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Tuesday, July 12, 2011

More on the Problem of Good

"Genius might be described as a supreme capacity for getting its possessors into trouble of all kinds." - Samuel Butler

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Following on the Problem of Good (past post):

"[On miracles supposedly being existence for a good god] Suppose that the evil-god hypothesis is true. This malignant being may not want us to know of his existence. In fact, it may help him maximize evil if he deceives us about his true character. An evil and omnipotent being will have no difficulty duping human beings into believing he is good. Taking on a ‘good’ guise, he might appear in one corner of the world, revealing himself in religious experiences and performing miracles in response to prayers, and perhaps also giving instructions regarding what his followers should believe. He might then do the same in another part of the globe, with the exception that the instructions he leaves regarding what should be believed contradict what he has said elsewhere. Our evil being could then stand back and watch the inevitable conflict develop between communities to whom he has now misleadingly revealed himself, each utterly convinced by their own stock of miracles and religious experiences that the one true all-good god is on their side. Here we have a recipe for ceaseless conflict, violence and suffering.

When we observe how religious experiences and miracles are actually distributed, this is more or less the pattern we find. So, even if they are genuinely supernatural, do these miraculous phenomena provide better evidence for a good god than an evil god? While a good god might create miracles and religious experiences, it is difficult to see why he would produce them in this way, given the predictably horrific consequences. Perhaps miracles and religious experiences do indicate the activity of a supernatural agency, but it is arguable that their actual arrangement fits the evil-god hypothesis rather better than it does the good-god hypothesis. We should not, at this stage, rule out the possibility that, if there is an asymmetry between the two hypotheses, it is because the evil-god hypothesis is actually rather more reasonable than the good-god hypothesis...

Religiously motivated conflicts clearly have been, and continue to be, a major source of moral evil in the world. By means of this deception, an evil god is able to create an environment within which moral evil is likely to flourish.

One may still raise this objection: ‘But surely nothing could be worse than hell as traditionally conceived? Why doesn’t an evil god just send us straight to hell? ’ However, as already noted, a mirror puzzle faces those who believe in a good god. Given that a heavenly environment would be profoundly more joyful than this, why doesn’t a good god send us straight to heaven? Why are so many of us allowed to go through such appalling suffering here?...

Does this historical evidence [about a good god] really fit the good-god hypothesis better than the evil ? Not if our evil god wishes to create the illusion that he is good, in order to foster the deception outlined above. It may well be in his interest to fabricate misleading evidence about his own character...

Take, for example, these two hypotheses: (i) Swindon is populated with 1,000 elves, and (ii) Swindon is populated with 1,000 elves, each of which has a fairy sitting on its head. The first hypothesis is more economical, as it posits half as many entities as the first. But is the first hypothesis significantly more reasonable than the second? No. For not only is there little reason to suppose that either hypothesis is true, there is overwhelming evidence that both are false.

Similarly, if the reasonableness of both the good and the evil-god hypotheses is very low, pointing out that one hypothesis is rather more economical than the other does little to raise the probability of one hypothesis with respect to the other. The suggestion that the two hypotheses are more or less equally unreasonable remains unthreatened."

--- The evil-god challenge / Stephen Law
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