|Which one represents the true nature of "God"?|
Law illustrates the evil god challenge like so:
One author dismisses the evidential problem of evil as an argument against the existence of God as “worthless”. Why is it worthless? The author sweeps the problem to one side because they suppose it’s entirely dealt with by two points. The first point is: they suppose we can look forward to a limitless afterlife in which we’ll enjoy the beatific vision, and this is going to more than compensate us for all the horror we experience in this life. The author quotes St. Paul, who said: “the sufferings of the present time are not worth comparing to the glory that is to be revealed to us.” The second point the author makes is this: that the pain etc. we experience now is the price paid for greater goods to be gained later. They illustrate by pointing out how suffering of child being forced to learn the violin is the price justifiably paid for great good of that child’s later being able to play violin (they admit this isn’t suffering on quite the scale of Auschwitz, but insist the same basic principle applies). Indeed, this particular author adds that, by supposing evil constitutes good evidence against a good God, the atheist is just assuming there’s no God and thus no wondrous afterlife etc. that more than compensates the evils we experience now. So the atheist’s argument based on suffering is hopelessly circular. Indeed, this author says that atheists who run such an argument need “a course in logic”!Feser's critique of the evil god challenge is nicely presented here:
But now here’s where the evil God challenge comes in. All these points made above can be flipped in defence of belief in an evil god. A defender of belief in an evil god can say we can look forward to an afterlife of unremitting terror and suffering, and this will more than compensate us for any good enjoyed now. Moreover, these goods we experience now are actually the price paid for greater evils (I give loads of examples in my paper). Moreover, by assuming that the goods we see around us constitute good evidence against an evil God, the evil-god-rejecter is just assuming there’s no evil God and thus no hellish afterlife that more than ou[t]weighs the goods. So this objection against belief in an evil god is hopelessly circular. Clearly, this critic of the evil god hypothesis needs” a course in logic”!
Law claims that the evidence for the existence of a good God is no better than the evidence for the existence of an evil god, and that any theodicy a theist might put forward as a way of reconciling the fact of evil with the existence of a good God has a parallel in a reverse-theodicy a believer in an evil god could put forward to reconcile the presence of good in the world with the existence of an evil god. Now, no one actually believes in an evil god. Therefore, Law concludes, since (he claims) the evidence for a good God is no better than that for an evil God, no one should believe in a good God either. That’s the “evil god challenge.”Feser gives a good summary of Law's position, and Law's argument isn't particularly difficult at any rate. Yet at this stage I think Law has the better of the debate. Law says that Feser could overcome the evil god challenge by coming up "with some really extraordinarily good argument for the existence of a good god, an argument that’s so very, very compelling that it more than outweighs the mountain of evidence against such a god constituted by the vast quantities of horror and suffering we see around us."
The trouble is that Law regards this as a challenge to theism generally, and it simply isn’t. It applies at most only to one, historically idiosyncratic version of theism. So, suppose you regard the divine attributes as in principle metaphysically separable -- that something that is, for example, omnipotent or omniscient could nevertheless fail to be all-good. Suppose also that you regard good and evil as on a metaphysical par, neither more fundamental than the other. And suppose that you consider the grounds for belief in God to consist in an inductive inference to the effect that God is the best explanation of various bits of evidence -- the orderliness of the world, the good we find in it, etc. Given those specific metaphysical and epistemological assumptions -- the sort that might be made by someone beholden to a “theistic personalist” conception of God and who thinks Paley-style “design arguments” and the like are the best reason to believe in God -- Law’s challenge might be a problem. (Or maybe not. But since I have no time either for theistic personalism or for Paley-style “design arguments,” I really couldn’t care less.)
But Feser's response is a variety of "not MY god," in that he claims his argument is not subject to the evil god challenge. Feser's argument for god, he claims, is different--making Law's challenge "irrelevant." Feser explains:
His “evil god hypothesis” doesn’t stalemate the arguments for classical theism, for two reasons. First, unlike the “good god” of theistic personalism, the God of classical theism isn’t in the same genus as Law’s “evil god.” The God of classical theism isn’t the same kind of thing as Law’s “evil god” at all. (Indeed, unlike everything else that exists, the God of classical theism isn’t in a genus or kind in the first place -- that’s part of the whole point of classical theism.) So there is no parallel between alternative “hypotheses” of the sort Law needs in order to get his “challenge” off the ground.I don't hear Feser saying much here. His first argument basically accuses Law of using a straw man as the "good" god. The second argument is bizarre. Although the classical God is conceived as pure and transcendent, the argument to purity and transcendence begins with inferences from reality. I don't see why it makes a difference whether we are talking about pure and transcendent evil as well as pure and transcendent good. In neither case do I buy Feser's appeal to exceptionalism.
Second, the arguments typically employed by classical theists simply cannot be stalemated by “evidential” considerations because they are typically not “evidential” or inductive or probabilistic arguments in the first place. If an Aristotelian argument from motion, or Aquinas’s “existence argument,” or Neo-Platonic arguments work at all, they get you demonstratively to something that is pure actuality, or subsistent being itself, or an absolute unity; and the other metaphysical theses alluded to get you from there to something that is of necessity perfectly good (indeed, something that is goodness itself). To suggest that what is purely actual or subsistent being itself might, given the “evidence,” be evil, is simply unintelligible. To make such a suggestion would merely be to show that the one making it doesn’t understand the metaphysical concepts in question.
Law puts the matter best in his comment to Feser: "Anyway, that's my take for what it's worth. I don't doubt you will continue to maintain that the evil god challenge "doesn't apply" to your sort of theism, despite the fact that it actually very nicely reveals the inadequacy of the theodicies you offered in your book."