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Bertrand Russell writes in his Why I Am Not a Christian that one could easily "take up the line that some of the gnostics took up—a line which I often thought was a very plausible one—that as a matter of fact this world that we know was made by the devil at a moment when God was not looking. There is a good deal to be said for that, and I am not concerned to refute it." And elsewhere he, like many others, brings up the problem of evil in order to refute the existence of an all-powerful, all-good god. So since he's already made the case for it then the question is this: what is the argument against the existence of an evil god?

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    The argument against the existence of an evil god is the same as the argument against the existence of a benign god, the existence of witches and fairies, and the existence of Santa Claus: These ghosts belong to the childhood of mankind when people believed in controlling one's life by magic.
    – Jo Wehler
    Feb 23 at 20:44
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    This is now called evil god challenge and there are tons of ink spilled on it, including here, Request for a philosopher/mathematician that arrives at a wicked God as the only solution to the problem of evil using formal logic. One popular objection is, ironically, the problem of good, there is too much good in the world for an evil god to run it.
    – Conifold
    Feb 24 at 0:36
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    I think your answer would be less provocative if you described how good and evil are human creations that are a natural response to a predator-prey relationship. Simplistically, things we want to eat are good and things that want to eat us are evil. Feb 24 at 2:51
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    Finally, if you believe in free will, then good and evil are our creations and not the fault of God. Feb 24 at 4:10
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    @IdiosyncraticSoul: Somebody else's hypothesis: Power magnifies your own (potential for) corruption. If somehow you start out with zero corruption, than even absolute power cannot corrupt you.
    – Joshua
    Feb 24 at 4:51

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Arguments against supernatural claims

One of the main arguments against supernatural claims in general is a lack of good evidence supporting the claim.

The principle of parsimony (or Occam's razor) says that we should give preference to simpler explanations, and practicality dictates that the "default position" should be to reject something's existence, and to demonstrate its existence from there (i.e. the burden of proof is on the existence claim, although many people consider "the burden of proof" to only be about debates and not epistemology generally).

This applies whether we're talking about an evil god, a good god, a food-flavoured god, invisible unicorns, fairies, souls, etc. This is mostly because such beliefs are typically unfalsifiable (you can't demonstrate that something doesn't exist), although there may also be other arguments against certain beliefs. Something being unfalsifiable means there's no evidence that would lead to you concluding that thing is false. If all evidence is good evidence, that means no evidence is good evidence, and you've got yourself some bad epistemology.

We shouldn't believe things that don't explain any evidence. Of course one can assert that a particular piece of evidence is explained by something, but simply asserting that doesn't explain why or how it explains it (i.e. where does this evil god exist, how are the interacting with reality, why do they care about human, what justification do you have for believing any of this, etc.). One could say a claim doesn't explain the evidence if it can trivially be swapped out for similar competing claims that explain the evidence equally well. We also shouldn't accept claims that explain evidence can be explained more simply, or that can be explained by things that also explains other evidence (e.g. "evil god explains A and natural causation explains B" is less preferable than "natural causation explains A and B").

The reasoning behind all of this, roughly speaking, is that, if we are consistent in accepting unnecessarily complex or non-explanatory claims, we may accept the existence of teapots floating around in space, we may accept infinitely many other things, which may include contradictory things, or we may accept infinitely complex things (consider the idea of living in a simulation - if we have no bias against that based on simplicity, we also don't have a reason to reject the claim that we live in a simulation which is itself in a simulation, or the claim that we live in a simulation which is in a simulation, which is in a simulation, etc. - that's not a good epistemology).

If we consider the existence of a god that's the ultimate evil, and we consider the existence of a god that's the ultimate good, we might also consider infinitely many other gods and other beings that are between the two. There might be some gremlins of petty annoyances that makes you always plug in your USB cable wrong way around, or a ghost that makes you have a bad day whenever you wear blue, because they hate the colour, maybe there are fairies that just shift reality a little so you stub your toe occasionally, or maybe there are gnomes that move your keys to make it harder for you to find them.

Do you have any better reason to accept the existence of one of these above any other? A theist would probably say "yes", but my point is to argue that these claims start off with a disadvantage, that should lead you to reject all of them until the burden of proof for a particular claim is met. (And if a theist says their deity exists, one should consider the reasoning they offer to support the mere existence of a deity, but also any traits or actions they want to attribute to that deity.)

Arguments against an evil god

If there were some powerful supernatural being after you, they'd probably be able to do a lot worse than whatever may have befallen you in your life. This is not to take anything away from how bad your life experiences may have been, but every moment of joy you or anyone else experiences serves as evidence against the existence of such an evil god.

Also, if there is such a powerful being, they'd be really petty and immature to be mean to some particular humans among billions on this big rock, orbiting one of hundreds of billions of stars in our gigantic galaxy, which is one of hundreds of billions of galaxies in our colossal universe. It would be more petty than a child torturing ants for fun. It seems implausible that such a powerful being (if one existed) would concern themselves with us mere humans, and if they do concern themselves with us, it seems extra implausible that they'd remain in the shadows (unless they're mischievous, but in that case we wouldn't really be able to trust any evidence for or against their existence, because they may just be trying to trick us, so it would be problematic to accept the existence of such a being, unless there is a clear demonstration of it).

Argument for God being good, not bad?

Let's briefly consider a few arguments that suggest a god must be good if one exists.

Goodness is a "real" thing, but evil is just a privation.

From an empirical and scientific point of view, there seems to be no rhyme or reason behind this. "Good" and "evil" are simply how we categorise emotions and intent. If someone wants to hurt others, that's "evil". If they want to help others, that's "good". Roughly speaking. There are many factors contributing to such intent. The best explanation for why people show kindness towards one another is because of the evolutionary benefit that provides to our species. We also see animals showing kindness towards one another in nature. Conversely, wanting to hurt others could in some cases be a reaction to others hurting you, and that might relate to self-defence, which is certainly a useful adaptation (even if their ultimate actions are quite far removed from self-defence).

(Some people object to the evolutionary explanation and say that it may not be to the greatest benefit to the individual, but evolution functions on a species/community level, not an individual level.)

There's probably more to say on the topic, but this is just intended as a brief response.

If God is evil, why is there so much good?

Counter-point: if God is good, why is there so much evil?

One of the common answers that theists give to the above is that "God is beyond understanding", and this works equally well for an evil god. In fact, it could explain pretty much any traits a god has - that's exactly the problem with "God is beyond understanding".

In any case, I can probably do you one better: Suffering needs to be contrasted with something. If all you know is suffering, how do you even know you're suffering? You need some joys to make the suffering feel like suffering. And you living comfortably in your fancy house makes the suffering of the person on the street that much worse. If everything sucks for everyone, that's not "evil". What's evil is when there's more than enough to go around, yet the greed of a few means so many still end up not having even the bare minimum to survive. What's evil is not just to burn people alive for a lifetime, but rather to have people inflict some of the worst things imaginable on one another.

But this probably isn't a particularly helpful part of this answer on why there isn't an evil god.

Pascal's wager: if God is evil, you lose no matter what.

"You lose no matter what" might be a reasonable reason to just not concern yourself with the existence of an evil god, even if you continue to believe in them. I'd probably see this more as a stepping stone that would enable you to honestly question their existence.

Although to support the existence of a good god, it still has all the same problems, i.e. using probability in epistemology is questionable (if not specifically related to a claim involving probability, like a coin flip), you need strong-enough evidence of God's existence for it to make sense (which skeptics would say we don't have), and there are infinitely many conceivable gods which arguably should all be included in the wager (which breaks the wager, even if you want to say the probability of a particular god is higher than the rest). Also, if you approach religion in terms of making a wager to do whatever's in your own best interest, I can't imagine that a loving and just being would look kindly on that.

There is also the typical footnote of pointing out that Pascal himself does not recommend that you believe (for one cannot merely choose to believe differently), but rather he says you should try to convince yourself.

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You are correct that the full Epicurean argument does not follow for a non-all-good deity. However, if the deity is all-powerful, then the standard argument against omnipotence is still viable; see also this question and answer. Evil all-powerful beings don't exist.

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  • Humans invent concept of work, power, and energy in which it would require infinite power to perform work in zero time! So one rational definition of the all-powerful or infinitely powerful is that which can perform work in zero time or create something from nothing. Scientists don't concern themselves with the all-powerful they invent conservation laws which hold that matter-energy exists and cannot be created or destroyed by an all-powerful source of cause. The point is if we sense good and evil it flows from the same ultimate source of cause independent of its other attributes in our minds. Feb 24 at 17:59
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This has been a problem many philosophers and theologians have considered over the years. I'll sketch some brief introductions to some classic arguments that I find personally persuasive.

Note: For all of these, we are assuming that God exists. (In the case that no god exists, no evil god exists, so the nonexistence of an evil god is trivial in such a case.) Therefore, given God exists, what gives us confidence that God is good?

  1. The Platonic and neo-Platonic approach: The basic idea here is that goodness is a real thing, like light or heat, but evil is just a privation, like darkness or cold. If you encounter ugliness, or evil, or darkness, or cold, or lies, it's easy to explain as broken beauty, insufficient goodness, occluded light, lack of heat, broken truth. But real beauty, or goodness or love are things that can't originate within our broken world. They require a source, and that source is God. And since the privation can't be stronger than the source, God must be stronger than whatever evil exists in the universe. (Obviously this is just a quick gloss, and not very convincing in this form, but if you want to explore this line of argument more fully, Plato's Republic and Symposium are good places to start).

  2. Cartesian approach: I'm not going to go into Descartes' full argument which is complex, (Meditations III), but essentially it comes down to the idea that it doesn't make any sense for God to be bad. https://resources.saylor.org/wwwresources/archived/site/wp-content/uploads/2011/09/PHIL101-5.2.3.pdf . This goes back to the Platonic idea that a bad God wouldn't be able to even conceive of the idea of a good God. The idea of the good God, itself being perfect, can be created neither by a bad God or by our own minds. If that is too abstract, a more pragmatic variant is to ask, "If God is all-powerful, why would He create you, and this world with all its beauty, and your mind, and your soul, just to torture you?"

  3. Pascalian approach: Pascal's wager is much better than the normal glosses on it--it's short and worth reading in full (https://www.york.ac.uk/depts/maths/histstat/pascal_wager.pdf). But I'm not going to give the original version, but an adaptation of it. If God is evil--and has it out for you--you're screwed no matter what. There's no possible escape, and nothing you do or believe will make a difference. Given that, you might as well believe there is a good God waiting for you to reach out to them. Your starting belief is already the worst case scenario, so there's no risk in believing in a better one.

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  • The closest match on the "Cartesian approach" I could find is Cartesianism, but that is "an ontological dualism of two finite substances, mind (spirit or soul) and matter", which doesn't seem to have much to do with "why would God torture you". It would help to provide some links that expand on these topics. Do you mean Cartesian doubt? If so, what's wrong with "because he's evil" as an answer? Why does it make more sense for God to be good, given all our suffering?
    – NotThatGuy
    Feb 23 at 22:38
  • @NotThatGuy - I was a bit rushed writing this, and rereading it, it was confusing as written. I added a citation, and tried to explain it a bit more. However, none of these positions can be conveyed as anything more than an inaccurate gloss in the length of a SE answer. At best, I can point people to the primary sources. Feb 26 at 17:10
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From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Dystheism

Dystheism (from Ancient Greek: δυσ-, romanized: dus-, lit. 'bad' and θεός theos "god") is the belief that a god is not wholly good and can even be considered evil, or one and the same with Satan. Definitions of the term somewhat vary, with one author defining it as "where God decides to become malevolent".

Dystheists may themselves be theists or atheists, and in the case of either, concerning the nature of the Abrahamic god, will assert that God is not good, and is possibly, although not necessarily, malevolent, particularly but not exclusively to those who do not wish to follow any of the Abrahamic religions.

If one God or one Reality is the source of human experience: then the one God or one Reality is the Creator of what we experience as good and what we experience as evil.

Splitting (getting all the bad separated apart from the good object) is thought to be an infantile ego-defense mechanism against pain and anxiety in early life:

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Splitting_(psychology)

Splitting was first described by Ronald Fairbairn in his formulation of object relations theory;[3] it begins as the inability of the infant to combine the fulfilling aspects of the parents (the good object) and their unresponsive aspects (the unsatisfying object) into the same individuals, instead seeing the good and bad as separate. In psychoanalytic theory this functions as a defense mechanism.

Freud argued that the ego is the only component of the psyche that can defend against anxiety or suffering. But I don't think the ego does the splitting in early life or is solely responsible for the biological ability to attenuate suffering. Automatic neurological and chemical processes tend to reduce intense pain if the ego cannot identify the source of pain and act to eliminate it. The ego of course can generate pleasure to counteract pain or make other efforts to attenuate pain. Ego defenses can operate at the same time as the other automatic defenses such as splitting or traumatic dissociation. Getting rid of God as a source of cause does not remove the problem of evil from the human psyche it just causes godless people like Sigmund Freud to map their anxiety to a supernatural source of cause such as the Unconscious, the It, or external Reality. These generic sources of cause are only devoid of moral attributes but the emotion-processing ego still generates the ethical and moral sentiments of contending with a godless random Fate. One woman I knew called the non-moral source of injustice and evil The Cosmic Crapshoot!

ADDED - Sigmund Freud imposes the frame of psychoanalysis (the ego in relation to the It) on everything that arises in human ego. Baruch Spinoza provides a more fundamental frame when he describes an emotion as a feeling of desire, pleasure, or pain accompanied by an idea of its cause. Freud says the biological source of inner drives (id) causes the ego to strive to become happy in the world. Spinoza maps this also to appetite as the unconscious source of conscious desire. Freud asks why the ego is unable to become happy and remain so in this world, in the world of natural causes and human drama? This is the essence of his project. Freud rejects the infantile experience of God as fundamental to the project. Joseph Campbell, who wrote The Hero With a Thousand Faces, on the other hand, amplifies the infantile and magical aspects of the human drama and elevates the striving for bliss in the human drama to the status of the divine!

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Recently, there were several questions discussing the Problem of Evil (given an all-powerful, all-knowing, benevolent God, why does evil exist?). Following similar lines of thought, someone positing that God exists, but it evil, would then be faced with the Problem of Good (given an all-powerful, all-knowing, malevolent God, why does Good exist?).

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what is the argument against the existence of an evil god?

Isn't everything around us evidence for that argument? For example, don't you expect water to eventually boil if fire is put under it, tomorrow has it's done for as long as we know? Or, wouldn't you expect the law of gravity tomorrow to keep holding and the Universe not just get suddenly upside down?

Where the argument is not so much that such things are necessarily impossible (it is not about logic), rather that lack of confidence in the rationality of the Universe would be, even just from an operational point of view, utterly pointless.

And, to the extent that I have managed to convey it, that is another name for inductive reasoning, what and why: which is a long-term philosophical debate more than a specific philosophical stance. For reference, this I find quite illuminating: Donald C. Williams, "The Evils of Inductive Skepticism", from The Ground of Induction, 1947.

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  • What I have described is not dissimilar from the "Pascalian approach" others have mentioned. I'd appreciate some feedback as to why my answer is getting downvoted. Feb 25 at 6:26

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