Glenn Peoples and Stephen Law to Discuss the “Evil God” challenge on Unbelievable Radio

apologetics atheism Philosophy of Religion


Next week it will be my pleasure to have my third discussion on the Unbelievable radio show with host Justin Brierley. My partner in conversation will be Stephen Law, who teaches philosophy at Heythrop College, University of London.

Although the only public comments I have made about Stephen at this blog have been for the sake of disagreeing with him, the fact is that I like reading what he has to say – however mistaken I might think he is. Yes he has creativity and style, something lacked by plenty of  academics, but unlike other vocal critics of religion like P Z Meyers, Richard Dawkins or Sam Harris, Stephen Law usually knows what he’s talking about as far as philosophy goes (I say usually because it does seem to me that philosophy of religion is not his strength, and this is the subject area of his “Evil-God Challenge.”). Law’s “Evil-God Challenge” should be read by anyone who wants to philosophically defend the Christian faith. That being said, the central point of the article, that theistic arguments are just as compatible with a malevolent deity as they are with the God of Christianity, is false. I think first year students in philosophy of religion who want to defend the Christian faith should – before being allowed to progress to the second year – be able to explain why the evil God challenge fails. If they’re not sure how they would do it, they should make sure they listen to the discussion on Unbelievable!

Glenn Peoples

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{ 137 comments… add one }
  • Stephen Law December 21, 2011, 12:08 am

    Glenn: “Well what I see is someone setting aside all considerations in favour of a good God (i.e. ignoring them) and assessing responses to the “evidence” as though no such considerations existed.”

    Ah but now you’ve forgotten what the issue is, conveniently. The issue is, does the evidential problem of good constitute powerful evidence against classical theism, sufficient to justify our rejecting it, PRIOR to our considering arguments that might be given in support of classical theism (such as your moral argument)?

    YOU said that theodicies, by themselves, pretty much neutralized the evidential problem of evil, without even considering e.g. the moral argument. In fact, maintaining this was pivotal to your strategy of dealing with the EGC.

    Well now we have seen that they don’t neutralize the evidential problem of evil. At all.

    Your final remark is blather. I don’t have to go through every last frigging creationist explanation for counter evidence in order to justifiably dismiss their entire strategy. Some of their moves are ad hoc. Some are not. The ones that are not lead to explanatory failures, which are then dealt with by further explanations and/or appeals to mystery. Ad nauseum.

    In fact several of the theodices ARE very easy to find fault with. Not all are immediately ad hoc. I could list several glaring problems now with some of the major ones, if you like. But you won’t then say, “Oh, OK these theodicies are pretty inadequate, then” (which many more intellectual honest theists do). You’ll just cook up more explanations and/or appeals to mystery. One way or another, you’ll find a way to make your preferred theodicies (whatever they are – we don;t even know yet!) “work”.

    Either the theodicies fail, or else they are salvaged by ad-hocery and mystery mongering.

    We can go through the whole laborious process if you really want. I’ve done it a million times. It’ll be just like a conversation with a young earth creationist. Who is deluded.

    I bet you now say, “Ah but you haven’t gone through every single last one and show it is false and/or ad hoc.”

    Yeh, that’s what creationists and nutters say. Fact is, it’s an impossible task, because the game of constructing yet more explanations to deal with explanatory failure can continue ad infinitum. Does that mean creationism hasn’t been shown to be empirically absurd? No.

    But if you want to play the game, the onus is on you to start the ball rolling. I have given you seemingly powerful evidence against classical theism. So now state exactly which theodicies deal with that evidence. Explain them clearly, please – show exactly how they work, individually or collectively, to neutralize the problem of evil. It’ll be interesting to see how quickly you end up resorting to ad hocery and mystery.

  • Stephen Law December 21, 2011, 12:21 am

    PS it’s interesting that Sandra knows in advance, that there can be no good empirical counter-evidence against her God. How does she know this? Because, of course, she knows, in advance, that every bit of evidence can be explained away ad nauseum. In the style of a YEC or nutcase.

    What about you Glenn? Do you know in advance that there can be no observed evil such that it constitutes good evidence against the existence of your God? If not, what would be an example of an observed evil that would genuinely threaten classical theism (given that none of the evils I have pointed to do)?

  • matt December 21, 2011, 6:19 am

    It’s not clear that the evidential problem of evil is itself not ad hoc, by the standards being thrown around here. Once it is put forward, if a theodicy softens the force of the argument, then some other criteria for determining what counts as gratuitous or unjustifiable can be drummed up (and then isn’t that ad hoc?). At best this sounds like the pot calling the kettle black, but I’m inclined to think that it just shows that we don’t have the epistemic resources to actually mount a successful evidential or probabilistic argument from evil. In this case, one doesn’t need a ton of theodicies, they just need other good reasons/arguments for believing in God as classically conceived. That is to say, no one needs to have their reason bothered by the evidential problem of evil (although I don’t think a person wouldn’t be very human if it didn’t bother them emotionally or existentially -or existentielly, rather- but that is a different matter).

  • BenYachov December 21, 2011, 6:30 am

    >PS it’s interesting that Sandra knows in advance, that there can be no good empirical counter-evidence against her God. How does she know this? Because, of course, she knows, in advance, that every bit of evidence can be explained away ad nauseum. In the style of a YEC or nutcase.

    Or an Atheist nutcase whoAd Hoc equates ignoring arguments with answering them.

    Not to mention the Ad Hoc assumption that an alleged God’s moral character can be show based on a correlation between the amount of “good” vs “evil” in the world with “good” & “evil” being defined Ad Hoc in a “pre-theoretical” manner instead of according to a definitive metaphysical description based on an establish moral philosophical tradition.

    Prof Law at this point I am convinced your EGC is pure Bull****.

    It has no meaningful content or value. That obtains regardless of the existence or non-existence of any “gods”.

  • BenYachov December 21, 2011, 6:34 am

    What the F*** is an “Evil” God anyway?

    Stephen Law can’t tell us since the definitions of “Good” & “Evil” are pre-theoretical, thus “Good” and “evil” are subjective preferences.

    Hitler see’s the Judeo-Christian God as “evil” because He won’t let him kill Jews with impunity.

    Ayn Rand might see God as “evil” because He commands Charity and Rand see charity as a bad thing.

    If God doesn’t exist this is the most bull**** piece of sophistry I have ever saw.

  • BenYachov December 21, 2011, 6:58 am

    BTW I think I should point out.

    I as a Classical Theist & a militant anti-Theistic Personalist Catholic Christian and amateur Thomist.

    I reject all Theodicies on principle. I believe Theodicy is only for “gods” who are conceived of as Moral Agents unequivocally compared to human moral agents. The Theodicy is used to justify why an all-powerful, good, divine moral agent, would allow any evil to exist in any world he created.

    God is not a moral agent. His goodness can’t coherently be conceived of in terms of moral agency.

    Any refutation of any Theodicy is to me about as significant as Prof Law delivering a devastating polemic against YEC to a room filled with Theistic Evolutionists.


    But that having been said his attacks on Theodicy here on this blog have been some of the worst bits of confused sophistry I’ve ever read.

  • Glenn December 21, 2011, 5:50 pm

    “PS it’s interesting that Sandra knows in advance, that there can be no good empirical counter-evidence against her God. How does she know this? Because, of course, she knows, in advance, that every bit of evidence can be explained away ad nauseum. In the style of a YEC or nutcase.”

    No, it strikes me that Sandra’s observation – which I share, is grounded in your method of deciding that things are ad hoc and dismissing them. If any after-the-fact claim about the compatibility of a good God with suffering is ad hoc and dismissed (and this is exactly what you do), then there’s no need to even talk about it. You know in advance that there’s no viable theodicy. When you say that nobody can offer good reasons, it’s because you’ve got filters set up so that any good reasons – in fact any reasons, will be categorised, boxed, shelved and ignored.

    You can just decide to look at the problem of evil PRIOR to considering arguments that God is good, but this strikes me as self serving. I do it the other way around: Are there reasons to think God is Good? Yes. Are there challenges to this? Yes, the problem of evil. You seem to say: Are there reasons to think God is good? NO. And there is the problem of suffering with no background belief that God is good.

    You can throw in emotive terms about “mongering” if you like, but I think it’s quite clear that the challenge you’re presenting isn’t a genuine one as it does not admit of critique. And just as you said “Oh I don’t need to answer the moral argument,” you now say that you just don’t need to explain why some theodicies fail (actually you need to show that all of them fail – in principle).

    “Explain them clearly, please – show exactly how they work, individually or collectively, to neutralize the problem of evil.”

    No. Part of the benefit of there being such a thing as history is that the wheel doesn’t have to continually be reinvented. If you’re not even aware of the theodicies, then you’re in the wrong territory when you write about it. If you’ve got new interesting challenges to them, then one day it’d be helpful to see them. if you don’t, I’m happy to just leave your comments about the problem of evil alone. You can either interact with the theodicies or you can’t. But dismissing them all in principle is just an escape from having to do any philosophical work.

    I will say, however – that although I find your defences of the EGC fairly poor, this interaction has greatly helped the current writing project. We’ve probably had more discussion here than anyone would have if I had just sent you the article and asked for some comment! I will remember to thank you for your comments, but continue to think the ECG very weak. It just doesn’t do any of the heavy lifting needed.

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