14 April 2017 1:13 AM (book review)
The Owner of All Infernal Names: An Introductory Treatise on the Existence, Nature & Government of our Omnimalevolent Creator by John Zande is a book with a really excellent, absolutely first-class title. That's honestly the reason why I read it. The ‘evil God’ challenge is cute and all, but not really all that interesting.
This book is an attempt at inverse apologetics. It takes the classical arguments for God's existence as read but takes advantage of their ambiguity to argue that the God they point to is Maximally Evil. It's cute, I guess. It feels a bit like someone took a quick joke with a simple punchline and tried to make a feature film out of it and just kept elaborating it.
The classical arguments for God's existence aren't any good, and the book glosses over them anyway. The real meat (such as it is) is in their argument for the moral nature of God and their solution to the Problem of Natural Good. Other people might be more sympathetic to the argument, but all it does is annoy me and make me angry with the author for being pathetic and contemptible. He argues that God must desire unhappiness in itself (sort of an inverse regressive utilitarian. It doesn't have any particular personal interest in you or your unhappiness, it just wants a rich, ever-growing supply of unhappiness.)
Why might God want unhappiness and suffering? Well, the author seems to believe these emotions are more varied, more true, more authentic, and more sincere. That they are longer lasting while others flare up brightly and fade away. This is probably a thing many people believe, but I don't. Similarly he argues that if God were good then the universe would tend toward simple, unthinking structures, rather than the increase of complexity, since increased complexity primarily creates opportunities for richer and more varied suffering. Again, this may be something other people believe, but I don't. I hate and despise misery and pain, but ultimately I think it's less real and varied than other emotions, of less import, and less long-lasting. Certainly I've had experiences that I can't think about in any detail without starting to cry, but I've had experiences I can't think about without laughing or being overcome with delight or just wanting to grin like a fool and hug my cat. Despair seems much more prone to being worn away by delight than the other way around.
The author's defense against the Problem of Natural Good is, more or less, what you would expect. He invokes the tired, old nonsense about hope being the greatest evil in life because it alone keeps people from lying down and dying and suggests that good is really an illusion. That all goodness is an investment that keeps the creator's creatures running, striving, building new dreams to dash, and setting themselves up for so much delicious disappointment. He also claims that every seeming good, no matter how small, lends itself to a cornucopia of suffering down the line. To be fair, if you are more sympathetic to the author's emotional assumptions, he probably succeeds better at answering the Problem of Natural Good than most traditional monotheists do at answering the Problem of Natural Evil even if you accept their assumptions. I don't think this is so much a credit to the author as a consequence of how bad most answers to the Problem of Natural Evil are.
Obviously I don't think it ‘succeeds’ in its argument, if I did I'd be living my life in despair and shuddering horror…no that's false. If it thought it had proved its argument that God exists and wills despair and misery, I'd just shrug and say that God's opinion on the purpose of life is no more relevant than anyone else's, that the whole thing is ultimately meaningless, whistle a tune, and continue acting basically as before.
I give it two and a half stars (out of five) for having what is really a wonderful title and for a workmanlike book-length presentation of an idea that would have done better as a magazine article.