Answering the “Evil-God Challenge” from Stephen Law

This is part of a larger paper that I am writing and working on. Law’s “Evil-God Challenge” is simply a section in the paper. In coming across Law’s “Evil-God” challenge, I’ve seen numerous Christian philosophers offer up an explanation to how we can know God is good (such as Edward Feser). While all make good points, I think they are overcomplicating the issue and that the answer is actually quite simple. Hence, I post part of my solution here: 

One must understand that God is wholly good and not imperfectly good, or good with a little bit of evil. God is a whole and must be perfect. To use the language of Robert Spitzer, since God is the unconditioned reality (nothing precedes Him), by logical necessity God must be simple (not composed) and perfect (lacking in nothing).[1] Since God is perfect, He must either be good or evil, and wholly so. He cannot be both (as this would violate the law of non-contradiction).

Therefore, if God were evil then He would be perfectly evil. Were one to treat evil as a substance (which is difficult to imagine), one would ask what is at the core of all evil acts. Through a simple use of deductions, one would easily arrive at the conclusion that pride is at the core of all evil acts.[2] Yet, pride can still be used in some good ways when it is used in moderation. In its extreme, however, pride is motivated by narcissism, or extreme love of the self. The more narcissistic a person is, the more apathetic he is to those around him. Narcissism requires the love of the self to the exclusion of all others. A narcissistic mother does not torture her baby; rather she neglects the baby if the baby interferes with the mother’s desires. Therefore, if God were evil He would be the ultimate narcissist.

If God were the ultimate narcissist, then nothing would exist; since something exists, it shows that God is not a narcissist and therefore God is not evil. If the root of evil is narcissism and narcissism is the focus on the self to the exclusion of others, and if God were wholly perfect in all things, then God would be too focused on Himself to have ever created anything to begin with. Yet, something exists. Therefore, God is not evil, which apophatically means God is good.

Turning to Stephen Law, one reads,

“Consider a different hypothesis. Suppose the universe has a creator. Suppose also that this being is omnipotent and omniscient. However, suppose he is not maximally good. Rather, imagine that he is maximally evil. His depravity is without limit. His cruelty knows no bounds. There is no other god or gods – just this supremely wicked being. Call this the evil-god hypothesis.”[3]

Thus, one could argue that even if God is supremely narcissistic, He created humans simply to gain pleasure from torturing them. Certainly, this would still be an act of narcissism. One could also theorize that being a narcissist God wanted other lesser beings to recognize how great He is and to serve Him fully, irrespective of how He treats them.

Law’s objection to God’s goodness holds no weight when one considers narcissism as the root of all evil. In fact, the implications of his argument actually defeat the argument. First, if God created humans in order to torture them so He could gain pleasure, this would indicate that God had a need for something. Of course, a perfect being can have need of nothing, thus if God had need of something then he would not be God.

The traditional Christian narrative concerning creation is that God created out of love, not out of need; He created as a sacrifice, not as a gain. He gained nothing out of creation, thus no perceived need was met. If God needed humans in order to be more loving, then He would not (1) be loving (as He would be creating humans for personal gain) and (2) God would not be God, as He would need something. Likewise, if God created humans to torture them, He would not be God, as He would have need of something.

Secondly, and more importantly, we can imagine a God who would create humans in order to torture them. Yet, we can think of a God even more evil that would not create humans because He would be so concentrated on Himself He would never think of humans. Therefore, the original syllogism – that because something exists, God must be good – stands true.

[1] Robert Spitzer, New Proofs for the Existence of God: Contributions of Contemporary Physics and Philosophy (Grand Rapids: William B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, 2010), Section II.

[2] One might argue that pride is not involved in natural acts of evil. However, since God is a person, one must discuss evil solely on personal grounds. In such a case, no person ever commits evil via a natural act; there is always a willful choice in committing an evil act. At the core of that willful choice is the person’s pride, or self-love. Furthermore, willful acts of evil are seemingly worse than natural acts; a Tsunami killing 200,000 people in Indonesia is horrible, yet society is more aghast at a dictator that would willfully kill 50,000 of his own people on a whim.


6 thoughts on “Answering the “Evil-God Challenge” from Stephen Law

  1. It’s been so long since I got an email from here, that I thought I had gotten the banhammer! I’ve heard over and over that God created us in his own image, and we were put on this Earth to worship Him. I’ve heard that since childhood, were they wrong? That’s pretty narcissistic to me, wouldn’t you say? Anyway, it’s all mind games because God is neither good or evil. Gods are not real
    Good post!.

  2. Don’t worry Akron, we don’t ban anyone unless they’re extremely rude. Just because you disagree doesn’t mean you lack an important voice in this conversation.

    I would say that two possible responses could defeat my argument; first, to show that narcissism isn’t the root of all evil (of course, that would be extremely difficult to defend), and secondly to make the argument you’ve made. To point out that we were created to worship God, which is a supposedly narcissistic act. However, I can think of a few replies to that:

    1) We were created to be loved by God and to in turn love Him . The Bible is clear that God loved us first and that we are to love Him because He loves us. That He is the first actor in love means He is making a sacrifice. The whole, “We were created to worship God” is partially true if we put “worship” under “love.” The problem is that in many Protestant churches, people fail to do this and they emphasize the fearing and worshiping of God, leaving out the love aspect. But in the end, God has sacrificed for us by creating us, which isn’t something a narcissistic being would do. I actually show this in the entirety of the essay, but it’s one I probably won’t publish here as I plan to submit it for peer review in the near future.

    2) God would need to be purely narcissistic, meaning He wouldn’t even have the time to think about us. A perfectly narcissistic God wouldn’t have time to think about anything but Himself. In order to create something lesser than Himself He would have to think about it first. This is why Aristotle’s god falls short logically; if that god is too busy to think about others, then how does anything else exist?

    3) If we say that a purely narcissistic God would need people to admire Him then He wouldn’t truly be God. This is pretty self-explanatory.

    And I do agree that none of this proves God exists. Rather, it’s meant to show that the atheist suffers no harm in granting the premise “God is good” when debating the cause of evil or other aspects of God. Certainly it does no harm to atheism to admit that if God exists, He is good or to grant such a premise to a theist in a debate. That’s the whole point of the explanation.

    1. In reply to 1)

      In the myth upon which the concept of “narcissism” is based, Narcissus doesn’t love himself above all others, he loves his image above all others. In fact, he sacrifices his own life for his love of his image (interesting partial parallel here, perhaps, of God loving mankind so much he sacrificed himself in the form of Jesus?).

      Additionally, Narcissus loved his image first and then noticed that his image loved him back. This is what you are saying about God here. It would seem that, based on what you say, God is Narcissus, and we are his reflection: that to refuse to believe in God or love him is akin to Narcissus’ reflection refusing to mirror Narcissus’ own love, disobeying the laws of physics. That would ultimately place God as the ultimate narcissist and, to your claim, the fundamental root of all evil?

      In reply to 2)

      But this assumes that the definition of narcissism is the love of oneself. This may be true in a dictionary sense in this day and age, but is not literally true in the sense of the source of the word. In light of (1) above, God thinks of nothing but the reflection of himself that he sees in the universe, and so existence depends on his obsession with what he sees there. Hence why he would be so concerned with us reflecting positively on him or burn in hell. If Narcissus’ image had not returned his love, who knows what kind of fits he would have been sent into… he may have tried to stone his image to death with rocks from the shore.

      In reply to 3)

      I think the bible describes, and you have supported, the idea that God IS narcissistic, at least as narcissistic as Narcissus was purported to be, if not infinitely more so (or perfectly narcissistic, if you prefer). If you don’t admire him, you are cast to hell and tormented. Isn’t this how crazy, jealous lovers sometimes behave when they don’t get their way? We are created to be loved by him and to love him, in the same way that Narcissus would create his image in the water by looking at his reflection and demanding that his love be reflected.

      1. Scott,

        I really only have a few replies to what you wrote.

        1) Your reliance on Narcissus is superfluous and a red herring (thus, fallacious). I didn’t refer to the myth, nor do I need to refer to the myth in order to establish the definition of what narcissism is. While the myth provides some interesting commentary on the etymology of the word, it really doesn’t provide much more than that.

        2) You’re committing the fallacy of equivocation by linking the image Narcissus saw (which was more of a reflection) with the word “image” used in the Bible when referring to humans (which is more akin to “likeness”). Narcissus fell in love with his reflection, an unthinking, non-existing (in terms of rationality) reflection. Humans, on the other hand, are a likeness of God, that is, we’re not a reflection. We actually have existence. The two are essentially different words.

        3) The above two responses really take out the ground you were standing on, because you had to construct a straw-man in order to continue going with the arguments.

        4) Moving on, however, your third point completely ignores the entirety of the response that I made. If God is perfectly self-centered, then we would not exist. We exist, therefore He is not perfectly self-centered, therefore God is not evil.

      2. Joel,

        I don’t think I’m relying on Narcissus for anything in particular other than a viewpoint of what narcissism is. I’m looking at the parallels between one myth and, in my opinion, another. I agree that the myth provides an interesting insight into the origins of the word that is being used here, and hence what the word actually means outside of a modern colloquial context (like, for example, the word “pathetic” being used in a modern colloquial sense to mean pitiable when it’s original context meant emotionally moving without necessarily implying anything negative).

        I agree that “image” and “likeness” mean different things, but the difference between the two words when being used to describe either Narcissus’ reflection or the creation of mankind are similar in spirit. If you insist on using the word “likeness,” then it could be argued that that word implies that we are essentially “like” God, and the differences between mankind and God would be difficult to distinguish since like is, necessarily, like that which it is like, and a thing that is a likeness of something else embodies this quality of similarity. In Genesis, God says that man has become “like us,” not just that he LOOKS like “us.” Anyway, I would bet that you would disagree with the idea that man and God are essentially equal… and I’m pretty sure that what you are getting at is that mankind was made more in line to “look” like God rather than BE like God, as to BE like God would imply that we are perfect, and that would not fit with the theology.

        So, in my opinion, whichever word you choose, you will not like the argument that I make with it. To call it “superfluous,” though, I think is prejudicial just because you disagree with the outcome. But you can call it what you will, the parallels are there in the Narcissus story, whatever conclusion you may come to about that. To bring the idea of “likeness” into it, though, opens up a whole other can of worms.

        If God is NOT perfectly self-centered, regardless, this means that he is either partially self-centered or not self-centered at all. Certainly he must be self-centered to some extent otherwise there would be no demand for exclusive worship and he wouldn’t be a self-proclaimed jealous god. That must mean he is somewhere in the middle. Maybe somewhere like, say, 50%? If self-centeredness is the root of all evil, one does not need to be perfectly self-centered in order to “do” evil, right? This implies that God is at least capable of doing evil out of this self-centeredness, but not necessarily more evil than good which is NOT done out of self-centeredness. At the very least, there is some amount of “the root of all evil” within God. That must be the conclusion, right? It would certainly seem to jive with the way God acts in the Old Testament, and would explain how “Satan” or evil could exist… it simply MUST exist, and God must necessarily allow it to exist in order for its opposite, good, to exist or be recognized. In any case, if God indeed created everything, then evil, which is defined as a thing, or “agents of evil” which are certainly things were of course a part of that active creation.

        If the world is ambiguously good and evil upon examination, and God must necessarily be responsible for the existance of both good and evil if he is to be credited with all of creation, then one of the following would be true: 1) God is both good and evil, with existence being a neutral playground for him to toy with 2) good and evil are just man-made constructs to serve organized society and God’s actions, if he exists, cannot be known to be good or evil because good and evil must be defined according to how we FEEL about certain actions, and to filter such a being’s actions in such a way is so cosmically presumptuous as to be ridiculous or 3) God is neither good nor evil, he is just given credit for an existence that is morally ambiguous and he doesn’t interfere with the workings of the universe.

      3. The problem that I’m noticing is that you’re just showing a blatant disregard for traditional Christian theology, which leads to multiple straw-men arguments that don’t really address the argument. Likewise – and this is the biggest problem – in making your arguments you’re essentially ignoring 90% of what I’ve had to say. So if you’re going to ignore what I say and simply cast aside anything that doesn’t fit with the direction you want to go, how can we actually have a conversation?

        But let’s deal with a few more errors you make:

        1) Again, the “image” in the myth is nothing like “image” in the creation story. In the myth, it’s merely an inanimate reflection. In the creation story it is likeness, and not in how we look. God has no material form, yet we have a material form, thus the “likeness” has little to do with how we look. Rather, the “likeness” has to do with our rationality, free will, morality, etc. To be “like” God does not mean to be equal to God (a study over how the term was used in the Ancient Middle East would do you wonders); it simply means that we are like him without being him or being a duplicate of him. To be like God does not mean we are perfect like God; it simply means we have the ability to exercise our will.

        2) I’m not “bringing” likeness into it; that’s the other term used both in the Bible and in extra-biblical writings.

        3) If God is not perfectly self-centered, then He’s not self-centered. God cannot be partially anything, otherwise he wouldn’t be perfect and therefore wouldn’t be God. This was a basic premise that I brought up in my initial post. The entire hypothetical you offer off this one obvious error falls apart at this point. If God isn’t self-centered at all, then he is not capable of evil.

        4) The conclusions you come to are all non-sequitur, even based on your own reasoning. From your own reasoning I could deduce that since God can be partially something, he is not perfect in power. Thus, God is good, but unable to prevent evil from occurring. Here is a fourth and more logically consistent argument based on your premises. But your premises are false, so the fourth option isn’t viable.

        A better explanation for evil is that God is all good and all powerful and all loving, and as such he has allowed humans to have free will. The existence of free will, however, allows for the existence of evil. So as to not stamp out free will (which would be an evil act), God allows his goodness to continue by allowing us to choose the evil actions. That is a far more simplified version.

        Overall, however, you haven’t really addressed the arguments I made. Instead, you’ve created straw-men, used multiple logical fallacies to establish your points, and simply walked around many of the arguments I’ve made.

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