Spencer offered the following summary of Stephen Law’s Evil God argument:
1) Either EG can be rationally rejected on the basis of observational evidence or not.
2) If EG can be rationally rejected on the basis of observational evidence, then GG can also be rejected on the basis of observational evidence (and hence the POE succeeds).
3) If EG cannot be rationally rejected on the basis of observational evidence, then if it is to be rejected, it must be rejected on some other basis.
He then commented:
The first route — rejecting EG on the basis of observational evidence — comes at the cost of conceding the POE. The second — rejecting EG on some other basis — comes at the cost of adopting untenable a priori arguments in order to do so (e.g. moral argument).
These comments are of especial note because Law then commented: “Thanks Spence, you’ve got it right.”
In other words, Spencer got the imprimatur of the master. So we should pay special attention to this reconstruction.
Here’s the first problem with 1). It is ambiguous. It could be referring to actual evidence or possible observational evidence which could arise. Let’s consider the latter claim first.
I have no problem with that. In other words, it is possible that observational evidence could arise which could confirm GG. For example, Jesus comes back and ushers in his kingdom.
It is also easy to conceive possible observational evidence that confirms EG. Imagine, for example, that tomorrow a voice thunders through the heavens saying “I am evil God. I have allowed you worms to enjoy limited pleasures but now you will all suffer for eternity, and your suffering will be even more intense because of the limited pleasures I granted you for a time. Har Har Har dee Har!!” At that moment we are plunged into flames where we writhe in agony. As I was twisting in unimaginable torment I would surely agree that I was now in possession of observational evidence that would make belief in EG rational and belief in GG irrational. Not that Spencer, or Stephen, or I would care very much.
So belief in GG and EG are both such that they could possibly be confirmed observationally beyond any reasonable doubt. In this regard they differ from a claim like “Everything just doubled in size” which couldn’t be confirmed observationally (though it could be confirmed in other ways, such as divine testimony: e.g. God tells us “I just doubled everything in size.)
(I’ve been working with a particular interpretation of “observational evidence” as non-linguistic evidence gathered through the senses.)
So now let’s revise 1) for actual evidence:
1′) Either EG can be rationally rejected on the basis of present observational evidence or not.
And here I say: not. In other words, by the definition of “observational evidence” that I provided the evidence is presently insufficient to reject EG. This doesn’t mean that Christians don’t reject it. It just means that they reject it for a broader set of reasons or grounds than direct observational evidence. Should Jesus come back tomorrow then I’ll change that assessment.
And with this, I turn to 3). Of course Christians reject it on some other basis. However, they don’t reject it based on “untenable a priori arguments”. They reject it because they already believe in the existence of GG.
At this point Law would need to argue against proper functionalist and reliabilist accounts of Christian belief. Let’s say that a Christian holds the belief “God loves me”. This claim is incompatible with EG. If the Christian can hold “God loves me” as a properly basic belief (and Law’s attempt to argue otherwise in his book Believing Bullshit is unsuccessful as I argued in my extended review) then the Christian has a defeater for the existence of EG. In the same way the properly basic belief that “The sun is shining through the cafe window” is a defeater for the thesis “It is overcast outside”.
In conclusion, do Spencer and Stephen have a defeater for Descartes’ skeptical demon? I hope so! Otherwise maybe they should become Pyrrhoian skeptics.
1) Either Descartes’ skeptical demon hypothesis can be rationally rejected on the basis of observational evidence or not.
2) If Descartes’ skeptical demon hypothesis cannot be rationally rejected on the basis of observational evidence, then if it is to be rejected, it must be rejected on some other basis.