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« Are Faith and Reason Compatible? | Main | Israel's Failure Led to Evil and Suffering »

December 14, 2011


I’m no fan of Law’s argument, but I do think it suggests certain questions the posing of which may be helpful in getting our intuitions on the table concerning God and suffering. Law’s argument naturally leads one to ask this question:

Is the abundance of good in the world evidence against the view that the world is ruled by an all-knowing all-powerful being who loves nothing more than suffering?

I would have thought so. Consider as well the following questions:

Is the abundance of vegetation on Earth evidence against the view that the world is ruled by an omnipotent, omniscient being who hates vegetation?
Is the abundance of stars in the universe evidence against the view that the world is ruled by an omnipotent, omniscient being who hates stars?

Again, I would have thought so. So now for the final question:

Is the abundance of suffering on Earth evidence against the view that the world is ruled by an omnipotent, omniscient being who hates suffering?

Yet again, I would have thought so. Of course, admitting this is not to admit that God does not exist. It is not even to admit that probably God does not exist. It is just to say that suffering does constitute some evidence against God’s existence.

Another basic problem is that evil is not original and is parasitic off of the good. The two things are not equal and opposite. Evil cannot exist independently of the good, yet good can exist without evil. To say for example that God is hate requires love exist otherwise the term is meaningless . Love does not require hate in order to be love. It is illogical then to assume God is evil if He were then He would not be God as He would require some law or ought outside of Himself from which to deviate.

Oh god another crusading atheist with a posh english accent.

my ears!
my ears!

To English, Didn't listen.


I think you're missing the point. Law doesn't actually believe that the evil-God argument works. He's just saying it's no worse an argument than the moral argument for a good God. So, he would likely agree that the problems you identify with the evil God argument are genuine problems.

In other words, I take it that his point is:

1. If the moral argument works, the evil-God argument works.

2.The evil-God argument (as all theists will recognize) does not work.

3. Therefore the moral argument does not work.

Pointing out that Law's own reasons for rejecting the moral argument apply to the evil-God argument is of no avail.

His point actually doesn't address the moral argument. Here's his challenge:

1. We see good in the world and we intuit there isn't a evil god.

2. Therefore, it's equally as reasonable to see the evil in the world and intuit there isn't a good God.

3. Therefore, both a good God and an evil god are equally unlikely.

My argument is that, because of the differences between good and evil, they're not equally unlikely (some of the explanation for this is in the first post I linked to).

My second point is just about his inconsistency in dismissing intuition in the case of moral facts (as used to establish a good God in the moral argument) but accepting them in his first premise.

It's illegitimate for him to dismiss the moral argument for depending on an intuition if he's going to base his argument on an intuition. But he has to do dismiss the moral argument, because if anything is allowed into the discussion that makes a good God less unlikely than an evil god despite the existence of evil, then his argument is weakened.

Good work by Glenn. These points came across well:

1. If the moral argument works (Glenn's argument involving the nature of moral facts, not just their existence), then Law's argument doesn't, hence Law's repeated attacks on the premises in the juicy bit of the discussion towards the end. Law accepted the argument as an irreversible argument that Glenn could add to his side of the scale. His reasons for rejecting the premises were teased out well and, in the light of day, shown to be mere assertion in one case, and an appeal to authority (and fashion) in the other.

2. The move from 'It is equally absurd to believe in a good or evil god' to '..therefore I don't have to touch the kalam or fine tuning arguments if that's the kind of god you're arguing for' will not hold if the Christian simply says 'I don't agree that it's absurd to believe in either god based on just the good and evil in the world. Kalam and fine tuning leave us, if successful, with a god of certain attributes (necessary attributes, though not necessarily a comprehensive list of its attributes), a god that may be of character A, B, C, or infinitum'. This portion of Law's argument slips past, leaving a sense that Kalam and fine tuning can be ignored, to some degree, as part of a cumulative case. There seems something wrong with that. The evil god is a less absurd notion than the universe and its finely tuned laws popping into existence from nothing, because the evil god notion is carrying with it some of the abilities (doing some of the work) of the good God the Christian believes in, and whom we consider good for OTHER good reasons outside of the empirical evidence around us.

Well done, Glenn!

Amy - I quite agree with what you say here. The stand off between a good god and an evil god on the basis of the empirical evidence, taking into account the theodicies that each side might use, is not symmetrical at all in my estimate. So I said that I was willing to treat them as symmetrical just for the sake of argument because I think that Christians can afford to do so.

What you're saying about the actual qualities of good and evil is really vital. This is what I tried to draw Law's attention to when I explained how he was misconstruing the moral sense. Having beliefs about morality involves a motivation; goodness does indeed commend our praise and compliance, and treating information about good and evil as mere data that does not affect the will at all is quite obviously wrong.

Excellent thoughts Amy, I'll be linking to these!

Yes, I thought you did a great job, Glenn! I felt like the argument was in good hands whenever you spoke. This was definitely one of my most favorite episodes.

CB: " If the moral argument works, the evil-God argument works."

Law certainly didn't make this claim. He agreed that the moral argument can't be flipped and used by an evil-god believer. he just doesn't think it works (but he never really gave his reasons for saying that - other than stating that lots of philosophers don't accept it).

I think that Law is taking the wrong angle. Until we have resolved ethical viewpoints at their very root. I don't think we can touch this issue in a way that progress can be made. Daron and Brad have both helped me see that. If atheists and Christians radically disagree on what is right and wrong and where it comes from then this whole argument is just cheese before the crust on the big pizza.

Please define evil.

If Evil is the lack of good, like dark is the lack of light, when there was only God how could god be evil if there was no good for him to lack?

Either God is good, or neutral, but you can't actively have a lack of something that does not yet exist.

A good question to ask would be; Does God want evil to exist or does he allow it to exist? For if evil existed before God, then there would be two gods,and hence we march toward a plethora of gods..
I believe God, allows evil to exist, to produce what he loves, and that is a worshipper of him

Mr. Peoples -- doesn't Law also say he disregards the Moral Argument because the first premise relies on intuition and we can't trust our intuition? He seems to be parroting Platinga's Evolutionary Argument Against Naturalism as his own Evolutionary Argument Against Moral Intuition. Something like that, but I admit he was and is very difficult to follow.

I was struck how he jumped from lily pad to lily pad.

From just a layman's perspective, it was notable how emotionally flustered Law becomes. I do get the sincere impression that he is just so exasperated with how ignorant people are. It must be very frustrating to have such a water-tight refutation of God but not be able to communicate it.

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