Evil-God Challenge

Subject: Religion
Type: Argumentative Essay
Pages: 6
Word count: 1683
Topics: Theology, Church

There are many belief systems in the world revolving around the existence and non-existence of God. These belief systems can be broadly classified into theism and atheism. Theism supports the existence of an all-powerful, all-knowing and a perfectly good god (Rowe, 2017). On the other side of the divide, atheists completely deny the existence of such a being. This paper sets out to present and evaluate Stephen Law’s argument and William Rowe’s discussion on God’s existence. While Stephen Law’s argument is based on the moral character of God, William Rowe’s discussion is based on the very existence of God.

Stephen Law’s Argument as Presented in the Evil-God Challenge

Stephen Law has elaborately provided an argument that effectively challenges theism. His argument is based on two hypotheses. The good-god hypothesis explains that there exists an omnipotent, omniscient and an all-good-god and the second one explains that there exists an omnipotent, omniscient and an all-evil god. He notes that theists do not agree with the second hypothesis because of the problem of good (Law, 2010). He is thus faced with the challenge of explaining why the first hypothesis should be taken to be more reasonable than the second hypothesis. He starts with explaining the problem of evil which logically opposes the thought that there exists an omnipotent, omniscient and an all-good-god. 

The argument is based on the premise that if at all there exists such a being, why is there so much evil in the world? He goes further to present the theist solutions to such a question by discussing three theodicies. These are the simple free-will solution, character-building solution, as well as the second-order goods, require first-order evils (Law, 2010). Under simple free-will, he explains that God gave human beings the free will to choose what to do and in the process, some people choose to do evil, leading to suffering. Yet, the same free-will also allow for much good to be done which far outweighs the evil. The character-building solution explains that God allows people to go through suffering in order for them to become noble souls. Law explains in an example that, “Charity is a so-called second-order good that requires first-order evils like neediness and suffering to exist” (Law, 2010, p. 355). This position supposes that, for some good to happen, there must exist some evil. 

In all the three cases, he presents limitations indicating that they are not sufficient in explaining the existence of evil. He demonstrates the limitation of free will to explain the existence of natural evils due to natural disasters and indicate that even the theists themselves acknowledge the insufficiency of these explanations, and have resorted to explaining that God works in mysterious ways when they cannot offer a valid explanation.  Law has gone further to challenge these three theodicies on the basis that most arguments for the existence of God have failed to offer clues as to God’s moral character such that, there is a possibility for the reverse to be true and that there exists an omnipotent, omniscient and an all-evil-god, in conformity with the evil-god hypothesis (Law, 2010). 

Again, under this hypothesis, there arises the problem of good in the same way as the problem of evil arose under the good-god hypothesis, raising the question as to why then is there so much good in the world if such an evil God actually exists. He goes back to present the same case but in a reverse manner as he represents it under the good-god hypothesis stating that “Just as there are moves theists make to try to deal with the problem of evil, so there are similar moves we might make to try to deal with the problem of good” (Law, 2010, p. 357). He demonstrates this situation by giving examples under reverse theodicies.  Advocates of this hypothesis may also use simple free-will solution, character-destroying solution and first-order goods allow second-order evils, to explain the existence of good in the world (Law, 2010). He uses the reverse theodicies to present an interesting way in which theism may be challenged since they mirror the initial theodicies.

 He, however, points out another argument for the theist based on the existence of miracles and religious experiences as well as the moral argument that the fact that human beings have a sense of right and wrong is a significant evidence for the good-god hypothesis, which cannot be mirrored on the evil-god hypothesis, which brings an asymmetry. However, each time such an argument is presented, there is also a counter argument to support the evil-god hypothesis. He further goes to present more reverse theodicies as well as their reverses including, laws-of-nature, the after-life and semantic theodicies alongside their reverses to show the symmetry between the two hypotheses. In conclusion, monotheists lack sufficient grounds to propose that the good-god hypothesis is more reasonable than the evil-god hypothesis (Law, 2010).

Evaluation of Stephen Law’s Argument

Law’s argument is not a good one for various reasons.  His discussion is based on the moral character of God as to whether he is good or evil and on the evil-god hypothesis, he presents God as evil by allowing evil in the world. However, the suffering of human beings may not necessarily be evil and as much as it happens, Law does not give any sufficient ground to indicate that God does not have sufficient reason to allow suffering in the world. As such, the mere fact that humans are not aware of God’s moral reasons does not qualify to say that he is evil. Also, creating an asymmetry between the two hypotheses to prove that God may be evil does not offer perfect evidence and is rather more hypothetical than real. 

William Rowe’s Discussion

William Rowe’s discussion is based on three main premises. First, he says there is too much evil in the world in such a way that if there was an omnipotent, omniscient and all good god, he would not permit such to occur. Secondly, he argues that, if such a being ever existed, he would not permit such evils without a good reason. Thirdly, based on the two statements, he concludes that God does not exist. He claims that there is so much pointless evil in the world which gives evidence to the non-existence of God. It is logical that no good in the world justifies the evils that happen in it, and an all-powerful God does not exist (Rowe, 2017).  He stresses that “Such a being would be powerless to prevent many of the countless, seemingly pointless horrors in our world without losing some goods so distant from us that even the mere conception of them must elude our grasp” (Rowe, 2017, p. 187).

He further goes to demonstrate two possible responses that a theist can offer in trying to explain the existence of evil in the world. The first response is that the fact that humans do not know the goods that justify God to permit evils in the world, cannot be used as evidence that he does not exist (Rowe, 2017). The theist’s second response is that the goods that justify God to permit the occurrence of evil is well known to us and that religious thinker has developed theodicies that offer explanations as to why evil occurs in the world. He argues, “These theodicies, taken together, are really unsuccessful in providing what could be God’s reasons for permitting the horrendous evils in the world” (Rowe, 2017, p. 191). The simple free-will theodicy is applied to indicate its inadequacy in explaining the occurrence of evils from natural disasters, demonstrating that as for the natural disasters, a theist may argue that it is God’s way of punishing human beings for the abuse of free will. He counters that the sufferings experienced far outweigh the abuses of free will by humans and can thus not be justified. 

A Comparison of William Rowe’s Discussion and Stephen Law’s Argument on Evil

In comparing the two, there are both similarities and differences.  In consideration of similarities, they both acknowledge the existence of evil in the world that apparently cannot be justified by the supernatural being. They also talk about theodicies and acknowledge their shortcomings in clarifying why there is so much malevolence in the world. Also, both of them set out to challenge theism to give a proper explanation on why evil exists in the world despite their claim of the existence of an omnipotent, omniscient and an all-powerful God.

In terms of differences, Stephen law believes in the existence of God but, questions his moral standing on whether he is good or evil and seeks to determine whether the existence of a good-god is more reasonable than the existence of an evil god. Rowe, on the other hand completely denies the existence of God in light of the presence of malevolence in the world pointing out that the realities about underhandedness in our world give a justifiable reason to imagine that God does not exist. He seeks to determine whether the presence of evil in the world makes atheism more reasonable than monotheism. In his argument, Stephen Law mainly challenges theism using the supposed symmetry that exists between the two hypotheses while William Rowe challenges it by arguing that the existence of horrendous evil in the world is evidence enough that God does not exist. He proposes that this argument offers a reasonable basis for an affirmative answer to the non-existence of God (Rowe, 2017).

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Stephen Law and William Rowe have challenged theism to give a valid explanation as to the existence of horrendous evil in the world despite the belief in the existence of an all-knowing, all-powerful and an all-good god. Stephen Law argued that so far, atheists have not been able to provide sufficient grounds for their claim and that the same reasons they give could be used to show that there is an equally evil God. Rowe claimed that the existence of evil in the world presents enough evidence that God does not exist at all since if he does, he would not permit evil to happen.

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  1. Law, S. (2010). The evil-god challenge. Religious Studies.
  2. Rowe, W. L. (2017). Is evil evidence against belief in God? 
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