81 thoughts on “Stephen Law argues that God, if he exists, may be evil

  1. Those of you who recall the 1970s band Alberto y los Trios Paranoias may recall the spoof DEVO song they wrote – sure I have quoted on WEIT before but worthy of reiterating –

    If there is a god
    Why should he be sane?
    He’s probably a raving fruitcake
    Out of his tiny brain.
    God is mad!
    God is Mad!

  2. The Bible and the Quran both say the God is Responsible for the evil that happens in the world. Lots of examples

    I form the light, and create darkness; I make peace, and create evil; I am HaShem [God], that doeth all these things. Isiah 45:7

    Shall the horn be blown in a city, and the people not tremble? Shall evil befall a city, and HaShem [God] hath not done it? Amos 3:6

    In the Qur’an

    Allah is the Creator of all things, and He has charge over all affairs [Surah al-Zumar:62]

    I seek refuge in the Lord of the Daybreak
    From the Evil of that which He created [Quran 113:1-2]

    In City of God St Augustine blamed all evil on human sin but said physical violence to force doubters to adhere to the faith was acceptable and desirable

    Or the Bhagavad-gita

    The Supreme Personality of Godhead [Krishna] said: Time I am, the great destroyer of the worlds, and I have come here to destroy all people. With the exception of you [the Pandavas], all the soldiers here on both sides will be slain. Chapter 11:32

  3. But maybe there are two gods. A good AND an evil one. They are not omnipotent and struggle between themselves like siblings sitting in the back seat of a car on a long vacation trip. Together they account for both good and evil in the world. Maybe…just maybe…

    1. If you’ve read Thomas Perry’s novels featuring Jane Whitefield, who is half-Native American (Mohawk), they mention the twins Hawenneyu (good) and Hanegoategeh (evil), who are not omnipotent (I don’t think Native American gods are omnipotent) and who squabble with each other.

    2. That is pretty much the view of Zoroastrianism, with Ahura Mazda (good) and Angra Mainyu (evil) being the contending deities. Their final battle is seen by some to have influenced the development of the Jewish/Christian battle of Armageddon. Some interpretations Gnosticism also result in a similar Dualism. Theodicy (explaining why a good god permits evil) is primarily a problem in monotheistic religions.

    3. This is Marcionism. On some accounts, much more widespread than Roman Christianity until the middle of the 2nd century. No more sensible or believable, though.

  4. …in which he argues that one can make a convincing argument that if a god exists, he’s more likely to be evil than good.

    That’s not how I see Stephen’s argument. The strength of it, to my mind, is that it asks a theist to consider how the justification for her belief differs substantially from the belief that an evil god exists – a belief that pretty much no-one endorses, because it’s pretty absurd.

    This means they have to produce something pretty powerful and convincing to distance their belief (in God) from the evidently absurd belief in an evil god. And it’s clearly not the evidence of the good and evil we see about us, since that leaves us agnostic about the deity’s goodness.

    Not so easy to do.

    1. That is how I saw it. He develops a symmetrical pair of arguments: one for a good god that must allow evil since he gave humans free will so they may choose to good good, and the other is for an evil god that must allow people to do good since he gave humans free will so they may choose to be evil.
      Since people want to reject the evil god argument, they should also reject the good god argument on the same grounds. They are equally likely and so equally unlikely.

      1. The problem is that it isn’t symmetric, since the theist thinks having religious free will is a good thing (and people feel better).

        I suppose Evil God has to cut the strings out of malice. Perhaps people feel worse when bad things happen under religious free will in that scenario?

        1. Torbjörn Larsson,

          Yes, there may not be a symmetry depending on what the theist asserts concerning the value of Free Will, in using a free will defense. Sometimes it seems free will is a necessary but not sufficient component of the “good” in the free will defense, insofar as it is “free-willed choice to LOVE GOD” that is what God values.

          But if the theist asserts, as some do, that Free Will itself has “intrinsic’ value, then
          the theist can break the symmetry, at least at first glance, to say an Evil God would not provide an intrinsic good like free will.

          But then this seems to raise problems for the theist. Does God have free will? Apparently not like we do: God’s Necessarily Good Nature means he can never make morally relevant choices – never choose to do wrong. But then God would seem to lack a fundamental intrinsic “good” that we have, so how could God be Perfect?

          Or is it that Free Will is not intrinsically good, but rather it is made Good by God conferring it? Or that Good from GOD’s point of view, insofar as it satisfies some end he has in mind?

          If that’s the case, then the symmetry is back for Law’s Evil God. Free Will isn’t intrinsically good and Evil God could confer Free Will for some nefarious end Evil God has in mind.

          Another problem for the intrinsic value claim for Free Will is, even if it were granted, it clashes with other values. For instance, no one thinks the rapists freedom to rape is more valuable than a woman’s well-being. It’s why we have police and prisons.

          Given this hierarchy of value most of us agree on, “free will” can not be used as some “ultimate value” card played for God’s never intervening “because it would interfere with someone’s free will.”
          So even the evil born of human activity, that God allows, is left unaccounted for.

          And, then, back to Law’s Evil God scenario, even IF one granted that Free Will had intrinsic value, the free will granted us by the Evil God could be useful to an overarching Evil Goal – perhaps giving people free will make the eventual thwarting of their aims and desires all the more evil.

          1. Except the prisons are largely, not for the rich. Even if they are guiltly their wealth to hire the best attorneys etc have a good chance of getting them off. Also have witnesses have an “accident”, hit AND RUN, MUGGING,ROBBER AND KILLED IN PROCESS ETC.

        2. Why can’t it be symmetric?

          Theists may think free will is a good thing, but that doesn’t mean an evil god would necessarily eschew it. “Good” is just a word. It would be “good” for an evil aspiring tyrant if his coup were successful.

          Further, free will is first and foremost simply a necessity for the test god is supposed to be giving us. An evil god would need to confer free will in order to test us, too.

          1. An evil god is one that just likes to see sentient beings suffer. An evil god would like to give us the illusion that there is a test we can pass to get eternal life, but would raise the bar so high that it is impossible to pass and the punishment for failure is eternal torture. Thus we get hope and then it is dashed.

            For they would engineer us with a strong biological drive to procreate and then saddle us with a rule that makes it a terrible sin punishable by the fiery depths of hell to even think that our neighbour’s spouse is quite attractive.

            An evil god might even rig the rules so far that the sins of our ancestors are considered enough to throw in the fiery depths of Hell.

            An evil god might also have a scam going whereby if you follow his/her son/daughter whom you have pretended to sacrifice, you get to bypass the rules and go to heaven, but in reality, it’s the same fiery pit of hell for you.

            What I’m saying is that, if the Christian narrative is to make any kind of sense, it is a racing certainty that God is evil.

            1. Angels and pinheads and all that, but I don’t see why your definition of an evil god (“An evil god is one that just likes to see sentient beings suffer. An evil god would like to give us the illusion that there is a test”) is necessarily the correct one.

              What rules out the possibility of an evil god administering a test to see who will make suitable evil minions?

  5. I’ve always thought that if the Bible were true, then god would have to be a trickster god.

    I’ve posted this before, but it seems to fit here, too:

    Stan: Why would God let Kenny die, Chef? Why? Kenny’s my friend. Why can’t God take someone else’s friend?

    Chef: [Soothing piano music is played] Stan, sometimes God takes those closest to us, because it makes him feel better about himself. He is a very vengeful God, Stan. He’s all pissed off about something we did thousands of years ago. He just can’t get over it, so he doesn’t care who he takes. Children, puppies, it don’t matter to him, so long as it makes us sad. Do you understand?

    Stan: But then, why does God give us anything to start with?

    Chef: Well, look at it this way: if you want to make a baby cry, first you give it a lollipop. Then you take it away. If you never give it a lollipop to begin with, then you would have nothin’ to cry about. That’s like God, who gives us life and love and help just so that he can tear it all away and make us cry, so he can drink the sweet milk of our tears. You see, it’s our tears, Stan, that give God his great power.

    “South Park: Kenny Dies (#5.13)” (2001)

    1. “I’ve always thought that if the Bible were true, then god would have to be a trickster god.”

      They contrived, and God contrived. God is the supreme Contriver. Qur’an 3:54

      1. seems to me the Abrahamic god is just spectacularly vain, controlling, vengeful and desirous of glorification and tribute. I normally find the program pretty crude but good on South Park!

    1. Hmm… Now you’ve got me wondering what theodicy stories look like under evil gods.

      “In view of God being evil, how do we account for good?”

      A whole new world for theologians to explore!

      1. Stephen Law considers some possible mirror theodicies here:


        He admits that the situation isn’t perfectly symmetrical, but nevertheless:

        Surely, we can reasonably rule out an evil god on the basis of observation, notwithstanding the various ingenious mirror theodicies we have now cooked up, plus skeptical theism. So why is the good God hypothesis significantly less absurd? I don’t believe there is a satisfactory answer to this question.

  6. If you are theist and believe your deity gives humans free will then ipso facto that deity is evil. This deity is like a scientist viewing rats in a maze. He or she is thinking: “I will let the humans run amok. No matter how much they kill each other or ruin the planet or suffer from terrible diseases, I will not intervene. I am running an experiment to see how my creation is doing. Maybe I’ll learn something and do better on my next creation.” Of course, this deity by granting free will to humans is abdicating any omniscience that he may possess.

    1. The rats in a maze bit reminds me of the movie called The Forgotten that came out several years ago. There, two people remember that they once had children, but no one else believes them. In their search they discover that reality as everyone thinks of it is not at all like what everyone thought. Our perceptions are being controlled by something incredibly powerful and evil, and now the evil knows that their secret is being discovered…

    2. Maybe I’ll learn something and do better on my next creation

      There was an *early* internet paper called “Universe 2.0 Released” (or something close) based on that premise. I haven’t been able to find it again but do recall this line:

      “Sorry about all the cruelty.”

  7. In my slow theological evolution, I long ago decided that God (if it exists) must be responsible for the things we call evil as well as the things we call good. We humans just don’t have that much power. We have to look at God much as we look at the sea; admire the terrible beauty and realize that it will as readily kill us as let us live.

    1. I think the sea/God analogy is a good one, but the sea is not evil, it’s indifferent. I’ve always thought that if God exists, it’s most likely just indifferent to the suffering of sentient beings.

  8. For better or for worse, my atheological arguments make this somewhat pointless.

    That said, I think it *is* important to break the idea that somehow the “traditional” arguments are linked. I’ve *never* understood how anyone can find the arguments from omnipotence to omnibenevolence to be anything close to satisfactory, but …

  9. Brilliant. The premises are sound, the logic is impeccable, and the conclusion is absurd. It’s a “proof” by contradiction.

  10. Here’s a theory from the great Peter Cook:

    “One explanation of the universe that has been little probed by theologians is that God is a benign drunk and that the world is His hangover. If we were to regard the Creation as a result of a cosmic binge everything would fall totally into place. I believe He means very well and still does. When He wakes up and surveys the mess He resolves to straighten it out at once.

    The trouble is that He always has ‘a little nip’ to steady Himself and so the chaos continues. I know this is blasphemy and please don’t send me pamphlets. The God I’m touch with has a sense of humor and even tolerates bad jokes. When I die I hope to go out like W.C. Fields, reading the Bible and ‘looking for loopholes.'”

  11. The free will argument says nothing, nothing, nothing about natural disasters like fires, floods, earthquakes, and tornadoes.

    Decent theologians just stay away from theodicy altogether. This course is overtly recommended by Terrence Tilley in his book
    “The Evils of [sic] Theodicy”


    Stephen Law’s most recent book “Believing Bullshit: How Not to Get Sucked into an Intellectual Black Hole” is a great read.

      1. Since I have never found any good evidence in my 74 years for any “God” ever existing, then I also rejected a good or an evil “God”. There never were any “God” only people’s mistaken belief that there was or is!(smile!)

  12. My impression is that he didn’t argue that a hypothetical god would more likely be evil, he argued that the position is equally as plausible as a god that’s good, basically refuting theodicy. He shows that either position requires God to be restrained by the supposed need for free will.

    His primary argument appears to be summed up at 1:50 to 1:55 where he says “So have we shown that it’s reasonable to believe in God after all? I don’t think so.”

  13. Maybe God is evil, people have free will, and we do good things through free will, even though God would have us behave otherwise 🙂

  14. From “Bedazzled” (1967), directed by Stanley Donen, written by and starring Peter Cook and Dudley Moore:

    Cook at Lucifer in (then) modern London, now operating under the name George Spiggott, Moore as Stanley Moon, a nobody who has sold his soul to this devil.

    George climbs up on a London postbox.

    GEORGE: I’m God. This is my throne, see? All around me are the cherubim, seraphim, continually crying “Holy, holy, holy”. The angels, archangels, that sort of thing. Now you be me, Lucifer, the loveliest angel of them all.

    STANLEY: What do I do?

    GEORGE: Well sort of dance around praising me, mainly.

    STANLEY: What sort of things do I say?

    GEORGE: Anything that comes into your head that’s nice — how beautiful I am, how wise I am, how handsome…that sort of thing. Come on, start dancing.

    STANLEY (dancing): You’re wise! You’re beautiful! Your handsome!

    GEORGE: Thank you very much.

    STANLEY: The universe! What a wonderful idea — take my hat off to you!

    GEORGE: Thank you.

    STANLEY: Trees — terrific! Water — another good one!

    GEORGE: That was a good one.

    STANLEY: Yes! Sex — top marks!

    GEORGE: Now make it more personal…a bit more fulsome, please.

    STANLEY: Immortal…invisible…you’re glorious…you’re the most beautiful person in the WORLD!

    Stanley performs a handstand removes his hat, and wipes his brow.

    STANLEY: Here, I’m getting bored with this. Can we change places?

    GEORGE: That’s exactly how I felt.

    This movie deserves to be better known.

    1. I agree wholeheartedly–Bedazzled is one of the wittiest movies ever made and also a genuine exploration of theology and theodicy. It’s a pity that Cook never wrote another movie so great. But one overlooked entry in his career is “The Rise and Rise of Michael Rimmer” (1971), an uneven but scarily prescient political satire (co-written with John Cleese and Graham Chapman) about a faceless polling consultant who blarneys his way into becoming Prime Minister and turns every major decision into a national referendum (shades of Brexit!). Eventually the people get sick of democracy and grant him dictatorial powers.

      I also found another of Cook’s 1970s columns discussing God:

      “Good news from a group of Jesuits. According to their pamphlet God may well be a Woman. I hope and pray She is. I shall have stern words with Her about Her appalling mismanagement in creating the female reproductive system. It seems totally unfair that there should be so many things to go wrong gynaecologically.

      Men at worst can look forward at worst to a prostrate operation and (if he is promiscuous) the occasional but easily curable ‘dose’. But the female system is geared to achieve maximum pain during birth and a high punishment rate for so called ‘social diseases’ and abortions. If God has any intention of returning me to this Earth I ask Her to send me back male. If She insists on my being female, I want to belong to that little tribe in Africa, where the men go out into the forest and experience their wives’ labour pains while the good ladies, I’m told, lie back reading comics and smoking cigarettes.”

  15. You know those antibacterial soaps that (claim to) kill 99.99% of germs?

    When it comes to the scale of the universe, *we* are that 0.01%. So it makes much more sense that, if there is a god, he’s trying to kill us just like we’re trying to kill bacteria.

  16. Is that really what he’s arguing? It seems like he’s just using the argument for an evil god as a way to illustrate the untenability of an argument for a good god.

    The seeming advantage in supplying the evil god hypothesis is that theists are less accustomed to summarily excusing its farfetchedness out-of-hand, then showing they’re equally strong arguments given only free will as a defense for either.

  17. This reminds me of the god Sithrak from the Oglaf universe, who hates all human unconditionally:


    From http://oglaf.wikia.com/wiki/Doomsayers_of_The_Blind_Gibberer

    One advantage of believing in Sithrak is the fact that nothing you do in this life, evil or good, will alter your fate in the afterlife. Sithrak tortures everyone there indifferently.

    [The cult followers] also believe that your horrible life may be due to your being a ghost without knowing; all the bad stuff that has befallen you is due to Sithrak’s curse, rather than being the result of your own bad decisions.

    1. Thank you for that. Oglaf is very witty, philosophically witty one could say, spent a few hours there. Must admit I do not always ‘get’ it.

  18. We take a scientific and logic based approach to all subjects including God. We would respectfully suggest as God by the definition of all religions possesses a time line that is significantly longere to than we do.

    Therefore what any individual interprets as good or evil in their own construct, may in fact be quite the opposite. As a simplistic example if Adolph Hitler had been struck by an automobile as a child. In that context, people close to him would have viewed it as an evil. Yet with the benefit of hindsight we would see a blessing.

    Also is it not a fact neither good not evil would have clear definition without each other. If one is teaching a child, a child who is evolving with free will, do you not in fact have to offer both options for the child to evolve? Perhaps evolve on a time line crossing thousands of millennia.

    So before we can make any hypothesis on God moralistic intent wouldn’t we first have to understand the time construct?


    Aaron Arnott

    Editor Struthers Time

    1. If Adolf Hitler had been killed earlier, and there were plenty of opportunities particularly during the First World War, perhaps somebody else just as bad but competent might have arisen instead.

      Rather than contemplate all these possibilities and God’s motives, it’s much easier to assume that God does not exist, or at least takes no active interest in what happens here on Earth. Things are much easier to explain if there is no god.

      1. Hello Jeremy,
        Even though my faith has been challenged in the most severe of ways throught my life, I am still frimly in the creator camp.

        Even today my writing brings events that could be used to cause a breach of faith.www.ocdadropsball.wordpress.com by example.

        This is about you, not me. Your statement is that it is easier to assume He or She (God) does not exist and if He or She (God) does must care little about what is going on here on our tiny planet.

        You are of course correct it is far eaisier to believe that. It is also easier to believe the earth is flat. Or failing that, at least the center of the universe?

        It has been my practical experience that seeking the easy path. Be it your faith, your family or fortune is rarely the correct one. A universe without a God would still be very complex and over simplfying things might not in your best interests.

        I would profer only one nugget. I sense you are person who has a keen intelect but cannot reconcile historical fact and faith. If God does not exist why does man no matter where he springs from on the globe have a sense of right or wrong. Why do we have a conscience? It is a very painful thing. In the cold dog eat dog world you postulate, it is a hinderence. It should have been genetically excised milenia ago as sheer baggage. Yet it remains.

        It is the reason that I, knowing my children are at grave risk I still do not grasp some of the tools of war that the U.S. Military was kind enough to teach me how to use rather handily and kill the four possible suspects. I know three of them are innocent and I truthfully do not wish to harm the one who isn’t. A serial rapist most likely had a childhood of rape himself.

        I might not be selfless enough to pay for his therapy but I don’t want to harm him unless I had to in direct intervention to save my child. So why do I feel this way. I wasn’t raised in a religous home. I have seen and done things of which I am ashamed but inside me their is a force (a soul?) that know right from wrong. I bet you have one too? Why? Evolution would not exlain it well.

        Jeremy this is just a kernel of perspective not a comprehensive thesis.


        Aaron Salter-Arnott
        Editor http://www.strutherstime.com

        1. Ah, a conscience. All it requires is intelligence and a little imagination.

          Imagination is a positive attribute which natural selection would favour. Imagining that there might be a bear lurking in that cave is obviously better in survival terms than never thinking of it.

          From there to developing a conscience? – all you need to do is imagine how you would feel if someone else did ‘it’ (whatever it is) to you. And the realisation that you are not special, you’re pretty much like everyone else.

          In other words, the attributes that psychopaths lack.


          1. Not to mention, of course, that over the centuries millions of people have been killed because they believed the ‘wrong’ things or offended someone else’s sense of right and wrong.

            Like morphine, computers and assault rifles, a sense of right and wrong is a two-edged sword.


        2. It is also easier to believe the earth is flat. Or failing that, at least the center of the universe?

          No it isn’t. It’s actually incredibly hard to believe those things because the evidence is overwhelmingly that they are not true.

          1. You are not one to joust with unprepared! I will do an article in your honor so that I can prepare my thoughts and explore your perspective. It is easy to write about what you agree with it is harder to write about what you wish to avoid. I shall call it “A Question of Faith?” Have an excellent day!

          2. It is quite convenient to assume that the earth is locally flat – it works for all practical everyday purposes**. This is entirely compatible with a sphere of 4000 miles radius (the difference between that and infinite radius is undetectable locally). That shouldn’t be confused with believing the whole earth is flat.

            (**Oh, almost all, I don’t want to get into hairsplittings about satnav etc).


        3. Our knowledge is increasing every 10 years or less and that impact remains to be seen but I imagine the world in a 100 or 200 will be much different. Our assumptions have changed dramatically in the last 100 years and I would expect that to keep happening. Religious belief appears to be in the decline through the world and I would expect that to continue as our knowledge increases and to pressures for people who want to modernize continues. What will a 100 or 200 years bring ?

    2. “if Adolph Hitler had been struck by an automobile as a child. In that context, people close to him would have viewed it as an evil. Yet with the benefit of hindsight we would see a blessing.”

      Just to split hairs – we wouldn’t. Because we wouldn’t know what we’d missed.

      (That’s not really relevant to the point you were trying to make, though)


  19. One must come up with various philosophical musings to rationalize one’s atheism or misotheism because one’s conscience and sub-conscience inherently knows that one’s actions are not in accordance with the will of the God they supposedly don’t believe in. Thus, in order to maintain sanity, guiltlessness and a godless mind, such a person must constantly invent or discover new ways to justify his godless actions, because he knows that he is taking pascal’s wager but he needs assurance that he’ll at least break-even in the end, since he must admit he cannot win.

  20. If we look at the evidence the most likely God seems to me the nihilistic God; created by accident a world without meaning, purpose, good and evil, and didn’t care about its future.

  21. I think his attempt in the video, starting at 2:16, supposedly showing the lack of evidence of an evil God, is not convincing. Try telling the civilians caught in the war in Syria, those suffering from cancer, or even the people homeless on the streets of America that they aren’t already in a torture chamber. Surely, to use one of the weasel-words he is fond of employing, the fact that we ALL die, creating misery for our families, at very least, is powerful evidence for an evil God. Surely, the good-evil argument is far more finely balanced than he makes out. In that case, the best and simplest solution is to postulate no God at all.

  22. God is a human construct, to enable the people who have his ear i.e. Priests et al ,have power over the deluded fools that believe he exists.

  23. I normally don’t comment on all this “God vs atheists” stuff, but I will propose this.

    If there is a “Greater Power,” it doesn’t have sex (but maybe it IS sex, along with everything else), nor gender according to the “laws” of English.

    Whether we call that Greater Power God or Nature, it has to be indifferent to the fate of any species. Not benevolent nor loving, nor evil–it is just what IS.


  24. Would like to point out that the ‘Abrahamic’ religions are not really monotheistic. There is always a kind of evil God: the Devil, Beelzebub, Shaitan, etc. And then we don’t even mention the plethora of ‘intercessory’ demi-god’s of the RCC.
    Note that if there is an evil God that the ‘good’ God does or can not defeat, there are but 2 possibilities:
    – The ‘good’ God is not all powerful
    – The ‘good’ God is not all that good

    During childhood we were read a piece of the Bible about every day. Since it was opened approximately randomly, we got much more OT than NT (the OT is much more voluminous). If there was one thing I realised as a young child (well before I doubted His existence), it was that ‘God loves you’ was not true, I knew better, I knew the Bible.

  25. The universe is completely indifferent. Good and evil are human creations. there is no doG. However since i found those strange-looking wet prints on the deck this past summer I’m beginning to wonder if there isn’t a Cthulhu.

  26. Well my 1952 King James Version Bible claims in Isaiah 45:7 “I form the light, and crate darkness: I make peace, and create evil: I the Lord do all these things.” Or so whoever wrote this said. I remind my Christians coworkers when the discussion of where evil comes from-their “God”! They do not like this passage! It must means something it doesn”t say!

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