doesn't need to make his creatures misrable to survive, find pleasure, happiness or fulfillment.

      I suppose proponents of the Evil-God could argue that their posited God might be irrational and that's why he delights in making his creatures miserable. 1. That breaks the parity. 2. That lowers the Evil-God's likelihood because we do find so much intelligent design in the universe which requires such rationality.

      Also, the classic arguments, borrowed from Neoplatonism, if tweaked, could explain why goodness derives from, is necessitated by, or makes sense given perfect being philosophy (ens perfectissimum); God being that Supreme Being. They seem to make the Evil-God position unstable. Since evil is (at least in part) the privation, twisting and negation of being. Evil doesn't make sense apart from the presupposition of good.

      Another move skeptics might make is to say that their God is beyond, or transcends good and evil. But then, in that case, he can't fathom the motives of their God. It ends up in mystery. But if he can appeal to mystery, so can Christians (as in the case of our partial appeal to mystery in our various theodicies). The difference is that the Christian position would seem to be preferred because we posit a *RATIONAL* and *A SE* God who acts consistent with that rationality and perfect being. Their Evil-God is irrational/arational and better consistent with a finite imperfect god.