Stephen Law's Evil God hypothesis



I was reading some of his work. I do get the idea he is trying to refute the idea of God but my problem is how can a non existent God be given the label of good or evil? Surely something must at the very least exist before you can make moral judgements of its actions.

Even if we are allowed to for argument sake skip over questions of what it really means for someone or something to be evil or whether it is even possible to call something evil under a naturalistic world view. I'm still wondering if the Evil God hypothesis claim that God is evil not presupposing that he at the very least exist and therefore making it a ineffective argument for a deities non existence.

Neil Meyer

Posted 2013-06-29T16:57:41.217

Reputation: 2 161

2Based on my very quick googling this: isn't this simple of the form: "IF god exists, then he is supremely evil" in other words, the problem to overcome is no longer the problem of evil, but the problem of good. As you say yourself: it's a hypothesis and in this case, more of a thought experiment in the form of a conditional. – Ben – 2013-06-29T21:15:29.280

4"Surely something must at the very least exist before you can make moral judgements of its actions." This is the Kantian refutation of Descartes' ontological argument for the existence of god ("to exist is better than to not exist, and since God is perfect (i.e. has all the best properties), God exists. Kant says that something first need to exist before it can have properties, like you said. – Ben – 2013-06-29T21:18:38.400



After reading a little bit more on this issue, I think I can write a full answer.

Stephen Law's Evil God Hypothesis is about that if you can have an omnibenevolent god and the problem of evil, then you can also have an evil god with a problem of good. Furthermore, you can use all the classic explanations for the problem of evil that occurs when assuming a benevolent god, to explain the problem of good when assuming an evil god. It is not about proving or disproving the existence of God; it's about once you assume the existence of god, then why assume he is omnibenevolent?

Stephen Law says that many people say the universe shows signs of design, for a number of reasons which I will not expand upon here, since that's a whole other topic. However, if you assume that god exists based on this argument, then how can you assume that he is omnibenevolent? Evidence of design is no evidence of moral goodness, Law argues.

If you do assume an omnibenevolent god, then you have to deal with the problem of evil. It is clear there is a lot of suffering in the world, which many find a compelling argument against the existence of god. Bertrand Russell famously said: "No one can sit at the bedside of a dying child and still believe in God."

There are a number of ways to address this problem. One is the free will solution. In a nutshell, God gave us free will, and therefore, we can do good things and bad things. He had to do so to create creatures who are free. This is known as Alvin Plantinga's free will defence. The main point of criticism is that it only deals with moral evil (people choosing to do bad things), not natural evil (for instance, earthquakes or children dying from horrible diseases). Another is character building. People need to go through some negative experiences to grow as a person and for that, some evil is required. Yet another one is that you simply can't have good without evil. You cannot be charitable if there are no people in need, for instance. And some people say that "God acts in mysterious ways". It would simply be arrogant to suppose that we can comprehend God's mind. What seems to be evil to us, is actually good for us, but we're simply not intelligent enough to see this.

Stephen Law uses these arguments (in a slightly different way) to explain the problem of good if we assume an all-evil god. Some examples below:

Free will

BOOBLEFRIP: God gave us free will.

GIZIMOTH: Free will?

BOOBLEFRIP: Yes. God could have made us mere automata that always did the wrong thing – the evil thing. But he didn’t do that. He gave us the freedom to choose how we act.


BOOBLEFRIP: Because, by giving us free will God actually increased the amount of suffering there is in the world. He made the world far more terrible than it would otherwise have been!


BOOBLEFRIP: Think about it. God could have just tortured us with a red hot poker for all eternity. But that would have got rather dull for him rather quickly. How much more satisfying to mess with our minds – to inflict more sophisticated psychological forms of suffering.

Natural beauty

GIZIMOTH: Well, what about the glories of nature: sublime sunsets, stunning landscapes, the splendor of the heavens? We’re not responsible for these things, are we? BOOBLEFRIP: No. God is. GIZIMOTH: But why would an all-evil God create something that gives us pleasure? Also, why does he give us beautiful children to love? And why does he choose to give some people extraordinary good fortune – health, wealth and happiness in abundance? Surely the existence of these things provides us with overwhelming evidence that, even if the universe has a creator, he’s not all bad? The “character-destroying” solution

BOOBLEFRIP: You’re mistaken, Gizimoth. Such things are exactly what we should expect if God is supremely evil.

GIZIMOTH: But why?

BOOBLEFRIP: Some natural beauty is certainly to be expected. If everything was uniformly ugly, we wouldn’t be tormented by the ugliness half as much as if it were laced with some beauty. To truly appreciate the ghastliness of the environment most of us inhabit – a urine stained, concrete and asphalt wasteland peppered with advertising hoardings, drug addicts and dog dirt – we need to be reminded every now and then that things could have been different. God put some natural beauty into the world to make our appreciation of the ugliness and dreariness of day-to-day life all the more acute.


So, what this effectively shows is that, if you derive moral goodness from the argument of design (or any other argument from which you shouldn't/can't derive moral goodness), then you can also derive moral evil from that same argument, i.e. you cannot draw any conclusions about whether god is omnibenevolent or not based on this argument alone. Therefore, deriving whether god is (supremely) good or not requires other arguments.


Posted 2013-06-29T16:57:41.217

Reputation: 2 356


It is odd to see this attributed to an individual. It actually goes way back to religious Neo-Platonism and Gnostic Christianity variants like Bogomilism.

They had the experience from extended harsh asceticism that acceptance is the way of the weak-minded and renunciation is the best, perhaps the only, way to have free will. Therefore, Satan must be in control of the world, since humans become their best only when they renounce it. So, the creator of our world, the entity that we think of as God, is really and basically evil.

Not only did they notice this problem, they acted on it -- any Church who considered the Creator worthy of worship needed to be abandoned, and they left and prayed in the fields, they wrote secretly and instructed their disciples individually.

Their later Neo-Platonic apologists proposed what I see as a very creative solution.

In the light of independence as the root of the true Will of God, Satan's renunciation of God's authority was the assertion of his own free will, which he had as an aspect of his being the very best and most complete of the Angels. The others could remain good only because they lacked something essential to real good.

In that framing, not only does the Satan, our evil God, exist, but his creator must also, against whom this world is an act of rebellion. If there were not some disagreement between Gods, or within God, good and evil would have no clear meaning.

They deduce from this apparent contraction that there are layers of worlds where basic evil in one is a central aspect of good in the next one up.

(And in their writings on this we have the Apocrypha of modern Satanism leading up to Crowley, Thelema, Sethianism and all that. The original, "unelaborated" Apocrypha were rediscovered at Nag Hamaddi, and said something quite different. But it is traces of this more creative form we find in the Zohar and the Tarot of John Dee.)

I think of this as the ultimate seed of Hegelian dialectic. We attain a better, more complete notion of good by relativizing what our world sees as good and what it sees as evil in the right way. That always means that what was once evil is, in a better way, really good.


Posted 2013-06-29T16:57:41.217


"It actually goes way back to religious Neo-Platonism" In fact, to Zoroastrianism, which sees the material world as an expression of the principle of chaos or evil – CriglCragl – 2018-03-06T17:33:45.220

@CriglCragl That is not quite honest. It would be like saying modern Christianity is Satanism. There is a real connection in Zoroastrianism to a real, good God, available in the ordinary practice of the religion. There is not the notion that the nominal God accessible to everyone is inherently evil, and you have to be gifted with the ability to look behind that reality for other principles, as there is in, e.g. Bogomilism. – None – 2018-03-07T19:18:48.190


What he's trying to do is complicate the idea of God because in the Christian tradition He is the embodiment of the Good.

His tactic is to try a simple inversion:

  • There is a Good God & we have the problem of Evil

  • There is an evil God & we have the problem of Good.

Formally the two sentences have the same structure and symmetry. So, if you understand the issue with the first sentence, you can perhaps understand the issue with the second. But that introduces the idea of an 'evil God'.

You are correct that something must exist before one can make moral judgements of it; and as its been pointed out already this argument was made by Kant. Though of course he introduces noumena without proof of its existence, but by plausible argument - and I'm not being pejorative but positive when I say the argument is plausible.

To be honest, if a God as traditionally conceived does exist; it seems rather dubious to imagine one can have him up in court like some petty criminal and try to find about his moral character. Should one call in some character witnesses too?

Mozibur Ullah

Posted 2013-06-29T16:57:41.217

Reputation: 1


The answer of Christian God to this problem is following: "Shut up whining guys, because I will all make it up LATER!". The problem of the evil is only an probleme if you limit the time frame - and you forbid to God to make it up "later" - that makes look EVIL "eternal" or "equal" to GOOD, because you limit the time frame to "today", and there is no "future" . But if you employ the time frame - you can limit evil. The word LATER permits to imagine un making up of things which are now looking horrible - but looking just ridiculous from a LATER perspective. Children dead? No problem they will be ressurected and happy all the time. 100x paid off. That's how God handles Jesus crucifiction - he makes is up "later", and that how Jesus responds to this probleme in the parableb of wheat and (some bad plant I don't know the english name).


Posted 2013-06-29T16:57:41.217

Reputation: 1