Stephen Law has been setting forth his case for the evil God challenge. It has been a recent topic of discussion in the blogosphere and there have been several articles written about it. The argument is formulated in a way that mirrors the moral argument for the existence of God. If objective morality is true then this morality is grounded in God. Law argues that if objective evil is true then it is grounded in an evil God. (That’s the basic outline of the argument but please see more here). I haven’t read much of anyone’s responses to the challenge so I apologize if I’m repeating someone. I’ve been hesitant to participate in this discussion because I hoped it would pass over but here are my thoughts.
The reason why I waited so long to chime in on this discussion was because I didn’t think the argument was a very good argument. I have two primary contentions for why this is an incoherent argument. My first is that the argument requires there to be a genuine ontology for evil and my second follows Thomas Aquinas in that everyone always acts according to what they believe is right.
Does Evil Have a Genuine Ontology?
The early church father Augustine considered evil to be the absence of the good just like darkness is the absence of light. Under this view the good has a genuine ontology. There are certain metaphysical components to goodness that begs for their grounding, hence the moral argument. If evil is a negation of the good, or a privation of the good, then there is no need for an ontological grounding or source since it bears no metaphysical components as a negation of the good. This need not be special pleading since this is analogous to light. Light has particular properties where the absence of a photon needs no explanation since their isn’t anything to have any properties predicated to. An appeal to supersymmetry does not suffice since the analogy works as the absence of something or the negation of existence [of the particle]. Thus, the negation or absence of good is evil. This, of course, does not exclude room for amorality. A rock is amoral since it bears no moral properties. Since a rock is not good it does not mean it is then evil. An agent is the only source or bearer of morality and thus any negation of good action (thought, deed, etc.) by an agent is then evil.
Everyone Acts According to What They Believe is Right
Thomas argued that everyone always does what they believe is right. This has obvious knee-jerk reactions but let’s seriously consider this. No one does something because they know it’s wrong. They may know something is wrong and still do it but they have an overriding belief that they are doing the wrong for the right reason. For instance, I know it’s wrong to speed 30mph over the speed limit but my violation of this rule is for a greater good or it’s the right thing to do since I’m taking a gunshot victim to the hospital. Or, I willingly plagiarise or cheat on a test because I believe it’s the right thing to do in order for me to get a good grade. The Third Reich and Hitler believed that the massive murdering of the Jews and homosexuals was the right thing to do. The principle stands with whether the action is actually right or wrong but the motivation for any action is always believed to be right.
If this principle is true, how does this look with the evil God? If this God acts in any way then he would have to always act in an evil way (assuming he can never act in a good way since he would have to be the ontic grounding of all evil). We would have to assume that the evil God believes it to be the right thing to act in an evil way. Consider the converse, that the evil God believes it is wrong to act in an evil way. The latter seems to be incoherent for why would the evil God act in a way he knew was wrong? The former seems to be right in the sense that the evil God considers it to be good or right to act in an evil way. But how is this not equally incoherent since it seems to be an actualization of a contradiction? If the evil God believes acting in evil ways is the right thing for him to do then this evil God has a radical ontology–Occamism at best. But if this evil God is an Occamist God then what’s to say this same being cannot ground good in himself? The problem is that any type of actualization of a contradiction and Occamism is incoherent.
EDIT: I’ve developed this point in more detail in this post: Thomistic Ethics and the Evil God Challenge.
I’ve mulled these two principles over and if true I don’t see any coherent reason to believe the evil God challenge is a defeater for the moral argument or the existence of the Anselmian understanding of God. These stand independent of any ontological argument for an Anselmian God since these principles violate the concept of the evil God (even though the principles are consistent with the Anselmian notion of God). These principles, of course, have only been briefly outlined and I hope to have more development or discussion of the material when it’s critiqued. So, please critique my thoughts.