An evil god is still a god …

There’s an interesting line that a lot of atheists take wrt the Problem of Evil. Many of them accept — loosely — that the Problem of Evil doesn’t quite get to eliminating a God per se, but insist that we couldn’t have an omnibenevolent God that would allow this much suffering. So, they then turn around and say that those who believe in an omnibenevolent God don’t know that it isn’t an evil God, and may even argue that it’s more likely that if a God exists that God is evil. And so, they’d conclude, it wouldn’t be worthy of worship (although if you had an evil God or even not omnibenevolent one that would indeed punish you with an eternity of suffering for not doing, it might still be prudent despite their defiant attitude). But there’s one really important thing they miss in pushing that argument:

An evil God is still a God.

So, if the theist accepts that God, if God existed, was at least not all good, what has that gained the atheist? The atheist in some sense doesn’t think that any God — good, evil or indifferent — exists. It does their line no good to argue for another type of God and rest there. Sure, the evil God concept addresses the theist argument that’s being made, but not in a way that really helps the atheist with their argument.

I’ve seen the same sort of replies to the cosmological and ontological arguments, of the sort the even if it got to a god it wouldn’t get to, say, the specific Judeo-Christian God the theist wants. Yeah, but it still gets us to a God, which means that the atheist is, in fact, just plain wrong at that point. How in the world can they think it helps them, then?

It’s a prime example of not seeing the forest for the trees. This is not limited to atheists, of course, but does seem to spring up here.


5 Responses to “An evil god is still a god …”

  1. alevelre Says:

    The Problem of evil is not a problem for atheists. You don’t find atheists sitting around, wondering if the flaw in the problem of evil argument means that God does after all exist. The inconsistent triad raises the fundamental question of whether a god who is not omni benevolent, is worthy of worship. In short, all you achieve here is stating the triumph for the Protest Atheist.

  2. aleanation Says:

    I see your point, but I guess I would like to add something from the other side. While an evil or impure god (which we derive from the evil we see in the world) does not show that gods do not exist, you should bear in mind that modern atheists typically find themselves arguing with monotheists. I think that the problem of evil does pose a serious difficulty for monotheism in particular, for the following reasons.

    As I say, monotheism is the ultimate reification of dichotomy. The point is that monotheism is the final move of ideological organization. When people look at the world, they find distinctions; some things are this way, some things are the other. This gives them a continuum between one quality/element and its opposite, upon which the objects in the world can be placed and classified. This is one of the ways in which people organize their ideas in understanding the world.

    One of the most basic and crucial ways in which people divvy up the world is between desirable or good objects and undesirable or bad objects. When such a duality is extrapolated to its fullest extent, it is all-inclusive. Then, when people try to understand the distinction more abstractly, they try to find some explanation or source, like plato’s “forms.” This gives you an abstract form of the good, and an abstract form of the bad. With monotheism, the “form of good” taken for a real entity, which is god, and the “form of evil” is the devil. All the goodness in the world flows in one direction, from one source, from God.

    Because of this, if it is impossible to conceive of a purely good God (because God is defined as all-powerful and all-good, but there is so much evil in the world), the entire system of ideological organization falls apart; your distinction “good/evil” and your understanding of it loses its orderly mutually exclusive structure.

    In any case, your post is a good piece of theodicy. I think that atheists focus on the problem of evil because it is specifically the abrahamic God that they are attempting to debunk, not just “Gods” in general, whatever in the burning cosmos those are.

    Whether there are gods or not depends on how you define “god.” My view of the universe bears some similarities with Spinoza’s god, which was some sort of collective entity that we could also call “nature,” which is perfect and therefore has no thought or life in the same sense as humans do (thought, desire, movement, etc. all occur because we are incomplete; we need things). Spinoza considered himself a devout christian, but many people during his time were suspicious that his theory amounted to atheism/that Spinoza was an atheist and he just called his entity “god” to appease his contemporaries.

  3. quoded Says:

    Assuming someone’s premises and then showing that their conclusion is faulty is a very standard form of argument. In my experience, at least, this is what atheists do with ontological arguments, the Problem of Evil, etc. It is to say: even if I accept your premises, the god you believe in could not or is far less likely to exist.

    So it isn’t at all that atheists (in my experience) are missing the forest for the trees and disproving Abrahamic religions by proving others — we still, generally, have issues with the premises that begin those arguments.

    Besides, honestly, Abrahamic religions are the worst. We have to prioritize.

  4. verbosestoic Says:

    To answer everyone, I think, my point is that you don’t want to push that as an argument as if at the end of the day you expect an argument of “You might have a God, but isn’t the one you believe in” as if it settles the question and should turn those theists into atheists. It is an interesting line of argumentation against the Judeo-Christian God, but it’s only a starting point or a sideshow even in the discussions about theism and atheism. My comment is that I find that too often atheists focus on that argument as if they expect theists to be atheists at the end of it, and that argument, of course, doesn’t provide that.

    So, that’s what I meant about not seeing the forest for the trees; they miss the big overarching theist/atheist debate by focusing on one specific conception of God and focusing only on killing that one. Even if their argument works, that theist/atheist question still exists and the argument they used may well actually provide reasons to be a theist, just not the specific type of theist the atheist is attacking.

  5. quoded Says:

    I guess I must have misread you — in that case I agree.

    I think the overlap comes when many atheists, or at least many/most outspoken atheists, are also anti-religious activists. Thus, to them, attacking and disproving Abrahamic religions is far more important that convincing people to be atheists.

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