This essay is written in response to an article by Stephen Law entitled “The Evil-god Challenge.” In the article, Law makes the case that the theistic belief of an all-good god is no more rational than an all-evil god.1 Law’s goal is to say that the theistic concept of God is irrational because of the existence of evil. Law’s hypothesis is described as symmetrical with basic theistic claims about God. That is, evil god is omnipotent and omniscient. Yet, instead of being maximally good, this god is maximally evil. Just as Christianity has the problem of evil, Law’s hypothetical world is confronted with the problem of good. Thus, Law posits a problem of evil – problem of good equivalency. I will challenge his claims based on flaws within his argument because of a lack of coherence between his world and the actual world.2 I will argue this in three primary premises. First, I will present ontological and metaphysical asymmetries between God and Law’s evil god. Second, I will show problems with his understanding of libertarian free will. Finally, I will present that the notion creation is inherently good. Further, if Law’s thesis is taken to its rational end, the evil world is not sustainable. A world of pure evil, by definition, would destroy itself. Thus, all three of my arguments will be upheld with an overarching theme of annihilation that the evil world presents.
Law defends his hypothesis with the formulation of reverse-theodicies. The reverse-theodicies are formulated parallel to theistic theodices; they are supposed to uphold the evil world despite the problem of the good. Reverse-theodies that Law uses are: (1) free will; (2) evil used for character building; (3) and theodicies of second-order goods from first-order evils. It should be noted that Law himself admits that his reverse-theodicies are weak.3 Yet, Law states that the weaknesses of his reverse-theodicies are no worse than actual theodicies for the existence of God.4
Law supports two major arguments against God from evil. He affirms the logical (or deductive) problem which states that if evil exists in the world, then it is illogical to affirm a belief in an omniscient, good God. The logical problem is simple. Evil clearly exists, thus a perfect God does not exist.5 Law also affirms the evidential problem. The same two propositions from the logical problem can be extrapolated and transferred to the evidential problem. That is, the sheer amount of evil within the world provides strong empirical evidence against a rational belief in God. Thus, God does not exist.6 Law finds both the logical and evidential arguments valid and he therefore adapts the evidential problem for his hypothesis.
Law describes evil god as one whose “depravity is without limit. His cruelty knows no bounds. There is no other god or gods – just this supremely wicked being.”7 Likewise, Law’s symmetry continues with the problem of evil – problem of good equivalency. Contrary to evil god’s malicious nature, evil god gives:
(i) immense health, wealth and happiness
(ii) natural beauty in the world
(iii) gratuitous attitude
(v) healthy, beautiful bodies8
These examples form the evidential problem of the good. From here, Law develops several reverse-theodicies that affirm the existence of evil god despite the fact that creation clearly has good qualities
I wish to dispute Law’s evil-god hypothesis by exposing holes in his symmetry between God and evil god. Doing so, I will refer to some of the reverse-theodicies, especially the reverse-theodicy of free will, throughout the paper.
I will first discuss ontological and metaphysical asymmetries. In a subsection discussing moral arguments, Law claims that theists cannot prove an asymmetry between a good god and an evil god based on morals.9 Here, Law presupposes a metaphysical equality of good and evil without argument. It will be shown in this section that evil god must be the moral standard for evil in order that Law’s hypothesis be valid. However, Law provides no reasonable argument for how good could enter the evil world. Because Law cannot account for good in his evil world, the only its inhabitants can do good (the problem of the good) is to have it embedded within their being. Further, I will also argue that even if we grant an absolute standard of evil in Law’s hypothetical world, the world is not sustainable as its evil forces would terminate the world’s existence.
God loves all his creation through grace axiomatically despite humanity’s sin. Even the most evil individual still receives God’s love. That is, the fact that God loves the fallen world does not imply a defect in God’s moral character.10 Rather, God’s love for the fallen creation is exemplary. William Alston writes that the greatest sin is the self-centered refusal to make God the center of one’s own life.11 Yet God continues to love his creation despite this refusal. Could Law reverse this scenario? Like God, would evil god remain static in response to rebellion?12 It seems implausible. The evil god hates his creation. There may be a universal standard of hatred at the inception of the evil world. That is, contra God’s world, individuals in this world are embedded with an ontological evil. Yet, if evil god’s creation somehow brings forth good (which evil god hates), then it seems that evil god should hate his creation more. But Law states that his god’s evil is absolute. An absolute is a quality and cannot be increased or decreased. Thus, evil god’s tolerance of good is nonsensical.13
Further, Law provides little insight into the ontological status of his possible world. Law has already admitted that there is not symmetry for the Genesis story. Furthermore, Law does not provide a source of good in his evil world. The Christian tradition has provided arguments for how evil entered into the good world created by God. I will discuss one, the view of privation, in order to show that Law’s hypothesis cannot account for good in an evil world.
St. Thomas’s view of the metaphysics of evil is a “privation: the privation of the good that should be in a thing.”14 St. Thomas appropriates St. Augustine’s view of privation and evil. St. Augustine emphasized that evil is not an essence or a thing. However, evil does exist. Evil exists in good insofar as created beings are good – “depraved of some being or of some good they should have.”15 Evil is contingent on the existence of good. Goodness does not create evil, rather, evil distorts good like cancer in a healthy body. Privation, therefore, implies that good and evil are not metaphysically equal. Good is the standard; evil is the privation of the good.16 The perennial question for Christianity is regarding the source of this privation.
An accurate description of privation can be found in the works of St. Augustine. Privation in the Augustinian system, titled The Great Chain of Being, is an ordering of all created things.17 God, at the top of the chain, is the perfect standard of goodness and being. At the other end of the continuum is nothingness. All of God’s good creation is within the continuum, yet at different levels. Angels are higher than humans and humans are greater than animals and other organic matter. God made humanity good with the maximal amount of goodness they could possess. Yet, humanity does not have the perfect goodness of God. Thus, humanity’s goodness and being are limited.18 It is this threshold that makes humanity susceptible to sin.
If a perennial question for Christianity is the definition of privation, then the nagging question for Law’s hypothesis must be the source of good. Can St. Augustine’s view of privation be reversed to support Law’s hypothesis? I argue that it cannot. In Law’s reverse-theodicy of free-will, he claims that people in the evil world have freedom to do good. But Law provides no explanation for the possibility of good in this world; nor does he give a source of the good.19 The only way I can conceptualize a Great Chain of Being reversal is if creation is seen backwards for the evil-god hypothesis. Yet, to rebel against evil, one would have to move towards goodness. Without any source of good (a reverse-privation) it is implausible (or perhaps impossible) to move towards something greater.20
Yet, even if such a reversal were possible, Law’s evil world is not sustainable. If the evil world possessed inherent evil, then the world would ultimately lead to annihilation, perhaps immediately. Let us pose that humanity in the evil world came about as one couple (a parallel to the Genesis story). If evil was absolute, man would kill the woman (or vice versa) leading to the annihilation of humanity on the evil world. Or nature, likewise, could render the evil world annihilated as well. An earthquake, flood or some other natural (evil) event would eventually kill humanity or cause destruction of the ecosystem, ending this world.21 Annihilation is supported from quantum mechanics. If antimatter were to collide with matter, the two would annihilate each other.22 When the evil world is contrasted to the actual world, the actual world is one that is homeostatically sustainable. Even though evil runs ramped in the world, the overarching good makes the world a livable place. Despite the horrors of murder, natural disasters and evil individuals, the moral standard given by the good God makes it possible for humanity to live. Law’s hypothetical world simply cannot achieve this standard. An absolute evil world is not sustainable. If evil, whether moral, natural or cosmological, were to run freely amok in a world then the world would soon meet its unkind annihilation. If we follow Law’s logic to its rational end, this destruction cannot be avoided.
FREE WILL PROBLEMS
In the reverse-theodicy of free-will, Law posits that evil god can grant a sense of morality so his creation can bring about evil. Yet, this also gives the evil creation the opportunity to do good. This seems flawed as there is no ontological reason for good. If a god, whether good or evil, is omniscient and omnipotent and grants a sense of morality then that god must be the moral standard. Christianity has upheld this belief. God is the standard of goodness.23 Goodness is in God’s Being itself. Even though humanity rebels against God through sin, his moral goodness remains pure as a standard for human morality. Human sin (through freedom) does not change God’s Being. If God exists, then he is necessarily good. As St. Augustine said, “[humanity] can use free will to sin, but we should not therefore believe that God gave […] free will so that they would be able to sin.”24 St. Thomas appropriates God’s goodness to his own Being. “Being and goodness are the same in reference, differing only in sense.”25 Because God is perfectly good, goodness is a part of his Being. This connection of goodness and Being is applicable to humanity. The goodness of a being itself will be developed further later. But here, it is important to note that God’s goodness cannot be separated from his Being.26 Thus, if God is a necessary being it therefore follows that he is perfectly and necessarily good.
Law’s understanding of morality is flawed insofar as evil god provides the avenue for rebellion itself. Law cannot adequately provide a source of good in the evil world. Evil god is the creator. Law posits that evil god is also the source of morality. Based on Law’s explanations and the lack of any source of good, it seems only logical to deduce that morality, both evil and good, come from evil god - a self-refuting attribute of an absolute evil god.
Further, free will within an evil creation will bring about anarchy. Even though Law’s theory is inept insofar as the moral standard includes both good and evil, the malicious world would bring about very little (if any) good. Thus, free will based upon evil is not sustainable. The evil would only continue to bring about more evil, ending in the world’s destruction.
When sections II-III are viewed together, it seems that the lack of an ontological and metaphysical understanding of good in an evil world makes Law’s supposed symmetry asymmetrical. Law posits that evil god is the moral standard for the evil world. Yet it has been shown that there is no plausible method of good entering the evil world. From this, it seems fair to deduce that the only way individuals in the evil world can bring forth good is if there is a sense of good embedded within their ontological being. But, this contradicts the notion of the evil god being the standard for the evil world. Christianity has defended theories of evil through privation and limited goodness. Law cannot provide such theories for his evil-god hypothesis. Thus, from an ontological standard, theistic claims cannot be refuted by the evil-god challenge.
GOODNESS OF CREATION
I now make the argument that an act of creation is inherently good. As a result, it will be shown that Law’s hypothesis is faulty, because evil god is a creator. An act of creation, even if creation is meant for a horrible existence, is an inherently good act. That is, if life is brought into being, then that life is itself good. If both the Christian God and the hypothetical evil god possess power that is unlimited, it can be stated that they have the power and freedom to create any possible world.27 However, the assumption that an all-powerful deity can actualize any possible world appears to be false based on the perfect moral standards discussed in the previous section. As previously stated, God’s Being is perfectly and necessarily good. Because God is perfectly good then it would be a logical contradiction for him to create an evil world. Logical laws limit God’s creative power.28 Therefore, God cannot create any possible world; God is limited to worlds containing inherent goodness.29
The Genesis account of creation reiterates that creation is good. The last creative act in Genesis 1 is the creation of the first humans, Adam and Eve. This act was labeled “very good” as the first couple resembled God’s Being. Biblically, bringing forth creation is indeed a good act. As Gregory Boyd says, “God’s gracious decision to create […] the world can only be conceived of as a self-determining act.”30 Thus, it will be assumed that any supernatural being, either good or bad, creates invariably by its own volition.31
Norman Kretzmann states that when God created the world and the first humans, creation did not simply become good because God created. Rather, God knew the goodness of a created thing prior to its instantiation.32 The concept of creation is therefore good. The act of creating is an expression of goodness of a supernatural being.
From a Thomistic interpretation, the essence of Being is intrinsically good. This is based on the intelligence granted by God. Related to Kretzmann’s thought, St. Thomas states that creatures pre-exist in God as abstract intelligent beings.33 Thus, being itself comes from God’s Being. God’s intelligent essence is known purely in God himself. When God actualizes intelligent beings, each person is given their own being that resembles the Divine Being.34 From this, “[w]hat is true of every good being […] is eminently true of the Supreme Being which we call God.”35 The creation of beings is therefore good because they emanate from God’s own Being.
God is restricted to create only what is good. The two questions that must be answered are (1) whether or not evil god must necessarily create an evil world and (2) whether the act of creation itself is inherently good. The answer to the first question is basic. If the evil god is absolutely evil as Law posits, then his world, necessarily, must be evil. To state otherwise would be a contradiction.
The answer to the second question is more involved. Because God and evil god are omniscient and all-powerful, it can be said that their free-will is absolute and unrestricted. Richard Swinburne states “the more serious the free will and the stronger the contrary temptation, the better it is when the good action is done.”36 Thus, when each deity is thinking of creating, both are forced, yet free, to choose to create (A) or not create (~A).37 The question that must be answered is related to the good act Swinburne raises. Thus, is creation a good act for evil god?
Regarding goodness and badness, Swinburne writes, “goodness of good states and the badness of bad states arise from their being good or bad for someone or something.”38 Swinburne gives an example of a painting. People do not appreciate the beauty of a painting solely on the painting’s effect on one’s consciousness. Rather, they appreciate the painting because it has some beautiful feature in itself.39 The beauty of the painting is contingent. The painting requires an artist that brings the painting into existence.40 That is, the artist brings forth the painting because he or she believes it to have some inherent beauty, some influence that must be noticed. If the artist creates the painting, even if the content is that of devastation, the painting invokes something in the artist to the extent that the artist must create. The creation of the painting, then, is good.
Another example, one of historical context, is the massive destruction of life caused by Adolf Hitler. Hitler’s actions and orders against the Jews were horrific. The Jews were the recipients of inhumane medical experiments and were killed via torturous means. Arguably, Hitler is the most vivid manifestation of evil. This example is appropriate. Hitler did not want to keep the Jews alive to torture them. He wanted to eradicate them. Hitler wanted the Jews erased from history. He hated their very being. For Hitler, the termination of being was the most horrific action possible. It would be unthinkable to claim that if Hitler had the power to create, that he would opt to bring about a Jewish being. He would never do so. He so greatly hated their existence that he wanted to rid the world of their being.
The point here is to show creation and life as good. Hitler hated the lives of the Jews. But Hitler was not a god. Law’s supposed evil god is all-powerful. “His depravity is without limit.”41 Why would this evil god bring about life? Bringing something into being for a miserable existence is not sufficient for bringing a being into existence. If evil god truly hates, then it would not create.42 Thus, it is incoherent to believe that evil god would create. Doing so would be an act of good which would be antithetical to Law’s thesis. Referring back to Swinburne’s question about free will and action, the more heinous choice evil god ought choose is the refusal to create.43
Law wants his readers to imagine the evidence for God and evil god as set of weighing scales. Law states the evidence he presents is equally balanced between the two sides. Thus, because people find it unreasonable to believe in an evil god, then it is also unreasonable to hold theistic beliefs. Yet, my argument has exposed holes within his symmetry, lending credence to theism.
Based upon a theme of annihilation, I have formulated arguments on morality, free will and logic that disprove Law’s hypothesis. His posited symmetry between God and evil god is asymmetrical because of self-refuting terminologies and arguments. The argument also fails based on the notion of sustainability. Christianity not only gives an ontological status for good and evil, but the love of God is a source of truth and sustain despite the existence of evil in the world. The evil-god hypothesis is not a defeater to Christian claims. Law’s attempt to disprove this truth via the evil-god hypothesis has resulted in faulty results. The reliability of epistemic and metaphysical arguments within Christianity far outweigh the conditions that Law presents. Based on these conditions, the evil-god hypothesis does not refute theistic claims.
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