Evil God Challenge

The Evil God Challenge is a thought experiment. The challenge is to explain why an all-good god should be more likely than an all-evil god. Those who advance this challenge assert that, unless there is a satisfactory answer to the challenge, there is no reason to accept God is good or can provide moral guidance.


Papers by Stephen Cahn,[1] Peter Millican,[2] Edward Stein[3] Christopher New,[4] and Charles B Daniels,[5] explored the notion of an 'anti-God'—an omnipotent, omniscient God who is all evil. The Evil God challenge was originally proposed by Iain King,[6] and was developed at length and in several formats by the philosopher Stephen Law.[7]

Supporting the greater likeliness of an omnimalevolent creator, in 2015, John Zande published an extended argument for the Evil God thesis,[8] arguing that the irresistible, self-complicating nature of this universe[9] not only resolves the Problem of Good, but establishes unignorable teleological evidence for the wicked disposition of the Creator. Stephen Law noted this work to be an intriguing development in the theology of the Evil God.[10]

The challenge

Iain King presents the argument thus: "A religious fundamentalist tells us to do certain things ‘because God commands it’. For every such command there is an equal and opposite command which we can attribute to an anti-God, who has their own book of (un)holy words. Fundamentalists must pass this challenge: they must explain to someone who is neutral in the matter why their God is better than the anti-God without locating good in some Godly concept, such as love, that could be followed in its own right."[11] Stephen Law asserts that, even though the notion of an omnipotent, omniscient God who is all evil may be ridiculous, all of the arguments to dismiss this Evil God apply equally well to the idea of an all-good God.[12]

Criticisms and responses

Several criticisms and responses to the Evil God Challenge have been presented. William Lane Craig, Steve Wykstra, Dan Howard-Snyder, and Mike Rea have all suggested that the evident presence of good in the world makes impossible the notion of an all-evil, omnipotent God.[13] Law contends that those who present this line of argument must either deny the existence of evil or accept that the Problem of Evil makes a classical good God equally untenable.[14]

Max Andrews refutes Law's contention here not by denying the existence of evil, but by denying the existence of evil as Law defines it. In general, Law's challenge is only valid if evil is defined as "equal and opposite" to good (Law's term quoted above): the "Evil God Challenge" is premised not upon "the existence of evil", but upon a peculiar belief about what evil "is", a belief Law borrows from the "religious fundamentalist" described in the quotation above. Andrews instead adopts Augustine's definition of evil not as "equal and opposite" to good, and thus as the presence of some "thing", but rather as an absence of good, and thus as something with no nature of its own: according to this definition, an evil God and a good God are not comparable, making the line of argument involved in the "Challenge" meaningless.[15] The comparison between a good God and an evil God according to this definition would be like a comparison between apples and no apples. Andrews further suggests, given this definition of evil, the notion of an all-evil God is incoherent, since such a God would be unable to imagine everything he did was evil.[15]

Of course, it is equally possible to define “good” as nothing but a temporary reduction in evil and suffering, and therefore as something with no nature of its own—"equally possible" in that the merits of this definition could be debated in the same way as those of any other. The point to be taken from Andrews's refutation is that a particular, otherwise contested definition of "good" is taken for granted by the "Evil God Challenge". Law's challenge cannot function as a general challenge to all people who believe or disbelieve in a "Good God" writ large. It is only a challenge to people who, like Law and his "religious fundamentalist", believe or disbelieve in the "Good God" of a universe where good and evil are equal and opposite. Since not all people—neither all theists nor all atheists—accept that good and evil are equal and opposite, not all people will accept Law's challenge as a challenge to the belief in a "Good God." In other words, the "Evil God Challenge", far from being purely "atheistic", is premised upon a controversial theological belief about the nature of evil.

Rebutting Andrews's characterization of evil as presented in his “A Response to the Problem of an ‘Evil God’ as Raised by Stephen Law",[16] John Zande argued[8] that maximum evil (identified as The Owner of All Infernal Names:[17] a metaphysically necessary, maximally powerful being who does not share His creation with any other comparable spirit) is not, as Andrews proposes, “maximally selfish", hateful, vengeful, or even hostile, rather best described as intensely pragmatic and thoroughly observant of His needs; promoting, defending, and even admiring life in its struggle to persist and self-adorn. As presented, maximum evil is not, therefore, an Ouroboros on a colossal scale, hopelessly given over to self-indulgence and destined to defile itself and anything it imagined into being, for a world driven only by impetuous brutality would resemble more a raging, super-heated, short-lived bonfire than a secure, creative, and ultimately profitable marketplace desired by a Creator who, above all other things, seeks to maximize His pleasure over time.

Peter Forrest has suggested an evil God is less likely than a good God, because the term ‘good’ is intrinsically linked to the notion of ‘God’ in a way that ‘evil’ is not.[18] Edward Feser has argued with Law from a similar position.[19] According to these arguments, an evil God, whatever this might be, would simply not be God.


  1. 1976, Stephen Cahn, Cacodaemony, Analysis 37 (1976).
  2. 1989, Peter Millican, ‘The Devil’s Advocate’, first published in Cogito, http://www.millican.org/papers/1989DevAdv.pdf
  3. 1990, Edward Stein, American Philosophical Quarterly, Vol. 27, No. 2 (Apr., 1990) , pp. 163-167, God, the Demon, and the Status of Theodicies, http://www.jstor.org/stable/20014323
  4. New, Christopher (June 1993). "Antitheism – A Reflection". Ratio. 6 (1): 36–43. doi:10.1111/j.1467-9329.1993.tb00051.x..
  5. 1997, Daniels, Charles B. (1997). "God, demon, good, evil", The Journal of Value Inquiry, Vol. 31 (2), June, pp.177–181.
  6. 2008, How to Make Good Decisions and Be Right All the Time, ISBN 978-1-84706-347-2, pages 74 and 83.
  7. 2010, ‘Evil God Challenge’ in Journal of Religious Studies; and http://stephenlaw.blogspot.co.uk/2010/02/evil-god-challenge.html. A 2014 youtube presentation by Law of the challenge is here https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=TU54EYkap5Q
  8. 1 2 Zande, John (2015). The Owner of All Infernal Names: An Introductory Treatise on the Existence, Nature and Government of Our Omnimalevolent Creator. Createspace. ISBN 978-1512263527.
  9. Smith, Kelly (2014). "Manifest complexity: A foundational ethic for astrobiology?". Space Policy. 30 (4): 209—214. Retrieved 12 Oct 2015.
  10. Law, Stephen (7 July 2015). "Evil God has a theology being developed". stephenlaw60. Twitter. Retrieved 12 October 2015.
  11. 2008, How to Make Good Decisions and Be Right All the Time, ISBN 978-1-84706-347-2, p.83. King goes on to assert, "Fundamentalists should be more worried than they will be that this challenge is impossible", and also that empathy and obligation can pass an equivalent test, and hence there is more reason to show empathy towards others than to obey God.
  12. Law, ‘Evil God Challenge’ in Religious Studies, 2009.
  13. William Lane Craig sets out this position in several places, including on his Reasonable Faith blog, http://www.reasonablefaith.org/the-evil-god-objection
  14. Law, ‘Evil God Challenge’ in Religious Studies, 2009.
  15. 1 2 "Responding to the Evil God Challenge -".
  16. Andrews, Max (2012-01-20). "A Response to the Problem of an 'Evil God' as Raised by Stephen Law". Sententias. Retrieved 12 October 2015.
  17. Zande, John. "The Owner of All Infernal Names". Retrieved 2015-10-12.
  18. 2012, "Replying to the Anti-God Challenge: A God Without Moral Character Acts Well", Religious Studies 48 (1):35 - 43.
  19. 2010, see http://edwardfeser.blogspot.co.uk/2010/10/laws-evil-god-challenge.html

See also

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