Is God An Evil Demon?

In respect to moral arguments, solutions to the problem of evil and the testimony of scripture, we are usually left with the often conclusion to understanding God’s moral character as “perfect”, or “wholly good”. However, do we take God’s character as such to be a matter of faith? Isn’t it just as likely that God who is “wholly good” that he instead be “wholly evil”? We are reminded by the passage found in Descartes’ First Meditation:

Accordingly, I will suppose not a only a supremely good God, the source of truth, but rather an evil genius, supremely powerful and clever, who has directed his entire effort at deceiving me. I will regard the heavens, the air, the earth, colors, shapes, sounds, and all external things as nothing but the bedeviling hoaxes of my dreams, with which he lays snares for my credulity. [1]

How are we justified in suggesting that an “evil genius” of this sort found in Descartes’ meditation be one that doesn’t exist, but rather a perfect and wholly good God? First, let’s gather a proper understanding of evil.

An Augustinian View of Evil

Augustine in his famous spiritual autobiography had once asked, “Where is evil then, and whence, and how crept it in hither? What is its root, and what its seed? Or hath it no being?” [2] In a proper response to this problem, Augustine’s argument on evil can be schematized as such:

  • 1) All things that God created are good.
  • 2) Evil is not good.
  • 3) Therefore, evil was not created by God.

Another argument under the same scheme could function as the following:

  • 1a) God created every thing.
  • 2a) God did not create evil.
  • 3a) Therefore, evil is not a thing.

Augustine’s particular position was that “Evil has no positive nature; but the loss of good has received the name ‘evil.'” [3] In other words, evil by definition is the “absence of good”, and therefore has no affirmative nature attributed to it. This has a few interesting implications in respect to our question: Is God an evil demon?

Response to the Evil Demon

A few problems with the evil demon argument is namely that it is meaningless. First, if evil is the “absence of good” (which is a negative nature), and God is the ontological foundation of morality, then how can God exist if he too would have a negative nature? For:

  • 1′) Evil is not a thing.
  • 2′) God is evil.
  • 3′) God is not a thing.

You can restate 1′) however you’d like: 1′) Evil has a negative nature; 1′) Evil is not a substance; 1′) Evil does not exist; and the conclusion will still substitute to a similar kin: 3′) God does not exist. Therefore, an evil demon by definition could not exist. Another response to the argument would be to state that since evil can be understood more or less as “unnecessary promotion of harm” and good as “contributing to the benefit”, then all moral acts/decisions would essentially be circular and good moral acts could not exist.

Since, if God were evil, there could be no good acts because evil acts would still bring harm and good acts would also promote harm since God being evil desired evil so doing good would bring about his desire and therefore be evil. The evil demon argument is clearly absurd!

____________________

Bibliography:

  • [1] Renee Descartes, Meditations on First Philosophy (Hackett Publishing: 2000) p. 107
  • [2] St. Augustine, Confessions (VII: [V] 7)
  • [3] Ibid.
Advertisements

2 responses to “Is God An Evil Demon?

  1. “The evil demon argument is clearly absurd!” Indeed, much like all other arguments for the existence of the god God, whatever nature they claim he has.

  2. “The evil demon argument is clearly absurd!” Reductio ad absurdum: to demonstrate that a statement is false by showing that a false, untenable, or absurd result follows from its acceptance.

    More directly, however, if evil isn’t a thing, it follows that good isn’t a thing. Good and evil, while mutually exclusive, aren’t independent. They are contingent on one another; that is to say that they are defined in contrast to one another. What is good? Colloquially, someone would respond by saying that good is that which is not evil. Likewise, what is evil? Evil is that which is not good. You can’t have one without the other, so in erasing one, you effectively erase the other. I have thought about the nature of evil a lot more extensively and I’ve come to the conclusion that good and evil aren’t real; they fall into a sort of constructivism. They are human abstractions; if one is to somehow eradicate all of humanity, good and evil is eradicated with us. All that will be left are arbitrary occurrences unless other cognizant minds arise to call this good because its beneficial, improves happiness, etc. and that bad because it isn’t beneficial, reduces happiness, increases suffering, etc. To this one may say that good and evil are objective because they are capable of arising in minds equal to or better than human minds. However, I would simply ask that the person making that response be careful of confusing an emergent property with reality.

    It may be the case that good and evil or concepts akin to them arise in minds equally or more cognizant than ours, but it doesn’t follow that they’re objective realities. It could be that such concepts are emergent properties contingent on a brain that’s complex to a certain extent, but that remains to be seen since only humans have brains that are complex to the extent that they abstract good and evil. To put it simpler, cannibalism has objective reality; that is to say that it really occurs and that the fact can be accepted by any objective observer. However, viewing cannibalism as evil or immoral is entirely human; chimps do not view cannibalism as evil or at least, unacceptable. Neither do latrodectus and other species who employ such behavior.

    So what I’m getting at is that there are occurrences that have objective realities (i.e. a female latrodectus eating a male (what we call cannibalism); a male lion killing cubs (what we call murder); a leopard siphoning a dead antelope from a lion (what we call stealing)); however, the application of this being good and that being evil is constructed by humans. Neither one of them exist as realities. There are no good and evil people; if one believes that gods exists, it follows that there are no good and evil gods. Good is what we usually call that which benefits us, so a good god is simply a human desire because such a god would benefit us; however, if god is just a being that benefits us (ignoring whether these benefits are conditional or not), god is indistinguishable from any product on the shelf of a department store. Everything on those shelves was created for some human benefit; I don’t see why gods aren’t a product of the human mind rather than the human mind being the product of a god. Ultimately, the notion that god is an evil demon is a peculiar argument that isn’t common and certainly not popular in atheist circles. We may or may not cite that he’s an immoral being, but having the capacity to be immoral doesn’t make a thing evil (though, in my book, god is certainly a more evil than good character); it does, however, put it on equal footing with humans and that echoes back to my Argument from Assailability in which I conclude that god concepts equal to humans are unworthy of worship and likely do not exist.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s