Why is there good in the world?

Stephen Law, in teaching the various theodicies that make up the AS Religious Studies syllabus, needed a simple way of finding criticisms to teach his students. As seen in the Problem of Evil, it can easily become a very long-winded and prolonged argument. Law wanted a nice method of showing how Irenaeus and Augustine had gotten it wrong.

The Christian God is believed to be the pinnacle of goodness; he, essentially, is good. But what if he were evil, instead? If God were an evil being, then the tables are turned, and we must, instead, examine the Problem of Good instead...

This idea is, naturally, one upon which we heap ridicule. It is, to us, laughable that we were brought into existance by a being of such malevolence - but why should we suppose the opposite, that we were created by a benevolent being instead? The 'Evil God' thought experiement, as Law calls it, is designed to look into why we find it better to presume God is good, and at the same time find holes in the traditional arguments for the existance of evil.

1. The Reverse-Free Will defence

An evil God would want to create the maximum possible suffering. So, as good exists, and we can perform good acts, we have to ask ourselves why this is; surely it would be worse for us if there was no good what-so-ever? The response to this is that God has given us free will. By creating us with complete freedom of will, and with natures that are largely weak and selfish, God knows that we will often choose the 'wrong' choice in a moral argument.

Not only will we often choose poorly, but the ability to choose brings in plenty of opportunities for us to be ravaged by our guilt afterwards. If we choose wrongly and see the result of our immoral actions, the pain we feel will be so much worse than if we had no choice in the matter. While we can also perform good acts through our free will, this is offset by the suffering that our bad actions bring onto us - and the good deeds we perform are offset by the sheer amount of evil that free will also brings.

2. The Reverse-Irenaean defence

God has put goodness into this world. The reason for this is to more thoroughly crush and destroy our character. If there is good in the world, it allows God to make us suffer much more acutely. For example: by giving wealth, happiness, and all the other benefits of a fantastic lifestyle to a select few, God immediately makes those who are without those luxuries jealous, angry, and resenting of those who do. By creating happiness in one small area, a much greater area of evil is created as a result - greater than could otherwise be possible.

Another point to consider is that in the Irenaean theodicy, there are second order goods that can only be brought about by first order evils. In the case of the Evil God, this is reversed: by creating first order goods, second order evils spring up to compensate. By having luxury in the world, greed and jealousy are brought about. By having beauty, lust exists.


Of course, we are dismissive of these arguments for an evil God. But, as we can see, all they are are mirrors of the same arguments in favour of a good God. This asks the question: why do people happily embrace traditional Irenaean theodicy, but reject its reverse?

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