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The evil-god challenge

Published online by Cambridge University Press:  11 February 2010

Heythrop College, University of London, Kensington Square, London, W8 5HN


This paper develops a challenge to theism. The challenge is to explain why the hypothesis that there exists an omnipotent, omniscient and all-good god should be considered significantly more reasonable than the hypothesis that there exists an omnipotent, omniscient and all-evil god. Theists typically dismiss the evil-god hypothesis out of hand because of the problem of good – there is surely too much good in the world for it to be the creation of such a being. But then why doesn't the problem of evil provide equally good grounds for dismissing belief in a good god? I develop this evil-god challenge in detail, anticipate several replies, and correct errors made in earlier discussions of the problem of good.

Copyright © Cambridge University Press 2010

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1. See John Hick (ed.) Classical and Contemporary Readings in the Philosophy of Religion, 2nd edn (Englewood Cliffs NJ: Prentice-Hall, 1970), 515.

2. See e.g. Wykstra, StephenThe Humean obstacle to evidential arguments from suffering: on avoiding the evils of “appearance”’, International Journal for Philosophy of Religion 16 (1984), 7393CrossRefGoogle Scholar, in which Wykstra writes ‘[I]f we think carefully about the sort of being theism proposes for our belief, it is entirely expectable – given what we know of our cognitive limits – that the goods by virtue of which this Being allows known suffering should very often be beyond our ken.’

3. I allow that considerations pertinent to reasonableness may include the fact that a belief is, in the terminology of reformed epistemology, ‘properly basic’.

4. Edward Madden and Peter Hare Evil and the Concept of God (Springfield IL: C. Thomas, 1968).

5. Ibid., 34.

6. Cahn, StephenCacodaemony’, Analysis, 37 (1976), 6973CrossRefGoogle Scholar.

7. Ibid., 72.

8. Stein, EdwardGod, the demon, and the status of theodicies’, American Philosophical Quarterly, 27 (1990), 163167Google Scholar.

9. Ibid., 163.

10. New, ChristopherAntitheism’, Ratio, 6 (1993), 3643CrossRefGoogle Scholar.

11. Daniels, CharlesGod, demon, good, evil’, Journal of Value Inquiry, 31 (1997), 177181CrossRefGoogle Scholar.

12. Ibid.

13. With the exception, of course, of a few scientific thought-experiments – such as Galileo's experiment involving chained falling balls, designed to show that two balls of different weights must fall at the same speed.

14. Between acceptance and publication of this paper I discovered an excellent early discussion of the evil-god hypothesis: Millican, PeterThe devil's advocate’, Cogito, 3 (1989), 193207CrossRefGoogle Scholar. Millican makes much the same move as I make here, and also offers a similar treatment of the first moral argument below.

15. Mawson, T. J.Belief in God (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2005Google Scholar), ch. 12.

16. Ibid., ch. 12.

17. See New ‘Antitheism’, 37.

18. Daniels ‘God, demon, good, evil’.